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
  19-25.1.2013, No. 459  
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DPRK and South Korea

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FTA deals with Switzerland, Iceland on horizon (China Daily)
Free trade talks with Switzerland and Iceland make good progress. Iceland and Switzerland are racing to become the first European countries to ink free trade agreements with China, in an effort to boost trade with the world's second-largest economy amid lingering global economic woes. President of Iceland Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and President of the Swiss Confederation Ueli Maurer told China Daily that both countries have achieved "smooth and decisive progress" with China in the FTA talks, as the European Union has not put such negotiations on its agenda despite Beijing's proposal for a feasibility study. Jacques de Watteville, Switzerland's ambassador to China, said good progress has been made in FTA talks, and the country could become the first in Europe to have a free trade agreement with China. Grimsson said China and Iceland are making efforts to finalize and sign the FTA within "one or two months" during Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir's visit to Beijing in February or March, which he said is yet to be arranged. "I hope we can finalize it then. It is high time to conclude it," Grimsson told China Daily at the World Economic Forum annual conference on Wednesday, adding that both sides kicked off talks in 2005 when he made a state visit to Beijing. Grimsson said if the prime minister's visit can be arranged, it is very likely that Iceland will be the first European country to sign an FTA with China. "I was told the negotiations are at the final stage now," Grimsson said. An official from the Ministry of Commerce who is close to the matter said on Thursday that China and Iceland have reached consensus on the framework of the bilateral trade pact and a majority of related issues, which paves the way for conclusion of the China-Iceland FTA. But, the two sides still differ on a few minor issues that are not related to the bilateral FTA itself, he said. "It's possible that the two countries will sign the deal in a month or two, if the north European nation adopts a more sober attitude and doesn't make demanding requests," he said. [...]. ^ top ^


Foreign Policy

PLA to step up war preparedness (SCMP)
The People's Liberation Army must rid itself of deep-seated habits, cultivated within the military by decades of peace, in order to prepare for war at a moment's notice, the mouthpiece of the armed forces reported yesterday. The PLA Daily ran an article yesterday highlighting problems found during a military review on Wednesday of three recent drills in Inner Mongolia involving an unnamed artillery brigade with the 38th Army Corps, which is affiliated with the Beijing Military Command. One of the problems was that the unit allocated food based on the length of the drill and number of participants, without bringing extra provisions in case of bad weather. Troops also used all the ammunition after a drill without reserving any for a possible ambush on their way back to camp. "After a long period of peace … some troops have little awareness of war, and their exercises are no longer realistic. They have become a show," the PLA Daily warned. This came as Xinhua reported yesterday that General Xu Qiliang, vice-chairman of the PLA's top decision-making body, the Central Military Commission, pledged to forge a number of elite troops to safeguard the country's sovereignty and safety when needed. [...] On Friday, the People's Daily carried a front-page commentary saying the best way to ensure peace was to be ready to win a war, so other countries would know that they would not gain anything by waging a war against China. Veteran PLA observer Antony Wong Dong said that the army's recent tone in preparing for a war had hit its highest point since the end of the Taiwan Strait crisis in the late 1990s. "It is not bad, though it is rare, to highlight concrete bad habits as examples within the army … in addition to putting pressure on the rank and file to prepare for the dangers of war at any time," Wong said, adding that the country had been used to a relatively peaceful environment since the end of the Vietnam war. In a separate report yesterday, the PLA Daily also said the army was planning on changing the training strategy of its army aviation unit from logistics missions to combat ones. ^ top ^

Clinton heats up Diaoyu row (Global Times)
China Sunday expressed strong dissatisfaction and opposed US comments regarding the disputes between Beijing and Tokyo over the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a veiled warning to Beijing not to challenge Tokyo's control of the disputed islets. Observers said the latest US comment was "one of the most aggressive" positions on the disputes, and was dangerous enough to embolden Japanese right-wing politicians to make more radical moves on the disputes. Qin Gang, China's foreign ministry spokesperson, Sunday called Clinton's comments "ignorant of the facts" and "indiscriminate in terms of right and wrong," and said the US bears undeniable historical responsibility for the issue of the Diaoyu Islands, referring to the fact that despite opposition from China, the US put the islands under Japanese control after World War II. "We urge the US side to adopt a responsible attitude in regard to the issue of the Diaoyu Islands. It should be careful with its words and acts, and maintain regional peace, stability and the general situation of China-US relations with practical actions and build credit with the Chinese people," Qin said. [...] "Although the US does not take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands, we acknowledge they are under the administration of Japan," Clinton said. "We oppose any unilateral actions that would seek to undermine Japanese administration, and we urge all parties to take steps to prevent incidents and manage disagreements through peaceful means," said the outgoing secretary of state, who also invited new Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Washington next month. Japan's Kyodo News commented that it was the first time Clinton had clearly stated Washington's opposition to altering the status quo regarding the isles. Qu Xing, director of the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times Sunday that the US' explicit support for Japan showed a big change in Washington's public tone over the issue, and that Washington's stance on the Diaoyu row is "never neutral." [...] "It complicates the current situation between China and Japan and will very likely deepen the conflict as the statement clearly encourages Japanese right-wing politicians to make more radical moves since the statement assured them of US protection should a military clash break out," Qu said. [...] Despite rising tensions between the two neighbors, the channel for dialogues is still open. A handwritten letter from Abe is expected to be sent to Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central committee, this week by Natsuo Yamaguchi, the head of the New Komeito Party and Abe's close ally, to initiate a high-level talk over the territorial dispute, the Nikkei newspaper reported. ^ top ^

China-Myanmar oil pipe to open in May (SCMP)
Oil from the Middle East and natural gas could be flowing through pipelines from Myanmar to China by the end of May "if everything goes as planned", China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) said yesterday, after Deputy Foreign Minister Fu Ying's trip to Myanmar on Saturday. The main parts of the pipelines in Myanmar were finished and those in Yunnan would be completed this month, the head of the CNPC project, Gao Jianguo, told Xinhua. The 1,100-kilometre pipelines, from the port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar to Ruili city in Yunnan, could transport 22 million tonnes of oil and 12 billion cubic metres of natural gas a year. Oil will be shipped from the Middle East through the Indian Ocean before reaching Myanmar and China, instead of passing through the Strait of Malacca. The gas will come from Myanmar's Shwe gas fields, in the Bay of Bengal. However, analysts interpreted CNPC's statement - "if everything goes as planned" - as an indication that the US$2.5 billion project still faced uncertainties. [...]. ^ top ^

FM spokesman: Myanmar-China border area stable (Xinhua)
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that the border area between China and Myanmar is stable following the Myanmar government's announcement that it would cease fighting with the ethnic Kachin Independence Army in northern Myanmar. "According to information from Yunnan province (in southwest China), the situation on the Chinese side of the border with Myanmar is currently stable," spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily press briefing. The provincial government has taken measures to protect Chinese and their property in the border area, the spokesman said. "The Chinese side is paying great attention to the situation in north Myanmar," Hong said, urging all concerned parties to fully cease fire as soon as possible in order to maintain peace and tranquility along the China-Myanmar border. "China is in close contact with all concerned parties and is playing a constructive role," he added. During the briefing, Hong called on the parties to start negotiating in order to end the violence in the region. "We believe that talks are the only correct solution to the north Myanmar conflict and expect all related parties to seek a ceasefire and start negotiations," Hong said. Hong's comments also came after the Chinese government's special envoy Fu Ying traveled to Yangon and met with Myanmar President U Thein Sein on Saturday. As neighbors, China and Myanmar share a 2,200-km border and citizens of both nations living on the border are closely linked, Hong said. "Turmoil in one country will definitely affect the other country along the border," Hong said. "The Chinese government is closely watching the development of the situation along the China-Myanmar border.". ^ top ^

China says new UN resolution on DPRK "generally balanced" (Xinhua)
A senior Chinese diplomat said here on Tuesday that the latest UN resolution on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) is "an outcome of many rounds of consultations by all parties concerned" and is " generally balanced." [...] "The resolution is an outcome of many rounds of consultations by all parties concerned, which not only shows the stance of the international community on the DPRK's satellite launch, but also delivers some positive information, including calling for a peaceful solution to the (Korean) Peninsula issue through dialogue and negotiation as well as the resumption of the six-party talks," Li said. According to the Chinese envoy, the latest resolution, which requires the DPRK to comply with all relevant resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council and not to use ballistic missile technology for any launch, is "generally balanced." Li pointed out that China holds a "clear and consistent" stance on the issue of the DPRK's satellite launch, adding that the Security Council's response should be "prudent and moderate," be conducive to peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula, and help avoid the progressive escalation of tensions. "Based on this principle, China has participated in a very constructive manner in the UNSC consultations and just voted in favor of the latest resolution," he noted. Li said that in the original draft of the Tuesday resolution, there were some elements and measures that in China's view would jeopardize the normal trade between the DPRK and other countries, and would harm the livelihood of the people in the DPRK. "In the resolution just adopted, these elements and measures are no longer there," he stressed. Li also said that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is at a crossroads, and that "there are opportunities and there are challenges." "We hope all parties concerned will seek the opportunities to address their concerns in a balanced manner through dialogue and negotiation and the resumption of the six-party talks," said Li. In response to questions from journalists, the Chinese diplomat said that the most pressing task of the moment for the international community is to help avoid the progressive escalation of tensions. "Sanctions and resolutions alone do not work," he said. "Resolutions must be completed and supplemented by diplomatic efforts." [...]. ^ top ^

