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For China’s Business Elites, Staying Out of Politics Is No Longer an Option – The New York Times

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The fallout from Beijing’s crackdown on the ride-hailing app Didi has ensnared even those who made it a point to not mix business with politics.

Liu Chuanzhi, the founder of the tech company Lenovo and a towering figure in China’s private sector, has long held the view that businesspeople should steer clear of politics. Yet he recently found out firsthand that in President Xi Jinping’s China, which is engaged in a tech cold war with the United States, business cannot just be business.

Over the past week, Mr. Liu became collateral damage when the ride-hailing giant Didi, where his daughter, Jean Liu, is president, came under fire after its blockbuster initial public offering in New York.

Chinese regulators ordered the company to stop signing up new users. They said Didi should also be pulled from Chinese app stores because of national security concerns and to protect the data of Chinese users.

The Chinese internet immediately savaged Didi and Ms. Liu — and then Mr. Liu. A hashtag, #Didiapppulledfromappstores, which was started by the official People’s Daily, was viewed more than one billion times over a 24-hour period on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. Weibo users called Didi a “traitor” and a “walking dog of the United States.” They urged the government to also punish Mr. Liu for selling out national interests.

Beijing’s actions against Didi — and the fallout — were part of a broadening crackdown by China against its homegrown tech companies. The shift began in November when regulators quashed the I.P.O. of Ant Group, the tech and financial company run by the billionaire Jack Ma. At the time, many viewed Beijing’s moves against Ant and Mr. Ma as inevitable to rein in the power of Big Tech.

The clampdown on Didi may have an even deeper impact. It is a strong signal from Beijing to discourage listings of Chinese tech companies in the United States, businesspeople and entrepreneurs said, especially as the two countries battle for tech supremacy.

By going after Didi and a few other U.S.-listed internet companies for data security concerns, Beijing has effectively laid the last brick of the digital Berlin Wall that increasingly separates the Chinese internet from the rest of the world. Beijing has made it clear that it is serious about keeping important data within its borders while pressuring its tech elites, who are among the biggest beneficiaries of globalization, to show their loyalty and obedience, they said.

Sun Yilei/Reuters

On Tuesday, China punctuated the change by announcing that it would enhance rules on data security and cross-border data flows for Chinese companies seeking to sell shares abroad. The changes were designed to ensure that companies listed abroad take their responsibilities in information security seriously.

Internet infrastructure operators like Didi must now prove their political and legal legitimacy to the government, Ma Changbo, an online media start-up founder, wrote on his WeChat social media account.

“This is the second half of the U.S.-China decoupling,” he wrote. “In the capital market, the model of playing both sides of the fence is coming to an end.”

Didi, Ms. Liu and Mr. Liu didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

China’s internet companies have benefited from the best of two worlds since the 1990s. Many received foreign venture funding — Alibaba, the e-commerce giant, was funded by Yahoo and SoftBank, while Tencent, another internet titan, was backed by South Africa’s Naspers. They also copied their business models from Silicon Valley companies.

The Chinese companies gained further advantages when Beijing blocked almost all big American internet companies from its domestic market, giving its home players plenty of room to grow. Many Chinese internet firms later went public in New York, where investors have a bigger appetite for innovative and risky start-ups than in Shanghai or Hong Kong. So far this year, more than 35 Chinese companies have gone public in the United States.

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Now the Didi crackdown is changing the calculations for many in China’s tech industry. One entrepreneur who has set her sights on a listing in New York for her enterprise software start-up said it would be harder to go public in Hong Kong with a high valuation because what her company did — software as a service — was a relatively new idea in China.

A venture capitalist in Beijing added that because of China’s data security requirements, it was now unlikely that start-ups in artificial intelligence and software as a service would consider going public in New York. Few people were willing to speak on the record for fear of retaliation by Beijing.

At the same time, the United States has become more hostile to Chinese tech companies and investors. As Washington has ramped up its scrutiny of deals that involve sensitive technologies, it has become almost impossible for Chinese venture firms to invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, several investors said.

