Climing over the Great Firewall


Great Firewall

As the Chinese government further restricts online communication, virtual private networks are trying to overcome the barriers.

There are alternatives to the blocked services, but let’s just admit that the features on the censored sites are still the most appealing and user-friendly.

IT began with Line and KakaoTalk, foreign instant messaging apps, around July last year.

Instagram was next, during the height of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in September.

I remember reaching out for my mobile phone one day after I woke up, checking my Instagram feed as part of my morning ritual, but for some reason, it just would not load smoothly.

Last month, the default mail app in my phone, which is synced to my Gmail account, also stopped working.

These bans imposed by China restricted communication even further as sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Youtube have long been inaccessible in mainland. The censorship is put in place to control what the people see online.

Frustrated, a fellow foreign journalist commented: “The Chinese government has been actively advocating connectivity, but the ban is causing the total opposite.”

To overcome the inconveniences, foreigners residing in China and some Chinese nationals rely mainly on virtual private networks (VPNs) to access the blocked sites and apps.

With a fee, VPNs help users bypass restrictions and censorship on their mobile phones and computers by connecting them to servers outside China.

The act of using VPNs is cheekily known as “fan qiang” or “climbing over the wall” as the censorship is referred to as the Great Firewall, after the Great Wall of China.

Of course, there are alternatives to the blocked services, but let’s just admit that the features on the censored sites are still the most appealing and user-friendly.

Communicating with the world outside China is also easier with the common platforms of Gmail and Facebook, but unfortunately, accessing them within the borders of China is difficult.

Lately, the grip on the Internet was tightened with the Chinese authorities clamping down on VPN services. Users reported interruptions and failures to connect to VPNs.

Responding to the interrupted services, an official from the Industry and Information Technology Ministry (MIIT) said in a press conference this week that the move is essential for the healthy development of the Internet in China.

MIIT director of telecom development Wen Ku said the ministry has to employ new methods to “maintain cyber security and steady operation” with the rapid development of the Internet.

He reminded foreign sites to abide by Chinese laws if they want to operate in the country.

“Certain negative content should be regulated according to the Chinese law,” he said.

To a question on whether blocking VPNs would affect the vitality of the Internet, Wen said the development of Internet services in China is concrete proof of the effective policies, citing Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba as an example of success stories.

But as the Chinese saying goes, “As the virtue rises one foot, the vice rises ten feet.”

While the Chinese authorities upgraded the Great Firewall, VPN providers such as StrongVPN and Astrill vowed to overcome the disruption.

“Notice to StrongVPN users, we are currently working diligently to find a resolution with certain servers not working in China,” StrongVPN posted on its website.

It also enticed possible customers to subscribe to its services to “protect your online security, personal privacy and help promote Internet freedom”.

Astrill said the increased censorship is “just a way for China to say ‘we don’t want you here’”.

It told its users, “We know how access to unrestricted Internet is important for you and we are doing our best.”

The tug-of-war continues.

Source: Check-in China by Tho Xin Yin

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Abe’s strategy clearer after Japanese ISIS hostage crisis



The release of a video on Saturday showing a message thatHaruna Yukawa, one of the Japanese hostages captured byIslamic State (IS) militants, had been slaughtered, shocked both Japanese society and its Western allies. Official institutions in both Japan and the US consider the video is likely to be authentic.

The IS claimed last Tuesday it had abducted two Japanese and gave the Japanese government 72 hours to pay $200 million in ransom for the captives. The Abe administration was put in a conundrum. In front of requests from the victims’ families to save the hostages, the Japanese government vowed it would never give in to terrorism on one hand, on the other, it displayed a high-profile stance of striving to free the hostages. But it’s believed that the Abe administration would be unlikely to carry out a dramatic rescue, which has already decided the fate of the hostages.

The brutality of the IS has become well-known. They kill hostages in a cold-blooded manner. Now that Japan has become a victim of global terrorism, Tokyo may reassess the challenges it faces. In the past few years, Japanese rightists portrayed China as Japan’s major threat, despite the fact that China has never infringed upon Japan over the past century. It’s instead Japan that invaded China and persecuted Chinese people again and again.

The death of the hostage also offers a new excuse for Abe to lift the ban on collective self-defense. Abe will face fewer hurdles now if he decides to cooperate with the US strategic deployment and strengthen Japan’s military activities in the Middle East and its security deployment in East Asia.

