A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian national to death on Thursday in a ruling that could further inflame tensions between China and Canada.
The Guangzhou Intermediate Court said in a statement it had handed Xu Weihong a death sentence for manufacturing drugs, and said all his personal property would be confiscated.
According to China’s state-run Global Times, Xu had bought raw materials and tools for drug production in October 2016 and worked with an accomplice, Wen Guanxiong, to make ketamine.
The drugs were made in Wen’s home and stored in Xu’s residence in Guangzhou, with public security officers seizing over 120 kilogrammes of ketamine from the pair, the report added.
The ruling comes after China sentenced two other Canadians to death on drug trafficking charges last year, and as tensions soar between the two countries on a number of fronts including the arrest of top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Beijing has also detained two Canadian nationals, including a former diplomat, on spying charges, in a move widely considered retaliation for Meng’s arrest in Canada.
The United States wants Meng extradited to face trial on charges related to the Chinese telecom equipment maker’s alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran.
On Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing that “Chinese judicial organs handle all criminals of different nationalities according to law”.
Referring to the latest case involving Xu, Wang added: “I don’t think this should have any impact on China-Canada relations.”
Diplomatic relations between Canada and China have deteriorated over China’s arrests and Meng’s case, damaging trade between both countries.
Canadian pleas for clemency for its citizens previously sentenced on drug charges, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg and Fan Wei, have so far not been successful.
Meanwhile, in June Beijing formally charged the other pair of detained Canadians — ex-diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor — for spying, in a move that came just weeks after a key ruling in the Meng case.
A Canadian judge had ruled that proceedings to extradite her to the United States will go ahead.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed disappointment with the formal charges in June, renewing calls for their release.
Monthly consular visits for Kovrig and Spavor have been suspended since the coronavirus outbreak started in China as well, sparking concerns over their health.
Although China’s foreign ministry insisted the pair were in good health, people familiar with the matter have told AFP they endured hours of interrogation and in the first six months of detention were forced to sleep with the lights on.
China keeps data secret about the number of death sentences it carries out every year.
But according to Amnesty International, China is the world’s top executioner, with thousands believed to be killed each year.
Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu has requested debt relief and cancellation from China due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, his office said.
Lungu made the appeal in a telephone call with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday.
“President Lungu called for debt relief and cancellation in light of reduced revenue due to the negative impact of the pandemic, as well as competing needs for the country, to secure adequate resources to fight the pandemic and to stimulate the economy,” the presidency said in a statement released late Monday.
Africa’s second largest copper producer is one of China’s prominent debtors, owing billions of dollars.
“Chinese project finance loans to Zambia amount to between US$6 billion and US$9 billion, based on unofficial sources,” said Robert Besseling, director of risk assessment firm EXX Africa.
“However not all the funds have been disbursed, while the Zambian government itself has been unable to account for its obligations to China. An official audit has been withheld for several years,” he said.
Zambia’s external debt is projected to soar above 60 percent of GDP this year.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last week predicted that Zambia’s economy will contract by five percent in 2020, compared to growth of 1.5 percent posted last year, due to the coronavirus pandemic and severe drought.
To date the country has recorded 2,980 coronavirus cases, including 120 deaths.
EXX Africa expects Zambia’s debt rating to “deteriorate significantly in 2020” and says it will remain “one of Africa’s worst country risk performers in the year ahead”.
“Zambia’s sovereign has been unable to maintain payments on various loan agreements and contractor commitments over the course of 2019,” said Besseling.
Mining revenue dropped nearly a third between February and April this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the country’s mining chamber.
Nearly half of the country’s tax revenues goes towards debt servicing.
Chinese authorities on Monday detained a law professor who published essays criticising President Xi Jinping over the coronavirus pandemic and his efforts to consolidate power, according to friends of the man.
Xu Zhangrun, a rare outspoken critic of the government in China’s heavily censored academia, was taken from his home in suburban Beijing by more than 20 people, one of his friends said on condition of anonymity.
Xu published an essay in February blaming the culture of deception and censorship fostered by Xi for the spread of the coronavirus in China.
The law professor at Tsinghua University, one of China’s top institutions, had previously spoken out against the 2018 abolition of presidential term limits in an essay circulated online.
