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  1. China may seek to leapfrog NASA in its return to the Moon. Enlarge / China's Long March 5 rocket made its debut in November, 2016. Xinhua/Sun Hao China appears to be accelerating its plans to land on the Moon by 2030 and would use a modified version of an existing rocket to do so. The chief designer of the Long March family of rockets, Long Lehao, said China could use two modified Long March 5 rockets to accomplish a lunar landing in less than a decade, according to the Hong Kong-based online news site, HK01. He spoke earlier this week at the 35th National Youth Science and Technology Innovation Competition in China. The full video can be found here. During Lehao's speech, he said one of these large rockets would launch a lunar lander into orbit around the Moon, and the second would send the crew to meet it. The crew would then transfer to the lander, go down to the Moon's surface, and spend about six hours walking on its surface. Then part of the lunar lander would ascend back to meet the spacecraft and return to Earth. Lehao's talk does not carry the official imprimatur of Chinese space policy—at least not yet. But he remains an influential figure in Chinese space policy, said Andrew Jones, a journalist who tracks China's space program. "It's a good indication of China working towards that plan to some degree," he told Ars. "There will apparently be an announcement on this rocket at the Zhuhai Airshow in late September or early October." The Chinese Moon plan would require several technology developments. The Long March 5 rocket, which has a capacity similar to that of a Delta IV Heavy rocket, would be upgraded to become the "Long March 5-DY." Lehao has previously described these upgrades, which would improve performance for lunar missions. China would also need a lunar lander and a next-generation spacecraft capable of deep space missions. Nevertheless, the use of an existing rocket that has already launched seven times would simplify the mission for China. Although the country's aerospace engineers are in the early stages of developing a super-heavy lift rocket named Long March 9, it probably won't be ready for test flights before 2030. By modifying an existing rocket, China could get to the Moon faster. This only adds further fuel to the idea that NASA and China are in something of a race to the Moon. The United States has created the "Artemis Program" for a lunar return. While this program has a nominal date of a 2024 human landing, that seems infeasible due to the lack of a finished lunar lander, space suits, and other technical problems. The year 2026 seems like the earliest possible date for a lunar landing, and of course that could slip further to the right. Both countries are also seeking to bring international partners along. The United States has already added a dozen signatories to the "Artemis Accords," including Australia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom. China has reached a deal with Russia to build a lunar research station and is also courting European partners. Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, who served under the George W. Bush administration, has long warned US policymakers that China could accelerate its Moon plans and beat NASA by using an existing heavy lift rocket. Speaking at a 2018 Users Advisory Group meeting of the National Space Council, Griffin said, "They never seem to be in a rush. They seem to be playing the long game. So I’m not saying they will be on the Moon in six to eight years, but if they wanted to be they could. And for them to be back on the Moon when the United States can’t get back on the Moon is a travesty." Now, China be in a rush. China may use an existing rocket to speed up plans for a human Moon mission
  2. Imported next-gen consoles are already available for pre-order in China, says Apptutti's Daniel Camilo Both the Xbox Series X/S and the PlayStation 5 have now been revealed, with their respective prices, launch line-ups and release dates disclosed. The world is ready for next-gen -- except, perhaps, for the biggest gaming market in the world, China. But is that really the case? Xbox and PS5 coming to China? While Microsoft has not publicly addressed the issue yet, Sony did mention China in its recent PlayStation 5 showcase when the release date and prices were announced -- "PS5 launch date for China is still under exploration and will be announced at a later date" could be read in small print when the launch dates for the rest of the world were displayed. That the PS5 and the Xbox X/S wouldn't be available in China at the same time as other major markets doesn't really come as a surprise, as I explained in a previous article. While both the PS4 and Xbox One (and Nintendo Switch) have been officially launched in China with specifically targeted, region-locked machines, they arrived in the market years after being released elsewhere. Tight regulations and licensing issues for entertainment media and content in the country are the main reasons for that. While the official versions of the consoles are available, they could never realistically challenge the appeal and availability of imported hardware, which largely outsells the licensed versions in this case. Imported consoles and games are easily available on e-commerce platforms like Taobao -- the biggest e-commerce platform in China -- and most console gamers in China simply acquire what they need there. Pricing isn't even an issue, as even these "smuggled" products generally match officially recommended prices for other markets, in particular the US and Hong Kong. This is the part where I always feel the need to emphasize just how easy and common it is to find and buy imported games in China (that do not have a publishing license to be commercialized). By using Taobao, or other commonly used online platforms, one can order a physical edition of a game in the morning and still have it delivered in the same day, if ordering from a store in the same city. There's nothing "shady" or secretive about it. Taobao is the de-facto online platform to buy virtually anything in China, and one simply needs to type the names of whatever games or consoles, and they will likely show up with detailed information displayed. PS5 and Xbox Series X/S are already everywhere in China While both Sony and Microsoft are not yet ready to release their new consoles in the country, Chinese consumers already have plenty of choices available to get their hands on the machines very soon after the official release elsewhere. For both the Xbox Series X and S, most sellers are accepting a 500 Yuan deposit (roughly US$ 73), while for the PS5 with the blu-ray player, the deposit is usually 1000 yuan (US$ 147), with 500 Yuan also being the current standard for the digital-only version. Some games are also easy to find already, and all sorts of accessories are either becoming available for pre-order, or will very soon. Where exactly will the consoles come from? Mostly from Hong Kong and Taiwan, but also from Japan, the US and other territories. It's hard to say as there is no clear authority tracking imported games and consoles sold in China -- simply because it would be virtually impossible to track, considering its not-legal-but-nobody-really-cares status. One thing is certain: a considerable amount of hardware will be diverted from other markets into China. Countless traders are making sure of it, as I write this. Will it have an impact on China's console market? What this all means in practice is that the console market in China will remain as it is. Meaning, imported consoles and games will be the primary choice for most consumers, and once (if!) the consoles are actually launched in China, it will be already too late, just as it was for the Xbox One, PS4 and Switch. By then, millions of consoles will be in Chinese households already, and whatever officially launched models may come, they will more likely than not have very strict restrictions, at the very least for the number of games available. Since all console games in China are required to have a publishing license subject to the regulator's approval, a huge proportion of games don't stand a chance of being officially launched due to their content -- violence, gore, politically sensitive themes and/or references, paranormal and religious themes, and gambling mechanics are just some of the issues that could prevent a title from getting a license to be published in China. As long as Chinese authorities don't effectively crack down on imports being sold online, China will continue to have most games and consoles available to interested consumers -- minus, of course, the official marketing and distribution support from the companies producing these products. Daniel Camilo lives in Shenzhen. He is the overseas business developer for Apptutti, a specialist in publishing games in China. Source
  3. China successfully launches three astronauts to new space station The astronauts are now en route to Tianhe CGTN A Long March rocket blasted off from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center today, carrying three astronauts to China’s new space station. The launch marks China’s first crewed mission in five years. The launch of the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft took place at 9:22AM local time on Thursday morning. The three astronauts, Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo, will be the first three people to board China’s space station, Tianhe. They will stay on Tianhe for three months, bringing the space station online. The core module of Tianhe, which contains the crew’s living quarters, was launched in April 2021. This first crewed mission is part of eleven planned missions during the space station’s construction phase — two more modules and several more cargo and crewed missions need to be completed before the space station is finished in 2022. China’s last crewed mission took place in 2016, sending astronauts to visit the country’s previous space station, Tiangong-2. That station deorbited in 2019. Since then, China has continued to push forward with an ambitious space program. It sent a sample return mission to the Moon and back again in 2020, and landed a rover on Mars earlier this year. Long-term, the country is building partnerships with Russia, with plans to land astronauts on the Moon in the next decade. China successfully launches three astronauts to new space station