Some claimed that Abe is more concerned about promoting rightist policies than rescuing hostages. For the good of peace in East Asia and the Japanese public, we hope such analysis is just speculative. Japan is not capable of playing an active role in the Middle East. East Asian countries are not supposed to be key targets of the atrocious IS. The Japanese hostage case sends a warning signal.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the US has spent great efforts in ensuring its domestic security. However, US allies such as European countries and Japan have been constantly targeted by terrorism. It’s worthwhile studying the underlying reasons.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo seemingly unveiled the conflicts between the whole of European society and the Muslim community, but it was striking to see how the US tries to remain neutral over the issue.

Having a geopolitical advantage, Japan should be a country without enemies. However, the country is plagued with a terrible mess in its national strategy. It misperceives China as an imaginary enemy. Tokyo’s ultimate goal is said to be getting rid of US control, however, it is forced to defer to the US due to its confrontation with China. The killing of the Japanese hostage is more or less the price that Japan has paid for its support to Washington.

We strongly condemn the brutal killing by the IS. In the meantime, we hope Japanese public opinion will take a clear-cut attitude against any terrorist attack launched on China. – Global Times

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Don’t worry about China slowdown !


Li Keqiang _WEF2015Last evening, Beijing time, Premier Li gave the most anticipated speech at Davos. One day after China’s GDP came in at 7.4 percent, Li assured the packed audience, of international business and government leaders, that China will avoid a hard landing, continue its ongoing reform and restructuring and ensure a prolonged period of sustainable future medium-to-fast growth.

Even before the release of the GDP numbers, a number of Western media and policy pundits were predicting a China stall. Issues with the real estate sector, local government debt, SOE intransience, shadow banking, over capacity and a weak global economy were cited as the factors which would continue to push growth rates lower in the future. But even amongst the hardened doubters, there were signs of dissension, with the Wall Street Journal grudgingly indicating respect for China’s handling of its economic affairs.

Li Keqiang _WEF2015. Don't worry

Premier Li: Don’t worry about a China slowdown

The 2014 results represented the slowest growth in 24 years and the first time the government has missed its target on the downside. But Li was in no way defensive, while acknowledging China’s 10-trillion-dollar economy will continue to face downward pressures in 2015, Li indicated that the country will avoid systemic financial risks and will improve its quality of growth to ensure an “appropriate” pace of expansion. The rise in urban and rural employment numbers, rising real income levels, moderate inflation, a 50 percent individual savings rate, a 5 percent decrease in energy per unit of GDP, significant growth in China’s tertiary industries/services and record numbers of new businesses, added meat to his assertions.

Li, in essence continued the line of thought he voiced at the Summer Davos in Tianjin, where he indicated China’s actions are predicated on the realization that its economic growth pattern wasn’t sustainable and that to avoid the “Middle Income Trap” China’s economic engine needed to be restructured to be more efficient and competitive.

Highlights

“We will continue to pursue a proactive fiscal policy and a prudent monetary policy,” Li said. “We will step up anticipatory adjustment and fine-tuning as well as targeted macro-regulation, in order to stabilize economic growth, upgrade its structure and achieve better quality and performance.”

Li is clear that China does not regard the fiscal and monetary policy tools Western governments are limited to, as an effective means of transforming its economy.

“For the Chinese economy to maintain medium-to-high speed of growth and achieve medium-to-high level of development,” Li said, “China must properly use the hand of the government and the hand of the market, and give full scope to both the traditional and new engines of growth.”

This highlights a sharp contrast between China’s “Big Hand” (government) over the “Invisible Hand” (market) approach, and Western democratic/capitalist models, which put the market on top and government as a kind of enabling and clean up mechanism.

“To foster a new engine of growth,” Li said, “we need to encourage mass entrepreneurship and innovation, and mobilize the wisdom and power of the people.”

The word innovation was repeated 33 times during Li’s Summer Davos speech and it continues to be central to Li’s vision of a more prosperous China. With 3 of the top 5 mobile phone manufactures and a host of other technological innovators like Alibaba and Tencent, there is a new sense of confidence within and outside about China’s future.

“To transform the traditional engine of growth, we need to focus on increasing the supply of public goods and services, and strengthening the weak link of the economy,” the premier said.

This references the need to make China’s SOEs, government and financial sectors more efficient and responsive to the needs and pressures of the market.

