Chinese hackers targeted U.S. firms, government after trade mission: researchers

A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

By Christopher Bing and Jack Stubbs

WASHINGTON/LONDON (Reuters) – Hackers operating from an elite Chinese university probed American companies and government departments for espionage opportunities following a U.S. trade delegation visit to China earlier this year, security researchers told Reuters.

Cybersecurity firm Recorded Future said the group used computers at China’s Tsinghua University to target U.S. energy and communications companies, and the Alaskan state government, in the weeks before and after Alaska’s trade mission to China. Led by Governor Bill Walker, companies and economic development agencies spent a week in China in May.

Organizations involved in the trade mission were subject to focused attention from Chinese hackers, underscoring the tensions around an escalating tit-for-tat trade war between Washington and Beijing.

China was Alaska’s largest foreign trading partner in 2017 with over $1.32 billion in exports.

Recorded Future said in a report to be released later on Thursday that the websites of Alaskan internet service providers and government offices were closely inspected in May by university computers searching for security flaws, which can be used by hackers to break into normally locked and confidential systems.

The Alaskan government was again scanned for software vulnerabilities in June, just 24 hours after Walker said he would raise concerns in Washington about the economic damage caused by the U.S.-China trade dispute.

A Tsinghua University official, reached by telephone, said the allegations were false.

“This is baseless. I’ve never heard of this, so I have no way to give a response,” said the official, who declined to give his name.

Tsinghua University, known as “China’s MIT,” is closely connected to Tsinghua Holdings, a state-backed company focused on the development of various technologies, including artificial intelligence and robotics.

China’s Defense Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Recorded Future gave a copy of its report to law enforcement. The FBI declined to comment.

It is unclear whether the targeted systems were compromised, but the highly focused, extensive and peculiar scanning activity indicates a “serious interest” in hacking them, said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future and former head of the National Security Agency’s East Asia and Pacific cyber threats office.

“The spike in scanning activity at the conclusion of trade discussions on related topics indicates that the activity was likely an attempt to gain insight into the Alaskan perspective on the trip and strategic advantage in the post-visit negotiations,” Recorded Future said in the report.

The targeted organizations included Alaska Communications Systems Group In, Ensco Atwood Oceanics, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the Alaska governor’s office and regional internet service provider TelAlaska.

Alaska Communications declined to comment. The others did not respond to requests for comment.

U.S.-China trade tensions have escalated in recent months with both sides imposing a series of punitive tariffs and restrictions across multiple industries, and threatening more.

The economic conflict has also damaged cooperation in cyberspace following a 2015 agreement by Beijing and Washington to stop cyber-enabled industrial espionage, Moriuchi said.

“In the fall of 2015, cybersecurity cooperation was seen as a bright spot in the U.S.-China relationship,” she said.

“It was seen as a topic that the U.S. and China could actually have substantive discussions on. That’s not really the case anymore, especially with this trade war that both sides have vowed not to lose.”

(Reporting by Christopher Bing in Washington and Jack Stubbs in London; Additional reporting by Gao Liangping and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

U.N. says it has credible reports that China holds million Uighurs in secret camps

FILE PHOTO: The United Nations emblem is seen in the U.N. General Assembly hall during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – A U.N. human rights panel said on Friday that it had received many credible reports that 1 million ethnic Uighurs in China are held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy”.

Gay McDougall, a member of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, cited estimates that another 2 million Uighurs and Muslim minorities are forced into so-called “political camps for indoctrination”.

She was addressing the start of a two-day regular examination of the record of China, including Hong Kong and Macao.

A Chinese delegation of some 50 officials made no immediate comment on her remarks at the Geneva session that continues on Monday.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by Tom Miles and Alison Williams)

Massive U.S. defense policy bill passes without strict China measures

U.S. Army soldiers carry a large U.S. flag as they march in the Veterans Day parade on 5th Avenue in New York November 11, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate passed a $716 billion defense policy bill on Wednesday, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a bigger, stronger military and sidestepping a potential battle with the White House over technology from major Chinese firms.

The Senate voted 87-10 for the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA. The annual act authorizes U.S. military spending but is used as a vehicle for a broad range of policy matters as it has passed annually for more than 50 years.

Since it cleared the House of Representatives last week, the bill now goes to Trump, who is expected to sign it into law.

While the measure puts controls on U.S. government contracts with China’s ZTE Corp and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd because of national security concerns, the restrictions are weaker than in earlier versions of the bill.