  4. China’s Zhurong rover sends a selfie from Mars A ‘touring group photo’ with its landing platform China’s Zhurong rover with its landing platform. Image: CNSA China has released new images from its Zhurong rover, which began wheeling its way around Mars in late May. One of the photos is a lovely selfie of Zhurong posed next to its landing platform. The “touring group photo,” as the China National Space Administration calls it in a blog post, was taken with a small wireless camera that the rover placed on the surface before scooting back to line up for the shot like an excited parent. Zhurong also took a photo of the landing platform by itself, showing the ramp the rover drove down, the Chinese flag, and if you look closely to the left of the flag, the mascots for the Beijing Winter Olympics. Zhurong’s landing platform. Image: CNSA There are more photos in the Twitter thread below, linked here, including a panorama that shows the Red Planet’s horizon in the distance beyond the rover, along with marks on the surface from propellant expulsion during landing. Zhurong joined NASA’s Perseverance on Mars last month (though the rovers are over a thousand miles apart), making China the second country to land and operate a rover on the planet. It’s expected to keep exploring for about 90 days, and it will capture more images while it analyzes the Martian climate and geology. Perseverance also sent along some glamour shots of its own in April, though it used a robotic arm (a selfie stick, if you will) rather than setting a camera down and backing away from it. This one is a family photo of both the rover and its little helicopter companion, Ingenuity. NASA details how the selfie was made in this blog post with videos. Perseverance and Ingenuity in a selfie stitched together from 62 individual images. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS And here’s Perseverance’s “face” against the serene panorama of Mars. The planet might be a lonely place, but it makes for a rather scenic backdrop. Perseverance gazes into the camera. Image: NASA / JPL (panorama stitch by Joey Roulette / The Verge) China’s Zhurong rover sends a selfie from Mars
  5. China is about to try a high-stakes landing on Mars Tianwen-1, China’s first mission to orbit the red planet, is set to release a rover called Zhurong on a harrowing descent to the surface. China's Mars landing platform and Zhurong rover are seen in an illustration released in 2016 by the Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. The rover is named after the god of fire in ancient Chinese mythology, which echoes the Chinese name of the red planet, Huoxing, meaning the planet of fire. ILLUSTRATION BY XINHUA VIA GETTY IMAGES China is all set to attempt its first landing on another planet. After months in orbit around Mars, the Tianwen-1 spacecraft will deposit a rover called Zhurong on the surface of Mars. If successful, China will become the second country in history to explore the Martian surface with a rover. Tianwen-1 arrived at Mars on February 10, marking the arrival of China’s first independent interplanetary mission. Since then, Tianwen-1 has been making close approaches to Mars every 49 hours as it flies in an elliptical orbit around the planet, each time taking high-resolution images of the landing site in Utopia Planitia, a vast plain that may once have been covered by an ancient Martian ocean. Chinese officials have said the landing attempt would take place in mid-to-late May, and a report on Twitter quoted Ye Peijian of the China Association for Science and Technology saying the landing will take place on May 14 at 7:11 p.m. ET. This aligns with estimates from amateur radio astronomers tracking the spacecraft. Landing zone China’s Tianwen-1 is targeting the broad, flat expanse of Utopia Planitia as its landing site. Matthew W. Chwastyk, NGM Staff Sources: NASA/JPL; CNSA/PEC Mission scientists have been analyzing the topography and geology of Utopia Planitia to guide the spacecraft’s landing attempt, and if they decide not to attempt a landing on May 14, they will have additional opportunities on May 16 and May 18. Named for an ancient Chinese fire god, the 529-pound Zhurong rover is similar in size to NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which landed on the red planet in 2004 and sent back exciting images and data about the planet’s surface conditions. China’s rover could make additional important discoveries concerning water and past habitability on the planet, paving the way for future human missions to Mars. “Landing safely on Mars is a huge challenge, especially for China's first soft landing attempt,” says Long Xiao, a planetary scientist at the China University of Geosciences. “But it is a necessary step for Mars and deep-space exploration.” A harrowing descent Successfully descending to the surface of Mars is an extraordinary challenge. Only NASA has safely landed and operated spacecraft on the Martian surface; in 1971, the Soviet Mars 3 lander transmitted half of a photo before falling silent about 100 seconds into the mission. By landing and roving on Mars, China hopes to jump ahead of a number of spacefaring peers. But first, the Zhurong rover must make it through the so-called “seven minutes of terror,” the time from atmospheric entry to landing on the surface. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) can only watch the autonomous landing unfold from nearly 200 million miles away—so far away that it takes 18 minutes to receive a signal from Mars—and hope everything goes to plan. Zhurong sits attached to its orbiter companion, encased in an aeroshell designed to protect the vehicle on its way through the Martian atmosphere. After it gets released and endures a fiery atmospheric entry, a huge parachute will deploy to further slow the rover’s descent. Then a landing platform holding the rover will fire up rocket engines to make the final descent to the surface. A laser range finder and 3D scanner will provide altitude and terrain data while cameras are used to autonomously choose a place to land. As part of its Chang'e-3 mission to the moon, China successfully set down a robotic lander and deployed its first lunar rover in 2013. PHOTO MOSAIC BY CHINESE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, CHINA NATIONAL SPACE ADMINISTRATION, THE SCIENCE AND APPLICATION CENTER FOR MOON AND DEEPSPACE EXPLORATION, EMILY LAKDAWALLA OF THE PLANETARY SOCIETY AND ANDREW BODROV, VIA GETTY IMAGES Mars is significantly harder to land on than the moon, says Michel Blanc at the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in France. But China has had a series of successful lunar missions that bode well for the Mars landing. Chang’e-4, history’s first landing on the lunar far side in 2019, required “high technological capacity” in artificial intelligence and autonomous hazard avoidance, Blanc notes. As well, the rocket engines on Zhurong are similar to those China used to safely land three spacecraft on the moon. Those technologies, along with the supersonic parachutes China has used to return astronauts from Earth orbit in space capsules, set up CNSA to make the attempt at a Martian touchdown. A new rover on Mars Once Zhurong’s six wheels roll off the landing platform and onto the Martian dust, the rover will expand its foldable, butterfly-like solar panels and explore the area for a primary mission lasting three months. The vehicle could work well beyond this conservative goal however—the solar-powered Spirit and Opportunity rovers had primary missions of about 90 days, and they each ended up exploring Mars for years. Utopia Planitia, thought to be the site of an ancient sea, has sedimentary layers that could contain evidence of past water. Even more exciting, these layers of rock could contain traces of any past life on Mars, says James Head III, a planetary scientist at Brown University. “Because the pre-selected landing site is close to an ancient ocean shoreline, and distinct from others, the science data will uncover more secrets of Mars,” Long says. The site compliments the research being carried out by NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers in the ancient lakes of Gale and Jezero craters, respectively, Head adds. The Zhurong rover carries a suite of six instruments. A pair of panoramic cameras and a multispectral imager will provide information about the terrain and its composition, while an instrument with a laser will vaporize rocks to analyze their makeup, similar to the laser spectrometers aboard Curiosity and Perseverance. A magnetometer will measure magnetic fields in tandem with an instrument on the orbiter, and a climate station will measure the local atmosphere, temperature, pressure, wind, and sound on Mars. One of the most exciting instruments aboard the rover, however, is a ground-penetrating radar, which will be used to search for pockets of water or ice below the surface. Head notes that NASA’s Viking 2 lander, which set down in a region slightly north of Zhurong’s landing site in 1975, imaged fascinating phenomena, including ice contractions and frosts on the surface of Mars, and polygon patterned terrain which may have been created by contractions of subsurface ice with changing seasons. Zhurong’s ground-penetrating radar will ping the surface with two different frequencies and pick up echo data from layers below, peering down to 33 feet to search for ices or briny waters underground. “Tianwen-1 is likely to be able to explore and detect any subsurface snow and ice using its payload,” Head says. Such pockets of ice could prove valuable for future crewed missions, and any pockets of water or brine, shielded from radiation on the surface, may provide habitats for simple lifeforms. The next chapter of Chinese space exploration China will openly share the data from Tianwen-1 and Zhurong the same way it has shared data from its lunar exploration missions, Long says, benefiting planetary scientists around the world. The mission will also set the stage for China’s next planned voyage to Mars—an audacious sample-return attempt scheduled to launch around 2028. Beyond Mars, the country has plans to launch a Jupiter probe, including a possible landing on the moon Callisto, to collect samples from a near-Earth asteroid, and to send a pair of Voyager-like spacecraft toward the edges of the solar system. “In the age of ocean exploration, China has a history of Zheng He's voyages to Southeast Asia and Africa,” says Zhang Xiaoping, associate professor at the State Key Laboratory of Lunar and Planetary Sciences of the Macau University of Science and Technology, referring to early 15th-century expeditions. Zhang views China’s Mars mission as a continuation of these Ming Dynasty journeys. Tianwen-1 and Zhurong, he says, are ”of great significance for studying the unknown universe, stimulating the scientific enthusiasm of young people, stimulating the creativity of the whole country, enhancing the ability to explore the unknown, and expanding the living space of humanity.” Source: China is about to try a high-stakes landing on Mars
