China’s Xi says ‘happiness’ in Xinjiang on the rise, will keep teaching ‘correct’ outlook

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping said levels of happiness among all ethnic groups in the western region of Xinjiang are rising and that China plans to keep teaching its residents a “correct” outlook on China, Xinhua news agency reported late on Saturday.

China has come under scrutiny over its treatment of Uighur Muslims and claims of alleged forced-labor abuses in Xinjiang, where the United Nations cites credible reports as saying one million Muslims held in camps have been put to work.

China has repeatedly denied mistreating Uighurs and says the camps are vocational training centers that are needed to tackle extremism, accusing what it calls anti-China forces of smearing its Xinjiang policy.

“The sense of gain, happiness, and security among the people of all ethnic groups (in Xinjiang) has continued to increase,” Xi told a ruling Communist Party conference on Xinjiang held on Friday and Saturday, Xinhua said.

Xi said it was necessary to educate Xinjiang’s population on an understanding of the Chinese nation and guide “all ethnic groups on establishing a correct perspective on the country, history and nationality”.

“Practice has shown that the party’s strategy for governing Xinjiang in the new era is completely correct” and it should be a long-term approach, he added.

In July, Washington imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses against Uighurs under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows the U.S. government to target human rights violators by freezing any U.S. assets, banning U.S. travel and prohibiting Americans from doing business with them.

(Reporting by Engen Tham; Editing by Tony Munroe and Nick Macfie)

COVID-19 death toll could double to two million before vaccine in wide use: WHO

GENEVA/ZURICH (Reuters) – The global death toll from COVID-19 could double to 2 million before a successful vaccine is widely used and could be even higher without concerted action to curb the pandemic, an official at the World Health Organization said on Friday.

“Unless we do it all, (2 million deaths) … is not only imaginable, but sadly very likely,” Mike Ryan, head of the U.N. agency’s emergencies program, told a briefing on Friday.

The number of deaths about nine months since the novel coronavirus was discovered in China is nearing 1 million

“We are not out of the woods anywhere, we are not out of the woods in Africa,” said Ryan.

He said young people should not be blamed for a recent increase in infections despite growing concerns that they are driving its spread after restrictions and lockdowns were eased around the world.

“I really hope we don’t get into finger wagging: it’s all because of the youth,” said Ryan. “The last thing a young person needs is an old person pontificating and wagging the finger.”

Rather, indoor gatherings of people of all ages were driving the epidemic, he said.

The WHO is continuing talks with China about its possible involvement in the COVAX financing scheme designed to guarantee fast and equitable access globally to COVID-19 vaccines, a week after the deadline for committing passed.

“We’re in discussions with China about the role they may play as we go forward,” said Bruce Aylward, WHO senior adviser and head of the ACT-Accelerator program to back vaccines, treatments and diagnostics against COVID-19.

He confirmed that Taiwan has signed up to the scheme, even though it is not a WHO member, bringing the total to 159 participants. Some 34 are still deciding.

Talks with China also include discussion of the world’s second-largest economy potentially supplying vaccines to the scheme, he said.

The UN agency published on Friday draft criteria for the assessment of emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines to help guide drugmakers as vaccine trials reach advanced stages, said WHO assistant director-general, Mariangela Simao.

The document will be available for public comment until Oct. 8, she said.

Earlier on Friday, a Chinese health official said the WHO had given its support for the country to start administering experimental coronavirus vaccines to people even while clinical trials were still underway.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebenay and Emma Farge in Geneva and Michael Shields in Zurich; Writing by Josephine Mason in London; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Timothy Heritage, Kirsten Donovan)

Global economic outlook ‘somewhat less dire’ than expected: IMF

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The global economic outlook is not quite as dark as expected even just three months ago, a top International Monetary Fund official said on Thursday, citing better-than-anticipated economic data from China and other advanced economies.

However, IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters the overall global outlook remained challenging as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on many economic sectors.

The situation remained “precarious” in many developing countries and emerging markets other than China, he said, noting that the IMF was also concerned about rising debt levels.

The IMF is due to release its latest World Economic Outlook on Oct. 13. In June, it slashed its 2020 global output forecasts further, forecasting the global economy would shrink by 4.9%, compared with a 3.0% contraction predicted in April.

Rice gave no fresh numbers, but said recent data from China and other advanced economies was better than expected.