A friend said a man claiming to be police had called Xu’s wife, who had been living separately at a university residence, to say Xu was arrested for allegedly soliciting prostitution in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Xu visited Chengdu last winter with a number of liberal Chinese scholars, although it is unclear if the arrest was connected to the trip, the friend said, calling the allegation against Xu “ridiculous and shameless”.
The coronavirus epidemic that has killed over 2,400 people is communist China’s “largest public health emergency” since its founding in 1949, President Xi Jinping said Sunday.
It is necessary to learn from “obvious shortcomings exposed” during China’s response, Xi added at an official meeting to coordinate the virus fight — a rare acknowledgment by a Chinese leader.
The new coronavirus has drawn comparisons to the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak of 2002-2003 which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong, and led to criticism over authorities’ cover-up.
While China has been praised by the World Health Organization for its handling of the epidemic this time, the death of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded for warning about the virus, sparked calls for political reform and freedom of speech in the country.
In comments reported by state broadcaster CCTV on Sunday, Xi said the epidemic “has the fastest transmission, widest range of infection and has been the most difficult to prevent and control”.
“This is a crisis for us and it is a big test,” he said.
Xi’s comments come as the number of virus infections hit almost 77,000 in mainland China — with countries such as South Korea on high alert and Italy taking containment measures as well.
Xi acknowledged that the epidemic will “inevitably have a large impact on the economy and society”, but he stressed the effects will be “short-term” and controllable.
China has seen a slow return to work since an extended Spring Festival break, as officials urged the public to avoid gatherings and stay at home.
Those living in “low-risk areas” should return to regular life as soon as possible, Xi said, calling for new fiscal measures to help smaller businesses that have been hit hard by the outbreak.
China’s President Xi Jinping called Wednesday for greater protection of medical staff fighting the new coronavirus after the deaths of prominent doctors sparked national anger at the government’s handling of the outbreak.
At least seven medical workers have died from the virus, while 1,716 have been confirmed as infected, most at the epicentre of the epidemic in central Hubei province where hospitals have dealt with a huge influx of patients.
Staff have faced shortages of masks and protective bodysuits, with some even wearing makeshift suits and continuing to work despite showing respiratory symptoms, health workers have told AFP.
Xi said China must “strengthen efforts to relieve the stress of medical workers, provide them with daily necessities, arrange time for their rest and give them encouragement”, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
Liu Zhiming, the director of Wuchang Hospital in Hubei’s capital Wuhan, died Tuesday, more than a week after the death of whistleblowing ophthalmologist Li Wenliang in the same city prompted nationwide mourning and calls for political reforms.
A paper published by China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention said an additional 1,300 health workers may have been infected but have yet to receive a diagnosis.
Xi said China must ensure medical teams in Hubei and Wuhan “carry out work in a safe, orderly, coordinated, effective and swift manner”, Xinhua reported.
The deaths of frontline medical workers “reflected doctors’ humane and majestic spirit”, Xi said.
The death toll from the virus jumped past 2,000 on Wednesday, while 74,185 cases of infection have been confirmed in mainland China.
Police in China have arrested a prominent activist who had been a fugitive for weeks and criticised President Xi Jinping’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic while in hiding, a rights group said Tuesday.
Anti-corruption activist Xu Zhiyong was arrested on Saturday after being on the run since December, according to Amnesty International.
China’s ruling Communist Party has severely curtailed civil liberties since Xi took power in 2012, rounding up rights lawyers, labour activists and even Marxist students.
The death this month of a whistleblowing doctor who was reprimanded by police for raising the alarm about the deadly new virus before dying of it himself triggered rare calls for political reform and freedom of speech.
The “Chinese government’s battle against the coronavirus has in no way diverted it from its ongoing general campaign to crush all dissenting voices,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, in an emailed statement.
Another source, who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity, said Xu had been arrested in the southern city of Guangzhou.
Guangzhou police did not respond to requests for comment.
Xu went into hiding after authorities broke up a December gathering of intellectuals discussing political reform in the eastern coastal city of Xiamen in Fujian province, prior to the coronavirus crisis.
Over a dozen lawyers and activists were detained or disappeared after the Xiamen gathering, according to rights groups — and Xu’s detention appears linked to his presence at the meeting, explained Poon.
But while on the run, Xu continued to post information on Twitter about rights issues.