  6. China census: Data shows slowest population growth in decades COPYRIGHT GETTY IMAGES captionThe results add pressure on Beijing to boost measures for couples to have more babies China's population grew at its slowest pace in decades, according to government data released on Tuesday. The average annual growth rate was 0.53% over the past 10 years, down from a rate of 0.57% between 2000 and 2010 - bringing the population to 1.41bn. The results add pressure on Beijing to boost measures for couples to have more babies and avert a population decline. The results were announced in a once-a-decade census, which was originally expected to be released in April. The census was conducted in late 2020 where some seven million census takers had gone door-to-door to collect information from Chinese households. Given the sheer number of people surveyed, it is considered the most comprehensive resource on China's population, which is important for future planning. What do we know about China's birth rate? Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that 12 million babies were born last year - a significant decrease from the 18 million newborns in 2016. However he added that it was "still a considerable number". Mr Ning added that a lower fertility rate is a natural result of China's social and economic development. As countries become more developed, birth rates tend to fall due to education or other priorities such as careers. Its neighbouring countries Japan and South Korea, for example, have also seen birth rates fall to record lows in recent years despite various government incentives for couples to have more children. Last year, South Korea recorded more deaths than births for the first time in history, raising fresh alarm in a country which already has the world's lowest birth rate. Shrinking populations are problematic due to the inverted age structure, with more old people than the young. When that happens, there won't be enough workers in the future to support the elderly, and there may be an increased demand for health and social care. Hasn't China already been trying to improve this? Yes. In 2016, the government ended a controversial one-child policy and allowed couples to have two children. But the reform failed to reverse the country's falling birth rate despite a two-year increase immediately afterwards. Ms Yue Su, principal economist from The Economist Intelligence Unit, said: "While the second-child policy had a positive impact on the birth rate, it proved short-term in nature." There had been expectations that China might scrap the family planning policy altogether along with the new census results, but this did not happen. A report by the Financial Times in April also quoted people familiar with the matter as saying the census would reveal a population decline. This did not happen with the 2020 report but experts have told various media outlets that it could still happen over the next few years. "It will in 2021 or 2022, or very soon," Huang Wenzhang, a demography expert at the Centre for China and Globalisation told Reuters. COPYRIGHT GETTY IMAGES An ageing China may mean that there won't be enough workers in the future to support the elderly China's population trends have over the years been largely shaped by the one-child policy, which was introduced in 1979 to slow population growth. Families that violated the rules faced fines, loss of employment and sometimes forced abortions. What else have we learnt? China's working-age population - which it defines as people aged between 16 and 59 - has also declined by 40 million as compared to the last census in 2010. But chief methodologist Zeng Yuping said that the total size "remains big" with 880 million. "We still have an abundant labour force," he said. However, economist Ms Yue warned that going forward, continued drops in the labour force "will place a cap on China's potential economic growth." She added: "The demographic dividend that propelled the country's economic rise over recent decades is set to dissipate quickly." After a few extra weeks in which officials were reportedly working to "prepare" the numbers and help to "set the agenda" the bottom line is the number of Chinese in China is growing - just. Most of that is people getting older - and staying older. There was a small increase in the number of under 14s, a vindication of the decision to end the one-child policy in 2015, according to the government's census chief. But state media is already talking about the population beginning to fall next year. This is not a demographic change unique to China, but with the biggest population in the world and an economy that it's trying to make more reliant on domestic consumption, this is a particularly salient issue. China's Communist leaders have already said retirement age will need to go up to deal with those demands and costs. This could mean more work to come for the country's workers. Experts warned that any impact on China's population, such as a decline, could have a vast effect on other parts of the world. Dr Yi Fuxian, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said: "China's economy has grown very quickly, and many industries in the world rely on China. The scope of the impact of a population decline would be very wide." Source: China census: Data shows slowest population growth in decades
  7. NASA criticizes China's handling of rocket re-entry as debris lands near Maldives New York (CNN Business)NASA has lambasted China for its failure to "meet responsible standards" after debris from its out-of-control rocket likely plunged into the Indian Ocean Saturday night. "Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations," said NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson in a statement released on the space agency's website Sunday. "China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris," he added. Most of the huge Long March 5B rocket, however, burned up on reentering the atmosphere, the China Manned Space Engineering Office said in a post on WeChat, before landing just west of the Maldives. It was unclear if any debris had landed on the atoll nation. The US Space Command said the Long March 5B had reentered Earth over the Arabian Peninsula. The rocket, which is about 108 feet tall and weighs nearly 40,000 pounds, had launched a piece of a new Chinese space station into orbit on April 29. After its fuel was spent, the rocket had been left to hurtle through space uncontrolled until Earth's gravity dragged it back to the ground. Generally, the international space community tries to avoid such scenarios. Most rockets used to lift satellites and other objects into space conduct more controlled reentries that aim for the ocean, or they're left in so-called "graveyard" orbits that keep them in space for decades or centuries. But the Long March rocket is designed in a way that "leaves these big stages in low orbit," said Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Astrophysics Center at Harvard University. In this case, it was impossible to be certain exactly when or where the booster would land. The European Space Agency had predicted a "risk zone" that encompassed "any portion of Earth's surface between about 41.5N and 41.5S latitude" — which included virtually all of the Americas south of New York, all of Africa and Australia, parts of Asia south of Japan and Europe's Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. The threat to populated areas of land was not negligible, but fortunately the vast majority of Earth's surface area is consumed by oceans, so the odds of avoiding a catastrophic run-in were slim. The rocket is one of the largest objects in recent memory to strike the Earth after falling out of orbit, following a 2018 incident in which a piece of a Chinese space lab broke up over the Pacific Ocean and the 2020 reentry of an 18-metric-ton Long March 5B rocket. Despite recent efforts to better regulate and mitigate space debris, Earth's orbit is littered with hundreds of thousands of pieces of uncontrolled junk, most of which are smaller than 10 centimeters. Objects are constantly falling out of orbit, though most pieces burn up in the Earth's atmosphere before having a chance to make an impact on the surface. But parts of larger objects, like the Long March rocket in this instance, can survive reentry and threaten structures and people on the ground. "Norms have been established," McDowell said. "There's no international law or rule — nothing specific — but the practice of countries around the world has been: 'Yeah, for the bigger rockets, let's not leave our trash in orbit in this way.'" CNN's Paul LeBlanc contributed Source: NASA criticizes China's handling of rocket re-entry as debris lands near Maldives
  8. China's emissions now exceed all the developed world's combined Emissions , Bloomberg News China now accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all of the world’s developed nations combined, according to new research from Rhodium Group. China’s emissions of six heat-trapping gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, rose to 14.09 billion tons of CO2 equivalent in 2019, edging out the total of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development members by about 30 million tons, according to the New York-based climate research group. The massive scale of China’s emissions highlights the importance of President Xi Jinping’s drive to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and reach net-zero by 2060. China accounted for 27 per cent of global emissions. The U.S., the second biggest emitter, contributed 11 per cent while India for the first time surpassed the European Union with about 6.6 per cent of the global total. Still, China also has the world’s largest population, so its per capita emissions remain far less than those of the U.S. And on a historical basis, OECD members are still the world’s biggest warming culprits, having pumped four times more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than China since 1750. “China’s history as a major emitter is relatively short compared to developed countries, many of which had more than a century head start,” the researchers said. “Current global warming is the result of emissions from both the recent and more distant past.” Source: China's emissions now exceed all the developed world's combined
  9. China's first 7nm GPGPU is ready to go against AMD and Nvidia Not for consumers, but definitely impressive on paper In brief: Tianshu Zhixin Semiconductor, a fabless joint venture between Via Technologies and the Shanghai municipal government, has revealed what appears to be China's first 7nm GPGPU, a gargantuan chip that's supposed to compete with the likes of Nvidia A100 and AMD MI100 in the data center. China is on a quest for "technological self-sufficiency," and the trade war with the US has only accelerated that process. China is capable of covering over 20 percent of the chips needed in the local industry, but the government plans to increase that number to 70 percent by 2025. One example of that is using aging chips while its semiconductor industry catches up, turning to Japan for etching equipment that would otherwise be considered obsolete. Last year, we saw the arrival of an impressive x86 CPU courtesy of government-backed Zhaoxin, which showed just how much progress has been made on that front. We've also heard about Huawei working hard to develop server GPUs, but things have been relatively quiet ever since the tech giant lost access to key suppliers such as TSMC. Tianshu Zhixin was known to be making progress on the first general-purpose GPU designed in China, dubbed "Big Island." The ongoing chip shortage only allowed the company to do a paper launch in March, but what's interesting about these chips is that they're supposedly able to compete with Nvidia and AMD's GPU at the highest end. Big Island GPUs aren't technically designed to go against RTX and Radeon gaming graphics cards, but instead they're geared towards machine learning, high performance computing, medical research, and security. This means they're meant to go against the likes of Nvidia's A100 and AMD's Instinct MI100, both of which are gargantuan chips designed for the data center and offer an order of magnitude the performance of previous generation architectures, while taking a lot less space and power to operate. Big Island was developed between 2018 and 2020, built using TSMC's 7nm process node and 2.5D CoWoS packaging. They also utilize TSMC's 65 nm silicon interposer, and feature no less than 24 billion transistors. Just like AMD and Nvidia, Tianshu Zhixin has equipped its GPGPU with 32 GB of HBM2 memory (1.2 TB per second bandwidth) and made it compatible with the PCIe 4.0 standard. The claimed performance of the Chinese GPGPU seems to be impressive. When it comes to FP16 (half precision math) performance, it is capable of 147 teraflops, which sits right between Nvidia A100's 78 teraflops and AMD MI100's 184.6 teraflops -- although it should be noted the A100's Tensor cores are capable of 312 FP16 teraflops. When it comes to FP32 workloads, Big Island should be capable of up to 37 teraflops, which is higher than both the A100 and MI100, which offer 19.5 teraflops and 23.1 teraflops, respectively. Power consumption is rated at 300 watts, and Tianshu Zhixin says the new GPU will offer a better price-to-performance ratio than competing solutions. Time will tell if this is indeed true and China has hit such an important milestone in its quest to reduce its reliance on foreign semiconductors. Source: China's first 7nm GPGPU is ready to go against AMD and Nvidia
