China Bans Internet News Reporting as Media Crackdown Widens

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The sweeping ban gives authorities near-absolute control over online news and political discourse, in keeping with a broader crackdown on information increasingly distributed over the web and mobile devices.

China’s top internet regulator ordered major online companies including Sina Corp. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. to stop original news reporting, the latest effort by the government to tighten its grip over the country’s web and information industries.

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“President Xi Jinping has stressed that Chinese media must serve the interests of the ruling Communist Party.”

The Cyberspace Administration of China imposed the ban on several major news portals, including Sohu.com Inc. and NetEase Inc., Chinese media reported in identically worded articles citing an unidentified official from the agency’s Beijing office. The companies have “seriously violated” internet regulations by carrying plenty of news content obtained through original reporting, causing “huge negative effects,” according to a report that appeared in The Paper on Sunday.

The agency instructed the operators of mobile and online news services to dismantle “current-affairs news” operations on Friday, after earlier calling a halt to such activity at Tencent, according to people familiar with the situation. Like its peers, Asia’s largest internet company had developed a news operation and grown its team. Henceforth, they and other services can only carry reports provided by government-controlled print or online media, the people said, asking not to be identified because the issue is politically sensitive.

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The sweeping ban gives authorities near-absolute control over online news and political discourse, in keeping with a broader crackdown on information increasingly distributed over the web and mobile devices. President Xi Jinping has stressed that Chinese media must serve the interests of the ruling Communist Party.

[Read the full story here, at Bloomberg]

The party has long been sensitive to the potential for negative reporting to stir up unrest, the greatest threat to its decades-old hold on power. Regulations forbidding enterprise reporting have been in place for years without consistent enforcement, but the latest ordinance suggests “they really mean business,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Center for China Studies. Read the rest of this entry »


OH YES THEY DID: Secret Document Lifts Iran Nuclear Constraints, Cuts Time Tehran Would Need to Build Bomb by Half

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Breakout time would be reduced to six months, or even less if the efficiency is more than double.

VIENNA (AP) — Key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program imposed under an internationally negotiated deal will ease in slightly more than a decade, cutting the time Tehran would need to build a bomb to six months from present estimates of a year, according to a document obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

The document is the only part linked to last year’s deal between Iran and six foreign powers that hasn’t been made public. It was given to the AP by a diplomat whose work has focused on Iran’s nuclear program for more than a decade, and its authenticity was confirmed by another diplomat who possesses the same document.

12 Times the Obama Administration Caved to Iran on Nuclear Deal

The diplomat who shared the document with the AP described it as an add-on agreement to the nuclear deal. But while formally separate from that accord, he said that it was in effect an integral part of the deal and had been approved both by Iran and the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the six powers that negotiated the deal with Tehran.

[Read the full story here, at the Associated Press]

Details published earlier outline most restraints on Iran’s nuclear program meant to reduce the threat that Tehran will turn nuclear activities it says are peaceful to making weapons.

But while some of the constraints extend for 15 years, documents in the public domain are short on details of what happens with Iran’s most proliferation-prone nuclear activity – its uranium enrichment – beyond the first 10 years of the agreement.

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The document obtained by the AP fills in the gap. It says that as of January 2027 – 11 years after the deal was implemented – Iran can start replacing its mainstay centrifuges with thousands of advanced machines.

Centrifuges churn out uranium to levels that can range from use as reactor fuel and for medical and research purposes to much higher levels for the core of a nuclear warhead. From year 11 to 13, says the document, Iran can install centrifuges up to five times as efficient as the 5,060 machines it is now restricted to using.

Those new models will number less than those being used now, ranging between 2,500 and 3,500, depending on their efficiency, according to the document. But because they are more effective, they will allow Iran to enrich at more than twice the rate it is doing now.

Secretary of State John Kerry and the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, at the State Department on Wednesday. Credit Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Secretary of State John Kerry and the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, at the State Department on Wednesday. Credit Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The U.S. says the Iran nuclear agreement is tailored to ensure that Iran would need at least 12 months to “break out” and make enough weapons grade uranium for at least one weapon.

But based on a comparison of outputs between the old and newer machines, if the enrichment rate doubles, that breakout time would be reduced to six months, or even less if the efficiency is more than double, a possibility the document allows for.

