Hong Kong Running Out of Its Most Valuable Asset: Land 

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In a city where land is everything, a housing crunch is brewing.

Annie Zheng reports: According to a new study by think tank Our Hong Kong Foundation, the amount of new, developable land in the former British colony is shrinking. Add in a growing population that will outpace the supply of new apartment units, and there’s a pressing need for the creation of more land, says the think tank, led by former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.

“We see a substantial shortage in land and housing resources,” said William Tsang, senior researcher and 41BMIIPgioL._SL250_author of the study. “The government is increasingly relying on changing the use of old land. This means the amount of buildable land is dwindling. When that runs out, what’s next?”

[Order Alice Poon’s book “Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong” from Amazon]

The study found that in 2012, 73% of the nine million square feet of public land for bidding was reclaimed land; by 2015 that had dropped to 50% of the 7.8 million square feet on offer. As a result, the government is relying more on selling converted forms of land, such as work sites, slopes and former staff quarters.

[Read the full story here, at China Real Time Report ]

Public land sales in the form of 50-year land grants are a major source of revenue for the government and one way developers secure land on which to build. In recent years, a flurry of new developers including mainland Chinese have entered the bidding process as the government has put up smaller and more pieces of land. Read the rest of this entry »


Chinese Patriots Smash their iPhones, Boycott Filipino Mangoes to Protest South China Sea Ruling


Amy Yang reports: China isn’t very happy with certain countries as a result of the recent South China Sea arbitration ruling that didn’t quite go its way. When Chinese patriots wanted to show their anger towards the Japanese in the past, some decided to smash Japanese cars. Well, what happens when they feel that same resentment towards Filipinos and Americans? The logical answer, of course, is to boycott mangoes and smash iPhones!


Many netizens have boasted that they will boycott goods from countries supporting the ruling, as profits from those sales could go to fund “enemy” armies. A popular post that has been circulating around on Weibo reads: “Let’s all start boycotting today. Do not buy goods from South Korea, Japan, America and the Philippines. Do not travel there. I cannot fight on the front lines, but I will not be the foolish citizen who provides bullets for the enemy.”

Some posts seem a little fishy, though. For instance, How did they post images of their smashed iPhones from an iPhone? Hmm… think we smell someone’s pants on fire. Or more accurately, many pairs of pants on fire…(read more)

source: shanghaiist.com


China is Dictating Terms to Hollywood

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From censorship to theater ownership, U.S. film industry must reckon with China and its dictators.

Richard Berman writes: Disney sued three Chinese film production companies last month for “copyright infringement” and “unfair competition.” The lawsuit alleges that the Chinese firms incorporated elements of Disney’s hit movie Cars into China’s own animation Autobots.

“The censorship always goes back to the Communist Party. They’re in charge and they’re always looking at how China is portrayed.”

It’s a natural outcome of China’s aggressive foray into the film industry, as the Asian superpower ramps up competition — and tensions — with Hollywood. U.S. companies are fighting in court to protect their intellectual property at the same time they are trying to please Chinese audiences and the censors who control what they see.

China, with its 1.4 billion people , is projected to become the largest movie market in the world as early as next year. The Chinese box office grew by almost 50% in 2015 and is on pace to surpass $9 billion in revenue by year’s end — a lucrative market for U.S. moviemakers.

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But in order for American filmmakers to penetrate it, they first have to comply with Chinese censors. China currently allows only 34 non-Chinese movies into the mainland, all of them heavily edited by a state agency called the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television. SAPPRFT’s mission is to portray Chinese culture favorably — and in line with the Communist Party’s agenda.

[Read more here, at USAToday]

Makers of The Martian, for example, made sure the China National Space Administration played a prominent role in the film “as a way to crack into the country’s huge and lucrative market.” Leading up to Iron Man 3’s China release, filmmakers inserted a scene of doctors discussing surgery on the superhero, all of whom were played by major Chinese movie stars. The 2006 release of Mission: Impossible III — partially shot in Shanghai — retroactively excluded a scene of the city featuring underwear hanging from a clothesline because SAPPRFT claimed it portrayed China as “a developing country.”

hollywood

“The censorship always goes back to the Communist Party,” says T.J. Green, whose company, Apex Entertainment, builds movie theaters in China. “They’re in charge and they’re always looking at how China is portrayed.”

