Saturday, September 29, 2012

Google shuts down its free music service in China

Google has shut down its Chinese music search service that offered free licensed music downloads because it wasn't popular enough, the company has said.

The China-only music search service closes a little over two years after the company closed its search engine in the Chinese mainland, and follows a continual slide of popularity in China with Google losing ground to local search providers.

As of Sunday, visitors to the site see only a message saying, "the service has been shut down, and users are reminded to log in, download and save the playlist before October 19."

Google launched the music search service in March 2009 working with Chinese music website top100.cn to provide free and legal music in China.

"The popularity of this product turned out to be lower than we expected, therefore we decided to transfer resources to other products," Boon-Lock Yeo, head of Google's engineering and research teams in China, announced on Google's company blog Friday.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Google celebrates 14th birthday

Google has been under target from censors and is also facing legal action in several countries around the world in what has become a difficult month for the search giant. But as the company celebrates its 14th birthday with a special doodle, it has also received praise for its green initiatives.

Anger over YouTube video

Over the last month Google has been pressured to remove a video from YouTube which has inflamed parts of the Muslim world. The film clip which many Muslims say insults the prophet Mohammed was posted in June this year but after recently appearing with an Arabic translation there have been widespread demonstrations.

Google has refused to remove the film from YouTube, despite pressure from the White House and others to take it down, though the company has blocked the trailer in Egypt, Libya and other Muslim countries.

Now one of the actresses who appeared in the film is attempting to use the courts to force a take-down. Cindy Lee Garcia names YouTube and its parent company Google Inc. as defendants in her lawsuit, along with the Egyptian-American Coptic Christian from California believed to be behind the making of the film [Reuters].

It is the second time Garcia has tried to use the law to obtain an order against Google. Last week a Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied her request for a temporary restraining order that would have required YouTube to stop posting the crudely made 13-minute video, finding the actress was unlikely to prevail on the merits of her case in state court [BBC].

Google's Brazil boss arrested

Meanwhile a Brazilian court on Tuesday banned the anti-Islam movie and gave YouTube 10 days to pull the film's trailer from its website [Reuters]. It wasn't the only Brazilian court ruling against Google on Tuesday. Earlier, an elections court ordered the arrest of Google's most senior executive in Brazil after the company failed to take down YouTube videos attacking a local mayoral candidate [BBC].

Iran blocks Google

Google is facing problems elsewhere too with Iran now blocking the search engine and its email service Gmail. The block seemed to be in response to the hosting of the anti-Islamic film, despite the fact YouTube has been blocked in the country since 2009 [BBC].

IP issues and privacy

Accusations of invasion of privacy over its Street View mapping project and the collection of WiFi data still continues and Google may face more court cases in the future. The company is also facing accusations of blocking the launch of a smartphone powered by the Chinese firm Alibaba's operating system [BBC]. Google and companies which make devices which use its mobile operating system Android remain in an almost continuous battle with Apple with accusations of copyright infringement.

In the latest ruling Motorola is facing a ban of selling its latest Android based devices in Germany after losing a patent lawsuit against Apple [BBC].

News Corp back down

It hasn't all been bad news for Google however. News Corp this week backed down in its war with the search giant over listings of its publications in Google's search engine rankings. The move came amid fears that the newspapers' exclusion was limiting their influence and driving down advertising revenues.

In the past, Rupert Murdoch, who owns The Times and Sunday Times, had lambasted Google as a "parasite" and a "content kleptomaniac" because it only allows companies to feature in search rankings if users are able to click through to at least one page without paying [Telegraph / TechCrunch].

Rising stocks

On Thursday Google, which was celebrating its 14th birthday, also saw its shares soar to an all time high topping $761 on Wednesday though it dropped a little to around $753 by the closing bell [CNN / Globe & Mail].

Google was also celebrating a milestone as its Android market topped a massive 25 billion downloads [PC Advisor].

Maps and apps

The search giant has yet to launch a mapping app for Apple's iOS following complaints that Apple's own maps were less than satisfactory. Google will release a Maps app for iOS 6, but it's may be some time before it is released, according to sources quoted by The Verge. Although the company has been coy about its mapping plans in the wake of mass criticism of the latest navigation tools in iOS 6, Google sources say the company is rushing to make app available.

Google users on other operating systems can further explore the world as panoramic images of several coral reefs have been added to Street View [BBC / Daily Mail].

Greening Google

And in an effort to increase its green credentials Google has signed a contract to obtain 48 megawatts of wind energy from the Canadian Hills Wind Project in Oklahoma to power its data centre. The company has received praise before from environmental groups such as Greenpeace [Register]. However, Google's latest initiative has been particularly applauded. "As Google powers more of its data center fleet with clean energy, it sends a signal to other IT companies and electric utilities around the world that renewable energy is not only possible but is simply smart business in the 21st century economy," said Gary Cook, senior IT analyst for Greenpeace International [Google / Register / SFGate].

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Police chief Wang Lijun jailed in murder cover-up

Wang Lijun, the ex-police chief at the centre of China's biggest political scandal in years, has been sentenced to 15 years in jail. His conviction leaves only the disgraced politician Bo Xilai awaiting his fate. But even when the case finally comes to an end. there will still remain doubts and questions in many people's minds.

Sentence

A Chinese court in Chengdu sentenced Wang Lijun to 15 years in prison and deprived him of his political rights for one year after finding him guilty of "bending the law for selfish ends, defection, abuse of power and bribe-taking", according to the state news agency Xinhua.

Wang, the former chief of police in the city of Chongqing, where Bo Xilai was Communist Party leader, had faced up to 20 years in jail, but prosecutors called his co-operation "meritorious service".

He had not contested the charges against him. It is difficult to get a clear picture of the facts or the details presented to the court since foreign media and the public were excluded from the proceedings.

Erroneous

To some observers it seems somewhat erroneous that Wang might have been involved in the conspiracy to cover up the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, given it was Wang himself that had blown the lid off the whole affair when he apparently sought sanctuary in the US consulate in Chengdu earlier this year.

The court asserted that Wang had hidden a recording of Gu Kailai's account of the killing of Neil Heywood from the police. However, it was claimed that a conflict arose between Wang and Gu, after which Wang told investigators to ''re-collect, sort through and carefully keep the evidence'' from the case.