The document also allows Iran to greatly expand its work with centrifuges that are even more advanced, including large-scale testing in preparation for the deal’s expiry 15 years after its implementation on Jan. 18. Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


[VIDEO] Jake Tapper Exposes State Department’s Video Deletion Deception

 reports: CNN host Jake Tapper used the “buried lead” of his show Thursday to blast the State Department for its deception surrounding an intentional video deletion from a December 2013 briefing, saying it should “outrage every American.”

“It’s literally someone at the State Department trying to bury something, hiding it from you. In this case, it was an acknowledgment by the Obama administration of having lied to reporters, a scrubbing of the public record, and it should outrage every American.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby admitted Wednesday that a staffer deliberately edited out video from the briefing of an unflattering exchange regarding Obama administration talks with Iran.

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

“It’s literally someone at the State Department trying to bury something, hiding it from you,” Tapper said. “In this case, it was an acknowledgment by the Obama administration of having lied to reporters, a scrubbing of the public record, and it should outrage every American.”

“We learned that there was a deliberate request, that this wasn’t a technical glitch. This was a deliberate request to excise video.”

— State Department spokesman John Kirby

In step-by-step fashion, Tapper laid out to viewers three different lies told by members of the agency. It started when former spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told Fox News reporter James Rosen in February 2013 that there had been no direct talks between Iran and the United States, when they in fact had been going on for months.

In December of 2013, Rosen pointed out to new spokeswoman Jen Psaki that the U.S. had engaged in bilateral talks with Iran earlier in the administration, as acknowledged by Psaki herself.

“The State Department had lied to him and to you,” Tapper said. Read the rest of this entry »


A First Look at America’s Supergun

The Navy’s experimental railgun fires a hardened projectile at staggering velocity—a battlefield meteorite with the power to blow holes in enemy ships and level terrorist camps.

DAHLGREN, Va.— Julian E. Barnes reports: A warning siren bellowed through the concrete bunker of a top-secret Naval facility where U.S. military engineers prepared to demonstrate a weapon for which there is little defense.

Officials huddled at a video screen for a first look at a deadly new supergun that can fire a 25-pound projectile through seven steel plates and leave a 5-inch hole.

“I can’t conceive of a future where we would replicate Cold War forces in Europe. But I could conceive of a set of railguns that would be inexpensive but would have enormous deterrent value. They would have value against airplanes, missiles, tanks, almost anything.”

— Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work

The weapon is called a railgun and requires neither gunpowder nor explosive. It is powered by electromagnetic rails that accelerate a hardened projectile to staggering velocity—a battlefield meteorite with the power to one day transform military strategy, say supporters, and keep the U.S. ahead of advancing Russian and Chinese weaponry.

In conventional guns, a bullet begins losing acceleration moments after the gunpowder ignites. The railgun projectile gains more speed as it travels the length of a 32-foot barrel, exiting the muzzle at 4,500 miles an hour, or more than a mile a second.

“This is going to change the way we fight,” said U.S. Navy Adm. Mat Winter, the head of the Office of Naval Research.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, right, views the hole made in a steel plate by a railgun projectile during testing last year at a top-secret Naval facility in Dahlgren, Va.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, right, views the hole made in a steel plate by a railgun projectile during testing last year at a top-secret Naval facility in Dahlgren, Va. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

The Navy developed the railgun as a potent offensive weapon to blow holes in enemy ships, destroy tanks and level terrorist camps. The weapon system has the attention of top Pentagon officials also interested in its potential to knock enemy missiles out of the sky more inexpensively and in greater numbers than current missile-defense systems—perhaps within a decade.

The future challenge for the U.S. military, in broad terms, is maintaining a global reach with declining numbers of Navy ships and land forces. Growing expenses and fixed budgets make it more difficult to maintain large forces in the right places to deter aggression.

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

“Chinese hackers in particular have tried to penetrate the computer systems of the Pentagon and its defense contractors to probe railgun secrets, U.S. defense officials said. Pentagon officials declined to discuss the matter further.”

“I can’t conceive of a future where we would replicate Cold War forces in Europe,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, one of the weapon’s chief boosters. “But I could conceive of a set of railguns that would be inexpensive but would have enormous deterrent value. They would have value against airplanes, missiles, tanks, almost anything.”

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

Inside the test bunker at Dahlgren, military officials turned to the video monitor showing the rectangular railgun barrel. Engineer Tom Boucher, program manager for the railgun in the Office of Naval Research, explained: “We are watching the system charge. We are taking power from the grid.”

Wires splay out the back of the railgun, which requires a power plant that generates 25 megawatts—enough electricity to power 18,750 homes.

