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China lands mysterious reusable spacecraft after 276-day trek

PLUS: Smartphone sales slump in India, China; Singapore's Temasek denies crypto investment; Dyson's new battery plant; and more

Asia In Brief Chinese state media on Monday announced the return to Earth of a reusable spacecraft after 276 days in orbit.

The craft launched in August 2022 and was touted as an advance in peaceful use of space, but with few details about its disposition or mission.

The craft is thought to be a spaceplane, and to perhaps have the capacity to carry up to six crew.

The USA's X37 is thought to be the most capable spaceplane in current service, having orbited for over 900 days on a recent mission and demonstrating the ability to vary its orbit. That's a rarely-demonstrated capability for any spacecraft, and one China is felt to covet.

Chinese media reports of the mission don't mention its strategic significance, instead preferring to describe it as "an important breakthrough in China's research on reusable spacecraft technologies, which will provide more convenient and affordable round-trip methods for the peaceful use of space in the future."

– Simon Sharwood

Smartphone sales slump in India, China

Smartphone sales have slumped in the world's two most populous nations: India and China.

Analyst firm IDC found China's market fell 11.8 percent year on year in 1Q23, with the end of COVID-19 lockdowns partly to blame. Chinese consumers took the chance to use their spare cash on leisure and services they could not access during the pandemic.

65.4 million smartphones shipped in the quarter.

Indian consumers bought just 31 million smartphones in Q1 – a 16 percent year-on-year decline and the lowest number for Q1 in four years.

But the kit they did buy was more expensive and capable.

IDC found average selling price "reached an all-time high of US$265 and the share of higher-priced smartphones (US$600+) increased to 11 percent compared to four percent a year ago."

The firm found 5G smartphone share rose from 31 percent in Q1 2022 to 45 percent this year.

Samsung leads India's market, accounting for around a quarter of sales. Chines buyers prefer local champion Oppo (19.9 percent market share) over Apple (17.6 percent).

– Simon Sharwood

Singapore's Temasek denies reports it's invested in crypto company Array

Singapore state-owned conglomerate Temasek refuted reports that it had invested in cypto company Array.

"We have seen news articles and a tweet from Array about Temasek's investment in it. This news is incorrect. Temasek has not invested in Array and we have no relationship with them," said Temasek.

Array – the developer of an algorithmic currency system based on smart contracts and AI – announced via press release on May 1 that it had received the funding from the investment management fund. This was subsequently repeated by media reports which have since been scrubbed.

Oddly, the press release referred to the entity as "Temasek Family." Local media noted that an org by that name doesn't seem to exist.

The move seemed like an odd one given Singapore's cautious attitude toward cryptocurrency and the recent collapse of firms dealing with the alterna-cash. Temasek was an investor in FTX to the tune of $210 million – which it was forced to write down. The entity clarified in November the investment was in the company, not in cryptocurrency.

Additionally, Terraform Labs, which is credited with setting off what's been coined as "crypto-winter," is headquartered in the city-state.

The nation's leaders have repeatedly warned against investing in retail cryptocurrency. By August of last year, the managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) admitted that "banning retail access to cryptocurrencies is not likely to work" and thereby instead was taking measures to reduce consumer harm.

Hong Kong wants a cryptocurrency industry, its banks do not

In Hong Kong, regulators have reportedly had to encourage banks to allow crypto firms to open fiat accounts.

The Special Administrative Region has taken steps to establish itself as virtual asset leader, but a general wariness of crypto seems to be in the way.

Alibaba claims to have 200,000 businesses registered to test its ChatGPT Chinese language analog

Chinese tech giant Alibaba said it had over 200,000 businesses in line to beta test its ChatGPT rival Tongyi Qianwen, said state-sponsored media.

Alibaba, alongside Huawei, Baidu and others, is in a race to provide a comparable Chinese language generative AI chatbot.

Zoom awarded full Indian telco license

Zoom's Indian outpost was last week granted a full license to operate as a telco provider in the subcontinent.

In India, as elsewhere, the company's voice and video chat services were a lifeline during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Zoom's cloudy PABX service was not licensed in India, meaning it could not operate that function or extend its services to calls that touch the public switched telephone network.

ZVC India, Zoom's local subsidiary, last week announced it had won the license required to offer those services, and intends to do so as soon as practicable.

– Simon Sharwood

India ponders patent reform

India's government last week flagged reform of the nation's patent system.

Dr Akhilesh Gupta, a senior adviser at the Department of Science and Technology (DST), noted that India grants an average of 23,000 patents per annum – well behind China’s 500,000. He attributed that to India lacking a culture of seeking patents, and an approval process that takes up to three years – slower than the global average of two years.

He called for private enterprise to do more research that will in turn see more patents filed, and make the case for reform of the nation's patent system obvious.

– Simon Sharwood

Buffalo binned by tech error

Australia's stocks of buffalo semen were inadvertently destroyed by a computer error.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports "the facility holding the semen ran dry of liquid nitrogen after a computer error."

Buffalo meat is an important export for Australia, and the loss of this material is therefore a blow to an industry that relies on artificial insemination.

Dyson invests in Singapore battery plant, Philippines R&D center

Vacuum-maker Dyson announced last Wednesday it will open a next generation battery plant in Singapore.

The Singapore-based British multinational said the building would be completed in 2023 and fully operational by 2025. Dyson has run an in-house battery program for over 10 years, producing battery cells for use in its own products.

The company will also develop new R&D campuses in the Philippines and the United Kingdom. The three plants combined are part of an ongoing five year nearly $3.5 billion investment plan.

In other news

Automated surveillance software used in the Xinjiang province China flagged the Quran as an indicator of dissent or terror.

A report out of China accused the CIA of extensive offensive cyber ops. The information is based heavily on the 2017 WikiLeaks infodump that detailed the Vault7 trove of CIA exploits.

Hong Kong authorities intercepted would-be smugglers attempting to bring in 280 kilograms of live lobsters and 70 "high-value computer display cards" that The Reg identifies as mid-2010-era Nvidia cards, illegally.

Arm filed for a public listing, but Japanese multinational investment holding company Softbank said despite the share sale, it will still remain Arm's parent company.

The director of the FBI tallied the ratio of Chinese hackers to FBI cyber-centric agents at 50:1.

A reported collaboration between TSMC, NXP Semiconductor, Bosch, and Infineon would see the construction of an $11 billion fab in Germany.

The Malaysian government was reportedly warned to keep Huawei products out of its 5G networks.

TSMC said it is still on track to start production of 2nm chips in 2025 and is expanding its 3nm portfolio to include nodes optimized for high performance computing (HPC) and another aimed at automotive applications. ®

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