“Recent incoming data suggests that the outlook may be somewhat less dire than at the time of the WEO update on June 24, with parts of the global economy beginning to turn the corner,” he told a regular briefing.

There were also signs that global trade was slowly beginning to recover after widespread lockdowns aimed at containing the spread of the virus, Rice said.

“But I would emphasize that we are not out of the woods, and the outlook remains very challenging, especially for many emerging markets and developing countries, other than China,” he said, noting that many of those countries faced continued weakness in domestic demand, lower export demand, shrinking remittances and declines in tourism.

“Taken together, we are very concerned that this crisis will reverse the gains in poverty reduction that have been made in recent years, and roll back progress that has been made toward the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said, referring to ambitious goals set out by the United Nations five years ago to end poverty and inequality.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

At U.N., Trump demands action against China over virus, Xi urges cooperation

By Michelle Nichols and Steve Holland

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump used the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday to attack China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying the world body “must hold China accountable” for its actions related to the outbreak.

By contrast, China’s President Xi Jinping struck a conciliatory tone in his pre-recorded virtual address to the General Assembly, calling for enhanced cooperation over the pandemic and stressing that China had no intention of fighting “either a Cold War or a hot one” with any other country.

The leaders of the world’s two largest economies laid out their competing visions as relations have plunged to their worst level in decades against the backdrop of the pandemic, with coronavirus tensions aggravating trade and technology disputes.

Trump, facing a November re-election battle with the United States dealing with the world’s highest official number of deaths and infections from the coronavirus, focused his speech on attacking China.

Trump accused Beijing of allowing people to leave China in the early stages of the outbreak to infect the world while shutting down domestic travel.

“We must hold accountable the nation which unleashed this plague onto the world, China,” he said in remarks taped on Monday at the White House and delivered remotely to the General Assembly due to the pandemic.

“The Chinese government, and the World Health Organization – which is virtually controlled by China – falsely declared that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission,” he said.

“Later, they falsely said people without symptoms would not spread the disease … The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions.”

The president promised to distribute a vaccine and said: “We will defeat the virus, and we will end the pandemic.”

In introducing Xi’s remarks, China’s U.N. ambassador Zhang Jun said China “resolutely rejects the baseless accusations against China.”

“The world is at a crossroads. At this moment, the world needs more solidarity and cooperation, but not confrontation,” he said.

‘GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER’

In his address, in what appeared to be an implicit rebuke to Trump, Xi called for a global response to the coronavirus and giving a leading role to the World Health Organization, which the U.S. president has announced plans to leave.

“Facing the virus, we should enhance solidarity and get through this together,” he said. “We should follow the guidance of science, give full play to the leading role of the World Health Organization and launch a joint international response to beat this pandemic. Any attempt of politicizing the issue, or stigmatization, must be rejected.”

The death toll from the spread of the coronavirus in the United States surpassed 200,000 on Monday, by far the highest official number of any country.

Trump also attacked China’s record on the environment, but leveled no direct criticism at Beijing over human rights.

The president, a frequent critic of the United Nations, said that if it was to be effective, it must focus on “the real problems of the world” like “terrorism, the oppression of women, forced labor, drug trafficking, human and sex trafficking, religious persecution, and the ethnic cleansing of religious minorities.”

Earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the world was “moving in a very dangerous direction” with U.S.-China tensions.

“We must do everything to avoid a new Cold War,” he told the assembly. “Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a Great Fracture — each with its own trade and financial rules and internet and artificial intelligence capacities.

“A technological and economic divide risks inevitably turning into a geo-strategic and military divide. We must avoid this at all costs.”

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Steve Holland, Arshad Mohammed and David Brunnstrom; Writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Mary Milliken and Howard Goller)

Trump to tell U.N. it ‘must hold China accountable for their actions’ on virus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will tell the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday it “must hold China accountable for their actions” related to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Chinese government, and the World Health Organization – which is virtually controlled by China – falsely declared that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission,” Trump will say, according to excerpts released ahead of delivery.

“Later, they falsely said people without symptoms would not spread the disease … The United Nations must hold China accountable for their actions,” he will say.

Trump taped his speech on Monday at the White House for delivery remotely to the General Assembly, which convened virtually this week.

The president promised to distribute a vaccine and said: “We will defeat the virus, we will defeat the virus, and we will end the pandemic” and enter a new era of prosperity, cooperation and peace.

