Hours after U.S. troops killed in Syria, Pence says Islamic State defeated

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks to the news media outside the West Wing with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) after a meeting with President Donald Trump and congressional leadership about the partial government shutdown at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Islamic State has been defeated in Syria, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday, hours after Americans were killed in a northern Syria bomb attack claimed by the militant group.

Pence did not mention the attack in his address to 184 chiefs of U.S. diplomatic missions who gather annually in Washington from around the world to discuss foreign policy strategy.

“The caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated,” Pence told the U.S. ambassadors and other senior American diplomats, referring to Islamic State.

In separate statements later, both the White House and Pence condemned the attack and expressed sympathy for the deaths of the U.S. personnel.

The Pentagon said two U.S. servicemembers, a Department of Defense civilian employee and one contractor working for the military were killed and three servicemembers were injured in the blast in the northern Syria town of Manbij.

An Islamic State-affiliated website said the attack was the work of a suicide bomber.

Trump made a surprise announcement on Dec. 19 that he would withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria after concluding that Islamic State had been defeated there. His decision led to the resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who cited policy differences with the president for his departure.

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian national flag flutters next to the Islamic State's slogan at a roundabout where executions were carried out by ISIS militants in the city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria in this April 1, 2016 file photo. Omar Sanadiki/Files/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian national flag flutters next to the Islamic State’s slogan at a roundabout where executions were carried out by ISIS militants in the city of Palmyra, in Homs Governorate, Syria in this April 1, 2016 file photo. Omar Sanadiki/Files/File Photo

LACK OF PROGRESS

Despite talks of a second leaders’ summit between Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, Pence acknowledged that efforts to convince Pyonyang to give up its nuclear arsenal had not made headway.

“While the president is promising dialogue with Chairman Kim we still await concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region,” he said.

The vice president also criticized China’s “unfair” trade practices and loans to developing countries that pushed up their debt levels as it tries to gain greater influence in the world.

“The truth is that too often in recent years China has chosen a path that disregards the laws and norms that have kept the world state prosperous for more than half a century,” he said. “The days of the United States looking the other way are over,” he added.

Pence said the administration’s foreign policy was based on Trump’s “America First” agenda. “No longer will the United States government pursue grandiose, unrealistic notions at the expense of American people,” he said.

He acknowledged that Trump’s foreign policy was “different from what the world has come to expect” and that the United States faced different threats than during the Cold War.

“Today we are not up against one superpower but several great powers competing with us for preeminence across the world,” he said, saying the United States faced a “wolf pack” of rogue states including Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)

Mega tube under Geneva enters race to succeed CERN collider

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment during a media visit at the Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Saint-Genis-Pouilly, France, near Geneva in Switzerland, July 23, 2014. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – A proposed 100-km particle accelerator under Geneva has joined an international quest to develop the successor to the Large Hadron Collider to help unlock humankind’s knowledge of matter.

The existing collider (LHC), which started up in 2008, smashes protons together in a 27-km circuit beneath the Swiss-French border. It helped scientists discover the long-sought Higgs boson — a particle that supplied the missing piece of the standard model of physics by explaining why objects have mass.

The FCC, or Future Circular Collider, proposed by more than 150 universities and science institutes, would be a huge tubular circuit almost four times as long, with 10 times more power than the LHC at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Physics.

The proposal came out of the European strategy for particle physics, which recommended that design and feasibility studies be conducted in order for Europe “to be in a position to propose an ambitious post-LHC accelerator project at CERN by the time of the next strategy update”.

But the decision on whether to go ahead with the FCC – incurring an initial 9 billion euro ($10.25 billion) bill for participating governments plus a later 15 billion euro upgrade – is effectively part of an international race to host the LHC’s successor, with China, Japan, the United States and Europe all interested.

“Any big machine for the future will be a global machine,” said Arnaud Marsollier, head of media relations at CERN.

“No one expects to have two 100-km colliders built in the next 20 years, so if one is built in China, maybe Europe will do something else.”

The LHC is expected to keep running until around 2036-2040, by which time it will have done its job collecting data, but it might also be possible to upgrade it by increasing the energy of collisions, which would require major investment.

China has floated plans for its own 100-km collider, but has not yet confirmed it will go ahead.

Japan is expected to take a decision on a linear collider in March, which could play into a potential choice by European countries in 2020 about whether to back the FCC or another proposal for CERN, the Compact Linear Collider.

