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Oil prices fell sharply on Wednesday as economic data from China and Europe sparked worries about global demand.

Brent crude for November delivery fell $3.40 to $108.17 a barrel, while US crude settled $3.75 lower at $88.14 a barrel.

In September, Brent crude hit a peak of $117.95, a four-month high.

Analysts said many factors that had pushed up prices, such as tensions between Iran and Israel, had also abated.

“The energy markets realigned themselves to fundamentals last night in dramatic fashion,” said Justin Harper from IG Markets in a note to clients.

Data from China, released on Wednesday, was one of the factors that led to the sell-off in oil and other commodities.

It showed that China’s services sector expanded at a slower pace in September. It came days after government data indicated that manufacturing continues to slow.

China is a major importer of commodities and a slowdown there makes a huge dent in demand.

That coupled with weakness in European economies signaled that there would be plenty of supply.

“US crude plummeted 4.1% through a combination of over-supply and low demand,” said Justin Harper.

“US stockpiles have reached their highest for 15 years.”

Meanwhile, concerns over possible military action between Israel and Iran also eased.

 

A landslide in south-western China has buried at least 19 people, 18 of them children, local officials say.

A school house and two farm houses were buried when the landslide struck a village in Yunnan province early on Thursday, the local government said.

Rescue teams were on their way to the site, the statement said.

A series of earthquakes, including one of 5.8 magnitude, hit the province on 8 September, killing dozens of people.

The landslide happened at 08:00 local time.

It buried the Youfangtai Primary School in the village of Zhenhe, in Yiliang County, Zhaotong City, according to a statement from Yiliang County officials.

Li Zhong, head of Yiliang’s education bureau, said that the students were at school during the national holiday to make up for classes suspended after the September earthquake, reports the China News Service.

A family of three people had managed to flee before the landslide hit, said state-run Xinhua news agency.

Other residents had also been moved to safer places after the landslide, it added.

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Bo Xilai has been expelled from the Communist Party and will face justice, Chinese state media say.

Bo Xilai, the ex-Communist Party leader in the city of Chongqing, is accused of abuse of power and corruption.

His wife, Gu Kailai, was given a suspended death sentence in August for murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.

The scandal has overshadowed the party congress that will oversee China’s change of leadership. It will begin on 8 November, state media have announced.

Bo Xilai has been expelled from the Communist Party and will face justice

Bo Xilai has been expelled from the Communist Party and will face justice

The Bo Xilai announcement ends months of speculation over the fate of a man who was once one of China’s most powerful politicians.

It is clear China’s leaders wanted to try to end the damaging revelations, with the once-in-a-decade leadership change looming.

Bo Xilai’s career is over and he will almost certainly spend time in jail.

He has not been seen in public since mid-March, shortly after the scandal erupted and it was announced he was under investigation. He was suspended from his party posts in April.

Reporting an official statement from a party leaders’ meeting, the state news agency, Xinhua, said Bo Xilai stood accused of corruption, abuse of power, bribe-taking and improper relations with women.

The statement carried by Xinhua said Bo Xilai “took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family”.

It added: “Bo’s behavior brought serious consequences, badly undermined the reputation of the party and the country, created very negative impact at home and abroad and significantly damaged the cause of the party and people.”

The statement urged “party organizations at all levels” to take heed of the “negative example” of the Bo Xilai case.

Xinhua said the violations included Bo Xilai’s time as an official in Dalian and Liaoning provinces, and as minister of commerce.

“Bo had affairs and maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women,” the statement added.

Xinhua said Bo Xilai had been expelled from the party and the elite decision-making Politburo and Central Committee as he had “abused his power, made severe mistakes and bore major responsibility in the Wang Lijun incident and the intentional homicide case of [Gu Kailai]”.

Wang Lijun was Chongqing’s former police chief who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for ”bending the law, defection, abuse of power and bribetaking” in the Neil Heywood case.

The severity of the accusations against Bo Xilai surprised some observers, who had thought he might escape criminal prosecution.

“The party is very anxious to settle this contentious issue before the opening of the party congress,” Prof. Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong told the Associated Press.

“So I think even though there are still powerful supporters and patrons of Bo Xilai, they have agreed to this stiff penalty to be meted out against Bo. And having settled this contentious issue, the party leadership is in a position to start the party congress with a facade of unity.”

