20/08/2016

The Chinese admiral who spread Islam across Southeast Asia | South China Morning Post

Near my childhood home in Kunming (昆明), Yunnan (雲南) province, is a park dedicated to its most famous son: Admiral Zheng He.

Our teacher would take us to pay tribute to the great eunuch of the Ming dynasty, recounting his legendary seven expeditions that brought glory to the motherland.

The marble bust of Zheng He shows the face of a typical Chinese, with a square chin, brushy eyebrows and a flat nose. My father joked it more resembled comrade Lei Feng than the admiral. Not until years later did I realise how true this was.

A statue of Zheng He in Nanjing, where his armada was built. File photo

The statue was erected in 1979 – a year after Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) launched his open-door policy. Zheng, barely mentioned during the Cultural Revolution, was plucked from obscurity and hailed as a national hero who embodied China’s open spirit. A park near his ancestral home was dedicated to him. The same craftsmen who churned out revolutionary statues were employed to build his.

In real life, Zheng probably looked very different. My school textbook mentioned only that he was a Hui minority (Muslim Chinese). In fact, the admiral was a descendent of a powerful Persian family. Records discovered in 1913 trace his lineage to Sayyid Ajall, who was sent by Kublai Khan to conquer Yunnan and became its first governor. In 2014, Chinese scientists at Fudan University in Shanghai put the theory to test. They examined DNA samples collected from descendents of the admiral’s close kin and found they originated from Persia, modern-day Iran. In addition to Zheng He, most senior officers of the storied Ming armada were also Muslims.

Beijing follows the route well travelled by Admiral Zheng He in its belt and road initiative

Over the past decades, researchers have concluded Zhang and his armada were the key force behind Islam’s spread in Southeast Asia. The Arabs established settlements in Southeast Asia from the eighth century. But Islam did not become dominant there until the 15th century – around the time Admiral Zheng began to sail in the South China Sea. Historians found evidence of Zheng’s missionary work in documents discovered in Semarang, Indonesia, by Dutch officials in 1925. This prompted Indonesian religious leader Hamka to write in 1961: “The development of Islam in Indonesia and Malaysia is intimately related to a Chinese Muslim, Admiral Zheng He.

”A crowning moment of Zheng’s expedition was converting the King of Malacca, Parameswara, to Islam shortly after he paid homage to the Yongle Emperor in Beijing in 1411. The conversion played a crucial role in the spread of Islam in Southeast Asia, according to Professor Xiao Xian of Yunnan University.

A replica of a ship used by Ming Dynasty eunuch explorer Zheng He, in Nanjing. Photo: Reuters

Xiao was one of the scholars who presented research work on Zheng He at an international symposium in 2005. They painted a vivid picture of the Ming armada, which had all the elements of a multinational enterprise.

The 300 ships – many twice as big as the largest European vessels of the time – were constructed in dry docks in Nanjing ( 南京 ), Jiangsu ( 江蘇 ) province. Building materials were sourced from across the Ming Empire. The 27,000-strong crew included Han Chinese, Muslim Hui, Arabs, Persians, and peoples from Central and East Asia. The lingua franca was Persian or Sogdian – a language used for centuries by merchants of the ancient Silk Road, according to Professor Liu Yingsheng of Nanjing University.

Size was not the only difference between Zheng’s fleet and that of Christopher Columbus 70 years later. The Europeans aboard the Santa Maria were exclusively Catholic – the Ming fleet was culturally and religiously diverse. Zheng was a Muslim but he was fluent in the teachings of Confucius, Buddhism and classic Chinese philosophy. The fleet included many Buddhist missionaries. Many regard his expeditions as the high-water mark of Chinese civilization. The Ming armada’s true greatness lay not in its size or sophistication but in its diversity and tolerance.

A statue of famed Chinese navigator Zheng He overlooks the city of Nanjing, Jiangsu province. Photo: AFP

After the Yongle Emperor’s death, the Ming court lost its global vision. Power was in the hands of the Confucius gentry-class, who jealously guarded against other schools of thoughts. China became increasingly introspective and insulated. The court stopped further expeditions and banned seafaring. The Chinese civilization gradually lost its vigour and started a long decline.

