Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 - anticipation, disappointment & confrontation

The number 13 is considered unlucky by many and 2013 could also be considered to be a rather disastrous year too. In many ways 2013 was marred by terrorism, war, confrontation and natural disasters.

African turmoil

January saw the French military begin a five-month intervention into the Northern Mali conflict, targeting the militant Islamist Ansar Dine group. Meanwhile in the north of the continent thirty-nine international workers and one security guard died in a hostage crisis at a natural gas facility near In Aménas, Algeria [Wikipedia].

The continuing conflict in the Central African Republic saw President François Bozizé flee to the Democratic Republic of the Congo after rebel forces captured the. nation's capital, Bangui. By November 2013 reprisal attacks on civilians from Séléka's mainly Muslim fighters and Christian militias called "anti-balaka" increased and the UN warned the country was at risk of spiralling into genocide and said it was "descending into complete chaos", while France described the country as "...on the verge of genocide."

North Korean threat 

North Korea once again rattled its sabre conducting third underground nuclear test, prompting widespread condemnation and tightened economic sanctions from the international community. Even China, a staunch ally of the secretive rogue state, criticised the test though they held back from imposing punitive sanctions [Wikipedia].

Only two days later in Russia, some might have thought the end was indeed nigh and that the bomb had indeed been dropped when a meteor exploded the city of Chelyabinsk. It was most powerful meteor to strike Earth's atmosphere in over a century when a meteor hit Tunguska in 1908. The Chelyabinsk  meteor strike was captured by dozens of car mounted dash-cams as well as CCTV cameras. While the strike was significant in that some 1,491 people were injured and over 4,300 buildings were damaged it was a wake up call for the scientific community concerning the Earth's vulnerability to meteor strikes [Wikipedia / tvnewswatch: Russian meteor strike provides a wake up call].

Terror attacks

Terrorism also reared its ugly head once again striking blows in the US and Europe. In April two Chechen Islamist brothers exploded two bombs at the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States, killing 3 and injuring 264 others. Both suspects were tracked down with a few hours one being killed in an exchange of fire whilst the other was placed on trial and convicted [Wikipedia / tvnewswatch: Terror attack in US leaves 3 dead, 100 injured / tvnewswatch: Boston terror suspects identified / tvnewswatch: Boston terror suspect shot dead / tvnewswatch: Hunt over as second Boston bomber arrested].

One month later terrorism returned to the streets of London when two men ran over a British army soldier with a car, then used knives and a cleaver to stab and hack him to death. They told passers-by that they had killed a soldier to avenge the killing of Muslims by the British armed forces and awaited for police to arrive. Both were shot by armed police but survived to stand trial where they were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment [Wikipedia / tvnewswatch: Renewed terror threat needs a pro-active response].

Surveillance revelations

June saw another attack on the west after US defence contractor Edward Snowden disclosed operations engaged by a US government mass surveillance program to news publications and flees the country. The fallout was highly significant in that it revealed how the United States conducts its operations potentially handing its enemies a gift in being able to thwart or defend themselves from surveillance in the future. Some of the revelations published suggested complicity from Silicon Valley's top tech companies including Apple, Microsoft, Google, Skye and Facebook, though all denied giving the US government a carte blanche. Nonetheless trust was certainly lost amongst many consumers who remain skeptical as to whether private information stored by the big hi-tech corporations is willingly being handed over to the NSA. As for Snowden he was granted temporary asylum in Russia where he still remains, and the leaks are still flowing [tvnewswatch: PRISM raises more questions than answers / tvnewswatch: Snowden gets asylum amid more leaks & terror threats].

Tech disappointments

2013 proved to be a somewhat disappointing year for technology geeks in other ways too. Despite much talk concerning Google Glass, Google's controversial wearable tech device, it has yet to be released to the general public on either side of the Atlantic. Wearable tech in the form of the smartwatch was also a big disappointment with poor battery life, a lack of features and designs that failed to impress.

The search giant did reveal a few surprises however. It brought out un updated Nexus 7 tablet with faster processing, resolution and a rear facing camera. A much anticipated Nexus 5 smartphone also rolled off the production line in November and while arguably better, or at least comparable with the new iPhone 5 [tvnewswatch: Apple having to Think Different again], it did not wow consumers as might be expected. This was partly due to the fact that the new Android 4.4 KitKat operating system did not bring many new surprises or features. In fact despite all the promotions and buzz around KitKat 4.4 the differences between KitKat and Jelly Bean 4.3 were marginal and for some a disappointment [tvnewswatch: Google unveils Nexus 5 with Android Kit Kat].

Less of a disappointment was Google's Chromecast, a small HDMI dongle that could potentially transform the way people use the web and their television. The device enables casting of Internet based services such as YouTube and Netfix to the television screen using a phone or tablet as a remote control whilst the Chromecast device simply streams directly from the WiFi itself. Most tech reviews praised the device the only pitfall being the take up by streaming sites in terms of adding the Chromecast facility to their apps. The biggest disappointment was from consumers around the world who at the end of the year are still waiting for a launch date outside the US [tvnewswatch: Google launches new Nexus 7 & TV streaming device].

Tensions in East China Sea

Perhaps the biggest concern of 2013 was not so much whether one would be able to get one's hands on a Chromecast device and stream Internet content on a TV, but whether we'd all be here to enjoy it when it did arrive. With tensions building in the East and South China Seas the potential of a major conflict was becoming more real by the month.

Tensions between China and its neighbours have been growing sometime concerning claims by China over disputed territory. However China upped the anti when it established a new "air defence identification zone" which covered much of the east and south China sea [BBC]. The US ignored it and flew unarmed B52s through the zone without declaring their presence. The US flights were followed soon after by brazen intrusions by South Korean and Japanese aircraft. Though China did not respond directly they subsequently put military reconnaissance flights into operation within the newly declared zone.

In a tit for tat move the South Korean then extended its air defence zone to partially overlap with the zone declared by China [Reuters]. But the most dangerous incident occurred only three days before when a United States guided missile cruiser, the USS Cowpens, was forced to take evasive action as a PLA [People's Liberation Army] Navy vessel neared each other on 5th December [BBC].

Described by some experts as the most serious Sino-US confrontation in the South China Sea since 2009 the US defence secretary Chuck Hagel warned the Chinese action was "irresponsible" and future incidents could "set off some eventual miscalculation" [BBC / NYT].

Certainly some observers, such as Gordon Chang, who penned The Coming Collapse of China, said the threat from China was far more serious than many were suggesting. In an address made in February at the Center for Security Policy's National Security Group Lunch on Capitol Hill, Chang suggested that a slowing and distressed economy, as well as a crisis of political legitimacy would only further nationalism within China which in turn would increase hostility with its neighbours [YouTube].

It could be argued that China is merely barking and asserting its feelings. However any missteps could well lead to a dangerous and widespread conflict. With other tensions existing between India and China over the Arunachal Pradesh region the risks are all too clear. China once again tested its nuclear neighbour when it sent troops into the disputed region on the 11th August before making a tactical withdrawal four days later [BBC].

China has continually tested the US's resolve over the last decade. It has harassed unarmed US Navy reconnaissance vessels most notably the blocking of the Impeccable in the South China Sea in 2009 [Wikipedia / BBC]. In 2001 China forced down a Navy EP-3 in the infamous Hainan incident and in 2006 China surfaced a Song-class attack submarine in the middle of the Kitty Hawk strike group near Okinawa [Washington Times].

So far the United States have resolved such issues diplomatically, but such impotent reactions could be read as signs of weakness by Chinese military strategists. While conflict is best averted, China's arrogance and assertiveness could well lead to a very dangerous year in 2014.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Legal war spreads to Twitter & social media

The UK's Attorney General has declared he will try to rein in those who dare to break the rules surrounding what can be said during an active trial on social media. However, any attempt to do so could have a counter-productive effect.

In reports this week it is suggested that the attorney general Dominic Grieve QC is to publish guidance on Twitter to help prevent social media users from committing contempt of court when commenting on legal cases [BBC / Telegraph].

