30/07/2015

India hangs Yakub Memon for 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts | Reuters

India hanged Yakub Memon on Thursday for his role in the country’s deadliest bombings, which killed 257 people in Mumbai in 1993, after the Supreme Court threw out his final plea for a stay of execution.

Memon was convicted as the “driving spirit” behind the serial blasts in India’s financial capital Mumbai, then known as Bombay. He spent two decades in jail before going to the gallows on his 53rd birthday in a jail Nagpur.

The execution drew wide public support but has stirred controversy about whether the punishment adequately reflected the help Memon gave authorities in solving the crime.

Critics question whether Memon’s death serves India’s larger interests, saying it sends the wrong message to potential collaborators with justice agencies.

In the days before his execution, it emerged that Memon had helped Indian intelligence crack the case and establish a link to neighbour and arch-rival Pakistan over the bombings.

“It’s extremely sad that India has gone ahead, we had been hoping India will now call for a moratorium,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

“But it’s very welcome that now there seems to be a growing debate around this in India.”

In a dramatic sequence of events, a Supreme Court panel held an unprecedented hearing in the early hours of Thursday, before rejecting Memon’s last-ditch plea for a 14-day delay in execution. Several previous pleas had also been rejected.

Police consider Memon’s brother, “Tiger” Memon, and mafia don Dawood Ibrahim to be the masterminds behind the attacks, intended to avenge the destruction of an ancient mosque by Hindu zealots in 1992. Both men remain in hiding.

Memon’s body was released for burial in Mumbai, with police deployed in riot gear to guard against possible street protests and security tightened at the family home.

via India hangs Yakub Memon for 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts | Reuters.

30/07/2015

Chinese potatoes to chip in as water shortages hit staple crops | Reuters

Once seen as food for the poor, the humble potato is being pushed in China as a tasty, nutritious part of any meal as the world’s most populous country struggles with water shortages and looks for alternatives to the traditional rice and noodles.

China already produces 95 million tonnes of potatoes a year, a quarter of the global total, and is aiming to raise that to 130 million tonnes by 2020, government officials said at the World Potato Congress on the outskirts of Beijing this week.

“In China, the potato industry is no longer an industry for underdeveloped areas or the poor, but highlights the country’s modern agricultural drive and enriches people’s dining tables,” Agriculture Minister Han Changfu told the conference.

Beijing has begun this year to promote the potato as more of a staple food, particularly as a substitute foodstuff for grain, an idea that has taken on urgency as water problems threaten to undermine food security, vital for political legitimacy.

The North China Plain is suffering as a result of decades of excessive underground water use by both industry and wheat farmers.

In some parts of Hebei, the third-largest wheat-producing region, farmers have been banned from growing wheat in order to preserve underground water. Excessive digging for irrigation has caused subsidence and even landslides, the local government has said.

David A. Thompson, president of the World Potato Congress, told reporters that potatoes would serve China’s plans to improve agricultural sustainability.

“Potatoes provide more energy and protein per acre than other crops,” he said.

The congress was held in Yanqing, a suburb of Beijing around 100 km (62 miles) northwest of the city center, where a 12,000-square-metre international potato center has been built along with a museum for the vegetable and a potato breeding center.

“Small potatoes, stand up and become a staple to ensure the country’s grain security,” urges a banner outside the museum.

In an exhibition hall, potatoes are used to make dozens of different types of food, including popular local fare such as steamed bread, noodles and dumplings as well as western-style pizza and even cookies.

“Potatoes can make hundreds or even thousands of dishes, as well as more than 200 types of staple and western-style food,” said Zhang Aiguo, a cook at the exhibition.

“If more and more consumers get to know that potatoes have more nutrition, they are willing to take them. People nowadays care more about quality and healthy food,” said Zhang, holding a big plate of steamed bread made with potatoes.

via Chinese potatoes to chip in as water shortages hit staple crops | Reuters.

30/07/2015

Behind the Surge in Chinese Tech Startups – China Real Time Report – WSJ

In 2009, then-Google executive Kai-Fu Lee wrote a letter to Chinese college students discouraging them from the start-up world. Young people then simply weren’t ready to strike out on their own, he said. The gist, he said: “Don’t start a company. It’s tough. There are wolves out there.”

