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Category: China

Mysterious Google Earth images may be Chinese satellite targets

Gobi Desert

Has someone found the answer to the mystery of the curious Google Earth images of the Gobi Desert?

That's what Fox News implied when it ran this headline on its website Thursday:  "Google Maps Mystery Actually Spy Satellite Targets, Expert Says."

Ah, so it wasn't the remnants of an alien civilization after all.

The story cited the analysis of Jonathon Hill, a research technician at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University, who told a website called Life's Little Mysteries that the strange lines were probably painted onto the land surface and used to calibrate China's spy satellites.

"They have gaps in them where they cross little natural drainage channels and the lines themselves are not perfectly filled in, with lots of little streaks and uneven coverage. I think it's safe to say these are some kind of paint," Hill said. He noted that if the lines were made of white dust or chalk, the wind would have caused them to streak visibly.

For an opinion on this theory, we called Brian Weeden, who works on space policy and security issues for the nonprofit Secure World Foundation.

According to Weeden, the Chinese satellite target theory explains some, but not all, of the werid images.

"It seems plausible that at least some of them would be targets -- especially the one that looks like a big bull's eye," he said. "But some of them look pretty crazy."

And that one with the weird lines? "That one with all the lines is really weird. I have no idea what that could be," he said.

As Weeden pointed out, the image is deceptive because it doesn't give a good sense of scale. But those weird lines are huge. The grid is 0.65 miles wide by 1.15 miles long.

And so the mystery lives on.

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 Image: A screen grab from Google Earth showing coordinates 40.452107,93.742118.

China's e-commerce market could top U.S.' by 2015, study finds

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China's online shopping market could reach 2 trillion RMB, or $315 billion, by 2015, which would surpass the United States', according to research by Boston Consulting Group

The study found that within five years, most of today's online shoppers in China will spend about $940 a year, twice what they spend today and close to the average of $1,000 in the U.S., which is currently the world's largest e-commerce market.

BCG also said that Chinese shoppers are the most likely of the world's online consumers to check for product recommendations on social networking and review sites, and that online retail giant Taobao.com is the dominant e-commerce player in China. Last year, the site, which has more than 800 million online products, accounted for 79% of China's online transaction value, selling more than the country's top five physical retailers combined.

The surge in e-commerce spending in China is due in part to an increase in personal incomes and more familiarity with online retail sites. The trend is also benefiting from the limits of brick-and-mortar retailing in China: By 2015, 365 cities will have 100,000 or more middle- and affluent-class consumers, but China's largest retailers have stores in only about 260 cities today, BCG said.

The consulting firm's research included a survey of 4,000 online shoppers in China and looked at the differences between Chinese online shopping behavior versus that of developed markets. It also examined how e-commerce expansion will unfold in China and the biggest challenges companies from outside China face as they try to cash in on the rapid growth. 

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Photo: An Internet cafe in the Chinese city of Hefei. Credit: Reuters

China Telecom to offer its brand of wireless service in U.S.

China natalie behring for the timesChina Telecom Corp. plans to offer wireless service to consumers in the U.S. next year in a bid to attract Chinese Americans who spend time in both countries, according to a Bloomberg report

The service would be under the company's own brand and would provide users with handsets with two lines; one would work in the U.S. and the other in China, Donald Tan, president of China Telecom Americas, told Bloomberg. He added that the company might consider building or buying its own wireless network in the U.S. if the service was successful.

China Telecom is the world's largest wireline telecommunications and broadband services provider and the world's largest CDMA mobile operator, according to the company's website. At the end of March, it had more than 66 million wireline broadband subscribers and more than 100 million mobile subscribers. 

Tan said the company is increasingly turning to consumers for business, especially in large cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York that have large Chinese communities.

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Photo: Cellphone users in Beijing. Credit: Natalie Behring / For The Times

Apple iPhone 4S to sell at C-Spire in U.S., 15 new nations

Apple iPhone 4S

Apple's iPhone 4S has so far been a sales success, with the coveted smartphone still quickly selling out at many retailers nearly three weeks after its U.S. launch.

With Apple seemingly selling as many iPhones as it can make, the Cupertino, Calif., tech giant is indeed making more iPhones -- for Hong Kong, South Korea and 13 additional countries where it will launch Nov. 11. Consumers in those countries will be able to pre-order the iPhone 4S on Friday.

