China Overtakes US In Number Of Diplomatic Missions

Tense Future For US-China Ties, With Or Without Trade Deal
This file picture taken on November 6, 2018 shows a Chinese and US flag at a booth during the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai. PHOTO:JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

 

For the first time, China has more diplomatic missions around the world than the United States, according to a study published on Wednesday that offered fresh evidence of Beijing’s global ambitions.

Australia’s respected Lowy Institute reported that China’s “rapid” rise up the rankings of diplomatic networks continued in 2019, boosted by the opening of diplomatic posts in countries that had previously recognised Taiwan.

“With 276 posts globally, China has for the first time surpassed the United States’ network by three posts,” authors of the biennial Global Diplomacy Index said.

In results likely to be read as a bellwether for geopolitical shifts, the think tank said US diplomacy had “entered a period of limbo”, with President Donald Trump’s budget cuts and troubles retaining career diplomats.

The United States opened no new posts and was forced to shutter its consulate in Saint Petersburg — amid tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions following the poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain.

But the US remained the most popular place to have an embassy or consulate, with the 61 countries covered having a total of 342 posts versus 256 foreign diplomatic missions in China.

At the same time, Beijing’s footprint continued to grow, with new missions popping up in “Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, the Gambia, and Sao Tome and Principe -– all former diplomatic friends of Taipei”.

The index may be a blunt indicator of influence — the number of buildings around the world offers little indication of how effective the diplomats who work there will be.

But the survey offers a snapshot of broader political trends.

Despite a pledge to develop a “Global Britain” without European Union membership, the UK has dropped to 11th in the rankings, below Italy, Spain and Brazil.

Meanwhile, Ireland and the Netherlands have boosted their diplomatic networks by more than half a dozen missions each “as part of their Brexit strategies” to take economic and diplomatic advantage of Britain’s retreat.

AFP

China Says Agreed With US To Remove Tariffs As Trade Deal Progresses

(FILES)(COMBO) This combination of file pictures created on April 4, 2017 shows US President Donald Trump in St. Louis, Missouri on October 9, 2016 and China’s leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on December 5, 2012. Ed Jones, Paul J. RICHARDS / AFP

 

China and the United States have agreed a plan to remove tariffs imposed on two-way goods in stages, the commerce ministry said Thursday, as negotiators try to hammer out a trade deal.

“In the past two weeks, the negotiation leaders of the two sides have held serious and constructive discussions on properly resolving their core concerns and agreed to roll back the additional tariffs in stages, as progress is made towards a (final) agreement,” ministry spokesman Gao Feng said at a press conference.

More details later.

China Pays Tribute To ‘Outstanding’ Zimbabwe’s Leader Mugabe

 

Beijing paid tribute to Zimbabwe’s former leader Robert Mugabe whose death was announced Friday, saying he was an “outstanding national liberation movement leader and politician”.

China was one of the staunchest supporters of Mugabe, who ruled with an iron fist from 1980 to 2017. His death at the age of 95 was announced by Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

“Mugabe was an outstanding national liberation movement leader and politician of Zimbabwe,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing in Beijing.

“Throughout his life, he has firmly defended the sovereignty of his country, opposed foreign interference, and actively promoted China-Zimbabwe and China-Africa friendship and cooperation,” said Geng.

Relations between China and Zimbabwe date back to the liberation struggle of the 1960s, when Beijing provided arms and trained some of the top guerrilla leaders.

READ ALSO: Buhari Mourns Zimbabwe’s Ex-President Robert Mugabe

Beijing remained one of Mugabe’s most powerful allies and a major trade partner, even as the West shunned him over his government’s human rights violations.

Mugabe had been battling ill health, and after he was ousted by previously loyal military generals in November 2017 his stamina seeped away rapidly.

He was hospitalised in Singapore for months for an undisclosed ailment, Mnangagwa had confirmed earlier this year.

No further details were immediately available about the circumstances of his death, or where he died.

China has funded and provided loans for many infrastructure projects across Africa in recent years, including the new parliament building in Zimbabwe.

Last year President Xi Jinping greeted Mnangagwa as an “old friend” of China when the African leader visited Beijing.

 

China Threatens Sanctions On US Firms Linked To Taiwan Warplanes Sale

China on Wednesday blasted a planned US arms shipment to self-ruled Taiwan and threatened to sanction US firms involved in the sale of F-16 fighter jets.

“China will take all necessary measures to safeguard our interests including imposing sanctions on the US companies participating in this arms sale to Taiwan,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing.

The US State Department on Tuesday approved the sale of 66 Lockheed Martin-built fighters, the F-16C/D Block 70, in an $8 billion deal, to Taiwan, which China claims as part of its territory.

