Archive for ‘United States’

17/06/2019

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He says ‘external pressure’ can actually help China’s economy

  • President Xi Jinping’s chief US trade war negotiator did not specifically reference rising tensions with United States during surprise speech in Shanghai
  • Keynote address at Lujiazui financial forum his first public appearance in three weeks since tour of Jiangxi province with Xi
The keynote address by Liu He (second left) at the Lujiazui financial forum in Shanghai on Thursday was his first public appearance in three weeks. Photo: Xinhua
The keynote address by Liu He (second left) at the Lujiazui financial forum in Shanghai on Thursday was his first public appearance in three weeks. Photo: Xinhua
Vice-Premier Liu He believes the “external pressure” now hitting China’s economy was inevitable and could actually boost the country’s innovation and development.
Liu, the top economic aide to President Xi Jinping and chief negotiator in the trade talks with the United States, backed up comments last week from

People’s Bank of China governor Yi Gang

that Beijing has sufficient policy tools to address the risks and challenges to ensure that China’s long-term growth prospects remain sound.

He did not directly mention the US-China trade war in remarks at the Lujiazui financial forum on Thursday, but said that there was ample room in China’s macroeconomic system to support growth and that recent moves by the government to cut taxes and government administrative fees were starting to have a positive impact on the economy.

“We do face some external pressure at the moment, but this is the inevitable test that China’s economic upgrade must experience,” Liu told the forum, which is an annual event organised by the Shanghai government and the People’s Bank of China. “The external pressure will help us improve innovation and self-development, speed up reform and opening up and push forward with high quality growth.”

Liu was critical of economists for focusing solely on monthly economic data that has shown signs of weakness in the Chinese economy, while neglecting positive trends that support long-term growth in the world’s second largest economy.

Chinese employment, consumer prices and the balance of payment remained at “reasonable” levels, he said, although 

China’s consumer price index

did rise to the highest level in 15 months in May, partly because of the rising price of pork and fresh fruit.

“No matter what happens temporarily, China’s long-term growth remains positive, which won’t change,” Liu said. “After the global financial crisis, our financial system has been stable. The rapid growth of debt in the system has been contained.”

The keynote speech, which was Liu’s first public appearance since accompanying Xi on a tour of Jiangxi province three weeks ago, was only confirmed at the last minute having initially been announced as a speech by “a State Council leader”.

The external pressure will help us improve innovation and self-development, speed up reform and opening up and push forward with high quality growthLiu He

In an unusual move, Liu used charts and slides, both in Chinese and English, to address Chinese and foreign bankers and investors as well as other Chinese officials including Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission chairman Guo Shuqing and People’s Bank of China governor Yi.
It remains to be seen whether Liu will resume trade talks on China’s behalf, with a meeting between 
Xi and US counterpart Donald Trump

at the G20 summit at the end of June yet to be confirmed after negotiations broke down in early May.

“We noticed that the US side had repeatedly expressed the hope that the two presidents could meet during the G20 summit later this month. Right now I have no new information to offer about the China-US trade talk,” said Chinese Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng during Thursday’s regular press conference.
“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
Since the last round of talks in Washington, which were attended by Liu, the US has increased tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese goods from 10 per cent to 25 per cent, while Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on the US$300 billion worth of imports not yet covered by duties.
“The US used state power to suppress Chinese enterprises and generalise the concept of national security. These are the behaviours of distorting the market,” Gao added.
“It was the US who reneged and was dishonest in the trade talks, unilaterally escalated the trade tensions and made the negotiation fall into an impasse.”

Source: SCMP

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17/06/2019

Oil tanker attacks: did Iran’s ties with China just go up in smoke?

  • Washington has blamed Tehran for an attack on two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, putting pressure on Iran’s allies like China
  • Beijing usually backs its trade partner – but experts say the trade war with the US and problems with Huawei may have changed the equation
A tanker burns in the Gulf of Oman after a mystery attack that the United States has blamed on Iran. Photo: AFP
A tanker burns in the Gulf of Oman after a mystery attack that the United States has blamed on Iran. Photo: AFP
When 
Shinzo Abe

headed to Tehran this week for the first visit by a sitting Japanese prime minister in four decades, some in the diplomatic world imagined he could be the man to bring

Iran

back to the negotiating table with the

United States

.

Those hopes were torpedoed on Thursday when, on the same day Abe was meeting Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, explosions ripped through two oil tankers, one Japanese and one Norwegian, near the Strait of Hormuz, a strategically significant shipping lane.
The attack immediately overshadowed an earlier success for Abe, who had met President Hassan Rowhani a day before and was assured Iran would stick to the terms of a 2015 agreement limiting its nuclear activities.
Washington accused Iran of being behind the attack on the tankers, releasing a video on Friday that it said showed Iran’s revolutionary guard removing an unexploded mine from one of the ships, and warning that it would “defend its interests”.
Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran. Photo: Reuters
Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meet Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran. Photo: Reuters

Tehran, for its part, claimed to have been set up, with its foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif saying “suspicious doesn’t begin to describe” the incident. So much, then, for hopes of mediation.

US President

Donald Trump

, who had encouraged the Japanese leader’s visit, admitted on Twitter soon afterwards that when it came to negotiating, “they are not ready, and neither are we!”

Still, the incident exposed more than just the naivety of those hoping for an Abe-led breakthrough. In raising the stakes in Washington’s confrontation with Tehran, it also threw the spotlight on Iran’s dwindling number of allies – and perhaps most significantly on its largest trading partner, China – which face mounting pressure to rethink the relationship.

