As Cambodia’s Opposition Leader Plans Return, Government Cracks Down

To protect her family, Him Taing Or lied to local authorities that she and her husband had divorced.

Her husband, Oun Srean is a deputy head of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in Cambodia’s northwest Uddar Meanchey province, on the border with Thailand.

To protect his family, Oun Srean fled Cambodia when Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017 dissolved the CNRP, which represented a growing challenge to Hun Sen, the prime minister for more than three decades. His ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) oversaw a purge of more than 5,000 local CNRP representatives who lost their positions after the party’s dissolution. They were banned from political activity.

The result was that after billions of dollars spent in international effort to build democracy in Cambodia since the early 1990s, Hun Sen won all 125 seats in parliament in the July 2018 national election, and now enjoys an increasingly authoritarian one-party rule.

And for the past month, the Hun Sen government has been doubling down on CNRP supporters because the self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy announced on August 18 that he plans to return to Cambodia on November 9. The official position is that this amounts to “plotting a coup.” The government has made clear that that anyone who supports Rainsy will face legal action.

Dozens of opposition members have been arrested since Rainsy’s announcement. Local TV news programs, all on stations controlled by the government or its allies, feature file footage of demonstrations against Hun Sen in 2013, when the opposition questioned election results that kept him and the CPP in power.

In Cambodia, where 1.7 million people died between 1975 and 1979 as the Khmer Rouge attempted to create a Marxist agrarian paradise, there’s a wariness of anything that might trigger instability. The TV footage in regular rotation shows government forces keeping the peace by shooting water cannons at the protestors.

Soeung Sen Karona, a spokesman for the Cambodian human rights group Adhoc, which has followed the threats against the opposition, said the situation has worsened since Sam Rainsy’s announcement. Adhoc has received written and verbal complaints from activists who have fled and from their families. “Activists and supporters are now scared,” said Soeung Sen Karona.

Police visit

Before the government dissolved the CNRP, “Police came to my house several times,” said Him Taing Or. “So, I told them I have divorced [my husband],” she told VOA Khmer in a recent interview at a restaurant in Anlong Veng, a onetime Khmer Rouge stronghold now best known as the gravesite of Pol Pot, the regime’s mastermind who died in 1998.

“I went to Thailand to live with my husband for a while in July 2018 and then came back in November,” said Him Taing Or, 47, the mother of two children.

“I told local authorities a year ago that I have divorced,” she said.

Him Taing Or, who earns about $5 a day packing rice cookies made in her village, is afraid of giving an interview at her home because she believes she is under surveillance by local authorities.

Oun Srean has been a wanted man since October 7 when he was charged with “plotting” because he backed Sam Rainsy’s return. Him Taing Or found out authorities has issued an arrest summons for her husband when her father called with the news.

“I am worried that he will be arrested and jailed,” she said, knowing that the Uddar Meanchey provincial municipal court asked local police to arrest him.

Oun Srean is just one of dozens of activists who have been charged with “plotting.”

The opposition activists arrested this month and who have been charged with “plotting” face prison terms of up to 10 years if found guilty. Others are in hiding or have fled the country.

“The political situation is still dire for the opposition in Cambodia,” said Ear Sophal, an associate professor in diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College, Los Angeles, California. “Phnom Penh loves power and money more than freedom and democracy.”

Unafraid activist

Chhun Vean, a former deputy CNRP commune chief from the Kdey Run commune in Siem Reap province, now works in construction in Thailand. “I am not scared or willing to stop my work for democracy in Cambodia,” he said.

A banner of outlawed opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, hung at Chek Chhun’s house in Siem Reap province’s Kdey Run commune, October 11, 2019.

The Siem Reap provincial court issued a summons dated October 8 for the opposition activist in Pouk district’s Kdey Run commune. VOA obtained a copy of the summons.

Chhun Vean joined a precursor to the CNRP in 2008, a year marked by CPP-dominated national elections. He became active in commune politics. “That is why they want to intimidate me, to stop me.”

 “Cambodia’s courts are a tool politicians use to threaten their opponents,” said Chhun Vean, the 30-year-old father of a six-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. His wife is with him in Thailand, and the children are with their grandparents in Cambodia.

The summons allows him to confess. If he does, he will be released and the charges dropped.

The government has been making good on this promise. When Seng Sokhun, a former CNRP commune chief in Phnom Penh, confessed on video on October 10, the government dropped charges. Local media featured the story which lit up social media.

