China’s central bank on Friday said all financial transactions involving cryptocurrencies are illegal, sounding the death knell for digital currencies in China after a crackdown on the volatile trade.
The global values of cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin have massively fluctuated over the past year partly due to Chinese regulations, which have sought to prevent speculation and money laundering.
“Virtual currency-related business activities are illegal financial activities,” the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said in an online statement Friday, adding that offenders would be “investigated for criminal liability in accordance with the law.”
The notice bans all related financial activities involving cryptocurrencies, such as trading crypto, selling tokens, transactions involving virtual currency derivatives and “illegal fundraising”.
The central bank said that in recent years the “trading and speculation of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies have become widespread, disrupting economic and financial order, giving rise to money laundering, illegal fund-raising, fraud, pyramid schemes and other illegal and criminal activities.”
In June, Chinese officials said more than 1,000 people had been arrested for using the profits from crime to buy cryptocurrencies.
Several Chinese provinces had already banned the operation of cryptocurrency mines since the start of this year, with one region accounting for eight percent of the computing power needed to run the global blockchain — a set of online ledgers to record bitcoin transactions.
Bitcoin values tumbled in May on the back of a warning by Beijing to investors against speculative trading in cryptocurrencies.
China handed over to Cambodia a $150 million stadium in Phnom Penh, with officials saying Sunday it is the result of Beijing’s biggest ever infrastructure grant to the country.
The 60,000-capacity venue is the latest project under China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative, a plan to fund infrastructure projects and increase its sway overseas.
The presentation of the arena, intended as the main venue when Cambodia hosts the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 2023, was made by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during his visit.
Cambodia’s tourism minister Thong Khon said the $150 million stadium represented China’s largest ever grant to Cambodia for an infrastructure project.
Located in Cambodia’s capital, the Morodok Techo National Stadium resembles a sailing ship, symbolising the two nations long-standing friendship as Chinese people used to travel to Cambodia by boat, officials said.
It is surrounded by a moat that echoes the body of water encompassing the Angkor Wat temple complex.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has in recent years faced criticism over his reliance on Beijing but he defended their relationship Sunday, saying China was a “trusted and respected friend”.
“Have I made a mistake in contacting our friend China when we have achieved such results?” he asked, referring to the stadium.
“This is another new milestone in the ironclad friendship between Cambodia and China,” he added.
During Wang Yi’s visit, Cambodia and China also signed several new deals in which Beijing promised a total of $250 million for the country’s development projects, Hun Sen said.
Wang Yi later pledged to continue supporting Cambodia’s infrastructure expansion.
He added China had never set “political conditions” in its cooperation with Cambodia.
Cambodia has long been a staunch Beijing ally, receiving billions of dollars in soft loans and investments.
China has also supplied Phnom Penh with nearly 28 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, including a donation of 4.3 million jabs.
China passed a sweeping privacy law aimed at preventing businesses from collecting sensitive personal data Friday, as the country faces an uptick in internet scams and Beijing targets tech giants hoovering up personal data.
Under the new rules passed by China’s top legislative body, state and private entities handling personal information will be required to reduce data collection and obtain user consent.
The Chinese state security apparatus will maintain access to swathes of personal data, however. Beijing has long been accused of harnessing big tech to accelerate repression in the northwestern Xinjiang province and elsewhere.
The new rules are also expected to further rattle China’s tech sector, with companies like ride hailing giant Didi and gaming behemoth Tencent in regulators’ crosshairs in recent months over misuse of personal data.
Chinese tech stocks including Alibaba and Tencent dipped after Friday morning’s announcement.
The law aims to protect those who “feel strongly about personal data being used for user profiling and by recommendation algorithms or the use of big data in setting [unfair] prices,” a spokesman for the National People’s Congress told state news agency Xinhua earlier this week.
It will prevent companies from setting different prices for the same service based on clients’ shopping history.
Tens of thousands of consumers have complained about having to pay more for hailing a taxi using an iPhone than a cheaper mobile phone model or for tickets if they are profiled as a business traveller, China’s consumer protection watchdog said.
