Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Google updates Jelly Bean & real name policy

Google has graciously returned December to the calendar with an update to its Android Jelly Bean software. Due to a relatively minor glitch in the software the month had all but disappeared on Google's flagship Nexus devices, the only ones operating on the latest software. However in the last few days Android 4.2.1 has rolled out as an OTA update, identified with a build number of JOP40D, which fixes the small but important bug.


The omission of December had been embarrassing to the tech giant, especially coming just prior to Christmas, a time when manufacturers hope to capitalise on the festive season.

While only affecting the ability to add a December date to contacts, the news was widely publicised in many news outlets. Whether the bad publicity will affect sales of the new Nexus 4 mobile phone or the two tablet devices, the Nexus 7 and Nexus 10, can only be guessed at. Suffice to say the December bug has been killed off, even if the news hasn't received quite as much airtime.

Other glitches

What is not yet clear is if the new update, a very small 1.1MB file, eradicates some other issues highlighted by some users after Android 4.2 rolled out. Some had complained of Bluetooth connectivity problems, random rebooting and a loophole enabling some users of the Nexus 4 to utilise LTE.

Some reports at least suggest the Bluetooth problems may have been addressed, though other issues may still exist for some [Gizmodo]. According to Android Central the radio firmware version remains unchanged from 4.2 on the Nexus 4, and the hidden option that enabled some to use LTE on band 4 still seems to be present in the latest software [Android Central].

In a side note Android 4.2 also brings a little Easter Egg, known as BeanFlinger, which can be added as wallpaper [Phones Review].

Policy updates

In other news connected with the search giant, Google has changed its policy concerning the way reviews can be left on the Google Play store, formerly known and still referred to by some as the Android Market.

In a bid to reduce spam and fake reviews, Google has made it obligatory for Google+ account details to be displayed alongside new reviews of Android apps on its Play store. Previously, posts could be submitted anonymously. Nicknames associated with these entries have all been deleted and replaced with "A Google User".

While the change may help address the problem of fake reviews it could also boost the use of the search giant's social network.

While some might call foul over privacy concerns, the use of real names has increasingly become common practice by other web based operations. Facebook's app centre already requires users to reveal their "real" Facebook identity alongside entries.

However, Apple, Microsoft, Blackberry and Amazon's equivalents still allow reviewers to use pseudonyms.

Google+'s terms and conditions state that profile names must match "the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you" [BBC]. 

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Border disputes boil over in China passport row

India has become the latest country to air its anger over maps printed in new Chinese passports which encompass disputed regions which China claims for its own. The issue may create problems for Chinese passport holders who have already found themselves at odds with border officials in Vietnam [BBC].


China began issuing new versions of its passports to include electronic chips on May 15th, however  criticism only surfaced in the last week with some users finding themselves having to purchase additional paperwork after they tried to enter Vietnam.

China has enraged several neighbours with the addition of the map which shows a few dashes staking its claim on the entire South China Sea and even Taiwan. The change highlights China's long standing claim on the South China Sea in its entirety, though parts of the waters also are claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia.

India angered

In India's first official reaction, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said, "We are not prepared to accept it. We, therefore, ensure that our flags of disagreement are put out immediately when something happens. We can do it in an agreeable way or you can do it in a disagreeable way," he told a leading news channel.

The Indian Embassy in Beijing has responded by issuing visas to Chinese nationals with a map of India including Arunachal and Aksai Chin as part of its territory [FT / Daily Mail].

"Malevolent actions"

Meanwhile the Vietnamese government has sent a diplomatic note to the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi demanding that Beijing remove the "erroneous content" printed in the passport. "I think it is one very poisonous step by Beijing among their thousands of malevolent actions," Nguyen Quang, a former adviser to the Vietnamese government told the Financial Times.

The Philippines has also protested China's depiction of its claims over the entire South China Sea and sent a note to the Chinese Embassy in Manila. Albert del Rosario, Philippine foreign secretary, said Manila "strongly protests'' the new map. "The Philippines does not accept the validity of the nine-dash lines that amount to an excessive declaration of maritime space in violation of international law," del Rosario said [Al Jazeera].

"Sovereignty violation"

While not making clear whether those carrying the passports would be barred from entering the country, the Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said that Chinese carrying the new passport would be violating Philippine national sovereignty.

Some Chinese carrying the passport have already run into problems on trying to visit Vietnam where border officials have insisted on some pay for additional papers.

Visa problems

Vietnamese immigration is refusing to paste visas inside the new passports, instead putting the visa on a separate, detached, page. "When I tried to cross the border, the officials refused to stamp my visa," said David Li, 19, from Guangdong province, who ran into problems getting into Vietnam on November 19th.

"They claimed my visa was invalid. They said it was because on the new passport's map, the South China Sea part of China's marine border crossed Vietnam's territory, so if they stamped on it, it means they acknowledge China's claim," he added.

Li said two other passengers on his flight also had problems with their new passports, and that he was forced to buy a new visa for 50,000 Vietnamese dong [£1.50].

Kien Deng, a Chinese travel agent who has worked in Vietnam for three years, said the Vietnamese officials had used the map for their financial advantage, charging a fee of 30 yuan [£3] to holders of the offending passport in order to insert a new visa [Telegraph].

China should "reverse their incorrect prints" on the passports, Luong Thanh Nghi, a spokesman for Vietnam's foreign ministry insisted. "These actions by China have violated Vietnam's sovereignty to the Paracel and Spratly islands as well as our rights and jurisdiction to related maritime areas in the South China Sea, or East Sea." [Business Week]


The map was widely condemned in Taiwan, which split from China after a civil war in 1949. Authorities said it could harm the warming ties the historic rivals have enjoyed since Ma Ying-jeou became president more than four years ago.

"This is total ignorance of reality and only provokes disputes," said Taiwan's mainland affairs council, the cabinet-level body responsible for ties with Beijing. The council said the government would not accept the map. Taiwan has not recognised China's passports for some time and visitors to the island must have special travel documents [Guardian].

China defends action

For its part China insists there is nothing wrong with the passport saying it is based on international standards. The new passports which include electronic chips were issued on the 15th of May this year but the erroneous maps were only spotted recently. "The outline map of China on the passport is not directed against any particular country," a ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying told media this week.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

London Underground WiFi only free until 2013

The London Underground WiFi network will no longer be free after the new year with users being charged up to £2 per day to use the facilities.

At present, all Tube travellers have free access thanks to a deal negotiated by London Mayor Boris Johnson with Virgin Media that originally only covered the Olympics period but was later extended to the end of 2012.

Growing network

Currently there are 80 stations wired up with 20 more coming online by the end of the year and a further 28 set to provide WiFi in early 2013. "WiFi on London Underground has been an incredible success with over 700,000 people already online and a remarkable million sessions every day," Virgin Media boss Jon James says. While hugely popular, the charges are likely to reduce usage significantly especially for foreign visitors. 