Grieve has said he "will not shy away" from taking legal action against those who flout the rules. But jurisdiction in such rulings effectively only cover the UK and those tweeting from beyond Britain's shores are beyond the reach of its legal system.

Red rag to a bull

Indeed his turning to Twitter to disseminate advisories that have previously only been issued to the media is likely to act like a red rag to a bull. As John Walsh writes in The Independent there are a great many bulls that might be stirred into action.

"Instantly I see a red rag being waved under the noses of a million bulls, and the words "Court case! Court case with secrets!!" yelled across the Twittersphere. It'll be like (as George Orwell once defined advertising) "the rattle of the stick in the swill bucket" to stir a million busy imaginations into action online," Walsh comments.

And while those tweeting from abroad may have less to fear from the wrath of Britain's legal system, even those in the UK might push the boundaries as best they can. "The owners of the imaginations may realise they're straying into areas of possible contempt, but they will, I guarantee, test that word "possible" to its outer limits," Walsh adds.

Online reaction

The reaction on many newspaper forums were scathing of Grieve's proposal calling it another assault on free speech with some vowing to ignore any advisories [Daily Mail].

The Internet has been described as a "megaphone for gossip" by Lord Justice Leveson, who warned against "trial by Twitter as he called for new laws to curb "mob rule" last year.

But curbing such platforms are difficult especially given that they are often hosted in other countries. While countries like China curtain such activity by complete blocks of such foreign social media sites, Britain is unlikely to follow such a drastic route quite yet.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Safety concerns raised after police helicopter crash

There have been concerns raised over the safety of the helicopter which was involved in the tragedy which claimed at least 8 lives on Friday [29th November].

According to reports the Eurocopter EC135 Type 2 has been the subject of two recent European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) emergency airworthiness directives.

While it is still too early to determine whether the crash was a result of a mechanical failure, air crash investigators will likely be looking at whether there were problems with the aircraft itself.

Safety fears

It has emerged that the helicopter, which was operated for Police Scotland by Bond Air Services Ltd, was one of dozens of aircraft grounded in 2012 over safety fears. Should a mechanical failure be found to be behind Friday's tragedy it could have far reaching ramifications.

With a cruising speed of up to 254 km/h [158 mph], the twin-engined EC135 has become popular with police and ambulance services. Should they be grounded due to safety concerns it could have a significant impact on how the Air Ambulance Service respond to emergencies and how the police track suspects and monitor situations on the ground.


Eight people died when the twin-engined EC135 fell from the sky and crashed through the roof of the crowded Clutha pub in Glasgow city centre, Scotland. Some 40 others were injured some with serious injuries ranging from broken limbs, head injuries and lacerations.

More than 48 hours after the crash there remained some concern that some individuals might still be buried in the debris.


Safety investigators and firefighters were working to lift the aircraft from the pub on Sunday having already removed the rotor blades and taken them away for forensic examination. Meanwhile the EASA, which has the authority to ground helicopters that are found to have technical design flaws, said the agency is "working closely" with Eurocopter and investigators but has not ruled out grounding the EC135 Type 2. A spokesman told reporters that it is "prepared to take any action based on facts to ensure that the type of helicopter in question continues to be operated safely".

Previous concerns

On 23rd September, the EASA warned of "stiffness" in the "main rotor actuators" of the variant, which could lead to "reduced control of the helicopter". And in May last year, the agency reported a "crack detected" on parts of the "main rotor hub shaft", which could "lead to loss of the helicopter". This problem was first reported on an EC135 aircraft operated by Bond Air Services for the Scottish Air Ambulance Service.

The EASA alert led to the temporary grounding of all the 22 EC135 aircraft operated by Bond Air Services in the UK, including the Police Scotland aircraft that crashed on Friday, then operated by Strathclyde Police.

In early November the transport select committee launched an investigation into the safety of helicopter flights in Scotland. Following the crash, a spokesman for the British Airline Pilots' Association said that the number of number of recent helicopter incidents in Scotland was a "matter for concern" and called for the committee to "look into the circumstances around" the accident.

Other incidents

On 23rd August this year four people were killed when an AS332L2 Super Puma crashed into the sea about 2 km off the Shetland Islands.

Operated by Bond Offshore Helicopters, the aircraft was similar to one which crashed a few miles off Peterhead in Scotland in April 2009 which killed all 16 people on board. Investigators concluded that the main cause of that accident was the catastrophic failure of the main rotor gearbox.

The aircraft was manufactured by EADS, which owns Eurocopter, and the company is concerned that fingers are already being unfairly pointed at it for the Glasgow crash. However the Air Accidents Investigation Branch found that there was no technical fault to blame for the Super Puma incident.

Finger pointing

But with some experts pointing to a possible loss of power in Friday's incident, finger pointing may be the least of concerns. Phil Giles, a former air accident investigator, said, "One of the first things you notice from the images from Glasgow is one of the rotor blades sticking up in the air, which suggests there was very little power on the helicopter when it crashed. So it looks like the engines had probably stopped."

"From everything I've seen, it suggests the pilot had more of a problem on his hands than just a power failure, though, as the aircraft doesn't seem to have entered autorotation, which is the helicopter equivalent of a glide, and it dropped liked a stone."

Financial implications

Police forces and Air Ambulance Services have already been affected by cost cutting exercises. In England and Wales police helicopters in England and Wales, though not Scotland, were reorganised in a £15m cost-cutting measure into a single National Police Air Service. Its fleet now comprises 23 helicopters, including 14 of the EC135 Type 2 aircraft involved in the latest crash.

A grounding of half its fleet could be very costly indeed, especially if it were indefinite. Air Ambulance Services would be even harder hit since they rely primarily on charitable donations and sponsorship rather than funding from central government. Friday's incident may not be good for Bond Offshore Helicopters or Eurocopter and its subsidiaries should their record on safety be further called into question.

[Sky News / BBC / Guardian / Independent / FT / Daily Mail

Pictured: a Eurocopter EC135 Type 2 operated by Essex Police and of the same type that crashed in Glasgow.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, November 29, 2013

Google restricts KitKat updates, bans Cyanogen from Play store

Google has angered many owners of older Nexus devices by refusing to roll out the latest version of Android Kit Kat despite the fact such devices are capable of running the software. Furthermore the search giant has effectively ousted Cyanogen from its Play store which had provided software which allowed users to install such operating systems manually.

The moves have signalled a distinct change in the way the company behaves to its massive user base and an apparent shift away from previously stated policies.

Abandoned promises

Ever since the launch of Google's line of Nexus phones the company promised users they would always be the first to receive the latest updates. Nexus devices run on what is often referred to as stock Android or Vanilla Android, a version of the Android operating system which omits much of the bloatware often added by other manufacturers. Fans of Google and Android devices often state that stock Android is far superior to that offered on other devices and as such have opted to only purchase Google's line of Nexus devices.

The first device to appear under the Nexus brand was the Nexus One, but with limited memory it was only able to upgrade to Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread. Soon after The Nexus One fell out of favour the Nexus S took centre stage. It was faster than the previous device and possessed more memory though it can only be updated to Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean.

In November 2011 came the Galaxy Nexus which launched with  Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and later, for most users, updated to Android 4.3 Jelly Bean. However there the updates stopped, despite the device having sufficient RAM to house the latest software build that of Android 4.4 KitKat.


Google merely states that the Galaxy Nexus won't receive an update because the device has fallen out of its 18 month update cycle despite the fact the device was on sale less than 12 months ago. The decision has angered Galaxy Nexus owners who feel they have been lied to by a company that promised they would always be first to receive new software updates, given technical specifications allowed. It has prompted some to launch a petition which aims to persuade Google to change its mind [].

Those writing on forums have expressed dismay at Google's decision claiming that the company has broken its promise to those who bought Nexus devices.

