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Chinese and U.S. flags flutter near The Bund, before U.S. trade delegation meet their Chinese counterparts for talks in Shanghai, China.
China, US agree tariff rollback if phase one trade deal is completed
8 November 2019, 6:16 AM

China and the United States have agreed to roll back tariffs on each other’s’ goods in a “phase one” trade deal if it is completed, officials from both sides said on Thursday, sparking division among some advisers to President Donald Trump.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry, without laying out a timetable, said the two countries had agreed to cancel the tariffs in phases.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the rollback would be part of the first phase of a trade agreement that is still being put to paper for Trump and President Xi Jinping to sign.

White House spokesperson Stephanie Grisham told Fox News Channel the United States is “very, very optimistic” about completing a deal that would defuse a 16-month trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

“I cannot get ahead of the talks with China, but we are very, very optimistic that we will reach a deal soon,” she said.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, however, said in an interview with Fox Business Network: “There is no agreement at this time to remove any of the existing tariffs as a condition of the phase one deal.”

“They’re just negotiating in public, trying to push this in a direction,” Navarro said of reports he said were put out by “Chinese propaganda press.”

Experts warn the pact could still fall apart. US officials said a lot of work remained to be done when Trump announced the outlines of an interim deal last month.

Trump has used tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods as his primary weapon in the protracted trade war. The prospect of lifting them, even in phases, has drawn fierce opposition from advisers in and outside of the White House who remain wary of giving up a key aspect of US leverage.

US stocks pared gains after Reuters reported that the plan faced internal opposition.

“There is no specific agreement for a phased rollback of the tariffs,” said Michael Pillsbury, an outside adviser to Trump.

“The American side has been ambiguous when and which tariffs will be lifted. The Chinese have some wishful thinking and are trying to soothe their domestic hardliners that the tariffs will someday come off.”

If an interim deal is finished and signed, it is widely expected to include a US pledge to scrap tariffs scheduled for December 15 on about $156 billion worth of Chinese imports, including cell phones, laptop computers and toys.

Tariff cancellation was an important condition for any agreement, Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said, adding that both must simultaneously cancel some tariffs on each other’s goods to reach the phase one pact.

“Both sides have agreed to cancel additional tariffs in different phases, as both sides make progress in their negotiations,” Gao told a regular briefing.

A spokesman for the US Treasury department declined to comment and the US Trade Representative’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Republican lawmakers are urging the Trump administration to tie any tariff rollbacks to Beijing’s compliance with specific elements of the agreement.

“The tariffs should be phased out piece by piece as China complies,” one congressional source said.


In what could be another gesture to boost optimism, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported late on Thursday that the Chinese customs and Ministry of Agriculture are considering removing restrictions on US poultry imports.

China has banned all US poultry and eggs since January 2015 due to an avian influenza outbreak.

The optimism over a phase one trade deal boosted stocks globally; bond yields shuffled higher.

A source previously told Reuters that Chinese negotiators wanted the United States to drop 15% tariffs on about $125 billion worth of Chinese goods that took effect on September 1.

They also sought relief from earlier 25% tariffs on about $250 billion of imports, ranging from machinery and semiconductors to furniture.

A person familiar with China’s negotiating position said it was pressing Washington to “remove all tariffs as soon as possible”.

A deal may be signed before the end of the year by Trump and Xi at a yet-to-be determined location.

Dozens of venues have been suggested for a meeting, which had originally been set to take place on the sidelines of a now-cancelled mid-November summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Chile, a senior Trump administration official told Reuters on Wednesday.

One possible location was London, where the leaders could meet after a NATO summit that Trump is due to attend on December 3-4, the official said.

Gao declined to say when and where such a meeting could be held.

Since Trump took office in 2017, his administration has been pressing China to curb massive subsidies to state-owned firms and end the forced transfer of American technology to Chinese firms as a price of doing business in China.

The president’s tough stance on China has earned him praise from his political base, and he may be reluctant to appear conciliatory on the issue going into his 2020 re-election campaign. But Trump has also sought to portray stock market gains as a reflection of his stewardship of the economy, and the market has reacted positively to any hints of an end to the two countries’ trade dispute.