China urges Philippines to avoid complicating disputes (Xinhua)
China urged the Philippines to avoid taking any action that could complicate the South China Sea issue, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Wednesday. The comments come after the Philippines decided to take its disputes with China to a UN tribunal. At a daily press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that relevant disputes should be solved through negotiations between sovereign states directly involved. It is a consensus between China and members of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), stated in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, or the DOC in short, Hong said. He stressed that all countries signing the declaration should adhere to their commitments. China has always been committed to addressing disputes with the Philippines through bilateral consultations and negotiations so as to safeguard bilateral relations and regional peace and stability, Hong said, noting that it showed China's utmost goodwill and sincerity. The spokesman stressed that China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and its adjacent waters and that it has consistently opposed the Philippine illegal occupation of some islets and reefs of the Nansha Islands. Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Tuesday that the Philippines government has taken the South China Sea disputes to an Arbitral Tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). ^ top ^

Xi, ROK envoy vow to enhance ties (China Daily)
Ties between China and the Republic of Korea are expected to get warmer under their new leaderships, as the two countries agreed to deepen relations during a meeting between China's top political leader and the special envoy of the ROK's future leader on Wednesday. Party chief Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of maintaining the two countries' strategic and cooperative partnership, as he met with Kim Moo-sung, the special envoy sent by ROK president-elect Park Geun-hye. Park sent her first envoy delegation to China, a deviation from the tradition of her predecessors, who had sent their first round of envoy delegations to the United States, China, Japan and Russia at the same time. The US is usually the first country to meet such an envoy. Observers said that Park's change shows her attempt to balance the ROK's ties with China and the US, and the balance will help ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Park said in a letter, which she asked Kim to give to Xi, that she attaches great importance to China-ROK ties and hopes to deepen trust, promote cooperation and further develop the strategic and cooperative partnership with China. Xi said that China also highly values Beijing-Seoul ties and appreciates Park's willingness to deepen the nations' strategic and cooperative partnership. Xi told Kim that China-ROK ties were at a historical starting point with new, important opportunities. China hopes to embrace these opportunities together with the ROK, maintaining high-level exchanges and cooperation in fields including politics, economics and people-to-people communication. [...] Wang Junsheng, a researcher in Northeast Asia studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Park's decision to send an envoy to China first shows her attempt to find a balance between Seoul's ties with Beijing and with Washington. Improving ties with China can reduce the ROK's dependence on Washington, Wang said, adding that it will also help reduce the tension on the Korean Peninsula, because China can play a positive role, mediating between the ROK and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "The special envoy emphasized the importance that Park's government attaches to ties with China and guaranteed that the US-ROK alliance will not be directed against China or harm China's interests," said Zhu Feng, a professor on international affairs at Peking University who held talks with members of Park's envoy delegation on Tuesday. [...]. ^ top ^

State media doubts Japan's sincerity to ease tension over Diaoyu Islands (SCMP)
Beijing has adopted a cautious approach towards a trip by an envoy of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with state media expressing doubts about Tokyo's sincerity in seeking to ease bilateral tensions triggered by a territorial dispute. The comment came after Abe said Japan had the right to decide whether to fly military planes over the disputed Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkakus in Japan, contradicting a proposal by his envoy, Natsuo Yamaguchi, who arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for a four-day visit. Yamaguchi, head of New Komeito, a member of Japan's coalition government, said before leaving for China that he would propose that military planes from both countries should not get close to the disputed islands and that the territorial dispute be shelved, in addition to handing a letter from Abe to Communist Party chief Xi Jinping. [...] A commentary in the overseas edition of the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily yesterday said it was important for Abe to show sincerity. It said Abe's predecessor, Yoshihiko Noda, had written a letter to President Hu Jintao in August, before deciding to buy the islands. "The crux of the issue is distrust, and the credibility of Japan in handling international relations," it said. "In the minds of Chinese people, Japan has a serious deficit in this regard. The letter can be the start of ice-breaking in bilateral ties, but it can also be nothing." [...] A Xinhua report said Yamaguchi's itinerary was still uncertain and it depended on how influential he was in Tokyo's foreign policymaking. Professor Da Zhigang, from the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing was worried that Abe might not change his tactics towards China after Yamaguchi's trip, and might act tougher when in the United States next month. "The letter is just to test the waters and calm down tensions before Abe goes to the US," he said. ^ top ^

China urges calm after DPRK nuclear test announcement (Xinhua)
A Foreign Ministry spokesman called for calm and restraint from all concerned parties on Thursday after the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) vowed to conduct "a higher-level nuclear test." "It is in the common interests of all parties concerned to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and achieve the denuclearization of the peninsula," spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular news briefing. "(We) hope all concerned parties will keep calm and act in a cautious and prudent way, as well as refrain from taking any action that could lead to the progressive escalation of tensions," the spokesman said. [...] Hong said the six-party talks are still an effective mechanism to realize the denuclearization of the peninsula. The six-party talks, a negotiation mechanism that includes the DPRK, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the United States, China, Japan and Russia, were launched in 2003, but stalled in December 2008. The DPRK quit the talks in April 2009. Hong said all concerned parties should boost dialogues in order to address their concerns, as well as implement all of the goals set in the Sept. 19, 2005 joint statement. In the joint statement, the DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons. The ROK reaffirmed its commitment not to receive or deploy nuclear weapons in accordance with the 1992 Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, while also affirming that no nuclear weapons exist within its territory. "China is ready to make joint efforts with the international community to achieve these goals," Hong said. ^ top ^

China plans to build 36 marine law enforcement vessels in next five years (People's Daily)
Right safeguarding and law enforcement tasks in China are substantial because of the vast territorial waters under its jurisdiction. It is reported that an additional 11 decommissioned vessels of Chinese navy are modified or rebuilt into ocean surveillance ships to alleviate the shortage in the number of marine right safeguarding vessels. It is a routine practice in China as well as a common practice around the world to modify and rebuild decommissioned naval vessels before handing them over to maritime surveillance and fishery departments. These decommissioned naval vessels mainly include destroyers, icebreakers, and surveying vessels. The modification process mainly includes dismantling of the missiles, heavy caliber artillery, and other heavy weaponry. The naval vessels with relatively large tonnage and carrying platforms are equipped with as many helicopters as possible to perform maritime public affairs and law enforcement. The cabin is also modified to store more oil, water, and other supplies so that the law enforcement ships can sail in sea for longer time. China Marine Surveillance Corps is the marine administrative and law enforcement team subordinate to the State Oceanic Administration, mainly responsible for patrolling and surveillance on the territorial waters under China's jurisdiction to investigate and handle violations of maritime rights and interests, illegal exploitation of the territorial waters, damage to maritime environments and resources, destruction of offshore installations, disrupt of maritime order, and other illegal behaviors. With the increasingly intensified struggles in safeguarding maritime rights, China plans to build 36 maritime law enforcement vessels in the next five years in order to enhance its maritime rights safeguarding and law enforcement capacity. Reinforced by the new generation of maritime law enforcement vessels, the capacity of China's maritime law enforcement vessels will be significantly improved in terms of overall tonnage, voyage endurance, and functions. ^ top ^

Domestic Policy

China Gini coefficient at 0.474 in 2012 (Xinhua)
An index reflecting the gap between rich and poor reached 0.474 in China in 2012, higher than the warning level of 0.4 set by the United Nations. Known as the Gini coefficient, the index has been retreating gradually since hitting a peak of 0.491 in 2008, dropping to 0.49 in 2009, 0.481 in 2010 and 0.477 in 2011, Ma Jiantang, director of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), told a press conference. The index stood at 0.479 in 2003, 0.473 in 2004, 0.485 in 2005, 0.487 in 2006 and 0.484 in 2007, Ma said, citing NBS calculations. The Gini coefficient has stayed at a relatively high level of between 0.47 and 0.49 during the past decade, indicating that China must accelerate its income distribution reform to narrow the rich-poor gap, Ma said. [...] Ma said China needs to deal with relations between the market and efficiency, as well as development and distribution. China has vowed to double the country's 2010 gross domestic output (GDP) and per capita income for both urban and rural residents by 2020, according to a report released after last year's 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Ma said that only doubling the GDP and per capita income is not enough. "The country should do a better job at income distribution and strive to make the incomes of low- and middle-income residents grow faster.". ^ top ^

