Friday, September 30, 2005

Petitioner Roundup Underway

A prominent human rights organization says police in the Chinese capital have rounded up hundreds of people from the provinces just days ahead of the national holiday. Human rights advocates say the Chinese government is afraid the detainees, many of whom have come to Beijing to petition against injustices at home, could cause trouble during upcoming national day celebrations.

The New York-based organization Human Rights in China says police this week detained more than 200 out-of-towners in raids on two hostels and a squatter village, and then forced most of them to return to their hometowns.

The detentions of these "petitioners" come just days before the 56th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China - a busy national holiday.

Human rights activists say such petitioner round-ups often occur around politically sensitive anniversaries and before holidays.

Incidents of unrest and the number of petitioners coming to Beijing have increased rapidly in recent years, along with a widening wealth gap, corruption, and perceptions of injustice.

The Chinese government says there were 74,000 riots and demonstrations in China last year, up from 58,000 in 2003, and many of those were protests by people who felt local officials had treated them unjustly.

Beijing has expressed concern about social stability, and has made efforts to address the complaints. Earlier this year, the government revised rules on petitioning to try to make local authorities more accountable.

Still, the Beijing police, and police from the provinces, routinely round up petitioners and send them back home.

Public Security officials had no comment on the alleged detentions. However, China's state media reported security had been stepped-up for the national holiday.

The statement issued by Human Rights in China this week said that despite recent efforts by China's national government to improve the petitioning process, this week's detentions suggest that control of society remains the government's priority.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

NK Focus of Vienna Meeting

Chinese and American officials have met in Vienna to resolve a dispute over the wording of a resolution on North Korea's nuclear program.

Diplomatic sources say China supports mentioning the possible delivery of light-water nuclear reactors to North Korea in a resolution to be submitted to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

They say the United States, which fears such reactors could be used for military purposes, opposes the request. Sources say there is not as yet a resolution to the dispute.

North Korea agreed this month to abandon its nuclear weapons program in return for economic aid, energy assistance and security assurances. But Pyongyang later said it first wants light-water nuclear reactors for civilian energy production.

The next round of six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program is planned for November.

Leader Urges Xinjiang Crackdown

A senior Chinese leader is urging officials in a predominantly Muslim region to be alert for danger ahead of celebrations for China's National Day.

The October 1 holiday also marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Xinjiang autonomous region.

The China Daily said Thursday that senior Politburo member Luo Gan also urged police in Xinjiang to crack down on criminals to create a safer environment for economic growth and social progress.

Luo is leading a delegation of central government officials to Xinjiang for the holiday.

The Public Security Ministry said earlier this month that more than 260 terrorist acts have been committed in Xinjiang in the past two decades. Muslim Uighur separatists are alleged to have been responsible for most of them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Beijing, Taipei Trade Overtures

It has been a year of unprecedented overtures between Beijing and Taiwan, with nonstop flights across the Taiwan Strait in March, a series of visits by Taiwanese opposition leaders to the mainland in the past few months, and new commercial agreements that include the mainland's importation of Taiwanese produce.

The overtures have come after tensions rose earlier in the year when China passed an anti-secession law authorizing military force against the island if it moves toward formal independence. The Communist Party leadership regards the self-ruled island as Chinese territory and has threatened to reclaim it by force.

In light of this threat, Taiwan restricts transportation and trade links with the mainland.

On Wednesday, Li Weiyi, a spokesman for Beijing's Taiwan Affairs Office, called on the island's leadership to ease those restrictions, claiming it is in the interests of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

He says China hopes Taiwan will change what he calls its negative and resistant attitude toward more open communication across the Taiwan Strait.

Analysts have described Beijing's overtures this year as attempts by the leadership to undermine Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, who was re-elected last year on a pro-independence platform.

Beijing passed the anti-secession legislation in part because of concerns over Mr. Chen's pledge to push for a new Taiwanese constitution, which communist leaders interpreted as a move toward independence.

In a gesture of its own on Wednesday, Taiwan officials said residents and mainland visitors to two islands under Taipei's control will be able to exchange the Taiwan dollar for China's yuan. The islands, Kinmen and Matsu lie very close to mainland China but have been governed by Taiwan since it split from Beijing's rule in 1949. Until now, the mainland's currency could not be converted in Taiwan.

Corruption Experts Meet in Beijing

An anti-corruption conference sponsored by the Asian Development Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development opened Wednesday in Beijing. Among the government officials and civic group leaders are dozens from the 25 countries that participate in the ADB's Anti-Corruption Initiative for the region.

China's government has been struggling to contain a growing number of protests among poor peasants over issues ranging from land grabs by corrupt officials, excessive taxation, and environmental degradation. Officials say there were 74,000 protests last year, up from 10,000 in 1994.

The protests have continued to grow despite the government's enactment of numerous anti-corruption laws. Political analysts say the continued protests mean a better strategy is needed.

Last year, China earned a score of 3.4 points in Transparency International's annual survey on how business people rank corruption in different countries. The least corrupt countries had scores above nine points with Finland the highest at 9.7.

Among the Asian countries earning less than three points were the Philippines, Indonesia, Burma and Bangladesh.

The three-day conference in Beijing will include discussions on strengthening regional cooperation, and the role of public opinion in anti-corruption reform.

Oil Pipeline to Russia Planned

A private Chinese company plans to build the country's first oil pipeline to Russia.

Chinese state media say the planned 30-kilometer project announced Wednesday will link railway lines between Heihe in China's northeast Heilongjiang province and the eastern Russian city of Blagoveshchensk.

The two cities are the closest along the borders of the two countries, separated by the Heilongjiang River in China - known as the Amur River in Russia.

The $64 million project is expected to be operational in September 2006, and will carry 21 million barrels of oil per year.

It is the latest project to help Beijing as it looks for alternatives to Middle East oil.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Railroad to Tibet Nearly Ready

After four years of construction across some of the world's most rugged terrain, a new railroad connecting China's far western Qinghai province with Tibet is close to completion. Beijing says the project is an important part of its campaign to develop China's poor western region. But critics fear the rail link will help the government tighten its grip on Tibet, and further marginalize Tibetans in their own homeland.

At the moment, two roads are the only land routes from China proper into Tibet, which forms China's southwestern corner. Once this railroad has been completed, the currently long and tortuous trip from Beijing to Lhasa will be cut to a relatively simple 48-hour journey.

Many technical difficulties had to be overcome, including the high altitude and lack of oxygen, the deep fozen earth and the fragile ecology.

Billions of yuan have been poured into the project. The Chinese government says the rail line will bring Tibetans more opportunities and greater access to the outside world.

Xu Jianchang, vice director general of the Tibetan Development and Reform Commission, says the local economy will benefit.

The project will be the first rail link to connect mainland China and Tibet; however, critics fear the railroad will mean more than just goods entering and leaving Tibet.