And as if that wasn’t enough, the Communist Party is now coming to our shores. Read the rest of this entry »


Quick Take from Hong Kong on Ruling Against China on South China Sea

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Here’s a clue: The history of the 100 years before 1949 is taught in mainland Chinese schools with the explicit curriculum title of “The Century of Humiliation.” I have described how China’s history over the time since the 1840s is perceived as a comic book story of a superhero who was transformed into a weakling by the villain, but has now regained his superpowers. EVERYTHING is perceived as “getting even.”

Westerners who don’t specialize in the world I now inhabit can’t imagine the absolutely rabid nationalism that is the mainstream default in China’s public discourse and, wang_never.jpgincreasingly in private sentiment — especially among educated people. Basically the default level of nationalism makes Donald Trump look like Noam Chomsky … I am seriously not kidding.

This will be perceived as an “insult to the Chinese people.” Period. The legal and factual merits of the case will NOT be discussed in official media on the mainland (there is no other kind). Anyone who raises any kind of protest against that view online will be bullied and condemned as a traitor and agent of US imperialism.

There is ZERO chance of China accepting this. It will be lovingly placed into the treasure chest of grievances against the world (and especially the U.S.), to be taken out and paraded around on a regular basis — whenever Xi gets some bad economic news (which is all the time now).


BREAKING: China Has No Historic Rights to South China Sea Resources, Court Says 

The case was brought by the Philippines, arguing that China’s claims don’t comply with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. While the court says the ruling is binding, it lacks a mechanism for enforcement.

David Tweed reports: China’s assertions to more than 80 percent of the disputed South China Sea have been dealt a blow with an international tribunal ruling it has no historic rights to the resources within a 1940s map detailing its claims.

“There was no evidence that China has historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources,” the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said Tuesday in a statement. “The tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the seas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’.”

“There was no evidence that China has historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources. The tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the seas falling within the ‘nine-dash line’.”

— Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, in a statement on Tuesday

[Read the full story here, at Bloomberg]

The case was brought by the Philippines, arguing that China’s claims don’t comply with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. While the court says the ruling is binding, it lacks a mechanism for enforcement.

In this Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 photo, a crew member of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy monitors on the deck of the China's aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, sailing on the East China Sea for sea trials. The Liaoning departed for its first-ever sea trials in the South China Sea, a mission likely to draw scrutiny amid Beijing's drive to assert its claims to those waters and their island groups. (AP Photo) CHINA OUT

China’s assertions are based on a 1947 map showing vague dashes — known as the nine-dash line — looping about 1,120 miles (1,800 kilometers) south of China’s Hainan Island and covering about 1.4 million square miles. It contends its claim is grounded in “historic rights” and reclaimed reefs and islands are its indisputable territory. China boycotted the arbitration process and vowed to ignore the result.

“The result of the arbitration is non-binding as far as China is concerned. The Chinese government has already repeatedly made it clear that it will not accept it, will not attend the arbitration, does not acknowledge it and will not implement the result.”

—  Chinese Admiral Sun Jianguo, in June

The ruling risks inflaming tensions in a waterway that hosts about $5 trillion of trade a year and plays a vital link for global energy shipments. China has stepped up its assertions under President Xi Jinping, straining ties with fellow claimants like the Philippines and Vietnam.

[MORE on China’s territorial disputes]

“The result of the arbitration is non-binding as far as China is concerned,” Chinese Admiral Sun Jianguo said in June. “The Chinese government has already repeatedly made it clear that it will not accept it, will not attend the arbitration, does not acknowledge it and will not implement the result.” Read the rest of this entry »


‘Chinese Agents Acted Like Triads’, says Bookseller in Abduction Row

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An outspoken Hong Kong bookseller who has become a symbol of opposition to China’s authoritarian government has accused Chinese security agents of behaving like the notorious triad gangs in a bid to silence the publishers of provocative books about the country’s leaders.

