Hair to stay: Australian celebrate the resilience of the mullet

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 4 hours 32 min ago
“Business at the front, party at the back” was the mantra for the crowd of Australians sporting a mullet haircut at an inaugural festival celebrating the vintage style on Saturday. More than 150 people showcasing the hairstyle popular in the 1970s and 80s flocked to a small town north of Sydney for the event, swishing their locks and parading their chops to cheering fans. The mullet has remained a staple hairstyle in Kurri Kurri, some 150km (90 miles) from Sydney, according to...

‘99 per cent’ chance Amelia Earhart mystery finally solved – or not, depends on whom you ask

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 5 hours 49 min ago
A forensic re-examination of bones discovered on the remote Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro in 1940 has offered the best clue yet in solving one of aviation’s great mysteries: where did Amelia Earhart die? Researchers have determined the bones belonged to a Caucasian female of between 5 feet 6 inches and 5 feet 8 inches tall. A new study published in the scientific journal Forensic Anthropology compares descriptions and measurement of the bones that were found on the uninhabited atoll...

Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull declines to offer Donald Trump advice on gun control after Florida mass shooting

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 8 hours 54 min ago
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declined to offer US President Donald Trump any advice on gun control days after the latest mass shooting at a US school, despite Australia’s success in cutting gun violence. Australia has some of the world’s toughest gun control laws, introduced after its worst mass murder, when a gunman killed 35 people at Port Arthur in the island state of Tasmania in 1996. Australia has had no mass shootings since then. But Turnbull, who met Trump...

Japan to pay travel costs for nuclear attack ‘storytellers’

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 9 hours 52 min ago
The Japanese government will fund from April the travel costs of storytellers, both within Japan and abroad, who will share the testimonies given by ageing victims of America’s nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The cities, devastated by the 1945 bombings in the final phase of the second world war, began training such storytellers 2012 and have dispatched them to other areas in Japan with recipient entities covering the costs. To alleviate the financial burden, the Health, Labour...

Chinese tourists are flooding into Nepal, and the floodgates haven’t even opened

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 11 hours 17 min ago
When Bishwesh Shrestha started out in 1997, he was a bit of an oddball in Kathmandu’s travel business fraternity. Not many were interested or cared about Chinese tourists. Nepal Airways had just one flight from Osaka through Shanghai, with just 20 seats reserved for Chinese passengers. But he was convinced that China was where the future lay. Shrestha convinced a relative who had studied in China and spoke the language to go into business with him. Together they went to China and got to...

How to rob a bank in India without rumpling your tuxedo

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 12 hours 33 min ago
Last week masked men broke into a branch of the Union Bank of India in the city of Kanpur by drilling a hole in the wall. Once inside, they disabled the security cameras, looted the safe deposit boxes and left with cash and jewellery worth tens of millions of rupees. Newspapers and TV channels accurately described the robbery as sensational and shocking. But the people of India were far from shocked. Posts and messages on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp asked why the thieves had bothered to the...

Three bombs rock capital of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, one police officer injured

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 12 hours 42 min ago
Three bombs exploded in different locations around Rakhine’s state capital Sittwe early on Saturday morning, including at the home of a high-ranking official, Myanmar police told AFP, adding that no deaths were reported. It is the latest violence to hit Rakhine, which is festering with ethnic tensions and has been roiled by communal violence in the north against the Rohingya and insurgencies in other parts of the state. Bombings in the state capital are rare however. “Three bombs...

Can China help tourist-hungry Indonesia create 10 ‘mini Balis’?

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 13 hours 47 min ago
Millions of global holidaymakers flock to Indonesia’s Bali every year, enticed by its beautiful beaches and scenic rice paddies, as well as a rich Hindu culture that earned it the moniker “The Island of 1,000 Temples”. Bali’s tourism appeal is unequalled in Indonesia, so much so that it is common to find foreigners who think the resort island is its own country. Now, the Southeast Asian nation wants to change this by promoting 10 tourist destinations dubbed as “the...

‘Short of military action,’ US and Asian allies seek to wage high-seas crackdown on N Korea sanctions evaders

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 15 hours 15 min ago
The Trump administration and key Asian allies are preparing to expand interceptions of ships suspected of violating sanctions on North Korea, a plan that could include deploying US Coast Guard forces to stop and search vessels in Asia-Pacific waters, senior US officials said. Washington has been talking to regional partners, including Japan, South Korea, Australia and Singapore about coordinating a stepped-up crackdown that would go further than ever before in an attempt to squeeze Pyongyang...

In Hong Kong and Singapore, Thaksin Shinawatra prepares his party for elections in Thailand

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - 15 hours 49 min ago
Post-coup elections are on the horizon in Thailand, and Thaksin Shinawatra, the fugitive former prime minister, appears raring to reprise his kingmaker role put on hold by the ruling junta. Thaksin raised eyebrows last week as he held court in Hong Kong and Singapore with elders from the deposed Pheu Thai party who had flown in to pay their respects to the man they still refer to as “the big boss”. Thaksin’s sister Yingluck, prime minister and Pheu Thai leader at the time of...

Trump Jnr turns his Indian ‘foreign affairs’ speech into a ‘fireside chat’ after outcry

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 23:18
Donald Trump Jnr backed off a planned speech on regional affairs Friday, opting instead for a cosy “fireside chat” on pressures of work and family amid questions over possible conflicts on a trip to promote Trump properties. The US president’s son arrived in India earlier this week for a contractually obliged trip to promote his family’s branded real-estate projects, but controversy seemed to dog him at every turn.  Critics wondered why he was giving a foreign...

North Korea’s Winter Olympics cheer squad are being ‘forced into sexual slavery,’ says a defector

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 18:10
North Korea’s cheer squad has captured the imaginations of thousands of spectators at the Winter Olympics. But a defector from Kim Jong-un’s regime said there’s a dark side. The women are made to perform sex work for their political masters, according to Lee So Yeon, a former military musician. Other accounts have also suggested that the women live in an atmosphere of coercion and control.   Members of North Korea’s cheerleading squad are being forced to perform...

Trump’s ‘toughest ever’ North Korean sanctions to hit more than 50 ships and businesses

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 16:25
The Trump administration is hitting more than 50 vessels, shipping companies and trade businesses with sanctions in the latest bid to turn up the pressure on North Korea over its nuclear programme, a senior administration official said Friday. President Donald Trump was set to announce the action at the Conservative Political Action Conference, followed by a public announcement from the Treasury Department. The action is the latest US effort to crack down on North Korean evasion of U.N.-...

Asia in 3 minutes: Tycoon runs afoul of law in Thailand; new law protects king of Cambodia from slander

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 16:06
The ‘proof’ is in the Poo: Thai building tycoon pinched for animal poaching Thai officials are testing human faeces found at a campsite in a wildlife sanctuary to try to prove their case against a tycoon accused of illegal poaching. Construction magnate Premchai Karnasuta has denied poaching charges against him and three others. They were arrested this month in Thungyai Naresuan national park, where rangers stumbled upon their camp and found illegal guns and animal carcasses. The...

Lebanese suspect in death of Filipino killed in Kuwait arrested

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 16:00
One of two suspects in the gruesome death of a Filipino maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in a flat in Kuwait has been arrested in Lebanon, the Philippine foreign secretary said on Friday. Alan Peter Cayetano said he has told Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte about the arrest of Lebanese Nader Essam Assaf but added that Assaf’s Syrian wife, who is also a suspect in the death of Joanna Demafelis, is still at large. The discovery of Demafelis’s body on February 6 in a...

Japan slams South Korea for mentioning ‘sex slaves’ at UN meeting

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 15:38
Japan criticised South Korea on Friday over a South Korean minister’s use of the term “sex slaves” at a UN committee meeting in Geneva to describe the women who were forced into Japan’s wartime military brothels. “Japan is of the view that the expression ‘sex slaves’ contradicts the facts and should not be used,” the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a press statement. Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters after a cabinet meeting that the use...

Philippines summons US envoy over Duterte ‘threat’ report

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 12:43
The Philippine government summoned the US ambassador over an American intelligence report that listed President Rodrigo Duterte and his war on drugs as a “regional threat”, Manila said on Friday. US envoy Sung Kim met Duterte’s chief aide on Thursday to discuss the US “Worldwide Threat Assessment” released last week, the two nations said. Under a section titled “regional threats”, the report listed Cambodian leader Hun Sen’s crackdown on dissent,...

Japan welcomes WTO ruling on South Korea over Fukushima seafood import ban

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 09:58
Japan on Friday welcomed a World Trade Organisation ruling that called for South Korea to lift an import ban on Japanese seafood, imposed after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. However, the issue is expected to continue after South Korea said it would appeal the WTO’s decision and had no plans to repeal the restrictions. The WTO ruled on Thursday on Tokyo’s complaint against Seoul filed in 2015, concluding that South Korea’s restrictions were inconsistent with the rules of the...

‘Slice to death’: angry South Korean MPs want to execute North’s Olympic delegate

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 09:21
South Korean lawmakers protested on Friday over a visit by a top North Korean general, claiming he is a war criminal responsible for the 2010 sinking of a warship and calling for his execution. Kim Yong-chol will head an eight-member delegation to arrive on Sunday for the Pyeongchang Olympic Games’ closing ceremony – which will also be attended by US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, creating protocol headaches for Seoul officials. Kim has been blamed by the South for...