A sign displays the Twitter logo on the front of the New York Stock Exchange ahead of the company's IPO in New York.
Former Twitter employees accused of spying for Saudi Arabia
7 November 2019, 7:01 AM

Two former employees of Twitter Inc and a third man from Saudi Arabia face US charges of spying for the kingdom by digging up private user data and giving it to Saudi officials in exchange for payment, according to a complaint filed on Wednesday.

Ali Alzabarah and Ahmad Abouammo, who used to work for Twitter, and Ahmed Almutairi, who then worked for the Saudi royal family, face charges of working for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia without registering as foreign agents, according to a complaint filed against them.

According to the complaint, Abouammo repeatedly accessed the Twitter account of a prominent critic of the Saudi royal family in early 2015. In one instance, he was able to view the email address and telephone number associated with the account. He also accessed the account of a second Saudi critic to get personally identifiable information.

“This information could have been used to identify and locate the Twitter users who published these posts,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia, a key US ally in confronting Iran, has faced intense Western criticism over its human rights record, including over last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its involvement in the devastating war in Yemen.

Almutairi, for his part, is accused of acting as a go-between for the Saudi government and the Twitter employees.

Abouammo was arrested in Seattle, Washington while the other two are in Saudi Arabia, the department said.

Abouammo was ordered to remain behind bars by a US magistrate judge on Wednesday pending a detention hearing set for Friday. The US Attorney’s Office said in a court filing it wants Abouammo detained pending trial because of a “serious risk” of flight.

The two men were given cash and other rewards, such as an expensive watch, for the information, the complaint said.

The Saudi embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twitter said that it was grateful to the FBI and US Justice Department. “We recognise the lengths bad actors will go to try and undermine our service,” it said in a statement. “We understand the incredible risks faced by many who use Twitter to share their perspectives with the world and to hold those in power accountable.”

Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba.
Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan to try to resolve dam dispute by January
7 November 2019, 5:38 AM

The foreign ministers of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed on Wednesday to work toward resolving their dispute over the filling and operation of a massive dam project in Ethiopia by January 15, 2020, the US Treasury said.

In a joint statement released after US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin hosted talks to work out differences over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the ministers said they would attend further meetings in Washington on December 9 and January 13 to assess progress in their negotiations.

“The ministers reaffirmed their joint commitment to reach a comprehensive, cooperative, adaptive, sustainable, and mutually beneficial agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and to establish a clear process for fulfilling that commitment in accordance with the 2015 Declaration of Principles,” the ministers, Mnuchin and World Bank President David Malpass said in the statement.

Egypt fears the filling of the dam reservoir on the Blue Nile tributary will restrict already scarce supplies of water from the Nile, on which the country is almost entirely dependent. Sudan is also downriver from the project.

Ethiopia says the hydroelectric dam, which will be Africa’s largest, is crucial to its economic development.

Water ministers of the three countries will hold four meetings in Washington, attended by the Treasury and World Bank, according to the joint statement.

“If an agreement is not reached by January 15, 2020, the foreign ministers agree that Article 10 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles will be invoked,” the statement said.

Such a move would require an international mediator to help resolve the dispute.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump said a meeting that he held with the Egyptian, Ethiopian and Sudanese delegations “went well.”.

In their joint statement, the foreign ministers of the three African countries “reaffirmed the significance of the Nile to the development of the people of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, the importance of transboundary cooperation, and their shared interest in concluding an agreement.”

Zimbabwe police stop public workers from marching for better pay
6 November 2019, 5:22 PM

Zimbabwe police on Wednesday blocked a handful of public sector workers from marching to government offices with a petition demanding better pay, reneging on an earlier pledge to allow the demonstration.

The march had been seen as a test of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s willingness to tolerate dissent after banning recent opposition protests over the parlous state of the economy.

Government employees in the southern African nation want Mnangagwa’s administration to pay them U.S. dollar-indexed salaries to cushion them against triple-digit inflation.

This would see the least paid worker earning 7,309 Zimbabwe dollars ($475) – seven times more than the 1,023 Zimbabwe dollars they currently receive.

Dozens of police, who outnumbered protesters, confined the workers outside the offices of the Apex Council of public sector unions in Harare, saying only their leaders should deliver a petition to the ministries of finance and labor.
Apex Council leaders tore copies of the petition in protest, to cheers from the workers, and said the union would meet soon to consider their next course of action.

