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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

China Boom Fueling Illegal Ivory Trade

Conservationists say China's growing economy is fueling a demand for illegal ivory, which is endangering African elephants.

According to the group Save the Elephants, between 5,000 and 12,000 African elephants are killed each year to supply illegal and unregulated markets in African countries, China, and Thailand with ivory. Most of the ivory comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other places in central Africa.

A research paper produced earlier this year estimates that several tons of African tusks are smuggled into China annually to supply illicit ivory factories.

Ivory items are also being sold in Germany, the United Kingdom, and other markets in Europe, but these are primarily made from pre-ban ivory.

In 1989, the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, known as CITES, instituted a global ban on the ivory trade after the death of millions of elephants at the hands of poachers.

Coal Mine Blast Death Toll Now 161

Chinese officials say the death toll from Sunday's coal mine blast has risen to 161 amid confusion about the number of miners working at the time of the blast.

China's state-run media had said 221 miners were reported working underground at the time of the explosion at the Dongfeng mine in Qitaihe. But with Wednesday's discovery of 11 more bodies, officials say the earlier count was too low. They have not provided a new total.

Officials say 10 miners are now thought to be missing.

Only 72 miners have been found alive since coal dust exploded at the mine in China's northeastern province of Heilongjiang.

China's mining industry is the world's most dangerous. Government figures indicate some 6,000 people last year died in mine accidents.

Beijing Eager to Prove AIDS Progress

China's attitude toward AIDS and the HIV virus that causes it has changed dramatically since it finally admitted two years ago that the country was facing a serious problem. Now the government in Beijing is eager to prove it is tackling the spread of the virus. But many say the work being done in China is far from enough.

China says it has 840,000 HIV/AIDS cases among its 1.3 billion population, but experts believe the number is much higher.

The WHO has said the virus is spreading rapidly through China and estimates 10-million people may be infected there by 2010.

But ahead of The World AIDS day (December 1), the Chinese Health Ministry has pledged to keep the number of people infected to below 1.5 million by 2010, through strong preventive measures.

Health Minister Gao Qiang told reporters Wednesday halting the spread of the disease is essential for the country's development. "AIDS prevention work is an issue relating to the quality of the population, economic development, social stability and the rise or decline of the country," he saidl

Intravenous drug use and unsafe sex are the main channels for the spread of the virus in China.

China's current measures to prevent the virus spreading and help those infected include free medication for AIDS patients, cracking down on drug related crimes, and tightening up on blood donation procedures.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Gold Price in Asia Rises Above $500

The price of gold in Asia briefly rose above $500 an ounce, as investors around the world grow nervous about inflation.

The price of gold had not crossed above $500 an ounce since December 1987. It briefly crossed that level Tuesday in Asia trading, and then ended the day in Hong Kong at $497.50.

Gold last regularly traded above $500 in 1982 - it had peaked in 1980 at about $870 an ounce. After that, it slumped sharply and in 2001 traded as low as $250 an ounce.

Investors are increasingly buying gold as a shelter against possible financial troubles. With oil prices staying high and the possibility of renewed inflation in many countries, many investors want to buy gold, which generally rises in value when there is inflation.

Some analysts say the current strength of gold has been partly caused by Japanese investors, who have bought it at record levels. The Japanese flight to gold has been triggered by the recent weakness of the yen and the poor performance of Japanese government bonds.

People in India and China also prefer to buy physical gold; traditionally gold jewelry or ornaments have been kept as investments that can be carried away in times of trouble and sold.

China Reports Two New Bird Flu Outbreaks

China's Agriculture Ministry has reported two new outbreaks of bird flu among poultry in the northwestern Xinjiang region and the central province of Hunan.

The ministry said Tuesday, that tens of thousands of birds were culled in both infected areas. China has confirmed three cases of bird flu in humans.

Elsewhere, the Asian Development Bank has announced a $30 million grant for Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to help contain the spread of bird flu and other diseases. The Manila-based bank says the grant will be funded in conjunction with the World Health Organization.

And in several Australian cities Tuesday, emergency workers began an exercise to test the government's response to a simulated outbreak of bird flu. About 1,000 people are expected to participate in the three-day drill.

Monday, November 28, 2005

China Starts Screening for Bird Flu

China's government says passengers at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport will be screened for bird flu.

Effective immediately, passengers entering or leaving China will be asked to fill out a health declaration form and have their temperature checked.

Any passenger whose body temperature is greater than 38 degrees (Celsius) will be further examined, and if the person has been in an area affected by bird flu, he or she will be required to undergo treatment at a hospital.

Meanwhile, China's official Xinhua news agency quotes a health ministry official as saying the bird flu virus isolated from human patients in China is slightly different from that found in humans in Vietnam.

However, the ministry says the changes do not make the virus any easier to spread.

HK Property Trust Makes Strong Debut

Hong Kong's first real estate investment trust had a stirring market debut, and Hong Kong Disneyland says it is on track to meet attendance projections.

Shares in Hong Kong's Link Real Estate Investment Trust had an impressive first trading day on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, rising almost 15 percent to $1.50.

It was Hong Kong's first and the world's largest initial public offering of a property trust, and it appeared almost a year late. The listing was originally scheduled for December 2004, but was held up when a resident of one of Hong Kong's many public housing estates challenged its legality in court.

The fund will buy real estate such as shopping malls and parking lots from the government, many of them located in public housing complexes, and pay investors a fixed return from the rents.

In other news from Hong Kong, the company that operates the new Hong Kong Disneyland dismissed local media reports that the number of guests visiting its theme park in the first two months has been lower than expected.

Hong Kong Disneyland, which is jointly owned by the government and the Walt Disney Company, is hoping to draw more than 5.5 million visitors in its first year.

Disney said more than one million guests have visited the park since it opened in September, putting it on track to reach its attendance goal. The company said close to half of the visitors to date have been from Hong Kong and twenty-six percent from mainland China.

Hainan Airlines Group, the state-owned parent company of China's Hainan Airlines, is in talks to take a controlling stake in CR Airways, a Hong Kong charter flight carrier.

Hong Kong's third-largest carrier offers charter flights to secondary mainland cities and regional destinations.

Analysts say taking over CR would help the Chinese aviation group to become a regional player.

134 Dead, 15 Trapped in Coal Mine Blast

Rescue teams in northeastern China are trying to recover 15 miners believed to be trapped following an explosion that killed 134 of their co-workers.

The blast at Qitaihe in China's Heilongjiang Province happened at a time when China is stocking up on coal supplies ahead of the approaching winter.

With the Chinese government reporting about seven thousand miners killed on the job each year, China has the world's worst mine safety record. The government has enacted numerous regulations to improve mine safety, but international labor advocates say these have been largely ignored for reasons including corruption, and the pressure on mine operators to fill wintertime energy demands.

The mine at Qitaihe where Monday's blast occurred is operated by a conglomerate of state-owned coal companies. The cause of the explosion is under investigation.

The blast occurred as officials in Heilongjiang Province continued to deal with the after-effects of another major industrial accident.

