Taiwan's KMT chief to meet China's leader after trade pact

TAIPEI, July 10, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan's ruling party said Saturday its chief is set to meet China's President Hu Jintao in Beijing in the first high-level meeting between the two sides after they inked a major trade deal.

Kuomintang honorary chairman Wu Poh-hsiung and Hu "will exchange opinions on strengthening peaceful developments in cross-strait ties under the new situation after the signing of pact," the party said in a statement.

Wu, currently in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou for a trade and  cultural forum, will leave for Beijing on Sunday night for a one-day stop in the Chinese capital, it said.

The signing of the pact, by far the most sweeping ever between the two sides, marks the culmination of a Beijing-friendly policy introduced by Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou after he assumed power in 2008.

But opponents say the accord will strengthen Beijing's power over the island, marking a first step towards reunification.

China is Taiwan's largest trading partner, its largest investment destination, and now also home to a growing number of Taiwanese people.

Taiwan and China have been governed separately since a civil war in 1949, but Beijing considers the island part of its territory and has vowed to get it back, by force if necessary.

Chinese mass murderer loses appeal against death sentence

BEIJING, July 10, 2010 (AFP) - A Chinese man sentenced to death for murdering 13 people including three police officers over more than a decade has lost his appeal, state media reported Saturday.

The Guangdong Supreme Court on Friday rejected the appeal by Cheng Ruilong, 37, but reduced the number of confirmed victims to 11 after two bodies -- a mother and daughter -- could not be found, the Guangzhou Daily newspaper said.

Cheng, who was using an alias, was arrested for robbery in the eastern province of Jiangxi in January 2005, state media said previously, and sentenced earlier this year to seven years in jail.

But authorities discovered his true identity in May last year and convicted him of a litany of killings, rapes and robberies spanning 14 years across southern and eastern China.

The newspaper did not give further details on Cheng's crimes.

Face-saving compromise lets China, Google do business - Analysis

WASHINGTON, July 10, 2010 (AFP) - China's renewal of Google's Internet license reflects a face-saving compromise between a political powerhouse and a technology titan who both sought to avoid a painful break-up, analysts said.

"It's not a complete surprise because I think the politics were that the Chinese wanted to avoid a big fight," said James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"With (Chinese President) Hu Jintao coming to Washington it was not the best time to reshape the agenda of the meeting by messing with Google," Lewis told AFP.

He noted that China's decision to renew Google's Internet Content Provider license came after the company stopped automatically redirecting Chinese Web surfers to Google's uncensored search engine in Hong Kong.

Instead, Chinese visitors to Google's search engine in China, Google.cn, must now click on a link to land on the Hong Kong site.

"It's good sometimes to do face-saving things," Lewis said. "It gave everyone a nice way to move along for the next few months. It's good for Google as well as for China."

Lewis added, however, that the Chinese authorities are "still not happy" with Google over its decision to stop censoring Web search results to protest cyberattacks last year that the California company said came from China.

"I think they'll still look for things they can do to Google," he said.

While Google and China may have reached a temporary truce, Lewis said the Chinese goverment has a "long-term problem."

"They like technology, they like access to the global information infrastructure but they don't like the political implications," he said.

Matthew Ingram of technology blog GigaOm.com said Google will have problems of its own as it "tries to maintain a foothold in the country without bowing completely to the government's desire for control.

"(Google) has to walk a tightrope in order to remain on the government's good side, while still maintaining some semblance of ethical principles by not caving in to the authorities," he wrote.

Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China, said "China's approval of Google's license reflects that despite all the recent rhetoric, China wants Google to stay."

"The significance may be that making a principled stand to do business in a way that that does not violate fundamental rights... will not automatically get you kicked out of China as many businesses fear," Hom told AFP.

She said, however, that for China to provide a truly hospitable climate for foreign businesses, "it will take more than granting one company one license."

The US State Department, which has made Internet freedom a top priority, had an unusually muted reaction to China's decision to allow Google to remain in the country.

"It's a matter between Google and the Chinese government," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in response to a question from reporters.

Investors on Wall Street were a bit more enthusiastic about the news that Google could stay in the world's largest Internet market for at least another year.

Google shares gained 2.39 percent on Friday to close at 467.49 dollars. Shares in Baidu, China's top search engine, lost 1.77 percent meanwhile to close at 71.15 dollars.

Swiss president accepts Singapore train vandal's sentence

SINGAPORE, July 10, 2010 (AFP) - Switzerland's president did not plead for leniency for a Swiss train vandal during a visit to Singapore, and said there was there was no "big debate" over the issue, reports said Saturday.

