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Global Affairs

Breakfast Briefing: Massacre in Las Vegas, Catalonian Independence and an Indonesian Unicorn

 4 min read / 

The Worst Shooting in US History

A “lone wolf” killed over 50 people and injured 200 more at a concert in Las Vegas.

Editor’s Remarks: The gunman, who was shot dead by police, has been named as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock and authorities have tracked down his companion, Marilou Danley. Paddock fired an automatic rifle into concertgoers at an outdoor music festival from a hotel room on the 32nd floor of Las Vegas’ famed Mandalay Bay Hotel. Country singer Jason Aldean had been performing on stage when Paddock, a local resident, opened fire. Much of the ordeal was captured on video and circulated on social media platforms. President Trump was quick to offer his condolences to the victims of what is now being considered the most deadly shooting in US history – worse even than the Orlando massacre that left 49 dead last year.

Catalonia Intends to Declare Independence

The Catalonian president said that the region is set to declare independence from Spain.

Editor’s Remarks: President Carles Puigdemont stated that his fellow citizens deserved independence after over 2m Catalan voters defied Madrid’s ruling that last Sunday’s referendum was illegal. Amidst clashes between voters and police that left 800 people injured, the referendum saw a voter turnout of just above 50%. Of the 2.26m votes cast, 90% were in favour of independence. The Catalan parliament has promised independence within 48 hours of a Yes vote, although such a declaration will take no effect in Spanish law following Madrid’s ruling. Consequently, commentators expect the matter to escalate into the most defining constitutional crisis that Spain has faced since the death of Franco and the restoration of democracy to the nation.

Kim Jong Nam Murder Trial Starts

The women charged with killing the brother of North Korea’s leader pleaded not guilty.

Editor’s Remarks: The two women – Doan Thi Huong, from Vietnam, and Siti Aisyah, from Indonesia – have been charged with murdering Kim Jong Nam at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport on February 13th. CCTV footage that was broadcast around the world seemed to show the two women jump on Kim and rub their hands, which were laced with VX nerve agent, on his face. Kim, who is the older brother of Kim Jong-un, died on his way to hospital after complaining of dizziness. Although South Korean intelligence agencies have long believed that North Korea had a standing order for Kim’s assassination, Pyongyang has denied that the dead man was the brother of the country’s leader and has rejected all allegations of involvement in his murder.

Indonesia’s First Unicorn Is Going Global

Go-Jek, a ride-hailing service, is looking to expand into neighbouring countries.

Editor’s Remarks: CEO Nadiem Makarim has not yet released specific information about where he intends to target but stated that highly-populated, cash-dominant economies are on his mind. The move will bring Go-Jek, in which Sequoia Capital, KKR and Warburg Pincus are investors, into even tougher competition with rivals Uber and Singapore-based Grab. Grab, backed by SoftBank and China’s Didi Chuxing, is headed by Anthony Tan who was Makarim’s peer at Harvard Business School. Go-Jek’s main advantage is that it offers a digital-payment service – or e-wallet – that is integrated with its ride-hailing business. This enables the company to provide financial services to people who otherwise have limited access to banking, which is commonplace in Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Cryptocurrency Gains 695% on Fake News

After tweeting about a deal with Visa that never materialised, the cryptocurrency surged.

Editor’s Remarks: On May 17th, the company behind the cryptocurrency known as Monaco tweeted that it was about to start offering a Visa-linked payment card. The initial tweet was followed by a press release that lauded the benefits of this new Visa-branded crypto-card. However, despite these claims, no such deal was ever struck with Visa, although the company is being vetted by a Visa-licensed issuer, Wirecard. Following the revelation that there is, in fact, no impending Visa deal, Monaco’s August 31st statement announced plans to release five payment cards – neither of which is Visa-branded – and the cryptocurrency tanked 30%. It has since fallen further but, despite the false announcements, Monaco remains 300% up since May.

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Global Affairs

Breakfast Briefing: Space Race, Google in China and Zuckerberg

google china

Google to Open in Beijing

Alphabet announced that it will open an AI research facility in the Chinese capital yesterday.

Editor’s Remarks: Under CEO Sundar Pichai, Google has been recommitting itself to China after it had most of its services blocked in 2010 when it refused to censor search content. In recent months, the tech giant has been marketing its new TensorFlow AI tools to the Chinese market, which aligns with the state’s ambitions to become a world leader in AI by 2030. Google’s new facility will consist of a small number of AI researchers, supported by hundreds of Chinese engineers. Google expects to face stiff competition for talent given how local tech giants, Baidu and Tencent, are ramping up their own AI efforts.

Telegram Is Not for Sale

Telegram’s elusive founder, Pavel Durov, insists that his messaging service will remain non-profit.

