PARIS, August 24 -- Donald Trump landed in France with First Lady Melania for the G7 summit Saturday, after taking a swipe at fellow leaders, calling them "friends of mine, for the most part" but not in "100 percent of the cases".
The president threw shade at some of America's closest partners on Friday evening, mere hours before he'd see them in Biarritz at the Group of Seven summit. He threatened to tax French 'like they've never seen before' and characterized world leaders attending the event as 'friends for the most part' in front of Marine One. 'We're going to France. We'll have a good few days. I think it will be very productive, seeing a lot of leaders who are friends of mine, for the most part,' he said of his trip, smirking as he added, "Wouldn't say in 100 percent of the cases, but for the most part." He did not say which leaders were getting under his skin, but Trump offered several hints in the comments he delivered outside the White House before he left for Europe with first lady Melania. She arrived into Biarritz wearing a yellow dress with pink stiletto heels and sunglasses. The first lady had departed Washington wearing a Chanel jacket, white pants and a black top. Trump harped on France's digital tax, which he said U.S. tech companies don't deserve. He noted that he's 'not the biggest fan of the tech companies,' which he again accused them of interfering in his election.
Yet, he said, their regulation should be up to the United States, and not foreign countries like France. "I don't like what France did. They put a digital tax on our tech companies," he said. "Those are great American companies, and frankly, I don't want France going out and taxing our companies, very unfair." He cautioned French President Emmanuel Macron against moving ahead with the action that could spark a protracted trade war with the United States. It is understood the two world leaders will have an unscheduled lunch together Saturday. "If they do that, we'll be taxing their wine, or doing something else. We'll be taxing their wine, like they've never seen before," Trump promised. Whether he meant for the earlier jab about his 'friends' in the global community to land on Macron or another leader he'll be seeing like German Chancellor Angela Merkel was unclear.
STUTTGART, August 24 -- Elon Musk has talked about making an electric Tesla Van for a while, Volkswagen has teased the return of its iconic bus as an EV.
But Mercedes-Benz beat everybody to the punch in this critical segment with the 2020 Mercedes-Benz EQV—an electric van that seats up to eight and runs a claimed range of over 200 miles. At least in Europe. Mercedes-Benz showed off a “concept” version of the EQV previously, but it was rather obviously very close to production-ready. That’s backed up now that we have the real deal just in time for this year’s Frankfurt Motor Show next month.
The press release only talks about the public charging network services in Europe, so it may be unlikely we’ll be getting this electron-powered van Stateside, but you never know. That said, the EQV has a 90 kWh battery pack centrally mounted under the floor of the van, offering a claimed preliminary range estimate of 405 km, or roughly 250 miles on a single charge. The van is driven by a single motor on the front axle with an output of 150 kw, or 204 horsepower, and 362 nm of torque, or just about 267 lb-ft. On a 110 kw public DC rapid charger, the Mercedes claims the EQV can charge from 10 to 80 percent of its battery capacity in around 45 minutes. On an AC charger, like a standard public parking charger or using the Mercedes-Benz Wallbox Home 11 kW charger that can be installed in your house, the battery should charge in less than 10 hours. The EQV picks up a little bit of the exterior design language of the EQC crossover, and inside it gets some rose gold accent touches and adaptable seating with optional bench seats, which means you can shove up to eight people in this thing. The EQV is nice and acceptable because it’s just an electric version of the regular Mercedes-Benz van, so it’s very practical. EVs do not all need to be fancy! Just zoom around town without contributing to localized pollution! And now it can. In Europe.
TAIPEI, August 24 -- A US Navy ship passed through the Taiwan Strait on Friday, only three days after the US government approved an US$8 billion arms sale to the island’s military.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement that the transport landing ship sailed through the Taiwan Strait in a south-to-north direction, adding that the military has been keeping close watch on the situation so the Taiwanese public should rest assured. The passage of a US Navy vessel through the strait was the seventh of this year, and the first since the US government officially notified Congress on Tuesday of the proposed sale of the F16 fighter jets to Taiwan. That move added to already tense relations between Beijing and Washington and Beijing threatened to take “all necessary measures” to safeguard its interests, including sanctioning the US companies involved in the arms sale. Taiwan’s air force hopes to receive the 66 advanced variants of the F-16 Fighting Falcon multi role fighter by 2026. It is expected to use them to replace its ageing fleet of F-5E fighters at a base in Taitung county, eastern Taiwan. The F-16 is one of the mainstay fighters of the air force, the others being the Indigenous Defence Fighter, or IDF, and the Mirage 2000. Taiwan already has a fleet of F-16s, which are undergoing upgrades. The air force took possession of its first four upgraded F-16s in April. The Taichung-based Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation hopes to complete the retrofit programme by 2023.