What was not explained is why he had fled to the US consulate, and why the investigation into Neil Heywood's murder began much later. It could well be that Wang had attempted to obtain asylum by fleeing to the US consulate, having set the ball rolling in the investigation of Heywood's murder. But there was no explanation from the court as to why he had previously sought a meeting with British officials nor, given he was not forced to leave the US consulate, he had decided to hand himself into the hands of authorities after a standoff lasting many hours.

As Wang Lijun sat in court both his wife and daughter observed the proceedings. It is possible that what persuaded him to face a trial was that he feared for his family and how they might be treated.

Show trial

The trial has been been one of several show trials, though the reporting of the events have been carefully controlled. The state media has tried to sweep the whole affair under the rug, but in an organised and controlled fashion, attempting at the same time to show it is making great efforts to sweep away corruption. After failing to quell rumours following the ousting of Bo Xilai in March, the state media eventually broke its silence and admitted it was investing the death of the British businessman Neil Heywood, though it drew no links between Wang Lijun's fleeing to the US consulate nor Bo Xilai's purge from office.

There then followed months of speculation and rumour surrounding Bo's family, including his son Bo Guagua and his wife Gu Kailai. But is was not until late July that Gu Kailai was arrested and state media announced she was to face charges of murder along with a house servant.

Gu Kailai was given a suspended death sentence for the crime. At a separate trial on 10th August, four senior police officers from Chongqing admitted covering up evidence linking her to the murder and were jailed for between five and 11 years. As for Bo Xilai, the ousted politician has not been seen in public since the scandal erupted, though he is expected to be tried and convicted.

Drawing a line

China may be hoping to draw a line under the whole sordid saga before the 18th party congress which will see a transition of leadership. But dates on when Bo might face a judge or specific dates for the party congress have yet to be announced

[Xinhua / BBC / Sky / CNN / Al Jazeera / BBC / Telegraph / Guardian / FT / Daily Mail / NYT / WSJ]

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Friday, September 21, 2012

New iPhone 5 users could find themselves lost

Earlier this year Apple announced it was ditching Google Maps in favour of its own cloud based mapping system built with help from Tom Tom. But users of the recently launched iOS 6 which has the new app pre-installed might find themselves completely lost.

Riddled with errors

The mapping software has angered users who said it was riddled with inaccuracies, misplaced towns and cities and omitted key landmarks [BBC].

The new Maps app displays many shops and restaurants streets metres away from their true location, important sites including some train stations are missing, and the search function appears unable to understand simple requests.

Obscured by clouds

In Britain, data on local businesses, sourced from the review website Yelp, appears years out of date, and satellite images are not as sharp as Google's.

Some places, such as Colchester and many locations in Scotland, were completely obscured by cloud cover. Meanwhile the search function is unable to find Paddington Station and entire towns such as Solihull are not labelled.

Woolworths returns!

Some stores which have long disappeared from Britain's high streets have made a miraculous return. The now defunct music retailer Our Price, the budget clothing store C&A and the retailer Woolworths appear all over the mapping application which might perplex rather than confuse some users.

But more seriously there are misplaced Underground Stations which have found themselves moved to parks and in some cases closed stations have been resurrected. The errors have been mocked by some Underground staff who placed notices at stations suggesting commuters with iOS6 obtain a map from the booking office [Twitter].

Missing towns

Some towns appear to be completely missing, such as Stratford-upon-Avon and Solihull. Others, like Uckfield in East Sussex, are in the wrong location. A search for Manchester United Football Club directs users to Sale United Football Club, a community team for ages five and above. Users have also reported missing local places, such as schools, or strange locations. Another screenshot showed a furniture museum that was apparently located in a river!

Ghost airports

Mistakes in the new app were not confined to Britain. Users were reporting that London had been relocated to Ontario, the Sears Tower in Chicago had shrunk, and Helsinki railway station had been turned into a park. Dublin has acquired a new airport prompting the Republic's justice minister, Alan Shatter, in whose constituency the imaginary airport has been located, to contact Apple expressing concern that pilots might attempt to land at a 35-acre greenfield site with working farm, formal gardens and cafe, which has been designated as an airport by the Apple database [BBC / Telegraph / GuardianReutersMirror / Daily Mail].


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China calls for lifting of arms embargo

China's Premier Wen Jiabao has demanded an end to an arms embargo which has been in place for more than a decade. But with tensions high in the East and South China Seas and continued concerns over China's adherence to human rights in its own country, the chances of any relaxation are slim.

Regret

Speaking before European leaders at an EU summit in Brussels, Premier Wen called for a reappraisal of China's position concerning the buying of weapons and military hardware. "I have to be very frank in saying this... but the solution [to lifting the embargo] has been elusive over the past 10 years," Wen declared.

"I deeply regret this and I hope the EU side will take greater initiative to solve these issues," Wen implored. His requests are likely to fall on deaf ears however. Even before the annual summit EU sources were said to have "agreed to disagree" on the subject of an arms embargo [BBC / Al Jazeera / Telegraph / Channel News Asia / NYT].

"Major impediment"

The issue is nonetheless creating a source of tension between China and important trading partners. Last year a report by Baroness Ashton, Europe's foreign policy chief, warned that the embargo was "a major impediment" to developing EU-China ties.

With the EU looking towards China as a way out of the current economic crisis enveloping Europe, leaders are trying to avoid creating too much friction. But it is unclear how much China will be able to help ailing countries as its own economy begins to shrink. On Thursday European stocks dropped, partly in response to new figures released which showed China's manufacturing had contracted for the 11th month in a row.

The European Union is the biggest destination for Chinese exports, which were worth €292.5 billion, or about $382 billion, last year, while exports from the Union to China were worth €136.2 billion, making China the Union's second-largest trading partner after the United States and a major source of wealth and jobs.

Sensitive topics

The issues being discussed by China and EU leaders are particularly sensitive and there have been reports that some aspects of the meetings have been censored. Moments after Wen Jiabao uttered his critical remarks concerning the continuing arms embargo the live broadcast was cut.

"Broadcast services received a message saying the public part [of the ceremony] was over," said a European Union diplomat who asked not to be named.

Only hours earlier the EU executive announced it was scrapping plans to organise a press conference at the close of the summit, as is traditional at such events, after failing to agree with Chinese authorities. China had wanted to vet the journalists, said a European diplomat who asked not to be named [Fin Channel].

