Der wöchentliche Presserückblick der Schweizer Botschaft in der VR China
The Weekly Press Review of the Swiss Embassy in the People's Republic of China
La revue de presse hebdomadaire de l'Ambassade de Suisse en RP de Chine
  19.4-23.4.2010, No. 316  
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Table of contents

H1N1 flu

DPRK and South Korea

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Foreign Policy

China defends naval drills in East China Sea (Global Times)
China said Thursday that its naval ships in the East China Sea did not violate international law, after Japanese media alleged that two Chinese submarines and eight destroyers were spotted circling Japan's Okinotori coral reefs. Huang Xueping, a spokesman with the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, warned countries concerned to not track down or disrupt the activities of Chinese military vessels engaged in normal defense exercises. "We will investigate whether China has any intention against our nation" by dispatching the vessels, Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said last week. A military source told the Global Times Thursday that Chinese vessels had not reached Okinotori coral reefs. Huang said the Chinese navy's drills on the high seas are common practice, and will not pose a threat to other countries. Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Wednesday the Chinese vessel had not violated international law. Ministry officials also said the incident would have limited impact on bilateral relations. ^ top ^

Carbon bloc bends on emissions deadlock (SCMP)
A bloc of the world's fastest growing carbon emitters, seen as key to a global deal on climate change, appears for the first time willing to discuss the future of the Kyoto Protocol to get the United States on board. Kyoto binds about 40 rich nations to cut emissions by 2012 and developing countries want a tougher second commitment period. That demand is opposed by many developed nations that want to jettison the Kyoto deal to include emerging markets such as India and China. Next week's meeting of the environment ministers of Brazil, South Africa, India and China will look at ways to bridge a trust deficit with rich nations, according to its agenda. "How long will the Kyoto Protocol survive? Could we envisage a shorter second commitment period designed solely to secure carbon markets?" said the agenda of the meeting to be held in South Africa next week. "If no second commitment period, what would replace Kyoto?" was another question on the agenda.

The meeting in South Africa on April 25-26 is another push by China and other developing nations to boost the deadlocked climate talks. The four nations, which helped broker the Copenhagen Accord along with the US, were likely to play a leading role in shaping the legally binding climate pact the UN hoped to seal by the end of the year, analysts said. Distrust between rich and poorer nations about who should do how much has stalled negotiations for a global deal to fight climate change. Officials say they are less hopeful of a broader deal in Mexico in November. So a willingness on the part of the four nations to soften their stand on the protocol could help break the negotiations logjam and bring on board the US which never ratified the protocol. An Indian negotiator said the agenda was "realistic" and aimed at exploring "all options to get a good deal for all".

The agenda also said it would consider how elements of the Copenhagen Accord could be included in the current negotiating process. The Copenhagen Accord sets a non-binding goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times and a goal of US$100 billion in aid from 2020. It also lists steps by dozens of nations to either cut or curb the growth of their emissions by 2020. The Copenhagen conference was originally meant to agree the outlines of a broader global pact to succeed the Kyoto Protocol.

The South Africa meeting's agenda also will consider whether the four-nation bloc could be expanded and whether smaller groups of powerful nations such as the G20 and the 17-nation Major Economies Forum could be useful platforms for talks. Poorer nations want talks to continue on two tracks - one working on a successor to Kyoto from 2013 and the other looking at longer-term actions to fight climate change by all nations. China, the world's largest carbon polluter, has pledged to slash carbon intensity - the amount of carbon dioxide produced per unit of gross domestic product - by 40 per cent to 45 per cent by 2020 from 2005 levels. India, the fourth top emitter, has set a 2020 target involving cuts of up to 25 per cent from 2005 levels. ^ top ^

Indian, Brazilian officials voice demand for yuan appreciation (Global Times)
Central bank governors in India and Brazil have said they want China to re-evaluate the yuan, Bloomberg reported Wednesday, which Chinese analysts regarded as protectionism rather than a pro-US stance.

Exports from China to India have grown faster than Indian shipments to its northern neighbor "and that obviously is a reflection of differences in the exchange-rate management," Reserve Bank of India's Duvvuri Subbarao said in Mumbai on Tuesday. India imported $14.9 billion of goods from China in the six months to September 2009, more than double the exports from the second-ranked US, according to Bloomberg. On the same day, Brazil's Henrique Meirelles said at a senate hearing that it was "absolutely critical" that China raise the value of its currency, which is vital to ensuring equilibrium in the global economy, Bloomberg reported.

However, Chinese analysts said the positions of India and Brazil toward the yuan indicate their protectionism policies on trade, rather than their support of the US on the issue.

"The trade imbalance between China and India indeed exists. Although the yuan ap-preciation might benefit the Indian economy, it would not be a win-win solution for the issue, as the rise of the yuan would hurt China's exports to some extent," said Fu Xiaoqiang, a researcher at the Institute of South and Southeast Asian Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. "Some Latin American countries have strengthened anti-dumping measures toward China in recent years in a bid to protect their national trade and further strengthen the competitiveness of domestic products," Jiang Shixue, vice director at the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. According to Brazil's trade ministry, Chinese-made products such as tires and stereo speakers are the target of 26 Brazilian anti-dumping measures, more than the number filed by any other country and nearly half of all 68 in place, Bloomberg reported. ^ top ^

Google tool reveals govt censorship, prying (Global Times)
Google on Tuesday launched an online tool that breaks down how often countries ask the Internet search giant to hand over user data or censorship information, AFP reported Wednesday. Brazil topped the list at the nascent Government Requests website with 291 requests to remove data between the beginning of July and the end of December. Germany was second with 188 requests, while India and the US ranked third and fourth, respectively, with 142 and 123. Regarding why Google has no data for removal requests for China, "We have explained it in the tool itself," Scott Rubin, Google's head of planning for public policy and communications, told the Global Times in an e-mail interview. If users click on the China tab on the map, they will see the message that "Chinese officials consider censorship demands as state secrets, so we cannot disclose that information at this time," the spokesman explained.

[…] "Google's revelation indicates that Western countries also regulate the Web for security reasons, but to different degrees," Zhou Shijian, a researcher at the China-US Relations Research Center of Tsinghua University, said. "The regulation is reasonable, as nowadays netizens have great influence over politics." The number of governments censoring the Internet has grown from about four in 2002 to more than 40, according to Open Net Initiative figures cited by Google. The launch of the Government Requests tool came on the same day that officials from 10 nations sent a letter to Google's chief executive demanding that the California firm better defend people's privacy. The timing of the release of the tool was "entirely coincidental," Rubin said, adding that Google has been working on this tool for many months.

[…] Google spent $1.4 million in the first quarter of 2010 to lobby the US federal government on everything from its decision to stop censoring search results in China to the tussle over open Internet rules before the Federal Communications Commission, according to the AP. The spending was up 57 percent from the $880,000 in the same quarter a year ago. ^ top ^

China, thirsty for oil, looks to Central Asian neighbours (People's Daily Online)
With rapid economic development in China, energy shortages, especially due to the tension between oil supply and demand, have become increasingly common. Figures show the consumption of crude oil in China increased from 241 million tons in 2000 to 388 million tons in 2009, with an average yearly increase of 6.78 percent. And the imports of crude oil grew from 59.69 million tons to 199 million tons. China's growing dependence on energy imports from only a handful of countries will intensify China's energy insecurity. China is the world's second largest oil consumer and importer. Demand and imports will inevitably grow, while the production of crude oil has shown a downward trend, decreasing 0.4 percent in 2009, according to He Lunzhi, professor of economics with Xinjing University.