There had been no formal word on the congress date until now, but many observers expected it in October. Prof. Willy Lam suggested that any delay had been because of “intensive competition among the various factions”.

There was speedy reaction to the latest news on China’s social media sites.

On Sina Weibo, Shenjing Jihua posted that Bo Xilai had “finally met his end”, adding: “So justice will prevail, and there is still hope for China.”

Although there were some postings in support of Bo Xilai, others broadened the affair into a critique of Chinese corruption.

Huaju Yanyuan on QQ.com said: “The case of Bo Xilai tells us that one overlooked event led to a series of troubles, and that there isn’t any clean official in China.”

The news came on the eve of a national holiday, raising suspicions the authorities wanted to bury the announcement, some observers note.

Xinhua has also announced that the party congress, which will herald the change of China’s leadership, will begin on 8 November.

The Bo Xilai scandal has been China’s biggest in decades and has cast a long shadow over the run-up to the congress, which is expected to see Xi Jinping replace Hu Jintao as president.

Bo Xilai, 63, had been a prime candidate for a top post before the scandal broke.

It started when Wang Lijun fled to a US consulate in February, alleging that Gu Kailai had poisoned Neil Heywood to death in November 2011.

Gu Kailai was convicted of killing Neil Heywood after a multi-million dollar business deal turned sour. Bo Xilai’s supporters have claimed from the start that he is being framed by his political enemies, correspondents say.

 

China has agreed to buy 50 planes worth $3.5 billion from Europe’s Airbus.

The agreement is part of a slew of trade deals signed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of a two-day visit to China.

An agreement on Airbus plane assembly in China was also signed, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Thursday his country would continue to invest in the EU.

This is the first significant deal in China for Airbus, whose parent company is EADS, since a dispute between the country and the European Union over the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

China has agreed to buy 50 planes worth $3.5 billion from Europe's Airbus

China has agreed to buy 50 planes worth $3.5 billion from Europe's Airbus

Effective from 1 January this year, the ETS charges airlines for the carbon they emit.

China and other countries say the system is not fair, as it charges airlines for the full journey, not just over European airspace.

Following this in March, EADS chief executive Louis Gallois said Airbus was facing “retaliation measures” by China.

According to him, China had blocked firms from buying planes made by Airbus. Beijing did not comment on the allegation.

Angela Merkel is in China for the second time this year, as she tries to improve relations and drum up business for European companies.

She is being accompanied by several ministers, as well as top German executives.

Bilateral trade between Germany and China totalled about $180 billion dollars last year. That is nearly double what it was five years ago.

On Thursday, the two countries signed 10 further agreements, in the sectors of communication, energy, health and maritime co-operation, among others, Xinhua said.

 

 

Japanese politicians have set sail for a group of disputed islands, in the teeth of protests by China which claims them for its own.

A flotilla of some 20 Japanese boats set out for the Senkaku (Chinese: Diaoyu) islands and is expected to anchor off them early on Sunday.

The politicians plan to commemorate Japanese dead in World War II, when Japan occupied eastern China.

But Japan’s government has denied them permission to land on the islands.

China says the event will undermine its “territorial sovereignty” and this is the latest move in an escalating dispute over the islands.

On Friday, Japan deported several Chinese activists who had landed there this week.

Japanese politicians have set sail for a group of disputed islands, in the teeth of protests by China which claims them for its own

Japanese politicians have set sail for a group of disputed islands, in the teeth of protests by China which claims them for its own

The islands, also claimed by Taiwan, are close to strategically important shipping lanes, offer rich fishing grounds and are thought to contain oil deposits.

Emotions have been running high since the commemoration on Wednesday of Japan’s surrender in World War II, when China and South Korea both protested against a visit to a Tokyo war shrine by two Japanese cabinet members.

Just before 21:00, the 150-strong party sailed out of the Japanese port of Ishigaki.

They are expected to arrive off the disputed islands in the East China Sea at dawn on Sunday.

“I want to show the international community that these islands are ours,” Kenichi Kojima, a local politician from Kanagawa, near Tokyo, told AFP news agency before he boarded.

