US To Screen Passengers For China Mystery Virus

A US healthcare company/AFP

 

US authorities will begin screening passengers Friday arriving on direct or connecting flights from a Chinese city at the heart of a mysterious SARS-like virus responsible for two deaths.

Travelers from Wuhan to the United States will undergo entry screening for symptoms associated with the new coronavirus at three airports: San Francisco, New York’s JFK and Los Angeles.

China has now reported 45 cases linked to the virus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official Nancy Messonnier told reporters in a press call, most linked to seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, while two cases have been found in Thailand and one in Japan.

The CDC said that based on current information, the risk to Americans from the virus, known by its technical name 2019-nCoV, is currently deemed low. Nevertheless, it was enhancing precautionary measures.

The CDC will deploy 100 additional staff to the three airports, with incoming passengers asked to fill out a questionnaire and submit to a temperature check.

Those who show possible signs will be shifted to another facility for additional screening and a rapid diagnostic test.

Messonnier said that this test would currently take around a day, “but it’s going to get rapidly faster” as the diagnostic tool improves.

The UN’s health agency says that the outbreak of the disease comes from a never-before-seen strain belonging to a broad family of viruses ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses such as SARS.

According to Arnaud Fontanet, head of Paris’ Institut Pasteur department of epidemiology, the new strain is the seventh known type of coronavirus that humans can contract.

The outbreak has caused alarm because of the link with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Fontanet added that the coronavirus appears to be “weaker” than SARS in its current form, but cautioned that it could mutate into a more virulent strain.

China Records Second Death From SARS-Linked Virus

 

A woman (L) leaves the Wuhan Medical Treatment Centre, where a man who died from a respiratory illness was confined, in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, on January 12, 2020. A 61-year-old man has become the first person to die in China from a respiratory illness believed caused by a new virus from the same family as SARS, which claimed hundreds of lives more than a decade ago, authorities said.
Noel Celis / AFP

 

A second person has died in China from a mysterious SARS-linked virus that has stricken dozens and appeared in two other Asian countries, with a new case reported in Thailand on Friday.

Local authorities said a 69-year-old man died on Wednesday in Wuhan, the central Chinese city believed to be the epicentre of an outbreak of a coronavirus from the same family as the deadly SARS pathogen.

No human-to-human transmission has been confirmed so far, but Wuhan’s health commission has said the possibility “cannot be excluded”.

The enigmatic illness has caused alarm because of its connection to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Pneumonia linked to the new virus has hit at least 41 people in China, with the outbreak centred around a seafood market in Wuhan.

Of these 12 have recovered and been discharged from hospital, according to the Wuhan health commission, while five others are in a serious condition.

The second man to die became sick on December 31 and his condition worsened two weeks ago, it said, with the disease-causing pulmonary tuberculosis and damage to multiple organ functions.

Three other cases have been detected — two in Thailand and one in Japan — with health managers in both countries saying the patients had visited Wuhan prior to their hospitalisation.

Thailand reported its second case of the coronavirus on Friday: a 74-year-old Chinese woman who had arrived from Wuhan earlier this week.

Her condition is improving, said Thai health officials, who urged people not to panic as there was “no spread of the virus” in the Southeast Asian country.

– Travel fears –

FILES) In this file photograph taken on January 11, 2020 security guards stand in front of the closed Huanan wholesale seafood market, where health authorities say a man who died from a respiratory illness had purchased goods from, in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province. A second person has died in China from a mystery virus that has stricken dozens and appeared in two other Asian countries, officials said.
NOEL CELIS / AFP

 

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday that “much remains to be understood about the new coronavirus”.

Not enough was known to “draw definitive conclusions about how it is transmitted,” a statement added.

The latest fatality comes as China prepares for its busiest travel season of the year next week when millions of people take buses, trains and planes for Lunar New Year.

Wuhan is a main hub in China’s vast railway network and connects train lines that crisscross the country’s north-south and east-west axes, from Beijing to Guangzhou, Nanjing to Chengdu.