C-Spire Wireless, a southern U.S. regional carrier, announced Tuesday it will also start selling the iPhone 4S on Nov. 11 at the standard prices of $200 for a 16-gigabyte unit, $300 for a 32-gigabyte phone and $400 for a 64-gigabyte model.

No doubt, it'll take some time to get the iPhone 4S if ordered online, no matter what country you're located. In the U.S., the online wait from Apple.com is still one to two weeks.

Aside from Hong Kong and South Korea, the iPhone 4S will head to Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Malta, Montenegro, New Zealand, Panama, Poland, Portugal and Romania.

With the iPhone 4S currently on sale in 29 countries, the 15 new nations will push the total to 44. Apple said in a statement that it will have the iPhone 4S on sale in more than 70 countries by the end of the year.

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Photo: The Apple iPhone 4S is displayed at an Apple store last month in San Francisco. Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Apple's promotional center sparks controversy on Chinese campus

Apple in China

Apple may be one of the hottest aspirational brands in China, but students from the country's most prestigious university are accusing the company of invading precious study space by opening a promotional center inside a campus library.

The glass-enclosed Apple Experience Center will occupy about 430 square feet in a former study area on the third floor of Peking University's main library, according to the People’s Daily.

Students will get to tool around on Apple gadgets to help with their studies and order products at a discount, the state-run newspaper reported.

But some students say the center inappropriately combines consumerism with academics –- a mix that is already more than familiar on American campuses.

"It's totally against the spirit and environment of the library," said a student surnamed Chen, according to the People's Daily. "Apple should have discounts or give-back activities if they want self-promotion, other than introducing this commercial thing into a sacred place like this."

Other students noted that competition is fierce for seats inside the library and that the center would only make a shortage of study space worse.

"They shouldn’t take up precious self-study facilities," Xiao Wu, a student, told the National Business Daily.

The center is being managed by a licensed Apple dealer called Shanghai Lianyu Technology Development Co.

Nine universities in China feature similar centers, though all in non-academic areas of campus, according to Apple's Chinese website.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company has experienced phenomenal growth in China in recent years, capturing a cult-like following among the country's growing middle and upper classes.

The company's revenue in greater China, which includes Hong Kong, reached $8.8 billion the first three quarters of this year -– six times more than a year ago.

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Photo: Shoppers try out computers at the Apple store in Beijing. Credit: Chien-min Chung / Los Angeles Times

Dell and Baidu team on smartphones, tablets in China

Screen Shot 2011-09-06 at 8.47.37 AM

U.S. computer maker Dell and China's leading search engine Baidu are reportedly teaming up to create a line of smartphones and tablet computers to challenge China's current market leaders such as Lenovo and Apple.

The collaboration will result in Dell phones and tablets running an operating system developed by Baidu called Yi [link in Chinese] according to a report from Bloomberg. Baidu's move into mobile software will follow that of what Google has done with Android, now currently the world's most popular mobile OS.

Yi, which is built using some technology from Android, will run on phones and tablets from a number of different hardware makers and not be a deal exclusive to Dell, Bloomberg said.

China, of course, is quickly becoming one of the largest markets for consumer electronics, having recently passed the U.S. as the world's biggest personal computer market. According to Reuters, China also has about 900 million mobile phone subscribers as well.

Baidu has risen to greater prominence in China's online search market over the last year as Google has clashed with the Chinese government over censorship and government-sponsored hacking allegations.

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Image: A screen shot of renderings of Baidu's Yi operating system. Credit: Baidu Inc.

HP executive: The TouchPad could be resurrected

Hewlett-Packard TouchPad

Hewlett-Packard could resurrect the TouchPad tablet computer, possibly after spinning off its PC unit into a stand-alone company, an HP executive said in a report Tuesday.

"Tablet computing is a segment of the market that's relevant, absolutely," Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's personal systems group, which oversees the firm's PC and tablet business, said in an interview with Reuters.

Bradley said HP could bring back the TouchPad or offer up a different tablet at a later date, and that the company is still exploring the option of licensing out its WebOS operating system (which runs on the TouchPad) to other hardware makers. The TouchPad was introduced on July 1 and pronounced dead on Aug. 18.

Many retailers then dropped the price of the discontinued TouchPad to $99.99, leading to sellouts of the previously unpopular device in the U.S. and Canada.

Bradley also told Reuters that if HP does separate its PC business as expected, it would more likely do so by spinning off the personal services group, rather than by selling the unit to a rival computer maker in the same way that Gateway was sold to Acer and Lenovo bought IBM.