  10. Vaccine passports to travel freely are still a dream—except in China After being cooped up for a year, people the world over are daring to dream about traveling internationally again. They see newly distributed COVID-19 vaccines as their long-awaited tickets to freedom, with the power to unlock closed borders and bypass soul-crushing hotel quarantines. Freddy Chua, a Singaporean financier living in Hong Kong, told Fortune in February that the prospect of returning home motivated him to get vaccinated on the first day of Hong Kong’s vaccine campaign. “[My wife and I] hope that we won’t have to quarantine for 14 or 21 days” when visiting Singapore, Chua said. But that fantasy will require paperwork: a so-called vaccine passport that will validate an individual’s inoculated status and liberate them from pandemic-era travel restrictions. Policymakers and health officials have teased such documentation and the freedom of movement it could bestow as reasons to get a COVID-19 vaccine. But the practical challenges of rolling out a vaccine passport—Should it be analog or digital? Is it universally recognized? What about privacy concerns?—mean its tantalizing promise is proving difficult to realize. In Europe, government officials are negotiating the details of a digital vaccine passport agreement but have hit snags on issues like how to ensure data privacy and the ethics of limiting travel among those who aren’t eligible for vaccines. In the U.S., airline and business groups are pressuring the Biden administration to be a “leader” in developing a vaccine passport system. President Joe Biden signed an executive order instructing a committee to investigate how a vaccine passport system might work in January, but the White House has yet to announce any results or publicly endorse such a scheme. In China, meanwhile, a vaccine passport system is already taking shape. Dubbed “international travel health certificates,” the scheme launched nationwide on Monday as a free app. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi buried the announcement deep in an hour and a half long press conference on the sidelines of China’s Two Sessions annual political summit on March 7. Hours later, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released instructions on how to download the vaccine passport mini-program, built on China’s Tencent-owned WeChat messaging app. But the Chinese government, with the help of Tencent, developed the system in a black box, without input from any international organizations or foreign countries. Currently, China’s vaccine passports don’t have the power to permit international travel. And as other governments raise concerns about China’s data privacy practices and experts question the efficacy of China’s vaccines, it’s unclear if they ever will. Going global China’s international travel health certificates are QR codes displayed via a mini-program on WeChat’s app. When scanned, the certificates link to a record of the user’s vaccine and COVID-19 test history, collated by China’s National Health Commission. Its design is similar to the track-and-trace systems Chinese authorities devised last year to monitor citizens’ risk for COVID-19. Many track-and-trace systems designed by other countries either never got off the ground or failed altogether. A report issued on Wednesday by the U.K. Parliament found that the government’s national contact tracing scheme had “no clear impact” on reducing transmission despite its budget of $51 billion over two years. China’s track-and-trace system, on the other hand, was a success because it was all but mandatory for anyone wanting to visit a restaurant or enter a housing complex. Plus, the two platforms that facilitated the system’s QR codes—WeChat and rival Alipay—were already ubiquitous in China, making adoption almost frictionless. But China’s track-and-trace apps were built entirely for domestic use and never needed outside validation. Vaccine passports, meanwhile, are mostly useless unless other countries decide to accept them. On Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters that “many countries and some international organizations” have expressed “readiness” to recognize China’s new vaccine passport, but currently no foreign authorities have signed on publicly. One potential hang-up is not necessarily the system itself but the soundness of what a Chinese vaccine passport professes to prove: that its holder is protected against COVID-19. “Given the lack of transparency [in Chinese vaccine development]…other countries may raise the concern of whether to recognize China’s immunity passport,” says Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. Beijing has approved four vaccines for domestic use, two from state-owned vaccine maker Sinopharm and one each from the private firms CanSino and Sinovac. None of the manufacturers, however, have published data on their vaccines in peer-reviewed medical journals, a fact that has drawn criticism from foreign leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron. And therein lies the enormous challenge of any vaccine passport system. It asks countries to recognize another nation’s vaccine as legitimate and effective, even if it hasn’t authorized the vaccine itself—a big ask considering the global patchwork of vaccine approvals. Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at Hong Kong University, says that it may be difficult for governments to make determinations on immunity given the varying efficacy rates of different vaccines. For example, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that’s being distributed in the U.S. and 70 other countries is 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections, while China’s Sinovac vaccine is just over 50% effective. “[Difference in efficacy rates] is a limitation specifically for vaccine passports because the idea is to prevent people from entering a country even if they have only a mild form of infection,” Cowling says, adding that the level of contagion in a visitor’s country of departure will be another risk factor. China says it will negotiate acceptance of its vaccine passports on a country-by-country basis, and it may find plenty of willing participants among the roughly 40 countries that have struck deals to use China-made vaccines. But there may also be limits to how much its vaccine passport program can scale via one-off deals with other governments. “[Vaccine passports have] to be coordinated at an international level, ideally, through multilateral means,” says Huang, noting that negotiating at a bilateral level is both costly and time consuming. But, thus far, multilateral discussions aren’t proving to be any easier, and the world’s leading health authority, the World Health Organization (WHO), seems reluctant to endorse such a system. “I think there are real practical and ethical considerations that countries will have to address [before introducing vaccine passports],” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said at a press conference on March 7, explaining that the WHO likely will not recommend the passports until vaccines are distributed widely and equitably. That could be a long way off. In January, the Economist Intelligence Unit estimated that 85 of the world’s poorest countries will not achieve widespread vaccination until 2023 or later. Off the ground But China isn’t the only nation pushing ahead with an independent passport scheme. On Monday, Singapore flag carrier Singapore Airlines announced it would be the first airline in the world to validate vaccine records using the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Travel Pass: a mobile app that verifies COVID-19 health and vaccination records to facilitate international travel. JoAnn Tan, divisional vice president of business transformation at Singapore Airlines, said in a statement that the pilot scheme—which Singapore Airlines is using on flights between Singapore and London from March 13 to March 28—could help create an “industry standard” for digital health certificates in international travel. “If the pilot is successful, we will explore enabling customers to store their COVID-19 tests or vaccination certificates in the SingaporeAir mobile app,” a spokesperson for Singapore Airlines tells Fortune. Despite the WHO’s reluctance to rush into the development of vaccine passports, the IATA, a trade group representing 290 airlines, is urging the WHO to craft international standards for verifying proof of vaccine for its Travel Pass. In a note to Fortune, IATA’s head of corporate communications Albert Tjoeng says that each day without the standards “means the challenge gets bigger” in creating a system that governments around the world will accept. “This process needs to be accelerated,” he says. Tjoeng clarified that the Travel Pass is not a vaccine passport but rather a tool governments can use to verify vaccine records. “IATA is not pushing for vaccine passports nor is the IATA Travel Pass a vaccine passport,” Tjoeng says. “We do not believe that vaccinations should be mandated for anyone to fly.” In the next year, Cowling, the epidemiologist, says he hopes that vaccine coverage expands to the point that people won’t need to “worry about vaccine passports anymore,” because the world will have reached herd immunity. “The whole [vaccine passport] thing may only be a short-term measure anyway,” he says. However complicated to implement, countries are likely to continue experimenting with vaccine passports because a successful system could jump-start tourism and hospitality, sectors of the economy that urgently need a lifeline. In total, the IATA estimates that the pandemic’s reduction in air travel inflicted a $1.8 trillion blow to global GDP. Vaccine passports or global acceptance of a similar system may be the fastest way to begin recouping some of those losses. “For governments to reopen international borders without quarantine and restart aviation they need to be confident that they are mitigating the risk of importing COVID-19 and have confidence in a passenger’s verified COVID-19 status, be it [through] testing or vaccination,” says Tjoeng. “Vaccines will have a role to play in the recovery of international travel.” Source: Vaccine passports to travel freely are still a dream—except in China