A WHO doctor has said it would not be surprising if there was “some limited human-to-human transmission, especially among families who have close contact with one another”.

China has not announced any travel restrictions but authorities in Hong Kong have stepped up detection measures, including rigorous temperature checkpoints for inbound travellers.

The Wuhan health commission said one man who had been diagnosed worked at Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, but his wife, who also had the virus, reported “no history of exposure” at the facility.

The first case in Thailand had not reported visiting the seafood market, the WHO said Tuesday. The woman was reported to be in a stable condition earlier this week.

The patient in Japan, who was released from hospital, had also not visited the market. Japanese officials said it was possible that the man had been in contact with a person infected with the virus while in Wuhan.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a Level 1 “Watch” alert for travellers to Wuhan, saying they should practise normal precautions and avoid contact with animals and sick people.

– Online censorship –

After the second death was reported, online discussion spread in China over the severity of the Wuhan coronavirus — and how much information the government is hiding from the public.

Several complained about censorship of online posts, while others made comparisons to 2003 when Beijing drew criticism from the WHO for under-reporting the number of SARS cases.

“Scarier than panic is treating something too lightly,” wrote a Chinese web-user on Weibo, the country’s Twitter-like social media platform.

“It’s so strange,” wrote another, citing the overseas cases in Japan and Thailand. “They all have Wuhan pneumonia cases but (in China) we don’t have any infections outside of Wuhan — is that scientific?”

AFP

China Records Lowest Birth Rate In Seven Decades

FILES) This file photo taken on May 18, 2018 shows a Chinese staff member taking care of newborn babies at the Lake Malaren International Postpartum Care Centre in Shanghai. China’s birth rate dropped last year, 2019, to its lowest level since the Communist country was founded in 1949, adding to concerns that an ageing society and shrinking workforce will pile pressure on a slowing economy.
AFP

 

China’s birth rate dropped last year to its lowest level since the Communist country was founded in 1949, adding to concerns that an ageing society and shrinking workforce will pile pressure on a slowing economy.

To avoid a demographic crisis, the government relaxed its one-child policy in 2016 to allow people to have two children, but the change has not resulted in an increase in pregnancies.

In 2019, the birth rate stood at 10.48 per 1,000 people, down slightly from the year before, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released on Friday.

The number of births has now fallen for three consecutive years, still, there were 14.65 million babies born in 2019.

He Yafu, an independent demographer based in southern Guangdong province, said the number of births was the lowest since 1961, the last year of a famine that left tens of millions dead. He said there were around 11.8 million births that year.

US-based academic Yi Fuxian, senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told AFP that even though China has abolished its one-child policy, there has been a shift in the mindset of the population, with people now used to smaller families.

He added that a higher cost of living is also a factor, noting that daycare is expensive and inconvenient in China, posing another deterrence.

He believes that China’s population is over-estimated, and according to his work, the real population “began to decline in 2018”.

According to official figures, China’s population stood at 1.4 billion by the end of 2019, increasing by 4.67 million from the year before.

While China’s limit on family sizes could be removed altogether eventually, the demographer He said citizens are still being punished for having three children, even though some areas have reduced punitive measures.

 

(FILES) This file photo taken on December 15, 2016 shows nurses massaging babies at an infant care centre in Yongquan, in Chongqing municipality, in southwest China. China’s birth rate dropped last year, 2019, to its lowest level since the Communist country was founded in 1949, adding to concerns that an ageing society and shrinking workforce will pile pressure on a slowing economy.
STR / AFP

– ‘Slow, long-term problem’ –

China has signalled that it might end limits on family size as a draft of the new Civil Code — due to be introduced at the annual session of the rubber-stamp parliament in March — omits all mention of “family planning”.

The one-child policy was introduced by top leader Deng Xiaoping to curb population growth and promote economic development, with exceptions for rural families whose first-born was a female, and for ethnic minorities.

The measure was mainly enforced through fines but was also notorious for forced abortions and sterilisations.

