U.S.-China trade talks to resume next week, Trump hints at extension

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and China will resume trade talks next week in Washington with time running short to ease their bruising trade war, but U.S. President Donald Trump repeated on Friday that he may extend a March 1 deadline for a deal and keep tariffs on Chinese goods from rising.

Both the United States and China reported progress in five days of negotiations in Beijing this week.

Trump, speaking at a White House news conference, said the United States was closer than ever before to “having a real trade deal” with China and said he would be “honored” to remove tariffs if an agreement can be reached.

But he added that the talks were “very complicated.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement on Friday the two economic superpowers “will continue working on all outstanding issues in advance of the March 1, 2019, deadline.

“These detailed and intensive discussions led to progress between the two parties. Much work remains, however,” Sanders said about the Beijing talks.

She added that the two countries agreed to state any commitments they make in a memorandum of understanding.

U.S. duties on $200 billion in imports from China are set to rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if no deal is reached by March 1 to address U.S. demands that China curb forced technology transfers and better enforce intellectual property rights.

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  • Trump says may extend March 1 deadline for China trade dealTrump says may extend March 1 deadline for China trade deal

SAME TARIFF RATE

Trump, asked whether he would grant Beijing a 60-day extension to the deadline, said: “There is a possibility that I will extend the date. “But if I do that – if I see that we’re close to a deal or the deal is going in the right direction – I would do that at the same tariffs that we’re charging now, I would not increase the tariffs.”

Trump also said he would consider bringing top U.S. Democrats – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer – into the final stages of the talks to minimize their dissent with the deal. Spokespersons for the two lawmakers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The conclusion of the Beijing talks prompted optimism on Wall Street, where major stock indexes were broadly higher, led by financial services shares.

The U.S. China Business Council, which represents American companies doing business in China, applauded the announcement that the two sides would put specific language in a memorandum of understanding.

“Any agreement must be detailed, enforceable, time-bound, and result in market-access improvements that have a meaningful impact for American companies, workers, and farmers,” the group’s president, Craig Allen, said in a statement.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua said on Friday that China and the United States had reached a “consensus in principle” on some key issues, adding they had a detailed discussion on a memorandum of understanding on trade and economic issues. It gave no details.

The countries focused this week on technology, intellectual property rights, agriculture, services, non-tariff barriers and currency, and discussed potential Chinese purchases of U.S. goods and services to reduce a “large and persistent bilateral trade deficit,” Sanders said.

MEETING WITH XI

Chinese President Xi Jinping met U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday after a week of talks at senior and deputy levels, and called for a deal both sides could accept, Chinese state media said.

After talks on Thursday, Mnuchin said on Twitter that he and Lighthizer had held “productive meetings” with Xi’s top economic adviser, Vice Premier Liu He.

“The consultations between the two sides’ teams achieved important step-by-step progress,” Xi said, according to state television.

“I hope you will continue efforts to advance reaching a mutually beneficial, win-win agreement,” Xi said at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

He added that China was willing to take a “cooperative approach” to settling bilateral trade frictions.

Lighthizer told Xi the senior officials had “two very good days” of talks.

“We feel that we have made headway on very, very important, and very difficult issues. We have additional work to do but we are hopeful,” Lighthizer told Xi in a pool video shown to foreign media.

“A LOT OF DISTANCE”

Neither country has offered new details on how they might de-escalate the tariff war that has roiled financial markets and disrupted manufacturing supply chains.

Although Trump said this week that an extension of the tariff deadline was possible if a “real deal” was close, Larry Kudlow, director of the U.S. National Economic Council, has said the White House had made no such decision.

But several sources informed about the meetings told Reuters there was little indication negotiators had made major progress on sticking points to pave the way for a potential meeting between Xi and Trump in coming weeks to hammer out a deal.

“Stalemate on the important stuff,” said one source. All of the sources requested anonymity because the talks are confidential.

“There’s still a lot of distance between parties on structural and enforcement issues,” said a second source. “I wouldn’t quite call it hitting a wall, but it’s not a field of dreams either.”