China was an oil exporter to Japan and other countries before 1992 and became an oil importer starting in 1993. But now China imports more than 100 million tons of oil and oil products every year. Besides the expansion of economic scale, the change in consumption structure is also one of the major factors driving oil demand, said Gao Xincai, president of the School of Economics at Lanzhou University. While China has taken measures, such as improving the exploitation of oil, to increase oil output, resources are still limited. As of the end of 1999, the proven oil reserves totaled over 20 billion tons, but the remaining recoverable oil storage was only 2 billion tons. Furthermore, the increasing difficulty and cost in exploitation and the surplus labor caused by resource exhaustion also pose a challenge to China.

The energy situation forces China to consider energy expansion in the context of economic globalization, which requires optimization of China's structure of oil imports. Figures show that more than 70 percent of China's imported oil was from the Middle East in 2009. Due to some factors, such as transportation and geopolitics, security risks exist in China's overseas oil. In addition, the turbulent situation and Western countries' rivalries in central Asian countries, which include China's neighbors, also pose threats to China's energy security. Coal accounted for 76 percent of China's energy consumption in 1990, but dropped to 67 percent in 1999. Conversely, China is growing more and more dependent on oil for energy, with the proportion up from 17 percent in 1990 to 23 percent in 1999. With steady economic development, oil consumption will increase dramatically. In 1999, oil consumption reached 200 million tons, but the output was only 160 million tons and imports accounted for over 40 million tons. It is expected that China will import more than 200 million tons of crude oil this year.

China shares more than 3,300 kilometers of common borders and a number of cross-border ethnic groups with Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which have a geopolitical significance because of their vast energy resources. So China must enhance energy cooperation with these five countries to secure economic security and sustainable development, according to He Luzhi. Fossil energy reserves of the five central Asian countries surpassed 30 billion tons. But China has only 1.72 billion tons of crude oil reserve. China needs a large amount of liquid fuel to meet the demands of the rapidly-developing auto industry. According to the International Energy Association analysis, about half of China's oil needs will be met by imports this year and the figure will reach 80 percent in 2020. The differences in energy resources between China and the five central Asian countries show there is great potential for cooperation, said He. Central Asian countries regard China as an ideal partner due to China's steady economic development. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, set up in June 2001, which includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, aims to promote the six countries cooperation and development in safety, economy, energy and other fields. In addition, China's western development and project of gas transmission from west to east have become a continental oil bridge connecting Central Asia, the Far East and Northeast Asia. ^ top ^

Venezuela: China offers US$20 billion in financing (People's Daily Online)
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Saturday that China was providing the South American nation with a long-term, $20 billion financing plan to aid the local economy. […] The Venezuelan leader said the deal was on top of an existing $12 billion Chinese-Venezuelan investment fund in which China deposits money in return for forward sales of oil, a major exporting product of Venezuela. The president did not specify what areas the new financing were for but China is increasingly involved in Venezuela's crude oil, electricity facilities, food production, infrastructure construction and technology sectors, according to wire reports. Chavez had been due to host Chinese President Hu Jintao this weekend but the Chinese leader cut short his Latin American visit due to an earthquake at home. As well as signing the financing agreement, Chavez and Chinese officials penned another six agreements covering electricity and oil projects, including ratification of a joint venture to develop a block in the Orinoco crude belt. ^ top ^

Human rights talks with US set to resume (SCMP)
Preparations are under way for the resumption of a human rights dialogue next month between China and the United States that had been delayed by earlier bilateral tensions. The dialogue was originally scheduled for February in Washington as part of the agreements reached by leaders from the two powers during US President Barack Obama's maiden state visit to China in November. But the event did not take place as bilateral ties hit a rough patch earlier this year. Efforts have been made on a range of issues since then to reduce tensions, with President Hu Jintao's attendance at the nuclear security summit in Washington last week indicating that the relationship was on the mend. A US-based source familiar with the arrangement said preparations were under way for the next round of the dialogue as the two sides were discussing "possible spring dates" for the event, which will be in Washington. A member of a human rights advocacy group said the event was likely to take place in mid-May. The Foreign Ministry never explained why the February dialogue did not take place but said both sides were now making preparations. It is unclear whether the Qinghai earthquake would affect the schedule of the dialogue.

The last dialogue was in May 2008, a few weeks after the massive Sichuan earthquake. Before that, there had been a six-year hiatus until Beijing made a last-ditch effort to burnish its image before the Olympic Games. Part of the reason for the long lapse in the dialogue, conceived in 1990, was Beijing's protest against a Washington-sponsored resolution by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2004, which urged condemnation of China's human rights record. Relations between the two countries turned sour in the first quarter of this year over issues including Washington's arms sales to Taiwan, Obama's meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, pressure for revaluation of the yuan and related trade friction. But both sides have since made efforts to put ties back on track. Zhang Yesui, China's ambassador to the US, said over the weekend that Sino-US relations were now back to normal.

The dialogue - together with the strategic and economic dialogue, also to be held next month - will pave the way for Hu's state visit to the US later this year. Joshua Rosenzweig, a senior manager with the Dui Hua Foundation's Hong Kong operations, said the dialogue usually touched on general issues such as religious freedom and the rights of minorities, as well as individual cases of rights defenders. The cases of Aids activist Hu Jia, prominent dissident Liu Xiaobao and lawyer Gao Zhisheng are likely to be raised at the dialogue, and Rosenzweig said doing so could help the international community further register their concerns on the cases. "It's hard to predict the impact raising their cases will have... but it never has a negative result," he said. […]

The human rights dialogue has long been a channel that Washington uses to address the issues in China although it has so far yielded little concrete results. Previous dialogues were headed by the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labour from the US side and the human rights division of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's international affairs department. ^ top ^

Roundup: Chinese president promotes cooperation, win-win strategy at BRIC summit (Global Times)
Chinese President Hu Jintao held discussions in Brasilia on Thursday with leaders of three other BRIC countries including Brazil, Russia and India, on how to seize opportunities, meet challenges, advance reform and promote development in the post-crisis period. It was the second BRIC summit after leaders of the four emerging powers gathered in Yekaterinburg, Russia, last June. Hu delivered an important speech titled "Cooperation, Openness, Mutual Benefit and Win-Win Strategy". Again at the BRIC summit, a key platform for interregional cooperation among emerging economies, the Chinese president made a sincere appeal to promote cooperation, advocate openness and seek a win-win situation.[…]

Hu put forward four proposals aimed to enhance mutual political trust, deepen economic cooperation, promote cultural exchanges, increase experience-sharing. The proposals received unanimous consent from the leaders of Brazil, Russia and India. Over the past 10 months, Hu has met with leaders of the three countries during a series of international multilateral and bilateral occasions and meetings. Those meetings expanded consensus among the four countries, enhancing strategic mutual trust continuously, expanding cooperation areas, and enriching the content of communication. Today, the four countries took the lead in resuming economic growth, contributing greatly to the world economic recovery. At present, cooperation among BRIC countries is facing both rare opportunities and severe challenges.

At the summit in Brasilia, Hu proposed five principles for future cooperation:

Using mutual political trust as cornerstone, promoting openness, mutual respect, mutual understanding, and mutual support; Using pragmatic cooperation as the starting point, focusing on action and adding new impetus for cooperation; Using mechanism-building as the guarantee, increasing levels of cooperation and expanding areas of cooperation; Using a win-win situation as object, complementing advantages, sharing the fruits of cooperation at maximum; Using openness and transparency as premise, enhancing communication and exchanges with all parties, and demonstrating the open nature of the cooperation.

[…] As the world economic recovery is still fragile, the Brasilia summit focused on how to achieve a comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development in the BRIC countries and the rest of the world, in order to form a mutually beneficial and win-win situation through global action. In response, Hu identified five key areas for joint actions of the BRIC countries.