This angered some lawmakers, who wanted to reinstate tough sanctions on ZTE to punish the company for illegally shipping products to Iran and North Korea.

In another action largely targeting China, the NDAA strengthens the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews proposed foreign investments to weigh whether they threaten national security.

Lawmakers from both parties have been at odds with the Republican Trump over his decision to lift his earlier ban on U.S. companies selling to ZTE, allowing China’s second-largest telecommunications equipment maker to resume business.

But with his fellow Republicans controlling both the Senate and House, provisions of the NDAA intended to strike back at Beijing and opposed by the White House were softened before Congress’ final votes on the bill.

Separately, the NDAA authorizes spending $7.6 billion for 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, made by Lockheed Martin Corp.

And it would prohibit delivery of the advanced aircraft to fellow NATO member Turkey at least until after the production of report, another measure that was stricter in earlier versions of the bill.

U.S. officials have warned Ankara that a Russian missile defense system Turkey plans to buy cannot be integrated into the NATO air and missile defense system. They are also unhappy about Turkey’s detention of an American pastor.

The fiscal 2019 NDAA was named to honor McCain, the Armed Services Committee chairman, war hero, long-time senator and former Republican presidential nominee, who has been undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by James Dalgleish and David Gregorio)

Pentagon creating software ‘do not buy’ list to keep out Russia, China

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, June 15, 2005. REUTERS/Jason Reed

By Mike Stone

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon is working on a software “do not buy” list to block vendors who use software code originating from Russia and China, a top Defense Department acquisitions official said on Friday.

Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters the Pentagon had been working for six months on a “do not buy” list of software vendors. The list is meant to help the Department of Defense’s acquisitions staff and industry partners avoid buying problematic code for the Pentagon and suppliers.

“What we are doing is making sure that we do not buy software that has Russian or Chinese provenance, for instance, and quite often that’s difficult to tell at first glance because of holding companies,” she told reporters gathered in a conference room near her Pentagon office.

The Pentagon has worked closely with the intelligence community, she said, adding “we have identified certain companies that do not operate in a way consistent with what we have for defense standards.”

Lord did not provide any further details on the list.

Lord’s comments were made ahead of the likely passage of the Pentagon’s spending bill by Congress as early as next week. The bill contains provisions that would force technology companies to disclose if they allowed countries like China and Russia to examine the inner workings of software sold to the U.S. military.

The legislation was drafted after a Reuters investigation found that software makers allowed a Russian defense agency to hunt for vulnerabilities in software used by some agencies of the U.S. government, including the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.

Security experts said allowing Russian authorities to look into the internal workings of software, known as source code, could help adversaries like Moscow or Beijing to discover vulnerabilities they could exploit to more easily attack U.S. government systems.

Lord added an upcoming report on the U.S. military supply chain will show that the Pentagon depends on foreign suppliers, including Chinese firms, for components in some military equipment.

She said the Pentagon also wants to strengthen its suppliers’ ability to withstand cyber attacks and will test their cybersecurity defenses by attempting to hack them.

The Pentagon disclosed the measures as the federal government looks to bolster cyber defenses following attacks on the United States that the government has blamed on Russia, North Korea, Iran, and China.

The Department of Homeland Security this week disclosed details about a string of cyber attacks that officials said put hackers working on behalf of the Russian government in a position where they could manipulate some industrial systems used to control infrastructure, including at least one power generator.

(Reporting by Mike Stone; Editing by Chris Sanders, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

In China, #MeToo escalates as public figures are accused of sexual assault

FILE PHOTO: A woman is reflected in a window of an office in Shanghai. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Pei Li and Ryan Woo

BEIJING (Reuters) – Accusations of sexual assault spread across China’s social media this week as the #MeToo movement took aim at prominent activists, intellectuals, and a television personality.

In a country where issues like sexual assault have traditionally been brushed under the carpet, China’s fledgling #MeToo movement speaks to a changing mindset among the younger generation.

China’s millions of social media users have also ensured that any news, scandals, and grievances spread quickly. The spread of accusations about prominent Chinese figures presents a challenge for the government, which has censored some but not all of the social media posts.

The accusations have stoked heated online debate about sexual misconduct and what constitutes consensual sex or rape. On Friday, “sexual assault evidence collection” was the 2nd-ranked topic on popular social media platform Sina Weibo.

So far this week, more than 20 women have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct, sparked by an accusation on Monday that has rocked a non-government organization.