Since the launch of the government's "Go West" campaign in the late 1990's, China's western provinces have seen a massive influx of people of the country's ethnic Han majority.

According to the Tibetan government, each year about 50,000 migrants flock to Lhasa, a city now of 250,000. Once trains start running into Tibet, the region is likely to see an increase in ethnic Han job hunters. Tibetans say this will make it even harder for them to get jobs, and will erode their culture and identity.

The Han look on Tibet as a place of opportunity. But many Tibetans worry about the influx of Han. Most Tibetans are farmers, and lack the skills needed to work in offices or start businesses. Many of them cannot speak Mandarin, China's national language.

Their incomes are different, too. The Han usually earn a good living from restaurants, massage houses, and karaoke bars. The Tibetans - many still clad in traditional costume - earn much less selling local crafts or farm products. In the bigger towns, Tibetan beggar children flock around tourists.

China began a decade-long conquest of Tibet in 1949. A Tibetan government-in-exile, led by the region's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is based in India, and has tens of thousands of supporters around the world who oppose Chinese rule.

Many Tibetans think the Qinghai Railway will do more than help Han Chinese migrate to the region - they say it will help the Chinese government consolidate its power over Tibet.

Monday, September 26, 2005

HK Democracy Bloc Visits Mainland

The pro-democracy bloc of Hong Kong's elected lawmakers has been allowed back onto the Chinese mainland for the first time since the 1989 massacre in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The group joined its legislative colleagues in talks with senior Chinese Communist Party officials, but the meeting underscored the vast gap that exists between the democrats and Chinese officials.

The two-day trip to neighboring Guangdong province Sunday by 59 of Hong Kong's 60 elected legislators produced an unprecedented exchange of candid views between Chinese Communist Party officials and their critics in Hong Kong.

During a meeting with Guangdong's Communist Party chief, Zhang Dejiang, some outspoken lawmakers raised the issue of democracy in China. They also called for a reversal of China's stand on the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, in which hundreds and possibly thousands of pro-democracy protesters died.

China has always insisted the crackdown was necessary to protect national stability, a position that Zhang, a member of the party's governing Politburo, repeated during the meeting. Zhang cut off Hong Kong lawmakers who tried to debate the subject further, saying there was no point in discussing the issue if the two sides disagreed.

The meeting disappointed some lawmakers. Others acknowledged that the gap between the two sides could not be narrowed by a single visit. Lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who was among those who debated Zhang on the Tiananmen issue, said he hoped the two sides could build trust over time.

"We are here to express ourselves, and I think they [Chinese officials] understand our viewpoint, so that mutual understanding can develop," he said.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who arranged the visit, described it as "a good start" that could lead to further discussions. The official China Daily newspaper called it a "historic" visit.

Some of the lawmakers participating in the trip had been barred from entering the mainland and branded as traitors since criticizing Beijing's actions in the 1989 incident.

Political analysts say the trip is a political gesture by Beijing to try to win the opposition over. In 2003 and 2004, the central government was rattled by mass protests, in which the pro-democracy coalition played a major role, demanding direct elections in Hong Kong.

Currently, a committee of pro-Beijing appointees selects the chief executive, and only half of the members of the legislature are elected by direct public vote.

Hong Kong's government has been discussing proposed reforms to how the territory elects its leader and lawmakers. The details of the plan have not been made public, but Beijing, which has effective veto power over Hong Kong decisions, has already ruled out direct elections by 2007, when Chief Executive Tsang's term expires.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. The principle of universal suffrage is enshrined in the former British colony's mini-constitution, but the document is vague on the timing.

Details Emerge About New Net Rules

More has been learned about China's new rules on computer Web sites. Tightening government control of online news and information, the regulations represent Beijing's latest effort to limit what Chinese citizens can read on the Internet.

The new Internet regulations say China's news Websites must provide information beneficial to the public and state, and are prohibited from spreading information against China's national security and public interest.

The announcement, made Sunday by China's official Xinhua News Agency, gave no further explanation of the new rules, nor what punishments could be faced by those who violate them.

But the Beijing News reported that the new rules were targeted at those inciting illegal protests, gatherings and organizations online. The Beijing daily said violators would have to pay fines ranging from $1,237.

Internet freedom advocates say the government is concerned that new communications technologies, such as the Internet, may be used to organize demonstrations against the government.

Julien Pain, who is in charge of the Internet Freedom Desk at the Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders, says the new rules are a scare tactic to discourage political dissent online.

"It is a climate of social instability at this time in China," he said. "Many people are protesting every day. And I think the Chinese [government] just want to tell them that, whether it is online or off-line, you should not protest."

Social unrest in China has increased in recent years, with tens-of-thousands of protests occurring annually. The protests are political, economic, religious and social.

The reality of the protests contrasts sharply with the images generally presented by fawning Western media, most of which have been conent to conentrate on China's meteoric economic rise.

The number of Internet users in China has also increased to more than 100 million.

This latest campaign follows rules issued earlier this year, forcing participants in online chatrooms and Internet users with online diaries--blogs--to use their real names online. The government also restricted university chat rooms to students only.

China already has one of the most sophisticated systems in the world for censoring online content. Beijing employs Internet police, and uses high-tech equipment to block content the government considers immoral, such as pornography or politically sensitive, such as discussions of democracy, or the island of Taiwan.

Among those blocked: China Confidential.

Internet dissidents who question or criticize government policy are routinely arrested and charged with violating state security laws.

Last week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said China sentenced an Internet journalist to seven years in prison for publishing articles online criticizing the Communist Party.

Internet freedom advocates say the new information restrictions will not have much effect on China's well-known news Web sites, which are registered, and closely watched by the government. But small publishers and freelance journalists will now have to register as news organizations, or face fines.

One-Child Policy Criticized

A report published in the New England Journal of Medicine in the United States makes the case that China's family-planning regulation is out of date 25 years after the country implemented its one-child policy.

The policy aimed to slow the birth rate in the world's most populous country, and the government claims it has helped China's rapid economic growth. But as living standards improve, surveys say many parents would welcome a relaxation of the policy.

Critics also say the side effects of the policy pose serious problems for the country.

Critics, however, say the strict policy has led to many social problems. Forced sterilization and abortions are commonplace, especially in rural areas, where local Communist Party officials take extreme measures to meet mandated population targets.

A growing problem is sex-selective abortion. Traditionally in China, sons are preferred over daughters. Because of the one-child policy, many pregnant women have abortions if tests show they are having a girl. Worse, some baby girls receive such poor care they die, or they are abandoned.

Government statistics say that there are 117 baby boys in China for every 100 girls. Experts worry that this could have dangerous social consequences, when those baby boys grow up and have no hope of marrying.

