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India's IT minister denies targeting Chinese apps for bans

PLUS: Toshiba acknowledges buyout bid; BTS member Jungkook's hat lands online seller in strife; and more

Asia In Brief India's minister for electronics and information technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar has insisted that the nation does not target Chinese apps for law enforcement action or bans.

"The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) does not maintain database relating to applications including Chinese applications that are under usage in India," the minister stated [PDF] in response to a multi-pronged question about India's treatment of Chinese apps.

In his spoken response, Chandrasekhar reportedly affirmed "We don't ban apps or block apps based on their jurisdiction."

Those words are somewhat at odds with India's bans on hundreds of apps linked to China. Just last week the nation banned 232 Chinese apps, following previous bans that saw hundreds of China-linked apps banned in India – including TikTok and PUBG.

While some of India's app bans have impacted developers headquartered outside China, the companies impacted have protested that their links to the Middle Kingdom are tenuous and/or trivial, and the bans were therefore erroneous.

The most recent bans forbade Chinese lending apps from operating in India. The nation's Reserve Bank is reportedly close to publishing a list of such apps it believes are legitimate and safe for Indian citizens to use.

– Simon Sharwood

Toshiba confirms buyout bid, denies it has selected a buyer

Toshiba has denied [PDF] press reports stating that a consortium led by investment fund Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) has submitted a final acquisition proposal.

The troubled Japanese tech giant did confirm that it received a proposal from the consortium but said it had not completed an assessment. Toshiba officials said the company will announce whether it agrees to the proposal without delay once it has made a final decision about its future.

The company has been considering offers to take it private after investor groups became fed up with ongoing internal scandals and failed plans to restructure into two, or three, separate entities. A shortlist of suitors was revealed in July 2022 and included JIP, alongside Bain, Brookfield Asset Management and CVC Capital Partners.

India's EV market accelerates – fast

Analyst firm Canalys has found that India's electric vehicle (EV) market grew by 223 percent in 2022 as 48,000 new EVs hit the nation's roads.

Canalys automotive analyst Ashwin Amberkar attributed the growth to pent-up demand and rising consumer buying power.

"It is exciting times in the Indian market. New cars have premium infotainment, connectivity and driver assistance features, and there is a good appetite for new technology amongst premium buyers, despite potential economic headwinds," said Amberkar.

Indian manufacturer Tata leads the market with 86 percent share from its Nexon and Tigore models, both of which cost less than $20,000. MG's ZS EV is in second place with nine percent of the market share followed by 1.6 percent to Hyundai's Kona.

The Indian government has incentivized the adoption of EVs through the end of March 2024.

Similar growth was predicted by global management consulting firm McKinsey, which last June predicted India would experience 44 percent EV sales compound annual growth rates between 2022 and 2030.

Korean civil servant in trouble after trying to sell BTS member's lost hat

A former foreign ministry employee in South Korea has been indicted after he tried to sell BTS band member Jungkook's hat in an online forum.

According to the man accused of hat thievery, Jungkook left the hat at a ministry building in Seoul when he visited to apply for a passport. The hat sat in the lost and found for six months, after which it was fair game.

However, Korean law dictates lost property be reported to the police.

The Kangol bucket hat drew attention when it was posted on an online flea market on October 17 for just shy of $8,000. Similar hats retail for $65 and up.

Controversy ensued as fans became outraged and the next day the entrepreneurial civil servant deleted the post and surrendered to the police.

According to Korean news site Yonhap, BTS's agency, Hybe, confirmed to police the hat was indeed Jungkook's. Prosecutors intend to return the hat, but for now it is evidence while they seek a fine for embezzlement – an upgrade from the original charge of misappropriation of lost property.

The true crime here, however, is surely that the late '90s-era bucket hat is apparently back in style.

Catering on India's trains to be powered by AI-powered WhatsApp chatbot

Indian Railways' food services can now be ordered through an AI-powered chatbot on messaging service WhatsApp on selected trains.

The state-owned railway operated has billed the service as "more customer-centric." Current e-catering services serve approximately 50,000 meals a day.

The nation's railways also recently allowed adverts and infotainment to be delivered over the Wi-Fi offered at over 6,000 stations.

The Quad launches Cyber Challenge

The members of the Quad – the United States, Australia, India, and Japan – have launched a cyber challenge in the hopes of promoting better online habits.

"The Challenge reflects the Quad partners' continued efforts to strengthen individuals' and communities' cyber security awareness and action, as well as foster a more secure and resilient cyber ecosystem to benefit economies and users everywhere," the four nations stated.

Challenge events will be held from April, with training and information tailored to users from many environments.

"The Quad partners are working to ensure everyone has access to the resources needed to make informed decisions while online and using smart devices," said a joint statement.

In other news …

Our regional coverage from last week included Australia's decision to remove Chinese-made surveillance cameras from governmental agencies.

Singapore pulled its COVID tracking program and said it has deleted all identifiable data from its servers and databases. The TraceTogether and SafeEntry systems will remain intact and the city-state will retain registration details such as name, business, and mobile number, in case the need arises to reactivate the program.

The Vietnam government appears to have announced and retracted details of a potential $3.3 billion investment from Intel in its Saigon Hi-Tech Park facility.

China's Yangtze Memory Corporation evicted laid off staff from their company-subsidized apartments in Wuhan. The company recently slashed its workforce by five to ten percent as a response to effects from being on a US trade embargo list compounded by a general economic downturn in the IC industry.

Chinese web giant Baidu said it will launch a generative AI chatbot called Wenxin Yiyan文心一言 – or "ERNIE Bot" in English – this year.

Also in China, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said it will stop issuing network access permits for some obsolete equipment, including wired and wireless landline telephones, fax machines, modems and wireless pagers.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (HVI) announced it will discontinue work on its regional aircraft, the SpaceJet, as it was "unable to find sufficient business feasibility to resume development."

South Korea's Financial Services Commission said it would regulate crypto assets as if they are securities.

Japanese IT services giant Fujitsu announced its Global Solutions Business Group will be reorganized into two separate business groups: one for implementation and another for consultancy. The change is designed to improve the multifaceted corporation's ability to deliver its Uvance IT-as-a-service strategy.

Pakistan's PM reversed a ban on Wikipedia for posting supposedly blasphemous material after Wikipedia pointed out the procedure to have content changed was to appeal to the crowdsourced encyclopedia's volunteers. ®

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