In May, U.S. lawmakers introduced a bill to bar Chinese firms from listing on U.S. exchanges if they didn’t comply with the same auditing standards as American companies. After Didi filed for its I.P.O., Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, urged American regulators to block the listing.

Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

Caught between an increasingly authoritarian government and an escalating geopolitical rift with the United States, China’s tech entrepreneurs and investors said they needed to rethink their positions in the new world.

That is especially true for people like the Lius, who are a kind of royal family in China’s tech industry. When Lenovo acquired IBM’s personal computer division in 2005, Mr. Liu became the first Chinese chief executive to lead the takeover of a major American business.

Ms. Liu herself is a true product of globalization. After graduating from Harvard University, she spent over a decade at Goldman Sachs before joining Didi in 2014. Known as a “fund-raising machine,” she helped the ride-hailing firm secure billions of dollars from investors, including SoftBank and Apple.

She also helped Didi pull off the high-wire act of going public. The company was among the Chinese tech giants that had come under increasing regulatory scrutiny since late last year. The company was fined in April for failing to clear mergers and acquisition transactions. It was also reprimanded and lectured by regulators to compete fairly and treat its drivers and passengers fairly.

When Didi set its I.P.O. date on June 30, a day before the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its centenary, it kept a low profile. It didn’t set up a ceremony to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, even virtually, which has been a tradition for companies that go public. Didi also urged its employees to refrain from sharing any celebratory messages on social media.

Two days later, Chinese regulators struck.

In response, Didi denied that because it had gone public in New York, it had to turn over user data to the United States. A Didi executive said on social media that the company stored all its Chinese data on servers in China.

But many articles and social media posts pointed fingers at the company, and some online users said they had deleted the app. The attacks soon turned personal.

“Didi sold the country for its own benefit!” screamed the headline of one popular online post. “Liu Chuanzhi will become the next Jack Ma who deserves to be cracked down!”

For Mr. Liu — who had made his no politics remark in the summer of 2013, shortly after Mr. Xi came to power and started cracking down on influential online voices — it was clear that his longtime strategy would no longer keep him out of the fray. Whether he likes it or not, politics and tech in China are now inextricably intertwined.

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Italy’s Mr. Fix-It Tries to Fix the Country’s Troubled Justice System — and Its Politics, Too – The New York Times

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The issue has become a test for whether Prime Minister Mario Draghi can really change Italy.

LODI — If there is one person who does not have to be persuaded of the need for Italy’s urgent push for judicial reform — which Prime Minister Mario Draghi has staked his leadership on — it is the former mayor of the northern town of Lodi, Simone Uggetti.

Early one morning, Lodi’s financial police knocked on his door, hauled him off to prison, strip searched him and put him in a small cell with a convicted murderer and a drug dealer. It was the start of a five-year ordeal — over the awarding of city contracts, worth 5,000 euros, to manage two public pools — that was used by his political opponents to destroy his career, his credibility, his reputation and his family.

“Who are you? You’re the mayor who got arrested, all your life,” Mr. Uggetti said this week, still visibly shaken by the experience, which ended only in May when an appeals court absolved him, saying no crime had ever taken place. He wept in court. “It was the end of a nightmare,” Mr. Uggetti said. “Five years is a long time.”

Such cases are all too common in Italy, where the far-reaching power of sometimes ideologically driven magistrates can be used to pursue political vendettas or where businesses can easily become ensnared in cumbersome and daunting litigation that is among the slowest in Europe.

Mr. Draghi is so convinced Italy’s courts need fixing that he has said he is willing to risk his government’s survival on the issue, by putting to a confidence vote new legislation that would shorten civil and criminal proceedings. Without speedier trials, he argues, all the economic renewal and political change required in Italy will not come — and there is a lot that needs changing.

Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

On Thursday evening, the government announced it had reached a unanimous agreement with a broad array of interests in the government. A vote will take place in coming days.

