Hong Kong protesters disrupt train services, cause commuter chaos

Anti-extradition bill demonstrators block a Mass Transit Railway (MTR) train in Hong Kong, China July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Vimvam Tong and Felix Tam

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters blocked train services during the morning rush hour on Tuesday, causing commuter chaos in the latest anti-government campaign to roil the former British colony.

What started three months ago as rallies against an extradition bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial, has evolved into a wider backlash against the city’s government and its political masters in Beijing.

Protests have occurred almost daily, sometimes with little notice, disrupting business, piling pressure on the city’s beleaguered government and stretching its police force, which some have accused of using excessive force.

Activists blocked train doors, playing havoc with services and forcing hundreds of people to stream out of railway stations in search of alternative transport.

“We don’t know how long we are going to stay here, we don’t have a leader, as you can see this is a mass movement now,” said Sharon, a 21-year-old masked protester who declined to give her full name.

“It’s not our intention to inconvenience people, but we have to make the authorities understand why we protest. We will continue with this as long as needed.”

Others chanted, “Liberate Hong Kong,” and “Revolution of our time”.

By mid-morning, commuters were crammed into stations across the city, waiting to board trains that were badly delayed, with no service on some lines.

Rail operator MTR Corp urged people to seek other transport.

Transport Secretary Frank Chan called on protesters to stop targeting a rail network that provides transport to five million people a day, public broadcaster RTHK reported.

Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997, is embroiled in its worst political crisis for decades after two months of increasingly violent protests that have posed one of the gravest populist challenges to Communist Party rulers in Beijing.

‘INCONVENIENT AND ANNOYING’

China on Monday reiterated its support for Hong Kong’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam, and its police and urged Hong Kong people to oppose violence.

Lam’s popularity has dropped to a record low, according to a survey by the independent Public Opinion Research Institute released on Tuesday.

The survey, conducted between July 17 and July 19, showed Lam scored a rating of 30.1, down from 33.4 at the beginning of the month. Her approval rate stands at 21%, while her disapproval rate is 70%.

Over the last few years, many people in Hong Kong have become concerned about the whittling away of the city’s freedoms, guaranteed under a “one country, two systems” formula established when it returned to China in 1997.

China denies interfering and has warned that the protests are an “undisguised challenge” to the formula under which the city is ruled, and risked damaging its economy.

The mass transit protest follows a demonstration at the Chinese-ruled city’s international airport on Friday and violent protests at the weekend when activists clashed with police who fired rubber bullets, tear gas and sponge grenades – a crowd-control weapon.

Some scuffles broke out between commuters and protesters, who gradually began to disperse, while more police were deployed in stations, where they stopped protesters to search their bags.

Commuters grew increasingly frustrated over the disruption, and shops, including bakeries and convenience stores, had also begun to close.

“It’s so inconvenient and annoying, really. I am in a hurry to work, to make a living. Will you give away your salary to me?” said a 64-year-old man surnamed Liu.

Others were more supportive, refusing to blame the protesters.

“This non-cooperation movement is caused by Carrie Lam. She doesn’t cooperate with the people of Hong Kong or respond to their demands,” Jason Lo, 31, told Reuters as he waited for a train.

(Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee, Vimvam Tong and Felix Tam; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Farah Master; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)

Taiwan president in U.S. after warning of threat from ‘overseas forces’

Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen arrives at the hotel where she is supposed to stay during her visit in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Michelle Nichols and Carlo Allegri

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen arrived in the United States on Thursday on a trip that has angered Beijing, warning that democracy must be defended and that the island faced threats from “overseas forces,” in a veiled reference to China.

China, which claims self-ruled and democratic Taiwan as its own and views it as a wayward province, had called on the United States not to allow Tsai to transit there on her overseas tour.

Tsai is spending four nights in the United States – two on the first leg and two on the way back from a visit to four Caribbean allies. She began her trip in New York and is expected to stop in Denver on her way back.

