Netanyahu, in U.N. speech, claims secret Iranian nuclear site

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

By John Irish and Arshad Mohammed

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described on Thursday what he said was a secret atomic warehouse in Tehran and accused Europe of appeasing Iran as he sought to rally support for U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu showed an aerial photograph of the Iranian capital marked with a red arrow and pointed to what he said was a previously secret warehouse holding nuclear-related material. He argued this showed Iran still sought to obtain nuclear weapons, despite its 2015 agreement with world powers to curb its program in exchange for loosening of sanctions.

Netanyahu spoke four-and-a-half months after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord, arguing it did too little to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and triggering the resumption of U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.

Netanyahu said the site contained some 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of radioactive material that has since been moved called on the U.N. atomic agency to inspect the location immediately with Geiger counters.

“I am disclosing for the first time that Iran has another secret facility in Tehran, a secret atomic warehouse for storing massive amounts of equipment and materiel from Iran’s secret nuclear program,” Netanyahu said.

Iran did not immediately respond to Netanyahu’s allegations.

He did not identify the material or specifically suggest that Iran had actively violated the nuclear deal.

An outspoken opponent of the deal, Netanyahu has previously made allegations about Iran’s nuclear activities that are difficult or impossible to verify, including presenting a cartoon bomb to the General Assembly in 2012 warning of how close Tehran was to producing a nuclear device.

In April, Netanyahu presented what he said was evidence of a large secret archive of documents related to Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program at a different site in Tehran.

He said Israeli agents removed vast amounts of documents from that site. At the time, Iran said the documents were fake.

In a speech in which he said relatively little about efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said Iran had since begun moving items out of the second site.

“Since we raided the atomic archive, they’ve been busy cleaning out the atomic warehouse. Just last month they removed 15 kilograms of radioactive material. You know what they did with it?” he said. “They took it out and they spread it around Tehran in an effort to hide the evidence.”

He said Iranian officials still had a lot of work to do because there were some 15 shipping containers full of nuclear-related equipment and materials stored at the second site.

“This site contained as much as 300 tonnes – 300 tonnes – of nuclear-related equipment and materiel,” he said.

Under the nuclear deal struck by Iran and six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.

The International Atomic Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly said Tehran was abiding by its commitments to the deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), including in a document reviewed by Reuters on Aug. 30.

France, Britain, Germany, China, and Russia have stayed in the pact, vowing to save it despite the restoration of U.S. sanctions and this week discussing a barter mechanism they hope may allow Iran to circumvent the U.S. measures.

Netanyahu criticized Europe for doing so in unusually harsh language that evoked European nations’ initial failure to confront Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

“While the United States is confronting Iran with new sanctions, Europe and others are appeasing Iran by trying to help it bypass those new sanctions,” Netanyahu said.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States is aware of the facility Netanyahu announced and described it as a “warehouse” used to store “records and archives” from Iran’s nuclear program.

A second U.S. intelligence official called Netanyahu’s comments “somewhat misleading. First, we have known about this facility for some time, and it’s full of file cabinets and paper, not aluminum tubes for centrifuges, and second, so far as anyone knows, there is nothing in it that would allow Iran to break out of the JCPOA any faster than it otherwise could.”

The Israeli leader also lambasted Iran’s ballistic missile activity, identifying three locations near Beirut airport where he said Lebanon’s Hezbollah was converting missiles.

“In Lebanon, Iran is directing Hezbollah to build secret sites to convert inaccurate projectiles into precision-guided missiles, missiles that can target deep inside Israel within an accuracy of 10 meters (yards),” he said.

The IAEA, Iran and Hezbollah were not immediately available for comment.

The Israeli military released a video clip and photos of what it said were Hezbollah Shi’ite militia rocket building sites in Lebanon, shortly after Netanyahu’s address.

(Reporting by John Irish, Arshad Mohammed, Yara Bayoumy and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Jonathan Landay and John Walcott in Washington, Laila Bassam in Beirut, Francois Murphy in Vienna; Editing by James Dalgleish)

U.S. approval of $330 million military sale to Taiwan draws China’s ire

Taiwan Air Force's F-16 fighter jets fly during the annual Han Kuang military exercise at an army base in Hsinchu, northern Taiwan, July 4, 2015. REUTERS/Patrick Lin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department has approved the sale to Taiwan of spare parts for F-16 fighter planes and other military aircraft worth up to $330 million, prompting China to warn on Tuesday that the move jeopardized Sino-U.S. cooperation.