The result was dramatic: fertility rates dropped from 5.9 births per woman in 1970 to about 1.6 in the late 1990s. The replacement level for a population is 2.1.

This could pose a problem for the economy in the future, as the country’s workforce continued to shrink last year.

The NBS said there were 896.4 million people aged between 16 and 59 — its population of working age — a drop from the 897.3 million in 2018.

This marks the eighth consecutive year of decline, and the workforce is expected to decline by as much as 23 percent by 2050.

“The demographic problem is a slow, long-term one,” He told AFP.

He noted that ageing Japan, which saw rapid growth in the 1980s, has seen almost zero percent growth in recent years.

China’s economy grew by 6.1 percent in 2019, its slowest pace since 1990 as it was hit by weaker demand and a bruising trade war with the United States.

“Because China’s education levels have been going up, in the short term, the population issue should not impact growth too much,” he said.

“But in the long run, if the trend continues, it would pose a huge drag on economic growth.”

AFP

Germany Investigates Three Over ‘Spying For China’

 

German prosecutors on Wednesday said they were investigating three people who allegedly spied for China, with media reporting that a German former EU diplomat was among the suspects.

“We can confirm an investigation into suspected espionage” for Chinese state security bodies, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office told AFP.

Der Spiegel weekly said one of the suspects was a German diplomat who worked at the European Commission in Brussels before serving several stints as ambassador for the European Union in foreign countries.

The other two are reportedly lobbyists employed by a “well-known Germany lobby firm”.

Prosecutors refused to provide details about the suspects and said no arrests have been made.

But they confirmed Spiegel’s information that police were on Wednesday raiding homes and offices linked to the trio in Berlin, Brussels and the German states of Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg.

According to Spiegel, prosecutors accuse the former diplomat and one of the lobbyists of “sharing private and commercial information with the Chinese ministry for state security”.

The third suspect apparently only indicated “a willingness to do so”.

The diplomat at the centre of the probe reportedly ended his EU career in 2017 and switched to working for a lobbying firm, where he then recruited the two other suspects.

The spying is alleged to have started that same year.

If the allegations are confirmed, it would be a rare case of Chinese espionage being uncovered.

“Although there is always much talk about large-scale Chinese spying operations in Germany and Europe, investigators are rarely successful against Beijing’s secret services,” Spiegel wrote.

 Huawei tensions 

The probe comes at a time of intense debate in Europe’s top economy about whether or not to exclude Chinese tech giant Huawei from developing Germany’s 5G mobile networks.

Critics, led by Washington, say Huawei is too close to Beijing and its equipment could be used as a tool for spying — an allegation Huawei strongly denies.

US President Donald Trump has already ordered American firms to cease doing business with market leader Huawei, and has urged allies to follow suit.

Australia and Japan have also taken steps to bar or tightly restrict the firm’s participation in their 5G networks.

Germany so far has resisted pressure to ban Huawei.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has instead said Berlin would insist on stringent security requirements without barring individual companies.

China is a crucial trading partner for Germany but concerns have mounted in recent years over a spike in Chinese investments in German firms.

The buying spree has fuelled fears of vital German knowhow and technology being sold off to Beijing, prompting the government to tighten restrictions on foreign takeovers.

AFP

Asian Markets Fall As US, China Prepare To Sign Trade Pact

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on August 23, 2019 in New York City.  Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images/AFP

 

Asian markets fell Wednesday as investors took their foot off the pedal following weeks of gains, with focus on the signing later in the day of the China-US trade deal.

While the mood on trading floors was broadly upbeat as tensions between the economic superpowers eased, analysts warned there will not likely be much more progress on the next phase of talks ahead of the US presidential election in November.

The mini pact, which has de-escalated a two-year standoff that has jolted the global economy, saw the White House halve tariffs imposed on September 1 on $120 billion of Chinese goods and cancel another round set for December 15.

In return, Beijing pledged vast sums to buy US products including pork and soybeans.