‘They’re just waiting for someone to speak with them’: meet the 73-year-old who has saved hundreds from Japan’s suicide cliffs

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 09:03
Almost no one jumps on rainy days. They jump when the sun returns and the masses step outside, reminding them of their misery. They jump during financial crises and in the early spring, when Japanese schools open and the pressures of life converge. Yukio Shige’s routine, though, is the same regardless of the weather. Nearly every day, he clambers across the high basalt columns of the Tojinbo cliffs, the Sea of Japan thrashing 80 feet below. He peers into binoculars, seeking hunched...

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau meets Modi amid reports his office invited convicted attempted murderer to party

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 07:54
Canadian and Indian officials scrambled to explain how a convicted Sikh extremist was invited to a New Delhi reception for Justin Trudeau, the latest misstep in the Canadian prime minister’s bumpy eight-day trip to India. The tour has been overshadowed by suggestions of a lukewarm reception by the government and a series of photo ops featuring the Trudeau family in coordinated Indian attire that have raised eyebrows in both countries. Trudeau on Friday met with Indian Foreign Minister...

Australia’s deputy prime minister Joyce to quit amid affair scandal

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 04:31
Australia’s scandal-hit deputy leader Barnaby Joyce announced Friday he was quitting and moving to the backbench amid claims of sexual harassment and controversy over an affair with a now-pregnant former aide. Joyce, whose National Party rules alongside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberals, said he would officially step down on Monday. “I will say on Monday morning at the party room [meeting], I will step down as the leader of the National Party and deputy leader of...

Malaysian police arrest ethnic Chinese rapper Wee Meng Chee for insulting Islam with latest music video

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Fri, 02/23/2018 - 01:57
Malaysian police said a popular ethnic Chinese rapper has been detained over complaints that his latest music video featuring dancers wearing dog masks and performing “obscene” moves insulted Islam and could hurt racial harmony. It was the second time in two years that Wee Meng Chee, popularly known as Namewee, has been investigated over his music videos. Police said in a statement that Wee was detained Thursday after they received four public complaints that his video marking the...

Twisted sister: Pence slams Kim Yo-jong, sibling of Kim Jong-un, as part of ‘evil, murderous, tyrannical’ family

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 20:55
US Vice-President Mike Pence on Thursday assailed the North Korean leader’s sister who sat near him at the Olympics as part of an “evil family clique” that oppresses millions. Pence and Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, sat in the same box during the February 9 opening ceremony of the Winter Games in Seoul, but the pair did not interact. That scene, broadcast worldwide, was closely watched for its diplomatic signals. The Ivanka Trump of North Korea...

Fears rise that Trump Jnr ‘seems to represent US in his India business trip’ – as he makes US$15 million in one day

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 18:55
Concerns have been raised in the US Senate that Donald Trump Jnr’s business trip to promote real-estate in India – a promotion that netted US$15 million on Monday alone – could mislead people into thinking that it is backed by the American government. On Friday, Trump Jnr is to give a speech on US foreign policy alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and other high-ranking Indian government officials. That rattled Senator Robert Menendez, the ranking member of the...

This Indian man’s record-size brain tumour was so big it ‘sat like a head on top of another head’

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 17:30
For the past several years, Santlal Pal had been watching the tumour emerge from his skull. Doctors in India say Pal’s brain tumour grew so big that it weighed nearly four pounds and measured nearly 20cm by 30cm by 30cm, according to local news reports. It may have been the largest brain tumour in the world. But now it is gone: Doctors successfully removed the mass during an intensive, six-hour operation on Valentine’s Day. Trimurti Nadkarni, head of the neurosurgery department at...

Saudi to draw Western-style entertainment

SHANGHAI DAILY - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 17:01
SAUDI Arabia announced plans yesterday to spend billions on building new venues and flying in Western acts, in a total overhaul of its entertainment sector that would have been unthinkable not long ago. Long known for its ultra-conservative mores, the kingdom has embarked on a wide-ranging program of social and economic reforms driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. At a glitzy press conference in Riyadh, General Entertainment Authority chief Ahmad bin Aqeel al-Khatib said the kingdom is set to invest US$64 billion in its entertainment sector over the coming decade. “We are already building the infrastructure,” Khatib said, adding that ground had been broken for an opera house. Khatib said hundreds of new companies have sprung up over the past year, registering for licences to take advantage of the budding sector. “God willing, you will see a real change by 2020,” Khatib said, adding that more than 5,000 events were planned for the coming year. The funding for new infrastructure and entertainment offerings will come from both the government and the private sector, he said. Behind Khatib, a screen teased the names of international acts like Maroon 5, Andrea Bocelli and Cirque du Soleil. Neither a breakdown of how the money would be spent nor a schedule for the cultural program were provided. But it follows a series of events in recent months including concerts, a Comic-Con festival and a mixed-gender national day celebration that saw people dancing in the streets to thumping electronic music for the first time. Authorities have also announced plans to lift a decades-old ban on cinemas this year, with some 300 expected to open by 2030. Senior GEA official Faisal Bafrat said the past year had already seen exceptional development in the entertainment sector with more than 2,000 events involving 100,000 volunteers and 150 small and medium businesses organised in 2017. The newfound openness, which includes plans to allow women to drive from June this year, has been hailed by some as a crucial liberalization of Saudi society. Critics have pointed to continued restrictions however, especially on women who remain under a strict “guardianship” system that gives male relatives significant control over their lives. Yet even that could be changing. With the lifting of the driving ban on the horizon, Riyadh announced on Sunday that women can now open their own businesses without the consent of a husband or male relative. The reforms are part of Prince Mohammed’s ambitious “Vision 2030” program, which seeks to diversify the Saudi economy as it reels from a slump in energy prices, with the entertainment sector seen as a key potential source of growth. Saudis splurge billions annually on movies and visits to amusement parks in the neighboring tourist hubs of Dubai and Bahrain, which is accessible by a land causeway. Khatib vowed to turn around that trend. “I went to Bahrain. The bridge is being reversed,” he said, adding that Bahraini nationals were now coming to Saudi Arabia for events — accounting for 10 percent of ticket sales in recent months. The goal to keep Saudis — more than half of whom are under 25 — spending their disposable income at home is part of a wider campaign called “Don’t travel.” Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, has been struggling to cope with persistent budget deficits that began in 2014 when crude prices plummeted.

Walmart to try online home shopping

SHANGHAI DAILY - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 17:01
BOHEMIAN or traditional? Walmart is launching a new online home shopping experience in the coming weeks that will let shoppers discover items based on their style. The move, announced yesterday, is the first glimpse of the company’s broader campaign to redesign its site with a focus on fashion and home furnishings. The overhauled website will be launched later this year and will mirror how people shop for different items. While some purchases like groceries are transactional, others like fashion and home furnishings require more discovery. Later this spring, Walmart is rolling out its new Lord & Taylor dedicated page as part of its partnership with the department store chain’s parent company Hudson’s Bay. Walmart’s home shopping site will include curated collections and nine shop-by-style options including modern, traditional and bohemian. It will offer design tips that will help shoppers pull items together. “With this launch, we’re making it faster, easier and more inspiring for customers to discover the best of our assortment no matter their personal style,” said Anthony Soohoo, senior vice president and general manager of home for Walmart’s e-commerce division. The move comes as Walmart, with its eye on, has been working to ramp up its e-commerce business, which still accounts for below 4 percent of its total sales. It’s overhauled its shipping strategy and expanded the number of items online to 75 million. In home furnishings, it doubled the number of products online from a year ago and introduced a new Scandinavian collection of furniture for children. But Walmart faces stiff competition in the home arena not only from Amazon but home shopping sites like Wayfair. Amazon has been growing its home offerings. It sells its own exclusive brands of furniture, sheets and other home goods. It signed a deal with Ethan Allen last year to sell its sofas, lamps and rugs, and Amazon shoppers can ask Ethan Allen experts for design advice. Boston-based Wayfair is the largest online-only furniture retailer.

US jobless claims drop to 45-year low

SHANGHAI DAILY - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 17:01
THE number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell to a near 45-year low last week, pointing to strong job growth in February, which should continue to underpin the economy. Initial claims for state jobless benefits fell 7,000 to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 for the week ended February 17, the Labor Department said yesterday. Claims fell to 216,000 in mid-January, which was the lowest level since January 1973. Claims for six states, including California, were estimated because of Monday’s Presidents Day holiday. While that probably distorted last week’s data, the underlying trend in claims was consistent with a robust labor market. “Firms are extraordinarily unwilling to part company with workers reflecting, in all likelihood, the difficulty of replacing them,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims flat at 230,000 in the latest week. It was the 155th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is linked with a strong labor market. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was much smaller. The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. Tightening labor market conditions are starting to push up wage growth, which could help to lift inflation toward the Federal Reserve 2 percent target. Minutes of the US central bank’s January 30-31 policy meeting published on Wednesday showed policymakers upbeat in their assessment of the economy and a number “judged that the continued tightening in labor markets was likely to translate into faster wage increases at some point.”