U.S. military sales to self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its territory, is an irritant in the relations between the world’s two largest economies. Taiwan would still need to finalize details of the sale with U.S. companies.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security and defensive capability of the recipient, which has been and continues to be an important force for political stability, military balance, and economic progress in the region,” the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement issued on Monday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan were a serious breech of international law and harmed Chinese sovereignty and security interests.

FILE PHOTO: A military honour guard holds a Taiwanese national flag as he attending flag-raising ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, in Taipei, Taiwan March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

FILE PHOTO: A military honour guard holds a Taiwanese national flag as he attending flag-raising ceremony at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, in Taipei, Taiwan March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

China strongly opposes the planned arms sales and has already lodged “stern representations” with the United States, he told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

China urges the United States to withdraw the planned sale and stop military contacts with Taiwan, to avoid serious harm to both Sino-U.S. cooperation in major areas, and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, Geng added.

China’s Defense Ministry, in a separate statement, also condemned the planned sale, adding that the Chinese military had a “firm and unshakable” resolve to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

China is deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions toward Taiwan, which is equipped with mostly U.S.-made weaponry and wants Washington to sell it more advanced equipment, including new fighter jets.

In a statement on Tuesday, Taiwan’s Presidential Office thanked the United States for its support and said the island would continue to “stay in close communication and cooperation” with Washington for issues including security.

Military experts said the balance of power between Taiwan and China has shifted in favor of China, which could probably overwhelm the island unless U.S. forces came quickly to its aid.

The $330 million request covers spare parts for “F-16, C-130, F-5, Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF), all other aircraft systems and subsystems, and other related elements of logistics and program support,” the Pentagon said, adding that it notified Congress of the possible sale. Lockheed Martin Corp makes the F-16.

The Pentagon said the proposed sale is required to maintain Taiwan’s “defensive and aerial fleet,” and would not alter the military balance in the region.

China has never renounced the use of force to bring what it sees as a wayward province under its control.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during a visit to Beijing in June that Beijing was committed to peace, but could not give up “even one inch” of territory that the country’s ancestors had left behind.

(Reporting by Mohammad Zargham; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in TAIPEI and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; editing by Leslie Adler, Lisa Shumaker & Simon Cameron-Moore)

U.S. tech giants eye Artificial Intelligence key to unlock China push

A Google sign is seen during the WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai, China, September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song

By Cate Cadell

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – U.S. technology giants, facing tighter content rules in China and the threat of a trade war, are targeting an easier way into the world’s second-largest economy – artificial intelligence.

Google, Microsoft Inc and Amazon Inc showcased their AI wares at a state-backed forum held in Shanghai this week against the backdrop of Beijing’s plans to build a $400 billion AI industry by 2025.

China’s government and companies may compete against U.S. rivals in the global AI race, but they are aware that gaining ground won’t be easy without a certain amount of collaboration.

“Hey Google, let’s make humanity great again,” Tang Xiao’ou, CEO of Chinese AI and facial recognition unicorn Sensetime, said in a speech on Monday.

Amazon and Microsoft announced plans on Monday to build new AI research labs in Shanghai. Google also showcased a growing suite of China-focused AI tools at its packed event on Tuesday.

Google in the past year has launched AI-backed products including a translate app and a drawing game, its first new consumer products in China since its search engine was largely blocked in 2010.

The World Artificial Intelligence Conference, which ends on Wednesday, is hosted by China’s top economic planning agency alongside its cyber and industry ministries. The conference aims to show the country’s growing might as a global AI player.

China’s ambition to be a world leader in AI has created an opening for U.S. firms, which attract the majority of top global AI talents and are keen to tap into China’s vast data.

The presence of global AI research projects is also a boon for China, which aims to become a global technology leader in the next decade.

Liu He, China’s powerful vice premier and the key negotiator in trade talks with the United States, said his country wanted a more collaborative approach to AI technology.

“As members of a global village, I hope countries can show inclusive understanding and respect for each other, deal with the double-sword technologies can bring, and embrace AI challenges together,” he told the forum.

Beijing took an aggressive stance when it laid out its AI roadmap last year, urging companies, the government and military to give China a “competitive edge” over its rivals.

STATE-BACKED AI

Chinese attendees at the forum were careful to cite the guiding role of the state in the country’s AI sector.

“The development of AI is led by government and executed by companies,” a Chinese presenter said in between speeches on Monday by China’s top tech leaders, including Alibaba Holding Ltd chairman Jack Ma, Tencent Holdings Ltd chief Pony Ma and Baidu Inc CEO Robin Li.