The law is modelled after the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, one of the world’s strictest online privacy protection laws.
“China’s new privacy regime is one of the toughest in the world,” said Kendra Schaefer, a partner at Beijing-based consulting firm Trivium China. “China is not really looking at the short term with this law.”
Instead, she said, it aims “to establish the foundations for the digital economy over the next 40 or 50 years.”
The law, which comes into effect on November 1, also stipulates that the personal data of Chinese nationals cannot be transferred to countries with lower standards of data security than China — rules which may present problems for foreign businesses.
Companies that fail to comply can face fines of up to 50 million yuan ($7.6 million) or five percent of their annual turnover.
The law says sensitive personal data includes information which if leaked can lead to “discrimination… or seriously threaten the safety of individuals” including race, ethnicity, religion, biometric data or a person’s whereabouts.
But Chinese cities across the country are peppered with surveillance cameras, some outfitted for facial recognition, collecting biometric information daily.
In the restive region of Xinjiang — home to most of China’s Uighur ethnic minority — rights groups say residents are forced to install software on their mobile phones that allow police to access their location, photos or text messages.
At least 21 people died as heavy downpours struck central China’s Hubei province, authorities said Friday, weeks after record floods wreaked havoc and killed hundreds in a neighbouring province.
China has been battered by unprecedented rains in recent months, extreme weather that experts say is increasingly common due to global warming.
In Hubei, torrential rains caused power cuts and landslides, destroying hundreds of homes and forcing the evacuation of nearly 6,000 people, the province’s Emergency Management Bureau said, as reservoirs reach dangerous levels.
“Twenty-one people were killed and four others are missing as heavy rain lashed townships from Wednesday,” state broadcaster Xinhua reported Friday.
Footage showed families wading in water that had risen to almost hip level and carrying essentials in plastic bags in Yicheng, which saw a record 480 millimetres (around 19 inches) of rain on Thursday. Rescuers carried people to safety on bulldozers.
“Yesterday the water levels rose to about two to three metres. My neighbour’s house was completely destroyed,” a resident from one of the worst affected areas in the city of Suizhou told local media.
“We haven’t seen so much rain in 20 or 30 years.”
Hundreds of firefighters and thousands of police and military have been dispatched to the worst affected areas, China’s Ministry of Emergency Management said.
Around 100,000 people were evacuated in the southwestern province of Sichuan last weekend as heavy rains caused several landslides.
More than 300 people were killed in central China’s Henan province last month after record downpours dumped a year’s worth of rain on a city in three days.
China’s Meteorological Administration warned that heavy rainfall was likely to continue until next week, with regions along the Yangtze River, including Shanghai, vulnerable to flooding.
The idea that the coronavirus pandemic originated accidentally via Chinese laboratory workers has surfaced again, this time in a documentary aired by Danish TV on Thursday.
China has reacted furiously to any suggestions that the pandemic, which has killed at least 4.3 million people since emerging in the city of Wuhan in December 2019, was caused by malpractice involving one of its laboratories.
But this is part of the “probable” assumptions, according to the head of the World Health Organization mission to investigate the origins of the pandemic.
“An employee (of a laboratory) infected in the field taking samples falls under one of the likely hypotheses. This is where the virus passes directly from bats to humans,” Peter Embarek told the Danish public channel TV2
In a documentary broadcast on Thursday, the head of the delegation of international scientists sent by the WHO to Wuhan is very critical of China.
The first phase of the WHO study, conducted at the start of the year, concluded on March 29 that the hypothesis of a laboratory incident remained “extremely unlikely”.
However, Embarek said it had been difficult for his team to discuss this theory with Chinese scientists.
Just 48 hours before the end of the mission, they had still not agreed to mention the laboratory thesis in the report, he said in the documentary.
It was after these exchanges that the WHO delegation won permission to visit two laboratories where research is carried out on bats, he said.
During these visits, “we had the right to make a presentation, then we were able to speak and ask the questions that we wanted to ask, but we did not have the opportunity to consult any documentation”, Embarek said.
The scientist also pointed out that none of the type of bats suspected to have been the reservoir for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 live in the wild in the Wuhan region.
