Primary student’s adventurous letter to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 17 min 38 sec ago
A primary school student’s long-shot attempt at getting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s attention has paid off. Posting to Facebook, Ardern revealed she received a letter from a young student who was part of a “How connected is New Zealand” experiment. “Going through a few letters and I love how many of these there are!” Ardern wrote. “They’re part of a project in schools to see whether a message from a student can reach any person they pick. The...

#MeToo movement spreads to Pakistan as celebrities speak out over child rape after death of young girl

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 37 min 8 sec ago
Three Pakistani celebrities have revealed they were sexually abused as children, using the #MeToo hashtag, amid a national outcry over last week’s rape and murder of a seven-year-old girl. As Twitter users responded with an outpouring of support, other women have come forward to share similar stories, defying taboos about discussing sex in the conservative nation. “I was 4 the first time I was abused sexually,” said actress Nadia Jamil, who now lives in England. “People...

Tracing South Korea’s earliest recorded music

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 40 min 23 sec ago
By Cheryl Magnant When was the first recording of Korean music made? Suk Ji-hoon, who recently earned his master’s degree in Korean Modern History from Yonsei University, has the answer. He traces the early history of recording music here to Western scholars in the early 1890s, when Edison’s phonograph came to Korea. Its patrons included King Gojong, Horace Allen and William Noble, to name a few. Yet Suk defines 1906 as pivotal. With the North American and European music industries...

For Southeast Asians, Zuma’s South Africa is disturbingly familiar

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 1 hour 22 min ago
Back in the mid-1990s when I was a young corporate lawyer, I used to do a lot of work in South Africa. At the time, the “Rainbow Nation”, under the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) chief and global icon Nelson Mandela was emerging from decades of apartheid. It was a time of great hope but also fear and trepidation. Could centuries of injustice be addressed? Could such a deeply divided polity (currently over 57 million strong): African, Coloured, Indian and White be...

Thai academic cleared of lèse-majesté after questioning legendary war story about fight on the back of an elephant

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 2 hours 31 min ago
A Thai military court on Wednesday dropped royal insult charges against an 84-year old historian who questioned whether a Thai king had actually defeated a Burmese adversary in combat on elephant-back more than 500 years ago. Under Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté law against defaming, insulting or threatening the monarchy, Sualak Sivaraksa could have been jailed for up to 15 years if found guilty over the accusation, which related to a university seminar in 2014. He...

New Zealander writes to Malaysian senator expressing her disgust over ‘extremely short skirts’ worn by AirAsia stewardesses

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 2 hours 40 min ago
By Aqilah Allaudeen It looks like AirAsia has hit some turbulence and for none other than its so-called overly sensualised uniform again. Dr June Robertson, a New Zealander who describes herself as a “middle-aged professional woman”, wrote a letter to Umno senator Datuk Hanafi Mamat to highlight her “disgust” with AirAsia’s uniform. She claimed that she has been visiting Malaysia twice a year for the past decade and pointed out that that one reason she...

US and allies want harder line on North Korea sanctions but will China and Russia agree to tougher measures?

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 3 hours 51 min ago
The United States and its allies on Tuesday vowed tougher measures to halt North Korean sanctions busting, including naval security operations to prevent maritime smuggling. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland, hosts of talks in Vancouver, urged world powers to support “maritime interdiction” measures. Along with Japan, South Korea and the other powers gathered for the high-level meeting, they re-committed to “the complete,...

Myanmar military’s brutal crackdown on Rohingya has drawn condemnation abroad but made the army more popular at home

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 4 hours 11 min ago
Activist Nyo Tun spent 10 years as a political prisoner locked away by Myanmar’s military in the notorious Insein prison, where he endured beatings and other cruelty for his efforts to bring democracy. “The military government was so brutal for many years,” he said of the former junta, which ruled the country for decades until 2012 and then by proxy four more years – and still has a final say on security matters. “All they knew was how to torture anyone who was...

Hong Kong-bound flight saw North Korean missile, Tillerson says

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 6 hours 22 min ago
A North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile launch in November was witnessed by passengers on a San Francisco-to-Hong Kong commercial flight, highlighting the “recklessness” of Kim Jong-un’s regime, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. “According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the flight was 280 nautical miles from point of impact, and at the time there were nine other flights within that range,” Tillerson said Tuesday in Vancouver, where he is...

US is ‘seriously’ training for possible North Korean conflict, top brass confirm

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 20:58
The US military is conducting “very serious” training for a possible conflict with North Korea, a top Republican lawmaker confirmed on Tuesday, though he said he hoped such preparations would never be put to use. Congressman Mac Thornberry, who chairs the powerful House Armed Services Committee that provides civilian oversight to the Pentagon, said the administration of President Donald Trump is closely studying its options – including armed conflict. “The administration...