While China may have enthusiasm for foreign AI projects, there is little indication that building up local AI operations will open doors for foreign firms in other areas.

China’s leaders still prefer to view the Internet as a sovereign project. Google’s search engine remains blocked, while Amazon had to step back from its cloud business in China.

Censorship and local data rules have also hardened in China over the past two years, creating new hoops for foreign firms to jump through if they want to tap the booming internet sector.

Nevertheless, some speakers paid tribute to foreign AI products, including Xiami Corp chief executive Lei Jun, who hailed Google’s Alpha Go board game program as a major milestone, saying he was a fan of the game himself.

Alibaba’s Ma said innovation needed space to develop and it was not the government’s role to protect business.

“The government needs to do what the government should do, and companies need to do what they should do,” he said.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Darren Schuettler)

Amazon investigating claims of employees leaking data for bribes

FILE PHOTO: The logo of the web service Amazon is pictured in this June 8, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso/Illustration/File Photo

(Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc said on Monday it was investigating suspected internal leaks of confidential information by its employees for bribes to remove fake reviews and other seller scams from its website.

Amazon employees are offering internal data and other classified information through intermediaries, to independent merchants selling their products on the site to help them boost sales in return for payments, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday, citing sources.

The practice, which is a violation of the company’s policy, is particularly strong in China, the report added, as the number of sellers there are soaring.

“We hold our employees to a high ethical standard and anyone in violation of our code faces discipline, including termination and potential legal and criminal penalties,” a company spokesperson told Reuters.

Brokers for Amazon employees in Shenzhen are offering internal sales metrics and reviewers’ email addresses, as well as a service to delete negative reviews and restore banned Amazon accounts in exchange for payments ranging from about $80 to more than $2,000, the WSJ report said.

The e-commerce giant is also investigating a number of cases involving employees, including some in the U.S., suspected of accepting these bribes, according to the Journal report.

(Reporting by Arjun Panchadar in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

Hong Kong, southern China clean up after super typhoon

A woman runs in the rainstorm as Typhoon Mangkhut approaches, in Shenzhen, China September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The financial hub of Hong Kong began clearing up on Monday after being battered by one of the strongest typhoons in recent years, with financial markets and offices operating as normal.

Super typhoon Mangkhut, with hurricane-force winds well over 200 kilometers per hour (124 miles/h), had barreled past the northern tip of the Philippines, killing at least 50 people. It then skirted south of Hong Kong and the neighboring gambling hub of Macau, before making landfall in China.

Parts of Hong Kong and Macau were severely flooded, though there were no immediate reports of fatalities. China Central Television, the state broadcaster, said four people had been killed in Guangdong, China’s most populous province of over 100 million residents

The state broadcaster also said flood warnings had been issued for 38 rivers in the neighboring region of Guangxi, while 12 coastal monitoring stations reported their biggest-ever waves. It also said more than 13,300 hectares of farmland had been damaged.

As many as 2.45 million people in Guangdong province had been relocated on Sunday night, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The China Meteorological Administration said the typhoon, dubbed “King of Storms”, swept west to Guangxi province at 6 a.m. (2200 GMT on Sunday) and weakened to a “tropical storm”. It forecast the storm to hit the regions of Guizhou, Chongqing and Yunnan on Monday.

The meteorological administration said Mangkhut was one of the 10 biggest storms to hit southeast China since 1949 – when records began – with wind speeds at around 162 km/h.

A man trapped in raging flood waters caused by Typhoon Mangkhut is pictured before his rescue in Tarlac, Philippines, in this still image from a September 15, 2018 video from social media. Aquino Lord/Social Media/via REUTERS

A man trapped in raging flood waters caused by Typhoon Mangkhut is pictured before his rescue in Tarlac, Philippines, in this still image from a September 15, 2018 video from social media. Aquino Lord/Social Media/via REUTERS

Across Hong Kong, authorities strived to clear roads of debris, including toppled trees and bamboo scaffolding. Some buildings, including the One Harbourfront office tower, had many windows smashed after a day in which

some of the city’s skyscrapers had swayed with the ferocious gusts.

“Yesterday’s storm was very strong. Even for a person of my weight, I was about to be blown down by the wind which made me very scared,” said a 70-year-old resident surnamed Fung.

“It was very serious this time.”

Stock and financial markets opened as normal on Monday in Hong Kong and the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Some transport services remained suspended, though flights in the region were slowly resuming after a shutdown on Sunday, stranding many thousands of passengers.

