May 27

 

China Watch Blog reports that Asia’s biggest wine and spirits fair opened in Hong Kong on Tuesday, drawing the world’s top producers from France to Chile despite China reporting the first decline in wine consumption for a decade.
According to a survey by Vinexpo Asia Pacific, mainland China’s wine consumption fell by 2.5 percent last year, after ten years of uninterrupted growth at a rate of 25 percent per year, AFP reports.
The drop comes as Beijng reins in luxury spending and extravagant banquets, against the backdrop of a slower economy, and an anti-graft campaign backed by President Xi Jinping to root out official corruption.
However, show organizers, who expanded the trade fair by 50 percent in floor space from its last edition in 2012, are adamant there are still strong opportunities for the wine and spirits markets in the region, because of increased demand from a growing middle class.
Winemakers and industry executives also say that the economic slowdown will not prevent people from drinking, but the focus may now shift to mid-range wine and spirits.”This is the largest Vinexpo Asia Pacific ever. The markets of South East Asia and China are still booming,” Vinexpo chief executive officer Guillaume Deglise said.
“There are many markets in Asia where the middle class is expanding and this represents a great potential for the wine and spirits industry,” he said.
Xavier de Eizaguirre, chairman of Vinexpo, added: “Little did we know two decades ago Asia led by China and Japan would reach 63 percent of world’s spirits consumption.”

In 2013, China overtook France as the world’s largest consumer of red wine, guzzling more than 155 million 9-litre cases or 1.865 billion bottles that year, according to Vinexpo.

But the official austerity drive in China has meant that people are increasingly turning to cheaper wines.

“Cheaper wines are selling better because of the anti-corruption campaign. the government did not say you shouldn’t drink,” said Angel Lee, director of Hong Kong-based wine trading company MBL.

Pier Luigi Calcagnile, marketing director of Italian winemaker Caviro, said: “We consider good value for money very important for Asia. Premium wines are important to promote quality but if you want to expand, you need to approach also the middle class.”

Some 1,300 exhibitors from 31 countries attended the event packed with wine tasting sessions as well as discussion forums for sommeliers, distributors and importers.
This year Chinese wine tastings are also a feature, along with a bar showcasing innovative cocktails for the first time, organizers say.

French exhibitors make up more than 500 booths, while producers from Italy to New World countries such as the United States are also vying to gain market share.

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May 15

China Watch Blog reports the amount of money stolen from Internet bank accounts in Japan so far this year has already exceeded the annual record marked last year, the National Police Agency said Thursday.

Jiji Press reported that the amount in a four-month period through Friday stood at some 1,417 million yen, compared with 1,406 million yen in 2013. A total of 58 banks were hit by illegal money transfers this year, up from 32.

A growing number of regional and “shinkin” banks, as well as “shinyo kumiai” credit cooperatives, reported illegal transfers, while corporate bank accounts were hit by a surge in theft.
“Thieves are widening their targets and stolen amounts may grow in size,” an NPA official said. The police urged nine financial industry groups, such as the Japanese Bankers Association, on Thursday to strengthen preventive measures.

A total of 873 cases of illegal money transfers were confirmed by Friday, with victims in all Japan’s 47 prefectures except Tottori.

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May 12

China Watch Blog has learnt that there was renewed criticism of the oversight and management of the HK$250 million Mega Events Fund at a public hearing of the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee on Monday.

An Audit Report had earlier revealed potential conflicts of interest and irregularities in its accounts and records. Civic Party legislator, Alan Leong Kah-kit, questioned why the Council had not been informed of a recommendation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption that the Fund should not continue beyond 2012 as it had fulfilled its ‘historical mission’.

The Permanent Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Andrew Wong Ho-yuen, said the Fund — which was set up in 2009 — aimed to attract overseas visitors back to Hong Kong and to provide short-term employment for a period of three years.

He said it was decided to continue with the Fund so that Hong Kong could compete for tourists with regional neighbors.

Wong said the Fund would aim to rectify the current situation.

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May 12

China Watch Blog reports that the Hong Kong government is about to burn 28 tonnes of confiscated ivory – the largest stockpile ever burned in history. WWF-Hong Kong and TRAFFIC will be holding a press conference this Wednesday to reveal new figures regarding seized ivory, showing that Hong Kong ranks fifth in terms of the quantity of ivory seized and highlighting Hong Kong’s importance as a major transit country and an end-use market.

WWF-Hong Kong and TRAFFIC appreciate the strong statement the government is making with this ivory burn and their prioritization of this issue, and we hope that the momentum will not stop here. WWF and TRAFFIC now call on the government to strengthen monitoring and control over ivory being currently sold on the market, and to strengthen the regulation of the domestic ivory market.