Shortly before Tsai was due to arrive at her Manhattan hotel, a Reuters photographer witnessed a brawl at the hotel’s entrance between dozens of pro-China and pro-Taiwan protesters, which was eventually broken up by police.

The New York Police Department was not immediately able to comment on whether there had been any arrests.

Tsai was last in the United States in March, but her stops this time will be unusually long, as normally she spends just a night at a time in transit.

The U.S. State Department has said there had been no change in the U.S. “one-China” policy, under which Washington officially recognizes Beijing and not Taipei, while assisting Taiwan.

However, analysts said the extended stopovers served to emphasize the Trump administration’s support for Tsai at a time when she has been coming under increasing pressure from Beijing, a major U.S. security rival with which Washington has been engaged in a year-long trade war.

Speaking before departure at Taipei’s main international airport at Taoyuan, Tsai said she would share the values of freedom and transparency with Taiwan’s allies, and was looking forward to finding more international space for Taiwan.

“Our democracy has not come easily and is now facing threats and infiltration from overseas forces,” Tsai said, without being specific.

“These challenges are also common challenges faced by democracies all over the world,” she said. “We will work with countries with similar ideas to ensure the stability of the democratic system.”

CARIBBEAN STOPS

Taiwan has been trying to shore up its diplomatic alliances amid pressure from China. Taipei now counts only 17 countries as diplomatic allies, almost all small Central American, Caribbean or Pacific nations.

Tsai will be visiting St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Haiti on her overseas tour.

In New York, Tsai will meet with members of the Taiwanese community and U.N. ambassadors of allied countries.

The State Department described Tsai’s visit as “private and unofficial” and said she would be greeted in New York by James Moriarty, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei. It did not respond when asked if Tsai would have contact with any other U.S. officials.

Seeking to bolster Taiwan’s defenses, the United States this week approved an arms sale worth an estimated $2.2 billion for Taiwan, despite Chinese criticism.

Tsai, who is up for re-election in January, has repeatedly called for international support to defend Taiwan’s democracy in the face of Chinese threats. Beijing has regularly sent military aircraft and ships to circle Taiwan on drills in the past few years.

Douglas Paal, who served as U.S. representative to Taiwan from 2002 to 2006, said Tsai’s extended stopovers showed U.S. approval for the “caution and restraint” she had shown in her dealings with Beijing.

“It makes sense to reinforce that with generous transit treatment,” he said. “This is also … a message to China. The U.S. government believes Tsai is behaving responsibly in respecting the framework of U.S.-China-Taiwan relations.”

Paal said the Trump administration had yet to indicate a significant shift in the traditional U.S. approach to Taiwan, but this could change in the event of a deterioration of U.S. relations with Beijing.

“It’s like an engine running at a high idle,” he said. “Trump has not engaged the gears, but there is a lot of activity at lower levels seeking to upgrade relations. So change has not occurred in a big way yet, but it could happen at any time. With unpredictable consequences.”

(Reporting by I-Hwa Cheng; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei and David Brunnstrom in Washington; writing by Ben Blanchard; editing by Leslie Adler and James Dalgleish)

Hong Kong protesters smash up legislature in direct challenge to China

Anti-extradition bill protesters use the flashlights from their phones as they march during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By John Ruwitch and Sumeet Chatterjee

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters stormed the legislature on the anniversary of the city’s 1997 return to China on Monday, destroying pictures and daubing walls with graffiti in a direct challenge to China as anger over an extradition bill spiraled out of control.

Some carried road signs, others corrugated iron sheets and pieces of scaffolding upstairs and downstairs as about a thousand gathered around the Legislative Council building in the heart of the former British colony’s financial district.

Some sat at legislators’ desks, checking their phones, while others scrawled “Withdraw anti-extradition” on walls.

The government called for an immediate end to the violence, saying it had stopped all work on extradition bill amendments and that the legislation would automatically lapse in July next year.

There was no immediate response from the protesters, although some appeared to retreat as the evening wore on.

A small group of mostly students wearing hard hats and masks had used a metal trolley, poles and scaffolding to charge again and again at the compound’s reinforced glass doors, which eventually gave.