New pollution rules lack bite: experts (Global Times)
New regulations intended to kick in when pollution in Beijing reaches extreme levels will likely be as ineffective as the previous law, environmental experts told the Global Times Sunday. While the new draft law, issued by Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau, is broader in scope and calls for increased fines for those who violate it, it contains many of the same elements as the previous pollution prevention and control regulation issued in 2000, which was enforced lightly or not at all. "The regulations issued in 2000 are far out of date and needed to be updated. But there are not many changes in these revised ones," said Ma Jun, director with the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. He welcomed the main new clause, which states that factories of all sizes will be obliged to post information about their pollution emissions on their website or in other public places. "I am expecting to have third parties participating in the inspection of their data to earn public trust," said Ma. The full text of the draft law has been made available for public comment until January 18 on the website of the Beijing Legal Affairs Office. It stipulates that in times of hazardous pollution, sources, including factories, vehicles, power plants, garbage incinerators, construction sites and even street kebab stalls and restaurants will be subject to shutdowns and restrictions, or face fines. While the list of polluters is the same as in 2000, those who violate the ban will be subject to higher fines. People who light fires outdoors, including leaves, trash or barbecues, could be fined up to 5,000 yuan ($804). Transport restrictions could come into effect under conditions of "heavy pollution," however, the draft does not mention a specific pollution level or detail the actual restrictions. Construction sites could be fined from 10,000 to 100,000 yuan if they ignore the new rules, and the fine for factories will depend on the industry. An oil refinery or coal-burning plant could be fined up to 400,000 yuan. [...] Zhang Yuanxun, a professor of resources and environment at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that a lack of law enforcement will be a problem. "The old laws were not enforced, not to mention this new one," he said. Zhou Rong, climate and energy director of Greenpeace, said that since atmospheric pollution has many sources, as many people as possible should comment on it, because the implications of the regulation are wide-ranging. "Also, just restricting the local atmospheric pollution would have little contribution to its improvement if there are no changes in the pollution conditions in the surrounding areas [of Beijing]," she said. [...]. ^ top ^

Laojiao to be limited: adviser (China Daily)
The use of the controversial laojiao system will be tightly restricted, with lawmakers expected to approve its abolition this year, a top government legal adviser has confirmed. Chen Jiping, deputy director of the China Law Society, said the changes to laojiao, or re-education through labor, announced at the national political and legal work conference on Jan 7, are imminent. [...] Ending the system requires the approval of the top legislature which originally endorsed laojiao in 1957, when it was proposed by the State Council. Before it can be halted, police are urged to find alternative penalties for the people who would otherwise have received laojiao, Chen said. Chen's remarks suggest offenders are likely instead to get a court hearing, short-term detention or a fine, experts said. Re-education through labor made its contribution at a time when the Communist Party of China was consolidating the new republic and rectifying social order, but now China has well-established legal systems and has alternative means of punishment, such as community correction, so it will be fine to stop using laojiao at a proper time, he said. "Optional penalties, such as community correction, which allows minor offenders to receive correctional education at a local community, enables law enforcement officers to punish wrongdoers through other means," he said. [...]. ^ top ^

Chinese premier calls for financial reform push (Xinhua)
Premier Wen Jiabao on Monday called for the government to push forward financial reforms. During a Monday inspection tour of the People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, Wen said efforts should be made to advance the market-based reform of interest rates and improve the yuan exchange rate formation mechanism. To gradually make the yuan convertible under the capital account, the government should also work to expand the use of the yuan in cross-border trade and investment, Wen said. Cross-border capital flow is controlled in China, as its capital account is only partially convertible, which has acted as a technical barrier for the yuan to become a global reserve currency. The government has been taking steps to ease capital controls, introducing reforms such as more flexible interest rates and the adoption of a wider floating band for the yuan against the U.S. dollar. Wen also urged government efforts to encourage market-oriented financial innovations, boost the role of financial institutions of all kinds and step up the development of private financial institutions. To regulate underground private financing, the government in March 2012 set up a pilot financial reform zone in the eastern city of Wenzhou to encourage the participation of private capital in reforms of local financial institutions. [...]. ^ top ^

Health ministry to expand insurance to include 20 serious illnesses (SCMP)
The Ministry of Health has pledged to lower medical bills for rural patients suffering from any of 20 serious diseases and says they might pay as little as 10 per cent of the bill. But social insurance experts are sceptical about the sustainability of the scheme. The focus of medical insurance in rural areas this year will be shifted to 20 serious diseases, including lung cancer, gastric cancer, rectal cancer and haemophilia. Rural patients with any of those diseases will have at least 70 per cent of the inpatient bills - and in some cases 90 per cent - reimbursed, The Beijing News reported, citing an unidentified ministry official. More than 812 million rural residents, or 98 per cent of the mainland's rural population, have been insured under the New Rural Co-operative Medical Scheme. [...]. ^ top ^

Labor law gets new teeth (Global Times)
The Supreme People's Court released a judicial explanation Tuesday on the circumstances under which failure to recompense workers constitutes a crime. Experts said that although actual legal procedures are still a difficult last resort, the explanation would clear up previous legal confusions, protect labor rights and deter problematic employers. Based on the eighth amendment of the Criminal Law, introduced in 2011, the judicial explanation specified that employers who deliberately evade or refuse an individual worker three months of wages worth between 5,000 to 20,000 ($804 to $3,216) yuan, or at least 10 workers more than 30,000 to 100,000 yuan, will be ordered to pay by labor administrative agencies or judicial organs. Those who still fail to pay may be sentenced to up to three years in prison and be severely fined. The law also stated that if the misconduct causes "serious consequences," the sentence will be increased by up to seven years plus fines. Such consequences are defined as causing workers or their dependents to drop out of school or miss critical medical treatment, or if the failure to pay causes other life-disturbing situations. Migrant workers' wages are often paid in bulk before the Spring Festival holiday, which starts February 9 this year, and labor disputes are frequent in the run-up to the vacation. [...] According to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, labor security and monitoring agencies across the country handled 218,000 payment delay cases in 2012 and got 20 billion yuan of wages back for over 6.2 million workers. But these workers made up only a fraction of the whole, as many migrants have limited access to legal aid, and the official arbitrary procedures often go on and on. [...] The major measures to solve wage disputes if negotiations fail include filing complaints to labor security and monitoring agencies, applying for dispute arbitration, and ultimately bringing litigation. However, Zheng Jianhe, a Nanjing-based lawyer said that many workers simply don't know about these channels, and that only a few indictments have been made for this crime since 2011 because of the difficulty of collecting evidence and the lack of judicial efficiency. "But the explanation will warn those employers who think that they can put anything away with money and delays," said Zheng. [...]. ^ top ^

State media slams censors after Skyfall cuts (Xinhua)
Xinhua has published a rare admonishment of government censors for cutting and manipulating scenes in the latest James Bond movie, which hit mainland cinemas this week. The state media organ said the censorship, which almost every foreign film goes through before reaching Chinese cinemas, highlighted a problem with the nation's movie-review system - that is, that decisions about cuts and changes to films are often arbitrary. In some cases, Xinhua reported, an anonymous letter drove what content was cut. Skyfall began showing in mainland cinemas on Monday - nearly three months after the movie's premier in Britain. Foreign films' delayed mainland release is common due to the censorship process, and because preference is given to domestic productions. However, government censors rarely, if ever, admit that content is cut or altered. All foreign movies are subject to review by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, Xinhua said. Among the Skyfall scenes censors deleted was one in which a French hitman kills a Chinese security guard in a Shanghai skyscraper. A scene depicting prostitution in Macau was also cut, as was a line spoken by Bond's nemesis mentioning that Chinese security agents had tortured him. Furthermore, in a scene where Bond asks a mysterious woman whether she has been a prostitute since the age of 12 or 13, censors decided to keep the audio but alter the Chinese subtitles to indicate that Bond asked her whether she had become a triad member at that age. [...] Professor Shi Chuan, who teaches at Shanghai University's School of Film and TV Arts and Technology, was quoted by Xinhua as saying that while authorities have reason to remove depictions of nudity or extreme violence in movies, as they violate Chinese law, a film's content should otherwise be left alone. "Movie regulators should respect the producers' original ideas, rather than chopping scenes arbitrarily," he said. ^ top ^

Lawyers start website to track abuses, help colleagues (Global Times)
A group of 157 Chinese lawyers are acting independently of their national association to safeguard attorneys' right to practice law by opening a website that will publicize abuses and offer help to mainland lawyers who find themselves in trouble for defending their clients. Each of the founding lawyers has donated at least 2,000 yuan ($321.2) to support the design and operation of the website and cover the cost of providing legal assistance to members. The website will only provide services to mainland lawyers who claim they have been persecuted or punished by authorities and are in need for legal assistance, according to Yang Jinzhu, a lawyer and one of the founders of the website. The All China Lawyers Association (ACLA), established in 1986, is responsible for protecting lawyers' rights, but it is often criticized as "unreliable" when it comes to protecting lawyers who say they are harassed or even jailed for defending their clients. "Our website provides an arena for lawyers to help each other and can work to supplement the ACLA," Si Weijiang, another founder of the website, told the Global Times, adding that there are already several lawyers seeking the group's help. The website, which is still under construction, contains a disclaimer saying the group should not be seen as a social organization. Yet the group has selected a team of seven of the lawyers that will respond to requests for help from lawyers in trouble. "Due to the lack of independence in China's judicial system, lawyers often encounter pressure or even suppression from authorities," Si said, adding that lawyers require independence if they are to work effectively. ^ top ^

Sichuan to require all online maps be approved (Global Times)
Officials in Southwest China's Sichuan Province issued tighter rules regulating the publication of maps on Monday, according to the provincial government's website. The new rules, which come into effect on March 1, stipulate that fines ranging from 2,000 yuan ($322) to 30,000 yuan will be imposed on map providers who publish maps that have not been checked or reviewed by local authorities. "Internet map service providers" who provide map services that are not based in China can also be fined, said the announcement. It is not certain Sichuan could impose fines on Google Maps or the navigation service provided by Apple on its mobile devices as the companies are outside the province's jurisdiction. Provincial mapping authorities did not explain its use of the term "Internet map service providers." [...] In order to increase geographic awareness of the territory among students, local education authorities, together with mapping officials, will check every map that is published in textbooks, the Chengdu-based Chengdu Daily reported. The new rules echo an order from the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation (NASMG) in October, which said that many maps retrieved through the Internet exposed national secrets or missed important locations such as the Diaoyu Islands. It ordered every map, both online or paper alike, to be checked and reviewed by local mapping departments. [...]. ^ top ^