A third source told Reuters the White House was “irate” over earlier reports that the Trump administration was considering a 60-day extension of the tariff deadline.

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Report: Hong Kong's appetite for reef fish 'unsustainable'

Yvonne Sadovy, co-author of the eye-opening report on live reef food fish titled, Going, going gone, says Hong Kong’s laws ‘are ill-equipped to control the trade as its practiced today’.

    It is a billion-dollar industry driven by demand in Hong Kong and China for ultra-fresh sea food.

    But an eye-opening report on Live Reef Food Fish (LRFF) released on Thursday by leading academics and conservationists in Hong Kong, paints a dismal future for the trade.

     

    Al Jazeera’s Divya Gopalan takes a look at why many reef fish species are under threat.

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    From backscrubber sword to scooter toilet, China's 'Useless Edison' goes viral

    YANGCUN, China (Reuters) – A meat cleaver that doubles as a mobile telephone case, a sword you can use to scrub your back, and a toilet built into a scooter that flushes when you pull a lever on the handlebar.

    These are just a few of the wacky inventions Chinese village craftsman Geng Shuai has dreamed up and demonstrated in videos livestreamed to thousands.

    “Most days I don’t go to sleep until after midnight, I’m so busy thinking, OK, what should I make next?” said Geng, 31, who sports a ponytail and trademark blue dungarees.

    Dubbed China’s Useless Edison, his fame has grown because his inventions are seen as odd, and often unnecessary.

    The former plumber, who lives in the northern province of Hebei, became an internet sensation with videos of his creations posted online in 2017.

    He has since racked up more than 2.7 million followers on the Chinese short video app Kuaishou and nearly a million on its Twitter-like Weibo.

    “The jobs I used to have were extremely boring and uninspiring. It was more or less a case of doing the same thing every day,” said Geng, who spent more than a dozen years in jobs he didn’t enjoy after dropping out of school at 16.

    Crafting items from metal comes naturally to Geng, who cherishes childhood memories of sneaking into the factory where his welder father worked, to observe him and occasionally help.

    Now Geng earns about three times what he used to, he said, despite poor sales and prices seen as high, because each specialized item takes a long time to make by hand.

    His earnings come mainly from online tokens bought by followers and advertisements embedded in his videos.

    Geng says he puts a lot of effort into preparing for the livestreaming, as public speaking does not come naturally to him.

    “Sometimes during a livestream, I run out of things to say. That feels very awkward.”

    Comments, questions and likes from fans cascaded in at a recent livestream session where he demonstrated several inventions, such as a handbag built into a hammer resembling that wielded by Thor, the god of Norse mythology.

    Geng’s creative mind is a joy to watch, said Zhou Bingke, who teaches welding and metalwork at Tsinghua University.

    “Seeing Geng’s videos will lead to more people making things. Whether it’s works of art or other things for fun, the process of manufacturing is enjoyable.”

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    China's Xi: trade talks with U.S. to continue in Washington next week

    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Friday trade talks with the United States will continue in Washington next week and that he hopes the two sides will be able to reach a mutually beneficial deal in the upcoming negotiations, state media reported.

    Xi said during a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that talks in Beijing this week made progress and that China is willing to solve economic and trade disputes with the United States via cooperation, according to a report by Xinhua.

    Lighthizer and Mnuchin said during the meeting that they maintain hope although there is still much work to be done, and that they are willing to work with China to reach a deal that is in line with the interests of both countries, according to Xinhua.

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    Chinese businessman denies reported justification for Australian visa cancellation

    SYDNEY (Reuters) – A prominent Chinese businessman and political donor, linked in the past to a row about the promotion of Chinese interests, said on Friday Australia’s decision to rescind his visa was based on nothing more than speculation.

    Huang Xiangmo is unable to return to Australia after the government rejected his application for citizenship and revoked his visa while he was overseas, newspaper reports said this week.

    Australian media, citing unidentified sources, said Huang was denied residency after intelligence agencies concluded he could undertake “acts of foreign interference” and that he was unfit for residency.