Despite these problems and fresh criticism, experts believe China is unlikely to change the one-child policy anytime soon. China says it has a population of 1.3 billion, and the government wants to make sure it is below 1.4 billion in 2010. Beijing leaders think any changes that would compromise this goal might threaten economic growth and stability.

But the authors of the critical study say the country's economic growth probably means the policy no longer is needed. In a trend seen in other countries in Asia over the past decades, as China's economy improves, most couples voluntarily opt to have fewer children.

The Chinese government has begun offering economic incentives to families with fewer children in poverty-stricken areas. It also initiated a campaign called "caring for girls" to promote gender equality and eliminate discrimination against girls - aimed at correcting the gender imbalance, while still adhering to the population policy.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

China Tightens the Screws

Bloggers beware!

China has imposed new rules on Internet news sites in another step to regulate Websites in the country.

The official Xinhua news agency says the new regulations are effective immediately.

It says Internet news sites and content must provide information that is beneficial to the public and state. It added that sites are prohibited from spreading news that goes against China's security and public interest.

Chinese authorities closely monitor Internet content and remove sites they believe are inappropriate. China also requires people to register their Websites and blogs.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Chinese Merchants Invade Senegal

Hundreds of newly-arrived Chinese wholesale merchants are flooding Senegal's capital Dakar with cheap goods, pleasing customers and retailers, but angering their Senegalese competitors.

At the Centenaire market in Dakar, Chinese wholesalers line the street on both sides, renting warehouses for $1,000 a month, selling everything in bulk from plastic toys to space-age looking DVD players.

One buyer, Fatou Gueye, says Senegalese are poor and they love these new shops, because, she says finally she can afford something. Here she says, she can buy for children and adults, for her whole family, almost everything they need.

One man who has just turned himself from chronically unemployed to retailer is also very pleased. He is buying bras, cameras, shoes, belt buckles, pots, pans, colorful pens and notebooks to resell in stores and on the streets of Dakar.

He says it was very cheap to start his business. He started by selling a Chinese pair of shoes he had bought here for $1. There was no way of finding shoes for under $5 besides flip-flops before.

For many people who live on several dollars a day, that's a big difference.

The Senegalese manager of one of the warehouses says the Chinese have created
jobs. He says young kids who used to be pickpockets are now hired as messengers.

Asked whether Senegalese are not afraid the quality of Chinese goods might not be so good, he says that's nonsense, adding that Senegalese want quantity--to be able to afford things.

Generally, prices in the Chinese shops are three to five times cheaper than in Lebanese or Senegalese stores.

The invasion started last year when Senegal's government signed a bilateral agreement with China, to encourage Chinese businessmen to set up shop in Dakar. So-called Senegalese investment packages which include visas have been made readily available in China.

But Senegalese shopkeepers say many Chinese who bribe their way buy these business visas at lower than official prices, for about $1,000 a year, and that Chinese typically undervalue their incoming goods to pay lower customs fees as well.

Chinese merchants refused to be interviewed for this report, saying their command of French and English was not good enough for an interview, only for making deals.

Chinese wholesalers say they can make several thousand dollars a day being based in Dakar, compared to Senegalese merchants who say they usually struggle to make $100 in a month.

The invasion is having an impact in the region as well, as trucks can be heard coming in and out of the Centenaire market, taking the cheap Chinese goods to Mauritania, Mali, the Gambia and even the continent's biggest market, Nigeria.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

China Targeting Latin America

China is expanding its economic and political ties with Latin America, a region traditionally seen as within the sphere of influence of the United States. Some analysts say the Chinese move is accelerating as Washington has become more preoccupied with other parts of the world, particularly in conducting the war on terrorism and Iraq. What's driving the Chinese strategy?

Chinese President Hu Jintao paid a visit to Mexico recently, where he met with his Mexican counterpart, Vicente Fox, and members of Mexico's Senate. The two leaders presided over the signing of various agreements, including one that may eventually allow Chinese companies to mine iron and other minerals in Mexico.

It was Hu's second visit to Latin America in less than a year. His stops last year included Argentina and Brazil where he met with the presidents of those countries and signed commercial agreements to increase Chinese imports of agricultural products and other commodities. China's initiative toward Latin America appears to be part of a wider global strategy.

Michael Shifter, a Latin American expert at the Washington-based policy group, Inter-American Dialogue, says the Chinese "are finding opportunities here and those opportunities are opportunities that the United States isn't taking advantage of."

According to Shifter, "there is a sense that the United States has looked elsewhere and hasn't really put the energy and effort into taking advantage of the economic opportunities in this hemisphere."

"I think China has discovered that there may be some interesting ways they can take advantage of them so I think that's happening, but I think this is part of their global strategy as a major power," he adds.

China is looking at Latin America primarily as a source of raw materials like oil, timber and minerals. It also is importing agricultural products such as beef. These Latin American imports are supplying China's rapidly expanding manufacturing sector and helping to feed its huge population.

The Bush administration, which in August signed a free trade pact with Central America and the Dominican Republic, claims it isn't all that concerned about China's initiatives in the hemisphere, noting that US trade and investment in Latin America dwarfs China's.

But Roger Noriega, who until last week was the State Department's Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, asserts Washington does not want to see Beijing establish security ties with certain countries.

"If there's intelligence cooperation, or an effort to build security relationships, military-to-military relationships, in a way that would be detrimental to our security or the interests of our neighbors in the Americas, that would be a concern for us,” Noriega said. “We don't see that as a major problem but it's something that we have to pay close attention to."

Noriega points to the growing ties between Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro as the main source of concern should Beijing establish security relations with those nations.

China's expanding role in the region prompted the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold hearings on the issue Tuesday. Some lawmakers wondered if China posed a threat to US influence in the Americas.

For their part, Brazil and other Latin American countries view China as a promising new business partner--a sign that Latin Americans are looking beyond their traditional economic and political relationship with the US.

Shift in Banking Regs Reported

China's banking regulator has reportedly relaxed its restriction on foreign banks to allow them to directly set up branches in the country's western provinces. State-controlled media reported the policy shift.

Under the old rules, a foreign bank had to maintain a representative office in a city for at least two years before it could open a branch to do regular banking business in any city.

The new policy apparently is part of the government effort to ease poverty in the west. Beijing initiated its "go West campaign" several years ago to help the region catch up with the industrialized east coast.

The West, which includes provinces such as Xinjiang and Tibet, covers more than half of China's territory, and much of it is rich with natural resources such as coal, oil and gold. However, since the region is thousands of kilometers from ports, it has been overlooked by Chinese and foreign companies that have set up thousands of factories to make export goods in the east.

Since the development campaign began, the western provinces have seen an increase in investment.

At least one foreign bank has already applied to open a branch in one western city, and others are reported to be showing interest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tokyo to Beijing: Stop Drilling!