Stumbling blocks

While the arms embargo is a major stumbling block, it is not the only issue on the table. And China's wish to control press access was no doubt an attempt to reduce the glare on such discussions.

There are concerns amongst European leaders that China is dumping solar powered equipment in the EU for less than the cost of manufacture an issue that was expected to have been raised by EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht with his Chinese counterpart, Commerce Minister Chen Deming, on Thursday.

Another source of friction is a European law requiring airlines using airports inside the Union to account for their carbon dioxide emissions. China has stated that its airlines should not pay any associated charges without permission from the government. The first charges fall due in April 2013.

Territorial disputes

Discussions concerning the mounting tensions between China and Japan over the disputed islands in the East China Sea known as the Diaoyu in China and the Senkakus in Japan, were also said to have been held. The dispute has worried many economists because of the potential fallout sanctions could have on the world economy [CNN]. Following a similar dispute between China and Japan in 2010, China halted exports of rare earth metals to Japan for nearly two months.

The export ban drew international attention and helped lead to the filing in March this year of a World Trade Organization case, in which the European Union, the United States and Japan challenged China's right to limit exports of such important minerals.

There were said to be tense discussions over the situation in Syria. China, along with Russia, has vetoed proposed UN Security Council resolutions intended to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to end a crackdown on the Syrian opposition. Before the summit an EU official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the Europeans "will emphasize the inability of the international community to mobilize" in the case of Syria [NYT].

Balancing act

While China is a key exporter and provider of much needed resources, giving in to demands of ending the arms embargo could prove more dangerous than not.
The EU embargo was imposed after the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and was also implemented by the United States which oppose any move to lift restrictions citing China's human rights record as well as concerns that it will upset the delicate balance of relations between China and Taiwan.

France and Italy has called for a lifting of the ban, but other EU countries are more divided on the issue, and with heightened tensions in the waters surrounding China, there are deep concerns that any weapons supplied could be used against China's neighbours or other nations that might step in to defend such aggression.

The ban, that limits high-technology sales to China which could have a dual military use, forces China to invest more in its own military research and development. China has described the arms embargo as a "relic of the cold war". But there are lessons which should be learnt from history when supplying weapons to other nations.

Historical lessons

There are several past incidents where weapons supplied to another nation have later been used against either the country that provided them or one of its allies. In 1982 during the Falklands War, the HMS Sheffield was struck by a French made Exocet missile [YouTube]. While France helped Britain contain the Exocet threat by providing the Exocet's code and homing radar, the danger was not entirely eliminated and the HMS Sheffield was sunk on the 10th October 1982, the first Royal Navy vessel sunk in action since World War II. Twenty of her crew, mainly on duty in the galley area and in the computer room, died as a result of the attack, though the death toll could have been much higher had the warhead detonated after impact.

Unresolved issues

In a joint communique released after the summit [PDF], leaders said they "noted with satisfaction that the EU-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership had matured and become increasingly rich and multi-dimensional". Many issues are laid out in the document which calls for greater cooperation between the EU and China. However issues connected to the supplying of military technology still remain unresolved.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

China's dispute with Japan could have far wider implications

The dispute between China and Japan over a few small islands in the East China Sea threatens to worsen with some worried that the issue could precipitate serious economic consequences or even start a conflict between the two nations. And with attacks on a US ambassadorial car, there are concerns that Japan is not the only country in the gun sights of China's nationalists.

Factories shut down

After days of protests which saw Japanese businesses attacked many factories shut down across China. Panasonic said its factory in Qingdao would remain shut until 18th September, while Canon also temporarily suspended operations at three plants. Meanwhile Honda, Mazda and Nissan stopped car production for two to four days [BBC / FT].

Even branches of the Japanese owned 7-Eleven convenience stores closed their doors in some parts of the country on Tuesday but most were said to be open again the following day. All 180 7-Eleven outlets in Beijing and Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan province, reopened after Tuesday's closure to dodge potential vandalism, according to Liu Yue, a deputy manager with the company's Beijing office [China Daily]. 

Economic fears

There are fears amongst some analysts that any long term protests could impact on Japanese investment in China. 

China, once seen as being a low-cost manufacturing base, has seen a steady rise in labour costs in recent times, negating a big advantage it had on other countries in the region. The protests could result in some Japanese firms starting to look beyond China for further expansion, analysts warn.

"They might want to consider expanding manufacturing operations in Thailand or in other nations that are more welcoming towards Japanese investment," says Shaun Rein of China Market Research Group. Such moves could have an impact on China's economic growth and also on the overall trade ties between Asia's two biggest economies. "The trade relations are going to be damaged by the continuing protests, for sure," Rein says.

Chinese threats

China has already hinted that it might target Japan with economic sanctions in what could become a tit-for-tat battle between the two major economies.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal has already reported that China is drawing up plans to cut off Japan's supplies of rare earth metals needed for hi-tech industry.

Meanwhile Jin Baisong, a senior advisor to the Chinese government who is based at the Chinese Academy of International Trade, a branch of the commerce ministry, says China should use its power as Japan's biggest creditor with $230bn [£141bn] of bonds to "impose sanctions on Japan in the most effective manner" and bring Tokyo's festering fiscal crisis to a head.

Writing in the China Daily, Jin called on China to invoke the "security exception" rule under the World Trade Organisation to punish Japan, rejecting arguments that a trade war between the two Pacific giants would be mutually destructive.

The "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands by Japan after "purchasing" them from a "private owner" is ridiculous and cannot change the fact that they are Chinese territory, Jin insists.

Describing the "intensifying tension" between China and Japan over the Islands as "a well-orchestrated plan of the Japanese government", Jin says "China should take strong countermeasures, especially economic sanctions, to respond to Japan's provocations." [Telegraph]

Military threat

Despite the belligerent tone, Jin was cautious of any military intervention which he says "should be the last choice". But it is just such military action that some observers are concerned about.

Speaking in Japan during a week-long trip to Asia US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta called for "calm and restraint on all sides".

"It is in everybody's interest for Japan and China to maintain good relations and to find a way to avoid further escalation," he said, after meetings with the Japanese foreign and defence ministers.

His words will seem somewhat hollow to politicians in Beijing after confirmed the United States' commitment to establish a new land-based x-band radar, formally known as a AN/TPY2, in the southern part of Japan, but not on Okinawa, where the US military presence is deeply controversial.