“The police just told us that we could no longer march to government offices because of security fears,” Charles Chinosengwa, the Apex Council organizing secretary, told Reuters as members chanted trade union songs.
Chinosengwa blamed the poor turnout by the workers on intimidation by the government.

One protester held a poster saying “Oversized prices, under age salaries,” as he taunted police after some of his colleagues breached a cordon before they were dragged back.

Zimbabwe is in the grips of its worst economic crisis in a decade, with shortages of foreign exchange, fuel, medicine and electricity, while a severe drought pummels agriculture.

Hopes that the economy would recover have faded as Mnangagwa, who took over from the late Robert Mugabe after a coup in 2017, struggles to convince the population that his economic reforms will work.

There was no immediate comment from police or the government on the aborted march.

Anti-government protesters kicks a tear gas canister during a protest following 22 year-old University student's fall and who was critically injured last weekend.
Official says China backs bolder action over Hong Kong unrest
6 November 2019, 12:03 PM

Beijing supports more bold measures to tackle the roots of unrest that has rocked Hong Kong for months, a senior Chinese official said on Wednesday, just hours after a knife-wielding man attacked a pro-Beijing lawmaker in the financial hub.

Han Zheng, China’s vice premier, said at an official meeting with Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s embattled leader, in Beijing anti-government protests were damaging the “one country, two systems” formula under which the city has been governed since its handover from Britain to Beijing in 1997.

“We firmly support the Special Administrative Region government to adopt more proactive and more effective measures to solve the social problems,” Han said as he sat next to Lam in a meeting room in the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.

Han said the social problems included unaffordable housing in the city, which is classified as a special region of China.

China’s Communist Party said on Tuesday it would not tolerate any “separatist behaviour” after some protesters called for independence. Han said the violence had exceeded the “bottom line” of the rule law and of morality.

What started as agitation against a now-scrapped extradition bill, which would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, has widened into calls for full democracy, among other demands.

Anti-government protests stretching back more than five months have plunged Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis in decades and pose one of the gravest challenges to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rule since he came to power in 2012.

Han was meeting Lam just hours after a man stabbed pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho in the chest with a knife, the latest incident in a series of attacks on candidates running in the city’s Nov. 24 district council elections.

Both pro-democratic and pro-establishment figures have been attacked.

The alleged attacker was subdued and arrested. Ho said in an online statement he had suffered a knife wound to the upper left part of his chest but said his life was not at risk. Two of his colleagues were also hurt, he said.


The attacker’s motive was not known but Ho gained notoriety among anti-government protesters in July when he was filmed laughing and shaking hands with suspected triad gang members who assaulted young demonstrators.

An online video showed the assailant handing Ho a bunch of yellow flowers before taking a weapon out of his bag and stabbing him.

Hong Kong’s government strongly condemned the attack on Ho and said in a statement members of the public should “express their views in a peaceful and rational manner with respect for each other”.

Jimmy Sham, a leader of Hong Kong’s Civil Human Rights Front, was among other prominent people to be attacked during the months of sometimes violent unrest. He was beaten by several men with hammers in October after his group organized mass rallies against the extradition bill.

Pro-democracy district councillor Andrew Chiu also had part of his ear bitten off by a knife-wielding man outside a mall this week.

Further protests are planned on Wednesday at some of Hong Kong’s universities, activists said. Police fired water cannon to disperse protesters at a Guy Fawkes-themed march on Tuesday.

Hundreds of black-clad student protesters gathered at the University of Hong Kong’s campus to protest against perceived police brutality and to call for an independent investigation into an incident that left a student from another university fighting for his life.

The student fell during protests at the weekend and remained on life support, hospital authorities said, as some of his friends also gathered at the hospital to pray for him.

Protesters are demanding an end to perceived Chinese meddling in the territory’s affairs, as well as universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into police behaviour, among other demands.

Beijing denies interfering and blames foreign governments for fuelling the unrest.

President Xi met Lam on Tuesday in Shanghai, vouching support for her administration.

Following that meeting, Lam denied rumours that the government was considering an amnesty for protesters charged with offences.



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