Today, he says, China’s young people are themselves proving to be an innovative pack. Internet availability, manufacturing know-how and the smartphone revolution have fueled a surge of Chinese startups in China over the past few years, many run by members of a post-digital generation of youngsters. The rush has led to a wave of investment in Chinese startups by investors looking for the next Alibaba, and thrown into question China’s longtime reputation as a market dependent on copycatting.

Back then, “there were so few serial entrepreneurs in China,” he said on Thursday at Converge, a technology conference co-hosted by The Wall Street Journal and f.ounders. “We really had to find either very young people or find professional managers or senior engineers out of companies like Google and Baidu and help them start a company.” Now, he says, “there are serial entrepreneurs everywhere.”

In some places, the rush may be getting ahead of itself. Mr. Lee—now chairman and chief executive of investment firm and tech incubator Innovation Works—sees “totally crazy” valuations among Chinese tech initial public offerings. Many of the best already went public overseas, including in the U.S. The few left in China “have been blown out of proportion,” he said, adding, “everybody’s chasing those few stocks.”

But overall, he says, “I’m very bullish about the future.”

Mr. Lee, famous in China for his roles at Google and Innovation Works, is also a social-media presence. He says that since forming Innovation Works in 2009 he has seen attitudes change among young Chinese.

“They grew up their total lives on the Internet, unlike us, who have all this baggage,” he said.

That’s potentially good news for Beijing, which is looking to sustain growth by broadening the world’s No. 2 economy, making it more than the world’s factory floor.

Innovation may take a different form than what the U.S. expects, Mr. Lee said. Innovators in China and elsewhere, rather than inventing the next iPhone, “can change the world because of a very clever business idea.”

“China is completely ready to build a Facebook-equivalent type of company, an Uber-equivalent type of company, in many other areas, because the market is very large and the people are very innovative,” he said.

Innovation Works currently sees promise in startups with products like a piano that can teach the user how to play, a household robot and even an online joke platform “for people to share the embarrassing moments in their lives.” And then there’s a venture built around a Chinese girl band, SNH48, that takes a page from Japan’s AKB48 and hopes to make money selling virtual products to an online community of fans.

Even if many of the ideas from China’s startups are themselves derivative, he said, “they will wow people.”

via Behind the Surge in Chinese Tech Startups – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

29/07/2015

Why the Punjab Police Station Attack Was Waiting to Happen – India Real Time – WSJ

Six people were killed and at least seven injured in the Indian province of Punjab on Monday after gunmen dressed in military uniforms opened fire at a bus station and later turned their weapons on a police post.

According to Indian officials, security forces killed three of the attackers; three police officers also were killed in the violence in Gurdaspur district, which is close to the Pakistani border. The death toll could have been much higher; five bombs were reportedly found on train tracks nearby.

Many Indians and South Asia analysts, myself included, have feared for some time an eruption of the sort of violence that unfolded Monday. Reasons include:

* With most international troops out of Afghanistan, numerous militants that had been fighting foreign forces in Afghanistan could be looking for new targets—and might see ones in neighboring India.

* There was a resurgence in 2014 of anti-India militant leaders who had been quiet in recent years. These include Masood Azhar, head of the Jaish-e-Mohammed group, whose voice was heard in a recorded broadcast last year at an anti-India rally in Pakistan. Mr. Azhar had threatened to assassinate Narendra Modi if he became prime minister.

* The India-Pakistan relationship is at one of its lowest points in years. The Pakistani military controls its country’s relations with India, and army leaders are fundamentally opposed to the idea of peace with New Delhi. Mr. Modi’s conservative, Hindu nationalist government sees no reason to pursue full-fledged talks with Pakistan’s civilian government, which is more sympathetic to reconciliation but lacks the power to pursue it. This fraught environment offers useful pretexts for attacks.

It is not yet clear who staged Monday’s assault; some Indian officials have alleged the involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani anti-India group responsible for the 2008 terror strikes on Mumbai. Lashkar-e-Taiba is known to have ties to the Pakistani security establishment. Notably, Islamabad has condemned the attack—a goodwill gesture made with the knowledge that, whoever staged the attack, someone in India would invariably accuse Pakistan.

Although Punjab province is close to the tense Kashmir region, terror attacks are unusual in Punjab. In decades past, it has been a hotbed of separatist—and at times violent—activity led by Indian Sikhs, though this movement—which many Indian commentators believe is supported by Pakistan’s intelligence service—has been quiet in recent years (grievances of the past, however, remain entrenched, I was told repeatedly while in Punjab last year). Some Indian commentators have questioned whether Monday’s attack marks a “revival” of the movement. Others wonder if Pakistani terrorists are simply opening new fronts beyond Kashmir.