Tanker attacks: world divided over Iran role as Saudi prince breaks silence
The day after the attack, China’s President

Xi Jinping

said Beijing would promote its ties with Iran “however the situation changes” – a comment made during a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rowhani on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Kyrgyzstan – but diplomatic observers question just how far China can go in accommodating its controversial trading partner.

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER?

Iran has long been able to count on support from China, which accounts for 30 per cent of the Islamic republic’s exports and imports, and its willingness to defy US pressure is a gamble at least partly based on an assumption it can continue to count on Beijing’s support.

As Iran’s largest economic partner – Chinese direct investment in Iran hit a record high of nearly US$4 billion last year, according to data analysis project ChinaMed – Beijing already plays a key role in relieving US pressure on Iran, said Mohsen Shariatinia, assistant professor of regional studies at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.

But experts warn that reliance will come into question as China becomes increasingly hamstrung by its own problems.

China has enough problems of its own, starting with US pressure on Huawei. Photo: EPA
China has enough problems of its own, starting with US pressure on Huawei. Photo: EPA
Chief among Beijing’s headaches are its

trade war

with Washington and the related assault on its

5G

giant

Huawei

– which, as analysts point out, originally ignited over allegations it was defying US sanctions on Iran. Beijing will also be well aware of the need to keep

Saudi Arabia

, its second-biggest oil supplier and Tehran’s critic-in-chief, happy.

On the other hand, analysts say, China will be wary of being seen to abandon its old friend, as doing so would send a message to other nations at odds with Washington that they could no longer look to China as a diversification strategy.
“This could mean Chinese investment is vulnerable to US interference,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse Bazaar, a media company that supports business diplomacy between Europe and Iran.
Sanctions drive Iranian students away from US towards Asia
Doing so, Batmanghelidj said, would put a question mark over one of China’s most significant foreign policies of recent years – President Xi’s signature

Belt and Road Initiative

to fund infrastructure across Eurasia.

THE BELT AND ROAD QUESTION
Tensions between Iran and the US have reached boiling point in recent weeks, after the Trump administration last month ended waivers on sanctions for nations importing Iranian oil – a move the US says is aimed at making the republic “radioactive to the international community” and which Rowhani has described as an “economic war against Iran”.
So far, China has largely stuck by the Islamic Republic, continuing to buy fuel from it despite the latest wave of US sanctions on Iranian oil that followed Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the US from the landmark 2015 agreement curbing Tehran’s nuclear development.
The deal had been widely lauded as a triumph of multilateralism and the dawning of a new economic era for Iran.
US releases video of ‘Iranian forces removing unexploded mine’ from ship
Part of its eagerness to support Iran has stemmed from the Islamic Republic’s key position in the Belt and Road plan. In 2017 alone, China signed deals for more than US$15 billion in Iranian infrastructure investment, according to the

Chinese Communist Party

mouthpiece China Daily.

Planned projects include high-speed rail lines, upgrades to the nation’s electrical grid, and natural gas pipelines. The two nations have also vowed to boost bilateral trade to US$600 billion in the next seven years.
“China sees Iran as its Western gateway, where not only is it a big market in itself, but it will also be the gateway to the rest of the 
Middle East

and ultimately to Europe for China,” said Anoush Ehteshami, professor of international relations at Durham University in Britain.

Nisha Mary Mathew, at the Middle East Institute in Singapore, said that China’s relationship with Iran was not just economic – but primarily strategic, with both nations envisioning an international order that was no longer dominated by the US and its Western allies.
DEFIANCE, FOR NOW
If the belt and road gives China good reason to stick with Iran, there are plenty of voices urging just that action. As Andrea Ghiselli at Shanghai’s Fudan University pointed out, US sanctions until now have only strengthened the hardline factions in Iran’s government.
The combination of the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal – which had the support of the international community – along with Europe’s tepid efforts to rescue it, may have emboldened those favouring resistance over negotiation.
Xi’s supportive comments in Kyrgyzstan were only the latest in a string of remarks from China that could encourage such factions.
If Trump kills off Huawei, do Asia’s 5G dreams die?
After China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Beijing last month, the ministry’s spokesman Lu Kang said China’s economic relationship with Iran was “reasonable and lawful”.
Two months prior to that, China’s Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan, while hosting his Iranian counterpart Farhad Dejpasand, had claimed China’s “determination to maintain and develop the China-Iran comprehensive strategic partnership is unshakeable”.
Chinese President Xi Jinping with Iranian President Hassan Rowhani. Photo: AFP
Chinese President Xi Jinping with Iranian President Hassan Rowhani. Photo: AFP

Even so, the pressure is getting to some. In February, Foreign Minister Zarif temporarily resigned, in what Andrea Ghiselli at Fudan University in Shanghai called a clear sign of the “changing and precarious power balance with Iran’s foreign policy establishment”.

And nowhere is the pressure felt more keenly than the economy and China’s ability to serve as a lifeline.

“The real anxiety in Iran right now is about market share,” said Bourse and Bazaar’s Batmanghelidj. “If you’re exporting zero oil and your customers are buying oil elsewhere, you lose market share.

“The government wants to know if it agreed to go back to the negotiating table and the US promised sanctions relief, that there are people who are going to buy in significant volume.”

TURNING POINT: HUAWEI

For many analysts, the event most likely to have changed the equation in Beijing’s eyes is the arrest by the Canadian authorities of 

Meng Wanzhou

, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Meng’s arrest came at the request of the US government, which claimed her company had violated sanctions by selling equipment to Iran.
Many observers saw the action as Washington’s way of signalling to Chinese companies that they would face repercussions if they eased the pressure on Iran by continuing to trade.
Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. Photo: Reuters
Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. Photo: Reuters

“Going after Huawei was about going after Chinese enterprises – signalling that they can no longer trade with Iran with impunity,” Batmanghelidj said.

