POSTSCRIPT / June 20, 2021 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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What’s China doing out there in space?

THE NAME of the game is Competition, and China of late has been out there in space also – competing. For what? Presumably for the same things that other world powers also compete.

China’s space ambitions grew more intense when in 2019 it became the first country to send an un-crewed rover to the far side of the moon. But having been excluded from the International Space Station project, it has focused on building a space station even by itself initially.

After the US Congress approved Wednesday a bill packing $250 billion into a herculean heave to keep America ahead in technology, China slipped three astronauts into the space station that it is building to stay competitive up there as it is down here.

The US Senate approved the funding bill on a rare bipartisan 68-32 vote. The House will pass its own version, and the measure goes to a bicameral panel to resolve any conflicting provisions, before it is sent to President Biden for signing into law.

On Thursday, 380 kilometers above the earth, China’s spacecraft Shenzhou-12 (“Divine Vessel”) delivered, 6.5 hours after launch, its first three-man crew to the core module of the space station called Tiangong (“Heavenly Palace”) being assembled in a low-Earth orbit.

China has been quite active in space lately. In December, it brought to earth rock and soil samples it took from the moon’s surface. It has been more than 40 years since the American Apollo and Soviet Luna missions brought their samples home.

In May, China landed a six-wheeled robot named Zhurong (“God of Fire”) to survey Utopia Planitia, a vast area in the planet’s northern hemisphere. The robot powered by fold-out solar panels looks like NASA’s “Spirit” and “Opportunity” vehicles of the 2000s.

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THE SPENDING bill aims to boost US technology research, semiconductor manufacturing, also to subsidize robot makers and chipmakers amid a worldwide shortage of computer chips that experts say may continue to be felt in the next two years.

The bill has provisions specifically targeting China, including a prohibition on the downloading on US government devices of the social media app TikTok and a ban on the purchase of drones made and sold by Chinese state enterprises.

Filipinos might want to know about Huawei, one of several well-known Chinese brands of lower-priced smartphones, laptops, tablets, and other electronic devices. Some local communication firms also use Huawei parts.

The British Broadcasting Corp. reports: “Huawei has been banned from the UK’s 5G infrastructure and faces scrutiny from the National Cyber Security Centre over its security practices, and whether it has links with the Chinese government, which it denies.

“On a consumer level, its handset sales have plummeted all over Europe since a US trade ban makes them incompatible with essential Google apps, including Gmail, Google Maps and the Play Store.”

A China foreign ministry spokesman said the US funding bill could set back bilateral cooperation, describing the measure as “full of Cold War and zero-sum thinking”. The bill, he added, “distorts facts and slanders China’s development path and its domestic and foreign policies.”

On the other hand, President Biden said, “It is long past time that we invest in American workers and American innovation. We are in a competition to win the 21st Century, and the starting gun has gone off. As other countries continue to invest in their own research and development, we cannot risk falling behind.”

 PH drops 7 rungs to 52nd in IMD ranking

COMPETITION? In the IMD World Competitiveness Ranking published Thursday, China climbed four rungs to 16th — inching closer to the US which stayed in 10th place where it was last year. Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, entered the top 10 slots for the first time.

The 2021 assessment of the world’s economies by the IMD World Competitiveness Center at the International Institute for Management Development business school in Lausanne, put Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands in the top four slots. Singapore slid to fifth, down from the No. 1 position it held in the previous two years.

Arturo Bris, director of the IMD Center, said that the COVID-19 health crisis, while devastating, was temporary. Competitiveness measures longer-term impact, he said.

He noted: “China, by continuing reducing poverty and boosting infrastructure and education strengthens the possibility of advancing in the rankings. Still, China does not rank among the top 10 most competitive economies despite its size and GDP growth potential.

“But this is what competitiveness is about – prosperity, not necessarily growth.”

How was the Philippines ranked? Overall, it was 52nd out of the 64 economies assessed, a drop of seven notches from its 45th place in 2020. It was 57th (from 44th in 2020) in economic performance, 45th (from 42nd) in government efficiency, 37th (from in 33rd) in business efficiency, and 59th (same 59th) in infrastructure.

For a more detailed and deeper appreciation of the IMD report on the Philippines’ competitiveness, pls go to: https://tinyurl.com/t2beh827

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IN THE global COVID-19 tally of 222 countries and territories by world0meters, as of June 19, 01:43 GMT, the Philippines was No. 24 with its 1,261,115 total cases. It is No. 2 among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Indonesia is still No. 1.

But on the basis of their per one million population, the Philippines (12,131 total cases and 211 deaths) beat Indonesia (7,105 total cases and 196 deaths). The Department of Health reported the total number of cases as of June 18 at 1,346,276, with 23,385 deaths.

The top five countries in the global tally are the US, 34,393,269 cases; India, 29,822,764; Brazil, 17,802,176; France, 5,752,872; and Turkey, 5,359,728. Worldwide, the total number of cases is 178,587,177, with 3,866,643 deaths.

Yesterday, Biden announced: “Today, we’ve passed 300 million shots in 150 days. When I took office, our nation was in crisis. Today, the virus is in retreat and our economy has smashed previous records for job growth.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 20, 2021)

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