Lei Chuang, founder of Yi You, a prominent non-government charity, confessed in an online statement to an accusation of sexual assault. Lei has quit the organization after his confession. Three other activists were embroiled in separate accusations of sexual misconduct by the end of the week.

The most prominent sexual assault allegation this week came from a young legal worker who goes by the pseudonym Little Spirit. The 27-year-old said Zhang Wen – a veteran journalist and online political commentator in China – had raped her after a banquet in May, an allegation that prompted six other women to accuse him of sexual harassment and groping.

Zhang, in a statement Wednesday, denied the rape allegation, saying his affair with the accuser was consensual.

Jiang Fangzhou, a prominent fellow writer and deputy editor-in-chief of the Guangdong-based magazine New Weekly, said on her WeChat account that Zhang had groped her at a meal on one occasion.

Among others, the journalist Yi Xiaohe, and Wang Yanyun, a TV personality, said on social media that Zhang had made unwanted sexual advances toward them.

In his statement, Zhang said it was normal for men and women in intellectual and media circles to “take pictures together, hug and kiss each other after consuming liquor”.

On Thursday, an academic at Communication University of China in Beijing was accused by a student of a sexual assault in 2016. The university in a statement vowed to launch an investigation and deal with the matter with zero tolerance if confirmed.

A former professor at the same university, known to be a training camp for China’s future TV personalities, was also accused Thursday of uninvited sexual advances in 2008 by an ex-student.

CENSORSHIP

Accusations that a prominent personality on the state broadcaster CCTV, molested an intern emerged on Thursday but the posts on Weibo were quickly removed.

The personality could not be immediately reached, while CCTV did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

On Friday, the personality’s name was the top censored topic on Weibo, according to Free Weibo, an independent platform that lists and ranks all search phrases blocked on Sina Weibo. “Metoo” and “Me too” ranked 8th and 9th, respectively.

A Beijing-based magazine, Portrait, on Thursday, told its readers in an online article to share their own stories of being sexually assaulted. It said in a subsequent post that it had received more than 1,700 stories in less than 24 hours.

Portrait’s article on Tencent’s WeChat platform has since been removed.

By contrast, the confession of Lei, the charity head, was widely covered by state media, including China Daily.

Men in sports have also been implicated in the #MeToo accusations this week. On Friday, a 17-year old high school student in the eastern city of Ningbo said online that she had been sexually assaulted by two badminton coaches.

The global #MeToo movement was triggered by accusations by dozens of women against U.S. film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including rape, triggering a wider scandal that has roiled Hollywood and beyond. Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.

The catalyst for a Chinese #MeToo-style movement came in December last year when a U.S.-based Chinese software engineer published a blog post accusing a professor at a Beijing University of sexual harassment.

In China, the hashtag #MeToo has so far appeared more than 77 million times on Weibo, although the majority of the posts with that hashtag are not viewable.

On Thursday, the state-controlled People’s Daily posted a Ted Talks video about sexual assault on its Weibo account.

“Hope this post won’t be scrubbed,” one Weibo user commented about the video clip.

(Reporting by Pei Li and Ryan Woo; Editing by Philip McClellan)

Exclusive: North Korean fuel prices drop, suggesting U.N. sanctions being undermined

FILE PHOTO: North Koreans take a truck through a path amongst the fields, along the Yalu River, in Sakchu county, North Phyongan Province, North Korea, June 20, 2015. REUTERS/Jacky Chen/File Photo

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – Gasoline prices in North Korea have nearly halved since late March, market data analyzed by Reuters shows, adding weight to suspicions that fuel is finding its way into the isolated economy from China and elsewhere despite U.N. sanctions.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution in December to ban nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum exports to North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.

But as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has moved to improve relations with the United States, China and South Korea, concerns have grown that the policy of “maximum pressure” through sanctions and isolation, is losing steam.

Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to work toward denuclearization at their summit in Singapore on June 12. Experts say any fuel aid in breach of sanctions could erode the diplomatic progress.

China said on Tuesday it strictly abided by U.N. sanctions, but indicated it may have resumed some fuel shipments to North Korea in the second quarter of this year.

Gasoline was sold by private dealers in the North Korean capital Pyongyang at about $1.24 per kg as of Tuesday, down 33 percent from $1.86 per kg on June 5 and 44 percent from this year’s peak of $2.22 per kg on March 27, according to Reuters analysis of data compiled by the Daily NK website. Diesel prices are at $0.85 per kg, down about 17 percent from March.

