China landslide: 15 dead, over 100 missing in Sichuan

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Media captionThe rescue team has been searching for missing people

The bodies of 15 people have been found after a landslide in Sichuan province in south-western China left more than 12 people missing, state media say.

About 40 homes were destroyed in Xinmo village in Maoxian county, after the side of a mountain collapsed at about 06:00 local time (22:00 GMT Friday).

Rescue teams are frantically searching for survivors trapped beneath rocks dislodged by heavy rainfall.

President Xi Jinping urged rescuers to “spare no effort”.

A couple and a baby were rescued and taken to hospital after teams of workers used ropes to move large rocks, AFP news agency reports, citing local authorities.

Qiao Dashuai told CCTV the baby had woken them and when they came to the door of their home they were swept away by water. He said his parents and other relatives were still missing.

People search for survivors following a landslide in Xinmo Village in Maoxian county, 24 June 2017Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRescue workers are frantically searching for survivors feared buried beneath rocks
A huge landslide has buried more than 100 villagers in Sichuan, southwest China, 24 June 2017Image copyrightEPA
Image captionBulldozers were used to help move large boulders after homes were destroyed
Rescue workers and medical staff search for survivors at landslide site in Xinmo village in Sichuan, southwest China, 24 June 2017Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionMedical staff joined the search in the hope of assisting any survivors

An earlier toll of 141 missing people has now been revised down by state media.

The landslide blocked a 2km (1.2-mile) stretch of a river, Xinhua news agency reported.

Local police told state broadcaster CCTV a lack of vegetation in the area had made the landslide worse.

Local officials said some 8m cu m (282m cu ft) of rock had been dislodged.

Roads in the county were closed on Saturday to all traffic except emergency services, the news agency said.

Media captionBBC Weather’s Helen Willetts looks at the forecast for southern China after the recent devastating landslides.

Landslides are a regular danger in mountainous regions of China, especially during heavy rains.

In 2008, 87,000 people were killed when an earthquake struck Wenchuan county in Sichuan province. In Maoxian county itself, 37 tourists were killed when their coach was buried in a landslide caused by the earthquake.

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US urges China to pressure North Korea to rein in weapons programs

A day after the US president said China’s efforts on North Korea had failed, his secretary of state has asked for Beijing’s help. The situation has been complicated by the death of a US student imprisoned by Pyongyang.

Watch video00:43

Trump says China should help more on NKorea

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged China to help pressure North Korea to rein in its weapons programs.

“[China has a] diplomatic responsibility to exert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime if they want to prevent further escalation in the region,” he said in Washington. Tillerson said North Korea was the “top security threat” to the US.

Tillerson made the comments at a press conference after high-level talks with Chinese officials at the State Department.

Read more: Trump ‘furious’ over Seoul’s North Korea ‘appeasement’

Read more: North Korea attempts to split South Korea-US security alliance

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis vowed at the same press conference to “continue to take necessary measures to defend ourselves and our allies” against North Korea, which is working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the US.

The meeting of top US and Chinese diplomats and defense chiefs came just a day after US President Donald Trump said China’s efforts to use its leverage with Pyongyang had failed.

On Tuesday, Trump posted a tweet suggesting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts were ineffective, a message he reiterated before supporters in Iowa.

While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!

“I do like President Xi,” he told the crowd Wednesday evening. “I wish we would have a little more help with respect to North Korea, from China. That doesn’t seem to be working.”

Trump did not elaborate on what might happen next if China fails to rein in its ally.

Complicated position

Trump’s approach to North Korea was further complicated by the death of American university student Otto Warmbier earlier this week, after he was recently released in a comatose state 17 months after being jailed in Pyongyang.

Read more: Otto Warmbier, US student released from North Korea, dies

In Beijing, officials insisted they have not given up hope of influencing Pyongyang.

“To resolve the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, China has been making unremitting efforts and we have been playing an important and constructive role,” said Geng Shuang, a foreign ministry spokesman, while stressing China was not the “focus and the crux” of the crisis.

Tillerson said Trump would make a state visit to China later this year, and Mattis said both sides had agreed to expand military-to-military ties.

A US official said on Tuesday that spy satellites had detected new movements at North Korea’s nuclear test site, but it was unclear if Pyongyang was preparing for a sixth nuclear test.

aw/cmk (AFP, dpa)

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Deadly blast hits China kindergarten

An explosion has hit a kindergarten in eastern China, with eight deaths reported and many more injured. Police have said the blast was a criminal act and have detained one suspect.

Emergency nurses pull the injured into the hospital after the explosion near a kindergarten in Fengxian County (picture-alliance/Photoshot)

At least eight people were killed and at least 65 people were wounded in an explosion at the front gate of a kindergarten in eastern China on Thursday, local authorities and Chinese media reported.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported that eight people were still in critical condition, but that no children or teachers were among those killed.