Lam Wing-kee shot to prominence in June when he revealed how he had been spirited into secret detention in eastern China by a mysterious group of agents supposedly acting on the orders of the Communist party leadership.

Writing in the Diplomat, Amnesty International’s China researcher William Nee said Lam’s testimony had provided “a blow-by-blow account of the abusive tools that have become Chinese authorities’ modus operandi to silence critics since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012”.  Read the rest of this entry »


China internet Regulator to Crack Down on Online Comments

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BEIJING (Reuters) – Ben Blanchard reports: China’s internet regulator has launched a new campaign to clean up the comments sections on websites to prevent the spread of what it calls harmful information and to encourage what it considers more helpful, well-intentioned comments to appear.

The Chinese government already exercises widespread controls over the Internet and has sought to codify that policy in Law.

In a statement late on Tuesday, the Cyberspace Administration of China said the crackdown on comments sections was aimed at tackling “outstanding problems”.

Archive/Getty Images

Deputy head of the administration, Ren Xianliang, was quoted as saying in a statement that they wanted to carry out a large-scale “cleanse” of the comments sections and make it easier for people to report illegal or harmful content.

“Proactively foster a healthy, positive Internet culture, and let cultured comment, rational posts and well-intentioned responses become the order of the day online,” Ren said. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Chinese Jet Makes ‘Unsafe’ Intercept 

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr, reports: A U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft flying Tuesday in international airspace over the East China Sea was intercepted in an “unsafe manner” by a Chinese J-10 fighter jet, several defense officials tell CNN.

The Chinese jet was never closer than 100 feet to the U.S. aircraft, but it flew with a “high rate of speed as it closed in” on the U.S. aircraft, one official said. Because of that high speed, and the fact it was flying at the same altitude as the U.S. plane, the intercept is defined as unsafe.

The officials did not know if the U.S. plane took any evasive action to avoid the Chinese aircraft or at what point the J-10 broke away. It is also not yet clear if the U.S. will diplomatically protest the incident.

Officials said the RC-135 was on a routine mission.

Chinese jet makes 'unsafe' intercept

Chinese jet makes ‘unsafe’ intercept 01:24

The Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
>News of the intercept comes as Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are in Beijing for the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Lew is pressing China to lower barriers to foreign business and cut excess steel production, with limited success.

The intercept also occurred just days after Defense Secretary Ash Carter and top military officials returned from a regional security meeting in Singapore. Read the rest of this entry »


Decapitated Churches in China’s Christian Heartland 

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Christianity is Stigmatized, Feared, and Marginalized, in China as well as in the United States, because the Idea that Rights are God-Given Undermines Government Authority.

SHUITOU, China — Ian Johnson reports: Along the valleys and mountains hugging the East China Sea, a Chinese government campaign to remove crosses from church spires has left the countryside looking as if a typhoon had raged down the coast, decapitating buildings at random.

In the town of Shuitou, workers used blowtorches to cut a 10-foot-high cross off the 120-foot steeple of the Salvation Church. It now lies in the churchyard, wrapped in a red shroud.

About 10 miles to the east, in Mabu township, riot police officers blocked parishioners from entering the grounds of the Dachang Church while workers erected scaffolding and sawed off the cross. In the nearby villages of Ximei, Aojiang, Shanmen and Tengqiao, crosses now lie toppled on rooftops or in yards, or buried like corpses.

On a four-day journey through this lush swath of China’s Zhejiang Province, I spoke with residents who described in new detail the breathtaking scale of an effort to remove Christianity’s most potent symbol from public view. Over the past two years, officials and residents said, the authorities have torn down crosses from 1,200 to 1,700 churches, sometimes after violent clashes with worshipers trying to stop them.

A Sunday service at a state-sanctioned church in Wenzhou in 2014. There are an estimated 60 million Christians in China. Credit Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times

A Sunday service at a state-sanctioned church in Wenzhou in 2014. There are an estimated 60 million Christians in China. Credit Sim Chi Yin for The New York Times

“It’s been very difficult to deal with,” said one church elder in Shuitou, who like others asked for anonymity in fear of retaliation by the authorities. “We can only get on our knees and pray.”