The first is to encourage all parties to continue to consolidate the basis of world economic recovery, strengthen macroeconomic policy coordination. The second is to promote efforts from all parties to resolve the structural imbalances in global economic governance. The third is to encourage all parties to continuously promote trade liberalization and facilitation, and properly handle trade dispute, resist protectionism. The fourth is to encourage all parties to improve the international financial regulatory system, expand the scope of regulation, clarify regulatory role, develop generally-accepted standards and norms of international financial regulation, improve the regulatory framework. And the fifth is to encourage all parties to strengthen a sense of responsibility and moral efforts to achieve balanced development of the world, not only to increase input in development and secure development resources, but also to respect each country's development model and policy which is based on respective national conditions.

Another hot topic at international multilateral meetings during recent years is that what kind of influence China will bring to the world after it made remarkable achievements over the 30 years since the adoption of the reform and opening-up policy. At the Brasilia summit, Hu delivered an important speech, and again told the world about the four characteristics of China's harmonious development: China's development has a long way to go; China's development can only be and must be a peaceful development; China's development reflects an open and win-win strategy; China's development is a responsible development. China remains the world's largest developing country, with a large population, a weak economic foundation and an unbalanced development as our basic national conditions," Hu said. Those frank and sincere words not only show that China's leaders have a clear understanding of China's development, but also that the Chinese people have a firm resolve to work hard, push forward reform and opening- up course and achieve modernization. "A prosperous and developing China, a peaceful and cooperative China, is willing to make new and greater contributions to the peace and development of all mankind along with its own development," Hu said. […]. ^ top ^

China glad to see order being restored in Kyrgyzstan: FM (Global Times)
China is glad that the situation in Kyrgyzstan was tending towards stability and public order is gradually being restored, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said Friday in a statement.

China appreciated the Kyrgyzstan interim government's efforts in stabilizing its domestic situation, she said. China and Kyrgyzstan, which are both members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO), were good neighbors, Jiang said. China was willing to reinforce the friendship with Kyrgyzstan, based on the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, and strictly following the spirit enshrined in a bilateral treaty of friendly cooperation. China was ready to advance cooperation with Kyrgyzstan in areas such as trade and economy, and strengthen bilateral coordination in combating the "three forces" of separatism, terrorism and extremism, Jiang said. She said China was also willing to cement collaboration with Kyrgyzstan within multilateral frameworks, including the United Nations and the SCO, so as to contribute to regional peace, stability and development.

Ousted Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev reportedly arrived in Kazakhstan on Thursday and has signed a letter of resignation. Last week, thousands of protesters clashed with security forces throughout Kyrgyzstan, driving out local governments and seizing government headquarters in Bishkek. Opposition parties formed an interim government led by Roza Otunbayeva, a former foreign minister. ^ top ^


Domestic Policy

Premier urges use of renewable energy (Global Times)
Premier Wen Jiabao Thursday called for more efforts to develop renewable energy in an effort to cope with rising domestic fuel demand and severe energy shortages. "We must accelerate the development and use of renewable energies to ensure the country's energy security and better cope with climate change," Wen said at the first meeting of the National Energy Commission in Beijing. China should take measures to ensure non-fossil fuels would account for 15 percent of its energy consumption in 2020, he said. Wen said the country would make it a binding target to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. "The target will be incorporated into the country's long-term economic and social development plan," he said. Wen also urged more efforts to enhance innovative capacity on energy technology to promote sustainable social and economic development.

The government set up the National Energy Commission, a government agency headed by Premier Wen Jiabao, in January to better coordinate energy policy. The commission is responsible for drafting the national energy development plan, reviewing energy security and major energy issues and coordinating domestic energy development and international cooperation. ^ top ^

Money for Sichuan quake recovery misused (Global Times)
The top auditor has recovered more than 300 million yuan ($43 million) that was allocated for relief work in Southwest China's Sichuan Province but was misused. Judicial authorities handed down penalties for 22 people for their involvement in the malpractices based on the auditor's findings. […]

China has allocated 95 billion yuan ($13 billion) for the reconstruction after the disaster, said the Minister of Finance. The Beijing News reported Monday that the auditors have spent more than a year examining whether the relief funds were spent effectively. The report said the National Audit Office (NAO) found construction shortcuts were evident in rebuilding the Bailu primary school located in Pengzhou. Steel bars were exposed, the main cement structure was loose and the size of the frame columns was smaller than they should be. Most of the problems were remedied after the auditors raised their concerns.

The largest misuse of funds uncovered by the auditors involved 140 million yuan ($20 million). The auditors found that the Mianyang Investment Holding Group had spent the money on a new town development project instead of using the funds to rebuild Yong'an Avenue as required, said Li Bo, head of NAO's Chongqing Office. Li noted that the funds were recovered soon after the auditors investigated the case. "The audit is to ensure that the relief funds are well managed," said Tan Zhiwu, the NAO official in charge of monitoring the special funds. Wang Tao, the company's accountant, said the use of funds was re-distributed after determining that there was sufficient money for each project. According to the NAO, management of about 2,500 earthquake relief projects has been improved and more than 1.2 billion yuan ($175 million) has been saved. The NAO says it has made 6,000 recommendations for better handling of earthquake recovery projects.

After hearing about the misuse of Sichuan earthquake relief funds, some people said they would think twice before deciding whether to donate money for recovery efforts after the recent earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai Province. […] The NAO said auditors are keeping a close watch on the uses of earthquake relief funds in the wake of the fund misuse in Sichuan earthquake relief. ^ top ^

Qinghai earthquake^ top ^

Death toll in NW China quake rises to 2,183 (Global Times)
The death toll has climbed to 2,183 from a devastating earthquake in northwest China's Qinghai Province, with 84 people still missing, the rescue headquarters said Wednesday. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the 7.1-magnitude quake, which struck the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu one week ago, had also left 12,135 injured, of whom 1,434 were in serious condition, the rescue headquarters said. ^ top ^

Zhongshan to spend 1 billion yuan on quake-proofing schools (Global Times)
The recent Yushu earthquake has prompted public concerns about the safety of primary and secondary schools. Huang Yang, a spokesman for the Zhongshan Education Authority in Guangdong Province said that the project of reinforcing Zhongshan's primary and secondary schools to be earthquake proof has made great progress, the Guangzhou Daily reported. About 50 percent of the schools which need to be rebuilt have begun reconstruction. Forty percent of the schools need to be rebuilt and 50 percent of them need added reinforcements which are expected to be completed by the end of this year. The total bill for these projects is expected to amount to 1 billion yuan. The detailed breakdown in cost will be released next month.

According to Huang, there are 1,400 schoolhouses in Zhongshan City. Eighty percent of primary and secondary schools can withstand a 7.0-magnitude earthquake and above, and only 20 percent of the institutions need to be reinforced. "At present, about 12 percent of schools need to be reinforced, 8 percent need to be completely demolished and rebuilt, and 60 percent that can withstand up to a 7.0-magnitude earthquake need some simple reinforcement." Huang also said that the reinforcement and reconstruction project will be completely finished at the end of next year. At that time primary and secondary schools in Zhongshan will be able to withstand earthquakes at 8.0-magnitude. ^ top ^

Disaster makes China a stronger nation (Global Times)
Each disaster in China, though heartbreaking, is also a chance for the world to see the way the country pulls together in times of crisis. The rescue efforts at the scene of the Yushu earthquake are worth applause. The efforts have been called the largest rescue operation at such an altitude in human history. Located 4,000 meters above sea level, the quake center is difficult to access. The remote area is a 16 hour drive from the provincial capital, Xi'ning, and has only one road connecting it to the outside world. The only airport, put into use just last year, has become crucial to the rescue work.

Compassion knows no boundaries. Even the critical foreign media has given a thumbs-up to the post-quake relief work of the Chinese government. But it has not stopped a few from scavenging for evidence to prove their long-held assumptions. Criticism is part of journalism. But there are always extremes. Yushu, home to a predominantly Tibetan population, is assumed by some to be a victim of government policy. Some begrudged words from a few survivors were amplified as complaints of a large swath of the Tibetan population against the government. Intentionally, some reports have sought to draw a division between the Han ethnic group and minorities. The presence of a large number of soldiers and police, crucial to any disaster-hit zone, is hinted to be a sign of suppression of ethnic minorities. Both prejudice and sloppy reporting have caused some journalists to reach the conclusion that the Chinese government is launching authoritarian rule in the region and is not supported by the local population. But this time, reports like this have found few adherents.