The council, the mini-parliament, issued a red alert, ordering the protesters to leave immediately.

It did not say what would happen if they didn’t but police did not immediately intervene.

The Legislative Council Secretariat released a statement canceling business for Tuesday. The central government offices said they would close on Tuesday “owing to security consideration”.

Riot police in helmets and carrying batons earlier fired pepper spray as the standoff continued into the sweltering heat of the evening. Some demonstrators removed steel bars that were reinforcing parts of the council building.

Banners hanging over flyovers at the protest site read: “Free Hong Kong.”

The protesters, some with cling film wrapped around their arms to protect their skin in the event of tear gas, once again paralyzed parts of the Asian financial hub as they occupied roads after blocking them off with metal barriers.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill on June 15 after some of the largest and most violent protests in the city in decades but stopped short of protesters’ demands to scrap it.

It was not immediately clear that the announcement it would lapse would ease the tension.

The Beijing-backed leader is now clinging on to her job at a time of an unprecedented backlash against the government that poses the greatest popular challenge to Chinese leader Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

“The kind of deafness that I see in the government this time around despite these protests is really worrying. The complete disregard for the will of the people is what alarms me,” said Steve, a British lawyer show has worked in Hong Kong for 30 years.

“If this bill is not completely scrapped, I will have no choice but to leave my home, Hong Kong.”

Opponents of the extradition bill, which would allow people to be sent to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party, fear it is a threat to Hong Kong’s much-cherished rule of law.

Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including the freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.

Beijing denies interfering but, for many Hong Kong residents, the extradition bill is the latest step in a relentless march toward mainland control.

China has been angered by criticism from Western capitals, including Washington and London, about the legislation. Beijing said on Monday that Britain had no responsibility for Hong Kong any more and was opposed to its “gesticulating” about the territory.

Protesters break into the Legislative Council building during the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China in Hong Kong China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Protesters break into the Legislative Council building during the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China in Hong Kong China July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

THOUSANDS RALLY

Tens of thousands marched in temperatures of around 33 degrees Celsius (91.4°F) from Victoria Park in an annual rally. Many clapped as protesters held up a poster of Lam inside a bamboo cage. Organizers said 550,000 turned out. Police said there were 190,000 at their peak.

More than a million people have taken to the streets at times over the past three weeks to vent their anger.

A tired-looking Lam appeared in public for the first time in nearly two weeks, before the storming of the legislature, flanked by her husband and former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa.

“The incident that happened in recent months has led to controversies and disputes between the public and the government,” she said. “This has made me fully realize that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiment accurately.”

PROTEST MOVEMENT REINVIGORATED

Beijing’s grip over Hong Kong has intensified markedly since Xi took power and after pro-democracy street protests that gripped the city in 2014 but failed to wrestle concessions from China.

Tensions spiraled on June 12 when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters near the heart of the city, sending plumes of smoke billowing among some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

The uproar has reignited a protest movement that had lost steam after the failed 2014 demonstrations that led to the arrests of hundreds.

Activists raised a black bauhinia flag to half-mast outside the Legislative Council building before the rally and turned Hong Kong’s official flag, featuring a white bauhinia flower on a red background, upside down.

The turmoil comes at a delicate time for Beijing, which is grappling with a trade dispute with the United States, a faltering economy and tensions in the South China Sea.

Beyond the public outcry, the extradition bill has spooked some Hong Kong tycoons into starting to move their personal wealth offshore, according to financial advisers familiar with the details.

(Additional reporting by Reuters TV, Alun John, Vimvam Tong, Thomas Peter, David Lague, Jessie Pang, Anne Marie Roantree, Sharon Lam, Donny Kwok, Joyce Zhou, Twinnie Siu and Felix Tam in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Security tight in Tiananmen 30 years after students ‘died for nothing’

Thousands of people take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 30th anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) – Tourists thronged Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on Tuesday amid tighter-than-usual security, although most visitors approached by Reuters said they were unaware of the bloody crackdown on student-led protests 30 years ago or would not discuss it.