Japan has asked China to stop drilling for gas in a disputed area along the two countries' sea border in the East China Sea.

A Japanese foreign ministry official said Wednesday that his country deeply regrets China's decision to start extracting natural gas from the region.

Beijing does not recognize Tokyo's territorial claims in the area west of Japan's southernmost islands. However, it is not clear if the drilling is within what Japan considers its exclusive economic zone.

On Tuesday, China said it was within its rights to continue drilling in the area, but was willing to negotiate with Japan over the territorial waters.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Drilling Dispute Escalates

A territorial row between Japan and China has escalated, with the Japanese government accusing the Chinese of starting to extract energy in disputed waters between the two countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Akira Chiba told reporters that "usually, where there is smoke, there is a fire." He said Tokyo is concerned the Chinese might be extracting resources from the Japanese side through an undersea pipeline, and that has prompted the Japanese to file a protest with Beijing.

"We have told the China side our regrets that this is being done, because we have asked the Chinese side time and again to, number one, provide us with information about their findings in the area, (and) number two, to stop exploitation," he said.

Japan claims the activity straddles a median line that separates the two countries' 200 nautical mile exclusivity zones. China does not recognize the boundary, and says its exclusive economic zone includes waters farther east, nearly as far as the Okinawan islands, which part of Southern Japan.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing on Tuesday said China has repeatedly made its stance on the issue clear; namely, that the gas field exploration is taking place in areas that are indisputably Chinese coastal waters.

Both China and Japan expressed a desire to resolve the dispute through dialogue.

Both nations rely heavily on imports of energy, and are attempting to secure new sources of oil and natural gas.

Japan two months ago granted test drilling rights to a domestic entity to look for gas in the same disputed waters, after decades of refusing to issue such licenses. That prompted a protest from China.

Earlier this month, Japan said its patrol planes had spotted five Chinese warships near another Chinese exploration installation around the disputed waters.

Monday, September 19, 2005

China Buys Ecuador Oil Interests

A consortium of state-owned Chinese petroleum companies has bought the oil and pipeline interests of Canada's EnCana Corporation in Ecuador.

Andes Petroleum Company, a group led by the China National Petroleum Company, paid nearly $1.5 billion for the assets, which include an oil field with 143 million barrels of proven reserves.

China has been snapping up oil and gas interests around the world to help fuel its fast-growing economy.

The latest official statistics from China show the economy continues to soar, despite government efforts to cool it down. China's fixed asset investments grew nearly 30 percent in August from a year ago, and industrial output increased 16 percent in August. Inflation has slowed, though, to 1.3 percent last month, from one-point-eight percent in July.

While most Asian economies are expecting higher inflation because of record oil prices, subsidies are so far shielding Chinese consumers from paying more for their fuel.

The Hong Kong-listed clothing retailer Esprit Holdings says profit jumped 67 percent, to $430 million, for the year ending in June. Chief Financial Officer John Poon says Europe was the key.

"Although Germany is still our core market, it represented 48 percent of the group's total turnover year on year," he says. "However, the rest of Europe, which now represents 37 percent of the group total turnover, achieved a year-on-year growth of 39 percent, which contributes about half of the 26 percent of increase in turnover."

Sales in Asia, which represent only nine percent of the group's total revenue, grew 21 percent.

The company, which was founded in California in the 1960s, wants to rebuild its presence in the United States, and is planning to open new branches there selling women's clothing.

In Australia, Parliament after much debate has voted to sell the government's controlling stake in the telecommunications giant Telstra. Politicians were worried that residents of the remote Australian outback would lose services once Telstra was privatized. The government stands to earn some $23 billion from the sale, which is expected next year.

Friday, September 16, 2005

US Removes China From Drug List

The White House says President Bush has removed China and Vietnam from the US government's list of major drug-transit or drug-producing countries.

In a statement, Thursday, the White House did not specifically say what led the president to make his decision. However, it noted that the decision-making process requires the president to consider a country's performance in areas such as reducing narcotics production.

The president is required to report annually to Congress on countries that the US government says are major drug-transiting or drug-producing nations. This year's list names Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.

The White House says Burma and Venezuela "failed demonstrably" to adhere to their obligations under international anti-narcotics agreements.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Toxic Chemical Found in Taiwan Fish

Taiwan authorities say they have found a cancer causing chemical in fresh fish from farms on the island, following recent scares in Hong Kong about tainted fish.

Health officials in Taiwan Thursday said tests at Taipei markets of grouper fish from farms in the south of the island turned up traces of the chemical, called malachite green.

The officials did not identify the farms, saying the investigation was continuing. Malachite green is used to treat certain kinds of infections in fish.

The development comes after Hong Kong health officials found the chemical in eels and other fish shipped from the mainland. Hong Kong said traces of the chemical had also turned up in some fish from Taiwan.

Business Leaders Warn WTO Meeting in Hong Kong 'on Verge of Failure'

With just three months to go before the World Trade Organization opens its Sixth Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong, business leaders and trade experts are expressing concern that not enough progress is being made to ensure a successful gathering.

WTO negotiators are working hard to prepare a crucial draft statement for the conference.

In an unusual step, six organizations of business executives from around the world recently sent a stern letter to the members of the World Trade Organization.

In blunt language, the letter said the six groups were deeply concerned that the WTO's Doha Development Agenda--a broad statement of goals and principles drafted four years ago--"is on the verge of failure."

The groups are from Australia, Canada, Europe, Japan, Mexico and the United States. They urged WTO nations to work harder to complete the first draft of a Ministerial Declaration, which will form the basis of negotiations in Hong Kong. Without a solid, detailed draft, the groups say, the meeting will not achieve its goal of expanding world trade.

The Doha Development Agenda was drafted in 2001 at the WTO's Fourth Ministerial Conference. It states that WTO members want to ensure that developing nations share in the growth of world trade and that the poorest nations can fully participate in the global trading system.

The agenda sets out crucial trade areas that must be addressed--including agriculture, market access for manufactured goods and trade in services.

The WTO wants to complete all negotiations for the Doha agenda by the end of next year. But to do that, the members need to agree on dozens of intricate regulatory methods, or modalities, for reducing trade barriers.

Hu Offers Aid Tied to Taiwan Issue

Chinese President Hu Jintao is offering aid to some of the world's poorest countries. But he made much of the deal contingent on the state's recognition of China over Taiwan.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday in New York, Hu said China will eliminate tariffs on most products from the 39 least-developed countries with diplomatic ties to China.

He also announced a series of aid measures for poor countries that includes job training, medicines, debt forgiveness and a $10 billion loan program.

He did not make clear whether all the aid measures he mentioned would apply only to China's diplomatic partners.