Today as the new “Silk Road” and “soft power” become China’s new catchphrases, it is important to remember what makes the Chinese civilization unique in the first place. Its greatest strength lies in its people’s amazing ability to absorb, adopt and assimilate different cultures.

Buddhism, which originated in India, flourished in China. The Zen school – a hybrid of Indian Buddhism and Chinese Taoism – spread to East Asia by monks in the Tang dynasty and became mainstream. Islam arrived from Central Asia and the Middle East during the Yuan and Ming dynasties. It took root in western China before spreading to Southeast Asia with Zhang’s fleet. We should remember that until 100 years ago, China was not a nation state in the Westphalian sense. Narrow-minded nationalism and xenophobia are the exception rather than the norm of the world’s oldest surviving civilization.

Source: The Chinese admiral who spread Islam across Southeast Asia | South China Morning Post

19/08/2016

Why is Kite Flying a Deadly Hobby in India? – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s capital has banned killer kite string after three people died this week from injuries and accidents caused by string that has been fortified for kite fights.

The weeks around India’s Independence Day—Aug. 15—are peak kite flying and fighting season. Kids and adults fly kites high in the air and try to maneuver them so their lines cut those of other kites as part of a traditional and usually harmless competition.

To better their chances of surviving longer and cutting competitors, many people use extra strong string and nylon lines and even lines encrusted with ground glass. When those sharp lines fall across roads they are a hazard to two-wheeler riders who can’t see them. Hitting one of the lines at high speed can knock bikers off their vehicles and slit their throats.

While there are injuries and deaths caused by kite strings every year, this year was particularly tragic as two of the victims were under the age of five.

A three-year-old girl died, while traveling in a car Monday with her head sticking out of the sun roof. She sustained a neck injury and was taken to a hospital where she died, said Vijay Singh, deputy police commissioner for northwest Delhi.

In another incident the same day in west Delhi, a four-year-old boy died also while looking out of a sun roof and becoming entangled with a string hanging from a tree. He was taken to a hospital and died, Pushpendra Kumar, deputy police commissioner for west Delhi said.

Also Monday, a man traveling in west Delhi on a motorbike became entangled with a kite string and crashed his motorbike, sustaining head injuries. He was also declared dead at hospital, Mr. Kumar said.

Chandraker Bharti, Delhi’s secretary of environment and forests, on Tuesday banned the sale, production, storage and supply of kite flying thread “that is sharp or made sharp such as being laced with glass, metal or other sharp objects.”

Source: Why is Kite Flying a Deadly Hobby in India? – India Real Time – WSJ

19/08/2016

The return of the Xia | The Economist

CHINA’S leaders are immensely proud of their country’s ancient origins. President Xi Jinping peppers his speeches with references to China’s “5,000 years of history”. The problem is that archaeological evidence of a political entity in China going back that far is scant.

There is some, including engravings on animal bones, that shows the second dynasty, the Shang, really did control an area in the Yellow river basin about 3,500 years ago. But no such confirmation exists for the legendary first ruling house, the Xia. Even inside China, some historians have long suspected that the country’s founding story—in which Emperor Yu tames flooding on the Yellow river (with the help of a magic black-shelled turtle, pictured), earns for himself the “mandate of heaven” and establishes the first dynasty—was either a Noah’s-Ark flood-myth or perhaps propaganda invented later to justify centralised state power. This month, however, state-controlled media have been crowing over newly published evidence in Science, an American journal, that at least the flooding was real. This, they say, has made it more credible that the Xia was, too. Not everyone is so convinced.

Catastrophic floods leave their mark on soil and rocks. Qinglong Wu of Peking University and others have examined the geology of the upper reaches of the Yellow river. In the journal, they conclude that a vast flood did take place in the right area and not long after the right time for the supposed founding of the Xia. Although their evidence does not prove the existence of an Emperor Yu or of the dynasty he founded, it does provide a historical context in which someone might have gained power with the help of flood-taming exploits.

