Tag: China

By Denis Balibouse for Wired

In 2010, Google made a moral calculus. The company had been censoring search results in China at the behest of the Communist government since launching there in 2006. But after a sophisticated phishing attack to gain access to the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists, Google decided to stop censoring results, even though it cost the company access to the lucrative Chinese market.

Across nearly a decade, Google’s decision to weigh social good over financial profit became part of Silicon Valley folklore, a handy anecdote that cast the tech industry as a democratizing force in the world. But to tech giants with an insatiable appetite for growth, China’s allure is just as legendary.

The country has more internet users—772 million—than any other country. Hundreds of millions more are not yet connected to the internet. The dizzying prospect of a billion new users reportedly prompted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to offer President Xi Jinping the chance to name his first daughter in 2015. (Xi declined.) A more typical arrangement is the one made by LinkedIn, which agreed to play by local censorship rules.

Now, according internal documents obtained by The Intercept, Google itself may soon rebalance its moral accounts, just as lawmakers and consumers around the globe begin to reckon with industry’s potential to spread disinformation, sow social discord, and prop up authoritarian regimes. The Intercept said Google is in advanced stages of plans to launch a custom Android search app in China that will comply with the Communist Party’s harsh censorship policies on human rights, democracy, free speech, and religion.

“This an extremely disappointing move,” says Eva Galperin, director of cybersecurity for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Google’s willingness to censor its own results takes the onus away from the Chinese government. “They are essentially using Google as a propaganda tool and Google is letting themselves be used.”

A spokesperson for Google told WIRED, “We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com. But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans.”

Google never fully exited China, even after its search service was blocked. The company has three offices and more than 700 employees in China. Last month, Google launched a so-called mini-game on China’s popular WeChat service.

The search project, code-named Dragonfly, began in spring 2017, but accelerated in December after a meeting between top Chinese officials and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the Intercept says. Google has already demoed the app with Chinese government. If China approves the app, it could be launched within six to nine months.

In the documents, Google says it will automatically filter websites blocked by China’s so-called Great Firewall, The Intercept reports. Banned websites will be removed from the first page of search results, with a disclaimer saying “some results may have been removed due to statutory requirements.” Wikipedia and the BBC are cited as examples of sites that could be censored. The documents also say that Google’s search app will “blacklist sensitive queries,” by returning no results when people search for certain words or phrases. The restrictions would extend beyond text search. Features like image search, automatic spell check, and suggested search will also comply with the government’s blacklists.

Google is not the only company revving up its presence in China. Last August, Apple, which makes the vast majority of its products in China and reported sales of nearly $45 billion in Greater China in the year ended September 2017, removed virtual private network (VPN) apps from the App store. In 2016, the New York Times reported that Facebook was developing software for a censorship tool that would enable a third party to monitor popular stories and topics in China and then decide whether those posts should be visible to users.

“Facebook should also be ashamed of itself,” Galperin says. “It is one thing for the government to censor you, and another to say stand back and say, ‘Don’t trouble yourself with having to repress me, I’m just going to repress myself.’”

A 2008 Citizen Lab study said search engines from Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo all censored certain content in China, and “may be engaged in anticipatory blocking,” before the government even asked.

News about Google’s plans comes as tech workers have begun organizing against some of their employers’ business decisions. Meredith Whittaker, the founder of Google Open Research and co-director of AI Now, an institute focused on ethics and artificial intelligence at New York University, was involved in protests within Google to oppose a company contract with the Pentagon to apply artificial intelligence to drone footage in conflict zones. Wednesday, Whittaker tweeted that Google’s censorship could violate Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as Pichai’s recent guidelines on AI ethics.

By Lameez Omarjee for Fin24 

The rand came under “massive pressure” on Tuesday morning, having weakened from R13.63 to R13.90, following news that US President Donald Trump is threatening new tariffs on Chinese imports.

TreasuryONE’s lead dealer Wichard Cilliers said in a snap note that all eyes would now be on the trade spat.

By 09:14 the local currency was trading 1.92% weaker at R13.90 against the US dollar after breaching this level for the first time since November 27 last year when the rand traded at R14.00/$.