India spends US$553 million on guns for border troops six months after showdown with China

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 19:35
India will buy more than 160,000 guns worth US$553 million for troops on its disputed, high-altitude borders, the defence ministry said Tuesday. The defence acquisition council cleared the purchase of 72,400 assault rifles and 93,895 carbines for 35 billion rupees (US$553 million, HK$4.3 billion) in a meeting chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. The move comes around six months after it held a months-long stand-off with China at the border of Tibet, Bhutan and the Indian state of...

South Korean bitcoin attacks ‘were made by the North Korean hackers that attacked Sony’

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 18:26
Cyber attacks on bitcoin and other crypto currency in South Korea were performed by the same North Korean hackers associated with the 2014 Sony Pictures Entertainment data theft, US-based researchers claim.  Lazarus Group, an organisation thought be tied to the North Korean government, was behind the attacks that occurred in the weeks leading up to the opening of talks with South Korea, Insikt, a research team at Recorded Future, said on Tuesday. The hackers aunched a so-...

Germany adds yuan to reserves

SHANGHAI DAILY - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 17:01
GERMANY’S central bank has said it will include the Chinese yuan in its reserves, giving another boost to China’s drive to internationalize the currency. The Bundesbank said its board had decided in July to invest in the yuan to take account of its growing importance globally, though it did not say when it would begin to include it or how much it would purchase. “The decision to accept the yuan is part of a long-term diversification strategy and reflects the growing role of the Chinese currency in the world financial system,” Bundesbank board member Joachim Wuermeling said. The German central bank regularly reviews the composition of its currency reserves “by weighing risks and benefits,” Wuermeling said. “In addition to dollars and yen, (the bank) has invested in Australian dollars since 2013 and seeks to invest in other currencies.” The move comes after the European Central Bank in June converted 500 million euros’ worth of its US dollar reserves into yuan. China was Germany’s top trade partner in 2016, ranking first in the European country’s imports and fourth as an export destination. The Bundesbank’s currency reserves totaled some 170 billion euros (US$210 billion) in November. The yuan has increased its global clout in recent years, and in September 2016 it joined the US dollar, pound, yen and euro in the IMF’s elite “special drawing rights” reserve currency basket.

Shenzhen to abolish border around SEZ

SHANGHAI DAILY - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 17:01
SHENZHEN will remove the barrier that was set up more than three decades ago to mark the boundary of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. The State Council has approved the removal of the barbed wire fence that runs more than 80 kilometers around the core of Shenzhen, in a move to foster the city’s integration. In a guideline, the State Council urged the city government and the provincial government of Guangdong to take the opportunity to optimize the city’s layout and land use, improve its public transport and better protect the environment. Analysts say the decision to scrap the boundary indicates further integration of Shenzhen and sends a positive message on regional development. In 1980, Chinese authorities carved out a 327-square-kilometer special economic zone from Shenzhen and implemented preferential economic policies there in a bid to attract foreign investment and boost exports. Two years later, a boundary line and several checkpoints were set up around the zone. Residents outside the zone had to apply for a special permit to enter the area. However, the role of the boundary line faded over time as two sides of the border became more integrated. In 2010, the central government expanded the special economic zone to the whole city, making the line existing in name only.

Political pressure hits AT&T-Huawei deal

SHANGHAI DAILY - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 17:01
US lawmakers are urging AT&T, the No. 2 wireless carrier, to cut commercial ties to Chinese phone maker Huawei and oppose plans by telecom operator China Mobile to enter the US market over so-called national security concerns, two congressional aides said. China calls for a fair operating environment for its companies. Earlier this month, AT&T was forced to scrap a plan to offer its customers Huawei handsets after some members of Congress lobbied against the idea with federal regulators, sources said. The lawmakers are also advising US firms that if they have ties to Huawei or China Mobile, it could hamper their ability to do business with the US government, one aide said, requesting anonymity. One of the commercial ties senators and House members want AT&T to cut is its collaboration with Huawei over standards for the high-speed next-generation 5G network, the aides said. Another is the use of Huawei handsets by AT&T’s discount subsidiary Cricket, the aides said. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said yesterday that he did not know anything about the details of the commercial cooperation cases, but added China hopes other countries would provide a fair operating environment for Chinese companies. “We hope that China and the United States can work hard together to maintain the healthy and stable development of trade and business ties. This accords with the joint interests of both,” Lu said in Beijing. Huawei said earlier this week that it sells its equipment through more than 45 of the world’s top 50 carriers and puts the privacy and security of its customers as its top priority. In 2012, Huawei and ZTE, a Chinese telecom equipment maker, were the subject of a US investigation into whether their equipment provided an opportunity for foreign espionage and threatened critical US infrastructure — a link that Huawei has consistently denied. US lawmakers do not want China Mobile, the world’s biggest mobile phone operator, to be given a license to do business in the US, the congressional aides said. China Mobile applied for the license in 2011, and the application is pending before the Federal Communications Commission. Huawei and Chinese telecom firms have long struggled to gain a toehold in the US market, partly because of US government pressure on potential US partners. Two Republican lawmakers, Michael Conaway and Liz Cheney, unveiled a bill this week that bars the US government from using or contracting with Huawei or ZTE.

