Monthly Archives: November 2007

A Silicon Valley in China?

At least, that’s what a city located 400km west of Shanghai wants to become by 2020.
The government of Hefei, the capital of Anhui province, aims at turning the city into a major centre for global technology companies. To this end, it has already invested USD 2 billion.

In itself, Hefei’s strategy is hardly surprising, given the ideological importance given to science and education in the reforms that started 30 years ago. In fact, it complements policies taken at the central government level: the Chinese State recently earmarked USD 800 million for 12 major scientific and technological developments in the period between 2006 and 2010. Another USD 600 million were earmarked for innovation-oriented projects in the Chinese Academy of Sciences. An additional USD 300 million will be used to finance the establishment of 100 State-level engineering labs, update 50 State-level engineering centers and help set up 300 corporate technology centers…

Can Hefei succeed? Costs are of course much lower and the software engineers are well-trained. But, the success of the Silicon Valley can hardly be attributed to a labour cost advantage – they probably come far behind a long list of factors including the organization of production, entrepreneurship, labor market flows, etc.

Don’t discard the plan all together. With close to 100 corporate and engineering technology centers the city of Shenzhen,  which used to be farmland not so long ago, has become the largest production base of communication terminal devices in the world, taking half of China’s market share and one third of the world’s.

Techno-nationalism redux or sound planning?

Guiyu, the world capital of e-waste

You are probably familiar with the fact that a large majority of computers and electronic components are either produced or assembled in China. You can now close the circle: about 70 percent of the 50 million tons of electronic waste produced globally each year is dumped in China, with most of the rest going to India and poor African nations.

As usual, there is a strong economic rationale for this round-tripping: for the West, where safety rules drive up the cost of disposal, it’s as much as 10 times cheaper to export the waste to developing countries.

A large part of the old computer parts, video games, computer screens, cell phones and electronics of all kinds actually ends up in Guiyu where the e-waste industry employs an estimated 150,000 people – mostly migrant workers. Experts estimate that more than 90% ends up in dumps that observe no environmental standards. 

What a waste!

P.S.: Watch also the documentary e-dump made by Michael Zhao

Chinese mega(lo) cities go wireless

While China’s homegrown third generation (3G) wireless standard TD-SCDMA is starting to gain ground at home, its prospects might be overshadowed by the emergence of a new competitor.  

Key districts in Beijing, such as Olympic sites, Olympic-related accommodation and the city’s central business district, will be covered by a wireless broadband network by the end of 2007. The network will use a mix of Wi-Fi and WiMAX technologies. After covering an initial 40 square kilometers across a number of key districts, the project will cover the city’s university campuses and hi-tech districts. The aim is then to expand it to cover the entire city. And Beijing is only one in six cities in China which are developing wireless network projects. Guangzhou is to go wireless by 2010. For Shanghai, the idea is to combine WiMAX and Wi-Fi to offer a district-wide wireless broadband network.

The municipalities are seconded by Cisco’s vision to have mega-city networks supporting high-definition video transfer and connecting government-authorized networks in areas such as traffic control, security monitoring and environmental regulation.

Moving straight to “fourth-generation” broadband means telecoms companies could leapfrog the political infighting and technology debates that have hamstrung the rollout of 3G in China. China is on course to leapfrog not only technologies but also developed countries.

A localized YouTube in China?

After launching a localized version in Taiwan and Hong Kong, YouTube is considering stepping into the mainland. But, wait a minute. Doesn’t China enforce one of the most stringent Internet censorship in the world?

Akin to the “traditional” Internet it has a policy of restricting foreign online video media and of blocking anything with content which it deems bad to the Communist Party.

Both Google and Yahoo have come under repeated fire in the media and the US Senate for “censoring” the Internet in China. So, how are they going to dodge the bullet this time? Until then, Chinese-based online video websites, like Youku.com and Tudou.com are unlikely to encounter much competition.

Get used to taikonauts and to the Chinese Galileo!

After astronauts (USA), cosmonauts (Russia) and spationauts (France), you’ll have to add a new word for the Chinese evading the earth’s gravity: taikonauts.

So, while you may have thought that the guys circling the earth in a cramped habitat were all doing the same job, they all seem to mind a different business: Americans navigate the stars (coherent with their flag), Russians navigate the Universe (sligthly grandiose) and French navigate space (lofty endavour). Chinese don’t navigate, they claim origin: taikonaut means literally “man from big space”.

Besides just planning to hang out there, the mastering of sending a man into space really establishes China as a space power. The initial claims that the Chinese technology was a mere copy of Russia’s space programs seems increasingly doubtful. While both countries signed a strategic partnerships, all Chinese satellites are thought to be of dual use (civilian and military). Recall also that Beijing recently conducted an anti-satellite test, launched a lunar probe and just announced detailed plans to build a new rocket with enough power to put a space station into orbit, raising fresh questions about whether it aims to compete or collaborate with the other space powers.

Plans are to put a robot on the moon in 2012 and have a «moonaut» by about 2020. Beijing is already working towards a Chinese GPS. In other words it has the ambition to be present in both the terrestrial orbit and the exploration domains. Already 30 satellites have been sent into space (9 of them in 2007) and a fourth launching pad is being built.

Let’s hope that, like for the Olympics, the spirit is to participate and not to win…