Authorities on Monday warned residents of the provincial capital, Harbin, it was still not safe to drink tap water, which was turned off last week after 100 tons of toxic chemicals including benzene were spilled into the Songhua River by a chemical factory explosion earlier this month. The new warning came despite state television images showing the provincial governor drinking a glass of tap water, after the pumps were turned back on on Sunday.

The Songhua River supplies most of Harbin's drinking water. The water was turned off for several days to allow an 80-kilometer-long toxic slick to flow past the city of almost four million people.

Concerns on Monday turned to China's border with Russia, where the toxic spill is expected to arrive soon.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Harbin Restores Water Service

The Chinese city of Harbin has restored running water for nearly four million people following a five-day shutdown caused by toxic pollution from a chemical plant explosion.

The official state news agency said the water was turned on Sunday at 6 PM local time, 1000 UTC, five hours earlier than scheduled.

It is not yet clear if water service will continue uninterrupted, or if the entire city's water supply has been restored.

Officials say an 80-kilometer-long chemical slick in the Songhua River finally passed Harbin in mid morning.

A November 13 factory explosion caused 100 tons of potentially cancer-causing benzene to spill into the river upstream from the city.

The slick is expected to reach Russia, via the Amur River, within days. China has formally apologized to Russia for any contamination from the Songhua flowing toward the Russian border.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Officials Promise Restored Water Service

Chinese officials say they expect that water service will be restored to Harbin by Sunday, after an 80-kilometer-long toxic chemical slick flows past the northeastern city.

Premier Wen Jiabao traveled there Saturday to get a first hand look at clean up efforts. State media quote him as telling local officials to guarantee that people will have safe and drinkable water.

Harbin's four million residents have been without tap water since Tuesday. A November 13 explosion at a chemical facility upstream spilled about 100 tons of potentially cancer-causing benzene into the Songhua, the river that is Harbin's main water source.

Workers are installing new filters at Harbin's water purifying plant. Officials say that after service is restored in Harbin, residents should inspect the water before drinking it.

Meawhile, Chinese officials have formally apologized to Russia for any contamination-related damage that results from wates flowing from the polluted Songhua toward the Russian border.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Bird Flu Breaks Out in N. China

Chinese officials are reporting a new outbreak of bird flu in poultry--this time in northern China.

China's agriculture ministry said Friday that a state lab has confirmed that more than 200 birds died of the H5N1 strain of bird flu in Inner Mongolia. More than 16,000 birds have been culled in an effort to contain the outbreak.

Earlier Friday, Indonesia said it has received permission from Swiss drug giant Roche to locally produce Tamiflu, the drug thought to be most effective in treating bird flu in humans.

Roche also announced that it would provide Taiwan with an additional 1.3 million treatments of Tamiflu. The company said it made the decision after determining that local companies could not produce the drug more rapidly or at a lower cost.

Nearly 70 people have died of bird flu in Asia since 2003.

Harbin Endures Third Day Without Water

Millions of residents of Harbin, one of northeast China's largest cities, are enduring their third day without water after about 100 tons of a toxic chemical were released into a river.

China's official Xinhua news agency says that, as of early Friday, the level of chemicals in the Songhua River remained 28 times above national safety standards.

On Thursday, the leading edge of an 80-kilometer long slick of benzene reached Harbin's municipal water inlets. Experts say it will be sometime Saturday before the river flows clean again in Harbin.

Authorities are warning people to avoid the benzene fumes rising from the river.

Meanwhile, Petrechemical Corporation, a subsidiary of China's largest oil producer, China National Petroleum Corporation has apologized for the chemical plant explosion November 13 that spilled the cancer-causing pollutants upstream in Jilin City.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Beijing's Tokyo Envoy Speaks Out

China's Ambassador to Japan is calling for quick action to resolve the chilly diplomatic relationship between the two Asian economic powerhouses. The comment came at a rare news conference for international media by Beijing's senior diplomat in the region.

Chinese Ambassador Wang Yi said Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to a controversial war shrine are "pouring salt on an open wound", and are the single biggest challenge to improving ties between Beijing and Tokyo.

Speaking in Japanese, Wang termed the diplomatic status quo between China and Japan unacceptable. Wang, who is also a vice foreign minister, said the most urgent challenge for Japan and China is to improve relations as soon as possible, and the present situation cannot simply be ignored.

Wang called on the Japanese government to stop the prime minister's visits to the war shrine.

China has repeatedly objected to visits by Japanese leaders to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including civilian and military leaders convicted of war crimes following the Pacific War.

Koizumi, who has made annual pilgrimages to the central Tokyo shrine, says he goes there to pray for world peace and pay his respects to those who sacrificed their lives for the country.

Wang said because China was the biggest victim of Japan's colonial era and wartime aggression, the shrine visits are seen as especially provocative by the Chinese people.

Wang also called for changes of attitudes among the Japanese people and the country's media towards China. The Chinese ambassador says it is his impression the Japanese view China more severely than people in other countries do.

Although trade relations between Japan and China continue to improve, diplomatic ties are at their lowest point in decades due to differing interpretations of wartime history and territorial disputes.

Beijing Waited 10 Days to Alert Harbin

China's central government on Thursday worked to explain why officials waited 10 days before informing people in Harbin that the blast several kilometers up the Songhua River had dumped dangerous amounts of poisonous, cancer-causing benzene into the waterway. The river is Harbin's main source of water.

Vice Environmental Minister Zhang Lijun told reporters in Beijing Thursday the company, a subsidiary of a state-owned petroleum company, should be held responsible for the spill.

When asked why officials delayed telling the public, he defended the provincial authorities' decision to wait.

Zhang said the provincial government's methods in releasing information were practical and insisted the public was not affected.

Officials are waiting for the contaminated section of the partly frozen river to pass all of Harbin's intakes. They estimate that could happen by Saturday.

Little information was available from villages upstream, where some residents earlier reported seeing many dead fish.

Farmer protests over pollution have become more common in China in recent years, and in some cases have been violent. Observers said the government appears eager in this case to stem any possibility of unrest.

The Songhua river flows into another waterway that follows part of China's border with Russia - prompting Beijing to offer repeated reassurances to Moscow that it is monitoring toxin levels.

In Harbin Thursday businesses remained open and stores restocked bottled water, having run out earlier in the week when the government first announced the taps would be turned off.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Harbin Residents Flee Water Crisis

Residents of the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin have been flocking to leave the city after officials there turned off the city's water supply for a second day Wednesday.

Authorities shut off Harbin's water after an explosion at a nearby chemical plant on November 13. China's environmental protection agency on Wednesday confirmed that extremely dangerous amounts of toxic benzene had spilled into the Songhua River, which supplies the city of nearly four million people.

Officials said it would take at least four days to restore the public water supply.

Residents who could afford it flocked to leave the city. Airline representatives said all flights out of Harbin were sold out late Wednesday, and witnesses said trains leaving Harbin were full.

Schools in the city were closed Wednesday, and officials said hospitals were using reserves from water tanks.

A Harbin resident says that after learning that tap water would be shut off, people in the city rushed to stock up on bottled water, and do whatever they could to get them through the next few days.