Paramilitary officers keep watch in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Paramilitary officers keep watch in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, when Beijing sent troops and tanks to quell pro-democracy activists, is not spoken of openly in China and will not be formally marked by the government, which has ramped up censorship.

A 67-year-old man surnamed Li, sitting on a bench about a 10-minute walk from the square, said he remembered the events of June 4, 1989, and its aftermath clearly.

“I was on my way back home from work. Changan Avenue was strewn with burned-out vehicles. The People’s Liberation Army killed many people. It was a bloodbath,” he said.

Asked if he thought the government should give a full account of the violence, he said: “What’s the point? These students died for nothing.”

Among the students’ demands in 1989 were a free press and freedom of speech, disclosure of leaders’ assets and freedom to demonstrate. However, exiled former protest leaders say those goals are further away in China than ever before because the government has in the past decade suppressed a civil society nurtured by years of economic development.

Tiananmen also remains a point of contention between China and many Western countries, which have implored Chinese leaders to account for giving the People’s Liberation Army the order to open fire on their own people.

China’s foreign ministry denounced criticism by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who called for China to release all political prisoners and offered his salute to “the heroes of the Chinese people who bravely stood up 30 years ago in Tiananmen Square to demand their rights”.

Thousands of people take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 30th anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Thousands of people take part in a candlelight vigil to mark the 30th anniversary of the crackdown of pro-democracy movement at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, China June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in Beijing that Pompeo had “maliciously attacked China’s political system”.

Some people in the United States were so accustomed to wagging their tongues on the pretext of democracy and human rights and interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, that they turned a blind eye to their own problems, he added.

“The Chinese people have seen their hypocrisy and evil motives,” Geng said. “These lunatic ravings and babblings are destined for the garbage heap of history.”

China has never released a final death toll from the events on and around June 4. Estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to thousands.

TIGHT SECURITY

Security was heavy in and around the square itself, with no signs of any protests or memorials.

Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police monitored the square and its surroundings, conducting spot ID checks and inspecting car trunks. Thousands of visitors lined up at security checkpoints to enter the square, many carrying tour group flags.

A male tourist in his 30s near the square, who gave his family name as Zhang, said he had no idea about the anniversary.

“Never heard of it,” he said. “I’m not aware of this.”

An older woman applying grout to a building close to the square’s southern entrance said: “That’s today? I’d forgotten.” She quickly waved away a Reuters reporter when security guards approached. Her colleague, a younger man, said he had never heard of the events in the spring and summer of 1989.

Rights groups said authorities had rounded up dissidents in the run-up to the anniversary. Amnesty International said police had detained, put under house arrest, or threatened dozens of activists in recent weeks.

The United Nations had received reports of detentions, threats and increased censorship ahead of the anniversary, U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva.

“We have made our concerns known to the Chinese government and we are working to also verify these reports that we have received,” she said.

While no public events to mark the anniversary will be tolerated in mainland China, demonstrators gathered in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997. There will also be events in self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, which China claims as its own.

One online censor, who worked a shift of more than 12 hours until early morning on Tuesday for Twitter-like social media site Weibo, said content removed included memes, video game references and images including Tuesday’s date.

“Some accounts are totally taken down, but mostly the content is just removed,” said the censor. “People like to play games and see what is possible to post.”

Financial information provider Refinitiv, under pressure from China’s government, has removed from its Eikon terminal Reuters news stories related to the anniversary.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in BEIJING, Yimou Lee in TAIPEI, David Lawder in WASHINGTON and Stephanie Nebehay and Marina Depetris in GENEVA; ; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

Timeline: From reform hopes to brutal crackdown – China’s Tiananmen protests

FILE PHOTO: Hundreds of thousands of people fill Beijing's central Tiananmen Square, China, May 17, 1989 in front of the Monument to the People's Heroes and Mao's mausoleum. REUTERS/Ed Nachtrieb/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) – Next Tuesday, June 4, marks 30 years since China bloodily suppressed pro-democracy demonstrations in and around central Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, when Chinese troops opened fire on their own people.

