Sony comedy film: The Interview looms cyber war as US-N.Korea tension spikes


The Interview is a 2014 American political comedy film directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg in their second directorial work, following This Is the End. The screenplay by Dan Sterling is from a story by Rogen, Goldberg and Sterling. The film stars Rogen and James Franco as journalists instructed to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park) after booking an interview with him. It received mixed reviews from critics.

The_InterviewIn June 2014, the North Korean government threatened “merciless” action against the United States if the film’s distributor, Columbia Pictures,went ahead with the release. Columbia delayed the release from October 10 to December 25, and reportedly edited the film to make it moreacceptable to North Korea. In November, the computer systems of parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment were hacked by the “Guardians of Peace”, a group the FBI believes has ties to North Korea. After leaking several other then-upcoming Sony films and other sensitive internal information, the group demanded that Sony pull The Interview, which it referred to as “the movie of terrorism”. On December 16, 2014, the Guardians of Peace threatened terrorist attacks against cinemas that played The Interview.

On December 17, after a number of major North American cinema chains canceled screenings in the interest of safety, Sony canceled the theatrical release of The Interview, drawing criticism from the media, Hollywood figures and U.S. President Barack Obama. After initially stating that it had no plans to release the film, Sony made The Interview available for online rental on December 24, and in a limited release at selected cinemas on December 25. – Wikipedia

 Cyber war looms as US-NK tension spikes

North Korea’s Internet and 3G networks were back to normal by midday Tuesday after hours of a strange shutdown. This blackout led to speculation that North Korea had been under cyber-attack from the US. It remains unknown whether the purported US-North Korea conflict will flare up into full-blown cyber war.

Sony Pictures, which has caught global attention for filming The Interview, a movie featuring the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was attacked by a group of hackers recently. The FBI asserted that these hackers were sponsored by North Korea, and US President Barack Obama declared the US would make a “proportional response.” Thus, there are high suspicions that Washington is behind the attack.

Neither Washington nor Pyongyang has commented officially on the incident. There are more threats to cyber security than ever before, and hacking groups not backed by governments have become mainstream. Countries like the US have established cyber armies, but there has been no declaration of a cyber war so far. Any party suspected of launching cyber invasions using its regular cyber army always denies its involvement.

We hope that Washington and Pyongyang will not engage in war in cyberspace. Once they cross the Rubicon, there is no way back.

The current suspected tit-for-tat situation between North Korea and the US raises the risks of a cyber war. Pyongyang has shown its abomination toward Sony Pictures. However, having denied any connections with the attacks, it hailed these actions as justified.

Washington has revealed its inclination to retaliate against Pyongyang, which is why many assume the Internet blackout in North Korea was its doing. Washington’s response could be an overreaction, as it is implying that cyber attacks can be seen as a kind of legitimate state action, which will set a precedent for cyber wars.

Antagonism between North Korea and the US will remain a hot topic for quite a while in the international community. If more cyber attacks are launched in the near future, many people will believe that a cyber war between them has already broken out.

It is possible that Washington is trying to teach Pyongyang a lesson and show its strength through cyber attacks. But it must keep in mind that its advanced networks also have loopholes, which might be taken advantage of by a single hacker and a computer.

The US must not set an example by engaging in cyber warfare. It might prevail in the short term, but the already vulnerable Internet order will be mired in countless trouble.

This North Korea-US cyber conflict has also reminded China that it must reinforce its cyber security and act as a constructive role to guard peace across the Internet. As for the speculation that it was China that cut off North Korea’s Internet connections, these are spurious and do not merit our attention.- Global Times

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China once again boasts world’s fastest supercomputer


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The Tianhe-2, a supercomputer developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology, was named the world’s top supercomputer for the fourth consecutive time by the TOP500 project. [Photo/Xinhua]

The Tianhe-2, a supercomputer developed by China’s National University of Defense Technology, was named the world’s top supercomputer for the fourth consecutive time by the TOP500 project.