“The trade wars are heating up with US president Trump to identify $200bn in Chinese imports for additional tariffs of 10% and on another $200bn after that if Beijing retaliates,” said Cilliers.

Trump reportedly said that the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world. “We will continue using all available tools to create a better and fairer trading system for all Americans,” Trump said.

The IMF noted that this could place global growth at risk.

Bloomberg reports the tariffs could be the latest round of punitive measures in an escalating dispute over the large trade imbalance between the two countries. Trump recently ordered tariffs on $50bn (R692.77bn) in Chinese goods in retaliation for intellectual properly theft. The tariffs were quickly matched by China on US exports.

Apart from the trade wars, locally load shedding is also adding to currency weakness, commented NKC Africa Economics.

NKC expects the rand to trade within a range of R13.65/$ to R13.95/$.

RMB economist Mpho Tsebe noted that the rand was among Monday’s worst-performing emerging market currencies, along with the Colombian peso and the Thai baht.

“Given the fragile growth outlook and inflation contained within the 3%-6% target band, the SARB (South African Reserve Bank) is unlikely to increase interest rates to support the currency,” she said.

Peregrine Treasury Solutions’ Bianca Botes said investors are dumping emerging markets for safe haven assets, including US treasury bonds. “South Africa, due to the liquidity that our local market offers, often leads the losing streak, she said.

“Should these tensions elevate and strong data from the US keeps making its way to market, emerging market currencies will remain under pressure and one could very well see the rand target R14/$,” Botes warned.

However, Andre Botha, senior currency dealer at TreasuryONE was optimistic that the rand could recover.

“We still believe that the rand is overdone at these levels and should the tide turn and risk-taking behaviour start taking precedent again the rand could stage a comeback.” He echoed views that the rand’s performance largely depends on global events rather than local factors.

China is likely to see price rises for paper products this year on a shortage of raw materials and imported waste paper, according to Hong Kong-listed Nine Dragons, one of Asia’s largest packaging and paper producers.

Cheung Yan, the company’s chairwoman and one of China’s richest women, said at a press conference in Hong Kong on Tuesday that the company was likely to raise product prices in 2018, pressured by increased costs in raw materials, whose supply has been hit by Beijing’s tighter controls on imported waste paper, an important source for manufacturing paper products.

“The government’s tightened control on imported recovered paper has resulted in significant volatility in both imported and domestic recovered paper prices,” said Guangdong-based Nine Dragons in an interim results filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange.

In the six months ended December 31, the company saw its net profit more than doubled to 4.33 billion yuan (US$690 million), up from the previous 1.91 billion yuan.
Separately, Vinda International Holdings, China’s third-largest tissue manufacturer, said last month that it had raised tissue product prices by 4 to 5 per cent since last October in response to rising pulp prices.
China’s tissue giant Vinda expects further industry consolidation as Beijing tightens environmental controls
US pulp prices have risen more than 35 per cent in the past year, contributing to the hike in toilet-paper costs among other factors, according to Bloomberg.

The toilet paper price hike has sparked panic buying in Taiwan over the weekend after suppliers told local supermarkets they would raise prices by 10 to 30 per cent from next month.
Raw materials accounted for around 48 per cent of the costs for toilet paper products, and almost all of the pulp was imported from abroad, said Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Vinda has operations in Taiwan, but it is not immediately known the level of price increase they will put in place for their products on the island.

Source: BusinessLive

The technology industry is the crowning glory of America’s economy. It supports 7-million well-paid jobs at home, and allows America to set standards globally.

Silicon Valley generates almost $200-billion of profits from abroad each year, several times the benefit that America gets from having the world’s reserve currency. But after losing its lead in exports and manufacturing, is America’s tech supremacy now under threat from China?

For years Silicon Valley dismissed Chinese tech firms—first as an irrelevance, then as industrial spies and copycats. Most recently China has been seen as a tech Galapagos, where unique species thrive than would never spread abroad. But as our Schumpeter column explains this week, China’s technology industry has been catching up far faster than expected. American venture capitalists return from trips to China blown away by its energy. China’s government has set a goal of becoming dominant in artificial intelligence by 2030.