Trump, a frequent critic of the United Nations, also said in the excerpts that if the UN is to be effective, it must focus on “the real problems of the world” like “terrorism, the oppression of women, forced labor, drug trafficking, human and sex trafficking, religious persecution, and the ethnic cleansing of religious minorities.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)

Taiwan military says it has right to counter attack amid China threats

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan said on Monday its armed forces have the right to self-defense and counter attack amid “harassment and threats,” in an apparent warning to China, which last week sent numerous jets across the mid-line of the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

Tensions have sharply spiked in recent months between Taipei and Beijing, which claims democratically-run Taiwan as its own territory, to be taken by force if needed.

Chinese aircraft crossed the mid-line to enter the island’s air defense identification zone on Friday and Saturday, prompting Taiwan to scramble jets to intercept them, and President Tsai Ing-wen to call China a threat to the region.

In a statement, Taiwan’s defense ministry said it had “clearly defined” procedures for the island’s first response amid “high frequency of harassment and threats from the enemy’s warships and aircraft this year”.

It said Taiwan had the right to “self-defenses and to counter attack” and followed the guideline of “no escalation of conflict and no triggering incidents”.

Taiwan would not provoke, but it was also “not afraid of the enemy”, it added.

MID-LINE “DOES NOT EXIST”

Taiwanese and Chinese combat aircraft normally observe the mid-line of the Taiwan Strait and do not cross it, although there is no official agreement between Taipei and Beijing on doing so, and the rule is observed unofficially.

“Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing. “The so-called mid-line of the Strait does not exist.”

Since 2016 Taiwan has reported only five Chinese incursions across the line, including the two last week.

Late on Monday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported two Chinese anti-submarine aircraft had flown into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone – but not over the mid-line – to the island’s southwest, and were warned away by Taiwanese fighters.

The drills came as Beijing expressed anger at the visit of a senior U.S. official to Taipei.

On Monday, the official China Daily newspaper said the United States was trying to use Taiwan to contain China but nobody should underestimate its determination to assert its sovereignty over the island.

“The U.S. administration should not be blinkered in its desperation to contain the peaceful rise of China and indulge in the U.S. addiction to its hegemony,” it said in an editorial.

China has been angered by stepped-up U.S. support for Taiwan, including two visits in as many months by top officials, one in August by Health Secretary Alex Azar and the other last week by Keith Krach, undersecretary for economic affairs.

The United States, which has no official diplomatic ties with the island but is its strongest international backer, is also planning major new arms sales to Taiwan.

China this month held rare large-scale drills near Taiwan, which Taipei called serious provocation. China said the exercise was a necessity to protect its sovereignty.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard, and Gabriel Crossly in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel, Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)

Taiwan scrambles jets as 18 Chinese planes buzz during U.S. visit

By Ben Blanchard and Yew Lun Tian

TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Taiwan scrambled fighter jets on Friday as 18 Chinese aircraft buzzed the island, crossing the sensitive mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, in response to a senior U.S. official holding talks in Taipei.

China had earlier announced combat drills and denounced what it called collusion between the island, which it claims as part of its territory, and the United States.

U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit, the most senior State Department official to come to Taiwan in four decades – to which China had promised a “necessary response.”

The U.S. State Department has said Krach, who arrived in Taipei on Thursday afternoon, is in Taiwan for a memorial service on Saturday for former President Lee Teng-hui, who was revered by many on the island and internationally as the father of Taiwan’s democracy.

But Beijing has watched with growing alarm the ever-closer relationship between Taipei and Washington, and has stepped up military exercises near the island, including two days of large-scale air and sea drills last week.

With a U.S. presidential election looming in November, Sino-U.S. relations are already under huge strain from a trade war, U.S. digital security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan said 18 Chinese aircraft were involved on Friday, far more than in previous such encounters and entered its southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

“Sep. 18, two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighters, four J-10 fighters and four J-11 fighters crossed the mid-line of the TaiwanStrait and entered Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ,” the defense ministry said in an English-language tweet.

Combat aircraft from both sides normally avoid passing through the Taiwan Strait mid-line.

“ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defense missile system to monitor the activities.” The ROCAF, Taiwan’s air force, has scrambled frequently in recent months in response to Chinese intrusions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led the Trump administration’s rhetorical offensive against China, accused Beijing of bluster when asked about the Chinese activity.

