Chinese manufacturers finally break the elusive ballpoint-pen barrier

Despite producing some of the world’s most spectacular infrastructure and sending astronauts into space, China has finally overcome a technological obstacle that has vexed Premier Li Keqiang: the ability to produce a decent ballpoint pen using domestically made components.

Li has long said that the fact China could not make the high-grade steel and precision machinery required to make the key component of the pens – the metal ball and its casing , reflected badly on Chinese manufacturing in general, state media reported. Now, after five years of trial and error, Taiyuan Iron and Steel, has sorted it out.

What next? The shoddy ballpoint pen had become a symbol of China’s “big but not strong” manufacturing, a situation that Beijing has tried hard to change. China makes about 38 billion ballpoint pens a year for consumers, and exports many of them. However, it has been forced to import large quantities of stainless steel to manufacture the pen heads.

India flag will not serve as a doormat for snowy, muddy Canadian feet

India’s foreign minister has demanded an apology from Amazon.com for selling doormats depicting the Indian flag on the online shopping giant’s Canadian website. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj warned on Twitter that she could deny Indian visas to Amazon employees if the company did not apologise and “withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately”.

“If this is not done forthwith, we will not grant an Indian visa to any Amazon official. We will also rescind the visas issued earlier,” Swaraj tweeted. The doormats were being sold by a third party and other mats showed other national flags, including the US, UK and Canada. Swaraj ordered the embassy in Canada to take up the matter with Amazon “at the highest level.” The site removed the Indian-themed product, following Swaraj’s Twitter threat.

What next? With Prime Minister Narendra Modi handling many foreign visits and policy announcements personally, Swaraj as external minister has mostly been known for her Twitter outreach. She regularly generates headlines in India with her response to Indians over passport problems and often tries to help citizens in distress around the world.

Korean prosecutors question Samsung boss for more than 22 hours

The vice-chairman of South Korea’s Samsung Group, Jay Y. Lee, endured a US$5 box meal for lunch and 22 hours of continuous questioning as a suspect in a corruption scandal involving impeached President Park Geun-hye. Prosecutors are investigating whether Samsung provided US$25.46 million to operations backed by the president’s friend Choi Soon-sil in exchange for the national pension fund’s support for a 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates.

What next? Lee will not be summoned again, but a spokesman for the special prosecutors’ office said a decision will be made soon on whether to arrest him.

Duterte defies Catholic church with free contraception in Philippines

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered government agencies to ensure free access to contraceptives for 6 million women who cannot obtain them, officials said Wednesday, in a move expected to be opposed by the dominant Roman Catholic church. Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the drive to make contraceptives available and ensure “zero unmet need for family planning” is important to reduce poverty. He said the government’s target is to cut the poverty rate from 21.6 per cent in 2015 to 14 or 13 per cent by the end of Duterte’s term in 2022.

What next? The Philippines is the only Asia-Pacific country where the rate of teen pregnancies rose over the last two decades, the UN Population Fund said last year. It said the slow decline of the country’s overall fertility rate may deprive the Philippines of faster economic growth expected in similar countries that have more working-age people than younger and older dependents.

Longstanding Emperor Akihito, 83, ready to step down from the throne

Japan’s Emperor Akihito is ready to retire, according to reports, as the country works on a legal framework for its first abdication in 200 years. Akihito, 83, expressed a desire in August to abdicate after nearly three decades on the Chrysanthemum Throne, citing his advancing age and weakening health.

What next? National newspapers cited unnamed sources as saying Crown Prince Naruhito, 56, would succeed his father on New Year’s Day 2019. After Akihito’s announcement last year, the government asked experts to help decide how best to proceed.

Compiled by Tom Sturrock