From free to fee

Those wishing to continue to use the service will have to pay £2 per day with cheaper rates offered for those opting for weekly or monthly passes tipped at £5 and £15 respectively. Customers of Virgin, Vodafone and EE (including Orange and T-Mobile) will continue to obtain free access since they have signed up as partners with Virgin. O2 subscribers are left out in the cold however since they have yet to sign up to the scheme.

According to Virgin Media boss Jon James, those partnerships mean that "the majority of Tube users can stay connected for no extra cost". While generally true the change is more likely to affect foreign visitors to London. Roaming data charges are prohibitively expensive and access to free WiFi is a lifesaver for those on travel.

Lack of free WiFi

Even where coffee shops provide free WiFi to its customers there can be difficulties registering for foreign visitors since a mobile number needs to be provided in order to send an activation code.

Similar such systems exist in various outlets around the world. For example McDonald's restaurants in Beijing offer free WiFi but require a local mobile number to register with the service. Even then censorship often limits what one can access on the Internet.

Truly free and easy access of the Internet remains elusive whether in the so called free West or the Far East.
[Virgin / TfL / Techradar / The Register / CNET]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Friday, November 23, 2012

The island that did not exist

A team of Australian scientists have determined that an island featured in Google Maps does not exist after sailing straight through the location where it should have been.

Sandy Island is marked in both Google Earth and on Google Maps, but the small land mass seemingly does not exist. Southern Surveyor, a team of scientists tasked with identifying fragments of the Australian continental crust submerged in the Coral Sea, has steamed to where the island was supposed to be, but it was nowhere to be found.


"We wanted to check it out because the navigation charts on board the ship showed a water depth of 1,400 metres in that area - very deep," Seton, from the University of Sydney, said after the 25-day voyage. "It's on Google Earth and other maps so we went to check and there was no island. We're really puzzled. It's quite bizarre."

"How did it find its way onto the maps? We just don't know, but we plan to follow up and find out," Seton added. Supposedly located between Australia and New Caledonia in the Coral Sea the 30 km long island.

Giggle at Google

Dr Steven Micklethwaite from the University of Western Australia, who was also on the scientific voyage, told the Sydney Morning Herald, "We all had a good giggle at Google as we sailed through the island. Then we started compiling information about the seafloor, which we will send to the relevant authorities so that we can change the world map."

It is apparently not an error seen only in Google Maps. The missing island has regularly appeared in scientific publications since at least 2000. It has even appeared in some editions of the reputed Times Atlas of the World, where it is labelled Île de Sable, the French equivalent of Sandy Island. The case that the island did not exist was first made by some amateur radio enthusiasts on a DX-pedition in April 2000. However, the news was not widely circulated.


"It raises all kinds of conspiracy theories," expedition member Steven Micklethwaite said, adding that the CIA is among the sources of the world coastline database. "It reminded me of the hypernatural island in the "Lost" TV series."

Reasons as to why a non-existent isle might exist on so many maps are many. There have been suggestions that it is a so-called copyright trap, a deliberate error placed in atlases in order to catch out those who might infringe copyright. The famous London A to Z map has several such traps, non existent roads or landmarks, to entrap potential infringers. 

In an edition of the BBC Two programme Map Man, first broadcast 17 October 2005, a spokesman for the Geographer's A–Z Street Atlas company claimed there are "about 100" trap streets included in the London edition of the street atlas.Such traps do work. In the United Kingdom in 2001, the Ordnance Survey (OS) sought compensation from the Automobile Association (The AA), a British motoring association, reaching an out-of-court settlement of £20 million after deliberate "errors" placed on OS maps were reproduced on maps by the AA.

It is unlikely that nautical charts would have added copyright traps deliberately since such additions would reduce confidence in them. Another possibility as to the island's existence could be a longitudinal misplacement of the Easternmost islets of the Chesterfield Group to the West, thus simply due to human error.

In recent weeks Apple has received mountains of criticism over its error ridden mapping application, though according to various reports Sandy Island is not one of them. [BBC / Sky]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Android Jelly Bean update brings rewards & problems

Google has begun rolling out the latest update to Android users. But while Android 4.2 Jelly Bean offers some advantages, especially to tablet owners, there are some that are unhappy at the latest update.

Multiple user accounts

The incremental change to the the Android software gives tablet owners the facility to create multi-user accounts. This is a distinct advantage over the Apple iPad. Users can create their own screen lock password, wallpaper and layout, though some features, such as WiFi and screen brightness are shared [GottaBeMobile].

Cosmetic changes

There are also a few cosmetic changes to Android 4.2. The analogue clock has changed, dispensing of the dots signifying the hour marks and becoming a more simplified circle. There is also the facility to add widgets to the home unlock screen, the default being a digital clock display which can be changed to show times from around the world.

Another change of note is the introduction of a gesture based keyboard function. Gmail has been slightly improved too with swipe to clear and a pinch-to-zoom function. Some of the icons have also changed, which might lead to initial confusion for some users [Android Community].

Problems reported

While the new Nexus 10 tablet comes with Android 4.2 built in, Nexus 7 users have been receiving the update over the last week. But not all users have been entirely happy. Some have complained that the update has 'broken' their bluetooth connection with third party devices such as headsets and speakers. Others have reported stuttered playback of music. The numbers of affected users is difficult to clarify, but bugs are often seen in initial releases and are usually ironed out within weeks [CNET]. Some have also noted a bug where Google has 'deleted' December from its date picker where one would have added a birthday in contacts [TechCrunch /]. A peculiar oversight, and one that is sure to be remedied soon.

No Flash 

The biggest bug bear however is that some apps have effectively been rendered useless by the update. Android Jelly Bean, like Apple products, does not support Adobe Flash. As such videos using this format cannot be played in the native Chrome browser.

While it is possible to use a different browser for devices beyond Android 4.0 it is not possible to install Adobe Flash directly from the Google Play store. Even where it can be installed manually, via a PC for example, it is not necessarily recommended. Furthermore Adobe say that "installing Flash Player on an uncertified device may result in unexpected behaviour and can potentially destabilize your device."

App incompatibilities

This is not good not news for those using the latest versions of Android. But it gets worse. Since many video applications use Flash to display content, these two remain incompatible with Google's latest Android devices.

Some app providers have updated their software to take account of this. The BBC for example eventually rolled out an update that enabled their iPlayer app to work on Android Jelly Bean 4.1. Unfortunately within only weeks of this being made available it has been rendered useless by the latest upgrade to Android 4.2. Hopefully this and other glitches with the latest update will be quickly resolved.

Low adoption

Since adoption of Jelly Bean accounts for only 2.7% of all Android users, the issues are not huge, but unless resolved could dissuade some from purchasing Google's latest range of Nexus devices.