The campaign has been limited to Zhejiang Province, home to one of China’s largest and most vibrant Christian populations. But people familiar with the government’s deliberations say the removal of crosses here has set the stage for a new, nationwide effort to more strictly regulate spiritual life in China, reflecting the tighter control of society favored by President Xi Jinping.

[Read the full story here, at The New York Times]

In a major speech on religious policy last month, Mr. Xi urged the ruling Communist Party to “resolutely guard against overseas infiltrations via religious means,” and he warned that religions in China must “Sinicize,” or become Chinese. The instructions reflect the government’s longstanding fear that Christianity could undermine the party’s authority. Many human rights lawyers in China are Christians, and many dissidents have said they are influenced by the idea that rights are God-given.

In recent decades, the party had tolerated a religious renaissance in China, allowing most Chinese to worship as they chose and even encouraging the construction of churches, mosques and temples, despite regular crackdowns on unregistered congregations and banned spiritual groups such as Falun Gong.

Hundreds of millions of people have embraced the nation’s major faiths: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity. There are now about 60 million Christians in China. Many attend churches registered with the government, but at least half worship in unregistered churches, often with local authorities looking the other way. Read the rest of this entry »


A Subversive Message in Hong Kong Goes Up in Lights 

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The city has gone to great lengths to contain protests during Mr. Zhang’s visit, but pro-democracy messages have slipped through.

BEIJING — Jason Lam reports: For more than a minute on Tuesday night, nine-digit numbers were displayed across the facade of Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper, the International Commerce Center. Towering above Victoria Harbor, the glowing white digits blinked against the night sky: 979,012,493… 979,012,492… 979,012,491…

“Due to the high level of security, there’s almost no channel for the Hong Kong people to voice and protest.”

The seemingly innocuous numbers contained a subversive statement. The animation is a countdown of the seconds until when the “one country, two systems” framework — a guarantee that Hong Kong, a former British colony, would keep its civil liberties and a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 — is set to expire.

[Watch in Times Video »]

“We hope to deliver this work to illustrate the biggest anxiety of the Hong Kong people,” Sampson Wong, who created the animation with the artist Jason Lam, said before the lights first went up.

“Most of the animations shown on the I.C.C. are ad-like, meaningless videos. We wanted to show something relevant to the social situation of Hong Kong.”

–Sampson Wong

The artists planned the display to coincide with a three-day visit to Hong Kong by Zhang Dejiang, a member of China’s governing Politburo Standing Committee, which began on Tuesday. Mr. Zhang is the highest-ranking official from mainland China to visit Hong Kong since the pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 known as the Umbrella Movement.

Zhang Dejiang

Zhang Dejiang

[Read the full text here, at The New York Times]

The city has gone to great lengths to contain protests during Mr. Zhang’s visit, but pro-democracy messages have slipped through. At least seven members of the League of Social Democrats party were arrested on Tuesday in connection with at least two banners appearing in public — one on a hillside, the other along the route taken by Mr. Zhang’s motorcade — reading “I Want Genuine Universal Suffrage” and “End Chinese Communist Party Dictatorship.”

“Due to the high level of security, there’s almost no channel for the Hong Kong people to voice and protest,” Mr. Wong said. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Glues Down Paving Stones to Prevent Violence During Beijing Official’s Visit 

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Beijing taking no chances in protest-prone Hong Kong.

Emily Rauhala writes: In a sign of the times, officials in Hong Kong are gluing down bricks ahead of a visit by a top Chinese official, a move reportedly aimed at stopping protesters from turning pieces of pavement into projectiles.

The road work is part of a sweeping security mobilization that includes counterterrorism measures, such as road closures and barricades near the city’s central business district. Demonstrators will be relegated to protest zones, drawing complaints that the government is trying to play down dissent.

