Mian Mian’s suit against Google is an awkwardness for the authorities, the sort of awkwardness they just hope would go away. In October, the 39-year old author filed a copyright infringement suit against the U.S. search and advertising company for scanning one of her books into its online library as part of its Google Books project. She is seeking damages of 61,000 yuan ($9,000) and a public apology (Google has already taken down the work in question, Acid Lovers). The awkwardness for the authorities lies in the fact that many of Mian’s works are banned as they deal with a taboo underworld of sex and drugs. So they are trying to make it disappear. A Beijing judge has told the two parties to hold settlement talks, though there is apparently no deadline for a resolution.
Meanwhile, talks are continuing between Google and the China Written Works Copyright Society which is seeking compensation for tens of thousands of other books by Chinese authors whose works have been included in the Google Books project. Last year, Google agreed to pay $125 million to resolve a similar copyright infringement suit filed in 2005 on behalf American authors and to provide revenue from sales and advertising to authors and publishers who agree to digitize their books, though even in the U.S. the legal battles are continuing.
South Korea’s Hyundai is getting into the heavy truck market through a $400 million JV with Baotou Bei Ben Heavy-Duty Truck, China’s sixth largest heavy truck maker. Hyundai aims to be selling 100,000 heavy-duty trucks in China by 2014 and will take over Baotou’s manufacturing operations next year with a goal of raising current production of 40,000 vehicles a year to 100,000 by 2014, by when it will have revamped the model line based on Hyundai’s existing vehicles.
The stimulus inflated infrastructure and real estate building booms have spurred demand for construction equipment. China now accounts for 29% of the world market. Hyundai is getting in ahead of most other foreign auto makers. The South Korean group, which includes Kia, is the world’s fifth largest vehicle maker and already builds cars in China with Beijing Automotive. Baotou is also Beijing-based. Hyundai says it eventually plans to sell a full range of commercial vehicles, though its previous attempts to do so have been star-crossed. Earlier JVs with Jianghuai Automobile in 2004 and with Guangzhou Automobile in 2005 fell apart.
Cambodia has deported 20 Uighurs who fled July’s deadly Urumqi riots back to to China. Both the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.S. government has criticised the action, with the UN agency saying it breached international refugee law. The 20 Uighurs were seeking political asylum, but Beijing has been pushing hard for their return, saying, as to be expected, that they are wanted for crimes. The Uighurs were flown from a military airfield in Phnom Penh on Saturday (while UNHCR staff were at the civilian airport) ahead of a visit by Vice-President Xi Jingping due to start Sunday. Cambodia maintains the group has terrorist ties and entered the country illegally. It says that two more Uighurs who slipped away from the rest of the group will also be returned if found. In 2002, Nepal returned Shaheer Ali, a Uighur who fled China in 2000 and was recognized as a refugee by the UN. He was reportedly executed a year later.
The Copenhagen Accord struck by China, the U.S., Brazil, India and South Africa on climate change smacks of declaring victory and going home. It is not legally binding. It does no more than recognize the need to limit global temperatures rising to no more than 2℃ above pre-industrial levels. It sets collective goals for rich nations to fund poor nations’ adjustment to going greener that are so broad as to be meaningless. It puts the monitoring of developing nations’ progress in their own hands. It does nothing of substance on promoting carbon markets beyond saying “various approaches” will be pursued. Even then the accord hasn’t got the backing of the all the participants in the UN’s Copenhagen climate conference and the meeting as a whole did no more than ‘note’ it.
From Beijing’s point of view, it is job done. It has not had to accept a binding treaty, and the verification process for whatever voluntary steps its takes to control greenhouse gas emissions will be in its own hands. (It has set itself a target of cutting the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for every unit of GDP by up to 45%.) Beijing will also have taken note of how effective its alliance with India has been in dealing with the U.S. But while the accord serves both countries interests the criticism from developing nations that China and India have sought to portray themselves as championing must have stung, whatever spin the propaganda bosses put on it.
The UN now has a year to salvage something from the rubble of Copenhagen that can turn the five-way accord in to a U.N-wide binding treaty before the climate conference reconvenes in Mexico City in December 2010. Whether anyone in Beijing or Washington for that matter really cares is another matter.