"The purpose of this is to enhance our ability to defend Japan, it is also designed to help forward deployed US forces and it will also be effective at protecting the US homeland from the ballistic missile threat," Panetta said at a news conference with Japanese Defence Minister Satoshi Morimoto.

The new deployment, according to Panetta, showed the US commitment to Japan and to its new defence strategy that emphasizes the Asia-Pacific region. For his part the Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said the cooperation on missile defence would "ensure the safety of Japan and the region." [WSJ]

US fears

However the military expansion will be seen by Beijing as further foreign interference in its own internal affairs and a threat to China [BBC]. But speaking in an interview broadcast later by the BBC, Panetta said, "The danger is like any other dispute. It could get out of control."

Panetta spoke of his concern particularly of provocative acts by both nations of sending ships and fishing vessels to the area which could escalate things further. "These kinds of incidents could very easily drag the United States into it in one capacity or another," Panetta said, "That's the last thing we want."

It might be the last thing the US wants but the mood in many Chinese cities is far more hostile with some protesters calling for a declaration of war against their neighbour. The bad mood was further heightened on Tuesday with the anniversary of the 1931 invasion by the Japanese marked with angry protests across the country [China Daily / CNN / Reuters].

On Wednesday there were further concerns after protesters surrounded and attacked an of final car carrying the US ambassador to China Gary Locke [YouTube / CNN video].The car was only slightly damaged by the protesters which seemed driven by an anti-US agenda as they shouted, "打倒įžŽå¸!" [Dadao Mei Di - Down with American Imperialism!] [LA Times / IBT / WSJ].

Market effects

While China has yet to act against its neighbour, either militaristically or economically, there has already been fallout from the recent protests. Shares in some Japanese firms affected by the crisis fell on Tuesday with Honda and Nissan seeing their stock fall around 2% and 5% respectively [BBC / WSJ].  

However in contrast to falls seen in Japan there were significant gains observed in China with stocks belonging to the military supplier North Navigational Control Technology jumping some 30% in the last few days.

No quick resolve

There likely won't be any quick resolution in the dispute between China and Japan for control of an obscure group of islands.

As a large economy China will likely ride the storm and is unlikely to be affected in the long term by any pull out of Japanese business.

In the short term things could prove difficult for both sides. The protests have rocked an otherwise stable ship. Many businesses, least of all Japanese ones, might see China as too volatile or dangerous a place to set up shop. Tourism might well be seriously affected by scenes of burning factories, looted shops and angry mobs of Chinese nationalists rampaging in the streets. Japanese tourists, which bring much needed currency to China, will very likely stay clear for some time.

With China's economy slowing and many countries looking to reestablish domestic industrial bases, China risks scaring away much needed business. In fact the tide may have already begun to turn, with the Daily Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard suggesting the sun was setting on China's industrial miracle.

Japan may have ignited the candle, but China, with its almost blatant encouragement of nationalistic protests, which some see as deliberately engineered [CNN], has fanned the flames considerably.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Xi reappears amidst rising anti-Japan protests

Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping  has reappeared in public after a two week disappearing act which triggered wild speculation as to his whereabouts. The timing of his reappearance comes as China is seeing a growing number of anti-Japanese protests which may be worrying China, Japan and the US.

Xi's reappearance

Xi, who is expected to become China's next leader, had cancelled a number of high profile meeting with international leaders prompting some to speculate had fallen ill or been the subject of an assassination plot. But on Saturday the vice-president attended an event to mark national science day, smiling and apparently in good health.

No official explanation has been given for his absence, which fuelled widespread speculation on China's microblogs and in news reports around the world. Xinhua, China's official news agency, carried a brief report of Xi's visit to the China Agricultural University in Beijing with a photograph showing the vice-president smiling and walking with other officials.

China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping is set to attend a meeting with Southeast Asian nations later this week,  signalling his return to diplomatic duties. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, who has continually denied having any information on Xi's whereabouts in  recent weeks, told media on Sunday that the Chinese Vice-President will attend the opening ceremony and "some other important activities" for the 9th China-Asean [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Expo being held at Nanning, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region [BBC / IBT / FT].

Rising protests

Xi's return to the public arena comes as China faces a difficult domestic situation with growing anti-Japanese protests triggered by an ongoing dispute centred around a group of islands in the South China Sea.

Thousands of demonstrators attacked the Japanese embassy in Beijing on Saturday in a protest that was clearly condoned by the authorities and served as a distraction from the uncertainty over the succession.

Some Chinese protesters shouted slogans such as "Declare war on Japan" while others threw rocks and eggs at the compound [BBC]. Demonstrators took to the streets again Sunday in cities across China, with the government offering mixed signals on whether it would continue to tolerate the sometimes violent outbursts.

The protests on Sunday were orderly in Beijing, now surrounded by a huge police presence with several hundred people gathered in front of the Japanese Embassy demanding Chinese control over a small island group known as Senkaku in Japan and as Diaoyu in China.

But protests in other parts of the country have been more volatile. Demonstrations have been reported in up to 50 cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Qingdao, some of which have been extremely violent forcing police to intervene with tear gas.

Calls for calm

In Qingdao, a factory for the Panasonic Corporation was set on fire and a Toyota dealership was looted. Across China there have been growing calls for boycotts of Japanese products. Meanwhile Japan's prime minister Yoshihiko Noda has called on China to protect Japanese people and property [VoA].

A signed editorial on the website of People's Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, said the protests should be viewed sympathetically. While not defending the violence, the editorial said the protests were a symbol of the patriotism of the Chinese people.

"No one would doubt the pulses of patriotic fervour when the motherland is bullied," the editorial read. "No one would fail to understand the compatriots' hatred and fights when the country is provoked; because a people that has no guts and courage is doomed to be bullied and a country that always hides low and bide its time will always come under attack." The article had been deleted by late Sunday.

Evidence arose Sunday which suggested that some government officials were directly involved in the protests. In the western city of Xi'an, Chinese Internet activists identified one of the officials as the city's police chief [Banned Book]. Although localized riots and protests are common in China, organized, planned protests that are tolerated by the authorities are rare.

Thousands of apparently well-organised demonstrators, some of them carrying portraits of former Communist party leader Mao Zedong, could be seen alongside the police chief [NYTAl Jazeera / Asahi / The Australian / FT]

US concerns

On Friday, six Chinese marine surveillance ships patrolled near the islands, known in China as the Diaoyu and to Japan as the Senkaku. In addition to sending the surveillance craft, the Chinese government issued a stream of strong statements in state media saying it would protect the nation's interests in the matter [Herald].