The blast struck the Chuangxin Kindergarten in Fengxian as relatives were picking up their children at the end of the school day at about 4:50 p.m. local time, police and authorities said.

On Friday, investigators said the blast was caused by a homemade bomb and that the main suspect was among the dead. The city government has labeled the blast as a criminal attack.

Multiple videos posted on Chinese social media and on official Chinese media showed bleeding children and adults lying on the ground outside the kindergarten, many motionless, with clothing strewn on the ground beside pools of blood.

Images showed that the force of the blast tore people’s clothes off, and one dazed woman could be seen clutching her child, who is in tears.

Karte China Xuzhou ENG

Rise in attacks

Kindergartens in China have previously been targeted by people bearing grudges against their neighbors and employers, or society in general.

Early in May, a school bus packed with kindergarten pupils burst into flames in a tunnel in the eastern province of Shandong. Officials said the bus driver, angry at losing overtime wages, had set the fire.

The rise in attacks has prompted officials to tighten security around many schools, by posting guards armed with truncheons and installing gates and other barriers.

China maintains tight control over firearms and most attacks are carried out using knives, axes or homemade explosives.

rs, aw, dm/cmk (dpa, AFP, AP)

EU, China fail to issue joint statement due to trade status concerns

Disagreements over giving “market economy” status to China have prevented a common statement on climate change after an EU-China summit. The issues of dumping and access to investment clouded the talks.

Brüssel China-EU-Gipfel | Tusk & Li Keqiang (Reuters/V. Mayo)

The 19th EU-China Summit ended without a joint statement due to an ongoing row about China’s status before the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Officials described the meeting as warm, but China and the EU could not agree on a broader final communique meant to focus on a range of other issues discussed at the talks, including a commitment to free trade and measures needed to reduce a global steel glut.

The two sides failed to reach agreement on the problem of steel overcapacity and the EU’s stance towards Chinese dumping.

Speaking after the meeting, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said they had discussed with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (photo) both the steel issue and China’s demand that after its 15-year-membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO), it should no longer be treated as a special case.

‘Not there yet’

“We were able to narrow the positions but we are not yet there,” Juncker said.

China believes it should receive Market Economy Status (MES), which would allow it to enjoy the same market status as the United States and the European Union when it comes to anti-dumping investigations before the WTO.

As the world’s leading producer of steel, aluminum, cement and other industrial materials, many of China’s state-linked companies are able to export and offer products more cheaply to many of its trading partners. This has spurred allegations of dumping for several decades.

China | Illegale Stahlfabriken unterlaufen Chinas Emissionsgesetze (Getty Images/K. Frayer)An unauthorized steel factory in Inner Mongolia, China

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the EU should accept that China’s situation in the WTO had changed.

“This will send a signal to society and the market that we both abide by international rules and abide by multilateralism,” Li said.

Trade concerns

During the summit, EU officials pressed the Chinese government to tackle overcapacity in domestic industries such as steel and to ease restrictions on foreign investors.

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Li repeated a call for talks on an EU-China investment accord to be accompanied by a move toward a broader free-trade agreement.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom called for Chinese authorities to make good on a pledge by President Xi Jinping to a global audience in January to open further the market in China. She referred to a study concluding that many European companies found it harder to do business in China last year.

“As a consequence, EU investment in China is at its lowest level in years, while Chinese investment in the EU reaches record levels,” Malmstrom said. China needs to ensure “reciprocity” for European businesses in the Chinese market, the trade commissioner said.

“We are all waiting now for the remarks by the president to translate into action and make trade and investment more open, more free,” Malmstrom told the Brussels conference. “Our ongoing negotiations on an investment agreement are a constructive means to rebalance the situation and expand trade and investment.”

European Investment Bank Group and Silk Road

A memorandum of understanding was signed between the European Investment Fund (EIF) and the Silk Road Fund, outlining new strategic cooperation to support equity investment across Europe.

The EIF, set up in 1994, is an EU agency for the provision of finance to small and medium enterprises (SME), headquartered in Luxembourg. It does not lend money to SMEs directly but provides finance through private banks and funds.

The Silk Road Fund is a state-owned Chinese investment fund for increased investment in countries along the Belt and Road (B&R) in Eurasia. The B&R is a development strategy focusing on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries.

China Seidenstraßen-Gipfel Silk Road and Golden Bridge (picture-alliance/Photoshot/Z. Huansong)The ‘Silk Road and Golden Bridge’ in Beijing, China

The fund is expected to provide 500 million euros ($563 million) to support equity investment and should be operational within the coming months.

