28/10/2014

Softbank invests $840M in India tech companies – Businessweek

Japanese telecommunications company Softbank Corp. is investing nearly $840 million in two technology companies in India, eyeing what it sees as a lucrative market for growth.

Softbank said Tuesday it is investing $627 million and becoming the biggest shareholder in Snapdeal, the largest digital marketplace in India with 25 million users and 50,000 businesses. It brings together products from thousands of big and small brands.

The Tokyo-based company, which recently acquired Sprint in the U.S., is also investing $210 million in Ola Cabs, which runs the technology to connect consumers with cab drivers in India.

Softbank executives said they were banking on India because it has a large number of Internet users, the online market is not yet saturated and connection speeds are likely to get faster.

via Softbank invests $840M in India tech companies – Businessweek.

28/10/2014

Putin Turns to China as Russia’s Economy Is Weakened by Sanctions – Businessweek

Defying the U.S. and Europe is forcing Russian President Vladimir Putin to aid his biggest rival to the east. To avert a recession, Russia is turning to China for investment, granting it once restricted access to raw materials and advanced weapons, say two people involved in planning Kremlin policy who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. Russia’s growing dependence on China, with which it spent decades battling for control over global communism, may end up strengthening its neighbor’s position in the Pacific. With the ruble near a record low and foreign investment disappearing, luring Chinese cash also may deepen Russia’s reliance on natural resources and derail efforts to diversify the economy.

“Now that Putin has turned away from the West and toward the East, China is drawing maximum profit from Russian necessity,” says Masha Lipman, an independent political analyst in Moscow who co-authored a study on Putin with former U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul. China is wasting no time filling the void created by the closing of U.S. and European debt markets to Russia’s largest borrowers. A delegation led by Premier Li Keqiang signed a package of deals on Oct. 13 in Moscow. Among them were an agreement to swap $25 billion in Chinese yuan for Russian rubles over three years, a treaty to protect companies operating in Russia and China from having their profits taxed twice, and cooperation on satellite-navigation systems and high-speed rail. To promote trade, Export-Import Bank of China agreed to provide credit lines to state-owned VTB Group and Vnesheconombank, Russia’s development bank, as well as a trade finance deal with Russian Agricultural Bank.

Russia’s economy is more vulnerable than it’s been since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Unlike then, Russians are united in support of their leader, and with $455 billion in foreign currency and gold reserves, the country isn’t broke, according to Lipman. “The economy was much worse then, but Russia was in a much better position geopolitically because it had the support of the U.S. and Europe,” she says. Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov didn’t respond to requests for comment.

via Putin Turns to China as Russia’s Economy Is Weakened by Sanctions – Businessweek.

28/10/2014

Britain’s PM David Cameron Unveils Encyclopedia of Hinduism – India Real Time – WSJ

British Prime Minister David Cameron held a Diwali party in London to launch the new Encyclopedia of Hinduism, as his Conservative Party attempts to strengthen relations with the country’s large Indian community ahead of national elections next year.

The encyclopedia, which took 25 years to compile, contains 11 volumes and is published by the India Heritage Research Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswati, head of the largest ashram in Rishikesh, a town in northern India.

More than 1,000 guests attended the unveiling of book in Westminster, near the Houses of Parliament. The event was organized by the United Kingdom’s ruling Conservative Party and the Conservative Party Friends of India among others.

Mr. Cameron and his wife Samantha lit a diya, or lamp, at the Diwali party that coincided with the book launch.

Andrew Feldman, chairman of the Conservative Party, said that the book, a product of research by 1,000 scholars, was a “phenomenal achievement.”

“The party wants to deepen and broaden our links with the British Indian community and with India and this event is one important step on our journey,” Lord Feldman said, according to a statement released after the event.

via Britain’s PM David Cameron Unveils Encyclopedia of Hinduism – India Real Time – WSJ.

28/10/2014

Top Chinese prosecutor guarantees protection for whistleblowers | Reuters

China’s top prosecuting body said on Tuesday that whistleblowers who expose corruption and other wrongdoing would receive legal protection against reprisals.

President Xi Jinping has made fighting graft a central theme of his administration, warning that the problem was so severe it could threaten the survival of the ruling Communist Party.

The party is keen to harness the power of the Internet in the fight, although it has been hampered by public suspicion that complaints will be ignored, and also by arrests of and even attacks on online whistleblowers.

