Energy providers vie to offer longest fixed-rate tariff


Growing range of energy deals allows consumers to lock in ahead of expected £142 rise in average household energy bill


Energy providers are battling to offer the longest fixed-rate tariff as the summer months come to an end, ahead of expected price hikes for consumers.


Price comparison website energyhelpline.com warns that the average household energy bill could rise by up to £142 over autumn, with energy companies looking to raise bills by between 5% and 10%.


However, there is a growing range of deals enabling consumers to lock in to today's prices. Scottish Power launched a new longest-term fixed tariff last week, at an average of £1,350 a year for gas and electricity until January 2017. This comes with a £10 donation to Cancer Research UK on taking out the deal, with a further £10 a year donation until it ends – a total of £40 if you signed up today. It comes with exit fees of £50.


Lucy Darch, head of energy at MoneySuperMarket.com, says: "Saving money and choosing a tariff that meets your needs is key. If you do like the thought of donating to charity you may want to consider making your contribution directly."


The Scottish Power tariff is the same price as EDF Energy's Blue + Price Freeeeze, which offers fixed prices until November 2016, although this deal comes with no exit fees.


However, the deals with the longest terms are not the cheapest on the market. M&S Energy Fix and Save, at £1,139 a year until September 2014, is the lowest priced tariff available currently, according to uSwitch.com. This is £211 a year cheaper than Scottish Power's new plan, and comes with a £50 cancellation fee. The second cheapest is npower's Online Price Fix October 2014 at £1,181 with no cancellation fee.


Darch says: "A fixed deal is definitely the right move to make – it just depends how long you want to safeguard your prices. The cheaper M&S deal fixes the cost of your energy for one winter, and while the Scottish Power product is more pricey at £1,350, it provides a guarantee that your bills won't rise for the next three winters."


See how much you can save on gas and electricity with the Guardian's energy switching service .






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Learning Online - Usman Riaz Talks About Music in This Internet Education Keynote (TrendHunter.com)

(TrendHunter.com) Speaker Usman Riaz discusses the process through which he learned to create music in this Internet education keynote. Riaz (who is only in his early twenties) has used the Internet to teach himself...

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8 top-paid, poor performing CEOs



A new report from the Institute for Policy Studies points to a weak link between performance and pay among some of the highest-paid CEOs of American companies. But, how weak were their performances? Here's a look at the performances of some top-paid CEOs.






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Captured Canadian mining exec returns home



A Canadian mining executive who was captured in northern Colombia and held by a militant group for seven months has returned home.






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Toxic Leak Kills At Least 15 In Shanghai

BEIJING -- At least 15 people were killed Saturday after liquid ammonia leaked from a refrigeration unit at a cold storage plant in China's financial hub of Shanghai, the local government said.


Twenty-five people were injured in the accident, which happened at a plant in the Baoshan district of the east coast city, the Shanghai government Information Office said. Five of the injured were in serious condition.


The government identified the plant as Weng's Cold Storage Industrial Co. Ltd., but gave no further details. The cause of the leak was not immediately known and investigations led by the city's work safety bureau were under way, it said.


The Information Office said an environmental monitoring station in the district did not detect any negative impact from the leak.


Industrial accidents are common in China due to lax safety and building standards.






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Jerry Lanson: Fast-Food Strikes Lend Much-Needed Fire to Largely Dormant Labor Movement

I know it's not the stuff of big headlines. What after all can compete with really significant summer news such as Miley Cyrus' clumsy twerking at MTV's Music Video Awards?


But the growing, rolling strikes of fast-food workers is beginning to bring back memories of earlier efforts to organize and uplift the disenfranchised in this country. None was more striking in my lifetime than the work of Cesar Chavez and the organizations he formed (the National Farm Workers Association and then the United Farm Workers of America) to fight in the 1960s and '70s for decent working conditions and pay for seasonal workers in California's fields and orchards. No leader even approaching Chavez' stature has emerged from the current ripple of fast-food walkouts -- no individual ready to sacrifice his health and body to bring attention to the abhorrent underpayment of fast-food workers, who don't approach a living wage in a 40-hour week.


