UK details path to citizenship for Hong Kong applicants

LONDON: Britain’s route to citizenship for almost three million people in Hong Kong will open in January 2021, and applicants will not need a job to come to the country, interior minister Priti Patel said on Wednesday (Jul 22).

“We are planning to open the Hong Kong BN(O) (British National Overseas) Visa for applications from January 2021,” Patel said in a written statement to parliament.

“There will be no skills tests or minimum income requirements, economic needs tests or caps on numbers. I am giving BN(O) citizens the opportunity to acquire full British citizenship.

“They do not need to have a job before coming to the UK – they can look for work once here. They may bring their immediate dependants, including non-BN(O) citizens.”

READ: China says Britain going down ‘wrong path’ over Hong Kong

Britain suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong on Monday, despite Chinese warnings that it was making a grave foreign policy error and risked reprisals. 

Diplomatic ties between London and Beijing have been frayed by the security law, which Western powers see as an erosion on civil liberties and human rights in the financial hub.

China threatened unspecified counter-measures after Britain relaxed immigration rules for Hong Kongers with British overseas passports, and the potential of citizenship.

READ: China says it will respond resolutely if UK sanctions officials

Adding to the tensions have been British criticisms about China’s treatment of the Uighur ethnic minority group, and the blocking of telecoms giant Huawei from its 5G networks.

Beijing has accused London of being a puppet to US foreign policy over Huawei, after Washington slapped sanctions on the Chinese firm’s access to US chips vital to its 5G networks.

The United States believes the private firm is a front for the Chinese state, and that the use of its technology could imperil intelligence sharing, charges that the company denies.

China’s Houston consulate closed to ‘protect American intellectual property’: US State Department

COPENHAGEN: The US State Department said on Wednesday (Jul 22) that the closing of China’s consulate in Houston was to protect Americans’ intellectual property and private information, a move that has further strained the already tense relations between the world powers.

Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that under the Vienna Convention, states “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of the receiving country.

The comments came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Copenhagen.

Ortagus said the US would not tolerate Chinese violations of their “sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC’s unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior.”

“We have directed the closure of PRC Consulate General Houston, in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information,” she said, without giving any more details.

China announced earlier on Wednesday that the country had been ordered to close the Houston consulate, which was opened in 1979 – the first in the year the US and the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations, according to its website.

“China urges the US to immediately withdraw its wrong decision, or China will definitely take a proper and necessary response,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

The move comes as the world’s two biggest economies have crossed swords on a growing number of fronts, from trade to Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and its policies in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the South China Sea.

China says French claims on Uighur rights are ‘lies’

BEIJING: French claims about the imprisonment of ethnic and religious minorities in China’s Xinjiang region were unacceptable, Beijing said Wednesday (Jul 22), criticising the accusations as “false”.

China’s response came a day after Paris demanded it let independent human rights observers visit the northwestern region, where rights groups and experts estimate over one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking minorities have been rounded up into a network of internment camps.

France’s foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves le Drian said China’s actions were “unacceptable” and said they “condemn them firmly”.

Beijing has defended its strategy in Xinjiang as necessary to avoid extremism.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular press briefing on Wednesday that “China has repeatedly responded to and clarified false reports and accusations on Xinjiang-related issues”.

He added that Xinjiang issues were not about human rights, religion or ethnicity but about “countering violent terrorism and separatism”.

“About so-called lies that Xinjiang restricts religious freedom and suppresses Muslims… the truth is that recently, some politicians and media in the US and the west have stigmatised Xinjiang’s lawful fight against terrorism and extremism,” Wang said.

“We firmly oppose the politicisation of religious issues and the use of religious issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” he added.

Asked if the training programmes he referred to were still ongoing in Xinjiang, Wang said that those in the centres had “completed their courses” – in line with officials’ announcement late last year.

The latest exchange comes as tensions have been rising between the West and China on multiple fronts, including over a new draconian security law in Hong Kong and mounting opposition to the use of products made by Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Trump says he is ‘not interested’ in trade talks with China

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Tuesday (Jul 14) shut the door on Phase 2 trade negotiations with China, saying he does not want to talk to Beijing about trade because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m not interested right now in talking to China,” Trump replied when asked in an interview with CBS News whether Phase 2 trade talks were dead.

