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  • Publication Date: 02-2003
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Conference Board
  • Abstract: The Conference Board announced today that the U.S. leading index decreased 0.4 percent, the coincident index held steady, and the lagging index decreased 0.1 percent in February.The leading index fell in February for the first time since September 2002. Uncertainty over war in Iraq, as well as severe winter weather in February, is reflected in the widespread weakness, particularly in stock prices, consumer expectations, and the labor market. Some of these weaknesses have persisted through March.More generally, the leading index has been fluctuating around a flat trend over the past 15 months with a balance between rising and falling components. The index fell in the third quarter of 2002, rose in the fourth quarter, and is now declining again in the first quarter.After flattening in the fourth quarter of last year, the coincident index, a measure of current economic activity, increased 0.2 in January and held that level in February (with a decline in employment offsetting the gains in income, production, and sales). At this point, the leading index is suggesting that economic growth may be on the sluggish side in the second quarter.
  • Topic: Economics, Political Economy
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq
  • Publication Date: 01-2003
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Conference Board
  • Abstract: The Conference Board announced today that the U.S. leading index decreased 0.1 percent, the coincident index increased by 0.2 percent, and the lagging index decreased 0.1 percent in January.A sharp drop in claims for unemployment insurance offset the weak expectations of consumers in January. The leading index remains well above its peak prior to the 2001 recession and just below the previous high achieved in May 2002.The coincident index turned up again in January after pausing in the last quarter of 2002. This month's increase in the coincident index, the largest in six months, is consistent with the gains in the leading index late last year and reflects better current conditions in the beginning of this year.Barring any shock or prolonged uncertainty in the Middle East, the leading and coincident indexes point to a more robust pace of economic activity in the coming months.
  • Topic: Economics, Political Economy
  • Political Geography: United States
  • Author: Benjamin Reilly
  • Publication Date: 12-2003
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Democracies need both strength and flexibility—enough structure to transform a kaleidoscope of public opinion into coherent debate and effective policy, but enough openness to protect individual rights. Finding this balance is a particular challenge in ethnically diverse emerging democracies. Political parties usually serve a country best when they are limited in number, strong, and broad-based. Their evolution was once left mainly to chance; today, governments often seek to influence the process. Among those attempting reforms are Paupa New Guinea, home to hundreds of languages; Indonesia, with its separatist movements; the Philippines, experimenting with ways to balance party interests with other social concerns; and Thailand, whose once fragmented political scene seems headed toward domination by one party. Their strategies for encouraging stable party systems range from minimum-vote thresholds to efforts to stiffen internal party discipline. Much can be learned from these Asia Pacific efforts at political engineering—including the need for a cautious approach that minimizes unforeseen consequences and costs.
  • Topic: Democratization, Ethnic Conflict, Politics
  • Political Geography: Asia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Jeffrey Brown, Kang Wu
  • Publication Date: 10-2003
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The Asia Pacific region's dynamic oil market is marked by strong growth in consumption, declining regional oil production, and over capacity in its highly competitive oil-refining sector. Its "key players" are China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea—a group that includes the region's five top consumers and three of its major producers—and developments in these countries will have commercial and strategic implications for the whole region. On the consumption side, Japan's slow growth in demand has failed to dampen regional growth, which is now driven by China and India's fast growing thirst for oil. On the supply side, Indonesia's inevitable transition to a net oil importer highlights the trend toward growing dependence on Middle East oil, which already comprises 42–90 percent of imports among the key players. In response to this trend, China, Japan, and South Korea are pushing to acquire overseas oil reserves, with Japan and China already locked in a fierce competition for projected Russian supplies—a type of struggle that will likely become more commonplace.
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance
  • Political Geography: Japan, China, Indonesia, Middle East, India, Asia, South Korea
  • Author: John Ravenhill
  • Publication Date: 06-2003
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Western Pacific Rim states have been slow to participate in preferential trade agreements (PTAs). In the past four years, however, more than 40 PTAs involving these economies have been proposed or are being implemented. For the first time, Japan and China have either signed or are negotiating bilateral or plurilateral agreements. The new interest in PTAs reflects the perception that they have been successful in other parts of the world, and is reinforced by dissatisfaction with the region's existing trade groupings. Although arguments can be made in favor of PTAs, they amplify political considerations in trade agreements, may adversely affect the political balance in participating countries, impose costs on nonparticipants, and deplete scarce negotiating resources. Nevertheless, the number of western Pacific Rim states participating in PTAs continues to climb. Northeast Asian countries have been following Europe in exploiting loopholes in WTO rules on PTAs to protect their noncompetitive sectors, thereby strengthening their political positions, which will likely make global liberalization more difficult.