"They have bottled water, and they just filled every container in their home in preparation," he said. "There was a shortage in the shops. It was very hard to get bottled water or purified water in some places."

Benzene is a common gasoline additive that can be deadly if breathed or ingested in high concentrations. Officials on Wednesday said the levels of the substance found after the blast last week were 108 times above what the Chinese government considers safe.

The Songhua is the largest tributary of the Amur River, which flows along China's border with Russia. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao this week sought to reassure Moscow that it is taking measures to prevent cross-border contamination.

Liu said China will take measures in the interests of its neighbors.

As China's economy continues to boom, its industries have been developing quickly, often at the cost of the environment, and often outpacing the growth of the country's infrastructure. Observers outside China said the incident in Harbin this week highlights a need for improved pollution controls and emergency preparedness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Billions Lost to Piracy and Counterfeiting

Counterfeit products made in China cost US companies billions of dollars in sales every year.

Chinese markets sell counterfeit copies of just about everything, from watches to Honda motorcycles.

The town of Dafen, for instance, sells fake artistic masterpieces, copied from DaVinci and Van Gogh.

In Beijing, you can buy the "Cherry" mini-car, an exact copy of the Chevy. These American products cost billions of dollars to develop, but have been copied in China for virtually nothing and sold for huge profits.

And in some cases, there could be a real danger -- with fake brake pads and airplane parts.

Pirates and counterfeiting only face the risk of paying a monetary penalty, which in China is just considered a cost of doing business."

The problem is clear at a market in Guangzhou: stalls raided two days ago are already back in business.

Movies, music and software are among the most commonly pirated merchandise. China's restrictive media policies--only 20 foreign films a year are allowed into the country on a revenue sharing basis---help create demand.

Some US businesses are trying new strategies. The latest Harry Potter movie opened in China even before its US release, in the hope Chinese fans will pay for tickets before pirated DVD's show up in markets.

New Bird Flu Outbreaks Reported

China and Russia are reporting new outbreaks of bird flu, as Chinese officials approve the first clinical tests of a human bird flu vaccine.

In China, state media report new poultry cases of the deadly H5N1 form of the virus in the northwest regions of Xinjiang and Ningxia and southwest Yunnan province. Officials destroyed tens of thousands of birds on farms near where the dead poultry were found.

Russian officials say 250 wild swans have died from an H5-type bird flu in the Volga River delta.

Meanwhile, China's state food and drug administration said it has approved clinical tests for a human vaccine for bird flu. State media say initial reports show the vaccine is fairly safe and effective.

Earlier Tuesday, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States imposed temporary bans on poultry from the western Canadian province of British Columbia after bird flu was found in a duck there.

Monday, November 21, 2005

US Backing Vatican Against Beijing

The Bush administration's apparently stepped up-campaign for religious freedom in China continued today, with the United States ambassador to the Vatican voicing support for the Catholic Church's push for more religious freedoms in China.

Saying Beijing should cooperate more openly with the Holy See, US Ambassador Francis Rooney announced that he is supporting he Chuch's mission to secure greater liberties for Catholics in China.

The announcement follows President Bush's trip to China, where he urged Beijing to allow greater "social, political and religious freedoms" and attended services at an authorized Protestant church in Beijing.

Pope Benedict has said he is interested re-establishing diplomatic ties with China, which were severed in 1951. But tensions escalated between the two sides in October, when Chinese officials refused to allow local bishops to travel to a Church gathering in Rome.

Bush Attends Church in Beijing

US President George Bush--who has called on China to allow more religious freedom--attended church services in Beijing before departing for Mongolia.

A choir in white and red silk robes sang the hymn Ode to Joy as the president and First Lady Laura Bush entered Gangwashi Church, one of five authorized protestant churches in the capital. Like other officially sanctioned churches, it is controlled by China's Communist Party.

But White House officials descrfibe it as a real church, where real people of faith really do worship. US officials say it is important for the Chinese people to see that expressing faith is a good thing for a healthy and mature society.

Bush thanked Pastor Du Fengying for her sermon, based on a passage from Corinthians, that love is tolerance, trust and perseverance. Bush told her the spirit of the Lord is strong within her church.

"You know, it wasn't all that long ago that people were not allowed to worship openly in this society," he said. "My hope is that the government of China will not fear Christians who gather to worship openly. A healthy society is a society that welcomes all faiths, and gives people a chance to express themselves through worship with the Almighty."

The president signed the church guest book, asking God to bless the Christians in China.

Printing bibles is still illegal in China. Bush has called on the Chinese government to allow its people to worship, without state control, and print bibles and other sacred texts, without fear of punishment. Following a meeting at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, he said he told Chinese President Hu Jintao that a society that recognizes religious freedoms is a society that will also recognize political freedoms.

"I thought it would be wise for the Chinese government to invite the Dalai Lama, so he can tell them exactly what he told me in the White House the other day, that he has no desire for an independent Tibet," Bush said. "I talked about the Catholic Church, the need for this government to invite leaders from the Vatican to come and discuss religious freedoms in China. So, we discussed a lot of areas of concern about the condition of the dissidents and people who want to express themselves."

China reportedly detained or put under house arrest at least a dozen dissidents ahead of the president's visit.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

China Buying 70 Boeing Airliners

China plans to buy 70 Boeing 737 airliners in a deal worth $4 billion.

Officials in Beijing did not give financial details of the purchase, which was announced as US President George Bush arrived in China.

Boeing says it expects Chinese carriers to buy more than 2,600 new aircraft worth $213 billion as the country's economy grows and more people travel.

Beijing often announces large purchases of American airliners in connection with visits by US leaders in an effort to ease dissatisfaction over its trade surplus, which hit a record $162 billion this year.

China is a key growth market for Boeing and its European rival, Airbus.

Bush Presses Hu on Trade and Democracy

US President George Bush has called on China to reduce its trade deficit with the US, while pressing Beijing to expand political, social, and religioius freedoms.

Following a meeting with Bush in Beijing's Great Hall of the People Sunday, Chinese President Hu Jintao said his country already enjoys democratic freedoms.

"Notable and historic progress have been made in China's development of a democratic political system and human rights," Hu said. "The Chinese people are exercising their right of democratic elections, democratic decision making, democratic management, and democratic supervision according to law."

Responding to Hu's comments, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters that there has been some progress in China, but the system here is still not a competitive democracy.

"I think we all understand that a system that is open and competitive politically is one that is moving toward democracy, and there is no question but that China would have a way to go to meet that test," Rice said. "I did think it was interesting that President Hu Jintao wanted to address the issue. That says that the president's message is getting through, that people understand that you can't just ignore these issues. I can remember times in the past where both here and in a number of other countries you were just told to mind your own business. Well, that's not the case now. They are trying to address it."

There are some elections at the village level in China, but the one-party state is run by Communist Party leaders who are not elected by the public.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bush and Hu to Meet in Beijing

US President George Bush has arrived in China on the third stop of an eight-day trip to Asia.

Bush will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during his stop in Beijing.

They are expected to discuss the just-concluded summit of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum as well as efforts to better protect intellectual property rights.