On February 4 Xu released an article calling on Xi to step down and criticised his leadership across a range of issues including the US-China trade war, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests and the coronavirus epidemic, which has now killed nearly 1,900 people.
“Medical supplies are tight, hospitals are filled with patients, and a large number of infected people have no way to be diagnosed,” he wrote. “It’s a mess.”
“The coronavirus outbreak shows just how important values like freedom of expression and transparency are — the exact values that Xu has long advocated,” Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch, told AFP.
But the disappearance of Xu illustrates how the Chinese state “persists in its old ways” by “silencing its critics”, she said.
Xu — who founded a movement calling for greater transparency among high-ranking officials — previously served a four-year prison sentence from 2013 to 2017 for organising an “illegal gathering”.
“That he was a fugitive for so many days while continuing to speak out, that in itself was… a kind of challenge to (Chinese authorities),” said Hua Ze, a long-time friend of Xu who told AFP she lost contact with the Chinese activist on Saturday morning.
The death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak surged past 1,000 on Tuesday as the World Health Organization warned that infected people who have not travelled to China could ignite a “bigger fire” in the epidemic.
The rise came after President Xi Jinping made a rare visit to a hospital in Beijing, wearing protective gear as he chatted with medical workers and patients.
An advance team for a WHO-led international mission arrived in China as the country struggles to contain a viral epidemic that has now infected more than 42,000 and reached some 25 countries.
Another 108 deaths were reported on Tuesday — the first triple-digit daily rise since the virus emerged in late December.
The first death was reported on January 11, but the toll has increased a thousandfold in just a month, reaching 1,016, although the mortality rate remains relatively low at 2.4 per cent.
Chinese authorities have locked down millions of people in a number of cities, while several governments have banned arrivals from China and major airlines have suspended flights in a bid to keep the disease away from their shores.
But the case of a British man who passed on the virus to at least 11 other people — without having been in China — has raised fears of a new phase of contagion abroad.
Most cases overseas have involved people who had been in Wuhan, the quarantined central Chinese city where the virus emerged late last year, or people infected by others who had been at the epicentre.
But the Briton — dubbed a “super-spreader” by some British media — caught the virus while attending a conference in Singapore and then passed it on to several compatriots while on holiday in the French Alps, before finally being diagnosed back in Britain.
Of those infected, five were hospitalised in France, five in Britain and one on the Spanish island of Mallorca.
“The detection of this small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.
“But for now it’s only a spark. Our objective remains containment. We call on all countries to use the window of opportunity we have to prevent a bigger fire,” Tedros said.
Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said it was “way too early” to call the Singapore conference a “super-spreading event”.
“It is always a concern when people come together and then move apart, and we have to have risk management procedures associated with that, but you can’t shut down the world either,” Ryan said.
As the number of cases in Britain doubled to eight, the government called the novel coronavirus a “serious and imminent threat”, and said anyone with the disease could be forcibly quarantined if deemed a threat to public health.
The biggest cluster of cases outside China is aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship moored off Japan, where 135 people have been positively diagnosed.
The ship has been in quarantine since arriving off the Japanese coast early last week after the virus was detected in a former passenger who disembarked last month in Hong Kong.
More than 100 people were evacuated from a 35-storey Hong Kong housing block Tuesday after two residents in different apartments tested positive for the virus.
Residents were forced to leave as health officials in masks and white overalls scrambled to work out whether the virus had spread through the complex of some 3,000 people.
Torrent of criticism
Chinese authorities, meanwhile, dismissed two senior health officials from Hubei, the central province where some 56 million people, including in its capital Wuhan, have been under lockdown since late last month.
They also tightened restrictions in the city, forbidding people with fever from visiting hospitals outside of their home districts and sealing off residential compounds.
Local authorities in Wuhan and Hubei have faced a torrent of criticism for hiding the extent of the outbreak in early January. Most deaths and cases are in Hubei.
The death of a whistleblowing doctor from Wuhan has sparked calls for political reform in China.
Xi, who has described the battle against the virus a “people’s war”, has largely kept out of the public eye since the outbreak spiralled across the country from Hubei.
But he emerged on Monday, being pictured wearing a mask and having his temperature taken at a hospital in Beijing.