China's territory is vast and frequently hit by disaster. Standing shoulder to shoulder is the only way to pull through each crisis. The flooding of major rivers in China has not sparked ethnic division. Rather, such floods have shown the necessity of surviving major disasters together. Ethnic unity is not an empty slogan. It signals a determination to act together and combine the advantages of each minority group to present united strength. The government's rescue efforts are not flawless, though it is trying hard. But there is no ground to question the Chinese government's keenness to save lives. In the still-cold weather of Yushu, rebuilding efforts are underway. The compassion and unity the nation has shown will not fade. ^ top ^

China to mourn quake victims (Global Times)
To mourn the victims of a strong earthquake in northwest China's Qinghai Province, national flags will fly at half-mast in the country and its embassies and consulates overseas on Wednesday, according to the State Council Tuesday. To express the deep condolences for the quake victims, public entertainment will also be suspended on Wednesday, the State Council, China's cabinet, said in an announcement. As of 8 pm Monday, the 7.1-magnitude quake, which struck the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Yushu last Wednesday, had killed more than 2,000 while 195 people were still missing, the rescue headquarters said. ^ top ^

Monk volunteers ordered away from quake relief efforts (SCMP)
Many Tibetan monks who rushed to quake-devastated Yushu prefecture in Qinghai to help with the rescue and recovery effort have been ordered by the authorities to leave, prompting concerns over a tightening of government control. The exact extent of the order was unclear last night, with only monks from monasteries in Ganzi prefecture in neighbouring Sichuan confirmed to have been affected. Some said all monks not based in Yushu had been told to leave, but verification was not possible last night. Monks from monasteries in Yushu continued to enjoy the same degree of freedom they had had for the past seven days. Monks involved in quake relief work in Yushu and a Beijing-based Tibetan activist all told the South China Morning Post yesterday that some monks who had received the order had already left the quake zone.

Yeshe Dawa, the Communist Party's United Front chief in Ganzi - a predominantly Tibetan prefecture in Sichuan - visited Yushu on Monday and told monks from Ganzi to return home because space was needed in Yushu to accommodate people made homeless by the quake. "We don't want to leave. But we do not dare to say no to the order," said living Buddha Juechi, from the Sangzhu Monastery in Ganzi. He estimated that about 2,000 monks from Ganzi had left Yushu yesterday morning. Living Buddha Longzhi, from a monastery in Dege, Sichuan, who also left yesterday, said: "Apparently this was a request from Yushu's United Front office." Officials from the local religious affairs administration also visited monks to persuade them to leave. The Tibetan monks have played a crucial role in the aftermath of the deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake that killed at least 2,064 people. They were among the first rescue teams to arrive in the quake zone and distributed relief.

Tserang Woeser, a Beijing-based Tibetan activist and blogger, said the decision to ask the monks to leave would not go down well with the deeply religious quake survivors in Yushu. "A lot of Tibetans in Yushu trust the monks more than the rescuers sent by the government," she said. "There are more people lining up for help at relief delivery spots set up by the monks than those set up by the PLA soldiers." Tserang Woeser said the heads of many monasteries based outside Yushu had received orders to pull out. "Blocks have been set up on roads leading to Yushu and monks are no longer allowed to enter Yushu," she said. […]

The withdrawal order came after Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference chairman Jia Qinglin, fourth in the Communist Party hierarchy, said on Monday that extra efforts should be made to ensure unity and stability in the quake zone because some "overseas hostile forces" were attempting to sabotage relief efforts. In a report carried by Xinhua, Jia did not specify the "hostile forces", but analysts said the Tibetan government-in- exile and foreign media reports that shed light on tensions between Han Chinese and Tibetans in rescue work were the likely suspects.

The Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama said at the weekend that he was eager to visit the quake zone in Qinghai, where he was born. The Foreign Ministry avoided commenting on the Dalai Lama's appeal yesterday, with spokeswoman Jiang Yu saying China now had enough rescuers. "Currently there are enough rescuers. Food and clothes are continuously arriving," she said. "At the same time, the government has fully respected the customs and beliefs of the inhabitants.". ^ top ^

Social order in quake zones stable: Ministry (People's Daily Online)
Social order in the quake-hit Yushu prefecture in northwest China's Qinghai Province has remained stable, a Public Security Ministry official said here Sunday. No criminal cases, major traffic accidents, or major security incidents have so far been reported in the quake zones, Wu Heping, a spokesman of the Ministry of Public Security told a press conference. He warned that those who intended to take advantage of the earthquake to make illegal gains would be seriously dealt with according to law.

Wu said close to 500 special police officers were dispatched to Yushu Wednesday just hours after the earthquake struck, and had played a key role in maintaining social order and ensuring smooth traffic flow since their arrival in the quake zones. "They have helped local police divert traffic, transport supplies, prevent the outlaws from infringing on public and private properties, and maintain order at shelter centers for the quake victims," Wu said. The officers also strengthened protection and patrol of financial institutions, relief supplies and drug storage sites, he said. Meanwhile, firefighters also checked for fire risks and conducted safety checks on power supply facilities, Wu said. […] At least 1,706 people were killed and 12,128 others injured, according to Sunday's latest official tally. […]. ^ top ^

Hu vows to rebuild Yushu (Global Times)
It's being called the largest rescue operation at such an altitude in human history, and the race against time in a hostile environment is taking its toll on those charged with saving as many lives as possible. President Hu Jintao flew to the quake-hit Yushu region in northwest Qinghai Province Sunday to oversee relief operations there, as the death toll from last week's devastating earthquake climbed to more than 1,700.

Hu cut short his visit to Latin America to fly to the worst-hit town of Gyegu, following a powerful 7.1-magnitude quake that struck Yushu on Wednesday. As of last night, 1,706 people had been confirmed dead, and there were more than 12,000 people injured with 256 still missing.

"There will be new schools! There will be new homes!" Hu was quoted by the Xinhua News Agency as saying as he wrote in chalk on the blackboard of a makeshift class-room in a tent while visiting orphaned students in Yushu. "The top priority is to rescue those still buried alive and treat those injured. Each life must be cherished," Hu said. With more than 15,000 rescuers - including over 11,000 People's Liberation Army troops and armed police, 2,800 firefighters and special police forces, and 1,500 earthquake and mine accident rescue specialists - still searching for quake survivors, Gao Mengtan, deputy dean of the Institute of Geophysics at the China Earthquake Adminis-tration, said the operation exceeds all previous large-scale rescue attempts at such a high altitude - about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level. As of Sunday, the government said, 17,000 lives had been saved.

Liu Wenyuan, a senior supervisor of the team repairing the Changu power station, told Xinhua that it would take at least one week to repair and bring the quake-damaged hydropower station back on line. ^ top ^



Multinationals plan brand and guanxi blitz at expo (SCMP)
Coca-Cola is flying in hip-hop stars, Barclays is bringing English soccer's Premier League trophy and General Motors will offer a glimpse of the future as foreign firms woo China's massive market at the World Expo. Multinationals are seizing on the six-month event beginning May 1 to build their brand presence in the market of 1.3 billion people, but also the business and government connections - or guanxi - crucial to making money in China.

"At this expo, because it's going on in Shanghai and in China, everyone wants to showcase their latest and best here," Jean Liu-Barnocki, GM's expo project manager, said. GM and Chinese partner Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp have built a state-of-the-art theatre that creates the sensation of soaring over Shanghai in the year 2030, with emissions and congestion eliminated by electric cars. Behind the scenes, corporations will be laying the groundwork for such visions by entertaining high-powered visitors to their pavilions. "Every pavilion has a hospitality programme or VIP experience as part of its overall design," Liu-Barnocki said.