"I purchased my Galaxy Nexus a little over a year ago - why? Because at the time, Google maintained the line that all supported Galaxy phones would be updated to the latest version of Android. No rooting or flashing, I got every update," one angry Galaxy Nexus owner posted on the Inquirer website. "So what the heck are they thinking now? The KitKat update not only supports my phone, but it's just a .4 release. And it's not like getting an OS update would keep me from buying the new phone with better hardware. If anything, it makes me hesitant to buy the new one when there's a chance I'll get burned like this again. This breaks every promise I was sold."

In fact many also accuse the company of ignoring or abandoning its much stated green credentials suggesting that junking a perfectly good phone for a new Nexus 5 in order to take advantage of Android KitKat is not exactly environmentally friendly.

Mixed opinions

However some have suggested that all the complaints are unwarranted given the Galaxy Nexus is some two years old, or that KitKat, despite some improvements, is not worth getting frustrated about.

On one Google+ post there are mixed opinions some accusing Google, others accusing the carriers and even the components' manufacturers. Others suggest installing 4.4 manually, though this does require a certain amount of technical knowledge, patience and comes with some risk.

Manual installation

There are some articles to be found on the subject of installing Android KitKat on the Galaxy Nexus. The IBTimes goes into great depth, describing the procedure using CyanogenMod a specialist tool that enables Android users flash different ROMs or software onto their devices.

However in a move that some may see as particularly vindictive, Google requested Cyanogen remove their free application from the Google Play store.

The app had been available in the Google Play store since 12th November this year and Cyanogen claims "hundreds of thousands" of users have installed it already. But on Wednesday the Cyanogen team apparently received an email from Google informing them that the CyanogenMod Installer violated Google Play's terms and conditions.

"After reaching out to the Play team their feedback was that though the application itself is harmless, since it 'encourages users to void their warranty', it would not be allowed to remain in the store," the software developers said in a blog post [Phandroid / Register].

Commercial considerations

Google's move could well be seen as a further attempt to encourage users to purchase its new flagship Nexus 5 phone rather than hold on to their older devices. However, the attitude and apparent signs of contempt for older Nexus phone owners could work against the company, at least in the short or medium term.

Google certainly has commercial obligations and considerations. Having signed Nestle with its KitKat name tie-in and with shares now hovering at over $1,000 Google might be seen as having forgotten its customer base, a core of consumers that has stuck with the company from the beginning. With feelings already soured by concerns over privacy and potential leaks or sharing data with the NSA - which Google denies - there are many bridges need mending. Destroying more bridges is not the way of maintaining customer loyalty.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Western media begins self censorship in China

It has long been the case that Chinese media kowtows to the state, publishing only stories sanctioned by government censors and binning reports considered too sensitive. The reasoning is one of self preservation by journalists, reporters and organisations that would otherwise find themselves in hot water. But western journalists and media organisations have often ignored the rules that Chinese journalists have to abide by, delving into subjects and reporting on issues which could land their Chinese colleagues in jail.

Kowtowing to a "Nazi state"

However there appears to be a change in mood with some media companies beginning to kowtow to Chinese authorities, burying stories and self censoring in order to maintain their presence in China. Such behaviour has been criticised by some journalists who liken it to Nazi-era Germany, where news organizations had censored themselves to maintain access to the country.

Such self censoring has come about due to a sustained barrage of attacks by Chinese authorities on western media outlets and its journalists. Following the publication of stories deemed too critical China has blocked Internet access to the specific news organisation's website or refused visa extensions or renewals to journalists.

In the past few years several big names have been targeted after they printed stories delving into party corruption and details of China's leaders' financial affairs.

Critical reporting

In October 2012 China blocked both the Chinese and English versions of the New York Times' websites following a report which looked into Premier Wen Jiabao's relatives accumulation of billions of dollars. The article claimed that Wen's family members "have controlled assets worth at least $2.7bn (£1.7bn)", though it did not make a direct accusation of any misconduct, by either Wen or his family.

Nonetheless, the inference was there, and China condemned the publication as a "smear" and accused the New York Times of having "ulterior motives" [BBC].

A few months earlier Bloomberg had also been censured after it had dared to publish financial details of Xi Jinping's family [Guardian]  

The stories came at a particularly sensitive time for China as it was about to embark on its once in a decade change of leadership. Sensitive reports of an outgoing premier, Wen Jiabao, and an incoming president, Xi Jinping, were unlikely to be ignored by China.

Savage response

However their reaction was far more severe than many might have anticipated, and the fallout far larger than one could have imagined.

Some journalists received death threats following the Xi Jinping reports. Leta Hong Fincher, a well-known academic in China who is married to Bloomberg News correspondent Mike Forsythe, posted a tweet in October 2012 saying "we got death threats after Bloomberg story on Xi Jinping" [Business Insider].

The situation has intensified with forced resignations, buried stories and further news blackouts. This month Bloomberg suspended Michael Forsythe, a Hong Kong based journalist who has written many award-winning investigative articles on China [NYT].

Bloomberg gave no explanation of his suspension, nor his eventual departure from the media outlet, but the move came only days after several news outlets, including the New York Times, published reports quoting unnamed Bloomberg employees saying that top editors, led by Matthew Winkler, the editor in chief, decided in late October not to publish an investigative article because of fears that Bloomberg would be expelled from China.

Bloomberg had apparently kowtowed to the Chinese after months, if not years of web blocks, and expulsions targeted against western media.

Expulsions & visa refusals

This month foreign correspondent Paul Mooney, an American who has covered China for the past eighteen years, for Newsweek, the South China Morning Post, and others, became the latest to be denied a visa [Business Insider].

In 2012 Al-Jazeera journalist Melissa Chan was essentially expelled after being refused a visa, finally forcing the news station to shut down its Beijing bureau [NYT / tvnewswatch: Doubltalk & memory holes as Melissa Chan expelled - May 2012]. The war against journalists has been a long one however. Andrew Higgins, a correspondent for London's Independent newspaper, was expelled in 1991 after being found with confidential information about a supposed crackdown on Inner Mongolian nationalists.

The expulsions and censorship has not stopped. This last month saw the Chinese versions of the Wall Street Journal and Reuters websites blocked [Tech In Asia]. The reason was not immediately clear though the blocks came only days after the Communist Party's 3rd Plenum meeting ended and media were publishing their analyses.

Embarrassing stories

The latest round of censorship also coincided with the publication of a story revealing ties between former premier Wen Jiabao's daughter and the US finance company JP Morgan [NYT / NYT / Reuters - Chinese].

Wen Runchun had been using an alias reported to have been government approved and an effort to hide her links to the inner government circle. Her chosen alias of Lily Chang has itself sparked considerable debate. Chang is a common Chinese surname, though it could also be an alternative form of English spelling for the widely used Chinese last name Zhang, often used by Taiwanese or overseas Chinese.

Zhang is the surname of Wen Jiabao's wife, Zhang Peili, a geologist and a former vice-president of the Chinese Jewelry Association. And while her adopted surname matched that of her mother's, albeit with the Taiwanese spelling, 'Lily' seems to have partially reflected her mother's given name, 'Peili'.

Though adopting an alias to cover up a notable family background is believed to be common practise among the children of the elite, Chinese microbloggers have pointed out that forging ID documents is a crime under the law in China.

United States authorities are also scrutinizing JPMorgan's ties to Ms. Wen, aka Lily Chang, as part of a wider bribery investigation into whether the bank swapped contracts and jobs for business deals with state-owned Chinese companies, according to the documents and interviews. The bank, which is cooperating with the inquiries and conducting its own internal review, has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Nonetheless, the reports are further embarrassment to the Chinese Communist Party, and a story like many others they would rather suppress [SCMP].

Battle lines

Thus comes the censorship with China blocking websites. Some groups have attempted to thwart such efforts by creating mirror websites and using a subpath of Amazon and Google's domains that support HTTPS access. This essentially means that China would need to block both hosting domains run by Google and Amazon to kill access to the mirror sites such as this one for the Chinese version of Reuters [The Next Web].