China still has huge weaknesses. Its tech firms are only worth about a third as much as America’s, and their investment budgets pale in comparison with those in the United States. They generate relatively little revenue abroad, and are puny in semiconductors and business-related software. Moreover, Chinese companies in other industries make less intense use of technology products than their American counterparts do. And although China does have two giant tech firms in Tencent and Alibaba, as well as lots of small ones, it has relatively few mid-sized companies in the range of $50-$400bn.

Nonetheless, China is now approaching parity on the most forward-looking measures. In e-commerce and mobile payments, its industry is now bigger than America’s. Its universe of “unicorns” (unlisted firms worth over $1bn) is almost as large, as is its venture-capital sector. Both are proxies for China’s ability to produce tomorrow’s giant firms. And in cutting-edge areas such as facial and speech recognition, China now has recognised leaders. There are even some signs that it is catching up in hard science: it has produced nearly as many papers on artificial intelligence cited by parties other than their author as America has.

At its present pace, China is still 10-15 years away from reaching tech parity with America. But for American tech firms, the time to get paranoid is now.

Source: The Economist

Eskom to get R20bn boost from Chinese bank

Eskom will sign a $1.5bn (R19.78bn) loan agreement with China Development Bank on Thursday, as the state-owned utility powers ahead with its funding requirements for 2017.

Last week, new acting Eskom CEO Johnny Dladla revealed that Eskom had secured 77% of its funding requirements for the 2017/18 financial year.

He said that for the 2016/17 financial year, Eskom increased its borrowings by over R60bn.

“We remain resolute that we will fully execute the required funding for the year, albeit under challenging market conditions,” Dladla said in a statement last week.

“Our liquidity levels remain healthy and Eskom’s financial profile continues to improve and stabilise.

“Backed by the availability of the government guarantees and the stable financial profile, we do not foresee significant impediments in the execution of the remainder of the FY17/18 funding requirement,” said Dladla.

Eskom is expected to use R43.6bn of its guarantee in 2016/17 and R22bn annually over the medium term, Treasury said in its 2017 Budget Review. Eskom has a R350bn guarantee for the 2016/17 year, with an exposure of R218.2bn.

“Gross foreign borrowings are expected to account for the majority of total funding over the medium term, largely as a result of Eskom’s efforts to obtain more developmental funding from multilateral lenders,” Treasury said in the Budget Review.

The borrowings come despite the power utility being downgraded by rating agencies this year, after Moody’s, S&P and Fitch cut South Africa’s sovereign credit ratings.

By Matthew le Cordeur for News24

China’s growing power

Napoleon Bonaparte once said of China, “Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.”

A spate of articles and books has appeared on the rise of China and its possible domination of the world. The Middle Kingdom has received special attention because it is ideologically and culturally different from the West.

Military strategists and geopolitical thinkers have their own concerns: the country’s leadership does not make its political ambitions clear, nor has the military been open about the degree of its expansion.

The United States still remains the sole superpower but with the rise of “the rest,” particularly China, the present structure of the world order will eventually be reconfigured. In reality, China is not rising but as Aaron Friedberg states, “it is returning to the position of regional preeminence that it once held.” Indeed, China dominated that region for centuries.

Among those who argue that China will rule the world in the near future is Martin Jacques – a British journalist who is the author of When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New World Order.
However, before China can become a legitimate superpower, it must meet its internal and external challenges and make some fundamental political changes.

China’s nine percent economic growth rate since 1990 has enabled it to expand its sphere of influence and gain ground not only in Asia but also in Africa and South America. This influence will probably continue to grow in the future.
In Central Asia, China has invested billions of dollars in oil and natural gas companies to secure its long-term energy demands. China is making large investments in South America as well – America’s own backyard. In addition, China is the preferred partner of many governments in Africa and is becoming the largest trading partner of Brazil and South Africa – both rising economic giants.

