Category Archives: Uncategorized

Not losing their bearings

Some may remember the temporary removal of the LIttle Mermaid from the Copenhagen harbor so that it could be showcased at the Shanghai Expo in 2010.

The friendship between Denmark and China may well be entering a new stage. A recent article by the Wall Street Journal draws attention on the diplomatic courting by Danemark who apparently supports giving China permanent membership on the Arctic Council.

If geography serves me right (and unless the earth was suddenly to tilt on its axis), China’s latitude does not exactly qualify it as an Arctic Ocean Coastal State. There is of course China’s scientific interest in the sea. But to really explain this rapprochement one needs to search no further than economics. The Arctic is indeed home to countless minerals. In addition, the summer route between Shanghai and Hamburg (via the Bering Strait) is 6400 kilometers shorter than via the Suez Canal, reducing both time and cost for shipping goods by sea.

One step back, two steps forward?

Like many other countries, China has taken a hard look at its nuclear strategy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

Temporary suspension of new plants’ approval and review of safety put on hold China’s ambitious nuclear plans. The measures were only temporary and nuclear will probably come back with a vengeance in China. Not that the country has many options anyway if it really wants to reduce its CO2 emissions as recently outlined in a White Paper on the Green Agenda. With the forecasted growth in primary energy consumption for the next 20 years – depending on the scenarios anywhere between 7’000 and 14’000 million ton of CO2 equivalent in 2030 – traditional renewable energies (solar, wind or hydropower) will probably not suffice to drench China’s demand for energy.

The good news is that China may opt for more recent (3rd generation) nuclear technology. The bad news (at least for foreign sellers of nuclear technology) is that China may want to extend the timeout and develop its own nuclear technology.

Fiat eco-lux

China is on an eco-path. Not the one that other countries wanted in Copenhagen but on one it can engineer at its will. The government has announced a measure to progressively phase out incandescent light bulbs from 2012 onwards. The shift would be impressive: in five years, the plan is to ramp up annual production from 3 billion to 12 billion low-consumption light bulbs (a third of the production is currently intended for domestic consumption). To make sure that the targets are reached, a plan incentivizes eco-friendly light bulb producers.

Let’s hope that the thinking of the government included the re-cycling part of the supply chain since low-consumption light bulb contain mercury. Let’s also hope that the government will monitor the quality of the light bulbs. According to the China Daily, 70% of energy saving bulbs randomly tested in Chinese localities (including Beijing and Shanghai) did not reach the energy-saving standard required while 20% did not save any electricity at all compared with incandescent light bulbs.

P.S.: If one needed an additional proof that China does not want to meddle in other countries’ environmental affairs, Chinese exporters of traditional light bulbs are not concerned by the measure.

The end of (GM)time?

A new definition of time – based on atomic clocks and not on the earth rotation – is threatening the Greenwich Meridian Time (GMT) standard.

GMT is the result of a battle between France and Great Britain at the end of the 19th century to be the standard bearer of time. The balance of forces in those days decided that time would be defined by the passage of the sun over the zero meridian line at the Greenwich Observatory (near London).

With the shift of “gravity” towards the East, one could have imagined a ’21st century struggle’ between India and China to be the new standard keepers. So far, it seems that China opposes any change (for some reason its astronomers want to retain earth-rotation based time) but we will have to wait until the result of the vote at the International Telecommunication Union (in January 2012) to find out whether China’s newly acquired soft power extends into the 4th dimension.

The second death of the bicycle?

From the technological innovation imported in the 1890s to the must-have-for-a-wedding during the 1960s and 1970s (together with a sewing machine and a wristwatch), bicycles are much more than a means of transportation: they offer a glimpse into the evolution of the Chinese society.

The bell was tolling for the bicycle when, in 2010, China took over from the US the ‘enviable’ position of largest car market of the world. By then, some bicycle-only streets in Chinese cities had been turned into car-only streets. A little flicker of hope was provided by the massive adoption of electric bicycles (according to the New York Times, there are around 120 million of them in China). Would the eco-conscious government and citizens refrain from turning into a car society? Alas, the artifact’s original sin (its ‘noiselessness’) might be the cause of its second death: Shenzhen banned electric bicycles from the downtown area to reduce the number of accidents.

I wonder if electric cars will be banned for the same reason…

Innovation cities

Hong Kong (15), Shanghai (24), Beijing (53), Shenzhen (93) and Taipei (100)…. Greater China counts 5 cities in the top 100 innovation cities index.

How is the ranking determined? It seems that a number of indicators (across 31 industry and community segments) are weighted and summed into 3 factors: cultural assets, human infrastructure and networked markets.

Interestingly enough, the ‘innovation city’ ranking does not correlate very well with the ‘science city‘ ranking. This may of course be explained by the different methodologies and metrics used for both rankings. It may also indicate that turning science into innovation requires a particular set of skills. No surprise then that Hong Kong (way behind in science citations) comes well ahead in the innovation index. Shenzhen, not particularly known for its universities, can of course count on the innovation dynamism of Huawei and ZTE.

The end of telecom monopolies?

The information has yet to be officially confirmed but it appears that China Telecom may be under anti-monopoly investigation.

Its sin(s)? Abuse of dominance in the broadband market or more specifically charging other broadband service operators discriminatory network access fees. For those not versed in competition law jargon it means that the company is taking advantage of its position in the market to squeeze out competitors (usually by forcing them to resell services to the final customer under the cost of production).

The anti-monopoly law is one of the latest weapon in the arsenal of those trying to instill fair competition in the Chinese telecommunication market. The real question is why China Telecom’s counterpart (China Unicom) does not incur a similar investigation, given that both companies have nicely divided the country in two – the South for China Telecom and the North for China Unicom?

Petitions 2.0

The Chinese government is working hard to improve its e-government services, or so it looks.

After the launch of the Zhongnanhai website, where netizens could chat with their leaders, four cities in Guangdong have created an online system to submit petitions – one of the oldest form of communication between the citizens and the government. According to the Financial Times, the service will even include webcasts.

Some cynics may argue that it is probably those keen on petitioning – the disenfranchised – often don’t have access to the Internet and for those who do, well, there is always the risk of mails being lost in cyberspace.

Youyou Tu

Artemisia may not mean much to you nor Youyou Tu for that matter.

Dr. Tu – who was recently awarded the Lasker Prize – is the Chinese doctor who developed an artemisia-based drug therapy that helped saved millions of lives threatened by malaria. The plant has been known for more than 2000 years in China and used to cure diseases as different as hemorroids or malaria.

A little bit like the Internet, artemisinin is the result of a secret military research conducted after the 1950s in China which took time to spread across the world. It is now extensively used (together with another molecule) by the World Health Organization to fight malaria in the developing world.

I wouldn’t be surprised that ancient Chinese medical books help cure other diseases.

Patent 2.0

In China patents come in increasingly surprising forms.

Apple has recently secured Chinese patents on “some of the distinctive elements of its store designs”, including a glass dome. This rather unusual approach to intellectual protection derives in part from the recent discovery of fake Apple stores throughout the country – the one in Kunming looked so real that even the staff thought they were working for Apple.

It is of course quite far away from the more high-tech image that one can have from patenting activity. At the end of the day the technology component of a brand is often quite low.