Saturday, December 31, 2005

Hu's Message: One China, Peacefully Rising

Chinese President Hu Jintao marked New Year's Eve Saturday with a speech stressing the country's commitment to peaceful development.

In a speech broadcast on China Central Television, Hu said China's development is peaceful, open, cooperative and harmonious. He said the Chinese people will strive for world peace through their own development.

The Chinese leader offered New Year's greetings to people in Taiwan, and said Beijing would seek peaceful reunification with the island, which China regards as a rogue territory.

He added that China would never sway from the "one China" principle.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Beijing News Reporters Walk Out in Protest

At least 100 Beijing News reporters have walked out of their jobs following the firing on Thursday of three editors of the unusually outspoken newspaper.

The two-year-old tabloid has enjoyed rising circulation, and become known for stories that are more critical of authorities than those typical of China's tightly-controlled, state-owned media.

Stories the paper published included reports of official corruption, such as cases of Chinese authorities failing to pay for land acquired from peasants. It has also reported on the recent spate of coal mine accidents and poor working conditions.

Julien Pain of the Paris-based free press advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says the dismissal of editor Yang Bin and two deputy editors is an attempt by the government to clamp down on liberal elements in the media.

"I think that the government is scared of what might happen in the country, if real information is given to the people," Pain said.

Since the dismissals, Chinese Web sites have been carrying scores of comments denouncing their removal.

The decision to fire the editors came as the central government this week outlined new measures to promote openness to the media, reflecting what some analysts say is a continuing debate within the Chinese leadership over how far liberalization should go.

The Beijing News was published Friday. But many stories were not written by from its own reporters, but from the official Chinese news agency.

WHO Issues New Bird Flu Warning

The World Health Organization is warning of the danger of small, undetected bird flu outbreaks in China, following the country's third confirmed human fatality from the virus.

China announced on Thursday the latest bird flu victim was a 41-year-old woman in Fujian province who had died last week. No outbreaks were reported in the area where she lived, and authorities are unsure how she contracted the virus.

The WHO's spokesman in Beijing, Roy Wadia, said Friday many bird flu outbreaks among wild birds and poultry in China are small and hard to detect. He said it is hard for China to alert the public when infected birds die in small numbers.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Two Dead, 23 Trapped in New Mining Accidents

China's mines--the world's deadliest--have claimed more lives.

As reported by Chinese state media, two new mining accidents have killed two miners and trapped 23 underground.

In the first incident, a coal mine was flooded early Wednesday in northern China's Shanxi province, killing two miners. Rescuers are trying to reach 15 miners who failed to escape the flood in Dianwan town, Zuoyan county.

The second accident occurred Thursday in the eastern province of Shandong. A gold mine was flooded in Penglai city, trapping eight miners who were inside.

Officials say the causes of both flooding incidents are being investigated.

China has suffered a string of deadly mine disasters in recent weeks. A mine explosion in Heilongjiang province killed 171 miners in late November, while another blast in Hebei province killed 91 miners earlier this month.

China Reports Third Human Death From Bird Flu

China's health ministry reported the country's third human death from bird flu on Thursday.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, the victim was a 41-year-old factory worker in the southeastern city of Sanming in Fujian province. She became sick in early December and died last week. Authorities are unsure how she contracted the disease as no animal cases have been reported in the area.

The case is China's seventh human bird flu infection.

China, Japan Again Trade Accusations

China-Japan relations took another turn for the worse this week, as the two nations exchanged harsh words over the suicide of a Japanese consular officer in Shanghai more than a year ago.

Japan blamed China for the diplomat's death in May 2004. A Japanese official said the diplomat killed himself because Chinese security agents were trying to blackmail him in order to obtain secret information--"an impermisable act," in the words of Japanese spokesperson, citing the terms of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which says host nations shall guarantee the inviolability of foreign diplomats.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Qin Gang responded angrily at a regular press briefing Thursday. Qin attributed the allegations to ulterior motives. He also said China expresses strong indignation at what he described as the "vile behavior" of the Japanese government, which he accused of seeking to smear China's image.

90 Percent of China's Urban Underground Water Supplies Said to be Contaminated

A Chinese environmental official says underground water supplies are contaminated in about 90 percent of China's cities, due to the country's fast-paced economic growth.

Vice Minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration Zhang Lijun is quoted as saying China will face even greater water pollution problems in the next 25 years, as its economy continues to expand.

China News Service, a non-governmental news agency in China, reported that Zhang delivered his comments about water pollution at an environmental hearing in Beijing on Tuesday. Delegates at the meeting are said to have been told that pollution is most extensive in cities in northern China.

The government-run Xinhua news agency and other official media republished China News Service's account.

Underground water supplies are estimated to provide drinking water for almost 70 percent of China's population, as well as irrigation for about 40 percent of the nation's farmland.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Beijing Demands Washington Withdraw Sanctions

China has reacted angrily to the United States' decision to place sanctions on six Chinese companies accused of supplying Iran with sensitive military equipment.

China's Foreign Ministry Wednesday demanded that the US lift the sanctions immediately. The ministry said the US actions will not benefit the two countries' cooperation in anti-proliferation efforts.

The year-long sanctions announced Tuesday block the firms from doing business with the US government or obtaining American high-tech products. The US State Department says the restrictions are an effective tool in blocking Iran from developing missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

The six Chinese companies are a missile exporter known as Norinco, the chemical equipment group Zibo Chemet Co., China Aero-Technology Import-Export Corp., Hongdu Aviation Industry Group, Ounion International Economic and Technical Cooperative Ltd., and Limmt Metallurgy and Minerals Co.

Sanctions were also imposed on two Indian companies and an Austrian firm.

China Says It Will Spend More on AIDS Prevention

China says it is sharply increasing government spending on AIDS prevention in an effort to limit the spread of the HIV virus that causes the disease.

The China Daily reports the annual budget for AIDS prevention programs will rise to $185 million over the next two years-- nearly twice the $99 million spent this year on anti-AIDS campaigns.

Beijing's spending on AIDS prevention has increased dramatically since 2001, when $12 million was budgeted for such efforts.

Wednesday's announcement says China intends to drastically reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS, aiming for a maximum 1.5 million infections by 2010.

Beijing says 840,000 Chinese are currently HIV-positive, but some experts believe that sharply understates the true extent of infection (in the world's most populous country). The World Health Organization estimates the AIDS virus could spread to up to 10 million Chinese during the next five years.

Monday, December 26, 2005

China Planning New Bird Flu Vaccination Program

China is stepping up efforts to make and distribute a new vaccine to stop the spread of the bird flu virus known as H5N1, and says it plans to produce one billion doses by the end of the week.

State media quoted China's Agriculture Ministry as saying the one billion doses are to be administered to birds early next year, part of a larger effort to immunize more than 14 billion poultry.

Not all experts agree that vaccination is the best way to go. The World Health Organization's top official in China, Dr. Henk Bekedam, said recently that longer-term solutions, such as keeping farm animals separate from humans, are necessary, since the virus could mutate and render vaccines useless.

"We don't know if the H5N1 is a precursor [to another virus]. Perhaps, it will be overtaken by something completely different. In the poorer rural areas, it's an enormous challenge," Bekedam said.

