US, China Working To Delay December 15 Tariffs – Report

This photo taken on August 7, 2018 shows workers unloading bags of chemicals at a port in Zhangjiagang in China’s eastern Jiangsu province.  Johannes EISELE / AFP

 

US and Chinese officials are working on a deal to postpone a round of tariffs set to hit Chinese imports in five days, according to a media report on Tuesday.

Delaying the new duties, which cover about $160 billion in imports, including consumer favorites like mobile phones, could help reassure markets the two sides are making progress towards ending their trade war.

Officials on both sides say they now expect to continue talking past December 15, when the tariffs are due to kick in, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The report helped move Wall Street futures into positive territory.

US officials have reiterated that any final decision by the American camp belongs to President Donald Trump.

For two months, the two sides have struggled to finalize a partial deal that Trump announced in October.

Should the December 15 tariffs take effect, virtually all the merchandise the United States imports annually from China will be covered by punitive tariffs.

AFP

Pork Prices Double, As Inflation Rises In China

An elderly man looks at a shop as a vendor waits for customers in Hong Kong on December 6, 2019. Noemi CASSANELLI / AFP

 

Consumer prices in China accelerated at their fastest pace for almost eight years in November as the African swine fever epidemic caused pork prices to more than double, data showed Tuesday.

The consumer price index (CPI) — a key gauge of retail inflation — came in at 4.5 percent for November, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said, up from 3.8 percent in October and the highest rate since January 2012.

Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News had forecast an increase of 4.3 percent on-year.

The widespread outbreak of swine fever since August 2018 has disrupted the pork supply in China, sending the prices of the staple meat up 110.2 percent last month November.

With China’s pig herd down by about 40 percent, authorities last week launched a plan to restore pork production to pre-swine fever levels by 2021.

The crisis has also sent prices of beef, lamb and eggs up as consumers switch to other sources of protein.

China’s consumer inflation target for 2019 is around three percent.

The producer price index (PPI) — an important barometer of the industrial sector that measures the cost of goods at the factory gate — showed prices fell 1.4 percent on-year in November.

The figure was slightly higher than the anticipated 1.5 percent decline in a Bloomberg News poll but nevertheless marked five consecutive months of decline, suggesting continued weakness in the world’s second-largest economy.

 

AFP

French Basketballer Fined $1,400 For ‘Disrespecting’ Chinese Flag

Guerschon Yabusele #30 of the Boston Celtics grabs the rebound against the Philadelphia 76ers during Day 2 of the 2019 Las Vegas Summer League on July 6, 2019 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

 

A French former NBA player has been reprimanded and fined $1,400 by sports officials in China for not looking at the Chinese flag during the national anthem before a game.

Players with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) are supposed to stare at the national symbol during the “March of the Volunteers”, but television images showed Guerschon Yabusele, who plays for Nanjing Tongxi Monkey King, had his head down before Friday’s game.

Yabusele was given a “serious warning” and a 10,000-yuan fine for not looking at the flag as required, the CBA said in a statement on Saturday.

Yabusele, who played forward for the Boston Celtics for two seasons before joining the CBA team this year, has not commented on the incident.

China’s government has stepped up the promotion of patriotism under President Xi Jinping, with legislation approved in 2017 to punish anyone who disrespects the national anthem with up to three years in prison.

Opinions on Yabusele’s punishment were divided on Chinese social media.

“He’s happy to take money from China, but he doesn’t respect it,” one person wrote on the popular Weibo social media platform.

“This player must be expelled immediately and his club must be disqualified from the championship,” another said.

But many found the sanction to be harsh.

“It’s nonsense. First, he’s not Chinese. Moreover, he stood up and didn’t make any insulting gesture,” one person wrote.

“He has his head down. So what? In what era does the CBA live? It’s 50 years behind.”

Yabusele is not the first foreign athlete to break patriotic rules in China.

Last year, Shandong Luneng’s Brazilian midfielder Diego Tardelli was handed a one-game ban for rubbing his face during the anthem before a game.

AFP

World Bank Now Reducing Lending To China After Trump Outburst

The bank, which is led by former US Treasury official David Malpass, defended its approach in a brief statement.

 

The World Bank said Saturday its lending to China has fallen sharply and will continue to be pared back, after US President Donald Trump demanded it stop altogether.