On Friday, as VOA spoke with Chhun Vean’s 67-year-old father Chek Chhun, police vehicles drove by his house in Tapang village of Siem Reap province’s Pouk district’s Kdey Run commune.

“They may come and question me,” said Chek Chhun, who was once active in the opposition and now worries about his son. “There are no equal political rights. I don’t know what to say now.”

More arrests threatened

Hun Sen has threatened to deploy the military if CNRP leaders and supporters return from exile with Sam Rainsy. On Monday, he threatened to arrest opposition activists living in Thailand.

“Those who are in Bangkok, it is not certain that you will be safe,” he said. “I will arrest and bring you all back.”

His threat is not empty. Cambodia and Thailand signed an extradition agreement in 2001, and Thai authorities have handed over opposition activists in the recent past.

“Under the military guided government of [Prime Minister] Prayut Chan-ocha, it’s clear Thailand is no longer safe for opposition activists,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch in an email.

“There’s no doubt Thailand is prepared to sell or barter Cambodian asylum seekers and refugees in exchange for favors from Phnom Penh,” he added.

The Thai government did not respond to a request for comment.

Mork Vanvuthy, a former CNRP council member in Bansayrak commune, is also wanted by Hun Sen’s government and living outside Cambodia.

“I have not done anything illegal. We expressed our opinion,” said Mork Vanvuthy, 47, adding that if he remained in Cambodia, “I would die or be jailed.”

Sok Thai, 37, a villager in Cambodia’s Kampong Thom province, said her husband, Nou Phoeun was arrested early in September because he expressed his political opinions and criticized the government about the price of rice in their neighborhood and online. Three other Kampong Thom province activists were arrested at the same time, she said.

Increased violence

Human rights advocates are concerned that more activists will be arrested and violence against CNRP sympathizers will increase as Rainsy’s return date nears.

“Cambodia is intensifying its campaign of repression against CNRP activists because they want to prevent the return of Sam Rainsy and the other senior CNRP leaders in exile,” said Robertson. “It’s likely it will get even worse the closer we get to November 9.”

On September 22, Sam Rainsy’s bodyguard, Pouk Chanda, was beaten on a Phnom Penh street. He suffered head injuries.

Sim Bona, a former CNRP commune chief in Phnom Penh’s Koh Dach commune was attacked September 25 by an unidentified man wielding an iron pipe.

“They tried to beat my head but I had a helmet,” he told VOA Khmer at his home in Koh Dach commune the day after the assault. Sim Bona, 59, defended himself at a cost: the attacker broke his left arm in three places.

Others in the opposition told VOA the beatings may have been a form of political retribution or intimidation.

Phay Siphan, a government spokesman, said making accusations against the government is the CNRP “culture.”

“Whenever there are victims, [they say] it is political,” he said. “I don’t want to have a prejudgment. Let’s wait for the investigation.”

Back in Anlong Veng, Him Taing Or, who takes herbal medicine daily for diabetes and high blood pressure, is hopeful that her husband will be able to return without fear of arrest or jail.

“Life is difficult since we are separated,” said Or. “I hope that my husband can come back and we live together.”


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Biles Dazzles on Floor to Win Record 25th World Championship Medal

American Simone Biles became the most decorated gymnast in world championship history on Sunday when she won the beam and floor finals to take her career tally to 25 medals.

Soon after securing a convincing victory on the beam in Stuttgart to overtake Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo’s record tally of 23 world medals, the 22-year-old Biles successfully defended her floor title to win medal number 25.

The four-time Olympic champion is now the owner of 19 gold medals across four championships against 12 for Scherbo, who competed in five world events between 1991 and 1996.

Making her final appearance of the week in front of a raucous crowd, Biles wasted no time as she landed a superb triple-twisting double back flip — known as the Biles II – on her first pass.

Biles’s double layout with a half turn — another skill named after her — put her out of bounds for a 0.1 penalty but she did enough to post a winning score of 15.133.

“Honestly, I just couldn’t move. I was so tired,” Biles said of her final pose on the stage.

“This is really the best worlds performance I have ever put out.”

The Americans took a one-two finish as Sunisa Lee finished with 14.133 for the silver medal, while Russian Angelina Melnikova came third.