The event remains a taboo topic of discussion in China and will not be officially commemorated by the ruling Communist Party or government.

FILE PHOTO: Student protesters construct a tent to protect them from the elements in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, May 26, 1989. REUTERS/Shunsuke Akatsuka/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Student protesters construct a tent to protect them from the elements in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, May 26, 1989. REUTERS/Shunsuke Akatsuka/File Photo

Here are some landmark dates leading up to the demonstrations and the crackdown that followed:

1988: China slides into economic chaos with panic buying triggered by rising inflation that neared 30 percent.

April 15, 1989: A leading reformer and former Communist Party chief Hu Yaobang, dies. His death acts as a catalyst for unhappiness with the slow pace of reform, as well as corruption and income inequality.

April 17: Protests begin at Tiananmen Square, with students calling for democracy and reform. Crowds of up to 100,000 gather, despite official warnings.

April 22: Some 50,000 students gather outside the Great Hall of the People as Hu’s memorial service is held. Three students attempt to deliver a petition to the government, outlining their demands, but are ignored. Rioting and looting take place in Xian and Changsha.

April 24: Beijing students begin classroom strike.

April 27: Around 50,000 students defy authorities and march to Tiananmen. Supporting crowds number up to one million.

May 2: In Shanghai, 10,000 protesters march on city government headquarters.

May 4: Further mass protests coinciding with the anniversary of the May 4 Movement of 1919, which was another student and intellectual-led movement for reform. Protests coincide with meeting of Asian Development Bank in Great Hall of the People. Students march in Shanghai and nine other cities.

May 13: Hundreds of students begin a hunger strike on Tiananmen Square.

May 15-18: To China’s embarrassment, protests prevent traditional welcome ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People for the state visit of reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Students welcome Gorbachev as “The Ambassador of Democracy”.

May 19: Party chief Zhao Ziyang visits students on Tiananmen Square, accompanied by the hardline then-premier Li Peng and future premier Wen Jiabao. Zhao pleads with the students protesters to leave, but is ignored. It is the last time Zhao is seen in public. He is later purged.

May 20: Li declares martial law in parts of Beijing. Reviled by many to this day as the “Butcher of Beijing”, Li remained premier until 1998.

May 23: Some 100,000 people march in Beijing demanding Li’s removal.

May 30: Students unveil the 10-metre (33 ft) high “Goddess of Democracy”, modeled on the Statue of Liberty, in Tiananmen Square.

May 31: Government-sponsored counter-demonstration calls students “traitorous bandits”.

June 3: Citizens repel a charge towards Tiananmen by thousands of soldiers. Tear gas and bullets used in running clashes a few hundred meters (yards) from the square. Authorities warn protesters that troops and police have “right to use all methods”.

June 4: In the early hours of the morning tanks and armored personnel carriers begin their attack on the square itself, clearing it by dawn. About four hours later, troops fire on unarmed civilians regrouping at the edge of the square.

June 5: An unidentified Chinese man stands in front of a tank convoy leaving Tiananmen Square. The image spreads around the world as a symbol of defiance against the crackdown.

June 6: Chinese State Council spokesman Yuan Mu says on television that the known death toll was about 300, most of them soldiers with only 23 students confirmed killed. China has never provided a full death toll, but rights groups and witnesses say the figure could run into the thousands.

June 9: Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping praises military officers, and blames the protests on counter-revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the party.

Sources: Reuters, Chinese state media.

(Writing by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina, and David Cutler, Reuters archive in London; Editing by Neil Fullick)

U.S.-China trade talks continue, Trump not expected to announce summit: official

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping arrive for a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House is not expected to announce a date on Thursday for a trade summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a senior administration official said, as negotiators for the two sides launch another day of talks.

China and the United States are in the middle of intense negotiations to end a months-long trade war that has rattled global markets.

After meetings in Beijing last week, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are holding talks with a Chinese delegation in Washington this week.

Trump is slated to meet with China’s top trade negotiator, Liu He, at 4:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) at the White House. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported that he was expected to announce a date for a summit at that time, but a senior administration official told Reuters that was incorrect.