“The objective is to guarantee a speedy justice system that respects the reasonable duration of a trial,” Marta Cartabia, Italy’s justice minister, said Thursday night after the announcement. “But also guarantees that no trial goes up in smoke.”

The issue has become the first major test, beyond vaccinations, of whether Mr. Draghi, a titan of the European Union who helped save the euro, can leverage his formidable Mr. Fix-It reputation and the grand political coalition behind him to solve a long-festering problem that has threatened the democratic process and economy in Italy, the last of Europe’s major powers to escape far-reaching overhauls of its postwar systems.

Mr. Draghi’s gambit has all the potential to change a country where, as the saying goes, “you aren’t anybody unless you are under investigation.” It is nothing less than an attempt to restore Italians’ confidence in their political leaders and institutions after decades of anti-establishment vitriol, angry headlines and social media invective.

The threat of endless litigation, Mr. Draghi has argued, scares off foreign investors, constrains growing Italian companies, and could even keep Italy from meeting the requirements imposed by the European Union to gain its share of a more than 200 billion euro post-Covid recovery fund.

“Justice is one of the keystones of the recovery,” said Claudio Cerasa, the editor of il Foglio, a newspaper that has emerged as the voice of protecting the rights of defendants, and also frustrated accusers, from slow and politicized justice. He said Mr. Draghi “depoliticizes the conflict and brings it on a different level, which is the Draghi trademark, he transforms everything into common sense.”

Still, it is no easy task. But Mr. Draghi is betting that, after many decades, the political winds around the issue have shifted in his favor.

Justice emerged as perhaps the central theme of contemporary Italian politics in 1992, when the watermark Clean Hands investigation exposed complex, vast and systemic corruption that financed the country’s political parties.

The scandal came to be known as Bribesville and brought down a ruling class, marking the end of Italy’s First Republic after World War II.

Prosecutors became public heroes and, capitalizing on the spreading impression that all politicians were guilty of something, stepped into the power vacuum.

But so did Silvio Berlusconi, the brash media mogul, who became prime minister and a constant target of prosecutors who investigated him for corruption and other crimes. He portrayed them as politically motivated Communists, or “red robes,” and almost always beat the rap by running out the clock and reaching a statute of limitations.

That infuriated magistrates and eventually fueled a “hang ’em all” populist backlash led by the anti-elite Five Star Movement, which once again depicted the political establishment as a corrupt caste.

By 2018, Luigi Di Maio, one of its leaders, made lists of all rival candidates under investigation and called them “unpresentable.” The media splashed accusations and leaked investigations on front pages, and then barely mentioned or buried dropped charges or acquittals.

Max Rossi/Reuters

Now, that anti-establishment season seems to be waning, and populists have apparently made the calculation that, electorally, “lock-em up” no longer pays.

Mr. Di Maio, who led j’accuse Five Star protests against Mr. Uggetti and once rode the popular anger to victory in national elections, is now contrite. Now Italy’s foreign minister, he wrote an apology in Il Foglio to Mr. Uggetti after his acquittal in May for the “grotesque and indecorous manner” he behaved.

But Mr. Cerasa, Il Foglio’s editor, suspected that the change may be more tactical than heartfelt. He said that parties that wielded the judicial system as a weapon also felt its scorpion sting while in power, and faced a barrage of civil and criminal cases.

But something else has changed: Mr. Draghi has now become the organizing force of Italian politics.

With hundreds of billions of euros of E.U. assistance hanging in the balance, and a pandemic still in the air, establishment chops and palpable sanity are in high demand. Mr. Draghi is seen to have both and has seized the moment to consolidate power.

Gregorio Borgia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

No political novice, Mr. Draghi appears to have the support to pass his judicial legislation — and to put Italy on more solid footing by baking lasting change into the system.

The government’s agreement on the legislation includes Five Star, which had expressed concerns about letting criminals off the hook, but which ultimately agreed to withdraw their proposed amendments. Other backing came from the nationalist League party of Matteo Salvini; Mr. Berlusconi’s party on the right; the liberal Democrats on the left; and Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister.