Since then, Chinese firms have shown increased skittishness towards trading with Iran. According to China’s General Customs Administration, Chinese exports to Iran declined by more than half between October 2018 and February 2019, from over US$1 billion to just under US$500 million.

Mohammad Ali Shabani, a researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said other countries in the region were now watching to see if China would blink in the face of US pressure. “This could have dire consequences for China’s image as a reliable partner,” he said.

NOT JUST ABOUT AMERICA

There are reasons beyond US pressure that may factor into Beijing’s thinking. It has long stated its opposition to Iranian nuclear weapons development, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said that China is “ready” to take on “its due responsibilities and make a greater contribution to world peace and common development”.

Trade war: here are Beijing’s options – and none look any good

Zhao Hong, at the Research School of Southeast Asian Studies at Xiamen University, said that in stepping up as a responsible world power Beijing faced a dilemma over its approach to Iran.
“Chinese leaders have to painfully balance an impulse towards economic cooperation with Iran against other vital interests, including convincing Washington that China is a responsible stakeholder,” he wrote in the Journal of Contemporary China.
Saudi Aramco's Ras Tanura oil refinery. The country is China’s second-largest oil supplier after Russia. Photo: Reuters
Saudi Aramco’s Ras Tanura oil refinery. The country is China’s second-largest oil supplier after Russia. Photo: Reuters

Then there is China’s relationship with Iran’s chief adversary, Saudi Arabia, to consider. Riyadh is China’s second-largest oil supplier, behind Russia, and it plays a central role in Beijing’s energy strategy.

According to International Trade Centre data, more than 12 per cent of China’s imported oil came from Saudi Arabia last year, compared with just 6 per cent from Iran. Last year, Saudi Arabia shipped 56.73 million tonnes of oil to China, or 1.135 million barrels per day.

Why would Kim Jong-un trust Trump, now that he’s ripped up Iran’s nuclear deal?

This April, China imported 6.3 million tonnes of oil from Saudi Arabia, nearly twice the 3.24 million tonnes it imported from Iran, according to China’s General Administration of Customs.

Iran’s comparatively small share of China’s oil imports market and its heavy reliance on China as a trading partner add up to a deeply uneven relationship, experts say, and it is this imbalance that will encourage the US that China may be open to rethinking its ties.

As Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East programme at Washington DC think tank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, pointed out, while China was Iran’s largest trading partner, Iran represented less than 1 per cent of China’s international trade.

“Iran needs China,” Alterman said. “But to China, Iran is expendable.”

Source: SCMP

17/06/2019

China rockets to forefront of global space race with sea launch success

  • China has become the first nation to fully own and operate a floating launch platform for its space missions
China has successfully launched a rocket into space from the Yellow Sea, making it the first nation to fully own and operate a floating sea launch platform. Photo: China National Space Administration
China has successfully launched a rocket into space from the Yellow Sea, making it the first nation to fully own and operate a floating sea launch platform. Photo: China National Space Administration
China successfully launched a rocket into space from a civilian cargo ship at sea on Wednesday, becoming the first nation to fully own and operate a floating sea launch platform, a technology expected to significantly reduce the cost and risk of space missions.
A Long March 11WEY rocket blasted off from the ship in the Yellow Sea at noon Beijing time, according to the China National Space Administration.
About six minutes later, five commercial satellites and a pair of “technical experiment” probes – called Bufeng, or Wind Catchers – reached their designated orbits.

The Wind Catchers will work together to detect winds on the surface of the world’s oceans. They will boost China’s ability to monitor and forecast typhoons and other extreme weather events, according to the administration.

“Launching a rocket from the sea has the advantages of high flexibility, good adaptability for specific tasks, and excellent launch economy,” said a statement on the administration’s website.

“It can flexibly select the launch point and touchdown area to meet the needs of various payloads for different orbits, and provide better aerospace commercial launch services for countries along the belt and road,” it added, referring to the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s plan to grow global trade.

The Long March 11 is a four-stage, solid fuel rocket with a design similar to a ballistic missile. It can carry a payload of about 700kg to the Earth’s lower orbit.

The first two stages of the rocket dropped in open waters in the northern Pacific Ocean, according to the administration. The rocket was equipped with a flight suspension system in case of any abnormal situation, but none occurred.

“The rocket debris will not cause damage to surrounding waters,” the administration said.

The world’s first ocean rocket launch platform, the Sea Launch, was jointly built by companies from Russia, the United States, Norway and Ukraine in the late 1990s. Its operation was halted in 2014 after military conflicts broke out between Russia and Ukraine.

Li Hong, president of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told state media in March that the Chinese rocket and launch platform were designed and owned entirely by China, so it would not have similar problems caused by international disputes as the Sea Launch.

The launch was expected to encounter many technical and engineering challenges, including simplified procedures for pre-launch testing, the rocking motion of the ship and heat dissipation in a confined space.

But Chinese space authorities have argued the inconvenience would be offset by numerous advantages. For instance, the technology would allow China to move its launch site to as far away as Hawaii for quicker, cheaper satellite insertion to certain orbits, according to Xinhua.

Preparations get under way for Wednesday’s successful Chinese space launch from the northern Pacific ocean. Photo: China National Space Administration
Preparations get under way for Wednesday’s successful Chinese space launch from the northern Pacific ocean. Photo: China National Space Administration

A maritime launch is also expected to reduce the risk of rocket debris falling into densely populated areas.

Chinese space launch sites are typically located inland for defence purposes.

China has built its sea launch capability mainly to bolster the commercial space sector, according to Chinese space authorities.