“The White House is not expected to announce a date for a meeting,” the official said.

Trump administration officials have cited progress in the talks on tricky aspects, including reforming practices that Washington objects to by Beijing such as the intellectual property theft and forced transfer of technology from U.S. companies doing business in China.

Hopes that the talks were moving in a positive direction have cheered investors.

Administration officials initially envisioned a summit between Trump and Xi potentially taking place in March, but that period passed while talks continued.

How to enforce a deal as well as when and whether to lift tariffs on billions of dollars of goods have been sticking points in what appear to be the final stages of the talks.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Rights campaigners seek U.N. probe on China’s Xinjiang camps

FILE PHOTO: Residents at the Kashgar city vocational educational training centre dance for visiting reporters and officials in a classroom during a government organised visit in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard/File Photo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Rights activists urged European and Muslim nations on Monday to take the lead in establishing a U.N. investigation into China’s detention and what they call its “forced indoctrination” of up to one million Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang province.

Beijing, which faces growing international concern over its “de-radicalisation” program for Muslims in its far western province, said last month it would welcome U.N. officials if they avoided “interfering in domestic matters”.

Groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International appealed to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which opens its main annual session on Feb. 25, to send an international fact-finding mission to Xinjiang.

FILE PHOTO: Islamic studies students attend a class at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute during a government organised trip in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Islamic studies students attend a class at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute during a government organised trip in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard/File Photo

“The abuse in Xinjiang today is so severe that it cries out for international action,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told a briefing at the Geneva Press Club.

“The purpose of this detention is to erase the ethnic and religious identities of Turkic Muslims and ensure their loyalty to only the Chinese government, the Communist Party and the would-be leader for life, (President) Xi Jinping,” he said.

China denies such accusations. In January, Beijing organized a visit to three facilities, which it calls vocational education training centers, for foreign reporters including Reuters. In the centers, Turkic-speaking Uighur students learned in Mandarin about the dangers of Islamist ideas.

“OPEN-AIR PRISON”

Campaigners say one million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities – nearly 10 percent of Xinjiang’s total population – are being held in mass detention, deprived of any legal rights and subjected to mistreatment.

“Today Xinjiang has become an open-air prison – a place where Orwellian high-tech surveillance, political indoctrination, forced cultural assimilation, arbitrary arrests and disappearances have turned ethnic minorities into strangers in their own land,” Kumi Naidoo, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said by video.

“Member states must not be cowed by China’s economic and political clout,” he said.

China says it protects the religion and culture of its ethnic minorities and that security measures in Xinjiang are needed to counter groups that incite violence there.

China is currently a member of the 47-nation Geneva forum, where it often leads opposition to setting up investigations into allegations of rights abuses in specific countries.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which acts as the collective voice of the Muslim world, worked with the European Union last September to launch a U.N. body to prepare evidence of crimes in Myanmar against Muslim Rohingya, including possible genocide, for any future prosecution.

“In our view Xinjiang demands a similar response,” Roth said.

Michael Ineichen of the International Service for Human Rights said: “It is really a test of the credibility of the Human Rights Council… We think it is time that membership also comes with scrutiny.”

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones)

U.S. has offered to hold arms control talks with Russia -official

FILE PHOTO: National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has offered to hold talks on arm control issues with Russia on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting in Beijing next week, a senior State Department official said on Thursday.

Under Secretary of State Andrea Thompson told reporters the talks almost certainly would include a dispute over a Cold War-era treaty limiting intermediate-range missiles.

Washington has pledged to withdraw from the pact because of what it charges is the deployment by Moscow of a new cruise missile that violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty).

Moscow has denied that the missile in question, the Novator 9M729 (called the SSC-8 by NATO), violates the agreement, which bars either side from stationing short- and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe.

Moscow says the missile’s range keeps it outside of the treaty and has accused the United States of inventing a false pretext to leave an accord it wants to exit anyway to develop its own new missiles.