Nevertheless, all these investments and China’s attempt to spread its soft power do not guarantee that China is becoming the next world power, for it has major internal issues to deal with. It must deal with an aging population and gender imbalance produced by its one-child policy. It must deal with its water shortage problem and with pollution. These are not the only problems facing China. It must also find a way to produce millions more jobs in order to continue its economic growth. It must overcome internal ethnic issues, economic disparity, virile nationalism, and as Henry Kissinger observes, it must be able to “absorb six million people moving into the cities every year.”

Besides fighting separatist groups in Xinxiang, a problem China will face for years, it also has Taiwan to worry about. This issue remains China’s top foreign policy priority. I believe China can become a superpower when it is no longer focused on its domestic issues. Think about the United States. It was able to focus on external issues when it won the last battle against American Indians in 1890 in South Dakota. In brief, China cannot rule the world until it consolidates its territory.

In order for China to gain hegemonic status on the world stage it must also become an innovative society, a society that nurtures political and economic institutions. It has had tremendous economic growth, but that has not launched it on a trajectory of scientific revolution that led to the rise and ascendancy of the West. Nor does it have innovative and creative companies that could parallel Apple, Google, Twitter or Facebook. Given these challenges, China has a long and complicated road ahead before it can claim the status of a superpower.

By Fahim Masoud for www.intpolicydigest.org

Getting a fat hongbao, or red envelope, stuffed with crisp new notes is one of the hallmarks of Chinese New Year, which started on 8 February and runs for two weeks.

As China’s tech companies build their financial services, they want to convince people that hongbao exchanges can be just as fun when performed through a smartphone.

This year, the country’s three biggest Internet companies— Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent — are offering their own version of online red envelopes and dressing up the custom with games and giveaways. Even the Chinese government is latching on to the digitised version of the tradition, giving away a total of RMB300 000 (about $50 000) through Alipay, Alibaba’s mobile payment service.

Red envelopes are traditionally gifted to children during the holiday, but they can also be given to unmarried adults, elderly relatives, friends, and employees. The companies — which are referred to by the acronym BAT — run competing mobile payment platforms and their red envelope programs may convince people to keep using their mobile wallets even after the holiday is over.

It’s still too early to tell how many people will gift money online this year, but if the past popularity of WeChat’s red envelope service is a fair indicator, smartphone users are eager to try new twists on a beloved tradition. The messenger — which is owned by Tencent and China’s most popular with 650-million monthly active users — first enabled people to send red envelopes through the app’s WeChat Pay mobile payment service in 2014.

In 2015, the company says WeChat delivered over one billion red envelopes. Then on Jan. 1, 2016 (the start of the Gregorian calendar is also an excuse for red envelope giving in China), more than 2.3 billion red envelopes were sent.

To send gift money on WeChat, users click on a “red envelope” button in the main menu, then chose an amount and enter a gift message. Depositing money into each other’s WeChat Pay accounts is quick and more convenient than withdrawing cash and counting it out into packets, but it lacks the finesse of getting an actual red envelope stuffed with brand new notes.

To make giving money online a little bit more personable, WeChat has come up with a game that randomises the amount dispersed among your gift recipients and then shows who got the most after everybody opens up their envelope.

Meanwhile, users of Baidu Wallet, which is made by China’s largest search engine developer, got into the action early. Between 28 January and 8 February, the company says users sent 4,2-billion red envelopes online containing a total of RMB 300-million (about $45,6-million).

China’s largest e-commerce company Alibaba put its own spin on the custom by handing out virtual red envelopes with cash or gift coupons during the Spring Festival Gala, a popular annual show that airs the evening before Chinese New Year starts.

The company hasn’t disclosed yet how much the publicity stunt cost or the total worth of the envelopes it handed out, but its mobile payments service Alipay is one of China’s largest, with about 400-million users.

Of course, the start of the lunar calendar isn’t just celebrated in China. Line, which has been banned in China for more than a year, is offering a red envelope service through Line Pay in Thailand and Taiwan, two of its top markets (the third is Japan).

By Catherine Shu for www.techcrunch.com

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