The Tianhe-2 relegated the US-developed Titan to second spot with a performance of 33.86 petaflop (quadrillions of calculations per second) in a standardized test designed to measure computer performance.

IBM’s Sequoia rounded out the top 3 in the TOP500 list.

The TOP500 project, started in 1993, issues a list twice a year that ranks supercomputers based on their performance.

There was little change in the top 10 in the latest list and the only new entry was at number 10 – the Cray CS-Storm, developed by Cray Inc, which also developed the Titan.

The United States was home to six of the top 10 supercomputers, while China, Japan, Switzerland and Germany had one entrant each.

The United States remained the top country in terms of overall systems with 231, down from 233 in June and falling near its historical low.

The number of Chinese systems on the list also dropped to 61 from 76 in June, while Japan increased its number of systems from 30 to 32.

– China Daily/ Asia News Nework

 Related:

Asia Pacific Economic Leadership Shifting from the US to China for Free Trade framework


Apec 2014 China_FTAAP roadmap

All together now: Apec leaders posing for a family picture at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing. Front row from left, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, US President Barack Obama, Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, (backrow from left) Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Najib and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. — EPA

The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit that just concluded in Beijing was no doubt China’s show. Beijing came out looking very much what it is touted to be — the world’s second-largest economy now leading the charge towards a free-trade region known as the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP). For a once-closed economy that was not even part of the global trading system, this is one giant leap. In doing so, China overshadowed and reduced a rival initiative by the United States — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which excludes Beijing — to what is a subsidiary platform

Chinese President Xi Jinping has shown that the agenda of liberalising trade in the Asia-Pacific region cannot but take China into account; indeed, this agenda will be dictated by China from now on. To show how serious it is, the Beijing APEC Declaration came complete with a road map towards the realisation of the FTAAP, though a clear deadline was shelved for now.

With the US outmanoeuvred, the economic power game entered a second stage in Myanmar this week, where the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) hosted the East Asia Summit, in which both China and the US are members (with Beijing represented by Prime Minister Li Keqiang).

Interestingly, Beijing saw the revival of APEC as a major platform for regional economic integration — led by China. APEC has actually been the vehicle for trade liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific region since it was formed in 1989. Indeed, the FTAAP is not a Chinese idea, as Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made clear, but an APEC vision conceived in 2004 with its end-goal being a huge Asia-Pacific free-trade area.

But APEC lost its shine over time when no clear big-power champion emerged with the visionary leadership and commitment of then US President Bill Clinton, who hosted the first summit in Seattle in 1993.

During APEC’s downtime years, ASEAN fell back on its own trade liberalisation process, the Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA), and preached the message of trade liberalisation to the wider region. Two major platforms then emerged: One was the TPP, for which the US took leadership, with the exclusion of China. The other was the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an outgrowth of the Asean Plus Three Summit comprising the association’s three North-east Asian trading partners, China, Japan and South Korea, as well as Australia, India and New Zealand.

China easily dominates the RCEP and insists that it be an East Asian platform — meaning it has no room for the US. This is partly the reason the US is eager to have the TPP as the key pathway to reach the FTAAP.

While the RCEP and the TPP evolve as competing platforms, both China and the US have, of late, downplayed this rivalry. This is just as well for Asean, whose members are divided between support for the RCEP and for the TPP. Only four of the 10 Asean members — Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam — are currently involved in the TPP negotiations, which demand a higher standard of trade liberalisation. The RCEP, on the other hand, sits better with many Asean members, virtually all of which benefit from huge trade with China.

The Asean dilemma

Apec 2014 China_ASEAN NUMBERSBut while Asean as a whole values China as a close economic partner, the group is also wary about Beijing as a security threat. This has resulted in a two-dimensional relationship — a duality, as some have called it — that Asean has with China: A growing economic relationship paradoxically matched by increasing political tension caused by Beijing’s aggressive claims to parts of the South China Sea.