“Why is the World Bank loaning money to China? Can this be possible? China has plenty of money, and if they don’t, they create it. STOP!” Trump wrote on Twitter Friday.

The bank, which is led by former US Treasury official David Malpass, defended its approach in a brief statement.

“World Bank lending to China has fallen sharply and will continue to reduce as part of our agreement with all our shareholders including the United States.

“We eliminate lending as countries get richer,” it said.

Trump was reiterating a position long held by his administration, including Malpass prior to his election as the current head of the World Bank.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told US lawmakers Thursday that the United States “has objected” to the institution’s multi-year program of loans and projects in China.

That program, which includes plans to reduce lending to China, was adopted on Thursday.

The program “reflects the evolution of our relationship with China,” Martin Raiser, World Bank Country Director for China, said on Thursday. “Our engagement will be increasingly selective.”

Trump’s very public stance comes amid negotiations between Washington and Beijing seeking to end the US president’s 18-month-long trade war, which is aimed at forcing China to make concessions on protecting American businesses and reducing its trade surplus.

There is a great deal of uncertainty about the date of a possible partial agreement, which Trump said was imminent in October.

 

AFP

China Imposes ‘Reciprocal’ Restrictions On US Diplomats

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

 

China on Friday said it had taken “reciprocal” measures against US diplomats in the country, saying they will have to notify the foreign ministry before meeting with local officials.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China had notified the US embassy of the new measures on Wednesday, which she said were a “countermeasure” to Washington’s decision in October to restrict Chinese diplomats.

“We once again urge the US side to correct its mistakes and revoke the relevant rules,” she told reporters at a press briefing.

In October, the US ordered Chinese diplomats to notify the State Department in advance of any official meetings with US diplomats, local or municipal officials, and before any visits to colleges or research institutions.

Washington called the move “reciprocal”, with a senior State Department official citing the inability of US diplomats to meet with a range of Chinese officials and academics.

On Friday, Hua said that US diplomats would have to notify the foreign ministry five working days in advance, and that China would respond “according to the US’s practice.”

The US Embassy in Beijing declined to comment.

No Deadline To End Trade War – China

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. JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

 

China echoed comments from President Donald Trump Wednesday, saying there was no deadline for signing a US-China trade deal, as tensions spiked between the two countries over human rights issues.

On Tuesday, Trump warned that efforts to resolve the spat between the world’s top two economies could continue until after next November’s US election, triggering a selloff in global markets.

When asked about his comments China’s foreign ministry said Beijing too had no timeline for ending the protracted trade war, where on-again off-again negotiations have destabilised markets and stoked geopolitical tensions.

“We will not set any time limit on when the deal will or will not be reached,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

“This agreement and these negotiations must be based on equality and mutual respect,” she told reporters at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

“If we are faced with the pressure of unilateralism, protectionism, and trade bullying, we will have no choice and must take resolute and decisive measures to defend our legitimate and lawful interests,” Hua added.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have become increasingly strained following the passage of a bill backing pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong last week.

The financial hub has been rocked by nearly six months of often violent unrest demanding greater autonomy, which Beijing has frequently blamed on foreign influence.

In response to the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, China suspended US warship visits to the territory and said it imposed sanctions on American NGOs, though it has not released any details on what they entail.

On Tuesday, US lawmakers also voted overwhelmingly to pass a Uighur rights bill, which could impose sanctions against senior Chinese officials over the crackdown on mainly Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang if Trump signs it into law.

Up to one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic minorities are believed to be held in re-education camps, according to estimates cited by a United Nations panel in 2018.

After initially denying the camps’ existence, Beijing cast the facilities as “vocational education centres” where “students” learn Mandarin and job skills in an effort to steer them away from religious extremism, terrorism and separatism.

China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday warned against enacting the Uighur rights bill saying “for all wrong actions and words… the proper price must be paid.”

 

AFP

China To Boost Sales Of Electric Vehicles By 2025

 

China should adopt a plan that will see electric vehicles make up a quarter of all autos sold in the country in six years’ time, the industry ministry said Tuesday, as the sector struggles with falling sales.

A draft blueprint for the development of the “new energy vehicle” sector — which includes hybrids and fully-electric vehicles — comes after the government withdrew subsidies for carmakers earlier this year.

China is the world’s largest new energy vehicle market, but sales of electric motors plummeted 34 percent on-year in September, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s draft proposal said China should seek to ensure one in four of all vehicles sold in 2025 were either hybrids or fully-electric vehicles.