Jiang Zemin moved down party pecking order 'at own request' (SCMP)
Former Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin moved down the top leadership's pecking order at his own request, state media reported yesterday. Jiang asked the party's new Central Committee to put his name among those of other retired leaders, and behind incumbent party and state leaders, after the party's national congress in November, Xinhua reported. It praised Jiang's move as "reflecting the noble character and sterling integrity and open-mindedness of a Communist". At the funeral of General Yang Baibing on Monday, Jiang's name appeared after those of members of the party's Politburo Standing Committee and state leaders for the first time since his full retirement in 2004. Jiang had previously ranked second only to President Hu Jintao at official occasions following his retirement. Dai Qing, a veteran journalist and commentator in Beijing, said yesterday the hierarchy of the party's top echelon had long been meticulously calculated on a political basis which accurately reflected the real political clout of a politician. He said the new ranking showed Jiang had relinquished power - at least to a certain extent. "Instead of being Jiang's initiative, it must be an under-the-table deal made between Jiang and the party's new leaders," Dai said. Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political analyst, also said Jiang had most likely been forced to take a step back. "This may signify the beginning of putting an end to retired party elders' intervention in political affairs," Zhang said, adding that party veterans had played key roles in the country's politics over the past 10 years and had prevented political reform. "A leader should stay away from the line-up of elite leaders after his or her retirement," Zhang said. "Why did he keep a seat in the political ranking after stepping down? That's anything but normal.". ^ top ^

Communist Party watchdog to launch 5-year war on graft (SCMP)
The Communist Party's disciplinary watchdog will draft and launch a five-year anti-corruption plan this year and start spot checks on senior officials' declared personal assets and particulars in the latest effort to curb graft. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection also said in a communiqué after a two-day meeting that all party members should "firmly uphold the authority and seriousness of the party's constitution". The watchdog said it would make ensuring local governments implemented central authorities' policies and orders its top priority this year. [...] Ren Jianming, an anti-corruption scholar at Beihang University who was involved in forming the anti-corruption plan for 2013-2017, said it might be finished by June. The commission also said yesterday it would crack down on commercial bribery, as well as focusing on graft in sectors including finance, telecoms, education, medicine and land. The communiqué said government organs should accept both public and media supervision and curb spending on official functions, government buildings and official tours. It also said the disciplinary body would "earnestly implement" rules requiring officials to report "relevant issues related to individuals". [...] Critics say corruption is too deeply ingrained to be solved by things like spot checks. "It is far from enough. The spot checks have no standard and could be a political game," said Chen Ziming, an independent scholar who closely follows politics. "People want the party officials to disclose their assets, it's that simple." Ma Huaide, deputy director of the China University of Political Science and Law, said the notion of public disclosure of officials' assets had been around for years, but because so many party members were corrupt it was very difficult to make it happen. ^ top ^

Chinese officials rush to withdraw US dollars and sell property as anti-graft war looms (SCMP)
As the Communist Party's disciplinary dog drums up efforts to crack down on corruption, party officials across the country are rushing to withdraw foreign currencies and sell their properties, reported Henan Business Daily on Wednesday. Officials and their families have been withdrawing foreign currencies from banks all over the country. A total of 1.792 billion yuan (HK$2.23 billion) were taken out of banks in Guangdong province alone, said the report. Banks in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Jiangsu, Shandong, Zhejiang, Guangdong and Fujian have also reported withdrawls made by officials and their relatives. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said they had also noticed a sharp rise in the volume of property transactions - mostly made by owners who are government employees and senior officials of state-owned enterprises - since November, according to the report. The properties they were seeking to sell are mostly luxury units or houses, it said. The cities where the largest number of transactions occurred include: Nanjing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Tianjin, Shenyang, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Jinan, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Chengdu, said the report. [...] Meanwhile, Chinese media have reported a drop in the number of cars bearing military plaques that have visited night clubs and restaurants in Beijing. ^ top ^

Ban lifted on controversial Nu River dam projects (SCMP)
Beijing has decided to reopen controversial plans to dam the Nu River in Yunnan province - eight years after Premier Wen Jiabao suspended the plans out of environmental concerns. The decision was mentioned in a 2011-15 energy-sector blueprint that was released by the State Council late on Wednesday night, sparking criticism about a lack of openness in the decision on the dams. "Hydropower bases on the Nu River and the upper reaches of the Jinsha and Lancang [Mekong] will be kicked off in an orderly manner," says the document posted on the central government's website. Some environmentalists were stunned by the plan's revival, which is part of an effort by the government to promote hydroelectricity as a cleaner alternative to coal. Opponents said the decision marks a long-awaited victory for the country's mighty state-owned power companies and local governments that have been lobbying top leaders to promote the building of mega dams, regardless of the potential safety risks and social consequences. "This is really shocking," said Li Bo, a director at Friends of Nature, a leading environmental group. "There were signs during the past year that mega dams were staging a comeback after being put on hold for years, but I'm still shocked by the lack of transparency in the decision-making process behind this. [...] The plan would see plants with a capacity of 120 gigawatts begin construction by 2015, with at least 54 hydropower bases listed as "key construction projects" and a further nine in the works, mostly in the seismically active southwest. This comes following "scientific and prudent reviews", the plan says, officially lifting - just weeks before his departure - a dam-building moratorium on the river imposed by Wen in 2005 due to ecological and geological concerns. The highly controversial Xiaonanhai Dam on the Yangtze River - a pet project of disgraced former party chief of Chongqing Bo Xilai - is also among the 54 key stations under development, despite the devastating impact that it would have on a nearby national fishery reserve, as well as its poor economic feasibility and Bo's heavy involvement. Under mainland law, however, each of the projects is still subject to environmental impact reviews before construction starts.In 2005, Premier Wen, a geologist by training, shelved plans to build 13 dams on the Unesco-protected Nu River, one of the country's last free-flowing rivers. Wen told authorities to "widely heed opinions, expound on [the plan] thoroughly and make prudent decisions". At least four of the dams have been revived in the new plan. "Wen was able to put those projects on hold for eight years, but with his tenure coming to an end … the pro-hydro interest groups are getting an upper hand again," said Wang Yongchen of the Beijing-based Green Earth Volunteers, an environmental NGO. ^ top ^

Woman held 3 yrs in morgue (Global Times)
A district government in Yichun, Heilongjiang Province, has taken responsibility for the illegal detention of a woman who has been held in a deserted morgue for three years, after she had served 18 months in a re-education through labor center for petitioning, the Xinhua News Agency reported. Zhang Yuewen, Party chief of Dailing district, said Thursday that the local government is responsible for the 10-year-long case, and promised to take care of Chen Qingxia. Zhang said Chen would be compensated in accordance with the law. China National Radio (CNR) reported Thursday that Chen had been guarded by several sanitation workers. Chen was held at a re-education center after she was brought back from Beijing in 2007 by local police. She had traveled to the capital to file a petition against local authorities, claiming they mistreated her husband while he was confined to a detention center. The husband, surnamed Song, was detained at the re-education center in 2003 after he broke through a quarantined area during the SARS outbreak. He was later confined to his home after he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Chen told CNR she decided to lodge a petition after she saw bruises on her husband's body and he became more mentally confused after he was released from the center. "I accused them of beating him and decided to petition." The woman is now confined to a wheelchair and her health has severely deteriorated. Her husband is now at a local mental hospital and the whereabouts of their son, Song Jide, is unknown. The then 12-year-old son was lost in Beijing in 2007 when his mother was brought back by local police. The local sanitation department declined to answer questions from the Global Times. Chen blamed the former director of the district's office of letters and calls, Yang Haifeng, for her son's disappearance. "We were at a bus station. My son was already on the bus and I was about to board. Yang grabbed me and wouldn't let me go and the bus drove away. Yang told me he would find my son but he never did." Multiple phone calls to Yang's office by the Global Times went unanswered Thursday. He told CNR that when he was taking Chen into custody she told the boy to run. "There was no way we could catch him. It's her fault," Yang said. Yang was promoted to the president of the district workers' union in 2011, a local official told the Global Times. The head of the publicity department of the district Party committee, Li Nan, said detaining Chen in the morgue was a humanitarian move as she had nowhere to live after being released from re-education. ^ top ^



Beijing population tops 20.69 mln (Xinhua)
Beijing's permanent population reached 20.69 million by the end of 2012, marking a slower year-on-year growth of 2.5 percent, according to statistics released on Sunday. Permanent residents in the Chinese capital increased by 507,000 in the one-year period since the end of 2011, according to data released by the Beijing Bureau of Statistics. The bureau says Beijing has about 7.74 million non-native residents who have settled down for over half a year. Their population has increased by 316,000 since the end of 2011. Xia Qinfang, vice head of the bureau, said the low growth rate this year was partially attributed to the city's slower GDP growth, which stood at 7.7 percent in 2012. Beijing's population has observed a downward trend in growth since 2011. Experts said explosive population was a factor behind multiple problems faced by Chinese cities, including traffic jams and surging house prices. ^ top ^

