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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We need local councillors who can do the job


Councillor's GuideI REFER to the article “Local govt polls may cause racial polarisation” ( Sunday Star, Jan 25) and would like to share my views on matters.

The core functions of local government is to look at matters that are closest to the people.

Both the state and federal governments are too far from the people for them to have good understanding of the needs of the people at the micro level. Today the local authority has become a government agency and the councillors have been a rubber stamp of the decisions made by the local authority. Many who were appointed to the post lacks quality and knowledge in functions and power of a councillor.

Appointed councillors are political party nominees. The council seats are shared according to an agreed ratio among the component parties. They are not independent. Appointments are given as part of political rewards to grassroot party leaders.

At times decisions made by the council are not in the best interest of the people as for the councillors, party interest comes first. There are clear professional conflicts of interest between political parties nominees and between those meeting the needs the people.

In my area, the appointed councillors do not understand their role as councillors. They have been turned into “complaint centre” for people to bring their issues to the local authority.

These councillors have been assigned certain zones and have been tasked to look after drainage, rubbish collection and grass cutting.

They have very poor knowledge of the local authority by-laws. They fail to function as a “Board of Directors” of the local authority and provide the much needed check and balance between addressing the needs of the people and the local authorities.

While we can accept the point of maintaining the current system but we cannot accept the fact that the powers-that-be failed to nominate “independent people with strong knowledge on the governance of local authority” as specified under Section 10(2) in Act 171.

The law says that the state authority must appoint councillors who have wide experience in local government affairs or have achieved distinction in any profession, commerce or industry, or are otherwise capable of representing the interests of their communities in the local authority area.

Unfortunately the state government appoints party members who are grassroot leaders who in most cases do not meet the requirement of the law.

In Petaling Jaya, the capable ones were removed as councillors and replaced with mediocre group of people. In Ampang, we have unemployed party members and people with poor education background serving as councillors. They do not meet the requirement of the Local Council Act.

The question remains which political parties in power will be the first to push forward the agenda that focuses on the people and not their respective parties.

By Dr Mohamed Fafick Khan Ampang The Star/Asia News Network

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Malaysia revised budget 2015: cuts RM5.5 bil, deficit target 3.2%, focus on manufactured goods


NAJIB RAZAK_Budget 2015 rev

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak delivers his speech on the revision of the Budget 2015 at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre today. He said a slew of cuts amounting to RM5.5 billion will take place as part of Putrajaya’s proactive measures. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Nazir Sufari, January 20, 2015.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today announced a slew of budget cuts amounting to RM5.5 billion as part of Putrajaya’s “proactive measures” to align itself with plunging global oil prices and revised world economic growth projections.

The cuts would come from the Budget 2015’s operational expenditures that were initially set at RM223.4 billion, while the RM48.5 billion for development would remain untouched, Najib said in his speech today at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre.

Also, the fiscal deficit target of 3% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the year has been revised to 3.2%.

Najib said this was still lower than 2014’s fiscal deficit of 3.5%. The “proactive measures” to achieve the RM5.5 billion savings are:

“(The government will) optimise outlays on supplies and services, especially overseas travel, events and functions and use of professional services. This will result in savings of RM1.6 billion.

“Second, defer the 2015 Program Latihan Khidmat Negara (National Service) to enable the programme to be reviewed and enhanced, with savings expected at RM400 million.

“Third, review transfers and grants to statutory bodies, GLCs, Government Trust Funds, particularly those with a steady revenue stream and high reserves. This measure will result in savings of RM3.2 billion.

“Fourth, reschedule the purchase of non-critical assets, especially office equipment, software and vehicles, with an expected savings of RM300 million.”

Najib said Putrajaya’s revenue would be enhanced by encouraging companies to register with the Royal Malaysian Customs to enable them to charge and collect the goods and services tax (GST).

He estimated that broadening the tax base would contribute an additional RM1 billion.

Putrajaya would also realise additional dividends from GLCs and GLICs as well as other government entities amounting to RM400 million, said Najib.

He added that the revisions to the budget were necessary as Putrajaya would otherwise face a revenue shortfall of RM8.3 billion due to falling crude oil prices, despite savings of RM10.7 billion after doing away with fuel subsidies.

“Without any fiscal measures, the deficit will increase to 3.9% of GDP against the target of 4% for 2015.

“This requires the government to take measures to reduce the deficit, in line with the government’s commitment towards fiscal consolidation.”

Najib said the GDP growth target between 5% and 6% had been revised to between 4.5% to 5.5%.

To ensure economic growth remained strong, he said Putrajaya would boost exports of goods and services, enhance private consumption, and accelerate private investment.

Among its strategies are postponing the scheduled electricity tariff and gas price hike, and increasing nationwide mega sales.

Meanwhile, Najib announced an initial allocation of RM800 million for the repair and construction of basic infrastructures affected by the recent floods, and another RM893 million for flood mitigation projects.