The man at the center of the storm: Zhang Dejiang, a member of China’s highest political body and the top official responsible for Macau and Hong Kong. Zhang lands in Hong Kong on Tuesday for a three-day trip. He will be the highest-ranking cadre to visit the city since pro-democracy protests in 2014.

Rioters throw bricks at police in Hong Kong in February after local authorities tried to prevent street food sellers from operating. (Kin Cheung/AP)

Rioters throw bricks at police in Hong Kong in February after local authorities tried to prevent street food sellers from operating. (Kin Cheung/AP)

Judging by the security preparations, not everyone is looking forward to his visit.

Anger and frustration over Beijing’s influence in Hong Kong affairs has been on the rise since 2014, when protesters occupied the heart of the city for months calling for free and fair elections.

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

More than a year and a half later, the issues raised by the demonstrators remain unresolved and many worry that Beijing is tightening its grip on the former British colony, threatening rule of law and the free press.

Amid crackdown on a Hong Kong publishing house this winter, Lee Bo, a local bookseller with a British passport, disappeared from a warehouse in the city and surfaced across the border in mainland China under truly unbelievable circumstances. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong At ‘Serious Risk’ Of Cyberattack Amid 7 Million Daily Attempts Worldwide, Cyber Security Experts Warn

Hong Kong is certainly at a “serious risk” of cyberattack, with an average of 7 million hacking attempts daily worldwide, a Hong Kong cyber crime research centre warned authorities, urging them to do more to protect themselves from such an attack.

According to Frank Tong Fuk-kay, CEO of the government-funded Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI), security officials are in a serious need to step up resources and efforts to stop cybercrimes, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported Saturday.

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Tong’s comments came just a week after ASTRI warned authorities that the Hong Kong Monetary Authority and People’s Bank of China were among a long list of central banks that may be the top targets for hacking group Anonymous in May.

“More resources are needed in ensuring cyber security if Hong Kong keeps up its position as the global financial centre,” Tong told the SCMP in an interview Friday. “[Hong Kong] needs to train its own experts. Even some banks have a chief technology officer on director boards, which shows how important cyber security is.”

ASTRI and Hong Kong Police Force have organized a cyber security summit from Monday to Wednesday, which will be attended by cyber experts from Interpol and countries like the United States, Australia, Ireland, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

During his interview with SCMP, Tong warned that the increase in the use of financial technology on banks, insurance companies, airlines, public transport service provides and hospitals, involve large amounts of personal data, which could be targeted by hackers. Read the rest of this entry »


U.S. Shuts Down International $180 M ‘Psychic’ Mail Fraud Linked to Hong Kong Firm

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New York judge bans eight parties from sending promotional materials, including a company with a branch in Sheung Wan.

US authorities have shut down a long-running international “psychic” mail fraud ring linked to a Hong Kong company that cheated over a million Americans out of more than US$180 million.

“This widespread scam targeted more than one million Americans, many of whom were elderly or in financial distress.”

— Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division

It was understood Hong Kong police have not received any complaints about such a scam or the local firm, Destiny Research Center Limited.

A federal judge from the Eastern District of New York approved a consent decree on Monday, permanently banning eight parties, including Destiny Research Center and its president, Martin Dettling of Zurich, from using the US mail system to send ads, promotional materials and solicitations on behalf of self-styled psychics, astrologers and clairvoyants.

[Hundreds of Hong Kong home owners cheated by scammers posing as financial agents: HK$320 million in new debts for victims]

Since 2000, the defendants allegedly preyed upon vulnerable Americans’ superstitions and sent them over 56 million letters through the US mail purported to have been written by French psychics Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin. The letters predicted the recipients would become rich through means such as winning the lottery if they bought products and services to secure good fortune.

A teller counts US dollars and Chinese 100-yuan notes at a bank in Hefei, east China's Anhui province on January 16, 2011

One such letter touted how Duval and Guerin shared “clear visions” that recipients would come into “massive sums of money on games of chance” if they paid US$50 for a “mysterious talisman” and a copy of “My Invaluable Guide to My New Life”. Read the rest of this entry »


Hong Kong Cracks Down on Illegal Money Flows from China Trade

A teller counts US dollars and Chinese 100-yuan notes at a bank in Hefei, east China's Anhui province on January 16, 2011

A record net $674 billion left China last year, the International Institute of Finance estimates. A further $175 billion left China in the first quarter. 