'Beijing cough' an insult to capital, says professor (SCMP)
A top doctor has claimed that naming a chronic respiratory problem "Beijing cough" is an insult to the capital. The condition, exacerbated in recent weeks by hazardous air pollution, was given its nickname by expats. But Professor Pan Xiaochuan, of Peking University's Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, said such coughs were also present in other polluted cities. He said the term was made up by expats with immune systems that had not "acclimatised" to such conditions. Dr He Quanying, director of the respiratory department at Peking University People's Hospital, said the name, which went viral on social media last week, had yet to make it into official medical lexicon. "Before you can find clear evidence of a [causal link], using the term 'Beijing cough' is an extreme insult to Beijing," He told the Economic Information Daily. He said coughs could be caused by smoking, overeating, weather change and the flu season. Foreigners in Beijing often complain of a dry cough and itchy throat between December and April.[...] Beijing Children's Hospital admitted over 800 children for nebuliser lung therapy in the last week, an above average increase. ^ top ^

Beijing acting mayor pledges to reduce the air pollution - by 2pc (SCMP)
Beijing plans to reduce concentrations of major air pollutants by 2 per cent this year, the capital's acting major said yesterday following two weekends of record-setting smog. Wang Anshun said at the opening of the annual session of the city's people's congress that the government would "considerably cut PM2.5 in the air" and "build a city with blue sky, green land and clean water". He said Beijing would remove 180,000 old vehicles from the city's roads this year, promote the use of clean energy cars by government agencies, promote clean energy in rural areas and control dust at construction sites. [...] Ma Jun, director of the Beijing-based Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, said it would be hard for the capital to clean up its air. "The 2 per cent will not give Beijing a blue sky. But it certainly shows the authorities' determination to adopt a more transparent approach to solving the pollution problem." Ma said given that Beijing was still growing - with about 250,000 new cars hitting the capital's roads every year - it would be a positive sign if pollution was no higher by the end of the year. Pan Shiyi, a municipal people's congress delegate and real estate tycoon who spearheaded a social media campaign calling on the authorities to release PM2.5 monitoring data, said the government needed more initiatives to tackle air pollution. "There are so many successful ideas that the Beijing government could adopt from foreign countries, such as pouring more funding into bike-sharing programmes," Pan said. Wang said the government would ease traffic congestion by maintaining restrictions on car purchases and improving public transport. "We will upgrade the public transport network and add a total of 50 kilometres of express bus lanes," Wang said, adding that the city was expected to start construction of three new subway lines this year. Wang is expected to be officially appointed Beijing's mayor during the six-day people's congress meeting. While his report offered few details on the capital's near-term housing policy, it said it would speed up the building of new satellite towns in the suburbs. Wang said they were targeting gross domestic product growth of around 8 per cent this year. ^ top ^

Smog thickens again in Beijing with pollution at danger levels (SCMP)
Air pollution spiked to dangerous levels again in Beijing yesterday, with skyscrapers vanishing amid the acrid smog and facial masks becoming so common they look like a new fashion trend. Local weather authorities issued yellow alerts for both fog and smog - the third-highest level on a four-tier colour-coded warning system - indicating that visibility could drop below 500 metres, Xinhua reported. It reported that the southern part of the capital was likely to see the densest smog, while visibility across most of the city remained below 3,000 metres. By 4pm, the air pollution index in central Beijing exceeded 300, which the government rates as "hazardous", and an air monitoring station near a flyover in the Xicheng district recorded a level of 423. A "hazardous" level over a 24-hour period is considered bad enough to make even healthy people ill. Neighbouring cities also saw heavy smog. In Shijiazhuang, Hebei, the air pollution index exceeded 500. Provincial authorities had to shut down several airports and nearly all highways as visibility dropped to less than 50 metres in nearly 20 cities and counties, according to China News Service. With heavy smog blanketing much of the country this month, raising environmental concerns among the public - particularly over the use of coal - authorities in Inner Mongolia have halted production at a massive US$2.7 billion coal-to-chemicals plant found to be breaching environmental regulations. The Shenhua Baotou project will not be allowed to reopen until it meets standards set by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, the National Business Daily reported. The plant has been hailed as a "milestone project" by its owner, energy giant Shenhua Group, for pioneering the conversion of coal into other products. Beijing weather forecasters said strong winds with speeds of 20 to 30 km/h were expected to blow through the capital last night and perhaps disperse the smog. [...] There appears to be little relief for residents' lungs, as forecasters expect more smoggy days in the coming week due to a lack of Siberian winds. ^ top ^

Beijing to maintain car quota for 2013 (Xinhua)
Beijing will maintain its license plate lottery scheme next year, as well as cap the number of registered cars at 240,000, a local official said Thursday. Li Xiaosong, deputy director of the municipal commission of transport, told a press conference that the number of new vehicles on the road has been significantly curbed since the adoption of a system in 2011 that requires car buyers to participate in a lottery every month to obtain purchase permits. However, congestion still remains a large problem, Li said, adding that the previous car quota of 240,000 will remain unchanged for 2013. Li said different ways of allocating the quota are still being discussed and will be publicly announced after being finalized. "Permits that are not used by winning lottery participants will be put back in the pool," Li said. The number of participants in January's lottery exceeded 1.4 million. Approximately 20,000 purchase permits are set to be issued. Beijing has a permanent population of around 20 million and some 5.2 million vehicles, with the number of private cars still on the rise. ^ top ^



Shanghai to issue 1st free plates for electric car (Global Times)
The local traffic authority will issue the city's first free set of license plates for an electric vehicle later this week, local media reported Sunday. The Shanghai municipal government has offered the free plates as an incentive to buy electric vehicles as the price of license plate registration in the city continues to rise, hitting a new record high over the weekend. The lowest winning bid for a regular set of plates reached 75,000 yuan ($12,067) at the first auction of this year, up 6,100 yuan from last month, according to a report in the Shanghai Morning Post. Free license plates is one measure in the municipal government's new incentive policy for electric vehicles, which took effect on December 28. The policy provides subsidies of up to 40,000 yuan for electric vehicles and 30,000 yuan for plug-in hybrids. The city's measure augments central government subsidies of up to 60,000 yuan for electric vehicles and 50,000 yuan for plug-in hybrids. The city has set aside 20,000 sets of license plates for new energy vehicles this year, a government official told China Business News. Currently, SAIC Motor's Roewe E50 is the only electric vehicle that qualifies for free license plates under the policy, according to a saleswoman from Shanghai Gaozhan New Energy Vehicle Sales Services Co, a car dealership devoted to electric and hybrid vehicles. The Shanghai-based SAIC Motor Passenger Vehicle Co Ltd began selling the Roewe E50 on November 5. The purely electric vehicle has a list price of 234,900 yuan. The car is eligible for a 54,000 yuan central government subsidy and a 40,000 yuan subsidy from the municipal government, bringing the price down to less than 140,000 yuan, the saleswoman told a Global Times reporter posing as a potential customer. [...]. ^ top ^

Shanghai GDP tops 2 trln yuan in 2012 (Xinhua)
Shanghai's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew 7.5 percent year-on-year to exceed 2 trillion yuan (321.2 billion U.S. dollars) in 2012, official figures showed Monday. The data, released by the Shanghai Bureau of Statistics, placed the city on top of all major Chinese cities in terms of economic volume, said Yan Jun, the bureau's chief economist. The city's GDP reached 1 trillion yuan in 2006 and 1.5 trillion yuan in 2009. The economic growth rate of the city also rebounded earlier than the national average, Yan said. According to Yan, the service industry contributed 6.2 percentage points, or 82.7 percent, to Shanghai's GDP growth in 2012, indicating a breakthrough in the transformation of the city's economic structure. ^ top ^

Shanghai births at 10-year high in 2012 (China Daily)
About 239,600 babies were born in Shanghai in 2012, the most since 2002, according to the city's Health Bureau. In 2012, Shanghai's maternal mortality rate was 7.1 per 100,000 and infant mortality rate 5.04 per 1,000, an all-time low in the city and on a par with the levels in developed economies, the bureau said on Tuesday. To deal with the baby boom, Shanghai has made efforts to improve the quality of maternity care and ensure the safety and health of pregnant women and newborns. According to the bureau, pregnant women can receive free prenatal checks, which have been included in the city's healthcare insurance. It also strengthened monitoring of pregnancies and established the pregnancy risk evaluation system so those at risk could be identified sooner and receive early medical intervention. So far, the city has established an emergency network for high-risk pregnant women and babies. In 2012, the city's five pregnancy urgent care centers treated 345 patients with a 98.84 percent success rate. And 4,690 babies were treated in six infant treatment centers with a success rate of 91.45 percent. Earlier, Beijing Municipal Health Bureau also reported that about 220,000 babies were born last year, the highest number since 2007. ^ top ^