Slowing growth in M2 to be the norm

SHANGHAI DAILY - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 17:01
China’s financial market should become more accustomed to a slowing M2 growth and pay more attention to how the central bank uses interest rates on open market operations, the Bank of Communications said in its review of the central bank’s latest quarterly monetary report.The outstanding M2, the broad measure of money supply, totaled 167.7 trillion yuan (US$26.4 trillion) as of the end of 2017, up 8.2 percent year on year. The growth rate slowed by 3.1 percentage points compared with 12 months ago, according to the latest report released by the People’s Bank of China.The drop was attributed to banks’ declining equity and other investments, slowing bond investments and a bigger-than-expected growth of fiscal deposits, said the Chinese central bank.The report argues that as China is transforming its economic structure, there are changes in the correlation between M2 and economic growth. E Yongjian, chief financial analyst, and Qiu Gaoqing, chief researcher at BoCom, believe the PBOC will not change its stance of maintaining prudent monetary policy this year due to a slowing M2 growth.Therefore, the market should become more accustomed to this. They noted that M2 remains an important variable to observe the relationship between finance and the real economy, and the market needs to pay more attention to the changes in interest rates on open market operations.The report emphasized the PBOC will make better manage liquidity and BoCom said that “neutral and moderate” liquidity will be the central bank’s main target.

Fosun buys Lanvin and pledges to revive fortunes

SHANGHAI DAILY - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 17:01
CHINESE conglomerate Fosun snapped up the ailing French fashion label Lanvin yesterday and promised to revive its fortunes. Lanvin, the oldest French luxury house still in existence, has been in turmoil since the shock sacking of popular designer Alber Elbaz two years ago. It sank into the red to the tune of 18.3 million euros (US$21.2 million) in 2016, its first loss for a decade. Its previous owner, Taiwanese media magnate Shaw-Lan Wang, who had promised a fresh cash injection, remains a shareholder, Fosun said in a statement. “Not all brands can go through more than a century and still shine like Lanvin,” said Fosun International’s chairman Guo Guangchang, who is often called China’s Warren Buffett after the American investor and darling of the markets. “This globally renowned brand and its rich history has tremendous growth potential,” he added. “As China becomes the main growth driver of the global luxury market, we are confident that Fosun can bring great incremental value to Lanvin,” the statement added. Fosun, which already owns the French holiday company Club Med and a string of mid-market fashion brands including German label Tom Tailor, said it was “absolutely committed to Lanvin’s high luxury positioning and its exceptional quality of products manufactured in France and Italy.” Fosun gave no financial details of the transaction. It said current shareholders would retain a minority stake in Lanvin. Fosun will invest around 100 million euros in the business, a source close to the matter said. Lanvin’s artistic director Olivier Lapidus — who replaced designer Bouchra Jarrar in July after only 10 months at the helm — said in November that he was helping to prepare a major shift for the brand, which was founded in 1889. Before Fosun took a controlling stake, Madame Wang held 75 percent of the company, with the rest of the shares owned by German businessman Ralph Batel. Fosun has gone a huge foreign buying spree since 2013, splashing out US$13 billion on a eclectic range of companies from entertainment to tourism and banking, according to analyst platform Dealogic. It also has major stakes in the “Cirque du Soleil” performance group, British travel agent Thomas Cook, jeweler Faberge and Indian pharmaceutical company, Gland Pharma. Fosun beat Qatari investment fund Mayhoola, owner of Italy’s Valentino, to buy Lanvin, sources had previously said.

Shanghai cuts red tape for approval

SHANGHAI DAILY - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 17:01
SHANGHAI plans to drastically shorten the time to scrutinize non-state investment projects from the current 105 working days to between 15 and 48 working days as it bids to improve the approval process. The city government’s new reform to examine non-state investment projects to make it more efficient and improve the business environment will take effect from March 1. The time taken to scrutinize non-state investment projects will be greatly shortened from the current 105 working days for all categories. The maximum time taken to approve various projects will be set at 15, 35 and 48 working days respectively for industrial projects, small-scale projects and other non-state projects. The reform will also cut from seven to three the number of departments involved in approving the project design. The reform also emphasizes strengthening supervision over on-going projects and also after they are completed. Shanghai will also promote one-stop online and offline services to help companies fully understand the requirements, related policies and application processes. The World Bank’s “Doing Business” report for 2018 says Shanghai’s approval of construction permits covers 23 stages and takes 279 days. China, meanwhile, is ranked 172nd in the report, which represents a large gap with some developed economies such as Singapore.

Chinese stocks rise after break

SHANGHAI DAILY - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 17:01
CHINESE stocks surged yesterday, the first trading day after the weeklong Lunar New Year holiday. The Shanghai Composite Index rose 2.17 percent to close at 3,268.56 points, while the smaller Shenzhen Component Index ended 2.18 percent higher at 10,658.94 points. The ChiNext Index, which tracks China’s NASDAQ-style board of growth enterprises, gained 1.88 percent to 1,677.77 points. Combined turnover on the two bourses grew to 325.8 billion yuan (US$51.3 billion) from 236.9 billion yuan the previous trading day. Nonferrous metals, food and beverage, as well as leisure sectors led the sharp gains, with over 40 stocks up the 10-percent daily limit. Sales in the retail and catering sectors reached 926 billion yuan during the holiday, up 10.2 percent from last year, the Ministry of Commerce said on Wednesday. Chinese consumption habits during the holiday were likely to boost apparel and household appliances sectors, said Guotai Junan Securities.

Card usage up during holiday

SHANGHAI DAILY - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 17:01
CHINA UnionPay, the country’s sole bank card network operator, said yesterday that transactions surged to a record high during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday as card holders went on a spending spree. The total value of transactions at home and abroad through China UnionPay network soared 47 percent from last year’s holiday to 679 billion yuan (US$107 billion), according to a China UnionPay statement. Card owners’ spending on shopping and catering jumped 43 percent and nearly 50 percent, respectively, while that for entertainment and cultural activities also surged. Overseas transactions grew, with payments in Turkey, Morocco and Sri Lanka more than double those of last year’s holiday. Mobile payments via China UnionPay services soared nearly 150 percent overseas, the operator said.

German and British nationals arrested for alleged Bali drug smuggling

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 12:21
A German man and a British man have been arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle drugs into the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, officials said on Thursday, with one of them possibly facing the death penalty. The 56-year-old German, identified by his initials SKAR, was arrested on January 26 when he arrived at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport on a flight from Doha. Customs agents found heroin, amphetamine, morphine and diazepam stashed in his luggage, and an additional 1.21...

Muddy floating island being turned into new home for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 11:18
Bangladesh is racing to turn an uninhabited and muddy Bay of Bengal island into home for 100,000 Rohingya Muslims who have fled a military crackdown in Myanmar, amid conflicting signals from top Bangladeshi officials about whether the refugees would end up being stranded there. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on Monday that putting Rohingya on the low-lying island would be a “temporary arrangement” to ease congestion at the camps in Cox’s Bazar, refuge for nearly...

In Japan, mystery surrounds businessman who fathered 13 children born from Thai surrogates

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 10:53
A Japanese businessman who won legal custody of his 13 children born from surrogates in Thailand is virtually anonymous in his home country. Mitsutoki Shigeta, who was granted sole custody by a Thai court on Tuesday, is the son of the founder of Japanese telecom and insurance company Hikari Tsushin. As a major shareholder, he earns millions of dollars a year in dividends. But in Japan, he keeps an extremely low profile. Aggressive tabloid reports after the babies were discovered in a Bangkok...

Scientists unlock secret of Malaysia’s proboscis monkeys

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 10:14
There is a secret to Sabah’s iconic male proboscis monkeys – when they become bigger, so will their body and testicles. But more importantly, the males with a bigger nose can attract more females. According to a scientific study, there is a clear link between the nose sizes of the males and the number of females in their harems. The study was jointly carried out by scientists from the Sabah Wildlife Department, Danau Girang Field Centre, Cardiff University and Kyoto University....

‘We don’t see hostile intent from China’: Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull butters up Beijing before visiting US

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 09:54
China is not a threat to Australia because it lacks “any hostile intent”, Malcolm Turnbull has said as he embarks on his US visit. Speaking to Sky News on Thursday, the Australian prime minister sought to play down a more hostile approach to China by the US, rejecting the “out-of-date cold-war prism” of seeing the two superpowers as in competition. Turnbull said the aim of the trip – which will include regional security talks and a delegation of Australian premiers...

Hacking his way to the top: Singaporean shines in defence ministry’s bug-bounty programme

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 09:30
By Kenneth Cheng From as young as 14 years old, Mr Darrel would hack websites, games, as well as online contests, netting himself prizes and in-game items. The IT fanatic, who declined to give his full name but goes by the moniker Shivadagger, has fashioned this into a career — moving on to hacking not just websites, but networks and mobile applications in the initial years of joining consultancy firm Ernst & Young Advisory. The 30-year-old cyber-security manager on Wednesday (...

Pakistan PM says court ‘hinders democracy’ by banning deposed premier Nawaz Sharif from leading own party

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 08:30
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said a court order that barred former premier Nawaz Sharif from leading the ruling party and placed the timing of Senate elections into question hinders democracy and relieved past “dictatorial decisions”. The Senate ballot will go ahead as scheduled on March 3 after the Supreme Court nullified decisions made by Sharif in his capacity as president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, including candidate tickets in his name, Abbasi...