“We sent the delegation to a funeral, and the Chinese have apparently responded by military blustering. I’ll leave it at that,” he told a news conference on a visit to Guyana.

In a statement, the Pentagon said it was another example of China using its military as a tool of coercion.

“The PLA’s aggressive and destabilizing reactions reflect a continued attempt to alter the status quo and rewrite history,” a Pentagon spokesman said, using an acronym for China’s People’s Liberation Army.

The ministry showed a map of the flight paths of Chinese jets crossing the mid-line.

Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper said Taiwanese jets had scrambled 17 times over four hours, warning China’s air force to stay away. It also showed a picture of missiles being loaded onto an F-16 fighter at the Hualien air base on Taiwan’s east coast.

‘REASONABLE, NECESSARY ACTION’

In Beijing, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Friday’s maneuvers, about which he gave no details, involved the People’s Liberation Army’s eastern theater command.

“They are a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ren said.

He said Taiwan was a purely internal Chinese affair and accused its ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of stepping up “collusion” with the United States.

Trying to “use Taiwan to control China” or “rely on foreigners to build oneself up” was wishful thinking and futile. “Those who play with fire will get burnt,” Ren said.

Taiwan’s presidential office urged China to exercise restraint, and urged the Taiwanese not to be alarmed, saying the military had a grasp on the situation.

Government officials in Taiwan, including President Tsai Ing-wen, have expressed concern in recent weeks that an accidental military encounter could spark a wider conflict.

Hu Xijin, editor of China’s widely read state-backed Global Times tabloid, wrote on his Weibo microblog that the drills were preparation for an attack on Taiwan should the need arise, and that they enabled intelligence-gathering about Taiwan’s defense systems.

“If the U.S. secretary of state or defense secretary visits Taiwan, People’s Liberation Army fighters should fly over Taiwan island, and directly exercise in the skies above it,” he added.

Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the mid-line last month while U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar was in Taipei, and last week China carried out two days of large-scale drills off Taiwan’s southwestern coast.

The United States, like most countries, has official ties only with China, not Taiwan, though Washington is the island’s main arms supplier and most important international backer.

This week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations had lunch with Taiwan’s top envoy in New York. China’s U.N. mission said it had lodged “stern representations” over the meeting.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Additional reportnmg by David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

Global coronavirus cases surpass 30 million: Reuters tally

By Jane Wardell

(Reuters) – Global coronavirus cases exceeded 30 million on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally, with the pandemic showing no signs of slowing.

India was firmly in focus as the latest epicenter, although North and South America combined still accounted for almost half of the global cases.

Global new daily case numbers reached record levels in recent days and deaths neared 1 million as the international race to develop and market a vaccine heated up.

The official number of global coronavirus cases is now more than five times the number of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to World Health Organization data.

Around the world, there have been almost 1 million deaths, considered a lagging indicator given the two-week incubation period of the virus. That has well exceeded the upper range of 290,000 to 650,000 annual deaths linked to influenza.

India this week became only the second country in the world, after the United States, to record more than 5 million cases. On Thursday, it reported another record daily rise in cases of almost 98,000.

The south Asian nation, the world’s second most populous country, has been reporting more new daily cases than the United States since mid-August and accounts for just over 16% of global known cases.

Reported deaths in India have been relatively low so far but are showing an uptick, and the country has recorded more than 1,000 deaths every day for the last two weeks.

The United States has about 20% of all global cases, although it has just 4% of the world’s population. Brazil, the third worst-hit country, accounts for roughly 15% of global cases.

It took 18 days for global cases to surge from 25 million to more than 30 million. It took 20 days for the world to go from 20 million to 25 million and 19 days to go from 15 million to 20 million.

The global rate of new daily cases is slowing, reflecting progress in constraining the disease in many countries, despite a few big surges.

Australia on Thursday reported its lowest single-day case rise since June as strict lockdown measures in its second largest city of Melbourne, the center of the country’s second wave, appeared to pay off.

Health experts stress that official data almost certainly under-reports both infections and deaths, particularly in countries with limited testing capacity.

The race to develop and bring to market a novel coronavirus vaccine has grown increasingly frenetic in recent weeks with about 200 candidates in development globally.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said his country could have a vaccine ready for distribution before the U.S. election on Nov. 3, while a Chinese health official this week said China may have a vaccine ready for public use as early as November.