According to Mr Wu, a vast landslide, probably caused by an earthquake, blocked the course of the Yellow river as it flowed through the Jishi gorge on the edge of the Tibetan plateau. For six to nine months as much as 16 cubic kilometres (3.8 cubic miles) of water built up behind the accidental dam, which, when it finally burst, produced one of the biggest floods ever. At its peak, the authors calculate, the flow was 500 times the normal discharge at Jishi Gorge. Mr Wu reckons the ancient flood could easily have been felt 2,000km downstream in the area of the Yellow river said by Chinese historians to have been the realm of the Xia.

At about this time, either coincidentally or (more probably) because of the flood, the river changed its course, carving out its vast loop across the north China plain. The significance is that, while the river was finding its new course, it would have flooded repeatedly. This is consistent with old folk tales about Emperor Yu taming the river not through one dramatic action, but by decades of dredging.

The ancient flood can be dated because the earthquake that set the catastrophic events in motion also destroyed a settlement in the Jishi gorge. Radiocarbon dating of inhabitants’ bones puts the earthquake at about 1920BC—not 5,000 years ago but close-ish. Xinhua, a state news agency, lauded the study as “important support” for the Xia’s existence. Xu Hong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences challenged this, saying the scholars’ findings had not proved their conclusions. The first dynasty has gone from myth to controversy.

Source: The return of the Xia | The Economist

19/08/2016

Cowboys and Indians | The Economist

CLOSE your eyes and you could be in a farmyard: a docile heifer slurps a grassy lunch off your hand, mooing appreciatively. Now open your eyes to the relentless bustle of a huge city: the cow is tied to a lamp-post, cars swerve to avoid it and its keeper demands a few rupees for providing it with the snack.

Across Mumbai, an estimated 4,000 such cow-handlers, most of them women, offer passing Hindus a convenient way to please the gods. In a country where three-quarters of citizens hold cows to be sacred, they form part of an unusual bovine economy mixing business, politics and religion.India is home to some 200m cows and more than 100m water buffaloes. The distinction is crucial. India now rivals Brazil and Australia as the world’s biggest exporter of beef, earning around $4 billion a year. But the “beef” is nearly all buffalo; most of India’s 29 states now ban or restrict the slaughter of cows. With such strictures multiplying under the government of Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, entrepreneurs have sought new ways to profit.

One promising line of business has been to become a gau rakshak, or cow protector. Some of these run charitably funded retirement homes for ageing cows, including rural, ranch-style facilities advertised on television. Other rakshaks have proven more concerned with punishing anyone suspected of harming cows or trading in their meat. Such vigilantes have gained notoriety in recent years as attacks on meat-eating Muslims or on lower-caste Hindus working in the leather trade have led to several deaths. A mob assaulted a group of Dalits (the castes formerly known as untouchables) last month in Mr Modi’s home state of Gujarat, thinking they had killed a cow. In fact they were skinning a carcass they had bought legitimately; Dalits traditionally dispose of dead cows.

More commonly, India’s less scrupulous cowboys simply demand protection money from people who handle cattle. An investigation by the Indian Express, a newspaper, found that cattle breeders in the northern state of Punjab were forced to pay some 200 rupees ($3) a cow to ensure that trucks transporting livestock could proceed unmolested. Under pressure from the rakshaks, the state government had also made it harder to get permits to transport cattle.

Earlier this month Mr Modi broke a long silence on the issue. Risking the ire of his Hindu-nationalist base, the prime minister blasted “fake” gau rakshaks for giving a good cause a bad name. If they really cared about cows, he said, they should stop attacking other people and instead stop cows that munch on rubbish from ingesting plastic, a leading cause of death.

In any case, vigilantism and the beef trade generate minuscule incomes compared with India’s $60 billion dairy industry. The country’s cows and buffaloes produce a fifth of all the world’s milk. As Indian incomes rise and consumers opt for costlier packaged brands, sales of dairy products are rising by 15% a year. But although a milk cow can generate anywhere from 400 to 1,100 rupees a day, this still leaves the question of what to do with male animals, as well as old and unproductive females.

