In Hong Kong, Sanctioned Russian Tycoon’s Superyacht Sparks U.S.-China Spat

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Monday. It begins:

The anchoring in Hong Kong waters of a sanctioned Russian oligarch’s superyacht is ramping up tensions between Beijing and Washington, which warned against the financial center being used as a safe haven.

The 465-foot Nord, owned by steel magnate Alexey Mordashov, moored west of the Chinese territory’s Victoria Harbour last week after departing from the far-eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, according to website MarineTraffic.

Its presence has drawn onlookers in passing boats eager to snap photos of one the world’s biggest luxury vessels. Equipped with two helicopter pads, a cinema and swimming pool, it can be seen flying a Russian flag. It has also ignited a spat between U.S. and Chinese officials, already at loggerheads over Beijing’s crackdowns on freedoms in the former British colony.

“The possible use of Hong Kong as a safe haven by individuals evading sanctions from multiple jurisdictions further calls into question the transparency of the business environment,” a U.S. State Department spokesman said Saturday. “Hong Kong’s reputation as a financial center depends on adherence to international laws and standards.”

Click through to read the rest.

Newley's Notes

NN195: Apple/Google/NBA Hong Kong Blowback; Instagram Sleuthing; Mac Protips; Adorable Golden Retrievers

2019 10 16horizon

Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

🇭🇰 In last week’s missive I mentioned the escalating unrest in Hong Kong. That has continued, but there’s been a new twist: U.S. companies are getting drawn into the protests. Read on for more.

Other tech-related stories in this week’s NN: Facebook, Trump, and that Biden ad; a New Yorker longread on Amazon by Charles Duhigg; power-tips for Mac users, and more.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

⚠️ 1) Shot: Apple, Google Pull Hong Kong Protest Apps Amid China Uproar [WSJ]

“The swift removal of these apps will likely help lower the two tech giants’ risk of running afoul of the Chinese government and upsetting consumers in the country. But it leaves the companies open to criticism outside of mainland China that they are siding with Beijing in the contentious debate over Hong Kong’s future.”

🏀 2) Chaser: The Houston Rockets Were China’s Team. Then a Hong Kong Tweet Happened [WSJ]

“The impact from a tweet by Houston general manager Daryl Morey in support of antigovernment protesters in Hong Kong quickly spread to the NBA as a whole.”

🗣️ 3) Facebook’s Hands-Off Approach to Political Speech Gets Impeachment Test [New York Times]

Saying a Trump video ad "made false accusations, CNN immediately refused to air the advertisement. But Facebook did not, and on Tuesday, the social network rejected a request from Mr. Biden’s presidential campaign to take it down, foreshadowing a continuing fight over misinformation on the service during the 2020 election as well as the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

🔮 4) Tech-related longread of the week, by Charles Duhigg: Is Amazon Unstoppable? [New Yorker]

“Politicians want to rein in the retail giant. But Jeff Bezos, the master of cutthroat capitalism, is ready to fight back.”

🧰 5) Master your Mac with these 18 power tips [Fast Company]

“The trusty macOS you use every day hides powerful features – some old, some brand-new – that can make your experience more productive and enjoyable. ”

🕵️‍♀️ 6) Coleen Rooney accuses Rebekah Vardy of leaking stories to Sun [The Guardian]

“Coleen Rooney has claimed to have caught another footballer’s wife passing her private information to the Sun, after apparently running an elaborate sting operation that involved placing false stories in the tabloid newspaper.”

⏱️ 7) Eliud Kipchoge Dashes Past 2-Hour Marathon Barrier In Assisted Event [NPR]

“Three-time Olympic medalist Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to run a marathon in under two hours, clocking in at 1:59:40 as he passed the finish line Saturday morning in Vienna, Austria.”

🇮🇳 8) Rana Dasgupta: The Best New Indian Novels [Five Books]

“Right now, extremely interesting things are happening in Indian literature…Today, English-language publishing is seeking a much greater diversity of voices.”

🗡️ 9) Japan ninja student gets top marks for writing essay in invisible ink [BBC]

“Eimi Haga followed the ninja technique of ‘aburidashi’, spending hours soaking and crushing soybeans to make the ink. The words appeared when her professor heated the paper over his gas stove.”

