BEIJING, December 18 -- President Xi Jinping warned on Tuesday that no one can "dictate" China's economic development path as the Communist Party marked 40 years of its historic "reform and opening up" policy amid a stern challenge from the United States.
In a speech at the grandiose Great Hall of the People, Xi vowed to press ahead with economic reforms but made clear that Beijing will not deviate from its one-party system or take orders from any other country. "The great banner of socialism has always been flying high over the Chinese land," Xi told the party faithful. "The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the most essential feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the greatest advantage of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics," he said. The commemoration of the reforms enacted under late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping on December 18, 1978, came as China is locked in diplomatic spats and a bruising trade war with the United States.
The rivals have agreed to a 90-day truce as they seek to negotiate a solution, with the United States seeking a reduction in its massive trade deficit as well as deeper reforms in China to stop the alleged theft of intellectual property. Without directly referring to the United States, Xi said China "poses no threat" to any country but warned that it would not be pushed around.
"No one is in a position to dictate to the Chinese people what should or should not be done," Xi said.
"We must resolutely reform what should and can be changed, we must resolutely not reform what shouldn't and can't be changed."
While Xi promised more reforms, he did not offer any specifics. The United States and Europe have long complained of lingering obstacles to fully entering China's massive market while Chinese companies enjoy the benefits of open Western economies abroad. The reforms pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and turned China into the world's second biggest economy. But it is currently facing a debt mountain and a slowing economy, which grew by 6.9 percent last year and is expected by the government to slow to around 6.5 percent this year.
BEIJING, December 18 -- The wife of a detained Chinese lawyer and three supporters shaved their heads today and attempted to submit to a Beijing court a petition protesting her husband's indefinite detention.
The four women went to the Hongsecun People's High Court in south Beijing in a symbolic protest against what they said highlighted the "lawlessness" of the country. "We can go bald, but the country cannot be lawless," the four women shouted outside the courthouse after they were prevented by police from entering the premises. The Chinese words for being completely bald and having a state of lawlessness -- "wufa" -- are homonyms. Their husbands were all targeted during a sweeping crackdown on activists and lawyers on July 9, 2015. Attorney Wang Quanzhang, who defended political activists and victims of land seizures, disappeared in the sweep aimed at courtroom critics of Communist authorities.
Charged in January 2016 with alleged "subversion of state power", Mr Wang is the only one of over 200 lawyers and activists arrested in the so-called "709 crackdown" who is yet to be tried or released.
"My husband is being detained incommunicado without a proper explanation," Wang's wife Li Wenzu told news agency AFP. "I want answers as to why the authorities aren't following due process. I want to know why they aren't allowing the family's lawyer to visit Wang," Ms Li said. Ms Li said over the past three years she has submitted over 30 freedom of information requests to police, which have been sent back unanswered. In April, Ms Li attempted to march 100 kilometres (60 miles) to a detention facility in neighbouring Tianjin to highlight her husband's plight before she was thwarted by police.
"I want to urge the Supreme People's Court to perform its supervisory duties and investigate why the second intermediate court in Tianjin that is handling my husband's case is dragging its feet," Ms Li said.
"The court has surpassed the time limit prescribed by law for dealing with such cases," she said.
Liu Ermin, wife of rights activist Zhai Yanmin, said she was protesting her husband's torture while in detention. "His health has deteriorated and we are still under constant surveillance," Ms Ermin said.
The third woman was Ms Yuan Shanshan, wife of lawyer Xie Yanyi. Mr Xie, who defended practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, was released on bail pending trial in January 2017. He has since shed light on the torture of detained lawyers. Ms Wang Qiaoling, wife of lawyer Li Heping, also joined the protest. Li Heping was given a three-year suspended jail term in April 2017 for subverting state power. Three years after what activists say was a coordinated attempt to quash China's rights movement, most of those detained are in prison or under house arrest. Some of them made public confessions and were sentenced in what their families say were either secret or scripted trials. Some of the cases have attracted international attention.
