Uber and Crystal Balls

No Uber, lah.

Back in June, Salon published a listicle detailing “5 Major Threats to Further Hasten Uber’s Decline.” Listing the sexual harassment lawsuits, the mishandling of a driver rape case, improper driver classification, the Waymo issue, and Greyball, it was better clickbait than it was journalism, doing little more than offering a summary of recent headlines. Thanks for the update, Salon.

While each of these represents a serious crisis, and while the company is being tested in its ability to deal with one, much less all of them, arguably each of these are, separately and collectively, crises that the company can survive.

Rather more ominous is the insight offered by RadioFreeMobile on the accelerating erosion of Uber’s global markets. “First Uber lost China, then Russia, and now it looks as if South East Asia may go the same way.”

He then goes on to detail the strategic investments made by Softbank and Didi into Grab, the dominant ride-hailing platform in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Philippines, with a 97% share in those markets. A dominant market leader fortified with loads of cash means that Uber is essentially locked out of markets with over 560 million people, in addition to the 1.5 billion Chinese and 300 million Russians who will not be using an Uber service soon.

The big question now is where India and Brazil will go.

Uber is on its back foot in international markets. You can argue, as does RadioFreeMobile, that the distractions listed by Salon are not helping, and you’d be right. But those issues are not the cause of Uber’s missteps outside the US: the strategic flaws that have undermined Uber’s global expansion predate Salon’s list and are rooted in the nature of the company.

As I said recently on Twitter, when historians ultimately close the book on Uber, they will agree that the fall began with Uber’s failure in China. Not that Uber’s China missteps will be seen as the cause of the company’s demise, mind you, but as the first clear indication that its strategic miscalculations and flawed leadership left the rest of the world beyond Uber’s reach.

PR World

Over the past four years I have discovered that there is an implicit belief among many US public relations (PR) practitioners – especially in the large global firms – that PR around the world will develop to become similar to what it is in the US, and will follow the US lead as the profession evolves.

Axiom: it will not. If the PR industry manages to rise above its straightjacket of inertia and hubris, it will find itself changed by forces from India, China, Latin America, Russia, and Africa.

What keeps me awake at night is the fear is that ethics in the name of expedience will be the first sacrifice in that process.

A Reset Across the Straits

Map of the Taiwan Strait
Map of the Taiwan Strait (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Following up on my post last week about it being time for a US reset on China, it appears that the time has come for Beijing reset on Taiwan.

Without challenging the maxim that Taiwan and the mainland provinces all remain an inseparable part of China, and leaving aside the issue of of independence, let us step back and look at the situation without the filters of nationalist emotion.

Instead, let us assume that at some point, Taiwan will decide that its prospects would be brightest as a part of a single political entity with the mainland. It may seem hard to imagine, but given the great changes taking place in the world, it is certainly not outside of the realm of possibility.

If that is in fact Beijing’s desired end game, the leaders of the CCP need to ask themselves a practical question: given the choice, how would they like re-unification to unfold?

Does the Party‘s leadership want Taiwan to come crawling back, craven and broken, into the embrace of the Motherland? Does the Party want Taiwan resentful and permanently troublesome because of a loss of face in slinking back?

Or do Beijing’s leaders prefer that Taiwan should return proudly, willingly, and with face and good feelings, so that “reunification” does not simply paper over deep, abiding wounds that will fester )and eventually erupt?)

It would seem that a willing return would be the preferred endgame. And if it is, Xi Jinping has an historic opportunity over the next five years of his term in office to reset the tone and direction of cross-straits relations. Given the variety of powder-kegs that surround and suffuse China, this might well be a good time to place China on track for a win-win.

Memory Loss

Watching the winds in the semiconductor industry, especially in China, hints at a coming consolidation of products. To wit:

  1. Within 18 months, Intel will be back in the memory business in a big way, but not in the way we think about memory today.
  2. Within three years they will not be alone.
  3. Within five years, specialty memory producers will either diversify, be in mortal danger, be M&A bait, or some combination thereof.

 

Time for a Sino-US Reset

English: President and Mrs. Ford, Vice Premier...
English: President and Mrs. Ford, Vice Premier Deng Xiao Ping, and Deng’s interpreter have a cordial chat during an informal meeting in Beijing, China. ID #A7598-20A. Français : Gerald Ford, sa femme, Deng Xiaoping et une traductrice lors d’une réunion à Pékin en Chine (1975). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Watching the Sino-US relationship evolve, and then not evolve, since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, I have to confess some disappointment. Let me qualify what follows by noting that I am not a fan of POTUS 45. I not only crossed party lines to vote against him, I left the GOP outright and joined a tiny third party when he was selected as the Republican nominee.

So all of that said, we have reached a point in the relationship between the US and China such that a reset is in order. It has been 44 years since Nixon went to China, and nearly 40 years since Jimmy Carter and Deng Xiaoping recalibrated the US-China relationship.

That relationship was formed when the United States was entering the fourth decade of its Cold War with the Soviet Union and the Sino-US tie-up promised to subtly but importantly shift the balance of power in favor of the West. It was formed when China was crawling out the wreckage of the Cultural Revolution, and out from under the long shadow of Mao Zedong.

That relationship was framed between a large and slightly desperate third-world country that constituted absolutely zero threat the world order and a developed nation that boasted the most prosperous economy in history, the most powerful military on Earth, and leadership of an international system that it had forged with its allies a mere three decades before.

Four decades hence, China has changed, the United States has changed, and the world has changed. Yet we have been conducting this bi-lateral relationship on terms that are increasingly irrelevant and unrealistic. Let me put that another way: the US continues to conduct its side of the relationship on that basis. China has made clear to us for a long time – without ever actually saying it – that it will conduct its relationship with us on terms dictated at least as much by immediate expediency as decades-old agreements.

So it is time for a strategic reset in our relationship that accurately reflects what China is and wishes to become, who we are and what we wish to become, and the fluid state of the global order.

The call that Trump placed to President Tsai of Taiwan, representing as it did a break from diplomatic tradition if not international accords, once appeared to be Trump’s opening gambit in his version of that reset in the Sino-US relationship, and a possible change in the rules that govern that relationship.

That no longer seems the case, and one can hope that the change in tone from the White House reflects a practical desire to compel a resolution to the North Korea question rather than acquiescence to a Chinese view of international affairs. Putting off a reset in Sino-US relations for too long will only make the necessary changes all the more disruptive.

Happy July 4th!