The website is run by North Korean defectors who collect prices via phone calls with multiple traders in the North after cross-checks to corroborate their information, offering a rare glimpse into the livelihoods of ordinary North Koreans.

In North Korea, gas is sold via informal channels such as street stalls and informal markets and by weight rather than by volume, as it is in South Korea, the United States and elsewhere, so North Koreans prefer to quote “per kg” rates, said Kang Mi-jin, who works at Daily NK. A 200 liter barrel of petrol holds around 180 kg.

U.S. prices stand at around 75 cents per liter or $2.839 per gallon.

“My assessment is that there was a greater inflow (of fuel supplies) from abroad, especially China since Kim’s trips there,” said Kang, who speaks regularly to sources inside North Korea.

Kim first visited China to meet President Xi Jinping in March, and they held two more summits, in May and June.

SANCTIONS

The latest fuel data comes amid mounting suspicion in Washington that North Korea may be using the recent diplomatic thaw to get a lifeline from China.

North Korea gets most of its fuel from China, its biggest trading partner, and some from Russia. Washington and Seoul officials have said the North imports some 4.5 million barrels of refined petroleum products and 2 million barrels of crude oil each year.

Last year’s U.N. resolution capped refined imports at 500,000 barrels a year.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters on Tuesday that China has consistently and strictly abided by U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea.

China had exported 7,432 tonnes of refined oil products to North Korea in the first six months of this year, out of a total of 60,000 tonnes a year stipulated by the U.N. sanctions.

China had reported its exports to the Security Council’s sanctions committee in a timely manner, Geng added.

“The relevant situation is totally open and transparent,” he said, without elaborating.

Since official Chinese customs data showed no gasoline and diesel exports to North Korea from January to March, Geng’s comments suggested China resumed some shipments some time after Kim and Xi’s first meeting.

Overall, China’s trade with North Korea in the first half of this year tumbled 56 percent on the back of the tightening sanctions, customs data showed on Monday.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused North Korea of “illegally smuggling petroleum products into the country at a level that far exceeds quotas” established by the UN.

“Illegal ship-to-ship transfers are the most prominent means by which this is happening. Every UN member state must step up enforcement,” he wrote on Twitter, without naming any country.

China and Russia delayed a U.S. push last week for a UN Security Council panel to order a halt to refined petroleum exports to North Korea, asking for more detail on a U.S. accusation that Pyongyang breached sanctions, diplomats said.

The United States provided a list to the committee earlier this month of 89 illicit North Korean transactions and a few select photos, seen by Reuters.

Seoul’s foreign ministry said last week that the authorities were investigating two ships with Panama and Sierra Leone flags suspected to have illegally transferred North Korean coal into South Korea via Russia.

NO MAJOR SUFFERING

North Korean rice prices have also been stable since a spike last September, when the UN Security Council imposed new sanctions. Rice has hovered around $0.62 per kg throughout this year.

Stable fuel and rice prices suggest no immediate signs of major suffering in North Korea despite South Korea’s recent estimates the impoverished state’s economy contracted at its sharpest rate in two decades last year.

South Korea’s central bank said North Korea’s gross domestic product shrank 3.5 percent last year, marking the biggest decline since 1997, citing international sanctions and drought.

While other defectors reported some suffering in remote rural regions, Daily NK’s Kang said fuel demand has been steady in North Korea, and overall living conditions have improved in line with a booming unofficial market economy.

The unofficial markets, known as jangmadang, have grown to account for about 60 percent of the economy, according to the Institute for Korean Integration of Society.

“I’ve seen signs the economy was slowly improving over the past five years, and in last year things are still developing but perhaps not as fast as before,” a Western consultant who makes regular trips to North Korea told Reuters.

Kim, who vowed not to let the people “tighten their belt again” in his first-ever public speech in 2012, announced in April a shift in focus from nuclear programs to the economy. Analysts say that will be difficult while sanctions remain in place.

“I don’t think there is an outcry in the markets now, but there could be one toward the end of this year,” said Kim Byeong-yeon, a North Korea economy specialist at the Seoul National University.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin. Additional reporting by Josh Smith and Cynthia Kim in SEOUL and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

State Department still investigating diplomats’ illnesses in Cuba, China

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials are still investigating health problems at the U.S. embassy in Cuba, and do not know who or what was behind the mysterious illnesses, which began in 2016 and have affected 26 Americans.