Amongst Android fans there is anger that app developers do not prioritise the refining of applications for Android devices over Apple products. With Android fast becoming the dominant force in the smartphone market, and taking a key hold in the tablet market, there developers need to be even handed in their approach to both platforms.

No doubt there will be some Apple fanboys quietly sniggering at these issues to hit Android's flagship software. But the problems experienced by Nexus 7 users do pale into insignificance compared to the fiascos seen in Apple devices over the past few years including the aerial problems in the iPhone 4 and the latest Apple Maps debacle.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

No real change as China reshuffles leaders

China has undergone its once in a decade leadership transition, but despite all the fanfare there have been few surprises, and little expectation of any real change despite promises from the new line up of leaders [BBC].

Few surprises

There had been ten officials tipped for the top leadership roles within the Politburo's Standing Committee and while Bo Xilai's ousting created a space, prospectively filled by female politician Liu Yandong, the other prospective candidates remained unchanged.

The only big surprise was that only 7 were chosen, rather than 9, for a now slimmed down group of decision makers [BBC cached]. Out went potential candidates Liu Yandong, along with Wang Yang and Li Yuanchao.

Women fail to hold up the sky

Despite Mao's proclamation that "women hold up half the sky" there have been few positions held by female politicians, and some had hoped, perhaps naively, that Liu Yandong might have brought a fresh perspective to the party's core leadership and decision making process. But even while reports of her being tipped for a leading role had grown following Bo Xilai's fall from grace, most news reports described a possible run for a seat as a "long shot".

There are few women in Chinese politics and the annual session of the National People's Congress shows banks of dark-suited men. Only a fifth of the largely rubber-stamp legislature is female, and barely one-sixteenth of the party's central committee. There is only one female provincial party secretary and one governor. Furthermore, at the grassroots female village party chiefs make up around 2%-3% while 22% of committee members are female [Guardian].

Grey men of politics

Amongst the seven men who make up the Politburo Standing Committee there were only a few new faces. Xi Jinping replaces Hu Jintao as the General Secretary of the CPC, the Chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission and as the President of the Central Party School of the CPC.

While there was little discussion in Chinese media, in the west he had long been expected to take this role. The new party leader Xi Jinping appeared on stage in Beijing's Great Hall of the People just before midday Beijing time on Thursday [04:00 GMT] with the six other members of the Party's Standing Committee.

Despite being a relatively new face on the world stage he is unlikely to bring much change to the face of Chinese politics. Even if he desire to bring about radical changes, either to the party or the state his hands will be tied and his actions scrutinised by the party as a whole.

On his first address he spoke of tackling corruption, but this will be dealt with very much from within the party. There will be little public scrutiny, and as such it will be difficult for anyone to evaluate how effectively the party is dealing with the bad apples.


Speaking to the press as the new leadership was unveiled Xi spoke of the challenges ahead. "The party faces many severe challenges, and there are also many pressing problems within the party that need to be resolved, particularly corruption, being divorced from the people, going through formalities and bureaucratism [sic] caused by some party officials," Xi said. "We must make every effort to solve these problems. The whole party must stay on full alert."

The other grey men in dark suits that stood beside him are less well known in the west but there were few surprises to China watchers. All were drawn from a list of favourite names widely mentioned by the media for months, an indication that the decisions had been made some time ago.

At least four out of seven new members are widely seen as allies of the 86-year old former leader Jiang Zemin. Meanwhile the outgoing leader Hu Jintao's three allies, Li Yuanchao, Liu Yandong and Wang Yang, did not make it into the Standing Committee. Hu has also given up his post as the chairman of the Central Military Commission, indicating he will fully retire from his political posts and stay away from political life too. Most of the new leaders are regarded as political conservatives and as such the prospect of political reform now looks more unlikely.

Propaganda war

In fact one man central to China's control of the population and its way of thinking remains firmly in place. Liu Yunshan has firmly established himself at the heart of the party as the Director of the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee which is involved in censorship of the media and the Internet.

Liu's position in the top organ of the party is seen by some as a perilous sign for online debate by critics of his censorship diktats over the last decade. China's population of Internet users, the world's largest at 538 million, have become increasingly vocal on its booming social media sites despite the efforts of the ruling party's highly secretive Propaganda Department.

Microblogging sites in China are strictly controlled and have seen an increased tightening of controls in recent weeks in the wake of the leadership transition. During the meeting, searches for "party congress" on Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblog, returned a blunt message: "Due to relevant laws, policies and regulations, the results of your search are not displayed."

Even innocuous comments about the gathering and top leaders were frequently deleted by online censors, and Internet access in major cities was reported to be noticeably slower, apparently reflecting stepped-up online oversight.

Google, which moved its servers to Hong Kong from mainland China in 2010 in a row over user accounts being hacked and censorship, found its services periodically blocked during the congress.

Liu's new portfolio has yet to be confirmed, but he likely to be put in charge of ideology because of his past role, offering activists few hopes of any relaxation in policy. "Liu has been a ruthless enforcer of censorship," Willy Lam, a Chinese politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told Agence France Press.  "There will be an exacerbation of already draconian control of the media."

Growing Internet controls

According to an article in the Times of India, since deleted but cached by Google, it was reported that units in charge of policing the Internet have directed companies, included joint ventures involving American corporations, to buy and install hardware to log the traffic of hundreds or thousands of computers, block selected web sites, and connect with local police servers. Information obtained by The New York Times says that firms face the threat of fines and their Internet services suspended if they do not comply.

It is just one of many initiatives deployed in the months leading up to the 18th Party Congress in an escalating campaign to censor information deemed threatening to party rule. At least one unnamed foreign industry association has lodged a complaint with the government, while several other foreign companies have quietly resisted the orders, which they fear could pose risks to communications and revealing trade secrets.

The censoring and control of the Internet is a delicate balancing act between maintaining the party's hold on political power while maintaining China's wired connection to the global economy. Even before the Party Congress came to an end, there were few signs the powers that be were going to relax their grip on the flow of information.

On the opening day of the congress China's departing leader Hu Jintao in fact stressed the opposite. "We should strengthen social management of the internet and promote standardized and orderly network operation," Hu said.

Circumventing control

There are many who try to circumvent such controls, using VPNs or other software. But even these are often attacked with DNS poisoning attacks. Some attempt to evade censors using acronyms and slang terms, though these too can be short lived.

"Communist Party", "Coup d'etat" and "Democracy and Freedom" are just some of the long list of search terms blocked on the Twitter-like microblogging site Sina Weibo in China. But a new service, FreeWeibo, is trying to pull back the government's control over internet content by providing unfiltered searches on the microblogging site [Computer World / PCAdvisor].

Of course the site has already been blocked within China, but for China watchers it can provide a fascinating insight to the true mood of those using China's microblogs.

