Yahoo, Fortnite exit China as tech crackdown bites

BEIJING: US internet services company Yahoo said on Tuesday it has pulled out of mainland China, becoming the latest tech firm to withdraw as a crackdown by Beijing on the industry gathers pace.

The move comes just days after American gaming giant Epic said it will shut its popular game “Fortnite” following the imposition of strict curbs on the world’s biggest gaming market.

Beijing has embarked on a wide-ranging regulatory clampdown on a number of industries in a drive to tighten its control of the economy, with tech firms taking the brunt.

The push has seen a number of US-based companies withdraw major products from China in recent weeks, with Microsoft in October announcing the closure of its career-oriented social network LinkedIn.

“In recognition of the increasingly challenging business and legal environment in China, Yahoo’s suite of services will no longer be accessible from mainland China as of November 1,” Yahoo said in a statement emailed to AFP.

“Yahoo remains committed to the rights of our users and free and open internet. We thank our users for their support.” Foreign tech companies have long walked a tightrope in China, forced to comply with strict local laws and government censorship of content.

Google shut down its search engine in China in 2010, refusing Beijing’s requirement to censor search results.

Reports in 2018 of a plan by Google executives to explore reopening a site in China sparked a backlash from rights groups and Google employees warning that a censored search engine would set a “dangerous precedent”.

Yahoo China was launched in 1999 when the company was among the world’s most important internet firms.

Its presence in the country has shrunk in recent years, with Yahoo shutting down its Chinese mail service in 2013.

Yahoo’s latest statement echoes Microsoft’s complaint in October that it faced an increasingly “challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements”.

China’s crackdown has also hit the video gaming sector, with officials in late August saying they wanted to curb addiction by announcing drastic cuts to the number of time children can spend playing online.

On Sunday gaming giant Epic said it had pulled the plug on “Fortnite”, saying it will shut down the Chinese version of the massively popular game on November 15.

The action-packed shooter and world-building game is one of the most popular in the world, boasting more than 350 million users.

“Fortnite China’s Beta test has reached an end, and the servers will be closed soon,” a statement from the firm said.

“On November 15 at 11am, we will turn off game servers, and players will no longer be able to log in.” The move brings an end to a long-running test of Epic’s version of “Fortnite” specifically created for the Chinese market, where content is policed for excessive violence.

The Chinese test version was released in 2018, but “Fortnite” never received the government’s green light to be formally launched and monetized as approvals for new games slowed.

Daniel Ahmad, a senior video game analyst at Niko Partners, said fighting games such as “Fortnite” had faced tighter approval requirements in recent years.

“We believe the lack of approval is the main reason why Tencent and Epic decided to close the game at this point,” Ahmad said, despite the developers making numerous changes to tone down the bloodier aspects of the game.

China accuses the US of ‘lack of transparency over submarine accident

BEIJING: China on Tuesday accused the US of a lack of transparency and responsibility regarding an accident in the South China Sea involving a Navy submarine last month.

At a daily briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the US should provide full details of the incident that has revived a dispute between the two countries over the strategic waterway.

“We once again urge the US to give a detailed account of the accident,” he said. Two US Navy officials said the service had determined the nuclear-powered USS Connecticut struck a seamount or underwater mountain.

The Navy has yet to fully explain how or why the sub struck the seamount or to reveal the extent of damage to the Seawolf-class submarine. Wang described what he called a lack of transparency and responsibility by the US in following up with the incident.

He said the US has so far failed to offer a clear explanation” of what the Navy nuclear submarine was doing in the area, as well as the specific location of the accident, whether it was in another country’s exclusive economic zone or even territorial waters, whether it caused a nuclear leak or damaged marine environment.

China claims sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea, through which trillions of dollars of international trade pass each year. Six governments claim islands, atolls, and exclusive economic zones in the sea, while the US insists that freedom of navigation be maintained, reinforcing that with regular military flights and naval patrols and training missions around the region.