A statement on the website of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate said it was clarifying the rights of whistleblowers for the first time through new regulations.

“The ‘regulations governing the work of whistleblowers’ require that when the prosecutor’s office receives a whistleblowing report from someone giving their real name, it has to assess the risks from the whistleblowing and develop whistleblower protection plans when necessary to prevent and end acts of retaliation against the whistleblowers,” the statement said.

The prosecutor also promised to respond quickly to such reports.

Last year, the party’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, set up a new website for whistleblowers.

The government had previously set up a website in 2009 specifically for the reporting of corruption. Authorities have investigated some online accusations and jailed several low-level officials.

It is unclear how many tips the site has received in recent months. From 2008 to 2012 the commission said it received 301,000 whistleblowing reports online.

via Top Chinese prosecutor guarantees protection for whistleblowers | Reuters.

28/10/2014

China trainmakers CSR, CNR in talks to merge – state media | Reuters

China’s top trainmakers, China CNR and CSR Corp, are in merger talks to create a giant able to compete globally with the likes of Siemens and Bombardier, state media reported on Tuesday.

A handrail hangs in one of the 45 new train wagons that were bought from China's CNR, in a Buenos Aires' subway station February 14, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian

China built the world’s longest high-speed train network in less than a decade and has expressed its desire to export its technology. The two state-owned firms however have fiercely competed against each other while trying to sell trains abroad.

The official China Securities Journal, citing unidentified sources, said the firms had set up working groups to discuss the integration, and that investment bank China International Capital Corp had been appointed to oversee the reorganisation.

“The heads of CNR and CSR are in agreement on the companies’ integration,” the newspaper quoted an industry source as saying.

“As the State Council is in charge of this, it can be done at great speed and at the moment the biggest concern is related to their projects and personnel changes.”

CNR and CSR halted trading on Monday and subsequently issued statements saying they would resolve “major issues” as soon as possible. Trading would resume within five working days, they added.

The companies did not respond to requests for comment on the Journal report.

Last month, CNR and CSR dismissed a report by financial news magazine Caixin that the government was looking to merge the firms to create a giant that can better compete with foreign rivals such as Germany’s Siemens and Canada’s Bombardier.

A merged CNR-CSR would have combined annual revenue of about 200 billion yuan (20.28 billion pounds) based on 2013 company data, compared with Siemens’ 75.9 billion euros ($96.5 billion) revenue last year and Bombadier’s $18.2 billion (11.28 billion pounds).

Zhuzhou CSR Times Electric, a CSR subsidiary, also suspended trading. CNR is due to report third-quarter results on Wednesday, while CSR is scheduled to report on Friday, according to the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

via China trainmakers CSR, CNR in talks to merge – state media | Reuters.

28/10/2014

Talks gather pace on sale of Indian patrol vessels to Vietnam | Reuters

Talks are gathering pace on the sale of Indian naval patrol vessels to Vietnam, an Indian official said, the first significant military transfer to Hanoi as it improves its defences in the South China Sea where it is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China.

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (C) shakes hands with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi (R) as Dung's wife Tran Thanh Kien looks on during Dung's ceremonial reception at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi October 28, 2014.  REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The four patrol ships will be provided to Vietnam under a $100 million defence credit line and represent a push by the nationalist government in New Delhi to counter Beijing’s influence in South Asia by deepening ties with old ally Vietnam.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung held talks with counterpart Narendra Modi on Tuesday, the first meeting since the Indian leader took office in May, promising to turn the country into an economic and military power.

An Indian government official said negotiations for the patrol craft had gathered pace since the credit line was announced last month during the visit of India’s president to Vietnam.

“We expect to see progress on this fairly early as negotiations are continuing between the Vietnamese and our defence suppliers,” the government official involved in discussions said.

Vietnam wants the craft for surveillance off its coast and around its military bases in the Spratly island chain in the South China Sea where it is building a credible naval deterrent to China with Kilo-class submarines from Russia.

Claims by an increasingly assertive China over most of the energy-rich sea have set it directly against U.S. allies Vietnam and the Philippines. Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also claim parts of the waters.

Beijing’s placement of an oil rig in disputed waters earlier this year infuriated Vietnam but the coastguard vessels it dispatched to the platform were each time chased off by larger Chinese boats.

Since then, the two sides have sought to repair ties and on Monday, top officials agreed to use an existing border dispute mechanism to find a solution to the territorial dispute.