Still, last week, fast-food workers went on strike in more than 50 cities, from East to West and North to South. They managed to garner 10 paragraphs below the fold on page B3 of the liberal (?) New York Times . Employees walked out of about 1,000 restaurant, The Times reported. Many earn the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage. They're demanding $15 an hour instead, contending, as one Los Angeles striker told The Times' Steven Greenhouse, that "people can't survive on the minimum wage."


That much seems pretty clear. Of the 46 million plus Americans on food stamps, 41 percent are in households in which someone is working part-time or full-time, The Atlantic reports.


The organization "Raise the Minimum Wage" reports that had the minimum wage simply kept up with inflation, it would be $10.74 an hour today. It also says there is not a single state in the country today in which a fulltime, minimum-wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment. So much for work and dignity, which the Republican Party, pushing to cut the food stamp program sharply, has always claimed to espouse. This, of course, is the same party that's opposing President Obama's efforts to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour.


As The Christian Science Monitor noted in analyzing the fast-food strikes: "While a young workforce and quick turnover have traditionally characterized the fast-food industry, protesters say the Great Recession caused more parents and older workers to rely on fast-food jobs. But they can't survive on current wages, they say."


I've been scouring the news for more on these strikes, but then, they're not exactly a national movement yet. Most coverage is pretty perfunctory. Here's a few tidbits:


The strikes began in New York in November when workers at several fast food chains, including McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's walked out, USA Today reports.


The movement remains pretty small-scale. Prior to Thursday, the largest walkout was this summer when "about 2,200 of the nation's millions of fast-food workers staged a one-day strike in seven cities," Huffington Post reports.


A quarter of fast-food workers are raising a child on their piddling wages, The Atlantic reports.


I'm rooting for these courageous fast-food workers, who in their actions could go from being really poor to losing their jobs and finding their families forced onto the streets. That takes guts. And by showing those guts, they also might breathe life into the largely moribund American labor movement or the increasingly displaced generation of America's young adults.


They also could get crushed.


As The Atlantic notes:


The strikes would have a much better shot at inspiring a change in franchise- and corporate-level policy if fast-food chains perceived one of two threats: (a) a threat to the steady supply of food-service workers who want to be employed at any wage and (b) a threat from consumers demanding higher wages for their fast-food clerks by not buying burgers and fries at McDonald's. Instead, the big-picture doesn't reveal either of these pressure points.

I hope the magazine is wrong. I'll be looking, meanwhile, for another walkout in Boston. Maybe if some of us show our support, this movement won't fizzle before it really gets off the ground. That, of course, will mean devoting less time and energy to talking about twerking.






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Koch Weighs In On Syria Crisis

Billioniaire David Koch weighed in on the situation in Syria on Friday, saying it would be "dead wrong" for the United States to take military action.


In an interview with Yahoo! News' Chris Moody, Koch, a prominent backer of conservatives, compared a potential attack on Syria to "putting your head into a hornet's nest."


“You’re going to get shot at from all directions," Koch said. "There’s all this talk about attacking the bad guys in Syria, but whom do you attack? Where do you find the people who put these chemical weapons together, this poisonous gas? To me it’s an impossibility, and we’re just going to generate a huge increase in the hostility to the United States in my opinion.”


Koch's not the only conservative to speak out on the crisis in Syria. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) said President Barack Obama should "let Allah sort it out" in a Facebook post on Friday.


Obama announced Saturday he has decided the United States should take military action in Syria, and that he will seek authorization from Congress to do so.


Click here for more on Koch from Yahoo! News.






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Corrupt, anonymous and in thrall to the party – China is not the new Japan


However big the statistics say the Chinese economy is, it will never reach its full potential until the state relinquishes its grip


It is a paradox. China is the world's leading exporter ahead of both the US and Germany. If you trust its figures, it is the second biggest economy. Yet it succeeds in making only 9.5% of internationally applicable, so-called "triadic", patents. This is a country whose growth has not been propelled by innovation.


The failure is matched by a parallel failure of Chinese firms to develop as multinationals. When Japan was rising to global economic prominence in the 60s and 70s, its car and electronics companies became household names. No such claim can be made for China. Its big companies, still either state-owned or heavily state-influenced, are largely anonymous. There are certainly no Chinese multinationals of the standing of, say, Toyota, Sony or Hitachi.