Not all can be taken in by organised shelters. This makes the urban cow-petting business a useful retirement strategy. A good patch (outside a temple, say) can generate around 500 rupees a day from passers-by. Feed costs just 20 rupees a day, says Raju Gaaywala, a third-generation cow attendant whose surname, not coincidentally, translates as cow-handler.

He inherited his patch in Mulund, a northern suburb of Mumbai, when his father passed away in 1998. His latest cow, Lakshmi, cost him 4,000 rupees around three years ago and generates around 40 times that every year, enough to send his three children to English-language schools and, he hopes, to set them up in a different form of entrepreneurship.

The handlers fear their days may be limited. A nationwide cleanliness drive has targeted urban cow-handlers, who are in theory liable for fines of 10,000 rupees. In practice the resurgent Hindu sentiment under Mr Modi should help leave the cattle on the streets. It may kick up other opportunities, too. Shankar Lal, an ideological ally of the prime minister’s, in an interview with the Indian Express extolled the many health merits of cow dung. Spreading a bit on the back of a smartphone, as he does every week, apparently protects against harmful radiation. Usefully for Indian farmers, only local cows can be used, not Western breeds such as Holsteins or Jerseys, he warns: “Their dung and milk are nothing but poison.”

Source: Cowboys and Indians | The Economist

18/08/2016

India ready for Pakistan talks; U.N. alarmed by Kashmir violence | Reuters

India is ready to send its top diplomat to Pakistan for talks focused on fighting cross-border terrorism, sources at foreign ministry said on Wednesday, after a spike in tension in the disputed northernmost region of Kashmir.

Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was willing to attend talks on the invitation of his Pakistani counterpart, the sources said, stressing cross-border terrorism was central to the situation in Jammu and Kashmir state.

The olive branch comes after 40 days of violent protests in Indian-ruled Kashmir set off by the killing by security forces of a field commander of Pakistan-based Islamic militant group Hizbul Mujahideen who enjoyed wide support.

At least 64 people have died and thousands injured in clashes with security forces, denounced by Pakistan, which also claims the right to rule Jammu & Kashmir in a territorial dispute that dates back to partition in 1947.

The Indian sources, who declined to be identified, made it clear, however, that India “rejects in their entirety the self-serving allegations regarding the situation in J&K, which is an integral part of India.”Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is the name of India’s only Muslim-majority state that includes the disputed Kashmir region.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry declined to comment late on Wednesday, saying the government was preparing a response to the proposed Indian visit.

A U.N. human rights official expressed “deep regret” at the failure of both the Indian and Pakistani authorities to grant access to the separate parts of Kashmir that each run to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement issued in Geneva it was unfortunate that sincere attempts by the United Nations to independently assess the facts in relation to reports of human rights violations had failed.

“Without access, we can only fear the worst,” said Zeid.

The nuclear-armed neighbours, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947, both claim Kashmir in full but rule it in part.

In the latest violence on Wednesday, militants killed three members of the security forces when they ambushed an army convoy and then fired on a police jeep that came to the scene.

In a worrying escalation the previous day, security forces fired live rounds at a crowd of stone-throwing protesters in Baramulla district, killing five and wounding 10.

Earlier, police and troops trying to control crowds had resorted to the use of shotguns, whose pellets are meant to incapacitate but not kill.

But residents of Kashmir say the shotguns have inflicted severe injuries and even blinded hundreds of people including bystanders.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi ratcheted up tensions in his annual Independence Day speech on Monday, accusing Pakistan of glorifying terrorism.

In a tit-for-tat escalation in the war of words between the neighbours, Modi said he had received messages of support from leaders in restive regions of Pakistan, in particular the troubled southwestern province of Baluchistan.

India accuses Muslim Pakistan of supporting Kashmiri fighters while Pakistan accuses India of meddling in Pakistani trouble spots, in particular of helping separatists fighting the Pakistani state in resource-rich Baluchistan.