Economy and business

For foreign investors and those doing business with China, it is the economy that is the main focus of interest. Furthermore, just as China's civilian leadership has changed, China's military has also reshuffled. With influence over China's politics and policies having grown over the past decade, the military will shape China's future more than ever [Investors Insight].

While China may be unlikely to become the largest military power any time soon, their military force is growing, and their dominance in the region will become a major issue should issues surrounding territorial disputes spill over into conflict.

Human Rights and even concerns over currency manipulation may well take a back burner as President Obama engages with China over its assertiveness in the South and East China Seas [USNews].

Old challenges, same bosses

China will have many challenges itself over the next 10 years. A growing rich poor divide, human rights, and economic factors will all major in to decisions made by China's new leaders. In essence, little has changed. It's very much a case of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss," to quote a line from The Who's "Won't get fooled again".

Media coverage

Nonetheless, analysis of the transition has been scant, especially on broadcast news, somewhat overshadowed by a resurgence of violence in the Gaza strip.

While the BBC sent a team of correspondents to China, including their World Affairs Editor John Simpson, there were few major reports coming from  Beijing. Sky News, France 24, Al Jazeera, and CNN all reported on the leadership transition, but if one had blinked one would have missed it.

France 24  had some analysis with a two part report [Part 1 / Part 2] though such reports were often buried in the schedule. Sky News had a few reports though they too were often tailing way after the headlines relating to domestic news and the events in Gaza. Nonetheless, they saw the transition as important dubbing it  a "force for change".

CNN, while an international channel also failed to fill in the gaps, though many reports on their website raised issues that were of significant importance. Al Jazeera also only scratched the surface with its report of the leadership change though it did cover the significance relating to China's growing military strength.

In terms of Internet coverage the BBC did the best in providing background and analysis. However, given the relative importance of the transition media broadcasters in all camps failed [BBC / BBC / BBC / BBC / BBC].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Microsoft to ditch Messenger

Microsoft is to ditch its instant message service and focus its efforts instead on Skype which it purchased in 2011 for a reported $8.5 billion. Microsoft Messenger will be retired next year, and all contacts will be integrated into Skype.

How the change might affect its email service, now called Outlook [ZDNet], which has Messenger built in is not made entirely clear. Nonetheless Microsoft are singing praises about its new offering in a blog posted via its Skype arm of its business. Once updated to the latest version of Skype, Messenger users can expect "Broader device support for all platforms, including iPad and Android tablets" the post says.

Instant messaging, video calling, and calling landlines and mobiles will all be available in one place and facilitate options such as "screen sharing", video calling from mobile phones, video calling with Facebook friends and even group video calling.


Microsoft Messenger has lost ground to other instant message services over the last few years. Google's Gmail users have long abandoned Microsoft's offering in favour of Google's message client Gtalk, sometimes referred to as Google Chat. With video chat integration with Google+, Microsoft Messenger falls somewhat short.

Facebook also offers instant messaging, though as with all these services it is necessary to create an account. Furthermore it is also necessary that one's friends and contacts also have an account with the same messaging service.

In fact it is often required to have multiple accounts as some friends or contacts either refuse or cannot be bothered to join another social network, email client or install Skype.

While some contacts may be on Skype, there are others who are only on Facebook. Google+ may have attracted some to its fold, but there are still a great many, even amongst Gmail users, who have yet to take the plunge.

Geographical restrictions

There are also geographical considerations. Both Facebook and Google+ are blocked in China, and even Gmail and Gtalk suffer from occasional disruption. While message client QQ is popular within China, it is virtually unheard of outside the country's borders. As such one of the few methods though which one can communicate with people in China is to use Microsoft Messenger.

Skype does work in China, however the version available for download within China itself contains spyware which enables government snooping. Skype, which provides a way for Internet users around the world to communicate directly by voice, video and text chat, has a Chinese-language version developed and marketed in China by the Chinese company TOM Online. Prior to Microsoft's purchase, Skype executives publicly acknowledged that the TOM-Skype software censors sensitive words in text chats, and have justified this as in keeping with local "best practices" and Chinese law.

However Skype does not inform Chinese users of the specific details of its censorship policies, and does not inform them that their software contains censorship capabilities, nor of the potential of such data being passed to authorities [BBC / Telegraph / NYT / Breaching Trust - PDF].

There have been no reported changes to the version of Skype that is available in China, even since Microsoft bought up the company and despite the fact that Microsoft was one of three signatories in 2008 to a global code of conduct promising to offer better protection for online free speech and against official intrusion [BBC].

Chinese considerations

Interestingly, when Windows Live Messenger is retired  in the first quarter of 2013 in mainland China it will remain. According to reports Messenger won't be retired in China due to certain licencing restrictions.

Chinese news site Sina Tech reported Wednesday last week that while Microsoft owns Messenger and Skype, the two services are offered via joint ventures with local Chinese companies. Thus any plans to merge the two offerings and retire Messenger from China might complicate the structure of both companies, the report said.

In 2004, Skype launched a modified version of its software in China to comply with local regulations with help from TOM Online. A year later, the two companies entered a joint venture with TOM Online holding the majority 51% stake.

However, in July this year, ZDNet reported that TOM Online might lose its local operating rights for Skype as the Chinese company failed to renew its contract with the US VoIP [Voice over Internet Protocol) service provider.

As for Messenger, the instant messaging service is offered by Shanghai MSN Network Communications Technology Company, otherwise known locally as MSN China. MSN China is a joint venture between Microsoft and Shanghai Alliance Investment and was formed in May 2005.

If Microsoft does decide to merge Messenger with Skype, it will have to make adjustments to the structure of both Chinese companies, Sina Tech reported.

A separate report by Chinese tech news site on Wednesday it cited Liu Zhenyu, the general manager of MSN China, as saying there will be no layoffs at the company as the Skype-Messenger merger does not affect China.

What plans Microsoft has for solving issues relating to this is unclear. While contacts in Skype will remain unaffected, it is not clear whether current Messenger contacts in China would still be able to be contacted through Microsoft's new Skype interface that will be rolled out elsewhere [ZDNet].

Rebuilding a brand

Microsoft's decision to focus on Skype is probably a sound move. While there have been signs of its search engine Bing and its recently renamed email service Outlook gaining in popularity, their usage remain small compared to the likes of Google's offerings.

While both companies offer email services on a par with each other Gmail remains in the lead with nearly 500 million users while Microsoft lags at a little over 350 million [email marketing reports].

As regards the use of its search engine Bing has apparently taken off in recent weeks pulling in 5% of search enquiries, though Google by far remains the search engine of choice for nearly 90% of the world's population [BBC].

Windows based mobile phones are also floundering. More than three quarters of all phones are using Google's Android operating system while Windows Mobile accounts for less than 2%. According to the IDC around 75% of all phones are using Android while the remaining 25% of the market is made up by iOS at 14.9%, BlackBerry at 4.3%, Symbian trailing at 2.3%, while Windows Phone is almost last in the race taking only 2%. Linux is last however with only a 1.5% market share.