How this two-dimensional relationship could be managed provided the backdrop for the Asean Summit this week in Myanmar and the East Asia Summit.

By stepping on the accelerator towards the FTAAP, China has virtually also quickened the pace of Asean’s own economic and political integration. The goal of an Asean Community — including a fully-integrated Asean Economic Community by December 31 next year — cannot be further delayed. At the moment, 80 per cent of its integration targets have been realised, with the remaining “hard part” set to be tackled after 2015.

But surely, the next lap cannot be only about tackling the unfinished business. If Asean Community 2015 is yet another pathway to the FTAAP, what is the vision of Asean after next year? This is where the group’s leaders must put on their thinking caps and collectively forge a road map to a new Asean that is a global player firmly situated in the 21st century.

This new vision must take into account the rapidly evolving economic and security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region. As displayed in Beijing this week, it will be a future in which China will not be shy to assert its economic leadership — in the same way it has staked its political dominance in the region.

As Asean leaders were convening for their summit in Naypyidaw, US President Barack Obama and Mr Xi in Beijing attempted to reforge the strategic relationship between the US and China, probing each other for a new calculus. Their major bilateral agreement on climate change was achieved in this context. But Mr Obama is a lame-duck President on his way out, while Mr Xi, who is only two years in office, will be around for a full decade to lead a rising superpower.

Asean’s dilemma is this: It appreciates the increasingly prosperous relationship that is blossoming with China under Mr Xi. Yet, Asean knows it is also entering a potentially tense future with Beijing under a leader who is prepared to flex China’s muscles — as seen in the resulting volatility regarding the South China Sea. Curiously, the tensions over the territorial disputes cooled down somewhat during the busy summit period.

Will Asean remain a mere bystander, watching from the wings as the power game continues to unfold between the two giants? Or will Asean do something to secure its pivotal position so it can shape the future regional balance in its favour? This key question must have preoccupied Asean leaders in Naypyidaw. ― Today

By Yang Razali Kassim, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University.

Apec leaders all for free trade framework

BEIJING: The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders’ Meeting hosted by China endorsed the Beijing Roadmap for Apec to promote and realise the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

The roadmap details actions to be taken to achieve FTAAP – a trade liberalisation framework that China had pushed for – and includes undertaking a collective strategic study with results to be reported by 2016.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, during the summit held by the Yanqi Lake in the Huairou district, expressed Malaysia’s support on the roadmap.

“Malaysia sees the FTAAP as a natural progression for an overall trade arrangement across all economies in the region.

“What we have on the table now, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and Pacific Alliance, are building blocks towards the larger FTAAP,” he said.

Najib also called on Apec members to find a way out of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) impasse and place the Bali decisions back on track.

It was reported that an impasse over a global pact hammered out in Bali last December to streamline Customs procedures had paralysed all negotiations in the WTO.

“If we do not find a way out of the impasse, it means that the WTO can no longer hold sway as a rule-making entity,” said Najib yesterday.

The Apec summit, attended by heads of states from 21 Pacific Rim economies, also adopted a Connec­tivity Blueprint to promote integration through physical, institutional and people-to-people connectivity.

Najib told Malaysian reporters here that Malaysia could play a role in enhancing connectivity in the Asia-Pacific region, citing bilateral projects such as the Malaysia-Singapore high-speed rail project as an example.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had reportedly expressed China’s interest to help build the rail link during his meeting with Najib on Monday.

Commenting on this, Najib said it was a bilateral project between Malaysia and Singapore and both countries would call for international tenders.

Najib also said Malaysia welcomed the blueprint on connectivity and commended China for initiating the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

He left Beijing yesterday evening.

Commenting on the visit, Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting, who is the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to China, said mutual trust between China and Malaysia was growing stronger, judging from Najib’s bilateral meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Li in the Chinese capital.

“Najib was given special treatment. At China’s initiatives, he met both Xi and Li on the sidelines of the Apec summit,” Ong noted.