“We made a great trade deal,” Trump said, of the Phase 1 agreement signed in January. “But as soon as the deal was done, the ink wasn’t even dry, and they hit us with the plague,” he said, referring to the novel coronavirus, which first emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

For months, Trump has blamed China for sending the coronavirus to the United States, saying that China must be “held accountable” for failing to contain the disease. The pandemic has taken a stiff toll on the US economy, endangering Trump’s hopes for re-election in November.

China pledged to increase purchases of US farm and manufactured goods, energy and services by US$200 billion over two years as part of the Phase 1 trade deal, but Trump has said the pandemic changed his views on the agreement.

At the White House, Trump announced that he signed legislation and an executive order to hold China accountable for the “oppressive” national security law it imposed on Hong Kong.

The measure approved by Congress, the latest in a series of moves aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Beijing, gives Trump’s administration the authority to penalise banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement Beijing’s new national security law on Hong Kong.

Trump said he has no plans to talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic began, few trade watchers in Washington were expecting Phase 2 negotiations to bear fruit before the 2020 election.

While Phase 1 focused mainly on Chinese purchases of US goods, improved US access to China’s financial services market and some intellectual property issues, Phase 2 was meant to tackle far more difficult issues associated with China’s technology transfer policies, industrial espionage and government subsidies to state-owned enterprises.

Gilead prices COVID-19 drug candidate remdesivir at US$390 per vial in US hospitals

CALIFORNIA: Gilead Sciences has priced its COVID-19 drug candidate remdesivir at US$390 per vial for the United States and governments of other developed countries, it said on Monday (Jun 28), setting the price of a five-day course at US$2,340 per patient.

The price for US private insurance companies will be US$520 per vial, the drugmaker said, which equates to a total of US$3,120 per patient.

Gilead has entered into an agreement with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) whereby the department and states will manage allocation to hospitals until the end of September.

After this period, once supplies are less constrained, HHS will stop managing the allocation, the company said.

READ: Gilead targets two million remdesivir courses by year-end

READ: Gilead’s remdesivir shows modest improvement in moderate COVID-19 patients

Remdesivir’s price has been a topic of intense debate since the US Food and Drug Administration approved its emergency use COVID-19 patients in May.

Experts have suggested that Gilead would need to avoid the appearance of taking advantage of a health crisis for profits.

Wall Street analysts have said the antiviral drug could generate billions of dollars in revenue over the next couple of years if the pandemic continues.

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Distorted Chinese, Russian COVID-19 news takes root in West: Study

LONDON: Coronavirus misinformation spread by Russian and Chinese journalists is finding a bigger audience on social media in France and Germany than content from the European nations’ own premier news outlets, according to new research.

Whether it is distorted coverage or outright conspiracy theories, articles written in French and German by foreign state media are resonating widely on Facebook and Twitter, often with their origins unclear, the Oxford Internet Institute said in a report published on Monday.

The institute, which is part of Oxford University, looked at content generated by leading media outlets from Russia and China, as well as from Iran and Turkey – all of which are state-controlled or closely aligned to regimes in power.

Its report comes as the US government imposes new restrictions on Chinese state media, and builds on previous research by the institute that laid bare the penetration of such foreign outlets in English-language markets.

In their French, German as well as Spanish output, state media groups have “politicised the coronavirus by criticising Western democracies, praising their home countries, and promoting conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus”, the institute said.

“A majority of the content in these outlets is factually based. But what they have, especially if you look at the Russian outlets, is an agenda to discredit democratic countries,” Oxford researcher Jonathan Bright told AFP.

“The subtle weave in the overarching narrative is that democracy is on the verge of collapse.”

The institute looked at output from Russia’s RT broadcaster and Sputnik news agency; China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International (CRI) and Xinhua News Agency; plus foreign-language output from Iranian and Turkish networks.

It measured median engagement per shared article – how many times a user actively shares or likes an article on Facebook, or comments about it and retweets it on Twitter.

The study covered each outlet’s 20 most popular stories from May 18 to June 5.

WHAT’S THE SOURCE?

French-language content from RT scored an average of 528 in user engagement on the two platforms, and 374 for Xinhua, compared to 105 for the newspaper Le Monde.

In German, RT articles scored 158 on Facebook and Twitter, against 90 for Der Spiegel.

The institute’s previous study in April found that in English, heavily politicised news stories from the same state media groups could achieve as much as 10 times the level of user engagement as more sober sources such as the BBC.

Bright added: “A significant portion of social media is people consuming content that is directly funded by foreign governments, and it’s not very clear to the reader that that’s the case.”

