Boarish behaviour

Boarish behaviour
Jan 25, 2019 (WiC 438)

Most hikers in Hong Kong can tell that the population of wild boars is growing. In fact, the feral beasts have been extending their territory from the country parks into urban areas like Causeway Bay. Adult boars can weigh up to 200 kilogrammes, with a body length of up to two metres (in a widely viewed video clip last year, a huge one – soon nicknamed Godzilla – was filmed with his snout in an urban rubbish bin). There is a growing number of cases in which wild pigs foraging for food are straying into residential areas and dangerously confronting pedestrians.

Two years ago the government changed the orders of the teams it deployed to keep boar numbers down. Instead of hunting them a birth control scheme was introduced but it has been a challenge to catch the animals and inject them with contraceptives. The problem prompted an audacious question from a Hong Kong lawmaker during a legislative council meeting this month. “Will the government reintroduce the hunting team or use alternative methods such as introducing natural predators to Hong Kong?” asked Kenneth Lau, representing the rural constituency of Heung Yee Kuk.

Given that only large carnivores such as lions and tigers sit above boars in the food chain, Lau’s half-hearted remark provoked widespread mockery. It also prompted another suggestion from a columnist in the Apple Daily. The most obvious choice of natural predators, he proposed, was mainland tourists: the government should introduce safaris for them to hunt the boars and eat them afterwards.

Not that anyone in the government has taken either proposal seriously. Instead they are taking a more mundane approach, calling for the public, including mainland Chinese tourists, not to feed the animals. Denying the boars’ food, the government believes, is the most effective way in limiting their escalating population for the time being.

First class, at bargain rates

First class, at bargain rates
Jan 18, 2019 (WiC 437)

Turning left on a Cathay Pacific aircraft got considerably cheaper in recent weeks, as its online flight booking systems offered first class tickets at amazingly low prices. The glitch saw first-class tickets between Vietnam and New York sold at the beginning of this month for $675 rather than $16,000; and those from Hong Kong to New York for $1,450 (versus $31,000). Eagle-eyed bloggers alerted travellers to the bargains, pointing out there were also heavily discounted business-class fares too. Cathay’s management quickly responded, admitting to the mistake in a tweet and stating it would honour the purchases. It added that the multi-million Hong Kong dollar mistake was the result of human input error but it claimed a “lesson learnt” after making fixes.

However, as the South China Morning Post pointed out this week, the lesson may not have been learned very thoroughly as the same mistake seems to have been made yet again. This time it was on the route between Lisbon and Hong Kong where a first-class fare normally worth $16,000 was on sale online for $1,512. Once again the airline acknowledged the screw-up and said it would honour the fare: “for the very small number of passengers who have purchased these tickets” it looked forward to welcoming them into the first-class cabin.

Some analysts think Cathay management decided to swallow their losses to demonstrate goodwill after the airline angered customers last year over a data breach. The Hong Kong carrier was embarrassed to admit last October the hack had compromised 9.4 million passengers’ personal information.

Give me a B

Give me a B
Jan 11, 2019 (WiC 436)

Bytedance was unquestionably the rising star of China’s internet sector in 2018. The rapidly growing popularity of its main services – an AI-curated newsfeed (Toutiao) and a short video site (Douyin) – even worried Tencent, which feared its ubiquitous social media app WeChat was losing eyeballs to the rival offerings. As we pointed out last year, this led to a very public feud between the two companies resulting in legal action (see WiC416).

Also getting in on the act was Baidu (see WiC424): in September it sued Bytedance for illegally streaming the TV drama The Story of the Yanxi Palace. This followed a lawsuit by Bytedance against Baidu for copyright infringement, this time over the streaming of a talk show made by Toutiao.

An article by Reuters Breakingviews at the end of December seems to have further fuelled the Baidu-Bytedance rivalry. Entitled ‘Bytedance will take over the B in China’s BAT’, it was part of a series of predictive pieces about 2019 (the BAT acronym refers to the grouping: Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent). It turned out the headline got both parties very excited and prompted the release of public statements.

On December 29 the Baidu communications department posted on its social media account that: “Baidu will not consider buying Bytedance”. This declaration clearly irked Bytedance’s executives who claim a higher valuation than Baidu (the former is an unlisted unicorn worth $75 billion at its last fundraising; the latter is New York-listed and this week had a market value of $57.8 billion). Li Liang, a VP with Bytedance, released a screenshot of the Reuters article and said the Baidu comment revealed “the importance of learning English”, claiming the term ‘take over’ had been misunderstood by its rival. The headline, Li suggested, was predicting that in 2019 the ‘B’ in the BAT would no longer be Baidu, but Bytedance instead. reckons the fight over the term ‘take over’ reflects the differing psychologies of the pair. Baidu is the “old giant” which has dominated China’s internet as part of the BAT triumvirate for the past decade, but is now on the defensive. Bytedance is the upstart that wants to replace the weakest link in the BAT.

So beyond the companies reactions what did the Reuters article actually predict? It called a “union of Baidu and Bytedance… a tantalising prospect”, arguing both had advantages in artificial intelligence, had complementary client bases and that a deal would bring cost savings as the economy’s growth rate further slows. WiC had also forecast a transformational Baidu merger, albeit slightly earlier in October. We suggested Robin Li’s search giant might combine with Ding Lei’s NetEase, after the two internet giants inked a strategic cooperation in online music streaming (see WiC429).