Syria Vote, Panama Raid, Bye-Bye Kobe


Voting is underway in 12 of Syria’s 14 provinces where government institutions are still functioning, with voters required to choose 250 members of parliament among 3,500 candidates, AP reports. Supporters of President Bashar al-Assad are expected to win the vote, which has been dismissed by Western leaders as a sham. The election takes place while peace negotiations are due to resume in Geneva, and amid a recent multiplication of ceasefire breaches for which all warring sides are trading blame.


Police raided the Panama City offices of Mossack Fonseca, the law firm at the center of the Panama Papers scandal, looking for evidence of money laundering and financing of terrorism, The Wall Street Journal reports. Panama’s government had said after the first revelations emerged last week that it would investigate the claims, despite Mossack Fonseca denying all wrongdoing. Prosecutors told the BBC, the operation Tuesday was carried out “without incident or interference.”


Is there a way for tax havens like Panama to give up their sheltering services? Swiss daily Le Temps goes across the border for a visit to the tiny nation of Liechtenstein, which has largely given up on hiding other people’s money over the past five years. "We've gone from 90,000 companies to about 40,000 now," explains Katja Gey, director of the Principality's Office of International Financial Affairs in the capital Vaduz. The interest in these structures has largely vanished since Liechtenstein gave up on attracting undeclared money. While the Panama Papers are rocking the offshore world, Liechtenstein seems to show us another way. It's been a largely forced march towards conformity that allows Liechtenstein to look down not only on Panama the straggler, but also on Switzerland, of which it long was a satellite.” Read the full article: Liechtenstein, When A Tax Haven Rights Its Ways And Sheds Its Shells


“Today, we commit to this next great leap into the cosmos, because we are human, and our nature is to fly,” scientist Stephen Hawking told a press conference in New York yesterday, as he announced his support for a $100 million program to send iPhone-sized spacecrafts to the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, a mere 4.37 light years away. Russian billionaire Yuri Milner and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg are also behind the project.


Austrian authorities have announced that construction has begun on the building of a border management system at the Italian border, amid concern that the closure of the Balkan route is redirecting the flow of migrants to Italy. Italian coastguards said yesterday that they had rescued about 4,000 migrants trying to reach its shores from Tunisia in the previous 48 hours. In Greece meanwhile, about 6,000 migrants have taken shelter inside a former Athens airport, and the site’s management is concerned over potential health hazard due to the overcrowding.


What do Pocahontas, Henry IV of France and Samuel Beckett have in common? They're all in today's shot of history!


Another day, another blow for Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff. The leftist leader, who will face an impeachment vote on Sunday, has lost the support of another coalition partner, the Progressive Party, and a vast majority of its 47 MPs will vote against Rousseff, O Globo reports. According to Folha de S. Paulo, government ministers were yesterday considering the impeachment battle as “virtually lost.”


Former Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner is expected to appear in court later today after she became a suspect in a corruption case, La Nación reports. Kirchner will face questions over her alleged role in the sale of $17 billion worth of dollar futures contracts at artificially low prices.


Kobe Bryant will play a regular-season NBA game for the 1,346th and last time tonight when the Los Angeles Lakers face Utah Jazz. Looking back on a 20-year career with the Lakers, L.A. Times reporter Bill Plaschke writes that Bryant “never wanted to win our hearts, he just wanted to win. Yet in the end, laying himself bare to Los Angeles for two decades as both basketball deity and flawed human, Kobe Bryant somehow did both.”

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How China Flipped From Tech Copycat To Tech Leader

Long perceived as a country chasing Western tech, China's business and technological innovations are now influencing the rest of the world. Still lagging on some fronts, the future is now up for grabs.

At the World Semiconductor Conference in Nanjing, China, on June 9

Emmanuel Grasland

BEIJING — China's tech tycoons have fallen out of favor: Jack Ma (Alibaba), Colin Huang (Pinduoduo), Richard Liu (Tencent) and Zhang Yiming (ByteDance) have all been pressured by Beijing to leave their jobs or step back from a public role. Their time may be coming to an end, but the legacy remains exceptional. Under their reign, China has become a veritable window to the global future of technology.