For physicists, the location may be less important than the science opportunities on offered by a new collider, allowing them to peer into the debris left when subatomic particles smash together and shatter into even smaller pieces, some of which may answer fundamental questions about the universe.

But science mega-projects attract talent and can generate unforeseen spin-offs – including the invention of the World Wide Web at CERN, which has become a global center for physicists, despite the high cost of living around Geneva.

The discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012 earned Peter Higgs and Francois Englert the 2013 Nobel prize. They had predicted half a century earlier that it would one day be discovered.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Alison Williams)

China says pace of Xinjiang ‘education’ will slow, but defends camps

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

By Ben Blanchard

URUMQI/KASHGAR/HOTAN, China (Reuters) – China will not back down on what it sees as a highly successful de-radicalization program in Xinjiang that has attracted global concern, but fewer people will be sent through, officials said last week in allowing rare media access there.

Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over what they call mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who call Xinjiang home.

In August, a U.N. human rights panel said it had received credible reports that a million or more Uighurs and other minorities in the far western region are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp.”

Residents perform for reporters and government officials during a government organised visit to the Karakax county vocational educational training centre in Karakax, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 5, 2019. Picture taken January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Residents perform for reporters and government officials during a government organised visit to the Karakax county vocational educational training center in Karakax, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 5, 2019. Picture taken January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Last week, the government organized a visit to three such facilities, which it calls vocational education training centers, for a small group of foreign reporters, including Reuters.

In recent days, a similar visit was arranged for diplomats from 12 non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Kazakhstan, according to Xinjiang officials and foreign diplomats.

Senior officials, including Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s governor and the region’s most senior Uighur, dismissed what they called “slanderous lies” about the facilities.

Speaking in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, Shohrat Zakir said the centers had been “extremely effective” in reducing extremism by teaching residents about the law and helping them learn Mandarin.

“As time goes by, the people in the education training mechanism will be fewer and fewer,” he said.

Shohrat Zakir said he could not say exactly how many people were in the facilities.

Imams and government officials pass under security cameras as they leave the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Imams and government officials pass under security cameras as they leave the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

“One million people, this number is rather frightening. One million people in the education mechanism – that’s not realistic. That’s purely a rumor,” he said, stressing they were temporary educational facilities.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based exile group the World Uyghur Congress, told Reuters the Chinese government was using extremism as an excuse to lock people up.

“What they are trying to do is destroy Uighur identity,” he said.

INSIDE THE CENTERS

Human rights groups and former detainees have said that conditions in the camps are poor, with inmates subject to abuse. They said detainees did not receive vocational training.

Seeking to counter that narrative, the government took reporters to three centers, in Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax, all in the heavily Uighur-populated southern part of Xinjiang, where much of the violence has taken place in recent years.

Security cameras are installed at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

Security cameras are installed at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard

In one class reporters were allowed to briefly visit, a teacher explained in Mandarin that not allowing singing or dancing at a wedding or crying at a funeral are signs of extremist thought.

The students took notes, pausing to look up as reporters and officials entered the room. Some smiled awkwardly. Others just looked down at their books. All were Uighur. None appeared to have been mistreated.

In another class, residents read a Chinese lesson in their textbook entitled “Our motherland is so vast.”

There was plenty of singing and dancing in other rooms reporters visited, including a lively rendition in English of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” that seemed to have been put on especially for the visit.

Several residents agreed to speak briefly to reporters, though all in the presence of government officials. Reporters were closely chaperoned at all times.

All the interviewees said they were there of their own accord after learning of the centers from local officials.

Many answers used extremely similar language about being “infected with extremist thought.”

Pazalaibutuyi, 26, told reporters at the Hotan center that five years ago she had attended an illegal religious gathering at a neighbor’s house, where they were taught that women should cover their faces.

“At that time I was infected with extremist thought so I wore a face veil,” she said, speaking clear Mandarin after a year at the center.

Government officials came to her village to talk to the villagers and after that, she said, “I discovered my mistake.”

In the Kashgar center, Osmanjan, who declined to give his age, said he had incited ethnic hatred, so village police suggested he go for re-education.

“Under the influence of extremist thought, when non-Muslims came to my shop I was unwilling to serve them,” he said in unsteady Mandarin.

It was not possible to independently verify their stories. All the interviewees said they had not been forewarned of the visit.

Residents said they can “graduate” when they are judged to have reached a certain level with their Mandarin, de-radicalization and legal knowledge. They are allowed phone calls with family members, but no cell phones. They are provided with halal food.