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>FILE - US gymnyst Simone Biles poses with her gold medal for artistic gymnastics during the victory ceremony at the Rio Olympic Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 16, 2016.
Olympic Champ Simone Biles Says She was Abused by Doctor

Simone Biles watched as her friends and former Olympic teammates came forward to detail abuse at the hands of a now-imprisoned former USA Gymnastics team doctor.Drawing in part from their strength, the four-time gold medalist acknowledged Monday she is among the athletes who were sexually abused by Larry Nassar.Biles, who won five medals overall at the 2016 Olympics, released a statement via Twitter outlining that abuse.

BEAM BRILLIANCE

Earlier, Biles delivered a polished routine on the beam before a full twisting double tuck dismount for an impressive 15.066.

Although Biles had twice before won the world beam title, in 2014 and 2015, it has not always been plain sailing for her on the apparatus.

Her slip on the landing of a front tucked somersault at the 2016 Rio Olympics meant she had to settle for a bronze in the event. Last year again, she dropped off the beam during the women’s all-around final at the world championships.

But she has regained her swagger this week, under the watchful eyes of balance beam coach Cecile Landi, and posted top scores in all four attempts — qualifying, the team and all-around finals and Sunday’s apparatus final.

“It meant a lot because Cecile has really been working on bringing my confidence back up to where it used to be on the beam,” Biles said.

“To go out there and nail the routine, just like I do in practice, it felt really good and I knew she was really proud.”

As another title-winning score was announced in the arena, Biles punched the air in jubilation before joining celebrations with the U.S. team.

“I was really excited,” she added. “I thought it was going to be at least 14.8, 14.9, but to see 15, I was like well that’s pretty crazy, so I was very proud.”

Last year’s winner Liu Tingting of China took silver with 14.433, while team mate Li Shijia won the bronze.

Biles finished her campaign in Stuttgart with five gold medals from six events to mark ideal preparations for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Her barnstorming run included a record fifth all-around gold, an individual vault title, as well as helping the U.S. to a fifth straight world team title.

 


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Teen’s Parents Fly to US Hoping to Meet Driver Who killed Him

Parents of the British teen killed when his motorcycle collided with car allegedly driven by an American diplomat’s wife are on their way to the U.S. hoping to seek justice.

Harry Dunn, 19, died in August in near the Croughton Royal Air Force base in Northhamptonshire, which is used by the U.S. Air Force as a communications center.

Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, told the BBC the family hopes to meet with the suspected driver, identified by British police and Prime Minister Boris Johnson as Anne Sacoolas, wife of an American intelligence officer based at Croughton.

Sacoolas claimed diplomatic immunity and returned to the United States while the case was still being investigated. She has since written a letter of apology to Dunn’s family.

But Charles said Sunday, “It’s nearly seven weeks now since we lost our boy, sorry just doesn’t cut it.

“That’s not really quite enough,” she told Sky News. “But I’m still really open to meeting her, as are the rest of us. I can’t promise what I would or wouldn’t say, but I certainly wouldn’t be aggressive.”

Charles also said the family was thankful to receive a letter Saturday from the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that said since Sacoolas had left Britain, “immunity is no longer pertinent”.

The family is hoping Sacoolas will return to Britain.  They have even called on U.S. President Donald Trump to intervene on their behalf.

But Trump told a news conference Wednesday that Sacoolas would not return. Harry Dunn’s death was a “terrible accident,” the president said but he noted that driving on the worn side of the road “happens”.

 

 


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California Becomes First US State to Ban Fur Products

California has become the first U.S. state to ban all production and sale of animal fur products.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill that will make it illegal to make, sell and even donate any new item made using animal fur starting in 2023.

The bill excludes used items, taxidemy products, fur taken with a hunting license and fur used by Native American tribes for religious purposes.

Violators of the ban will face fines of up to $500, or even $1,000 for repeat offenses.

“The signing of AB44 underscores the point that today’s consumers simply don’t want wild animals to suffer extreme pain and fear for the sake of fashion,” Kitty Block, the head of the Humane Society of the United States said in a statement.

But the Fur Information Council of America condemned the ban as being part of a “radical vegan agenda” and has threatened a court challenge.

Along with the fur ban, Newsom also approved a ban on the use of most animals in circuses. Exceptions will be made for dogs and horses.

“California is a leader when it comes to animal welfare, and today that leadership includes banning the sale of fur,” Newsom said in a statement. “But we are doing more than that. We are making a statement to the world that beautiful wild animals like bears and tigers have no place on trapeze wires or jumping through flames.”


