This is really a case of two stories in search of a common theme: a theme, that is, which goes beyond the rather random unifying factor of the work of Shanghai based ‘foreign correspondent’ Fons Tuinstra. In fact both points emerged from browsing his blog.
In the first place we have the problem with the uses and abuses of statistics – an issue which surfaced once more this week with the outrageous use of the carefully crafted 7% Japanese GDP growth number (those looking for a rather more jaundiced – not to say realistic – view on this, could do worse than consult Bloomberg’s ever intelligent William Pesek).
But Fons target this week is not the investor-seeking financial press, but rather his own compatriots, the Dutch politicians, and how they have turned the creative use of statistics into an art form, for, as he says:”Dealing with figures is an art: the Dutch call themselves the Chinese of Europe, for a good reason.”
It took me a minute before I discovered how to get the figures right myself. According to an article in the China Daily a visiting Dutch minister claimed that my country Holland was within the European Union the second largest trading partner of China after the UK. Hold on, you will think: what about these tiny countries called Germany and France, why are they doing to bad?
“The two-way trade volume is now US$15 billion. The Netherlands is the second largest trade partner of China in the European Union. This is also true with regard to foreign investment in China,” said Sybilla Dekker, the acting minister of economic affairs.
I know how we do it with foreign investments. When Shell invests 100 euro in a 50/50 joint venture in Zhuhai, Holland claims an investment of 200 euro. Fair would be to count only 50 euro, since Shell is a Dutch-British joint venture, but then you do not get those nice figures. Guess that the same is happening with the trade figures. Rotterdam is the largest German port, so I guess in the statistics we also claim the German goodies that pass Rotterdam. Dealing with figures is an art, the Dutch call themselves the Chinese of Europe, for a good reason.
Unlike the USA “we don’t think it (the Netherlands’ huge trade deficit with China) is a problem,” the minister stressed, “We think it is a challenge. We can handle it by introducing more companies to China and bring their products to Chinese markets.”
Really Fons is helping to put a lot of questions into place for me with this. Only last week I was reading some commentator or other saying how the Netherlands had one of the most open economies in Europe, since foreign trade as a percentage of GDP is enormous. I guess this also puts that other weird Dutch statistic – the longtime 2% unemployment rate -in a bit more perspective.
Now while I’ve got Fons here at the microphone, there’s another topic which he’s well worth checking-out for: the state of the foreign forrespondent, and the future of internet journalism. Certainly in the Shanghai FC club he is practically the last man standing (or should I say sitting).
So much did Fons take his position as one of the last members of a dying breed to heart that he ran a separate blog just to investigate the topic. Prompted by a post from Damien Smith on outsourcing and journalism I went over to check out what Fons had been saying recently, only to find the following:
The end of a journey
Most of my basic investigation into the future of foreign correspondence has come to and end and that means also the end of my regular contributions to this public notebook. It will still take a few months before I resume activities back in Shanghai and will use the time to write down my stories and develop new activities.
Some early conclusions:
1. The downturn in foreign correspondence is not caused by the economic crisis, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq or even the emergence of the new media. The downward trend already started before halfway the 1990s, and has only been speeded up by recent events.
2. The system of foreign correspondence has never been perfect, to put it mildly. But both quality and volume of information about the rest of the world has never been in such a poor state as now, despite the availability of more news through the internet. Too often traditional media have consolidated their resources, cut down on foreign news and features and will do more so as their existence will be under threat from the emerging new media. Foreign correspondents are an easy way to cut down expenses.
3. There are new models emerging for foreign correspondence, especially on the internet. Those models, both in dealing with content and developing revenue models, are in very early stages of their development. Discussion should focus on how, not whether, they can develop into alternatives for the classic foreign correspondence.
4. Discussions on the new media are now too much dominated by technical and legal issues and are often limited to a small circle of US specialists. I do think that telling the story of the new media for both media professionals and consumers is necessary to broaden the basis of those new media. As the consumers will become incleasingly also reporters, sharing and discussing ethic codes is paramount.
and before I leave this topic completely, I can’t resist taking note of this other glaring abuse of number interpretation in the service of a political agenda. And they say we bloggers don’t check our facts!!
Massacre in Nanjing
Published: December 24, 2003
To the Editor of the New York Times:
In his Dec. 20 column (“The China Threat?”), Nicholas D. Kristof dismissed China’s estimate of 300,000 deaths in the Rape of Nanjing in 1937 and 1938 as “hyperbole,” implying that the People’s Republic of China had deliberately inflated the number to create “a new national glue to hold the country together.”
However, the 300,000 death-toll figure for Nanjing was cited by Chinese and American investigators long before the People’s Republic of China came into existence. Charitable organizations in Nanjing, like the Red Swastika Society and the Tsung Shan Tang, spent several months counting and disposing of the dead, and their burial records were submitted as evidence during war crimes tribunals.
In 1946, the chief prosecutor of the Nanjing District Court concluded that 260,000 Chinese had died from the massacre, while a summary report prepared by the head procurator of the same district court placed the number at more than 300,000.
San Jose, Calif., Dec. 21, 2003
The writer is the author of “The Rape of Nanking.”
(Sorry had to do this: about foreign correspondents and the way how they get their facts right.)