The only people likely to have approached these types of bats are employees of the city laboratories, he said.
The WHO on Thursday urged China to share raw data from the earliest Covid-19 cases to assist the pandemic origins probe — and release data to address the lab leak theory.
The global health agency also urged all countries to depoliticise the search for the origins of the pandemic.
China’s drug regulator has approved the country’s first mixed-vaccine trial, a company involved in the study said, as the rapid spread of the Delta variant raises concern about the efficacy of domestically produced jabs.
The trial will test the efficacy of combining an “inactivated” vaccine made by China’s Sinovac with a DNA-based one developed by US pharmaceutical company Inovio, a statement issued on Tuesday said.
The statement was put out by Advaccine Biopharmaceuticals Suzhou, Inovio’s trial partner in China.
Preclinical work has found that “two different vaccine applications… produce an even stronger and more balanced immune response”, Advaccine chairman Wang Bin said in the statement.
There are several types of Covid vaccines, including those using an inactivated or weakened virus to generate an immune response, and more cutting-edge RNA- or DNA-based jabs that use engineered versions of the coronavirus’ genetic code to create a protein that safely prompts an immune response.
Five out of the seven vaccines approved in China are two-shot inactivated vaccines.
Their published efficacy lags RNA jabs by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which have pre-Delta success rates above 90 percent.
The World Health Organization has said there is still not enough data to say whether using two different vaccines together is safe or can boost immunity.
Inovio has not published any efficacy data from its global clinical trials. It is the first DNA-based vaccine to be trialled in China.
China is battling its worst coronavirus outbreak in months, with officials saying many of those infected had already been vaccinated.
This has added to calls for China’s two biggest vaccine producers — state-run Sinopharm and privately owned Sinovac — to provide data proving their jabs work against the Delta variant.
Beijing is yet to approve any foreign vaccines for domestic use.
Authorities in Wuhan on Tuesday said they would test its entire population for Covid-19 after the central Chinese city where the coronavirus emerged reported its first local infections in more than a year.
China is battling its largest coronavirus outbreak in months, confining the residents of entire cities to their homes, cutting transport links and rolling out mass testing as the fast-spreading Delta variant challenges its zero-Covid strategy and homegrown vaccines.
Beijing had previously boasted of its success in crushing the virus, allowing the economy to rebound and normal life to return while swathes of the globe have struggled with the pandemic that has killed more than four million people worldwide.
But the latest outbreak is threatening China’s success with more than 400 domestic cases reported since mid-July when a cluster among airport cleaners in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, sparked infections in over 20 cities across more than a dozen provinces.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million, is “swiftly launching comprehensive nucleic acid testing of all residents”, senior city official Li Tao said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Authorities announced on Monday that seven locally transmitted infections had been found among migrant workers in the city, breaking a year-long streak without domestic cases after Wuhan squashed an initial outbreak with an unprecedented lockdown in early 2020.
And the holiday destination of Zhangjiajie in central China’s Hunan province abruptly announced Tuesday that no one would be allowed to exit the city, after closing tourist attractions and encouraging visitors to leave last week.
“All residents, tourists and other personnel are forbidden to leave Zhangjiajie,” according to a brief notice published in the city’s Communist Party mouthpiece Zhangjiajie Daily.
Major cities including the capital Beijing have now tested millions of residents while cordoning off residential compounds and placing close contacts under quarantine.
China reported 61 domestic cases on Tuesday.
‘Spare no expense’
The eastern city of Yangzhou, near Nanjing, was the latest local government to order residents to stay home after large-scale testing detected 40 new infections over the past day.
The more than 1.3 million residents of Yangzhou’s urban core are now confined to their homes, with each household allowed to send only one person outside per day to shop for necessities, the city government said Tuesday.
The announcement comes after Zhuzhou city near Zhangjiajie imposed similar orders in recent days on more than two million people combined.
The outbreak spread to Hunan from Nanjing last month after people in the airport cluster attended theatre performances in Zhangjiajie.
Officials have since been desperately tracking down thousands of fellow theatregoers and urging tourists not to travel to areas where cases have been found.