While the trajectory of the coronavirus still falls far short of the 1918 Spanish flu, which infected an estimated 500 million people, killing at least 10% of them, experts worry the available data is underplaying the true impact of the pandemic.

(Reporting by Jane Wardell; editing by Robert Birsel and Lisa Shumaker)

U.S. charges seven in wide-ranging Chinese hacking effort

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday it has charged five Chinese residents and two Malaysian businessmen in a wide-ranging hacking effort that encompassed targets from video games to pro-democracy activists.

Federal prosecutors said the Chinese nationals had been charged with hacking more than 100 companies in the United States and abroad, including software development companies, computer manufacturers, telecommunications providers, social media companies, gaming firms, nonprofits, universities, think-tanks as well as foreign governments and politicians and civil society figures in Hong Kong.

U.S. officials stopped short of alleging the hackers were working on behalf of Beijing, but in a statement Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen expressed exasperation with Chinese authorities, saying they were – at the very least – turning a blind eye to cyber-espionage.

“We know the Chinese authorities to be at least as able as the law enforcement authorities here and in like minded states to enforce laws against computer intrusions,” Rosen said. “But they choose not to.”

He further alleged that one of the Chinese defendants had boasted to a colleague that he was “very close” to China’s Ministry of State Security and would be protected “unless something very big happens.”

“No responsible government knowingly shelters cyber criminals that target victims worldwide in acts of rank theft,” Rosen said.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return an email seeking comment. Beijing has repeatedly denied responsibility for hacking in the face of a mounting pile of indictments from U.S. authorities.

Along with the alleged hackers, U.S. prosecutors also indicted two Malaysian businessmen, Wong Ong Hua, 46, and Ling Yang Ching, 32, who were charged with conspiring with two of the digital spies to profit from computer intrusions targeting video game companies in the United States, France, Japan, Singapore and South Korea.

The Justice Department said the pair operated through a Malaysian firm called SEA Gamer Mall. Messages left with the company were not immediately returned. Messages sent to email addresses allegedly maintained by the hackers also received no immediate response.

U.S. Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said on Wednesday that the Malaysian defendants were in custody but were likely to fight extradition.

The Justice Department said it has obtained search warrants this month resulting in the seizure of hundreds of accounts, servers, domain names and “dead drop” Web pages used by the alleged hackers to help siphon data from their victims.

The Department said Microsoft Corp. had developed measures to block the hackers and that the company’s actions “were a significant part” of the overall U.S. effort to neutralize them. Microsoft did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Susan Heavey, Raphael Satter and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis)

IEA says oil demand recovery set to slow for rest of 2020

By Noah Browning

LONDON (Reuters) – The International Energy Agency (IEA) trimmed its 2020 oil demand forecast on Tuesday, citing caution about the pace of economic recovery from the pandemic.

The Paris-based IEA cut its 2020 outlook by 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 91.7 million bpd in its second downgrade in as many months.

“We expect the recovery in oil demand to decelerate markedly in the second half of 2020, with most of the easy gains already achieved,” the IEA said in its monthly report.

“The economic slowdown will take months to reverse completely … in addition, there is the potential that a second wave of the virus (already visible in Europe) could cut mobility once again.”

Renewed rises in COVID-19 cases in many countries and related lockdown measures, continued remote working and a still weak aviation sector are all hurting demand, the IEA said.

China – which emerged from lockdown sooner than other major economies and provided a strong prop to global demand – continues a strong recovery, while a virus upsurge in India contributed to the biggest demand drop since April, the IEA said.

Increasing global oil output and the downgraded demand outlook also mean a slower draw on crude oil stocks which piled up at the height of lockdown measures, it added.

The agency now predicts implied stock draws in the second half of the year of about 3.4 million barrels per day, nearly one million bpd less than it predicted last month, with July storage levels in developed countries again reaching record highs.

However, preliminary data for August showed industry crude oil stocks fell in the United States, Europe and Japan.

As output cuts eased among producers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and allies such as Russia, global oil supply rose by 1.1. million bpd in August.

After two months of increases, recovery among countries outside the OPEC+ pact stalled, with production in the United States falling 400,000 bpd as Hurricane Laura forced shut-ins.

(Reporting by Noah Browning; editing by Jason Neely)