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May 01

China Watch Blog has learnt that WWF-Hong Kong welcomes a recent decision by China’s legislators to jail people who eat protected wild animals.

This can be a first step to mitigate deterioration of the population of 420 threatened species, including pangolin, tiger, golden coin turtle and Asian elephants, WWF said.

Under a new interpretation of existing Chinese criminal law (Article 341 and 312), the Standing Committee last week decided that consuming an animal protected by the national wildlife protection law as “rare or endangered” could be punished by imprisonment of 10 or more years. Those who knowingly buy wild illegally hunted animals could also face a sentence of up to three years.

Cheryl Lo, Conservation Specialist at WWF, comments that “We welcome the new decision to further protect threatened species. The penalty on consumption of wild animals and their products is a strong message sent by the Chinese government to drive down consumer demand and illegal poaching. Populations of species such as the Chinese pangolin, which is categorized as endangered by the IUCN, may have a chance to recover.”

In response to the growing environmental awareness among the general public, governments have strengthened their protection over threatened species in recent years. For example, in early this year, China has destroyed illegal ivory it confiscated while Hong Kong will begin burning 28 tonnes of ivory stockpile a few weeks later.”

WWF strives to conserve wildlife species. It is crucial to protect both individual species and the habitats upon which they depend. Ongoing research and programmes are needed to successfully achieve this goal, as greater knowledge of the status of various species will enhance our ability to act and greater awareness is a key building block of nature conservation.

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Apr 25

China Watch Blog reports that just three days before International Workers’ Memorial Day, honoring workers around the world who have died as a result of their jobs, two groups — Green America and China Labor Watch (CLW) — will hold a demonstration at the Apple Store on 5th Avenue in New York City to protest worker poisoning in the factories that supply Apple’s iPhones and iPads.  The event will take place at 12:30 p.m. on April 25, 2014.

The planned protest stems from the “Bad Apple Campaign,” launched jointly by Green America and CLW on March 12, 2014. To date, the campaign has collected nearly seventeen thousand signatures urging Apple’s CEO Tim Cook to remove dangerous chemicals in an effort to protect the young Chinese workers who manufacture Apple’s products. See http://www.greenamerica.org/bad-apple/ for more information.

The protests’ location at Apple’s “Cube” store, near Central Park, is significant in that the store is one of Apple’s most profitable retail locations, grossing more than $350 million per year.  Industry experts estimate that Apple could remove benzene and other dangerous chemicals from production for as little as $1 dollar per device.

Smartphones and other electronics are made with thousands of chemicals, many of which are known to be harmful to human health such as benzene or n-hexane.  Occupational exposure to benzene can lead to leukemia.  Apple is profiting at the expense of the workers who assemble their iconic products in China, even though safer chemical alternatives are available.  The campaign is calling on Apple to lead the way in protecting worker health and safety.

In April 2012, Greenpeace hosted an action at this store to call attention to Apple’s wasteful energy practices. As a result, one year later, Apple announced a plan to use 100% renewable energy at its data centers.

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Apr 24

China Watch Blog reports a growing number of Shanghai couples are choosing to live together before marriage, according to the results of a survey released by Fudan University on April 21.

In the poll of 2,330 people aged between 25 and 34, 43 percent of the married respondents said they had cohabited before getting wed, according to a Shanghai Daily report.

“Cohabitation no longer has the negative connotations it once had in China,” said Chen Binbin, a psychology lecturer at the university who helped to compile the study.

Almost 70 percent of the married respondents said they began living with their partners after less than a year of dating, while 82 percent said they lived together for less than a year before tying the knot.

More and more people are choosing to cohabit as they want to see what life will really be like and whether they can cope with living with someone else, Chen said.

“In China, it’s seen as a trial marriage,” he said.

Almost 95 percent of the married respondents said they were already engaged or had a clear plan to get married before moving in together.

The survey also found that people who had cohabited for more than 18 months prior to marriage were generally happier after getting wed then than those who had not had such an experience.

Of all the respondents, 44 percent were single and 1 percent were divorced. Just 8 percent of the single respondents said they had no plans to get married.

Almost 96 percent of the people polled said they hoped to have one or two babies, while 2 percent said they wanted more than three and the remainder said they didn’t want any.

The study was carried out as part of the Fudan Yangtze River Delta Social Transformation Survey, which aims to map changes in Chinese society by tracing the lives of people born in the 1980s through their education, marriages and jobs.

The 1980s generation represents a special group of people in China as they are considered to have been born and lived during a period of great social and economic change.

