Communist officials call for free speech in China



BEIJING // A call by Chinese Communist party elders for greater freedom of speech days after a dissident was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize has been given a cautious response from political observers amid uncertainty about the appetite for reform among top officials.

In an open letter published on Wednesday, a group of 23 mostly retired officials urged the National People's Congress, China's legislature, for an end to state-sanctioned censorship, and for laws to protect the freedom of journalists.

Among the signatories were Li Rui, a former secretary to Mao Zedong and previously a member of the party's central committee, Li Pu, a former deputy director of the state Xinhua news agency, and other former state media heads.

"For our nation to advertise itself as having 'socialist democracy' with Chinese characteristics is such an embarrassment," the letter said. It said the state should stop arresting journalists, must stop employing "online spies" to monitor internet chat rooms and allow the free circulation of books.

The letter was made public before the start today of a four-day meeting of the party's central committee, a key-decision making body. It comes less than a week after Liu Xiaobo, a jailed pro-democracy dissident, was named the winner of the peace prize. Much of the reporting of the award was censored.

Yesterday, Agence France-Presse reported that China denounced the prize awarded to Mr Liu as tantamount to "encouraging crime", and state media said the award was part of a western "ideological war" against Beijing.

The open letter mentions that calls for political reform even from the country's premier, Wen Jiabao, have been censored by official media such as Xinhua and China Central Television. In recent statements, made in an interview to CNN and in a speech in Shenzhen, Mr Wen said the benefits of economic reform would be lost if they were not followed by political changes.

This week's open letter said "invisible black hands" were responsible for massaging what the public got to see or read and preventing them from hearing reformist comments from the likes of Mr Wen. It described a press law to prevent censorship as "an urgent task".

"We would ask, what right does the central propaganda department have to muzzle the speech of the premier?" the letter said. The significance of the letter will depend on whether its sentiments are echoed by similar comments by current officials, or whether the party acts to stop such views being aired, said Chan Chepo, an assistant professor of political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. It was difficult to determine how much support for reform there was among senior officials, he said.

"We need to see how far this tide goes," he said. More reform-minded figures in the communist party, such as Mr Wen, were "definitely not" advocating multi-party democracy, Mr Chan said. Instead, their aim was to speed the development of intra-party democracy, making officials more accountable. Some signatories to this week's letter have previously called for reforms and been ignored, said Ding Xueliang, a political analyst at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. For the past two decades, he said, major party meetings have been preceded by comments from "senior liberals" in favour of reform, yet little happened.

"The world does not need to open the champagne yet," he said. In a separate development, the Japanese prime minister, Naoto Kan, yesterday said it would be "desirable" for Liu Xiaobo to be released.

"I think it is important that human rights and fundamental freedoms, which are universal values, should also be guaranteed in China," he said.

Sour Grapes

Author: Zakaria Tamer
Publisher: Syracuse University Press
Pages: 176

Racecard

5pm: Al Maha Stables – Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 (Turf) 1,600m

5.30pm: Wathba Stallions Cup – Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 (T) 1,600m

6pm: Emirates Fillies Classic – Prestige (PA) Dh100,000 (T) 1,600m

6.30pm: Emirates Colts Classic – Prestige (PA) Dh100,000 (T) 1,600m

7pm: The President’s Cup – Group 1 (PA) Dh2,500,000 (T) 2,200m

7.30pm: The President’s Cup – Listed (TB) Dh380,000 (T) 1,400m

Soldier F

“I was in complete disgust at the fact that only one person was to be charged for Bloody Sunday.

“Somebody later said to me, 'you just watch - they'll drop the charge against him'. And sure enough, the charges against Soldier F would go on to be dropped.

“It's pretty hard to think that 50 years on, the State is still covering up for what happened on Bloody Sunday.”