China, he added, “will continue to promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, and open up its service sector, central and western regions as well as the capital market wider to the outside world.”

This is a list of areas which China will be opening up to more investment internally and externally. The Shanghai FTZ has been used as a model and will be extended to Fujian, Tianjin and Guangzhou. They represent the cutting edge of a new kind of economic development platform which will be extended inland once the models have been proven.

“China will encourage its companies to explore the international market, and work for common development with other countries through greater openness towards each other,” Li said.

Premier Li is signaling strong support for globalization and indicating a desire to work regionally and internationally to create better trade mechanisms. The New Silk Road, extension of transportation infrastructure into Southeast Asia, AIIB, BRICS Bank etc… are strong indicators of this desire which is essential to China’s resources imports and finished goods exports.

So, what can we expect from China, the second largest economy in the world in 2015?

Some say the single biggest risk for the economy is still the interlinked and rising problems associated with shadow banking, local government and corporate debts and a stagnant real estate sector. But at about 54 percent of China’s GDP, China’s debt is far below most developed nations. The key will be how local governments are funded and regulated. This touches on the real estate sector as well which is badly in need of reform but because it represents 25 percent of the economy it must be handled carefully.

Continued increase in consumption. Consumption now accounts for 51.2 percent of GDP in China. Though it is still considerably lower than the 70 percent average for the developed countries, it continues to move in a positive direction. The services sector has now overtaken the industrial sector as the largest segment of the Chinese economy and seems to be following the government’s playbook to re-balance the economy.

China is developing more confidence in its ability to innovate and lead cutting-edge FMCG markets and this trend will continue further balancing the public-investment and export-driven, forces which drove the economy in the past.

China has also taken some steps to solve its overcapacity issues. A two pronged approach which is shifting heavy industrial capacity in areas like transportation infrastructure to projects in neighboring areas and the world stage. For example the merging of China’s major railroad companies and the projects they will being doing in the Mekong delta region. The second prong is the identification and closing of first and second generation industrial plants which is how China has been able to achieve a 5 percent increased efficiency in energy use per unit of GDP.

In the financial sector expect more pressure on the big banks to be more SME focused in exchange for more liberal controls of lending and deposit rates. An example: the lifting of the deposit rate ceiling, the deposit insurance draft plan being considered and the new property registration system will standardize the markets and provide new financial product opportunities. To make things more transparent the government has adopted new budgetary laws, local government debt regulations and encouraged state-owned enterprises to adopt mixed ownership structures.

It is clear though that fiscal and monetary policy will be part of the symphony not the main players. Premier Li was clear that he opposed another monetary stimulus to push growth rates and instead, would rely primarily on structural reforms. A thought which was expressed in Davos on Wednesday, by Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, who also expressed a willingness to sacrifice growth for stability.

“If China’s economy slows down a bit, but meanwhile is more sustainable for the medium and long term, I think that’s good news,” he said.

China’s growth cannot be delinked from the global context. As the main driver of the world’s economy since the US mortgage crisis meltdown, China has taken on a new role. Just as importantly and expanding China needs access to raw materials if it intends to consume and export finished goods. A resurgent US will help China, but a stagnating EU will hurt it. These seem to be the dominant trends which WTO started and which will carry on for some years.

The premier said China will go full speed ahead with liberalizing interest rates, allowing markets to play a greater role in setting prices, in forging trade agreements and opening up its financial system.

“We will not be afraid of difficulties, and we will continue to move along the path of reform and restructuring,” Li said.

All of this, he suggested, was not only in China’s interests but also that of the global economy.

“China’s reform and development will bring more opportunities for the world.”

China Economic path firm, despite lower growth

Since China revealed its 2014 annual growth rate of 7.4 percent on Tuesday, there has been heated discussion worldwide. Some observers cited the figure, the lowest in China since 1990, as proof of the lost glory of the Chinese economy.

Several Western institutes predicted that China’s economic growth would tumble to about 6.5 percent in 2015 and some even proclaimed that 2015 would be the last year that China would see growth figures above 6 percent. Last week, a column in the Financial Times said the Indian economy may outstrip China’s this year.

When China’s GDP growth was above 10 percent, many voices expounded that such a high rate would be harmful. However, just as China is committed to economic restructuring and a turn to the “new normal,” there appears to be more catcalls and scary predictions for the future. We have to be unswerving in our commitment not to return to the GDP-oriented path.