Signing on as an expo sponsor helped build brands and consumer contact that could translate into sales, but often the main goal was networking, Pippa Collett, managing director of London-based Sponsorship Consultants, said. In China, building guanxi (connections and social reputation) - often through lavish banquets and other wining and dining - is considered a key part of doing business. Collet said that expo sponsorships from the likes of GM are often "an excuse for a group of individuals to be in the same room at the same time". Britain has spent £25 million (HK$298.8 million) on its striking dandelion-like pavilion to promote business encounters. […] It hoped the venue would generate more than 1,000 meetings between British and Chinese business leaders, Katherine Dixon, Britain's political and economic consul in Shanghai, said. "Our focus is on targeting the right people to interact with over six months.". ^ top ^

Visitors flood Expo park, force venue closures (Global Times)
A total of 200,000 visitors were given the chance to have a preview of the Shanghai Expo Park during its first trial operation Tuesday. Most described the experience as "a day of queuing up." "I'm prepared for it, since the authorities informed us of the possible long wait months ago," said Chen Ying, who spent one hour in a line before managing to book an afternoon visit to the China Pavilion at 10:30 am but was surprised to find the venue closed when she came back at 1 pm.

The China Pavilion is designed with a capacity to receive 50,000 visitors on a daily basis. "But most of the 200,000 visitors coming here today have shown strong interest in the pavilion," Yang Zheng, a volunteer working at the site, told the Global Times Tuesday. Even though volunteers tried to comfort visitors, saying the China Pavilion would remain as a permanent construction after the Expo, some visitors still expressed their disappointment. […]

According to an anonymous source from the Shanghai government, out of safety concerns, the Expo authorities had to call a temporary closure of the China Pavilion due to the huge visitor flow. The source continued to say that a dozen pavilions opened to visitors on the first trial day, several of which, such as the Germany and Australia pavilions, chose to shut down due to too many people pouring in.

The first trial Tuesday also saw the arrival of a large number of senior citizens, many of whom chose to take the electric-powered sightseeing vehicles, hoping to get an overall view of the Expo Park. But before getting onto the nine-seat vehicle that charges 10 yuan for a single trip, they had to wait in a line that extended for more than 100 meters Tuesday morning. […] Trying to avoid the crowds in most restaurants providing traditional Shanghai food, Zou Pei chose to buy fast food for her lunch, which turned out to be a wrong decision. "I was in a line in front of a hamburger stall. But when it was about to be my turn, waitresses in the store told the line that they'd sold out of food."

The queuing and the rain aside, most visitors said their good mood was not totally ruined, as all volunteers and security personnel were offering their services with smiles. Over 170,000 volunteers, mostly college students, have taken part in the trial run. Each of them is required to serve the people with "a sincere smile." Meanwhile, just outside the park, some nearby residents told the Global Times that they were more than one and a half hours late for work Tuesday morning.

There will be six trial operations of the Expo Park until the curtain of the event officially rises on May 1. ^ top ^

Battle to finish pavilions heats up as clock runs down (SCMP)
Visitors to the World Expo site in Shanghai were greeted by the sound of hammering and drilling as construction workers battled against the clock to get the park finished in time for its opening in 10 days' time. Ahead of yesterday's initial test opening, official media had reported that "at least 70 per cent of the pavilions should be open", but it turned out that most were shut - and many were still being built.

Progress on the expo site has been a controversial subject in Shanghai, with little clarity over how much will be ready for the first day. Expo director Hong Hao said in January that as many as one-fifth of the 100-odd pavilions might not be done in time for the official opening. However, organisers have since become confident, with Shanghai party secretary Yu Zhengsheng vowing last month that every pavilion would open. "I have not heard of any projects that cannot be completed ahead of the expo opening," he told official media on March 31. But a South China Morning Post reporter visiting the site yesterday saw that extensive construction work still needed to be done on at least 20 pavilions in two of the site's five zones.

No national pavilion has so far been willing to admit publicly that it will fail to meet the deadline. Privately, however, staff working on several countries' buildings swap nightmare tales of disorganisation, shoddy workmanship and plans being drastically scaled back to save time. They say poor communication with local contractors, heavy rains during a prolonged winter and expo organisers' "micromanaging" of the movement of goods into the site had severely hampered progress. "We didn't know from one day to the next whether we would be able to get our steel delivered," the site manager of one European pavilion said. An interior designer from another pavilion warned that rushing had affected construction quality right across the site. "They haven't put proper slopes in the pavements, so water doesn't run towards the drains," he said. "When the summer rains come the whole place is going to turn into a river.". ^ top ^



Guangdong rescuers head home (SCMP)
A 150-member rescue team from Guangdong was returning home because altitude sickness had hampered their ability to help, China News Service reported yesterday. Many Guangdong rescue workers showed altitude sickness symptoms ranging from dizziness and shivering to pulmonary edema, the report said. […]

A firefighting squadron leader from Guangzhou's Huangpu district said relief workers from low-altitude areas, such as Guangdong and Shandong, reported that altitude sickness was the biggest challenge. He said although Guangdong's team had the best life detectors among all relief teams in Yushu and many experienced workers from the Sichuan quake in 2008, the harsh natural environment had affected their efficiency. "We had to have a rest every 30 minutes. Everyone had severe headaches, while some were vomiting and shivering," he said.

One of his teammates, who had been involved in the rescue work two years ago in Sichuan, said another reason for the withdrawal was that the situation in Qinghai was far different from that in Sichuan. The firefighter, who declined to give his name, said his team had stayed in Sichuan for 15 days but just three in Yushu. "Many buildings in Sichuan were reinforced concrete structures, which gave survivors more living space," he said. "But in Yushu, most buildings were just made of adobe or bricks, and people would be buried once the buildings collapsed. There was no chance of escape." […]. ^ top ^



Jobless rate drops to lowest since late 2008 (SCMP)
The city's jobless rate fell to its lowest since the last quarter in 2008 when the impact of the global financial crisis started to sink in. The unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 per cent in the first quarter this year, slightly lower than the 4.6 per cent in the three months to February. "The fundamentals of the labour market remain robust," Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said when announcing the figures. Improvements were mainly seen in the insurance, arts, entertainment, recreation as well as information and communications sectors. But the latest Census and Statistics Department figures show that the number of jobless people rose slightly, by about 1,500 - to 160,600 - in the first quarter. Cheung said that business activities in a number of sectors moderated somewhat owing to seasonal fluctuation - resulting in fewer jobs after the Lunar New Year holidays.

Construction and transportation were the two main sectors that saw an increase in unemployed people. Unemployment among people aged between 15 and 19 increased slightly, by 0.3 percentage point to 18.2 per cent. Dr Mo Pak-hung, an associate professor at Baptist University's School of Business, said Hong Kong had been recovering from the financial crisis since the middle of last year. "While Hong Kong is recovering, it still has the drive for economic growth and the jobless rate should continue to fall by 0.2 percentage points for a few months," Mo said. The city's jobless rate was below 4 per cent before the financial crisis began in late 2008.

More jobs would probably be created in the corporate sector in the next one or two months, the labour minister said, based on the latest job information. This should help improve the employment situation in the near term. Private-sector vacancies posted by the Labour Department rose by 64.6 per cent to nearly 66,000 in March from the previous month. The department is holding a three-day job fair at Olympian City, with more than 8,000 vacancies at 120 firms on offer. […]. ^ top ^

HK homes the least affordable in world (SCMP)
Hong Kong homes are the least affordable among the world's major cities and are rapidly becoming less affordable. This is shown by an international comparison conducted by a US consultancy at the request of the South China Morning Post, and Hong Kong government figures. A university professor specialising in real estate warned that a "short-term illusion" of affordability had been created by very low mortgage interest rates, which would evaporate when rates rose to a more realistic level - possibly as early as next year - pushing up mortgage payments.