Bird flu is known to have killed 73 people in Asia, two of them in China. While most infections have been from bird to human, researchers fear the strain may mutate, so it could be passed easily from person-to-person.

Chinese officials say their new vaccine, which can be given orally, will be effective not only against H5N1, but also against Newcastle's disease, an illness that officials said killed 57,000 chickens in China earlier this year.

China has embarked on a massive effort to stop the spread of bird flu by culling or vaccinating millions of chickens and domesticated ducks. Vietnam and Indonesia have launched similar campaigns.

China's program came under criticism last month, when foreign media reported that vaccines were in short supply and were sometimes being administered by poorly trained staff, raising further questions about the effectiveness of such a massive vaccination program.

China Becomes Net Exporter of Cars, Trucks

China says it has for the first time become a next exporter of cars and trucks.

China's official Xinhua News Agency says vehicle exports jumped more than 130 percent in the first 10 months of this year, exceeding imports by 7,000 units. China mainly exports trucks and low-cost vehicles, while the majority of imports are luxury cars from the United States, Japan and Europe.

Up to now, Chinese auto companies have primarily targeted developing countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. But automakers are now looking at entering the US market; and the first Chinese vehicles are expected to enter the US in 2007-20008.

In other news from the automobile sector, US automaker Ford will invest $20 million to build a plant in the Philippines manufacturing flexible fuel engines. Flexible fuel engines are designed to operate on either conventional gasoline or a combination of gasoline and bio-ethanol fuels.

Ford expects the plant, close to the capital, Manila, to produce 100,000 engines worth about $100 million dollars over the next five years. About 80 percent of the output will be for export to the region, and the remainder for the local market.

Australia's largest investment bank, Macquarie, has bought one of Taiwan's largest cable TV operators for $880 million.

Macquarie's media fund bought a 60-percent stake in Taiwan Broadband Communications, TBC, while Macquarie Bank holds the remaining 40 percent. TBC controls 12 percent of Taiwan's cable television market. It also offers Internet connections, digital television programming and telephone services.

The acquisition is the first foreign purchase for Macquarie's media fund since it was listed on the Australian stock market in November.

Britain's third-largest bank, Barclays, has opened its first branch office in China. The Shanghai office will offer money market and foreign-exchange services, and advice on risk management and debt financing.

Unlike many of its competitors, Barclays has not tried to buy a stake in Chinese state-owned banks before the opening of China's financial markets to foreign competition next year.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Japanese Opinion of China Hits All-Time Low

The Japanese public's opinion of China is at its lowest level since the government began a poll on the topic 28 years ago.

The Cabinet Office poll conducted in October found less than a third, 32 percent, of the more than 1,500 respondents said they had friendly feelings toward China.

Seventy-one percent also said ties between Japan and China were not good.

The Japanese government survey also showed that the number of people who have positive feelings about South Korea fell for the first time in four years to 51 percent. And there was big drop in people saying ties with the country were good, down 16 percentage points.

Japan has been at odds with its two neighbors over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a Tokyo shrine that commemorates Japan's military dead, including convicted war criminals.

China has aggressively exploited the shrine visit issue. A series of large and violent anti-Japanese street demonstrations held in April of this year were apparently directed by Beijing in an effort to intimidate and embarrass Japan and its principal ally, the United States. China blames the US for encouraging Japan to adopt a bolder defense posture, which, in addition to countering the North Korean nuclear threat, is essentially designed to blunt China's growing regional influence.

China, North Korea Sign Oil Deal

China says it has signed a deal with North Korea to explore and develop oil fields in the Yellow Sea.

The agreement was announced in Beijing Saturday.

Chinese energy experts have said that disagreements over the sea boundary with North Korea have been holding up development of oil fields in the sea.

Reuters news agency reports that Chinese geologists have estimated offshore fields in the area may contain three billion metric tons (22 billion barrels) of oil and gas.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

China Using Chemicals to Stop River Pollution

Chinese authorities are dumping chemicals into a river to try to neutralize toxic pollution that threatens water supplies to several southern cities.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported Saturday government workers were pouring iron and aluminum chemicals into the Bei River, near the city of Yingde, in Guangdong province.

The river was contaminated with large amounts of cadmium that leaked from a smelter earlier this month. Officials hope the additional chemicals will force the cadmium to sink to the riverbed, instead of flowing downstream.

Local media said the manager of the smelting factory in Shaoguan city was removed from his post by the government as officials investigate the accident.

Authorities stopped most of the slick by closing a dam on the Bei River. But small amounts of polluted water are still flowing south towards the densely populated city of Guangzhou.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Officials Punished for Coal Mine Accidents

In a year of record deaths from coal mine accidents, China says it has punished nearly a hundred officials for failing to enforce safety regulations that could have saved thousands of lives.

Almost 5,500 people have died in fires, flooding and explosions in Chinese coal mines this year. The death toll is more than 200 above last year's figures.

On Friday, Li Yizhong, the head of China's industrial safety agency, said it has dismissed two deputy provincial governors, and prosecuted 96 officials over the accidents.

Li said the accidents clearly indicate that some local authorities and regulators failed to implement work safety standards, or close down illegally operated coal mines.

But Li said those found responsible for the disasters are likely to get away with light punishment, because such offenses do not carry heavy penalties. The most severe punishment a government official could receive would be dismissal.

China's coal mines are the deadliest in the world, claiming some 5,000 lives annually. One accident in February killed more than 200 miners. Safety authorities say local officials and mine operators often cover up accidents.

China relies heavily on coal for its energy needs. Earlier this month, China vowed to take "iron-handed" measures to improve mine safety, including shutting down at least 4,000 substandard mines by the end of the month.

WHO Asks China for Deadly Bird Flu Data

The World Health Organization has asked China to share information from its outbreaks of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu virus.

A WHO official, Shigeru Omi, regional director for the Western Pacific, said Friday China has had at least 26 outbreaks of avian flu this year, but has not shared any laboratory samples with international health organizations. The official said Beijing's experience in combating avian flu is crucial to the global fight against the disease.

China has embarked on an aggressive campaign to fight bird flu, destroying millions of birds and mounting a program to vaccinate all of its more than five billion chicken, ducks and other poultry.

Two people are known to have have died from bird flu in China, out of at least 70 deaths since 2003.

China Stops Second Chemical Slick

State media in China say authorities have stopped a toxic chemical slick from reaching the major southern metropolis of Guangzhou by closing a dam on the Bei River.

The China Daily newspaper reports Friday that government workers have lowered the gates of the Baishiyao dam to trap the cadmium spill. The dam is about 100 kilometers north of Guangzhou, a densely populated city of about 10 million people. A local government spokesman says the water quality south of the dam is safe.

Farther upstream, officials plan to dilute the cadmium by releasing nearly 400 billion liters of water from a reservoir into the Bei River.

The contamination of the river by a smelter in Guangdong province a week ago is China's second major environmental incident in recent weeks.

Chinese Court Upholds Dissident's Life Sentence

A Chinese court has upheld the life sentence of United States-based pro-democracy dissident Peng Ming, who was arrested last year in Burma, and convicted in China of terrorism, kidnapping, and possessing fake currencies.