  11. The Commerce Department reportedly says that US companies exporting gear to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation must first get a license to do so. The Beijing branch of Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation. US wariness of Chinese tech firms was underlined again Friday, when the Commerce Department sent a letter to companies in the states reportedly telling them they must get a license before exporting certain goods to China's largest chipmaker, because of concerns about military use of technology. The Commerce Department said in the letter that exports to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation "may pose an unacceptable risk of diversion to a military end use in the People's Republic of China," according to a Saturday report by The New York Times. Last year, the US placed restrictions on companies selling gear to Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, over concerns about Huawei's relationship with the Chinese government and fears that its equipment could be used to spy on other countries and companies. And popular video app TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is currently facing a potential ban in the US because of worries that the user data it collects could be shared with China's communist government. Both Huawei and ByteDance have called such concerns baseless. The Times notes that though SMIC is China's most technologically advanced manufacturer of semiconductors, it lags years behind industry-leading chipmakers and can't make chips that support the most cutting-edge applications. And for the processors it does make, it relies on equipment and software from American companies, the Times said. Asked about the Commerce Department's letter and the new export restrictions, a spokesperson for the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security said in a statement to CNET that the BIS can't comment "on any specific matter." The BIS "is constantly monitoring and assessing any potential threats to US national security and foreign policy interests," the spokesperson added, and "will take appropriate action as warranted," along with its interagency partners. SMIC didn't immediately respond to CNET's request for comment, but a spokeswoman for the company told the Times that SMIC makes chips solely for commercial and civilian purposes and has no relationship with China's armed forces. Source
  12. The MPA, RIAA, and other entertainment industry groups, would like China to tweak its copyright law and open the door to pirate site blocking. The groups propose several other changes and want the Chinese Government to encourage local tech giant Baidu to implement rigorous filtering technology while terminating repeat infringers. The American copyright industry generates billions of dollars in annual revenue and is generally seen as one of the primary export products. Whether it’s movies, music, software or other goods, US companies are among the market leaders. This position has also made the US a leader when it comes to international copyright law and regulations. All around the world, laws have been tweaked and altered to accommodate the interests of major copyright holders. These changes are usually the result of diplomatic pressure where major US companies get help from the US Government to protect their interests. For example, last year the USTR launched a review of South Africa’s copyright protection policies, with the threat of potential trade sanctions. At the moment, the USTR is working on its annual review of China to see whether the country complies with its World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations. This triggered a response from various stakeholders, including several of the leading copyright groups. One of the most detailed submissions comes from the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), which counts copyright groups including the MPA, RIAA, and ESA among its members. Their submission highlights that China has made some progress in recent years on various copyright issues, but more can be done. Earlier this year China’s National People’s Congress released a draft bill to amend the country’s copyright law. This includes a wide variety of changes that are positive, IIPA notes, but there’s a detailed list of shortcomings too. “While there are other positive aspects of the draft amendments—including enhanced remedies against infringement, increased damages, and the addition of punitive damages—the draft amendments do not address a number of deficiencies in China’s legal framework,” IIPA writes. The key demands related to the copyright law amendments are summarized in the bulleted list below, which the IIPA handily provided. For example, the US copyright groups would like China’s copyright law to support “no-fault” injunctions, so Chinese ISPs can be ordered to block pirate sites that are hosted overseas or operated by unknown persons. This is an interesting demand, as these same “no-fault” injunctions don’t exist under US law. This is one of the main reasons why pirate sites are not blocked in the United States. IIPA also suggests updating China’s law to extend the copyright term, which is currently the life of the author plus 50 years. According to the copyright holders, this should be extended by a minimum of 20 years. Changes to China’s copyright law should further allow for stronger enforcement options to tackle pirate apps and websites, which remain a problem. The submission calls out a long list of pirate sites and services, including 3dmgame.com, zimuzu.tv,25 btbtdy.net trix360.com, 92flac.com, sq688.com, 51ape.com dygod.net, ygdy8.com, gaoqing.la, mp4ba.com, btbtt.co, piahua.com, vodxc.com, lbdly.com, yymp3.com, musicool.cn, xh127.com, b9good.com, dygang.com, and many others. The liability of online service providers is another topic IIPA would like China to address. Current law already covers secondary liability for ISPs, but IIPA suggests that the law should be clarified to “ensure more predictable liability decisions by Chinese judges.” Some service providers are called out specifically by the copyright groups. They include Chinese technology giant Baidu, and specifically, its the cloud-storage service Baidu Pan. According to IIPA, Baido Pan is regularly used by pirates and the notice and takedown system hasn’t been effective in deterring this problem. The Chinese Government should step up and convince the company to use rigorous filtering technology to deal with this. “China’s government should encourage Baidu to do more, including improving implementation of its takedown tools, applying rigorous filtering technology to identify infringing content, and taking more effective action to suspend or terminate repeat infringers to ensure infringing content and links are removed expeditiously,” IIPA writes. IIPA’s wishlist doesn’t come as a surprise. Also, since it’s merely a submission to the USTR, these demands may never reach the Chinese Government. And even if they do, China may not be very receptive. Generally speaking, China is very cautious when it comes to outside influence within its borders. This is also reflected in IIPA’s own submission, which notes that foreign anti-piracy groups are prohibited from investigating piracy in China. — A copy of IIPA’s submission to the US Trade Representative, which overed a wide range of other IP-issues, is available here (pdf) Source: TorrentFreak
  13. More than 3,000 people have been diagnosed with brucellosis, caused by drinking unpasteurised milk or contact with livestock. Brucellosis was caused by a leak at a vaccine factory in Lanzhou. Pic: National Health Commission/Chinanews.com More than 3,000 people in northern China have been diagnosed with a bacterial infection after an outbreak caused by a leak at a biopharmaceutical company last year. Almost 22,000 people in the city of Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province, were tested and 3,245 came back positive for brucellosis, the National Health Commission (NHC) of Lanzhou has said. The infection is a highly contagious zoonosis, which according to the NHS website is caused by drinking unpasteurised milk or dairy products, or contact with bodily fluids of farm animals, such as cows, goats, sheep and pigs. Brucellosis can spread to humans from infected livestock, such as cows Symptoms include a high temperature, loss of appetite, sweating, headaches, extreme tiredness and back and joint pain. In a statement, the NHC said brucellosis was detected in November 2019, after a leak "caused by contaminated exhaust from a vaccine factory in Lanzhou, due to the use of expired disinfectant from late-July to mid-August last year". Staff at the Lanzhou Veterinary Research Institute, an institution of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences near the factory, were infected - according to a report released by the Gansu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention in late December. The NHC says in response, 11 public hospitals in the city offered "free examinations and treatment". Source
  14. BEIJING/SINGAPORE/SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) - China is preparing to launch an antitrust probe into Alphabet Inc's GOOGL.O Google, looking into allegations it has leveraged the dominance of its Android mobile operating system to stifle competition, two people familiar with the matter said. The case was proposed by telecommunications equipment giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd last year and has been submitted by the country’s top market regulator to the State Council’s antitrust committee for review, they added. A decision on whether to proceed with a formal investigation may come as soon as October and could be affected by the state of China’s relationship with the United States, one of the people said. The potential investigation follows a raft of actions by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to hobble Chinese tech companies, citing national security risks. This has included putting Huawei on its trade blacklist, threatening similar action for Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp 0981.HK and ordering TikTok owner ByteDance to divest the short-form video app. It also comes as China embarks on a major revamp of its antitrust laws with proposed amendments including a dramatic increase in maximum fines and expanded criteria for judging a company’s control of a market. A potential probe would also look at accusations that Google’s market position could cause “extreme damage” to Chinese companies like Huawei, as losing the U.S. tech giant’s support for Android-based operating systems would lead to loss of confidence and revenue, a second person said. The sources were not authorised to speak publicly on the matter and declined to be identified. Google did not provide immediate comment, while Huawei declined to comment. China’s top market regulator, the State Administration for Market Regulation, and the State Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment. EUROPE’S EXAMPLE The U.S. trade blacklist bars Google from providing technical support to new Huawei phone models and access to Google Mobile Services, the bundle of developer services upon which most Android apps are based. Google had a temporary licence that exempted it from the ban on Huawei but it expired in August. It was not immediately clear what Google services the potential probe would focus on. Most Chinese smartphone vendors use an open-source version of the Android platform with alternatives to Google services on their domestic phones. Google’s search, email and other services are blocked in China. Huawei has said it missed its 2019 revenue target by $12 billion, which company officials have attributed to U.S. actions against it. Seeking to overcome its reliance on Google, the Chinese firm announced plans this month to introduce its proprietary Harmony operating system in smartphones next year. Chinese regulators will be looking at examples set by their peers in Europe and in India if it proceeds with the antitrust investigation, the first source said. “China will also look at what other countries have done, including holding inquiries with Google executives,” said the person. The second source added that one learning point would be how fines are levied based on a firm’s global revenues rather than local revenues. The European Union fined Google 4.3 billion euros ($5.1 billion) in 2018 over anticompetitive practices, including forcing phone makers to pre-install Google apps on Android devices and blocking them from using rivals to Google’s Android and search engine. That decision prompted Google to give European users more choice over default search tools and giving handset makers more leeway to use competing systems. Indian authorities are looking into allegations that Google is abusing its market position to unfairly promote its mobile payments app. ($1 = 0.8524 euros) Source
