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.
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.
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”.
HANOI, August 23 -- New allies Vietnam and Australia expressed concern on Friday about China’s activities in the South China Sea, where Vietnamese and Chinese vessels are locked in a tense stand-off in Vietnamese-controlled waters.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc discussed the rising tensions with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, during the first visit by an Australian prime minister to Hanoi since the countries formalised their “strategic partnership” earlier this year. New allies Vietnam and Australia expressed concern on Friday about China’s activities in the South China Sea, where Vietnamese and Chinese vessels are locked in a tense stand-off in Vietnamese-controlled waters. “We are deeply concerned about the recent complicated developments in the East Sea and agree to cooperate in maintaining peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight,” said Phuc alongside Morrison at a joint press conference, using the Vietnamese name for the South China Sea. The comments were Phuc’s first on the stand-off. A Chinese vessel, the Haiyang Dizhi 8, continued to survey Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on Friday under escort from at least seven Chinese vessels, according to data from Marine Traffic, a website that tracks vessel movements. At least two Vietnamese navy ships, including the Russian-built Quang Trung frigate, have been closely shadowing the Chinese vessels, according to the data.
The United States said on Thursday it was deeply concerned about China’s interference in oil and gas activities in waters claimed by Vietnam, and that the deployment of the vessels was “an escalation by Beijing in its efforts to intimidate other claimants out of developing resources in the South China Sea.” Australian Prime Minister Morrison said the principles of international law should be upheld in the region. “Principles like freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, to ensure nations can pursue the development opportunities which exist within their EEZ and sea boundaries, and can go about that business in a way which is uninhibited,” said Morrison, who began a three-day visit to Hanoi on Thursday.
BEIJING, August 22 -- China is hopeful that US President Donald Trump can “honour” his earlier hands-off stance on Hong Kong, although the Commerce Ministry spokesman neglected to mention the latest statement from the American leader linking the trade talks between Washington and Beijing with the anti-government protests in the city.
China is hopeful that US President Donald Trump can “honour” his earlier hands-off stance on Hong Kong, although the Commerce Ministry spokesman neglected to mention the latest statement from the American leader linking the trade talks between Washington and Beijing with the anti-government protests in the city. Trump had been distancing himself from the tensions until earlier this week saying that trade talks with China would be hampered if Beijing used violent means to crack down on the ongoing protests in Hong Kong similar to those employed against pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.Trump said that if a similar crackdown happened in Hong Kong, “there’d be tremendous political sentiment not to do something”, referring to trade negotiations between China and the United States. “It does put pressure on the trade deal. If they do something negative, it puts pressure,” he added. “We noticed that President Trump had said that Hong Kong is part of China and [China and Hong Kong] can sort it out on their own. We hope the US side can honor these words,” said Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng on Thursday.
Protests have taken place in Hong Kong since June 9, sparked by demands for the city’s government to withdraw an unpopular extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of suspects to mainland China. Protests have continued in the city for over 11 weeks despite Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam stating that the bill “is dead”. The stance from China’s Commerce Ministry is in line with China’s Foreign Ministry and state media as Beijing is opposed to linking the situation in Hong Kong with the talks over the ongoing trade war. Earlier on Wednesday, Trump added that “I don’t view it as leverage. I hope Hong Kong works out in a very humane way. I don’t view it as leverage or non-leverage. I hope it works out in a humane way. And I think that President Xi Jinping has the ability to make sure that happens”. Gao said China’s negotiating team has maintained contact with their American counterparts, with Vice-Premier Liu He believed to have taken part in a scheduled phone call with US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last week.
HONG KONG, August 22 -- Hong Kong stocks are poised for their worst quarter since 2015 and corporate earnings are unlikely to save them.