The siren blared again, and the weapon fired. The video replay was slowed so officials could see aluminum shavings ignite in a fireball and the projectile emerge from its protective shell.

“This,” Mr. Boucher said, “is a thing of beauty going off.”

The railgun faces many technical barriers before it is battle ready. Policy makers also must weigh geopolitical questions. China and Russia see the railgun and other advances in U.S. missile defense as upending the world’s balance of power because it negates their own missile arsenals. Read the rest of this entry »


Krauthammer: How Do You Distinguish a Foreign Policy ‘Idealist” from a ‘Realist’?

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Charles Krauthammer writes: How do you distinguish a foreign policy “idealist” from a “realist,” an optimist from a pessimist? Ask one question: Do you believe in the arrow of history? Or to put it another way, do you think history is cyclical or directional? Are we condemned to do the same damn thing over and over, generation after generation — or is there hope for some enduring progress in the world order?

“Barack Obama is a classic case study in foreign policy idealism. Indeed, one of his favorite quotations is about the arrow of history: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” He has spent nearly eight years trying to advance that arc of justice. Hence his initial “apology tour,” that burst of confessional soul-searching abroad about America and its sins, from slavery to the loss of our moral compass after 9/11. Friday’s trip to Hiroshima completes the arc.”

For realists, generally conservative, history is an endless cycle of clashing power politics. The same patterns repeat. Only the names and places change. The best we can do in our own time is to defend ourselves, managing instability and avoiding catastrophe. But expect nothing permanent, no essential alteration in the course of human affairs.

[Read the full story here, at telegraph.co.uk ]

The idealists believe otherwise. They believe that the international system can eventually evolve out of its Hobbesian state of nature into something more humane and hopeful. What is usually overlooked is that this hopefulness for achieving a higher plane of global comity comes in two flavors — one liberal, one conservative.

A Japanese patrol plane, pictured in 2011, flying over the disputed islands in the East China Sea.

A Japanese patrol plane, pictured in 2011, flying over the disputed islands in the East China Sea. Japan Pool, via Jiji Press

The liberal variety (as practiced, for example, by the Bill Clinton administration) believes that the creation of a dense web of treaties, agreements, transnational institutions and international organizations (like the U.N., NGOs, the World Trade Organization) can give substance to a cohesive community of nations that would, in time, ensure order and stability.

The conservative view (often called neoconservative and dominant in the George W. Bush years) is that the better way to ensure order and stability is not through international institutions, which are flimsy and generally powerless, but through the spread of democracy. Because, in the end, democracies are inherently more inclined to live in peace.

Japan's Self-Defense Force honor guards prepare for a welcoming ceremony of new Defence Minister Gen Nakatani in Tokyo on December 25, 2014. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised December 24 at the start of his new term to revive Japan's economy so he can pursue "powerful diplomacy", but China's state media warned him to be wary about changing the pacifist constitution. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

Japan’s Self-Defense Force honor guards prepare for a welcoming ceremony of new Defence Minister Gen Nakatani in Tokyo on December 25, 2014. KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images

Liberal internationalists count on globalization, neoconservatives on democratization to get us to the sunny uplands of international harmony. But what unites them is the belief that such uplands exist and are achievable. Both believe in the perfectibility, if not of man, then of the international system. Both believe in the arrow of history. Read the rest of this entry »


BREAKING: EgyptAir Flight from Paris to Cairo Disappears from Radar 

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An EgyptAir flight traveling to Cairo from Paris has dropped off the radar, the airline confirmed Thursday morning.

The airline posted on Twitter that Flight 804, a Boeing 737 with 59 passengers and 10 crew members on board had vanished.

The airline said the flight was at its cruising altitude of 37,000 feet when it disappeared at 2:45 a.m. Cairo time (8:45 p.m. EDT). EgyptAir said the plane was approximately 10 miles inside Egyptian airspace…(read more)

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Source: Fox News


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 »


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.

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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 »


China Open to Sino-US Space Cooperation

China is open to space cooperation with all nations including the United States, the heavyweights of China’s space program said on Sunday, the anniversary of China’s first satellite launch 46 years ago. “China will not rule out cooperating with any country, and that includes the United States,” said Yang Liwei, China’s first astronaut.

Payload has been reserved in the Chinese space station, due to enter service around 2022, for international projects and foreign astronauts, said Yang on the occasion of the first China Space Day, an annual celebration newly designated by the government.