In this mission, the rocket was sponsored and named after WEY, a young luxury car brand by Chinese sports utility vehicle manufacturer Great Wall Motor.

Chang’e 4 landing marks start of new China-US space race
Some cutting-edge car technology, such as new paint materials, will go into space for testing in the most extreme environments, according to state media reports.
The payloads include the Jilin 03A, the latest addition to a high-definition Earth observation satellite network, according to Changguang Satellite Technology Corporation, the satellite’s owner.
The company said the constellation, which will eventually comprise more than 20 satellites, would achieve global coverage for commercial applications.
One of the satellites launched on Wednesday belongs to Shanghai-based LinkSure Network, which has ambitious plans to provide free Wi-fi to everyone on the planet. The company has said it plans to eventually launch more than 200 satellites as part of the project.
Source: SCMP
16/06/2019

Beijing sees ‘broad consensus’ with UN on Xinjiang as human rights groups blast envoy’s visit

  • UN counterterrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov not expected to make statement after visiting region last week
  • Trip prompts calls for independent observation in Muslim-majority area where an estimated 1 million people are held in detention facilities
Residents go through a security checkpoint at the entrance to a bazaar in Hotan, Xinjiang. The UN’s counterterrorism chief visited the far western region last week. Photo: AP
Residents go through a security checkpoint at the entrance to a bazaar in Hotan, Xinjiang. The UN’s counterterrorism chief visited the far western region last week. Photo: AP
Human rights group Amnesty International has joined growing criticism of a top UN official’s visit to China’s 
Xinjiang region

, echoing calls for more independent investigations of detention facilities for ethnic Uygurs.

The invitation to the United Nations envoy to visit was Beijing’s latest attempt to show it has nothing to hide in what it calls “re-education facilities” that hold an estimated 1 million people in the Muslim-majority area in western China.
But critics have warned that state-led media tours and diplomatic visits lack the unfettered access needed to make a proper assessment of alleged rights abuses in the region.
UN counterterrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov 
visited Beijing and Xinjiang

from Thursday to Saturday and met Le Yucheng, the vice foreign minister, according to a statement from the foreign ministry on Sunday. The statement said the two sides had reached a “broad consensus”.

UN human rights chief ‘is welcome to visit Xinjiang’

Voronkov’s visit follows months of pressure to allow the UN to investigate alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. China has so far only allowed guided tours of the region for foreign journalists and diplomatic envoys.

Reuters reported on Saturday that Voronkov’s itinerary was planned by China and that his UN office did not expect to make any public statement about the trip, according to an email from Voronkov’s office seen by the news agency.

The United Nations said in August last year it had credible reports that detention facilities in Xinjiang held 1 million Uygurs and other Muslims. Beijing says the facilities are for “vocational training” and tied to deradicalisation and anti-terrorism efforts.

Patrick Poon, a Hong Kong-based researcher with Amnesty International, said he was “very much concerned” about how the UN envoy’s visit had been arranged.

“From what we saw in the previous visits orchestrated by the Chinese government for diplomats, it’s very difficult for anyone to believe how this visit will be able to show any authentic situation on the ground,” Poon said.

“If the Chinese government is sincere, let independent UN experts, such as the special rapporteurs, have independent observation of what’s happening in Xinjiang.”

Xinjiang’s vanishing mosques highlight pressure on China’s Muslims
His remarks followed criticism of the trip from Human Rights Watch on Friday.
“The UN allowing its counterterrorism chief to go to Xinjiang risks confirming China’s false narrative that this is a counterterrorism issue, not a question of massive human rights abuses,” Human Rights Watch UN director Louis Charbonneau told Agence France-Presse.
Also on Friday, US Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan called UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to express “deep concerns” about Voronkov’s visit, according to the State Department website. Sullivan called for “unmonitored and unhindered access to all camps and detainees in Xinjiang by UN human rights officials”.
The United States has been increasingly vocal about China’s human rights abuses. Vice-President Mike Pence is due to give a speech on China’s “control and oppression” of citizens on June 24, but according to Bloomberg it could be postponed to avoid inflaming tensions with Beijing ahead of a possible meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 leaders summit in Japan on June 28-29. The speech was originally scheduled for June 4 but was delayed by Trump, Bloomberg reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.
Source: SCMP
04/06/2019

No time to waste in saving the world’s rivers from drying up – especially in China

  • Brahma Chellaney writes that excessive damming and drastic overuse of water resources are causing the world’s major waterways to run dry
Vessels head for the lock of the Three Gorges Dam in Yichang, in central China's Hubei province. Sediment build-up in the dam’s reservoir stems from silt flow disruption in the Yangtze River, Brahma Chellaney writes. Photo: Xinhua
Vessels head for the lock of the Three Gorges Dam in Yichang, in central China’s Hubei province. Sediment build-up in the dam’s reservoir stems from silt flow disruption in the Yangtze River, Brahma Chellaney writes. Photo: Xinhua
Thanks to excessive damming and drastic overuse of water resources, an increasing number of major rivers across the world are drying up before reaching the sea.
Nowhere is this more evident than in China, where the old saying, “Follow the river and it will eventually lead you to a sea,” is no longer wholly true.
While a number of smaller rivers in China have simply disappeared, the Yellow River – the cradle of the Chinese civilisation – now tends to run dry before reaching the sea.
This has prompted Chinese scientists to embark on a controversial rainmaking project to help increase the Yellow’s flow. By sucking moisture from the air, however, the project could potentially affect monsoon rains elsewhere.
For large sections of the world’s population, major river systems serve as lifelines. The rivers not only supply the most essential of all natural resources – water – but also sustain biodiversity, which in turn supports human beings.
Yet an increasing number of rivers, not just in China, are drying up before reaching the sea.
A major new United Nations study published early this month offers grim conclusions: human actions are irremediably altering rivers and other ecosystems and driving increasing numbers of plant and animal species to extinction.