    Huang rejected that assessment and criticized Australia in his first public comments since the visa cancellation was revealed.

    “It is profoundly disappointing to be treated in such a grotesquely unfair manner. The decision to cancel my visa was based on unfounded speculations that are prejudiced and groundless,” Huang told the Australian Financial Review.

    “There are many Australian companies in China, aren’t they more likely to be susceptible to potential manipulation by the Chinese government?” he said.

    Representatives for Australia’s Department of Home Affairs and a spokeswoman for Minister for Immigration David Coleman did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

    Huang’s expulsion comes as Australia and China seek to repair ties that have been strained since 2017, when Canberra accused Beijing of meddling in its domestic affairs. China denies the accusation.

    Huang emerged as one of Australia’s biggest political donors soon after he began living in Australia. He rose to prominence after an influential opposition lawmaker was forced to resign in 2017, when allegations emerged that he was linked to Chinese-aligned interests.

    The lawmaker, Sam Dastyari, sought to encourage a senior politician not to meet a Chinese pro-democracy activist opposed to Beijing’s rule in Hong Kong in 2015.

    Dastyari was also recorded warning Huang that his phone may be tapped.

    Huang stopped political donations after that incident but later expanded his business interests in Australia. He paid nearly A$1 billion ($715 million) in 2018 for two Australian projects owned by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group.

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    Muslims forced to ‘eat pork, drink alcohol’ at Lunar New Year dinners

    Muslims in China are forced to ‘eat pork and drink alcohol’ at Lunar New Year dinners and are threatened with imprisonment in re-education camps if they refuse to take part

    • Officials in Xinjiang are said to be distributing raw pork to Muslim households
    • Residents were invited to Lunar New Year dinners where pork, alcohol are served
    • They were told they could be sent to re-education camps if they did not take part 

    Muslims in China’s far west region of Xinjiang are being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol at events during the country’s Lunar New Year holiday, residents have claimed.

    Residents in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture said they were invited to Chinese New Year dinners where pork and alcohol were served. Chinese officials threatened to send them to ‘re-education camps’ if they refused to participate, according to a report by Radio Free Asia. 

    Photos sent to RFA also showed a Chinese official in Yining city visiting Muslim households and distributing raw pork on Monday, the eve of the Year of the Pig. People were also forced to display Chinese New Year decorations such as red lanterns and couplets outside their homes. 

    Uighur vendors trade Halal meat to costumers in the Tianshan District of Urumqi, capital of north-west China’s Xinjiang region. Residents in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture said they were invited to Chinese New Year dinners where pork and alcohol were served

    A perimeter fence is constructed around what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng in Xinjiang in China’s far west region

    Residents walk through a security checkpoint into the Hotan Bazaar where a screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hotan in western China’s Xinjiang region


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    Both pork and alcohol are forbidden in Islam, and Chinese New Year is not usually celebrated by Muslims.

    ‘Kazakh people in Xinjiang have never [eaten pork],’ one unnamed resident told RFA. ‘Starting last year, some people have been forced to eat pork so they can celebrate a festival belonging to the Han Chinese.’ 

    ‘Kazakhs don’t celebrate Spring Festival,’ a Kazakh woman named Kesay told RFA. ‘Our main festivals are Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Spring Festival is for Han Chinese and people who believe in Buddhism.’ 

    ‘If we won’t put up the couplets or hang up lanterns, they say we are two-faced, and they send us to re-education camps,’ she said, adding that officials had begun delivering pork to around 80 per cent of Kazakh households in Savan county since the end of 2018.

    A halal restaurant in Xinjiang. Both pork and alcohol are forbidden in Islam, and Chinese New Year is not usually celebrated by Muslims

    A building of what is officially called a vocational skills education centre in Hotan, Xinjiang

    Passengers ride a donkey cart at the venue for a Chinese Lunar New Year shopping festival in Lopnur county, Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture in Xinjiang

    Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile group World Uighur Congress, said they have received similar reports. 