AFP

Beijing Confirms Detaining UK’s Hong Kong Consulate Employee

A missing employee of Britain’s consulate in Hong Kong has been detained by Chinese authorities, Beijing confirmed Wednesday.

“The person you mentioned has been placed in administrative detention for 15 days as punishment” by Shenzhen police for breaking a public security law, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

Three-Year-Old In China Survives Six-Storey Fall

 

A three-year-old boy has survived a fall from a sixth-floor balcony in southwest China after neighbours caught him with a large blanket, according to state media.

Video of Monday’s incident shows the boy clinging onto a slab and trying to climb back up onto the balcony, while his feet kept slipping.

Moments later, he lets go and falls onto a large, white blanket held open by onlookers.

“I looked up and saw a child was dangling up there. My first reaction was to find something to catch him,” said Zhu Yanhui, an employee of a local property management company, who had rushed to the scene.

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“I thought about rushing over there and catch him with my bare hands, but that would not have worked,” Zhu told state broadcaster CCTV.

CCTV said the child had no injuries.

“I held out the blanket along with others all the while keeping my eyes on the child. I looked at the blanket wondering whether we could catch him safely. My only thought was to keep him safe,” Zhu said.

The incident happened while the boy was home alone, while his grandmother was out buying groceries, police said.

It’s unclear how he managed to open the glass railing on the balcony.

AFP

Two Killed, 12 Missing After Huge Blast Rocks China Gas Plant

 

A huge explosion rocked a gas plant in central China on Friday, killing at least two people and injuring another 18, state media said.

Another twelve people were missing after the blast, said state broadcaster CCTV, which shattered windows and doors of buildings in a three-kilometre (1.9-mile) radius.

Official news agency Xinhua had earlier said “many people” were injured by the explosion, which happened at 5:50 pm local time (0950 GMT).

Xinhua said the blast occurred in the air separation unit of the Henan Coal Gas Group factory and not in the gas tank areas, citing a source in the Yima city government. All production at the plant has been stopped.

“Many windows and doors within a three-kilometre radius were shattered, and some interior doors were also blown out by the blast,” CCTV said on its Twitter-like Weibo social media account.

Local media showed amateur videos of a massive column of black smoke billowing from the factory and debris littering the roads.

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Other images showed the doors and windows of homes blown out and shuttered shops with dented metal fronts.

A bloodied man was seen being helped out of a van in a video posted on social media.

AFP could not immediately verify the authenticity of the footage.

Industrial accidents

Deadly industrial accidents are common in China, where safety regulations are often poorly enforced.

In March, a blast at a chemical plant in eastern Jiangsu province killed 78 people and injured hundreds.

The powerful explosion in the eastern city of Yancheng toppled several buildings in the industrial park, blew out windows of nearby homes and even dented metal garage doors.

Authorities detained two dozen people in connection with the March 21 blast, which prompted the government to order a nationwide inspection of chemical firms.

A week after that explosion, seven died following a blast at an electronics component manufacturer in the same province.

In November, a gas leak at a plant in the northern Chinese city of Zhangjiakou, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, killed 24 people and injured 21 others.

Leaked chloroethylene came in contact with a fire source causing the explosion, authorities said in a February report, which also claimed the Chinese chemical firm responsible for the accident had concealed information and misled investigators.

In 2015, China suffered one of its worst industrial accidents when giant chemical blasts in the northern port city of Tianjin killed at least 165 people.

Beijing Slams US Warship Sail-By In South China Sea

 

China said two US warships sailed near disputed islands in the South China Sea without permission on Monday in the latest US challenge to Beijing’s territorial claims in the region.

The Chinese navy asked the US vessels to leave after they entered waters adjacent to Gaven and Chigua reefs in the Spratly Islands, which Beijing calls Nansha, the foreign ministry said.

The move comes on top of trade tensions as President Donald Trump said Sunday he would raise tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods on Friday because talks were moving “too slowly”.

“The relevant actions of the US warships violated China’s sovereignty and undermined peace, security and good order in the relevant sea areas,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing.

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“The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to the operation, Geng added, noting that the ships had entered “without permission”.

The US Navy regularly conducts “freedom of navigation operations” to challenge Beijing’s vast claims in the sea.

The People’s Liberation Army identified the two US ships like the USS Preble and the USS Chung-Hoon, both guided-missile destroyers.

Air and sea forces were deployed to identify and ask the ships to leave, a spokesman for the PLA’s Southern Theatre Command said on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.

“The (Southern) Theatre troops will maintain a high degree of alert and take all necessary measures to resolutely defend the sovereignty of the country and resolutely safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” said the spokesman, Li Huamin.

Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the sea, including on the Spratlys.

China claims nearly all of the sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it.

“China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and its adjacent waters. No matter how provocative foreign warships are, this fact cannot be changed,” Li said.