He added that Xi called for mutual support as China strived to realise the Chinese Dream and Malaysia the goal of becoming a high-income nation by 2020.

By Tho Xin Yin The Star/Asia News Network

 

ASEAN SUMMIT: China pushes for code at South China Sea

 

Asean 214 plus Three

Standing united: Najib (fifth from right) posing for photographs with Thein Sein (centre) and other Asean leaders during the closing of the 25th Asean Summit at the Myanmar International Convention Centre.

Beijing pledges US$20b in loans to boost Southeast Asian connectivity

China will push for the implementation of a code of conduct for the South China Sea – a document that will lessen the risk of escalating tensions in the area-but experts said such an agreement faces obstacles, at least in the short term.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reaffirmed China’s resolve to safeguard territorial sovereignty at a series of three regional meetings in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar, on Thursday, saying the country is willing to adhere to the code, which has been under discussion for more than a decade.

Leaders from the Philippines and Vietnam, countries that have seen maritime tensions with China rise, also attended the meetings.

“China and Southeast Asian countries are close neighbours with common interests and diversified concerns. It is inevitable-not strange at all-that differences emerge among us, but those differences will not affect the general stability in the South China Sea,” Li said at the East Asia summit.

“I believe that as long as we treat each other with sincerity and seek common ground while acknowledging differences, there will be no insurmountable obstacles that will stand in our way,” Li said.

Li said China’s policy of building partnerships with its neighbours is sincere and consistent, and the situation in the South China Sea has been stable as freedom and safety of navigation is ensured.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last year that the code should reflect “consensus through negotiations” and “elimination of interference”, indicating that maritime issues should be left to the parties directly involved to sort out through dialogue.

The declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was signed in 2002, in which all signatories agreed to work out a code of conduct to guide future activities in the region. But limited progress has been made in drafting the code since then.

In a bid to reach long-lasting peace in the region, Li pledged to speed up negotiations on a cooperation treaty.

China also agreed to establish a hotline for joint search and rescue efforts at sea as well as a hotline for senior officials.

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said the negotiation of the code has gone on for more than 10 years because of different opinions regarding how the document will be drafted and whether it will allow third-party intervention.

Lu Jianren, the chief researcher of Sino-Asean relations at Guangxi University, said the importance of the code lies in the fact that it rules out the use of military force as a means to resolve issues and that no party is allowed to take further action to escalate tension.

Economic ties

Also at Thursday’s summit, China promised more loans and economic aid to Southeast Asia.

China will provide $10 billion in preferential loans to Asean countries and another development loan of $10 billion specifically for infrastructure.

China also started on projects for the second phase of the China-Asean Investment Cooperation Fund, which totals $3 billion.

Engineers have begun preliminary work on a rail network, which will start in Kunming, Yunnan province, and connect Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Study in Thailand, said China and Asean were forging ever closer ties and despite differences there are areas of growing cooperation.

“Economic opportunities exist for each party,” he said.

US’s Quantitative Easing (QE) ended, but not financial supremacy


QE End

By Luo Jie

The Federal Reserve has officially announced an end to the third round of its quantitative easing bond-buying program. To deal with the financial crisis and make up for the failure of the US government to adequately stimulate the economy, the Federal Reserve has generated trillions of dollars for the American economy in the past six years. It shifted its own financial burden to the rest of the world to some extent.

Europe and Japan also adopted the policy of quantitative easing, albeit with little result. But the US achieved its goal. The fundamental reason is that it is the dollar, rather than the euro or the yen, which is the world’s currency for clearance and reserve. The US dominance of the world’s financial system has remained quite solid.

When the US pushed forward this policy of quantitative easing, the world complained because the US was dragging down countries and institutions that hold US dollars. Now that the US government and the Federal Reserve have gained some confidence, quantitative easing was abandoned. But Washington has shown indifference to the world’s reactions.