Jimmy Duddy, nephew of John Johnson

ROUTE TO TITLE

Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2

SPEC SHEET: SAMSUNG GALAXY S24 ULTRA

Display: 6.8" quad-HD+ dynamic Amoled 2X, 3120 x 1440, 505ppi, HDR10+, 120Hz

Processor: 4nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, 64-bit octa-core

Memory: 12GB RAM

Storage: 256/512GB / 1TB

Platform: Android 14, One UI 6.1

Main camera: quad 200MP wide f/1.7 + 50MP periscope telephoto f/3.4 with 5x optical/10x optical quality zoom + 10MP telephoto 2.4 with 3x optical zoom + 12MP ultra-wide f/2.2; 100x Space Zoom; auto HDR, expert RAW

Video: 8K@24/30fps, 4K@30/60/120fps, full-HD@30/60/240fps, full-HD super slo-mo@960fps

Front camera: 12MP f/2.2

Battery: 5000mAh, fast wireless charging 2.0, Wireless PowerShare

Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC

I/O: USB-C; built-in Galaxy S Pen

Durability: IP68, up to 1.5m of freshwater up to 30 minutes; dust-resistant

SIM: Nano + nano / nano + eSIM / dual eSIM (varies in different markets)

Colours: Titanium black, titanium grey, titanium violet, titanium yellow

In the box: Galaxy S24 Ultra, USB-C-to-C cable

Price: Dh5,099 for 256GB, Dh5,599 for 512GB, Dh6,599 for 1TB

Results

6pm: Dubai Trophy – Conditions (TB) $100,000 (Turf) 1,200m

Winner: Silent Speech, William Buick (jockey), Charlie Appleby
(trainer)

6.35pm: Jumeirah Derby Trial – Conditions (TB) $60,000 (T)
1,800m

Winner: Island Falcon, Frankie Dettori, Saeed bin Suroor

7.10pm: UAE 2000 Guineas Trial – Conditions (TB) $60,000 (Dirt)
1,400m

Winner: Rawy, Mickael Barzalona, Salem bin Ghadayer

7.45pm: Al Rashidiya – Group 2 (TB) $180,000 (T) 1,800m

Winner: Desert Fire, Hector Crouch, Saeed bin Suroor

8.20pm: Al Fahidi Fort – Group 2 (TB) $180,000 (T) 1,400m

Winner: Naval Crown, William Buick, Charlie Appleby

8.55pm: Dubawi Stakes – Group 3 (TB) $150,000 (D) 1,200m

Winner: Al Tariq, Pat Dobbs, Doug Watsons

9.30pm: Aliyah – Rated Conditions (TB) $80,000 (D) 2,000m

Winner: Dubai Icon, Patrick Cosgrave, Saeed bin Suroor

Can NRIs vote in the election?

Indians residing overseas cannot cast their ballot abroad

Non-resident Indians or NRIs can vote only by going to a polling booth in their home constituency

There are about 3.1 million NRIs living overseas

Indians have urged political parties to extend the right to vote to citizens residing overseas

A committee of the Election Commission of India approved of proxy voting for non-resident Indians

Proxy voting means that a person can authorise someone residing in the same polling booth area to cast a vote on his behalf.

This option is currently available for the armed forces, police and government officials posted outside India

A bill was passed in the lower house of India’s parliament or the Lok Sabha to extend proxy voting to non-resident Indians

However, this did not come before the upper house or Rajya Sabha and has lapsed

The issue of NRI voting draws a huge amount of interest in India and overseas

Over the past few months, Indians have received messages on mobile phones and on social media claiming that NRIs can cast their votes online

The Election Commission of India then clarified that NRIs could not vote online

The Election Commission lodged a complaint with the Delhi Police asking it to clamp down on the people spreading misinformation

'My Son'

Director: Christian Carion

Starring: James McAvoy, Claire Foy, Tom Cullen, Gary Lewis

Rating: 2/5

A QUIET PLACE

Starring: Lupita Nyong'o, Joseph Quinn, Djimon Hounsou

Director: Michael Sarnoski

Rating: 4/5

Mica

Director: Ismael Ferroukhi

Stars: Zakaria Inan, Sabrina Ouazani

3 stars

Race card

1.45pm: Maiden Dh75,000 1,200m.

2.15pm: Maiden Dh75,000 1,200m.

2.45pm: Handicap Dh95,000 1,200m.

3.15pm: Handicap Dh120,000 1,400m.

3.45pm: Handicap Dh80,000 1,400m.

4.15pm: Handicap Dh90,000 1,800m.

4.45pm: Handicap Dh80,000 1,950m.