Upon request, China will also train astronauts for other countries, and jointly train astronauts with the European space station, Yang said. “The future of space exploration lies i international cooperation. It’s true for us, and for the United States too,” according to the senior astronaut.

His words were echoed by Zhou Jianping, chief engineer of China’s manned space program. Zhou said, “It is well understood that the United States is a global leader in space technology. But China is no less ambitious in contributing to human development.”

“Cooperation between major space players will be conducive to the development of all mankind,” Zhou added.

Citing security reasons, the U.S. Congress passed a law in 2011 to prohibit NASA from hosting Chinese visitors at its facilities and working with researchers affiliated to any Chinese government entity or enterprise.

Ban remains in effect
The U.S.-dominated International Space Station, which unsurprisingly blocks China, is scheduled to end its service in 2024. China’s space station could be the only operational one in outer space, at least for a while.

Commenting on Sino-U.S. space relations earlier this week, Xu Dazhe, the head of China’s National Space Administration, cites Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster “The Martian,” in which a U.S. astronaut gets stranded on Mars and is eventually brought back to Earth by NASA, with help from China. 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 »


Why Revolutionaries Love Spicy Food

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Hot Chili Peppers, War, and Sichuan Cuisine

The first mention of the chili pepper in the Chinese historical record appears in 1591, although historians have yet to arrive at a consensus as to exactly how it arrived in the Middle Kingdom.

Andrew Leonard writes: In 1932, the Soviet Union sent one of its best agents to China, a former schoolteacher and counter-espionage expert from Germany named Otto Braun. His mission was to serve as a military adviser to the Chinese Communists, who were engaged in a desperate battle for survival against Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists.

“Eating chili peppers is like riding a roller coaster. It delivers a rush of danger and pleasure.”

The full story of Braun’s misadventures in China’s Communist revolution is packed with enough twists and turns for a Hollywood thriller. But in the domain of culinary history, one anecdote from Braun’s autobiography stands out. Braun recalls his first impressions of Mao Zedong, the man who would go on to become China’s paramount leader.

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“The Sichuanese are fiery. They fight fast and love fast and they like their food to be like them—hot.”

The shrewd peasant organizer had a mean, even “spiteful” streak. “For example, for a long time I could not accustom myself to the strongly spiced food, such as hot fried peppers, which is traditional to southern China, especially in Hunan, Mao’s birthplace.” The Soviet agent’s tender taste buds invited Mao’s mockery. “The food of the true revolutionary is the red pepper,” declared Mao. “And he who cannot endure red peppers is also unable to fight.’ ”

Leonard_BR_pepper-Sichuan

SOME LIKE IT HOT: At a market in Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province in China, a woman places red chili peppers on a scale. The chili pepper is a key ingredient of the province’s identity, and some of the momentous events in Chinese history can be traced back to Sichuan’s hot temper. Andrew Rowat

Maoist revolution is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when your tongue is burning from a mouthful of Kung Pao chicken or Mapo Tofu at your favorite Chinese restaurant. But the unlikely connection underscores the remarkable history of the chili pepper.

[Read the full story here, at nautil.us]

For years culinary detectives have been on the chili pepper’s trail, trying to figure out how a New World import became so firmly rooted in Sichuan, a landlocked province on the southwestern frontier of China. “It’s an extraordinary puzzle,” says Paul Rozin, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, who has studied the cultural evolution and psychological impact of foods, including the chili pepper.

Leornard_BR_map2.

Chili Spread: Christopher Columbus encountered the chili pepper in the Caribbean in the late 15th century. Soon after, Spanish and Portuguese traders, obsessed with controlling the spice market, spread the chili around the globe. The red lines and dates chart the chili’s path from country to country.chillies-down-under.com

Food historians have pointed to the province’s hot and humid climate, the principles of Chinese medicine, the constraints of geography, and the exigencies of economics. Most recently neuropsychologists have uncovered a link between the chili pepper and risk-taking. The research is provocative because the Sichuan people have long been notorious for their rebellious spirit; some of the momentous events in modern Chinese political history can be traced back to Sichuan’s hot temper.

As Wu Dan, the manager of a hotpot restaurant in Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital, told a reporter: “The Sichuanese are fiery. They fight fast and love fast and they like their food to be like them—hot.”

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The chili pepper, genus capsicum, is indigenous to the tropics, where archaeological records indicate it has been cultivated and consumed perhaps as far back as 5000 B.C. Typically a perennial shrub bearing red or green fruit, it can be grown as an annual in regions where temperatures reach freezing in the winter. There are five domesticated species, but most of the chili peppers consumed in the world belong to just two, Capsicum annuum and Capsicum frutescens.