  • Topic: Economics, International Trade and Finance
  • Political Geography: Japan, China, Asia, Australia/Pacific
  • Author: Tim Brown
  • Publication Date: 05-2003
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The HIV/AIDS epidemic began relatively late in Asia and, so far, HIV infections have not reached the high levels experienced in other parts of the world. Yet behaviors that increase the risk of transmitting HIV are not uncommon in many Asian societies. But there is some good news for countries facing the possibility of an HIV epidemic. Most early HIV transmission in Asia occurs in very specific groups, through needle sharing, anal sex, or sex work. Experience in Thailand and Cambodia has shown that it is possible to lower HIV transmission rates by aggressive prevention programs targeting these groups. Analysis of these programs points to policy recommendations for other Asian governments: obtain accurate information on HIV prevalence and risk behavior; target leaders for sustained commitment; provide the public with full and accurate information; move quickly to provide effective coverage of groups most at risk; sustain and expand prevention activities; convince lawmakers and local authorities to take a pragmatic approach; ensure the active involvement of key communities; and put an end to complacency.
  • Topic: Human Welfare, Science and Technology
  • Political Geography: Asia, Cambodia, Thailand
  • Author: Choong Nam Kim
  • Publication Date: 04-2003
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: For half a century the United States and South Korea have been united in an alliance that has simultaneously contained North Korea and projected American power into Northeast Asia. Now that alliance is being questioned by many South Koreans, whose country has developed from a poor, authoritarian state into the world's 11th largest economy and a vital democracy. Along the way South Koreans' views of themselves and of other nations have changed. Improved relations with China and Russia, and a policy of engagement with North Korea, have reduced the country's dependence on the United States and South Koreans' tolerance for what they view as American arrogance and unilateralism. Indeed, Koreans today view their Cold War allies (the United States and Japan) more negatively than their Cold War enemies (North Korea and China), a situation that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. The poorly coordinated North Korea policy of Seoul and Washington appears to be a direct cause of anti-Americanism, which will grow unless the two countries develop a more equal, mutually acceptable relationship.
  • Topic: Cold War
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, Israel, South Korea, North Korea
  • Author: Eileen Shea
  • Publication Date: 03-2003
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Earth's climate is in a state of flux. Whether in terms of relatively short-term shifts, called climate variability, or long-term climate change associated with greenhouse gases, consequences of changing climate conditions appear unprecedented. Losses due to weather-related disasters have soared recently—especially in the Pacific, where island environments, societies, and infrastructures are particularly vulnerable. For generations, human response to climate events has been just that: response after the fact to phenomena that neither residents nor scientists adequately understood. Now, a growing body of information about the causes of climate events is enabling Pacific Islanders and others to anticipate events and move past being victims to become informed planners. This new knowledge can only be successfully applied via dynamic partnerships between science and society. Particularly promising is the emerging field of climate risk management, in which disaster management and climate science communities unite, forming model partnerships to plan for the inevitabilities linked with the planet's variable and changing climate.
  • Topic: Environment, Science and Technology
  • Political Geography: Australia/Pacific
  • Author: Sam Bateman
  • Publication Date: 01-2003
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) created new maritime law and extended maritime jurisdiction that were ex-pected to justify naval expansion. To some extent this has been so, but another trend is also apparent. Regional navies are concentrating on war-fighting capabilities while existing coast guards are being expanded and some countries are establishing coast guards for the first time. The protection of off-shore areas and resources is a central element of national security for most regional countries and an important consideration in nation building and governance. Coast Guards are emerging as important national institutions in Asia and the Pacific with the potential to make a major contribution to regional order and security. This development reflects a concern for coop-erative and comprehensive security and will facilitate regional maritime cooperation and confidence building. It is a positive factor for regional order and security and may constitute a revolution in maritime strategic thinking.
  • Topic: Security, Defense Policy
  • Political Geography: Asia, Australia/Pacific
  • Author: Christopher A. McNally
  • Publication Date: 02-2003
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Even though China's state firms lost their near-monopoly status after 1978, they still form the country's financial and industrial nucleus.Nevertheless, in early 1996 the total losses of these state-owned enterprises (SOEs) exceeded profits for the first time. With the economy threatened, offi-cialdom issued a mandate in 1997: SOEs must become profitable in three years. In 2001, statistics showed a massive turn around, and victory was declared. Despite doubts about the official statistics, substantial improvement did seem evident. The question was, what caused it? While massive layoffs and corporate restructuring did increase efficiency, most improvements have been the result of external factors such as debt restructuring and government-arranged buy-outs and mergers. This strategy offers short-term rewards, but could be a disaster in the long term. Real reform of China's state sector requires financial reforms that bite (even more urgent with WTO entry), serious moves toward a social security system for displaced workers, and more outright priva-tization of state firms to give non-state shareholders real power on their boards.
  • Topic: Economics, Government, Industrial Policy
  • Political Geography: China