If there’s a country that “punches above its weight”, it’s South Korea. It’s home to some of the world’s largest and most important companies, and the source of pop culture that dominates Asia—and even planted a foothold in the West.
Whether the Manila Galleon—the crossings between Manila and Acapulco that began three-quarters of the way through the 16th century—really ushered what has since come to be called “globalization” remains a matter of some debate, but one which depends more on what is considered globalization rather than the global significance of this trade itself.
China’s Pearl River Delta recently surpassed Tokyo as the world’s largest urban area. Amid that vast conurbation of over 60 million people stands the city of Zhongshan. The birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, Zhonghsan’s factories supply China’s middle class with consumer goods like lighting, furniture, and appliances. Looking east across the Indian Ocean, one finds Antalaha, a small harbor town on Madagascar’s eastern coast. Bordered by three national parks and without a paved road to the nation’s capital, Antalaha’s 67,000 inhabitants might seem remote. But thanks to a tree growing in those parks, Antalaha found itself fueling Zhongshan’s furniture industry. Annah Lake Zhu’s new book Rosewood: Endangered Species Conservation and The Rise of Global China, explores the consequences of this unexpected connection.
The Spanish translation of The Silver Way: China, Spanish America and the Birth of Globalisation, 1565–1815—the story of the Manila Galleon—with a new introduction by Elvira Roca Barea: “It explains to us not only what it meant in the past but what it still means today to understand the present and even the future of relations between East and West, and very especially, China’s relationship with Latin America.”
In 2021, China launched the world’s largest carbon market in furtherance of its “dual carbon” goals of peak emissions in 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. That same year, China set a new record for coal production, extracting over 4 billion tons. How any country could reconcile such output with rising environmental standards remains to be seen. But whatever else one can say about China’s Communist Party, they’re not averse to grand projects. Their ambitions in this case extend far beyond engineering better solar panels or retrofitting power plants: Chinese energy policy will affect everything from business investment and household consumption to climate change and international agreements. And while today’s challenges seem unprecedented, fossil fuels have long preoccupied China’s rulers. Victor Seow’s new book Carbon Technocracy offers a valuable perspective on current dilemmas by exploring three 20th-century regimes that made Chinese coal central to their plans.
On 27 July 1905, the United States Secretary of War met with the Prime Minister of Japan. Both men spoke for industrializing countries with recent military victories in Asia. The potential for conflict loomed, distant but real. Happily, the two statesmen found a solution. In the Taft-Katsura Memorandum, the US recognized Japan’s suzerainty over Korea while Japan promised the same for the US-occupied Philippines. Of course, neither man foresaw how Japan’s trajectory to the summit of realpolitik would culminate in the devastation of 1945. To understand that path, Hiroshi Kawaguchi and Sumiyo Ishii’s recently translated book A History of Economic Thought in Japan: 1600-1945 offers a valuable supplement to traditional military and political history.
In mid-November, Washington and Beijing mutually agreed to start granting journalist visas again, putting an end to months of reciprocal visa rejections and denials. A perhaps minor, yet still important, thawing among grander narratives of decoupling and worsening relations between the two countries.