It cost US$260 per meal to feed North Korean special guests, including Kim Jong-un’s sister during Olympics visit

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 07:29
The South Korean government spent more than US$260 per meal per person for the high-level North Korean delegates including leader Kim Jong-un’s sister who visited the Winter Olympics, reports said. The nuclear-armed North sent four top officials including Kim Yo-jong and the ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam, along with 18 support staff, to the Pyeongchang Winter Games as it mounted a charm offensive. The February 9-11 trip cost the Seoul government a total of 240 million won (US$220,...

Joko Widodo pays US$805 to redeem Metallica album given to him by Danish Prime Minister

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 06:08
By Jessica Lin Indonesian President Joko Widodo (also known as Jokowi) has proven himself to be a true Metallica fan. The 56-year-old leader reportedly paid 11 million rupiah (US$805) to redeem a limited-edition boxed set of Metallica’s Master of Puppets presented to him by Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen last year. According to Jakarta Post, Jokowi had declared the gift to Corruption Eradication Commission which decided the double-vinyl album was a part of state...

North Korea: how preacher Billy Graham opened door for America to the ‘hermit kingdom’

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 04:44
Billy Graham, a charismatic American evangelist, died Wednesday at age 99. He was often known as “America’s pastor,” but his influence extended around the world, and he was well known for travelling to poor nations and international war zones as well as taking positions on contentious foreign-policy issues. One of Graham’s most significant foreign trips was to North Korea in 1992. He was one of the first international religious figures – in fact, one of the first...

Israel spy team called ‘Unit 8200’ foiled IS plot to bring down passenger jet from Australia

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Thu, 02/22/2018 - 03:05
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that intelligence provided by his country foiled a plot by Islamic State to bring down a plane from Australia. “The Israeli intelligence services thwarted the downing of an Australian plane, an unimaginable slaughter,” the Israeli leader told an American Jewish conference in Jerusalem Wednesday. “This would have caused a major disruption in global air transport and this is only one of dozens of terrorist attacks we have foiled...

Trump sending Ivanka to South Korea for Olympics closing ceremony

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 22:15
Ivanka Trump, US President Donald Trump's daughter and adviser, will lead a US government delegation to South Korea for the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, a group that will also include Washington's commander of joint US-South Korea military forces.  The first daughter's group will include General Vincent K. Brooks, commander of United Nations command, Combined Forces Command, and United States Forces Korea, as well as James Risch, chairman of the...

Transparency International: China climbs two places in global corruption perception ranking as President Xi Jinping wages war on graft

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 19:03
China has moved up two places in a global corruption index of the world’s nations as President Xi Jinping waged a high profile war on graft that has netted thousands of officials. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 was released on Wednesday, showing very little change among the largest nations’ standings, and more than two thirds of all 180 participating countries with a score of less than 50 – out of a possible 100. Leading the rankings,...

Both sales and tourism up over 10% for holiday

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
SHOPS and restaurants across China reported robust sales during the weeklong Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, data from the Ministry of Commerce showed yesterday. Sales in the retail and catering sectors reached 926 billion yuan (US$146 billion) during the week, up 10.2 percent from last year’s holiday, the ministry said. Sales of traditional festival-related goods, organic food, jewelry, apparel, household appliances and digital products maintained rapid growth. Major organic food producers in Jiangxi, Qinghai and Shandong provinces saw double-digit sales growth, while major jewelry stores in Shaanxi and Guizhou provinces reported sales increases of 43 percent and 30.6 percent respectively, compared with last year’s holiday. Dog-themed accessories were most favored by consumers as this year is the Year of the Dog in the 12-animal Chinese zodiac. In the catering market, family dinners on the Chinese New Year’s Eve were almost fully booked at some restaurants, and numerous restaurants worked with online platforms to offer delivered dinners or home cooking services. Consumption in culture and entertainment was also strong, with China’s box office raking in 4.6 billion yuan over the February 16-20 period, up nearly 60 percent from the first six days of last year’s Spring Festival. China, meanwhile, posted a double-digit growth in tourism revenue during the weeklong holiday. Official data showed yesterday that the tourism industry garnered 475 billion yuan in revenue, up 12.6 percent from last year’s holiday, according to the China National Tourism Administration. Some 386 million trips by tourists were made, up 12.1 percent from last year’s holiday, the tourism administration said. Guangdong, Sichuan and Hunan received the most tourists among all provincial regions. Nearly half of travelers drove instead of taking public transport. Overseas travel remained popular, with Chinese tourists from nearly 200 cities visiting 68 countries and regions during the holiday. Southeast Asia was the top destination, while long-distance tours to countries including Argentina and Mexico were also popular. Nearly half of overseas travels were independent tours rather than escorted group tours, the tourism administration cited data from online tour operator as saying. The Chinese Lunar New Year, which this year began last Friday, is traditionally a time for family gatherings in China. In recent years, family travels have become increasingly common that help to drive a tourism boom across the country. China earned 5.4 trillion yuan from tourism in 2017, an increase of 15.1 percent. The country plans to raise tourism revenue to 7 trillion yuan by 2020 in a bid to develop tourism into a major driver of economic transformation and upgrading.

Steel mills set to roar after curbs end

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
CHINA’S steel producers are eager to unleash their mills’ capacity when this winter’s output curbs end next month. They are hoping for a repeat of last year’s record profits based on high margins and less competition after outdated plants were closed. China shut down up to half of its steel production this winter in 28 cities in the country’s manufacturing heartland in the north as part of an anti-pollution campaign. With margins still encouraging full output, China’s pent-up steel production should erupt when the curbs expire on March 15. Because of the curbs, China’s average daily steel output in December was the lowest in a year at 2.16 million tons, government data showed last month. Average daily output could rise to about 2.5 million tons if the mills quickly boost production when restrictions are lifted, Wang Yingsheng, vice secretary-general of the China Iron and Steel Association said recently. With the government likely to reimpose the limits next winter, northern Chinese mills will have only about eight months to run at full speed, so plants are stocking up on raw materials to maximize production while the market conditions remain strong. “I think there could be restrictions again on mills in north China this year and they could increase output before the restrictions,” said a senior manager at a steel mill in south China. “If the market’s good, every mill will try to run at full capacity in order to make more profit.” Thanks to China’s infrastructure push that sustained steel demand even as the environmental crackdown cut supplies, mills are set to report massive profit gains. Xinjiang Ba Yi Iron & Steel in northwest China said 2017 net profit might have risen by 3,000 percent and Anyang Iron & Steel, based in Henan province, could show last year’s profit up 1,300 percent, according to preliminary estimates by the companies. Last month, Jiujiang Steel in Jiangxi Province rewarded workers with 278 million yuan (US$44 million) in 2017 bonuses. The cash weighed 3.5 tons and was delivered by four vans to staff at its main office, according to a company official and photos on Jiujiang Steel’s WeChat account. Profit margins have retreated from last year’s peaks, but are still more than enough to motivate maximum production, said the southern mill manager. Chinese steel margins for rebar this year are averaging 866 yuan a ton, according to data from brokerage CLSA. While down from last year’s average of 922 yuan, rebar margins are well above the five-year average of 251 yuan. Hot-rolled coil margins are averaging 865 yuan this year versus a five-year average of 259 yuan. To prepare for the output ramp-up, steel producers have raised their iron ore stockpiles to 34 days of consumption as of early January, according to consultants Mysteel, almost matching the all-time high of 35 days a year ago. Even with the bulging inventories, mills are adding more. China imported 100 million tons of iron ore last month, the second-highest on record, even as stockpiles at ports are at 153 million tons, near the record reached in January of 154.4 million. Soon after China announced the winter controls in February last year, mills increased production ahead of the curbs, hitting a series of output records over the next several months. The situation will likely repeat itself this year as mills expect another round of restrictions next winter. “Mills will be more prepared this year and they will just bring forward their production plans if they know there will be supply restrictions again,” said Richard Lu, analyst at consultants CRU. One possible drag on the expected surge in Chinese output may occur in Tangshan, the country’s largest steel-producing city. Officials there have said they will continue some curbs beyond the March expiry, including at eight mills located near the city center.

Soaring business is made from scrap too

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
CHINA’S scrap steel exports soared last year as domestic demand was dampened, according to data from an industry association. The country exported 2.2 million tons of scrap steel last year, compared with just around a meager 1,000 tons in 2016, according to figures supplied by the China Iron and Steel Association. The surge came despite a 40 percent tariff on scrap steel exports as millions of tons of such steel was kept out of the domestic market due to a ban on the production of ditiaogang, or steel made from scrap metal. Most exports went to Southeast Asian nations. The biggest sources of exports were eastern and southern coastal provinces including Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Hainan. China phased out the production of 140 million tons of ditiaogang last year as part of efforts to reduce excessive capacity in the steel sector.

Huawei and Vodafone in first 5G call

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
CHINESE telecommunications giant Huawei and British multinational network provider Vodafone announced on Tuesday they had completed the first 5G call in the world. In a press communique, Huawei confirmed the call was made using a dual “4G to 5G connection” at speeds which are eight times faster than the current 4G standard. Huawei also said a second test “using a 5G data connection” for a video call was also successfully carried out. The call was made from the town of Castelldefels, close to Barcelona, to Madrid using the 3.7 GHz bandwidth which will be incorporated in the future rollout of 5G technology. “Huawei is totally committed to the development of the technology of the 5G network and today’s test shows the maturity of 5G development on the standards approved by the 3GPP,” said Yang Chaobin, the president of Huawei’s 5G product line. He added that Huawei was now prepared to “advance” in its collaboration with Vodafone to “start commercial trials.” The CEO of Vodafone Spain Antonio Coimbra said the first 5G connection in Spain was of “great relevance for the digital transformation” of the country.