GDP figures are so favored by the media as they are easy to grasp. But China has passed the era of GDP-fixation and Chinese people now harbor more expectations for economic development. Despite continued pursuit of wealth, we highly value safety, environmental protection, equal opportunity and explicit rules. With money, there should also be dignity.

Chinese economic and social development has entered an era of multiple targets, which will become more effective. But sometimes the effects are invisible. This makes it harder to measure than what GDP does.

It’s different in India. Long overshadowed by China, it is keen to become the best in some aspects. It is in dire need of evidence to show that it is not inferior to China.

Even if the Indian economy does outstrip China’s one day, the impact on the Chinese public will be far less than on its own people, since India has been waiting for the outcome for so long. The West seems to be also long expecting the day. Some Western media attach more significance to India’s overtaking China than Chinese people do.

China’s GDP growth is unlikely to always rank top of the global list and we won’t modify our set direction in social and economic development.

The “new normal” in the Chinese economy doesn’t mean stagnation nor recession, but a strategic adjustment toward quality and sustainable development. We have such a widespread capacity to push forward economic and social development and meet people’s expectations for a better life.

China’s growth of 7 percent maintained in the period of economic and social restructuring is no less significant than 10 percent in the past times of extensive development. While the Chinese government is capable of achieving higher growth, its choice of lowering the rate deserves more praise.

China has never been applauded by the West in its development since the end of the Cold War. We have grown used to this. We need to stay firm to achieve our target of deepening reform.

West should end its hypocrisy on anti-terror war!


Anti_terrorists_China-RussiaChinese and Russian policemen attend a joint anti-terror drill in Manzhouli City, north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Oct 20, 2014. [Photo/Xinhua]

Senior US leaders invited sharp criticism at home for not attending last week’s solidarity rally in Paris against the terrorist attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in which 12 people were killed. As a result, US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Paris this week to make up for the mistake.

However, terrorist attacks on innocent civilians in Nigeria, where Boko Haram fighters killed hundreds of, if not more, ordinary people early this month, have not received the same attention in the US and the Western world as the Paris attack. Yet such double standards and hypocrisy of the Western world is nothing new.

Over the past few years, the US and some Western countries have not responded to the terrorist attacks against innocent civilians in Beijing, Kunming and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region the way they reacted to the Paris attack.

On several occasions, US State Department spokespersons have used the excuse that they need more information and investigation into the incidents in China to condemn them as terrorist attacks. But they did not ask any such question after the Paris attack.

Some Western news organizations have refused to describe the perpetrators at Kunming railway station in Yunnan province as terrorists, insisting on calling them “knife-wielding attackers”. And on the rare occasions that they have used the word terrorist, they put it within quotation marks as if the ruthless killers in China were any different from those in Paris or elsewhere in the Western world. One CNN report even posed the question, “Terrorism or Cry of Desperation?”, as if killing innocent civilians in China can be somehow justified.

Even though China and the US have common interests in fighting terrorism, some Americans still seem to believe that only those setting off bombs in New York are terrorists while those doing the same in Beijing or any other Chinese city demand a different description.

The West’s double standards are not restricted to China and Nigeria. The decade-old wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, but the mainstream media outlets in the US have largely ignored the tragedies and focused on the loss of their own troops.

If the number of civilian casualties is a measure of the intensity of a terrorist attack, tragedies like the Sept 11, 2001, attacks have occurred multiple times in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Western media don’t seem to care much about them.

Some Western observers have even found excuses for West’s inadequate response to the terrorist attacks in Kunming on March 1 last year in which 31 were killed and 141 injured. But by failing to immediately condemn the attacks against innocent civilians in Kunming and Xinjiang, these people have by default condoned the action of the perpetrators.

It is true that terrorists in the eyes of some could be freedom fighters in the eyes of others. That is why Osama bin Laden was a freedom fighter to the US in the 1980s but a top terrorist in the 21st century. And Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela was still on the US terrorism watch list as late as 2008, years after stepping down as South Africa’s president.

There is no doubt that the US and its allies have failed miserably in their “war on terror” despite the more than 1,000 air strikes launched against the Islamic State group. In spite of the heavy bombardments, we have seen terrorists gaining strength and spreading their tentacles to more areas across the world.

And the Western world responds to this deadly threat with double standards.