Since 2008, US administrations have notified Congress of more than US$24 billion in foreign military sales to Taiwan, including the sale of M1A2 tanks and Stinger missiles valued at US$2.2 billion in the past two months. To date, the Trump administration alone has notified Congress of US$4.4 billion in arms sales to Taiwan. Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since the end of the civil war in 1949. Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, insists the self-rule island must eventually be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.
HONG KONG, August 24 -- Hong Kong kicks off its 12th straight weekend of anti-government protests with an approved march in Kwun Tong.
It is taking a tense turn as demonstrators again resort to blocking roads, while earlier, residents engaged MTR staff in a stand-off over suspended train services. More than a thousand people showed up in the industrial district, calling for the full withdrawal of the now-shelved extradition bill and demanding an explanation over a plan to set up "smart lamp posts" along roads. The devices measure traffic conditions, weather and other data, but critics say they infringe upon privacy. The march follows a plan in the morning to cripple transport links to the airport, but that protest action failed to take off because of low numbers. The Kwun Tong procession will head from Tsun Yip Street to Zero Carbon Building in Kowloon Bay, and marks the latest in nearly three months of demonstrations that have rocked the city. The political crisis was sparked by the hated extradition bill, which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no such agreement, including mainland China.
LONDON, August 24 -- The world’s first solar farm to power a railway line directly is due to plug into the track near Aldershot, paving the way for solar-powered trains.
From Friday, about 100 solar panels at the trackside site will supply renewable electricity to power the signalling and lights on Network Rail’s Wessex route. The 30kW pilot scheme could pave the way for a larger project capable of directly powering the trains that use this route from next year. The solar breakthrough comes as Network Rail plans to spend billions of pounds electrifying rail lines to avoid running trains on diesel. This could help reduce air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and costs. Solar panels are already used to power the operations of train stations, including Blackfriars in central London. But the Aldershot project is the first time a solar array will bypass the electricity grid to plug directly into a railway’s “traction” system.
Network Rail hopes to use the scheme, developed by the charity 10:10 Climate Action and Imperial College London, to solar-charge its rail lines across the country. Stuart Kistruck, a director for Network Rail’s Wessex route, said: “We have ambitions to roll this technology out further across the network should this demonstrator project prove successful, so we can deliver a greener, better railway for our passengers and the wider public.” The research team behind the project, called Riding Sunbeams, estimates that solar could power 20% of the Merseyrail network in Liverpool, as well as 15% of commuter routes in Kent, Sussex and Wessex. There is also scope for solar trams in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Nottingham, London and Manchester, according to the team. The researchers began work on the plans over two years ago to discover whether bypassing the electricity grid could make solar power a more efficient energy source for trains. Innovate UK awarded the project funding from the Department of Transport after it proved that connecting solar power directly to rail, tube and tram networks could help meet a significant share of their electricity needs.
BEIJING, August 24 -- China said Friday that it will impose further tariffs on U.S. imports worth around $75 billion, in retaliation for planned tariff hikes on Chinese products by Washington.
The Commerce Ministry said it will impose additional tariffs of 5 percent or 10 percent on a total of 5,078 products of U.S. goods, some of which would take effect on Sept. 1 and the rest on Dec. 15. China will also resume imposing additional tariffs of 25 percent and 5 percent on U.S.-made vehicles and auto parts starting from Dec. 15, the Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council announced. The announcement comes as U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged that Washington will impose 10 percent tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, effective on those two dates, in a move that would see nearly all imports from Asia's biggest economy taxed. The U.S. decision "has greatly hurt interests" of China, the United States and other countries and "has seriously threatened the multilateral trade system and the free trade system," Beijing said, adding, "China is forced to take reciprocal measures." "We hope China and the United States will resolve differences in a manner acceptable to both sides on the premise of mutual respect, equality, good faith, and consistency of words and deeds," the Customs Tariff Commission said in a statement.