Only minimal security was visible at any of the three centers.

Reuters last year reported on conditions inside the camps and took pictures of guard towers and barbed wire surrounding some.

‘A GOOD LIFE’

The situation in Xinjiang has stirred concern in Western capitals.

At least 15 Western ambassadors wrote to Xinjiang’s top official, Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo, late last year seeking a meeting to discuss their concerns. Chen did not meet reporters on the trip.

Diplomatic sources told Reuters the ambassadors did not get a response.

The United States has said it is considering sanctions against Chen, other officials and Chinese companies linked to allegations of rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based Human Rights Watch researcher, said international pressure needs to increase.

“The fact that they feel they need to put on a show tour is a sign that this pressure is working,” she told Reuters.

Both Wang and Dilxat Raxit noted that the tight control over the visits and interviews showed China’s concern about their true nature.

Over a lunch of lamb kebabs, horse meat and naan, Urumqi party boss Xu Hairong told Reuters that “all of the reports are fake” when it comes to foreign coverage of Xinjiang. He dismissed worries about U.S. sanctions.

“We, including Party Secretary Chen, are working all out for the people of Xinjiang to have a good life,” Xu said. “If the U.S. won’t allow me to go, then I don’t want to go there. That’s the truth.”

The government says its goal is for Uighurs to become part of mainstream Chinese society. Shohrat Zakir said in parts of southern Xinjiang people couldn’t even say hello in Mandarin.

Officials point to a lack of violence in the past two years as evidence of program’s success.

Urumqi’s Exhibition on Major Violent Terrorist Attack Cases in Xinjiang, normally closed to the public, displays graphic images and footage from what the government says are attacks.

“Only with a deeper understanding of the past can you understand the measures we have taken today,” Shi Lei, Xinjiang’s Communist Party committee deputy propaganda chief, told reporters.

One member of the Chinese armed forces, who has served in Kashgar, said the security situation had improved dramatically.

“You can’t imagine what it was like there in 2014 and 2015. There were attacks all the time, bombings, stabbings. It was chaos,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

In Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax, petrol stations are still surrounded by barbed wire and heavy security barriers. Residential areas are dotted with small police stations.

The stations have broader public service in mind, Zhang Yi, commander of one of the stations, told reporters. The one reporters visited provided pamphlets on a wide range of subjects, including how to legally change your sex.

Kashgar deputy party chief Zark Zurdun, a Uighur from Ghulja in northern Xinjiang, where many ethnic Kazakhs live, told Reuters that “stability is the best human right.”

“The West should learn from us” on how to beat extremism, he said, dismissing concerns Uighur culture was under attack.

“Did Kazakh vanish in the USSR when they all had to learn Russian?” he said. “No. So Uighur won’t vanish here.”

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

China pledges to buy ‘substantial amount’ of U.S. goods

FILE PHOTO: Ship and containers are shown at the port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China has pledged to purchase “a substantial amount” of agricultural, energy and manufactured goods and services from the United States, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said on Wednesday after U.S.-China trade talks wrapped up in Beijing.

In a statement that gave few details on the specific outcomes of the latest talks, USTR said the two sides discussed “ways to achieve fairness, reciprocity and balance in trade relations between our two countries.”

U.S. and Chinese officials also discussed issues related to intellectual property protections and the need for any agreement that resolves the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies “to provide for complete implementation subject to ongoing verification and effective enforcement,” USTR said.

The meetings this week were the first face-to-face talks since U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed in December to a 90-day truce in a trade war that has roiled global financial markets.

If no deal is reached by March 2, Trump has said he will proceed with raising tariffs to 25 percent from 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, at a time when China’s economy is slowing significantly. Beijing has already retaliated with its own tariffs on U.S. products.

Companies in both countries are feeling pain from the effects of the tariffs. Apple Inc <AAPL.O> rattled global markets last week by cutting its sales outlook, blaming weak demand in China.

(Reporting by David Lawder and Chris Prentice; Writing by Nick Zieminski; Editing by Franklin Paul and Paul Simao)

Twenty Chinese school children wounded in hammer attack

Police carry bags from a primary school that was the scene of a knife attack in Beijing, China, January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese man attacked at least 20 young children at a Beijing primary school with a hammer on Tuesday, state television reported, in a rare act of violence in the capital.

A 49-year-old man, a former maintenance worker at the school, was detained after venting his anger on the children after his work contract was not renewed, state television cited police as saying.

Twenty were taken to the hospital, the government in the Xicheng district of the capital said in a post on its social media account.