UK jobless rises to 4.4% over Brexit

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
BRITAIN’S unemployment rate has risen for the first time in 16 months, official data showed yesterday, in a sign that Brexit uncertainty is feeding into the wider economy. The jobless rate, or the proportion of the workforce that is unemployed, stood at 4.4 percent in the three months to the end of December, the Office for National Statistics said in a statement. That was up from 4.3 percent in the quarter to November 2017, which had been the lowest level in 42 years. Analysts said that yesterday’s data reduced the likelihood that the Bank of England would raise its main interest rate in May, as had been widely expected by markets. Prior to the data, markets had widely expected the Bank of England to raise its key lending rate in May, by a quarter-point to 0.75 percent, following a small hike last year.

Share curbs for insurance sector

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
RISK control will remain a priority in China’s insurance sector with planned measures like limiting the share ownership of single share owners, a top official from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission said yesterday. Each share owner will no longer be allowed to hold more than one third of shares in an insurance firm, down from the previous 51 percent, to prevent a single party enjoying too much power in making investment decisions, Chen Wenhui, vice chairman of the CIRC told the People’s Daily yesterday. The commission will also study the feasibility of creating a “black list” for professional managers in the sector. It will establish a multi-level prevention system to cope with deep-rooted malpractices such as offering misleading information in sales, making claims difficult and cheating for compensations. “Preventing systemic financial risk is the eternal theme of financial work,” Chen said. “As an industry to control risks and decentralize them, insurance itself should pay more attention to risk management and develop more steadily.” The industry has played an active role in serving economic and social development. It has provided an accumulated 1.6 trillion yuan (US$252.58 billion) of risk insurance to 180 million agricultural households, and 1.01 billion people have been covered by critical illness insurance. Through investments in bonds and stocks, the insurance funds have directly raised over 7 trillion yuan for the real economy, and has supported the Belt and Road construction with 772 billion yuan in the form of debt investment plan and stock ownership plan. “CIRC will promote the insurance industry to play a long-term risk management and security function, thus better serving the development of real economy,” Chen said. Multinational insurance companies have set up 56 foreign-invested institutions in China, while China has established 37 insurance business institutions abroad with two of them becoming the world’s top 10 insurance companies. China has already announced that it plans to open up the sector for foreign investment. “In the next step, we will also push for more open policies in the free trade zones and reform pilot areas to encourage foreign investment in the insurance sectors such as health care and pension fund,” Chen said. He said that by increasing supervision and opening up in an orderly manner, China would gradually grow in the international insurance sector.

Cybercrime cost rises to US$600b globally

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
THE annual cost of cybercrime has hit US$600 billion worldwide, fueled by growing sophistication of hackers and proliferation of criminal marketplaces and cryptocurrencies, researchers said yesterday. A report produced by the security firm McAfee with the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies found theft of intellectual property represents about one-fourth of the cost of cybercrime in 2017. The researchers said ransomware is the fastest-growing component of cybercrime, helped by the easy availability of marketplaces offering hacking services. The global research report comes days after the White House released a report showing cyberattacks cost the United States between US$57 billion and US$109 billion in 2016, while warning of a “spillover” effect for the broader economy if certain sectors are hit. Globally, criminals are using the same tools for data or identity theft, bank hacks, and other cyber mischief, with anonymity preserved by using bitcoin or other cryptocurrency. “The digital world has transformed almost every aspect of our lives, including risk and crime, so that crime is more efficient, less risky, more profitable and has never been easier to execute,” said Steve Grobman, chief technology officer for McAfee. The study did not attempt to measure the cost of all malicious activity on the Internet, but focused on the loss of proprietary business data, online fraud and financial crimes, manipulation directed toward publicly traded companies, cyber insurance and reputational damage.

Broadcom cuts offer for Qualcomm

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
BROADCOM Corp yesterday fired its latest salvo against Qualcomm Inc by lowering its takeover offer to US$117 billion from US$121 billion, a day after the US chipmaker increased its own offer for NXP Semiconductors NV. Broadcom’s previous US$82 per share offer for Qualcomm was contingent on it buying NXP at its earlier offered price of US$110 per share. Broadcom said it had cut its offer to US$79 per share due to Qualcomm’s increase of its price for NXP to US$127.50 per share, but would revert to US$82 per share if Qualcomm was unable to complete the NXP deal. Under the new terms, Broadcom will offer Qualcomm shareholders US$57 per share in cash and US$22 per share in Broadcom shares. Broadcom said other conditions of the proposed merger agreement remained unchanged, including an US$8 billion regulatory reverse termination fee.

Air France strike to hit foreign flights

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
HALF of Air France’s long-haul flights out of Paris today will be canceled due to a strike by pilots, cabin crew and ground staff, the carrier said. The airline said yesterday it expected to maintain 75 percent of its scheduled service but only 50 percent of its long-haul flights and advised travelers to postpone their trips until February 27 at no extra cost. The staff are demanding a 6 percent across-the-board pay increase. Management is offering a basic increase of 1 percent to be paid in two installments and a range of incentives, which trade unions have dismissed as “small change.” The Air France-KLM group posted a 42 percent increase in its operating profit to 1.49 billion euros (US$1.84 billion) in 2017.

4 maritime car transporters hit with fines

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
THE EU yesterday hit four maritime car transporters with a 395-million-euro (US$486 million) fine as well as slapping penalties on auto parts manufacturers including Germany’s Bosch and Continental. An investigation by the bloc found that Chilean carrier CSAV, Japan’s “K” Line, MOL and NYK, and the Norwegian-Swedish WWL-EUKOR had run a cartel over six years to fix prices and allocate customers in the market for the deep sea transport of cars, trucks and other vehicles. Bosch and Continental were among a group of companies fined for operating cartels in the supply of spark plugs and braking systems. “By raising component prices or transport costs for cars, the cartels ultimately hurt European consumers and adversely impacted the competitiveness of the European automotive sector, which employs around 12 million people in the EU,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said. MOL revealed the existence of the transport agreement to the authorities and as a result escaped without a fine. In the spark plug cartel, Bosch was fined 46 million euros and Japan’s NGK 30 million euros for agreeing not to compete with each other for traditional customers, swapping sensitive information and fixing prices. Bosch and Continental, along with TRW of the United States, were also found to have colluded over the supply of braking systems to BMW and Volkswagen.

Crisis-hit Venezuela puts faith in cryptocurrency

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
VENEZUELA formally launched its new oil-backed cryptocurrency on Tuesday in an unconventional bid to haul itself out of a deepening economic crisis. The Caracas government put 38.4 million units of the world’s first state-backed digital currency, the Petro, on private pre-sale from the early hours. During the first 20 hours of the pre-sale, which runs through March 19, Venezuela received “intent to buy” offers to the tune of US$735 million, according to President Nicolas Maduro. “The Petro reinforces our independence and economic sovereignty and will allow us to fight the greed of foreign powers that try to suffocate Venezuelan families to seize our oil,” he said. A total of 100 million Petros will go on sale, with an initial value set at US$60, based on the price of a barrel of Venezuelan crude in mid-January — but subject to change. Economist and cryptocurrency expert Jean-Paul Leidenz said prices during the pre-sale “will be agreed privately,” and will then fluctuate according to the market when the initial coin offering of 44 million Petros is made on March 20. Meanwhile, the government will reserve the remaining 17.6 million Petros. Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves but is facing a crippling economic and political crisis. Vice President Tareck El Aissami said the Petro will “generate confidence and security in the national and international market.” Maduro announced in early December that Venezuela, which is under sanctions from the US as well as the EU, was creating the digital currency. The Venezuelan leader said he expects the Petro to open “new avenues of financing” in the face of Washington’s sanctions, which prohibit US citizens and companies from trading debt issued by the country and its oil company PDVSA. But experts are skeptical about the Petro’s chances of success, pointing out that the country’s deep economic imbalances will only serve to undermine confidence in the new currency. “Theoretically, with cryptocurrencies you could bypass the US financial system... but everything depends on generating confidence,” said economist Henkel Garcia. Consulting firm Eurasia Group estimates that although Venezuela could raise some US$2 billion in the initial offer, it is “unlikely” that the Petro will be established as “a credible means of exchange,” beyond short term “interest.” Venezuela is mired in a deep economic crisis triggered in large part by a fall in crude oil prices and a drop in oil production.