Archive/Getty Images

Archive/Getty Images

 “The food of the true revolutionary is the red pepper. And he who cannot endure red peppers is also unable to fight.”

— Mao Zedong

The active ingredient in chili peppers is a compound called capsaicin. When ingested, capsaicin triggers pain receptors whose normal evolutionary purpose is to alert the body to dangerous physical heat. The prevailing theory is the chili pepper’s burn is a trick to dissuade mammals from eating it, because the mammalian digestive process normally destroys chili pepper seeds, preventing further propagation. Birds—which do not destroy chili pepper seeds during digestion—have no analogous receptors. When a bird eats a chili pepper, it doesn’t feel a thing, excretes the seeds, and spreads the plant.

The word “chili” comes from the Nahuatl family of languages, spoken, most famously, by the Aztecs. (One early Spanish translation of the word was “el miembro viril”—tantalizing early evidence of the chili pepper’s inherent machismo.) Botanists believe the chili pepper originated in southwest Brazil or south central Bolivia, but by the 15th century, birds and humans had spread it throughout South and Central America.

Tobasco

Enter Christopher Columbus. On Jan. 1, 1493, the great explorer recorded in his diary his discovery, on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, that “the pepper which the local Indians used as spice is more abundant and more valuable than either black or melegueta pepper [an African spice from the ginger family].”

In the 15th century, Spain and Portugal were obsessed with finding sea routes to the spice markets of Asia that would allow them to break the monopoly wielded by Arab traders over access to hot commodities like black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. Although Columbus was utterly wrong in his belief that he had sailed to India, he still succeeded in locating precisely what he had been seeking. Read the rest of this entry »


Meet ‘Jia Jia’: China Develops Home-Grown Human-Like Robot

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China’s University of Science and Technology released a human-like robot that is comparable to Japanese models seen in the past on Friday. Not only does it have the face of a beautiful woman, it also capable of interacting with people next to “her.”

Named “Jia Jia,” the face of the life-sized robot is drawn from five attractive female students from the university. Equipped with basic functions, such as making conversation, facial expressions, as well as gestures, it’s apparently more than Siri with a pretty face.

The University also added the robot is “the first of its kind in China”.


Stephen Hawking Debuts With a Big Bang on Chinese Social Media

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One of the world’s most celebrated cosmologists stretched the fabric of China’s social-media universe with a simple greeting on Tuesday.

“Greetings to my friends in China! It has been too long!” celebrated black-hole theorizer Stephen Hawking wrote in an inaugural, bilingual post on Chinese social media platform Weibo. “I hope to tell you more about my life and work through this page and also to learn from you in reply.”

The response was, well, astronomical.

The account amassed more than a million followers in its first six hours. In that time, Mr. Hawking’s first message was…(read more)

Source: China Real Time Report – WSJ


U.S. Naval Flight Officer Lt. Commander Accused of Giving U.S. Secrets to China

Lt. Cmdr. Edward C. Lin

Sam LaGrone reports: A U.S. naval flight officer with an extensive signals intelligence background was accused by the service of passing secrets to China, USNI News has learned.

Lt. Cmdr. Edward C. Lin, who served on some of the Navy’s most sensitive intelligence gathering aircraft, faces several counts of espionage and other charges outlined during a Friday Article 32 hearing in Norfolk, Va.

Lin, originally a Taiwanese national before his family moved to the U.S., had a career as a signals intelligence specialist on the Navy’s Lockheed Martin EP-3E Aries II reconnaissance aircraft, several sources confirmed to USNI News.

China Policeman

Several sources familiar with the case told USNI News the country to which Lin passed secrets was China, however, few other details are known about the case given much of the evidence is classified.

[Read the full story here, at USNI News]

The redacted charging documents say Lin allegedly transported secret information out of the country without permission and then lied about his whereabouts when he returned to duty. The charging documents allege he successfully committed espionage twice and attempted espionage on three other occasions.

Then-Lt. Edward Lin speaking at 2008 U.S. naturalization ceremony in Hawaii. US Navy Photo

Then-Lt. Edward Lin speaking at a 2008 U.S. naturalization ceremony in Hawaii. US Navy Photo

In addition to the accusations related to transmitting secrets to a foreign power, Lin was also accused of violating military law by patronizing prostitutes and committing adultery. Read the rest of this entry »


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