US officials say Bush will bring up the growing trade imbalance between the countries. Americans import six-dollars worth of goods from China for every one-dollar of American=made products sold in China.

Bush has said he would like to see China's government follow through on promises to further loosen controls on the value of its currency.

In addition to economic reforms, Bush is expected to discuss political change in China and what he says is the need for the Chinese people to have greater freedoms to express themselves, to worship without state control, and to print Bibles and other sacred texts without fear of punishment.

Earlier in this trip, Bush gave a speech in Japan where he said Chinese leaders can help their country grow into a modern, prosperous, and confident nation by meeting, what he called, the legitimate demands of its citizens for freedom and openness.

During that speech, Bush hailed Taiwan as an example of a nation that has moved from repression to democracy as it has liberalized its economy, advancing freedom at all levels and delivering prosperity while creating a democratic Chinese society.

That drew a sharp response from some Chinese officials. Foreign Minister spokesman Liu Jianchao told reporters that China has made remarkable achievements in improving human rights and the Chinese people fully enjoy democracy and freedom, protected by laws and regulations, including freedom of religious belief.

Liu said the situations in Taiwan and mainland China are different and he hopes the United States can have a correct understanding of that, saying countries should conduct human-rights dialogue and exchanges on the basis of equality, mutual respect, and the principle of non-interference in each other's internal affairs.

President Bush says his critique of China and praise for rival Taiwan--which Beijing regards as a renegade provinc--does not change America's one-China policy stressing the need for dialogue to resolve those differences peacefully.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Hu Says World Should Not Fear China

Chinese President Hu Jintao told global business leaders Thursday there is nothing to fear about his country's emergence as an economic superpower.

Hu spoke to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) Chief Executive Officers' Summit.

"China's development will not stand in the way of anyone, nor will it pose any threat to anyone. Instead, it will only benefit peace, stability, and prosperity of the world," Hu said.

The CEO Summit in Busan is a side event of the gathering. About 800 senior executives from APEC's 21 member economies are attending.

Over the past quarter century since economic reforms were introduced in China, its economy has quadrupled, raising its gross domestic product to more than $7 trillion.

China attracts tens of billions of dollars of foreign investment a year, and its massive demand for energy and raw materials have driven up world commodity prices. Hu promised Thursday to cooperate with other nations to ensure global energy security.

The executives at the summit are devoting considerable time to discussing how to push APEC's goal of further liberalizing trade, both in the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide. APEC government leaders are expected to issue a statement Saturday calling for new efforts to advance the World Trade Organization's effort to reduce tariffs and trade barriers.

One of the trade issues is the need for China and other Asian countries to protect intellectual property rights. Media and software executives say they lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year due to sales of illegally copied products in Asia.

The executives on Thursday also discussed the threat of a deadly global flu epidemic if avian flu changes to a form that can infect humans directly. They also are expected to look for ways to reduce the loss of life and economic damage from natural disasters. APEC members Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico and the United States all have suffered massive natural disasters this year and most of the delegates here represent regions vulnerable to tropical storms, earthquakes and tsunamis.

The heads of government of the 21 APEC members begin their annual two-day summit Friday.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Thorny Issues Overshadow Bush China Visit

As US President George Bush prepares to visit China later this week, he has received calls from a variety of groups that are hoping he will raise specific issues with the Chinese government. These issues include human rights, trade and Tibet.

The list of US-China issues is long. Human rights organizations want President Bush to raise criticisms of China's human rights record. Other groups go even further, urging the US leader to bring up human rights violations in the context of North Korea.

The issue of Tibet was highlighted by none other than exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who met with Bush at the White House last week, before the president left on his current trip to Asia. The Dalai Lama's special envoy, Lodi Gyari, said he believes Beijing will take greater notice of the Tibetan position if Bush adds his voice.

"I think the Chinese leaders are much more responsive to international concern" he said. "I don't want to use the word pressure, [but] international concern."

The Dalai Lama's remote Himalayan homeland is part of China. The Tibetan spiritual leader rejects Beijing's accusations that he is seeking independence, and maintains he is only seeking autonomy and cultural respect.

Meanwhile, Bush has shined the spotlight on a thorny issue at the heart of US-China relations, by praising Taiwan's democratic development, in a speech Wednesday in Japan.

"Modern Taiwan is free and democratic and prosperous," Bush said. "By embracing freedom at all levels, Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people and created a free and democratic Chinese society."

Taiwan is an independently-governed island that Beijing claims as part of Chinese territory. In his speech, President Bush pointed to Taiwan as an example for China, saying economic development helped fuel the island's political liberalization. At the same time, he repeated the US government's long-standing one China policy that urges peaceful resolution of the differences between China and Taiwan.

US-China economic issues will also be important items on the President's agenda. Earlier this month, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission issued its annual report. Among other issues raised, the commission accused China of manipulating its currency exchange rate and not adequately enforcing intellectual property rights violations.

US officials say they expect the US trade deficit with China to reach $200 billion by the end of this year. In his speech, Bush noted these economic concerns, saying he expects to hold what he described as "frank" discussions with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

"We look forward to resolving our trade differences in a spirit of mutual respect and adherence to global rules and standards," Bush said.

Bush's comments on trade were not all negative.

"The textile agreement our two nations reached last week shows that with hard work and determination, we can come together to resolve difficult trading issues," he added.

He also praised Beijing for taking a more active diplomatic role on the world stage.

"We welcome the important role China has assumed as host of the six-party talks aimed at bringing peace to the Korean peninsula," Bush said.

More Chinese Likely to Get Bird Flu

A World Health Organization is warning that more people in China are likely to become infected with the bird flu virus as winter sets in. Meanwhile, Indonesia reported the deaths of two women infected with the virus, which has killed more than 60 people since it reappeared in Asia two years ago.

The warning of likely new infections came a day after China confirmed its first human cases of the potentially lethal H5N1 virus.

WHO's top official in China, Dr. Henk Bekedam, told reporters Thursday it is probably inevitable that new cases will turn up in the coming weeks as the weather gets colder.

"It's very simple," Bekedam said. "At the moment you have more poultry outbreaks, you will also expect more humans to be exposed to the sick poultry and therefore it can indeed happen."

Officials say China has a third of the world's poultry, and they say 70 percent of domesticated fowl are raised in backyard coops - unmonitored, and often living in close proximity to humans.

One of the confirmed Chinese victims is a young boy from Hunan province, who is still alive. His sister died, but no definitive tests were performed on her, and she is only listed as a suspected H5N1 victim. A woman, unrelated to the children, has also died of the virus.

While experts say conditions in China appear ripe for a major outbreak, and the despite the brother-sister connection, Bekedam emphasized Thursday there is no proof thus far of any human-to-human transmissions.

For now, most infections are known to have passed from infected animals to humans, and the rate of the spread has been low. However, scientists fear a worldwide pandemic if H5N1 mutates to a form that can easily spread between humans. The death rate for H5N1 is high, at about 50 percent - compared to half of a percent for more common flu strains.

Chinese officials are rushing to cull hundreds of millions of chickens and ducks in about a dozen areas where there have been confirmed bird flu outbreaks. They have also announced plans to vaccinate more than five billion chickens, ducks and geese against the virus.