His supporters say he was in Burma, which handed him over to China, to set up a safe haven for fleeing Chinese dissidents.

Peng Ming is a veteran pro-democracy activist. Prior to his arrival in the United States in 2001, he spent 18 months in a Chinese labor camp. He founded the China Federation Foundation in California in 2003, with the aim of replacing the communist Chinese government with a democratic one. Two members of the group were jailed in China in 2003 for subversion and kidnapping.

Another US-based, pro-democracy Chinese dissident, Zhang Weiguo, says Peng Ming's case shows China is taking more extreme methods against dissidents, by kidnapping them and taking them to China.

Pro-democracy activists assert Chinese authorities in 2003 kidnapped three dissidents in Vietnam. One of them, US-based activist Wang Bingzhang, was sentenced to life in prison in February 2003, for terrorist offenses and spying.

Political analysts and human rights groups charge China with exploiting the global war against terrorism to justify its crackdown on dissidents and separatist groups.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Guangzhou Gets Emergency Water Measures

Following Wednesday's news that China had experienced its second major environmental incident in recent weeks (scroll down for the story), authorities in southern China are trying to protect Guangzhou and other densely populated cities from a toxic spill flowing downriver toward municipal water intakes.

A zinc smelter dumped wastewater heavily contaminated with cadmium into the Bei River a week ago. Chinese news media say the river is now carrying up to 10 times more cadmium than is considered safe.

The city of Yingde, up stream from Guangzhou, has already stopped drawing water from the Bei River.

Authorities in Guangzhou say emergency measures to safeguard drinking water are under way. Chinese news reports say reservoirs have released large quantities of stored water to dilute pollution in the river.

Cadmium, a metal used in several manufacturing processes, is highly toxic and can cause serious neurological, kidney and liver ailments.

Japanese Foreign Minister Calls China 'Threat'

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso, regarded as a hardliner toward Beijing, on Thursday escalated Tokyo's war of words with Rising China.

"A neighboring country has an atomic bomb and its military spending has been rising for 12 consecutive years. There is no transparency and I view that as a concern, a threat," Aso told a news conference.

His remarks were in reaction to a recent comment by the head of Japan's main opposition party, who also termed China's military expansion a threat.

China's Foreign Ministry was quick to react to Aso's statement, with spokesman Qin Gang in Beijing calling it highly irresponsible.

Qin said Beijing would like to know Aso's real motive in raising what the Chinese spokesman said is groundless rhetoric about a Chinese threat.

Later in the day, Japanese foreign ministry officials tried to downplay Chinese concern about Aso's remark. Spokesman Akira Chiba said the Japanese foreign minister is not attempting to provoke China.

"They reacted to the Japanese press and not the Japanese government. And I would like them to react not to the press but to the government," he said. "What he [Aso] said is basically what he already said in his policy speech that he gave earlier this year."

A Japanese government spokesman on Thursday said that Prime Minister Koizumi's views do not differ much from Aso's. However, the spokesman did not directly echo the foreign minister's remark, which explicitly labeled China a threat.

China is Japan's top trading partner. But diplomatic relations have been chilled because of disputes relating to Japan's invasion and occupation of parts of China in the early 20th century. Many Chinese believe Japan has not shown appropriate remorse for its militarist past; and Beijing has exploited popular anger and resentment with an orchestrated propaganda campaign against Japan. In April of this year, the campaign turned surprisingly ugly when mobs of Chinese mobilized for a series of violent anti-Japanese street protests that clearly seemed manipulated, if not completely controlled, by the government.

Further straining ties is a bitter dispute over gas reserves in the East China Sea.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Second Toxic Spill Reported

China's state media repoorted that a toxic spill in southern China is threatening water supplies to millions of people.

The toxic spill was reportedly caused by excessive discharge of cadmium--producing cadmium levels 10 times above safety levels--from a state-owned smelter in the city of Shaoguan into the Bei River in Guangdong province.

China is still recovering from a chemical spill in November that left millions without water for days in the north-east.

News of the toxic spill in the south came on the same day as an announcement of a new, pro-environment industrial policy (see story below).

China Announces New Industrial Policy

Conceding that much of its industry wastes resources and damages the environment, China on Wednesday announced a new industrial policy that calls on local officials to encourage promising industries, and exclude those that have a negative effect.

A catalogue issued by the Department of Industrial Policy of the National Reform and Development Commission breaks industries into three categories: those that will be encouraged, those that are restricted, and those to be eliminated.

Liu Zhi, director general Industrial Policy Department, announced the new policy. He sai the goal is to emphasize high-technology and the service industry, with an underpinning of basic industries. Development must feature the conservation of resources, cleanliness and safety, he stressed.

The new catalogue says, for example, that the government will close down coal mines and oil drilling operations that are functioning without licenses or which do not meet safety standards. China has the worst mine safety record in the world, with more than 6,000 miners being killed on the job in 2004.

Restrictions will be placed on the construction of facilities aimed primarily at the wealthy, such as golf courses, large homes and luxury apartments.

The policy will encourage the development of such industries as telecommunications, air travel, and the construction of highways and rail transportation.

The Industrial Policy Department says restructuring Chinese industry is necessary in order to maintain the country's rapid growth.

Hong Kong Lawmakers Reject Reform Package

Hong Kong lawmakers have voted down a controversial election reform package that lacked a clear deadline for the Chinese territory to become fully democratic.

The government fell short of the six votes needed from the opposition to pass the proposal in the 60-seat legislature Wednesday. The measure needed 40 votes to pass, but only 34 lawmakers voted in favor of it.

Pro-democracy lawmakers who were against the package say they want a timetable outlining when Hong Kong citizens will be able to vote directly for their leader and lawmakers.

Hong Kong made concessions on Monday, amending the electoral reform package in the hope of winning wider support. But critics said the amended proposal lacked the crucial timetable.

Earlier this month, tens of thousands of people marched in Hong Kong to demand full democracy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hong Kong CR Airways Buys 40 Boeing Jets

Hong Kong's charter carrier, CR Airways, has purchased 40 Boeing planes in a deal worth more than $3 billion.

The carrier Tuesday said it bought 30 Boeing 737-800 airliners and 10 Boeing 787s in order to expand its services in China and Asia.

The deal is the latest in a series of recent boosts for the American manufacturer.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific bought more than 30 Boeing aircraft in a nearly $3-billion deal.

And in November, China said it plans to buy 70 Boeing 737 airliners in a deal worth $4 billion.

China Replaces Italy as 6th Largest Economy

The Chinese government has announced that its economy in 2004 was almost 17 percent larger than previously reported. With these revised gross domestic product numbers, China has supplanted Italy as the world's 6th largest economy and is climbing rapidly Experts say China may jump a few more spots to number four, when the 2005 GDP statistics are released next month.

China's National Bureau of Statistics Tuesday announced it had revised gross domestic product figures for 2004 upwards by 16.8 percent--after completing China's first national economic census.

The new numbers show China's economic output last year was almost $2 trillion--which is $285 billion more than had been estimated.

Chinese officials say better accounting of service industries--such as telecommunications, retailing, and real estate - made up the vast majority of the amended figures.

Li Deshui, China's Commissioner of the National Bureau of Statistics, told reporters here the new GDP shows China's economic structure is healthier than previously believed, but warns there are still many challenges to China's economic growth.