"Regardless of what happens, we're the largest PC company in the world," he said. "We need everybody energized, and while this isn't business as usual, we need people to go out and sell products every day."

The interview took place as Bradley toured China, visiting HP suppliers and retail partners to reassure them that the company is committed to doing business in that market despite the changes ahead for its PC-making unit.

He also told Reuters that if HP decides to do spin off its PC business into a stand-alone company, he expects to run that company.

"My intention would be to lead it through this transaction ... and if it's a stand-alone public company, to lead that," he said.

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Photo: A Hewlett-Packard TouchPad at a Best Buy store in Orem, Utah. Credit: George Frey / Bloomberg

China cracks down on Internet rumors

China cracks down on Internet rumors

Under growing government pressure, China’s leading micro-blogging service, Sina Weibo, launched a new effort to quash Internet rumors Friday by sending warnings to its users to ignore false reports.

The unusual move comes four days after Beijing’s Communist Party chief visited Sina Corp.'s headquarters and called for Internet companies to stop the spread of harmful and inaccurate information, which is seen as a threat to the government’s control.

Sina, which operates more than 200 million Twitter-like micro-blogs, sent at least two alerts Friday, one to dispel a rumor that the Red Cross Society of China was selling blood to hospitals for profit, the other to bust a claim that a 19-year-old woman’s murderer had been freed because of his father’s connections.

“For sending out false information, the user's account will be suspended and will not publish posts or be followed for one month,” the second alert said.

Micro-blogs, known in China as weibos, have been a thorn in the side of authorities as their popularity has grown in recent years. The medium has a massive casual following but has also been used to expose government scandals and disseminate articles, photographs and videos that would stand little chance of making it into state-controlled media.

The platform has been something of a nerve center for educated and tech-savvy Chinese, who have overwhelmingly embraced Sina, China’s first provider of micro-blogs. In 140 characters or fewer, users can express their opinions relatively freely to as wide an audience as they can attract. Celebrities and famous business figures attract millions of so-called followers. 

But the government’s patience has been severely tested in recent months.

In early July, micro-blogs were abuzz with word that former Chinese President Jiang Zemin had died. Signals grew so strong that some foreign media outlets confirmed the sensitive rumor. But after several days, China’s state media refuted the story (though Jiang has still not been seen in public).

Later that month, micro-blogs helped galvanize widespread anger over official handling of a high-speed train collision in the eastern city of Wenzhou that killed 40 people.

For days, Internet users sent millions of posts fueling innuendo that authorities were hastily burying wreckage and rescue teams were missing survivors. Officials denied the rumors under a barrage of criticism.

Shortly after, China Central Television ran a report condemning rumors on micro-blogs as immoral –- an official shot across the bow for Sina and its competitors.

“Sina is probably using the messages to do two things,” said Jeremy Goldkorn, an expert in Chinese digital media, “make users think twice about posting scandalous or inflammatory information [and] to show the government that they are serious about controlling ‘rumors.’”

A spokesman for Sina said Friday that the company was stepping up efforts to silence intrigue and said programmers had devised a system to thwart what they felt were the most egregious rumors.

“We’re trying to do our best to be a stable and trustworthy platform,” said the spokesman, who gave only his last name, Mao. He declined to comment on government pressure.

Experts say it was only a matter of time before the government would scrutinize Sina because of its growing influence. It’s now in the unenviable position of trying to preserve and expand a highly popular tool while also being forced to diminish users’ freedoms.

Chinese Internet companies largely conduct their own censorship for the government, employing hundreds, if not thousands, to trawl content to remove offending material.

But asking Sina to identify rumors and disprove them on their own is an entirely new endeavor that could introduce new costs.

In February, Deutsche Bank cut its rating for the Nasdaq-listed Sina stock from “hold” to “sell” citing the risk of government regulation.

The site, which started primarily as a web portal, launched its weibo service two years ago and has seen its shares nearly triple in value. In the last three months alone the company has signed up nearly 80 million new micro-blog accounts.

Some of them may have been the thousands that mocked the latest campaign.

“There're so many rumors in the world. Do you really need to explain them to me one by one?” wrote a micro-blogger named WeMarketing. “In fact, without those announcements, I wouldn’t have even heard of those rumors.”

A micro-blogger named Xiqing Qiu wrote: “Can Sina stop sending me these announcements about anti-rumors? Is this a double negative denial? You think I'll believe you once you say it's a rumor?”