😍 10) Dog’s reaction to a new puppy [Reddit/aww]

📖 Book I’m Currently Reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow,” by Daniel Kahneman. I am familiar with many of the concepts he writes about, having heard so much about this book over the years, but have never delved into it – until now!

💡 Quote of the week:

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius


"What’s happening in Ecuador is not the fault of Maduro…I don’t move my mustache and topple governments. I’m not Super Mustache…” – Nicolás Maduro

👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,


Newley's Notes

NN 194: Hong Kong Unrest; Leaked Zuckerberg Audio; Boris: SEO Guru?; Dog Joins Sax Solo

2019 10 07hongkong

Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

📬 Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

🇭🇰 A big story this week: After several months of protests in Hong Kong, the unrest is escalating.

Here’s what’s up:

😷 As my WSJ colleagues report, the government on Friday enacted British colonial-era emergency measures – for the first time in 52 years – to try to prevent protesters from wearing masks (allowing them to conceal their identities).

That evening demonstrators once again:

After the law was announced, lawlessness returned in many districts around the city as clashes broke out between police and protesters. Demonstrators set fires outside subway entrances and vandalized Chinese banks, while police fired volleys of tear gas in several areas.

The city’s subway operator, MTR Corp. , in explaining the shutdown, cited destruction and arson in multiple stations and said some of its staff had been injured. A 14-year-old boy was shot in the leg by police in the northern district of Yuen Long, local media reported.

The demonstrations continued over the weekend, with the subway, banks, shopping malls and stores closed.

For a big picture look at why this all matters – apart from the human toll, of course – I suggest this WSJ story: For China’s Xi, the Hong Kong Crisis Is Personal.

The unrest has divided Hong Kong’s seven million people and undermined its role as a politically stable international financial center and conduit for capital in and out of China. It has damaged the “one country, two systems” formula that allowed the city to retain many freedoms after Chinese rule was restored in 1997."

What comes next? Watch this space…

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🗣️ 1) All Hands on Deck [The Verge]

“In two hours of leaked audio, Mark Zuckerberg rallies Facebook employees against critics, competitors, and the US government.”

Here’s the full transcript.

💻 2) Microsoft debuts latest Surfaces, previews dual-screen models [Axios]

“Microsoft updated its Surface laptops and 2-in–1 tablet/laptop hybrid devices on Wednesday, while also previewing two foldable dual-screen devices due out next year.”

💰 3) Shot: TikTok’s owner had $7 billion in revenue for the first half of the year [CNBC/Reuters]

“ByteDance, which was loss-making in the first-half, also posted a profit in June and was confident of making a profit in the second half of the year…”

🇨🇳 4) Chaser: “This is peak China 2019” [Twitter: @mbrennanchina]

“Eating crabs ordered on your phone and delivered to your door in half an hour while scrolling through TikTok videos using the inbuilt gesture control on a Huawei phone.”

🖐️ 5) Ready, text, go: typing speeds on mobiles rival keyboard users [The Guardian]

"People who tapped out messages with a single finger managed on average only 29 words per minute (wpm), but those who mastered the two-thumb technique hit a blistering 38wpm, only 25% slower than an average typer on a full-sized Qwerty keyboard.

🤔 6) Is Boris Johnson really trying to game Google search results? [Wired]

“One theory is that Johnson is trying to downplay negative news coverage of events by seeding news stories into Google search results by using similar phrases and key terms that are more positive.”

🗳️ 7) How A Big Enough News Story — Like Impeachment — Could Warp The Polls [FiveThirtyEight]

“If partisans on one side of a political question respond to a survey more readily than partisans on the other side, you can get a polling error. ”

🌆 8) Video: Airview of color Beijing, 1949, by USSR journalist… [Twitter: @Tongbingxue]

💯 9) Gary Laderman, religion professor at my alma mater, Emory University: Why I’m Easy: On Giving Lots of A’s [Chronicle of Higher Education] (Thanks, Miles!)