Chinese companies are embedded in one of the most fraudulent, corrupt societies on earth. Corruption and innovation are incompatible bedfellows. The Bo Xilai trial exposed the almost casual way senior Chinese officials expect to get vast kickbacks for advancing a company's interests. The incentives are clear: a company does not win market share or financial support by being innovative; it wins by greasing the palms of the officials who can deliver it captive distribution channels, captive orders and captive markets.


Innovation is driven by open interaction, by driving forward in a competitive market for fear that the next company will innovate if you don't, and by the confidence that the law will back any intellectual property rights you create and protect your profits. None of these preconditions hold in China.


This is a society in thrall to one-party rule and the groupthink that accompanies it. The party cannot permit multiple economic centres of power to exist with the freedom to experiment and exchange information freely; it does not want to be surprised. It needs to control and monopolise ideas and information to sustain its power base. That monopoly also means that western-style competition in markets does not exist.


Every company in China with more than eight employees has a Communist party official sitting on its board, ensuring party oversight of every activity – but also politicising it. The best way to get credit from a state-owned bank, order from a state-owned company or win a case in a state-owned court is to bribe the officials concerned. President Xi, like all his predecessors, has said he wants to root out corruption. But it is impossible. Those whom he appoints to act against corruption are themselves on the take.


Intellectual property rights are a farce – unprotectable unless the company bribes the court. As a result the Chinese have become the most adept intellectual property thieves in the world. Why spend hard cash innovating when you can steal someone else's idea with impunity? Nobody trusts even the official statistics in China. Peking University's Professor Christopher Balding believes that because the party does not want to admit inflation has been so high, real growth in GDP has been overstated by as much as $1tn. Everything is manipulated by the party.


There is an iron law in economics: what cannot last does not last. China is the classic bubble economy, its innovative capabilities fatally undermined by the one-party state. The freedom to innovate is vital if China is to grow as it should – which means that, one day, one-party rule must end. The question is not if. It is when.


Will Hutton is chair of the Big Innovation Centre and principal of Hertford College, Oxford






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Why the UK's recovery lacks a feelgood factor


Figures show Britain's economy is on the mend but a thinktank report says any upturn won't help the workforce 'second division', including women and the under-30s


A feelgood recovery is said to be under way. There is a modest fall in unemployment and an improvement in the housing market. According to Nick Moon of GfK, the company which runs the European Union's consumer confidence barometer, Britain's consumers were more optimistic in August than at any time since October 2009.


However, a paradox is in play. "As more and more official figures show that living standards are at their lowest for a decade," Moon said last week, "the public's economic confidence continues to grow strongly, a conundrum of Alice in Wonderland proportions."


On Wednesday, claims of a nascent recovery will be further challenged by Low Pay Britain 2013, a report by the thinktank the Resolution Foundation. It reveals that, instead of boats rising as the economic tide turns, many threaten to become permanently beached due to the profound imbalance in the economy that even sustained growth won't fix.


The report flags up a "two-tier" workforce in which, in the second division, millions of people, especially women, young people under 30 and those outside London, regardless of skills and qualifications, are stuck in "feel-bad", low-paid, part-time and temporary jobs, excluded from home ownership, career advancement and income security. In the top tier are those in managerial and professional jobs (finance, law, medicine, media and big business), a metropolitan elite who, throughout the recession and before, have accrued an ever expanding share of the national cake.


Rachel Reeves, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, who will speak at the report's launch, says: "If the recovery continues, there are signs that it will be a recovery that is not for the many but for the few at the top. We need to take action to make sure we have a more broadly based economy."


Low pay is defined as two-thirds of gross hourly median pay, set at £7.44 an hour in 2012 (£13,620 compared with the median salary of £21,583). One in three of those aged 16 to 30 are now low-paid, compared with one in five in the 1970s. Five million of the workforce are low-paid, three million of whom are female.


In 1975 part-time workers made up just 30% of the low-paid population (1.1 million); that has doubled to 58% (2.9 million). The share of low-paid workers in temporary employment has increased from 8% in 2000 to 13% in 2012. More than six million are in search of more paid employment while, since 2009, the number of self-employed people has risen by 400,000 to 4.2 million as their average rates of pay have collapsed from £16,000 in 2002 to £11,900 by 2011.