“We don’t know who is responsible and we don’t know what is responsible for this,” Kenneth Merten, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, told a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

The administration of President Donald Trump, which has partly rolled back a detente with Cuba, responded to the health problems by sharply reducing staff in Havana and in October expelled 15 Cuban diplomats.

Cuban officials, who are conducting their own investigation, have denied any involvement or knowledge of what was behind it.

Symptoms have included hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo, headaches and fatigue, a pattern consistent with “mild traumatic brain injury,” State Department officials have said.

In April, Canada said it would remove families of diplomats posted at its embassy in Cuba as information from medical specialists raised concerns about a new type of brain injury.

The State Department said last month it brought a group of diplomats home from Guangzhou, China, over concern they were suffering from a mysterious malady resembling brain injury.

Merten said he was not aware of any other embassies having been affected.

“We have taken this … very seriously, both in the Cuba context and the China context which is, frankly, still very much evolving,” he said.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Patricia Zengerle; editing by Susan Thomas)

Wall Street edges higher as strong jobs data offsets trade worries

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Sruthi Shankar and Savio D’Souza

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks edged higher on Friday on stronger-than-expected job growth in June, offsetting concerns from a trade war between the United States and China.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 213,000 jobs last month, the Labor Department said, topping expectations of 195,000, while the unemployment rate rose from an 18-year low to 4.0 percent and average hourly earnings rose 0.2 percent.

The moderate wage growth could allay fears of a strong build-up in inflation pressures, keeping the Federal Reserve on a path of gradual interest rate increases.

“It was what the market wanted to see: more jobs created than expected, wage growth moderate and creating jobs where you want to see them … It’s not just creating jobs it’s creating careers,” said J.J. Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade in Chicago.

The strong jobs data follows the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s latest policy meeting which showed policymakers discussed if recession lurked around the corner and expressed concerns trade tensions could hit an economy that by most measures looked strong.

Earlier stock futures were set for a more cautious start after the United States and China imposed tariffs on each other’s goods worth $34 billion, with Beijing accusing Washington of starting the “largest-scale trade war.”

President Donald Trump warned the United States may ultimately target over $500 billion worth of Chinese goods, but global markets remained broadly sanguine, though concerns about the conflict escalating capped appetite for risk.

“The expectation of things is always worse for the market than the reality,” said Kinahan. “We certainly have to pay attention to trade but it’s been expected for a long time.”

At 9:54 a.m. EDT the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 19.67 points, or 0.08 percent, at 24,337.07, the S&P 500 was up 4.26 points, or 0.16 percent, at 2,740.87 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 34.68 points, or 0.46 percent, at 7,621.10.

Eight of the 11 major S&P sectors were higher, led by a 0.8 percent jump in the S&P healthcare index.

Biogen jumped 17.8 percent after the company and Japanese drugmaker Eisai Co said the final analysis of a mid-stage trial of their Alzheimer’s drug showed positive results.

Among the decliners were industrials, energy and materials indexes.

Boeing, the single largest U.S. exporter to China, slipped 0.7 percent and Caterpillar dropped 1.3 percent.

The Philadelphia Semiconductor index, which is made up of chipmakers most of whom rely on China for a substantial chunk of revenue, dropped 0.4 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.65-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 2.07-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&

P index recorded 10 new 52-week highs and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 67 new highs and nine new lows.

(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar and Savio D’Souza in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

Thais fear ‘no chance’ of more survivors from tourist boat, nearly 60 may be dead

A rescued woman wearing a life jacket hugs a man after a boat capsized off the tourist island of Phuket, Thailand July 5, 2018 in this still image taken from video. Video taken July 5, 2018. REUTERS via Reuters TV

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai rescuers deployed helicopters on Friday in a search for 29 people missing after the sinking of a boat carrying Chinese tourists, with one official saying he feared “no chance” of any more survivors, which would mean a death toll of nearly 60.

The confirmed death toll from the accident off the resort island of Phuket stood at 27, but the navy said divers had spotted “quite a few bodies” in the sunken vessel, the Phoenix.

The boat capsized in rough seas on Thursday with 105 people on board, 93 of them Chinese tourists along with 12 Thai crew and tour guides.

A rescued tourist is attended by rescue personnel after a boat he was travelling in capsized off the tourist island of Phuket, Thailand, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Sooppharoek Teepapan

Television broadcast images of dozens of divers searching for the missing, while more rescuers waited on standby at a pier nearby. Seas were calm and skies clear on Friday.