Of course censors could block Amazon or Google's domains entirely though doing so could create big problems for thousands of Chinese web services which also use their services. However pressure from China could force the web companies themselves to self censor. Google has already made its feelings clear on the matter of censorship and China and may be reluctant to play ball. Amazon might have more to lose financially and could possibly cave in to government pressure.

China certainly appears to be taking a harder line on Western media which it sees as a major threat. A leaked internal Communist Party document from April listed "Western media" as one of seven threats against which the Party must be vigilant.

"The ultimate goal of advocating Western views of media is to hawk the principle of abstract and absolute freedom of press, oppose the Party's leadership in the media, and gouge an opening through which to infiltrate our ideology," the document said [Global Post].

White flags

And with the media clearly in the gun sights some organisations are clearly raising a white flag. In early November Bloomberg editor Matthew Winkler is said to have pulled an investigative report which detailed the hidden financial ties between one of the wealthiest men in China and the families of top Chinese leaders. Less than a week later, a second article, about the children of senior Chinese officials employed by foreign banks, was also declared dead, according to Bloomberg employees that spoke anonymously to the New York Times.

When challenged on the issue Winkle insisted that the articles in question were not killed. "The stories are active and not spiked," he told the NYT in an email.

However the supposed spiked stories comes only weeks before high profile visits to China by two senior Bloomberg figures. Daniel L. Doctoroff, the chief executive of Bloomberg L.P., the parent company, is expected to travel to China in the coming weeks. And the company's billionaire founder, Michael R. Bloomberg, told Forbes this autumn that he plans to go to China soon after stepping down as New York City's mayor in January to "give some speeches on behalf of the company."

Protecting assets

Should Bloomberg have gone to press with more unsavoury revelations about China's elite, these excursions could become rather uncomfortable. Furthermore Bloomberg has also seen a small part of its financial arm, and perhaps the most lucrative element of its business, dwindle in China. Financial news terminal subscriptions, which cost more than $20,000 per year and are the main revenue generator for Bloomberg, slowed for a spell in China, after officials issued orders to some Chinese companies to avoid buying subscriptions.

Bloomberg's financial services are a major cash cow and the observation did not go unnoticed by satirical Hong Kong based news outlet Next Media, which mocked Bloomberg's self censorship via a video posted on YouTube [Sinosphere].  

Jokes aside there is a serious issue as to whether the true nature of journalism can be maintained in China when news organisations are going to censor what they report. If Bloomberg are censoring whole stories could they also be censoring parts of a story thus failing to give the whole picture behind a single report. Such questions could play in the minds of  Bloomberg readers who may turn away from the news organisation if trust in their reporting begins to wane.

Losing integrity

But what of other news organisations working out of China. If Bloomberg is kowtowing, who is to say others are not acquiescing to Chinese demands.

Media organisations may lose in the short term by failing to give in to China's demands on not reporting certain stories. They may find themselves effectively expelled from China with visa refused, resident permits revoked and websites blocked. But the reputation of media organisations who stay and kowtow could be irreparably damaged [New Yorker].

The truth always emerges eventually, despite any attempt by the state to cover things up. In fact by attempting to hide things may often create more problems and foster rumours or conspiracy theories far more elaborate that the basic truth would have ever done.

A case in point is the fact that John F Kennedy may well have died from a wound inflicted by a bullet accidentally fired from a secret service rifle [NBC]. Yet the subsequent attempt to cover up the accident has itself created more conspiracy theories than one can imagine.  

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Blocked website list grows in war on piracy

When one thinks of Internet censorship and blocks on websites one generally focuses upon China, however many western countries, including the UK, are also beginning to censor the web.

Differing standards

While China is focused more on stopping access to information deemed controversial, sharing material outside the Communist Party's control on social media or inciting dissent, the West is more concerned about online piracy and copyright infringement.

Britain in particular has begun to force ISPs [Internet Service Providers] to stop access to many file sharing websites and the list is getting longer.

UK censorship

In May 2012 Virgin Media and several other ISPs complied with a court order asking them to prevent access to the torrent site Pirate Bay [tvnewswatch: Internet censorship a step closer after Pirate Bay is blocked]

It was the first sledgehammer blow, enforced by law, since the Digital Act became law in April 2010, passed after what was seen as a grandiose display of apathy [tvnewswatch: UK: Anger as MPs pass digital bill]

There had been some amendments to the bill before it became law, however the main tenet remained in place, that of clause 8 which stated, "The Secretary of State may, by regulations, make provision about the granting by a court of a blocking injunction in respect of a location on the Internet which the court is satisfied has been, is being or is likely to be used for or in connection with an activity that infringes copyright."

Unfounded fears

While, as some feared, whole sections of otherwise legitimate of the Internet have not been targeted, such as Google's Blogger, YouTube or cloud services, other more blatant file sharing sites have been struck down with court orders.

After Pirate Bay was blocked in May last year those that ran the site began to set up several proxies. This certainly kept some traffic heading their way although the list of proxies has also been gradually added to the ISP's blocked list.

Growing list

Others that have been targeted include EZTV, BeeMP3, Filestube and Filecrop but that list is far from complete. Indeed while the likes of Virgin, BT, Sky, PlusNet, O2  and EE are open in their willing to comply with court orders none are willing to provide a detailed list of what is blocked.

For the average consumer there is perhaps no real reason to fret, after all most of the sites are in essence illegal in that they are sharing copyrighted material. However the risk is that such censorship could spread to more mainstream sites. It is unlikely that YouTube would be blocked, despite the mountains of films and albums uploaded to the site. However foreign clones such as China's Youku or Tudou could very easily become targeted for its often blatant and unhindered distribution of the latest Hollywood films.


In response to the blocks many filesharing sites have set up proxy sites, which weren't initially blocked because they weren't named in the court order. However, since June 2013 ISPs are blocking a huge number of proxies as well [The Inquirer].

Even without proxies, it is possible for the determined to get around the blocking method the ISPs use. One method is, of course, to change to a small ISP such as Zen Internet or Eclipse Internet which have yet to impose such blocks. Few are likely to uproot themselves in order to obtain a less restricted Internet. Furthermore such providers may not be as good on other fronts, such as speed or reliability [Choose].


The only real escape for Internet users in Britain and elsewhere, who insist on wanting to download music or films from the Internet is to use a VPN [Virtual Private Network]. Even this has its pitfalls however. When routing through a VPN the speed can be cut dramatically, and whilst normal browsing might not be noticeable the download of a film or album could take hours instead of minutes. A VPN can also cost as much as $120 a year thus the free download may not be as free as it once was, and with the added problem of slow download speeds it could be more trouble than it's worth to grab that 'free' movie, after all 'Time is Money'. And with relatively cheap streaming services such as Netflix and LoveFilm, or video vaults such as Google Play or Flixster providing access to movies purchased either physically, through Flixster's Ultraviolet partnership, or virtually, online piracy could wane merely because of an issue of convenience.


There are however other reasons to use a VPN, other than getting on Facebook in China or downloading a Torrent from Pirate Bay in the UK, and that is better privacy and security. With Snowden's revelations and concerns about government snooping, which have been growing for some time [tvnewswatch: Britain to increase data surveillance powers April 2012 / tvnewswatch: Thoughtcrime nears with social media tracking tool Feb 2013], maybe a VPN isn't such a bad idea!

Final note

This is the most definitive list one has been able to establish of sites blocked by ISPs in Britain: : The Pirate Bay, Kat, H33t, Fenopy, 1337x, BitSnoop, ExtraTorrent, Monova, TorrentCrazy, TorrentDownloads, TorrentHound, Torrentreactor and Torrentz. And the aggregators: Abmp3, BeeMP3, Bomb-MP3, eMP3World, FilesCrop, FilesTube, MP3Juices, MP3Lemon, MP3Raid, MP3Skull, NewAlbumReleases and RapidLibrary. Yify-Torrents, Project-Free TV, Primewire, Vodly and Watchfreemovies have also been added to the list and set to be blocked by the end of November. Meanwhile movie-streaming sites SolarMovie and Tubeplus were added to the list only this week.