Dung said Vietnamese defence cooperation with India was the pillar of their strategic partnership.

via Talks gather pace on sale of Indian patrol vessels to Vietnam | Reuters.

27/10/2014

China considers abolishing death penalty for nine crimes | Reuters

China is considering trimming nine crimes from the list of offences punishable by death, state media said on Monday, as the ruling Communist Party considers broader reforms to the country’s legal system.

Rights groups say China uses capital punishment more than any other country, raising public concern of irreversible miscarriages of justice.

A draft amendment to China’s criminal law, which includes the use of the death penalty, was submitted for initial review to the country’s National People’s Congress, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Crimes that would be exempt from capital punishment under the amendment include “smuggling weapons, ammunition, nuclear materials or counterfeit currencies; counterfeiting currencies; raising funds by means of fraud; and arranging for or forcing another person to engage in prostitution”, Xinhua said.

The crimes of “obstructing a commander or a person on duty from performing his duties” and “fabricating rumors to mislead others during wartime”, are also under review, the news agency said.

Officials had previously said that China would review the application of the death penalty, which applies to 55 offences, including fraud and illegal money-lending.

China guards the number of people executed every year as state secrets.

The San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, which seeks the release of political prisoners in China, estimated that 2,400 people were executed in 2013. By comparison, 39 people were executed in 2013 in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

The reduction in death penalty crimes, however, is not expected to greatly reduce the number of executions per year, scholars have said.

The Communist Party, worried about rising social unrest and anger over land grabs, corruption and pollution unveiled legal reforms aimed at improving judicial independence at a key meeting last week.

The Party has stressed that it will remain in overall control of the judiciary, and despite the move to implement legal reforms, few analysts expect significant political change any time soon.

via China considers abolishing death penalty for nine crimes | Reuters.

26/10/2014

Height discrimination: The rise of China | The Economist

WHEN two security guards in Dalian in north-east China got their first month’s pay packet earlier this year, they questioned why each received different amounts for identical work. The company responded that one man was 5cm (two inches) taller than his peer. Workers over 180cm earn more, they said, because bigger guards make people feel safer.

Stature is often a desirable attribute of guards, but in China height requirements are routinely specified for jobs which seem to have no need of them. To study tourism and hotel management at Huaqiao University in Fujian province, men topping 170cm are favoured, and women over 158cm. A post as a female cleaner in Beijing is advertised to women of at least 162cm. Many companies are less explicit about such demands than they used to be, but candidates often list height (and weight) on their curricula vitae.

The height premium is most pronounced for women, according to a study from Huazhong University of Science and Technology. It found that each centimetre above the mean adds 1.5-2.2% to a woman’s salary, particularly among middle- and high-wage earners. A group at China University of Political Science and Law is working on a draft law against employment discrimination for height and other physical characteristics.

Ever more Chinese are rising above such constraints, however. A 45-year-old man in China today is around 5cm taller than 30 years ago, according to the RAND Corporation, a think-tank. Soldiers are growing too tall for the diminutive tanks favoured by the People’s Liberation Army; in 2010 the government raised by 10cm the height under which children in China travel free on trains (a rare scheme that benefits the small).

Greater heights mostly reflect greater incomes. Richer people tend to eat more and live in cleaner, better homes. Meat consumption per person has increased more than fourfold since 1980. Infant mortality is less than a tenth of what it was 60 years ago. Household size has also helped. Historically people from big families have been shorter (not just in China) because food supplies must stretch further. In China the birth rate fell sharply from the 1970s nationwide.

But there are differences across the country which partly reflect the uneven benefits of the economic boom. Eighteen-year-olds from the richest cities are on average 7-8cm taller than those from the poorest ones. The height gap between prosperous and impoverished rural areas is similar. Southerners have long been shorter than northerners. Although the difference between rural and urban heights has narrowed since 1975, other discrepancies persist. The World Health Organisation says around 20% of children in poor rural areas are “stunted”, a common indicator of chronic malnutrition. This compares with 2.5% of city children. Employers’ preference for high and mighty staff exacerbates that inequality. It is time they grew up.

via Height discrimination: The rise of China | The Economist.