By Chen Weihua China Daily/Asia News Network

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com

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It was a typical terrorist attack and also a severe crime against the humanity. It was China’s “9-11.” Any explanation for the attack, like those in previous cases elsewhere in China, would be feeble at the bloody scene, where …
 Ironically, in spite of critical changes such as the relevant fall of the US and the rise of China, a basic factor remains constant. This is the success of terrorism. It was Al Qaeda 13 years ago and it is the IS now, as far

Malaysian worked as janitor is a serious innovator


Malaysian innovator_G WalterTV star: Dr Walter showing the company’s big LED television.

From Janitor to serious innovator

MALACCA: As a university student, he worked as a janitor to earn some pocket money.

Dr Gabriel Walter, 37, who studied electrical engineering at an American university, now holds about 100 patents in electronic and electrical innovations.

The Kelabit boy from Bario, Sarawak, wants to break the monopoly of foreign brands selling their products at exorbitant prices.

For example, he has introduced a big screen light emitting diode (LED) television, which includes all connecting gadgets, and priced at about RM6,000 compared to popular foreign brands that can cost almost RM20,000.

There is also a smartphone application, costing just a few hundred ringgit, that can integrate home appliances with just a cyberspace connectivity.

“I am determined to make available quality, feature-perfect appliances that can communicate with any other devices in an ad hoc network with a single connectivity.

“All these wonders are packaged and assembled here and sold at affordable prices. It is a Malaysian invention,” he said in an interview.

Dr Walter, who was a Mara scholar, studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he earned a doctorate.

He was an Adjunct Assistant Professor from 2003 to 2009 at the university, where he was also once a senior research scientist.

Despite his long list of achievements, Dr Walter has not forgotten his humble beginnings where his father used to live in a longhouse.

At a tender age, he started selling groundnuts to help supplement the family income.

“Life was hard then. I used to work as a janitor when I was studying in the United States as the scholarship was only adequate to cover my education,” he said.

Several months ago, Dr Walter returned to Malaysia for good after receiving a government grant of RM2mil for research and development before setting up his own manufacturing plant in Batu Berendam.

“I must thank former Chief Minister Tan Sri Ali Rustam who was persistent that I should set up a plant in Malacca when he first met me in 2006 during a bio-tech conference in the United States,” he said.

Dr Walter established Quantum Electro Opto Systems Sdn Bhd (QEOS) and launched its first commercial product based on its patented high-speed light-emitting technology known as tilted charge dynamics in 2013.

QEOS is based here with an office in the Silicon Valley, California, where Dr Walter is the chief executive officer.

His university mentors – professors Nick Holonyak Jr and Milton Feng – are part of his team.

The QEOS website stated that Prof Nick Holonyak Jr is widely regarded as the inventor of LED.

The company, it said, wanted to “pioneer the commercial development of high speed, low-cost and power efficient fiber optics communication solutions”.

By R.S. N. Murali The Star/ANN

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AirAsia Flight QZ8501 exploded in mid-air?


It is unlikely that Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 exploded in mid-air, air crash experts say, as the first pieces of debris were spotted and some bodies recovered.

http://static.movideo.com/flash/movideo_player.swf

Chances are that the plane hit the Java Sea intact and broke up upon impact before plunging to the ocean floor.

The wreckage of the Airbus 320-200 was found more than 48 hours after the ill-fated flight, which left Surabaya for Singapore on Sunday morning with 162 people on board, went missing.

A search and rescue worker preparing to load body bags onto a flight to Kalimantan in Pangkal Pinang on Indonesia's Bangka island yesterday. As operations move to search and recovery, it would take weeks before the authorities and investigators are able to determine how and why the crash happened. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
A search and rescue worker preparing to load body bags onto a flight to Kalimantan in Pangkal Pinang on Indonesia’s Bangka island yesterday. As operations move to search and recovery, it would take weeks before the authorities and investigators are able to determine how and why the crash happened. — PHOTO: REUTERS

Search teams reported seeing some bodies intact.

An air force plane reportedly spotted a shadow of what looked like a plane on the seabed.
AirAsia QZ8501 debris
AirAsia QZ8501 debris

As the operations move from search and locate, to search and recovery, it would take weeks before enough pieces of wreckage and human remains are recovered for the authorities and investigators to determine how and why the crash happened.

Critical to this is finding the plane’s black boxes which record conversations in the cockpit and preserve data on the position and speed of the aircraft.