Ross Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting Experts, believes the MH370 pilots flew the plane off course in an attempt to come down at a Malaysian airport after they realized something was wrong with the airline. It is believed that a fire broke out due to the overheating of the batteries on board the plane.
"The initial turn, whatever they did to get off the airway, I think they may have initially tried to go to Penang Airport", he told Daily Star. "And while they were going towards it I think they either lost consciousness or they died, and then the aircraft went that way... And for some other reason it made another left turn, going south towards the south Indian Ocean."
Aimer believes the plane flew on auto-pilot till it ran out of fuel and crashed in a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean. He also said MH370 would not have been capable of landing at Penang Airport on auto-pilot without the control of the pilots. Aimer, who flies a private jet, continued: "I can't explain the second left turn, but I would tell myself maybe they originally started making the turn thinking 'I want to get towards ground on fire, I've lost my oxygen', whatever it was, towards land because obviously you don't want to crash in water."
"You want to get back towards land and perhaps find a big airport... It's possible the pilots started going towards there thinking it's got a long runway, and we have a crippled airplane. You want to have a long runway, or like a military base or something like that," he said.
Aimer went on to say: "The fire that I'm thinking of, if the fire got into the oxygen system, that's the worst thing that could have happened because they had no chance, it would have been really quick... By itself, without the pilot, the plane could not have landed. If the pilots were alive and kicking they could have programmed the auto-pilot to go and land in that airport. But you kind of head towards there but you've lost consciousness, so you can't finish the job." However, as there was no evidence provided by Aimer to back his theory, International Business Times cannot independently verify the claims.
Flight MH370 went missing 40 minutes after it took off from Malaysia with 239 people on board. Despite a multimillion-dollar search for the plane for four years, there has been no concrete clues to explain its mysterious disappearance. The biggest lead in the investigation came when a plane flaperon was found by villagers in the French island of Réunion. Possible wreckages had also turned up on the shorelines of Africa, Mozambique, and Mauritius. Investigators, in a report, said 27 pieces of the wreckage were believed to be from MH370, though only three were confirmed as parts belonging to the plane. In July, Malaysia released a report saying investigators failed to determine what happened to Flight MH370. However, it added that a “third-party interference” couldn’t be ruled out.
Since the plane went missing several theorists tried to unravel the mystery. The most recent conspiracy theory suggested that the plane was hijacked so the organs of passengers on board the plane could be harvested. However, like most other theories that have surfaced, the latest one also could not be confirmed. Some claimed the pilot of the plane took the aircraft into a "death-dive" in a murder-suicide incident, but authorities rejected the theory.
PHOMN PEHN, December 17 -- A lawyer representing a Khmer Rouge leader who was sentenced to life imprisonment last month is threatening to seek up to US$1 million in damages over his dismissal by the international tribunal that handed down the sentence.
Victor Koppe was dismissed last Thursday on the advice of Cambodia’s bar association, which said that the Dutch national had not been a member of the bar in the Netherlands for nearly three years and should not therefore be practising law in Cambodia. He nonetheless appeared in court on November 16 to witness the verdict against his client, 92-year-old Nuon Chea, for committing crimes against humanity including genocide. It is unclear what effect, if any, Koppe’s dismissal will have on the verdict, which is now at the appeals stage. Britta Boehler, Koppe’s lawyer, claims her client was given permission to appear by the tribunal’s defence section chief Isaac Endeley. In an email addressed to a number of tribunal officials and seen by the Post, Boehler describes Koppe’s dismissal as illegal because Cambodia’s bar association only requires foreign lawyers to be a member of the bar in their home country at the point of registration, not on a continuing basis. She further accused tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra of distributing misinformation about the case before suggesting an amount that would be sought in compensation for damages including “punitive damages”. “Mr Koppe reserves the right to seek monetary compensation for all damages incurred or to incur in the future,” she said in the email. “Presently, I estimate the compensatory damages to amount to US $1 million.”