“Nature across the globe has now been significantly altered,” according to the study’s summary of findings.

The Yangtze and Jialing rivers come together in the southwestern city of Chongqing. Photo: Simon Song
The Yangtze and Jialing rivers come together in the southwestern city of Chongqing. Photo: Simon Song

Water sustains life and livelihoods and enables economic development.

If the world is to avert a thirsty future and contain the risks of greater intrastate and interstate water conflict, it must protect freshwater ecosystems, which harbour the greatest concentration of species.

The Mekong is mighty no more: book charts river’s demise

Yet, according to another study published in Nature this month humans have modified the flows of most long rivers, other than those found in the remote regions of the

Amazon and Congo basins and the Arctic.

Consequently, only a little more than one-third of the world’s 246 long rivers are still free-flowing, meaning they remain free from dams, levees and other man-made water-diversion structures that leave them increasingly fragmented.

Humans have modified the flows of most long rivers, including the Yangtze, home to some of China’s most spectacular natural scenery. Photo: WWF
Humans have modified the flows of most long rivers, including the Yangtze, home to some of China’s most spectacular natural scenery. Photo: WWF

Such fragmentation is affecting river hydrology, flow of nutrient-rich sediment from the mountains where rivers originate, riparian vegetation, migration of fish and quality of water.

Take the Colorado River, one of the world’s most diverted and dammed rivers. Broken up by more than 100 dams and thousands of kilometres of diversion canals, the Colorado has not reached the sea since 1998.

Sinking sands along the Mekong River leave Vietnamese homeless

The river, which originates in the Rocky Mountains and is the lifeblood for the southwestern United States, used to empty into the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

But now, owing to the upstream diversion of 9.3 billion cubic metres (328.4 billion cubic feet) of water annually, the Colorado’s flow into its delta has been reduced to a trickle.

Altering the flow characteristics of rivers poses a serious problem for sustainable development, because they affect the ecosystem services on which both humans and wildlife depend. Photo: AP
Altering the flow characteristics of rivers poses a serious problem for sustainable development, because they affect the ecosystem services on which both humans and wildlife depend. Photo: AP

Other major rivers that run dry before reaching the sea include the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, the two lifelines of Central Asia; the Euphrates and the Tigris in the Middle East; and the Rio Grande, which marks the border between Texas and Mexico before heading to the Gulf of Mexico.

The overused Murray in Australia and Indus in Pakistan are at risk of meeting the same fate.

Are China’s Mekong dams washing away Cambodian livelihoods?

More fundamentally, altered flow characteristics of rivers are among the most serious problems for sustainable development, because they seriously affect the ecosystem services on which both humans and wildlife depend.

Free-flowing rivers, while supporting a wealth of biodiversity, allow billions of fish – the main source of protein for the poor – to trek through their waters and breed copiously.

Urgent action is needed to save the world’s rivers, including improving agricultural practices, which account for the bulk of freshwater withdrawals

Free-flowing rivers also deliver nutrient-rich silt crucial to agriculture, fisheries and marine life.

Such high-quality sediment helps to naturally re-fertilise overworked soils in the plains, sustain freshwater species and, after rivers empty into seas or oceans, underpin the aquatic food chain supporting marine life.

China’s hyperactive dam building illustrates the high costs of river fragmentation. No country in history has built more dams than China. In fact, China today boasts more large dams than the rest of the world combined.

China’s chain of dams and reservoirs on each of its long rivers impedes the downstream flow of sediment, thereby denying essential nutrients to agricultural land and aquatic species.

A case in point is China’s Three Gorges Dam – the world’s largest – which has a problematic build-up of sediment in its own massive reservoir because it has disrupted silt flows in the Yangtze River.

Likewise, China’s cascade of eight giant dams on the Mekong, just before the river enters Southeast Asia, is affecting the quality and quantity of flows in the delta, in Vietnam.

Yangtze dams may spell end to sturgeon in a decade
Undeterred, China is building or planning another 20 dams on the Mekong.
How the drying up of rivers affects seas and oceans is apparent from the Aral Sea, which has shrunk 74 per cent in area and 90 per cent in volume, with its salinity growing nine-fold.
People beat the heat by cooling off in the Yangtze River in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province. Photo: Nora Tam
People beat the heat by cooling off in the Yangtze River in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province. Photo: Nora Tam

This change is the result of the Aral Sea’s principal water sources, the Amu Darya and Syr Darya, being so overexploited for irrigation that they are drying up before reaching what was once the world’s fourth-largest inland lake.

Compounding the challenges is the increasing pollution of rivers. Aquatic ecosystems have lost half of their biodiversity since the mid-1970s alone.

Chinese court jails nine for dumping toxic waste in Yangtze

Urgent action is needed to save the world’s rivers. This includes action on several fronts, including improving practices in agriculture, which accounts for the bulk of the world’s freshwater withdrawals.

Without embracing integrated water resource management and other sustainable practices, the world risks a parched future.

