- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2006

Asia roars along — parts of it, anyway — but the number of parts is growing.

For example, a press release from the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi states, “INTEL, VDC and USAID Collaborate To Deploy Wimax In Vietnam … Lao Cai province selected for piloting advanced wireless broadband technology to bring modern communications and world information access to underserved and remote areas.”

Now, you might say, practically everywhere has fast Internet and wireless hot spots. That’s true. I’ve seen high-speed Internet in remote towns in the Bolivian high desert, for example. But this is exactly my point: More and more of the planet’s brains are getting onto the Internet. More countries are moving into advanced industry — which means that we will have to compete with them.

It isn’t just that Vietnam is rapidly going online. It has wised up regarding the advantages of hosting advanced industry. From Soft32.com, a site dedicated to computer news: “Intel will increase the size of the assembly and test facility it is building in Vietnam from 150,000 square feet to 500,000 square feet and raise its investment from the $300 million announced in February to $1 billion.”

“The new Vietnam facility will be the largest single factory within the Intel assembly and test network.” This isn’t assembling stuffed bears for Toys R Us.

Intel is about as high tech as things get. When you start hiring smart people to assemble things, pretty soon you train them as technicians and then they move into management. Before long you have another South Korea or Taiwan, mini-powerhouses in tech industries.

And labor in Vietnam is very cheap.

A lot of Americans have tended to underestimate the Asians — and sometimes still do. When Saigon fell in 1975 and Vietnamese refugees poured into the United States, I heard repeatedly that they would gravitate to the slums and become prostitutes and criminals.

Actually they went to Arlington and became either restaurateurs or mathematicians. (I exaggerate only somewhat.) Now I hear “Asians are good at manufacturing, but they can’t innovate.” Bet me. The Japanese weren’t supposed to be able to innovate either. Well, maybe, depending on what you mean by “innovate.” But Japan engineers superb cameras, cars and most other technical equipment.

Toyota is eating General Motors.

The Asians are smart, ambitious people who study.

Check the proportion of East Asians in America’s best universities. They do it honestly, without special preference. Now in Vietnam, 85 million of them are getting access to jobs in information technology.

I don’t suggest that the advent of wireless in parts of Vietnam will turn the country’s farmers overnight into systems engineers. Nor will Vietnam become another Japan by the end of next week. However, before the Internet, there were no programmers in Bombay either. American software folk had nothing at all to fear from India. International mail was not a workable means of working on software.

For how many more decades can America remain the world’s technological leader when country after country of bright ambitious people moves rapidly into realms that once were almost U.S. monopolies? To a great extent, America invented the modern world. Out patent seems to be expiring.

[Things move faster now than they once did. A few years back, Vietnam was a poor and backward country crippled by communism. So was China. I sometimes think that communism was the best thing that ever happened to U.S. industry because it kept competition down. Now, they are not crippled. Regularly storiesArticles appear on a regular basis saying that another company has moved more of its design or manufacturing to Asia.]

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