In the past six years, there has been much discussion of US decline. The situation in Iraq and Afghanistan enables people to see the limitation of US influence, but the capabilities of US systems still surpass those of other countries. These capabilities are more than enough to maintain the US as a global superpower when it is at the center of a global crisis.

Some media recently speculated that on the purchasing-power basis, China is overtaking the US and becoming the world’s biggest economy. China’s GDP has been supported by low-end economic activities. It has a long way to go to build up its high-end economic capabilities and build financial systems. Besides the economy, China lags behind the US in terms of national defense, soft power and diplomatic partnerships.

To put it more precisely, China cannot compare with the US. But comparing the two has been popular both within and outside China. Chasing or passing the US can hardly become a China policy. China needs to undergo a tough process to make it stronger.

Both China and the US should keep a sober mind to discuss the possibilities of big power relationship patterns in the 21st century. US financial dominance indeed makes China uneasy, while China takes the initiative to establish an Asian infrastructure investment bank, the US is highly alert and tries to exclude its allies such as Australia and South Korea.

China is clear about its gap with the US. How to narrow it is not only an issue for China, but also for both. The US will not be able to monopolize the world’s development opportunities. Its material decline is real, and only when it adds flexibility to the current world order, can its interests be maximized. In the international community, when the strength of a superpower is declining, its morality will be tested.

Souce: Global Time

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Terrible week for US Spaceflights: NASA rocket explodes, Virgin spaceship crashes


Virgin_spaceshiptwo-crash-wreckage

Wreckage from Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo spacecraft is seen after the vehicle crashed on Oct. 31, 2014 during a test flight out of the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

The burgeoning field of spaceflight suffered two serious blows this week.

The bad news began on Tuesday (Oct. 28), when Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket exploded just seconds after blasting off on an unmanned cargo mission to the International Space Station for NASA. Then, on Friday (Oct. 31), SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight; one of the two pilots aboard was killed and the other injured, apparently seriously.

The causes of the two accidents are unclear at the moment, and so are the consequences. But the fallout could be huge for Orbital Sciences, Virgin Galactic and the entire private spaceflight industry, which has been building up some serious momentum over the past several years.Photos: SpaceShipTwo’s Test Flights

Video Explosion! Cygnus Cargo Spacecraft Destroyed In Launch Mishap | Video http://www.space.com/27575-explosion-cygnus-cargo-spacecraft-destroyed-in-critical-launch-mishap-video.html#ooid=loMmdlcTprBMxCnB86X4sRusEF-8Khv-

Virginia-based Orbital Sciences holds a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to make eight robotic cargo runs to the space station using Antares and the company’s Cygnus spacecraft. Orbital had completed two such missions without incident before Tuesday’s rocket explosion.

Another company, California-based SpaceX, also signed a deal to ferry cargo to the space station for NASA. The agency is paying SpaceX $1.6 billion to fly 12 unmanned supply missions to the orbiting lab using the firm’s Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket. So far, SpaceX has flown four of these missions, and all have been successful.

NASA is also looking to the private sector to take astronauts to and from low-Earth orbit. Last month, the agency awarded SpaceX and Boeing multibillion-dollar contracts to continue developing their crewed vehicles — a manned version of Dragon in SpaceX’s case and a capsule called the CST-100 for Boeing.

NASA officials hope at least one of these spaceships is up and running by 2017. The agency has been dependent on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry American astronauts to and from the space station since 2011, when NASA’s space shuttle fleet retired.

NASA officials expressed confidence in Orbital Sciences after Tuesday’s launch mishap, citing the company’s two successful supply missions to the space station. The agency also seemed to affirm its commitment to private cargo delivery.

“Launching rockets is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and we learn from each success and each setback,” Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, said in a statement Tuesday. “Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our work to expand our already successful capability to launch cargo from American shores to the International Space Station.”

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites — the company that built the six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShipTwo — are dealing with a tragedy that claimed a life.