But looking at what is known so far, there are several possibilities on what could have happened.

Retired United States airline pilot John Cox, who runs his own consultancy, said: “I am now seeing doors and reports of a large section located on the sea floor which are indicators, but not conclusive evidence, that the plane was in one piece when it hit the ocean.

“If the wingtips, nose and tail are found in the same area, then it will be conclusive that the plane was intact upon impact with the water.”
AirAsia QZ8501 search areas
AirAsia QZ8501 search areas

Mr Jacques Astre, president of industry consultancy International Aviation Safety Solution, said: “The fact that the debris field is relatively small would suggest the aircraft broke up upon impact with the sea and not in flight.”

If some bodies are found intact, it would suggest the same, said Mr H.R. Mohandas, a former pilot and now programme head for the diploma in aviation management at Republic Polytechnic.

Mr Astre added: “The close proximity of the debris field to its last known location also suggests the aircraft descended fairly quickly.”

The area is about 10km from the aircraft’s last known location over the Java Sea.

The first sign of trouble came about 45 minutes after the plane left Surabaya at 5.30am – an hour behind Singapore time – for the two-hour sector. At 6.12am, the cockpit requested permission from the Jakarta air traffic control to turn left to avoid a storm, which is common procedure when pilots encounter rough weather.

The pilot then asked to take the plane higher to 38,000 feet from its position at 32,000 feet, without explaining why.

The air traffic control decided to allow the plane to increase its height but only to 34,000 feet, because at that time another AirAsia flight was flying at 38,000 feet.

But when this was communicated to the pilot of QZ8501, there was no response from the cockpit.


Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) servicemen onboard a C-130 aircraft take part in the search and locate (SAL) operation for missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 over the Java sea on December 30, 2014.–PHOTO: AFP

Data from Indonesia’s meteorological agency showed slight rain in the Belitung and Pontianak areas when the plane was estimated to be flying through the vicinity, with thick cumulonimbus clouds as high as 45,000 feet.

Such clouds can produce lightning and other dangerous weather conditions, such as gusts, hail and occasional tornadoes.

Mr Mark D. Martin, founder and chief executive officer of Martin Consulting, said: “In the unfortunate event of entering a cumulonimbus cloud at flight levels between 31,000 feet and 38,000 feet, it is common to see heavy updrafts and downdrafts, icing on control surfaces which can freeze corrective pilot actions, aggressive aircraft manoeuvres and the aircraft dramatically lose altitude in excess of 5,000 feet per minute.”

A similar incident had occurred in June 2009 when Air France Flight AF447 plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving no survivors, during a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris.

Official investigations concluded that the aircraft crashed after pilots failed to react correctly to temporary inconsistencies between air speed measurements.

This was likely due to ice crystals blocking the plane’s pitot tubes, which measure air speed.

Mr Mohandas said: “It is possible that something similar happened to Flight QZ8501. In their attempt to avoid extreme weather conditions, the pilots could have taken some actions, including possibly initiating a climb which requires more power.

“This coupled with adverse weather conditions, including turbulence, and possibly the formation of ice on the surface of the aircraft at high altitude, could have disengaged the plane’s auto-pilot systems.”

He said: “With little or no visibility and without auto pilot, you don’t know what’s in front of you and the crew could have become disorientated. Under such circumstances, the plane could have gone into an uncontrolled descent.”

With the wreckage found, experts can start piecing together the final moments of Flight QZ8501. To the relatives of those who perished, this may bring a sense of closure but, perhaps, no relief from the pain.

karam@sph.com.sg Straits Times/ANN

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The Wealthy get wealthier


The richest people on Earth got richer in 2014, adding $92 billion to their collective fortune in the face of falling energy prices and geopolitical turmoil incited by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Video: http://www.bloomberg.com/video/popout/4PRJi7eqTcWSR0cwVL05iA/10.938/

The net worth of the world’s 400 wealthiest billionaires on Dec. 29 stood at $4.1 trillion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the planet’s richest.

The biggest gainer was Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., China’s largest e-commerce company. Ma, a former English teacher who started the Hangzhou-based company in his apartment in 1999, added $25.1 billion to his fortune, riding a 56 percent surge in the company’s shares since its September initial public offering.

Ma, 50, with a $28.7 billion fortune, briefly passed Li Ka-shing as Asia’s richest person.