  15. Just a few months ago, Huawei defied the blacklist odds and outsold rival Samsung for global smartphone shipments—initially for April and then for the entire second quarter. Huawei had finally achieved its ambition to reach that coveted world number one slot. But what a difference those last few months have made. The news this week that Samsung’s third-quarter profits are likely 58% up on last year, that smartphone sales have surged as markets have recovered, means that the Korean giant is likely to retake that top-spot from its Chinese rival. The two were neck and neck for sales in the second quarter, albeit Huawei edged very slightly ahead. China’s early recovery from its coronavirus shutdown proved to be the key. Now, at a headline level, Samsung is a huge beneficiary from Huawei’s U.S. woes. The latest blacklist restrictions to deny Huawei access to the chipsets needed to power its flagship smartphones looks set to decimate 2021 sales, when its current stockpiles run down. The latest of those flagships, the Mate 40, launches on October 22. Absent a U.S. U-turn, it will be the last device for some time to carry an in-house Kirin chipset—some reports even suggest there may not be enough left to meet Mate 40 demand. Huawei has already seen a sharp decline in smartphone sales to its hard-won export markets. The loss of Google software and services from its devices saw to that. It turns out that a cut-down version of Android doesn’t cut it when the full-fat alternative is available. The company’s focus on its HarmonyOS alternative to Android is the response, and that’s likely to find its way onto new (and existing) smartphones in 2021. If there are any new smartphones, of course. The cliff-edge in smartphone sales next year is pretty much a given, unless there’s a U.S. backtrack or Qualcomm secures a license and a fast platform redesign follows. Some reports suggest Huawei’s 200 million-plus devices might drop to a paltry 50 million units in 2021. And that’s some 150 million users who would be buying a Huawei device but will now go elsewhere. Huawei has survived, even thrived, through the first 18-months of the U.S. blacklist through stellar sales in its domestic market. By the second quarter this year, the company had secured a dizzying 46% share, and that was even higher in the premium segments. That has meant more than 70% of Huawei smartphones being sold in China. But this means that even if Huawei stopped exports to maintain its domestic market, it would not have enough chipsets to prevent a staggering decline in China. Hungry rivals Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo are standing by with plenty of new 5G handsets—and once tens of millions of Chinese users leave, they need to be won all over again. We have already seen this play out internationally. Xiaomi’s staggering export growth coinciding with Huawei’s staggering export decline is no coincidence. Xiaomi has been quick to replicate Huawei’s effective export strategy—premium smartphones at a lower than premium price to compete head on with Apple and Samsung. And Xiaomi has no loss of Google to contend with. It has found these prized marketplaces wide open. Huawei’s answer to this is to shift strategy. The company prized for the quality of its hardware is now reinventing itself as a software player—even an ecosystem player. This despite Huawei’s software boss Wang Chenglu acknowledging at a recent Huawei conference that “developing a good ecosystem is far harder than developing good technologies... We don't have a long history of software development in China.” Huawei’s focus on HarmonyOS and its HMS smartphone framework and app store to rival Apple’s and Google’s equivalents started as an ecosystem for its own devices, putting its own smartphones front and center. But with those restrictions on new smartphones—the new news is that HarmonyOS is going open-source, an alternative to Android’s AOSP. Huawei is playing a China card here, building a bridge, it says, between China and the rest of the world, to create more TikToks, to launch a genuine alternative to iOS and Android. But there’s an obvious twist. For this to work, Huawei needs to persuade other manufacturers to opt for its ecosystem, to adopt HarmonyOS. Those would be the same Chinese OEMs set to benefit from market-leading Huawei’s imminent decline. China itself may step in here and mandate or incentivize good behaviors, but left to its own devices, the market is only going to respond one way to this kind of conundrum. And that’s a major threat to Huawei’s new ecosystem strategy. Next year is critical for Huawei’s smartphone business, to say nothing of the billions of dollars of future profits hanging in the balance. The company has been talking “survival” since the turn of the year—now that hyperbole resonates more realistically. Huawei will undoubtedly persuade China’s IoT peripherals and gadget makers to jump aboard its new strategy. But it needs a smartphone solution and fast to give itself any chance of avoiding a lengthy and costly moratorium on sales and market relevance. What wouldn’t hurt in the interim would be a Joe Biden victory in America’s November election, and a softening, even ever so slightly, in the stranglehold the U.S. now has on Huawei’s business. A couple of temporary supplier licenses—any relaxation in restrictions—may be enough to buy some time. And, right now, time is running out almost as fast as those depleting stockpiles of chipsets. Source
  16. SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Apple’s iPhone 12 launch drew mixed reactions in mainland China on Wednesday, with fans cheering a 5G model for their favourite brand while others planned to wait for upcoming devices from local rivals like Huawei Technologies. The much-anticipated Apple launch comes in the wake of Chinese Android-platform brands such as Huawei and Xiaomi Corp having already rolled out higher-end 5G devices compatible with China’s upgraded telecoms networks, with the U.S. giant seen by some analysts to be late to the party. In its second-largest market by revenue, Apple’s announcement was feverishly discussed on social media. With over 6 billion views, the tag ‘iPhone12’ ranked as the no. 1 topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo. Asked if they’d buy the new iPhone, which will give Apple users 5G access in a market where such networks are already widespread, respondents to a Caijing magazine poll were almost evenly split: some 10,000 voted no, 9,269 said yes, and just over 5,400 said they were still considering it. Available for orders in China from Oct. 16, the iPhone 12 will cost 5,499 yuan ($815.37) for a ‘mini’ version, rising to as much as 11,899 yuan for the top of the range. That price tag was also a hot topic, with many complaining it was too expensive. “How is it this expensive even with no power charger or earbuds?,” said one commenter, referring to Apple’s announcement that it would leave out those components citing environmental reasons. Many Weibo users said they may put off ordering iPhone 12s to wait for the expected unveiling of Huawei’s rival Mate 40 Pro this month. Still, analysts said they were bullish about the iPhone 12’s reception in China, saying that the firm still likely had many loyal users who have postponed upgrading devices until the launch of the 5G-friendly iPhone 12. With the new model in view, research firm Canalys recently revised its forecast for iPhone shipments to China in fourth-quarter 2020 to a 14% year-on-year increase, a big swing from the 1% decrease it originally predicted. “In China now, 5G is not a premium feature, it’s a must-have feature,” said Nicole Peng, who tracks China’s smartphone sector at Canalys. Peng said the 5G launch will “trigger a new wave of phone replacements” for Apple in China before the end of the year and in first-quarter 2021. Canalys expects 50% of Chinese phone owners to be using a 5G device by the end of 2020, as networks and phone brands have aggressively pushed adoption. Only 29% of U.S. phone owners will be on 5G devices by the same time. Apple could also stand to benefit from a potential unravelling of its main high-end rival Huawei, which could see its smartphone division collapse next year due to U.S. restrictions on its supply of chips. Neil Shah, analyst at Counterpoint Research, said he expects Apple stands to benefit “significantly” from the potential gap which will be left due to the U.S. trade restrictions on Huawei to produce new phones at scale. On the flipside, there is lingering concern that Apple could be vulnerable to growing geopolitical tensions between the United States and China. Beijing is expected to unveil an ‘entity list’ that bars domestic companies from doing business with certain foreign companies amid industry speculation that Apple and other high-profile tech firms could be targeted. Throughout the past year though, consumer sentiment has yet to turn negative on Apple, even as Huawei’s troubles have made headlines in China. Apple’s unit shipments in China increased 35% year-on-year in China in the second quarter of 2020, according to Canalys. That made it the only top brand besides Huawei to see positive growth - a feat it achieved even without offering a 5G device. Source