The National selections:

1.45pm: Galaxy Road – So Hi Speed

2.15pm: Majestic Thunder – Daltrey

2.45pm: Call To War – Taamol

3.15pm: Eqtiraan - Bochart

3.45pm: Kidd Malibu – Initial

4.15pm: Arroway – Arch Gold

4.35pm: Compliance - Muqaatil

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

Director: Francis Lawrence

Stars: Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Viola Davis, Tom Blyth

Rating: 3/5

Herc's Adventures

Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Console: PlayStation 1 & 5, Sega Saturn
Rating: 4/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)

Mercedes V250 Avantgarde specs

Engine: 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder turbo

Gearbox: 7-speed automatic

Power: 211hp at 5,500rpm

Torque: 350Nm

Fuel economy, combined: 6.0 l/100 km

Price: Dh235,000

The Cairo Statement

1: Commit to countering all types of terrorism and extremism in all their manifestations

2: Denounce violence and the rhetoric of hatred

3: Adhere to the full compliance with the Riyadh accord of 2014 and the subsequent meeting and executive procedures approved in 2014 by the GCC

4: Comply with all recommendations of the Summit between the US and Muslim countries held in May 2017 in Saudi Arabia.

5: Refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of countries and of supporting rogue entities.

6: Carry out the responsibility of all the countries with the international community to counter all manifestations of extremism and terrorism that threaten international peace and security

Specs: 2024 McLaren Artura Spider

Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 and electric motor
Max power: 700hp at 7,500rpm
Max torque: 720Nm at 2,250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 3.0sec
Top speed: 330kph
Price: From Dh1.14 million ($311,000)
On sale: Now

THE SPECS

Battery: 60kW lithium-ion phosphate
Power: Up to 201bhp
0 to 100kph: 7.3 seconds
Range: 418km
Price: From Dh149,900
Available: Now

The specs

Engine: 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 620hp from 5,750-7,500rpm
Torque: 760Nm from 3,000-5,750rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
On sale: Now
Price: From Dh1.05 million ($286,000)

'C'mon C'mon'

Director:Mike Mills

Stars:Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Woody Norman

Rating: 4/5

SPECS

Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Power: 750hp at 7,500rpm
Torque: 800Nm at 5,500rpm
Transmission: 7 Speed dual-clutch auto
Top speed: 332kph
Fuel consumption: 12.2L/100km
On sale: Year end
Price: From Dh1,430,000 (coupe); From Dh1,566,000 (Spider)

Representing UAE overseas

If Catherine Richards debuts for Wales in the Six Nations, she will be the latest to have made it from the UAE to the top tier of the international game in the oval ball codes.

Seren Gough-Walters (Wales rugby league)
Born in Dubai, raised in Sharjah, and once an immigration officer at the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi, she debuted for Wales in rugby league in 2021.

Sophie Shams (England sevens)
With an Emirati father and English mother, Shams excelled at rugby at school in Dubai, and went on to represent England on the sevens circuit.

Fiona Reidy (Ireland)
Made her Test rugby bow for Ireland against England in 2015, having played for four years in the capital with Abu Dhabi Harlequins previously.

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

SPEC SHEET: SAMSUNG GALAXY Z FLIP5

Display: Main – 6.7" FHD+ Dynamic Amoled 2X, 2640 x 1080, 22:9, 425ppi, HDR10+, up to 120Hz; cover – 3/4" Super Amoled, 720 x 748, 306ppi

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, 4nm, octa-core; Adreno 740 GPU

Memory: 8GB

Capacity: 256/512GB

Platform: Android 13, One UI 5.1.1

Main camera: Dual 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2) + 12MP wide (f/1.8), OIS

Video: 4K@30/60fps, full-HD@60/240fps, HD@960fps

Front camera: 10MP (f/2.2)

Battery: 3700mAh, 25W fast charging, 15W wireless, 4.5W reverse wireless

Connectivity: 5G; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC (Samsung Pay)

I/O: USB-C

Cards: Nano-SIM + eSIM; no microSD slot

Colours: Cream, graphite, lavender, mint; Samsung.com exclusives – blue, grey, green, yellow

In the box: Flip 4, USB-C-to-USB-C cable

Price: Dh3,899 / Dh4,349

The biog

Siblings: five brothers and one sister

Education: Bachelors in Political Science at the University of Minnesota

Interests: Swimming, tennis and the gym

Favourite place: UAE

Favourite packet food on the trip: pasta primavera

What he did to pass the time during the trip: listen to audio books

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”