“It is Japan’s future at stake.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gan said: “Any unilateral action taken by Japan on the Diaoyu Islands is illegal and invalid.”

Earlier this week, activists sailed to the disputed island chain from Hong Kong in a protest aimed at promoting Chinese sovereignty.

China had praised Japan’s “wise” decision to free them, saying in an article on Xinhua news agency’s website that the speedy action had averted a deterioration in relations.

Rows over the disputed islands have caused Sino-Japanese ties to freeze in the past.

China claims the largely uninhabited islands has been a part of its territory since ancient times but Japan says it took control of the archipelago in the late 1890s after making sure they were uninhabited.

In September 2010, relations plummeted after the arrest of a Chinese trawler captain near the islands.

The captain was accused of ramming two Japanese patrol vessels in the area, but Japan eventually dropped the charges against him.

 

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Grisly photos of Chinese young woman Feng Jianmei as she was lying beside her baby which had been aborted by force in her seventh month of pregnancy have caused outrage in China.

Pictures purporting to show Feng Jianmei and her blood-covered baby have shocked anti-abortion groups in China – and fury is spreading around the world.

The mother told local media that she was forceably injected with a chemical to induce an abortion and her child was stillborn 36 hours later.

Because Feng Jianmei already had a child, she said, local birth-control authorities ordered her to pay a fine of $6,500.

She didn’t have the money, she said, so a team from the local family planning authority in Shannxi province came to collect her from her home and take her to hospital for the forced abortion.

Recounting the horror, Feng Jianmei said she told the family planning department she could not pay the fine because her mother-in-law needed money for cancer treatment.

It was then, she claimed, the authorities began their action against her.

Because Feng Jianmei already had a child, she said, local birth-control authorities ordered her to pay a fine of $6,500

Because Feng Jianmei already had a child, she said, local birth-control authorities ordered her to pay a fine of $6,500

Feng Jianmei said no less than 20 staff from the family planning department came to her home and placed her under arrest.

As they drove her to the hospital for a forced abortion, she began to resist – resulting in her being beaten.

At the hospital she was restrained and given an injection that would be lethal to the foetus. None of her family was allowed to be present during the traumatic time, she said.

Feng Jianmei said that her father-in-law heard about her being taken away but when he rushed to the hospital he was prevented from entering the obstetrics ward.

As outrage spread around anti-abortion groups in China, the authorities strenuously denied Feng Jianmei’s version of the events.

Li Yuongjou, deputy chief of Ankang’s family department, said the reality was that “Feng was not forced to abort”.

He said: “A lot of us tried for days to educate her. She agreed to the abortion herself.”

Li Yuongjou added that in China an abortion is allowed up to 28 weeks, saying: “It’s not illegal to conduct <<medium term>> induction of labor.”

And he admitted, however, that in his town the local target of enforcing the one-child policy had not been achieved for two consecutive years and the authorities were acting more strenuously to see that the target covering 95% of the population was reached.

Local media said it was most likely that Feng Jianmei had been injected with a chemical commonly known as Lifannuo – a powerful bactericide used in the late 1980s and early 1990s when China’s one-child policy was strongly pursued by authorities.

It is not known how Feng Jianmei managed to obtain photos of herself beside the aborted child, but anti-abortion groups said they were convinced the pictures were genuine.

 

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A picture of a foetus whose mother Feng Jiamei was forced to have an abortion has shocked China web users.

Feng Jiamei, from Shaanxi province, was made to undergo the procedure in the seventh month of pregnancy, local officials said after investigating.

Feng Jiamei was forced into the abortion as she could not pay the fine for having a second child, US-based activists said.

Rights groups say China’s one-child policy has meant women being coerced into abortions, which Beijing denies.

“Feng Jianmei’s story demonstrates how the One-Child Policy continues to sanction violence against women every day,” said Chai Ling of the US-based activist group All Girls Allowed.

Feng Jiamei was forced into the abortion as she could not pay the fine for having a second child, US-based activists said

Feng Jiamei was forced into the abortion as she could not pay the fine for having a second child, US-based activists said

The group says it spoke to Feng Jiamei and her husband Deng Jiyuan after the incident.

Deng Jiyuan said his wife had been forcibly taken to hospital and restrained before the procedure.