The measures are partly to ensure the country meets its air pollution targets, and to reduce Beijing’s dependence on imported oil.

China would also continue to develop electric vehicle battery technologies, improve infrastructure for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and driverless cars, it said.

The draft proposal, which includes guidelines for the development of the new energy vehicle sector from 2021 to 2035, is open for public feedback until December 9.

A previous state target set in 2017 had called for 20 percent of cars sold to be electric vehicles by 2020, but the draft released Tuesday gave no indication whether China was on track to meet that goal.

Fuelled by rising incomes and government sales incentives, China is the golden goose upon which the global automotive industry has staked its future.

But after years of strong growth, car sales fell last year for the first time since the 1990s, hit by a slowing economy, US trade tensions and a Chinese crackdown on shady credit practices that has crimped car-financing channels.

Passenger vehicles sales in China have now fallen for 15 consecutive months, according to the CAAM.

The government had earlier said it was planning to impose quotas requiring carmakers to maintain a certain percentage of new energy vehicles in their Chinese production.

AFP

China Sanctions US, NGOs Over Hong Kong Unrest

Protesters burn items at the Causeway Bay metro station entrance in Hong Kong on October 4, 2019, as people hit the streets after the government announced a ban on facemasks. Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP

 

 

China suspended US warship visits and sanctioned American NGOs on Monday in retaliation for the passage of a bill backing pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

The financial hub has been rocked by nearly six months of increasingly violent unrest demanding greater autonomy, which Beijing has frequently blamed on foreign influence.

Last week US President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which requires the president to annually review the city’s favourable trade status and threatens to revoke it if the semi-autonomous territory’s freedoms are quashed.

The move came as the world’s two biggest economies have been striving to finalise a “phase one” deal in their protracted trade war.

“In response to the unreasonable behaviour of the US side, the Chinese government has decided to suspend reviewing the applications for US warships to go to Hong Kong for (rest and) recuperation as of today,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing.

China had already denied requests for two US Navy ships to dock in Hong Kong in August, without specifying a reason why.

“Operationally, from a military point of view, it doesn’t really make a difference for the US, as they can use many naval bases in the region,” Michael Raska, a security researcher at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, told AFP.

However, it “sends a signal that US-China tensions will continue to deepen,” Raska said.

The last US Navy ship to visit Hong Kong was the USS Blue Ridge in April.

J. Michael Cole, a Taipei-based senior fellow with the Global Taiwan Institute, said the move was “mostly symbolic” but yet another sign of the “tit-for-tat escalation which is poisoning the bilateral relationship.”

– Behaving ‘badly’ –

Hua said they would also apply sanctions to a number of US-based NGOs, although failed to give any specifics over the form the measures would take.

Sanctions will apply to NGOs that had acted “badly” over the recent unrest in Hong Kong, she said, including the National Endowment for Democracy, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House.

There was “already a large amount of facts and evidence that make it clear that these non-governmental organisations support anti-China” forces and “incite separatist activities for Hong Kong independence”, Hua said.

She accused them of having “great responsibility for the chaotic situation in Hong Kong”.

Protesters in Hong Kong are pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability, but the city’s pro-Beijing leadership has refused any major political concessions.

The increasingly violent rallies have hammered the retail and tourism sectors, with mainland Chinese visitors abandoning the city in droves.

The city’s finance chief warned Monday that Hong Kong is set to record its first budget deficit in 15 years.

AFP

Russia, China Launch ‘Historic’ Gas Pipeline

China’s President Xi Jinping (R) speaks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin via a video link, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 2, 2019. Noel CELIS / POOL / AFP

 

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Monday launched the first gas pipeline linking the two countries.

The mammoth Power of Siberia pipeline connecting the world’s top gas exporter and its largest energy importer crowns years of tough negotiations and work in difficult conditions.

“Today is remarkable, a truly historic event not only for the global energy market, but first of all for us and for you, for Russia and China,” Putin said during a televised ceremony featuring the two leaders.

Xi said the project “serves as a model of… mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries.”

“The development of Sino-Russian ties is and will be a foreign policy priority for both our nations,” Xi said on Russian television in translated remarks.

Alexei Miller, head of Russian gas giant Gazprom which championed the project, said nearly 10,000 people had worked to build the enormous pipeline.