Meanwhile, Beijing has blocked tourists from entering the capital during the peak summer holiday travel season and asked residents not to leave unless necessary, with top officials vowing over the weekend to “spare no expense” in defending the city.
Photos from Wuhan on Monday showed supermarket shelves stripped bare by shoppers apparently stocking up in preparation of being locked back down, in scenes reminiscent of the panic buying before the city was cut off from the rest of the world for 76 days last year in the first lockdown.
Officials took to social media on Tuesday pledging to “calm the panicked mood of city residents”, announcing that stores had promised to keep prices and supply chains stable.
Mao, a 27-year-old Wuhan resident, told AFP he was “not worried” about the new outbreak as “Wuhan has accumulated rich experience”, including widespread vaccination.
“I’m not concerned at all that the city will be locked down again,” he said, giving his surname only.
Millions of people were confined to their homes in China Monday as the country tried to contain its largest coronavirus outbreak in months including seven positive tests found in Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in late 2019.
China reported 55 new locally transmitted cases on Monday as an outbreak of the fast-spreading Delta variant reached over 20 cities in more than a dozen provinces.
The Wuhan cluster came after the official daily tally was released, but it was confirmed by state media which said the infections had been traced to a train station.
“The seven were identified as migrant workers,” Xinhua reported, citing Covid-19 prevention and control officials.
Major cities including Beijing have now tested millions of residents while cordoning off residential compounds and placing close contacts under quarantine.
Authorities in the capital met and agreed on the need to “raise vigilance, take strict precautions and defend (the city) to the death, sparing no expense,” in comments put out by the Beijing government.
Elsewhere, over 1.2 million residents were placed under strict lockdown for the next three days in the central city of Zhuzhou in Hunan province Monday, as authorities roll out a citywide testing and vaccination campaign, according to an official statement.
“The situation is still grim and complicated,” the Zhuzhou government said.
China had previously boasted of its success in bringing domestic cases down to virtually zero after the coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan, allowing the economy to rebound.
But the latest outbreak, linked to a cluster in the city of Nanjing where nine cleaners at an international airport tested positive on July 20, is threatening that success with more than 360 domestic cases reported in the past two weeks.
In the tourist destination of Zhangjiajie, famed for its national forest park, an outbreak spread last month among theatre patrons who then brought the virus back to their homes around the country.
Zhangjiajie locked down all 1.5 million residents on Friday.
Officials are urgently seeking people who have recently traveled from Nanjing or Zhangjiajie, and have urged tourists not to travel to areas where cases have been found.
Meanwhile, Beijing has blocked tourists from entering the capital during the peak summer holiday travel season.
Only “essential travellers” with negative nucleic acid tests will be allowed to enter after the discovery of a handful of cases among residents who had returned from Zhangjiajie.
Top city officials on Sunday called for residents “not to leave Beijing unless necessary”.
The capital’s Changping district locked down 41,000 people in nine housing communities last week.
Fresh cases were also reported on Monday in the popular tourist destination of Hainan as well as in flood-ravaged Henan province, national health authorities said.
China on Thursday said a WHO proposal to audit Chinese labs as part of further investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic showed “disrespect” and “arrogance towards science”.
Last week, the World Health Organization said a second stage of the international probe should include audits of Chinese labs, amid increasing pressure from the United States for an investigation into a biotech lab in Wuhan.
The proposal outlined by WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus included “audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019” — referring to the Chinese city of Wuhan.
But China’s vice health minister Zeng Yixin told reporters Thursday that he was “extremely surprised” by the plan, which he said showed “disrespect for common sense and arrogance towards science”.
Long derided as a right-wing conspiracy theory and vehemently rejected by Beijing, the idea that Covid-19 may have emerged from a lab leak has been gaining momentum.
Beijing has repeatedly insisted that a leak would have been “extremely unlikely”, citing the conclusion reached by a joint WHO-Chinese mission to Wuhan in January.
At the same time, Chinese officials and state media have pushed an alternate theory that the virus could have escaped from the US military research lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Nationalist tabloid Global Times said it had collected five million signatures from Chinese web users on a petition to investigate the US lab.