“I am nothing but happy when young people from China do well,” Li, 86, said through his spokeswoman in Hong Kong.

Global stocks rose in 2014, with the MSCI World Index advancing 4.3 percent during the year to close at 1,731.71 on Dec. 29. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index rose 13 percent to close at 2,090.57. The Stoxx Europe 600 gained 4.9 percent to close at 344.27.

Two of the year’s other biggest gainers were Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg of the U.S. Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., added $13.7 billion to his net worth after the Omaha, Nebraska-based company soared 28 percent as the dozens of operating businesses the 84-year-old chairman bought over the past five decades churned out record profit.

Gates, Slim

Buffett passed Mexican telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim on Dec. 5 to become the world’s second-richest person. Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft Corp., was up $9.1 billion during the year. The 59-year-old remains the world’s richest person with a $87.6 billion fortune.

Zuckerberg, the hoodie-wearing chief executive officer of the world’s largest social-networking company, gained $10.6 billion as the Menlo Park, California-based business rose to a record on Dec. 22.

Bloomberg Billionaires Gainers of 2014

Bloomberg Billionaires Gainers of 2014

This year Facebook made headway in mobile, a business that has flourished as mobile advertising increased and marketing initiatives expanded with applications and video. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion has also been paying off: A Citigroup Inc. analyst said on Dec. 19 the photo-sharing app is worth $35 billion.

Russia Woes

Zuckerberg’s company faced a challenge in Russia, where the blocking of a Facebook page promoting a Russian opposition rally highlighted the challenges the social network faces as Putin cracks down on the Internet amid a looming economic downturn. The European Union and U.S. limited Russian companies’ access to financing to punish Putin after he annexed Crimea in March. Russia’s troubles have been worsened by the corresponding plunge in the price of oil, a bedrock of the country’s economy.

Nobody was hit harder than Vladimir Evtushenkov. Once Russia’s 14th-richest person, the 66-year-old lost 80 percent of his wealth, dropping him from the Bloomberg ranking. He was sentenced to house arrest by a Moscow court in September after a money-laundering investigation connected to the $2.5 billion purchase of shares in oil producer OAO Bashneft.

The court also ruled in favor of nationalizing his stake in Bashneft, which he controlled through publicly traded AFK Sistema. Evtushenkov’s fortune has fallen $8.1 billion, the most of any Russian in 2014.

Leonid Mikhelson has been the biggest loser in dollar terms among those remaining in the country’s 20 richest, dropping $7.8 billion since the start of the year. The 59-year-old is the chief executive officer of OAO Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer, which fell 44 percent during the year. He has a $10.1 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg ranking.

Western Sanctions

Viktor Vekselberg surpassed Alisher Usmanov as Russia’s richest person after Usmanov’s MegaFon OAO lost almost half its value since June. Vekselberg is worth $14.1 billion, while Usmanov fell 32 percent to $13.8 billion.

One of only a few Russians among the world’s 400 richest who gained in 2014 was aluminum billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who added $1.6 billion as his Hong Kong-based United Co. Rusal rose 122 percent. Deripaska has increased his fortune to $8.2 billion. He’s the world’s 154th-richest person.

“The reputation of Russian business in the west has become worse, and will continue to get worse,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, a Kremlin adviser during Putin’s first term who now consults for Moscow’s Institute for National Strategy, a research firm. “That means that the capabilities for Russia’s billionaires to run businesses abroad are going to decrease.”

Adelson Falls

Belkovsky says Putin will try to compensate the country’s sanctioned businessmen by giving them access to different state resources.

“The competition for resources will increase, as will the redistribution of ownership,” he said.

Russian billionaires weren’t the only ones to suffer losses. Sheldon Adelson, the gambling mogul who controls Las Vegas Sands Corp., the world’s largest casino company, fell $8.7 billion as the Las Vegas-based company dropped 25 percent.

Macau’s casinos are looking at their first down year in revenue since the market was opened to foreign operators in 2002, after China’s President Xi Jinping cracked down on corruption on the mainland and high-rollers shunned the gambling enclave. More than half of the company’s 2013 $13.8 billion in revenue comes from Macau.

Bezos, Musk

Adelson’s decline was followed by Jeffrey Bezos, the chairman of Amazon.com Inc. The 50-year-old had $7.2 billion trimmed from his fortune as the Seattle-based company lost ground in the cloud computing market to crosstown competitor Microsoft Corp.

