For Moscow Officials, Even Book Fairs Are Too Dangerous

A book fair planned for this weekend was supposed to liven up Moscow’s Taganski neighborhood with a bit of poetry and music. City authorities saw a threat to public order.

They just want to read! (kurmanka)
They just want to read! (kurmanka)

MOSCOW – After several weeks of meetings with neighborhood authorities in Moscow, the Independent Publishers' Guild has had to cancel a planned book fair after its permit was unexpectedly denied. Organizers say politics are behind the cancelation, even though the event – which was supposed to take place this weekend – had no political aspirations whatsoever.

The book fair, planned to coincide with Slavic Literature and Culture Day, was to be held in Moscow's southeastern Taganski neighborhood and include stands with booksellers, concerts and poetry readings. And yet as benign as the program was, local authorities apparently deemed the event too dangerous. Organizers say they were told that in light of recent protests, no street events of any kind would be allowed.

Literature has a long history of political opposition in Russia, from Dostoyevsky to Solzhenitsyn. And prominent writers and poets were behind a ‘test walk" on May 13 that attracted nearly 10,000 participants. Although it was not officially an opposition event, it was clearly a response to the police crackdowns on protest marches.

Still, organizers of the Publishers' Guild book fair are adamant that they have no political motives. "We had hoped to make the area a small cultural center," a Guild representative said. "Before the May holidays our permit application was looked at and confirmed at the neighborhood council."

The representative went on to say that the Guild had already met with the council to work out technical details, such as how to provide electricity and collect garbage. "The civil servants said they liked the fair," he said.

This week, however, the organizers – who had already spent around 4,700 dollars on the fair – were suddenly told that the festival would be forbidden because police were concerned that politics would become involved. Attempts to explain that the event was purely cultural fell on deaf ears.

Municipal deputies have tried to help the publishers, but to no avail. One of the neighborhood council members went so far as to say she'd never even heard of the fair. Organizers say that's simply not true. They claim they discussed the event with the woman –Lydia Chuvakova – in person. During the meeting, Chuvakova warned them that the permission would be denied due to political concerns, the organizers claim.

Another festival planned for central Moscow in May was similarly cancelled when deputies from United Russia and the Communist Party intervened to block permission. It appears that the city's civil servants are afraid of any potential festival or event, no matter how far removed from politics.

Read the full story in Russian by Aleksandr Chernikh

Photo - kurmanka

*This is a digest item, not a direct translation

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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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