Both sides deny the accusations.

Source: India ready for Pakistan talks; U.N. alarmed by Kashmir violence | Reuters

16/08/2016

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day Speech in 10 Quotes – India Real Time – WSJ

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday made the annual Independence Day speech at Delhi’s Red Fort.

With the end of his colorful turban blowing in the wind, he outlined his government’s achievements and took a swipe at Pakistan.

Here are 10 quotes from the 90-minute speech, based on the official translation from Mr. Modi’s office:

On India’s progress:   “India is not 70 years old but this journey is 70 years long.

”On governance:   “Now turning self governance to good governance is the resolve of 1.25 billion countrymen.”

On India’s problems:   “If India has thousands of problems, it also has 1.25 billion brains that have the ability to resolve them.

”On economic growth:   “As far as GDP growth rate is concerned, we have left behind even the big economies of the world.”

On the goods-and-services tax:   “The GST regime is to become a powerful tool to strengthen the economy.

”On toilets:   “More than 20 million toilets have been constructed in our villages. Over 70,000 villages have been free from open defecation.

”On stalled projects:   “Blocking projects, delaying them and wasting money amounts to criminal negligence.

”On inflation:   “I will not allow the poor man’s dish to become costlier.”

On Pakistan and the Kashmir region:   “The way the people of Balochistan, Gilgit and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir praised me, has enhanced the prestige of my 1.25 billion countrymen.”

On caste and minority divisions:    “Serve all people without discrimination. Do not disregard anyone for his age or caste, Respect all.”

Source: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day Speech in 10 Quotes – India Real Time – WSJ

16/08/2016

Wage Experiment in India Shows True Price of Unequal Pay – India Real Time – WSJ

When workers are paid differently for little reason, even the higher-paid ones are less productive and happy, a new study suggests.

Economists at Columbia University and University of California, Berkeley, have shown that workers seem to be highly averse to pay inequality, just as primatologist Frans de Waal’s capuchin monkeys famously threw food at their keepers when they were rewarded differently.The new study reveals a sharp drop in output, attendance and social cohesion among groups of workers paid differently compared with groups where everyone was paid the same.

In a study the authors claims is the largest such experiment ever conducted, 378 Indian workers—with differing levels of productivity—were trained and hired into month-long seasonal contract jobs, working in factories that produced low-tech items such as ropes and brooms.

They were organized in teams of three workers. All 378 were paid either 240 rupees ($3.59) a day to turn up to work, or 5% more or 5% less than that amount.

In most of the teams, the three workers were paid the same amount. But, crucially, in some, workers’ pay differed according to the workers’ individual levels of productivity (which had been determined earlier). This clever design meant the economists could compare the performance of workers who earned the same amount—either high, middle or low—but differed according to whether they were members of equally or unequally paid teams.

Click here to continue reading.

Source: Wage Experiment in India Shows True Price of Unequal Pay – India Real Time – WSJ

13/08/2016

How Alibaba is Tapping India – The Numbers – WSJ

As its business matures at home, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is looking to boost growth elsewhere in Asia — especially India, home to a nascent but fast-growing online shopping sector.

Here’s how — and why – it is targeting the world’s second-most-populous nation.

1.2 billion

The number of customers outside of China that Alibaba would like to reach, according to the company’s Chairman Jack Ma.

$127 billion

The projected value of India’s e-commerce market in 2025, up from $11.2 billion last year, according to Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research.

$500 million

The amount of money New Delhi, India-based e-commerce startup Snapdeal.com raised in a fundraising round led by Alibaba last year.

More than $500 million

The amount Alibaba and its affiliate Ant Financial Services Group last year paid for 40% of One97 Communications, the parent company of Noida, India-based online-payment and marketplace startup Paytm.

2 or more

Prominent executives Alibaba has hired in recent months who have experience in India’s e-commerce sector.