If India concludes that the attack originated in Pakistan, the subcontinent could be in for some very turbulent times. Mr. Modi is not likely to be as restrained in the face of Pakistani provocations as his predecessor Manmohan Singh was.

Whoever was behind the attack, Monday’s death toll reminds us that amid talk of al Qaeda affiliates and Islamic State wreaking havoc across the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia’s subcontinent remains a dangerous–and nuclear-armed—place.

via Why the Punjab Police Station Attack Was Waiting to Happen – India Real Time – WSJ.

29/07/2015

GIFT, the Indian Smart City That Would Cost $23,500 a Person – India Real Time – WSJ

Two 29-story steel-and-glass office buildings rise above a dusty wasteland in the Indian state of Gujarat, the most conspicuous sign of progress on an ambitious project conceived by the man who is now India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.

More than seven years ago, Mr. Modi, at the time the state’s top elected official, decided to push the construction of an entirely new city—dubbed the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, or GIFT—about a 40-minute drive from Ahmedabad, the historic commercial hub here.

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The if-you-build-it-they-will-come idea was to create a magnet for banks, securities firms and information-technology companies akin to Canary Wharf in London or La Defense outside Paris. But construction work has moved slowly and few private enterprises have signed up. Of the two office towers, the first is about 50% occupied and the second one is empty.

Critics say the undertaking’s halting progress is a cautionary tale as Mr. Modi’s federal administration moves ahead with plans for 100 “smart cities,” which, among other things, would use technology to improve public services such as waste disposal and save energy.

Ramakant Jha, managing director of the company building the city, says that offices and retail stores and other businesses at GIFT will help create one million direct and indirect jobs. The city will also have homes, allowing employees to walk to work, and social infrastructure like a school, hospital and malls.

With central air-conditioning in all buildings, filtered tap water and municipal waste collection (a rarity in urban India), GIFT, as planners envision it, would be far more advanced than existing Indian cities.

But all this comes at a cost. If 100,000 people live in a city, the cost of building the city’s infrastructure comes to around $23,500 per person. In comparison, India’s gross national income per capita is around $1,600, according to the World Bank.

via GIFT, the Indian Smart City That Would Cost $23,500 a Person – India Real Time – WSJ.

28/07/2015

Apple ‘fake factory’ raided in China – BBC News

A factory which allegedly made up to 41,000 fake Apple iPhones has been raided in China, with nine arrests.

iphone 6

The operation reportedly involved “hundreds” of workers repackaging second hand smartphone parts as new iPhones for export, with counterfeit phones produced worth 120m yuan ($19m).

The factory was discovered on 14 May but was revealed on social media by Beijing’s public security bureau on Sunday, according to reports.

The operation was set up in January.

It was led by a husband and wife team, on the northern outskirts of the Chinese capital, according to Beijing authorities.

They said they had been alerted to the factory by US authorities which had seized some of the fake phones.

The reports come amid an official Chinese crackdown on counterfeit goods, with authorities pushing firms to trademark their goods.

China has also agreed to work with the US authorities to try to stem the large quantities of fake goods flowing between the two countries.

The discovery of the factory comes four years after fake Apple stores were found in Kunming city, China.

Discovered by blogger BirdAbroad, the fakes were so convincing she said many of the staff themselves were convinced that they were employed by the US electronics firm.

via Apple ‘fake factory’ raided in China – BBC News.

28/07/2015

Confucius says, Xi does | The Economist

TWO emerging cults are on display in Qufu, a city in eastern China where Confucius was born. One surrounds the ancient sage himself. At a temple in his honour, visitors take turns to bow and prostrate themselves before a large statue of Confucius seated on a throne. For each obeisance, a master of ceremonies chants a wish, such as for “success in exams” or “peace of the country”. On the other side of the city the tomb of Confucius is the scene of similar adoration—flowers adorn it as if he were a loved one recently lost.

The other cult in Qufu surrounds the country’s president, Xi Jinping. People still recall with excitement the trip he made to the city in 2013. It was the first by a Communist Party chief in more than two decades; in fact, though Mr Xi has visited Qufu he has not, since becoming China’s leader, paid respects at the birthplace of Mao Zedong at Shaoshan in Hunan province. Today plates decorated with Mr Xi’s image are for sale in Qufu’s trinket shops. His beaming face is on display on a large billboard outside the Confucius Research Institute, together with a quotation from the modern sage: “In the spread of Confucianism around the world, China must fully protect its right to speak up,” it begins.

