One month after denying it will exit China, AWS opens its second region there

 Amazon Web Services has opened its second region in China with a local partner, Ningxia Western Cloud Data Technology. The launch comes just one month after Amazon denied reports that AWS is leaving China, but said the company sold “certain physical infrastructure assets” to Internet services company Beijing Sinnet, which operates its first region in the country, in order to… Read More

Canada should be wary of China’s efforts to interfere in its affairs amid pursuit of trade, says former envoy

GUANGZHOU, China — He was a curious 23-year-old in a bustling train station somewhere in China, at the height of its busiest season, Chinese New Year. He and his two friends didn’t have tickets, but it didn’t matter.

“It was wonderful,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week in Beijing as he recalled his first adult excursion to the country. He’d been to China before, of course — as a child, with his father visiting on official political business — but this trip was different.

“The landscapes I got to see, the discovery of myself through travelling through China was extraordinary for me.”

Trudeau referenced the formative influence of his backpacking experiences in China repeatedly this week as he tried to sell the merits of doubling the number of Chinese tourists next year. With his pursuit of free trade, it is one part of a major plan to deepen relations with the economically ascendant People’s Republic, the country Pierre Trudeau established relations with the year before he was born.

The attempt to create a tourism boon comes amid concern over a more malevolent form of cross-cultural influence — a deliberate and unprecedented effort by Chinese President Xi Jinping to project the power of his country in ways that some say amounts to international political meddling.

“China does have a strategy for influencing public opinion and political opinion in other countries on issues that are important to China,” said David Mulroney, a former Canadian ambassador to China and a senior national security adviser.

Under Xi, China has undertaken a co-ordinated campaign known as the “united front” to influence events in foreign countries, including Canada, said Mulroney.

That includes mobilizing Chinese students and tapping the diaspora in Canada. During past visits by Chinese leaders to Ottawa, the Chinese embassy has bussed in students from Kingston and Montreal to counter the inevitable demonstrations against the Chinese government, he said.

The protests are commonplace, ranging from the treatment of religious minorities in Tibet to allegations of organ harvesting.

“The Chinese communist successfully links patriotism to support for the party and the government,” Mulroney said. Chinese students often bristle at reading criticism about their country when abroad and feel embattled, so it can drive them to be “super patriots.”

It has similarities to what Canada does in the United States by reaching out to Congress, business leaders and others to sell the merits of NAFTA — with one key difference.

“We do that above board, we do that publicly. Where China differs is its willingness to use diaspora groups, people who have an economic stake in China to work behind the scenes,” Mulroney said.

“That’s a form of interference in Canadian affairs.”

Despite the new assertive Chinese posture under Xi, Canada still has no choice but to engage and attempt to deepen relations even if there are some serious implications, said Paul Evans, a China expert at the University of British Columbia.

China has decided it will project itself as a “great power” in the world and “that’s a phrase the Chinese have not used in my lifetime.”

Mulroney said that effort includes putting pressure on academics and journalists to write favourably about Canada, he said.

During Trudeau’s trip, the Communist-run Global Times ran a scathing editorial that lashed out at the Canadian media’s coverage of China.

“The superiority and narcissism of the Canadian media is beyond words,” the editorial declared. “This is the most genuine attitude of Chinese society.”

It said that China should “not (be) in a rush to develop its relations with Canada. Let it be.”

The editorial was not an isolated incident. As Trudeau arrived at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People this week, security staff tried to prevent Canadian photographers from shooting his arrival by blocking their view — a move that surprised some journalists based in Beijing. On a visit to Ottawa last year, the Chinese foreign minister berated reporters for asking a question about human rights.

And in a Canadian Press interview this summer, Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye blamed an ill-informed Canadian news media for forcing human rights onto the bilateral agenda for the Liberal government to confront. Lu said it was the role of the media “to lead and mobilize people for a common cause.”

Before departing China this week, Trudeau delivered what amounted to a sermon on press freedom — clearly destined for his hosts, as well as local media — when asked about the Global Times editorial.

“You play an essential role: a challenge function, an information function,” the prime minister told the gathered reporters.

“External factors make your job difficult. But it’s an essential role that you play in the success of the society. That is my perspective. That is a perspective shared by many, and it’s one that I am very happy to repeat today.”

The Chinese use less hostile approaches to get their message across — pressure Mulroney has experienced first-hand as Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012 under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

Before big visits, Mulroney said he got positive and negative approaches from his Chinese counterparts. He would be told, “‘You’ve got to make sure the prime minister doesn’t raise the following things”‘ — a suggestion that would have gone nowhere with Harper.

“It never stops,” said Mulroney. “It’s like a warm bath they immerse you in.”