26/10/2014

Electricity: Generational shift | The Economist

MUCH of what China has achieved in the past three decades—its impressive economic growth, the rise of its global stature and the considerable improvement of living standards for hundreds of millions of people—is attributable to one decision: ditching the Maoist model of central-planning that had shackled the economy. Yet some important industries have yet to embrace the market. Power generation is one. As China struggles to reconcile its soaring energy demand with its need to clean up an increasingly toxic environment, reform is becoming more urgent.

China knows it must reduce its reliance on dirty coal and increase its use of (more expensive) renewable energy. Of the new power-generating capacity that China built last year, renewables such as wind and solar power for the first time accounted for more than the share made up of fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

China wants to satisfy the surging electricity demands of its increasingly urban population and to keep its industries running smoothly. It does both reasonably well and blackouts are rare. But officials fret about how grumpy—and vocal—people are becoming about the poisonous air that envelops so many Chinese cities. (An annual international marathon race, pictured above, took place in Beijing on October 19th in air that was nearly 14 times more polluted than the safety limit recommended by the World Health Organisation.) China is aware that its standing abroad will partly depend on its efforts to limit carbon emissions. This will involve weaning itself off coal, which supplies nearly 80% of its energy.

Progress is being hampered by a largely unreformed power industry dominated by large state-owned enterprises (SOEs) which operate under a mix of rigid planning, secrecy and poor regulation. Power suppliers have too little incentive to compete on price, efficiency or greenness. Two international NGOs, the World Wildlife Fund and the Energy Transition Research Institute, describe the SOEs that control all transmission and distribution and most non-renewable generation as “unregulated corporate monopolies”. Their bosses are usually appointed by the central government, but they often ally with regional leaders to resist oversight by a variety of largely toothless regulators.

One problem is China’s system for “dispatch”; that is, determining which power sources will supply electricity to the grid at any given time. A report by the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), an American NGO, notes that in most countries dispatch decisions are made in order to minimise costs (including environmental ones). In China regulations would appear to encourage a similar approach: grid-operators are supposed to give priority to electricity supplied by more efficient and greener producers. In practice, grid-operators are more inclined to help coal-fired plants recoup the cost of their investments. Both sides are members of a cosy club of energy-related SOEs. Even if the grid-operators were to try to stick to the rules, they would struggle. Coal plants can easily conceal how much they waste and pollute.

Generators of wind and solar energy thus find themselves handicapped by more than just the high cost of their technologies. Much of China’s most cleanly produced energy is wasted. For wind power, rates of “curtailment”, or energy generated but not taken up by the grid, have improved in recent years as grid systems have become better able to cope with the technical challenge of handling such unsteady sources of power. But the rate still stands at about 10% nationwide. In Britain it was less than 2% between 2011 and 2013.

The government launched pilot reforms in five provinces in 2007 to encourage more efficient dispatch, but they achieved little and have not been expanded. Max Dupuy of RAP’s Beijing office says the scheme met opposition because of its failure to compensate coal-fired plants for the revenue share lost to clean producers.

via Electricity: Generational shift | The Economist.

26/10/2014

Samsung’s China Smartphone Problems Come to India – Businessweek

And you thought iPhones were popular. At 2 p.m. on Oct. 14, Xiaomi put 100,000 of its Redmi 1S smartphones up for sale in India, using local e-commerce site Flipkart to sell them, unsubsidized, for 5,999 rupees ($98) apiece. Within four seconds the phones sold out. Such Flipkart flash sales have become weekly events since China’s Xiaomi entered India in July. “It’s the most important market for us after China,” says Hugo Barra, the Google (GOOG) alumnus now in charge of Xiaomi’s international expansion. Indians “are without a doubt the most demanding users that we have encountered.”

Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun

Consumers in India bought 44 million smartphones last year, close to 200 percent more than they did the year before. Four-year-old Xiaomi, which sells the most popular smartphones in China, has made 2014’s splashiest entrance into India’s phone market. Other companies have also sought to gain market share, especially in the peak holiday shopping season leading up to the nationwide Diwali festival on Oct. 23. Huawei (002502:CH) began selling its Honor Holly smartphone on Flipkart for $115 on Oct. 16. Motorola, which Lenovo (992:HK) has agreed to buy from Google, had 5 percent of the market in the second quarter, up from almost nothing a year ago, thanks to sales of its Moto G ($164 on Flipkart). Models from Chinese phone makers Gionee and Oppo start at $86 and $130, respectively.

via Samsung’s China Smartphone Problems Come to India – Businessweek.

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