And while Microsoft is putting a great deal of faith in its new Windows 8 operating system for PCs it has failed to gain rave reviews and may even be more vulnerable to malware [The Inquirer].

There are are certain issues that come with the redesign since many older pieces of software may not work with the new operating system [BBC]. While Windows still has its place, especially for PC users, Microsoft may find itself becoming a niche product for those doing specialist tasks in the office environment. With cloud computing fast becoming de rigeur for many users, Microsoft will have to reinvent the way it does things in the future if is is to survive.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, November 08, 2012

China rejects end to one party rule

Some 50% of Americans may have been disappointed at Mitt Romney's failure to secure the presidency while the other half will have been celebrating Obama's success at winning a second term in the White House, but half way round the world in the second largest economy the transition of power will not be decided by the people.

Democracy unlikely

While there has been much discussion in the Western media concerning political reform in China, such changes are unlikely despite signs that some politicians are softening to the idea.

Xi Jinping, touted as being the next president, will have to tread carefully so as to avoid making political enemies in a government which has been described as a "shark pool of shark pools". Xi will have to wait until March before being officially inaugurated as president and may wait a further year before succeeding the current president Hu Jintao as chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Political positioning

And even when Xi has firmly established himself within the party, the collectivist leadership will likely curb any lurking Chairman Mao tendencies Xi may have and vested interests will seek to squash his inner Deng Xiaoping, assuming he wants to push through change at all. David Pilling, writing in the FT, says that changes "are vital". Xi and Li Keqiang, slated for premier, have implicitly signed up to the World Bank's China 2030 report conducted in conjunction with the State Council Development Research Center. The report recommends more space for the private sector, more rule of law, more equality and more environmental protection. But while such proposals indicate a change in direction by the Chinese leadership, it remains to be seen whether radical political reform is added to the agenda.

"Socialist path"

In fact, on the opening of the 18th National Party Congress on Thursday, there were signs that democratic change remains a distant dream for China's people. Speaking to several thousand retired and current members of the Chinese Communist Party, President Hu Jintao stressed that China would not abandon one-party rule. In language that appeared to dash hopes of big changes to the political system, Hu Jintao said China needed to adhere to the "socialist path".

"We must not take the old path that is closed and rigid, nor must we take the evil road of changing flags and banners," Hu told the audience of officials in the Great Hall of the People. The phrase was widely circulated, and occasionally ridiculed, on microblogging site Weibo, with one user commenting, "So, we will walk in place until we die." [FT]

Turbulent time

The statements asserting the party's grip on power are perhaps to be expected. The Communist party has experienced its most turbulent period since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. It has fended off cases of corruption and murder surrounding for high-flying Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, details concerning the hidden wealth of communist officials including top politicians Wen Jiabao and Xi Jinping.

Hu alluded to such cases in his speech saying, "If the anti-corruption campaign fails, the party, even the country, may perish." While the key focus of Hu's long address was the economy, his assertion that corruption needs to be addressed is very much correct [FT].

Risk of becoming unstable

If not addressed China more profound systemic problems may both slow its rise and make it "an unstable, unpredictable and even aggressive state," Timothy Gash suggests in an article which appeared in the Guardian this week.

The imbalance of wealth. epitomised by the reported millions accumulated by top leaders in China's elite [Business Week], needs to be addressed quickly before grumbles amongst the population become shouts of anger.

Difficult issues

With other issues such as Tibetan separatism, rising protests over land grabs and pollution, as well as tensions in the South and East China seas, the new administration faces many other burdens. In China, as anywhere else, a crisis can catalyse reform or revolution.

From the few that are willing to speak out on the streets, many appear to want reform. "I want to hear more about reform, economic reform and political reform," one young man told Al Jazeera.

While there are few in the West that would not welcome a move towards democracy in China, such changes need to be undertaken carefully. With strong nationalistic feelings running through the country, especially with recent spats between China and Japan over the disputed Daioyu/Senkaku islands, democracy might not necessarily be a good thing.


A landslide victory for an extreme nationalist party could bring more troubles than solutions. There is something to be said for Western style democracy. It keeps governments, and politicians, in check. But it can too have failings.

Critics point to Bush and Blair as being 'warmongers' who launched headlong into a conflict with Iraq based on false evidence. , Western governments aren't immune to corruption and scandal either. From the Profumo affair and the Watergate scandal to the MP expenses scandal that pulled the British parliament over the coals in the last few years, there have been more than a few embarrassments which might dissuade any one party state from taking up multi-party democracy.

Reform or bust

The CCP need to move forward and be more accountable to its people. At the same time China's leaders need to relax its grip on power. Continued censorship and restrictions on freedom of speech will only serve to raise levels of anger and calls for democracy and even revolution.

China has much to be proud of. The country has become the second largest economy in the world. It has raised the living standards and pulled millions out of poverty. But with growing wealth and literacy, the people are becoming more aware and critical of their leaders. The new administration ignores these voices of discontent at their peril.

As well as dealing with its own people, Xi and his new line up of technocrats will also have to placate America, a nation which mains at odds over China's territorial pursuits as well as its economic interests and currency controls [Sky].

Obama will only have four more years dealing with China. Xi will be steering his country for the next decade. Given the challenges ahead, for both leaders it may seem like a lifetime.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Monday, November 05, 2012

Apple republishes ‘apology’ to Samsung

Apple has republished a statement on its website relating to its design rights dispute with Samsung after being ordered by UK judges. An earlier statement, posted after Apple lost its bid to sue Samsung over copyright infringement, had not complied with a court order and Apple was obliged to change the wording.

"Inaccurate and misleading"

While Apple's statement on its site had contained the elements it was instructed to contain according to the court of appeal and high court rulings, Apple had added four paragraphs. Samsung complained that the notice posted by Apple was "inaccurate and misleading" because it had added comments about other rulings in Germany and the US that had gone in the iPad-maker's favour. "This has received enormous publicity and has perpetuated confusion as to Samsung's entitlement to market the Galaxy tablet computers in issue," a Samsung lawyer said in a written statement to judges. "It has created the impression that the UK court is out of step with other courts."

Within deadline

Despite protests from Apple's lawyers that it could take two weeks to change the notice and republish it, protests that were rejected by the High Court judges, Apple reposted a statement over the weekend, just within the 48 hour deadline.

By early Friday morning the original notice remained online [Screengrab via Daily Mail] but by 9 am had been taken down with the original link displaying the message: "Hmm, the page you're looking for can't be found." The link had also been removed from Apple's home page with no sign as of 10 am to a new statement having been published.

But by Saturday a new statement had appeared. However the admission that Samsung products do not infringe Apple's is still tucked away at the bottom of the home page and only appears on the UK version of the website.