A laboratory in Hong Kong on Thursday confirmed the flu killed two more people in Indonesia recently, bringing the number of bird flu deaths in that country to seven.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

China Confirms First Human Bird Flu Cases

China confirmed its first-ever human bird flu cases Wednesday, reporting two in the central province of Hunan and one in eastern Anhui

Officials determined that a nine-year-old boy in Hunan who has been displaying flu-like symptoms is China's first confirmed human case. Authorities had been waiting final results of tests on the boy iafter officials said bird flu antibodies had been found in his blood. The boy's sister died last week after showing flu-like symptoms.

China has reported at least 11 outbreaks of the virus among poultry flocks in several provinces, but until now, no human cases.

World Health Organization officials are in Hunan investigating reports of that and other possible cases of H5N1 in humans.

Chinese officials say they have begun vaccinating hundreds of millions of chickens and ducks in areas hard hit by the bird flu virus known as H5N1, and plan to vaccinate billions more.

Chinese officials have sought to reassure the public they are doing everything to stem a pandemic. This week, they ordered the vaccination of all of the country's five billion poultry. Authorities in northeastern China's Liaoning province--one of the country's hardest hit--said on Wednesday that 320 million had already been immunized.

The job is gigantic. China has a third of the world's poultry stock, consuming 14 billion ducks, chickens, geese and other birds each year.

While many people say they are heeding government recommendations to cook the meat thoroughly, many are choosing to not buy it all. Shoppers in Beijing markets say the price of chicken has tumbled by almost half.

H5N1 has killed more than 60 people since it reappeared in Asia two years ago. In all or almost all human cases reported thus far, transmission has been from animals to people. Scientists fear the strain could mutate and become passable from human to human, possibly leading to a worldwide pandemic.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bush: China Should Follow Taiwan Example

US President George Bush has urged China to grant more political freedom to its citizens and held up its rival Taiwan as an example of a successful democratic society.

In a speech to be given later Wednesday in Japan, Bush says Taiwan has delivered prosperity to its people by "embracing freedom at all levels."

The president says that as the people of China grow in prosperity, their demands for political freedom will grow as well. And he says that once the door to freedom is opened, it cannot be closed.

Bush is on an eight-day tour of Asia. He is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. He will also travel to South Korea for the annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, as well as visit China and Mongolia.

Beijing to Observe Purged Leader's Birthday

The Chinese government Tuesday announced plans for a public observance of the 90th birthday of a deceased and discredited popular leader--Hu Yaobang, a purged reformist whose death led to the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. Hu was dismissed as Communist Party General Secretary in 1987.

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, Liu Jianchao, announced the memorial plans at a regular press briefing.

"Commemorative activities marking the 90th anniversary of the birth of Hu Yaobang will be held in Beijing in mid-November," said Liu Jianchao. "China's central leadership will attend and will give a speech."

Liu did not say which Chinese leaders would attend the ceremonies nor what might be said about Hu's political career.

The Chinese Communist Party has not publicly honored Hu Yaobang since his death in April of 1989.

Among other things, Hu was responsible for rehabilitating vast numbers of people who were purged and demonized during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a violent political campaign of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was popular with the people, but in 1987, he clashed with then-paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, after Hu refused to halt a wave of student unrest. He was dismissed as party leader.

Public mourning for Hu in April of 1989 turned into popular protests against corruption and calls for democracy. Demonstrators filled Beijing's Tiananmen Square for weeks on end, throughout May and into early June. The night of June 3-4, the government put the demonstrations down with military force.

Deng Xiaoping, who ordered the crackdown, later said it was necessary to prevent anarchy. The Communist Party has since steadfastly resisted calls to reassess the use of force in 1989, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people.

Analysts say Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is also the current Communist Party general secretary, wants to associate himself with Hu Yaobang's reformist image.

"The main reason for this commemoration is Hu Jintao wants to gain some prestige for himself under the present situation," says one expert. "In the last three years since he came to his position, there is still a lot of suppression to the dissidents in China. Hu Yaobang has a very good image."

Monday, November 14, 2005

Hu Signs Trade Pacts With Spain

Chinese President Hu Jintao has signed several agreements during his visit to Spain to improve relations and trade between the two countries.

Hu and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero signed a document Monday making Spain a privileged partner in economic and political dealings. China has similar deals with Britain, France and Germany.

Spain and China also reached an extradition accord. But Spain, in accordance with European Union policy, will not send back suspects who could face the death penalty in Spain.

During his visit to Spain, Hu also met with King Juan Carlos. Spain is the last stop on Hu's European tour, which also brought him to Germany and Britain.

Demonstrators protesting Chinese policies on human rights and Tibet have followed Hu throughout his trip.

China Reports Another Bird Flu Outbreak

China has reported another flock of bird flu-infected fowl--its ninth outbreak in a month.

The latest outbreak killed poultry in Anhui province.

The announcement came as World Health Organization experts are in China to investigate whether bird flu caused the death of a 12-year-old girl and sickened two other people in Hunan province.

Vietnam also reported new outbreaks of avian flu among birds in four provinces today.

The deadly H5N1 strain of the virus has been found in 10 of the country's 64 provinces and has killed more than 40 people in Vietnam since 2002.

Taiwanese officials are on alert as agriculture officials reported finding a sample of the H7N3 strain of bird flu in droppings left by a migratory bird. The H7 strains are also known to infect humans.

Bush to Meet Asian Leaders

US President Bush leaves for Asia today on a trip that will take him to Japan, China, South Korea and Mongolia.

The centerpiece of the president's trip is a summit of regional leaders in South Korea. US National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley says the meeting of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC, will focus on promoting trade and fighting terrorism.

"The APEC nations are strong proponents of expanding trade. And the president will discuss the upcoming Doha Round of global trade negotiations at the APEC ministerial, but he will also be addressing bilateral trade issues, as he visits with the individual leaders in the region," Hadley says.

On the way to Asia, the president and Mrs. Bush will stop at an air base in Alaska to talk about fighting terrorism, and visit with families of soldiers who have been killed in that fight.

In Japan, they will meet Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in Kyoto, where Hadley say,s the president will congratulate the Japanese leader on his re-election, and thank him for his help in Afghanistan and Iraq, where Japan is the second largest donor after the United States.

Hadley says Bush will urge the prime minister to continue promoting economic reform, and to lift a ban on American beef, that was imposed over concerns about Mad Cow disease.

President Bush will deliver a speech in Kyoto that Mr. Hadley says will offer a positive vision of American engagement in Asia and the importance of freedom for the region's continued success.

"The president's trip to Asia comes at a time when our relations with nations of the region have rarely been stronger. During the trip, President Bush will reaffirm the importance of, and his commitment to those relationships," Mr.Hadley says.

After Japan, the president flies to South Korea for the APEC summit and bilateral meetings with President Roh Moo-Hyun that are expected to focus on efforts to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program

The US, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea are in six-party talks with the government of Pyongyang. While those negotiations have made some progress, Hadley downplayed speculation that this trip would see any major breakthrough on North Korea.