Three suffered heavy injuries but their condition was stable, it said.

Police cars lined the main road close to the school when Reuters arrived at the scene.

Several police officers were seen coming from the school carrying items including sealed paper bags marked “physical evidence” and silver cases before driving off.

Parents waited outside for their children as the school day ended. Almost all of the parents Reuters approached declined to be interviewed.

“I heard that children were attacked (by someone) with a knife, so I’m very anxious,” said a woman surnamed Zhou as she waited for her child to finish school.

Another parent surnamed Jia, said she was concerned about her child’s psychological wellbeing.

“Even though they were on the same floor as the one where this took place, they didn’t know anything about this. So I really don’t want this information to be spread widely so that he starts to feel scared,” she said.

The attacker, originally from northeastern Heilongjiang province, had been detained by police and an investigation was underway, state television said.

Violent crime is rare in China but there has been a series of knife and ax attacks in recent years, many targeting children.

In January 2017, a man in southern China stabbed and wounded 12 children with a vegetable knife. He was executed this month.

“People who hurt children do not deserve to be forgiven,” a social media user wrote in a post on Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Zhang Min; Additional reporting by Joyce Zhou, Thomas Peter and Martin Pollard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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

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

By Michael Martina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bipartisan bill unveiled in Senate to stop China tech threats

FILE PHOTO: Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Senator Mark Warner listens to testimony from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg at a hearing on foreign influence operations on social media platforms on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 5, 2018. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Diane Bartz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. lawmakers who have been active in congressional efforts to address technology threats from China introduced a bill on Friday to create a White House office to fight state-sponsored technology theft and defend critical supply chains.

Senators Mark Warner, a Democrat and a vice chairman on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Marco Rubio, a Republican on the panel, introduced the legislation.

The bill aims to create the Office of Critical Technologies and Security to coordinate an inter-agency strategy to fight high-tech threats to national security posed by China and other foreign actors, they said in a press statement.

“We need a whole-of-government technology strategy to protect U.S. competitiveness in emerging and dual-use technologies and address the Chinese threat by combating technology transfer from the United States,” said Warner in a statement. “We look forward to working with the Executive Branch and others to coordinate and respond to this threat.”

The bill was introduced in the midst of a battle between Washington and Beijing as President Donald Trump’s administration has accused China of seeking to steal U.S. technology and other misbehavior.

The two nations have been locked in a trade war for much of the past year, disrupting the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods and raising the concern of slowing growth. Talks are set for Beijing next week.

Separately, national security experts as well as lawmakers such as Warner and Rubio have been concerned about the use of Chinese-made telecommunications equipment in U.S. networks, and are attempting to exclude companies like Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and ZTE Corp from U.S. networks.

The White House office created by the bill would seek to ensure that critical U.S. supply chains, both government and non-governmental, are not jeopardized by reliance on foreign manufacturers, the two lawmakers said in the statement.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Strong U.S. jobs data boosts stocks, soothes economic fears

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., December 27, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By April Joyner

NEW YORK (Reuters) – World stock markets rallied on Friday while bond yields rose after sharply declining earlier in the week as Beijing announced a new round of trade talks with Washington and U.S. employment data pointed to economic strength.

Equities around the globe were buoyed by the news that China and the United States will hold trade talks in Beijing on Monday and Tuesday.

In the United States, stocks got another boost as stronger-than-expected U.S. employment data soothed some concerns of slowing economic growth. That was welcome news to investors after sharp declines on Thursday following Apple Inc’s cut in its revenue forecast.

“As nervous as we all were yesterday on this Apple news, this does help to soften that a bit, that maybe the consumer or the average person still is more confident than we are giving them credit for,” said J.J. Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade in Chicago.

The strong U.S. jobs report raised questions among some market watchers about the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, which has been scrutinized in recent weeks as economic worries have mounted. However, Wall Street surged further after Fed Chair Jerome Powell spoke at a meeting of the American Economic Association and said he would not resign if asked to by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Conversely, safe-haven assets that had climbed this week as equity markets were roiled came down substantially. Treasury yields rose sharply after the release of U.S. employment data, and the dollar gained 0.6 percent against the yen. Spot gold prices, which reached a six-month peak on Thursday, dropped 0.8 percent.