TikTok is the perfect example. Launched in 2016, the video messaging app has been downloaded over two billion times worldwide. It has passed the 100-million active user mark in the United States. Thanks to TikTok's success, ByteDance, its parent company, has reached an exceptional level of influence on the internet.

For a long time, the West viewed China's digital ecosystem as a cheap imitation of Silicon Valley. The European and American media described the giants of the Asian superpower as the "Chinese Google" or "Chinese Amazon." But the tables have turned.

No Western equivalent to WeChat

The Asian superpower has forged cutting-edge business models that do not exist elsewhere. It is impossible to find a Western equivalent to the WeChat super-app (1.2 billion users), which is used for shopping as much as for making a medical appointment or obtaining credit.

The flow of innovation is now changing direction.

The roles have actually reversed: In a recent article, Les Echos describes the California-based social network IRL, as a "WeChat of the Western world."

Grégory Boutté, digital and customer relations director at the multinational luxury group Kering, explains, "The Chinese digital ecosystem is incredibly different, and its speed of evolution is impressive. Above all, the flow of innovation is now changing direction."

This is illustrated by the recent creation of "live shopping" events in France, which are hosted by celebrities and taken from a concept already popular in China.

10,000 new startups per day

There is an explosion of this phenomenon in the digital sphere. Rachel Daydou, Partner & China General Manager of the consulting firm Fabernovel in Shanghai, says, "With Libra, Facebook is trying to create a financial entity based on social media, just as WeChat did with WeChat Pay. Facebook Shop looks suspiciously like WeChat's mini-programs. Amazon Live is inspired by Taobao Live and YouTube Shopping by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok."

In China, it is possible to go to fully robotized restaurants or to give a panhandler some change via mobile payment. Your wallet is destined to be obsolete because your phone can read restaurant menus and pay for your meal via a QR Code.

The country uses shared mobile chargers the way Europeans use bicycles, and is already testing electric car battery swap stations to avoid 30 minutes of recharging time.

Michael David, chief omnichannel director at LVMH, says, "The Chinese ecosystem is permanently bubbling with innovation. About 10,000 start-ups are created every day in the country."

China is also the most advanced country in the electric car market. With 370 models at the end of 2020, it had an offering that was almost twice as large as Europe's, according to the International Energy Agency.

Photo of a phone's screen displaying the logo of \u200bChina's super-app WeChat

China's super-app WeChat

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/ZUMA

The whole market runs on tech

Luca de Meo, CEO of French automaker Renault, said in June that China is "ahead of Europe in many areas, whether it's electric cars, connectivity or autonomous driving. You have to be there to know what's going on."

As a market, China is also a source of technological inspiration for Western companies, a world leader in e-commerce, solar, mobile payments, digital currency and facial recognition. It has the largest 5G network, with more than one million antennas up and running, compared to 400,000 in Europe.

Self-driving cars offer an interesting point of divergence between China and the West.

Just take the number of connected devices (1.1 billion), the time spent on mobile (six hours per day) and, above all, the magnitude of data collected to deploy and improve artificial intelligence algorithms faster than in Europe or the United States.

The groundbreaking field of self-driving cars offers an interesting point of divergence between China and the West. Artificial intelligence guru Kai-Fu Lee explains that China believes that we should teach the highway to speak to the car, imagining new services and rethinking cities to avoid cars crossing pedestrians, while the West does not intend to go that far.

Still lagging in some key sectors

There are areas where China is still struggling, such as semiconductors. Despite a production increase of nearly 50% per year, the country produces less than 40% of the chips it consumes, according to official data. This dependence threatens its ambitions in artificial intelligence, telecoms and autonomous vehicles. Chinese manufacturers work with an engraving fineness of 28 nm or more, far from those of Intel, Samsung or TSMC. They are unable to produce processors for high-performance PCs.

China's aerospace industry is also lagging behind the West. There are also no Chinese players among the top 20 life science companies on the stock market and there are doubts surrounding the efficacy of Sinovac and Sinopharm's COVID-19 vaccines. As of 2019, the country files more patents per year than the U.S., but far fewer are converted into marketable products.

Beijing knows its weaknesses and is working to eliminate them. Adopted in March, the nation's 14th five-year plan calls for a 7% annual increase in R&D spending between now and 2025, compared with 12% under the previous plan. Big data aside, that is basic math anyone can understand.

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