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Poland’s Ruling Party Declares Victory in Divided Nation

Poland’s conservative governing Law and Justice party won the most votes in Sunday’s election in the deeply divided nation and appeared, according to an exit poll, to have secured a comfortable majority in parliament to govern for four more years.

The exit poll, conducted by the research firm Ipsos, projected that Law and Justice won 43.6% of the votes. That would translate into 239 seats, a majority in the 460-seat lower house of parliament.

The poll said a centrist pro-European Union umbrella group, Civic Coalition, would come in second with 27.4%. The biggest party in the coalition is Civic Platform, which governed Poland in 2007-2015.

Coalition leaders cheered and welcomed the result as a spur toward uniting society around common goals.

Other parties projected to surpass the 5% threshold to get into parliament were a left-wing alliance with 11.9%, the conservative agrarian Polish People’s Party with 9.6% and a new far-right alliance called Confederation with 6.4%.

The exit poll had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points. Final vote results, which are expected by Tuesday, could shift, as they have in past elections.

A prominent journalist, Konrad Piasecki, said that “at the moment it looks like the largest triumph in the history of parliamentary elections” in Poland. But he also cautioned that results varying even slightly from the exit poll could mean big changes to the distribution of seats in parliament.

Law and Justice has governed Poland since 2015 and is popular for its social conservatism and generous social spending. It ran a campaign that highlighted its social programs and vowed to defend traditional Roman Catholic values.

It has been accused of weakening the rule of law in the young democracy with an overhaul of the judicial system that has given the party more power over the courts and has drawn criticism as well for using state media as a propaganda outlet and for anti-gay rhetoric.

Pawel Zerka, policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank, said the high level of support for Law and Justice, known in Poland by its acronym PIS, “should not be interpreted as a sign that Poles have become nationalist or xenophobic. Rather, it reveals an effective party machine – and an ability of PIS to mobilize voters with policies based on direct social transfers.”

Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who is considered the real power behind Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s government, cautioned that the exit polls weren’t the final results but nonetheless declared victory.

“We received a lot but we deserve more,” Kaczynski told party supporters as he held high a bouquet of roses.

Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna said the fight wasn’t fair, an apparent reference to the way Law and Justice harnessed state media to pump out positive coverage of itself while casting a poor light on political rivals.

“This was not an even struggle; there were no rules in this struggle,” Schetyna said.

The left-wing party leaders celebrated their expected return to parliament after failing to get any seats in 2015.

Critics fear that four more years for Law and Justice will reverse the democratic achievements of this Central European nation, citing the changes to the judiciary and the way the party has marginalized minorities, for instance with its recent campaign depicting the LGBT rights movement as a threat.

Law and Justice’s apparent success stems from tapping into the values of the largely conservative society while also evening out extreme economic inequalities.

It is the first party since the fall of communism to break with the austerity of previous governments, whose free-market policies transformed Poland into one of Europe’s most dynamic economies.

However, many Poles were left out in that transformation and inequalities grew, creating grievances. Law and Justice skillfully addressed those concerns with popular programs, including one that gives families a monthly stipend of 500 zlotys ($125) for each child, taking the edge off poverty for some and giving others more disposable income. It says it has been able to pay for its programs thanks to a tighter tax collection system.

It has also clearly benefited from the sacrifices forced by earlier governments and the growth of Europe’s economy.

In his victory speech, Kaczynski referred to his party’s improvement of public finances and said it would continue on that path.

“We are finishing a certain stage; we are starting a new one,” he said. “It is not easier, maybe more difficult. But I hope that it will be finished with even greater success.”


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Nigeria’s Buhari Faces Flak Over Cabinet Picks

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has come under fire for stacking his new cabinet with ageing party loyalists despite hopes he might opt for more technocrats in his final term.

The senate this week approved the list of 43 ministers after the former military ruler finally settled on their names some two months after his inauguration in May.

Buhari, 76, is yet to hand out their portfolios but already his choice of stalwarts from his All Progressives Congress (APC) party has caused dismay.

“One would have expected that the president would shop for more people with more expertise” to assuage worries about the future, said Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, head of Abuja-based Transition Monitoring Group organisation.

She said she doubted the ability of those chosen “to push the agenda for development for Nigeria”.

Buhari faces a raft of challenges in his second term at the helm of Africa’s most populous nation — from tackling a grinding Islamist insurgency and spreading insecurity to trying to bolster a fragile economic recovery.