But at least news websites are still accessible, for now. In China The Chinese language versions of Reuters and the Wall Street Journal came under the sledgehammer yesterday [Tech in Asia]. They join a long line of western media news websites which have been deemed unsuitable for Chinese citizen's eyes.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Google unveils Nexus 5 with Android Kit Kat

Google has officially unveiled the much anticipated Nexus 5 smartphone.

The new device, made by LG, comes after many months of rumours and speculation. It replaces the Nexus 4 which was discontinued some weeks ago.

The Nexus 5 is smaller, slimmer and lighter than its predecessor though its screen is larger coming in at 4.96 inches or 126mm.

It is the first device to feature Google's much talked about Android Kit Kat and specifications for the new phone were widely leaked before it was announced on the official Google blog.

The new phone has record and playback HD video at the full 1080p resolution. Its camera also has a rapid burst system that captures several photographs at the same time allowing for a better chance to grab that special moment! so owners can pick the best shot.

The handset is due to go on sale on 1 November in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan and Korea.

In the UK the device is advertised at £299 for the 16Gb model, $349 in the US, or £339 for the 32Gb model, or $399 in the US. The phone is also available in either black or white.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

217 long days in China

After more than two hundred and seventeen days in China I am more than tired. I'm absolutely exhausted.

Far from being a holiday it's been more like an expedition. From Beijing to Yunnan, treks to Laos and Vietnam, in temperatures exceeding 30°C, and a nearly a month in Shanghai, one feels like having been on a campaign. Indeed it has been like the Long March!

No time to relax

There's been little time to relax. And travelling with Chinese is more tiring in that they seem not to know how to relax.

Every trip is like a disorganized army manoeuvre.

Take a trip to Laos for example. The guy who offered to drive wanted to head off at 7 am, which is fair, but he turned up at eight. Then by they time we were loaded it was nearly 11 am. Even then it was necessary for everyone to find a mixian restaurant.

So by the time one actually hit the road it was midday. Then it was a very long and hot drive to Pu'er with a couple of stops on the way.

The first stop was at a road side café. The only time the Chinese appear to take time-out is when their stomachs rumble. But there's no time for after dinner mints or conversation. As soon as everyone's eaten it's "Let's go!" and one is obliged to leave.

The next stop was to drop by some friends of the driver, a 30 minute pit-stop where everyone rushed to use the lavatory. Again, the only other unscheduled stops were for a call of nature.

We arrived in Pu'er at around 7 pm and tried to find a hotel. Of course, no one had the foresight to check Google maps, a travel site or equivalent, in order to secure reasonably priced accommodation. So it was nearly 9 before hitting the streets to find a restaurant. And in China, just like Faulty Towers, the chef stops at nine. In some places there will be late night restaurants or 24 hour McDonald's burger joints, but that is more the exception than the rule.

We eventually find a fish restaurant where they boil the fish in a large pot at the table and the patrons eat it with various condiments such as chopped coriander leaves, spring onions and chili.

After eating there's again no suggestion of going for a drink. Instead there's merely an exclamation that we should all be in reception at 8 am before going for breakfast. And in China it's always mixian. No milk and Rice Krispies here. In China it's rice noodles for breakfast, a bowl of rice with lunch and also with dinner.

Rice, rice and rice

And after six months of boiled rice, fried rice and rice noodles, one dreams of potatoes. Chipped, fried, boiled, roasted, in their jackets or sauté.

In fact one desires Western food all the more after a constant diet of Chinese cuisine.

Don't get me wrong, I like Chinese food. But NOT everyday for six months. Song Shu Yu [松鼠鱖魚], Yu Xiang Qiezi [魚香茄子] and Suan La Tudou Si [酸辣土豆丝] are all great, but one soon gets tired of lots of separate dishes.

One longs for a 'square meal' on a round plate which one can eat with a knife and fork. Such things are a rarity in China, and where such choices exist it can often be expensive or a pale imitation of the real McCoy.

Escape to McDonalds!

The only escape is a trip to McDonald's, a KFC or Pizza Hut, though don't expect to find one except in a large city, and even then don't expect the Chinese to join you, and the older they are the less likely they'll be interested.

In fact, while they might accommodate you in dropping by a MacDee's, they'll expect you to grab it and go so you're forced to struggle eating a burger and fries in a moving vehicle while somehow managing not to spill your strawberry milkshake or Coca Cola.

So you arrive in Pu'er, a town famous for its tea, and you eventually settle into your hotel room. Even if it's clean, and believe me there are many hotels you wouldn't wish to house your cat, few have WiFi, so unless you have your PC with you checking out local tourist hotspots is virtually impossible for those armed with smart phones or tablets.

And even when you do have Internet access, it's certainly not what most westerners are used to. This is Communist China and only sites deemed appropriate by authorities are accessible. Thus, without a VPN, there is no Foursquare, Facebook, Google+ or Twitter. Even Google Maps is creaky with slow refreshing times.

As regards the WiFi issue, there is a solution in that one can buy a relatively cheap portable router such as a TP-Link TL-WL700N which can be simply plugged into the hotel Ethernet cable and give WiFi 

On the road again

After a good sleep, the journey continues. There's no time, apparently, for sight seeing. No checking out a tea shop and drinking some Pu'er tea in Pu'er. The only delay is to grab a large bowl of mixian before once again hitting the road. Not being a great fan of mixian, and given there was not McDonald's within 100 kilometres, I myself request a bowl of wheat noodles, commandeer a bunch of ingredients and knock together a decent bowl of Yi Bin Ran Mian. Basically it consists of a thick sauce containing dark and light soy, dark vinegar, sugar, garlic, sesame paste, chili oil and sesame oil to which the noodles are added and topped with chopped coriander, peanuts and sesame seeds.

After breakfast there's another long journey before stopping for lunch at a road side café. The only other stops are for calls of nature. Stopping for a toilet in China is not always the most pleasant of experiences, but on the road in rural China it's even more unpleasant. While squat toilets are difficult to escape, hygiene is extremely difficult to come across, and paper is entirely absent. Privacy may also be absent as one is expected to squat alongside other patrons. As such it is advisable to make sure one has made all necessary visits to the rest room prior to leaving the comfort of one's hotel!

On the Laos border

Eventually we arrive at Mohan on the Chinese border with Laos. For the driver, there appears to be some disappointment in that the border shut at 5 pm and won't be open until 8 am the next day. So no quick getaway for him and the other passengers not wishing to venture into Laos and thus we need to stay overnight.

So it's back to vehicle and back to the main town to find a hotel. Here again another debate ensues concerning price and quality. The average westerner of course wants comfort and cleanliness for a reasonable price. However many Chinese are driven only by price.

It may have squat toilets, no air conditioning, no lifts, no Internet or WiFi, but if the price was 150 RMB instead of 300 RMB for all the above, most would take the former.

And so an argument concerning where to stay begins. Eventually, the Chinese give in to the laowai's demands, but there's no such concession with dinner.

Despite being close to the Laos border and the suggestion one might try to find a restaurant specialising in Lao cuisine there is no interest to even inquire and ask the locals if such a place exists.

While the meal was good, it was, once again typical Chinese food.

Breakfast was mixian, though it was at the hotel so no need to traipse all over town. Despite the slightly more upmarket accommodation there was no western alternative except for some cake like bread and warm milk. And there lies another culture shock for westerners who like their bread. In China decent bread is very hard to come by. In Beijing one could pop into Jenny Lou's and grab a nice loaf, but the price is extortionate. In other large towns it is possible to get sugar free bread, but it can often be dry and stale. Occasionally supermarkets might sell sliced bread, but for often than not one is only left with the choice of brioche style 'bread'. 

Coffee is rarely on the menu unless at a top class hotel so one is now quite accustomed now to carrying a cafetiere, ground coffee and sugar in one's luggage. Even if near to a Costa or Starbucks the cost is ridiculously expensive.

Time now to head to the border, a task in itself since despite only three people going into Laos, the whole troop want to go.