Source: SCMP

04/06/2019

China’s lunar rover Yutu ends 60-year riddle of moon’s mantle with discovery of mineral olivine

  • Yutu’s discovery of olivine helps pave the way for scientists to confirm existence of a mantle beneath the moon’s crust
  • Crystallised mineral likely came from a crater caused by a meteor strike
China’s lunar rover, Yutu, has made a groundbreaking discovery. Photo: Xinhua
China’s lunar rover, Yutu, has made a groundbreaking discovery. Photo: Xinhua
China’s lunar rover, Yutu, has made a groundbreaking discovery that proves what scientists have been thinking for decades: that the moon has a mantle.
Scientists have long suspected that the moon has a mantle under its crust, just like the Earth, but for the past 60 years lunar explorations, including the US Apollo missions, have failed to provide proof. While there were clues, there was no direct evidence.
“Now we have it,” said Professor Li Chunlai, deputy director of the National Astronomical Observatory of China and a lead scientist on the Chang’e-4 mission that put Yutu, or Jade Rabbit as it is known in English, on the moon.
The findings, published in the latest issue of journal Nature on Thursday, answer some fundamental questions about the moon, such as its internal structure and history of its formation.
The rover discovered olivine in surface samples collected near its landing site. Photo: Xinhua
The rover discovered olivine in surface samples collected near its landing site. Photo: Xinhua

During its first mission on January 3, Yutu discovered olivine, a green, crystallised mineral usually found deep underground – like the upper mantle of the Earth – in surface samples collected near its landing site.

Further analysis showed that the olivine was not local, but had originated from a 72km diameter (45-mile) crater nearby.

The far side of the moon has more craters than the near side, which faces the Earth, and a meteor strike probably penetrated to the mantle and brought up materials to the surface.

What you need to know about Chang’e 4’s mission to the moon
Yutu’s landing site used to be littered by rocks, but cosmic rays and solar wind weathered them to dust, Li said.

“What we found is the first direct evidence of materials from deep below the lunar crust,” though how deep is still unknown, he said.

It is generally believed that the moon was once covered by oceans of molten rock. Lighter substances rose to the surface and formed a crust while heavier ones sank to form the mantle and core. The new findings support that theory.

China is the first country to land a rover on the far side on the moon and is planning to send a larger spacecraft there later this year to bring back samples.

The first Chinese astronauts will land on the moon between 2025 to 2030, according to Beijing’s latest schedule.

The Apollo missions brought back many rock samples, some of which contained olivine, but some scientists suspected they might have come from a volcanic eruption.

First photo of lunar rover leaving ‘footprints’ on moon

China, the United States and other nations have all announced plans to launch missions to exploit the moon’s resources within the next decade or two.

Yutu’s discovery could help scientists to draw a more accurate map of those resources, including the volume and distribution of minerals, researchers said.

In Chinese folklore, Yutu or Jade Rabbit as it is known in English, is a companion of the moon goddess Chang’e. Photo: Handout
In Chinese folklore, Yutu or Jade Rabbit as it is known in English, is a companion of the moon goddess Chang’e. Photo: Handout

US President Donald Trump gave Nasa an additional US$1.6 billion budget to put Americans back on the moon by 2024.

Li said Chinese scientists were willing to work with their colleagues in the US, but Washington had blocked any such collaboration.

“Our door remains open,” he said.

Source: SCMP

04/06/2019

Five bodies spotted in search for climbers missing in Indian Himalayas

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Five bodies were spotted high on a mountain in the Indian Himalayas on Monday during an aerial search for eight climbers feared swept away in an avalanche last week, a government official said.

The climbers – four from Britain, two from the United States, and one each from Australia and India – were reported missing by colleagues on Friday after they failed to return to their base camp near Nanda Devi, India’s second highest mountain.
An air force helicopter spotted the five bodies on a flight over the area where they went missing, Vijay Kumar Jogdande, the top government official in the nearby Pithoragarh district.
“Four bodies can be seen together and a fifth slightly away from the others,” he said.

The search mission was now working on the assumption that all eight climbers had been killed, he said.

“We are trying to retrieve the bodies. We believe the other three will be nearby,” he said.

The climbers was attempting to climb an unnamed, previously unclimbed 6,477 metre (21,250 feet) peak near Nanda Devi when their route was hit by a “sizeable avalanche”, said the company that organised the expedition, Moran Mountain.

Jogdande, said the bodies were above 5,000 metres and the possibility of a second avalanche would make accessing the site difficult. It had not been decided whether a team would go in by air or on foot, he said.

“We’re considering both alternatives. Since the bodies are at high altitude it is inaccessible, it is still unstable terrain that could lead to a secondary avalanche. We’re working out a plan.”

“It has always been a dangerous place to go. Mount Everest is easier to climb,” he said.

A team would take at least a week to reach the area, Sanjay Gunjiyal, a senior police official involved in the mission, told Reuters.

Four climbers in the group had turned back and later raised the alarm about their missing colleagues. They were evacuated from their base camp by helicopter and were “fine and healthy”, said Tripti Bhatt, an official of the Uttarakhand State Disaster Response Force.

DEADLY SEASON

It has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons in the Himalayas for several years. More than 20 people have been killed in the mountains, including 11 on Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak that has been plagued by poor weather, inexperienced climbers and overcrowding.

Nanda Devi, at 7,816 metres (25,643 feet), and its sister mountain, Nanda Devi East, are among the world’s most challenging peaks and only a handful of people have climbed them.

The leader of the missing group, Martin Moran, was the first person to summit Changuch, another peak in the area, and was known as a “godfather” of guiding in the Himalayas, according to a video diary of Rob Jarvis, who accompanied him on that expedition in 2009.

“He was very well versed with the area, but the route they were taking is not usually travelled,” Gunjiyal said.

Many of the other missing climbers are veterans but with little experience of Nanda Devi and its surrounding peaks, he said.

Indian authorities have identified the eight missing as Moran, John McLaren, Rupert Whewell and Richard Payne, all from Britain, Anthony Sudekum and Ronald Beimel from the United States, Ruth McCance from Australia, and liaison officer Chetan Pandey from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.