Managers freed as strike continues (Global Times)
More than 1,000 workers at Shanghai Shinmei Electric Company remained on strike Tuesday after at least seven senior managers, including Japanese nationals, were freed from the plant after being held for a day and a half. The wildcat strike began Friday in protest over new rules that limit workers' bathroom breaks and imposes stiff fines for being late. Workers are also upset with a ban on overtime hours that has cut workers' pay by some 60 percent. The workers refused to allow senior managers, including Japanese nationals, to leave and demanded they arrange talks with the company's boss. "We gave them food and water, and told them to make phone calls to the boss, but they refused," a worker surnamed Li told the Global Times. The police released the managers and expelled the workers from the plant at 11:50 pm Saturday, according to the AP. Four workers have been detained by police, said Li. [...] Some workers first walked off the job Thursday but by Friday all the workers had joined the strike. The workers besieged the managers' office on Friday morning demanding a meeting with company owners, said Li. Li claimed that they only detained seven senior staff. The company claims that 10 Japanese and eight Chinese were held. [...] The new rules were not the only cause of the walkout. The ban on overtime, implemented last year has seen worker income drop significantly. "We were not allowed to work overtime for extra payment after the company employed a new Japanese general manager. Most workers are losing more than 1,000 yuan a month," Li said. [...] The workers talked to an owner representative and company lawyer on Monday and were offered a 10 percent pay raise in March if they return to work on Wednesday, Li told the Global Times, adding that he will only know if the other workers will accept the offer when he shows up at the factory on Wednesday morning. [...]. ^ top ^



Guangzhou tests waters in officials' asset disclosure (Xinhua)
A district in a south China mega-city will be among the first to pilot a scheme requiring officials to declare their assets and make them known to the public amid increasing public outcry against corruption. The Nansha New District of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, will usher in a trial system of such nature after the Spring Festival, which falls on Feb. 10, to increase the transparency of the financial status of government officials, a discipline official said Monday. "The fight against corruption remains a tough task for China, and the public has high expectations for the system," Mei Heqing, spokesman for the Guangzhou City Commission for Discipline Inspection, told a press conference held by the city's anti-corruption watchdog. "However, we must fully consider the current status quo while pushing forward the reform and prevent social turbulence caused by conflicts of interest," Mei said. He noted that not all civil servants are required to declare their assets, as the system is mainly designed for officials holding major posts. Meanwhile, assets that must be declared include civil servants' real estate holdings, the employment status of the spouses, sons and daughters of civil servants, and civil servants' investments, Mei said. "The asset declaration and disclosure system is crucial to the fight against corruption, but it can not eradicate all the problems regarding corruption," he said. [...] On a Monday session of the Guangzhou Municipal Political Consultative Conference, Fan Songqing, the political advising body's deputy secretary-general, said he wanted to be the first person to declare and make public his own properties. Fan's remarks instantly put himself in the spotlight, as he was accused by other political advisors at the same session of "breaking the hidden rules of the political arena." However, Fan gained wide support on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging service, although some users suspected he said it only for show. "Only uncorrupted officials are willing to support the asset declaration and disclosure scheme," said a user with the screen name "Xiaotiege Online." [...]. ^ top ^

Air pollution leaves China's Pearl River Delta region choking on smog (SCMP)
Heavy smog has been smothering the Pearl River Delta for the past week, with air pollution readings in the region hitting their highest levels of the year. The lingering haze yesterday prompted the Guangzhou Central Meteorological Observatory to issue its first "heavy fog" warning of 2013 as visibility in Guangzhou fell to 700 metres. Much of northern China is also choking on persistent smog, and another wave of it was expected to hit the region today. More than 13 provinces and municipalities have been affected, particularly Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province. Of the 62 air-quality monitoring stations in Guangdong, 70 per cent showed levels of PM2.5 particles exceeding national air-quality standards, China News Service reported. Eight of those stations rated the air as severely polluted - in the Shiqiao area of Guangzhou's Panyu district, Xiping in the Nancheng district of Dongguan, Jinjizui in the Shunde district of Foshan, two places in Zhongshan, and in the Xiqu, Beijie and Donghu areas of Jiangmen. Meanwhile, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported that Monday was the most polluted day in Guangzhou so far this year. Guangdong's Environmental Monitoring Centre said air quality would not improve until the weekend, when a cold spell was expected to hit the province. The Southern Metropolis Daily also reported yesterday that Guangdong was planning to release forecasts of air-quality-index readings this year. ^ top ^



Tibetan burns himself to death, second self-immolation in a week (SCMP)
A young Tibetan in southwestern China has died after setting himself on fire, rights groups have reported, marking the second self-immolation protest in a week. London-based Free Tibet said in a statement Saturday that a 28-year-old man identified only by the name Dupchoek, died Friday afternoon in Drachen township in the Aba Tibetan autonomous prefecture of China's Sichuan province. Free Tibet said that 97 Tibetans have self-immolated since February 2009 to protest against Beijing's rule in Tibet. According to a list on the group's website, about 75 of them have died. [...] International Campaign for Tibet, based in Washington, also reported the self-immolation at the same location, though identified the man by the single name of Tsering and described him as being in his twenties. US-based Radio Free Asia identified the dead man as 28-year-old Tsering Phuntsok. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy in names. Other details of the three reports were broadly similar. The incident occurred exactly one week after a young Tibetan man in northwestern Gansu province burned himself to death, the first reported case since December and the first self-immolation of the year. [...]. ^ top ^

Tibet records 152 pct rise in foreign trade (Xinhua)
Foreign trade for southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region topped 3 billion U.S. dollars last year, a year-on-year increase of 152.02 percent, ranking first among China's provincial-level economies. The figure also led the national average growth rate by 145 percent. A spokesman for the customs office of the regional capital of Lhasa said exports took up 98 percent of Tibet's foreign trade, adding up to 3.35 billion dollars, a year-on-year increase of 183.58 percent. The spokesman ascribed the increase in foreign trade to the region's improving transportation, fast development of competitive industries and ethnic handicraft industry and convenient procedures adopted by the customs authorities. Tibet's foreign trade mainly consists of general trade, as well as small-scale trade in the region's border areas. Its general trade reached 1.73 billion dollars, accounting for 50.53 percent of its total foreign trade and marking a 359.4-percent increase. Nepal, Malaysia and Indonesia were Tibet's top three trade partners in 2012, recording 1.7 billion, 22 million and 19 million dollars in foreign trade with Tibet, respectively. ^ top ^

Tibetans finding it increasingly hard to get China passports (SCMP)
Tibetans who want to travel outside China are finding it increasingly difficult to extract passports from Chinese officials, recent reports say – another result of Beijing's crackdown on Tibetan dissenters. “Hardly any” Tibetans have been able to get passports since new restrictions were introduced in April, forcing passport seekers to undergo much stricter vetting procedures than regular Chinese citizens, Radio Free Asia reported recently. The move was something of a bait-and-switch, notes the Washington Post: Tibetans were all told to turn in their passports, which would be replaced with electronic passports. However, the new passports never showed up, and now many Tibetans are left without the documents, and thus unable to travel. [...] “Since February or March of last year, there has been no issuing of new Chinese passports to Tibetans and those in the TAR were hit hard by the move,” said Office of Tibet in Taiwan researcher Sonam Dorjee to RFA. The Tibet Justice Centre's website notes that the lack of passports has stymied efforts by Tibetan asylum-seekers Tibetans to reach the US and other nations by their lack of passports. ^ top ^



Xinjiang foreign trade volume grows in 2012 (Xinhua)
Foreign trade of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region grew 10.3 percent year on year in 2012, reaching 25.17 billion U.S. dollars, amid an economic slowdown home and abroad. Statistics released by Urumqi Customs showed that Xinjiang exported 19.34 billion U.S. dollars worth of goods in 2012, up 15 percent from a year earlier. It imported 5.82 billion U.S. dollars worth of goods, dropping 2.8 percent year on year. The top three exported goods were garments, electromechanical equipment and shoes. Kazakstan remained Xinjiang's largest trading partner in 2012, with foreign trade volume increasing to 11.17 billion U.S. dollars, up 5.4 percent from a year earlier. Xinjiang's trade with the United States increased to 1 billion U.S. dollars, according to the data. Xinjiang saw more foreign trade companies enter the region in 2012. Since 2010, China has been pushing for greater opening-up of the resources-rich region to transform it into an economic hub from a relatively underdeveloped desert area. ^ top ^

Xinjiang tourism booms in 2012 (Xinhua)
Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region saw booming tourism in 2012, with tourist arrivals reaching 48.6 million, sources from the region's tourism bureau said on Thursday. The number visiting the region surged 23 percent compared to the figure for the previous year, thanks to strong government promotion along with improved infrastructure and service at tourist attractions, according to the sources. Tourism revenues totaled 57.6 billion yuan (about 9.17 billion U.S. dollars) last year in Xinjiang, a year-on-year increase of 30 percent. The regional government launched a campaign on infrastructure construction and environmental protection at tourist sites in 2012. Affluent municipalities and provinces such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong have launched new train and flight services to bring more tourists to Xinjiang, as part of their efforts to help support the region's development. ^ top ^