On the sidelines of the APEC summit, Bush will meet with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

In China, Bush will meet with President Hu Jintao to press him on carrying-out China's commitment to reforming its currency rates, increase US imports and protecting intellectual property rights.

Hadley says President Bush will also share what he calls an ambitious vision for China, that the country would be stronger by allowing greater individual freedom to worship, to speak and to pursue private business opportunities.

Bush will then be the first sitting US president to visit Mongolia, with a stop in Ulan Bator, where he will thank Mongolian leaders for contributing troops to military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Beijing Unveils Olympic Mascots

Beijing has unveiled five mascots for the 2008 Olympic Games. After months of secrecy, the mascots were revealed at an elaborate ceremony Friday, that marked 1,000 days before the opening ceremonies.

The five doll-like cartoon characters were presented live in a nationally televised gala at a Beijing sports arena. The colorful mascots include a panda bear, a Tibetan antelope, a swallow, a fish and the Olympic flame. The names of the characters when put together translate to "Beijing Welcomes You."

Officials say the mascots will be at the center of the marketing drive for the 2008 Summer Games. Olympic host cities keep 10 to 15 percent of the royalties, helping to defray the costs of staging the Games.

More than 300 licensed products of the mascot will be on sale Saturday at 188 authorized venues across China.

No New Currency Reforms Expected

Pacific Rim leaders will meet in Busan, South Korea to further common economic interests. Yet the issue of Asia's currency exchange rate systems is likely to divide them. China is expected to come under pressure again from the United States and other trading partners to ease controls on its currency. But experts say the meetings are not likely to prompt any major developments on the issue.

Although China in July changed its foreign exchange system to allow the yuan to move against a basket of currencies -- instead of just pegging it to the dollar, its trading partners say the change was insufficient. Since July, the yuan has risen about 2.5 percent against the dollar. Now $1 brings 8.0 yuan. That's a small change, but a step in the direction the critics want it to go.

Many economists say Chinese officials are unlikely to make any more changes soon. That is largely because Beijing needs rapidly expanding exports to fuel economic growth and absorb millions of unemployed workers. And a steady, weak currency makes Chinese goods cheaper on world markets.

Beijing repeatedly says it is gradually working toward a more flexible exchange rate in manner that does not endanger economic stability.

But this has not satisfied Beijing's critics, especially the United States, which has large trade deficits with China.

Last year, the US bought $162 billion more worth of goods from the Chinese than it sold to China. Some US lawmakers, upset at this deficit, are threatening to pass a law imposing high taxes on Chinese imports if Beijing does not let its currency trade freely.

The US is not alone in complaining about China's export juggernaut. China faces increasingly vocal complaints from trading partners in Europe, Canada and other countries, which also are grappling with big trade deficits.

Despite concerns over trade imbalances, experts say there is little other countries can do to force change.

Several Asian countries have trade surpluses with the US and Europe, prompting complaints that they, too, keep their currencies artificially weak. But if Beijing does not let its currency appreciate, its smaller neighbors are not likely to do so, because that would put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Many economists and experts, including China's finance minister, say exchange rates alone cannot correct the trade surplus much of Asia has with the rest of the world.

Some economists say that in order to limit trade imbalances, Asia needs to wean itself from relying heavily on exports to power economic growth. Instead, they say, Asian economies should boost domestic spending and investment, which have fallen in some countries in recent years. Making it easier for foreign companies to set up in Asia, easing import restrictions and deregulating capital outflows could also reduce the problem.

China's finance minister recently said that a yuan revaluation is not the solution to the global imbalance problem, suggesting that Beijing could push other countries to do their share to fix the problem.

US President George Bush and top Chinese officials are expected to discuss the issue again during the president's forthcoming official visit to Beijing.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Rising China Has Less Room for Religion

A new report says China's government continues to systematically violate religious freedoms, detailing what it calls a narrowing of overall civil and individual freedoms in the country. The report by the nine-member US Commission on International Religious Freedom was released Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

Seven members of the commission visited China this past August, and were able to travel to a number of areas in the country, including Tibet, and Xinjiang province.

Chinese authorities exerted tight control over meetings commission members had with religious figures, including Buddhist monks and others.

Authorities denied permission for access to several prominent religious leaders, and commission members were not able to talk privately and freely with religious leaders of its own choosing.

Commission chairman Michael Cromartie says that did not stop some from offering what he calls honest assessments at the risk of their own personal safety.

In Tibet, the commission said authorities stated that one of their primary goals was to eliminate the influence of the Dalai Lama.

Commission member Preeta Bansal says one of the more striking aspects for her was what she calls a complete disconnect between Chinese authorities concept of religious freedom and internationally-accepted norms.

Among other things, the commission urges stronger US efforts to urge China to end severe violations of religious freedom and human rights, the appointment of a new counselor for human rights and rule of law at the US embassy in Beijing, and strengthening efforts to highlight conditions facing Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists.

The commission report comes just after the US State Department issued its annual report on international religious freedom, which continues to name China as a country of particular concern.

It also comes as US President George Bush prepares to go to China.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

US Group Urges Coordinated China Strategy

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission is calling on the Bush administration to coordinate strategy across the board, in all US government dealings with China. The recommendation came in the commission's annual report, which was released Wednesday, 10 days before President Bush is due to visit Beijing.

Commission chairman Richard D'Amato said he is concerned by what he sees as the US government's lack of overall assessment of how China affects American national interests.

"A detailed architecture that advances all areas of cooperation with China, while reducing negative impacts on American economic and security interests, still does not exist," D'Amato said. "The United States still has no coordinated national strategy for dealing with China. We need one that specifies and prioritizes what we want to accomplish, what outcomes are and are not acceptable, and how we're going to reach those goals."

He added that the commission has seen little progress on some specific issues of concern.

"Most importantly, China's manipulation of its currency, its lack of enforcement on violations of intellectual property rights, which are important for virtually every business that enters China and is the most important item on the agenda of American business in China," D'Amato said.

One major recommendation the commission made in its report was the creation of what D'Amato called a US-China energy working group.

"China's economic growth depends, to a large extent, on increasing its energy supplies," D'Amato said. "There's going to be more and more collisions over energy. We think now is the time to start looking at building more intense, alternative energy sources for both countries. We should work together on that. We should work on efficiencies and all the range of possible mechanisms to reduce both our countries dependence on imported oil."

Meanwhile, he said China's military is growing and modernizing more rapidly than the commission had anticipated. So, he also called for China and the US to establish so-called confidence building measures, to manage and contain any military crises.

"The Chinese are building a modern navy, a modern air force, precision-guided weapons," D'Amato said. "They have space-based capabilities. They are operating in a more blue water mode (beyond the range of shore-based support) in the Pacific. And, of course, their forces are going to be coming and operating in more close proximity to our own, as well as the Japanese. In those kinds of situations, we think that the creation of institutions that would help to regularize that relationship and to head-off and, if necessary, work with the possibility of incidents or accidents that might occur."

