Monthly Archives: April 2010

A low carbon China?

If one is to believe the latest report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), China is still a long way from kicking its coal addiction. In fact, China’s energy-related CO2 emissions will increase rapidly to 11.4 billion tonnes in 2020, 13.9 billion tonnes in 2030 and 16.2 billion tonnes in 2050, and will not peak before 2050.

Source: UNDP (2010) – Towards a Low Carbon Economy and Society

So will there actually be such a thing as a low carbon Chna in a not-too-distant future? The country still has a relatively low level of science and technology know-how in several key areas critical to a low carbon economy, along with limited capacities for technology development. The investments required for shifting to a low carbon economy would also carry important opportunity costs.

But there might be some light at the end of the coal mine: the government has indicated its willingness to become more energy-efficient. Several technologies exist or are being developed to tackle the growing demands of the world’s factory. Last but not least, a low carbon China could also start with low carbon consumers all across the world.

On the impact of Chinese scientific research

According to Nature, China has doubled its impact in top research journals. Should we take this as a clear sign that the quality of the Chinese scientific production is on the rise?

A closer look – the devil is always in the details – provides a slightly different perspective. “Chinese papers” are defined as “primary research papers for which the corresponding author and more than 50% of the authors are based in mainland China and published in the five top research journals — Nature, Science, Cell, Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine“. The statistics show that in 2008 the number of papers “China” had in these top journals was 21. One year later the number had increased to 41.

So, the short answer is yes, China did almost double the number of papers published. The long answer though is that it is too soon to judge: the name of the game in science today isn’t really how much one publishes but instead how much one is cited  citation analysis or bibliometrics  a much better indicator of the quality of a scientific article.

The real problem with measuring the impact of Chinese scientific production is actually elsewhere: the Chinese Science Citation Database (CSCD) 2 million entries and 200’000 added every year [only] has the abstract in English, probably reducing vastly the citation of Chinese papers outside of China.


What’s the difference between a high-speed and a very high-speed train?

Probably a question that the Shanghai and Hangzhou transport planners are bound to ask themselves when deciding whether to build a traditional “à la TGV” high-speed line or a magnetic levitation line (MAGLEV) to connect both cities. One part of the answer may be provided by Givoni (2006) with a 3-dimensional graph including cost, compatibility and speed.
Source: Givoni, M. (2006) The development and impact of the modern High Speed Train. Transport Reviews, 26(5): 593-612.

Before even thinking of high-speed lines, one may wonder how many Chinese can actually afford to travel at high-speed, particularly when new lines sometimes replace conventional lines all together. 

For now, the Ministry of Railways and the Reform Commission are worried about the unprofitable aspect of Maglev. Maybe social re-distribution concerns should also come into the picture and inform investment choices in railways.

A sino-german electric car?

The car industry is simply unrecognizable. After the recall of Toyota cars and the acquisition of Volvo by Geely (from Ford), the latest news to rock the sector is that Daimler has signed a deal with BYD to create an entirely new brand of electric cars for the Chinese market – the company already commercializes 1 hybrid and 1 pure electric vehicle but they are restricted to corporate and government use.

Not bad for the Chinese battery maker who rose to become a world leader in lithium-ion batteries for mobile phone and whose expansion in the automative business only goes back to 2003. In less than 10 years, it has become the largest Chinese domestic car manufacturer thanks to the popularity of the F3 – a small car model.

A previous agreement with Volkswagen to supply EV batteries seems to have gone nowhere. Let’s hope that this time the agreement bears fruit. It would mark the first technology swap with a major global player, rather than the usual market-for-technology swap. Let’s also hope that the management of the partnership goes well as Daimler has a rather bad track record in that respect: it sold Chrysler to the Cerberus fund and liquidated its acquisitions in Hyundai and Mistsubishi.

When a mobile operator buys itself a bank…

What do you do when you have more than USD 30 billion cash in your hands?

Faced with the question China Mobile, the world’s biggest mobile operator by subscribers (500 million+), decided to buy itself a 20% stake in the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank (SPDB).  Why? Well, for a starter, competition has started hurting China Mobile’s profitability. As a result, the firm is looking for growth in other segments, including acquisition of operators abroad.

More importantly, and despite notable improvements, e-banking and m-banking remain under-developed in China. SPDB’s national banking license and expertise in clearing and settlements coupled with China Mobile’s large subscriber base provide an interesting synergy to develop mobile banking services – electronic bill payments, electronic money transfers as well as mobile credit cards – in China.

Whether SPDB has the critical reach (8 million customers) remains questionnable. But maybe that’s exactly what the operator was looking for: a medium-sized bank that can be turned into an “in-house banking platform”.