"Energy consumption is too high, consumption of other natural resources is excessive, and our investment and production rate is not ideal," Li said.

Experts often question the accuracy of China's economic statistics. Li acknowledges some new services--such as computer, Internet, and leasing--are still not adequately accounted for, but he says the overall census reporting error margin was accurate within a one percent target.

Stephen Green, the senior economist for China at the Standard Chartered Bank in Shanghai, says while all Chinese statistics have problems, accuracy is improving and the revised GDP growth is good news for the Chinese economy.

"A lot of the ratios, which people cite when they talk about worries about China's fiscal problems or its banking problems or its over investment problems, all these ratios they improve now with the bigger GDP," he said.

China plans to continue to revise historical economic data back to 1993 on the basis of the revised census GDP figures which could reveal more information about China's historical economic growth.

Japan, China React to NK Nuke News

Japan says it would be "suicidal" for North Korea to push ahead with several announced atomic reactor projects, but China says multi-party negotiations aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs are still on track.

The official Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday that Pyongyang planned to start developing light water reactors for nuclear energy. The news service also repeated a threat to resume work on a pair of graphite-moderated reactors, which experts say would be able to produce a significant amount of material for atomic weapons.

Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi says such moves would make pointless further six-party negotiations on the North's weapons programs, hosted by China and also involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia.

"It is going to be suicidal for North Korea to pursue that course. This is going to undermine the whole rationale of six-party talks," he said.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, had a more subdued reaction in Beijing on Tuesday.

Qin says China hopes all nations will adhere to previous promises and put their utmost efforts into having the talks make substantial progress. He says Beijing believes that all of the parties are still willing to make progress.

Pyongyang has been escalating its threats since Sunday. On Monday, it announced that it would accelerate its nuclear deterrent.

An international consortium recently canceled an earlier plan to give the communist state two light-water reactors in exchange for abandoning its nuclear weapons programs. North Korea now says it wants compensation for the cancellation.

North Korea's Voice of Korea radio, quoting the Rodon Sinmun newspaper on Tuesday, repeated a frequently made accusation that the United States is preparing to launch a pre-emptive military attack on the country.

"Under any circumstances, the DPRK will make full preparations to cope with the possible war moves of the United States," a broadcaster said.

At the last round of six-party talks, North Korea agreed in principle to dismantle all its nuclear programs in return for economic aid and security guarantees. But the government has recently complained that Washington's imposition of financial sanctions on several North Korean companies goes against the spirit of the talks.

Pyongyang denies US accusations that the companies have engaged in counterfeiting large amounts of US currency--a tactic tried by Nazi Germany--and laundering money through international banks.

Monday, December 19, 2005

CCP Official Says Corruption Increasing

Chinese state media Sunday quoted an official in charge of Chinese Communist Party discipline as saying cases involving high-ranking officials who take big bribes and embezzle large sums of money are increasing.

The official Xinhua news agency quoted He Yong, the deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, as saying greedy officials are exploiting "loopholes" in China's administration during the transition to a market-based economy.

But some experts say such loopholes are not the fundamental cause of China's widespread corruption, asserting the Chinese
Communist Party does not intend to give up its monopoly on power and is instead focusing on internal discipline.

Several high-ranking officials have recently been put on trial for corruption, including China's former Minister for Land and Resources. The government says it has punished nearly 50,000 corrupt party members in the past two years.

State media also quoted He as saying even though corruption at the highest levels is getting worse, overall corruption in China is decreasing.

Tsang's HK Electoral Reform Package Falls Short, Fails to Win Support of Pro-Democracy Lawmakers

Hong Kong's government has offered to make changes to its unpopular electoral reform package to appeal to pro-democracy lawmakers, ahead of a crucial vote on Wednesday. But the plan appears headed for defeat in the legislature with pro-democracy lawmakers set to vote against it because they say it falls short of granting full democracy.

The electoral reform package is Chief Executive Donald Tsang's first attempt at addressing increasing public demand for greater democracy since he became Hong Kong's leader in March.

The original plan expands the number of lawmakers in the legislative council and doubles the size of the committee that selects Hong Kong's leader to 1,600 mostly appointed members.

On Monday, faced with defeat at the hands of pro-democracy lawmakers in the legislature and public opposition, the government changed its formula by promising to increase the number of elected officials in the selection committee.

But the amendment has failed to win over pro-democracy lawmakers - who want a timetable as to when Hong Kong people can vote directly for their leader and lawmakers - a right enshrined in the city's mini-constitution, called the Basic Law.

Opposition lawmaker Ronny Tong says the government is failing to consider the public's demand for a timetable for universal suffrage and calls Monday's amendment "meaningless."

The government needs at least six votes from the opposition if the proposal is to pass in the 60-seat legislature on Wednesday.

On Monday, Tsang urged lawmakers to support the plan.

"I know that some legislators are adamant that a timetable for universal suffrage be set," he said. "I have stated on several occasions that the passage of the constitutional reform package in no way conflicts with the desire of a road map or timetable beyond 2008. The Basic Law clearly states our ultimate goal is the election of a chief executive and legislature by universal suffrage. The central government and the SAR government are steadfastly committed to this process."

Hong Kong people have held large protests in recent years calling for direct elections.

China has said universal suffrage must come gradually and has already ruled out direct elections for the chief executive in 2007 and all members of the legislature in 2008.

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty from British colonial rule in 1997, but it enjoys a high level of autonomy compared to other Chinese cities and maintains its Western style civil liberties.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Urban Population Reaching 560 Million

China's urban population is expected to reach 560 million by the end of this year, up 7 percent from the figure five years ago, according to China Daily.

About 43 percent of China's population will be living in urban areas, the paper quoted Zheng Xinli, deputy director of the Policy Research Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, as saying.

During the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-2005) period, the average urbanization growth rate was 1.4 percent annually, Zheng said at a forum on the sustainable development of small and medium-sized cities in China.

39 Bodies Found in Flooded Coal Mine

Rescuers working at a flooded coal mine in central China have recovered the bodies of 39 miners following an accident more than two weeks ago.

The official Xinhua news agency said Saturday recovery teams are still searching for three miners missing and presumed dead.

The miners have been trapped underground at the Sigou Coal Mine in Henan province since December 9, when a nearby river overflowed its banks and water rushed into the shaft.

Xinhua says 10 mine officials have been detained and will face "stern punishment" for the accident.

China's coal mines are the world's deadliest, with more than 5,000 deaths reported every year in fires, floods and other disasters.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Protesters Storm WTO Meeting

Hundreds of protesters broke through police lines and came within meters of the convention center where the World Trade Organization is meeting. Hong Kong police fought back with pepper spray and tear gas.

In the most serious confrontation seen during this week's World Trade Organization conference, some of the thousands of protesters snatched steel traffic barriers and used them as battering rams to break through police lines Saturday evening.

As they ran to within a few meters of the WTO's meeting site, police fired tear gas containers and battered protesters with batons.

For hours Saturday afternoon, the police and the protesters had scuffled. The activists, led by a group of South Korean farmers, chanted "Down, down, WTO," and "Down, down, USA."