Geng said the situation in the sea was “constantly stabilising” due to the “joint efforts” of Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“Under such circumstances, China urges the US to stop such provocative acts, to respect China’s sovereignty and security interests, and respect the efforts of regional countries to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said.

“At the same time, China will continue to take all necessary measures to safeguard national sovereignty and safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

Five Years On, Five Theories About MH370’s Disappearance

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 7, 2015 shows Indian sand artist Sudarsan Pattnaik creating a sculpture of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on Puri beach in eastern Odisha state. 
J .K. Jagdev / AFP

 

On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, triggering the biggest hunt in aviation history.

Only a few fragments of the jet have been found, all on western Indian Ocean shores, and search efforts ended last year.

The disappearance has spawned a host of theories — some credible, some outlandish. Here are five of them:

Mechanical failure

Much attention has focused on the possibility of a mechanical or structural failure. Some experts have put forward the theory that a fire could have broken out in electronic components, which produced smoke that filled the plane and led to the passengers and crew falling unconscious.

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The plane then continued on autopilot over the Indian Ocean, where search efforts have been focused, before running out of fuel and crashing, the theory goes.

The idea of a so-called “mass hypoxia event” — “hypoxia” refers to a lack of oxygen — has been supported by a number of analysts.

In a 2014 report setting out details of a search area, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau — which led the main hunt for the jet — said that an “unresponsive crew/ hypoxia event” appeared to fit the final stage of MH370’s flight.

Rogue pilot

MH370 pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah has been the subject of intense speculation, and some believe he may have intentionally taken the Boeing 777 off course and crashed it.

In the months after the plane vanished, media scrutinised everything from his political beliefs to his mental health for clues as to what could have happened.

Unconfirmed reports said he may have been distraught over marital woes or the controversial conviction of Malaysia’s then opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges just hours before MH370 took off.

But family and friends of Zaharie — a highly respected veteran pilot — strongly reject such claims as baseless.

In 2016, Malaysian officials revealed he had plotted a path over the Indian Ocean on a home flight simulator but stressed this did not prove he deliberately crashed the plane.

Terror Plot

There has been a slew of theories — none of them substantiated — that the plane was hijacked as part of a terror plot.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has been among those who backed the idea. In a bizarre tweet soon after the plane disappeared, he suggested it was “stolen” and “effectively hidden, perhaps in Northern Pakistan, like Bin Laden”.

He was referring to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a US Navy Seal raid in Pakistan in 2011.

There has also been a suggestion that the plane was commandeered to be used as a “flying bomb” headed for US military installations on the Diego Garcia atoll, and was shot down by the Americans. The United States has dismissed this.

Remote take over

Some have speculated the plane may have been taken over remotely to foil a hijacking.

According to reports, Boeing was in 2006 awarded a US patent for a system that, once activated, could take control of a commercial aircraft away from the pilot or flight crew in the event of a hijacking.

One of the leading supporters of the idea is Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who told The Australian newspaper last year — before he was elected — that: “The capacity to do that is there. The technology is there.”

Putin Perhaps?

One of the wackiest theories appeared in an article in New York magazine by US aviation expert Jeff Wise in 2015.

He suggested MH370 was commandeered and taken to a Russian facility in Kazakhstan, possibly an effort by President Vladimir Putin to intimidate the West amid an escalating crisis in Ukraine, or to gain access to a certain passenger or item in the hold.

“There’s no way to know. That’s the thing about MH370 theory-making: It’s hard to come up with a plausible motive for an act that has no apparent beneficiaries,” he wrote.

AFP

China Says N. Korean Nuclear Issue Can’t Be Solved ‘Overnight’

This file photo taken on June 12, 2018, shows US President Donald Trump (R) posing with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (L) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit,/ AFP

 

Beijing expressed hope Thursday that the US and North Korea will keep talking, saying the nuclear issue will not be solved “overnight”, after a much-anticipated summit in Hanoi ended without a deal.

China is Pyongyang’s sole major ally and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un travelled across the neighbouring country by train to his second meeting with US President Donald Trump, which ended ahead of schedule Thursday without any joint announcements.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he had yet to hear what Trump or the North Korean leader had to say about the meeting.

“But I have always hoped that everyone can realise that the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula has been going on for many years, and that solving this problem is definitely not something that can be achieved overnight,” Lu said at a regular press briefing.

“It is not a very easy process, otherwise it would not have dragged on until today,” Lu said.

Lu reiterated Beijing’s call for Washington and Pyongyang to “take care of each other’s legitimate concerns.”

“I hope that both sides can continue to maintain such a dialogue,” he said.

Kim met with Chinese President Xi Jinping four times in the past year, most recently in January.