Beijing does not allow countries to recognize both China and Taiwan, which it sees as a renegade province.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Taiwan President to Visit Central American and Caribbean 'Allies'

Officials in Taiwan say President Chen Shui-bian is expected to travel to Central America and the Caribbean next week.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Nicaragua and Guatemala are among the nations on his itinerary.

The Taipei Times Wednesday quotes a government spokesman as saying the trip is aimed at strengthening friendship between Taiwan and its allies.

Taipei's participation in diplomatic affairs has been a controversial issue since 1949, when Taiwan and China split at the end of a civil war. China continues to claim sovereignty over Taiwan.

Only 26 countries, mostly small nations in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, recognize Taiwan's government.

The United States recognizes the People's Republic of China as China's sole legal government, and acknowledges Beijing's position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bush, Hu Meet in NY

Efforts to end North Korea's nuclear program and ease the huge trade imbalance between the United States and China dominated talks Tuesday between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao. The two leaders met in New York on the sidelines of a special United Nations gathering of world leaders.

The meeting took place as six party talks resumed in Beijing on Pyongyang's nuclear program. Speaking through an interpreter, the Chinese leader promised to press for progress in the negotiations.

"We stand ready to step up our communication and cooperation with the United States so we can facilitate fresh progress in the second session of the fourth round of the six party talks," Hu said.

Hu also pledged action to ease China's trade imbalance with the US. He said China is willing to take measures to increase imports from America and cut its huge trade surplus, which hit $17.7 billion in July.

Hu made no specific mention of Iran and international efforts to convince Tehran to abandon nuclear projects that could have military uses. Earlier in the day, Bush said he would discuss Iran with leaders of other countries with permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

Disaster Death Tolls Declassified

China will no longer regard natural disaster death tolls as a state secret, reversing a practice that has been standard for years. The Chinese government describes this switch as part of an effort to improve transparency. However, the government continues to maintain tight control over information most other countries consider public.

Official news media report China will declassify figures and documents regarding natural disasters. The report explain that the move will help disaster prevention and relief work, and will also help build a transparent government.

Normally, China announces death figures from disasters such as earthquakes, flood, and typhoon through government agencies, or through official state media. Yet, in the past, not all natural disasters were reported or casualty figures were understated. For instance, the famine in the late 1950s and early 1960s--the Communist Party still hides the death toll, believed to be near 20 million.

Despite the decision to declassify information on natural disasters in China, it is unclear whether the move will cover major disease outbreaks. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) should teach China a lesson.

When the disease appeared in southern China in late 2002, China kept it a secret; as a result, the SARS virus was able to spread throughout the country and across the world. More than 800 people died, the vast majority of them in China, and the country's economy suffered because travelers avoided the region.

A World Health Organization representative in China, Henk Bekedam, stresses the importance of giving out accurate information about any outbreak.

"Information in the beginning is absolutely crucial, is not only important you know that there is a new disease but also to understand the extent of the disease," he says. "One thing we know so clearly from SARS that diseases don't respect borders. Disease in one country instantly is a threat to another country."

International human rights groups have often criticized China for its hazy definition of state secrets--which can include such figures as gold reserves, and regulations regarding journalists--matters most other governments consider public.

China often manipulates secrecy and subversion laws to jail critics. In recent years, several journalists have been jailed for reporting material Beijing did not want out. And it took steps to silence a doctor who spoke to news reporters and foreigners about the SARS outbreak. Some researchers working for overseas universities also have been arrested as spies because they published information overseas that already had been published to Chinese academics.

Beijing Hosting New NK Nuke Talks

The six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program have resumed. Once again, the talks are being held in Beijing.

The United States has been saying since October 2002 that North Korea has a secret nuclear weapons program. Since then, Pyongyang has pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expelled United Nations monitors, re-opened a nuclear facility it had promised to dismantle in 1994 and announced that it has developed some nuclear devices, though that claim has not been independently verified.

For the past several years, the US has been trying to persuade North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons capabilities. That effort has been conducted through the negotiating forum known as the six-party talks, bringing together the US, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea.

Since August 2003, diplomats from the six countries met four times, the last session for about two weeks in Beijing, last month.

The fundamental issue facing negotiators is whether or not North Korea should be permitted to have any nuclear program. Pyongyang is demanding economic incentives in exchange for nuclear disarmament, along with security guarantees, especially against a military attack.

Though chief US negotiator Christopher Hill has already said on several occasions that Washington had no plans to attack North Korea, it's highly unlikely that the US would ever formally guarantee the security of a the world's leading rogue state.

If the talks fail, the US will probably refer the matter to the UN Security Council in an effort to seek economic and political sanctions against Pyongyang.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Air China Hit by Rising Fuel Costs

Rising fuel costs have hit rising China's national carrier, Air China.

The airline is among the latest Asian airlines to see profit decline because of a rising fuel bill. Air China says its profit for the first half of this year slumped 25 percent to $73 million even though passenger revenue rose nearly 15 percent while cargo and mail services income jumped 21 percent.

Ma Xulun, Air China's president, says that considering the oil situation and increased competition, the results are still good.

"The operating cost went up by 19.7 percent resulted in a decrease in operating income compared to the same period last year," Ma said. "However, among the players in the domestic market, Air China was the most profitable."

Also feeling the crunch are consumers in some parts of Asia. In South Korea, consumer confidence in August fell for the fifth consecutive month. Officials say high oil costs and South Korea's sluggish economic are to blame.

But in Hong Kong, consumers appear upbeat. Strong consumer confidence boosted retail sales nearly eight percent for the first seven months of the year. And Monday's opening of the Hong Kong Disneyland theme park is expected to further fuel consumer spending in the territory.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Yahoo Cofounder Defends Company Collaboration With Chinese Police

The cofounder of the Internet company Yahoo, Jerry Yang, says his company was complying with Chinese law when it handed over information that led to the imprisonment of a Chinese journalist.

Speaking at a forum about Internet issues Saturday in the resort city of Hangzhou in eastern China, Yang said he was dismayed by the court action that resulted in a 10-year sentence for journalist Shi Tao, but that a legal order had been served on Yahoo, and the firm was obliged to comply.

Shi, convicted in April, was charged with revealing state secrets. Evidence against the journalist centered on an e-mail message he sent last year that made public a government censorship order barring Chinese news media from marking the 15th anniversary of Beijing's crackdown on democracy activists at Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

Yahoo provided information that allowed Chinese government investigators to trace the message to Shi's computer. Yang said his company receives frequent requests for such information from law-enforcement agencies, and it complies with all such legal orders that are properly documented.

Friday, September 09, 2005

British Union Leader Welcomes China-EU Textile Agreement

Britain's senior union leader says he welcomes a deal that has settled a textile dispute between China and the European Union, but he expresses concerns about China's treatment of its workers.