Last November, China set up a 10-billion-euro investment fund to finance infrastructure, high-tech manufacturing and consumer goods projects in Central and Eastern Europe. Central and Eastern Europe are part of China’s modern Silk Road, where Beijing is hoping to carve out new export markets for its companies as the domestic economy slows.

Climate worries 

The summit had coincided with comments from the United States on President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, which has nations set targets to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Read more: World reacts to US withdrawal from Paris agreement

Standing alongside the Chinese premier, EU Council President Donald Tusk said Friday, “We are convinced that yesterday’s decision by the United States to leave the Paris agreement is a big mistake.”

“Today we are stepping up our cooperation on climate change with China,” Tusk said after hosting the climate and trade talks with Chinese Premier Li.

jm/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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China’s threat to steel in Europe

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China ‘crippled CIA operations, killed informants’: New York Times

A US newspaper has reported that the Chinese government “systematically dismantled” the work of US spies in China from 2010 to 2012. Top US officials have said the intelligence breach was one of the worst in decades.

China Peking - Tiananmen Square (Getty Images/L. Zhang)

China killed or imprisoned as many as 20 US intelligence sources from 2010 to 2012 as a network of spies that had taken years to build was unwound, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

The newspaper described what it called a massive intelligence breach responsible for impeding US spying operations in the communist state for several years.

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Cyberspying topic of Chinese visit

CIA mole?

The Times said investigators are split over whether a mole within the CIA betrayed the sources, or whether the Chinese hacked the intelligence agency’s covert communications system. Others think the breach could have been the result of careless spy work.

The newspaper cited 10 current and former American officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity and described how Beijing systematically dismantled the CIA’s spying efforts.

They said the breach was a severe setback for the US intelligence network that had been working at its highest level in years. Almost every employee of the US embassy in Beijing was investigated at one point, the Times reported.

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At least a dozen CIA sources killed

The CIA had been receiving high-quality information about the Chinese government until 2010, when the data began to dry up.

The CIA sources began disappearing in early 2011, the paper said.

The Times said at least a dozen CIA sources were killed, including one who was shot in front of colleagues in a clear warning to anyone else who might be spying. Several others were jailed.

The investigation ultimately centered on a former CIA operative who worked in a division overseeing China, the newspaper said, but there was not enough evidence to arrest him. He is now living in another Asian country and has been questioned.

The breach was considered particularly damaging, with the number of assets lost rivaling those in the Soviet Union and Russia who perished after information was passed to Moscow by spies Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, the report said.

Ames was active as a spy in the 1980s and Hanssen from 1979 to 2001.

By 2013, the FBI and CIA concluded that China no longer had the ability to identify American agents, the Times said.

US intelligence agencies have since been trying to rebuild their spy network in the country.

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mm/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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Russia steps up North Korea support to constrain US

In spite of international sanctions on North Korea’s communist regime, Russia has been increasing fuel exports to Pyongyang and filling in the supply gap created by China halting trade. Julian Ryall reports.

Russland Militärparade in Moskau (Reuters/S. Karpukhin)

Despite efforts by the United Nations to impose isolating sanctions on North Korea in response to the country’s continued development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, trade between Russia and North Korea soared more than 85 percent in the first four months of the year.

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Citing Russian customs data, the Voice of America broadcaster has reported that bilateral trade climbed to $31.83 million (29 million euros) in the January-March quarter, with the vast majority being energy products going over the border into the North.

This included $22 million worth of coal, lignite with a value of around $4.7 million, and oil estimated at $1.2 million. In return, North Korean exports to Russia were estimated to be worth $420,000. The most significant exports were chemicals and – curiously – wind instruments.

China trade falls

In contrast, North Korea’s trade with China, traditionally its most important economic partner, has plummeted. Pyongyang’s exports of coal to China in March came to 6,342 tons, a fraction of the 1.44 million tons sent to China in January, with an estimated value of $126.39 million. Similarly, Beijing has stopped supplying critically-needed fuel oil to the North, a clear demonstration of China’s displeasure at North Korea’s ongoing weapons tests.

The release of the figures detailing Russia’s increased trade with North Korea coincide with President Vladimir Putin’s statement on Monday that Pyongyang’s latest missile launch was “dangerous” – but, he added, “We must stop intimidating North Korea and find a peaceful solution to this problem.”

Read more: North Korea claims successful test of new rocket able to carry nuclear warhead

James Brown, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo campus of Temple University, believes some of the cross-border trade may be “economic opportunism” but the motivation for the vast majority of it is geopolitical.

“Russia is very worried about the isolation of North Korea and believes that makes the situation dangerous as the US is taking a confrontational approach,” he told DW.

“Moscow’s position is that pressure on the North has not worked and has in fact caused Pyongyang to react because it feels threatened,” he said. “So instead of isolation, which is not working, Russia is proposing engagement.”