Still, the next round of negotiations is expected to be the toughest, with key issues including China’s massive subsidies for state industry and forced technology transfer proving key sticking points.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin denied a report that it could include provisions to roll back more levies on China after the presidential vote, with progress on phase two the key to measures being removed.

But he did tell Fox Business network: “I think phase one is an enormous step in the right direction.”

Officials said full details would be made public after the signing ceremony in Washington.

‘Constructive process’ 

“We should not expect further tariff relief until after the November presidential elections, suggesting that today’s agreement is probably as good as it gets for 2020,” said National Australia Bank’s Tapas Strickland.

But he added: “Importantly for China… the deal will allow it to re-focus on its domestic economy which should reduce fears of a slowing economy.”

However, Markets.com analyst Neil Wilson, warned that the year could see fresh volatility.

“It’s possible that instead we see Trump threaten China more, dangling the prospect of abandoning the deal and taking an even tougher stance going into the election,” he said in a note.

With few other catalysts to drive buying on Wednesday, regional markets tracked a weak lead from Wall Street.

Tokyo and Shanghai both ended down 0.5 percent, while Hong Kong was off 0.4 percent.

Seoul and Singapore each dropped 0.4 percent, while there were also deep losses in Mumbai, Taipei, Bangkok, Jakarta and Manila, though Sydney and Wellington rose.

Still, with most negative headlines in the rearview mirror, analysts were upbeat.

“Right now we are in a more constructive process,” Omar Aguilar, at Charles Schwab, told Bloomberg TV.

“While the uncertainty is still there, the fact that there’s a laid-out plan for phase one and phase two has already been priced by the market and there is a positive view.”

In early trade, London and Paris both rose 0.2 percent, while Frankfurt was flat.

Key figures at 0820 GMT 

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.5 percent at 23,916.58 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.4 percent at 28,773.59 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3,090.04 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.2 percent at 7,633.51

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3029 from $1.3019 at 2145 GMT

Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.44 pence from 85.46 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1135 from $1.1126

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.93 yen from 109.98

Brent Crude: DOWN 15 cents at $64.34 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 16 cents at $58.07 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.1 percent at 28,939.67 (close).

AFP

 

China Claims NGOs Supported Hong Kong Unrest And ‘Should Be Punished’

China Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang

 

China on Monday defended barring the head of Human Rights Watch from entering Hong Kong, saying non-governmental organisations were responsible for political unrest in the city and should “pay the proper price”.

Kenneth Roth was supposed to give a press conference in Hong Kong this week to unveil the New York-based rights group’s latest global survey, which accuses China of prosecuting “an intensive attack” on international human rights agencies.

The long-time executive director said Sunday that he was turned back by authorities at the city’s airport.

China last month announced sanctions on American NGOs, including HRW, in retaliation for the passage of a US bill backing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

“Allowing or not allowing someone’s entry is China’s sovereign right,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular press briefing.

“Plenty of facts and evidence show that the relevant NGO has through various means supported anti-China radicals, encouraged them to engage in extremist, violent and criminal activity, and incited Hong Kong independence separatist activities,” Geng said.

“They bear major responsibility for the current chaos in Hong Kong. These organisations should be punished, and should pay the proper price.”

Hong Kong has been battered by nearly seven months of occasionally violent protests, its biggest political crisis in decades.

Millions have turned out on the streets of the semi-autonomous financial hub to demand greater democratic freedoms.

Not the first

Roth joins a growing list of openly critical academics, researchers, politicians and activists who have been refused entry in recent years.

Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet was denied a visa renewal without reason in 2018 after he hosted a talk with the leader of a small and now banned independence party at the city’s press club.

Last September, an American academic was barred from entering after he testified in a Congressional hearing alongside prominent Hong Kong democracy activists.

“I had hoped to spotlight Beijing’s deepening assault on international efforts to uphold human rights,” Roth said. “The refusal to let me enter Hong Kong vividly illustrates the problem.”

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said that when Roth asked why he was prevented from entering Hong Kong, he was only told that it was “immigration reasons”.