He called the situation in Hubei “still very grave” and urged “more decisive measures” to contain the spread of the virus.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday said the country was waging a serious fight against the “demon” coronavirus outbreak and pledged transparency in the government’s efforts to contain the disease.
“The epidemic is a demon, and we cannot let this demon hide,” Xi said in a meeting with the head of the World Health Organization, according to state media.
“The Chinese government has always adopted an open, transparent and responsible attitude to the timely release of information on the epidemic to domestic and foreign countries.”
Officials at the epicentre of the health crisis have come under fire for incompetence in the wake of public anger over their handling of the outbreak.
Several senior figures have been subject to online ridicule for their perceived errors in responding to the crisis including Hubei governor Wang Xiaodong, the most senior official of the central Chinese province where the virus was first detected.
The social media derision is a rare instance of public anger outpacing the army of online censors in China, where criticism of government figures is usually scrubbed.
China can “win the battle” against the virus epidemic that has infected over 1,200 people across the country, President Xi Jinping said Saturday, in his second public comments on the crisis.
“As long as we have steadfast confidence, work together, scientific prevention and cures, and precise policies, we will definitely be able to win the battle,” President Xi told a meeting of the elite Politburo Standing Committee, according to official news agency Xinhua.
The world’s most populous country scrambled to contain the disease that has already infected nearly 1,300 people, building a second field hospital to relieve overwhelmed medical facilities and closing more travel routes as the country marked the Lunar New Year holiday.
After more countries reported cases, Xi said at a Communist Party leadership meeting on the disease that China was “faced with the grave situation of an accelerating spread of the new coronavirus” but that the country will “definitely be able to win the battle,” according to state media.
The country’s most important celebration has been all but cancelled for at least 56 million people as authorities expanded travel bans across central Hubei province to try and contain the spread of the virus.
In Wuhan, the epicentre of the emergency, 450 military medics were deployed to help treat patients in Hubei’s capital city, where a seafood and the live animal market has been identified as the centre of the outbreak.
On Saturday, when they should have been celebrating the New Year, people waiting at one hospital in the city were angry and frustrated.
“It takes at least five hours to see a doctor,” one woman, who didn’t want to be named, told AFP.
One man in his 30s said some people had to queue for two days. Many people had brought their own chairs for the wait.
Wuhan authorities will race to build the second makeshift hospital within a fortnight, state media reported, adding 1,300 new beds.
They already started work Friday on a new field hospital, which state media said could be ready in just over a week.
The two hospitals would be similar in size to the temporary facility that was built to tackle SARS in Beijing in 2003 when 650 people died from the disease in the mainland and Hong Kong.
The army medics, who arrived on military aircraft late Friday, include doctors with experience combating SARS or Ebola and will be dispatched to hospitals that are reportedly short on beds due to a crush of infected patients and worried locals.
The virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
The new virus has now infected people nationwide and in nearly a dozen other countries, with France saying three cases were confirmed there — the first known European infections.
‘Nobody can leave’
On the eastern outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, police manning a roadblock turned away a handful of vehicles trying to exit the city.
“Nobody can leave,” an officer told AFP.
But the police allowed some medical workers who had gone home for the holidays to re-enter the city to help at crowded hospitals.
“They need us to go there, otherwise they will be too exhausted,” said one of the women, pulling a suitcase.
Trapped residents were stocking up on masks, gloves and disinfectant while car traffic will be severely restricted from Sunday.
The city has a shortage of medical supplies including goggles and masks, according to the official Xinhua news agency, which added that the government has shipped 14,000 protective suits and 110,000 pairs of gloves to Wuhan.
“Everyone is just trying to protect themselves,” said a man in a surgical mask at a busy pharmacy whose staff wore protective suits.
Foreign citizens were set to be evacuated from Wuhan within the next few days.
US Coffee chain Starbucks said it would shut all its stores in Hubei during the Lunar New Year festival for the “health safety” of staff and customers.
The government says most of the cases have been in Hubei and most of the deaths involved people who already suffered pre-existing health conditions.
Underscoring fears that the virus could spread further, overseas Chinese tour groups will be suspended from Monday while domestic trips have already been halted.
Beijing will suspend long-distance bus service entering and leaving the capital of 20 million people from Sunday due to “requirements of epidemic prevention and control,” the official People’s Daily newspaper reported.