  17. China moves forward with COVID-19 vaccine, approving it for use in military Early trial data suggests that vaccine is safe, but efficacy still unclear. Enlarge / Chinese President Xi Jinping learns about the progress on a COVID-19 vaccine during his visit to the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing on March 2, 2020. Getty | Xinhua News Agency 31 with 28 posters participating China has approved an experimental COVID-19 vaccine for use in its military after early clinical trial data suggested it was safe and spurred immune responses—but before larger trials that will test whether the vaccine can protect against SARS-CoV-2 infections. This marks the first time any country has approved a candidate vaccine for military use. China’s Central Military Commission made the approval June 25, which will last for a year, according to a filing reported by Reuters. The vaccine, developed by biotech company CanSino Biologics and the Chinese military, is a type of viral vector-based vaccine. That means researchers started with a viral vector, in this case a common strain of adenovirus (type-5), which typically causes mild upper respiratory infections. The researchers crippled the virus so that it doesn’t replicate in human cells and cause disease. Then, they engineered the virus to carry a signature feature of SARS-CoV-2—the coronavirus’s infamous spike protein, which juts out from the viral particle and allows the virus to get a hold on human cells. The idea is that, when the harmless vaccine virus is injected into the body, it will essentially present the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to the immune system, which can then develop anti-SARS-CoV-2 responses. Those include antibodies, which are Y-shaped proteins that surveil the body and detect previously encountered germ invaders by key features. Once a germ is detected, neutralizing antibodies can glom onto the germ and prevent it from sparking an infection. In a Phase 1 safety trial involving 108 people, the vaccine—dubbed Ad5-nCoV—proved safe and was able to spur the production of neutralizing antibodies and other immune responses. However, the study, published in The Lancet, also detected a potential foil for the vaccine candidate: in people who had been infected with Ad5 in their past, the vaccine didn’t generate as strong of a response to SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein. This may be because their immune systems quickly recognized the adenovirus and focused their responses on the viral vector, rather than the nefarious spike. CanSino said it had since completed a larger Phase 2 trial, looking at safety and efficacy, but has yet to release results, according to the South China Morning Post. The paper also noted that CanSino has reached an agreement with the Canadian government to conduct Phase 3 trials there. Those trials will look at efficacy and potential side effects in an even larger group of people. In the meantime, CanSino declined to say if members of the Chinese military would be required to receive the experimental vaccine or if it would be optional, according to Reuters. According to the latest tally by the World Health Organization, there are 17 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in clinical trials and 132 others in pre-clinical development. Many vaccines are being developed in China, but with the now-limited spread of the coronavirus there, researchers are working to conduct vaccine trials elsewhere, in areas still seeing heavy transmission. China moves forward with COVID-19 vaccine, approving it for use in military
  18. (Reuters) - China unveiled draft guidelines on Tuesday seeking to limit the scope of mobile apps’ collection of personal data in the latest attempt to curb the sprawling technology sector. The set of draft rules published by the Cyberspace Administration of China covers 38 types of apps from online shopping and instant messaging to ride-hailing and bike sharing. China has increased scrutiny of its technology sector in recent weeks, last month drafting anti-monopoly rules for tech firms. It has also expressed concerns about data protection and consumer rights, while authorities have on a number of occasions ordered apps to be suspended for mishandling user information. “In recent years, mobile internet applications have been widely used and have played an important role in promoting economic and social development and serving people’s livelihoods,” the cyber administration said in a statement. “At the same time, it is common for apps to collect ... personal information beyond their scope, and users cannot install and use them if they refuse to agree.” For ride-hailing apps, the draft rules regard a user’s phone number, or other personal identity information, as well as their location and destination, as falling within the scope of required information. Online payment apps, meanwhile, need the registered user’s phone number or other ID information, as well as the bank card numbers of both payer and payee, according to the draft rules, which are open to public feedback until Dec. 16. Source
  19. (Reuters) - A U.S. judge in San Francisco on Friday rejected a Justice Department request to reverse a decision that allowed Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google to continue to offer Chinese-owned WeChat for download in U.S. app stores. U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler said the government’s new evidence did not change her opinion about the Tencent app. As it has with Chinese video app TikTok, the Justice Department has argued WeChat threatens national security. WeChat has an average of 19 million daily active users in the United States. It is popular among Chinese students, Americans living in China and some Americans who have personal or business relationships in China. WeChat is an all-in-one mobile app that combines services similar to Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Venmo. The app is an essential part of daily life for many in China and boasts more than 1 billion users. The Justice Department has appealed Beeler’s decision permitting the continued use of the Chinese mobile app to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, but no ruling is likely before December. In a suit brought by WeChat users, Beeler last month blocked a U.S. Commerce Department order set to take effect on Sept. 20 that would have required the app to be removed from U.S. app stores. The Commerce Department order would also bar other U.S. transactions with WeChat, potentially making the app unusable in the United States. “The record does not support the conclusion that the government has ‘narrowly tailored’ the prohibited transactions to protect its national-security interests,” Beeler wrote on Friday. She said the evidence “supports the conclusion that the restrictions ‘burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the government’s legitimate interests.’” WeChat users argued the government sought “an unprecedented ban of an entire medium of communication” and offered only “speculation” of harm from Americans’ use of WeChat. In a similar case, a U.S. appeals court agreed to fast-track a government appeal of a ruling blocking the government from banning new downloads from U.S. app stores of Chinese-owned short video-sharing app TikTok. Source
  20. (Reuters) - Apple Inc’s announcement Thursday that iPhone sales were weaker than expected sent shares down 4% even as the tech company’s revenue and profit did better than Wall Street expected thanks to booming Mac and AirPods sales. FILE PHOTO: A customer has his temperature taken while in line outside an Apple Store to pick up Apple's new 5G iPhone 12, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Brooklyn, New York, U.S. October 23, 2020. Investors expected lower revenue from the Cupertino, California company’s bestselling product after delays left loyal fans clasping wallets shut while waiting weeks longer than usual to upgrade. But the hold-back was even worse than analyst had expected, with iPhone sales dropping 20.7% to $26.4 billion. Despite those delays, Apple has mostly beaten sales expectations this year and released a slew of new products and services that its customers have embraced while largely homebound during the pandemic. That carried over into the company’s top and bottom lines. Apple said revenue and profits for the fiscal fourth quarter ended on Sept. 26 was $64.7 billion and 73 cents per share, compared with analyst estimates of $63.7 billion and 70 cents per share, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. But the flagship iPhone 12’s announcement was delayed until Oct. 13, several weeks later than usual, meaning no opening-weekend iPhone sales are included in the fourth-quarter results. Analysts anticipated consumers would hold off on iPhone purchases ahead of new iPhone 12 models. Those devices feature 5G networking connectivity and are expected to be strong sellers as mobile carriers jump back into subsidizing device purchases to lure consumers into new 5G data plans. In an interview with Reuters, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said that he was “optimistic” about the iPhone 12 cycle based on the first five days of shipping data. “5G is a once-in-a-decade kind of opportunity. And we could not be more excited to hit the market exactly when we did,” Cook said. “At least in the U.S., the carriers are being very aggressive.” The iPhone 12 release timing drove down sales in Greater China to $7.95 billion from $11.13 billion the year before. Cook said all of Apple’s non-iPhone products grew in China and Apple expects sales to pick up there again. “What we’re seeing in the early going in the first five days gives us a lot of confidence that China will return to growth in our fiscal Q1,” Cook told Reuters. Apple has offset volatile iPhone sales in recent years with steady growth in its services segment, which includes streaming music and television. Services revenue rose 16.3% to $14.5 billion, compared with analyst estimates of $14 billion. Cook told Reuters that Apple One, a bundle of Apple’s paid services, will launch on Friday. Cook told Reuters that Apple has 585 million paying subscribers across its platforms, up from 550 million the previous quarter and closer to the goal of 600 million subscribers that the company set out for the end of calendar 2020. Apple did, however, announce a range of new Apple Watches and iPads that went on sale during the quarter. The pandemic-driven shift toward working, learning and consuming entertainment from home helped Apple post double-digit revenue increases in every non-iPhone product category as well as its services business, which includes its streaming television offering and forthcoming paid fitness service. It was the second straight quarter of growth across the non-iPhone hardware categories, some of which had experienced declines until a pandemic sales boom. Apple faces an uncertain fiscal first quarter with new lockdown orders issued in major European markets such as France and Germany on Wednesday. While the company has so far managed to keep sales booming with its retail stores in a state of flux, analysts have raised concerns that the lockdowns or their economic fallout could mute holiday iPhone sales. Apple’s Cook said the company gets a “tailwind” boost from having four new phone models at different price points - the most it has ever released in one fall season - that appeal to a variety of customers, and a “headwind” from having fewer weeks in the quarter to sell them. “COVID I would classify as kind of an unknown,” Cook said. Apple said revenue from its accessories segment was up 20.8% to $7.9 billion, compared with analyst estimates of a 13.5% rise to $7.4 billion, according to Refinitiv data. Mac and iPad sales rose to $9.0 billion and $6.8 billion, compared with estimates of $7.92 billion and $6.12 billion, according to Refinitiv data. “Mac had its best quarter ever in the history of the company,” Cook said. The company also said it had returned nearly $22 billion to shareholders in the quarter as it kept its target of reaching a new cash neutral position. Source
