From Hong Kong's bitcoin ETFs to a Hello Kitty and Casio collab – Here are today's Headlines

Hong Kong wants to become a hub for digital assets and Web3 companies.

From Hong Kong's bitcoin ETFs to a Hello Kitty and Casio collab – Here are today's Headlines
Physical representations of the bitcoin cryptocurrency are seen in this illustration taken October 24, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

To start off, we're looking into:

VSFG's spot bitcoin ETF

The backstory: Hong Kong wants to become a hub for digital assets and Web3 companies. If the concept of Web3 is unfamiliar, think of it as a new, decentralized internet powered by blockchain and similar tech. Despite challenges in the crypto world, Hong Kong is staying committed to its goal. For example, Finance Chief Paul Chan allocated HK$50 million (approximately US$6.4 million) to fast-track Web3 last year. Then, last June, Hong Kong rolled out rules for virtual assets, opening the door for retail investors to explore tokens like bitcoin and ether on licensed exchanges.

More recently: This month, US regulators approved spot exchange-traded funds (ETFs) tied to bitcoin, a big move for the roughly US$1.7 trillion digital asset sector. This brings cryptocurrencies closer to mainstream finance. Afterward, speculations were swirling that Hong Kong regulators, who expressed openness to reviewing spot crypto ETF applications in December, might take a cue from the US and follow suit.

The development: Right now, Hong Kong's financial scene is fully embracing crypto. Leading the charge is Venture Smart Financial Holdings (VSFG), which is gearing up to launch a bitcoin-focused ETF. Click the link here for more.

China-DRC deal

China Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi reviews the Republican Guard as he arrives to be sworn in for a second term as president during the inauguration ceremony at Martyrs Stadium in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo January 20, 2024. Democratic Republic of Congo Presidency/Handout via REUTERS 

The backstory: China and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are diplomatic partners, working together on significant projects in the DRC, a large African country with valuable minerals like cobalt and copper that China needs for its industries. As for China, it's a major player in getting these minerals from the DRC. Big Chinese companies, like China Railway Group and Zijin Mining Group, are a big part of the DRC’s mining sector.

More recently: In a meeting last May in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping and the DRC’s President Felix Tshisekedi talked about their mining cooperation. They agreed to keep a close eye on it and to work out any problems through diplomatic talks. The two nations also announced an upgrade in their relationship, calling it a "comprehensive strategic partnership."

The development: Tshisekedi began his second five-year term last week following a heated December election. Despite winning by a good margin, some in the opposition weren't happy, citing widespread voting problems. In his official address in the capital, Kinshasa, Tshisekedi mentioned that China and the DRC are discussing a US$7 billion financing deal, part of reviewing a 2008 US$6.2 billion minerals-for-infrastructure agreement. Click the link here for more.

Japan on the moon

Japan moon landing SLIM
People applaud after a moon landing by the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), in a public viewing event in Sagamihara, south of Tokyo, Japan January 20, 2024. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

The backstory: The world has been in a space race lately to successfully land on and explore the moon. But landing on the moon has proved to be much more challenging than hoped. Russia’s Luna-25, the nation’s first moon mission in nearly 50 years, crashed on the lunar surface last year. Japan’s ispace also attempted a moon landing last year, but the lander suddenly accelerated and is thought to have crashed on the surface. So far, private companies have a 100% failure rate for landing on the moon.

More recently: Japan, wanting to make its own mark in space, has partnered with the US in its space program to counter China. But, the nation’s faced multiple difficulties in its rocket development, with a failure to launch its H3 rocket (meant to match the cost-competitiveness of commercial companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX) in March. This failure caused delays in the country’s space missions, including that of a joint lunar exploration with India. 

The development: On Saturday, Japan successfully landed on the moon with its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), making it the fifth country to nail a soft landing, after the Soviet Union, the US, China and India. Despite this success, though, the SLIM is having problems with its solar-powered system, meaning the craft will not be able to generate electricity. Click the link here for more.

To end, we'll look into:

Celebrity brands 2024

Celebrity brands have become super popular in recent years – what better way to promote a product than through a celebrity with an established fan base? From Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS encouraging body positivity through shapewear to Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty offering cosmetics for diverse skin tones, celebrity brands have made big waves in business and across social media. 

But SKIMS, Fenty and Kylie’s viral lippies aren’t the only big names to keep an eye out for. This year there are some other brands to watch, some expanding, while others take their first stab at joining the market.  Click the link here for more.

In other news ...

📰Middle East update: After a call with US President Biden, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the idea of a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Houthi militants have been attacking merchant vessels in the Red Sea for months in protest of the Israeli offensive on Gaza, so the oil market has taken precautions to avoid this dangerous route. Tankers are also being hired to sail to Asia instead of Europe, which has boosted their earnings because of the much longer trips. The Palestinian death toll from the war has now surpassed 25,000, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. 

🤝Russia and North Korea ties: North Korea's Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui visited Russia last week to increase "strategic and tactical cooperation" between both countries. During the trip, Putin told Choe he's eager to visit Kim Jong Un soon, according to Korean state media, as they both seek to establish "a new multi-polarized international order." This comes at a prime time as Moscow is looking to solidify relationships with its allies that are hostile toward the US as it continues to wage war against Ukraine. 