Trudeau was subjected to a more benign version of relentless Chinese messaging off the top of a meeting with the secretary of the Communist Party for Guangdong province, Li Xi on Guangzhou’s picturesque Shamian Island.

Instead of the usual minute of small talk that usually opens the photo-ops for such meetings, Li welcomed Trudeau with a 15-minute monologue about his province’s priorities and aspirations.

Trudeau sat patiently listening, occasionally smiling and nodding, his eyes fixed straight ahead at Li.

When he was finished, the prime minister thanked his host for the warm welcome and remarked how vividly he recalled walking the tree-lined cobblestone streets of the neighbourhood they were in his halcyon backpacker days.

This time, Trudeau need not have mentioned his formative busman’s holiday.

Li made sure to include that too in his welcoming monologue.

Ever heard of Hoed & Shouders? Chinese knock-offs of famous brands crowd shelves in Venezuela

You most likely have tried, or at least heard of, Head & Shoulders shampoo. But Hoed & Shouders? No? How about Max Quottro razors or Aluays pads or Yahnsan’s soap?

In the economic basket case that is Venezuela, these are the hot new consumer products. Very distant relatives of famous American-born brands, they are crowding shelves that earlier this year were pretty much empty of anything, authentic or otherwise, that most people could afford.

Now there’s an alternative-universe bonanza of copycats from China with labels that read like brand names tossed into a blender.

Shoppers might be fooled by packaging that shamelessly mimics what’s for sale in the U.S. The unpronounceable Convenrt, for instance, is in Colgate toothpaste’s classic white-on-red script. But flip the containers around, and the fine print discloses that the items hail from Hong Kong, or Guandong, or Fujian provinces. Some don’t list any ingredients; some list a few that are vaguely similar to what’s in the original.

Convenrt, printed in Colgate toothpaste’s classic white-on-red script.

The surge in knockoffs is welcome — though not exactly a cause for celebration — in a country where the socialist government’s byzantine system of economic controls has sparked acute shortages of toilet paper, antibiotics, bread, and much more. That the clones are on the cheapish side is a plus. Inflation is out of control in Venezuela, running at an annual pace of more than 4,000 percent over the past three months, according to Bloomberg’s Cafe Con Leche Index.

Head & Shoulders sells for 118,000 bolivares, but Hoed & Shouders is 32,000. That’s about half the cost of a filling lunch in Caracas. Not bad, especially if it really makes your scalp stop itching.

A box of “Yahnsan’s” soap at a grocery store in Venezuela.

China’s JD partners with accelerator program Plug and Play to reach US startups

 E-commerce giant JD.com, the closest rival to Alibaba in China, is broadening its presence in Silicon Valley after it announced a collaboration with accelerator firm Plug and Play to seek out and work with promising U.S. startups. The e-commerce giant said it will share technologies, including AI, cloud and smart supply chain tech, with the program generally and work together to launch a… Read More

Honda is working with Chinese AI unicorn SenseTime on self-driving car tech

 Honda is putting the focus on artificial intelligence after it announced a partnership with SenseTime, a Chinese startup valued at over $1 billion, that will power its autonomous cars of the future. SenseTime, which raised a $410 million funding round this past summer and counts Qualcomm among its investors, is particularly well known for its object recognition technology which has been used… Read More

Ford recruits Alibaba to help break into China’s electric vehicle industry

 Ford has put a lot of focus on China’s electric vehicle market — with a local joint venture expected to lead to 15 electric or hybrid models on sale in the country by 2025 — and today the automotive giant announced a tie-in with Alibaba to fulfill its ambitious goals.
The scope of alliance is fairly broad and vague at this point, but a large chunk of  the”strategic… Read More

China’s debt levels pose stability risk, says IMF

Health check of financial system says reforms have not gone far enough and notes similarities to US before 2008 crisis

Fears that China risks being the cause of a fresh global financial crisis have been highlighted by the International Monetary Fund in a hard-hitting warning about the growing debt-dependency of the world’s second biggest economy.

The IMF’s health check of China’s financial system found that credit was high by international levels, that personal debt had increased in the past five years, and that the pressure to maintain the country’s rapid growth had bred an unwillingness to let struggling firms fail.

Related: IMF warns China over ‘dangerous’ growth in debt

Related: Adani coalmine project: China Construction Bank won’t grant loan, PR firm says

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As Cook and Pichai leave China, Valley confronts rising internet tyranny in world’s second largest market

 It’s been a bad few months for internet freedom in China (and really, a bad few decades, but who is counting?). The government brought into force a broad-ranging “cybersecurity law” earlier this year that empowers Beijing to take unilateral control over critical internet infrastructure, while also mandating that foreign companies keep all citizen data local inside China. Read More