Since he came to power in 2012, Mr Xi has sought to elevate Confucius—whom Mao vilified—as the grand progenitor of Chinese culture. He did not go so far as to pay homage at the Confucius temple in Qufu, where Mao’s Red Guard mobs once wrought havoc (one of their slogans, “Revolution is not a crime”, still survives daubed on a stone tablet). Neither did his few published remarks include explicit praise for Confucian philosophy, which still raises hackles among party hacks brought up to regard it as the underpinning of “feudal” rule in premodern China.

To emperors, who were regular visitors to Qufu, Confucianism was practically a state religion. “Uncle Xi”, for all the mini-cult surrounding him, does not seem keen to be viewed as a latter-day emperor. But like leaders of old, he evidently sees Confucianism as a powerful ideological tool, with its stress on order, hierarchy, and duty to ruler and to family. Unlike the party’s imported, indigestible Marxist dogma, Confucianism has the advantage of being home-grown. It appeals to a yearning for ancient values among those unsettled by China’s blistering pace of change.

Though the party has quietly been rehabilitating Confucius for some time, under Mr Xi the pace has quickened. In February 2014 he convened a “collective study” session of the ruling Politburo at which he said that traditional culture should act as a “wellspring” nourishing the party’s values. Official accounts of the session made no mention of Confucius, but party literature made it clear that the values Mr Xi spoke of—such as benevolence, honesty and righteousness—were those espoused by the philosopher. In September Mr Xi became the first party chief to attend a birthday party for Confucius (who turned 2,565). China, he told assembled scholars from around the world, had always been peace-loving—a trait, he said, that had “very deep origins in Confucian thinking”. In May state media reported that the link between Marxism and Confucianism, which some might consider rather tenuous, was the “hottest topic” in the study of humanities in 2014.

Add plenty of sage

Under Mr Xi the party has tweaked its ideological mantras to sound more Confucian. At the party congress in 2012 that marked Mr Xi’s assumption of power, slogans about “core socialist values” were distilled into 12 words, each formed by two Chinese characters and plastered all over Beijing and other cities. The ideas are a hotch-potch. Some are strikingly Western, such as democracy, freedom and equality. There is a nod to socialism with “dedication to work”. Others, such as harmony and sincerity, look more Confucian. Zhang Yiwu of Peking University notes a similarity with the “shared values” adopted by Singapore’s government in 1991. Authoritarian Singapore, where officials hold Confucianism in high regard, has been an inspiration to China, Mr Zhang says.

via Confucius says, Xi does | The Economist.

28/07/2015

SpiceJet reports $11.2 million net profit in Q1 | Reuters

Budget airline SpiceJet Ltd(SPJT.BO) reported on Tuesday a net profit of 718 million rupees ($11.2 million) for the three months ending June, after cutting costs and flying more passengers.

SpiceJet aircrafts prepare for landing and take-off at the airport in Mumbai July 15, 2008. REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe/Files

SpiceJet made a net loss of 1.24 billion rupees in the same quarter a year earlier.

India’s second biggest budget carrier by market share, which last quarter made its first profit since 2013, is in the midst of a recovery plan after it almost collapsed late last year.

Under new Chairman Ajay Singh, the airline has cut routes – its capacity is down a third since last year – and costs.

It said on Tuesday that its load factor – the percentage of an airline’s carrying capacity it has filled – rose to 89.8 percent in the quarter, a rise of almost 15 percent from last year.

Sustained profitability has eluded most of India’s airlines for the last few years amid fierce competition for fares and high operating costs, despite the country’s aviation market growing at one of the fastest rates worldwide.

SpiceJet shares jumped after news of the results, ending up 7.4 percent as the wider market .BSESN fell 0.4 percent.

($1 = 63.9400 rupees)

via SpiceJet reports $11.2 million net profit in Q1 | Reuters.

28/07/2015

Maruti Suzuki Q1 profit jumps 56 percent; lower costs, higher sales | Reuters

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd(MRTI.NS), India’s top-selling carmaker, said on Tuesday first-quarter net profit rose 56 percent helped by lower costs, favourable foreign exchange rates and higher sales, but still missed bullish analyst estimates.