Self-employment provides one escape from dead-end jobs, but carries its own risks. Badda Ranjit-Burma, 24, lives on £75 a fortnight jobseekers' allowance, out of which he pays support for his three-year-old daughter and repays a crisis loan. He is a volunteer for a charity and is setting up his own music production company with the help of a Liverpool social enterprise, Local Solutions. "Young people need work that gives them meaning," he says. "A job isn't just about pride and income. It's also about dignity and hope."


"What we are seeing is counter-indicative to the message that if working families strive they will be fine," says Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice. "Forty per cent of those whom we see in real difficulties are employed. The cost of living is rising, almost half have no savings, and they are finding it impossible to manage. The welfare state is facing cuts while the minimum wage is supposed to enable an average person to survive, but it's now accepted, in certain industries such as hospitality, that an employer no longer has to pay a wage on which people can live. For many families, this does not feel like any kind of economic recovery."


Wages for all but the top 10% have flatlined for several years. Household incomes were initially boosted by easy credit, women going into work, savings and tax credits subsidising low-pay employers. Now, according to the Resolution Foundation, cuts to benefits and a significant rise in the cost of living mean that, by 2020, some households will have an income 20% lower than an equivalent household in 2008. Families are already pushed to the brink.


Carol and her husband Pete have two children and live in Newcastle. He earned well as a builder, Carol worked 16 hours a week on a minimum wage (£6.19 an hour) in retail and looked after their two children. Then Peter developed back problems and is undergoing a series of operations, so he cannot work.


Carol's employers were unable to increase her hours from 16 to 24 when the benefits system changed, so £250 a month has been cut from the family's working tax credit. The couple's son and daughter are under 10 and each has a bedroom. As a result, the family has to pay another £50 a month because of the bedroom tax. They also have debts from credit cards when life was better. "Often we are left with £20 a week to get by," Carol says. "We are not alone. There are thousands like us. And I don't see how it can get better."


Economists such as Stewart Lansley argue that rebalancing the economy away from the dominance of the financial sector, shifting a larger slice from profits to wages, creating more apprenticeships, higher-skill, higher-paid jobs, and reducing tax credits by encouraging the adoption of the voluntary Living Wage (£8.55 in London, £7.45 outside) and a higher minimum wage could contribute to sounder economic growth and a fairer share of the rewards.


The alternative is that a "cost of living" election in 2015 may produce, from all but the few, a very negative response to the question: "Are you better off?"






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Now supermarkets want you to live over their shops


Supermarket-built schemes may ease housing shortages, but will they actually be good places to live?


In Streatham, south London, builders are hard at work addressing the capital's dire housing shortage on a site next to the suburb's railway station. Their employer, however, is not a housebuilder such as Bovis or Barratt but Britain's biggest supermarket: Tesco.


Bustling about in hard hats and fluorescent jackets, they are putting the finishing touches to a 60,000 sq ft Tesco store and 250 apartments that sit above, behind and beside it. Living above the shop is very much back in fashion as supermarkets lead the development of thousands of homes in their latest tactic to secure new sites. As a consequence, the race for market share among the UK's largest retailers is inadvertently helping London chip away at a housing shortfall that equates to at least 32,000 new homes per year.


Tesco alone is building more than 800 homes in London in 2013, close to 5% of all the non-local authority homes being built in the capital. Its huge projects in Woolwich, Highams Green and Streatham are merely paving the way for a wave of supermarket-led home building projects which will flood across the south-east. More than 4,500 homes are being planned by the big five grocers in London alone over the coming years, according to property advisor CBRE, while construction market analyst Glenigan estimates supermarkets will be laying the foundations for more than 2,100 homes in 2014. Sainsbury's is likely to be responsible for the bulk of those, as it begins projects involving more than 1,500 homes next year. But Morrisons has planning permission for nearly 400 homes, while Asda is already involved in the building of 100 above its new store in Barking. Even Waitrose and Lidl are getting in on the act.


In the last couple of years, the big five seem to have woken up to the idea of developing homes alongside their retail portfolios, says Robert Davis, research director of Glenigan. He estimates that between them Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Asda and Morrisons completed just 267 units in 2012, but that this will soar to more than 1,000 this year and double again next year. Some of these projects were first dreamt up nearly a decade ago but the complexity of gaining planning permission and assembling the sites mean that they are only now coming to fruition.