“Right now, officials from the marine police and navy are helping to dive at the spot where the boat sank,” Marine Police said in a statement.

“They are diving to a depth of about 40 meters (130 feet).”

A Marine Department official said there was probably “no chance” any more survivors could be found from inside the boat.

“A day and a night has passed,” said the department’s deputy director-general, Kritpetch Chaichuay.

Thailand is in the middle of its rainy season, which usually runs from May to October, and often generates high winds and flash storms in coastal areas, especially on its west coast on the Indian Ocean, where Phuket is located.

Police are investigating the incident. The boat, which went down about 7 km (5 miles) from shore, was properly registered and had not been overloaded, police said.

Tourist Police bureau deputy chief, Major General Surachate Hakparn, said in a post on Facebook tour operators had been warned about the severe weather.

“Be careful … nature is not a joke,” Surachate wrote.

“The Tourist Police warned businesses in Phuket already to not take boats out from shore, but they violated this order by taking foreign tourists out,” he said.

Media identified the operator of the boat as TC Blue Dream. Reuters could not find a contact number for that name.

Thai Rescue workers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher, after a boat capsized off the tourist island of Phuket, Thailand, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Sooppharoek Teepapan

‘CLOSE ATTENTION’

Thailand has a poor record on road and boat safety. Many tour operators have complained about lax enforcement of basic safety measures, such as seatbelts in cars and lifejackets on boats.

Another boat sailing in the same area also capsized on Thursday but all 35 tourists, five crew and a guide on board were rescued, the Water Safety Department of the Harbour Department said.

The Chinese embassy in Bangkok said it had asked the Thai government to make all-out rescue efforts, and had sent a team to Phuket to help.

Chinese consulate staff in southern Thailand were on the scene helping its citizens, it said.

Chinese tourists make up the biggest number of foreign visitors to Thailand, their numbers surging in recent years, drawn by the growing popularity of the southeast Asian nation’s islands.

In Beijing, a foreign ministry spokesman said China’s top leaders, including President Xi Jinping, were paying close attention to the incident.

“China expresses gratitude for the active search and rescue efforts made by Thailand,” the spokesman, Lu Kang, told a regular briefing.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Additional reporting by Gao Liangping, Christian Shepherd and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Neil Fullick, Clarence Fernandez)

China issues U.S. travel warning amid trade tensions

FILE PHOTO: The People's Republic of China flag and the U.S. Stars and Stripes fly on a lamp post along Pennsylvania Avenue near the U.S. Capitol during Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit, in Washington, D.C.,U.S., January 18, 2011. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s embassy in Washington has issued a security advisory to Chinese nationals traveling to the United States, the latest such warning as trade tensions escalate between the two countries.

The embassy warned Chinese tourists to be aware of issues including expensive medical bills, the threats of public shootings and robberies, searches and seizures by customs agents, telecommunications fraud and natural disasters.

“Public security in the United States is not good. Cases of shootings, robberies, and theft are frequent,” the embassy said in the alert published on Thursday to its website.

“Travellers in the United States should be alert to their surroundings and suspicious individuals, and avoid going out alone at night.”

Aside from an additional warning about the risk of natural disasters, the advisory was similar to one the embassy posted in January.

Tensions are high between the two countries over the threat of tariffs.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is set to impose tariffs on $34 billion worth of additional goods from China on Friday citing unfair Chinese trade practices, and has threatened successive waves of duties on up to $450 billion in Chinese imports.

China has vowed to retaliate in kind with its own tariffs on U.S. agricultural products and other goods and to take more “qualitative” measures if Trump escalates the conflict.

China’s Foreign Ministry, when asked on Tuesday if the timing of the alert was politically motivated, said the summer was the high season for Chinese going to the United States and that Chinese embassies had an obligation to warn citizens about potential risks abroad.

“This kind of reminder from the Chinese embassy in the relevant country, I think this is absolutely a matter that is in the scope of our duty,” ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular news briefing.

There was little mention of the latest embassy alert on Chinese social media.

China frequently issues travel warnings for Chinese abroad, generally in war-afflicted regions.

But some foreign governments have argued that Beijing uses other means, such as curtailing outbound tourism, to settle political or trade scores, though the Chinese government typically denies such issues are linked.

China banned all group tours to South Korea for part of 2017 in the wake of Seoul’s decision to install the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD), which has a powerful radar Beijing worries can penetrate Chinese territory.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)