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China Rising
August 10, 2016

Thanks to the Great Firewall of China, an intricate network of filters and website-blockers, China has had to develop its own ecosystem of smartphone apps. China's insistence on government access to and control of apps has largely kept Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google off Chinese smartphones, leading to an entire industry of copycat apps that really only work in China. But now, say Johan Kessel and Paul Mazur at The New York Times, China "has become a guide to the future."

"It's almost as if the Chinese internet is a lagoon as an aside to the greater ocean of the internet," Kessel and Mazur explain in the video below. "And in that lagoon there are these swamp-monster apps that bear some resemblance to the creatures in the ocean, but are mutated in some ways because they evolved in a different kind of environment." For a long time, nobody outside China cared about these swamp monsters, but now, "some of the features they have developed are so amazing that Western apps are trying to copy them," they report.

In the video, Kessel and Mazur focus on WeChat, an online Swiss army knife app owned by Chinese internet giant Tencent. WeChat's 700 million users can chat, book appointments, hail a cab, pay bills, transfer money, make reservations, share photos, and so much more. Users essentially never have to leave the app. Tencent made a big push to take WeChat global in 2012, Mazur reports, but outside of China, WeChat was basically just a chat app, and it flopped. Now "we're starting to see a number of Western tech companies attempt to replicate super-apps like WeChat," which could bring a "convenient and even transformative technology" to the U.S. market. At the same time, Kessel and Mazur warn, giving so much user data to one company "could lay the groundwork for an Orwellian world where companies and governments can track every single movement you make." Is it worth it? Watch the video below to see WeChat in action. Peter Weber

September 23, 2015

On Sept. 15 — a week before Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in the U.S. for a high-stakes state visit — two Chinese jets made an "unsafe" interception of a U.S. RC-135 surveillance plane in international airspace about 80 miles off the coast of China's Shandong peninsula, military officials told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. In the incident, two JH-7 Chinese fighters flew within 500 feet of the U.S. spy plane's nose, though a military official told The Journal that the dangerous flyby fell short of a "near collision.”

Unsafe interceptions are often a big deal, but the Pentagon is playing this one down, saying it's the first one since a rogue Chinese wing commander harassed U.S. aircraft in August 2014. "The long period between this intercept and the last unsafe intercept, as well as the nature of this intercept, indicate that this may be an isolated incident,” said Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Bill Urban. U.S. officials told The Journal that Xi's visit might result in a memorandum of understanding for avoiding future provocative or reckless air-to-air encounters between U.S. and Chinese air forces, similar to a naval agreement signed last year. Peter Weber

September 3, 2015

On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping used a speech during a parade showcasing China's military strength to announce that he is cutting 300,000 personnel from China's massive army. He described the reduction of the 2.3-million-strong People's Liberation Army as a gesture of peace, saying that China will always "walk down the path of peaceful development." Analysts suggest the move is unlikely to reduce regional tensions over China's expanding military presence, and probably has more to do with Xi's efforts to modernize the armed forces.

Xi made his announcement during a parade to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender at the end of World War II. The parade featured more than 12,000 soldiers, including some from Russia and elsewhere, tanks, advanced fighter jets and bombers, and a range of powerful missiles, some being shown off in public for the first time. Along with the show of force, China was also spotted for the first time deploying warships off the coast of Alaska, in international waters. Peter Weber

August 27, 2015

China's benchmark Shanghai Composite Index closed up 5.3 percent on Thursday, ending a six-day free fall and posting its biggest one-day gain since June. The rally in China, following a hefty rebound in U.S. stocks on Wednesday, helped lead markets higher around the world. Japan's Nikkei closed 1.1 percent higher, Hong Kong's Hang Seng jumped 2.9 percent, and Sydney's S&P ASX 200 closed up 1.2 percent. Shares on European exchanges were also up in early trading. The U.S. stock rally was attributed to comments from a Federal Reserve official suggesting the Fed won't raise interest rates in September. Peter Weber

September 10, 2014

This is a first: China is deploying 700 troops to South Sudan, as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the young, chronically conflict-torn country. None of the Chinese infantry battalion has arrived yet, U.N. spokesman Joe Contreras said Wednesday, but they are expected to arrive in the new few days. U.N. officials say that this is the first time China has contributed soldiers to a peacekeeping mission, though a "protection unit" of about 350 military personnel (most engineers) is already in South Sudan.

The U.N. peacekeepers are authorized to employ "all necessary means" to protect civilians and oil installations. China's state-run China National Petroleum Corporation has a 40 percent stake in a South Sudan oil field project, and the country provide up to 5 percent of China's oil imports. Peter Weber

August 26, 2014

Scientists at China's Harbin Institute of Technology are "a step closer to creating a supersonic submarine that could travel from Shanghai to San Francisco in less than two hours," reports The South China Morning Post. The scientists have reportedly succeeded in replicating an air bubble that would allow vehicles and projectiles — such as a torpedo — to travel more quickly through water, which produces much more drag than air.

In theory, a supercavitating vessel could reach the speed of sound underwater, or about 5,800km/h, which would reduce the journey time for a transatlantic underwater cruise to less than an hour, and for a transpacific journey to about 100 minutes, according to a report by California Institute of Technology in 2001. [SCMP]

Of course, there are some significant obstacles to the dream of traveling frictionlessly across the Pacific. For one, such a vessel would need an immensely powerful rocket to reach supersonic speeds, which in turn would create problems with steering. However, this new technology could prove useful in other ways. "[T]here's plenty of reason to believe a submarine could be built that would significantly exceed the speed of today's fastest models, which lumber along at a speed of 40 knots (about 46 mph)," writes Terence McCoy at The Washington Post. Take a look at the design below. --Ryu Spaeth

(South China Morning Post)
June 17, 2014

We've all seen the headlines about rampant Chinese economic growth. Many have presented evidence — from ghost cities, to excessive financial debt — that China's growth is an unsustainable bubble. And maybe the boom there will soon give way to a bust.

But what I think is under-appreciated is just how huge China's growth has been.

Here's a figure that sticks out: Bill Gates points out that between 2011 and 2013, China used more cement than the U.S. did in the entire 20th century:

(Gates Notes)

Now, China is a huge country with over four times the number of people that the U.S. has. But still. The 20th century was America's century, where it built out its huge continent-spanning highway system, its airports, its sanitation systems, and cities where skyscrapers dominate the skyline like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. Cement — the key ingredient in concrete — is very literally the foundation for modern life and urban living. We drive on it, we walk on it, we live in it. And China is using it at a rate that has never been seen before on this planet. John Aziz

May 23, 2014

In 2006, comedian Judson Laipply uploaded a video of his "Evolution of Dance" routine to the then-new video hosting service YouTube, and it became one of the world's first "viral" video hits (263 million views and counting). Since then we've collectively made stars out of "double rainbow" guy, Justin Bieber, piano-playing cats, chattering young twins, Carly Rae "Call Me Maybe" Jepsen and Rebecca "Friday" Black, and that Gangnam Style guy (Psy), along with countless other classics of the genre.

China's been conspicuously absent from the viral video phenomenon. Mr. Li might change that. On Sunday, the resident of the Guangdong Province city Zhongshan saw a 1-year-old baby on the windowsill of an apartment in a thunderstorm and rushed across the street to help. Thanks to surveillance video, his heartwarming catch was preserved for posterity (read: the internet). --Peter Weber

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