The meetings were seen as opportunities to brief each other before and after Kim’s meetings with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

It is unclear whether the North Korean leader will see Xi when he takes the train back across China to return home as the route is a tightly-guarded secret.

China is North Korea’s main trade partner, but it has backed a raft of UN sanctions following Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.

North Korean deputy foreign minister Ri Kil Song met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday in Beijing.

“This is the right time to come,” Wang said.

“We can discuss how to take the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the DPRK as an opportunity to promote the healthy and smooth development of bilateral relations,” he added, using the acronym for the North’s official name.

Ri said the purpose of his delegation’s visit was to “put into practice the important consensus reached during the meetings” between Xi and Kim “and to further strengthen communication and exchanges between the two foreign ministries.”

Former Olympic And World Champion Degale Hangs Up His Gloves

James DeGale celebrates his win over Andre Dirrell after their super middleweight fight at Agganis Arena at Boston University on May 23, 2015, in Boston, Massachusetts. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP Maddie Meyer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

 

Former two-time super middleweight world champion James DeGale announced his retirement on Thursday days after he took a pummeling from fellow Briton Chris Eubank Junior.

The 33-year-old, who as a middleweight won Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008, said he had been on an “amazing journey” but 10 years to the day of his first professional bout was an apt one to hang up his gloves.

De Gale was the first British pugilist to progress from the Olympics to a world title after turning professional.

He won the IBF world title belt in the United States in 2015 against Andre Dirrell before defending it three times across the Atlantic.

“Today marks 10 years since my professional debut fight on February 28, 2009, and today is the day I am announcing my retirement from boxing,” said DeGale in a statement.

“It’s been an unbelievable journey and I’ve had an amazing decade – if I’m honest, the best years of my life.”

DeGale, who lost his world title in an upset points decision to American Caleb Truax in December 2017 before regaining it in a rematch in April the following year, admitted the Eubank bout had exposed to him how far he had fallen as a pugilist.

“It’s hard to admit that I’m not the fighter I once was, but I’m human and along the way, my injuries have taken a toll — both on my mind and body and these things have contributed to my performance in the ring,” said DeGale.

“I lost the fight on Saturday at the O2 but I’m touched to have a good send-off from the fans in my home city.

“I’m proud to say that I’ve made history as the first ever British Olympian boxer to turn professional and to win a world title.

“I am also proud to have been a road warrior — to travel wherever I needed to be to fight and win. There’s nothing left to prove.”

Attacker Wounds 20 Children At Beijing School

A relative escorts a child from an elementary school where an attack took place in Beijing on January 8, 2019. Twenty children were wounded in an attack at the elementary school in Beijing on January 8 with three suffering serious injuries, local authorities said. PHOTO: GREG BAKER / AFP

 

Twenty children were wounded in an attack at an elementary school in Beijing on Tuesday with three suffering serious injuries, local authorities said.

A male suspect was brought “under control” and the wounded pupils were admitted to hospital, the Xicheng district government said, without elaborating on how or why the man carried out the attack.

According to a tweet by state-run tabloid Global Times, the suspect used a hammer to carry out the assault.

Beijing police did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.

Violent attacks targeting schoolchildren are not uncommon in China, which has seen a slew of deadly incidents over the past few years, usually involving knives.

In April last year, a 28-year-old man killed nine middle-school students as they were returning home in one of the country’s deadliest knife attacks in recent years.

The killer, who said he had been bullied when he attended the school in northern China’s Shaanxi province, was executed in September.

Later in 2018, a knife-wielding woman injured 14 children at a kindergarten in Sichuan province.

The 39-year-old assailant slashed students while they were returning to the classroom after morning exercises.

And in January 2017, a farmer armed with a kitchen knife stabbed and wounded 12 children at a kindergarten in southern Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. He was executed on Friday.

Such incidents have forced authorities to increase security around schools and led to calls for more research into the root causes of such acts.

 ‘Death and destroy’

Violent crime has been on the rise in China as the nation’s economy has boomed in recent decades and the gap between rich and poor has widened rapidly.

Studies have also described a rise in the prevalence of mental disorders, some of them linked to stress as the pace of life becomes faster and support systems wither.

In November, a driver rammed his car into a group of children crossing a street in front of an elementary school in northeastern Liaoning province, killing five people and injuring at least 19.

The man had been contemplating suicide “due to quarrels” with his spouse before the tragedy occurred, according to a report by official news agency Xinhua.

Earlier that month, at least 13 people died when a bus plunged off a bridge in Chongqing municipality, after the driver got into a fist-fight with a passenger who had missed her bus stop.

In June 2017, a bomb blast that killed eight people and injured dozens outside a kindergarten in Fengxian, eastern China, was blamed on a 22-year-old introvert with health problems who had written the words “death” and “destroy” on the walls of his apartment.

AFP