These included building eight-foot high stilt houses for those who have land and whose homes were damaged by the floods, and handing over 1,000 units of low-cost homes in Gua Musang, Kelantan.

As he concluded his speech, he told Malaysians the country was not in a financial crisis or recession, but simply taking pre-emptive measures.

“We are neither in recession nor a crisis as experienced in 1997, 1998 and 2009, which warranted stimulus packages.

“The strategies announced by the government are proactive initiatives to make the necessary adjustments following the challenging external developments which are beyond our control.

“This is a reality check following, among others, declining global crude oil prices,” he added. – January 20, 2015.

By ANISAH SHUKRY The Malaysian Insider

Focus on Malaysian-manufactured goods

 

NAJIB RAZAK_Budget 2015 rev1

PETALING JAYA: The impact of the reduction in global oil prices from US$100 to US$40 per barrel can be offset by a rise in demand for Malaysian-manufactured goods, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (pic) on Tuesday.

Najib, who announced revisions to the 2015 Budget which was tabled in October 2014, said that this could be done as crude oil only makes up 4.5% of the nation’s total exports.

“The reduction in the price of crude oil will indirectly increase demand in Malaysia-made products. We will actively promote ‘import-substitution’ to reduce our dependency on external sources to obtain goods and services,” said Najib.

He added that the Government initiatives would be created to increase the use of the private sector.

“We will give priority to local Class G1 (Class F), G2 (Class E) and G3 (Class D) contractors registered with the Construction Industry Development Board to carry out recovery works in their local areas affected by the east coast flood,” said Najib.

He added that the Government would intensify promotions encouraging the public to buy made-in-Malaysia products.

“We will increase the frequency and duration of mega sales throughout the nation, and intensify domestic tourism promotions by offering competitive airfares,” said Najib.

He also said that the Government would encourage the private sector to reap opportunities created by the Asean Economic Community.

“We will also intensify programmes to boost exports of Malaysian goods in 46 nations across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and America,” said Najib.

In his speech, Najib said the adjustment to the 2015 Budget was necessary to “ensure our economy continues to attain respectable and reasonable growth, and development for the nation and rakyat continues” as the 2015 Budget was based on the price of crude oil remaining at US$100 per barrel.

“Based on a crude oil price of US$100 per barrel and taking government saving measures and retail price controls into account, the Government was expected to have a fiscal profit of RM3.7bil. However, with the current price of oil at US$55 a barrel, the government will lose RM13.8bil in income,” said Najib.

By Tan Ti Liang The Star/Asia News Network

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Will shale oil survive the price fall?


American shale oil enterprise WBH Energy filed for bankruptcy ro January 4, 2015. This could be the beginning of a shakeout of shale oil enterprises. Since 2010, the debt of America’s energy enterprises has increased 55 percent; meanwhile, the energy sector of S&P 1500 index has dropped rapidly. The shale oil revolution has not only been stricken by the low oil price, but also “abandoned” by investors. As liquidity runs short, small and medium-sized shale oil enterprises will either go bankrupt or be taken over if they survive the oil price crisis.

American shale oil

The reason for the oil price slump is becoming clearer: oversupply. However, since oil producers will not reduce output, the downward trend continues. Canadian heavy crude has dropped below 35 USD, a new low since February 2009. In the past six months, the price has fallen by 60 percent. We can say that the shale oil revolution is being blocked by the low oil price – in other words, it is being hindered by OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), principally represented by Saudi Arabia. When the oil price dropped below 50 USD, OPEC had a meeting seeking consensus on maintaining oil output. The average production cost of OPEC is about 40 USD, while the cost of shale oil is above 60 USD. As long as the price is above 40 USD, OPEC can still make profit, but the shale oil enterprises will be squeezed out. At the end of 2014, in order to exploit the market for US oil producers, the US Department of Commerce lifted the ban on the export of condensate oil. The US has ended its 40-year oil export ban to join in competition with the other oil producers, which means that on the one hand the US has become an international oil producer, while on the other hand shale oil has had a huge impact on the world energy structure, and the world oil market has excess production capacity. For the US, shale oil has provided a new economic growth point and provided additional chips when competing with other oil producing countries. Therefore, the US government will offer necessary supports to shale oil enterprises. However, the market cannot be easily manipulated by one or two countries. The US wanted a moderate drop in the oil price, which would stimulate its economy as well as “fix” those insubordinate oil producing countries. But the downward trend of the oil price has been irresistible, and now threatens the survival of the American shale oil industry. Faced with the falling oil price, shale oil enterprises, with their relatively high production costs, have entered a crucial phase of life and death. Unless all the oil producing countries join hands to limit production and achieve a rebalancing of supply and demand, the oil price will not rebound in the short term. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries blame the oil price crisis on the irresponsible behavior of non-OPEC oil producing countries, which in fact targets the shale oil producers. The new energy industry is suffering under the impact of the falling oil price too. The stock price of electric vehicle producer Tesla is also in a slump. But for the shale oil enterprises, this is an issue of life or death. – (People’s Daily Online) Related posts:

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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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