Helped by an upturn in the housing market, some enormous development projects are about to hit the street, such as Sainsbury's partnership with Barratt to redevelop the site of its supermarket in Nine Elms, in south London, involving nearly 700 homes, an 80,000 sq ft shop and a tube station. But supermarkets are also involved in small-scale urban developments, such as transforming moribund pubs into local convenience stores with a few flats above.


Most of these projects are in London, partly because that's where there is demand for the kind of flats easily built above a shop. Building over a busy supermarket is also relatively expensive, so such pricey apartments are more likely to find buyers in places like London where house prices are recovering rapidly.


But supermarkets have also been pushed into building in the capital because of planning guidance which encourages all new retail developments to include a residential element unless there is a very good reason not to do so. "There is a massive shortage of housing in London. Planners saw supermarkets wanted to grow and they are capitalising on that to force them to help solve the problem," says CBRE's John Witherell.


Local authorities outside London are also looking how they can capitalise on the trend. But Witherell believes these building schemes are more difficult to get off the ground outside the south-east because of lack of demand and the relatively high cost of such homes.Sainsbury's completed a development involving 100 homes in Leek, Staffordshire, this year and Tesco recently completed student accommodation block in Gateshead with nearly 1,000 bedrooms, but such projects, so far at least, have proved more rare.


Supermarkets are looking at a variety of solutions to make above-store building more cost effective, including putting pre-fabricated structures on top of existing shops, according to Witherell. Kathy MacEwen, head of programmes for Cabe, says: "There are many benefits to mixing supermarkets and housing. It makes more efficient use of land, while having residents supports activity and natural surveillance of streets, particularly when the store is closed."


Yet some concerns have been raised about the design and quality of the housing supermarkets are building, given the main purpose of the development is usually to open a new store.


Is it really wise to hand over the development of whole urban communities to the supermarkets? MacEwen says careful design is needed to avoid noise, smells and the sight of unattractive activities like waste storage and removal, deliveries and everyday operations.


But Witherell and Peter Sloane at property company Savills, who is leading sales at Tesco's Woolwich site, says the flats are selling well, which has boosted the prospects for more schemes. Tesco says it is in its interests to build quality homes which are popular with tenants.


"After building we remain the main tenant and occupier for years, so we have an added incentive to make sure these are developments of the highest quality. They need to last and be great places to live, work and shop," a spokesman says. With many more supermarket-backed homes appearing in the next few years, retailers will have to deliver the goods.






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China's quest for world-beating brand held back by regime


Selling Chinese-label goods at home is one thing: but to gain global recognition, the country must rediscover the arts of creativity and risk-taking


China is the world's second-largest economy but it has yet to develop the breakthrough global brand that will consolidate its status as a true commercial superpower. The names of Chery, Xiaomi and Baidu are synonymous with cars, mobile phones and internet search in China but they do not resonate abroad in the way that Ford, Samsung and Google straddle the globe. Likewise, there is no Chinese equivalent of Sony, Boeing or Coca-Cola, despite the ambition of the political hierarchy to convert a nation of 1.3bn people into a consumption-driven juggernaut.


That lack of a worldwide champion means that Made in China lacks prestige as a label, despite the country's importance as the world's factory floor, making everything from iPads to Topshop garments. And that reputation as a global manufacturing hub is one of the problems, nurturing a perception that China is synonymous with cheap, low-quality goods. Newspaper headlines in the west declaim stories about China's toxic baby milk, lead-contaminated toys and fake pharmaceuticals.


But this is changing, as China's leaders force that economic shift from export-based growth to consumer spending. They are pumping money into research and development so that Chinese brands can compete with foreign rivals in a burgeoning domestic market. Furthermore, many of these companies have taken that baton and are running towards foreign markets, with the hope that global success will result. Much of the push comes in the form of state subsidies – according to the state-run China Daily newspaper, the country spent £105bn on research and development last year.


A number of Chinese companies have delivered high-quality products abroad, mainly through combining with other international conglomerates. For example, computer maker Lenovo bought IBM's PC division in 2005 and five years later Geely Automobile bought Volvo from Ford. But analysts say China's quest to deliver a global brand, while fuelled by an abundance of cash and ambition, may face insurmountable obstacles such as a rigid corporate culture and a top-down approach to innovation. The draconian education system encourages rote memorisation over creativity, while its political system discourages risk-taking and going against the grain.