Imprisoned co-CEO of retail giant Lotte quits

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
ASIAN retail and chewing gum giant Lotte has accepted the resignation of its co-CEO after he was convicted of bribery and embezzlement in a wide-ranging corruption scandal that brought down South Korea’s president. The company said yesterday that Shin Dong-bin has left his CEO post at Lotte Holdings but will remain on its board as vice chairman. Shin, a son of Lotte’s founder, was convicted and imprisoned earlier this month. His Japanese co-CEO, Takayuki Tsukuda, will head the holding company at the heart of Lotte’s complicated ownership structure, Lotte Holdings said in an emailed statement. Japan typically adopts a tough stance toward convicted executives, who are usually sacked from chief executive positions when indicted by authorities. Lotte Holdings in Japan controls Hotel Lotte, which controls Lotte’s various South Korean businesses. Shin’s resignation will inevitably weaken ties between Lotte’s businesses in South Korea and in Japan, the company said. Sprawling business Before he was convicted and given a two-and-a-half year jail term earlier this month, Shin had sought to improve transparency and reform South Korea’s fifth-largest conglomerate. Founded by his father in Japan, Lotte is well-known across Asia with a sprawling business that encompasses retailing, confectionery, chemicals, hotels and entertainment. Shin’s imprisonment came as a shock to the South Korean business community and to Lotte itself. Just a week before a Seoul district court ordered him to be jailed, a Seoul appeals court released another business tycoon involved in the same scandal: Samsung Vice Chair Lee Jae-yong. He had spent nearly a year in prison on bribery and other charges but won a suspended sentence on appeal. Lee’s release fueled a public outcry and anger toward the perceived soft treatment of business elites by South Korea’s judiciary system. Many in Seoul had expected Shin would also avoid imprisonment because he appeared to be less deeply implicated in the case.

SK U-turn on virtual coin trade

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
A BETTER deal for South Korea’s cryptocurrency industry might be in the offing as the market regulator changes tack from its tough stance on the virtual coin trade, promising instead to help promote blockchain technology. The regulator said on Tuesday that it hopes to see South Korea, which has become a hub for cryptocurrency trade, normalize the virtual coin business in a self-regulatory environment. “The whole world is now framing the outline (for cryptocurrency) and therefore (the government) should rather work more on normalization than increasing regulation,” Choe Heung-sik, chief of South Korea’s Finance Supervisory Service (FSS), told reporters. The latest news suggests authorities might adopt a lighter regulatory touch, a step change from the justice minister’s warnings in January that the government was considering shutting down local cryptocurrency exchanges, throwing the market into turmoil. FSS has been leading the government’s regulation of cryptocurrency trading as part of a task force. Cryptocurrency operators see Choe’s comments as a positive step for the industry. “Though the government and the industry have not yet reached a full agreement, the fact that the regulator himself made clear the government’s stance on cooperation is a positive sign for the markets,” said Kim Haw-joon of the Korea Blockchain Association. South Korea banned the use of anonymous bank accounts for virtual coin trading as of January 30 to stop cryptocurrencies being used in money laundering and other crimes. Three local banks including Shinhan Bank, Industrial Bank of Korea, NH Bank, are currently offering cryptocurrency accounts to around five local virtual coin exchanges. An FSS official said tough regulatory oversight of illegal trade in cryptocurrencies will remain in place.

Plug battle is on for electric car supremacy

SHANGHAI DAILY - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 17:01
GERMAN carmakers hope a network of high-power charging stations they are rolling out with Ford will set an industry standard for plugs and protocols that will give them an edge over electric car rivals. At the moment, Tesla and carmakers in Japan and Germany use different plugs and communication protocols to link batteries to chargers, but firms building the charging networks needed for electric vehicles to become mainstream say the number of plug formats will need to be limited to keep costs down. Carmakers behind the winning technology will benefit from having an established supply chain and an extensive network, making their vehicles potentially more attractive to customers worried about embarking upon longer journeys, analysts say. Manufacturers that back losing plugs, however, could end up with redundant research and development and may have to invest to adapt assembly lines and vehicle designs so their customers can use the most widespread fast-charging networks. Swiss bank UBS has estimated that US$360 billion will need to be spent over the next eight years to build global charging infrastructure to keep pace with electric car sales, and it will be key to limit the numerous technologies now in use. “The quick-charging marketplace might be growing fast but the issue of different types of connectivity and communication will need to be resolved going forward,” UBS said in a study published this month. To try to build critical mass for the Combined Charging System (CCS) favored by Europe, BMW, Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler, Ford and the Volkswagen group, which includes Audi and Porsche, said in November they would develop 400 high-power charging stations on main roads in 18 European countries by 2020. “In the end, it is about safe-guarding investments for those that are investing in electric mobility,” said Claas Bracklo, head of electromobility at BMW and the chairman of the Charging Interface Initiative (CharIN), which is backing CCS. “We have founded CharIN to build a position of power.” It is still early days for electric cars and difficult to predict which plug technology will prevail or even whether there will always be different ways to charge vehicles, unlike the one-size-fits-all nozzle that can refill all petrol cars. But there is a lot at stake for the carmakers ploughing billions of dollars into the development of batteries and electric cars. Format wars Besides CCS, there are three other standards that will charge batteries fast: Tesla’s Supercharger system, CHAdeMO, or Charge de Move, developed by Japanese firms including carmakers Nissan and Mitsubishi, and GB/T in China, the world’s biggest electric car market. “I think over time CHAdeMO and CCS converge, likely into the current CCS standard, and the jury is out as to what will happen to Tesla,” said Pasquale Romano, chief executive officer of Silicon Valley-based ChargePoint, which runs one of the world’s largest charging station networks. So far, there are about 7,000 CCS charging points worldwide, according to CharIN, with more than half in Europe. The European Union backs CCS as the standard for fast-charging but does not prohibit other plugs being installed. That compares with 16,639 charge points compatible with CHAdeMO — most in Japan and Europe — and 8,496 Tesla Superchargers, with the majority in the United States. In China, there are 127,434 GB/T charging stations, according to the China Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Promotion Alliance. Just as in previous format wars such as the battle for videotape dominance between VHS and Betamax, each charging standard has its pros and cons. Tesla’s system is exclusive to its clients, for example, while CCS features a double-plug that can charge direct current (DC) and alternate current (AC), increasing the number of spots where drivers can recharge. CHAdeMO, meanwhile, allows cars to sell power from their batteries back to the grid, a process known as bi-directional charging that can help stabilize energy networks in times of demand swings and earn car owners some extra cash. “If I were Nissan, I’d be wanting to take that standard and make it the dominant one,” said Gerard Reid, founder of Alexa Capital that advises companies in the energy, technology and power infrastructure sectors. “It creates a competitive advantage for them,” he said. Fast-chargers matter Most plugs used to charge cars at home use AC and are slow, so building networks that can power vehicles fast when on the road is seen as key by the industry, given many potential consumers still worry about battery range. Able to deliver more powerful, DC fast-chargers can load electric cars up to seven times faster. The fastest DC stations, capable of delivering up to 400 kilowatts, can recharge cars within 10 minutes, a vast improvement on the 10-12 hours it can take to reload at some AC charging points today. Developers hope drivers will feel more confident about undertaking longer journeys if they know they can reboot with a quick pit stop similar to stopping at a petrol station. With that in mind, the joint venture set up by the German carmakers and Ford to install CCS fast-chargers has teamed up with companies that have service station networks in Europe: Shell, OMV, Germany’s Tank & Rast and retailer Circle K. For traditional carmakers, getting ahead in the electric car race is also about staying relevant in an industry that has been shaken up by Tesla. Elon Musk’s company is now worth US$11 billion more than Ford, even though Tesla delivered just 76,230 cars in 2016 while the US car industry pioneer sold 6.65 million vehicles. The German carmakers teaming up with Ford, however, believe their deeper pockets should give them the upper hand in the long run and they see charging technology as an important factor in the fight. For now, CCS, Supercharger and CHAdeMO plugs continue to be installed in Europe as well as the United States, while China is pressing ahead with GB/T, suggesting it is too early to call a winner in the plug wars — especially as no carmaker will want to lose out on the Chinese market. Tesla, for example, said in October it was modifying its Model S and Model X cars for China to add a second charge port compatible with the country’s GB/T fast-charging standard. Most other rivals are also incorporating the GB/T standard into their vehicles for China, which has ambitious quotas for electric car sales, although some industry officials still hope the country will adopt one of the other standards at some point. While sticking with developing its proprietary network for now, Tesla is a member of the CHAdeMO and CharIN initiatives. It is also selling adapters so owners of its cars in North America and Japan can use CHAdeMO charging stations. Tesla declined to comment on whether it would consider joining a rival charging standard at some point, a move analysts say could be a tipping point in the race for plug dominance. “For Tesla it was always very important to have a charging infrastructure for our clients from the get-go,” a spokeswoman said, adding that it welcomed all investment in car charging. Tomoko Blech, who represents CHAdeMO in Europe, said fussing over which standard would prevail was not helpful given that the electric car industry was still in its early days and carmakers should fight it out with their models. Some also argue there will always be several ways to charge battery-powered cars. “If you drive a petrol car you can fuel it any place in the world. This is the best you can get,” said Nicolas Meilhan, principal analyst at consultancy Frost & Sullivan. “You will not get that for electric vehicles.”

Singaporean in City Harvest Church fraud case tries to flee on boat ahead of jail time

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 14:13
A Singaporean man convicted over a high-profile fraud case at a megachurch was caught on Wednesday trying to flee in a boat before he was due to start his sentence, police said. In a case that gripped the city state with a heady mix of religion, showbiz and fraud, six leaders from City Harvest Church were convicted in 2015 of pilfering tens of millions of dollars from the place of worship to promote the pop career of the pastor’s wife. Among them was investment manager Chew Eng Han, who...

Japan picks Osaka to host G20 summit in 2019

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 11:37
Japan has picked the western city of Osaka to host next year’s G20 summit, the first such gathering to be held in Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made the decision based on the western Japan city’s successful hosting of the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum in 1995, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. The government also “comprehensively took into consideration such factors as the number of hotel rooms and security aspects,” the top...