People prepare to rescue a man (not pictured) trapped in raging flood waters caused by Typhoon Mangkhut in Tarlac, Philippines, in this still image from a September 15, 2018 video from social media. Aquino Lord/Social Media/via REUTERS

People prepare to rescue a man (not pictured) trapped in raging flood waters caused by Typhoon Mangkhut in Tarlac, Philippines, in this still image from a September 15, 2018 video from social media. Aquino Lord/Social Media/via REUTERS

In Macau, badly hit by a super typhoon last year, authorities were much more prepared this time, ordering casinos to close late on Saturday night as the storm approached.

Casinos were operational again early on Monday though authorities were still struggling to restore power to some of the 20,000 households that suffered power cuts.

Macau gambling stocks were down in early Monday trade.

(Reporting by David Stanway in Shanghai and James Pomfret in Hong Kong; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

Russia’s Putin inspects war games and vows to beef up army

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu while flying over Tsugol training range in Zabaikalsky region, Russia, September 13, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Thursday promised to strengthen the army and supply it with new generation weapons, as he traveled to watch Russia’s biggest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Vostok-2018 (East-2018) drills taking place in eastern Siberia close to the border with China involve 300,000 Russian troops as well as joint exercises with the Chinese army.

“This is the first time our army and fleet have undergone such a difficult and large-scale test,” Putin said in comments published on the Kremlin website.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (L) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu oversee the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) military drills at Tsugol firing range in Zabaikalsky Region, Russia September 13, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (L) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu oversee the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) military drills at Tsugol firing range in Zabaikalsky Region, Russia September 13, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS

The exercises, that involve over a thousand military aircraft as well as up to 36,000 tanks, come amid tense relations between Russia and the West that have fallen to a post-Cold War low.

Addressing a gathering of the soldiers, Putin said Russia was a peaceful country ready for cooperation with any state interested in partnership, but that it was a soldier’s duty to be ready to defend his country and its allies.

“Therefore we are going to further strengthen our armed forces, supply them with the latest generations of weapons and equipment, develop international military partnership,” Putin said.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Keith Weir)

Russia starts biggest war games since Soviet fall near China

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia September 11, 2018. Mikhail Metzel/TASS Host Photo Agency/Pool via REUTERS

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia began its biggest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union on Tuesday close to its border with China, mobilizing 300,000 troops in a show of force that will include joint exercises with the Chinese army.

China and Russia have staged joint drills before but not on such a large scale, and the Vostok-2018 (East-2018) exercise signals closer military ties as well as sending an unspoken reminder to Beijing that Moscow is able and ready to defend its sparsely populated far east.

Vostok-2018 is taking place at a time of heightened tension between the West and Russia, and NATO has said it will monitor the exercise closely, as will the United States which has a strong military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence broadcast images on Tuesday of columns of tanks, armored vehicles and warships on the move, and combat helicopters and fighter aircraft taking off.

In one clip, marines from Russia’s Northern Fleet and a motorized Arctic brigade were shown disembarking from a large landing ship on a barren shore opposite Alaska.

This activity was part of the first stage of the exercise, which runs until Sept. 17, the ministry said in a statement. It involved deploying additional forces to Russia’s far east and a naval build-up involving its Northern and Pacific fleets.

The main aim was to check the military’s readiness to move troops large distances, to test how closely infantry and naval forces cooperated, and to perfect command and control procedures. Later stages will involve rehearsals of both defensive and offensive scenarios.

Russia also staged a major naval exercise in the eastern Mediterranean this month and its jets resumed bombing the Syrian region of Idlib, the last major enclave of rebels fighting its ally President Bashar al-Assad.

CLOSER CHINA-RUSSIA TIES

The location of the main training range for Vostok-2018 5,000 km (3,000 miles) east of Moscow means it is likely to be watched closely by Japan, North and South Korea as well as by China and Mongolia, both of whose armies will take part in the maneuvers later this week.

Analysts say Moscow had to invite the Chinese and Mongolian militaries given the proximity of the war games to their borders and because the scale meant the neighboring countries would probably have seen them as a threat had they been excluded.

The exercise – which will involve more than 1,000 military aircraft, two Russian naval fleets, up to 36,000 tanks and armored vehicles and all Russian airborne units – began as President Vladimir Putin held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Russian port city of Vladivostok.

Relations between Moscow and Beijing have long been marked by mutual wariness with Russian nationalists warning of encroaching Chinese influence in the country’s mineral-rich far east.