“The best compliment I have ever received was from a pre-business Korean student who somehow managed to take three of my courses. I asked for an honest take on my reputation, and he told me: ‘Your classes are the easiest, but I also learn the most.’

🐕 🎷10) Video: dog sings along with saxophonist. [Facebook/Gloria Jurado]

“Las maravillas de la música y nuestro mejor amigo.” (“The wonders of music and our best friend.”)

📖 Book I’m Currently Reading

The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India’s New Gilded Age,” by James Crabtree. Almost finished. Savoring every page. This will be on my list of must-read India books for sure when folks ask for recommendations.

💡 Quote of the week:

“Truth – more precisely, an accurate understanding of reality – is the essential foundation for producing good outcomes.” – Ray Dalio

Thanks for reading. If you like Newley’s Notes, please forward it to a friend or share it on Twitter or Facebook using the links below.

👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,


Newley's Notes

Newley’s Notes 181: Google Maps Trouble; Slack’s IPO; MH370 Mystery; Dogs Practicing Yoga

2019 06 30HK

Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

🇭🇰 I spent much of last week in Hong Kong, where we held our annual WSJ D.Live tech conference. It’s a gathering of tech executives, venture capital investors, startup founders, WSJ journalists, and more. (And yes, the event happened during the city’s massive protests, injecting an added element of excitement.)

In one on-stage event, I interviewed Guarav Gupta, chief operating officer of India’s Zomato. You may well have heard of it. It’s a popular platform for food delivery, food ratings, and more. We talked about the company’s push into smaller Indian cities, their expansion abroad, and even the potential for an IPO. You can watch the video here.

🆕 Separately, I had a scoop last week about a new private equity firm targeting Southeast Asia startups. The lede:

A new Southeast Asia-focused private-equity firm launched by a group of seasoned technology executives has hit the first close of its debut fund, the latest sign of investors’ growing enthusiasm for startups in the populous region.

Among the co-founders are Nick Nash, formerly group president of Singapore-based Sea, and Oliver Rippel, who was previously head of business-to-consumer e-commerce at Naspers.

On to this week’s NN.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

📍 1) Millions of Business Listings on Google Maps Are Fake—and Google Profits [WSJ]

“…Google still can’t seem to stop the proliferation of fictional business listings and aggressive con artists on its search engine. The scams are profitable for nearly everyone involved, Google included. Consumers and legitimate businesses end up the losers.”

📈 2) Slack Shares Jump in Trading Debut [WSJ]

“Slack Technologies Inc. surged in its trading debut on the New York Stock Exchange, the latest technology firm to jump into a hot initial-public-offering market.”

🖥️ 3) Bodies in Seats [The Verge]

“At Facebook’s worst-performing content moderation site in North America, one contractor has died, and others say they fear for their lives.”

🛩️ 4) The Drone Iran Shot Down Was a $220M Surveillance Monster [Wired]

“Global Hawks are massive surveillance platforms, in operation since 2001, with a wingspan of more than 130 feet and a maximum takeoff weight of more than 16 tons…”

📺 5) Samsung’s security reminder makes the case for not owning a Samsung smart TV [The Verge]

“‘Prevent malicious software attacks on your TV by scanning for viruses on your TV every few weeks,’ a (now deleted) tweet from the company’s US support account read alongside a video attachment that demonstrated the laborious process.”

❓ 6) A gripping longread: What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane [The Atlantic]

“In truth, a lot can now be known with certainty about the fate of MH370. First, the disappearance was an intentional act.”

🇨🇳 7) Liu Cixin’s War of the Worlds [New Yorker]

“A leading sci-fi writer takes stock of China’s global rise.”

🍜 8) A local’s guide to Bangkok [Washington Post]

“It’s the center of industry, finance, government, retail and education for all of Thailand, so everything comes together in fascinating, and often creative, ways.”

🐱 9) Cat filter accidentally used in Pakistani minister’s live press conference [BBC News – Thanks, PB!]

“Facebook users watching the video live commented on the gaffe, but Mr Yousafzai carried on unaware of his feline features.”