During the ceremony Miller was shown ordering workers to open a valve allowing gas to pass across the border into China.

“Gas is going to the pipeline system of the Chinese People’s Republic,” he said.

The 3,000-kilometre (1,850-mile) pipeline runs from remote regions of eastern Siberia to Blagoveshchensk on the border, then into China.

Russia and China signed a 30-year, $400 billion deal to build and operate the pipeline in 2014, after a decade of difficult talks. It was Gazprom’s biggest contract.

The company is to supply China with 38 billion cubic metres (1.3 trillion cubic feet) of gas annually when the pipeline is fully operational in 2025.

Gazprom has stressed that the pipeline ran through “swampy, mountainous, seismically active, permafrost and rocky areas with extreme environmental conditions”.

Russia is also planning to soon launch two more gas pipelines that will ramp up supplies to Europe while bypassing Ukraine.

TurkStream, which Putin and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan hope to launch in January, is to transport Russian gas to Turkey.

Nord Stream-2, which would double Russian gas volumes to Germany, is expected to go online in mid-2020.

More to follow…

China Introduces Mandatory Face Scans For Phone Users

 

China will require telecom operators to collect face scans when registering new phone users at offline outlets starting Sunday, according to the country’s information technology authority, as Beijing continues to tighten cyberspace controls.

In September, China’s industry and information technology ministry issued a notice on “safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of citizens online”, which laid out rules for enforcing real-name registration.

The notice said telecom operators should use “artificial intelligence and other technical means” to verify people’s identities when they take a new phone number.

A China Unicom customer service representative told AFP that the December 1 “portrait matching” requirement means customers registering for a new phone number may have to record themselves turning their head and blinking.

“In next steps, our ministry will continue to…increase supervision and inspection…and strictly promote the management of real-name registration for phone users,” said the September notice.

Though the Chinese government has pushed for real-name registration for phone users since at least 2013 — meaning ID cards are linked to new phone numbers — the move to leverage AI comes as facial recognition technology gains traction across China where the tech is used for everything from supermarket checkouts to surveillance.

Online, Chinese social media users reacted with a mix of support and worry over the December 1 facial verification notice, with some voicing concerns their biometric data could be leaked or sold.

“This is a bit too much,” wrote one user on Twitter-like Weibo, commenting under an article about the new rules.

“Control, and then more control,” posted another.

While researchers have warned of the privacy risks associated with gathering facial recognition data, consumers have widely embraced the technology — though China saw one of its first lawsuits on facial recognition last month.

In early November, a Chinese professor filed a claim against a safari park in Hangzhou, eastern Zhejiang province for requiring face scans for entry, according to the local court.

In addition to mobile users, Chinese social media site Weibo was forced to roll out real-name registration in 2012.

Oversight of social media has ramped up in recent years as part of the Chinese government’s push to “promote the healthy, orderly development of the Internet, protect state security and public interest”.

China Bans ‘Fake News’ Created With AI

A man uses his mobile phone to take a picture after snow fell in Beijing on November 30, 2019. WANG ZHAO / AFP

 

 

China has issued new rules banning online video and audio providers from using artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality technologies to produce “fake news.” 

The  regulation published Friday by China’s cyberspace authority said that both providers and users of online video news and audio services are “not allowed” to use new technologies such as deep learning and virtual reality to create, distribute and broadcast “fake news.”

“Fake news” has been generalised to mean anything from a mistake to a parody or a deliberate misinterpretation of facts.

The rules come into effect on January 1, 2020.

Failure to follow them could be considered a criminal offence, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said, without offering details on punishments.

The rules require videos and audio tracks produced using AI or virtual reality technologies to carry clear labels warning users.

The regulations particularly stressed the dangers of “deepfakes,” or technology that manipulates videos to appear genuine but which depict events or speech that never happened.

Deepfake technologies could “disrupt social order and violate people’s interests, creating political risks and bringing a negative impact on national security and social stability,” the cyberspace authority warned.

Concerns over deepfakes have grown since the 2016 US election campaign which saw wide use of online disinformation, according to US investigations.

China’s top legislative body said earlier this year it was considering making deepfake technology illegal.

A Chinese face-swapping app Zao, which allows users to convincingly superimpose their own likeness over characters in movies or TV shows, led to a heated debate on the abuses of deepfake technologies in September.

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