The Navy has said the submarine’s nuclear reactor and propulsion system were not damaged. The collision caused a small number of moderate and minor injuries to the crew. USNI News, which was first to report that the submarine had struck a seamount, said damage to the forward section of the sub included its ballast tanks.

India ramps up Himalayan border defenses after deadly China clashes

On the winding road up to India’s Himalayan frontier is a postcard view of gushing streams and tranquil lakes — punctuated occasionally by the sight of artillery barrels and military bunkers.

A year after deadly high-altitude clashes with Chinese soldiers, India is ramping up its border defenses along with a treacherous mountain range that has long been a flashpoint between the two countries.

Arunachal Pradesh straddles the other side of the Himalayas from Tibet and shares a common Buddhist cultural heritage with its northern neighbor.

Dalai Lama fled through the state in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule in his homeland and has lived in India ever since.

Beijing also claims ownership of Arunachal Pradesh — which it refers to as South Tibet — and briefly occupied most of the territory, three years after the Buddhist leader’s flight, in a short but bloody war.

Tensions have flared again since mid-2020 when troops from both nations fought a hand-to-hand battle further west along their shared frontier in Ladakh, leaving at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers dead.

Indian soldiers on a Bofors gun positioned near Tawang. — AFP
Indian soldiers on a Bofors gun positioned near Tawang. — AFP

Each side routinely sends patrols into areas claimed or controlled by the other, and India has also accused China of establishing permanent settlements near the border.

“We have observed some infrastructure development on the Chinese side,” Lieutenant General Manoj Pande told journalists during a rare press tour through the region last month.

“That has led to (a higher) number of troops that are now located or placed there.”

New Delhi has responded by scaling up its defenses in Arunachal Pradesh, deploying cruise missiles, howitzers, US-made Chinook transport choppers, and drones built in Israel.

Fatal geography

Officers in the region say last year’s clash highlighted the urgent need to fortify the military’s frontier presence, after fruitless talks with Beijing to ease the border build-up on both sides.

Temperatures around the remote strategic hamlet of Tawang — one of the closest towns to Tibet, and a potential chokepoint for any advancing forces — often drop below zero and the thin mountain air is starved of oxygen.

Nearby military outposts can be cut off from the outside world for entire weeks in the winter.

“The region’s geography is against humans,” an Indian army brigadier told AFP.

“It can be fatal if one isn’t fully fit, trained, or acclimatized.”

Army engineers are building a huge road tunnel at 13,000 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level, expected to open next year, to link the area to arterial routes further south and expand the reach of soldiers.

“These tunnels… will mean all-weather connectivity for locals and security forces deployed in Tawang,” said Colonel Parikshit Mehra, the project’s director.

Indian officers in the region say last year's clash highlighted the urgent need to fortify the military's frontier presence. — AFP
Indian officers in the region say last year’s clash highlighted the urgent need to fortify the military’s frontier presence. — AFP

A similar project is underway in Ladakh beneath the rocky terrain of the Zojila mountain pass — otherwise impassable during winter months — that would help troops quickly mobilize at the border from India’s huge garrison in Kashmir.

‘Pressure tactics’

A statue of the Buddha overlooks the houses sloping up the uneven plateau on which Tawang was built, reflecting the largely Buddhist population of the region.

Those living in the town have applauded the new focus on the region from New Delhi and are anxious about future Chinese incursions, mindful of Beijing’s efforts to suppress Buddhism across the frontier.

The Chinese government has made clear it could seek to name a successor to the 86-year-old Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and a revered figure in Tawang.

“We share our culture with Tibet but China today is modifying Buddhism according to its whims,” said Dondup Gyaltsen, who runs a shoe store in Tawang’s main market.

Monpa Golang, who runs a pharmacy further down the street, said India should stand strong against “Chinese pressure tactics”.

“Our government should make it clear that no Buddhist will accept anyone China imposes after the Dalai Lama,” the 75-year-old added. “He may look human but he’s our god. “