The survey found Hong Kong people pay more than 10 times their annual income to buy a flat, the most of 272 metropolitan cities and earning it a "severely unaffordable" rating along with London, Sydney and New York. This was backed up by Hong Kong government statistics which showed buyers paid 8.5 times their annual income for an average-sized flat in the last quarter of last year - up from 7.6 times in the second quarter, an increase of almost a year's income in six months. Despite this, Hong Kong buyers pay less of their annual income on mortgage payments than some of the other most expensive cities - 44 per cent, according to the survey, and 38.1 per cent, up from 34 per cent in the first quarter, according to government figures.

Chau Kwong-wing, chair professor of the real estate and construction department at the University of Hong Kong, said the big jump in flat prices and a mild increase in mortgage payments illustrated that interest rates of just 0.8 per cent to 2.1 per cent were making housing look affordable. "But it is just a short-term illusion. People think they can afford an expensive flat with a reasonably cheap mortgage," he said. "Their dreams will burst and the flat will become unaffordable when the interest rate rises." Public policy consultancy Demographia, in an annual survey conducted for the past six years, compares housing in 272 metropolitan centres in six countries - the United States, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand - dividing median house prices by gross annual median household income to arrive at an affordability rating. […]

A government spokesman said the Hong Kong administration would continue to closely monitor the situation and would take further measures when necessary. He added that cities had different economic characteristics but did not comment on Hong Kong's ranking in housing affordability. ^ top ^



Poverty gap worsens in Taiwan (Global Times)
The poverty gap in Taiwan has exceeded that of Japan and South Korea, creating a risk of social instability, a consultancy report showed. The report, conducted by a political and economic risk assessment company, compared the Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality of income and wealth, in 13 countries and regions. A lower index means a more equal distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor.

China News Services (CNS) reported Tuesday that Japan achieved the highest wealth distribution equality with an index of 24.9 percent, followed by 31.6 percent for South Korea. The index for Taiwan is 33.9 percent. The uneven distribution of wealth are serious on the Chinese mainland, in Hong Kong and the Philippines, the consultancy report said. Chiu Hei-yuan, a sociology researcher in Taiwan, said the poverty gap in Taiwan will continue to worsen over the next two to three years if a policy is not implemented to address economic problems, such as those caused by the economic cooperation between Taiwan and the mainland, CNS reported. Chiu said Taiwan authorities should carefully examine the impact on various industries when signing cooperation agreements with the mainland. He added that unemployment and social unrest may result if the problem is not addressed. Hsieh Wen-jen, an economics professor, said the widening poverty gap in Taiwan is inevitable. ^ top ^



China's toughest task: balancing real estate (Global Times)
Property prices in China are taking our breath away. Will the latest government regulatory actions cool down the overheated market?

After the release of a series of new guidelines from the central government aimed at curbing speculative purchasing of housing and the illegal hoarding of unsold apartments, the market seems to be showing some hesitation. The Shanghai Stock Exchange responded with a significant drop, closing yesterday at its lowest point in a month. In China, nothing is so important to everyone as an apartment. For young couples, an apartment is a home in which to start a new family of their own. For seniors, owning property can be a guarantee of financial security. For both individuals and corporations, real estate can serve as investments. And to the Chinese economy more broadly, the housing market is often seen as a bellwether of the nation's economic health. All of this leaves the government with the nearly impossible task of balancing the disparate interests of these various stakeholders.

A dramatic drop in housing prices, which seems unlikely, might sound attractive, but apartments would still be priced beyond the reach of many people. Plus, a serious price drop could trigger loan defaults that would endanger the entire banking system. Considering the share of the overall economy the property market constitutes - not to mention the many jobs the sector provides - it is clear China's government has little choice but to protect against steep fluctuations in the price of housing.

Low income among ordinary citizens and limited investment opportunities for the wealthy have created China's biggest policy dilemma. The government has a fine line to walk in both ensuring fairer wealth distribution and maintaining the stable growth of the Chinese economy.

But housing is different from other commodities. Ordinary Chinese are entitled to a place to live. The government has the responsibility of helping lower-income people achieve their dream of having a place to call their own.

European countries, through a process of trial and error, have found a solution in supplying more affordable housing, and offering policy support to renters. The US and Japan, on the other hand, serve to remind China of the disastrous economic consequences that can unfold when a property bubble bursts. Regulating the property market is a long-term task for the Chinese government. Urbanization is still moving forward on a huge scale, and the country's income gap is widening. Even if the latest round of regulations succeeds in temporarily stabilizing property prices, it is really just the start of another tug-of-war between various stakeholders. The rapid growth of property prices has increased the sense among ordinary people that they are getting an unfair deal. Much is riding on the property market, for both individuals and the entire country. Given how much is at stake, it is no exaggeration to say that achieving balance in China's real estate market is the government's most difficult task. ^ top ^

Conditions 'mature' to integrate East Asia further (Global Times)
Conditions to speed up economic and trade cooperation in East Asia have matured, after five years of research and practice, to varying degrees on a so-called 10+3 free trade area, a senior official from China's Ministry of Commerce said Wednesday. "It is time to speed up economic and trade cooperation in East Asia," said Yi Xiaozhun, vice minister of commerce, at the third 10+3 Media Cooperation Forum in Tianjin Wednesday, adding that he would attend a joint meeting next month to discuss a China-Japan-South Korea free trade agreement.

The China-ASEAN Free Trade Area, the most populous one in the world, was established at the beginning of this year. The ASEAN also established free trade areas with Japan in late 2008 and with South Korea in mid-2009. According to surveys by Tokyo-based Nikkei and Seoul-based Money Today, more than 70 percent of companies from Japan and South Korean consider it necessary to sign an integrated East Asia Free Trade Agreement as soon as possible. "China is the biggest trading partner, the top destination for investment and personal-exchange for South Korea," Lim Sung-nam, minister of the South Korean embassy in China, told the Global Times. Yi believes that China's rapid development not only benefits the Chinese people, but also provides more opportunities for other Asian countries. East Asia contributes to China about 40 percent of its imports and exports, as well as more than half of its foreign investment. In 2009, China's foreign direct investment still reached $43.3 billion, while investment in Asia accounted for 58.7 percent of it. At the same time, regional development and cooperation also provide China with a positive economic environment.

Minister Shigeo Yamada, of the Japanese embassy in China, points out that, based on the 2008 statistics, ASEAN+3 now accounts for about 19 percent of the world's total GDP, and the development of the region in recent years is indispensable for all the countries to further cooperate with each other. Yi said the cooperation between the 10 ASEAN countries and China, Japan and South Korea has enabled the countries to cope successfully with the impact of the financial crisis. The trade volume in East Asian economies accounted for 40 percent of the world in 2009, and their foreign exchange reserves accounted for more than 60 percent of the world's total. The economic scale in this region will reach nearly $12.9 trillion in 2010, exceeding the level of the eurozone ($12.7 trillion). It is expected to grow to $17.34 trillion in 2014 and keep pace with the world's largest economy, Yi added. ^ top ^

Trade recovery threatened: ICC (Global Times)
China's trade slump was less marked last year than elsewhere in the world due to the government's fiscal stimulus policy, but increasing trade protectionism and new regulations on trade finance will hinder the strong trade recovery, according to a report released by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Wednesday. "The global demand is rebounding very slowly and still very soft, and trade volumes may be further impacted in the coming months," said Victor K. Fung, chairman of the ICC, at a press conference held in Beijing. The global trade volume contracted by 12 percent last year, the worst slump since World War II, according to figures from the World Trade Organization. "However, the trade slump was less marked in Asian countries, in part because of fiscal stimulus in China," he said. "Most Chinese trade partners benefited from a fiscal stimulus and the rebound in Chinese imports." China's top 200 importers by size in 2009 were mainly State-owned enterprises in the resources sector, such as CNPC and Baosteel, and foreign firms in the machinery and electronics sector, according to a report issued Tuesday in China Customs magazine, run by the General Administration of Customs.