“What we believe is that he was stopped because the Chinese government is afraid to have the world know what they are doing to the people of Hong Kong and the people of China,” Robertson told AFP in Bangkok.

The unrest that began last June is the biggest crisis the former British colony has faced since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Under the terms of the handover, Hong Kong enjoys unique freedoms unseen on the mainland, but in recent years fears have increased that these liberties are being chipped away as Beijing exerts more control over the territory.

China and the Hong Kong administration have refused to cede to the protesters’ demands, which include fully free elections in the city, an inquiry into alleged police misconduct, and amnesty for the nearly 6,500 people arrested during the movement — nearly a third of them under the age of 20.

Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club, which was to host Roths’ press conference on Wednesday, said in a statement it was concerned that the city’s government was using the immigration department to “act punitively against organisations and media representatives it does not agree with, which is a violation of the commitment to free expression and free speech in Hong Kong law.”

 

AFP

China Slams US For Congratulating Tsai On Taiwan Poll Win

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen (C) waves to supporters outside her campaign headquarters in Taipei on January 11, 2020.  Sam Yeh / AFP

 

China on Sunday slammed officials from the US and other countries for congratulating Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen after she was re-elected with a landslide victory in a stunning rebuke of Beijing’s campaign to isolate the self-ruled island.

Tsai, who had pitched herself as a defender of liberal democratic values against an increasingly authoritarian China, secured a record-breaking win in Saturday’s presidential election.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as top diplomats from Britain and Japan, issued statements congratulating Tsai and the island’s democratic elections.

But Beijing, which views Taiwan as part of its territory, denounced their actions as violating the one-China principle.

“The Chinese side expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition to this,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang.

“We oppose any form of official exchange between Taiwan and countries that have established diplomatic relations with China,” he said in a statement.

Chinese state media also sought to downplay Tsai’s victory and cast doubt on the legitimacy of her campaign by accusing the Taiwanese leader of “dirty tactics” and cheating.

Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) used “dirty tactics such as cheating, repression and intimidation to get votes, fully exposing their selfish, greedy and evil nature”, said official news agency Xinhua in an op-ed Sunday.

Xinhua also accused Tsai of buying votes, and said “external dark forces” were partly responsible for the election results.

Beijing, which has vowed to one day take Taiwan — by force if necessary — loathes Tsai because she refuses to acknowledge the idea that Taiwan is part of “one China”.

China doubled down on its “one-China principle” after Tsai’s victory, with Geng emphasising Sunday that “regardless of what happens in Taiwan, the basic facts won’t change: there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is part of China”.

“The Chinese government’s position won’t change,” he added in a statement.

‘Orchestrating tensions’

Over the last four years, Beijing has ramped up economic, military and diplomatic pressure on the island, hoping it would scare voters into supporting Tsai’s opposition.

But the strong-arm tactics have backfired and voters flocked to Tsai’s DPP, fuelled in part by China’s hardline response to months of huge and violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Chinese state media have accused Tsai, who frequently invokes Hong Kong’s protests as a warning about a Beijing-controlled Taiwan, of fear-mongering.

Tsai and her party are “orchestrating tensions”, wrote the nationalistic Global Times on Saturday.

At the end of 2019, the Taiwanese leader “wantonly hyped up the so-called threat from the Chinese mainland while slandering Han Kuo-yu’s mainland connections”, it said, referring to her Beijing-friendly main opponent from the Kuomintang party.

Chinese state media also dismissed Saturday’s election results as an anomaly in long-term ties between Taiwan and the mainland, with Xinhua describing Tsai’s win as a “fluke”.

“The fact that the Chinese mainland is getting increasingly stronger and the Taiwan island is getting weaker is an inevitable reality,” added the Global Times.

“Recognising and complying with the reality is the only feasible option for Taiwan’s peaceful development.”

AFP

China Reports First Death From Mystery Virus Outbreak

 

China on Saturday reported the first death from a virus believed to be from the same family as the SARS pathogen that killed hundreds in China and Hong Kong more than a decade ago.