There's no practical reason behind such decisions. There was no luggage to carry or a need to see us off. After all we were merely popping across the border and returning within a couple of hours. Again by travelling with the Chinese one is often led by the most dominant member of the group and what they want to do.

While one may have wanted to head into Laos proper, perhaps even grabbing a coach or taxi to the nearest big town and even sampling the local cuisine, such choices were not on the table.

We were stuck with individuals who either had no interest in going and did not even possess a passport. This was seen as merely as an exercise to comply with China visa restrictions requiring us to exit China every 90 days.

Even though it was only a couple of hours away from the main group, it was two hours of fresh air.

My wife is Chinese, but she has become far more westernised, willing to relax a little, go exploring on a whim and not rush everywhere as though there were no tomorrow.

And despite time restrictions we walk a kilometre or so into Boten, though it was very much a ghost town, and then we relax for a couple of Lao beers before taking a leisurely stroll back to China.

On returning to the main group the army manoeuvres begin once again. First another, you guessed it, Chinese meal washed down with cheap, weak Chinese beer. Having discovered the nice strong BeerLao, the taste of Chinese beer was far less palatable. For some reason most Chinese beer is only around 3% and has no real body, so the discovery of a decent beer made one long all the more for a foreign lagers, beers or cider.

After grabbing a crate of LaoBeer we were on the road again. We head north and stop near to a small town not too far from some botanical gardens. That was the adventure for the following day, but first we had to check into a hotel before grabbing dinner at yet another Chinese restaurant.

By the time we'd arrived in Xishuangbanna everyone was pretty tired, but none so tired as myself of Chinese food.

Despite the south west of Yunnan province being the home to a vast number of different ethnic minority groups, each with their own individual style of cuisine, the rest of the party had little interest in trying anything different.

When insisting upon stopping with the wife at a little Dai restaurant near our hotel, everyone else declined and instead went to eat at an eatery where we'd already eaten twice before.

Our travelling companions might be excused by the fact they were old. Stuck in their ways, they could be forgiven for not wanting to try different flavours or unusual cuisine.

Vietnam adventure

But travelling with younger Chinese people is often no different. A trip to Vietnam proved to be an adventure which was just as uninteresting in terms of discovering new culinary delights.

Once again it was mixian for breakfast, mixian and smelly tofu for lunch and on arrival in Hekou, on the Chinese-Vietnam border, a typical selection of Chinese dishes, which either due to their chili content or the lack of hygiene, played havoc with one's guts the following day.

Breakfast was thus avoided!

Our intended trip into Vietnam was delayed due to the fact that one member of the party did not have a visa and had to acquire a temporary permit.

In one sense it was a blessing in that it prompted a discussion at the travel agency sorting out the paperwork as to how long we might spend in Vietnam. It was suggested we might pay the tour company to drive us to Sa Pa. It was one of those all inclusive deals which provides food, a hotel room and travel arrangements.

The drawbacks given such a late decision to spend two nights in Vietnam were two fold. The first was we had now wasted more than half a day hanging around in Hekou sorting out documents. Thus it was nearly 2 pm before arriving in Sa Pa, which is only a few kilometres from the border.

The next drawback was the food laid on by the tour company which was poor by anyone's standards and more like Chinese food than it was Vietnamese.

The excellent beer did however make up for it and on heading into town one soon found an array of restaurants offering very decent food.

Sorry to say that by this time I was myself not in the mood for further experimentation and thus opted for dropping into an Italian restaurant called Romano's. The margherita pizza was however excellent and the Vietnamese coffee was also very good.

Just as the brief visit to Laos created a longing for decent beer, the excursion to Vietnam also reminded one of things back home. Dispite being a Communist country, Vietnam's Internet is far more open that that of China. After months of frustration accessing the Internet in the Middle Kingdom, trying to find an Internet connection and jumping through hoops and using VPNs to access Twitter or Facebook, being in Vietnam was a sudden breath of fresh air. 

Even in Sa Pa a rural mountain top village, WiFi was everywhere. Certainly these networks were much to do with catering for the many tourists but nonetheless to be able to easily use western social media, Google Maps and other websites was fantastic.

Return to China

Such luxuries were short lived as we soon had to return to China. Back to more Chinese food, and an Internet that gives one a migraine. Now based in Kunming, rather than a rural town in Yunnan province, there was certainly a few more choices concerning food and entertainment. However the weather was beginning to cool and summer was becoming a distant memory.

There had not been many chances to relax or swim and excursions to places such as the Fuxian Lake are perhaps best avoided. The lake is a pleasant enough loaction, however the few places where one can park up and swim attracts hoards of tourists from near and far making the experience feel more like the Tokyo subway at rush hour rather than a relaxing day at the beach.

Parks are very much the same with little chance of an afternoon of solitude. In short everywhere is crowded.

Final stop, Shanghai

After months, mostly in Yunnan province, Shanghai was the last stop on the agenda. Things had certainly changed in the 6 years since last visited. Pollution levels seemed much better, but more striking was how much more modern the city had become. While still restricted by censorship, WiFi Internet access points were everywhere. Telephone kiosks were WiFi equipped and a WiFi network called i-Shanghai provided decent coverage across much of the metropolis. The major drawback for foreign visitors was the need to have a phone with a local SIM in order to get a password to sign-in. However there were nonetheless many bars and restaurants providing WiFi without such requirements.

The city, much like Beijing, attracts many expats, and that was another breath of fresh air in that after months of stunted conversations in Chinese to Chinese people one could finally have a conversation in English with people from all over the world. In one bar there was an eclectic mix of Chinese, British, Algerians, Jordanians, Australians and Spanish. The drawback was the price of beer at around 35 RMB for half a litre, though happy hour was a salvation.

Sadly all good things come to an end and within a few short weeks in Shanghai it was time to leave the Middle Kingdom for the United Kingdom. Back to the damp and cold, but back to a larder full of decent food and a 30 Mb unrestricted Internet.

China certainly has some good points, but for those who like their mod cons, western food and a decent Internet 7 months is too long. 

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Lao plane crash leaves all 49 dead

All 49 people aboard a Lao Airlines ATR 72 which crashed into the Mekong River on Wednesday are believed to have perished with no sign of survivors despite extensive searches in the area where the aircraft went down. Pictures on Thai TV showed the plane partly submerged in shallow water, its tail severed, next to a group of rescuers in small boats.

Flight QV301 from the Laotian capital Vientiane came down about 8km from Pakse airport at around 16:00 local time [09:00 GMT]. Foreigners from some 10 countries including seven from France and a family from Australia were among the dead, as well as Laotian nationals [Sky News Australia]. Others on board included five Thai nationals, three South Koreans and citizens from Canada, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, the USA and Vietnam.

The plane belonging to state-run Lao Airlines crashed in bad weather just before it was due to land at Pakse airport. The cause of the crash has yet to be established but it has been reported that the ATR 72-600 twin-engine turboprop aircraft had not undergone a safety audit [Sky News Australia]. However Lao Airlines, a small company with just 14 aircraft in its fleet, has until now had a good safety record.

[BBC / TelegraphCNN / Wikipedia]

tvnewswatch, Shanghai, China

Monday, October 14, 2013

UK ignores human rights to increase China trade deals

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and the Mayor of London Boris Johnson have both touched down in China to negotiate trade deals with the fast growing economy. They are set to announce a raft of deals during their separate trade visits to China, including a partnership to develop Manchester Airport.


However their visits do not come without some criticism and controversy with some media commentators questioning the double standards Britain plays especially concerning China's appalling human rights' record and lack of freedom.

In one grilling interview Sky's Dermot Murnaghan continued to push the London Mayor over why Britain was happy to ignore China's questionable attitude towards individual freedom and human rights yet lambaste smaller countries over their human rights' policies.

Johnson continually side stepped the questions saying he was merely in China to drum up trade and not debate the ethics of how another country was governed.