Source: How Alibaba is Tapping India – The Numbers – WSJ

13/08/2016

Asia’s scramble for Africa | The Economist

IF THERE is a modern gateway from the east to Africa, it is arguably Addis Ababa’s airport. Passengers passing through its dusty terminals on their way to some far-flung capital will be surprised to find that getting an Ethiopian meal is remarkably difficult. Asian dumplings, however, are available at two different cafés. Signs marking the gates are in English, Amharic and Chinese, as are announcements.

Dozing gently on the beige loungers are untold numbers of young Chinese workers waiting for flights. They are part of a growing army of labourers, businessmen and engineers who can be seen directing the construction of roads, railways and ports across much of east Africa.

Concerns about China’s involvement in Africa are often overplayed. Accusations that it is buying up vast tracts of farmland, factories and mines, for instance, are blown out of proportion. Even so, its growing influence on the continent has nettled India and Japan, who are both boosting their engagement in response.

As with previous rounds of rivalry in Africa, such as during the cold war, at least some of this activity relates to access to bases and ports to control the sea. China’s involvement in Africa now includes a growing military presence. Thousands of Chinese soldiers have donned the UN’s blue helmets in Mali and South Sudan, where several have been killed trying to keep an imaginary peace. Chinese warships regularly visit African ports.

China maintains a naval squadron that escorts mostly Chinese-flagged vessels through the Gulf of Aden. But some diplomats fret that China has been using these patrols to give its navy practice in operating far from home, including in offensive actions. “You wouldn’t normally use submarines for counter-piracy patrols,” says one.

Patrolling for pirates has also given China an excuse to set up its first overseas base in Djibouti, next door to an existing American one. Yet the more alarmist worries about China—that it is planning to build naval bases in a “string of pearls” stretching from China to the Red Sea and as far as Namibia’s Walvis Bay on the Atlantic coast—have not materialised. The Walvis Bay rumour seems to be a red herring. China has used its ships and soldiers to protect its own citizens in Africa and the Middle East: in 2011 it evacuated 35,000 of them from Libya and last year one of its ships rescued 600 from Yemen. But its main naval focus remains the South China Sea.

Wary does it

Still, India is deeply suspicious of China’s presence in the Indian Ocean. A wide network of some 32 Indian radar stations and listening posts is being developed in the Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius, among other countries. This will enable India to monitor shipping across expanses of the ocean. It is also improving its ability to project power in waters it considers its own, and is arming friendly countries such as Mauritius. Among other things, India is building a naval and air base on Assumption Island, north of Madagascar and within easy reach of many of east Africa’s newly discovered offshore gasfields. “It’s the Indian Ocean, stupid,” quips one seasoned commentator in mimicry of Indian diplomats on its power projection. “They say it’s ‘our near abroad’.”

Japan has also been flexing its naval muscle but in a more limited manner. This month it pledged $120m in aid to boost counter-terrorism efforts in Africa. It has been a stalwart contributor to the multinational naval force policing the seas off Somalia’s coast. Sino-Japanese rivalry is fiercest in diplomacy and trade. Two prizes are on offer: access to natural resources and markets, and the continent’s 54 votes at the UN. Much of the effort to win the former was pioneered by Japan in the 1990s, when it helped build ports and railways. Akihiko Tanaka of the University of Tokyo, a former president of the Japan International Co-operation Agency, says that for years Japan’s aid to Africa was “qualitatively different” from that of other rich nations in part because it focused on infrastructure rather than the direct alleviation of poverty. “We were criticised a lot,” he says. “Now there is an almost unanimous view that you need to invest in infrastructure.”

Japan’s latest spending spree on infrastructure will speed economic growth on the continent; but there is a degree of one-upmanship and duplication. Japan recently handed over the keys to a new cargo terminal at Kenya’s main port in Mombasa. Meanwhile, a short hop down the coast at Bagamoyo, Tanzania is building east Africa’s biggest port—with Chinese cash.

On the diplomatic front both Japan and India are trying to make common cause with African states that want to reform the UN Security Council. They argue that Africa deserves permanent seats on it, as do they. China favours a permanent seat for an African country, and it doesn’t mind India having one. But in return it expects endorsement of its stand against Japan getting a seat.