Academics at Fudan University hope the results of the study will be of use to future governments in developing social and economic policies.

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Apr 21

China Watch Blog has reported that a message in a bottle tossed in the sea in Germany 101 years ago and believed to be the world’s oldest has been presented to the sender’s granddaughter, a German museum said on Monday.

A fisherman pulled the beer bottle with the scribbled message out of the Baltic off the northern city of Kiel last month, said Holger von Neuhoff of the International Maritime Museum in the northern port city of Hamburg, theguardian.com reported.

“This is certainly the first time such an old message in a bottle was found, particularly with the bottle intact,” he reportedly said.

Researchers then set to work identifying the author and managed to track down his 62-year-old granddaughter Angela Erdmann, who lives in Berlin. “It was almost unbelievable,” Erdmann reportedly told the German news agency DPA.

She was first able to hold the brown bottle last week at the Hamburg museum. Inside was a message on a postcard requesting the finder return it to the writer’s home address in Berlin, the report said.

“That was a pretty moving moment,” Erdmann said. “Tears rolled down my cheeks.”

Von Neuhoff said researchers were able to determine based on the address that it was 20-year-old baker’s son Richard Platz who threw the bottle in the Baltic while on a hike with a nature appreciation group in 1913, according to the report.

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Apr 19

China Watch Blog reports that Tianhe-2 has started to provide computing services to the public while in-system debugging is ongoing. The first beneficiaries are users of the previous pilot system.

Located in Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, in Guangdong Province, Tainhe-2 is regarded as the world’s fastest supercomputer.

On November 18, 2013, Tianhe-2 topped the TOP500 list of the fastest supercomputers in the world. The computer beat the second-placed Titan by a margin of nearly 2 to 1. Titan is housed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Tianhe-2 was built by China’s National University of Defense Technology (NUDT).

Tianhe-2 possesses 16,000 computer nodes, carries 32,000 XeonE5 main processors and 48,000 XeonPhi coprocessors, and counts a total of 3,120,000 cores. It was delivered to the National Supercomputing Center in Guangzhou (NSCC-GZ) on the east campus of Sun Yat-sen University after the completion of the first installation.

Currently, the Tianhe-2 host system is undergoing commissioning and operation trials, and providing computing services to some users. Guangzhou Supercomputing Center will hold an application promotion and make preparations to formally provide computing services.

Successful exploitation of Tianhe-2 will require a large number of professionals, especially interdisciplinary talents who possess professional knowledge and understand supercomputing.

According to personnel from the Guangzhou Supercomputer Center, there is a shortage of supercomputing professionals in China. In addition to introducing overseas supercomputing talent, an interdisciplinary supercomputer application research institute will be established in Sun Yat-sen University in the future for the domestic training of interdisciplinary supercomputing professionals.

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Apr 11

China Watch Blog has learnt that the heart of the Internet is “bleeding” from a bug in widely-used encryption technology, according to security experts.

The online threat, code-named Heartbleed, could affect millions of Chinese computer users by exposing their passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive information to potential theft by computer hackers.

“Heartbleed is the No. 1 online threat this year,” said Shi Xiaohong, a security expert with Qihoo 360.

Shi likened it to a “nuclear crisis in the Internet landscape” due to its potential for damage.

More than 30 percent of domestic websites requiring web log-ins — covering online payment, e-commerce, online bank and e-mail services — have been affected by the bug. Users can’t protect their information if they have used the services of websites with OpenSSL encryption technology, even if their computers are well protected by anti-virus tools, according to Qihoo 360.

The security researchers who uncovered the threat are particularly worried about the breach because it had gone undetected for more than two years. Hackers may have been exploiting the problem over that period.

Domestic websites, including Taobao, the online shopping site, and train ticket site12306.cn, and global sites such as Yahoo were found to have the bug. By yesterday evening, most websites had been upgraded to fix the bug.

“All of our websites, including Taobao, Alipay and Tmall are safe now with system upgrading,” Alibaba said.

Beijing-based Qihoo 360 sent alerts to around 120,000 website owners in China urging them to upgrade their systems.

The Heartbleed bug was found by Google Inc and US security firm Codenomicon, and prompted the US government’s Department of Homeland Security to advise businesses to review their servers to see if they were using vulnerable versions of OpenSSL, Reuters reported.

Ordinary computer users are advised to change passwords or at least not to access websites that haven’t been upgraded.

Yahoo, which has more than 800 million users worldwide, said most of its most popular services — including sports, finance and Tumblr — had been fixed, but work was still being done on other products it didn’t identify.

In a statement, it said it was “continuously working to protect our users’ data.”

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