Congress created the bipartisan, 12-member group, also known as the US-China Commission, in 2000. The commission monitors the national security implications of the US economic relationship with China and, in its annual reports, provides recommendations on possible US action.

China Investing in Renewable Energy

Beijing has pledged to increase its use of renewable energies from the current seven percent of total energy to 15 percent by 2020.

The state-run media say China will invest up to $184 billion in such renewable energy sources as wind, solar, and water power.

Most of China's energy currently comes from fossil fuels, especially coal and oil, which have contributed to high levels of air pollution as energy consumption has increased.

The pledge came at an international conference on renewable energy held in the Chinese capital this week. China's Vice Premier, Zeng Peiyan, read a statement from President Hu Jintao at the conference.

"Strengthening the development and use of renewable energies is a must for us to address the increasingly serious energy and environmental issues," he said.

However, environmental experts warn that such steps are not enough to curb China's massive and growing pollution problems.

China's environmental protection agency warned in October that pollution levels could quadruple in the next 15 years if energy demands and vehicle exhaust are not reduced.

China is already the second largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, and acid rain falls on a third of the country. Most of the top 10 polluted cities in the world are in China.

A Chinese study says air pollution in the country leads to more than 400,000 premature deaths every year.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Next Round of NK Talks to Last 3 Days

China says the next round of six-party talks on North Korean's nuclear program will last for three days.

The official news agency, Xinhua, says the talks will begin tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Diaoyu State Guest House in Beijing and last through Friday. This is the fifth round of talks involving China, the two Koreas, the United States, Russia and Japan.

All sides have agreed that North Korea would scrap its nuclear programs in exchange for energy assistance and other benefits. However, sharp differences among the parties remain.

After the previous round ended in September, Pyongyang said it will not disarm unless it is first given a civilian (light-water) nuclear reactor to generate electricity. US officials said the demand is not acceptable.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Bird Flu May Have Caused Girl's Death

China is investigating three potential cases of human infection with the H5N1 virus. The Chinese government said it could not rule out bird flu in the death of a 12-year old girl, and the illnesses of two other people.

Beijing invited the World Health Organization to investigate three suspicious cases of pneumonia in the southern province of Hunan, where avian influenza was found among birds last month.

Authorities had earlier denied any connection between the pneumonia cases and the deadly H5N1 virus. But state media said Chinese health officials had decided samples from the girl, her brother, and a schoolteacher needed more analysis.

According to the World Health Organization, it's not unusual for someone to initially test negative for H5N1, but later test positive. Final results on the suspected cases could take weeks.

If confirmed, the cases would be China' first reported human infections with the H5N1 virus.

Because of the size of the country and its overstretched health-care system, there has been concern that bird flu could move quickly into humans in China before it was detected.

There also has been fear among many international disease experts that Chinese officials in rural areas would hide flu outbreaks, much the way the central government tried to hide news about the appearance of SARS in 2003. The disease appeared first in China, but spread around the world before Beijing answered WHO questions about it.

Alarmed by four outbreaks in one month, the country has stepped up its fight against the avian flu. China announced Monday it has killed six million birds in the northeastern province of Liaoning, where the country's latest outbreak had been detected last week. Authorities also ordered the immediate closure of Beijing's 168 live poultry markets.

US, China Agree on Textile Imports

The United States and China have reportedly reached a tentative agreement on imported Chinese textiles.

News reports in the Washington Post and by Bloomberg Business News cite unnamed sources who say negotiators have agreed to allow US imports of Chinese textile and apparel products to increase up to 10 percent in 2006 and 16 percent in 2007.

While the accord is not yet complete, the sources say the agreement could be signed as soon as next week.

Washington and Beijing have been trying for a comprehensive agreement on Chinese exports that compete with US made clothing and textiles.

The issue flared because of a surge in Chinese exports to the US after textile quotas were lifted at the start of the year.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

China and Cuba Reaffirm Military Ties

Cuban and Chinese military leaders have met in Havana to reaffirm ties between the two communist countries.

In a meeting Saturday at Cuba's Armed Forces Ministry, the country's military chief, Raul Castro, stressed the long-standing friendship between the two nations. He said China's presence on the island will help strengthen relations between Beijing and Havana.

His Chinese counterpart, General Liang Guanglie, said his visit will help strengthen what he called the "historic" ties between the government, armed forces and people of both countries.

Following the meeting, the high-level Chinese delegation toured a tank base on the outskirts of Havana, where members were given details on the structure, mission and history of the military facility. The delegation was scheduled to depart on Sunday.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

China Mobilizes Army Against Bird Flu

China has mobilized its huge army to guard against bird flu in its ranks after the country reported its fourth outbreak of the disease.

The People's Liberation Army Daily newspaper said Saturday the 2.3-million-strong army should make urgent plans to detect the virus and stop its spread.

The news came as Indonesian officials said a woman who died in October had bird flu, bringing the number of deaths in that country to five.

A child related to the woman is being treated in a Jakarta hospital after testing positive for the disease, bringing the number of Indonesian cases to nine.

The confirmation of the two cases Saturday came a day after China, Vietnam and Japan reported fresh outbreaks of bird flu in poultry.

Japan, NK End Beijing Talks

Japan and North Korea have ended two days of high-level talks, with no progress on issues that have blocked the two countries from forging diplomatic ties.

However, officials from both sides say they did agree on the need to meet again at an unspecified date.

The talks in Beijing centered on the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea, as well as reparation requests by North Korea over Japan's occupation of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to World War II.

Japan's top negotiator, Akitaka Saiki, said Thursday that North Korea's demand for normalizing relations will not be possible without first resolving the abduction dispute.

North Korea admits kidnapping 13 Japanese citizens to train its spies in the 1970s and 1980s. Pyongyang has returned five, but says the other eight are dead.

Japan wants conclusive proof of their deaths and says there are other cases of suspected abductions which Pyongyang has not properly investigated.

Friday, November 04, 2005

China Grabs the Gold at Macao

China has broken through the 100 gold medals mark at the East Asian Games in Macau.

Chinese swimmers won seven of eight finals Friday to boost their nation's haul in seven days to 101 gold medals. China also has won 45 silvers and 25 bronze for 171 total medals in the nine-day, nine-team event.

The most surprising result in the pool was the victory by 13-year-old Wang Qun in the women's 100-meter breaststroke. She beat compatriot and Olympic champion Luo Xuejuan.

The Chinese also won five of the eight gold medals in track and field, and another two in shooting and taekwondo.

North Korea earned an East Asian Games football semifinal berth against South Korea Saturday. The North Koreans beat China, 3-1, to top Group-B. South Korea finished second to Japan in Group-A. Japan will play China.

South Korea is now tied with Japan for second place behind China with 26 gold medals, but the Japanese have 132 total medals to 104 for South Korea. Taiwan and host Macau each have won nine gold medals.

New Chinese Bird Flu Outbreak Confirmed

Chinese officials this week confirmed that an outbreak discovered on October 26 killed nearly 9,000 chickens in China's northeastern province of Liaoning. It was the fourth outbreak of avian flu among birds reported in the country since October 14.