Saint Chatterjee reports: Hong Kong is conducting a multi-pronged customs, shipping and financial sector crackdown against so-called fake trade invoicing that allows billions of dollars of capital to leave China illegally.

Hong Kong’s central bank told Reuters it has beefed up its scrutiny of banks’ trade financing operations, while customs officials are doing more random checks on shipments crossing border posts and conducting raids on warehouses to ensure the authenticity of goods, senior officials working in shipping, logistics and banking said. The head of a logistics company said surprise customs inspections at Hong Kong border posts had doubled.

A Hong Kong policeman stands guard at Hong Kong's border with Shenzhen, China April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

A Hong Kong policeman stands guard at Hong Kong’s border with Shenzhen, China April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

The sources declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the issues.

They said the increased efforts began this year and reflected concerns about billions of dollars in illicit cash authorities suspect are being channeled through Hong Kong following a stock market crash in China last year.

“Examinations and investigations reflect one of the strongest trends we are seeing now in the financial sector,” said Urszula McCormack, a partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons, which helped co-author a report published by The Hong Kong Association of Banks in February that highlighted shipping as a sector where fake invoicing can thrive.

Rising property prices in the city mean few bookshops can afford ground-floor premises - except those backed by China’s official Liaison Office. Photograph: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

China has become increasingly concerned about capital outflows since the middle of last year when Chinese rushed to get money offshore for safekeeping or to invest following the stock market slump and unexpected yuan devaluation.

Hong Kong is the most popular route, analysts say, because of its proximity to China.

Chinese authorities have tried to staunch the outflows by tightening cross-border investment quotas, stepping up enforcement action of existing rules and restricting residents from buying financial products, such as insurance policies, offered in Hong Kong. But the trade channel had largely been left untouched given the complexity and magnitude of transactions involved.

A record net $674 billion left China last year, the International Institute of Finance estimates. A further $175 billion left China in the first quarter. China had been a long-term net importer of dollars. Read the rest of this entry »


It’s Time To Do Something About China’s Internet Censorship

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Just last week, Beijing further tightened the screws on US companies when it imposed a ban on Apple’s online book and film services. The order came as part of a broader set of regulations, introduced in March, which established strict curbs on all online publishing.

Claude Barfield writes: For the first time this year, the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) “National Trade Estimate Report” took note of China’s Great Firewall. Granted, it was with this tame statement: “China’s filtering of cross-border Internet traffic has posed a significant burden to foreign suppliers.” The report did not indicate what steps, if any, the US plans to take against the People’s Republic of China’s heavy-handed and economically damaging censorship regime. But it is high time for the US, possibly in conjunction with other major trading partners, to test the legality of China’s sweeping Internet censorship system.

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The nature of Chinese censorship

Chinese online censorship operations are not new, and they have been well-documented for over a decade. But the situation has grown worse since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012. Today, the USTR reports that eight of the 25 most trafficked websites worldwide are currently blocked by the Chinese government. Especially targeted are popular search engines such as Google, as well as user-generated content platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Sometimes, the blockade is permanent — Google formally withdrew from China in 2010 — but more often it is intermittent and random, as has occurred with increasing frequency with Gmail and Hotmail. The New York Times has been banned since 2012, and recently (as a result of reporting on the misdeeds of President Xi’s relatives) the Economist and Time magazine have also secured spots on the honored block list. Just last week, Beijing further tightened the screws on US companies when it imposed a ban on Apple’s online book and film services. The order came as part of a broader set of regulations, introduced in March, which established strict curbs on all online publishing.

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In many cases, the filters and blocks carry with them a strong whiff of industrial policy. The now-giant Chinese firm Baidu received a huge boost when Google was forced to withdraw from the Chinese market (Baidu stock shot up 16 percent the day Google announced its withdrawal). Sina’s Weibo and Tencent’s QQ are direct competitors to popular blocked websites such as Twitter and Facebook. Read the rest of this entry »


China Is Building a Robot Army of Model Workers

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Can China reboot its manufacturing industry—and the global economy—by replacing millions of workers with machines?