Thompson said the United States has presented Russia with a proposal for a “verifiable” test of the missile’s range but Moscow has not embraced the plan.

Unless the Russians come back into compliance with the INF Treaty, the United States will make good on its decision to suspend its compliance with the pact at the end of a 60-day period on Feb. 2, Thompson said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

China has ‘good faith’ to fix trade issues as talks with U.S. resume

FILE PHOTO: Shipping containers are seen at a port in Shanghai, China July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

By Michael Martina

BEIJING (Reuters) – China has the “good faith” to work with the United States to resolve trade frictions, the Foreign Ministry said on Monday as officials of the world’s two largest economies resumed talks in a bid to end their trade dispute.

U.S. officials are meeting their counterparts in Beijing this week for the first face-to-face talks since U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed in December to a 90-day truce in a trade war that has roiled global markets.

Trump said on Sunday that trade talks with China were going very well and that weakness in the Chinese economy gave Beijing a reason to work towards a deal.

On Monday, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told NBC the talks were being held with appropriate-level staff and would help determine how the administration moves forward.

Ross also said he saw “a very good chance that we will get a reasonable settlement that China can live with, that we can live with and that addresses all of the key issues”. He added that it would be easiest to tackle immediate trade but harder to resolve enforcement issues and structural reforms such as intellectual property rights and market access.

The two sides agreed to hold “positive and constructive” dialogue to resolve economic and trade disputes in accordance with the consensus reached by their respective leaders, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing.

“From the beginning, we have believed that China-U.S. trade friction is not a positive situation for either country or the world economy. China has the good faith, on the basis of mutual respect and equality, to resolve the bilateral trade frictions.”

Trump imposed import tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods last year and has threatened more to pressure Beijing to change its practices on issues ranging from industrial subsidies to intellectual property to hacking. China has retaliated with tariffs of its own.

“As for whether the Chinese economy is good or not, I have already explained this. China’s development has ample tenacity and huge potential,” Lu said. “We have firm confidence in the strong long-term fundamentals of the Chinese economy.”

Lu also said Vice President Wang Qishan would attend the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in late January, but added that he had not yet heard of any arrangements for a meeting with Trump there.

By Monday evening, few details had emerged of the trade talks, which were scheduled to run through Tuesday.

Although the talks were held at a vice-ministerial level, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, who has led trade negotiations with the United States and is a top economic adviser to Xi, made an unexpected appearance at the meetings on Monday, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The U.S. delegation, led by Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Jeffrey Gerrish, includes undersecretaries from the U.S. departments of agriculture, commerce, energy and treasury, as well as senior officials from the White House.

Tu Xinquan, a Chinese trade expert at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics, told Reuters before talks began that the meetings would likely focus on technical issues and leave major disagreements to more senior officials.

“China’s economy is significantly slowing down, and the U.S. stock market is declining quickly. I think the two sides need some kind of agreement for now,” Tu said.

Data last week showed manufacturing has slowed in both China and the United States, though the U.S. Labor Department on Friday reported a surge in new jobs in December along with higher wages.

Officials have given scant details on concessions that China might be willing to make to meet U.S. demands, some of which would require structural reforms unpalatable for Chinese leaders.

Even if a trade agreement is reached soon, analysts say it would be no panacea for China’s economy, which is expected to continue decelerating in the coming months.

China’s stridently nationalist Global Times tabloid said in an editorial late on Sunday that statements from both sides that they hoped to reach a deal were cause for optimism, but that Beijing would not cave in to U.S. demands.

“If China was going to raise the white flag, it would have done it already,” the paper said.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Kim Coghill/Mark Heinrich)

China confident on U.S. trade pact, Trump cites Xi’s ‘strong signals’

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China's President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

By John Ruwitch

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China expressed confidence on Wednesday that it can reach a trade deal with the United States, a sentiment echoed by U.S. President Donald Trump a day after he warned of more tariffs if the two sides could not resolve their differences.