Nordkorea Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) Raketentest (Reuters/KCNA)The UN condemned North Korea’s missile test and vowed new sanctions

New ferry route

The most recent example of this support for Pyongyang is the plan to open a ferry route between North Korea and the Russian Far East port of Vladivostok, although the proposal has been delayed by strong protests from Japan.

Read more: North Korea builds closer ties with fellow outcast Russia

In 2014, Russia announced that it was canceling $10 billion of North Korea’s $11 billion in Soviet-era debt and that the remaining $1 billion would be invested back into the country. Russian investors also agreed to sink $25 billion into the North’s dilapidated railway system, while more would go into basic infrastructure. The two governments also announced that Russia would rebuild the North’s power grid, while the two countries would develop the ice-free port of Rason for exports of Russian coal.

In total, Russia planned to increase bilateral trade almost ten-fold to $1 billion by 2020, and that does not appear to have been hampered by more recent UN sanctions.

But Putin is also motivated by security concerns in Russia’s Far East, Brown said.

“Moscow has always been worried that the defensive missile systems that the US is deploying in the region – the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea and now Japan is discussing having Aegis Ashore – are more directed at its interests than North Korea,” he said.

Daniel Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, believes that Putin – who is at odds with the international community over the Ukraine conflict and has been accused of meddling in a number of elections, including those in the US and France – may be forging closer ties with Pyongyang to sow further disarray among his perceived enemies.

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North Korea launches ballistic missile

‘Slash-and-burn approach’

“Putin seems to have adopted a slash-and-burn approach to the liberal international order, so anything that serves to undermine institutions such as NATO, the European Union or democracy in general is fair game,” Pinkston said. “He is intent on creating instability in a way that serves Russian interests and this sort of multi-front, hybrid war serves to undermine the US and its allies.”

“North Korea fits neatly into that agenda because it causes problems for Washington, keeps the US tied down, drains its resources and causes friction with allies in the region.”

Pinkston points out that playing neighboring nations off one other for their respective favors is not a new North Korean tactic. It has manipulated China and Russia for its own ends in the past.

“That sort of back-and-forth was easier to pull off in the Cold War, but they seem to be trying to capitalize on their relations with Russia now that China has become more distant,” the expert underlined. “And I think it is clear that North Korea will take whatever it can get in terms of political, diplomatic or military support, as well as resources.”

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China’s silky threat to American leadership

John Moody

This weekend, while the Sunday talk shows obsess about Trump, Comey and secret recordings, a top-level gathering in China will kick off the biggest challenge ever to America’s place in the world economy: the creation of a 21st Century version of the ancient Silk Road travelled by Marco Polo.

President Xi Jinping will host the so-called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Summit. If the name sounds like a convention of car parts manufacturers, think again.  The BRI is Xi’s $1 trillion – yes, with a T — plan to build state of the art roads, ports, pipelines and airports that will link China to 110 countries around the world and make Beijing the epicenter of world trade for decades to come.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin thinks the BRI is important enough for him to attend. So do the leaders of Turkey, Pakistan, the Philippines and 25 other countries, most of them with developing economies. The United States, trapped in political navel-gazing, could only ante up an assistant to the president.

For Xi, the initiative is a brazen attempt to seize worldwide economic leadership from the United States. With official Washington bogged down on President Trump’s tweets and his relationship with Russia, Xi sees an opportunity to bind emerging trade partners to him by offering them access to China’s vast consumer market.

“Xi is offering a lot of money and infrastructure to a lot of recipient countries who have a pressing need for their economies to be modernized,” says Sourabh Gupta, a senior fellow at the Institute for China-America studies. “There are real political, economic and strategic goals at stake. It is China effectively applying soft power in a very visible way. It wants to become what the United States has been until now – the leader of the world economy.”

There is, of course, a catch: Xi will ask the heads of state that he is wining and dining to sign a joint communique endorsing Beijing’s claims that Taiwan is part of China, and that it has legitimate territorial rights in the South China Sea.

Among the massive infrastructure projects being offered to potential partners, China wants to build a port in Pakistan, complete a China-to-Myanmar pipeline, giving it access to Middle East crude oil, and dredge and deepen the historic Greek port of Piraeus.

The stakes for Xi are high. China’s economic growth has been slowing. Its vassal state, North Korea, is increasingly rebellious, and banks and bond markets are showing signs of stress.

Xi hopes the conference will cement his position as a global leader in advance of the 19th congress of the Communist Party, which he heads. The summit’s slogan is “One Belt, One Road.” For Xi, that means showing that the rest of the world is girded to China, and that all roads lead to Beijing.

John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books including “Pope John Paul II : Biography.

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