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson has previously expressed hope that commercial operations of SpaceShipTwo will begin sometime in 2015. Friday’s crash, which occurred during the suborbital space plane’s fourth rocket-powered flight and 55th overall test flight, will almost certainly push that timeline back.

But Virgin Galactic representatives vowed that they will continue their work to get SpaceShipTwo up and running. And the entire industry will bounce back as well, said Stuart Witt, CEO of Mojave Air and Space Port in California, which hosts SpaceShipTwo’s test flights.

“It hasn’t been an easy week. It’s certainly been a challenge,” Witt said during a post-crash news conference Friday. “But where I’m from, this is where you find out your true character.”

By Mike Wall @Spacedotcom

EDITOR’S RECOMMENDATIONS

Great Waldorf Astoria Hotel NY is now owned by a Chinese company


The worlds’ biggest hotel operator Hilton Worldwide has sold the iconic Waldorf Astoria in New York to a Chinese insurance company for nearly $2 billion, a record for a US hotel. The deal marks the continued Chinese real estate shopping spree in America.

Hilton Worldwide Holdings sold the historic landmark to Beijing-based Anbang Insurance Group for a record breaking $1.95 billion, which is the largest acquisition of US realty by a Chinese buyer.

The hotel will still be operated by Hilton, but is expected to undergo major renovations in the coming years.

Opened in 1931 and offering some of the best views of the Manhattan skyline, the hotel is famed for its elite guest list from US presidents to celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor.

President Barack Obama books the Presidential Suite when he travels to New York City, following the tradition of every US president since Herbert Hoover. Next time the President stays at the hotel, it will be under Chinese ownership.

Waldorf-Astoria-Hotel

Made in USA, owned by China

The sale “will ensure that the Waldorf Astoria New York represents the brand’s world-class standards for generations to come,” President and CEO of Hilton Worldwide Christopher Nassetta said in a statement.

China will now own 121 Park Avenue, the latest acquisition in the East’s shopping spree in the West. China’s growing economy, stronger currency, and greater access to credit has enticed buyers to invest in the US.

“What we are witnessing is the greatest transfer of wealth in human history. America’s wealth, America’s productive capacity, the capital that has been accumulated over a couple of centuries of industrial growth, is being transferred to East. Asia and China in particular at a volume and speed that has never been seen before,” Curtis Ellis, Executive Director of the American Jobs Alliance, told RT.

Chinese insurers have more than $14 billion available to spend on real estate abroad according to a study by global commercial property and real estate adviser CBRE.

The General Motors building was bought by Chinese investor Zhang Xin last year. Photo taken March 8, 2013. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

The General Motors building was bought by Chinese investor Zhang Xin last year. Photo taken March 8, 2013. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)

In Manhattan alone in recent years, Chinese investors have bought some of the city’s most famous buildings. Zhang Xin, the co-founder of China Ltd bought a stake in Manhattan’s GM building last year, and another Chinese company, Fosun International Ltd, picked up shares in the Chase Manhattan Plaza.

In 1989, Japanese Mitsubishi Estate Company bought a controlling stake in New York’s Rockefeller Center, also a staple in the city’s architecture.

In 1989, Japanese investor Mitsubishi Estate Company bought a 51% stake in the Rockefeller Center. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

In 1989, Japanese investor Mitsubishi Estate Company bought a 51% stake in the Rockefeller Center. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Two is the limit

The Chinese realty boom in the US is that Beijing no longer permits individuals to own more than two properties in China.

China is the leading foreign buyer of US properties. According to the National Realtors Association, between March 2013 and March 2014, the Chinese spent $22 billion on US homes, with more than 75 percent of the purchases paid in cash.

The Chinese are also putting money into America’s most expensive homes that have an average price to half a million dollars. An average American house costs $200,000.
http://rt.com/

Chinese Firm Pays Record Price for Waldorf Astoria

 

The lobby of New York's Waldorf Astoria hotel, Oct. 6, 2014. The lobby of New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel, Oct. 6, 2014.
Hilton Worldwide is selling the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City to a Chinese company for $1.95 billion. The buyerAnbang Insurance Group — will pay one of highest prices ever for a U.S. hotel. Hilton Worldwide says it will use the money from the sale to buy other hotels in the United States. As part of the deal, Hilton will continue to operate the Waldorf Astoria for the next 100 years.
 