In U.S. equities, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 681.9 points, or 3.01 percent, to 23,368.12, the S&P 500  gained 66.58 points, or 2.72 percent, to 2,514.47 and the Nasdaq Composite added 218.87 points, or 3.39 percent, to 6,682.37.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index jumped 2.67 percent, while MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 2.16 percent.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes last fell 32/32 in price to yield 2.6641 percent, from 2.553 percent late on Thursday.

Earlier, an announcement from China’s central bank that it would cut the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves for the fifth time in the past year lifted Asian and European stocks. The move frees $116 billion for new lending as Beijing tries to reduce the risk of a sharper economic slowdown.

Japanese equity markets, which opened for their first session of the new year, were the main exception, weighed down by the sharp rise in the yen in the past few days.

The news of the U.S.-China trade talks boosted oil prices, with both Brent and U.S. crude futures around 4 percent higher.

 

(Reporting by April Joyner; Additional reporting by Virginia Furness, Swati Pande, Wayne Cole and Chuck Mikolajczak; editing by Jon Boyle, Larry King and Dan Grebler)

China warns pig trade against African swine fever cover-ups as Taiwan concerns grow

Pork for sale is seen at a market in Beijing, China December 26, 2018. Picture taken December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China has warned the country’s pork industry that covering up cases of African swine fever is a crime, days after a dead pig was found on a Taiwanese beach prompting Taipei to claim Beijing was not sharing accurate information on the disease.

China’s animal husbandry and veterinary affairs bureau is stepping up investigation and punishment of illegal activity in the pig industry, said a statement published on the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs website on Friday.

Failing to report deaths and privately slaughtering and selling sick or dead pigs would be pursued under criminal law, it said, and compensation of 1,200 yuan ($175) for each pig culled was sufficient incentive for farmers to report the disease.

In the worst epidemic of the disease ever seen, China has confirmed about 100 cases of African swine fever across 23 provinces since August last year. The disease, for which there is neither cure nor vaccine, is deadly to pigs but does not harm people.

But many experts believe it is even worse than has been reported, and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen urged Beijing last month to “not conceal” information about the disease.

Tsai raised the issue again in a New Year’s speech after a dead pig was found on a beach on Taiwan’s Kinmen island, a half-hour ferry ride from the east coast of China. The pig has since been confirmed to have the African swine fever virus, while another dead pig was found on a nearby island on Friday, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported.

“During our recent efforts to prevent an African swine fever epidemic, China’s government has never followed the relevant agreements and provided Taiwan with accurate, real-time reports about the epidemic situation,” she said.

China has repeatedly said that the disease has been effectively dealt with and is under control. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs did not immediately respond to a fax seeking comment on Friday.

The dead animals found on the Taiwanese islands have stoked fears that Taiwan’s pigs could soon become infected with the disease.

Taiwan’s herd of 5.39 million pigs is tiny compared with China’s 700 million, but pork is the most popular meat in both places and domestic production in Taiwan reduces its need for imports of the staple meat.

(Reporting by Dominique Patton in BEIJING and Yi-Mou Lee in TAIPEI; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

China allows first-ever U.S. rice imports in ‘goodwill gesture’ ahead of trade talks

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

BEIJING (Reuters) – China has opened the door to imports of rice from the United States for the first time ever in what analysts took to signal a warming of relations between the world’s two biggest economies after a frosty year marked by tensions and tit-for-tat tariffs.

The green light from Chinese customs, indicated in a statement posted on the customs authority’s website on Friday, comes in the run-up to talks between the countries in January after U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a moratorium on higher tariffs that would affect trade worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much rice China, which sources rice imports from within Asia, might seek to buy from the United States. But the move, which comes after years of talks on the matter, follows pledges from China’s commerce ministry of further U.S. trade openings earlier this week.

As of Dec. 27, imports of brown rice, polished rice and crushed rice from the United States are now permitted, as long as cargoes meet China’s inspection standards and are registered with the United States Department of Agriculture.

“The permission for U.S. rice suggests an improving U.S. and China relationship,” said Cherry Zhang, an agriculture analyst with consultancy JCI. Zhang said she expected any imports would likely be ordered by state-owned companies.

Officials at a government-affiliated think-tank in Beijing said the price of U.S. rice is not competitive, compared with imports from South Asia, and said the move to formally permit import should be interpreted as a goodwill gesture.

China opened its rice market when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, but a lack of phytosanitary protocol between China and the United States effectively banned imports, according to trade group USA Rice.

Nonetheless, in July, China formally imposed additional tariffs of 25 percent on U.S. rice, even though imports were not permitted at the time.

(Reporting by Meng Meng and Ryan Woo; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)