ODI falls but rational sentiment wins

SHANGHAI DAILY - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 17:01
CHINA’S non-financial outbound direct investment dropped nearly 30 percent in 2017 from a year ago but the decline signaled a more rational investment sentiment, the Ministry of Commerce said yesterday, adding that economic cooperation with Belt and Road countries deepened. Chinese mainland investors injected US$120 billion in 6,236 non-financial enterprises in 174 countries and regions last year, the ministry said. That compared with a record US$170 billion investment in 2016, when the authorities warned of “irrational tendency” and started to impose stricter rules on overseas investment. The State Council, China’s Cabinet, in August clarified that overseas investment in real estate, hotels, cinemas and entertainment would be limited, while that in sectors such as gambling would be banned. Investment in countries involved in the Belt and Road initiative totaled US$14.4 billion in 2017, the ministry said. Belt and Road deals accounted for 12 percent of total investments in 2017, up 3.5 percentage points from a year earlier. The ministry said investment mainly flowed to leasing, commercial services, retail, manufacturing and information technology sectors. The ministry did not report new investment in property, sports or entertainment. Chinese companies sealed 341 merger and acquisition deals valued at US$96.2 billion across 49 countries and regions last year. The commerce ministry also said foreign direct investment in China totaled 877.56 billion yuan (US$136.3 billion) last year, up 7.9 percent year on year. The business environment for foreign companies has improved last year after measures, including wider access, financial support, greater protection of foreign companies’ rights, and better government services, were implemented, the ministry said.   FDI in the high-tech and service sectors grew strongly and the increase was rapid in China’s western regions, the ministry added. It said FDI in China is expected to be stable this year.

HKEx ponders rule change

SHANGHAI DAILY - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 17:01
Two bull statues are situated outside the Hong Kong stock exchange building in the city. Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing Chief Executive Charles Li said yesterday that HKEx is preparing for a market consultation, expected to start after the Spring Festival, on a rule change, which will allow biotechnology companies without revenue and other new-economy companies with dual-class shares to list in Hong Kong in the second half of this year. After the consultation is completed, HKEx plans to announce the new rules in early June and start to accept applications for listing from new-economy companies by the end of the month, Li said.

Realty, brewer shares boost key index

SHANGHAI DAILY - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 17:01
REAL estate companies and brewers boosted Shanghai shares yesterday as investors were buoyed by new property policies and investments in brewers. The Shanghai Composite Index gained 0.77 percent to 3,436.59 points, the highest since November 13. Real estate developers Greenland Holdings Corp and Shanghai Ya Tong Co both jumped by the daily limit of 10 percent to 10.13 yuan (US$1.57) and 10.92 yuan respectively. Real estate companies benefited from news that China would allow non-real estate enterprises and villages to build houses on the land they own to boost housing supply. Shen Meng, director of domestic investment bank Chanson & Co, said the policy would continue to bolster the shares of real estate firms in the coming months on expectations that the industry would be energized in the long term. There was also investor interest in brewers after conglomerate Fosun became the second-largest stakeholder of Tsingtao Brewery Co by buying its Hong Kong-listed shares. Investor sentiment was further fueled on news that Shanghai Chongyang Investment Co bought shares of Beijing Yanjing Brewery Co. Shares of Chongqing Brewery Co surged 7.08 percent. Shen expected brewers to be one of the most stable sectors in the Chinese mainland food and beverage market amid capital inflows.