Ironically, the government’s tight control on information and media is largely cited as the reason China has been so susceptible to hearsay. The problem is anything but new.

One famous Chinese proverb, nearly 3,000 years old, says: “Trying to stop people’s mouths is like trying to stop a flood.”

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Photo: An Internet cafe in Shanghai. Credit: Qilai Shen / Bloomberg News

China dethrones U.S. as world's largest PC market

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China passed the U.S. as the largest market for personal computers in the second quarter, according to new data from a research group.

The shift marks the first time that China has passed the U.S. as the top consumer of PCs.

PC shipments in China hit 18.5 million units worth about $11.9 billion in the April-through-June quarter, which edged out U.S. shipments of 17.7 million units worth about $11.7 billion, according to International Data Corp.'s Worldwide Quarterly PC Tracker study.

China accounted for 22% of the world's PC market in terms of shipments, while the U.S. took up a 21% share, the International Data said in a report. In the U.S. PC sales fell 11% in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to IDC data, marking the nation's largest drop in nearly a decade.

Although China passed the U.S. in the second quarter, International Data said it expected the U.S. to remain on top for the full year.

"On a full-year basis, IDC still expects the U.S. to remain the largest market in 2011, with 73.5 million units forecast to be shipped in the U.S. versus 72.4 million in China," the research group said. "Similarly, holiday season buying in the U.S. will likely keep it ahead of China in the fourth quarter, especially as China's market contracts after its third quarter summer promotions."

International Data said it doesn't project China to pass the U.S. in annual shipments until 2012, when 85.2 million units are forecast to be shipped in China and 76.6 million units in the U.S.

The data show something manufacturers have expected for some time (and something we've been following in our reporting) -- that sales of tablets will eclipse those of laptops in the U.S. as soon as next year and that they will eventually overtake PC sales.

Last week Hewlett-Packard Co., the world's top PC maker, announced that it was considering getting out of the PC business altogether by either selling off its PC unit, or spinning off the unit into a standalone company.

But, unlike many other hardware makers, HP said it was giving up on tablets and smartphones as its future for growth, discontinuing its line of devices running its WebOS operating system.

HP says it is exploring its options with WebOS and could end up licensing the software to other tablet and phone makers.

But while China is experiencing a PC upswing and the U.S. is seeing its PC market shrink, there are still risks ahead for China, such as inflation and possible negative effects from the unstable economic conditions in the U.S. and Europe, said Kitty Fok, International Data's vice president for greater China research, in a statement.

"China's lead in the PC market is a huge shift that reflects the rising fortunes of emerging markets as well as the relative stagnation of more mature regions," said Loren Loverde, International Data's program vice president for its Worldwide PC Tracker research, in a statement. "While the immediate economic circumstances in the U.S. and other markets had a significant impact on the timing of China's move to the lead, they have not changed the trend, but accelerated it."

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Photo: In this May 26, 2011, photo, from left, Lenovo Group Ltd. President and Chief Operating Officer Rory Read, CEO Yang Yuanqing, Chairman Liu Chuanzhi and Chief Financial Officer Wong Wai Ming, show Lenovo products in Hong Kong. Lenovo Group, the world's No. 3 personal computer manufacturer, reported Aug. 18 that profit in its latest quarter nearly doubled on strong sales in emerging markets. Profit for the three months that ended June 30 was $108 million, up 98% from a year earlier, the company said. Credit: Kin Cheung /Associated Press

Fake Apple stores: 22 more found in China

Fake Apple store

Chinese authorities have found 22 more fake Apple stores in the city of Kunming following the uncovering of a fake Apple store in that city by a blogger known as BirdAbroad.

China's Administration for Industry and Commerce has suspended previously exposed stores from doing business, but the new 22 are instead being ordered to stop using Apple's logo and trademarks, according to a report from Reuters.

State media reports said Apple China has filed a complaint with the government and accused such fake stores of unfair competition and trademark violation, according to Reuters.

"The market watchdog agency said it would set up a complaint hotline and boost monitoring, the official Xinhua news agency reported," Reuters said. "It did not say if the shops were selling knock-off Apple products or genuine but smuggled models.

"Countless unauthorized resellers of Apple and other brands' electronic products throughout China sell the real thing but buy their goods overseas and smuggle them into the country to escape taxes," the Reuters report said.

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Photos: Inside a faux Apple Store. Credit: BirdAbroad

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