Source: Reuters

28/05/2019

Taiwan changes name of de facto embassy in United States to ‘reflect stronger ties’

  • Coordination Council for North American Affairs becomes Taiwan Council for US Affairs, island’s foreign ministry says
  • Move signifies ‘firm and close relationship between Taiwan and the US’, President Tsai Ing-wen says
Taiwan has changed the name of its de facto embassy in the United States to better reflect ever-improving ties between the sides. Photo: EPA
Taiwan has changed the name of its de facto embassy in the United States to better reflect ever-improving ties between the sides. Photo: EPA
Taiwan has changed the name of its de facto embassy in the United States to better reflect relations between the sides, which are at their strongest in decades, Taipei said on Saturday.
Once the necessary formalities have been completed, the agency formerly known as the Coordination Council for North American Affairs will be called the Taiwan Council for US Affairs, the island’s foreign ministry said.
“The new name better reflects the [agency’s] role in coordinating US-Taiwan affairs. It also symbolises the close and amicable relations between Taiwan and the United States,” it said.
Observers said the name change was significant as it appeared to drop the pretence that the council was non-diplomatic or political in nature.
The name change was possible because of the consensus between Taiwan and the US. Photo: CNA
The name change was possible because of the consensus between Taiwan and the US. Photo: CNA

Although Washington severed formal diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 in favour of Beijing, the two sides retained unofficial relations that have grown ever-closer in recent years, including an increase in military exchanges and cooperation.

“The new name [was made possible] as a result of the consensus between Taiwan and the US,” the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen said in a Facebook post. “This is the first time the designations ‘Taiwan and the US’ have been used to refer to each other’s affairs office on an equal basis, signifying the firm and close relationship.”

Taiwan begins mass production of missile corvettes, minelayers

Taiwan had been forced to use the old title because of the “special historical background” related to the change in diplomatic allegiance 40 years ago, Tsai said.

Beijing, which considers Taiwan a wayward province awaiting reunification, by force if necessary, has demanded that Washington observe the one-China policy by not officially recognising Taiwan or allowing it to use either “Republic of China” – the island’s official name – or “Taiwan” in the title of its representative offices in the US.

Washington also enacted the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979 to prescribes relations with the island and includes a commitment to supply it with arms to protect itself.

“After continuous efforts and coordination by the two sides, and in 2019, the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, our office handling relations with the US is finally able to change its name,” Tsai said.

The American Institute in Taiwan relocated to a larger, purpose-built compound last month. Photo: Bloomberg
The American Institute in Taiwan relocated to a larger, purpose-built compound last month. Photo: Bloomberg

Presidential spokesman Alex Huang said the name change was due mainly to an improvement in relations between Taiwan and the US as a result of a greater cooperation on the promotion of regional peace and the Indo-Pacific security agenda.

“In the past few years, the US government has given Taiwan strong and firm support in terms of national security and participation in international events, as well as support from Congress and think tanks,” he said, referring to bills signed by US President Donald Trump that allow for exchanges between high-level officials and military personnel, and the approval of new sales of arms and logistical support to the island.

US official urges Pacific island nations to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan

Also, last week, Taiwan’s national security chief David Lee met US National Security Adviser John Bolton in Washington for the first talks of their kind since 1979, Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported on Saturday.

Last month, the American Institute in Taiwan – the United States’ unofficial embassy in Taipei – relocated to a significantly larger, purpose-built compound, in yet another sign of improving relations.

US support for Taiwan has increased under Trump’s leadership as he regards Beijing as a hostile competitor, not only on trade, but also in military and global influence terms.

Tensions between Taipei and Beijing have flared since Tsai became president in 2016 and refused to accept the one-China principle. The mainland subsequently halted all official exchanges with the island and embarked on a campaign to squeeze its diplomatic allies around the world.

Source: SCMP

22/05/2019

EE keeps Huawei in first British 5G network but halts handsets

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s biggest mobile operator EE said on Wednesday its 5G network would rely on equipment made by China’s Huawei, at least for the first few years, as it announced plans to switch on the next-generation services on May 30.

However, BT-owned EE joined rival Vodafone in pulling a Huawei smartphone from its 5G launch line-up because of uncertainty about support by Google’s Android after a U.S. move to block the Chinese firm’s access to its technology.

The United States has said Huawei is a security risk and open to spying by Beijing, a claim the Chinese company denies.

The government will rule imminently whether Huawei will be allowed to participate in these new networks.

EE Chief Executive Marc Allera said its planned 5G launch was “the start of the UK’s 5G journey and great news for our customers that want and need the best connections”.

Britain had given the green light for the launch, which will see six cities including London, Cardiff and Edinburgh switched on next week and another 10 by the end of the year, he added.

“We do believe it is important for the UK that we are in the pack of the leading nations (for 5G),” he said. “At the moment we have no instructions [from government] to change our plans.”

EE has said it was already removing Huawei networking equipment from it core network. BT Group’s technology chief Howard Watson, however, said 5G would start before Huawei was totally removed from the core of its network.

“We are launching 5G with Huawei in the radio access network and we are using an upgraded version of that existing core, which will then … be migrated away from,” Watson said.

HUAWEI DROPPED

EE and Vodafone have opened orders for 5G phones, for example from Samsung, to be available when their networks launch.

Apple does not yet have a 5G phone and analysts do not expect it to launch one until 2020 at the earliest.