But Russia pivoted east towards China after the West sanctioned Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and trade links between the two, who share a land border over 4,200 km long, have blossomed since.

Russia broadcast footage of some of 24 helicopters and six jets belonging to the Chinese air force landing at Russian air bases for the exercise. Beijing has said 3,200 members of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will join in.

Some experts see the war games as a message to Washington, with which both Moscow and Beijing have strained ties.

“With its Vostok 2018 exercise Russia sends a message that it regards the U.S. as a potential enemy and China as a potential ally,” wrote Dmitri Trenin, a former Russian army colonel and director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.

“China, by sending a PLA element to train with the Russians, is signaling that U.S. pressure is pushing it towards much closer military cooperation with Moscow.”

Putin, who is armed forces commander-in-chief, is expected to observe the exercises this week alongside Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is overseeing them.

Shoigu has said they are the biggest since a Soviet military exercise, Zapad-81 (West-81) in 1981.

(Editing by David Stamp and Alison Williams)

China outlaws large underground Protestant church in Beijing

FILE PHOTO: The head pastor of the Zion church in Beijing Jin Mingri poses for picures in the lobby of the unofficial Protestant "house" church in Beijing, China, August 28, 2018. Picture taken August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Christian Shepherd

BEIJING (Reuters) – Beijing city authorities have banned one of the largest unofficial Protestant churches in the city and confiscated “illegal promotional materials”, amid a deepening crackdown on China’s “underground” churches.

The Zion church had for years operated with relative freedoms, hosting hundreds of worshippers every weekend in an expansive specially renovated hall in north Beijing.

But since April, after they rejected requests from authorities to install closed-circuit television cameras in the building, the church has faced growing pressure from the authorities and has been threatened with eviction.

On Sunday, the Beijing Chaoyang district civil affairs bureau said that by organizing events without registering, the church was breaking rules forbidding mass gatherings and were now “legally banned” and its “illegal promotional material” had been confiscated, according to images of the notice sent to Reuters late on Sunday and confirmed by churchgoers.

“I fear that there is no way for us to resolve this issue with the authorities,” Zion’s Pastor Jin Mingri told Reuters.

China’s religious affairs and civil affairs bureaux did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but since President Xi Jinping took office six years ago the government has tightened restrictions on religions seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.

Churches across China have faced new waves of harassment and pressure to register since a new set of regulations to govern religious affairs in China came into effect in February and heightened punishments for unofficial churches.

In July, more than 30 of Beijing’s hundreds of underground Protestant churches took the rare step of releasing a joint statement complaining of “unceasing interference” and the “assault and obstruction” of regular activities of believers since the new regulations came into effect.

China’s Christian believers are split between those who attend unofficial “house” or “underground” churches and those who attend government-sanctioned places of worship.

Churchgoers were also given a notice from the district religious affairs bureau saying that the “great masses of believer must respect the rules and regulations and attend events in legally registered places of religious activity”.

Zion’s attendees were also given pamphlets of officially sanctioned churches that they might attend instead.

But for many worshippers and pastors, such as Jin, accepting the oversight and ultimate authority of the Communist Party would be a betrayal of their faith.

“On this land, the only one we can trust in is God,” Jin said.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Michael Perry)

U.S. job growth surges; annual wage gain largest since 2009

A man holds his briefcase while waiting in line during a job fair in Melville, New York July 19, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. job growth accelerated in August and wages notched their largest annual increase in more than nine years, strengthening views that the economy was so far weathering the Trump administration’s escalating trade war with China.

The Labor Department’s closely watched employment report published on Friday also showed slack in the jobs market was rapidly diminishing, with a broader measure of unemployment falling to a level not seen since 2001. The report cemented expectations for a third interest rate increase from the Federal Reserve this year when policymakers meet on Sept. 25-26.

“The economy is on an adrenalin rush,” said Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “Given the amount of fiscal stimulus that the economy is benefiting from, it’s going to take a lot to get it off that high.”

Nonfarm payrolls surged by 201,000 jobs last month, boosted by hiring at construction sites, wholesalers and professional and business services, the Labor Department said. There were also gains in transportation and healthcare employment.

Job growth averaged 185,000 per month in the past three months. The economy needs to create 120,000 jobs per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population.

Average hourly earnings increased 0.4 percent, or 10 cents in August after rising 0.3 percent in July. That raised the annual increase in wages to 2.9 percent in August, the largest gain since June 2009, from 2.7 percent in July.