The general-secretary of Britain's Trades Union Congress, Brendan Barber, says this week's deal to clear nearly 90 million Chinese garments that had piled up in EU ports is good for all sides.

Barber discussed the issue at a news conference with foreign correspondents based in London.

"I was glad that that agreement was reached to resolve that particular impasse,” he said. “We have not wanted to advocate a crude protectionist position."

The EU says China had exceeded its annual textile export quota to Europe, and the garments being cleared through EU customs are being counted against Beijing's 2006 quota.

The dispute has exposed rifts in the EU between countries with strong textile industries they want to protect, such as Italy and Spain, and countries with strong retail sectors such as Britain, Germany and the Nordic states.

Barber, whose labor federation represents unions with 6.5 million members, says China will pose an ongoing challenge for companies and workers.

He says the state of workers' rights in China is particularly distressing for trade unionists.

"We are very concerned that at the moment we don't think China respects trade union rights in the way that we would expect,” Barber said. “We see the reports of a growing number of industrial disputes in which the response of the Chinese authorities can sometimes be very, very harsh."

Snipers to Protect Olympic Games

China has assembled a team of 30 sharpshooters--synonym for snipers--to guard the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The official China Daily newspaper reported Friday, that the marksmen were picked from a group of more than 200 police officers. They competed for places on the sniper team during a month of trials.

The paper says the sharpshooters could be dispatched to handle kidnappings, riots or any incidents involving firearms that might develop at the Beijing games.

Ma Qiang, a senior Beijing police official, says China's Olympic security team includes officers with outstanding skills in fields such as forensics, bomb disposal and negotiations.

China Daily said organizers of the games have been increasingly concerned about security since the subway and bus bombings in London two months ago that killed more than 50 people.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

HK Leads List of Free Economies

The world's most unfettered economy is ironically controlled by a Communist government.

So says the conservative, Washington, DC-based economic research group, the Cato Institute, which again ranked Hong Kong as the world's freest economy in its annual survey. The so-called economic freedom index was released Thursday.

The former British colony that is now a special administrative zone within China ranks number one in all of the categories used to prepare the index. These include the smallness of the government sector, respect for property rights and law, access to sound money, free trade, and a small degree of regulation. The report's author, James Gwartney of Florida State University, says Hong Kong has a ranking of 8.7 on a 10-point scale.

"Singapore ranks very closely behind and tied for third place you have Switzerland, New Zealand the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland," Gwartney says.

According to Gwartney, the freest economies also tend to be the richest, fasting growing, and most attractive to foreign investors.

"Per capita income [in the top quintile] is in excess of $25,000, whereas in the bottom quintile it is about $2,400. So [it is] about 10 times as high," he says.

In the nearly 20 years that the index has been compiled there have been relatively few shifts in the rankings of the 127 economies surveyed. China, the world's fastest growing big economy, has advanced as its economy has become more open. It's now ranked 86, ahead of Brazil, 88 and Russia, 115.

The survey finds that Nicaragua, Peru, Uganda, Ghana and Zambia have made the biggest advances in recent years. Economics professor Gwartney says Estonia, which wasn't even an independent nation before 1991 now ranks number nine in the index.

The survey says that economic freedom around the world is on the rise as the average index score has advanced from 5.2 in 1985 to 6.4 in 2003.

Asian Development Bank Sees Steady Economic Growth for China and India

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) expects developing economies in Asia as a whole to grow a strong 6.6 percent this year. But the ADB says there are large regional differences, and rising oil prices are a potential threat to the overall strong trend.

In its Outlook 2005 Update report, the Asian Development Bank paints a varied picture for this year.

The two economic giants, China and India, are forecast to continue their rapid expansion. China is expected to grow by 9.2 percent - up from the ADB's forecast in April of 8.5. The prediction for India, whose fiscal year ends next March, remains at 6.9 percent

But Southeast Asian growth has been downgraded to 5 percent, from 5.4.

ADB chief economist Ifzal Ali cites higher oil prices plus a downturn in the electronics cycle that has hurt Malaysia and the Philippines.

"We've witnessed that Thailand and the Philippines have suffered from drought in the earlier part of this year," he adds. "And Thailand has also suffered from the insurgency that is going on in the southern part of the country."

Ali notes that oil prices have risen almost 75 percent across the region since the start of 2005, and he says signs of strain are starting to show. Import bills are up sharply, oil shortages are increasing, and currency reserves are starting to fall in some countries.

He predicts, however, that the Asian economies will adjust in time.

The ADB report also says a successful political transition and an improving investment climate are expected to lift growth in Indonesia, and strong growth is expected to continue in Vietnam.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

US Pacific Commander Questions Rising China's Military Buildup

While visiting China, the commander of United States forces in the Pacific, Admiral William Fallon, suggested that Beijing's ongoing military buildup might be too extensive for a country not facing any outside threats.

For the past several years, China has been overhauling its military, each year spending tens of billions of dollars on purchases of fighter jets, destroyers, missile systems, nuclear submarines and other hardware, primarily from Russia.

Visiting China for the first time since assuming command, six months ago, Fallon appeared to question why the Beijing government is spending so much on arming itself.

Said Fallon: "I'm not about to sit here and determine what percentage of GDP or how many yuan or whatever ought to be devoted, but my sense is that I don't see a particular threat to China, so military capabilities expansion, [it] seems to me, ought to be commensurate with the growth and development of a country."

Chinese officials this year said they had raised military spending by 12 percent, although analysts say the real figure is probably much higher. At the same time, officials said, GDP growth this year has been around 9.5 percent.

The Pentagon issued a report in July saying China's military expansion might threaten others in the region, such as Taiwan, a self-ruled island that Beijing considers a part of Chinese territory and has threatened to take by force.

Chinese analysts responded angrily to that report, accusing the US of trying to contain China. Fallon dismissed such assertions as "nonsense." Holding up a glass of water to emphasize his point, he said perceptions in the US vary on whether or not China is a military threat.

"People have a tendency to always look at things one of two ways," he said. "This is almost full, or it's almost half empty. I choose to take the positive, optimistic view, that we can make almost anything we want of relationships."

Did Yahoo Help Beijing Convict Chinese Journalist of Espionage?

Did Yahoo help send a Chinese journalist to jail for a decade on phony espionage charges?

It sure looks that way.

The international press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says Yahoo provided the Chinese authorities with information that helped convict a Chinese journalist of espionage charges.

The statement came from the group's Paris headquarters. It quotes Chinese court documents as saying Yahoo provided the authorities with information used to convict journalist Shi Tao of leaking state secrets to foreigners. He received a 10-year sentence.

Shi worked for Contemporary Business News, a business magazine based in China's Hunan Province.

His crime, according to the authorities, is that he provided details of the Chinese government's new restrictions on journalists to a foreigner.