"There's a conflict of interest that China has – one which supports as well as deters innovation – and that is central government control," says Bill Dodson, the Shanghai-based author of China Fast Forward: The Technologies, Green Industries and Innovations Driving the Mainland's Future. He adds: "China says OK, we're going to identify 20 companies to go out and become global brand champions, and we're going to give them whatever money and resources they need to do that. But if the companies become too big for their britches, or snap back at central government, or become too autonomous, there's a reining in."


Analysts point to Japan and South Korea's success in developing global brands as evidence that China could soon follow. Before the 1980s, Japan's manufacturing base endured the same derision as China's, but that was before brands such as Sony, Nissan, Toyota and Honda established themselves globally.


South Korea's capital, Seoul, was once reliant on foreign aid to overcome the devastation of the Korean war. It is now one of the world's most technologically advanced urban centres. Samsung, founded more than 70 years ago as a trading company, is now one of South Korea's two most successful conglomerates. Its subsidiaries deal in everything from theme parks to life insurance. Taken as a whole, it produces a fifth of the country's global exports. Its other global superpower, Hyundai, was founded in 1947 as a construction firm and began exporting cars to the US in the 1980s. This month, it unveiled a £31,000 concept car, the HCD-14 Genesis, which it hopes will take on the world's top brands.


Among China's biggest hopes for a global breakthrough is car maker Chery, founded in 1997. Its most popular model is the QQ City Car, a pod-like hatchback that seems ubiquitous among China's middle-class families. The company has established joint ventures with a number of foreign brands, including Jaguar Land Rover and in 2011 it exported around a quarter of its production total.


Yet Chery has yet to create an image that will turn heads in New York and London. "While Chery is enhancing its hard power actively, it also pays close attention to fostering soft power," boasts the company's English website, taking a cue from the country's diplomatic rhetoric. "With vigorous culture of innovation, Chery has realised the great-leap-forward development and has received deep concern and great attention from the leaders of the country and the Party."


Sceptics say that Chinese brands like Chery will never surpass foreign rivals unless they can embrace fundamental principles of innovation – open communication, risk-taking – that require more than cash. This extends to creative industries, such as music, film, and fashion. "We get these endless things from the government saying there should be more innovation and brand building," says Paul French, chief China market strategist at market research firm Mintel. "But there isn't anything behind it. The problem is that no one really wants to invest in innovative design. It's very market-led. So if reports come to the stores that red shirts are selling, they'll tell their in-house designers to design more red shirts. This means the designers don't get a chance to do anything."


"I don't think anyone in government understands creative industries," French adds. "They spent 60 years driving creativity out of the system. To reintroduce it in 10 minutes is a bit hopeful."


Chinese companies are trying to buck that trend. For instance, Huawei, the world's largest telecoms equipment maker, headquartered in Shenzhen, has more than 140,000 employees, nearly half of whom work in R&D. The company applied for 54,000 patents in 2012, 14,000 of them outside China.


However, Chinese technology upstarts will struggle to make inroads into western markets, judging by Huawei's sometimes faltering progress, because of the political problems they face. Huawei has been barred from operating in the US because of security concerns and its UK operations are the subject of a review by Britain's national security adviser, Sir Kim Darroch.


Robin Li, boss of Baidu, China's leading search engine, announced a plan to crack the Japanese market in 2007. Last year, when diplomatic tempers flared amid a territorial dispute over a series of islands in the resource-rich East China Sea, Baidu's main page displayed a cartoon illustration of the islands beneath an oversized Chinese flag. Japanese consumers were incensed. The company has lost more than £60m on the project.


WeChat, a smartphone instant messaging app similar to WhatsApp in the US, has taken off in south-east Asia and recently launched an advertising campaign in India featuring Bollywood stars. WeChat has a leg up on its competitors because of its easy-to-use interface and sophisticated integration of features: it combines an Instagram-like photo-sharing tool, a voice-messaging service, and an array of social functions designed for meeting strangers. Yet in January, users discovered that sending politically sensitive terms across international borders returned the words "the message you sent contains restricted words. Please check it again." WeChat developer Tencent called the incident a "glitch".


"In terms of China's consumer internet, more than any cultural factors, the biggest barrier would be the regulations and protectionism surrounding the internet," says Kai Lukoff, co-founder of TechRice, a blog about China's tech sector. "You have this iron curtain 2.0 that separates the internet culture in China from that of the rest of the world. So … when Chinese companies go abroad, they feel woefully out of place."