Leung threatens a vacancy tax on unsold new flats (SCMP)
The government would not rule out the possibility of imposing a vacancy tax on unsold new homes to stop developer hoarding, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying warned yesterday. The idea - first floated a day earlier by one of his allies, executive councillor Barry Cheung Chun-yuen - would punish developers for dragging out sales. The vacancy tax could be a percentage of the rental value. "I will not rule out any measures," said Leung, criticised last week for failing to boost the short-term housing supply in his maiden policy address. "If there really are attempts to hoard and hold prices high … I will not just sit and do nothing. "It is not pure commercial behaviour that the government sells land to developers for construction. We rely on them to deliver homes in a timely manner to address people's needs." Secretary for Transport and Housing Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung said the vacancy rate for private homes, new or second-hand, was 4 per cent. "This is not a high rate... but if it can be lowered to 3 per cent, it'll be even better, of course." [...] There is a tax on vacant accommodation in France, but not in countries in the region like Singapore. On the mainland, the government can seize land sold to a developer if construction does not start within a few years. There is a stock of 4,000 unsold new flats in the private sector. Official figures show that last year, of the 6,100 flats built by the private sector, one-third, or 2,000, remained unsold. Of the 9,400 flats built in 2011, 1,000, or 10 per cent, are still unsold. [...] Stewart Leung Chi-kin, chairman of the Real Estate Developers Association's executive committee, said it was not true that developers were unwilling to sell all flats of a new project. "Often they have priced the remaining units but no one takes them. In a free society, you cannot force people to cut the price if they can't sell them quickly." [...] "It seems to me the CE floated the idea only to soothe the middle class, who are angry that they don't benefit from the policy speech," he said. [...]. ^ top ^

Hong Kong to spend HK$31b to solve waste crisis (SCMP)
Hong Kong will spend at least HK$31 billion on waste-handling infrastructure in the next seven years, it was revealed yesterday. And included in the measures will be a bitterly contested plan for an incinerator put forward by the previous administration, which has been stalled by opposition in Legco and the courts. Moves spelled out yesterday by deputy environment minister Christine Loh Kung-wai gave the first clear indication that incineration remained a priority as the government seeks an ultimate solution to the city's waste crisis.But the target date for commissioning the waste-burner - 2021 at the latest - is about three years later than proposed by the previous government. [...] Environmentalists and residents were outraged by the previous government's plan for the incinerator on Shek Kwu Chau, an island between Cheung Chau and the Sokos.Lawmakers rejected a funding request for the incinerator and for landfill expansions last year. The incinerator has also been challenged in court and a verdict is pending. Hong Kong is at the crossroads in dealing with its mounting waste crisis. Its waste-generation rate is more than a third higher than cities such as Taipei and Seoul, and its landfills - now the only means of disposal - will be full by 2019. [...]. ^ top ^

Public schools may give families in Hong Kong priority (SCMP)
Admissions priority for local families is among measures being considered in response to pressure on public school places from Hong Kong-born children living on the mainland.Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim revealed the possible option yesterday but gave no timeframe - despite the long queues of families seeking Primary One admissions in the past weekend.He said thorough consideration must be given before privileges are handed out to anyone, and policies must be fair to all."We have clearly heard the opinions from parents of North District about prioritised allocation [for local families]," Ng said yesterday when asked about the issue. "The Primary One Admission Committee will give a fair assessment." Ng said tender processes had begun for expansion of several schools in the Sheung Shui area.The pressure is especially acute on public schools in Sheung Shui, where there is an estimated shortage of 1,000 Primary One places because of its proximity to Shenzhen.[...]. ^ top ^

Hongkongers jealous of mainlanders, say city's own representatives (SCMP)
Hong Kong members of Guangdong's provincial advisory body were slammed as ignorant and unfit for their jobs yesterday after they were seen on television saying Hongkongers were ungrateful to the Communist Party and jealous of wealthy mainlanders. The comments were made at a meeting of the Hong Kong subcommittee of the Guangdong municipal committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. "You scold the government for being weak every day. You scold the Communist Party every day. You scold China every day," one delegate, Li Hong, said of Hong Kong people. "If you didn't have the Communist Party, didn't have China, you wouldn't even have water." Li, a mainland-born businessman who moved from Guangdong to Hong Kong in 1984, went on: "You in Hong Kong have so much democracy - what have you done? If the door was shut, without mainland compatriots spending money, what would Hong Kong have? What economic source would you have?" Li, who has told the Hong Kong-based Chinese newspaper Wen Wei Po his idol is Mao Zedong, sponsored four schools to subscribe to the pro-Beijing broadsheet for a year in 2007. He is the director of electronics producer Hong Shing Enterprises. [...] The comments, which came amid concerns in Hong Kong over increasing numbers of mainland visitors and closer integration with Guangdong, drew strong criticism. "As delegates to the conference, they were appointed to reflect the true views [of Hongkongers] and offer concrete solutions to problems in Hong Kong," City University political scientist James Sung Lap-kung said. "Such viewpoints show they were below standard to take up their roles," Sung said. An online user left a comment on the website of Cable TV, which broadcast the conference, saying: "These people are short-sighted and know nothing. They confuse right and wrong." Another wrote: "So Hong Kong's sole economic source is the solo travel scheme?". ^ top ^



Macao's inflation hits 6.11% in 2012 (Xinhua)
Macao's Composite Consumer Price Index (CPI) for 2012 rose 6.11 percent year on year, the highest since 2008, according to the figures released by the city's Statistics and Census Service (DSEC). The rising inflation rate was attributable to higher charges for dearer prices of fresh food and produce, as well as higher charges for eating out, while subsidy on electricity charges and lowered telecom charges tapered off part of the increment of the Composite CPI, the DSEC said. Last year saw significant increases in the price indices of alcoholic beverages and tobacco, up 30.30 percent, food and non-alcoholic beverages up 8.52 percent, household goods and furnishings up 6.86 percent, and housings and fuel rising by 6 percent. The Composite Consumer Price index for the fourth quarter of 2012 rose 5.58 percent year-on-year, and the CPI for December 2012 stood at 5.83 percent. ^ top ^

Macao's crime rate drops by 12 percent in 2012 (Xinhua)
A total of 9,283 criminal cases were recorded in Macao last year, decreasing by 12.5 percent over 2011, the Judiciary Police chief of the Macao Special Administrative Region (SAR) announced Tuesday. The security status of Macao for 2012 has been continuing to improve, as the number of most crime categories registered decreases, said Wong Sio Chak, director of the Judiciary Police of Macao SAR. According to Wong, the number of grave crimes in Macao, such as murder, arson cases, robbery cases, extorting cases reduced clearly in 2012. However, as Macao's gaming industry keeps booming, crimes related to gambling have seen a continuous rising trend, Wong said. The number of such cases reached 2,070 last year, over 2 percent higher than that of 2011. Wong said that the criminal case with the network increased slightly, but those involved in drug-trafficking dropped slightly in 2012. Regarding this year, Wong said that the Judiciary Police will continue to strengthen cooperation between police and citizens, carrying out more anti-crime publicity, in an effort to further improve Macao's security situation. ^ top ^



Beijing to lend Taiwan historical artefacts from Forbidden City (SCMP)
Beijing has agreed to lend art exhibits for a major joint exhibition in Taipei, the head of Taiwan's top museum said on Sunday, as the two former rivals push ahead with detente. Feng Ming-chu, director of Taipei's National Palace Museum, will fly to Beijing on Monday, the first such trip since 2009 when the chiefs of the museum and of Beijing's Palace Museum made landmark exchange visits. Feng will meet her mainland counterpart Shan Jixiang to discuss the loan of more than 30 artefacts from the museum, also known as the Forbidden City, for the exhibition in Taipei in October. “The Palace Museum in Beijing has agreed to our proposal for loaning artefacts,” she said. The exhibition, which will also include some items from the Taipei museum, features the artistic tastes of Qianlong (1735-1796), an emperor in China's last dynasty Qing. “Hopefully the co-operation between the two museums will be further enhanced through the visit, following the 2009 ice-breaking exchange of visits by the curators of the two sides,” Feng said. [...] But the Taipei museum still has no plans to lend its artefacts which were originally shipped from the mainland, fearing they would not be returned, Feng said. The Taipei museum boasts more than 655,000 Chinese artifacts spanning 7,000 years from the prehistoric Neolithic period to the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911. They were removed from the Beijing museum in the 1930s by the Nationalist government to prevent them falling into the hands of invading Japanese troops. The collection was transported to Taiwan by the Nationalists more than 60 years ago after they were defeated by communist forces and fled the mainland. [...]. ^ top ^

Taiwanese unemployment reaches lowest level since 2009 (Xinhua)
Taiwan's unemployment rate dropped to 4.24 percent in 2012, 0.15 percentage points lower than that of the previous year, according to figures released on Tuesday by Taiwan's statistics authorities. The number of employed people in Taiwan reached 10.86 million, 151,000 more than the previous year, while the number of unemployed people decreased by 10,000 to 481,000. The global financial crisis boost Taiwan's unemployment rate to a record high of 5.85 percent in 2009, the authorities said. The number of employed people in December 2012 reached a record high of 10.93 million, with the unemployment rate dropping by 0.09 percentage points from November to 4.18 percent. After seasonal adjustments, the unemployment rate stood at 4.22 percent in December, 0.05 percentage points less than in October. ^ top ^