Similar engagement levels showed in Spanish-language content, including from the Iranian state broadcaster’s service HispanTV, which the report said shares the Russian outlets’ promotion of “anti-US sentiments” for audiences in Latin America.

Examples in French and German included heated coverage from the Russian outlets of the “gilets jaunes” protest movement in France, and the COVID-19 and ensuing economic crises in Europe.

The report also examined content in German, French and Spanish from Turkey’s TRT network, which it said focused more on positive portrayals of the Turkish government’s actions against the pandemic.

In contrast, Russian, Chinese and Iranian media all promoted baseless theories, including that the US military unleashed the coronavirus, which originated late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The media organisations in question claim to offer a non-Western perspective on news and deny they are propagandists.

Last week, China threatened to retaliate after four more of its media groups were reclassified as “foreign missions” in the United States.

The quartet joined CGTN, CRI and Xinhua, which were already designated by Washington as state-sponsored actors, rather than as media.

In Britain, RT has been fined for breaking rules on media impartiality.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron accused the Russian network of spreading “deceitful propaganda” during the 2017 presidential election.

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COVID-19: Australia to evacuate more than 200 citizens from cruise ship quarantined at Japan port

SYDNEY: Australia will evacuate more than 200 of its citizens onboard a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship being held under quarantine in the Japanese port of Yokohama, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday (Feb 17).

Morrison said the passengers will depart on Wednesday and will be taken to Australia’s tropical north, where they will be required to be quarantined for another 14 days.

READ: COVID-19 cases on Diamond Princess ship rise to 355

The Diamond Princess, cruise ship, owned by Carnival Corp , has been quarantined since arriving in Yokohama on Feb. 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong before it travelled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.

“For those more than 200 Australians who will be returning to Australia, we are going to have to require a further 14-day quarantine period to be put in place on their return to Darwin,” Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

READ: COVID-19: What you need to know about the Diamond Princess ship quarantined in Japan

Morrison also said space on the Qantas Airways plane will be provided for an unspecified number of New Zealand citizens on the cruise ship.

Those passengers will be transferred to New Zealand when they arrive in Darwin, Morrison said.

On Sunday, the United States evacuated about 400 citizens from the Diamond Princess, while Canada, Italy, South Korea and Hong Kong have also announced plans to repatriate passengers.

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Trump threatens intelligence block over Huawei: US diplomat

WASHINGTON: The United States’ ambassador to Germany said Sunday (Feb 16) that President Donald Trump had threatened to cut off intelligence-sharing with countries that dealt with Chinese tech firm Huawei.

Washington has been pressing allies to ban Huawei, one of the world’s largest tech firms, from next-generation 5G mobile data networks, saying it is a security risk.

READ: Rebuffed by UK, US pitches ‘big tent’ for Huawei rivals in Europe

READ: US defence chief warns of Huawei ‘threat’ to NATO

Ambassador Richard Grenell said Trump “instructed me to make clear that any nation who chooses to use an untrustworthy 5G vendor will jeopardize our ability to share intelligence and information at the highest level.”

Grenell said on Twitter that the president had called him on Sunday from Air Force One, the presidential plane, to convey the message.

Key US allies in Europe, notably Britain and France, have said they will not ban Huawei from building 5G networks but will impose restrictions.

Publicly, the US has been restrained in its response, but Trump was reportedly furious with London.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that Huawei was a “Trojan horse for Chinese intelligence.”

READ: Commentary: Is Huawei dangerous because it’s Chinese? What about Facebook?

READ: Huawei dismisses new suspension of ‘unjust’ US ban

The tech company vehemently denies the US allegations, and Beijing has characterized its treatment as “economic bullying.”

A US indictment on Friday laid more criminal charges against Huawei related to theft of intellectual property, adding to earlier allegations that the company stole trade secrets from American carrier T-Mobile.

Coronavirus could damage global growth in 2020: IMF

DUBAI: The coronavirus epidemic could damage global economic growth this year, the IMF head said Sunday (Feb 16), but a sharp and rapid economic rebound could follow.

“There may be a cut that we are still hoping would be in the 0.1 to 0.2 percentage space,” the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, told the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai.

She said the full impact of the spreading disease that has already killed more than 1,600 people would depend on how quickly it was contained.

“I advise everybody not to jump to premature conclusions. There is still a great deal of uncertainty. We operate with scenarios, not yet with projections, ask me in 10 days,” Georgieva said.