So far, China has reported no human cases of bird flu, but health experts say the country is especially vulnerable because it has one of the world's highest concentrations of domesticated poultry: 14 billion birds, plus wild birds that migrate through its territory.

Despite its economic boom, much of China's healthcare infrastructure is in shambles - especially in the countryside. The Chinese government knows this and has launched programs to slowly rebuild the system.

"In large parts of China, especially in the countryside, over the last 20 or 30 years, the health system has been crumbling," said Roy Wadia, a spokesman for the World Health Organization in Beijing. "You've got problems in terms of being able to provide basic health care to people. Surveillance is key to containing any outbreak, and to preventing any pandemic…not only in the animal sector, of course, but then you have to be able to also survey the human population."

He says China is also prone to a severe outbreak, because of the concentration of both birds and people, but he says similar conditions exist on a smaller scale in Thailand, and in Vietnam, where officials say 3,000 birds died or were culled this week northeast of Hanoi.

The H5N1 virus, which has struck bird flocks from Asia to Eastern Europe, has killed at least 62 people in Southeast Asia since it reappeared two years ago. The virus first appeared in Hong Kong in 1997, when it killed six people. In all or almost all cases thus far, doctors have said the victims were infected by having direct contact with sick birds.

However, scientists worry the virus may mutate and become transmissible from human to human. This, they say, could cause a major pandemic, because humans have built up no immunity to this particular strain of virus.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

China, Vietnam Announce Bird Flu Steps

China and Vietnam have announced new measures to halt a potential spread of bird flu.

China says it is suspending imports of poultry and related products from 14 countries that have reported bird flu outbreaks.

Vietnam has announced a ban on imports of poultry and pet birds from affected countries. It also banned the raising of poultry in urban areas and halted sale of blood pudding, a local delicacy made from the raw blood of poultry or other animals.

Meanwhile, heads of government from Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam are meeting today in Bangkok to discuss the bird flu situation.

And a Chinese drugmaker is in talks with Swiss drugmaker Roche about making Tamiflu, used to treat bird flu in humans.

On Tuesday, US President George Bush outlined a $7 billion plan to prepare the United States for a possible bird flu pandemic.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Dissident Released From Mental Asylum

Human Rights Watch says a Chinese dissident has been released after spending 13 years in a state-run mental asylum.

The New York-based organization said Wednesday, Wang Wanxing was freed in August and immediately left for Germany, where his wife and daughter have been living.

Wang was arrested in Beijing in 1992 after staging a brief demonstration on the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. Human Rights Watch says Wang describes suffering various abuses and witnessing others in the psychiatric hospital. China's Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on the report.

His release came shortly before a visit to China by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour. China often releases jailed dissidents ahead of visits by high-profile officials from Western countries and the United Nations.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Hu Pledges Cooperation With Hanoi

China's President Hu Jintao, in Hanoi for bilateral talks, has pledged greater cooperation and friendship with Vietnam, saying the two communist-run countries must develop the socialist ideal through economic growth.

Addressing Vietnam's National Assembly on the second day of a three-day state visit, the Chinese president appealed to shared ideology, saying China and Vietnam could work together in the name of socialism, despite their long rivalry.

Speaking through a Vietnamese interpreter, Hu said the former enemies had much in common.

Hu said China and Vietnam have mountain ranges and rivers adjoining each other and share a flow of culture and ideology, so their interests are closely connected.

Vietnam and China fought a border war in 1979, but the two communist countries have more recently become united by bilateral trade, which totaled more than $7 billion last year.

But most of that trade is one way. China exported more than $4 billion in cheap products to Vietnam last year, but Vietnam exports little more than half that amount to its giant northern neighbor.

In his speech Tuesday, Hu did not mention the trade imbalance, but urged Vietnamese to emulate the Chinese experience in export-driven market reforms. He touted China's boom in foreign direct investment, up nearly 10 percent this year, and also his country's exports, up 24 percent so far this year.

The Chinese president told his Vietnamese hosts that his country's economic growth was the result of China's special brand of market-socialism, a philosophy Mr. Hu urged his fellow communists to follow.

Vietnam has enjoyed some investment spillover from China. Two years ago, most of Vietnam's foreign investment went to Ho Chi Minh City in the south. But recently the northern capital of Hanoi has seen the biggest surge, accounting for nearly half of the $3 billion in foreign investment this year.

Vietnam's Chamber of Commerce says much of the northern investment boom comes from countries that already invest in China, but want to spread their risks. Also wages in northern Vietnam are lower than in parts of China, and some foreign companies are building factories north of Hanoi in hopes of exporting to China.

But Vietnam, like other countries in the region, has reason to be worried about being overwhelmed by China's explosive economic growth.

This week's visit by Hu is a milestone in fraternal communist relations, but Hanoi still has reason to view its communist brother to the north with a wary eye.

Koreans Uniting for Olympic Games

North and South Korea say they are ready to unify on the athletic field. For the first time, senior sports officials say the two countries will compete as a combined team in the next Olympics.

North and South Korea's top athletes will go for the gold as part of the same team during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, and in the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.

Senior athletic officials from both countries confirmed the news on the sidelines of the ongoing East Asian games in Macau, China.

The Korean peninsula has been divided by the world's most heavily fortified border since the communist North fought the capitalist South in a 1950-53 war. But contacts between the two Koreas have increased in a gradual warming of relations since a historic 2000 summit in Pyongyang.

Sports-related cooperation is part of a broader strategy of North-South engagement supported by the South Korean government.

The two Koreas are expected to work out details of the combined team in a meeting next month in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.

The location has come to symbolize South Korean economic engagement with the North, because it is the home of a South Korean industrial joint venture with Pyongyang. It is also where Seoul opened its first government liaison office in North Korea last week.

Chinese President Visits Vietnam

Chinese President Hu Jintao is in the Vietnamese capital for talks expected to focus on trade and possible military cooperation. The two communist-ruled countries have grown closer in past years as they reform their economies to compete on the global stage.

The sounds of the Chinese national anthem being played in Hanoi would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. But as Hu began a three-day state visit Monday, it was clear that the one-time enemies have entered a new era of cooperation.

Hu, also China's Communist Party chairman, took a stroll through cheering crowds of well-wishers near Vietnam's Communist headquarters. He was accompanied by the Vietnamese party's general secretary, Nong Duc Manh, and by President Tran Duc Luong.

The warm ceremony was a far cry from the historically tense relations between Vietnam and China. Vietnam spent nearly a millennium fighting off Chinese invasions, and most recently won a brief border war with Beijing in 1979. But since the end of the Cold War, Hanoi's leaders have been drawing closer to their communist brethren to the north.

Hu is expected to discuss closer military cooperation between the two countries. Yet at the same time, Vietnam has also been drawing closer to another former enemy - the United States. Earlier this year, Vietnam's prime minister visited the United States and agreed to future exchanges of military officers.

Hanoi may be wary of its giant neighbor's growing military might, but their communist ideology gives the two countries much in common. Vietnam is especially keen to learn from China's experiences with market reform.

Hu is scheduled to address Vietnam's National Assembly on Tuesday and will fly Wednesday to the central city of Danang before heading home to Beijing.