The National Health Commission also ordered nationwide measures to detect and isolate people carrying the virus on planes, trains and buses across the country.
Xinhua said Saturday that temperature screening checkpoints have been set up in 387 railway stations across the country.
Meanwhile, tourists from Hubei in Haikou, capital of the island province of Hainan, were told by the city government they had to spend 14 days in a hotel for centralised medical observation and were forbidden to leave.
Hong Kong schools close
Beijing’s Forbidden City, Shanghai Disneyland and a section of the Great Wall are among many attractions that have closed as a precaution. China’s film box-office earnings for Lunar New Year’s Eve on Friday were just one-tenth of last year as people shunned crowds.
Xi chaired a Communist Party leadership meeting which urged regional governments to make “the safety of the masses’ lives and their physical health a top priority”, state media said.
Xinhua said the Standing Committee agreed to set up a working group that would visit Hubei.
In Hong Kong, where five people have tested positive for the virus so far, city leader Carrie Lam declared the situation an “emergency” and schools, currently on holiday, will remain closed until February 17.
The World Health Organization on Thursday stopped short of declaring a global emergency, which would have prompted greater international cooperation, including possible trade and travel restrictions.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told beleaguered Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday that she had Beijing’s “unwavering support” after another huge pro-democracy rally earlier this month and her government’s thrashing at recent local elections.
The city has been upended by six months of massive pro-democracy protests that have seen violent battles between police and hardcore demonstrators, as well as regular transport disruption.
Protesters have called for the unpopular Lam to stand down as leader but she received the backing of China’s leadership during an annual visit to Beijing on Monday.
“The central government fully recognises the courage and sense of responsibility you have demonstrated in such an exceptional period in Hong Kong,” Xi told Lam at the imposing Great Hall of the People.
“We will continue to provide unwavering support for you to lead the SAR (special administrative region) administration to govern according to the law,” Xi said.
Lam thanked Xi for his concern for the city’s situation, “for his guidance for us, and for the trust and support for the SAR government and me to handle such a big crisis.”
Lam met earlier with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who said her government had “tried its best to maintain social stability” amid “an unprecedentedly severe and complicated situation.”
But he also called for the Hong Kong government to “step up studies of the deep-seated conflicts and problems that hinder Hong Kong’s economic and social development” in order to restore calm to the city.
“Hong Kong is yet to get out of its plight. The SAR government must continue its hard work, stop violence and subdue chaos according to laws and restore order,” Li told Lam.
At the meeting with Li, she said she was grateful for the premier’s “care for Hong Kong”.
The semi-autonomous city is ruled under the “one country, two systems” principle, which gives the territory rights unseen on mainland China — rights protestors say are steadily being eroded.
The past month had seen a lull in the violence and vandalism in the city, after pro-democracy parties won a landslide in local council elections.
A week ago, around 800,000 people marched peacefully through the city’s streets, urging the government to respond to their five demands — which include an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested, and fully free elections.
But public anger remains as Beijing and Lam show no sign of giving further concessions despite the election success.
This weekend the relative calm was broken by clashes between black-clad pro-democracy protesters and Hong Kong police in some of the city’s shopping malls.
And earlier this week an international panel of experts hired to advise Hong Kong on the police response to protests announced they were quitting, saying the watchdog was not fit for purpose “in a society that values freedoms and rights”.
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.
President Donald Trump said Thursday that an alternative location for his signing of a US-China trade deal with President Xi Jinping will be “announced soon,” following cancellation of an APEC summit in Chile.
The partial trade deal, known as phase one, had been due for signing on the sidelines of the regional APEC summit which Chile cancelled on Wednesday due to violent unrest in the capital Santiago.
“China and the USA are working on selecting a new site for signing,” Trump tweeted. “The new location will be announced soon. President Xi and President Trump will do signing!”
Beijing also remains positive about the phase one deal, which would signal a big deescalation in the two economic giants’ so far 18-month trade war.
“Negotiating teams on the Chinese and US sides have continued to maintain close communication, and negotiations are currently making smooth progress,” the Chinese commerce ministry said in a statement Thursday.
“The two sides will continue to push forward negotiations and other work according to the original plan,” the ministry said, adding that leaders from both sides will hold another call Friday, a week after senior officials last spoke over the phone.