GAC to scrap name sounding like Trump for US market

SHANGHAI DAILY - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 17:01
Chinese automaker GAC Motor will scrap the brand name it uses in China when it enters the US market next year because it could be confused with US President Donald Trump’s surname.For the past eight years, GAC has sold cars and SUVs under the brand Trumpchi in its home market, but is now researching new names before the company’s expected US debut in the fourth quarter of 2019.“We want to provide the best service for American customers, so we want to not be closely linked with politics,” Wang Qiujing, president of GAC Engineering Institute China, said through an interpreter in an interview at the Detroit auto show. “This is the reason we want to rename the brand.”GAC, which stands for Guangzhou Automobile Group Co, picked the Chinese name Trumpchi in 2010, well before Trump was elected. The similarity to Trump is just a coincidence, Wang added. GAC will continue to use Trumpchi in China, where the word means legend and good fortune.GAC’s first vehicle in the United States will be the GS8, a loaded-out full-size SUV that will cost US$35,000. Two more vehicles are being researched for US sales, but have not been selected yet.The company showed seven different models on a video and unveiled two more at the Detroit show. One is a gull-wing compact electric SUV called the Enverge, which is still in the concept phase. The automaker says it will go nearly 600 kilometers on a single charge. Also unveiled was the GA4 midsize sedan that will go on sale in China later this month.The GS8 would be comparable to a big luxury SUV, many of which go for above US$60,000. Wang said he didn’t know what the brand’s lowest-price vehicle would be in the US.GAC sold just over 500,000 automobiles in China last year, up 37 percent from 2016.The company says it is negotiating with partner Fiat Chrysler about possible distribution of vehicles. Wang said GAC is the top-ranked domestic brand for initial quality in China in JD Power and Associates surveys, and it ranks fourth or fifth when joint ventures with foreign automakers are included. He says the company’s vehicle quality will be ready for US buyers, and it will work with US partners to meet stricter US safety standards.Chinese automakers are advanced and have expertise in mass production but the American market may not be ready yet to accept GAC, said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ director of auto testing.“There will be Chinese automakers at the top of the market and at the bottom of the market, and it will be very interesting to see how they are received,” he said.GAC already has a research center in Silicon Valley and is working on another one in Detroit, as well as a Los Angeles design center. Initially it will import vehicles from China but depending on sales, plans to build a factory in the US.

Yunnan Capital secures funds to repay trust loans

SHANGHAI DAILY - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 17:01
A state-owned investment company in Yunnan that defaulted last month on two trust loans has secured financing to repay those loans and is set to get 2 billion yuan (US$311 million) in additional equity capital from the provincial government.Yunnan State-Owned Capital Operation Co, fully owned by the provincial government’s state asset regulator, obtained the cash to repay the loans through one-month loans from three institutions, Liu Gang, the company’s chairman, said in a telephone interview.Liu declined to name the institutions providing the funds.On December 15, Yunnan Capital missed payments of more than 900 million yuan, representing principal and interest, that it had borrowed through two trust products issued by Zhongrong International Trust, two sources said on Monday.In an e-mailed statement yesterday, Zhongrong International said it had received full repayment for the two loans, including principal and interest. The Harbin-based trust company did not provide further details.The missed payments were the first known default of off-balance sheet, or shadow, loans borrowed by local governments, they said.The case is closely being watched by investors and lenders concerned that China may be entering “a year of defaults” for off-balance sheet local government borrowing, one of the sources said.The Yunnan provincial government also is set to inject 2 billion yuan in the state-owned investment company, according to Liu of Yunnan Capital.Those missed payments came amid growing fears that financing vehicles used by local governments throughout China, often for projects that ran up large amounts of debt, may start to default this year.Liu said Yunnan Capital was a platform to manage provincial state assets and carry out reforms at provincial government-owned companies. He said the anticipated capital injection had nothing to do with the loan repayments.But, according to an internal memo from the trust company and two sources with knowledge of the matter, the capital injection promised by the provincial government was to be used to help with the loan repayments.The government capital injection to help the company repay loans, if it moves forward, could also indicate potential violations of the central government’s ban that prevents local governments from providing implicit guarantees for local government financing vehicle debt, they added.Yunnan Capital’s Liu confirmed the government’s capital injection plan but denied any relationship between it and the loan repayments. He said he did not consider his company to be a local government financing vehicle.“Last week, Yunnan held four local governments accountable and punished a bunch of people for providing illegal guarantees — an activity that is not in line with the spirit of the central government,” he said.He said the 2 billion yuan capital injection from the government was aimed at boosting the company’s capital strength and was pending budget approval by the provincial National People’s Congress which will convene later this month.Ivan Chung, head of credit research and analysis for China at Moody’s Investors Service, said he expects the number of defaults by local government financing vehicles to increase in 2018 and 2019.Thousands of financing vehicles have been created by local governments in recent years to fund large state-driven projects and hit economic growth targets.They have taken on trillions of yuan in debt from banks, the bond market and shadow lenders such as trust firms, helping local governments bypass the central government’s limits on borrowing. Much of the debts come with implicit local government backing.China has increasingly cracked down on such debt-raising activities, stressing that it will not bail out local governments that run into financial difficulties.One central bank researcher said recently that some cities should be allowed to go bankrupt like Detroit.Since late 2014, the central government has tried to address the situation of surging local government debt by revising the Budget Law, launching a municipal bond market, and stripping local government guarantees from debts held by local government vehicles.At its annual economic conference in December, China’s top leadership decided to take concrete measures to strengthen the regulation of local government debt in 2018.