Succession Doubts, From Thailand To China

Procession for late King Bhumibol in Bangkok on Oct. 26
Procession for late King Bhumibol in Bangkok on Oct. 26


Some shoes are just too big to fill. Take the ones left behind by Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died just over a year ago at 88, and whose five-day cremation ceremony began in Bangkok yesterday after 12 months of national mourning.

The longest-reigning monarch in Thai history served for 70 years, and was venerated by his people as the "Father of the Nation" who brought unity, peace and prosperity. Or, as Rebecca Shamasundari recently put it in The ASEAN Post, he was "a stabilising force in times of political turmoil and tensions in Thailand," which has endured numerous military coups, most recently in 2014.

Maha Vajiralongkorn, 65, will officially be crowned king once his father's body has been cremated, but observers are already raising doubts about his ability to fill the void left by the late king. The French newspaper Le Figaro, in a portrait of the new monarch, describes him as "the polar opposite of his father's virtuous personality."

Thrice divorced and the father of seven children — many of whom he refuses to recognize — Vajiralongkorn is known more for his eccentricities than any interest in public service. Photographs have circulated of him arriving at the Munich airport and accepting salutes from Thai officials while dressed in jeans and a tight crop top that showed off his elaborate tattoos. Despite being the official crown prince for 44 years, he showed virtually no interest in the duty that was expected to eventually pass to him one day. As the French daily argues, "He failed to put these long years to good use to prepare himself to embody this sacred function."

Vajiralongkorn in August 2015 — Photo: VOA/Wikimedia Commons

Of course in Thailand itself, readers aren't likely to come across any such criticism. As Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai national and professor at Kyoto University, explained a few months ago in The Washington Post, Vajiralongkorn and the military junta that governs Thailand have launched a crackdown on social media to suppress unflattering content about the new monarch. The effort comes on top of already harsh "lèse-majesté" legislation.

Looking northward, it's easy to imagine another succession woe in the making. With Xi Jinping now elevated to the level of "Father of the Chinese Revolution" Mao Zedong, and the noted absence of an heir apparentamong the newly-appointed members of the Politburo Standing Committee, some wonder if the Chinese president is planning to remain at the helm, in one form or another, beyond the end of his second term.

If Xi's ambitions are indeed of that magnitude, it would deepen existing concerns about authoritarianism. But at this point, no matter how long his reign lasts, another problem looms for the Chinese Communist Party: how to fill shoes that grow bigger by the day.

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How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.

Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

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