A broader measure of unemployment, which includes people who want to work but have given up searching and those working part-time because they cannot find full-time employment, fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 7.4 percent, the lowest level since April 2001. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 3.9 percent.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast nonfarm payrolls increasing by 191,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate falling to 3.8 percent. The economy created 50,000 fewer jobs in June and July than previously reported.

The dollar firmed against a basket of currencies after the report, while U.S. Treasury yields rose. U.S. stock index futures extended losses.

Analysts say the administration’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package and increased government spending were shielding the economy from the trade tensions, which have also seen Washington engaged in tit-for-tat tariffs with other trade partners, including the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

They also note that the import duties implemented so far have affected only a small portion of the American economy, but warned this could change if President Donald Trump pressed ahead with additional tariffs on Chinese imports.

The United States and China have slapped retaliatory tariffs on a combined $100 billion of products since early July.

LIMITED IMPACT FROM TARIFFS

Americans had until Thursday to comment on a list of $200 billion worth of Chinese goods widely expected to be hit with tariffs soon. The government imposed import duties on goods including steel, aluminum, washing machines, lumber and solar panels early this year to protect American industries from what Trump says is unfair foreign competition.

Global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said on Thursday there were 521 tariff-related job cuts in August, but these were largely offset by the hiring of 359 workers by steel producers.

The employment report added to manufacturing and services industries surveys in suggesting the Trump administration’s protectionist trade policy was having a marginal impact on the economy for now. The economy grew at a 4.2 percent annualized rate in the second quarter, almost double the 2.2 percent pace set in the January-March period.

The labor force participation rate, or the proportion of working-age Americans who have a job or are looking for one, fell two-tenths of a percentage point to 62.7 percent last month, putting a wrinkle on an otherwise upbeat employment report.

Job gains in August were almost across all sectors, though manufacturing payrolls fell by 3,000. That was the first drop since July 2017 and followed an increase of 18,000 in July. Manufacturing employment was weighed down by declines in machinery, computer and electronic products and motor vehicle and parts industries.

Construction companies hired 23,000 more workers last month. They increased payrolls by 18,000 jobs in July. Wholesalers added 22,400 jobs last month. Payrolls in the professional and business services industries rose by 53,000 jobs in August.

Employment at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores rebounded by 9,200 jobs in August after shedding 30,300 jobs in July related to the closing of all Toys-R-Us stores.

But retail payrolls fell 5,900 last month and government shed 3,000.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.N. holds emergency meeting in Asia as China battles African swine fever

FILE PHOTO: Piglets are seen by a sow at a pig farm in Zhoukou, Henan province, China June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING (Reuters) – The United Nations is holding an emergency meeting this week with animal health experts in Asia to discuss the threat of African swine fever after the first outbreak of the disease in the region was discovered in China last month.

China has detected eight cases of the highly contagious virus since discovering the first outbreak on Aug. 3, raising concerns about its spread in the world’s largest pork producer and beyond its borders into Southeast Asia.

Its arrival in China marked a new front in the battle to control the disease, which has traveled from Europe over the past decade through Russia.

(Outbreaks of African swine fever in China by location: https://reut.rs/2PCNswR)

First detected in Africa almost a century ago, the virus is often deadly for pigs but does not harm humans.

Specialists from China and nine countries close by and considered to be at risk from a spread of the disease are attending the meeting running from Wednesday to Friday in Bangkok, along with experts from outside the region and participants from the private commercial swine sector.

The nine countries are Cambodia, Japan, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam, the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement on Wednesday.

The FAO has repeatedly warned that the arrival of the disease poses a significant threat to Asia.

“It’s critical that this region be ready for the very real possibility that (swine fever) could jump the border into other countries,” said Wantanee Kalpravidh, regional manager of the FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (ECTAD) in Asia.

“That’s why this emergency meeting has been convened – to assess where we are now – and to determine how we can work together in a coordinated, regional response to this serious situation.”

Chinese authorities are rushing to contain the virus, shutting live markets in infected provinces and banning transportation of live pigs and pork products in and out of those regions.

Highlighting the challenge though, South Korea had to ramp up quarantine measures at airports after finding a traveler carrying Chinese food infected with the disease.

The seminar will review recent research studies and technologies and consider lessons from recent and ongoing episodes in Europe, it said.

The disease is transmitted by ticks and direct contact between animals, and can also travel via contaminated food, animal feed, and people traveling from one place to another. There is no vaccine.

(Reporting by Josephine Mason; Editing by Joseph Radford)