Some commentators have already accused Apple of hiding the revised statement by placing it at the bottom of the page [CNET / Gizmodo / Forbes]. Nonetheless, the thinly veiled 'apology' has to remain on the site until the end of the year which will no doubt cause embarrassment for the company.

Apple losing ground to Android

The company may also be reeling from newly released statistics which show that 3 out of 4 smartphones in the world are running Android. The operating system is a little over 2 years old but its meteoric rise can only serve to worry executives at Apple [CNET].

Apple only has around 15% of the smartphone market, and while there was a slight rise in take up over the last year it does not bode well for the company which saw itself as the leader in the smartphone market.

iPhone 5 boost

The release of the iPhone 5 did have a marked effect on sales, though apart from in the United States Android sales were not much affected [CNET].

Those most affected by Androids rise and Apple's stake in the smartphone market, are RIM's Blackberry and makers of Microsoft's WinMo devices. Both have struggled to maintain their market position, and while Blackberrys and WinMo devices are still popular it is Android that is winning the war.

Android's uneven playing field

For its part Android is still struggling to roll out an even playing field for all users. With some still using older devices the take up of Android's latest operating system Jelly Bean has been slow [Slashgear].

According to the latest statistics most Android users, some 54%, are still using Android 2.3 Gingerbread, while a little over a quarter are using Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

Even older incarnations of Android are still in use according Google with Android 2.2 Froyo accounting for 12% while around 3% of users have devices using some of the first versions of the Android operating system.

Nexus 4 a game changer

With a SIM free LG made Nexus 4 hitting the market in a few days for only £239 [8Gb version] there will be some even stiffer competition for all other smartphone manufacturers.  Even the 16 Gb version sells at only £280, way below the £450 price tag attached to the Samsung SIII or the more than £500 price tag of the iPhone 5.

LG may not have such a cool reputation as both Apple and Samsung, but with the Nexus 4 offering most of the features, if not more, than seen in its competitors devices, the low price will be a no brainer. While customers will be debating the purchase, Apple lawyers will also no doubt be pondering whether this latest Android phone breaches its IP, and whether its worth pursuing in the courts.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

The revised link statement at the bottom of Apple's homepage:

On 25 October 2012, Apple Inc. published a statement on its UK website in relation to Samsung's Galaxy tablet computers.That statement was inaccurate and did not comply with the order of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales.The correct statement is at Samsung/Apple UK judgement.

The revised statement in full:

Samsung / Apple UK judgment [v.2]

On 9 July 2012 the High Court of Justice of England and Wales ruled that Samsung Electronic(UK) Limited's Galaxy Tablet Computers, namely the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Tab 8.9 and Tab 7.7 do notinfringe Apple's Community registered design No. 0000181607-0001. A copy of the full judgment of the High Court is available from

That Judgment has effect throughout the European Union and was upheld by the Court of Appeal of England and Wales on 18 October 2012. A copy of the Court of Appeal's judgment is available from There is no injunction in respect of the Community registered design in force anywhere in Europe.

Original wording of Apple statement which judges found to be in breach of their 18th October ruling:

Samsung / Apple UK judgment [v.1]

On 9th July 2012 the High Court of Justice of England and Wales ruled that Samsung Electronic(UK) Limited's Galaxy Tablet Computer, namely the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Tab 8.9 and Tab 7.7 do notinfringe Apple's registered design No. 0000181607-0001. A copy of the full judgment of the Highcourt is available on the following link

In the ruling, the judge made several important points comparing the designs of the Apple and Samsung products:
"The extreme simplicity of the Apple design is striking. Overall it has undecorated flat surfaces with a plate of glass on the front all the way out to a very thin rim and a blank back. There is a crisp edge around the rim and a combination of curves, both at the corners and the sides. The design looks like an object the informed user would want to pick up and hold. It is an understated, smooth and simple product. It is a cool design."

"The informed user's overall impression of each of the Samsung Galaxy Tablets is the following. From the front they belong to the family which includes the Apple design; but the Samsung products are very thin, almost insubstantial members of that family with unusual details on the back. They do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool."

That Judgment has effect throughout the European Union and was upheld by the Court of Appeal on 18 October 2012. A copy of the Court of Appeal's judgment is available on the following link There is no injunction in respect of the registered design in force anywhere in Europe.

However, in a case tried in Germany regarding the same patent, the court found that Samsung engaged in unfair competition by copying the iPad design. A U.S. jury also found Samsung guilty of infringing on Apple's design and utility patents, awarding over one billion U.S. dollars in damages to Apple Inc. So while the U.K. court did not find Samsung guilty of infringement, other courts have recognized that in the course of creating its Galaxy tablet, Samsung willfully copied Apple's far more popular iPad.

Friday, November 02, 2012

UK judges rap Apple over “non compliant” statement

Apple has been ordered by UK judges to re-write a statement on its website relating to its design rights dispute with Samsung. The US company famous for its iPhones and iPads was originally ordered to publish a message on 18th October saying that Samsung had not infringed the iPad's registered design. However Samsung complained the statement Apple had posted did not comply with the court order.

"Inaccurate and misleading"

While Apple's statement on its site did contain the elements it was instructed to contain according to the court of appeal and high court rulings, Apple added four paragraphs. Samsung complained that the notice posted by Apple was "inaccurate and misleading" because it had added comments about other rulings in Germany and the US that had gone in the iPad-maker's favour. "This has received enormous publicity and has perpetuated confusion as to Samsung's entitlement to market the Galaxy tablet computers in issue," a Samsung lawyer said in a written statement to judges. "It has created the impression that the UK court is out of step with other courts."

Judges berate Apple

However, the UK's ruling applies to the whole of the EU and judges were less than impressed by Apple's excuses, nor an explanation that changes would take up to two weeks to implement.

"We are just amazed that you cannot put the right notice up at the same time as you take the other one down," Lord Justice Longmore told Michael Beloff QC, the lawyer representing Apple. Another High Court judge, Sir Robin Jacob, added, "I would like to see the head of Apple [Tim Cook] make an affidavit about why that is such a technical difficulty for the Apple company."

Berating Michael Beloff QC, Sir Robin said, "I don't believe the instructions you have been given...This is Apple that cannot put something on their own website?"

While judges made no mention of imposing further sanctions or threaten contempt of court, they ruled that Apple should post a corrected notice within 48 hours.

Statement removed

Early Friday morning the original notice remained online [Screengrab via Daily Mail] but by 9 am had been taken down with the original link displaying the message: "Hmm, the page you're looking for can't be found." The link had also been removed from Apple's home page with no sign as of 10 am to a new statement having been published.

Michael Beloff QC, representing Apple, earlier told judges that the company had thought that it had complied with the court order. "It's not designed to punish," he said. "It's not designed to make us grovel. The only purpose must be to dispel commercial uncertainty."