The remarks, by the Chinese Commerce Ministry, follow a period of relative quiet from Beijing after Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping reached a temporary truce in their trade war at a meeting over dinner in Argentina on Saturday.

In a brief statement, the ministry said China would try to work quickly to implement specific items already agreed upon, as both sides “actively promote the work of negotiations within 90 days in accordance with a clear timetable and roadmap”.

“We are confident in implementation,” it said, calling the latest bilateral talks “very successful”.

Trump, in a post on Twitter, linked Beijing’s silence to officials’ travels and said he thought Xi had been sincere during their weekend meeting to hammer out progress over trade.

“Very strong signals being sent by China once they returned home from their long trip, including stops, from Argentina. Not to sound naive or anything, but I believe President Xi meant every word of what he said at our long and hopefully historic meeting. ALL subjects discussed!” Trump wrote on Wednesday.

The U.S. president a day earlier had said the ceasefire could be extended but warned tariffs would be back on the table if the talks failed and that he would only accept a “real deal” with China.

China’s Foreign Ministry referred specific questions to the Commerce Ministry, which is due to hold its weekly news briefing on Thursday in Beijing.

“We hope the two working teams from both sides can, based on the consensus reached between the two countries’ leaders, strengthen consultations, and reach a mutually beneficial agreement soon,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.

The threat of further escalation in the trade war between the world’s two largest economies has loomed large over financial markets and the global economy for much of the year, and investors initially greeted the ceasefire with relief.

The mood has quickly soured, however, on skepticism that the two sides can reach a substantive deal on a host of highly divisive issues within the 90-day negotiating period, and markets continued to slide on Wednesday in part from confusion over the ceasefire’s lack of detail.

Failure would raise the specter of a major escalation in the trade battle, with fresh U.S. tariff action and Chinese retaliation possibly as early as March.

The White House has said China had committed to start buying more American products and lifting tariff and non-tariff barriers immediately while beginning talks on structural changes with respect to forced technology transfers and intellectual property protection.

Sources told Reuters that Chinese oil trader Unipec plans to resume buying U.S. crude by March after the Xi-Trump deal reduced the risk of tariffs on those imports. China’s crude oil imports from the U.S. had ground to a halt.

MARKETS DOWN

Global financial markets sank to one-week lows on Wednesday amid the renewed trade concerns, extending Tuesday’s slide.

U.S. markets were closed on Wednesday to observe former President George H.W. Bush’s death, but the effect of Wall Street’s turmoil the previous day was felt in Europe and Asia with the benchmark Shanghai stock index closing down 0.6 percent.

“Narrow agreements and modest concessions in the ongoing trade dispute will not bridge the wide gulf in their respective economic, political and strategic interests,” Moody’s Investors Service said in a report that predicted U.S.-China relations “will remain contentious”.

Officials from the United States and a number of other major economies have often criticized China for its slow approach to negotiations and not following through on commitments.

China has said comparatively little about the Trump-Xi agreement after senior Chinese officials briefed the media following the meeting, and U.S. and Chinese accounts of what the deal entails have sometimes differed.

“Officials now face the difficult task of fleshing out a deal that is acceptable to the Chinese but also involves significant enough concessions not to be torpedoed by the China hawks in the Trump administration,” Capital Economics said in a note this week, adding that higher tariffs could simply be delayed.

A Chinese official told Reuters that officials were “waiting for the leaders to return” before publicizing details.

President Xi and his most senior officials are due back in China on Thursday, having visited Panama and Portugal since leaving Argentina.

On Wednesday, the Global Times tabloid, which is run by the Chinese Communist Party’s main newspaper, said the Trump administration’s statements about the deal – including the agreement that China would buy $1.2 trillion in additional U.S. goods – were designed to highlight or even exaggerate facets of the deal that benefited the United States.

“It will be a win-win situation if a deal is realized. But if not, more fights and talks will continue alternately for a long while. Chinese society should maintain a calm attitude,” it said.

(Reporting by John Ruwitch and Wang Jing in Shanghai, Philip Wen in Beijing and Makini Brice in Washington; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kim Coghill and Steve Orlofsky)