Economist 8/18/14

  1. The court system in China is often just a rubber-stamp for decisions made in secret by party committees in cahoots with police and prosecutors.In June state media revealed that six provincial-level jurisdictions would become testing grounds for reform.Those Shanghai courts that are participating in the pilot reforms (not all are) are expected to raise judges’ pay. They are also expected greatly to reduce the number of judges.The most important reforms will affect the bureaucracies that control how judges are hired and promoted. Responsibility will be taken away from the cities and counties where judges try their cases, or from the districts in the case of provincial-level megacities like Shanghai.It will be shifted upwards to provincial-level authorities—in theory making it more difficult for local officials to persuade or order judges to see things their way on illegal land seizures, polluting factories and so on.
  2. Mr Humphrey was jailed for two-and-a-half years; his wife, Yu Yingzeng, for two. They  were found guilty of violating laws protecting personal privacy.Since Mr Humphrey had spent years as a reporter and private investigator, his claim that he did not understand China’s privacy laws may seem a stretch. In fairness to him, though, there have always been grey areas.The court ruling makes it clear that China now intends to enforce its laws on data privacy, which are closer to the EU’s tough laws than to America’s business-friendly approach. Investigators will now have to spend more time conducting personal interviews and reference checks. 
  3. Since it opened in late May in Beijing, more than 100,000 people have visited Madame Tussauds in Beijing. It is the third such attraction in China; the first opened in 2006 in Shanghai and the second in the central city of Wuhan last year. The popular exhibit of waxworks, which was launched in London in 1835, is now in 20 cities across the world.If visitors want to pretend they mix with Chinese celebrities, they must make do with those who are solidly apolitical—the likes Lang Ping, a volleyballer.
  4. Since China and Vietnam normalised relations in 1991, Vietnam’s government has stressed ideological harmony with its larger Communist neighbour. That front appears to be fraying. Some members of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party are putting rare public pressure on the prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, to follow through on a threat, which he floated in May, to take China to international court over its territorial claims.Vietnam is finding support from elsewhere. Japan announced on August 1st that it will give Vietnam six naval boats to boost its patrol capacity. This week an Indian frigate conducted joint exercises with the Vietnamese navy. And on August 8th John McCain, an American senator, announced on a visit to Hanoi that it was time for America to ease its embargo on weapons exports to Vietnam.Vietnam buys most of its weaponry from Russia, where arms are cheaper.China is Vietnam’s largest trade partner, and Vietnam’s annual trade deficit with it is nearly $24 billion. Factories in Vietnam—many owned by multinational firms—depend on Chinese inputs.
  5. THE government of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, has put a brave face on the news that Japan’s GDP shrank by 1.7% in the second quarter of this year. Akira Amari, the economy minister, blamed the fall, of an annualised 6.8%—the steepest since the earthquake and tsunami that pummelled Japan in 2011—on the decision to raise the consumption tax from 5% to 8% in April and said the economy will rebound. Worryingly, private consumption plunged by 5% from the previous quarter.The Bank of Japan has pumped billions of dollars into the economy to buy up government debt, which has driven the yen down against the dollar.
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