Forty-one people with pneumonia-like symptoms have so far been diagnosed with the new type of coronavirus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where it was first confirmed, with one of the victims dying, the city’s health commission said on its website.

Seven others remained in serious condition while two were discharged from treatment, it added, saying the latest tally was completed on Friday.

The commission did not specify when the death occurred or give further details on the patient other than to say the bulk of those diagnosed worked at a Wuhan seafood market that was closed January 1 following the outbreak.

The episode has caused alarm due to the link to SARS, or Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

READ ALSO: Iran Accepts Shooting Down Ukraine Passenger Plane ‘Unintentionally’

State-run Xinhua news agency reported on Friday that Chinese scientists investigating the outbreak had made a “preliminary” determination that it was a previously unknown type of coronavirus.

The WHO says coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which emerged in 2012 and also caused scores of deaths.

“No new cases have been detected since January 3, 2020,” the Wuhan health commission said.

“At present, no infections among medical staff have been found, and no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission has been found.”

Wuhan authorities had earlier said 59 people had fallen ill, but Saturday’s statement suggests that not all have been confirmed as cases of the new virus.

The outbreak was first confirmed on December 31 in Wuhan, which has a population of more than 11 million.

Authorities in Hong Kong have since taken precautions including stepping up the disinfection of trains and planes, and checks of passengers.

The WHO, however, said Thursday it was not recommending any specific measures for travellers, nor the application of any trade or travel restrictions on China based on current information, expressing confidence in the ability of Chinese authorities to manage the situation.

China has since ruled out a fresh recurrence of SARS.

Travel Rush Looms

China has entered its annual Lunar New Year holiday travel rush, raising the spectre of the mass movement of people serving as a vector for the pathogen’s spread.

In the world’s largest annual human migration, hundreds of millions of people are expected to pack together on trains, buses and planes for the Lunar New Year holiday that this year falls in late January.

Authorities have said 400 million train tickets have been purchased for holiday-related travel, with hundreds of millions more expected to travel by air and road.

China has not announced any travel restrictions.

Authorities in Hong Kong have said 48 people have been hospitalised in recent days after returning from Wuhan and displaying flu-like illnesses, but none were confirmed to have contracted the new coronavirus.

City residents worried about the outbreak have rushed to buy face masks from local pharmacies, with many selling out earlier this week.

The coming holiday has prompted concerns in Taiwan, where officials urged the island’s health and welfare ministry to strengthen quarantine controls at airports.

The US embassy in China warned on Tuesday that Americans travelling in the country should avoid animals and contact with sick people.

AFP

Asian Markets Mostly Higher As Iran Fears Recede, Eyes On US Jobs

People wait to cross a street in front of a stock indicator displaying share prices of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in Tokyo on January 9, 2020. BEHROUZ MEHRI / AFP

 

Most Asian markets rose Friday but investors were struggling to maintain a rally triggered by easing US-Iran tensions the previous day as focus turned back to the global economic outlook.

The toning down of rhetoric from Donald Trump and Tehran following an Iranian missile attack on US assets in Iraq soothed concerns about a possible conflict in the Middle East and lit a fire under global equities on Thursday.

That has allowed dealers to resume their buying spree that had characterised business for the past few weeks, cheered by China and the United States reaching a trade deal, central banks easing monetary policy and data pointing to an improved global outlook.

“Even though we are hitting close to or near all-time highs, we still feel pretty excited about this market,” Invesco strategist Timothy Horsburgh told Bloomberg TV.

“What we’ve seen over the past couple of days with some of this relief rally, this is indicative of a market that’s wanted to go higher for a while now as a result of better fundamentals and a little bit of optimism around reaccelerating growth here in the US.”

Wall Street’s three main indexes racked up fresh records and Asia broadly followed suit, though the gains were light.