Not everyone is enthusiastic, though.

Marco Travaglio, the editor of Il Fatto Quotidiano, which has deep ties to magistrates and has served as a megaphone for Five Star’s aspersions, has been lashing out and angrily resisting what increasingly feels like the end of an era in Italian politics. This month he mocked Mr. Draghi as a privileged brat and characterized his justice minister, Ms. Cartabia, a former president of Italy’s constitutional court, as a rube who “cannot distinguish between a tribunal and a hair dryer.”

But for the most part, people are on board with Mr. Draghi, and Mr. Uggetti hoped that the prime minister would bring more balance to the system that nearly ruined him.

Elisabetta Zavoli for The New York Times

Mr. Uggetti now works as the chief executive of a tech firm outside Lodi developing business management software. “I’m rebuilding my life,” he said.

Still, he misses being mayor. As he walked around the pool that was the source of his judicial nightmare, and which is now an empty ruin, he ticked off all the things he would fix (bike paths and roads), and pointed out historical tidbits (a bridge where Napoleon won a major battle, a statue of a scientist) as if he still represented the town.

He considered running for mayor again a possibility. But there was another possibility too. In Italy, a higher court can overrule an appeals court, cancel an acquittal and put a person on trial again. That higher court still has time to decide to retry him.

“They have the power to say ‘No, this appeal sentence is no good,’” he said, shaking his head. “I really hope that it finishes here.”

Emma Bubola contributed reporting from Rome.

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Totalenergies CEO says its decision to exit Petrocedeno not linked to politics – Reuters

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A general view of a logo on the TotalEnergies headquarters in the La Defense business district in Paris, France, July 28, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS, July 29 (Reuters) – TotalEnergies said on Thursday that the sale of its 30.3% stake in Petrocedeno was not linked to the political situation in Venezuela, its chief executive said.

Patrick Pouyanné was speaking during an analyst call.

Reporting by Benjamin Mallet. Editing by Jane Merriman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Independent MP Derek Sloan hopes his new political party ‘excites’ Canadians about politics – Global News

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Independent MP for Hastings Lennox and Addington, Derek Sloan, has confirmed to Global News that he is in the process of trying to launch his own political party. The MP says it will be called the “True North” party, pending Elections Canada Approval.

“I think Canadians are disenfranchised with the current political landscape, and I’m hoping to excite Canadians about politics and about Canada and to really get people happy again about Canada and hopeful,” said Sloan.

A spokesperson for Elections Canada said that they are working to ensure all requirements under the Canada Elections Act are met, in order for Sloan’s party to become official.

Read more:
Tory caucus to meet Wednesday to determine fate of MP Derek Sloan

In the meantime, Sloan has been spending time outside of his riding during the pandemic, making a number of trips to Western Canada.

Sloan explained that his travels are necessary in order to promote his “movement” on a national scale.

“Right now I believe for the sake of our riding, I need to sort of boost the popularity of this movement across the country,” said Sloan.

Sloan became an independent MP earlier this year when he was removed from the Conservative Party of Canada.

Former conservative senator, Hugh Segal, says Sloan’s move to create a new party could negatively impact his former party.

“If he’ll be more to the right, he’ll obviously be taking some votes away from the Conservatives at that far right-winged edge in his constituency and other constituencies where there may be candidates for his new party,” said Segal.

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Liberal Mike Bossio lost his seat to Sloan last election, and will be trying to win it back during the upcoming election.

Bossio believes Sloan has become a polarizing figure in the riding due to his views (ranging from abortion and LGBQT2 issues, to COVID-19 and vaccines.)

“He has a very different worldview that he’s been sharing with Canadians. It’s certainly not a view that I share in any way, shape or form, I think that it’s a toxic and dangerous view,” said Bossio.

Sloan says while he’s starting to build momentum for his new party in Western Canada, his intention to run in his own riding has not changed.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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