After a sell-off erased more than US$600 billion from the city’s equities, attractive valuations stood as a potential bright spot. But those multiples don’t look so good when analysts keep slashing their profit forecasts for 2019. Their call for an average 19 per cent slump in operating income would be the biggest contraction for Hang Seng Index companies since the global financial crisis, data compiled by Bloomberg show. While a protracted US-China trade war and a weak yuan are to blame for a big chunk of the profit reductions, the latest cuts reveal a deeper issue. With Hong Kong’s slowing economy buckling under the pressure of 11 straight weeks of protests, demand for everything from bank loans to utility gas may be jeopardized. “The third quarter could be even worse given the local political situation and the trade war escalation,” said Jackson Wong, asset management director at Amber Hill Capital. “Potential downside surprises have not been fully reflected in share prices.” Shares of utilities provider Hong Kong and China Gas fell 5.3 per cent on Wednesday after it posted disappointing results and said the local business environment is “full of challenges.” Political unrest in Hong Kong may dampen its sales to the hospitality industry as people opt to cook at home rather than dine out, analysts at Daiwa Securities Group say. The threat from the trade war and weeks of local unrest has been apparent in the property market, as well as hotel occupancy and retail sales. CK Asset Holdings, whose shares fell to lowest since January 2017 last week, postponed a luxury residential project because of the protests. HSBC Holdings and BOC Hong Kong Holdings have lost about 9 per cent this month as investors become increasingly concerned about capital flight.
BEIJING, August 21 -- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday asked Japan and South Korea to seek a solution to resolve their differences "through dialogue," amid concern that worsening relations between Tokyo and Seoul may threaten regional economic stability down the road.
Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono also called on Beijing and Seoul to bolster trilateral cooperation even when respective bilateral ties sour, but his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung Wha lambasted Tokyo's moves to tighten export controls against her country.
"While maintaining a constructive attitude, it is important (for Japan and South Korea) to find out an appropriate solution through dialogue," Wang said at the outset of a foreign ministerial gathering of the three nations in Beijing.
Kono said, "Two countries sometimes face various difficulties respectively, but even under such circumstances, Japan, China and South Korea should work together trilaterally." A Japanese government official briefing reporters later in the day quoted Kono as telling Wang and Kang that the foreign ministers "should refrain" from raising issues related to bilateral relations during the trilateral meeting.
Kang, however, told Kono and Wang that South Korea hopes that the three nations will stick to "free and fair" trade for prosperity in the region in an apparent jab at Japan, underscoring that strains between Tokyo and Seoul are unlikely to wane soon.
She also said at a joint press appearance following the talks, "It is important to eliminate unilateral and arbitrary trade retaliatory steps and remove uncertainties" in East Asia. Kang did not single out Japan.
The Japanese official said Wang did not make comments aimed at mediating in the row between Tokyo and Seoul.
Recently, Japan-South Korea ties have plunged to the lowest point since normalization in 1965 over Japanese imposition of export control measures in the wake of a string of South Korean court rulings last year ordering compensation for wartime labor.
At a three-way meeting in Bangkok earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged his Japanese and South Korean counterparts to make efforts to ease their confrontation, but no resolution has been in sight.
Although Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul agreed Wednesday to accelerate negotiations to reach regional free trade agreements, Japan-South Korea trade spats would make it more difficult for them to be realized, foreign affairs experts say.
HONG KONG, August 21 -- Hong Kong protesters will rally for the release of a British consulate worker whose family said was detained during a recent visit to mainland China, as near-daily demonstrations continue in the financial hub.
The "Save Simon Cheng" event is scheduled to take place on Wednesday (Aug 21) evening at the UK Consulate General in central Hong Kong. Mr Cheng, 28, was revealed to be missing on Tuesday after failing to return from an Aug 8 meeting in the border city of Shenzhen, and has not contacted his family since. There has been no public confirmation about the Cheng incident from China, which could potentially address it at a daily foreign ministry briefing on Wednesday afternoon in Beijing. Britain's foreign office said on Tuesday that it was "extremely concerned" by the report and was seeking information from the authorities in Hong Kong and the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, which includes Shenzhen. A spokesman for the Hong Kong Immigration Department and a spokesman for the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Guangdong said they had no additional information on Mr Cheng's situation on Wednesday. Hong Kong police said on Tuesday that a missing person investigation was underway and that they were in close touch with Chinese authorities.