Tokyo ended 0.5 percent up, Seoul added 0.9 percent and Sydney jumped 0.8 percent, while Singapore put on 0.2 percent, Taipei jumped 0.5 percent and Mumbai climbed 0.7 percent. Wellington, Bangkok and Jakarta also rose.

But Shanghai dropped 0.1 percent, while Manila lost 0.6 percent.

Oil falls further

There appeared to be little negative market reaction to claims by Canada that Iran shot down an airliner in Tehran this week, killing 176 people.

Investors are now looking to the release later in the day of US jobs figures for a better idea about the state of the world’s top economy, while next week sees China and the US put pen to paper on their mini trade deal.

The “critical payroll data comes as a most welcome distraction and will provide an essential update on the pace of US job gains”, said Stephen Innes at AxiTrader.

“With US economic growth mostly dependent on the consumer, a healthy labour market is crucial to any constructive ‘risk-on’ narrative”.

“With the market backdrop remaining supportive –- namely, improving macro, central bank easing, and receding… risk around trade, Brexit, and the Middle East, the path of least resistance remains up.”

Oil prices dipped, with the sharp gains enjoyed in the wake of the US assassination of Iran’s top general last week being wiped out. The commodity is now below levels seen before the killing early last Friday.

Innes added that with “the chance of a proxy or rogue threat of disruption to physical supply still elevated, we could see a floor start to build around current (price) levels”.

“At the same time, traders will now turn the focus back on the relatively pedestrian views around trade and data, which remain positive for oil.”

Key figures at 0710 GMT

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: UP 0.5 percent at 23,850.57 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.2 percent at 28,609.63

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1 percent at 3,092.29 (close)

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3083 from $1.3064 at 2200 GMT

Euro/pound: DOWN at 84.90 pence from 84.98 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1108 at $1.1105

Dollar/yen: UP at 109.57 yen from 109.51 yen

Brent Crude: DOWN eight cents at $65.29 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 10 cents at $59.46 per barrel

New York – Dow: UP 0.7 percent at 28,956.90 (close)

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 7,598.12 (close)

Indonesia Deploys Fighter Jets, Warships To Disputed Waters In China Spat

 

 

Indonesia has deployed fighter jets and warships to patrol islands near the disputed South China Sea, the military said Wednesday, escalating tensions with Beijing after a diplomatic spat over “trespassing” Chinese vessels.

President Joko Widodo also headed Wednesday to the fishing-rich waters around the Natuna Islands, which border the South China Sea, most of which is claimed by China despite competing claims from other Southeast Asian nations including Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

The Indonesian military said it had deployed eight warships and four jet fighters ahead of Widodo’s visit in an apparent bid to assert its sovereignty over the region.

“I have said many times Natuna is our sovereign territory,” Widodo told reporters.

“There is nothing to be debated…I hope this is clear.”

A Chinese coast guard vessel was spotted in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone Wednesday, the government said.

“We have deployed eight warships,” said Navy spokesman Fajar Tri Rohadi.

The air force said fighter jets had also been deployed.

“(But) our personnel have been told that we are not going to make provocations but rather protect our territory,” said Air Commodore Ronny Irianto Moningka.

China’s foreign ministry downplayed the incident and said there was “no dispute over territorial sovereignty” between Beijing and Jakarta — though the two have “overlapping claims for maritime rights” in the South China Sea.

Indonesia does not lay claim in the South China Sea but said it would not tolerate incursions by China — a key trading partner — into its nearby waters.

“We are willing to continue to properly handle differences with Indonesia,” said spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

“China and Indonesia have always maintained communication through diplomatic channels on this matter,” Geng said.

Indonesia’s move to send in warships follows the deployment on Friday of around 600 personnel from the navy, army and air force to Natuna as the military launched what it called a regular patrol to secure the area due to the presence of foreign vessels in Indonesian waters.

Jakarta said it would also send hundreds of fishermen to the area to keep an eye out for foreign vessels.

That followed Indonesia summoning the Chinese ambassador last week and lodging a “strong protest” over a Chinese coast guard vessel escorting Chinese fishing boats around the islands in mid-December.