Such allegations are nothing new in China, but what has made this one different is a widely circulated photo of the woman lying next to the baby’s corpse.

Media reports from China says Feng Jiamei has been traumatized by what has happened.

Unnamed local officials in Zhenping county – where the incident took place – denied forcing Feng Jiamei to have the abortion, local media reports say.

But a preliminary investigation by the Shaanxi Provincial Population and Family Planning Commission confirmed the forced abortion had taken place.

Without naming Feng Jiamei, it said in a statement that the woman had been seven months pregnant.

“Such practice has seriously violated the relevant policies set by national and provincial family planning commissions, which harmed the image of our family planning work, and caused extremely poor effects in society,” said the statement.

“Based on the findings, we have requested the local government to punish the relevant officers according to law,” it said.

Internet users expressed outrage.

“This is what they say the Japanese devils and Nazis did. But it’s happening in reality and it is by no means the only case… They [the officials] should be executed,” one reader on news website netease.com said, according to the AFP news agency.

Activist Chen Guangcheng, who was put under virtual house arrest for campaigning against forced abortions, fled China to the US last month.

 

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China announces it will carry out manned space flight Shenzhou 9 at some point in the middle of June.

A rocket carrying the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft has been moved to a launch pad in the north-west of the country.

According to state news agency Xinhua, it will carry three astronauts – possibly including a woman – to the Taingong 1 space station module.

This will be China’s fourth manned space flight and its first since 2008.

It became only the third country to independently send a man into space in 2003.

Last year, China completed a complicated space docking manoeuvre when an unmanned craft docked with the Taingong 1, or “Heavenly Body”, by remote control.

China announces it will carry out manned space flight Shenzhou 9 at some point in the middle of June

China announces it will carry out manned space flight Shenzhou 9 at some point in the middle of June

The astronauts onboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft will also dock with the Taingong 1 – an experimental module currently orbiting Earth – and carry out scientific experiments on board.

Xinhua reported that Niu Hongguang, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s manned space programme, said the crew “might include female astronauts”.

The mission is part of China’s programme to develop a full orbiting space station.

Beijing is planning to complete the 60-tonne manned space station by 2020.

China was previously turned away from the International Space Station, a much bigger project run by 16 nations, reportedly after objections from the United States.

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President Vladimir Putin is beginning a three-day visit to China, with energy and foreign policy expected to dominate the agenda.

The Russian president said ahead of the trip that he wanted to further boost booming bilateral trade, which reached $84 billion last year.

The Syrian crisis is also expected to be discussed during the talks.

Russia and China have resisted Western pressure to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power amid ongoing unrest.

China’s envoy to the UN, Li Baodong, has described Syria as one of the most pressing issues on the agenda of the Security Council.

Beijing currently holds the council’s rotating presidency, and Li Baodong urged all parties to immediately implement the peace plan of UN envoy Kofi Annan.

President Vladimir Putin is beginning a three-day visit to China, with energy and foreign policy expected to dominate the agenda

President Vladimir Putin is beginning a three-day visit to China, with energy and foreign policy expected to dominate the agenda

Syria’s rebel Free Syrian Army said on Monday it was no longer committed to the nominal ceasefire.

Spokesman Sami al-Kurdi told Reuters news agency the FSA had begun attacking soldiers to “defend our people”.

Vladimir Putin will hold extensive talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao later on Tuesday.

The Russian leader is taking to Beijing six cabinet ministers, the head of gas giant Gazprom and other energy companies.

Some 17 major business and trade deals between Russia and China are expected to be signed in Beijing, Vladimir Putin’s aides say.

But it remains unclear whether this will include a long-awaited gas agreement that would allow Moscow to supply some 70 billion cubic metres of gas to its neighbor.

Latest reports suggest that pricing disagreements remain between Russia, the world’s biggest energy producer, and China, the largest consumer of energy.

On the eve of the visit, Vladimir Putin told China’s state media that he wanted to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion in 2015 and $200 billion by 2020.

He said the target could be achieved “ahead of schedule”.

On Wednesday, Vladimir Putin will meet Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, who is tipped to be the next premier, and Xi Jinping, who is expected to become next president after a stage-managed leadership change later this year.

While in China, Vladimir Putin will also attend a regional security summit on Thursday.