Asia - Issue 23 - Magazine | Monocle

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On track - Laos [railway]

The landlocked, mountainous nation of Laos now has its first railway. Since March, trains have been making a 15-minute trip twice daily over the Thai Lao Friendship Bridge across the Mekong River, which forms the border with Thailand.

And this may be just the beginning. Last November, the Laotian government revealed that China is making plans for a new line to run into the southen province of Champassak. For Laos – where you either get around by plane or bus depending on your income – trains could help the country make a lot more of its natural resources.

China has its eye on those too. It could do with access to huge iron, copper and bauxite deposits across the country. China’s bauxite mines could be empty by 2015. Then there is the welcome work for China’s small army of railway builders. If built, the line may eventually connect with Sihanoukville, the deepwater port of Laos’ southern neighbour and China’s close ally, Cambodia.

Soft Power: five Chinese infrastructure projects around the world

01 Strategic oil and gas pipelines, costing $2.5bn (€1.8bn), from Burma’s deepwater port at Kyaukphyu to China’s Kunming.
Mauritius will extend its international airport using a $260m soft loan from China.
China Railway Construction’s contract to build a 1,315km railway in Nigeria between Lagos and Kano worth $8bn is under review.
China is pouring $5bn into oil fields in Niger.
Algerians should be whizzing across the country on a 525km east-west highway, costing $5.67bn, being built by Chinese firms.

Work boom - China

By 2008, half the world’s jobs were in Asia. But in China the income gap grew by 60 per cent in just four years (from 2002 to 2006).

Metro force - Japan [police]

Bleary-eyed commuters in Tokyo were recently surprised to discover that their Yamanote line train had been taken over by the police. For two weeks in March one 11-car train on Tokyo’s busy circle line became a moving advertisement for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, with winning photographs of friendly boys in blue plastered inside and out. This novel idea (which cost €353,000) is a first.

According to the force’s public relations officer, Kenichi Kurakami, the ad campaign serves “not only to recruit young people but also to inform the general public about the job of policemen. We can show people the work that we do – we hope it increases their awareness and their trust in us.

While the rest of Japan’s workforce is suffering from redundancies and shortened hours, the police are looking to make up the shortfall in staff lost to a wave of retirement. Tokyo police are looking to have 2,200 new recruits from May.

Soaring Seoul - Korea [construction]

The recession has hit the construction industry hard across the whole of Asia, but Seoul still seems to be reaching for the sky. Among several 100-plus storey buildings scheduled for construction, Korean retail group Lotte has been tentatively given the green light to build a 550m-high skyscraper which would be the tallest in the city. However, the defence ministry is not happy. It would have to shift a runway at nearby Seongnam military airstrip so that its planes wouldn’t fly too close to the skyscraper.

Lighting up - Asia [tobacco]

Asian men are the heaviest smokers in the world. The Tobacco Atlas, published in March, reveals that in 2008 China headed the global top 20 with 311 million male smokers – more than the entire population of the US. India came next with 229 million male tobacco users (including 97 million who chew it). Women smoke most in the US (23.6 million) with China coming second (13 million).

The big smoke

Top 20 male smoking populations in 2008

China 311,203,202
India 229,392,725
Indonesia 53,392,709
Russia 32,827,525
US 32,474,518
Japan 23,016,940
Bangladesh 21,453,342
Pakistan 17,723,216
Philippines 17,634,512
Egypt 16,541,142
Vietnam 15,445,812
Brazil 14,234,809
Turkey 14,215,775
Ukraine 11,979,279
Mexico 11,309,598
Germany 11,159,445
South Korea 10,450,126
Thailand 10,162,558
France 8,398,565
Afghanistan 7,614,282

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