Bezos, whose Blue Origin LLC space company won a contract in November to deploy rockets from NASA launchpads in Florida, is ranked 21st in the world with a $28.7 billion fortune. Blue Origin will develop a space vehicle that isn’t scheduled to be ready until after 2020.

Elon Musk’s space-exploration company is close to winning the certification it needs to begin deploying satellites for the U.S. military, according to an Air Force official. A contract win by Hawthorne,
California-based SpaceX would be the first since the Pentagon opened the program in late 2012 to as many as 14 competitive missions.

Musk added $2.9 billion to his net worth, most of which was the result of a 50 percent gain by Tesla Motors Inc., the world’s largest electric-car manufacturer.

Chinese Gains

China’s 10 richest people have added almost $48 billion combined year-to-date. Following Ma’s $25.1 billion gain, technology entrepreneurs Richard Liu of online retailer JD.com and Robin Li of Baidu Inc. added a combined $8 billion.

The title of Asia’s richest person could be challenged by Wang Jianlin, whose Dalian Wanda Group Co. staged an initial public offering of its commercial properties division this month. An IPO for Wanda Cinema Line Co. is planned for early 2015. Wang has a net worth of $25.3 billion, gaining $12.8 billion during the year.

Alibaba’s surge minted at least three new billionaires this year, including Simon Xie, an Alibaba co-founder and the second-biggest shareholder of the finance affiliate that owns Alipay. Xie, 44, owns 9.7 percent of Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group Co., the parent of Alipay, according to company filings obtained by Bloomberg News.

Hidden Billionaires

Small & Micro CEO Lucy Peng and Jonathan Lu, CEO of Alibaba, each controls almost 4 percent in Small & Micro Financial, according to filings submitted by the company in Hangzhou. They also both own less than 1 percent of Alibaba, which made them new 2014 billionaires.

Bloomberg News uncovered 86 new or hidden billionaires who had never appeared on an international wealth ranking. Among them were the six heirs to a $13 billion Monaco fortune that were unveiled after the family’s matriarch, Helene Pastor, was gunned down in a parking lot in Nice, France, in May. The fortune spans two branches of the Pastor family, which built much of Monaco’s skyline and owns thousands of apartments in the city-state.

Carlos Pellas became Nicaragua’s first billionaire rebuilding his family sugar mill and parlaying the proceeds into a new bank, BAC-Credomatic, which, by 2005, was one of the largest financial institutions in Central America. He sold it to General Electric Co. in a deal completed between 2005 and 2010 for about $1.7 billion.

Latin America

His rise to riches was almost interrupted by a violent 1989 plane crash that killed more than 130 people and left his wife with 62 bone fractures and skin melting off her face.

Other Latin America fortunes that emerged include five billionaires from Brazil — Joesley, Wesley, Valere, Vanessa and Vivianne Batista — who created the world’s biggest beef producer after making more than $17 billion in acquisitions. Their company, JBS SA, rode the biggest stock rally on Brazil’s Bovespa index this year, jumping 30 percent year-to-date, fueled by surging beef prices and Russia’s lifting of a ban on Brazil meat-processing plants.

A surge in real estate and corporate valuations elevated the fortunes of at least five Blackstone Group LP billionaires. Co-founder and chairman Stephen Schwarzman added $926 million as the company rose 7.6 percent. The performance, along with surging art values, made James Tomilson Hill, Blackstone’s vice chairman who runs the company’s $64 billion hedge fund business, a billionaire. Jonathan Gray, who runs the firm’s real estate division, is worth $1.5 billion.

Strong Dollar

Real estate is seen as one way the wealthy could make further gains in 2015.
“The fact that interest rates are going to remain low, there might be some opportunities, especially with residential real estate in Europe,” Efrat Peled, the chairman of Arison Investments, said in a phone interview from her office in Tel Aviv.

Peled, who manages more than $2.5 billion in assets for Shari Arison, says a strong U.S. dollar should give some foreign markets a boost.

“Exports are better when the dollar is strong,” she said.

Whether interest rates stay low remains a looming question moving into 2015. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen appears poised to raise interest rates for the first time in almost a decade, and prognosticators are convinced Treasury yields have nowhere to go except up. Their calls for higher yields next year are the most aggressive since 2009, when U.S. debt securities suffered record losses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Billionaire Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. in 2014.
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