The Trump administration has so far imposed 25 percent levies on a total of $250 billion of Chinese imports in an effort to reduce the chronic U.S. trade deficit with China, as well as to address alleged intellectual property and technology theft by Chinese companies. On Aug. 13, it delayed imposing a 10 percent tariff on laptop computers, cellphones, video game consoles and other "certain articles" imported from China to Dec. 15 from Sept. 1 as planned. The announcement drew some relief from retailers and other businesses concerned that the new levies, which in combination with current ones would have meant tariffs on nearly all Chinese imports, could have dampened consumption especially around the holiday shopping season.
SEOUL, August 24 -- North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on Saturday morning, the Japanese government said, with the launch coming a day after Seoul informed Tokyo of its decision to scrap a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact.
South Korea's military said North Korea fired what were believed to be short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its eastern coast from Sondok in South Hamgyong Province in Pyongyang's seventh round of such launches since July 25. The missiles, fired at 6:45 a.m. and 7:02 a.m., flew about 380 kilometers at a top speed of Mach 6.5 and reached a maximum altitude of about 97 km, Yonhap News Agency quoted the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying. The missiles were unlikely to have landed in Japan's territory or exclusive economic zone, according to the Japanese government. The country's Defense Ministry said the two missiles flew some 350 km and 400 km, respectively. Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya criticized the launches as "a clear violation" of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from testing such missiles. Tokyo has already lodged a stern protest against North Korea over the missile firings, Japan's parliamentary vice foreign minister Kiyoto Tsuji told ruling party lawmakers Saturday. However, U.S. President Donald Trump downplayed the latest launches, saying Washington and Pyongyang have a really good relationship and that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been "pretty straight with me."
BANGKOK, August 23 -- It was an encouraging talk with the Prime Minister of Thailand about the case of the Dutch coffee shop owner Johan van Laarhoven.
Minister of Justice Ferd Grapperhaus said after the consultation. "Thailand is open to a solution in the case," said the minister. Grapperhaus spoke for 45 minutes with the Prime Minister of Thailand about the Van Laarhoven case. In Thailand, he was sentenced to decades in prison for money laundering. The minister says that the justice ministries of both countries are going to work on a solution. "That solution must fit within the framework of the Thai legal system," says Grapperhaus. "A solution will not last for years and hopefully not even a matter of months." Next Tuesday there will be the final decision in the appeal case.
One hundred imprisonment
Dutch prosecution department asked Thailand in 2014 for help with a criminal investigation into the coffee shop owner, which he had established in the Netherlands. The Thai public prosecutor then prosecuted Van Laarhoven and his wife Mingkwan Kaenin. Van Laarhoven was sentenced for hundred year imprisonment and his wife for twelve years. In April, the House of Representatives urged Grapperhaus to work to get Van Laarhoven back to the Netherlands, following a firm judgment from the National Dutch Ombudsman.
BEIJING, August 23 -- The family of a worker at the UK consulate in Hong Kong has rejected a "fake" report by Chinese state media that he was detained in the mainland for visiting prostitutes.
Mr Simon Cheng disappeared after visiting the city of Shenzhen from the semi-autonomous city on Aug 8, and the Foreign Office in London said both British officials and relatives have been unable to speak to him since. The Global Times, a tabloid state-run newspaper, said he had been detained for "soliciting prostitutes", citing police in Shenzhen, which lies on the China-Hong Kong border. But a Facebook page run by Mr Cheng's family dismissed the report. "This is a made-up crime of soliciting prostitution, everyone should see it's a joke," the comment said. Beijing confirmed on Wednesday that an employee of the British consulate had been "placed in administrative detention for 15 days as punishment" by police in Shenzhen for breaking a public security law. "Let me clarify, this employee is a Hong Kong citizen, he's not a UK citizen, which is also saying he's a Chinese person," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said. According to the Global Times, Mr Cheng could be detained for up to 15 days and fined up to 5,000 yuan ($977) for the alleged crime. In an editorial on Friday, the tabloid said it was at Mr Cheng's request that police did not contact his family and that "thanks to the British foreign ministry and media, which have been hyping it, the case is now fully exposed".