Will Knight writes: Inside a large, windowless room in an electronics factory in south Shanghai, about 15 workers are eyeing a small robot arm with frustration. Near the end of the production line where optical networking equipment is being packed into boxes for shipping, the robot sits motionless.

“The system is down,” explains Nie Juan, a woman in her early 20s who is responsible for quality control. Her team has been testing the robot for the past week. The machine is meant to place stickers on the boxes containing new routers, and it seemed to have mastered the task quite nicely. But then it suddenly stoppedworking. “The robot does save labor,” Nie tells me, her brow furrowed, “but it is difficult to maintain.”

The hitch reflects a much bigger technological challenge facing China’s manufacturers today. Wages in Shanghai have more than doubled in the past seven years, and the company that owns the factory, Cambridge Industries Group, faces fierce competition from increasingly high-tech operations in Germany, Japan, and the United States. To address both of these problems, CIG wants to replace two-thirds of its 3,000 workers with machines this year. Within a few more years, it wants the operation to be almost entirely automated, creating a so-called “dark factory.” The idea is that with so few people around, you could switch the lights off and leave the place to the machines.

robots-china

But as the idle robot arm on CIG’s packaging line suggests, replacing humans with machines is not an easy task. Most industrial robots have to be extensively programmed, and they will perform a job properly only if everything is positioned just so. Much of the production work done in Chinese factories requires dexterity, flexibility, and common sense. If a box comes down the line at an odd angle, for instance, a worker has to adjust his or her hand before affixing the label. A few hours later, the same worker might be tasked with affixing a new label to a different kind of box. And the following day he or she might be moved to another part of the line entirely.

Despite the huge challenges, countless manufacturers in China are planning to transform their production processes using robotics and automation at an unprecedented scale. In some ways, they don’t really have a choice. Human labor in China is no longer as cheap as it once was, especially compared with labor in rival manufacturing hubs growing quickly in Asia. In Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, factory wages can be less than a third of what they are in the urban centers of China. One solution, many manufacturers—and government officials—believe, is to replace human workers with machines

Gerald Wong, CEO of CIG, is developing an automated electronics factory.

The results of this effort will be felt globally. Almost a quarter of the world’s products are made in China today. If China can use robots and other advanced technologies to retool types of production never before automated, that might turn the country, now the world’s sweatshop, into a hub of high-tech innovation. Less clear, however, is how that would affect the millions of workers recruited to China’s booming factories.

[Read the full story here, at technologyreview.com]

There are still plenty of workers around now as I tour CIG’s factory with the company’s CEO, Gerald Wong, a compact man who earned degrees from MIT in the 1980s. We watch a team of people performing delicate soldering on circuit boards, and another group clicking circuit boards into plastic casings. Wong stops to demonstrate a task that is proving especially hard to automate: attaching a flexible wire to a circuit board. “It’s always curled differently,” he says with annoyance.

But there are some impressive examples of automation creeping through Wong’s factory, too. As we walk by a row of machines that stamp chips into circuit boards, a wheeled robot roughly the size of a mini-fridge rolls by ferrying components in the other direction. Wong steps in front of the machine to show me how it will detect him and stop. In another part of the factory, we watch a robot arm grab finished circuit boards from a conveyor belt and place them into a machine that automatically checks their software. Wong explains that his company is testing a robot that does the soldering work we saw earlier more quickly and reliably than a person.

After we finish the tour, he says, “It is very clear in China: people will either go into automation or they will go out of the manufacturing business.”