Editor’s Remarks: Durov and his brother Nikolai founded VK, Russia’s answer to Facebook, before they were forced to sell their stakes to a Kremlin-friendly oligarch. The pair has since relocated and built Telegram, an encrypted messaging service that they insist will never be sold. A libertarian – having enabled Telegram users to even send messages that will self-destruct – Durov and his product have gained popularity among cryptocurrency enthusiasts. Durov himself is bullish about the prospects of cryptocurrencies and owns at least 2,000 bitcoins. Pundits, meanwhile, reckon that Telegram is worth in the region of $5bn.

Japanese Space Startup Raises $90m

Ispace Inc raised $90m from Japan’s largest corporates in a bid to reach orbit by 2019. 

Editor’s Remarks: Ispace is backed by Japan Airlines, Tokyo Broadcasting System Holdings and also government-backed Innovation Network Corp. of Japan. The company plans to sell advertising space on its spacecraft, which will then feature prominently in distributed images. However, Ispace also envisages the use of rovers that will offer a “projection mapping service”, which will essentially produce a tiny billboard on the surface of the moon. This is the latest announcement in what is rapidly shaping up to be a wider commercialisation of space exploration. Elsewhere, SpaceX and Blue Origin are developing reusable rockets, while Planetary Resources intends to mine asteroids.

Roy Moore Loses Alabama

Moore, who was backed by Trump, narrowly lost to Doug Jones, a largely unknown Democrat.

Editor’s Remarks: Moore’s election efforts appeared to have succumbed to allegations of child abuse that were made against him last week. Newcomer Jones won 49.9% of the vote against Moore’s 48.4% in deeply conservative Alabama, marking the Democrats’ first Senate victory in the state since 1992. Moore is a household name in Alabama but the accusations recently levelled against him have ruined his once impeccable reputation. Reluctant to concede defeat in his home state, Moore has said that Alabama must “wait on God and let the process play out”. Meanwhile, Democrats are jubilant that they have managed to reduce the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49, which could impact Trump’s tax reform.

Zuckerberg Backs VR Firm

Dreamscape Immersive, a virtual reality (VR) company, is backed by 21st Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Mark Zuckerberg.

Editor’s Remarks: Dreamscape is developing new VR arcades for shopping centres and has just closed a $30m Series B funding round – 50% more than planned. Among its initial backers were Steven Spielberg, 21st Century Fox and Warner Bros. The company has now added to that impressive list the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Nickelodeon. Dreamscape is capitalising on Hollywood’s interest in VR, which the film industry reckons will draw in greater numbers of viewers and provide an opportunity to raise margins. Dreamscape intends to open seven VR centres in locations across North America and the UK.

Keep reading |  4 min read

Asia

Google to Open Artificial Intelligence Centre in China

 2 min read / 

Google AI China

Google will be opening its first artificial intelligence (AI) research centre in China, despite many of its services being blocked there.

Fei-Fei Li, Chief Scientist of Google Cloud, said:

“I believe AI and its benefits have no borders. Whether a breakthrough occurs in Silicon Valley, Beijing or anywhere else, it has the potential to make everyone’s life better for the entire world. As an AI first company, this is an important part of our collective mission. And we want to work with the best AI talent, wherever that talent is, to achieve it.”

The research centre will focus on basic AI research, and will consist of a team in Beijing, who will be supported by Google China’s engineering teams.

Google’s search engine and its Gmail are banned in China. However, the country has 730 million internet users, making the market too large to ignore.

Google is not the only tech giant facing restrictions in China. Facebook is also banned, while Apple’ App Store has been subject to censorship. In order to comply with government requests, Apple removed many popular messaging and virtual private network (VPN) apps from its App Store in China earlier on this year.

China has recently announced plans to develop artificial intelligence, and wants to catch up with the US. However, human rights groups are concerned by China’s use of artificial intelligence to monitor its own citizens.

Keep reading |  2 min read

Europe

Europe Warns Trump on Tax

Europe Trump

Finance ministers from Europe’s largest economies have said that Trump’s tax plans breach global agreements.

Europe’s leading finance ministers, including UK chancellor Philip Hammond, penned a letter to the White House in which they raised the possibility of retaliation if the Republicans push on with their tax reforms. Europe is worried that Trump’s “America First” doctrine will undermine global trade patterns and escalate ongoing tensions between the US and its key allies. With the UK looking to its closest ally for support post-Brexit, it is unlikely that Hammond’s latest move will sweeten any future US-UK trade deal. Meanwhile, Trump is unlikely to care about shaking up current trading arrangements, given that he ran for office on the platform of making the US more competitive.

Keep reading |  1 min read

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