📢German protests: In Germany, a January report by investigative outlet Correctiv said that the nation's far-right group AfD had talked about deporting immigrants and "non-assimilated citizens" at a meeting with extremists, which led to lots of calls for protests in the country against the group. On Sunday, tens of thousands gathered across the country again in demonstrations against the AfD, with the crowd in Munich being so big that organizers had to cancel a planned march and ask demonstrators to disperse for safety reasons.

Germany protests
A placard reads, "deport AFD now", during nationwide protests against racism and plans of Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) party to deport foreigners, in Bonn, Germany, January 21, 2024. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

🏃Hong Kong Marathon: The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon returned triumphantly this past weekend with a pre-pandemic quota of 74,000 participants. Many politicians and celebrities competed alongside the tens of thousands of runners  Actor Chow Yun-fat completed the half-marathon in just over two hours and 26 minutes.⁠ Sadly, a 30-year-old man who took part collapsed at Tin-Hau MTR station after the race and died shortly after being taken to the hospital. And separately, over 840 people were injured in the race, with nearly 40 needing to go to the hospital. 

💼Migration clampdown in the UK: Since Brexit in 2020, it's become harder for Europeans to work in the UK. Instead, pubs and restaurants have had to rely on labor from migrants beyond Europe. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has enforced new economic requirements on students and families who are given work visas, which could potentially limit the supply of workers for the hospitality sector. This follows the sharp rise of migrants to the UK from Nigeria, India and China, pushing net migration levels to an all-time high. 

🤑Canva share sale: Australian software company Canva has grown in popularity with Gen Zs and smaller companies since 2013, giving the well-established Adobe some competition. According to insiders, a group of investors that includes current and former employees of the company is set to complete a share sale that'll raise over US$1.5 billion, valuing the company at around US$26 billion. Canva earned more than US$2 billion in annual revenue last year, according to people close to the matter speaking with Bloomberg

🕶️More Vision Pro snubs: Last week, we reported that Netflix had seemingly passed on Apple's upcoming headset, the Vision Pro, by saying the streaming giant wouldn't be developing an app for the device. This is kind of a big deal since Apple is relying on entertainment platforms to woo customers. Now, Spotify has said it won't develop an app for the device or even let its iPad work on the headset. On top of that, YouTube has recommended that users access the platform from a web browser, indicating there won't be a device-specific app from the platform.

🤑Elon Musk's AI startup snags US$500 million?: Elon Musk launched the artificial intelligence (AI) startup xAI in 2023 as an alternative to OpenAI, which he helped co-found but leftover philosophical differences. With a goal of US$1 billion in investments, he's now secured US$500 million in commitments from investors and is expected to finalize these terms with investors in the coming weeks, according to people with knowledge of the talks. But Musk took to X after the reports surfaced to say this was "fake news."

😷New Hong Kong COVID wave: Health officials in Hong Kong are advising people to get a COVID booster as soon as possible, as they are expecting another COVID wave to arrive in the city in the next two months. They have also suggested citizens receive mRNA vaccines for better protection. 

🏙️Best cities for Euro expats: ECA International has released the best cities in the world for European expats to live, and with tensions rising across the globe, European cities are at the top of the ranks. The study included 500 cities around the world, and many in Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands have taken the lead. On the other hand, because of geopolitical tensions and war worsening the quality of life, Hong Kong fell to 110th place, Kyiv to 218th and Moscow to 189th. 

🔋Nuclear-powered battery: According to Chinese startup Betavolt Technology, the firm has created a battery that can power a device for 50 years without a single recharge. The company said the battery harnesses energy released by nuclear isotopes and uses semiconductors to convert that energy into electrical power.

👶Tokyo's massive response to egg freezing program: Japan, which has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, has launched several pilot programs in the country designed to address this issue, including a fertility subsidy program in Tokyo for women between the ages of 18 to 39, which offers up to US$2,023 toward the costs of egg-freezing. Over 7,000 women have registered for information sessions about the program, and 1,800 have applied since October, surpassing the government's expectation of a turnout of 200.

🚀NASA is back in touch with 'copter: NASA's Ingenuity, a drone about half a meter tall, has been operating on Mars since 2021 aboard the rover Perseverance, sending data back to Earth. But the US space agency lost contact with it on Thursday, making everyone worried that the tiny helicopter had met its ultimate end. Luckily, NASA said it had regained contact over the weekend, so now they are assessing data to see what happened to communications and if the drone can continue its mission.

⌚Hello Kitty Baby-G: Hello Kitty is celebrating its 50th anniversary by collaborating with Casio to create a unique timepiece, the Hello Kitty Baby-G watch. Sporting the character's signature colors of red, blue and white, with Hello Kitty faces and an illuminating screen, the watch is now available to order online for US$140.

Source: Casio

Quiz Time!

What country became the fifth nation to complete a successful soft landing on the moon over the weekend?

  1. Israel
  2. France
  3. Japan
  4. China

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Written and put together by Joey Fung, Alisha Khan and Christine Dulion

**The answer to the quiz is [3]