Given the heavy snow in north and parts of central China, it seems perverse that more than half a billion Chinese living along the rivers that flow from the Himalayas are at risk from water shortages as a result of disappearing glaciers. That assessment comes from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development following a survey of the region conducted jointly by China, India, Pakistan and Nepal. The report (pdf), released at the UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen, says the Himalayas are warming more rapidly than the world overall because the rate of change is faster at higher altitudes.
One of the five field studies for the report was conducted in Yunnan, which contains the headwaters of Asia six largest rivers. One of its findings is that a shift in the monsoon season, said to be a result of global warming, has triggered more frequent landslides in the mountains and more drought in lowlands. Another is that the increased use of fertilizer is polluting water supplies and becoming a threat to public health. Recommendations include intensifying afforestation efforts to control landslides and soil erosion in the uplands, and restoring more responsibility for water-resource management to the hands of village-level organizations.
For all the grand plans being discussed in Copenhagen, it will be billions of small actions like these on a local level that will undo the damage of the billions of small actions that have contributed to global warming.
Beijing has long been dragging its feet over approving Sichuan Tengzhong’s proposed purchase of GM’s Hummer business. The Commerce Ministry is only one set of bureaucrats still to pass judgment. It is an open secret that some officials aren’t keen on a Chinese company buying the poster child for American gas guzzling extravagance, while others are uneasy about private vehicle makers expanding abroad ahead of state-owned ones.
We may be joining the faintest of dots, but an unsourced item in Shanghai Securities News prompts us to think approval will never come. The newspaper says that official oversight of investment and expansion plans by auto, farm, vehicle and engine companies will be tightened with approval required not only from the National Development and Reform Commission, which oversees strategic economic development, but also from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
We’ve noted before China’s expanding reach into energy-rich Central Asia. A sign of how strategically important that is to Beijing is President Hu Jintao’s presence (again) in the Kazakhstan capital Astanta on Saturday to open the Kazakh leg of the new 1,800 kilometer pipeline connecting China and Turkmenistan.
Hu will be going onto Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, for the official opening on Tuesday of the whole pipeline, which runs from a CNPC-operated gas field there back to Xinjiang, itself a reminder of the delicate balance Beijing has to strike between its handling of its Muslim minorities and its Muslim Central Asian neighbors whose oil and gas it is extracting.
Another sign of the shifting sands in the region is that while in Turkmenistan Hu will attend a summit of Central Asian leaders. They rarely gather except at meetings organized by Russia.
China spends an estimated $100 million a year on cloud-seeding efforts that include using anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers to blast the sky with silver iodide.
No indication of the source for that number, but it was reported in an Associated Press story on dealing with drought around the world (here via LA Times), and was contrasted with a figure of $15 million for the U.S.
China has had a lot of drought to contend with over the past couple of years, notably in the grain-growing and increasingly arid North China Plain, and is frequently said to do more cloud seeding to induce rain and snowfall than any other country. Of course, you need the clouds to seed in the first place. They are usually absent during a drought, so cloud seeding can amplify rain but not abort a drought by itself. So one strategy might be, say, to make it snow in October and store the melted run-off in reservoirs. Oh.
Some detail is emerging on plans to boost domestic consumption and dampen down prospective bubbles being inflated by stimulus spending.
The State Council says that tax breaks on the re-sale of homes are being cut back, though subsidies for household appliances, farm machinery and the most part for cars are being extended into 2010, as we suspected they would. More interestingly, the State Council also announced an easing of the restrictions on permanent residence in small and medium-sized cities and town. In essence there will be free migration between such cities’ suburbs and central areas and between towns under their jurisdiction and surrounding rural areas. The idea is to boost domestic demand away from the top-tier cities.
New lending in 2010 will be capped at 8 trillion yuan ($1.2 trillion). New lending in the first 11 months of this year was 9.2 trillion yuan, 5 trillion yuan up on the corresponding period of 2008, according to the People’s Bank of China. Urban fixed-asset investment is up 32% for the period at 16.9 trillion yuan. So the proposed reining in of new loans next year will be significant, if it can be imposed.
Details of more adjustment measures are likely to emerge in coming weeks, but few if any will tackle the root problem of overcapacity we discussed a couple of days back.