Meanwhile US Defence Secretary Leon E. Panetta who is scheduled to visit Beijing on Monday said he was increasing concerned about the rising nationalism sweeping across China. Shortly before landing in Tokyo on Sunday, Panetta told correspondents aboard his jet that he worried that territorial disputes in the Pacific could move from tension to conflict. "I am concerned that when these countries engage in provocations of one kind or another over these various islands, that it raises the possibility that a misjudgment on one side or the other could result in violence, and could result in conflict," " he said [BBC]

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Apple’s iPhone 5 receives mixed response

Apple this week released its much anticipated iPhone 5. But while there was some excitement coming from so-called Apple fanboys and some technologists, there was a swathe of criticism accompanying its unveiling.

The iPhone for some has failed to catch up with the technology of other smartphone manufacturers. Screen resolution, chip speed and camera resolution on some smartphones still exceed the new iPhone. Many observers suggested the iPhone 5 was a poor attempt at playing catch-up.

But aside the slightly thinner and taller design [a feature that was mocked by some with Mashable speculating what the iPhone 10 might look like], an increase in screen and camera resolution, and a new connector, there is little that has changed from previous models. In fact it could be argued that the new iPhone was a step backwards from earlier incarnations [BBC / Sky / Telegraph / Reuters].

No Google Maps

The new operating system iOS 6 comes without YouTube or Google Maps. Google have released apps for both, but they don't come as standard. Apple did not offer any alternative after dropping its own YouTube app effectively forcing Google to release one. Apple have released an alternative to Google Maps, but in many respects it is inferior to Google Maps [see also tvnewswatch: Apple maps may be poor imitation of Google Maps].

New connector

The biggest bone of contention amongst critics was the introduction of a new connector meaning anyone purchasing the new device will either need to buy new accessories or adaptors. New accessories are yet to appear in the shops, though manufacturers are said to be rushing to make them available. Meanwhile an adapter is being sold by Apple, though it may not be compatible with all devices. Even a statement on the Apple store appeared to acknowledge the adapter might not work in some situations.

There is criticism that disposing of the 30 pin connector in favour of a redesigned plug flies in the face of an almost universally accepted micro-USB charging standard. As well as potentially leaving many iPhone 5 users out of pocket should they buy new accessories or adapters, there is also the problem of increased waste as landfill sites fill up with obsolete electronic junk [Sky / SFGate / CNET / NPR / PocketNow]

Nano-SIM

Another drawback is that Apple have decided to dispense with the micro-SIM and adopt a nano-SIM instead. Around 40% smaller than the micro-SIM used in the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S there is no clear reason why Apple have adopted the new subscriber identity module. While smaller, there appear to be no major advantages, and many disadvantages.

While a nano-SIM may be obtained from a mobile phone service provider, it could prove difficult in some countries. Those who frequently travel around the world often swap SIMs in order to make use of local service providers and save on call costs. The mini-SIM is almost standard around the world, though it can be cut down without too much risk for devices using a micro-SIM such as many iPhones, the Galaxy SIII and other newer devices. The cutting down of a micro-SIM to a nano-SIM could create issues, given the size. Furthermore to swap a nano-SIM into a phone which takes a micro or mini SIM could also prove difficult, even with adapters [Inquirer]. 

No NFC

While lighter, thinner and faster, there is not a great deal that's new in the iPhone 5. Many top Android devices still beat it on price, speed and screen size. The iPhone also lacks features which are now become standard in many modern smartphones such as NFC [Near Field Communication].  

The technology is backed by the largest US carriers and credit card companies, but has failed to take off in America because merchants have been reluctant to spend money to upgrade their checkout terminals until NFC is more widely adopted.

"Anyone hoping NFC would be a reality soon is disappointed," Sanjay Sakhrani, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, told Reuters. "Many in the industry were hoping inclusion in the iPhone would be a springboard for more adoption. This takes the impetus away." [Telegraph]

It will also be a snub to Google which have poured much time and investment into NFC and Google Wallet.

Market reaction

The excitement amongst Apple fans was not reciprocated by companies making components for Apple products which saw some shares slide soon after the unveiling of the new device [Reuters]. However there was a distinct recovery later in the week with Apple shares in particular jumping to an all time high on Friday, in what one analyst called "iPhone 5 fever" [Reuters].

4G boost

For iPhone fans the biggest selling selling point is perhaps its 4G capabilities, though the fast mobile broadband service has yet to reach many parts of the world and even where it has there are few operators that offer the service.

Besides the criticism, some warranted, some less so, pre-orders for the device are said to have already exceeded demand and Apple say those wanting to buy one may have to wait weeks. Such a gap in the market could leave Apple vulnerable with competitors stepping in to take advantage, particularly Samsung whose Galaxy SIII is seen as a strong rival to the iPhone [Mashable].

Hobson's choice or a false dilemma

The new iPhone is unlikely to encourage mobile phone users to jump ship. Having made the choice of Android many have invested heavily by buying apps on Google Play. Similarly iPhone users may well have spent a considerable amount in iTunes, stuff that they could not transfer to another platform.

The iPhone 5 might appeal to new users, those who have yet to take the plunge into the smartphone market. For those with an iPhone already there is the very serious question concerning whether the upgrade is worth it [Telegraph].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mystery over China's Xi Jinping sparks wild rumours

China's new leader in waiting has not been seen for more than a week, sparking rumours that he might be ill or have been involved in an accident. It is just the latest in a series of rumours and scandals that have circulated over the past week, and they have put the media and authorities in China on edge.

Social media storm

Social media in China has helped bolster the rumours. Increasingly used by many young people, social media websites in China have changed the way news is consumed by the public.

China is the world's biggest social media market, but with access to websites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube blocked by authorities, most people can only use domestic social media sites such as Weibo, Renren and YouKu.

Despite being strictly controlled such sites can be a source of news as well as a platform to to organise protests and disseminate views contrary to official reports [BBC].