Mr Cheng was in the process of returning via high-speed train on Aug 8 and sent messages to his girlfriend as he was about to go through customs. He has not been seen or heard from since. The family said it had hired a lawyer in Shenzhen who had been unable to find or speak to the detained man. Police in Shenzhen did not reply to AFP's request for comment. A spokesman for the British Foreign Office said in a statement on Thursday that it was continuing "to urgently seek further information about Simon's case". The incident comes as relations between Britain and China have become strained over what Beijing calls London's "interference" in pro-democracy protests that have wracked Hong Kong for three months. China promised to respect the freedoms in the semi-autonomous territory after its handover from Britain in 1997 - including freedom of speech, unfettered access to the Internet and an independent judiciary - but protesters say these rights are being eroded. Chinese authorities have increased their inspections at the border since the protests, including checking the phones and devices of some passengers for photos of the demonstrations. Beijing has faced criticism in the past for detaining foreign nationals amid ongoing diplomatic spats, and for accusing dissidents or activists of sex crimes.
HONG KONG, August 23 -- Hong Kong’s protest movement began as opposition to a now-suspended extradition bill but evolved into a direct challenge to the city’s government and calls for full democracy.
Beyond their immediate demands, many young protesters, express fears for the future - anxiety that reflects broader uncertainty over China’s promise to Britain to maintain the freewheeling city’s way of life for 50 years. That 50-year period runs out in 2047.
WHY THE FEAR?
The fears are twofold. Firstly, many Hong Kong people have watched what they see as Beijing’s tightening grip on their city, from the detention of booksellers by mainland security agents to the expulsion of a foreign journalist, the jailing of young activists, sweeping legal interpretations by Beijing on city matters, and curbs on electoral freedom. Many say the extradition bill - which would have put Hong Kong people at the mercy of China’s Communist Party-controlled courts - was merely the latest in a string of erosion's. But their fears also reflect uncertainty over Hong Kong’s future that is written into the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that has guided Hong Kong’s relations with Beijing since the handover from British rule in 1997. The document enshrines rights and freedoms - including freedom of speech, assembly and an independent judiciary - inherent in the “one country, two systems” formula that underpinned agreement between Beijing and London. Those freedoms remain far greater than those that exist on the mainland, where the Communist Party ultimately controls many aspects of society, including the media and the courts.
Article 5 of the Basic Law states that China’s “socialist system and policies” shall not be practised in Hong Kong and “the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years”. Just as British colonial Hong Kong was famously described by the Eurasian writer Han Suyin as existing on “borrowed time in a borrowed place”, the clock to 2047 is ticking.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER 2047?
No one knows. Talking to officials, scholars, business people and protesters, there is uncertainty about the broad principles and the impact on specifics, such as property leases and the judiciary. Some believe much will depend on how Beijing views the city at the time, and what political changes unfold across China over the next 28 years. “Of course, it’s vague but it is clear that after 50 years mainland policy can change. They don’t have to change but they can change,” said Simon Young, a professor at the University of Hong Kong Law School. “They would no longer be beholden by Article 5 and the Joint Declaration,” he said, referring to another agreement with Britain. The city’s government has said little on Hong Kong after 2047. Its constitutional affairs bureau said in 2016 the Basic Law had no expiry date. “The country’s sovereignty over Hong Kong will not change 50 years after Hong Kong’s return to the Motherland, nor will the country change its basic policies towards Hong Kong after 50 years,” then bureau undersecretary Ronald Chan said at the time. A bureau spokeswoman affirmed that reply to Reuters this week. “There is no question of the expiry of the Basic Law in 2047 as the PRC (People’s Republic of China) will not change its basic policies to Hong Kong, i.e. one country, two systems.” Despite the protests, Ip Kwok-him, a veteran pro-establishment politician who sits on Hong Kong’s Executive Council, its top policy advisory body, said he believed Beijing still wanted to extend the formula beyond 2047. “In my interactions with China’s leaders, I could sense this position,” said Ip, who is also a delegate to China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress. The central government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office did not respond to questions from Reuters on the issue. Many in Hong Kong remain far more skeptical, fearing that Hong Kong will be absorbed into China’s system and its freedoms, already under threat, will evaporate.
WHAT IMPACT ON THE PROTESTS?
As protests enter their 12th week, it is clear the question of 2047 is becoming more pertinent. Young protesters’ increasing focus on issues like democratic reform - promised in the Basic Law - highlights a desire to protect Hong Kong’s freedoms in the years ahead. As thousands of activists shut down Hong Kong’s airport last week, a sign hung above them in the arrivals’ hall: “Let the future be created”.