Top officials have also amplified theories that the virus may have been imported with frozen food.
– ‘No accidents’ – Yuan Zhiming, director of the National Biosafety Laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, told Thursday’s press conference “no pathogen leakage or staff infection accidents have occurred” since the lab opened in 2018.
Zeng hit back at what he called “rumours” about the lab, insisting that it had “never carried out gain-of-function research on coronaviruses, nor is there a so-called manmade virus”.
His comments were in reference to the type of research that has featured heavily in theories about a possible lab leak.
China has in recent days faced accusations from the WHO that it had not shared the necessary raw data during the first phase of the investigation, with Tedros urging Beijing to “be transparent, to be open and cooperate” on a second phase.
Tedros on Friday also called for more studies of animal markets in and around Wuhan.
The UN health agency has been under intensifying pressure for a new, more in-depth investigation of how the disease that has killed more than four million people around the world first emerged.
The WHO was only able to send a team of independent, international experts to Wuhan in January, more than a year after Covid-19 first surfaced there, to help Chinese counterparts probe the pandemic’s origins.
Thursday’s comments come ahead of a weekend trip to China by US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to address deteriorating ties between the two countries.
It is the highest-level visit under President Joe Biden and comes amid tensions between the two powers over issues including the pandemic’s origins, human rights and cybersecurity.
At least 16 people have died after torrential rains caused landslides and flooded a city in central China, with shocking images showing passengers struggling against chest-high water inside a train carriage.
As river embankments were breached in record downpours across Henan province, President Xi Jinping described the situation as “extremely severe” with flood control measures entering a “critical stage”, state media reported Wednesday.
Around 200,000 city residents were evacuated, local government officials said, as soldiers led rescue efforts in Zhengzhou — a city of over 10 million people — where days of rain have inundated the streets and subway.
The rainfall in the region was the heaviest since record-keeping began 60 years ago, with Zhengzhou seeing the equivalent of a year’s average rainfall in just three days.
Rainstorms submerged Zhengzhou’s metro, killing 12 people and injuring five, while city officials said hundreds were rescued from the subway.
Nerve-shredding images shared on social media showed shocked passengers contending with the fast-rising waters inside a train carriage. Rescuers cut open the roof of the coach to pull people to safety, local media reported.
Others showed dramatic rescues of pedestrians in Zhengzhou from torrents gushing through the streets.
At least four were killed in the nearby Gongyi city where houses and walls have collapsed, the official Xinhua news agency said, adding that rainfall had caused multiple landslides.
Relatives outside Zhengzhou made anxious pleas on China’s Weibo for information as communications to the city went down.
“Is the second floor in danger? My parents live there, but I can’t get through to them on the phone,” one user wrote.
“I don’t know more about their situation. I’m in Tianjin and my parents are in Zhengzhou,” she said, giving her surname only as Hou when contacted by AFP.
“I’m very anxious.”
– Army sent –
Authorities have issued the highest warning level for Henan province as floods continue to hammer the region.
As the scale of the disaster continued to unspool on Wednesday, the Chinese army warned that a stricken dam around an hour from Zhengzhou city “could collapse at any time” after being severely damaged in torrential storms.
The regional unit of the People’s Liberation Army said Tuesday that the relentless downpour had caused damage to the Yihetan dam in the nearby city of Luoyang.
On Wednesday morning the PLA said blasting operations had been carried out at the dam and troops had “successfully opened a new flood diversion opening”.
These measures meant the water level had dropped and the “danger has been effectively controlled”.
Soldiers have been deployed to other rivers nearby to reinforce embankments with sandbags as the floods fanned out across Henan and warnings were issued of other near breaches of dams.
“Some reservoirs had their dams burst… causing serious injury, loss of life and property damage,” Xi Jinping said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
“We have already entered the critical stage of flood control, leaders and cadres from all walks of life must… take the lead in commanding, quickly organise forces for flood protection and disaster rescue.”
Annual floods during China’s rainy season cause chaos and wash away roads, crops and houses.