Both Japan and China back up such diplomatic efforts with aid and, at least in China’s case, this seems to have helped win it friends. Countries that vote with China in the UN (for instance over Taiwan) usually get more cash from it, according to AidData, a project based at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

China also makes African friends by selling arms. In the five years to 2015 it nearly doubled its share of weapons supplied to sub-Saharan Africa, from little more than a tenth of the total to almost a quarter, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think-tank. It has sold tanks and jets to Tanzania, armoured vehicles to Burundi and Cameroon, and missile launchers to Morocco, to name but a few. It also wins friends among the continent’s war criminals through its policy of “non-interference” in the internal affairs of other countries, for instance by opposing the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Japan, which until 2014 was prohibited by its constitution from selling weapons, and supports the ICC, has had a harder time. It has concentrated on dispensing aid and using soft power, such as awarding scholarships for study in Japan and free classes in akido and karate at its embassy in Nairobi. But even in this sphere it is outclassed by China, which has established some 46 Confucius Institutes in Africa to teach Chinese language and culture. China also flies thousands of Africa’s ruling-party officials, civil servants and trade unionists to attend political-training schools in China. This has worked so well in South Africa that the ruling African National Congress last year published a foreign-policy discussion document suggesting that China’s Communist Party “should be a guiding lodestar of our own struggle.”

Yet apart from South Africa, which has slavishly aligned itself with China (for instance by voting with it against a UN resolution to protect the right of people to hold peaceful protests), most African countries are good at playing off rivals against each other, says Alex Vines of Chatham House, a London think-tank. Many have diversified their diplomatic links by opening new embassies, including ones that cross previous divisions between rival powers in Africa. Countries including Burundi, Mauritania and Togo, that used to fall firmly within France’s sphere of influence have opened embassies in Britain. “This is a really great time for clever African countries to get really good deals,” says Mr Vines.

Source: Asia’s scramble for Africa | The Economist

13/08/2016

U.S. and UK tech startups welcome in China – with a little supervision – The Stack

U.S. and UK tech startups welcome in China – with a little supervision Martin Anderson. Editor, The Stack, Friday 12th August

On August 1st Travis Kalanick, CEO and co-founder of Uber, finally admitted defeat regarding the company’s three-year crusade to gain a foothold in China, with the ‘merging’ (most consider it a ‘sale’) of Uber’s Chinese operations with local incumbent Didi Chuxing. Whatever Kalanick may have recovered from the concession, it seems unlikely that Uber will recoup the billions it has already poured into its most distant territory. But there was no alternative – by January of this year, the Uber board was urging that the ride-sharing giant – such an indefatigable combatant in so many contested territories – throw in the towel.

Ultimately Didi was going to win this battle; despite cash and equity of $28 billion vs Uber’s $68 billion, Didi had reserved $10 billion to strengthen its grip on this fundamental societal change in China – almost on a par with what the  better-financed Uber was willing to invest.

A headline-grabbing contest of this nature gives the false impression of China as isolationist in terms of cooperating with global tech startups – it isn’t. The country runs a UK-China tech incubator in Shenzhen, backed by Tencent and providing crucial advice on the peculiarities of the Chinese market to Brit startups. The deal even offers free office space, business counsel and pitch opportunities. Whilst willing to repel boarders on the scale of Uber, China has no problem in contributing to a post-Brexit UK brain drain.

Likewise Alibaba runs a similar scheme to increase tech migration from the United States – almost impossibly tempting for new companies dazzled by the economy-of-scale that Chinese success promises, and struggling for attention in saturated home markets. Perhaps the most useful aspect of these international schemes is the business advice from native sources – western entrepreneurs see huge opportunities in Chinese numbers, yet fail to take account of national psychology; either on an individual level (the Chinese consumer), or at the level of a state which is well aware of its riches – and needs only as much western genius to exploit them as serves its future interests in the post-sharing economy.

Source: http://email.thestack.com/q/11mUpgMA6G1pvcOkWw5ppxj/wv

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