The Chinese buyer has said it will invest in remodeling the famous property on Park Avenue to bring it back to its “historical grandeur.”

Reports say the deal is the largest for a Chinese company buying a U.S. building. Chinese investors increasingly have become interested in U.S. properties. Homesespecially costly ones — are considered a good investment. The National Association of Realtors says China’s spending on homes in the U.S. has increased sharply. The trade group estimates that Chinese buyers spent $22 billion on real estate properties in the twelve-month period ending in March 2014. That is an increase of 72 percent over the 12-month period before.

Chinese companies also increasingly are seeking businesses outside of the energy and raw materials industries. Last year, a Chinese company bought Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the U.S., for nearly $5 billion.

China holds about $1.2 trillion dollars in United States treasury securities. While these investments are safe, they do not give high returns, or yields. China has increasingly looked for other ways to invest its huge trade surplus with the U.S.

For many years, Japan has had a large trade surplus with the U.S. In the 1980s, Japanese companies bought important U.S. propertiesThese included a controlling share of Rockefeller Center, also in New York, in 1989. However, not all of these investments made a profit.

The Waldorf Astoria hotel opened in 1931. It has been a symbol of the wealth and culture of New York City since that time. World leaders and other very famous people have stayed at the hotel. Recently, many delegates to the United Nations General Assembly stayed at the hotel. 
- VOA

Global infrastructure investment: Emerging markets are winning; Singapore #1, Malaysia Asia #2


Arcadis
Emerging markets are winning the race to attract global infrastructure investment- Singapore, Qatar & UAE top theARCADIS Global Infrastructure Investment Indexranking- UK, USA are moving up the index, but need to take urgent action to attract greater funding to replace their aging infrastructure- Emerging markets including Philippines and Indonesia are rising up the index

Singapore is the most attractive market in the world for infrastructure investment, according to ARCADIS, the leading global natural and built asset design and consultancy firm.  Qatar and UAE completed the top three with their strong business environments, healthy pipelines of development work and growing economies, making them attractive to investors, including pension funds and banks.

The findings come from the second ARCADIS Global Infrastructure Investment Index which ranks 41 countries by their attractiveness to investors in infrastructure.  In order to gauge their appeal the study looked at various issues including the ease of doing business in each market, tax rates, GDP per capita, government policy, the quality of the existing infrastructure and the availability of debt finance. Combining all of these factors provided a strong overview of the risk profile for each market and how attractive each one is likely to be to potential investors.

Rob Mooren, Global Director of Infrastructure at ARCADIS said: “Good infrastructure is important for the long term economic development of a country.  Many governments are struggling to finance infrastructure investments.  As traditional debt markets are now harder to access, governments need to find alternative finance and agree to progressing projects.  By encouraging private finance into infrastructure, governments can remain globally competitive and meet their social and economic objectives.”

The GIII 2014 ranks the following as the top ten most attractive countries for infrastructure investment in 2014.  The difference from their 2012 ranking is in brackets:

 2014  Country Difference 2012
 1.  Singapore  (=)
 2.  Qatar  (=)
 3.  UAE  (+1)
 4.  Canada  (-1)
 5.  Sweden  (=)
 6.  Norway  (=)
 7.  Malaysia  (=)
 8.  USA  (+3)
 9.  Australia  (-1)
 10.  UK  (+3)

Singapore attractive, but better investment opportunities may lie elsewhere

Singapore’s integrated strategic plan linking infrastructure planning with business and social requirements helped it to retain its top position in the index.  However, the government self-finances most major projects so investment opportunities are limited.  Therefore other countries with major investment plans such as Qatar and the UAE, and emerging Asian markets such as Malaysia and the Philippines are considered more promising for investors.