Grinning officials & staged scripts

Following a recent crash in Shaanxi province there was uproar amongst Chinese netizens after a picture was circulated showing an official apparently smiling at the scene where 36 people died [BBC / see also tvnewswatch: China: Bus crash in Shaanxi province kills 36]. The official, Yang Dacai, claimed he had just been trying to cheer people up, but this did not impress netizens who dug up pictures of Yang wearing luxury watches and accused him of corruption [China News 24]

Only days before there was anger over state media's coverage of the Olympic games when it emerged that CCTV, China's state broadcaster, knew Chinese athlete Liu Xiang was not fit and scripted its whole coverage in advance.

The revelation was front-page news in the Oriental Guardian newspaper which ran with the headline, "Liu Xiang knew; Officials knew. Only the viewers foolishly waited for the moment of miracles."

Disgust

The news was greeted with anger and disgust by netizens who filled forums and microblogs with critical commentary. "I feel truly disgusted. Is it worth the true feelings of so many people? Emotions and deceptions have been perfectly merged. Tears and courage have been downgraded to be worthless. Media that has no bottom line is a rotten entity without hope," wrote one user.

Others were even more blunt, posting comments like, "You lied to us, cheated our feelings. You guys are rubbish," and "Nothing is impossible in this world. We no longer want to be a public that doesn't know the truth."

China's government was also criticised. "This can only happen in China. Acting and fraud and many skills are learnt from the government," said one user. "The society has no trust. This original sin does not come from the people. Trust has to be built by a trustworthy government and media," wrote another [BBC].

Western interference

China has also issued its own fair share of criticism after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attempted to calm the ongoing tensions in the South China Sea. She had said that while the US took no position on the claims, the Asean [Association of South East Asian Nations] should "work collaboratively to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation and certainly without the use of force" [BBC / FT / Washington Post].

Chinese state media hit out at US involvement in maritime disputes with its South East Asian neighbours accusing the US of "attempting to sow discord in order to fish for advantage".

Meanwhile Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said freedom of navigation in the sea was assured and there would not "ever be issues in that area in the future". Nonetheless he insisted that China's position on the South China Sea was clear cut. "China has sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea and their adjacent waters," he said.

The strong reaction to Clinton's visit came only days after an opinion led article appeared on the state run Xinhua News Agency website criticising what it called Western interference. The West was continually imposing its will, the article claimed, adding that some were too ready to "slander Beijing's development, squeeze its strategic space and challenge its main interests."

Economic concerns

But with signs that China's economy is slowing it is perhaps unsurprising that Western countries are raising concerns. China's manufacturing sector slowed in August, with the purchasing managers' index or PMI dropping to 49.2 in August, the lowest figure since November 2011.

A PMI reading below of below 50 indicates a contraction in manufacturing activity. And while the economy expanded at an annual rate of 7.6% in the three months to the end of June, it is the slowest pace in three years.

The figures could be considered positive news elsewhere in the world, but for China, an important manufacturing and trading hub upon which much of the world relies, the figures could mark a turning point which could seriously affect the global economy [BBC / Xinhua].

"It's quite clear we have a pretty rotten industrial cycle coming on. I don't see it getting a whole lot worse... but I don't expect them to get back for a long, long time," Arthur Kroeber, managing director of GK Dragonomics in Beijing told Reuters. "I see things bouncing along at the bottom of the cycle."

Hu remains positive

Meanwhile at the start of an Asia-Pacific summit in the Russian port city of Vladivostok the Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to maintain economic growth to support a global recovery. "The world economy today is recovering slowly, and there are still some destabilising factors and uncertainties," President Hu told businessmen in a speech before the summit. "The underlying impact of the international financial crisis is far from over," Hu added, but insisted China would implement policies to turn the situation around. "We will work to maintain the balance between keeping steady and robust growth, adjusting the economic structure and managing inflation expectations. We will boost domestic demand and maintain steady and robust growth as well as basic price stability." [BBC]

However, Hu is soon to be replaced as China reshuffles its leadership in less than a month. But there is some uncertainty as to how smooth this transition might be.

With the fallout concerning the downfall and ousting of top politician Bo Xilai still fresh in people's minds, there are now worries over the whether Xi Jinping will be able to take up the reins.

Where is Xi?

Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of the man touted as being China's next president after several cancellations and no official word on why he has not appeared in public for nearly two weeks.

Xi Jinping, 59, has not been seen in public since September 1, setting off rumours that he may be seriously ill or worse ahead of his unveiling at the Communist party's 18th Congress.

Rumours have filled microblogs prompting authorities to block searches of the Chinese politician and He Guoqiang, another a high-ranking official, with speculation they may have been involved in separate car accidents [Radio Free Asia]. There has even been wild rumours suggesting the two may been targeted for assassination [Market Oracle].

The truth may be more mundane. Some reports speculate that Xi may simply be suffering from back trouble after injuring himself during a daily swim according to Reuters.

With Xi having missed appointments with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and  Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt without explanation, the rumour mill is unlikely to die down anytime soon [BBC / Telegraph / NYT / WSJ].

The lack of transparency does not bode well for those trading and doing business with China. Concerns have often been expressed over the lack of information flowing from government, be it political or economic data. Despite China's declared openness, it appears the country has a long way to go before it shakes off the cobwebs from its paranoid past when all information had to be vetted before being released to the general public.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, September 09, 2012

China becomes sensitive over its crap toilets

Late last year the World Toilet Organization gave China the rather undignified label as having the worst toilets in Asia. It is something that anyone having visited China might have suspected. There are certainly very clean and modern facilities to be found, but there still remains a huge number of unsanitary public lavatories across the country.

But there is not just a problem with China's toilets. There exists the problem of the state and media acknowledging the issue and being open and unembarrassed about discussing what has become a rather sensitive topic.

Public toilets are perhaps best avoided in any part of the world, though in some countries they're hard to find at all. And while you're never far from a public toilet in China, many tourists and expats try to seek out a McDonalds or KFC whose toilets are generally clean and hygienic.

The China Daily in an editorial published in May this year, some months after the World Toilet Organization handed out its verdict, acknowledged that something needed to be done in order to "restore the country's tarnished image in the provision of public toilets".

"While for tourists, who only have to follow their nose to find the nearest public toilet, visiting one is an act of desperation taken in only the direst emergency," the China Daily opines. "We should value our public toilets. Not only are clean public toilets the symbol of a civilized society, they can also help in the competition to attract tourists."

The report by the World Toilet Organization was released in November following a conference on Hainan island in southern China [Jakarta Post].