Australian man sentenced to life in Philippines prison for child trafficking and pornography

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 10:41
A Philippine court has sentenced an Australian man to life imprisonment after finding him guilty on human trafficking and child pornography charges. Drew Frederick Shobbrook, 51, listened quietly as the verdict was read in a court in Cebu city on Tuesday. Footage shot by local broadcaster ABS-CBN of the proceedings showed Leslie Ann Fernandez, a Philippine national co-accused in the case, crying next to Shobbrook. Both were arrested during a 2013 operation in which 15 girls were rescued by...

New Zealand dairy owner’s son tops the world in physics exam

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 09:45
By Simon Collins A young man who started out stacking shelves in his family’s Taranaki dairy has won the top mark in the world in a physics exam. Henry Chen, now 18, grew up in the small Taranaki town of Stratford, where his Chinese-immigrant parents ran a dairy. The whole family moved to Auckland in 2015, to a street just around the corner from Auckland Grammar School so that Henry and his twin brother Kevin could attend the school. Henry will be honoured in a ceremony at the Eden Park...

Philippines: Britain sold spy gear as President Rodrigo Duterte waged deadly drug war

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 09:22
The British government sold nearly US$200,000 of hi-tech spying equipment to the Philippines, giving President Rodrigo Duterte the tools to hunt down and kill dealers and addicts as part of his brutal war on drugs. The equipment purchased by Duterte’s government included IMSI-Catchers, which are used to eavesdrop on telephone conversations, and surveillance tools to monitor internet activity. Duterte has admitted authorising the wiretapping of at least two mayors whom he accused of being...

Mental patient takes ambulance for joyride around Malaysian city

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 08:05
By Muhd Amirum Faiz Ahmad A man, said to be a mental patient, spent an hour driving a stolen ambulance around the Malaysian city of Kuching before he was finally apprehended near a shopping mall. In the, the man, 36, had managed to sneak into a private ambulance, which was dropping off another patient at the Sarawak General Hospital before gunning the engine and fleeing with the vehicle. Deputy Kuching police chief Superintendent Abang Junaidi Abang Annuar said they eventually managed...

Japan to boost its future stealth fighter force with 20 more F-35A jets, defence sources say

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 08:05
Japan plans to buy at least 20 additional F-35A stealth fighters over the next six years, some or all of which it may purchase directly from Lockheed Martin Corp in the United States rather than assemble locally, three sources said. “In view of budgets and production schedules a new acquisition of around 25 planes is appropriate,” said one of the sources with knowledge of the plan. The sources asked not to be identified because they are not authorised to speak to the media. The...

Pizza Hut Korea outsmarts IOC with controversial sales promotion

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 07:38
By Yi Whan-woo With the International Olympic Committee (IOC) getting tougher on unauthorised Olympic marketing, Pizza Hut Korea is outsmarting the IOC by playing on words in the South Korea’s Winter Games host city. The company is running a sales promotion, titled “Pyengchang together,” during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, offering a cheese topping and a 1.25-liter Pepsi for free if customers buy premium pizzas. Literally meaning “inflation” or “expansion...

Japan donates 10,000 ballot boxes for 2018 Cambodia election after China pledges voting equipment

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 06:05
Japan donated over 10,000 ballot boxes for Cambodia’s 2018 election on Wednesday, the first international aid for the vote after European Union and the United States withdrew their support following the dissolution of the main opposition party. Rights groups and members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have urged foreign backers, including Japan, to halt funding for Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) following a Supreme Court decision to dissolve the...

Japan reports suspicious activity between Chinese and North Korean ships in suspected breach of UN sanctions

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 05:42
Japan has reported a new suspected sanctions violation by Pyongyang to the UN after spotting an apparent cargo transfer between a ship marked with Chinese characters and a North Korean vessel, the Japanese foreign ministry said. The incident is the third time this year that Tokyo has reported a cargo transfer by a North Korean vessel in violation of UN sanctions over Pyongyang’s banned nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Japan’s foreign ministry said late Tuesday a military...

Hundreds of hotel bookings cancelled as Maldives extends state of emergency for 30 days

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 03:23
Parliament in the Maldives on Tuesday approved a 30-day extension of a state of emergency sought by President Abdulla Yameen who cited an ongoing national security threat and constitutional crisis. Countries including the United States, India and Canada along with the United Nations have urged Yameen to lift the emergency and restore normalcy. Tour operators say hundreds of hotel bookings have been cancelled daily since the 15-day emergency was imposed on February 5 despite government...

US Vice-President Mike Pence was set to meet with North Korean officials during Winter Olympics before last minute cancellation

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Wed, 02/21/2018 - 01:57
US Vice-President Mike Pence departed for a five-day, two country swing through Asia earlier this month having agreed to a secret meeting with North Korean officials while in South Korea at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. But on Saturday February 10, less than two hours before Pence and his team were set to meet with Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and Kim Yong-nam, the regime’s nominal head of state, the North Koreans pulled out of the scheduled meeting...

State-owned enterprises 5-year boom

SHANGHAI DAILY - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 17:01
CHINA’S state-owned enterprises administered by the central government saw surging assets in the past five years thanks to improved production and efficiency. Total assets of the centrally administered SOEs stood at 54.5 trillion yuan (US$8.6 trillion) at the end of last year, up 73.8 percent from the end of 2012, according to the country’s SOE regulator. Profits made in the past five years reached 6.5 trillion yuan, up 27 percent compared with the 2008-2012 period. Consolidation among them also picked up as the number of centrally administered SOEs was cut from over 100 in 2013 to just 97 now after a string of mergers and reorganizations. Meanwhile, more than two thirds of China’s centrally administered SOEs and their subsidiaries have introduced outside investors, registered new firms, restructured or gone public to optimize corporate management. Their global competitiveness gained traction thanks to reform efforts, with three Chinese centrally administered SOEs ranking among the top five Fortune 500 Companies of 2017.

North Korea strengthening its cyberweapons for large-scale attacks, new report warns

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 15:32
North Korea is quietly expanding both the scope and sophistication of its cyberweaponry, laying the groundwork for more devastating attacks, according to a new report published on Tuesday. Kim Jong-un’s cyberwarriors have been accused of causing huge disruption in recent years, including being blamed for the massive hack on Sony Pictures in 2014 and last year’s WannaCry ransomware worm, as well as umpteen attacks on South Korean servers. Now it appears that North Korea has also been...

Singapore promises not to cane suspected bank robber if UK sends him back to face trial

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 12:51
Singapore has agreed not to cane a man accused of carrying out a rare bank robbery in the city state if Britain extradites him to face charges, officials said on Tuesday. David Roach, a Canadian citizen, is wanted in Singapore for allegedly stealing Sg$30,000 (US$22,700) from a Standard Chartered bank branch in 2016 after strolling in and presenting a threatening note. He fled to Bangkok, where he was jailed on charges related to bringing the stolen cash into Thailand but authorities refused to...

‘Everything will be evaluated’: Indonesia suspends infrastructure projects after string of accidents

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:55
Indonesia has suspended the construction of elevated infrastructure projects, including rail and roads, after a series of accidents raised questions about the safety of a government drive to upgrade transport networks. Minister of Public Works and Housing Basuki Hadimuljono, who is in charge of infrastructure construction, on Tuesday said the government would suspend all construction of elevated infrastructure. “Design, equipment and standard operating procedures will be evaluated....

Fukushima operator Tepco told to compensate for suicide of 102-year-old

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:22
A Japanese court on Tuesday ordered the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to compensate relatives of a 102-year-old man who killed himself at the prospect of fleeing his home. The Fukushima District Court ordered Tokyo Electric Co (TEPCO) to pay 15.2 million yen (US$143,400) in damages to the family of Fumio Okubo, according to their lawyer Yukio Yasuda. Okubo was the oldest resident of Iitate village, 40km (25 miles) from the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi plant on Japan’s...

Lynch mob drags two men from police station in India, beats them to death for rape and murder of young girl

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 11:20
Two men suspected of raping and murdering a five-year-old girl in a remote northeast Indian state were dragged from a police station and lynched by an enraged mob, police said Tuesday. The girl’s disappearance from Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh state, and the discovery of her badly disfigured body, sparked widespread anger. The accused, both plantation workers from neighbouring Assam state, were being questioned by police in a town called Tezu, when a hundreds-strong mob carrying...

Malaysian artist jailed for clown face caricature of PM Najib Razak that went viral

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 10:48
A Malaysian artist was jailed for a month Tuesday for publishing a caricature of scandal-plagued Prime Minister Najib Razak looking like a clown, the latest government critic to be imprisoned. Fahmi Reza’s picture of the premier wearing powder-white clown make-up, with evilly arched eyebrows and blood-red lips, went viral and the image was widely used in demonstrations against Najib. His lawyer Syahredzan Johan said Fahmi, 40, was jailed and fined 30,000 ringgit (US$7,700) by a court in...

World's tallest wooden skyscraper planned in Tokyo

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 09:57
By Holly Ellyatt A Japanese company is planning to build the world's tallest wooden skyscraper with 90 per cent of the building made of wood. Sumitomo Forestry says its wooden high-rise — dubbed the W350 — will be 350 meters tall and the planned structure will be a hybrid of mostly wood and steel. The 70-storey building, expected to be built in Tokyo, will comprise of stores, offices, hotels and private homes, the company noted in plans released earlier in February...