Reporters Without Borders says court papers show Yahoo told police the date, time, and location from which the message had been sent, and to which recipient.

Julien Pain, head of the Internet Freedom desk at Reporters Without Borders, says his group is not accusing Yahoo of doing anything illegal. But he says foreign companies working in the business of information should resist providing information that might interfere with basic human rights.

Says Pain: "We are asking Yahoo to take a really strong position on that and to say, 'We have, as an American company, to respect certain basic values, universal values, human rights. And we believe that you're going too far, so that even if it's legal in your country, we, as an American company, we won't do it.'"

Internet service providers in China, as in many Western countries, routinely cooperate with law enforcement agencies on criminal investigations. And Yahoo routinely cooperates with lawyers seeking to uncover the identities of anonymous message board posters--for example, in cases involving the publishing of critical messages about publicly traded companies on Yahoo Finance--though most Internet users are not aware of the policy.

China, however, often uses the term "state secrets" to restrict the flow of information that would routinely be made public in other countries. Many journalists have been detained or jailed for allegedly releasing information that makes the Chinese authorities uncomfortable.

It was not clear whether Yahoo officials knew what the investigation into journalist Shi was about or what charges authorities had sought to bring against him when it passed on the information.

Numerous calls by journalists to Yahoo's US headquarters in California went unanswered Wednesday.

This is not the first time that a foreign Internet company has come under fire from press freedom advocates for complying with the Communist authorities' restrictions on the flow of information.

Earlier this year, human rights and free press advocates criticized Google, for agreeing to block Chinese users' access to sites that discuss democracy and other subjects restricted by the Chinese government.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Blair Envisions Democratic China

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says he is optimistic that China will eventually match its economic development with democracy and more respect for human rights. Blair held talks in Beijing with Chinese officials on Tuesday.

He joined Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao for the signing of several agreements on issues ranging from Chinese purchases of European aircraft to the British purchase of a nearly 20 percent stake of a Chinese bank.

Blair said he also touched on the issue of China's human rights record. He said China's premier seemed willing to discuss the issue, and to grasp what is at stake for Beijing in its dealings with the international community.

Said Blair: "It's not that people resent China, but they've got a question mark because they see this enormous economic power and they ask, 'Well, will this developing economy be matched by political development and development in the field of human rights as well?'"

Blair added that in a country that is developing very fast, there is usually "unstoppable momentum" toward greater political freedom and human rights.

Commercial deals signed Tuesday included the sale of 10 Airbus A-330 passenger jets to the state-owned China Southern Airlines, and the $123 million sale of a 19.99 percent share of China's Bohai Bank to the UK's Standard Chartered.

The two countries also inked agreements on cultural exchanges and tourism.

Blair, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, arrived in China on Monday as Chinese and EU negotiators reached a tentative deal that raises the limits on European imports of Chinese textiles.

He headed to India late Tuesday for an EU-Indian summit in New Delhi.

Monday, September 05, 2005

EU, China Agree on Textiles

China and the European Union have reached an agreement to unblock Chinese-made garments stuck at ports of entry in Europe. The two sides struck the deal as Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, which currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, began a visit to China meant to promote trade.

Blair arrived in the Chinese capital Monday for a one-day EU-China summit. Acknowledging the difficulty of the textile talks that lasted for days, Blair told a group of business leaders China and Europe must work more than ever to build trade ties in the age of globalization.

"In the world that is developing around us today, there is, of course, a place for managing change," Blair said. "What there is no case for doing is resisting change. And the changes that are happening around us, and that are driving this growth in trade between China and Europe, are changes that I see, not as a threat, but as an opportunity."

Negotiations in Beijing stretched for days before EU officials announced a deal in Brussels. The agreement effectively raises import quotas, allowing for about 75 million bras, t-shirts, sweaters, trousers and other Chinese-made garments to enter EU nations.

At a briefing Monday, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said the agreement was fair and acceptable to both sides. However, the deal still requires the approval of the EU's 25 member nations.

Chinese textile exports have surged since worldwide import quotas expired at the start of this year, raising concerns that cheap Chinese garment imports may drive European textile manufacturers out of business.

Talks on a similar textile dispute between China and the United States ended last week with no agreement. US officials said they are consulting with the Chinese on the date and location of a new round of negotiations.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

EU-China Trade Talks Resume

European and Chinese trade leaders have held talks ahead of Monday's EU-China summit in Beijing. EU leaders are hopeful an agreement can be reached on a pressing textile trade dispute.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson met with Chinese Trade Minister Bo Xilai on Sunday on their textile trade dispute that has blocked tons of Chinese-made clothes from reaching European stores.

The dispute began this year when global quotas expired, prompting European textile producers to complain China was flooding markets with cheap goods and driving them out of business.

Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Mandelson said he is optimistic a compromise could be reached in time for this week's EU-China summit. "We went into this agreement together," he said. "It is strong. It is robust. It will endure. And, whatever teething troubles it has, we need to sort them out together."

Mandelson and Bo had ironed out a deal in June for new limits on Chinese imports. But China quickly exceeded those 2005 quotas, and some 75 million garments are sitting impounded in European ports.

European retailers say their shelves may soon be empty, if the millions of T-shirts, trousers, and other Chinese-made clothes are not released.

EU and Chinese negotiators met for a week in August, but failed to resolve whether China would use some of its 2006 and 2007 import allowances now, or whether it could get an expanded 2005 quota without future cuts.

Any deal must have the approval of all 25 EU member states, which are divided between textile producing states wanting to limit Chinese competition and consumer nations, which want Chinese goods.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso arrived in Beijing on Sunday, saying he thought a constructive solution was possible.

Hu Postpones Official US Visit

Chinese President Hu Jintao has postponed his first official visit to the United States as President Bush this week deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Both leaders have agreed to reschedule their meeting when they attend the United Nations annual gathering in New York later this month.

Hu Jintao and President Bush were scheduled to meet Wednesday for what would have been the Chinese President's first official visit to Washington. However, the two leaders talked by phone Saturday night and agreed to postpone the visit as Bush deals with the crisis in Louisiana caused by Hurricane Katrina.

In a Foreign Ministry Web site statement, Hu says the Chinese people "stand steadfastly" with Americans as they face this serious natural disaster. China has offered $5 million in aid for victims of the hurricane.

The two leaders agreed to meet later this month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Hu was also going to visit Seattle and Washington and to give a speech at Yale University before traveling to Canada and Mexico.

Relations between the US and China have been strained in recent months from a textile trade dispute and concerns about China's energy demands and military spending.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

UN Human Rights Commissioner Asks Beijing for Capital Punishment Data

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, is asking China for more information on its policy of capital punishment.

China's communist leaders have traditionally been reluctant to discuss their capital punishment policy, and do not disclose how many people Chinese courts execute every year.

