Archive for August, 2013

Bo Xilai rises again

August 25, 2013

Bo Xilai’s dramatic ouster in March 2012 followed by last November’s anti-corruption pageant at the Communist Party Conference suggested that the disgraced leadership contender would be a whipping boy for the incoming Xi Jinping regime. Then, just as abruptly as he fell from power, Bo disappeared from the public eye, not just held in detention, but erased from the national discussion. It seemed that China’s new leadership team wanted to bury Bo and his saga that includes the murder of British citizen Neil Heywood and millions in misappropriated funds.

Suddenly, this week Bo was back in the spotlight. His show trial displays Bo at this iconoclastic best (or worst), apparently refusing to stick to the script of self-criticism and regret that his wife and police chief follow in exchange for relatively lenient sentences. Wherever the trial is heading, Bo seems determined not to go there quietly. Why the leadership opted to give Bo this platform to vent is hard to understand.

As I wrote in Asia Times months ago, it’s foolish to speculate on the behind the scenes machinations of Beijing’s top leadership. But it is worth watching how Bo’s trial turns out, the official line that emerges, and then look backward to try figuring out the Xi team’s motivation for giving Bo a final (?) star turn. It may simply be that China’s political system reached the stage of development where August is the silly season there, too.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

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Macau pumps premium

August 15, 2013

The hot buzzword in Macau, premium mass market, remains difficult to define. But perhaps more important, the strategy is unproven and the consequences far from certain. That’s hardly the optimal situation when each casino operator is spending billions of dollars on new resorts claiming to target this amorphous market segment.

In the July issue of Macau Business, I examined reasons behind the rise of the premium segment (see page 66).

In Asia Times this week, I wrote about contradictions in defining premium customers among resort executives and industry insiders.

The focus on premium customers, whether it’s a real phenomenon or not, underscores Macau’s continuing move upmarket that includes higher minimum bets at gaming tables and the addition of thousands of five-star hotel rooms, with little new supply in lower price categories.

Rising minimums mean players that want to bet less than HK$300 (about US$39) per hand must go to a betting terminal rather than a table in most casinos. It’s hard to feel like James Bond sitting at a screen betting units instead of chips and watching your cards or dice in a video window rather than feeling fresh table felt and cold, crisp chips as you go eyeball to eyeball with your adversary. And there’s no place for the Bond girl or guy without annoying the players next to you or in the row(s) of screens behind you.

With Macau’s constraints on tables and labor, casinos can justify trying to maximize revenue from their limited number of tables. But that’s not necessarily the best strategy to develop Macau as a well-rounded travel destination. With thousands more rooms and a host of new attractions due to open by 2017, Macau may better served by broadening its focus beyond the thin slice of China’s wealthiest.

The real opportunity lies with China’s fast growing middle class. China Market Research Group (CMR) associate principal Ben Cavender said at Global Gaming Expo (G2E) Asia 2013 in May that China’s international travelers are becoming more numerous, adventurous and demanding.

These tourists may not see gambling as a primary reason to visit, but one of the many entertainment and leisure options they want to sample. If these visitors, paying top dollar for lodging, don’t feel welcome and respected on Macau’s gaming floors, integrated resorts in Philippines, Cambodia, and, since last month, Vietnam already have the welcome mat out for them.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Following the wrong China trail

August 9, 2013

I met a China scholar at a dinner recently, and mentioned I’d reviewed China’s Silent Army: The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers and Workers Who Are Remaking the World in Beijing’s Image.

“They didn’t go,” the scholar asserted.

“Excuse me,” I replied. “You mean, you don’t think they went to all those places in Africa, the Burmese hills, the Russian forests, the Andes, the Turkmen desert…”

“No way.”

My wife agreed. “They’re so focused on telling us about all the hardships they went through to get to these places that it’s hard to believe they really did it.”

For the record, I take the authors, Spanish China business journalists Juan Pablo Cardenal and Heriberto Araujo, at their word. But those dissenting views point up a major problem with China’s Silent Army. The book (read my review) aims to address key questions about how Chinese government and business are cooperating to achieve China’s strategic interests in far-flung corners of the world. But, as I wrote in Asia Times, it veers off into a travelogue where there authors doth protest much about the hardships they suffer in pursuit of the story,

When I mentioned disappointment over the book’s failure to deliver the definitive word on how China Inc is trying to conquer the world, the China scholar responded with a roll of her eyes. “I’d like to see them to publish that book.”

So would I. So would I.

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


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