The goal of China's foreign trade policy this year is to improve its trade balance while maintaining steady export growth, Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) spokesman Yao Jian said Thursday. China will see a huge trade volume by 2030, and the total trade value of China's goods and services will reach $5.3 trillion by 2020, twice the 2009 figures, according to a report released by the MOFCOM Sunday. Fung warned increasing trade protectionism and new regulations on trade finance might hinder the recovery of global trade flow.

The global financial crisis continues to affect financial institutions and markets worldwide, and problems are still expected to hamper the availability of trade finance, such as the increasing cost of traditional trade finance products, the ICC report said. Fung said the organization had voiced concerns about the ramifications of the Basel II international capital adequacy regime, which would impose unrealistically high capital re-quirements on trade finance transactions. "Only when trade finance is available can trade flow around the world," he said. "Small- and medium-sized enterprises have been mostly affected by the global financial crisis, and providing them with trade finance support will help them recover steadily," Zhang Yanling, vice president of the Bank of China, said at the ICC press conference. ^ top ^

Government to punish property price manipulation (China Daily)
[…] The State Council, or the Cabinet, has said stricter measures to control speculation are needed after property prices in 70 cities jumped a record 11.7 percent in March. […] "Tax policies may follow if those measure fail to produce evident effects" said Li Shaoming, a Beijing-based analyst at China Jianyin Investment Securities Co. Developers who fail to start selling within the required time, price homes at "abnormally high" levels, or "artificially" create supply shortages by faking sale contracts, will be "severely" punished, according to the statement. The government has repeatedly said developers can't hoard land or intentionally delay sales to speculate on further price gains. Agents are banned from practices including spreading false information and hyping sales by hiring people to pretend to be buyers, the statement said. Such practices "pushed the waves" in the rapid property price gains, Li said. Developers tend to control the pace of supply and reserve some apartments, possibly in better locations, to sell at higher prices later, she added. Local regulators must grant pre-sale approval to one entire building rather than some units or floors, according to Tuesday's statement. Buyers' names can't be changed after the subscriptions, the statement said.

On April 17, the State Council required banks to stop loans to third-home purchases and suspend lending to buyers who can't provide tax returns or proof of social security contributions in the related city for at least one year. Local governments can limit the number of units that can be bought, while senior officials will be held responsible for failing to stabilize property prices, the statement said. On Apr 15, the government raised mortgage rates and downpayment ratios for second home purchases after a record jump in house prices in March. Buyers purchasing their second houses must pay at least a 50-percent deposit, up from 40 percent, and interest rates should be at least 1.1 times the benchmark rates, the State Council said.

After a series of strict measures on curbing soaring housing prices, experts and homebuyers are optimistic about the future of the property market. Yan Jinming, a professor of land management at Renmin University of China, said it is the first time that the central government is taking comprehensive measures to balance land supply and demand, which will effectively cool the overheating real estate market. […] Many potential house buyers are taking a wait-and-see attitude. ^ top ^

China denies yuan accord with US (Global Times)
The Ministry of Commerce Sunday denied the existence of any agreement with the United States over China's foreign exchange policy, following a report alleging that a vice minister had implied at a major trade fair that China would not appreciate its currency. "The ministry has never made such comments on the yuan exchange rate on any occasion," Chen Rongkai, deputy press officer with the commerce ministry, told the Global Times Sunday, accusing the Guangzhou-based Information Times of irresponsible journalism for carrying such a report. "After consultations, China and the US reached an initial agreement, in which China said it would stick to a stable foreign economic and trade policy and maintain a relatively stable foreign exchange rate," the newspaper reported Friday, quoting Vice Commerce Minister Zhong Shan as saying. Despite recent escalated calls for a stronger yuan, China said it remains on course to gradually put in place a managed floating exchange rate system and won't yield to foreign pressure to appreciate the yuan. President Hu Jintao told his US counterpart in a summit last week that China would firmly stick to the path of reforming its currency exchange rate mechanism based on its own economic and social development needs.

China reported April 11 that it posted a trade deficit of $7.24 billion in March, the first deficit in six years. Zhong's alleged remarks at the country's largest trade fair in Guangzhou seemed to have comforted some export-oriented enterprises attending the event, which said that, according to widely circulated news within the manufacturing industry, the Chinese currency may appreciate within two months. "We're hopeful of signing contracts worth more than $100,000 each day here at the fair. We'd be more confident with our business if the authorities keep the current yuan exchange rate for a while," Li Wei, deputy manager of a company, told the Global Times. […]

He Weiwen, managing director of the China Society for WTO Studies, said the need to revalue the yuan was being greatly exaggerated, and he does not believe that the currency is undervalued. "Appreciation of the Chinese currency will lead to a decline in export industries, and more people related to the export industry will become unemployed." China overtook Germany in 2009 as the world's biggest exporter, with exports amounting to $1.2 trillion the same year, WTO statistics showed. "If the yuan appreciated by 3-4 percent, the profits of many labor-intensive industries, especially shoes, textiles and clothing, would be wiped out," He said. To encounter possible economic losses, manufacturers, especially those engaged in labor-intensive sectors, He suggested, "should turn to high-value-added industries." "Besides, the government would have to raise the export tax rebate rate to offset possible economic losses incurred by the appreciation of the yuan," He said. It is vital for enterprises themselves to innovate and develop high and new technology to adjust industrial structure, no matter whether or not the yuan will be appreciated, Tian Yun, a senior researcher at the Academy of China Macroeconomics, told the Global Times. China is going to lose its advantage in the export of low-priced goods, as India, Malaysia and other Asian countries are catching up in this sector, Tian said. "Enterprises should rely on technology reform to face the challenge, not simply depend on the government to bear the pressure on the yuan," Tian said. ^ top ^

China catching up with Europe on solar farms (SCMP)
According to a Merrill Lynch report, China, India, Japan and South Korea are together projected to have 6,300 megawatts (MW) of solar panel installations by 2012, up almost tenfold from 650 MW last year. China alone is forecast to show 20-fold growth in installations to 4,000 MW, while the US and Canada are projected to see their combined solar panel installations surge eightfold to 4,400 MW from 550 MW. By contrast, installations in the main European markets of Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Belgium and the Czech Republic are forecast to rise only 27.4 per cent to 5,350 MW from 4,200 MW. Europe, led by Germany, has been the world's most progressive region in launching incentives to drive clean energy consumption, but other regions are catching up fast. In the US, the Department of Energy has set a goal for the nation to generate 10-15 per cent of its energy from solar sources by 2030. […]

China and India, both with ambitious solar farm expansion plans, are in advanced stages of formulating nationwide feed-in tariffs to drive consumption of the clean energy. Jiangsu province, China's biggest producer of solar panel parts and raw materials, became the first region to launch feed-in tariffs in the middle of last year to create a domestic market for its products amid a global demand slump for solar panels due to a dearth of credit. With solar panel sales taking off in North America and the Asia-Pacific, panel-makers are rapidly globalising their distribution efforts, which require a lot of investment in forging relationships with distributors and strategic partners. Jiangsu-based Suntech Power Holdings, the world's largest crystalline silicon solar panel maker, has set up a manufacturing plant in Arizona in the US to enhance its credibility as a supplier. […] The allure of the US market's potential is so big that GCL-Poly Energy Holdings, China's largest producer of upstream raw material polysilicon, is seeking to expand into solar farm development overseas, with the US being a key target. […]. ^ top ^


H1N1 flu

WHO feels the heat over pandemic that didn't happen (SCMP)
Last April's discovery of a previously unknown flu virus in Mexico and the United States sparked fears of a deadly pandemic and set off a chain of unprecedented action by health authorities. But one year on, questions linger as to whether a decision by the World Health Organisation to declare swine flu a pandemic, thereby unleashing the slew of health measures, was over-dramatic or even tainted by commercial interests.