"My job as Mayor is not to have a foreign policy but to get on and promote the interests of the greatest city on earth which is what we're doing," he said. "There are many interesting foreign policy problems around the world I could get involved in, whether or not that would improve global hopes for a resolution, I have my reservations." [Sky News / Huffington Post / BBC].


Britain is one of the top ten nations to attract Chinese investment, more than double the investment of any other nation in Europe. However,in the long term there could be dire repercussions as such investment effectively becomes a takeover of British industry.

Chinese investment is concentrated in the UK energy sector, although Barclays Bank, BP, Diageo and Thames Water also have Chinese backing.

Some UK companies are already controlled by Chinese groups. Bright Foods owns a 60% stake in Weetabix, the Wanda conglomerate owns 92% of Sunseeker boats and Geely Automobile owns Manganese Bronze, the company that makes London taxis.

Speaking soon after an announcement that the Chinese would invest £800 million in Manchester Airport and surrounding businesses, George Osborne said he saw "China as a great opportunity" and "not a threat".

The development surrounding Britain's third busiest airport will include offices, hotels, manufacturing firms, logistics and warehouses. It is hoped that by attracting international businesses some 16,000 jobs could be created.

"I think it shows that our economic plan of doing more business with China, and also making sure more economic activity in Britain happens outside the City of London, is working," Osborne insisted [BBC].

Cyber risks

There have also been questions raised over security as tech firms such as Huawei incorporate more of their technology into Britain's telecommunications infrastructure.

The Chancellor is set to lead his delegation to the Shenzhen-based headquarters of Huawei, the world's largest telecommunications manufacturer, and TenCent, the world's third largest gaming and social media firm.

Huawei's growing footprint in Europe and America has caused controversy, with some suggesting that Chinese involvement in Western telecoms firms poses a security risk.

Despite that, Huawei has already pledged to invest £1.3 billion in the UK's broadband network over the next four years.

In 2012 a US congressional report was released suggesting that American firms should avoid doing business with two Chinese telecoms companies citing national security grounds. Huawei, and another company ZTE, were said to have close links with the Chinese government and its military and the congressional panel said they were not satisfied by statements from the companies concerned.

However, despite US concerns and some raised eyebrows in Britain within intelligence circles, the UK government has allowed the Chinese firm Huawei to build a large portfolio of customers in Britain, amongst them the Internet company Talk Talk [tvnewswatch: Mixed response to Huawei & ZTE 'security threat' - Oct 2012]

Uneven playing field

Britain has also been lucrative for Chinese exports. However Britain's exports to China are tiny in comparison, though there are indeed some success stories. Chinese imports into Britain has soared from £13.2 billion in 2005 to around £30 billion in 2012.  Britain's exports in comparison have only risen from £2.8 billion to £10 billion in the same period.

Such figures are an indicator as to how difficult a market place China is to enter. There are issues of bureaucracy, consumer taste as well as other cultural issues. More importantly there is the lack of competitive advantage due to manufacturing costs and currency fluctuations.

China has been a hard nut to crack not only for British businesses but other foreign enterprises.

Earlier this year Tesco, which saw its profits sink by some 23.5% in the first half of this financial year, announced it would combine its Tesco China business, which includes 134 stores, with the 2,986 stores held by China Resources Enterprise's Vanguard business [BBC].

Bryan Roberts, lnsights director at Kantar Retail, believes that the Chinese market is incredibly tough for any international brand to do business in.

Talking to BBC Radio 5 Live's "Wake Up to Money" in August, he said, "It's an incredibly difficult market and Tesco is just the latest in a long list of international retailers who've come away... with their tail between their legs".

Roberts cites the huge levels of bureaucracy encountered by foreign businesses trying to enter the Chinese market place as being one of the major obstacles to doing business in China. Corruption was also another issue where "palms need to be greased" in order to clinch deals.

Tesco is not the only firm that has struggled in China. While fast food outlets, such as McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks and Costa Coffee, have managed to firmly establish themselves in China there are many brands which have fallen by the wayside and withdrawn from the Middle Kingdom.

IP theft

Even where firms have managed to establish themselves there is a high risk of intellectual property theft. Shanzai [山寨] products, a term refering to Chinese imitation and pirated brands and goods, particularly electronics, are everywhere in China.

Often it is clear what is on offer, as far as the consumer is concerned, indeed some retailers will openly ask if the customer wants the real or fake product in some cases. The saving could be as much as 50% on a branded electronic item such as an iPhone or tablet PC. But the cost to the manufacturers can be very costly indeed.

Stolen technology can be and often is incorporated into China's growing infrastructure, be it transport networks, telecommunications systems or other vital systems. Having possession of valuable IP can save China a fortune since local firms can be given the contracts rather than foreign companies. Again foreign companies lose out and many years of research can be wasted.

Such IP theft has even forced companies into bankruptcy, even for some that never directly established a physical presence in China. Telecoms firm Nortel, for example, was systematically hacked over a period of years and the data gathered cost the company its research, technology and clients.

The Canadian firm Nortel was once a market leader in the telecommunications industry. But a simple security breach cost the company everything. Nortel went bust by 2009 after years of hacking which was traced to China. There were certainly mistakes within the company in that it failed to protect itself or take the advice of its own security team [CNET]. However such threats can be very sophisticated and smaller companies can be especially vulnerable [WSJ / Register / CBC / Naked Security / Financial Post / Washington Post / CBC].

China in the frame

GCHQ officials, talking to the BBC earlier this year, revealed that the know who is doing the hacking, but refused to reveal which nation state was behind the most prolific attacks.

BBC Security Correspondent Gordon Corera, who presented a series of programmes about the ongoing cyberwar, painted a dark picture of how Britain and other countries could well be losing out economically because of cyberattacks and IP theft.

Western companies face the wholesale plundering of their economic life-blood. Indeed some of the world's largest companies stand to lose millions from the theft of their intellectual property. "Britain is under attack," says Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague. "Most countries are under attack and certainly many industries and businesses are under attack." But the Foreign Secretary remains tight lipped  as to who is responsible.

All fingers point to China, and there is certainly much evidence to show this to be the case despite official denials. Yet while China steals foreign intellectual property, buys up the cream of foreign industry, ignores WTO rules, and capitalises on its new economic strength, western companies and governments are queuing up to negotiate business deals.

Western countries certainly need an economic boost following the 2008 recession. But doing business with a country which has questionable business ethics, mountains of red tape, rampant IP theft and an uneven business playing field could prove to be just as costly in the long term.

Unnerving future

With China's growing economic status few seem to acknowledge such risks. However China's economic strength will heavily alter the political and cultural landscape of the world in the future.

In his thesis When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, Martin Jacques debates China's future influence on the world [Foreign Policy blogs].

His appraisal is far softer than the potential outcome could be. China, after all it a totalitarian one party dictatorship with strict controls on the flow of information through its state run media, monitoring of its citizens and censorship of the Internet.

The future could be far bleaker than predicted.

tvnewswatch, Shanghai, China

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Google eyes Blackberry as Nexus 5 plans leak

Google may be discussing a potential bid to buy some or all of Blackberry, the floundering mobile phone business, according to reports this last week. The news comes in the wake of other leaks suggesting that the search giant maybe soon to release the Nexus 5 after a purported service manual was posted on the document sharing service Scribd.

Blackberry bids

According to Reuters, which first reported the news, several companies may be looking at offering bids for Blackberry Ltd. formerly known as RIM. Other potential bidders include Cisco and SAP. The company, based in Waterloo, Ontario, has asked for preliminary expressions of interest from other strategic buyers, which are also said to include Intel Corp and Asian companies LG and Samsung. Cerberus, a private equity firm which specialises in buying up distressed companies, is also expected to table a rival offer for the entire company [CNN / Telegraph].

Blackberry woes

However none of the companies have confirmed or denied the reports and any bids for the company are likely to be be treated cautiously given BlackBerry's financial concerns. Last month they reported a quarterly loss of nearly $1 billion after taking a writedown on unsold Z10 Blackberry smartphones. The company also recently announced it was cutting its workforce, shedding more than 4,500 jobs [T3].

