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Birthday boy
Jun 15, 2018 (WiC 413)

With Vladimir Putin the world has become accustomed to tough talk. So it was something of surprise when the Russian leader bared his emotions to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV about his counterpart Xi Jinping. Putin was visibly moved as he described how Xi had celebrated with him his turning 61 at a summit in Bali in 2013.

“We finished the day’s work and he celebrated my birthday with me. This might seem irrelevant, but to talk about President Xi, this is where I would like to start,” he said in the interview, adding that he and Xi had enjoyed drinks and “sliced some sausage” together.

“I’ve never established such relations or made such arrangements with any other foreign colleague, but I did it with President Xi,” Putin told CCTV.

It does not appear Xi went so far as to sing happy birthday to Putin, but Xi did produce a cake. In return Putin got out a bottle of vodka, and over sausage sandwiches and shots they discussed their respective fathers’ experiences during World War Two.

Relations between the pair look to have strengthened further in the past five years, with Putin in Qingdao last weekend for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

According to the South China Morning Post, Xi has visited Moscow more than any other capital since coming to power and has met Putin 20 times.

Wadi or paddy field?
Jun 8, 2018 (WiC 412)

Who says nothing grows in the desert? Not Chinese scientist Yuan Longping, known domestically as the “father of hybrid rice”, who is developing a strain of the staple with greater resistance to saltwater. Trial harvests of crops grown with diluted seawater on the outskirts of Dubai are said to have yielded more than 7.5 tonnes per hectare. Scientists are planning a 100-hectare experimental farm and there is talk of planting at least 10% of the United Arab Emirates with paddy fields in the future.

Back in China there are similar programmes at a series of sites with the main types of saline-alkali land. They could be crucial for a country already facing massive water shortages, plus land area at least the size of Ethiopia with soil deemed too salty for cultivation, the South China Morning Post reports.

The harvest is Yuan’s second success with a salt-resistant crop in the past year. In fact, research into saltwater rice dates back to the 1970s, when a researcher called Chen Risheng stumbled across a species of wild rice growing in mangrove swamps in Guangdong.

A convenient ride
Jun 1, 2018 (WiC 411)

These days when it comes to pioneering new cashless, smartphone-led business models, China is generally at the vanguard. Yet another instance involves the rollout of in-taxi convenience stores in several major Chinese cities. These serve snacks and beverages and enable passengers to buy from an ‘electronic shelf’ by scanning a code with their smartphones. Hangzhou Taxi Group and Beijing Little Orange Convenience Technology Development, for instance, have just inked a deal to install the stores in its Hangzhou-based fleet. Jin Kai, a spokesperson for the taxi firm, told National Business Daily that drivers’ incomes had fallen as a result of competition from Uberesque ride-sharing firms like Didi Chuxing. The convenience stores offer drivers a chance to supplement their incomes, as they receive 20% of sales – giving them an incentive to talk up their merchandise.

Not everyone is convinced. Sohu reports that some passengers worry that if drivers are preoccupied with plying their food and beverage wares, they may pay less attention to the road.

Service provider Gogo+ claims to have been the first to install a taxi convenience store, having pioneered the model in Shenzhen. Its spokesperson says that it plans to deal with the public’s fears about safety through driver training programmes and assessing the fitness of drivers: “So far, there are no major problems. We have been developing this for two years and sold more than Rmb10 million ($1.56 million) worth of goods, and served nearly a million passengers. And there have been no complaints.”

Aside from Hangzhou and Shenzhen, taxis with convenience stores can now also be ridden in Chengdu and Nanjing. However, many cities do not have regulations covering whether such stores are allowed, reports National Business Daily.