"It's a decision which costs huge amounts of money, which frightened people throughout the world unnecessarily," said Paul Flynn, a British parliamentarian who led a Council of Europe inquiry on the issue. The WHO's decision resulted "in the changing of priorities in health services which were concentrating on swine flu instead of concentrating on matters which were far more important to save lives", he said. Flynn noted that huge sums were spent on vaccines, which went largely wasted as sceptical populations refused to get vaccinated. In France, the purchase of 94 million vaccines cost the state around €600 million (HK$6.24 billion) but less than 10 per cent of the population took the vaccine. "It's a waste," said French senator Marie-Christine Blandin, who compiled a report on the management of swine flu. But medical experts, for the most part, disagree; the doctors say the world dodged a bullet and the fact that a worst-case scenario did not eventuate is no excuse for complacency.

While governments rushed to cancel massive vaccine orders as vaccination campaigns fell flat, critics turned to the big winners in the flu episode - pharmaceutical firms. "Everything that mixes money and health is a problem of credibility for the decisions which are taken," said Didier Tabuteau, a professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris.

However, scientists jumped to the defence of the WHO. "A lot of the criticism is political. I've not heard criticism from any virologist," said John Oxford, a virologist and professor at Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry in Britain. After all, the swine flu virus was a new one and it spread rapidly after its discovery late in April last year. Based on guidelines drawn up on pandemics, the WHO's committee of experts in June therefore recommended that a pandemic be declared.

Swine flu still has devastating potential and the world must maintain its guard, experts say.

This month, as the WHO launched a probe into the handling of the flu, the UN agency's flu chief, Keiji Fukuda, acknowledged with hindsight that a better response would have involved "less confusion".

Critics believe that the swine flu episode may have done more harm to the WHO than good. "The great danger is that the world will say you cried wolf, you frightened us about things that didn't happen and that the authority of the WHO could be undermined," Flynn said. The WHO review panel's final report on the handling of the pandemic is due to be ready by autumn. ^ top ^


DPRK and South Korea

S.Korean military says North's sub sank ship (Global Times)
South Korea's military claims that a North Korean submarine launched a torpedo attack that sank a South Korean warship last month near their disputed sea border, the Yonhap News Agency said Thursday. The assessment was reported immediately to the office of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and the defense ministry after the sinking of the Cheonan, an unnamed senior military source told Yonhap. "It's our military intelligence's assessment that a North Korean submarine attacked the ship with a heavy torpedo," the source said, adding that the torpedo might have had 200-kilogram warheads. Seoul has so far refrained from directly relating Pyongyang to the sinking and said an "external explosion" was the most likely cause. Pyongyang has denied responsibility.

Shi Yuanhua, director of the South Korean Study Center of Fudan University, told the Global Times that the military assessment does not represent Seoul's official stance. "The Yonhap report did not provide any evidence on the alleged torpedo attack, so we can't judge Seoul's stance based on it," Shi said. "Investigation of the sinking is still going on with help from the US military. No matter what conclusion is drawn in the end, I hope it will not affect the resumption of the Six-Party Talks," he added. […]. ^ top ^

N.Korea claims it will produce 'necessary' nukes (Global Times)
North Korea said Wednesday that it wouldn't produce nuclear weapons in excess or engage in an arms race, adding that it was ready to join an international non-proliferation campaign as a nuclear-armed state. "It (Pyongyang) will manufacture nukes as much as it deems necessary but will neither participate in a nuclear arms race nor produce them more than it feels necessary," the North Korean foreign ministry said in a memorandum published by state media. North Korea will join international nuclear disarmament efforts "with an equal stand with other nuclear weapon states," it added. The memorandum comes nearly two weeks after the North vowed to strengthen its own atomic arsenal, complaining that a new US policy was eroding the hard-won atmosphere for the resumption of the stalled Six-Party Talks.

Lü Chao, director of the North Korea, South Korea Study Center at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that Pyongyang's statement has a negative impact on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. "The Six-Party Talks are aimed at denuclearization of the peninsula, but Pyongyang's statement is completely the opposite," Lü said. "Its claims of necessary production of nuclear weapons also thwart international demand for nuclear disarmament, which was stressed in the Washington nuclear summit." Pyongyang has repeatedly asked for a US commitment to hold talks about a formal peace treaty from the Korean War (1950-53) and the lifting of UN sanctions, which are deemed conditions for its return to the Six-Party Talks. ^ top ^

DPRK, Iran sign agreement on cultural, scientific exchange (Global Times)
A 2010-2012 plan for cultural and scientific exchange between the governments of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran was signed here on Thursday, the official news agency KCNA reported. According to the KCNA, the plan was inked by Jon Yong Jin, vice-chairman of the Korean Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, and Mohammad Ali Fathollahi, vice-minister of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. No specific content of the agreement was disclosed. The delegation of the Iranian Foreign Ministry arrived in Pyongyang on April 21. ^ top ^

N Korean spies sent to kill top defector (SCMP)
South Korean authorities have arrested two North Korean spies who allegedly posed as defectors in a plot to assassinate the highest ranking of their countrymen ever to defect to Seoul, officials said yesterday. Hwang Jang-yop, a former secretary of the North's ruling Workers Party - who once mentored leader Kim Jong-il - defected in 1997 during a trip to Beijing. Now aged 87, he has written books and delivered lectures condemning Kim's regime as totalitarian and lives in South Korea under police protection 24 hours a day to prevent North Korean attempts on his life.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office said it yesterday arrested two North Korean army majors. The two, both 36, confessed to investigators that their military boss ordered them to report about Hwang's activities in South Korea and be ready to "slit the betrayer's throat", said a senior district prosecutor on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorised to speak to the media. The alleged would be killers, Kim Myong-ho and Dong Myong-kwan, entered South Korea in January and February via Thailand, a regular route for North Korean defectors and refugees. Their plot was revealed when they underwent interrogation on their motive for defecting, the prosecutor said. The duo allegedly violated the National Security Law, which carries a maximum sentence of death. A spokesman at the National Intelligence Service confirmed the arrest of the men but provided no additional details.

Several death threats against Hwang - apparently made by South Koreans sympathising with North Korea - have been reported. But it is the first time North Korean agents have been arrested for an assassination plot against Hwang. Hwang - architect of the North Korean regime's ideology of juche, or self-reliance - reacted nonchalantly to the assassination plot, saying it was unworthy of his attention, a friend told Yonhap news agency. […] Hwang, speaking to journalists and academics in Washington last month, said he decided to flee the North after Kim's policies led to mass starvation in the mid-1990s. He said he has no regrets about his decision. […] Hwang said that change in the North can come only through diplomacy and economic means, not military force.

[…] The sinking of a South Korean warship near the border with the North was a wake-up call to the realities of living next door to the world's most belligerent state, the South's president said yesterday. Almost 50 sailors died when the warship went down last month and suspicions are hanging over North Korea, although Seoul has not directly accused Pyongyang, and the North denies any involvement. President Lee Myung-bak said South Korea should turn the sinking into "a chance to realise that North Korea, the world's most belligerent force, is very near. Our people are oblivious to the fact that there are North Korean troops armed with long-range artillery just 40 miles away." […]. ^ top ^


Corentin Buela
Embassy of Switzerland

The Press review is a random selection of political and social related news gathered from various media and news services located in the PRC, edited or translated by the Embassy of Switzerland in Beijing and distributed among Swiss Government Offices. The Embassy does not accept responsibility for accuracy of quotes or truthfulness of content. Additionally the contents of the selected news mustn't correspond to the opinion of the Embassy.
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