However, despite some praise from the organisation acknowledging China's efforts in improving some facilities, the report was not widely publicised in Chinese state media with most articles published only in English language editions

Xinhua published an article shortly after the conference, though it glossed over the fact that China had been singled out as having the worst public lavatories.

Of course, it is nothing to be proud of, but should a similar organisation label Britain as having the worst toilets in Europe one can just imagine the tabloid press emblazoning the front pages with all sorts of lurid headlines without any concern of worrying the sensitivities of either Britain's leaders or the general public.

But China's leaders are particularly sensitive. Not just on issues of Tibet, Taiwan or Tiananmen. It appears that even the tackling the issue of toilets is a sensitive topic as a BBC correspondent recently found out.

Justin Rowlatt has travelled some 5,000 km across China with the BBC's Anita Rani to make a documentary about the country but was recently warned off inserting even a light hearted commentary on China's toilets [BBC]. It seems that part of the clean up campaign concerning China's toilets is to wipe away any mention of them and to disinfect the truth.

[Pictured: A toilet at a petrol station on the outskirts of Beijing, China]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, September 03, 2012

Chrome overtakes IE, Apple wars & Nexus 7 3G launch soon

Google's Chrome browser has overtaken Microsoft's Internet Explorer, NextWeb reports quoting StatCounter statistics. While use of IE remains high, August saw Chrome overtake its main competitor when measured globally. Even Firefox use has seen a fall in its use.

Exponential rise

Google Chrome was only released in 2008 and has seen a rapid, if not exponential, rise in uptake. The statistics will make grim reading for Microsoft which has even resorted to advertising its IE browser on UK television.

In America Chrome still trails below IE while in the UK Chrome usage was near to crossing over the threshold at the end of August. In Asia and Europe as a whole Chrome has taken the lead in the browser wars.

Apple's proxy war

Google's Android operating system also remains up front despite Apple's concerted effort to thwart the Internet giant. Far from denting sales Samsung devices have continued to sell like hot cakes despite the ongoing fracas.

New research shows sales of the iPhone have stalled in anticipation of the next generation model rumoured for release in September. At the same time however, sales of Samsung smartphones continue to rise, fuelling Android's growth. Sales of Samsung smartphones have continued to increase, with a 25% increase from the second quarter of 2011 and the Samsung Galaxy S III has sold 10 million units alone [BBC].

Samsung, which makes the Galaxy range of smartphones, overtook Nokia as the world's biggest maker of mobile phones earlier this year and even though it has yet to iron out its differences with Apple and pay a hefty $1.05 billion bill in compensation. Meanwhile Apple and Google are believed to be holding 'secret' talks in an attempt to solve the continuing spat between the two companies, Reuters reported this weekend.

Threat to digital downloads

While Apple has been firing salvoes in the direction of Samsung, in what is seen as a proxy war against Android, it too is trying to fend off criticism over its iTunes policy. Actor Bruce Willis is reported to have begun court action against the company to challenge the small print which would prohibit him passing on his massive music collection to his daughters following his death.

The diehard music fan has reportedly spent thousands of dollars on his music collection, bought through the iTunes service. However, the terms and conditions do not allow a user to pass the collection on to anyone else since they are only borrowed under a licence and not owned outright.

The case has raised eyebrows for many music fans. A physical music collection of records or CDs could easily be handed down from one generation to another, but should Willis lose his case, his daughters Rumer, Scout and Tallulah will have no access to their Dad's vast collection after he passes on [Sky].

Flash returns to Android

Complaining can get results however. Less than two weeks after Adobe pulled Flash from Google's Play store it has returned to the digital shelves after pressure from the BBC in order that the broadcaster's iPlayer app remains supported [CNET].

"Flash Player continues to be available on Google Play for users in the UK for a short while due to requests from strategic partners," an Adobe spokesman told the BBC.

Amazon launch UK cloud storage

For those looking to store stuff in the cloud, there was good news for UK residents after Amazon opened access to its online storage facility. Amazon offers 5Gb for free, 20Gb for £6 a year, 50Gb for £16 a year and 1,000Gb for £320 per year [CNET]. While the pricing is competative, Amazon have entered the fray rather late. With Google Drive, Microsoft's Skydrive, Dropbox and Adrive all offering large cloud storage facilities, Amazon may just serve as a back-up to those who already use such services.

3G Nexus 7 rumoured

The big news of the week is that Google may be planning to release a 3G version of the Nexus 7, which according to some reports could be on sale within weeks [Daily Mail / Telegraph].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

China releases one dissident but fate of others remains uncertain

Chinese dissident Wang Xiaoning, convicted of 'subversion' charges in 2002 was released last Friday after a ten year sentence. But many other dissidents remain incarcerated in Chinese jails, some as a result of western companies aiding authorities track them down.

Jailed with Yahoo's help

Wang had been arrested in September 2002 after the Internet company Yahoo assisted Chinese authorities  by providing information used to identify him.

An engineer by profession, Wang posted electronic journals in a Yahoo group calling for democratic reform and an end to single-party rule. This put him in the gun-sights of authorities who sought him out and charged him with "inciting subversion of state power".

As Wang, now 62, was released from the Beijing No. 2 prison, he is far from free. He is still unable to talk freely and has been banned from making any statements to the media. His wife meanwhile conveyed a message saying he was well and in fine spirits. Yu Ling said her husband appreciated everyone's concern but said he could not talk to the media under the conditions of his release [BBC / BBC / Telegraph / NYT].

One of four

Wang was not the only man incarcerated in a Chinese prison as a result of information handed over by the Yahoo. In 2005 Yahoo was highly criticised after it handed data to Chinese authorities resulting in the arrest of at least one Chinese journalist. Shi Tao was jailed after Yahoo helped Chinese officials identify him. He was jailed for sending on to foreign websites an e-mail from the ruling Communist Party warning journalists not to cover the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 2004. He was tracked down and jailed for 10 years for subversion after Yahoo passed on his e-mail and IP address to officials.

Lawmakers and human rights activists in the west have sharply criticized Yahoo for providing information to the Chinese authorities, and for cooperating in investigations involving dissidents.

'Apology'

Yahoo eventually apologized for its role in the case and settled a lawsuit brought by the families of several Chinese activists, paying an undisclosed amount of compensation [NYT].