Beijing responded that it has “historic rights” in the region and that fishing boats had been carrying out “legal and reasonable” activities.

Beijing lays claim to huge swathes of the South China Sea, where it is accused of building military installations and artificial islands — and ramming fishing vessels.

China claims the majority of the resource-rich waterway through the so-called nine-dash line, a vague delineation based on maps from the 1940s as the then Republic of China snapped up islands from Japanese control.

China Replaces Top Envoy To Hong Kong

 

Chinese state media said Saturday the country had replaced its top envoy to Hong Kong, the most significant personnel change since democracy protests broke out in the city last year.

“Wang Zhimin has been dismissed from his position as head of the Liaison Office” for Hong Kong affairs and was replaced by Luo Huining, state broadcaster CCTV said, without giving details.

Hong Kong has been battered by nearly seven months of unrest — its biggest political crisis in decades — which has seen millions come out on the streets demanding greater democratic freedoms.

Police, Protesters Clash During Huge Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Rally

 

 

Tens of thousands of pro-democracy marchers thronged the streets of Hong Kong for a massive rally on New Year’s Day, looking to carry the momentum of their movement into 2020 as police and hardcore demonstrators faced off again.

Hong Kong has been battered by nearly seven months of often-violent unrest, with frequent clashes between the police and hardcore protesters as the city battles its biggest political crisis in decades.

Despite a peaceful start on Wednesday, violence erupted near the march as it snaked through the Wan Chai district on the financial hub’s main island. Riot police used pepper spray and tear gas, while hardcore protesters lobbed Molotov cocktails.

The Civil Human Rights Front, the umbrella group which organised the march, had permission for the march from city authorities, but they were ordered to end it soon after the clashes began.

“The police have… asked us to dismiss the rally,” the organisers told marchers using megaphones. “Please calmly and slowly leave the scene right now.”

In now-familiar scenes, riot police were seen taking positions at several locations, including the Wan Chai subway station.

Black-clad, masked protesters also gathered to set up makeshift barricades, while some businesses were vandalised in the afternoon.

The unrest in Hong Kong was sparked by a proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China, bringing millions out on to the streets in June last year. It has since morphed into a larger revolt against what many fear is Beijing’s tightening control.

Despite the continued unrest, China and the Hong Kong administration have refused to cede to the protesters’ demands, which include fully free elections in the city, an inquiry into alleged police misconduct, and amnesty for the nearly 6,500 people arrested during the movement — nearly a third of them under the age of 20.

“It is sad that our demands from 2019 need to be carried forward to 2020,” the CHRF’s Jimmy Sham said at the start of the rally.

Activists have accused the police of brutality and rights violations, while city authorities — and the central government in Beijing — have accused pro-democracy protesters of rioting.

China has also alleged that the unrest has been fanned by foreign powers, and has bristled at criticism from rights groups and governments of the way the protests have been handled so far.

‘Hopeless situation’

Hong Kong saw in the new year with an evening of peaceful protests that descended into tear gas-choked clashes between hardcore demonstrators and the police overnight.

Thousands of people linked arms to form human chains that stretched for miles along busy shopping streets and neighbourhoods on New Year’s Eve.

Later, protesters set fire to barricades in some parts of the city as the police launched 2020’s first volleys of tear gas and used water cannon to disperse the crowds.

The protest movement has become quieter since the city’s pro-democracy camp scored a landslide victory in a municipal-level vote in November — seen as a referendum on the Beijing-backed government — and violent clashes at some of the city’s university campuses.

But protesters have vowed to continue their fight for greater freedoms.

“Hong Kong people have been pushed to a hopeless situation. That’s why today we have to come out,” a masked protester said in a speech at the rally on Wednesday.

The unrest that began in June last year is the biggest crisis the former British colony has faced since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Under the terms of that handover, Hong Kong enjoys unique freedoms unseen on the mainland, but fears have increased in recent years that they are being chipped away as Beijing exerts more control over the territory.