The ruling will add further embarrassment to the company which has waged a war against Google's operating system Android and manufactures of devices that use it. While judges said in their ruling that Samsung tablets were "not as cool" as the iPad, price and usability is fast becoming a factor in the way consumers make their choice. An iPad may be cool but the price can burn a large hole in most people's pockets.

More reports: BBC / Sky / GuardianBloomberg / Daily Mail / Telegraph 

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Original wording of Apple statement which judges found to be in breach of their 18th October ruling:

Samsung / Apple UK judgment
On 9th July 2012 the High Court of Justice of England and Wales ruled that Samsung Electronic(UK) Limited's Galaxy Tablet Computer, namely the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Tab 8.9 and Tab 7.7 do notinfringe Apple's registered design No. 0000181607-0001. A copy of the full judgment of the Highcourt is available on the following link

In the ruling, the judge made several important points comparing the designs of the Apple and Samsung products:
"The extreme simplicity of the Apple design is striking. Overall it has undecorated flat surfaces with a plate of glass on the front all the way out to a very thin rim and a blank back. There is a crisp edge around the rim and a combination of curves, both at the corners and the sides. The design looks like an object the informed user would want to pick up and hold. It is an understated, smooth and simple product. It is a cool design."

"The informed user's overall impression of each of the Samsung Galaxy Tablets is the following. From the front they belong to the family which includes the Apple design; but the Samsung products are very thin, almost insubstantial members of that family with unusual details on the back. They do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool."

That Judgment has effect throughout the European Union and was upheld by the Court of Appeal on 18 October 2012. A copy of the Court of Appeal's judgment is available on the following link There is no injunction in respect of the registered design in force anywhere in Europe.

However, in a case tried in Germany regarding the same patent, the court found that Samsung engaged in unfair competition by copying the iPad design. A U.S. jury also found Samsung guilty of infringing on Apple's design and utility patents, awarding over one billion U.S. dollars in damages to Apple Inc. So while the U.K. court did not find Samsung guilty of infringement, other courts have recognized that in the course of creating its Galaxy tablet, Samsung willfully copied Apple's far more popular iPad.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Apple iPhone popularity waning

It seems the party may be coming to an end for Apple. The company is experiencing dwindling sales and according to some recent reports there is a growing lack of enthusiasm for their products.


New data from Strategy Analytics showed that only 75% of iPhone owners in Western Europe would buy an Apple device as their next smartphone. While still a relatively high percentage it is a marked drop from last years figures which topped in at 88%. User loyalty also dipped slightly in the United States, with 88% of iPhone owners saying they'd buy an Apple smartphone in the future, down from 93% last year.

Paul Brown, the director at Strategy Analytics' User Experience Practice, said that Apple's loyalty numbers may have taken a hit because of "negative press prompted by a perceived lack of recent innovation."

Bad publicity

With the release of iOS 6 on the iPhone 5 there was a swathe of complaints and bad publicity concerning their Apple Maps application which replaced the ousted Google Maps. Apple had boasted their new application was "the most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever". However with misplaced locations, the return of shops that had been closed for years and satellite imagery that looked decidedly wobbly, the company came in for much flack and a great deal of ridicule. Some have even taken to posting spoof ads on YouTube [tvnewswatch: Apple maps may be poor imitation of Google maps / tvnewswatch: New iPhone 5 users could find themselves lost / tvnewswatch: Apple's iPhone 5 receives mixed response].

Android devices are increasingly dominating the market and often at a price way below that of Apple products [tvnewswatch: Newly unveiled Google Nexus products may hurt Apple further]. While Android users are not necessarily brand loyal, most are likely to upgrade to another Android handset.

Apple founder saw Google's Android as a direct infringement of his own iOS and declared "thermonuclear war" to "right this wrong" [tvnewswatch: Tech wars continue for Samsung, Apple, Google et al]. There have followed a series of trials targeting Android handset manufacturers, though with varying levels of success. US courts have found favour with Apple, though cases brought by Apple against the likes of HTC and Samsung have fared less well, even costing the company money in court fees and bans on its own products tvnewswatch: Apple win US patent fight, but battle far from over .

The constant legal battles have also soured the company's image with many seeing Apple as controlling and megalomaniac. Bloomberg recently described the patents battle as being similar to the Singer sewing machine battles in the 19th century, but without the violence!

It hasn't come to blows yet and while Apple devices are still popular, the company may have to rethink its strategy, in terms of image, price and innovation if it wants to re-establish its position in the market [BBC / Electronista / Reghardware / BGR].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

China on edge as leadership change nears

China's leadership change that comes around once every decade has the party and its current leadership on edge.


Previous changes have gone smoothly, and even unnoticed by international media. While eyes have been focused on China since Mao's death in 1976, this year's leadership transition has attracted more attention than usual.

There have been several transitions of leadership since Mao, a process which is formally announced during the National People's Congress. The title of President only came into being following the introduction of the 4th constitution in 1982, the title formerly known as Chairman of the People's Republic of China.

In the seven or so years following Mao's death there were a number of Presidents including Li Xiannian, Yang Shangkun and Jiang Zemin though throughout this period it is Deng Xiaoping
who has become the focus of political analysts despite actually holding a lower position within government. Nonetheless, Deng became the core of the "second generation" of Chinese leadership and is considered "the architect" of  China's opening up policy in what was effectively a synthesis of theories that became known as the "socialist market economy".

Since his time in office China has been led through a rapid economic ascent by Jiang Zemin, and for the the last ten years by Hu Jintao. But rapid economic growth has also brought its own problems. As technology has reshaped the West, it has brought worries and concern for China's leadership.

Internet era

The Internet is a double-edged sword, bringing a useful tool for commerce but a dangerous source of information and a tool for dissent. Despite China's best efforts, through a sophisticated apparatus known as the Great Firewall of China, information about corruption, political ideology and other sensitive subjects are more freely discussed than was ever possible a decade ago.

The problems existing in China are far from new, but discussion about such subjects is less easy to suppress. The older, less tech savvy generation are often left outside such discussions and less able to access information critical of the party. The younger generation who have grown up with the Internet are far more aware of the latest scandals gripping the party. And this year has brought more than its fair share of scandal.

Scandals & corruption

The Communist Party leadership has been thrown into turmoil over revelations about former corrupt official and governor of the mega-city Chongqing Bo Xilai, his murderess wife Gu Kailai who was this year sentenced to life imprisonment for killing British businessman Neil Heywood, and his playboy son Bo Guagua. The party has attempted to draw a line under the whole affair by ousting Bo Xilai from office. In addition authorities quickly charged Gu and an accomplice with murder and tried several police officers that were said to have been behind a cover-up.