The protesters said all week that they aimed to derail the talks on liberalizing global trade. Anti-WTO activists say trade rules unfairly favor rich countries over poor and hurt farmers.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Huge Toxic Slick Enters Russian Territory

A huge slick of toxic chemicals has entered Russian territory from China after flowing downstream from a chemical-plant explosion last month.

Russia's Emergency Situations Minister, Sergei Shoigu, says the slick crossed the border Friday, but initial tests show pollution levels in the Amur River lower than feared.

The blast on November 13 poured 100 tons of benzene and other poisons into the Songhua River, which flowed past the Chinese city of Harbin into Russia. Harbin residents were without running water as the toxic slick passed.

Russia's Far East Meteorological Service says foul water will begin flowing past Khabarovsk, a city of more than 500,000 people, within a week.

Environmental officials say the benzene in the river should be so diluted that no interruption of municipal water service in Khabarovsk will be necessary.

Party Boss on Trial for Shantytown Killings

China's Xinhua news agency reports the top Communist Party official in a northern Chinese city and 26 other officials have gone on trial for their alleged involvement in a deadly attack on a shantytown.

More than 200 people attended the opening of the trial in Hebei province.

The news agency says last June, hundreds of apparently hired thugs armed with guns, clubs and knives killed six people and injured dozens of others protesting land seizures in the village of Shengyou. Villagers were angry over the low compensation officials offered for their land.

Such disputes have become more common as Chinese developers turn residential and farm land into shopping malls, apartment buildings and other projects. Residents often accuse authorities of forcing them off land without proper compensation.

UN Ends Food Aid to China

The United Nations' World Food Program says it plans to end food donations to China by the end of this year.

A statement Friday by the UN agency says China no longer needs outside help because its thriving economy has lifted millions out of poverty.

Instead, agency director James Morris says it is now looking to China's expertise and resources to form a broader partnership to combat hunger worldwide.

The agency has fed 30 million people in China since it began supplying food donations to the country 26 years ago.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

New Human Case of Bird Flu Reported

China's state media report a sixth person in the country has been diagnosed with bird flu, while a new outbreak of the disease has been spotted in a flock of ducks.

The Xinhua news agency says the Health Ministry has identified the latest human victim as a 35-year-old man in Suichuan County in the eastern province of Jiangxi. There were no further details.

Earlier, the Agriculture Ministry reported an outbreak in a flock of ducks, also in Jiangxi province. It is not clear if the two incidents are linked.

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed more than 70 people in East Asia since 2003. Scientists fear it could mutate and be passed from human to human.

China Suppressing News of Village Massacre

China has imposed a massive news blackout on the deadly police suppression of a village protest in Dongzhou earlier this month.

China's state controlled media have been nearly silent about the December 6 incident in which activists say some 20 people were shot dead by police while protesting against a local power plant.

The only official news coverage has alleged that three civilians were killed and several injured after protesters attacked police, forcing officers to respond.

The news blackout extends to the Internet, where reporters say sophisticated filtering has blocked foreign news stories and prevented search engines, such as Google, from looking for keywords associated with the shootings.

But media rights group Reporters without Borders says some Internet users have successfully published messages about the incident in chat rooms by alluding to the shootings without mentioning specifics.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

High-Profile Corruption Trial Begins

China's former minister of land and resources is on trial for accepting bribes in one of the highest-level cases in recent years. The trial comes at a time of increasing unrest over land confiscation and government corruption in the Chinese countryside.

Tian Fengshan, a former provincial governor and then later China's top official responsible for land, is accused of accepting bribes of more than half a million dollars. His trial began Tuesday.

China's central government says it is battling widespread corruption that contributes to rural unrest. State media report that nearly 50,000 officials have been prosecuted and punished since 2003.

However, experts say that without effective checks on their power, local authorities can impose illegal fees on farmers and give inadequate compensation for confiscated land.

Tian's trial comes as the southern village of Dongzhou remains cordoned off. Security forces there killed at least three protesters last week. Residents dispute that figure and say up to 20 villagers were killed when hundreds demonstrated over what they say was inadequate compensation for land taken by the local government.

There has been very little Chinese media coverage of the killings and protests in Dongzhou. Chinese media rarely report on politically sensitive subjects such as protests unless approved by the Communist Party.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

China Leads List of Journalist Jailers

A journalism watchdog group says China currently has more imprisoned journalists than any other country, but the United States is also on the organization's list of abusers.

A new report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says China, Cuba, Eritrea and Ethiopia account for two-thirds of the 125 imprisoned editors, writers and photojournalists around the world as of December first.

Fifth on the list was the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan, followed at number six by the US, which has moved up on the list due to journalists it is holding in Iraq and at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Tied for sixth place is Burma.

The number of journalists held by the US rose from one last year to five this year.

Chinese Scholars Demand Police Inquiry

A group of more than 50 Chinese scholars and intellectuals is demanding an inquiry into last week's shooting by police of protesters in a south China village.

In an open letter on the Internet, the group denounced the incident, comparing the violence to the military crackdown on Tiananman Square protesters in 1989.

Local people and rights activists say as many as 20 protesters in the village of Dongzhou were shot dead by police. China's Xinhua news agency says three villagers were killed and several were injured.

Officials say protesters attacked police and threw explosives, forcing officers to open fire. Police have detained several villagers and the commander of the police unit that did the shooting.

Witnesses say at least one thousand people had gathered December 6th to protest inadequate compensation for land the government seized to build a power plant.

Monday, December 12, 2005

HK Interest Rate Hike Curbs Retail Sales

HIgher interest rates have curbed retail sales in Hong Kong, where prime lending rates have risen to as much as 7.5 percent.

The retail sales slowdown started in October; authorities predict retail figures will bounce back during the holiday season.

Inflation fears have also prompted central banks in South Korea, Indonesia and New Zealand to raise interest rates.

New Zealand now has the highest interest rates among industrialized countries after the Reserve Bank raised them for the ninth time in a year. Rates rose a quarter of a percentage point to 7.25 percent.

Meanwhile, China's banking sector continues to be a magnet for foreign investors. The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, or ANZ, has agreed to buy a 20 percent stake in Tianjin City Commercial Bank, which has assets of eight billion dollars. The deal, worth $120 million, is ANZ's first direct investment in the Chinese banking industry.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Police Commander Reportedly Arrested

An official Chinese newspaper reports the commander who ordered troops to fire on protesters last week has been arrested; but the government disputes local residents' account of the incident.

The Guangzhou Daily reports the commander (who was not named) was arrested for unspecified "wrong actions."

State-run media partly blaming demonstrators for the incident, saying they attacked police and threw explosives, forcing officers to open fire.

Local people and rights activists say some 20 protesters at a power plant in the village of Dongzhou died when they were fired on by police. China's Xinhua news agency put the toll at three villagers killed and several injured.

Witnesses said at least 1,000 people had gathered to protest inadequate compensation for land that the government seized for the plant's construction.

Anti-Globalization Activists March in Hong Kong

Thousands of anti-globalization activists marched in the streets of Hong Kong Sunday as the city prepares to host the World Trade Organization's (WTO) annual summit.

The peaceful two-hour march by nearly 4,000 protesters was said to have a carnival-like atmosphere, with dozens of groups holding gaudy props while wearing colorful costumes.