The Z10 was presented at the BlackBerry 10 event on January 30, 2013 but sales have been sluggish. The company had launched the touchscreen device, a shift away from its built-in physical keyboard design, in order to compete with the growing number of similar devices using iOS, Android or Windows Mobile.

News of a potential buyout of the mobile phone company has boosted the company's stock which rose some 4% on Monday closing at around $8 [IBN / Google Finance].

Google could certainly capitalise on the purchase of Blackberry. It already has a small but loyal customer base, and to draw in these users into Google's nest would be a coup. Should Google acquire the entire company it is possible, even likely, that future Blackberry devices will be Android powered. This could boost sales, but could anger current Blackberry users.

But the tech giant will have some stiff competition from the likes of Samsung and Cisco who will certainly be interested in the host of patents under Blackberry's belt.

Nexus 5 leaks

This week also saw further leaks concerning Google's next much anticipated mobile phone offering, the Nexus 5. Android Police were the first to reveal details about the upcoming device gleaned from a leaked service manual that was posted to Scribd, a document sharing service over the weekend.

The 281-page booklet included images, detailed diagrams and information about the phone. According to the document the new handset will feature an 8-megapixel rear camera, an LTE radio and improved battery life, and will be available in 16GB or 32GB sizes.

It will have 4.95-inch 1080p IPS screen and a 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 with 2GB of RAM, making it more powerful than the previous Nexus 4 model.

The leak comes amid speculation that LG are due to launch a new handset in their Nexus series in the coming weeks, with the Nexus 4 having been revealed around this time last year [Telegraph / ZDNet].

LG force removal of docs & pics

Android Police were forced to remove the images and links to the original document by LG, though not before details and the manual itself had been seen, downloaded and commented on by millions of web users. Scribd also removed the document citing copyright issues. Other websites including Phandroid and Droid-Life were also obliged to remove links to the manual.

Speculation of Nexus 5 launch

There has been much speculation about when Google and a partner manufacturer might launch another device with stock Android, especially after the Nexus 4 was first reduced in price on its Play Store before becoming unavailable completely.

When launched it is likely to be released with Android KitKat 4.4, the first Android variant with commercial sponsorship. As for the timing of such a launch, the latest speculation is that the device will release at the end of this month [T3].

tvnewswatch, Shanghai, China

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

UK police catch shaving drivers. In China it's a free for all

This last week in Britain saw police waging war on motorists, snapping evidence of nearly 200 drivers using mobile phones, shaving, reading and even brushing their teeth at the wheel. But such behaviour is commonplace in other parts of the world and often leads to disastrous results.

Operation Tramline

The five-day operation across Hampshire and the Thames Valley in the south of Britain resulted in 198 motorists being prosecuted using footage filmed from an unmarked lorry.

The most observed offence was people's use of a cell phone with some 126 motorists caught making calls.

However police also recorded evidence of others using iPads, reading newspapers and even shaving at the wheel. One lorry driver was spotted brushing his teeth, with a water bottle in one hand and razor in the other. Meanwhile a  woman was seen doing her make-up, using her rear view mirror as she drove on the motorway at 70 mph [110 km/h]. Another female driver was caught accessing Facebook on her mobile phone whilst driving on the M27.

Other offences caught on camera were drivers failing to use their seatbelts, driving with undue care and attention and of parking on the motorway without a proper reason [BBC / Portsmouth News].

Proven danger

Such behaviour is certainly inappropriate, and even dangerous. Sergeant Paul Dimond, who co-ordinated Op Tramline, said, "Distracted driving is proven to be a significant factor in many of the collisions on our roads."

"These offences are being committed by otherwise law abiding and hardworking people. Unfortunately it is that same group of people that are being hurt as a result of the accidents."

Whilst the operation highlights that the message concerning safety has not reached everyone driving on Britain's roads, Sgt Dimond said that the vast majority of the motorists observed during the week were driving safely and in compliance with the law.

Indeed Britain has some of the safest roads in the world.

The same cannot be said in other developing countries where the offences observed by Hampshire and Thames Valley police are commonplace.

China's road dangers

If police in China were to enforce British driving rules they would not only bring in large amounts of revenue, a great many motorists would likely find themselves banned from driving.

Use of handheld mobile phones is commonplace with few drivers even considering the dangers involved. Indeed it is not uncommon to see people texting or using the popular social network WeChat on their phones.

The rules of the road in China are entirely different and lane discipline is almost unheard of. Drivers often fail to indicate their intentions and cut into traffic lines, dangerously overtake or undertake and continually use their horns.

Children at risk

While the use of seatbelts is increasing many people in China do not consider safety to be a priority. Few motorists use a car seat for their children or babies and parents are often seen simply holding their child in their arms as the car speeds along the highway [China Daily].

And whilst car ownership is rising, mopeds are a more common form of transport. As such entire families can be seen packed onto the two wheeled conveyance, none of them wearing any form of head protection. British police officers would likely be astounded should they see some of the sights seen on China's streets.

Xinhua News Agency reported that about 18,500 children under age 14 die in traffic accidents in China every year, though the figure could be much higher.

A child who weighs 10 kg and is travelling at 50 km/h in a car has a force impact of 300 kg in a crash, according the China Automotive Technology and Research Center. "At this speed, it's impossible to protect a child," Liang Mei,executive vice-president of the China Toy and Juvenile Products Association, says. "In some tragedies, children are even thrown through the windshield."

Ignoring risks

But despite the risks, many parents ignore the dangers or give up due to their child's protestations. "I understand the importance, but it was hard to get into the habit of using it, both for her and me," says one 41-year-old Beijing resident. "The seat took up too much room in my little car. Plus, my daughter felt uncomfortable and kept crying. … So I finally gave up."

Indeed space is certainly an issue for many drivers. Entire families might pack themselves into a single saloon car before setting off on a trip. Even if two cars are available, families will rather squeeze everyone in one car in order to save on fuel. So there might be the driver, along with a front seat passenger holding a child, despite the additional risk of an airbag activation. Meanwhile in the back might sit another mother with child plus three other adults, all packed into a seat designed for three!

City driving is fraught with dangers as buses, cars, mopeds and bicycles vie for space, and while motorways are considerably safer, dangers still exist with many ignoring rules and common sense. It is certainly not unusual, for example, to see a driver stop at the apex of a junction in order to check a map or make a phone call.

The result of such behaviour translates into unnerving statistics with China having one of the worst accident records in the world.

Deadly statistics

Whilst a 2009 report published suggested that road accidents might have fallen due the worldwide economic downturn, the same was not true of China [tvnewswatch: Road deaths drop due to recession except in China / / Xinhua].

In 2008 the number of deaths on Britain's roads dropped some 13.5% to 2,645, 414 less than in 2007. But it wasn't just Britain which saw a decline. In the United States the number of deaths fell 9.7% while Australia saw an 8.5% drop in fatalities. In statistical terms Britain has one of the lowest death rates in the world with 4.3 persons per 100,000 dying on the road each year. In Japan that rises to 4.7 while in Germany and Ireland that figure rises to 5.5 and 6.3 respectively.

But in China, where the number of cars on the roads is soaring, road deaths are also climbing. China is the world's most populous country with over 1.3 billion people, about a fifth of the earth's total population. And according to official studies there are about 450,000 car accidents on Chinese roads each year which cause approximately 470,000 injuries and 100,000 deaths. 

The total cost of these crashes is put at more than 2.4 billion US dollars. More than 90% of these accidents are considered to be caused by bad driving skills. But deaths and injuries would also likely be much reduced if drivers were to wear seat belts, parents used car seats and motorcyclist's adorned crash helmets.


Aside of such obvious safety factors there needs to be a better understanding of how distractions at the wheel, whether it be mobile phones or other electronic devices, can increase the risk of having an accident.

It has been an uphill struggle to educate British drivers concerning the use of seatbelts and not using mobile phones. China has a long way to go in this regard.

tvnewswatch, Shanghai, China