Human rights advocates assert China has among the highest number of executions in the world, and note that the authorities hand down death sentences for crimes of varying severity--from murder to tax evasion. But activists have never been able to come up with a reliable number.

On Friday at the end of a five-day visit, Arbour called on Beijing to provide more information. She indicated she was especially concerned that ethnic minorities and mentally ill convicts might be receiving inordinate numbers of death sentences.

"We know from worldwide experience that very often when you go beyond the numbers, you uncover patterns of sometimes indirect discrimination," Arbour said.

There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials on whether they would comply with Arbour's request for information.

During her stay, the UN official met with Chinese officials, including ministers, the head of the Supreme Court, and selected activist groups. Security at venues where she appeared was tight, as the authorities worked to keep her away from people trying to hand her petitions.

On Wednesday, Arbour and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Shen Guofang signed an agreement by which the UN and China will coordinate efforts to reform China's legal system. The aim is to allow China to ratify the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In the course of her visit, Arbour also raised the cases of several jailed dissidents, including journalists and activists.

Friday, September 02, 2005

No State Visit for Hu

When Hu Jintao embarks on his first trip to the United States since becoming China's president, he will not get what analysts say he most wanted: a formal state visit.

The fact that Washington has not been willing to give Hu Jintao a state visit is a source of dissatisfaction to the Chinese.

China experts say American and Chinese officials spent months arguing over the protocol for Hu's meeting with President Bush, such as whether Hu will receive a 21-gun salute (he will) and whether he will be given a state dinner (he will not).

Analysts say the wrangling over how the Chinese president will be hosted at the White House indicates how much is at stake for Hu's prestige back home. They say Hu wants to prove to his audience in China that the US is not trying to contain China's rise as a global power.

Says Evan Medeiros, a China expert at the RAND Corporation think-tank: "First and foremost, the Chinese are looking for an acknowledgment from the United States that China does not represent both an economic and security threat to both the United States and to regional order in the Asia-Pacific region."

Hu will be visiting the US just as US-China tensions have increased.

The Pentagon said in a recent report that China's rapid military modernization could threaten Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory. And Washington remains concerned about Chinese efforts to gain more access to American technology.

Trade disputes have further irritated relations. American and Chinese negotiators have failed to reach an agreement on limiting Chinese textile imports to the US. American lawmakers are increasingly concerned about the trade deficit with China, now $162 billion. And although China recently raised the value of its currency by two percent, many in Washington complain that the revaluation is not enough to stem a rising tide of cheap Chinese imports.

Some in Washington warn that the United States and China could be headed for a state of "strategic distrust."

Says Randy Schriver, a former State Department official for East Asian affairs: "I think this does require, as I said, some proactive effort to try to arrest this. If not, I think we run the risk of waking up five, eight years from now in a much worse situation, where we're not just competitors or rivals, but we're real adversaries."

Still, most China experts say that when Bush meets with Hu, Bush will emphasize ways in which the US and China can cooperate further. High on the American agenda is how the two countries can persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs.

Hu will also have a unique opportunity to reach out to Americans and put a human face on China.

A Third of Chinese Coal Mines Shut

China has ordered one third of its coal mines to suspend production as part of its effort to improve safety in the country's high-risk mining industry. But some experts say the campaign may not be enough.

Seven thousand mines are on the suspension list. These mines--many unlicensed--reportedly do not meet safety regulations and lack proper mining equipment. The State Administration of Coal Mine Safety this week said if the shuttered mines do not improve their safety, they will be shut down permanently.

China has about 24,000 coal mines and they are the most dangerous in the world. More than 2,700 miners died in the first half of this year in fires, floods, and explosions.

As part of the safety campaign, the government has used explosives to block the entrances of several dozen illegal mines in Guangdong Province in southern China.

China's growing thirst for electricity has increased demand for coal, and prices for the fuel have risen. As a result, many companies have opened illegal mines, where the accidents most often occur.

The central government has repeatedly vowed to crackdown on corruption, which is behind many mining disasters. Beijing acknowledges that many local officials are illegally involved in the coal business and that mine owners often bribe officials to get licenses or to continue operating.

The director of the China Labor Bulletin in Hong Kong, Han Dongfang, says the government is unlikely to succeed in this battle for safety.

"These government officials are very deeply involved in this business--their personal interests are in the coal mining industry," he says. "The central government has no capacity to stop these corrupt local officials from being involved in this business of making money for them selves."

Han says past safety campaigns have had little effect. He suggests that the best way to improve safety is to give miners a say on their work conditions.

"There is a great element that is not there, in that the workers should have the right to organize their own union," Han says. "Letting Chinese workers have the right to practice trade union law, elect their own trade unions to monitor working conditions everyday, is the only solution."

But he says the government is not willing to give them that much control.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Underground Catholic Bishop Dies

Vatican radio says Roman Catholic Bishop Xie Shiguang, the underground bishop of Mingdong, China has died of leukemia at the age of 88.

Monsignor Xie spent 28 years in prison because of his faith. According to the religious news agency Asianews, Monsignor Xie refused Chinese government demands that he register with the agency that controls churches. He was ordained in 1949 and became a bishop in 1984.

China's official, state-sponsored catholic church has about four million worshippers. The underground church loyal to the Pope numbers about 10-million, according to Vatican estimates.

China permits worship in the government controlled churches, but Chinese Catholics loyal to the pope join the underground church.

Pope Benedict has said he would like to see closer ties between the Vatican and Catholics in China.

China Denies Having Bioweapons

The Chinese government has dismissed a report by the US State Department that says China retains "some elements" of a biological weapons program.

The report was mandated by Congress and published by the Associated Press Tuesday. It says evidence indicates that Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and possibly Cuba maintain biological weapons programs.

The report also says China retains "some elements" of a 50-year-old biological warfare program, a statement that drew anger from Chinese officials. Zhang Yan of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's arms control department dismissed the report.

"These statements are far from the truth, and are irresponsible," he said. "We hope that the US side will stop such erroneous practices, and we also express our strong dissatisfaction."

The denial came as Chinese officials unveiled a white paper on China's arms control policy. The paper says the country is committed to developing its military for defensive and not offensive purposes, and abides by a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons.

China signed and ratified the United Nations' Chemical Weapons Convention more than eight years ago, renouncing the use of such weapons.

But arms control experts say evidence suggests that China may still be in possession of some components--such as dual-use chemicals and delivery equipment--of a biological weapons program.

Textile Talks Fail

American and Chinese negotiators meeting in Beijing have again failed to reach an agreement to limit surging Chinese textile imports into the United States, despite extending talks into a third day.

The negotiators met for an unscheduled third day of talks in an attempt to find a solution that eluded them earlier in the week. But US special textile negotiator David Spooner later said they were unable to reach a comprehensive agreement on limiting cheap clothing imports from China.