The march was the first of three large demonstrations planned for the summit. Another will be held Tuesday when the ministerial conference kicks off. The final protest rally is scheduled for the closing day next Sunday.

Authorities in Hong Kong have been worried about a repeat of the violence, which marred previous trade meetings in Cancun and Seattle. Thousands of police have been put on alert for the Hong Kong summit.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Perhaps 20 Dead in Guangdong Village

Chinese authorities have sealed off a village in southern Guangdong province after police opened fire on a group of protesters this week, killing 20 people, according to some witnesses.

Witnesses say police fired into a crowd late Tuesday in Dongzhou village, where at least 1,000 people were protesting inadequate compensation for land taken for the construction of a power plant.

Local residents say police have blocked roads leading into the village and are patrolling the streets.

If the casualty figure of 20 is confirmed, the incident would be the largest known use of force by security personnel since the killings around Tiananmen Square in 1989. That death toll is estimated to have been in the hundreds.

Beijing has not commented on the latest incident, which follows a string of rural protests, some peaceful, some violent, and is seen as an example of the sort of widespread social unrest simmering beneath the surface of China's economic miracle.

Enthralled with China's meteoric rise on the world stage, Western media and multinational business and banking executives have generally avoided the topic of China's left-behind rural poor and growing urban underclass, preferring instead to focus on the truly awesome export machine--whole cities devoted to manufacturing and selling a single item, such as socks, for example--which has helped to lift tens of millions of Chinese into the middle class, while producing a new class of ultlrarich entrepeneurs and corrupt government officials. But international labor and human rights activists have increasingly warned that the growing gap between rich and poor, made worse by injustice and exploitation, constitutes a huge time bomb.

The latest incident in Guangdong province indicates the bomb is ticking away.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Coal Mine Death Toll Hits 87

The death toll from a gas explosion at a Chinese coal mine has climbed to 87, with rescuers still searching for 21 miners.

Officials with the local coal mine safety bureau said Friday that gas density in the mine is so high it makes rescue efforts dangerous.

The latest explosion happened Wednesday at the Liuguantun mine near Tangshan city in Hebei province. Only 30 miners are known to have survived the blast.

China's mines are the deadliest in the world. Thousands of miners are killed each year.

On Tuesday, rescuers recovered the body of the last miner missing in a November 27 coal dust explosion in Heilongjiang province, bringing the number of deaths in that blast to 171.

Southern Chinese Villagers, Cops Clash

Reports from southern China's Guangdong province say armed police have sealed off a village after opening fire on a group of protesters and killing at least two people this week.

Witnesses say police fired into a crowd late Tuesday in Dongzhou village, where at least 1,000 people were protesting inadequate compensation for land taken for the construction of a power plant.

Local residents are quoted by Reuters and the French News agency as saying Chinese authorities have surrounded the village and are not allowing them to leave.

The deputy Asia Director for Amnesty International Catherine Baber has described the reports from Guangdong as "chilling," and called for an immediate independent investigation.

The Chinese government has not commented on the matter.

Labor Group: Millions of Chinese Unemployed, Underpaid, Exploited

A report released by an international labor rights group says China's "economic miracle" has come at a price: millions of Chinese are unemployed, underpaid and exploited.

While members shouted slogans like "Workers rights! Human rights!" in front of the Hong Kong office of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Friday, the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions handed over a report on the situation of China's workers.

The ICFTU report says China's economic success is based on the exploitation of its workers, who have no effective representation.

While economic growth in China has exploded and exports have boomed, the report says the level of inequality in the country has also grown.

It says that a few have become rich, while millions are living on less than two dollars a day.

The confederation criticizes the working conditions in many Chinese companies. It reports long working hours, low wages, sub-standard accommodation and lack of safety. At least 15,000 people die of industrial accidents in China each year, particularly in the mining sector.

Lee Cheuk Yan of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions said the exploitation and suppression of workers has resulted in growing social unrest. " We are warning the Chinese government that this poverty will be like a time bomb," he said.

The ICFTU report says China has a major unemployment problem and needs to create up to 300 million jobs in the next 10 years for people entering the labor market.

The confederation says China's successful poverty eradication of the 1980s, which was mainly based on agricultural reform, has stagnated since the 1990s.

Janek Kuczkiewicz, ICFTU human rights director, said China's integration into the World Trade Organization has made things worse for its workers. "China has increased its share in the international trading system at the cost of an increase in inequality and social injustice in China, which deeply affects the workers," he noted.

China's Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the report.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

US Scholars Debate China's Currency Policy

American Scholars at Washington's Carnegie Endowment for International Peace disagree on whether or not China is manipulating its currency to gain advantages on foreign markets.

Former World Bank and United States Treasury economist Albert Keidel conceded Thursday that China's currency may be undervalued but not seriously so. With the US enduring a huge trade deficit with China, many in Congress argue that a cheap currency provides China with an excessively generous price advantage in US markets.

Keidel, Carnegie's resident expert on China's economy, says China is being blamed unfairly. "These unsubstantiated claims that China's exchange rate is unfairly undervalued are major components of a pattern demonizing China, a pattern that has swept Washington," he said. "This demonization of China seriously threatens America's long-term security interests. It threatens to persuade America that containing China rather than engaging China is in America's best interests."

Keidel was a World Bank economist in Beijing prior to 20001.

Morris Goldstein of the Institute for International Economics, a Washington research group, strenuously disagrees. He estaimates that even after China's two percent revaluation last July the currency is still undervalued by from 20 to 40 percent. He cites official statistics showing that the Chinese authorities deliberately intervene in the markets to hold down the currency's value.

Says Goldstein: "Indeed, the only person in the world I've seen who characterizes the Chinese exchange rate as market determined is Bert Keidel. I mean $19 billion a month they're (spending) intervening. And that's regarded as a market determined exchange rate? Not in my experience."

Goldstein, who spent 24 years at the International Monetary Fund, believes that both the Fund and the US Treasury were influenced by political factors when they recently concluded that China's currency was not unfairly manipulated. In Goldstein's view, it is both unfairly manipulated and seriously undervalued.

China's Fifth Human Case of Bird Flu Confirmed

China's official news agency says a 31-year-old poultry farmer is the country's fifth confirmed human case of bird flu. The woman has since been released from the hospital after her condition improved.

The Xinhua news agency says the woman from Heishan County, Liaoning province in China's northeast became sick with pneumonia-like symptoms on October 30 and was hospitalized.

Her condition improved and she was discharged on November 29. Tests later showed the woman had contracted the deadly H5N1 strain of avian flu. Health officials are now monitoring people who had contact with her.

On Wednesday, China announced its fourth human victim of bird flu, a 10-year-old girl in southern Guangxi region. She remains hospitalized.

Since 2003, the H5N1 virus has killed nearly 70 people, mostly in southeast Asia.

China Rules Out Meeting Japan, Korea

China has ruled out holding a meeting with senior leaders from Japan and South Korea during an upcoming Asian economic meeting in Malaysia.

The three nations have met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit for the past six years.

China's foreign ministry spokesman said the three-way meeting would not take place due to reasons he described as "known to all." That was an apparent reference to China's objections to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to a controversial war shrine.

The Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo honors Japan's war dead, including those guilty of criminal acts during World War II.

Critics say the shrine glorifies Japan's wartime past, but Koizumi says he visits the shrine to pray for peace.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Japan's Foreign Minister Urges China to Show Transparency in Military Matters

Japan's Foreign Minister has called on China to show more transparency in military affairs, saying the issue of visits by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to a war shrine should not hinder relations with Japan's Asia neighbors.

In his first major policy speech since taking office, Japanese foreign Minister Taro Aso on Wednesday called for Japan to be regarded as the "thought leader" of Asia.

Aso, a hard line conservative seen by political pundits as a strong contender to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi next September, said Japan had been a "trail-blazer" in modernizing its economy and political system, and deserved credit for that.

He welcomed China's emergence as an economic competitor, but he said Beijing's lack of transparency about its military was counterproductive to regional peace.

"This lack of transparency in the military sector first and foremost makes it necessary for China to continuously explain to the world community that its rise is a peaceful one," he said.

He also called on the China's communist leaders to institute democratic political system.

Tokyo's diplomatic ties with China and South Korea are at their worst in decades, partly because of annual visits by Koizumi to the Yasukuni shrine. The shrine is regarded by many Asians as a symbol of Japan's militarist past, because a number of prominent convicted war criminals are honored there along with Japan's other war dead.

Aso, while saying Japan needs to reflect on the pain caused by its colonialism and military aggression during the 20th Century, said this history should not hinder future relations.

Italians Seize Chinese Counterfeit Goods

Roughly 25 million Chinese made fake designer products have been seized in Milan in what was one of the largest seizures of goods in Italian history.

Many Chinese in Milan were using the same shipping company in Genoa and this made the finance police suspicious. Their investigation led to discovery of six warehouses and 11 shops in Milan's Chinatown filled with counterfeit goods.

The finance police said toys, footwear, clothing, leather goods and electrical products were piled high in the warehouses. They seized 25 million Chinese made fake products with a value estimated at $141 million.

Outlining the results of the operation, the finance police said they now have a list of 35 people, all Chinese, believed to be involved in the illegal trade. They added that the products were to be sold in Chinese stores and in market stalls where many Italians shop.

Presenting the confiscated material, one safety expert showed why some of the goods were considered unsafe.

Holding up lights for a Christmas tree, he said, "This is a very dangerous situation and it can be clearly seen by everyone." To show what he meant, he easily split the wires using his hands.

The finance police said many of the toys had no instructions and were not safe for children to play with. But, they said the toys were ready to be placed on the Christmas shopping market. Many of the goods, according to the police, were knock-offs of designer products.

Italy's labor ministry Tuesday expressed concern about the number of Chinese firms operating illegally in the country.

Presenting the results of spot checks carried out last month at almost 500 Chinese firms, the ministry said 82 percent were charged with violations. These included tax evasion, breaches of hygiene and safety regulations and exploitation of illegal immigrants and minors.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

WTO Experts Give China Mixed Reviews

When China joined the World Trade Organization four years ago, Beijing promised to open its markets to foreign competition and remove barriers to trade. Since then, the Chinese government has reduced tariffs and welcomed billions of dollars in investments. However, critics say China needs bto do etter, especially when it comes to protecting intellectual property rights to meet its WTO commitments.

International economists and trade experts say that in general China is doing a good job of implementing the commitments it made when it joined the World Trade Organization. Most tariffs have been reduced to less than 10 percent, foreign investors and companies are welcomed into the country, and Beijing has passed hundreds of laws and regulations aimed at creating a fairer, freer marketplace.

But critics say China still falls short in areas where foreign companies have a competitive advantage, such as intellectual property rights. This has raised concerns about Beijing's political will to lower barriers to trade in areas where the benefits to China are not immediately visible.

The Chinese government says it is doing all it can to reach its WTO commitments and in fact on December 1 did loosened rules on direct sales.

China's Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai says China has already opened more than half its service industries under the WTO and says other sectors such as banking are opening on schedule. Bo says critics need to understand China's unique challenges.

"China is a big trading country in terms of quantity, but it is far from being a strong trading countr," Bo says. "Take China's exports for example. In fact, half of China's exports are from foreign-funded companies. So, China's trading structure is very different from developed countries. As for trading volume per capita, it is even lower."

WTO compliance could be a factor in negotiations at the organization's ministerial conference in Hong Kong. From December 13 to 18, trade negotiators from around the world will gather to try to reach new agreements on liberalizing global commerce. Those countries that are seen as being out of compliance may find themselves under new pressure to follow the rules.

Pressure is growing on China to better protect intellectual property rights--copyrighted products such as movies, books and software. US trade officials say Chinese copyright violations cost U.S. companies nearly four billion dollars every year. Two-thirds of the pirated goods seized by US Customs come from China--including name-brand clothing, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and auto parts.

Beijing says it is taking the issue of pirated goods seriously. Since last year, China has increased prison sentences for copyright violations for up to seven years, arrested more than five thousand suspects and captured 12 production lines making illegal video disks. However, distribution of pirated products is still widespread and illegal disks are easily found in China.

Chinese authorities rarely take action against the country's many retail stores selling fake goods.

US officials say China has pledged to make the legal changes needed to protect copyright goods. On a recent visit to Beijing, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she has seen a significant change in attitude about intellectual property.

"They went to great lengths to talk about prosecutions, about some potential organization changes that they might make inside the country to make it easier to prosecute cases of piracy," Rice said.

China Buying 150 Airbus Jets

China says it will buy 150 passenger jets from Airbus in a deal worth almost $10 billion--the largest single order Airbus has ever gotten from China.

The agreement was signed Monday in Paris as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin, looked on.

On Sunday, Wen toured an Airbus manufacturing plant and signed an agreement that may lead to opening an aircraft assembly plant in China.

The planes in the French deal are part of the A-320 family that can carry between 110 and 185 passengers.

China bought 70 jets from the American manufacturer Boeing during US President George Bush's trip to Beijing last month.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Hennessy Wins in Shanghai Court

Two Chinese companies have to pay a $37,000 fine to French cognac maker Hennessy, in compensation for infringing the company's trademark.

A Shanghai court said the name of a drink marketed by Xiang Mu Trading Corporation and bottled by Xiamen Golden Huanyu Food Corporation was too similar to the label Hennessy. It was called "Hanlissy" or, in Chinese, "Henglishi".

The court ruled that the companies, which sold the wine in local supermarkets as "French cognac brandy" although it was bottled in China, had misled consumers and ordered them to stop selling the product.

Amy Sommers, a partner in the international law firm Squire Sanders in Shanghai, says more foreign companies are filing lawsuits in China to combat the rampant piracy of trademarks, patents and other intellectual property in the country.

"We are seeing that these cases are really publicized, which I think is part of an effort by the government to let people know that while the government itself may not have sufficient prosecutorial resources to go after all infringing parties, that there are risks for those who engage in infringing activities and they could be civilly libel for those actions," Sommers says.

In other business news, Hong Kong's aviation authority has granted a license to a new low-cost, long-haul airline. The government approved the application of Oasis Hong Kong Airlines to operate flights between the territory and selected cities in Europe and the United States.

