FORTUNE — Unlike Google (GOOG), Baidu, China’s largest search engine, cooperates with the government’s policy of censorship. The western press commonly asks the company’s CEO, Robin Li, how he justifies such a decision. Li’s responses are generally quite deferential to the government. An unfavorable onlooker might even consider some of his rhetoric to veer precariously close to pandering. Take, for instance, Li’s dictum on big tech in China: “…walking the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the well-spring of strength that will allow the Chinese Internet to continue its healthy and rapid development.”
So it came as quite a surprise when CCTV, one of the government’s many state-run media organizations, aired a damning 26-minute documentary on Li’s company last month. Millions of Chinese viewers watched footage of a Baidu (BIDU) employee helping a man posing as the owner of what he admitted to be a sham healthcare company buy a fraudulent advertisement for a phony weight-loss pill. For weeks, the media speculated on the rationale behind the attack, which struck many as particularly harsh. Was the government getting uncomfortable with Baidu’s monopoly on the search market? (It controls about 80% of the market.) Or was CCTV acting out of commercial opportunism, since the broadcaster is also developing a search engine of its own? Did someone at CCTV have a personal vendetta against a higher-up at Baidu? (Read full article here.)
THEY are in Paris, buying Chanel shoes. They are in London, scouting Mayfair property. They are in Rome, ordering dim sum instead of pasta. Chinese tourists seem to be everywhere, yet the Chinese tourist boom is only just beginning.
The country’s $232 billion travel market is mainly domestic and hugely under-developed. A few short decades ago, Chinese citizens could not go anywhere without permission. Now members of the new middle class are eager to explore the far corners of their great nation.
Many firms are jostling to help them. On September 15th Baidu, China’s largest search engine, announced plans to list the shares of Qunar, a popular Chinese travel search aggregator, in which it purchased a controlling stake in June. In May Tencent, another online giant, snapped up 16% of eLong, a Chinese online travel company that is part-owned by Expedia. Together, Baidu and Tencent threaten Ctrip, China’s biggest travel firm. Ctrip also hawks tickets online, but its main focus is on service. (Read full article here.)
FORTUNE — Singapore’s government has a way of getting what it wants. Fertility rates too low? The Social Development Unit organizes boat-trips to spin romance among the singles crowd. Not enough tourism? The Tourism Board spearheads the development of two casinos and undertakes construction of a massive new sports complex. Too many students studying abroad? The government sponsors Yale to open a campus in Singapore in 2013. Indeed, the Singapore government has been so successful in its social and economic engineering efforts that the World Economic Forum recently ranked the city-state second only to Switzerland in its annual global competitiveness survey.
Having mastered efficiency, Singapore’s new pet project is creativity. The country has long had its eyes on Silicon Valley and over the last decade it has implemented plans to more or less recreate the California tech scene in Southeast Asia. At first, Singapore attempted to throw billions of dollars at venture capitalists and private equity firms. Then, seeing too little of that money trickling down to startups, it began funding them more directly. In its latest scheme, the government plans $50 million of direct investment in 100 companies over five years. (Read full article here.)
FORTUNE — It’s a familiar story to Americans, but now it may be unfolding in China.
From 2008-2010, China’s largest banks made scores of loans to local governments and state-run companies. Exports had fallen in the wake of the financial crisis, so the government wanted to create jobs and boost local demand. As a result, developers erected high rises and shopping malls across the country and the Chinese economy grew at roughly a 10% clip. But some analysts and ratings agencies assert that lending standards weren’t strict enough. Too many bad loans were made, they say. Financial reform didn’t come fast enough.
Last week, Liu Mingkang, the chairman of the China Banking Regulatory Commission, announced that a recent round of stress tests proved that Chinese banks could handle up to a 50% drop in property prices. Banks, which fund themselves mainly through deposits, are growing their profits at 20% per year. Though the economy appears to be slowing, it is still estimated to grow around 9% this year, which could theoretically offset any losses incurred by bad loans. (Read full article here.)
David LaChapelle, the fashion photographer turned artist, has spent his career coaxing celebrities out of their comfort zone. Brooke Shields, Naomi Campbell, and Daniel Day-Lewis all disrobed for Mr. LaChapelle. Angelina Jolie posed with a horse nibbling on her nipple. James Truman, Mr. LaChapelle’s former editor at Details Magazine, once said, “We would look at a picture that came in and say, ‘how the hell did he get them to do that?’”
Mr. LaChapelle, always provocative, is also famously attuned to commercial trends. One of his most famous images, for instance, shows the rapper Lil Kim’s naked body physically branded with Louis Vuitton logos. This focus might well explain the latest twist in his storied career—his ascent to stardom in Asia,where conspicuous consumption is a way of life for some people. On May 25, Hong Kong’s de Sarthe Fine Art Gallery opened a solo show dedicated to Mr. LaChapelle. He also just ended an exhibition in Shanghai, will have shows in Seoul and Busan, South Korea later this year and has a solo exhibition already planned at the Singapore Art Museum in 2012. (Read full article here.)
FORTUNE — Renminbi sold at a bank near you? Perhaps not immediately, but a push to open up overseas trading of China’s notoriously restricted currency does seem to be underway.
In a late-April move that drew significant attention, Singapore bid to become the first offshore trading hub for China’s currency, the renminbi (RMB), outside Hong Kong and Mainland China. The announcement follows China’s decision last summer to allow the currency to be bought and sold in Hong Kong, and a similar move in January that paved the way for a Chinese bank to trade renminbi in New York.
Together, the three announcements weave a complicated story of shifting economic and political realities. (Read full article here.)
The facade of the Shangri-La Paris looks like most luxury hotels in the city of light: There is a cobblestone street, it’s a beautiful building with postcard-perfect views of the Eiffel Tower, and fashionably dressed people walk by. At the entrance of the hotel, however, there are two large vases covered with a pattern of peonies, the national emblem of China.
The Shangri-la Hotels and Resorts company has a five-star reputation around Asia, where most of the hotel group’s 72 properties are located. But the Shangri-la Paris marks the Hong Kong-based group’s first address in Europe. The property, a former residence of one of Napoleon’s heirs, has recently been featured on the hotel group’s homepage, and hundreds of articles have been written about the place since it opened last December, says Adelaide de Vivie, the communications director.
The hotel is naturally trying to attract international jetsetters, but its marketers are paying particular attention to China. (Read full article here.)