A Suzuki badge is reflected on the body of a Maruti Suzuki Eeco car at a Maruti Suzuki stockyard on the outskirts of Ahmedabad April 26, 2013. REUTERS/Amit Dave/Files

Maruti, controlled by Japan’s Suzuki Motor Corp (7269.T), said profit for the April-June quarter was 11.9 billion rupees ($185.94 million), up from 7.6 billion rupees in the same period a year earlier. Analysts had expected a profit of 12.35 billion rupees, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Net sales rose about 18 percent to 130.8 billion rupees, the company said, as India’s car trade continues to grow. India is expected to become the world’s third-largest car market by 2020, moving up three places.

“During the quarter, higher volumes, cost reduction efforts, lower sales promotion expenses, and favourable foreign exchange helped improve the performance,” the company said in a stock exchange statement.

Total expenses as a percentage of net sales fell to 91 percent during the quarter from about 96 percent in the year ago period, while finance costs were halved to 190.4 million rupees. Maruti, which imports certain car components from Japan and also pays royalty to its Japanese parent, Suzuki, is benefiting from the yen’s weakening.

The carmaker, which sells about one in every two cars in India, wants to increase its share of the premium car segment at a time when rivals like Honda Motor Co (7267.T) and Ford Motor Co (F.N) are launching cheaper, compact cars – Maruti’s mainstay.

Maruti has had little prior success in the premium segment and is now planning an aggressive rollout of new vehicles and dealerships to capture buyers with deeper pockets – a move that is expected to boost margins and profits, say analysts.

Next week Maruti will launch the S-Cross – a crossover between a sport-utility vehicle and a hatchback – the first car to be sold at its new Nexa showrooms. These spruced-up showrooms will differ from existing dealerships in design and service, managing director Kenichi Ayukawa said recently.

“It is a very good strategy because as income levels rise we will see that more and more consumers will prefer premium vehicles,” said Nitesh Sharma, auto analyst at Mumbai-based brokerage, Phillip Capital, adding that it will boost margins.

Shares in Maruti, valued by the market at about $20 billion at Monday’s close, were trading 0.5 percent higher at 4,200 rupees a share at 0850 GMT in a weak Mumbai market.

Maruti’s shares have risen more than 25 percent since January – the highest among major automobile companies in India.

($1 = 64.0000 rupees)

via Maruti Suzuki Q1 profit jumps 56 percent; lower costs, higher sales | Reuters.

28/07/2015

Delta to buy 3.55 percent stake of China Eastern for $450 million | Reuters

Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) has agreed to buy 3.55 percent of China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd (600115.SS)(0670.HK), a move that would make it the first U.S. carrier to own part of a Chinese airline.

The deal may prompt Delta’s rivals to beef up partnerships with Chinese carriers in an effort to secure their place in a country that Delta expects to become the biggest market for travel from the United States.

Delta’s purchase challenges rival United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL.N), the leading U.S. airline for service to China. United Chief Executive Jeff Smisek said Thursday during an investor call that the airline would be “keenly interested” in exploring a Chinese joint venture once the United States and China negotiate an Open Skies agreement that would ease air route restrictions.

Atlanta-based Delta said it will invest $450 million in China Eastern’s Hong Kong-traded stock, which has nearly tripled over the past 12 months even as broader Chinese stock indexes have plunged.

Delta said it will get an “observer” seat on China Eastern’s board. The move may pave the way for Delta and China Eastern to seek approval to coordinate pricing and flight capacity.

However, larger tie-ups with antitrust immunity cannot happen until an Open Skies agreement is in place, which could take years. Currently, governments specify which airlines can fly which routes, and how often.

Chinese carriers have been “launching far too much capacity across the Pacific,” industry consultant Robert Mann said. “Everybody is looking for a stronger form of joint-venture partnership for the day when China and the U.S. have Open Skies.”

For now, Delta and China Eastern say they will invest in services so travelers have a seamless experience on the airlines, which share flight codes on 80 routes including subsidiary Shanghai Airlines. The partnership will grow Delta’s foothold in China Eastern’s Shanghai hub, a key market for business travel.

The transaction is subject to approval by each company’s board.

Delta is investing in foreign carriers, taking small stakes in one airline in Mexico and one in Brazil. It also owns 49 percent of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd (VA.O) and has used its position to shift the UK carrier’s routes to Delta’s advantage.

via Delta to buy 3.55 percent stake of China Eastern for $450 million | Reuters.

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