    ‘According to our information, the Chinese government is stepping up its campaign to assimilate Uighurs into Han Chinese culture,’ he said. ‘They are forcing Uighurs to celebrate Lunar New Year, to put up decorative couplets.’ 

    ‘They are also forcing Uighurs to drink alcohol, to show that they don’t subscribe to “extreme religious beliefs” and don’t disrespect traditional Chinese culture.’

    Up to one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to be held in extra-legal detention in Xinjiang, according to previous UN estimates, prompting an international outcry. The region is home to more than 10 million ethnic Uighurs. 

    Detainees who most vigorously criticise the people and things they love are rewarded, and those who refuse to do so are punished with solitary confinement, beatings and food deprivation. 

    Residents walk past a statue showing Mao Zedong near billboards with the words for ‘Welcome 19th Congress,’ ‘Patriotism’ and ‘Democracy’ near a square in Kashgar in Xinjiang

    Dozens of students are shown at their desks learning Chinese and law in the programme aired by CCTV that introduced the ‘professional vocational training institutions’ in Hotan

    Former detainees have previously claimed they were forced to eat pork and drink alcohol as punishment inside the camps. 

    While Beijing initially denied the existence of re-education camps, the chairman of Xinjiang’s government, Shohrat Zakir, told the official Xinhua news agency in October that the facilities are an effective tool to protect the country from terrorism and provide vocational training for Uighurs.   

    A previous report published by a Christian NGO, ChinaAid, claimed that Muslims in Xinjiang had been forced to take part in new year celebrations in February last year.

    Last October, officials in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang launched a campaign against halal products. 

    Radical Muslim Uighurs have killed hundreds in recent years, and China considers the region a threat to peace in a country where the majority is Han Chinese.

    The entrance to a jail which locals say is used to hold those undergoing political indoctrination program in Korla in western China’s Xinjiang region

    Security cameras are installed at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang

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    Erik Prince had 'no knowledge' of training agreement in China's Xinjiang: spokesman

    (Corrects value of investment to 40 million yuan from 4 million yuan in paragraph 13 of this Feb. 1 story.)

    By Christian Shepherd

    BEIJING (Reuters) – Former U.S. military contractor Erik Prince had “no knowledge or involvement” in a preliminary memorandum signed by a Hong Kong-listed company to build a training base in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, his spokesman said on Friday.

    Xinjiang is a major part of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure network but the region has faced attacks blamed on members of the Muslim ethnic Uighur minority. Beijing has responded with a security clampdown condemned by rights groups and Western governments.

    Frontier Services Group (FSG), a Hong Kong-listed company founded by Prince, said in a Chinese-language statement posted on its website on Jan. 22 that it had signed a deal to build a training centre in southern Xinjiang.

    Reuters reported on the statement on Thursday.

    A Prince spokesman told Reuters on Friday that Prince had “no knowledge or involvement whatsoever with this preliminary memorandum regarding the company’s activity in Xinjiang.”

    “Any potential investment of this nature would require the knowledge and input of each FSG Board member and a formal Board resolution,” the spokesman said in an email.

    Prince is deputy chairman, a minority shareholder and a board member of FSG, a security, logistics and insurance provider.

    The former U.S. Navy SEAL officer is the brother of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. He founded the U.S. military contractor formerly called Blackwater that drew international scrutiny and faced lawsuits for shootings and other conduct in Iraq. It now operates as Virginia-based Academi.

    A Hong Kong-based spokesman for FSG told Reuters on Friday that the statement was “published in error by a staff member in Beijing” and had been taken off FSG’s website.

    The removed statement had said that FSG signed a deal with the Kashgar Caohu industrial park in Tumxuk city in southern Xinjiang to build a training centre.

    The Tumxuk government did not answer a phone call seeking comment on Friday.

    The statement did not provide details but said a signing ceremony in Beijing on Jan. 11 was attended by officials from Tumxuk city and CITIC Guoan Construction, owned by state-run conglomerate CITIC Group, which took a controlling stake in FSG last March.