Automate or bust

China’s economic miracle is directly attributable to its manufacturing industry. Approximately 100 million people are employed in manufacturing in China (in the U.S., the number is around 12 million), and the sector accounts for almost 36 percent of China’s gross domestic product. During the last few decades, manufacturing empires were forged around the Yangtze River Delta, Bohai Bay outside Beijing, and the Pearl River Delta in the south. Millions of low-skilled migrant workers found employment in gigantic factories, producing an unimaginable range of products, from socks to servers. China accounted for just 3 percent of global manufacturing output in 1990. Today it produces almost a quarter, including 80 percent of all air conditioners, 71 percent of all mobile phones, and 63 percent of the world’s shoes. For consumers around the world, this manufacturing boom has meant many low-cost products, from affordable iPhones to flat-screen televisions.

Workers at CIG retrieve items from one of several mobile robots that ferry materials around the facility.

In recent years, though, China’s manufacturing engine has started to stall. Wages have increased at a crippling 12 percent per year on average since 2001. Chinese exports fell last year for the first time since the financial crisis of 2009. And toward the end of 2015 the Caixin Purchasing Managers’ Index, a widely used indicator of manufacturing activity, showed that the sector had contracted for the 10th month in a row. Just as China’s manufacturing boom fed the global economy, the prospect of its decline has already started to spook the world’s financial markets.

Automation appears to offer an enticing technological solution. China already imports a huge number of industrial robots, but the country lags far behind competitors in the ratio of robots to workers. In South Korea, for instance, there are 478 robots per 10,000 workers; in Japan the figure is 315; in Germany, 292; in the United States it is 164. In China that number is only 36. Read the rest of this entry »


Domestic Dogs Originate from Southern China, say Chinese Scientists

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New research conducted by Chinese scientists suggests that domestic dogs originate from southern China, Xinhua reported on Sunday.

The theory was put forward in a report by scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), published in the US-based scientific journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) recently.

Previous research has generally attributed the domestication of dog to areas including East Asia, Central Asia, Europe and Middle East. But according to Wang Guodong, researcher at the CAS’s Kunming Institute of Zoology and lead author of the report, their study on domestic dogs in southern China suggests the dogs in in this part of the world have the “smallest linkage disequilibrium distance” between their genes, which indicates that they come from a time when the domestic dog population was possibly at its smallest and gave rise to all the different types of domestic dogs that exist today. Read the rest of this entry »


Japan Succeeds in Test Flight of First Stealth Fighter Jet

Development of the stealth fighter comes as Japan faces new security challenges in the form of China’s expanding force posture.

Japan’s first stealth fighter jet successfully took to the skies on Friday as the country joins a select group of world military powers wielding the radar-dodging technology.

Technological super power Japan, despite strict constitutional constraints on the use of military force imposed after World War II, has one of the world’s most advanced defence forces and the development of the stealth fighter comes as it faces new security challenges in the form of China’s expanding force posture.

“The first flight has a very significant meaning that can secure technologies needed for future fighter development. We also expect it can be applied to other fields and technological innovation in the entire aviation industry.”

— Defense Minister Gen Nakatani

The domestically developed X-2 jet took off from Nagoya airport in central Japan on its maiden test flight as dozens of aviation enthusiasts watching the event erupted in applause as it lifted off into the clear morning sky.

In this Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 photo, a crew member of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy monitors on the deck of the China's aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, sailing on the East China Sea for sea trials. The Liaoning departed for its first-ever sea trials in the South China Sea, a mission likely to draw scrutiny amid Beijing's drive to assert its claims to those waters and their island groups. (AP Photo) CHINA OUT

A crew member of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy monitors on the deck of the China’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, sailing on the East China Sea for sea trials. The Liaoning departed for its first-ever sea trials in the South China Sea, a mission likely to draw scrutiny amid Beijing’s drive to assert its claims to those waters and their island groups. (AP Photo)

Television footage showed the red-and-white aircraft roaring into the air, escorted by two Japanese military fighters that were collecting flight data.

The single-pilot prototype safely landed at Gifu air base, north of Nagoya airport, after a 25-minute flight with “no particular problems,” said an official at the defence ministry’s acquisition agency.

It was an “extremely stable” flight, the pilot was quoted as saying by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the main contractor.

“The control of the aircraft went exactly as in our simulated training sessions,” the pilot added. Read the rest of this entry »


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