The Economist, July 15th – 21st, 2017

China’s conscience

Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) (劉曉波) was a supporter of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and in his non-violent struggle for democracy and fundamental human rights in China, he went to prison multiple times.

He was an active participant in the writing of the Charter 08 manifesto, which called for human rights, more freedom of expression, more democratic elections, the privatization of state enterprises and land, and economic liberalism.  He signed it along with more than three hundred Chinese citizens, and the manifesto was released on 10 December 2008.  Two days before the official release of Charter 08, Liu was taken into custody by the police.  On December 25, 2009, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison and 2 years’ deprivation of political rights.

While in prison, he was awarded the 2010 Nobel peace prize.  In May, 2017, while still in prison, he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.  He died on July 13th.

According to the Economist:

His dignified, calm and persistent calls for freedom for China’s people have made Mr Liu one of the global giants of moral dissent…

 A Bolshevik in Beijing

In May, Cai Qi (蔡奇) was elevated to the post of Communist Party chief of Beijing.   The previous occupant was Guo Jinlong (郭金龙) (郭金龍), a holdover from Hu Jintao’s time in power.

According to the Economist:

There is no doubt that Mr Cai… is the president’s man.

Moreover, Mr Cai is:

…all but certain to be elevated directly to the ruling Politburo later this year, without first tarrying on the lower rung of the Central Committee.

Ethnic minorites

In the early 1950s, a census was conducted in China which allowed respondents to describe their ethnic identity in any way they liked, producing more than 400 categories.  Researchers were dispatched to look more closely at the situation, and officials decided that China had a total of 38 indigenous ethnic groups.  By 1979 the number had increased to 56.  Since then, no further groups have been recognized.  The biggest group is the Han, which reportedly makes up 92% of the population.

The algorithm kingdom

In January, Qi Lu, one of Microsoft’s bosses, announced that he was going to become chief operating officer at Baidu.  According to Lu, “We have an opportunity to lead in the future of AI.”

In October 2016 the White House noted that China had overtaken America in the number of published journal articles on deep learning.

What does China have going for it in the realm of artificial intelligence?

According to the Economist, in addition to computing power and money, the country also has data, and increasingly, research talent.  Government support has also been important.

As far as research talent is concerned, China has strong skills in math and a tradition in translation research.  Also, most big universities have launched AI programs.

As far as data is concerned, China has 1.4 billion people and about 730 million Internet users, more than any other country.  In addition, almost all go online from smartphones, which generate much richer data than desktop computers because of their sensors and propensity to be carried around.  Also, people in China tend to use voice-recognition services more often than in the West, so firms have more voice snippets to improve speech offerings.

Among other companies, according to the Economist:

Megvii Technology’s face-recognition software, Face++, identifies people almost instantaneously

and:

The firm already enables Alipay and Didi, a ride-hailing firm, to check the identity of new customers (their faces are compared with pictures held by the government).

Container shipping

On July 9th, the owners of Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), the world’s 7th biggest container shipping line, announced sale of the company to the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), a state-owned Chinese shipping giant, for $6.3 billion, valuing OOCL at 40% above its book value.  The deal would make COSCO the third largest container shipping line worldwide.

A Hong Kong company, OOCL was founded by Tung Chao-yung.  Under his eldest son, Tung Chee-hwa, the company survived financial difficulties in the early 1980s with the help of Chinese money, and Tung Chee-hwa went on to become Hong Kong’s first leader after Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997.  OOCL’s current chairman is the founder’s second son, Tung Chee-chen.

 

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