READ: ‘Everyone is guessing’ about coronavirus economic impacts, say experts

In its January update to the World Economic Outlook, the IMF lowered global economic growth forecast in 2020 by a 0.1 percentage point to 3.3 per cent, following a 2.9 per cent growth the previous year, the lowest in a decade.

Georgieva said it was “too early” to assess the full impact of the epidemic but acknowledged that it had already affected sectors such as tourism and transportation.

“It is too early to say because we don’t yet quite know what is the nature of this virus. We don’t know how quickly China will be able to contain it. We don’t know whether it will spread to the rest of the world,” she said.

If the disease is “contained rapidly, there can be a sharp drop and a very rapid rebound”, in what is known as the V-shaped impact, she said.

READ: Government will help minimise any retrenchments due to COVID-19: Ng Eng Hen

Compared to the impact of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002, she said China’s economy then made up just 8.0 per cent of global economy. Now, that figure is 19 per cent.

She said the trade agreement between the United States and China, the world’s first and second economies, had reduced the disease’s impact on global economy.

But the world should be concerned “about sluggish growth” impacted by uncertainty, said the IMF chief.

READ: Coronavirus outbreak: Economic fallout could be worse than SARS

“We are now stuck with low productivity growth, low economic growth, low interest rates and low inflation,” she told the Dubai forum, also attended by US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and former British prime minister Theresa May.

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Chinese businesses in faraway Namibia feel virus fear

WINDHOEK: Namibia should by rights feel little concern about the coronavirus outbreak given that the sparsely-populated desert country is 12,000km from China and without a single confirmed case.

But like many countries on the continent, the southern African nation hosts a big Chinese retail business community with close links to home.

And as the fear of infection spreads, businesses are taking things into their own hands.

READ: China COVID-19 toll leaps past 1,600 as new cases slow

A notice in Chinese and English taped to an aluminium shutter on a Chinese-owned shop in Windhoek’s Chinatown spells it out: Any merchant returning to Namibia from China “must be quarantined for 14 days and keep the shop closed for that period”, state the typed instructions signed by the Chinatown management.

Many shop owners who travelled to China for the year-end break have opted to stay put instead of returning to Windhoek’s Chinatown, a vast complex of nearly 200 retail, wholesale, food and electronics outlets in the northern industrial district of the capital.

NOT COMING BACK

In one block of 90 shops, 20 stores have not re-opened.

The Chinese community, their embassy and Chinese Chamber of Commerce are trying their “very best to prevent people from returning from China to Namibia … during this period,” said Brian Lee, a businessman.

For those who travel nonetheless “we have already set up a quarantine place outside of Windhoek” where they will be kept until cleared of the virus, but nobody has been taken there yet.

“I think everybody is panicking, not just Namibians, also the Chinese community here is panicking as well,” said Lee.

Chinatown is usually teeming with shoppers, but not on this Friday afternoon.

Shop owner Miang Li points to people’s fear of contracting the virus from the Chinese as a reason for the dropping footfall, although he says mid-month blues – due to low funds between pay cheques – may also be to blame.

“People who come here shout, ‘coronavirus, coronavirus’,” he told AFP at his clothes store.

Li said inventories are dwindling because owners would rather not travel to China for their usual re-stock runs, instead clearing last year’s stock at marked down prices.

“Many of us here only go back in February or March for stock, now it is dangerous to go and come back,” he said. “If you go now, you don’t know if this country will let you come back.”

Chinatown caters to retail shoppers but also sells bulk to online and bricks-and-mortar boutiques in other parts of Namibia.

“Clients from Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Oshakati are not coming for now because we only have old stock,” said the 52-year-old who has worked in Namibia for nine years.

To make matters worse, some local staff are reluctant to continue working for the Chinese.

NOT WORTH IT

Shop attendant Matilda Ndinoshisho, 28, said a workmate had stopped showing up.

“Her uncle and aunt told her the Chinese bosses will give her the virus that is killing all the Chinese and that a N$800 (US$54) salary is not worth losing her life or infecting the rest of them in the house,” and so she quit, said Ndinoshisho.

Namibia has had only one suspected case of coronavirus which turned out to be a false alarm.

Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula said the government had medics screening visitors at all entry points into the country.

“Every passenger who is coming into Namibia, whether from China or from any other country in the world, is subjected to a thorough screening,” the minister told AFP.

“If anybody displays symptoms of being infected with the virus, that person is isolated immediately and monitored.”

Now known by its official designation COVID-19, the disease emerged in central China at the end of last year and has spread across the world.

It has killed more than 1,600 people and sickened 68,000 in China.

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