‘Rare union’: Nepal’s ruling Communist Party merges with Maoists for super bloc

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 09:28
Nepal’s ruling party has merged with a former Maoist rebel group to form a super bloc that experts say will reshape politics after years of turbulence in the Himalayan nation. Officials said Tuesday the new alliance, the Nepal Communist Party, was formally signed into agreement following late-night negotiations between the two sides Monday. They forged a political alliance to trounce the incumbent party in last year’s landmark general elections, but this formal merger creates a...

Battleground Malaysia: China extends crackdown on Uygurs across borders

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 09:11
Malaysia has emerged as the latest battleground pitting Chinese efforts to export its security notions against principles of the rule of law. The Malaysian Bar Association warned in a pithy statement last week that granting a Chinese demand for the extradition of 11 Uygurs from Malaysia would constitute a violation of international law. If Malaysia’s past record is anything to go by, prospects for the Uygurs who face certain detention in China are not good. “The Malaysian government...

‘Trump is here. Are you invited?’ US president’s son in India to sell luxury flats

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 08:24
The eldest son of US President Donald Trump has arrived in India to help sell luxury flats and lavish attention on wealthy Indians who have already bought units in Trump-branded developments. Donald Trump Jnr posed for photos Tuesday morning with Indian developers, who are building the complexes in four cities. Later in the week, he is expected to make a speech about Indo-Pacific relations at a New Delhi business summit, sharing the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Trump...

US F-16 fighter jet drops fuel tanks in Japan lake after engine catches fire

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 07:25
Japan’s defence ministry demanded explanations Tuesday from the US military after a fighter jet experiencing an engine fire dropped two fuel tanks into a lake in the country’s north. The incident, which caused no injuries, is the latest in a string of accidents involving the US military that have prompted concern from Japanese officials and renewed criticism of the US military presence in the country. “We are asking the US side to explain what happened and its cause, and we...

Religious teacher blames WeChat for LGBT movement in Malaysia and proposes a North Korea-esque approach

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 07:19
By Jonathan Loh An Islamic religious teacher has called for a near dictatorial level of control by the government over online media access to support the suppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LBGT) sentiment among the Malaysian community  Ustaz Hanafiah Abd Malek said in a report by The Malay Mail Online that the Malaysian government should adopt North Korea’s strict control of the internet to handle the LGBT community.  Hanafiah cited examples of North Korea...

Lagging e-commerce spending inches up in Thailand

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 06:58
By Suchit Leesa-Nguansuk E-commerce spending in Thailand has inched higher, but is still lower than the global average. Thailand’s average e-commerce spending per user for consumer goods is US$248 (7,782 baht), compared with the global median of US$833 (26,141 baht), according to a study by social media management platform Hootsuite and global agency We Are Social. Some 52 per cent of the Thai population who buy items online do so via mobile phone (m-commerce), behind only South Korea at...

Family of murdered Cambodian government critic Kem Ley arrive in Australia as refugees after fleeing country in fear

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 06:51
The family of murdered Cambodian government critic Kem Ley, whose 2016 death sparked major street protests against Prime Minister Hun Sen, has been granted a special humanitarian refugee visa by Australia and landed in the country. Kem’s Ley wife Bou Rachana and her five children arrived in the southern Australian city of Melbourne on Saturday, the office of Victorian state MP Hong Lim said Tuesday. “They were granted a Special Humanitarian Visa on 14 February 2018 … We are...

Controversial Australian fitness blogger Ashy Bines launches new programme targeting babies

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 06:18
Controversial Australian fitness blogger Ashy Bines is making headlines again, this time for her newly launched programme aimed at babies and children. The personal trainer and Instagram star from the Gold Coast has launched an "edu-tainment programme" that is aimed at children as young as 12 months old.  "Ashy and Friends" is an animated DVD series described as "a fun-packed music, fitness and education show for 1 to 6-year-olds". The show...

Latvia’s ABLV Bank in crisis after US accuses it of helping North Korea bust sanctions

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 06:08
Latvia’s ABLV Bank sought emergency support on Monday after US officials accused it of helping breach North Korean sanctions while the country’s central bank chief faced bribery allegations, turning up the spotlight on its financial system. The Baltic country, which is a member of the euro zone and shares a border with Russia, has come under increasing scrutiny recently as a conduit for illicit financial activities. Last year, two Latvian banks were fined more than 2.8 million euros...

Bangkok court gives Japanese man who lived in Hong Kong custody of 13 children born to Thai surrogate mothers

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 05:10
A Bangkok court on Tuesday granted a Japanese man “sole parent” rights to 13 babies fathered through Thai surrogate mothers, a ruling that paves the way for him to take custody of the children. “For the happiness and opportunities of the 13 children … the court rules that all who were born from surrogacy to be legal children of the plaintiff,” Bangkok’s Central Juvenile Court said in a statement. Mitsutoki Shigeta was deemed the “sole parent” of...

My bar crawl with Kim Jong-un (the Hong Kong-born one)

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Tue, 02/20/2018 - 04:37
It is a rare night when you find yourself on a chilly street corner waiting for a car to arrive for a rendezvous with Kim Jong-un. Rarer still when Kim decides tonight is the night to go on a bar crawl. Two things are not as they seem, though. The first is that Kim is a teetotaller, making a the bar trip a potentially fruitless exercise. The second is that Kim is not Kim – he’s a Hong-Kong born Australian called Howard. Howard hit the headlines last week when he attempted to...

Maldives president seeks to extend state of emergency amid strife over opposition arrests

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 17:00
Maldives President Abdulla Yameen on Monday sought parliamentary approval to extend a state of emergency for 15 days in the Indian Ocean archipelago as “the situation has not changed”, a top parliamentary official said. Yameen imposed the emergency on February 5 for 15 days to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed convictions against nine opposition leaders and ordered his government to free those held in prison. The state of emergency was to end on Tuesday. Deputy...

Rodrigo Duterte says Chinese military bases are to oppose US, not Philippines

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 16:36
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte tried to allay fears over China’s construction of military bases on man-made islands in the South China Sea, saying they are a defence against the US, not made to attack Asian states. “It’s not intended for us,” he said in a speech to Chinese-Filipino businessmen on Monday. “The contending ideological powers of the world or the geopolitics has greatly changed. “It’s really intended against those who the Chinese think...

Singapore to raise GST for first time in decade despite surplus – but taxpayers won’t feel pain for at least three years

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 13:49
Singapore will hike its goods and services tax by two percentage points, the finance minister said on Monday, the first such move in a decade as the cash-rich government cited the need to pre-emptively increase revenue amid surging health care, security and infrastructure spending. The decision to raise the GST to 9 per cent was widely expected, but the curveball announcement that the change would be stayed until “sometime” between 2021 and 2025 drew praise from observers for being...

Philippine forces arrest ‘Egyptian ex-Islamic State commander’ after raid on Manila flat

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 13:39
Philippine police and army troops have arrested an Arab man they believe was a former commander of Islamic State along the Syria and Turkey border in a raid on a Manila flat, where they found bomb-making materials and an IS-style flag, the national police chief said on Monday. Police Director General Ronald dela Rosa said Fehmi Lassoued, who is reportedly from Egypt, and his Filipino companion, Anabel Moncera Salipada, were arrested last week based on intelligence provided by foreign...

Troops drink cobra blood in US-Thailand war games

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 11:55
US and Thai marines slurped snake blood and ate scorpions in a jungle survival programme on Monday as part of the two nations’ annual Cobra Gold war games. Now in its 37th year, Cobra Gold is one of the largest military exercises in Asia, bringing thousands of troops from the United States, Thailand and other countries for 10 days of field training on Thai shores. On Monday, several dozen US and Thai marines took park in an annual jungle survival drill on a Thai navy base in Chonburi...

Nepal leader vows to revive Chinese dam project, open to review pact over Nepalese soldiers in India

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 11:30
Nepal’s new communist prime minister will restart a Chinese-led US$2.5 billion hydropower project that was pulled by the previous government considered friendly towards India, and wants to increase infrastructure connectivity with Beijing to ease the country’s reliance on New Delhi. He also wants to “update” relations with India “in keeping with the times” and favours a review of all special provisions of Indo-Nepal relations, including the long-established...

Cambodia court drops pornography charges against nine foreigners for ‘sexy dancing’ at pool party

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 10:32
A Cambodian court has dropped pornography charges against nine of the 10 foreigners arrested last month at a pool party in the tourist town of Siem Reap, an official said Monday. The group was detained for around two weeks on charges of producing pornographic materials to promote the event at a private villa in the city flanking Cambodia’s famous Angkor Wat temple ruins. Police, who broke up the party on January 25, initially accused the foreigners of “singing and dancing...

Australian politician under fire for posting gun range photo on Facebook

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST - Mon, 02/19/2018 - 10:25
A conservative Australian politician who posted a photo of himself on Facebook holding a gun in a dig at environmentalists was reported to police and accused of being insensitive after a mass shooting at a US school. George Christensen put up the image on Saturday showing him at a shooting range with the comment: “You gotta ask yourself, do you feel lucky, greenie punks?” He said it was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the “Dirty Harry” films starring Clint Eastwood who...