🧘 10) Army Dog Unit practices Yoga for #YogaDay2019 [India Ministry of Defense on Twitter]

💡 Quote of the week:

“Living is not thinking. Thought is formed and guided by objective reality outside us. Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing, always experiencing new things in the old and old things in the new. Thus life is always new.” – Thomas Merton

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👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,

Book Notes Books Singapore

Book Notes — ‘Asian Godfathers,’ by Joe Studwell

Note: I have long kept, on index cards, written notes about the books I read. I decided to share some of these thoughts here, and will be posting them, one by one on individual books, in no particular order. I’ll group them all together on a central page later. Thanks to Derek Sivers for the inspiration.

2016 06 01 asian godfathers

Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia
By Joe Studwell
Published: Oct. 2007
Read: Nov. 2015
Amazon link

Brief recap: An incisive look at how Southeast Asia’s godfathers got rich by exploiting the region’s dysfunctional governments — and how local elites have used godfathers, in turn.

One of the best books, if not the very best, on the region that I’ve encountered; should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the history of modern Southeast Asia.

My notes:

  • The region’s godfathers — largely Chinese and Indians — emigrated to Southeast Asia before World War II, taking advantage of opportunities for concessions and monopolies from local political elites in exchange for not seeking their own political power. Typical godfather behavior would be, for example, to bribe local politicians for lucrative monopolies, which they then used to build their own fortunes. Local elites got a steady stream of incoming cash in return, and weren’t challenged in the governmental sphere.

  • Southeast Asia and Hong Kong have very few global brands because they employ “technology-less industrialization” — entrepreneurs seek rents and have monopolies, so don’t need to improve productivity or become globally competitive.

  • The economic landscape in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong is “shaped by the interaction of two historical forces: migration and colonization.” That is, migrants came to Southeast Asia and began building their riches by taking advantage of colonial systems.

  • Thailand’s Thaksin was a godfather who committed the sin of political ambition — and alienated his fellow godfathers.

  • Studwell is highly critical of Singapore despite the fact it is known globally for good governance and its outsized economic development. He argues that its small size makes comparisons with countries irrelevant, and that both the city-state and Hong Kong show that small cities with deep water ports and good banking facilities were always destined to flourish in the region, despite their very different political models. “As relatively easily managed city states, with highly motivated and purely immigrant populations,” Studwell writes, “Hong Kong and Singapore perform a simple economic trick: they arbitrage the relative economic inefficiency of their hinterlands. In other words, business comes to them because they perform certain tasks — principally services — a little better than surrounding countries.”

Journalism Tech

By Me and a Colleague: A Look at Some Interesting Hong Kong Startups

2015 05 31 hkstartups

Think Hong Kong, and startups might not spring to mind.

But, as my colleague Lorraine Luk and I recently wrote, the city is home to an increasing number of tech companies working in fields like robotics, finance, bio-engineering and more.

Our intro story begins:

Casey Lau, a veteran Hong Kong Internet entrepreneur, in 2009 co-founded a networking group to promote the city’s burgeoning startup community. By 2013, the group, StartupsHK, had attracted 5,000 individual members. Today, just two years later, it has doubled in size to 10,000 people.

Among Hong Kong’s diverse startups are outfits working on artificial intelligence, Internet finance, robotics and more, as a new Wall Street Journal interactive illustrates.

One local company has developed what it says is the world’s most lifelike robots. Another is using biologically engineered fish embryos to detect toxins. And yet another has developed its own artificial intelligence software to buy and sell stocks.

Indeed, a website started by Lau’s group that provides a listing of local tech firms says Hong Kong is now home to more than 300 startups. The number of co-working spaces in the city, where tech workers share office space, has increased from just one in 2009 to 22 last year, one study found. The number of incubators and accelerators, meanwhile, has grown from six to 16 during that time. Hong Kong is also now home to at least one “hackerspace,” Dim Sum Labs, where people gather to tinker with contraptions like 3D printers and microcontrollers.

To be sure, Hong Kong — like most cities striving to become global technology hubs — is not quite Silicon Valley, and young technology firms here face some very real challenges.

Separately, we profiled six interesting startups.

There’s also a slideshow.