Pheaktra, who has dismissed any accusation of wrongdoing, said Koppe’s dismissal was in line with the tribunals “internal rules”. Suon Visal, head of the Cambodian bar association, said Koppe had not been “honest with [the] legal profession as required” in his failure to notify it about his lack of registration in the Netherlands. Visal went on to criticise Endeley, the defence section chief, for not checking the foreign lawyer’s qualifications and allowing Koppe to represent his client despite knowing that he was disbarred. Endeley did immediately respond to requests for comment. The United Nations-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia has spent nine years and more than US$300 million prosecuting the leaders of the country’s Khmer Rouge. Between 1975 and 1979, at least 1.7 million Cambodians – a fifth of the country’s population – lost their lives under the regime. As well as Chea, the tribunal has convicted 87-year-old Khieu Samphan for crimes against humanity and Kaing Guek Eav, former head of the Khmer Rouge prison system.
MANILA, December 17 -- Rogelio Reyes has learned to be a patient man.
The 58-year-old economist is one of the longest-serving inmates in Manila City Jail. He has spent more than 14 years there but has never been convicted of a crime. I met Reyes inside the jail in October. Even in a crowd of more than 6,000 inmates, he's hard to miss. He's usually marching through Dorm 7, organising the prisoners, announcing the day's activities, and shouting for his deputy, 'Mamu'. With his round belly and booming laugh, Reyes is popular among the inmates. In fact, they elected him to be their 'mayor'. All 14 dorms in the jail have mayors, who appoint their own deputies and 'marshals' to guard the dorms. "We have a system where we share the governance," said Jayrex Bustinera, the jail's chief records officer. "We delegate some of the authority to the inmate leaders where inmates can police co-inmates … They help us institute peace and order."
Mayors like Reyes do more than just keep the peace. They prevent the jail from being overrun. Prisons in the Philippines are the most congested in the world. Manila City Jail, for example, is operating almost 600 percent over capacity. "Our ideal capacity should be around 1,100 inmates. But the actual jail population is up to 6,300 inmates," said Bustinera. Conditions are so cramped that inmates sleep side-by-side on every inch of floor space. The unlucky ones sleep sitting up. Illnesses like tuberculosis and skin diseases are rampant. After spending two weeks inside the prison, every member of our crew fell ill.In such extreme conditions, it doesn't take much for tempers to boil over. "We should be scared, because we can be outnumbered anytime," Bustinera admitted. International guidelines recommend one guard for every seven inmates, but here the ratio is one to about 200.
It's the job of mayors like Reyes to keep a lid on this potentially volatile situation. He advocates for inmates with the prison authorities and ensures that all the new arrivals respect the rules. "If you are angry, you will not survive," he said. "If your heart is full of anger, most probably you will be in the stockroom … because you will quarrel with the many inmates. Here you have to control yourself."
TOKYO, December 16 -- More than 40 people were injured in an explosion on Sunday at a restaurant in Sapporo in northern Japan, Kyodo news agency reported.
There was no immediate word on the cause of the blast, which the agency said had caused a number of buildings to collapse. Kyodo said one person was in critical condition. Video of the incident posted on social media showed flames and dark smoke billowing into the night sky and people scrambling to safety beside a street strewn with debris and shattered glass.
Police and firefighters worked to get the site under control, fighting flames and smoke, and warned people in the neighborhood of the possibility of another explosion, the agency reported. "I heard a bang which sounded like thunder, and my condo was shaken," a man who lives nearby was quoted as saying by the Japan Times. Eyewitnesses reported smelling gas in the area following the explosion, which Kyodo said happened at 8.30 p.m. (1130 GMT).
BEIJING, December 15 -- Chinese President Xi Jinping’s mantra that homes should be for living in is falling on deaf ears, with tens of millions of apartments and houses standing empty across the country.