Yahoo issued a statement on Friday but did not comment directly on Wang's release. "Yahoo! condemns political suppression wherever and however it occurs, and we are committed to efforts like the Global Network Initiative that bring together companies, human rights groups and other stakeholders to actively promote free expression and privacy on the Internet," the statement said. "We hope that democratic governments around the world continue to push for the release of any individuals targeted for simply expressing their political beliefs."

Little comfort

The statement would likely be little comfort to Wang, nor to Shi Tao, Li Zhi and Jiang Lijun who remain in prison. In 2007 Yahoo argued that there was little connection between the information the firm gave and the ensuing arrests and imprisonment of its users. Yahoo had said that while it did not condone the suppression of people's liberties, the firm had been compelled by local laws to hand over the information that was requested.
"Defendants cannot be expected, let alone ordered to violate another nation's laws," the company said in its filing as it attempted to fight off litigation brought about by the World Organization for Human Rights.

Ethical responsibilities

But Morton Sklar of the World Organization for Human Rights said Yahoo had failed to meet its ethical responsibilities. "Even if it was lawful in China, that does not take away from Yahoo's obligation to follow not just Chinese law, but US law and international legal standards as well, when they do business abroad," he said [BBC].

Speaking more recently Joshua Rosenzweig, a human rights researcher based in Hong Kong, said Wang's case showed how the authorities in China could twist the justice system.

"That Wang Xiaoning could be deprived of his freedom for a decade on charges of 'inciting subversion' is an unambiguous example of how Chinese authorities misuse laws designed to protect national security in an effort to protect its monopoly on power from being subjected to criticism," Rosenzweig said. "The Chinese society Wang re-enters enjoys more space for critical voices than it did a decade ago, but those who express themselves politically continue to risk crossing that invisible line that separates 'acceptable' criticism from 'incitement.' "

Unknown fate

While Wang Xiaoning has regained his freedom, the fate of three others, known to have been jailed with the helping hand of Yahoo, remains less than certain.

Shi Tao is not expected to be released until at least 2015, and while Jiang Lijun was only sentenced to four years in prison in November 2003 his whereabouts remain unknown with no word on if and when he'll be released. Li Zhi, who was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for "inciting subversion" in December 2003 should have been released last year, though again there has been no official word or confirmation on whether he has been set free.

While Yahoo has been subject of strong criticism, not least by the US congress, many of China's prisoners of conscience have been jailed without the direct help of western Internet or technology companies [List of dissidents].

Nonetheless there has been condemnation of other companies who have helped provide the technology enabling China impose strict censorship and seek out those it sees as a threat to the state.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Bomb hoaxes, hijack scares & WWII bomb hit flights

A Chinese man has been arrested after admitting to issuing a hoax bomb warning which resulted in a domestic flight being diverted last Thursday. But it is just the latest in a series of scares which have forced planes to deviate from their intended route.

Bomb hoax

Xiong Yi, a 29-year-old male from Shiyan City in Hubei Province, was escorted by police to a detention center in central China on Sunday morning. "I was wrong, and I feel regret," he said after arriving at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport under police escort.

Xiong said that he made an anonymous phone call to an airport in Shenzhen, Guangdong, at 22:43 local time Thursday, claiming that explosives had been planted on Shenzhen Airlines Flight ZH9706, which was in mid-air, bound for Shenzhen from Xiangyang in Hubei [Xinhua / CNN].

Arrest

Wearing a balaclava and a T-shirt which appeared to be emblazoned with the words "LIVE HARD, LIVE YOUR DREAM" [The last two words were obscured by a coat draped over his cuffed hands], Xiong was escorted by police from a plane which had taken him from Dongguan city in Guangdong where he had been arrested on Saturday [Xinhua].

Earlier threats

Only a few days before Air China flight CA981 bound for New York returned to the Beijing Capital International Airport after receiving a threatening message [Xinhua / CNN]. It is unknown if the same man was responsible for that message, but the incident has concerned authorities in China who have elevated security in the light of the recent scares.

On 29th June this year, passengers and crew members are said to have thwarted a hijack attempt on a short-haul flight within the far western Chinese province of Xinjiang [CNN]. Authorities said six ethnic Uyghur men violently tried to take control of the plane before being subdued. The plane returned to its point of origin safely.

Safety record

Security is usually tight throughout Beijing Capital International Airport, the world's second-busiest air hub after Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta. More than 78 million passengers passed through the Beijing airport's three terminals last year.

Air China Airlines has a relatively good safety record. On the 1st April 1999 Air China Flight 9018 had a near miss with Korean Air Flight 36 on a runway at  Chicago O'Hare International Airport. The aircraft missed each other by an estimated 23 metres and only the swift actions of the Korean Air flight crew resulted in tragedy being avoided. On 11th September 2001 Air China Flight 985, a 747 from Beijing to San Francisco, was escorted by two US F-15s onto the north runway at Vancouver International Airport during Operation Yellow Ribbon, which was implemented after the 9/11 terror attacks, apparently due to a communication problem.

In its only reported fatal crash Air China Flight 129, a Boeing 767-200ER from Beijing to Busan, South Korea, crashed into a hill while trying to land at Gimhae International Airport during inclement weather. Of 166 on board, 129 were killed.

With rising tensions and ethnic divisions  in the country, there are fears that it is only a matter of time before China sees incidents that have plagued other airlines around the world in the past 50 years.

Alert at Dutch airport

Halfway round the world a KLM jet was forced to return to Schiphol airport under escort last week after a communication breakdown triggered a terror alert. Two Dutch F-16 fighter jets were scrambled to intercept the Airbus passenger plane after a breakdown in radio communications triggered a hijacking alert, an indication that airlines and authorities are still twitchy more than a decade after 9/11.

Flight VY 8366, operated by the budget Spanish Vueling carrier, had been travelling with 183 passengers from Malaga to Schiphol when it lost radio contact with Dutch air traffic control. The security alert came as part of Schiphol airport was evacuated due to a very different bomb threat, that of a 500 kg German WWII bomb which had been unearthed by construction workers [BBC]

Fortunately, passengers on the KLM flight, travellers at Schiphol and those on board the two Chinese planes involved in bomb hoaxes, only experienced delays. Engineers made the WWII device safe at Schiphol later that afternoon. Those who were diverted on Chinese and Dutch flights eventually made it to their destinations, even if somewhat delayed. But the events highlight the persistent threats that haunt the civil airline industry [BBCTelegraph].

tvnewswatch, London, UK