Yet that has not stopped them from trying. This week, popular smartphone maker Xiaomi pulled off a coup by hiring Google's former vice-president for Android product management, Hugo Barra, to help it expand its global presence. The two-year-old company has established a reputation for producing high-quality, low-cost Android phones. The low-cost smartphone market is drawing Apple's interest, but Xiaomi is ahead, having already expanded to Hong Kong and Taiwan.


Experts say Chinese companies in newer industries such as smartphones stand a better chance of gaining traction abroad. "In western markets we have all these legacies, the infrastructure, built in: the desktop PC, the landline, the fax. In China, they could just leap ahead to the latest and greatest," says Rebecca Fannin, the author of Silicon Dragon: How China is Winning the Tech Race.


Chinese companies have gone to great lengths to avoid the stigma associated with their country's brands. "They produce a lot of stuff which western people like and use, they're just not under a Chinese brand name," says Sam Lipoff, a doctoral student at Harvard Business School who researches innovation in China. Domestic conglomerates often acquire foreign brands, and encourage them to maintain their native identities.


Some of these deals have been extremely ambitious, such as the acquisition of British yacht maker Sunseeker by the Dalian Wanda conglomerate. Herborist, a Chinese cosmetics firm, has taken a different tack, marketing its products internationally as "made in Shanghai", evoking images of bustle and grandeur, rather than dark industrial-belt factories.


"This begs the question: what makes a company Chinese?" Lipoff says. "That its workers are in China? Or its offices? Or it sells to Chinese customers? Or has a Chinese name? This is an important thing to think about."






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BBC taxis needed to be given the red light long ago


The expenses savings at the corporation are impressive. Couldn't they have happened earlier?


You can always look forward, like most hardened BBC bashers, and note that expenses for the corporation's top managers topped £168,000 in the last quarter of full disclosure. Profligacy as usual. Or you can proudly assert, in the BBC's defence, that this figure is 18% down year-on-year, with flights down 28% and the ravening monster of taxis 29%. Great progress. But is there a balance somewhere, looking back and forward? Perhaps, as taxis stand idle outside Broadcasting House, in wondering how so much can be cut so swiftly – and asking why it wasn't done long, long ago?






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Only the Times still looks across the Atlantic


The Syria vote turned against David Cameron – and even the Sun


It's not only David Cameron who has another humbling think coming on Syria. Try this note from a bothered Bun: "In an exclusive poll for the Sun [on Thursday], three out of four Brits said they were happy Britain was NOT rushing into action against Syria. And in a separate online poll, Sun readers voted against a strike on Syria, with 54% saying it was wrong."


Result: muted coverage before a second-day death notice for the special relationship – unlike the Times, which still editorialised on the "Tragedy of the Commons" and found its only "crumb of comfort" in the thought that Barack Obama could still cruise on regardless.


One simple perception has underpinned Murdoch-world ever since Rupert assembled it decades ago. He believes the Atlantic alliance matters more than anything (which is why he's not keen on the EU). But now? Only a single, non-thunderous voice of despair raises that cry aloft in a Fleet Street whose readers (and leader writers) have gone elsewhere.






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There's too little conviction behind the Sun arrests


Law-breaking journalists deserve to be punished: but there's been a lot of police theatricals for not much of a result


Let's assume that when journalists break the criminal law, they deserve to be caught, tried and punished (unless there's some manifest public interest argument to be deployed). Let's also assume that the police need to be particularly punctilious when investigating journalism's lousy practices. The Sun's two-year scorecard so far, then: 59 reporters and newsdeskers arrested, with all the usual 6am knock-on-the-door theatre; 12 cleared – including two more last week, one of them after a year of waiting for his case even to be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service – plus 24 charged, and 23 still hanging around under a cloud waiting to know what's going to happen.


There's a natural tendency here to link one thing with another and somehow wrap the Sun's travails in tentacles of a debate involving the defunct News of the World and the far-from-defunct David Miranda imbroglio. But keep the facts and figures separate and any concerned journalist ought to grow uneasy. Too many florid-then-abandoned arrests. Too many inordinate delays. Too little information. There's a wider public interest in police behaving thoughtfully when journalism is (prospectively) in the dock. It's depressing to seek it and look in vain.






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