During his first four years he earned the nickname “Baba go-slow” after he took six months to name a cabinet and was seen to proceed with decisions at a glacial pace.

Far from cutting lose for his second, and final stint in power, he now appears to have fallen back on familiar faces.

In a country with more than half the population under 30, not one of the ministers is less than 40 years old.

Only seven of those chosen are women.

“16.3 percent representation is abysmal,” Ndi Kato, a 28-year-old female politician told local media.

“We have an abundance of qualified women and we have been advocating throughout the process of selecting ministers. The disrespect of tossing out the requests of women like it doesn’t matter is traumatic.”

‘More patronage’

Analysts said the decision to reward loyalists and keep key players in place means there are unlikely to be major reforms in the years ahead.

Fourteen of the ministers in the new cabinet served Buhari during his first term from 2015 to 2019.

Among those coming back are heavyweights like Babatunde Fashola, a former Lagos governor, transport minister Rotimi Amaechi, who ran oil-rich Rivers state, finance minister Zanaib Ahmed, foreign minister Geoffrey Onyema and education minister Adamu Adamu.

“Rewarding APC powerbrokers will improve party cohesion in the second term but also risks eroding first-term gains in curbing patronage,” said the Eurasia consultancy group in a note.

The president appeared to be prioritising APC unity and making up for 2015 when some leading backers in the party complained they had been overlooked, the group said.

“It also signals to party officials that Buhari will condone more patronage and possible leakages from government coffers than during his first term,” it said.  

The opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is still challenging Buhari’s election victory, has been quick to criticise the government selection as uninspiring and unable to tackle the challenges ahead.  

“In recycling failed yesterday’s men for today’s assignment, President Buhari and the APC have left no one in doubt that they have no vision to move our nation out of the economic and security predicaments into which they have plunged us in the last four years,” the party said in statement.

Rooting out graft

Anti-graft crusaders also worried that the appointments did not look promising for attempts to seriously tackle Nigeria’s endemic corruption.

Rooting out graft was one of Buhari’s big pledges in 2015 and he has promised to step it up this time round.

But critics have accused him of using the corruption crackdown to target his political opponents.

Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) pressure group, pointed to new ministers with major questions hanging over them.

Although Adeniran did not give their names, Fashola has been asked by CACOL to step down over fraud allegations while at the helm in Lagos.

Goodwill Akpabio, a former opposition leader, senator and governor of southern oil-rich Akwa Ibom state who defected to Buhari’s ruling party ahead of the 2019 elections has also faced accusations of looting his state treasury.

Another name is former information minister Lai Mohammed, who has been summoned by a court to clear his name over a phony contract awarded in his department.

“I don’t think there was due diligence on the nominees. Otherwise, the president would not have considered many of them,” Adeniran said.

“For Buhari’s integrity and fight against corruption to be taken serious, he has to do away with many of his appointees.”

 


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Boris Johnson to EU: I Won’t Pay Unless Deal Improved

Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is stepping up his campaign to be Britain’s next prime minister by challenging the European Union over Brexit terms.

Johnson told the Sunday Times he would refuse to pay the agreed-upon 39 billion-pound ($50 billion) divorce settlement unless the EU offers Britain a better withdrawal agreement than the one currently on the table.

 

The contest for leadership of the Conservative Party officially begins Monday. The post was vacated Friday by Prime Minister Theresa May, who will serve as a caretaker until a new leader is chosen and moves into 10 Downing Street.

 

The party expects to name its new leader in late July.

 

Johnson, the early frontrunner in a crowded field, told the newspaper he is the only contender who can triumph over the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

 

Johnson is a hard-line Brexit advocate who vows to take Britain out of the EU on the Oct. 31 deadline even if there is no deal in place.

 

He and other contenders say they can get better terms from EU leaders in Brussels than the deal that May agreed to but was unable to push through Parliament. Those failures led to her decision to resign before achieving her goal of delivering Brexit.

 

But EU officials have said they are not willing to change the terms of the deal May agreed to.

 

One of Johnson’s main rivals for the post, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, continued to be sidetracked Sunday by questions about his acknowledged cocaine use when he was a youthful journalist.

 

He told BBC Sunday that he was “fortunate” not to have gone to prison following his admission of cocaine use. He said he was “very, very aware” of the damage drugs can cause.

 

Nominations for the leadership post close Monday afternoon.