USA and UK enter top ten, but must deliver against pipeline promise

The USA and the UK entered the top 10 for the first time through improvements in their economies as well as the growing need for investment in infrastructure.  However, both countries must work hard to attract private investment funds, as they compete against countries that provide more clarity on government infrastructure policy and are able to act on their promises to delivery major projects.

Continental European countries struggling to attract finance

Continental European countries present a mixed picture in their attractiveness to investors. At the top of the Continental European table, low risk markets like Sweden and Norway remain stable at fifth and sixth. Both have highly efficient business environments with transparency in regulation and efficient legal systems. Continental European countries such as Holland, France and Italy are either lacking public finance needed to upgrade their ageing infrastructure or have a lack of commitment from their governments to deliver proposed projects.  They have therefore slipped down the rankings.

Latin America countries vary in attractiveness

Chile is the highest placed Latin America country at 13th position, but its potential is limited by its size. In 2013 its construction market was estimated to be worth US$41.8billion but this is highly concentrated in mining.  Brazil is placed nearer the bottom of the ranking in 32nd place, indicating that some of the difficulties experienced with delayed programs have the potential to be risky for investors.

Rob Mooren continued: “A key difference that we have seen in the Asian and Middle Eastern markets is that those countries that have a clear integrated strategy tying infrastructure development plans to business and economic objectives have higher rankings.  This gives long term clarity to investors and is something that developed markets would do well to copy if they are to succeed in attracting more private finance into infrastructure.”

The report also explored the factors that governments, infrastructure owners and operators need to consider in order to attract private finance.  It suggested the structuring of infrastructure projects is key to this. For example, in project finance, mature markets like Canada, Australia, the US and the UK have sponsors that understand the pricing of assets, are aware of the rates of return expected and appreciate the key risks involved, making it easier to attract infrastructure investment. These markets have experienced the early challenges of introducing PPP and PFI and have learned what to expect from both an investor and political perspective

Rob Mooren concluded: “Markets that have created the right political environment committed to infrastructure development, can demonstrate the economic conditions required to sustain long term growth.  They have attractively structured infrastructure schemes which will stay ahead of the competition when it comes to attracting the pool of international investors who are increasingly considering this asset class.”

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The full report can be downloaded here  View infographic here:
   

Arcadis_Infrasture

– Andy Rowlands, Head of Corporate Communications at ARCADIS

 

M’sia second in Asia for infrastructure investment

Malaysia has been ranked second in the Asian region in terms of being an attractive market for investment in infrastructure, according to Arcadis.

Infrastructure_MalaysiaThe leading global natural and built asset design and consultancy firm said Malaysia scores highly across the investment criteria, placing it ahead of other large regional economies like Japan, China and South Korea.

Globally, Malaysia is placed at the 7th position, ahead of the US, Australia and United Kingdom.

The findings come from the second Global Infrastructure Investment Index, where it looked at various factors including the ease of doing business in each market, tax rates, GDP per-capita, government policy, quality of existing infrastructure and the availability of debt finance.

Arcadis Head of Infrastructure for Asia Richard Warburton said that infrastructure is the backbone of a country and a catalyst for its long-term economic development.

With Malaysia’s average annual population growth rate of 1.4%, he said, investment in new infrastructure will be imperative.

“Combined with Malaysia’s goal of a high-income status by 2020, plans are already underway for specific cities and urban clusters under Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley to be developed into vibrant, productive and liveable cities that are comparable to other major cities in the world.

The top 10 most attractive countries in Asia Pacific for infrastructure investment this year are Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Japan, China, Thailand, South Korea, Indonesia, India and Philippine.

Warburton said countries that have created the right political environment for sustained long-term economic growth and have attractively structured infrastructure schemes will stay ahead of the competition to attract international inventions.

Sources: TheSundaily/BERNAMA/PropertyGuru

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