Australian government doxxed citizens who criticized illegal 'Robodebt' scheme
PLUS: India is the new China for Apple; Sushi licking vid scandalizes Japan; Chinese spy balloon shot down; India's new Amazon tax
Asia In Brief Australia's government deliberately released personal information on citizens who protested a welfare payment debt recovery scheme that was linked to multiple suicides and later found to have no legal basis.
"Robodebt" – as the scheme came to be known – calculated that hundreds of thousands of welfare recipients had been overpaid, and ordered them to repay the government. But the calculations used to determine the "debts" were flawed and the "debts" did not exist. Yet the scheme placed the onus of proof on welfare recipients, causing great distress.
Some people who received debt notices therefore protested the scheme, and their efforts attracted considerable media coverage.
The government of the day argued some of those protestors' accounts were not accurate, so released their personal information to media to "correct the record."
Alan Tudge, the minister responsible at the time of the releases, last week told [PDF] a Royal Commission into the scheme that six or seven citizens' data was released to media.
Tudge said it was not his intention that the release of personal information would be perceived as intimidating by others who believed their debts were incorrectly calculated.
The scheme eventually collapsed after it was found to be illegal, and repaid debts were returned by Australia's government – at a cost exceeding the expected returns from the scheme.
The Royal Commission continues.
– Simon Sharwood
India is the new China for Apple
Apple plans "a lot of emphasis" on India in the near future, CEO Tim Cook told investors on last week's earnings call to discuss the iGiant's Q1 2023 financial results.
"Looking at the business in India, we set a quarterly revenue record and grew very strong double digits year over year," Cook said.
"India is a hugely exciting market for us and is a major focus. We brought the online store there in 2020. We will soon bring Apple retail there."
"We're putting a lot of emphasis on the market."
Cook said Apple has worked on financing options and trade-ins "to make products more affordable and give people more options to buy" – important initiatives as the Indian market is dominated by low- and mid-range Android kit priced well below even the cheapest iPhones.
Asked how Apple will address India, Cook said "We are, in essence, taking what we learned in China years ago and how we scale to China and bringing that to bear."
China generated $23.9 billion of the $117.5 billion net sales Apple recorded in the quarter.
If India gets anywhere near similar sums, Apple will post even more growth.
On the earnings call, Cook was asked about Apple's supply chain plans, including where it will assemble the iPhone. Despite rumors of increased activity in India, Cook batted that one away, saying "we build our products everywhere."
"There are component parts coming from many different countries in the world, and the final assembly coming from three countries in the world on just iPhone. And so we continue to optimize it. We'll continue to optimize it over time and change it to continue to improve."
– Simon Sharwood
US DoD waited three days before shooting down Chinese surveillance balloon
"I ordered the Pentagon to shoot it down, on Wednesday, as soon as possible," said the president, detailing that the Pentagon decided to wait until such action would not cause damage to anyone on the ground.
The balloon – which Beijing maintains was simply a civilian weather monitor that went off course – was shot down by a US Air Force fighter in an F-22 jet, using one AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, on Saturday after it drifted off the East Coast of the United States near the Carolinas. The balloon crashed into the ocean.
The US Defense Department said the action was taken in coordination with the Canadian government.
"They decided that the best time to do that was as it got over water … within the 12-mile limit," said Biden. China has accused the US of "obviously overreacting" and violating international practice.
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India slaps Amazon with cloud tax
Amazon.com's 2022 Form 10-K, the formal annual report filed with the United States' Securities and Exchange Commission, revealed that India has slapped the retail and cloud giant with a significant tax.
"In February 2023, we received a decision by the Indian Tax Authority (“ITA”) that tax applies to cloud services fees paid to the U.S." the document states.
"We will need to remit taxes on the services in question, including for a portion of prior years, until this matter is resolved, which payments could be significant in the aggregate."
The Register believes the tax may concern fees that Amazon India pays to use Amazon Web Services.
Amazon's filing asserts "ITA’s decision is without merit, we intend to defend our position vigorously, and we expect to recoup taxes paid."
But if Amazon doesn't triumph, the company expects to shell out "significant additional tax expense, including for taxes previously paid."
– Simon Sharwood
Sushi licking video scandalizes Japan
Videos of patrons at Japanese sushi train chain Akindo Sushiro licking food before putting it back on the train – and potentially onto the plates of fellow diners – has scandalized the nation.
Dubbed "sushi terrorism", the incident went viral and attracted almost universal condemnation.
Akindo Sushiro responded with a change of policy that suspended operation of its sushi trains and allowed only pre-ordering of items from its menu.
– Simon Sharwood
Billionaire Gautam Adani suffers $100 billion slump, perhaps imperiling 5G bid
The world's second richest human and owner of the conglomerate behind the surprise bid for India'sprivate auction for rights to a block of 5G spectrum, Gautam Adani, lost over $100 billion last week when Hindenburg Research accused his various enterprises of fraud and artificially inflating revenue and stock prices.
The accusations caused Adani's share price to tumble and led to the cancellation of a planned stock offering.
The Indian government is reportedly reviewing Adani Group financial statements.
Adani Group hit back to deny the reports and accuse Hindenburg Research of misleading the investor community and general public and sabotaging the follow-on public offering.
Hindenburg Research is a short seller, so its motivations for criticizing Adani deserve scrutiny because they did just what a short-seller wants: tank the share price.
US/India tech partnership deepens
India and the United States launched a partnership on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) last week that includes efforts to lower barriers to export US HPC technology and source code to India.
The partnership was original announced in May 2022 and serves to "elevate and expand [the] strategic technology partnership and defense industrial cooperation between the governments, businesses, and academic institutions."
The two countries said through the partnership they would also arrange a partnership between the US National Science Foundation and the Indian science agencies to expand artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and advanced wireless, establish an Indo-US Quantum Coordination Mechanism, and more related to semiconductors, supply chain, next-gen telecom, space and education.
The next iCET meeting will take place in New Delhi later in 2023.
In other news …
Our regional coverage from last week included:
Japan and the Netherlands reportedly in talks to join the US on imposing more semiconductor technology bans on China. Japan's NTT Docomo has invested in window design research in an attempt to improve 5G and 6G systems. Its solutions include replacing glass with aerogel and redirecting signals with metasurfaces. FTX's Japanese outpost told its customers they can withdraw assets at an unspecified day this month. The move was made possible by Japan's strong regulations of cryptocurrency compared to other nations.
South Korea's Ministry of Justice announced it will create a "Virtual Currency Tracking System" to crack down on cryptocurrency-facilitated money laundering. Samsung Electronics posted gloomy Q4 results and suggested its mitigating strategy is a refocus on premium products and foundry business. Samsung also unveiled a new premium product: its first premium PC, the Galaxy Book 3 Ultra.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative's annual Review of Notorious Markets for Counterfeiting and Piracy rated a cluster of 20 malls in Shenzhen, China, as "the epicenter of the counterfeit electronics trade." Beijing granted a flight permit to Chinese automaker XPeng subsidiary HT Aero for its X2 "flying car." Chinese state-sponsored media reported that it has produced quantum computers. The news outlet did not produce any concrete details.
As the world's mobile phone shipments continue to decline, India and China are still thriving in the premium handset segment. India wants to develop a cloud for its agriculture industry. A revised vision of an abandoned plan called AgriStack emerged during finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman's 2023 budget speech.