 

 


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US Treasury Chief: Trump ‘Perfectly Happy’ to Tax More Chinese Imports

U.S. Treasury chief Steven Mnuchin said Sunday President Donald Trump would be “perfectly happy” to tax more imports from China if he cannot reach a trade deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Both presidents are scheduled to meet later this month at the Group of 20 meeting in Japan.

“We made enormous progress, I think we had a deal that was almost 90% done,” Mnuchin told CNBC. “China wanted to go backwards on certain things” — a charge Beijing denies.

“We’ve stopped negotiating,” Mnuchin said, with the next steps depending on Trump’s meeting with Xi in Osaka at the G-20 summit of leaders of major economies June 28-29.

“The president will make a decision (on tariffs) after the meeting,” Mnuchin said. “I believe if China is willing to move forward on the terms that we were discussing, we’ll have an agreement. If they’re not, we will proceed with tariffs.”

Trump has already imposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, but now is thinking about taxing an additional $325 billion worth of Chinese products. That would include nearly everything China exports to the U.S. The world’s two biggest economies have sparred for months over a trade deal, but have not been able to reach an agreement.

Trump’s threatened tariff hike came as G-20 finance ministers meeting in Fukuoka, Japan, said trade and geopolitical conflicts are risking global economic growth, but at the U.S. insistence, dropped a call to “recognize the pressing need to resolve trade tensions.”

“Global growth appears to be stabilizing and is generally projected to pick up moderately later this year and into 2020,” the finance chiefs, including Mnuchin, said in an end-of-meeting communique. “However, growth remains low and risks remain tilted to the downside. Most importantly, trade and geopolitical tensions have intensified. We will continue to address these risks and stand ready to take further action.”

The International Monetary Fund warned last week that a continuing U.S.-China standoff on tariffs could cut a half-percentage point from the global economy in 2020.

Meanwhile, China vowed Sunday to build what it calls a strong firewall against attempts to restrict its ability to technologically innovate.

“China … will never allow certain countries to use China’s technology to contain China’s development and suppress Chinese enterprise,” the main state-run newspaper declared.

China plans to announce details of its plans in the near future.

The Chinese statement did not mention any country by name, but the United States has restricted U.S. firms from selling technology to China’s Huawei, suspecting the company of building spyware into its telecommunications products.

The U.S. has also warned its allies against the alleged risk in buying Huawei technology.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Trade Experts Unruffled About Rare Earth Minerals Supply

Rising trade tensions between the U.S. and China have sparked worries about the 17 exotic-sounding rare earth minerals needed for high-tech products like robotics, drones and electric cars. 

 

China recently raised tariffs to 25% on rare earth exports to the U.S. and has threatened to halt exports altogether after the Trump administration raised tariffs on Chinese products and blacklisted telecommunications giant Huawei.  

  

With names like europium, scandium and ytterbium, the bulk of rare earth minerals are extracted from mines in China, where lower wages and lax environmental standards make production cheaper and easier.  

  

But trade experts say no one should panic over China’s threats to stop exporting the elements to the U.S. 

 

There is a U.S. rare minerals mine in California. And Australia, Myanmar, Russia and India are also top producers of the somewhat obscure minerals. Vietnam and Brazil both have huge rare earth reserves.  

  

The sky is not falling,'' said Mary B. Teagarden, a China specialist, professor and associate dean at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix.There are alternatives.” 

 

Simon Lester, associate director of the center for trade policy studies at the Cato Institute think tank in Washington, agreed. “Over the short term, it could be a big disruption, but companies that want to stay in business will find a way,” he said.    

Although the U.S. is among the world’s top 10 countries for rare earths production, it’s also a major importer of the minerals, looking to China for 80% of what it buys from other countries, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. China last year produced 120,000 metric tons of rare earths, while the United States produced 15,000 metric tons.  

Mountain Pass Mine

 

The United States also depends on China to separate the minerals pulled from Mountain Pass Mine, the sole rare earths mine in the U.S., which was bought two years ago by the Chicago-based JHL Capital Group LLC .  

  

“We need to develop a U.S.-based supply chain so there is no possibility we can be threatened,” said Ryan S. Corbett, managing director of JHL Capital. 

 

The mine’s top products are neodymium and praseodymium, two elements that are used together to make the lightweight magnets that help power electric cars and wind turbines and are found in electronics such as laptop hard drives. 

 

Mountain Pass, located in San Bernardino County, Calif., was once the top supplier of the world’s rare earth minerals, but China began taking over the market in the 1990s and the U.S. mine stopped production in 2002.  