And Hong Kong's largest carrier Cathay Pacific will buy or lease 16 Boeing and three Airbus planes. It is the company's biggest ever, single order. It has also taken options on 20 more Boeing aircraft.

Cathay Pacific, which now operates 95 planes, plans to expand as economic growth worldwide has spurred business and leisure travel.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Setback for Taiwan Independence Cause

After an overwhelming election victory for Taiwan's opposition party, political leaders from all sides say the island should back away from its stance seeking independence from China.

President Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party won only six of 23 mayoral and county posts in Saturday's vote. The opposition Nationalist Party and its allies won all 17 of the remaining races, nearly three times as many seats as the DPP.

Su Tseng-Chang, the chairman of the ruling party called the poor showing a severe setback and has offered his resignation.

The DPP says safeguarding Taiwan's sovereignty is its main priority, and it has strongly resisted Beijing's demands that the island accept Chinese rule. Following the vote, however, even lawmakers from Chen's party are calling for better relations with the mainland.

Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, split from China in 1949 after a civil war. The communist government in Beijing claims the island as part of its own territory, and has repeatedly threatened to use force if Taiwan moves toward formal independence.

60,000 March for Hong Kong Democracy

At least 60,000 people have marched through Hong Kong's streets to demand greater democracy--pushing for a timetable on when they can directly elect the territory's leaders.

Hong Kong people did not have the right to vote under British colonial rule but were promised eventual universal suffrage when the territory was handed back to China in 1997. So far Communist leaders in Beijing have ruled out setting a timetable for electoral reforms.

On the streets, dressed in black and chanting slogans, many Hong Kong citizens said it is time the promise is kept.

Currently only half of Hong Kong's 60 legislators are directly elected. The chief executive is selected by a committee of 800 Beijing-backed elites.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang is proposing a compromise plan for the next elections in 2007: to double the size of the committee that selects Hong Kong's leader and to expand the legislature.

But pro-democracy lawmakers , who organized Sunday's March, say they will veto the legislation on December 21 unless it includes a timetable for electoral reform.

Hong Kong has seen several mass protests over the past few years, calling for greater democracy. More than half a million people marched through the streets in July 2003, forcing the government of then-chief executive Tung Chee-hwa to withdraw plans for an unpopular security law, which critics said would have rolled back civil liberties.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Another Mine Disaster Hits China

China on Saturday experienced another major mine disaster, while it continued to deal with the effects of a massive toxic chemical spill in its Northeast. The death toll from a coal mine explosion a week ago in Heilongjiang province rose to 169, and officials had new problems on their hands.

The flooding of a mineshaft in central China's Henan province Friday was the latest in a string of environmental and industrial disasters that have highlighted the country's infrastructure problems.

Rescuers worked Saturday to reach at least 42 miners who were trapped when the privately-owned and unlicensed Sigou coal mine flooded in Xinan county.

Crews in northeastern China's Heilongjiang province meanwhile wound down their search for bodies Saturday following a November 27 explosion--the most deadly in recent months in a nation that reports fatal mine accidents almost every month.

Chinese official figures put the number of mine deaths for 2004 at more than 6,000, a figure analysts blame on factors including corruption, and pressure to fill growing energy needs at a time of rapid economic expansion.

As their colleagues dealt with the mine disasters, officials in the Northeast continued to work to contain the damage from a November 13 benzene spill that poisoned an 80-kilometer-long stretch of the Songhua River.

Authorities on Friday shut off water to Jiamusi, a city of nearly half a million people, as the contaminated slick went past. After Harbin, with its nearly four million people, Jiamusi is the second major city along the river to have its water supplies interrupted since the spill occurred.

Along with considerable environmental damage, the disaster has had political consequences. On Friday, the head of China's environmental protection agency resigned following questions of why it took officials more than a week to inform residents of the spill.

Friday, December 02, 2005

China's Environmental Chief Resigns

The head of China's environmental protection agency has resigned following a chemical spill that polluted a major river and forced the shutdown of water supplies in parts of the country's northeast.

The official Xinhua news agency reported the resignation Friday, but did not provide details.

Meanwhile, China's foreign ministry says it is sending Russia 150 tons of activated charcoal to help filter pollution from the toxic chemical slick moving along the Amur river toward the Russian city of Khabarovsk.

Earlier this week, Russian environmental officials reported higher levels of benzene in the river, but said it is not clear if the toxic chemical is from the massive spill in China two weeks ago.

A November 13 explosion at a factory dumped 100 tons of poisonous chemicals into China's Songhua river.

China Charged With 'Widespread' Torture

Torture in China remains "widespread," according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak.

During his two-week visit to China, Nowak had the chance to visit prisoners and hold one-on-one meetings with those who had been tortured or mistreated.

Speaking to reporters at the end of the trip, however, Nowak complained of what he called "serious incidents" of obstruction by government agents.

"In other words, there was frequent surveillance of my interviews that I had outside prisons with victims' family members," he said, "by intelligence agents who tried to on the one hand listen to our conversation, but (I) also had many reports that victims' family members were actually prevented from meeting me by various means, putting them under house arrest, preventing them physically from coming to me, intimidation, etcetera."

Nowak said these restrictions, plus only two weeks of investigations limited to 30 cases, provided him with only a small glimpse of the overall incidence of torture in China.

His visit comes as China's central government is ostensibly working to stop physical abuse of prisoners. Beijing has said it plans to revise its criminal procedure law to ban the use of torture as a means of extracting confessions from detainees.

UN officials say allegations of torture have already declined somewhat since China first outlawed the practice in 1996, but Nowak on Friday said the practice remains "widespread," especially outside the big cities. Human rights advocates say torture is often used in China to extract confessions.

In April, the government freed a man who had spent 11 years in jail for allegedly murdering his wife, after the woman turned up alive. The man said he had confessed to the crime under torture.

Methods used allegedly include the use of electric shock batons, use of handcuffs and ankle fetters for extended periods, dunking in filthy water, suspension from overhead fixtures, and beatings.

The special rapporteur said that as he was not allowed to take photographs of the prisoners he interviewed, it's impossible for him to include the full details of what he saw in his report.

"I had to hand in all electronic equipment, mobile phones, in particular photo cameras, which I have not been requested (to do) in other countries," he explained. "To take firsthand evidence, it is for me very important to take pictures."

Nowak visited detention centers in Beijing, Tibet and the predominantly Muslim Xinjiang autonomous region. The trip came after a decade of negotiations between UN officials and the Chinese government.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

China Accused of Unfair Mass Evictions

A Geneva-based nonprofit organization, the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions, has named China among this year's worst violators of housing rights. In its drive to develop, the group asserts, China has forcibly evicted some 400,000 urban and rural residents to make way for new shopping malls, Olympic venues, and other projects.

"In the context of their urge to develop economically at lightning speed, China is quickly turning into a country of housing haves and housing have-nots," said Scott Leckie, a spokesperson for the Center.

Those evicted in China often complain the government offers inadequate compensation. Some take their grievances to state petition centers. But most see no point in taking their cases to the same officials who are forcing them out of their homes.

India's Maharashtra state was also named for evicting hundreds of thousands of poor people in a bid to turn Bombay into what officials describe as a "world-class metropolis."