Class warfare
Mar 24, 2017 (WiC 359)

There was a strange sight at a school in Hebei province this month: a protest by 400 children against South Korea and its decision to install a controversial US missile defence system.

The Century Star Elementary School put on a rally in which a teacher told the students – all less than 12 years-old – that the missile system was “a fatal threat” to China. Then, in a scene reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, the teacher asked the students to boycott trips to South Korea and products made by Lotte, the company that provided land for the missile launchers.

“Students, can we do this?” the teacher bellowed, to which can be heard uproarious replies of “Can, can, can”, reports the Financial Times. A video of the event was posted online and aroused a variety of comment. One netizen lamented “such thorough brainwashing” and another described it as crazy to use children as “props to disseminate hatred”. The principal of the school was unrepentant, saying that “patriotic education should start when children are young. The students’ parents support me.”

A spokesman for South Korea’s embassy in Beijing described the incident as “regrettable”. But perhaps equally regrettable for South Koreans was China’s 1-0 victory over his country in a World Cup qualifying match yesterday. The perennially sub-par China soccer squad had only beaten South Korea once in 31 football matches, making this a big upset.

Flying to the promised land
Mar 17, 2017 (WiC 358)

In the past few years WiC has repeatedly commented on the growing trade and investment ties between China and Israel. First there was the acquisition of local food giant Tnuva by Bright Food (see WiC240), then news of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing’s investments in Israeli tech firms (see WiC302), and then last January the debut Sino-Israeli investment summit held in Beijing (see WiC309). At this event an Israeli government official described the pair as “perfect partners – Israel is a little country which had to innovate to survive. If China brings the market, we can supply the talent.”

Recognising this state of affairs Cathay Pacific will launch a direct route between Hong Kong and Tel Aviv next week, with the inaugural flight on March 23. Jonathan Bailey, Cathay’s country manager for Israel, told WiC: “From a Cathay perspective, this burgeoning relationship between China and Israel was a key factor in launching the route. The One Belt One Road Initiative has sparked a lot of business between Israel and China, and the figures show that accumulated traffic between the two countries grew by 24% in 2016. There is a lot of Chinese investment in Israel and the top hotels here all have special packages and service standards set up for the increasing numbers of wealthy businessmen and women coming from the mainland. There is also significant traffic going the other way, with large Israeli business chambers visiting China on a regular basis for cooperation talks or further investment.”

Bailey says Cathay will operate the route using its new Airbus A350 aircraft, and will link from Hong Kong into 20 Chinese cities via sister airline Cathay Dragon. Aside from business travellers, Bailey notes there has been an increase in Chinese tourists to Israel, attracted by the historical sites.

Cathay will be banking on new routes like this proving a success as the airline has struggled over the past year from increased competition. On Wednesday it reported an unexpected net loss of HK$575 million ($74 million) for 2016 – its worst year since the 2008 financial crisis, and sharply down from a profit of HK$6 billion in 2015.

Pilotless scheme
Mar 10, 2017 (WiC 357)

“Where we’re going, we don’t need roads,” Dr Emmett Brown told Marty McFly as they prepared to blast into the year 2015 in the film Back to the Future. Perhaps that destination in time would have been more appropriately set for July 2017, when Dubai says it will be launching the world’s first pilotless, flying taxi service.

In February the Dubai authorities announced a plan to employ drones to complete short passenger trips. The company making the drones is a Chinese one, called Ehang.

Ehang unveiled its Ehang 184 passenger drone at the CES tech show in Las Vegas last January as the world’s first electric, self-piloted drone, claiming it had already completed 100 passenger-laden test flights.

The drone carries a single passenger weighing up to 100kg, and has room for a small suitcase. Fully charged, it can travel up to 50km per hour, to an altitude of 3.5km and for a duration of 30 minutes – meaning it is viable only for journeys within cities as opposed to between them. One feature of Ehang 184 that might cause some concern is, of course, that it has no pilot. Passengers use a tablet inside the “cockpit” to enter their destination and the drone does the rest. The drone also has no manual override but is designed to land in the closest “safe location” in the event of any problems.

However, tech portal The Verge is “extremely sceptical” that the idea will ever get off the ground, noting that Dubai has a history of announcing outlandish tech partnerships – such as jetpacks for fire-fighters tackling skyscraper blazes. It also believes the Ehang 184 is simply a publicity gimmick for the company’s other commercial drones. Time will tell.