Japanese turn back Taiwan Diaoyu Island activists (SCMP)
A boat carrying a group of Taiwanese activists heading for the disputed Japanese-controlled Diaoyu Islands turned back just before noon and did not reach their destination, Taiwan's coastguard said. The vessel turned back at 11.30am and was expected to arrive back at its northern Taiwanese port a little more than seven hours later, said Shih Yi-che, a spokesman for Taiwan's coastguard. Japan's coastguard said it fired water cannon at the Taiwanese boat, which was heading for Tokyo-controlled islands at the centre of a bitter international dispute involving Beijing, Taipei and Tokyo. “After entering our country's contiguous zone, the vessel with foreign activists on board continued sailing east,” it said in a statement. "So our patrol boat carried out restrictions on the vessel such as blocking its path and discharging water." [...] Four activists were on board, as well as the captain and two others, he said, contradicting an earlier statement that the vessel had carried seven activists. The boat got to within 17 nautical miles of the Diaoyu Islands and was protected by four Taiwanese coastguard vessels in routine patrols near the islands, he said The seven activists left port in Taiwan on a fishing vessel in the early hours of the morning, Taiwanese coastguard spokesman Shih Yi-che said. The group said it was on its way to plant a statue of a sea goddess believed by coastal communities in the region to have the power to protect seafarers. It also intended to “maintain sovereignty” against Japan's control, said Hsieh Mang-lin, the Taiwanese chairman of the Chinese Association for Protecting the Diaoyutais (Diaoyu Islands), in a short statement. [...] Taiwan's coastguard denied it was an organised flotilla. [...] A statement by the coastguard said: “The coastguard will protect our people's voluntary actions to defend the Diaoyu islands. Coastguard vessels will go wherever the fishing boat is … to defend our sovereignty and protect our fishing rights.” [...]. ^ top ^



China's R&D expenditure expected to top 1 trln yuan (Xinhua)
China's spending on research and development (R&D) in 2012 is expected to surpass 1 trillion yuan (160.8 billion U.S. dollars) as the country has been pushing for a more innovation-driven economy, according to official statistics released Saturday. The expenditure will bring the proportion of R&D funds in the country's gross domestic output (GDP) to 2 percent, Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang said at a national science and technology work conference. Businesses invested the most in R&D, accounting for 74 percent of the total, according to official statistics. Wan said that China's innovation capability has been greatly boosted in the past five years, with scientific progress contributing 51.7 percent to the nation's economic growth in 2011, compared with 48.8 percent in 2008. ^ top ^

Inflation rise 'on the horizon' (China Daily)
Growth levels will remain about the same in 2013 but inflation is likely to rebound moderately, according to economists at the government's leading think tank. GDP growth will stay at 2012 levels, about 7.8 percent, and the Consumer Price Index, a main gauge of inflation, may go up from 2.6 percent in 2012 to 4 percent, said Yu Bin, the director of macroeconomic research at the State Council Development Research Center. Fixed-asset investment, which is seen as the most powerful driver of the world's second-largest economy, may continue to face downward pressure, amid restrictions on raising property prices. The National Bureau of Statistics reported on Friday that GDP growth was 7.8 percent in 2012, a 13-year low. It registered 9.3 percent in 2011. "We should not be too optimistic about the economic situation in 2013, although growth rebounded in the final quarter last year to 7.9 percent from the 14-quarter low of 7.4 percent during July to September," Yu said. The two biggest areas of fixed-asset investment, manufacturing and infrastructure, both registered declines. Investment in manufacturing, which accounts for 35 percent of fixed-asset investment, slowed to 22 percent in 2012 from 31.8 percent in 2011, the NBS reported. Infrastructure investment, 25 percent of fixed-asset investment, shrank to 15.6 percent by the end of December 2012 from 16.2 percent in the first 11 months. Meanwhile, growth in property investment edged lower to 16.2 percent during the past year, against 16.7 percent from January to November. ^ top ^

Economic downshift bites into China's 2012 fiscal revenues (Xinhua)
China's fiscal revenue growth slowed sharply in 2012 due to an economic downshift and tax breaks, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said Tuesday. National fiscal revenues rose 12.8 percent year on year to 11.7 trillion yuan (1.9 trillion U.S. dollars), with the growth rate dropping 12.2 percentage points from a year earlier, the MOF said in a statement. The ministry attributed the slowdown to a softening economy, weakening corporate profits, milder inflation and structural tax breaks. Of the total fiscal revenues, tax revenues reached 10.1 trillion yuan, up 12.1 percent from a year earlier, but the growth rate was down 10.5 percentage points from the 2011 level. Fiscal revenues in China include taxes, as well as administrative fees and other government income, such as fines and income from state-owned assets. Revenues from value-added taxes increased 8.9 percent to 2.6 trillion yuan, while those from business taxes went up 15.1 percent to 1.6 trillion yuan. Corporate income tax revenues gained 17.2 percent year on year to 2 trillion yuan. Individual income tax revenues dipped 3.9 percent to 582 billion yuan, affected by the government's move in September 2011 to raise the threshold at which individuals must pay income taxes from 2,000 yuan to 3,500 yuan. The central government collected 5.6 trillion yuan in fiscal revenues in 2012, up 9.4 percent year on year, while local governments saw fiscal revenues grow 16.2 percent to 6.1 trillion yuan. On a quarterly basis, China's fiscal revenue growth recovered to 19.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 from 14.7 percent in the first quarter, 10 percent in the second and 8.1 percent in the third quarter. The fourth-quarter rebound was mainly caused by a low base in the same period of 2011, the MOF said. [...] The country's total fiscal expenditures climbed 15.1 percent year on year to 12.6 trillion yuan in 2012, according to MOF data. Spending on education recorded the fastest growth, surging 28.3 percent to 2.1 trillion yuan. The central government spent 6.4 trillion yuan in 2012, including 4.5 trillion yuan in tax rebates and transfer payments given to local governments. Local governments saw outlays rise 15.3 percent to 10.7 trillion yuan in 2012, the MOF data showed. ^ top ^

China's fiscal deficit may hit new high (Xinhua)
China's fiscal budget deficit is expected to hit a record-high of 1.2 trillion yuan ($193 billion) in the new fiscal year to shore up the slowing economy, Bank of Communications (BOC) has said. The estimated scale is the largest on record, up from last year's budget deficit of 800 billion yuan and the real deficit of 1.07 trillion yuan, according to a report released Wednesday. Funds spent that will increase the deficit will go toward key infrastructure projects geared toward improving people's lives and making room for tax cuts, which will significantly support economic growth, the report noted. After the government cautiously eased its monetary policy and fast-tracked investment projects, China's economic growth quickened to 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, ending a seven-quarter slowdown. [...] "Budgeting for a larger deficit aims to cope with the economic downshift, but that does not necessarily suggest that the economic picture will be uglier than that of 2010," Zhao Quanhou, a researcher with the Ministry of Finance (MOF) was quoted as saying in a report on the Although the absolute deficit scale may hit a new high, the deficit to GDP ratio, which measures the safety of the deficit scale, will not necessarily follow suit, he said. To cope with the global financial crisis, China has implemented a proactive fiscal policy since 2009. The budget deficit was 950 billion yuan in 2009, 1 trillion yuan in 2010, 850 billion yuan in 2011 and 800 billion yuan in 2012. The deficit to GDP ratio was 2.83 percent in 2009, 2.48 percent in 2010, 1.8 percent in 2011 and 1.56 percent in 2012. If the GDP grows 8 percent in 2013, the deficit-to-GDP ratio will stand at 2.2 percent. [...]. ^ top ^


DPRK and South Korea

Foreigners can now take own mobile phones to North Korea (SCMP)
Foreigners visiting North Korea can now take their own mobile phones into the country, Chinese state media reported on Sunday, citing an employee with the operator of the country's mobile network. A technician with Koryolink, the North Korean-Egyptian joint venture that operates the 3G phone network, told China's official Xinhua news agency that the move took effect on January 7. “We have tried hard to negotiate with the Korean security side, and got the approval recently,” the technician, identified as an Egyptian, said, adding: “It has nothing to do with the Google trip.” [...] The Egyptian technician said foreigners need to fill out a form to provide their phone's IMEI – International Mobile Station Equipment Identity – number with North Korea's customs agency to bring in their personal device. Previously, foreigners were required to leave their phones with customs and pick them up when leaving the country, the report said. The technician also said that foreigners using a phone based on the WCDMA 3G mobile standard can buy a Sim card in North Korea from Koryolink for 50 euros (HK$500) and make international calls. [...] North Korea's 3G mobile network has 1.8 million users, Xinhua said, though beyond voice calls their options are limited to text messages and video calls. Their phones can't make international calls or connect to the internet, while North Koreans and foreigners can't call each other because of different settings on their Sim cards. [...]. ^ top ^

Hostile North Korea to target 'enemy' US with nuclear tests (SCMP)
North Korea said on Thursday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target the United States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its “enemy”. The announcement by the country's top military body came a day after the United Nations Security Council agreed a US-backed resolution to censure and sanction the country for a rocket launch in December that breached UN rules. “We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States,” North Korea's National Defence Commission said, according to state news agency KCNA. North Korea is believed by South Korea and other observers to be “technically ready” for a third nuclear test, and the decision to go ahead rests with leader Kim Jong-un who pressed ahead with the December rocket launch in defiance of the UN sanctions. “Whether North Korea tests or not is up to North Korea,” Glyn Davies, the top US envoy for North Korean diplomacy, said in the South Korean capital of Seoul as KCNA released its statement. “We hope they don't do it. We call on them not to do it,” Davies said. “This is not a moment to increase tensions on the Korean peninsula.” [...] The concern now is that Pyongyang, whose only major diplomatic ally, China, endorsed the latest UN resolution, could undertake a third nuclear test using highly enriched uranium for the first time, opening a second path to a bomb. Its previous tests have been viewed as limited successes and used plutonium, of which the North has limited stocks. North Korea gave no time-frame for the coming test and often employs harsh rhetoric in response to UN and US actions. [...]. ^ top ^


Fabian Eng
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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