    A state media report had said FSG would invest 40 million yuan ($6 million) in the centre, which will have the capacity to train 8,000 people a year.

    In a March 2018 stock exchange filing, FSG said that it intends to set up a “secured logistics business” in Pakistan and Xinjiang.

    In May 2017, it acquired a 25 percent stake in a security training facility in Beijing, which it said was the largest such school in China and would allow FSG to provide “world-class training courses” to Chinese companies.

    Hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in the security clampdown in Xinjiang.

    China has defended the measures as “de-radicalisation” that has prevented violence by providing vocational training to people susceptible to “extremist” thought.

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    Disappearing textbook highlights debate in China over academic freedom

    BEIJING (Reuters) – A constitutional law textbook written by one China’s best-known reform-minded legal scholars has been pulled from book shops, apparently the latest text to run afoul of a government campaign against “Western influence”.

    The author, Zhang Qianfan, a professor at Peking University known for his advocacy of constitutionalism and judicial reform, dismissed any suggestion his writing excessively promoted Western ideas as “utter nonsense”, and said the academic world should not be politicized.

    Since taking office in 2012, President Xi Jinping has tightened the Communist Party’s control over society including the legal system and education.

    While authorities have not confirmed they ordered the book withdrawn, and no reason for its disappearance has been given, it comes after the government launched a sweeping review of teaching materials.

    The Ministry of Education in early January launched a nationwide check on the content of all university constitutional law textbooks, according to posts on the Jiangxi and Zhejiang province Education Ministry websites.

    Universities were told the “fact-finding” sweep was of great importance and they must accurately fill in a chart detailing titles and authors of the books they used, with “no omissions”, according to the ministry’s posts.

    The campaign drew criticism from some legal academics, which was amplified by a rumor that the sweep was sparked by an accusation by a professor that certain texts were “promoting Western thinking and agitating for a Western system”.

    The Education Ministry did not respond to a faxed request for comment.

    China’s constitution promises freedom of speech, religion and assembly, but it is trumped in practice by legislation and regulations, and it is rarely invoked in legal cases.

    The constitution has long been a focus for political reformers, who argue that its status should be elevated within the legal system.

    Zhang’s book could not be found on China’s main online bookstores when searched by Reuters on Friday.

    ‘EVERYONE IS SCARED’

    Zhang, in an interview published on the WeChat social media platform, rejected any suggestion his texts promoted a “Western” system over alternatives.

    “To criticize purely for the sake of it and to shut our nation off to the outside world is closed-minded thinking,” Zhang said.

    “Constitutional law, as an academic discipline, should not be politicized,” he said. “Any academic discipline should retain a certain political neutrality.”

    “At this time, constitutional law is a ‘sensitive’ topic. As far as I can see there is basically no public discussion. It seems that everyone is scared,” he said.

    Zhang’s interview disappeared soon after it was posted, to be replaced by a notice saying the content had broken “relevant laws and regulations”.

    Zhang did not respond to a Reuters email seeking comment.

    Many legal scholars took to social media to voice support for Zhang.

    Some posted the foreword from his book, in which he stresses the importance of giving people who have suffered injustices the chance to defend themselves using the constitution.

    Some voiced concern that some academics might accuse others of failing to toe the party line.

    “The worst part about this incident is that in the current environment, not only are these people not inhibited, but rather they are given a channel, or even rewards,” Zhang Taisu, an associate professor of law at Yale University in the United States, wrote on Weibo, referring to the accusers.

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    China sentences to death driver who killed passenger of ride-hailing firm Didi

    BEIJING (Reuters) – A court in China handed the death sentence on Friday to a man who raped and killed a passenger of ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing last year, while he was employed as a driver.

    The court in the eastern coastal city of Wenzhou, where the driver, Zhong Yuan, 28, committed the crime in August, said in a post on its Twitter-like Weibo account it had ordered the death penalty.

    The high-profile case triggered fierce public and government criticism of Didi, which suspended its carpool service Hitch after the incident and pledged a business overhaul to put a greater emphasis on safety.

    Didi said it has no comment on the court sentence.

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