  

Mountain Pass later restarted production, only to close again amid a 2015 bankruptcy. Corbett said extraction resumed last year after JHL Capital purchased the site with QVT Financial LP of New York, which holds 30%, and Shenghe Resources Holding Co. Ltd. of China, a nonvoting shareholder with 9.9%.  

  

Since then, Mountain Pass has focused on achieving greater autonomy with a $1.7 billion separation system set to go online late next year that would allow it to skip sending rare earths ore to China for that step. 

 

China could hurt itself in the long run by cutting off the U.S., specialists said.  

  

David Merriman, a rare earths analyst for Roskill commodity research in London, said that during a similar trade flap with China in 2011, Japan began looking to other countries, including Australia, for the minerals needed to manufacture electronics.   

Australian rare earths production giant Lynas Corp. Ltd. this month announced a proposed deal with Blue Line Corp. of Texas for a separation facility at an industrial site in Hondo, Texas.  

Other deposits

  

There may be other options, too. Deposits of rare earths have been detected in other U.S. states, including Wyoming and Alaska, as well in several remote areas of Canada. The Interior Department is calling for more prospecting and mining of “critical minerals,” including on public lands currently considered off-limits, and even in oceans. 

 

We have to be more forward-thinking,'' said Alexander Gysi, an assistant professor in geology and geological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden.It would be better for the U.S. to have a greater range of sources for rare earths.”


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G-20 Finance Leaders’ Goal: Adapt to Turmoil in Trade, Tech

Financial leaders of the Group of 20 gathered Saturday to brainstorm ways to adapt global finance to an age of trade turmoil and digital disruptions.

The central bank governors and other financial regulators meeting in this southern Japanese port city also flagged risks from upsets to the global economy as Beijing and Washington clash over trade and technology.

Asked if other financial leaders attending the meetings in Fukuoka were raising concerns over the impact on global markets and trade from President Donald Trump’s crusade against huge, chronic U.S. trade deficits, especially with China, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said no.

Trump and members of his administration contend that the ripple effects of the billions of dollars in tariffs imposed by Washington on Chinese exports over the past year are creating new business opportunities for other businesses in the U.S. and other countries.

But Mnuchin acknowledged that growth has been slowing in Europe, China and other regions.

“I’m hearing concerns if we continue on this path there could be issues. There will be winners and losers,” he said.

The G-20 officials were expected to express their support for adjusting monetary policy, for example by making borrowing cheaper through interest rate cuts, in a communique to be issued as meetings wrap up on Sunday.

Their official agenda on Saturday was focused on longer-term, more technical issues such as improving standards for corporate governance, policing cyber-currencies and reforming tax systems to ensure they are fair for both traditional and new, online-based industries.

Ensuring that governments capture a fair share of profits from the massive growth of businesses like Google and Amazon has grown in importance over the many years the G-20 finance chiefs have been debating the reforms aimed at preventing tax evasion and modernizing policies to match a financial landscape transformed by technology.

One aim is to prevent a “race to the bottom” by countries trying to lure companies by offering unsustainably and unfairly low tax rates as an incentive.

Mnuchin said he disagreed with details of some of the proposals but not with the need for action.

“Everyone, we are now facing a turning point,” Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso told the group. “This could be the biggest reform of the long established international framework in over 100 years.”

Some European members of the G-20, especially, want to see minimum corporate tax rates for big multinationals. France and Britain have already enacted stop-gap tax systems for digital businesses, but they are not adequate, said French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.

“For the time being there is no fair taxation of this new economic model,” Le Maire said, adding that the hope is to have an agreement by the year’s end.

The issue is not confined to the wealthiest nations. Indonesia, a developing country of 260 million with more than 100 million internet users, is also struggling to keep up.

“The growth has been exponential but we cannot capture this growth in our GDP as well as in our tax revenue,” said Indonesian Finance Minister Mulyani Indrawati.

Mobile banking, big data, artificial intelligence and cloud computing are among many technologies that are expanding access to financial services for many people who in the past might not have even used banks.

But such innovations raise questions about protecting privacy and cybersecurity, Aso said.

“We need to stay vigilant against risks or challenges,” Aso said.

Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, is hosting the G-20 for the first time since it was founded in 1999. The venue for the annual financial meeting, Fukuoka, is a thriving regional hub and base for start-ups.

The G-20 groups include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.


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