Not everyone has been satisfied with the result. Rumours persist suggesting the Gu Kailai seen in court was an imposter, and that others charged such as Wang Lijun, the police chief that brought the case to the world's attention was being treated as a scapegoat for bring embarrassment to the party.

While even Bo Xilai has been ousted from office, his relatively lenient punishment has brought criticism from the general public. Many feel that corruption within the party and amongst officials is not being dealt with effectively.

Authorities might have thought they had brushed one scandal under the carpet but by early September another story surfaced which implicated a close ally of President Hu Jintao in a fatal crash on Beijing's streets.

According to several well-connected party officials, the crash, on Beijing's Fourth Ring Road earlier this year, killed one man on impact and left two women seriously injured. All were said to have been in various states of undress. While crashes are not uncommon, the details which emerged became a further embarrassment for the Communist Party leadership.

The man behind the wheel of the wrecked Ferrari was said to be the son of Ling Jihua said to be Hu Jintao's "most trusted and notorious political fixer". The high-speed crash shed further light on the lifestyles of those around the Communist leadership and drew particular criticism from Chinese netizens who saw through the cover up [BBC / NYT / Guardian / Twitpic]

Wealthy officials

Details and rumours surrounding Bo Xilai and Ling Jihua have rattled the communist party. But revelations concerning the wealth of other top politicians have also raised eyebrows of China watchers as well as a growing skeptical and suspicious population.

In June Bloomberg published a report alleging that the family of Xi Jinping, the incoming president, had a fortune of around $346 million. This was not welcomed by China who immediately blocked the financial news website and told Chinese banks to stop using Bloomberg's financial data terminals, potentially costing the company millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Not dissuaded from revealing the financial affairs of China's leaders, the New York Times last week published details about the hidden wealth of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao's family which ran into billions [NYT]. Retribution was swift. The US based website was blocked and all mentions of the premier were censored on China's versions of Twitter including Sina Weibo. News organisations which reported the news were also censored with blackouts also being imposed on broadcasters such as CNN and the BBC [Channel 4 News / Australian / Telegraph].

Blocking information

The blocking of the New York Times websites came only four months after the launch of a Chinese-language site, which the company said at the time was "intended to draw readers from the country's growing middle class" through a mixture of reporting by Chinese journalists and Times articles translated from English.

The New York Times started the Chinese language website at the end of June, hiring 30 to 35 staff and with an estimated $2.5 million a year budget, according to the Nieman Journalism Lab. The project could be in peril if the Chinese authorities decide to block the site indefinitely which in the light of previous incidents seems likely.

The Guardian launched a Chinese language site though the project soon fell by the wayside after being constantly blocked. Rupert Murdoch also gave up his dream of piping Chinese TV to every home in the country. Over a period of almost 20 years, he travelled regularly to China and assiduously courted its leaders, in the hope of creating a truly global satellite network. But last August, News Corporation announced it was selling its controlling stakes in three of its Chinese television channels to a domestic private equity fund based in Beijing and Shanghai.

The Financial Times and Murdoch's Wall Street Journal run Chinese-language services, with the FT boasting some 1.7 million users, the both publications suffer from occasional censorship. The BBC also runs a Chinese language website, but it has been inaccessible on the mainland for many years.

It is not the first time the New York Times have run into trouble with Chinese authorities. In 2006, the authorities put a Chinese researcher working for the New York Times on trial after the newspaper revealed that Jiang Zemin, the former president, would relinquish his grip at the top of China's military. Eventually, the charges of leaking state secrets were dropped, but Zhao Yan, the researcher was sentenced to three years in prison for fraud.

Concerning the latest reports in the New York Times, China has dismissed them with foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei telling reporters the article was an attempt to "smear China" and had "ulterior motives." Meanwhile Wen's family have denied the reports [Telegraph].

Evading censors

Unsurprisingly state-run newspapers made no mention of the scandal nor the comments made by the Ministry spokesman. "Only a small proportion will be aware of the story," one seasoned China watcher Willy Lam told AFP. He estimated that about 10% of China's 500-million-strong online population would still manage to evade the censors, however, amounting to about 50 million people.

There were few signs that the news had filtered down on the streets of Beijing, though a few people that spoke to reporters indicated they had heard rumours.

When asked most said they had not heard the news, however few expressed any surprise or moral outrage. "Everyone knows the top officials have wealth," one man in his 30s said. "But this does seem a bit much."

Another 32-year-old man said he believed there was some mischief making on the US side. "This is some sort of political game because of the US election," the man suggested. But he did not dismiss the reports. "I always thought Wen was a good leader, but I never thought he was clean. I expect the other leaders have all got a lot of money too. This sort of phenomenon is very common in China."

A 27-year-old woman said she had not seen the latest report but had seen a similar report by Bloomberg in June which highlighted Xi Jinping's accumulated wealth. "These things are censored but you can still see traces," she said. She expressed an air of resignation concerning the way news was controlled. "Of course I wish Chinese newspapers would report it, but what can we do? The block on the media is one of the reasons they are able to be so corrupt."

There is little the population can do. Most can only sit back and watch as their self appointed leaders reshuffle their positions of power. Last week China reshuffled some of its senior military officials, kicking off the start of the leadership transition which will be finalised at the National Party Congress next month [FT].


There were more displays of paranoia this week after authorities imposed a ban on kitchen knives, restricted the sale of toy helicopters and has even ordered taxis to prevent windows from being opened to stop passengers handing out leaflets to passers by [The Atlantic / Telegraph].

Few are under illusions that the change of leadership will bring about any real change, though with growing unrest in many parts of the country the new leadership might be increasingly concerned how to legitimise its grip on power.

While there have been displays of nationalism, whipped up by the Communist Party and even China's search engine Baidu [BBC], concerning disputed territories in the East and South China Seas, authorities are well aware that such protests could easily become demonstrations calling for more democracy.

Rising protests

Perhaps emboldened by recent nationalist anti-Japanese protests, thousands have taken to the streets in the last week to air their grievances over plans to expand a petrochemical plant in the city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province [BBC]. The sometimes violent protests have forced the government to shelve the plans, though there will be deep concerns amongst officials over such demonstrations [BBC / FT].

In an article published recently in the Financial Times, Daniel Twining, a senior fellow for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, suggests that political liberalisation is a strategic imperative if China is to sustain its rise toward world power status.

Calls for democracy

Twining asserts that democracy would "enhance China's legitimacy in reforming international institutions to give itself a more central role in the global order." In fact he suggests that the democratisation of China is a "strategic imperative" if the country intends to sustain its rise toward world power status.

While Twining may have a point, Beijing is unlikely to listen to the views of foreign correspondents and academics. After all they are less than willing to listen to their own people, apparently preferring to feather their own nests while they reshape China in their own vision. Anything that might upset such plans, be it truth or rumours, must of course be quickly suppressed. The party, after all, must prevail and maintain order and continuity.

tvnewswatch, London, UK