Journalism Tech

Our Exclusive Friday: Twitter’s Opening a Hong Kong Office

As I wrote here:

Twitter Inc. plans to open an office in Hong Kong early next year to serve greater China and tap advertising revenues from Chinese companies that are quickly expanding, an executive said.

Shailesh Rao, Twitter’s vice president for Asia Pacific, the Americas and emerging markets, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that the office will mainly house sales staff, though he declined to say how many. The office is set to open in the first quarter of 2015.

“The real main focus of the office will be sales,” Mr. Rao said. “Building sales capability to work with agencies and advertisers domestically in Hong Kong and Taiwan and those Chinese advertisers looking to go global.”

Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009 due to government concerns it could be used to organize protests. Asked if plans for the Hong Kong office signaled Twitter’s eagerness to enter China should the government lift its restriction, Mr. Rao said, “We would love to have Twitter” reach people “everywhere in the world including China.” But, he added, “Unfortunately, we can’t. That’s not our choice. We don’t control that decision.”

Click through to read the whole thing.

The story was picked up by financial newswires, various news organizations and several tech blogs.


Kenny G. Visits Hong Kong Protests

From our China Real Time blog today:

Observers wondering who exactly the ‘foreign influences’ are that Beijing has so darkly accused of helping spur protests in Hong Kong got one possible glimpse — in the shape of American saxophonist Kenny G.

Photos of the curly-maned musician in Hong Kong began surfacing on social media Wednesday afternoon, with Mr. G posing with protesters on the scene, a cardigan tossed around his shoulder, before images of tents pitched across town.

Mr. G’s verified Twitter account appeared to confirm his visit, with the musician posting a smiling selfie backdropped by protest posters, with the accompanying caption: “in Hong Kong at the sight [sic] of the demonstration. I wish everyone a peaceful and positive conclusion to this situation.”

(Mr. G also traveled elsewhere in China earlier last month, performing multiple shows in cities from Chongqing to Shanghai. During that time, he also posted an image of himself in a neon-strung room playing music beside a man who bears a striking resemblance to Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan, with the commentary: “This is what happens when I go to China…My music is super popular there. Look at my Chinese big brother! He can sing.” Mr. Chan couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.)


Queried on the subject at Wednesday’s daily foreign ministry news briefing in Beijing, authorities were distinctly less amused to see the musician pop up in the Chinese territory, which has been rocked by protesters demanding greater democracy in the former British colony. For weeks, party and pro-Beijing media have reiterated their belief that such protesters have been driven by foreign forces bent on undermining Chinese rule.

From the NYT back in May:

There are many things about modern China that defy easy explanation: parents posing their children next to live tigers, the sight of grown women wearing furry cat-ear headbands while shopping, the performance-art-like spectacle of strangers napping together in Ikea display beds.

But no mystery is more confounding than that ofthe 1989 smash-hit instrumental by the American saxophone superstar Kenny G.

For years the tune, in all its seductive woodwind glory, has been a staple of Chinese society. Every day, “Going Home” is piped into shopping malls, schools, train stations and fitness centers as a signal to the public that it is time, indeed, to go home.

The song in question:


U.S. Security Firm Identifies Android, iOS Spyware Targeting Hong Kong Protesters

That’s the subject of a story I wrote Friday:

A U.S. mobile security firm says it has uncovered smartphone spyware aimed at pro-Democracy protesters in Hong Kong that comes disguised as an app created by a community of socially minded programmers.

When activated, the Android app reveals the smartphone user’s geographical location, text messages, address book, emails and more, San Francisco-based Lacoon Mobile Security said this week.

Lacoon notes that a link to download the spyware began spreading via chats on the WhatsApp messaging app in recent weeks. Messages, which arrived from an unknown account, said “Check out this Android app designed by Code4HK for the coordination of Occupy Central!”

Clicking on an accompanying link infects users’ phones.

Click through to read the rest.


‘City of Imagination: Kowloon Walled City’

That’s the name of a new Wall Street Journal documentary:

The Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong was once the densest place on earth, a virtually lawless labyrinth of crime, grime, commerce and hope. A Wall Street Journal documentary tracks its colorful legacy 20 years after its demolition.

The link above leads to the doc on, and there’s also a YouTube version.

Very much worth a watch.