But the threat has worsened over the decades, due in part to widespread construction of dams and levees that have cut connections between the river and adjacent lakes and disrupted floodplains that had helped absorb the summer surge.
Scientists say climate change is also worsening flooding around the world alongside other increasingly extreme weather patterns.
China on Tuesday advertised “the world’s first 600 kilometers per hour high-speed maglev train”, according to state newspaper People’s Daily.
Theoretically, it can travel from Lagos to Kano under 90 minutes.
However, China has no track line yet for the train, according to Chinese publication, Global Times.
“But some cities are planning to build high-speed maglev lines, and have entered the stage of research and demonstration,” the publication said earlier this week.
Chinese news agency Xinhua said it was “self-developed” by Chinese company China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC).
The Asian economic giant is touting the technology as its “latest scientific and technological advancement in the field of rail transit”.
The train is built on maglev technology, a system of train transportation that uses two sets of magnets, one set to repel and push the train up off the track and the other for movement, taking advantage of the lack of friction.
Maglev technology was conceptualised in early 20th century and has since undergone numerous improvements.
According to a CRRC engineer, Liang Jianying, the train being unveiled works by being suspended, driven and guided without contact between the train and the track by means of electromagnetic force, with its resistance only coming from the air.
Louis Vuitton, Porsche and Bulgari on Tuesday joined a legion of brands in dropping Chinese-Canadian pop idol Kris Wu, as sexual assault allegations swirling around the star drew condemnation across Chinese social media.
The scandal has parallels with China’s #MeToo movement sparked by Chinese feminists in 2018, where women were empowered to voice their experiences of sexual harassment — sometimes involving powerful public figures.
Nineteen-year-old student Du Meizhu accused Wu, 30, of date-raping her when she was 17 in a Sunday interview with Chinese news portal NetEase.
Du said the K-pop star had attempted to buy her silence with 500,000 RMB ($77,100) and told the outlet she planned to go ahead “with legal proceedings”.
Wu, who also holds Canadian citizenship and grew up between Vancouver and Guangzhou, has denied the allegations on social media.
“I only met Miss Du once at a friend’s gathering, I didn’t ply her with alcohol… I have never ‘coerced women into sex’ or engaged in ‘date rape’,” the megastar also known as Wu Yifan, wrote on Monday, adding he does not sleep with underage girls.
Wu’s studio also published a lengthy response to Du’s claims, denying any wrongdoing and alleging that she only met him once at a party, tried to extort his staff for millions of yuan and falsified her accusations.
“The studio has already launched the legal accountability process,” they wrote Monday evening.
Du’s claims sparked a wave of online condemnation of the megastar, as well as an outpouring of support for Du and female victims of sexual assault more generally.
The fallout has been significant, given its links with one of China’s most bankable stars.
Since Monday a growing number of brands including Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Porsche and Tencent Video have announced on social media that they were dropping or suspending their collaborations with Wu.
“Bulgari attaches great importance to the incident relating to Kris Wu and decided to terminate all related collaborations with Wu from today,” the luxury brand wrote on China’s Twitter-like Weibo Tuesday.
Louis Vuitton also said it was suspending cooperation with Wu.
Angry online users have been calling for other brands including L’Oreal Men and Lancome to sever ties with Wu.
Lancome said in a Weibo statement Tuesday that its partnership with Wu expired in June.
Since Du’s comments, more alleged victims have spoken out online, accusing Wu’s staff of predatory behaviour such as inviting them to boozy karaoke parties with the star.
The hashtags “girls help girls”, “girls helping girls” and “girls help girls time” — where women expressed solidarity with Du — were deactivated by Weibo and removed from the trending list Monday, although they could still be searched online.
The China Association of Performance Arts said Monday that Wu’s punishment “must be based on facts instead of relying on online exposes” but called for “severe punishment” if he is found to have broken the law.
State media has weighed in, as the Global Times called for necessary legal intervention in a Monday Weibo post.
The Weibo trending hashtag “the law is the lowest standard of morals” racked up 830 million views, as users complained about the high legal threshold required for victims to prove sexual assault in court.