Soon-to-be-published research will show roughly 22 percent of China’s urban housing stock is unoccupied, according to Professor Gan Li, who runs the main nationwide study. That adds up to more than 50 million empty homes, he said. The nightmare scenario for policy makers is that owners of unoccupied dwellings rush to sell if cracks start appearing in the property market, causing prices to spiral. The latest data, from a survey in 2017, also suggests Beijing’s efforts to curb property speculation -- considered by leaders a key threat to financial and social stability -- are coming up short. “There’s no other single country with such a high vacancy rate,” said Gan, of Chengdu’s Southwestern University of Finance and Economics. “Should any crack emerge in the property market, the homes to be offloaded will hit China like a flood.”
Ticking Time Bomb
One solution that the government could use is property or vacancy taxes to try to counter the issue, but neither appears imminent and some researchers, including Gan, say what actually counts as vacant could be tricky to determine. Thousands of researchers fanned out across 363 counties last year as part of the China Household Finance Survey, which Gan runs at the university. The vacancy rate, which excludes homes yet to be sold by developers, was little changed from a 2013 reading of 22.4 percent, he said by phone, adding that he was finalizing the data for its release. The 2013 study showed 49 million vacant homes, and Gan puts that number now at “definitely more than 50 million units.” Housing speculation has bedeviled China’s leaders for years, as some cities and provinces tightened buying restrictions only to see money flooding into other areas. Rampant price gains also mean millions of people are shut out from the market, exacerbating inequality. Xi famously said in October last year that “houses are built to be inhabited, not for speculation.”
Holiday homes and the empty dwellings of migrants seeking work elsewhere account for some of the deserted properties, but purchases for investment are a key factor keeping the vacancy rate high, according to Gan. That’s despite curbs across the country meant to discourage buying of multiple dwellings.
Shop Till You Drop
There’s an economic cost to vacancies too because they’re a drag on supply, which puts upward pressure on prices and crowds young buyers out of the market, according to Kaiji Chen, who co-authored a Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis working paper called “The Great Housing Boom of China.” Gan believes the government plans to do its own, larger survey in the next year or two. Alternative sources for estimates include State Grid Corp. electricity data, which former senior official Chen Xiwen cited this year for a 13 percent vacancy level in medium-to-large cities. Last month, Qiu Baoxing, a former vice housing minister, said the rate is 10 to 20 percent in Beijing, exceeding levels in countries with vacancy taxes.
One example of a vacant home is a villa on the outskirts of Shanghai that 27-year-old Natalie Feng’s parents bought for her. The two-story residence was meant to be a weekend escape for the family of three. In reality, it’s empty most of the time, and Feng says it’s too much trouble to rent it out. “For every weekend we spend there, we need to drive for an hour first, and clean up for half a day,” Feng said. She joked that she sometimes wishes her parents hadn’t bought it for her in the first place. That’s because any apartment she buys now would count as a second home, which means she’d have to make a bigger down payment.
BANGKOK, December 15 -- Cambodian police handed over a red-shirt extremist to Thai police after he surrendered to face bomb and murder charges for attacks against Bangkok Shutdown protesters in 2013 and 2014.
BANGKOK, December 15 -- The Foreign Ministry welcomes the idea of allowing embassy staff to observe the general election but not non-residents or foreign organisations.
Minister Don Pramudvinai told Thai media on Saturday the Election Commission (EC) had sought the Foreign Ministry’s view on election observation by foreigners.
“We told the EC the Thai government allows staff at embassies in the country to help monitor the poll but we don’t think non-residents or foreign organisations should take part since it would be viewed as bringing in outsiders,” he said. Mr Don added having embassy staff participate was enough to bolster Thailand’s overall image involving the election.
BANGKOK, December 14 -- Islam's guiding council in Thailand has introduced new regulations requiring that marriages with children under age 17 be approved by a religious committee.
The action follows an uproar earlier this year over an 11-year-old Thai girl who married a 41-year-old Malaysian man, triggering calls in both countries for stronger laws against child marriage. The girl was reportedly sent back to Thailand from Malaysia and put under the care of social welfare workers. Wisut Binlateh, a senior member of the Central Islamic Council of Thailand, said on Friday that Muslim children of any age in Thailand previously could get married with permission from their parents, but now children under age 17 must also seek approval from an Islamic committee which would consider whether the marriage is appropriate.
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