Users were already regularly achieving speed of 500Mbps in tests networks, Allera said, adding that he was confident speeds of 1Gbps would be reached by the end of the year.
Average speeds at launch would be about 200Mbps, five times faster than typical top 4G speeds, while EE said smartphone tariffs would range from 54 pounds ($68) a month for 10GB of data to 74 pounds a month for 120GB.
It aims to have 1,500 5G sites by the end of 2019, targeting the busiest areas of the busiest cities, he said.
Industry analyst Kester Mann from CCS said he “applauded a realistic launch” that did not over-inflate expectations.
“Although being the first UK network to launch 5G will mean little to consumers, EE clearly see it as an important honor,” he said. Vodafone launches on July 3.
Huawei’s Mate 20X (5G) had been expected to be among the devices available on both company’s superfast networks, but EE dropped the company from a launch line-up that includes Samsung’s Galaxy S10 5G, and devices from Oppo, LG and OnePlus.
“We have put the Huawei devices on pause until we have got a bit some more information,” Allera said, adding that EE needed to be sure the devices it supplies are going to be supported.

Vodafone UK took the same step, stopping pre-orders for the handset before the launch of its network.

Huawei, the world’s second-biggest phone maker runs its devices on Google’s Android platform outside China, but the U.S. Commerce Department blocked Huawei from buying U.S. goods last week, throwing future software updates into question.

Britain was set to allow Huawei some participation in the radio part of 5G networks but bar it from the intelligent core. But a decision has not been announced, and the U.S. and some politicians are pushing for a more far-reaching ban.

Source: Reuters

19/05/2019

Shanghai Bund’s historic buildings saved from demolition … for now

  • Experts win reprieve for two out of three heritage houses but fear their success is only temporary
  • Authorities plan public cultural facilities for the site
The historic buildings on Shanghai’s Bund in the 1930s. One of the three structures has already been demolished but authorities have temporarily suspended plans to knock down the other two. Photo: Handout
The historic buildings on Shanghai’s Bund in the 1930s. One of the three structures has already been demolished but authorities have temporarily suspended plans to knock down the other two. Photo: Handout
Two historic buildings on Shanghai’s famous Bund have temporarily escaped demolition after a group of experts appealed to the government to conserve the heritage sites, but the intervention was too late to save a third.
About 15 architecture, history and culture experts based in Shanghai banded together to write an article on social media app WeChat last month, calling on the city’s government to “protect the city’s memories” by preserving three houses on Huangpu Road.
A few days after the article was published one of the buildings was demolished as part of a plan to build public cultural facilities on the site. But authorities suspended work on the other two and are considering removing only the interior structure while preserving the external walls, according to the group.
The houses, which date back to 1902, witnessed the city’s boom in the first half of the 20th century when it became one of the world’s most important, and famous, ports, the experts said.
The demolition project on The Bund, Shanghai has been suspended, but not before one of the three historic buildings was demolished. Photo: Urban China magazine
The demolition project on The Bund, Shanghai has been suspended, but not before one of the three historic buildings was demolished. Photo: Urban China magazine

All three of the properties originally belonged to Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kaisha Group and were later used as storage facilities for Japan’s military forces during the second world war, according to Yu Hai, a sociologist from Shanghai’s Fudan University.

“These buildings, along with the nearby Yangzijiang port on the Huangpu River, represented Shanghai’s wharf culture and port culture,” Yu said. “They are historically significant as they witnessed Shanghai grow prosperous through shipping and trade industries about a century ago.”

Although the two remaining buildings are safe for now, the experts argue their interiors are also worth preserving.

Liu Gang, an architecture professor at Shanghai’s Tongji University, said the properties featured big wooden beams supported by black iron pillars, which were prominent architectural features of industrial buildings dating back to the 19th century.

“We guess it was hard to move these giant beams with vehicles at the beginning of the 20th century. Quite possibly they were transported on the river. We guess that the wood was chopped down and processed in places across the Pacific [from North America] and shipped to Shanghai.”

In the WeChat article, Liu called for the protection of the interior structure of the buildings. “Without solid research, we cannot simply take them down to be replaced by new ones.”

Yu agreed, saying: “The building with a new inside structure would be a fake and this plan will destroy historical heritage.”

Experts say the interiors of the historic buildings are also worth preserving. Photo: Urban China magazine
Experts say the interiors of the historic buildings are also worth preserving. Photo: Urban China magazine

Huangpu Road, where these houses sit, is rich with history. It features the Garden Bridge of Shanghai – the city’s first steel bridge, built in 1907 – and was once home to the consulates of the United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, Denmark and the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Other notable landmarks on the road include the Astor House Hotel, built in 1846, where Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein and George Bernard Shaw stayed in the 1920s and 1930s. The hotel is still there.

“History happened here,” Yu said. “But it’s a pity that most of the old buildings in this area no longer exist.”

Despite their success in winning a stay of execution for the two buildings, the experts are cautious in their expectations.

“The demolition work was suspended, but that does not mean they have accepted our proposals. We are not optimistic,” Yu said.

About two weeks ago as part of their effort to save the buildings, Yu and three other scholars approached officials from Shanghai’s Planning and Natural Resources Bureau, the government body behind the demolition project.

“Officials emphasised the difficulties of keeping the completeness of the old buildings and we just pointed out the damage to their historical values,” Yu said.

The Shanghai bureau did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

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Appeals by the public to conserve historical buildings have generally not been successful. Shenyuli, a typical Shanghai residential community built in the 1930s, was included in the city’s protected list of historical buildings in 2004.
The listing was not enough to prevent its demolition eight years later to make way for a public green land space.
Three years ago, the Shanghai government announced it was suspending the planned demolition of a former sex slavery station used by Japanese soldiers during the second world war, following media reports and a public outcry.
However, the building was later demolished, according to Su Zhiliang, history professor from Shanghai Normal University and a researcher on sex slavery, who predicts a similar outcome for this latest conservation effort.
“I think the government is just using the same tactic to postpone their plan. After the public’s attention is over, they will continue demolishing,” Su said.
Source: SCMP
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