  21. Winning hacker team pockets $744,500 at the Tianfu Cup, China's top hacking contest. Many of today's top software programs have been hacked using new and never-before-seen exploits at this year's edition of the Tianfu Cup — China's largest and most prestigious hacking competition. Held in the city of Chengdu, in central China, the third edition of the Tianfu Cup ended earlier today. "Many mature and hard targets have been pwned on this year's contest," organizers said today. Successful exploits were confirmed against: iOS 14 running on an iPhone 11 Pro Samsung Galaxy S20 Windows 10 v2004 (April 2020 edition) Ubuntu Chrome Safari Firefox Adobe PDF Reader Docker (Community Edition) VMWare EXSi (hypervisor) QEMU (emulator & virtualizer) TP-Link and ASUS router firmware Image: Tianfu Cup Image: Tianfu Cup Fifteen teams of Chinese hackers participated in this year's edition. Contestants had three tries of five minutes each to hack into a selected target with an original exploit. For each successful attack, researchers received monetary rewards that varied depending on the target they chose and the vulnerability type. All exploits were reported to the software providers, per contest regulations, modeled after the rules of the more established Pwn2Own hacking competition that has been taking place in the west since the late 2000s. Patches for all the bugs demonstrated over the weekend will be provided in the coming days and weeks, as it usually happens after every TianfuCup and Pwn2Own contest. Just like last year, the winning team came from Chinese tech giant Qihoo 360. Named the "360 Enterprise Security and Government and (ESG) Vulnerability Research Institute," the winners accounted for almost two-thirds of the entire prize pool, going home with $744,500 of the total $1,210,000 awarded this year. Ranking second and third were the AntFinancial Lightyear Security Lab and security researcher Pang. Image: Tianfu Cup Source
  22. Data collection issue identified in Baidu Maps and Baidu Search Box apps, both removed from the Play Store in October 2020. Two Android applications belonging to Chinese tech giant Baidu have been removed from the official Google Play Store at the end of October after they've been caught collecting sensitive user details. The two apps —Baidu Maps and Baidu Search Box— were removed after Google received a report from US cyber-security firm Palo Alto Networks. Both apps had more than 6 million downloads combined before being removed. According to the US security firm, the two apps contained code that collected information about each user's phone model, MAC address, carrier information, and IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) number. The data collection code was found in the Baidu Push SDK, used to show real-time notifications inside both apps. Palo Alto Networks security researchers Stefan Achleitner and Chengcheng Xu, who identified the data collection code, said that while some of the collected information is "rather harmless," some data like the IMSI code "can be used to uniquely identify and track a user, even if that user switches to a different phone." The research team said that while the collection of personal user details is not specifically forbidden by Google's policy for Android apps after they reported the issue to Google, the Play Store security team confirmed their findings and "identified [additional] unspecified violations" in the two Baidu apps, which eventually led to the two apps being removed from the official store on October 28. At the time of writing, the Baidu Search Box app has been restored to the Play Store, but Palo Alto Networks said Baidu developers have removed the data collection code. But in addition to the Baidu Push SDK, the Palo Alto Networks team said they also identified similar data collection code in the ShareSDK developed by Chinese ad tech giant MobTech. Used by more than 37,500 apps, Achleitner and Xu say this SDK also allows app developers to collect data such as phone model information, screen resolution, MAC addresses, Android ID, Advertising ID, carrier info, and IMSI (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) and IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) codes. "Analysis of Android malware shows that SDKs, such as the Baidu Push SDK or ShareSDK, are frequently used by malicious applications to extract and transmit device data," Achleitner and Xu said, suggesting that while the SDKs may have been developed for legitimate purposes, such as pushing notifications and sharing content on social media, they are often abused by the developers of malicious apps. All in all, this is a regular problem not only for the Android ecosystem, but for the entire online app world, with many apps collecting sensitive user details without restriction in the absence of legislation that specifically prohibits such practices. Source
  23. If all goes as planned China's ambitious Chang'e 5 lunar sample return mission kicks off tonight with a launch from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province. The launch window opens at 20:00 UTC and follows the country's successful Chang'e 4 mission, which saw a soft landing on the far side of the Moon and the Yutu-2 trundlebot make its way across the lunar surface. While Yutu-2 may still be on the Moon, the plan for Chang'e 5 is to land and collect approximately 2kg of samples which will be returned to Earth via an ascent module. It will be the first chunk of Moon returned since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 of 1976. While Luna 24 managed to fire less than 200g of regolith back to Earth, NASA collected far more via the Apollo missions, which ended in 1972. Chang'e 5 is the sixth mission of the program and, according to China's space agency, "will be one of the most difficult and challenging endeavors China has ever embarked on." Indeed, unlike Luna 24, China has adopted an approach that will trigger a sense of déjà vu among Apollo fanciers. Weighing in at 8.2 metric tonnes, the Chang'e 5 spacecraft is composed of four components: an orbiter, lander, ascent module, and return capsule. Upon arrival at the Moon, the spacecraft will split into two parts. The orbiter and return capsule will remain in lunar orbit while the lander and ascent module make a soft landing on the surface in a massive lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum, or "Ocean of Storms." While not a rover, the lander will scrape up surface soil using a mechanical arm and, excitingly, use a drill to retrieve underground samples from as far down as two metres. The samples will then travel to lunar orbit aboard the ascent module, which will dock with the return capsule. The precious bits of Moon will be transferred to this return module which will carry them back to Earth. It is all terribly complicated but, if successful, the mission would make China the third nation to return a sample from the Moon to the Earth. Those expecting the lander to enjoy a life as long as Yutu-2 are in for disappointment. The lander is designed to operate for a single lunar day, making the timing of the launch critical. A return to Earth is expected in mid-December, with the capsule landing in the Siziwang Banner grassland of the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in China. Cattle graze in the vast grasslands of Inner Mongolia The design of the reentry system has already been checked out by Chang'e 5-T1, which was launched in 2014. Should things go well, plans are afoot for crewed missions and a sample return from Mars. Source
  24. As Beijing brings in another that regulates internet infomercials and stops teens buying their tat Imagine if Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Google supremo Sundar Pichai or Like-seeker-in-chief Mark Zuckerberg gave a major speech that heartily endorsed new government regulations - even though they make business harder - and argued they’re necessary, timely, and just. Take whatever picture just formed in your mind and transpose it to the Chinese city of Wuzhen and re-imagine the speaker as Daniel Zhang, chairman and chief executive of e-commerce leader Alibaba Group. For the venue of the speech consider the World Internet Conference, an annual state-backed digital chat-fest of sufficient importance that Chinese president Xi Xinping sent a congratulatory letter to celebrate the commencement of the annual event. Zhang’s contribution, in a widely-reported speech, was to praise China’s new Internet-focused antitrust laws. The CEO described the new laws - which improve consumer protections, require truth in advertising, and seek to ensure that competition remans possible in a market dominated by a handful of giants – as "timely and necessary". "Supervision allows platform enterprises to not only develop well on their own, but also helps the sustainable and healthy development of the entire society and creates innovation,” he reportedly added. Zhang’s remarks come after Beijing used new finance industry regulations to effectively veto the IPO Alibaba’s finance arm, Ant Group. The decision to stop the float has been interpreted as both a sign that Beijing is concerned about the impact of some loans that Ant facilitates and a display of power aimed at showing Alibaba who’s boss. Zhang praising regulation is therefore notable. China has more new regulations for Alibaba to consider, too. The nation’s National Television and Radio Administrator yesterday published new rules to govern “live-streaming” – the web infomercials that are currently booming for Chinese e-tailers. The new rule requires streamers to provide proper consumer protections, promote only reputable products, classify their output using a list of approved genres, avoid risqué content and require buyers to register their real names. Teens, a substantial source of custom, have been barred from shopping on such services. Alibaba made much of the many live-streamers who participated in its recent 11.11 unseemly orgy of consumption global shopping festival. Presumably Zhang has no problems with these new rules either. Source
  25. GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization’s top emergency expert said on Friday it would be “highly speculative” for the WHO to say the coronavirus did not emerge in China, where it was first identified in a food market in December last year. China is pushing a narrative via state media that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in the central city of Wuhan, citing the presence of coronavirus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers claiming it had been circulating in Europe last year. “I think it’s highly speculative for us to say that the disease did not emerge in China,” Mike Ryan said at a virtual briefing in Geneva after being asked if COVID-19 could have first emerged outside China. “It is clear from a public health perspective that you start your investigations where the human cases first emerged,” he added, saying that evidence might then lead to other places. He repeated that the WHO intended to send researchers to the Wuhan food market to probe the virus origins further. The WHO has been accused by the Trump administration of being “China-centric”, allegations it has repeatedly denied. Source
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