Oliver Fricker, a 32-year-old Swiss national, was sentenced to five months' jail and three strokes of the cane in June after pleading guilty to breaking into a metro depot and spray-painting a train.

In a meeting with Singapore president S.R. Nathan, Switzerland's Doris Leuthard said that punishing Fricker was "correct" but added that caning was not the Swiss way.

"I discussed it with the president, but you know for us it is not a big debate," Leuthard said according to the Straits Times.

"We agree that he is guilty, which he also accepts by the way. It's correct what you do but it's not our way," she added.

Leuthard also said Singapore should rethink its policy on caning as many countries had abandoned corporal punishment, but added that this was a decision only the local authorities could make, the Straits Times said.

Fricker, who had been working in Singapore as a software consultant, is currently serving his sentence but his lawyer has tabled an appeal for a reduced jail term.

Singapore has also launched an international manhunt for Fricker's accomplice, 29-year-old Briton Lloyd Dane Alexander, who allegedly planned the act but left the city-state before he could be caught.

Singapore's tough vandalism laws first became global news in 1994 when an American teenager, Michael Fay, was caned for damaging cars and public property despite appeals for clemency from the US government

China's June exports soar 43.9 percent year on year

BEIJING, July 10, 2010 (AFP) - China said Saturday its exports continued to soar in June, as demand for Chinese-made goods remained robust despite the European crisis and tepid US recovery.

The nation's overseas shipments, of items including electronic gadgets, shoes and textiles, reached 137.4 billion dollars last month, up 43.9 percent from the previous year.

The pace of growth was slower than in May when exports surged 48.5 percent, but was better than most analysts had expected.

China posted a trade surplus of 20.02 billion dollars in June, up slightly from the month before, according to figures released by customs authorities.

The figure compared with a trade surplus of 19.53 billion dollars in May and 1.68 billion dollars in April.

Imports gained 34.1 percent year-on-year to 117.4 billion dollars, marking a slowdown from May when imports of raw materials and other products soared 48.3 percent.

It is the first trade data to be released since China vowed three weeks ago to let the yuan trade more freely against the dollar, though analysts said it was too early for the more flexible exchange rate to have impacted on exports.

The yuan has strengthened 0.8 percent against the greenback since the People's Bank of China pledged to loosen its currency controls on June 19.

A stronger yuan will make Chinese shipments of electronics, clothes and shoes more expensive, but help boost consumer spending by reducing the cost of imported products.


Study says West uses social networking to subvert China

BEIJING, July  9, 2010 (AFP) - Social networking sites like Facebook pose a security threat to China and are used as "tools of subversion" by Western nations including the US, a top Chinese think tank said in a report this week.

Ethnic riots in China's western-most Xinjiang region last year were spurred on by such micro-blogging sites, the state-run China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said in its annual report on the development of new media.

"Facebook has appeared as the rallying point for overseas Xinjiang separatist groups," the report said.

"These social networking sites have become a tool of political subversion used by Western nations, including the United States."

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China.

Ethnic Uighur Muslims battled Han Chinese in the streets of the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi in July last year leaving over 200 people dead and some 1,700 injured in China's worst ethnic violence in decades.

Following the unrest, the authorities shut down the Internet in Xinjiang for nearly a year.

"Faced with the popularity of social networking sites ... it is imperative to exert control," the report, published this week said, adding that China ought to "pay a lot of attention to these potential risks and latent dangers."

Despite blocking Facebook, Chinese micro-blogging sites, like Kaixin, remain popular and have developed rapidly since 2008, the report said.

It mentioned no potential security threat from such Chinese sites.

At the end of 2009, 176 million Chinese Internet users were using social networking sites, with most between 20 and 29 years of age, according to government figures.

In a separate article, Internet giant Google was portrayed as being tied to US government information services and bent on advancing America's global "hegemony", the CASS report said.

China boasts the biggest online population in the world with over 400 million Internet users.

Chinese authorities keep a tight rein on the Web, blocking unwanted content in a system known as the Great Firewall of China which largely censors subversive political content and pornography.

S.Korea to stage joint naval drill despite China protest

SEOUL, July  9, 2010 (AFP) - South Korea said Friday it would stage a naval exercise with the United States in the Yellow Sea to deter North Korean "provocation", despite strong protests from China about the drill.

"The date and methods have not yet been decided but the South Korea-US joint military exercise will be carried out," said defence ministry spokesman Won Tae-Jae.

"The joint exercise in the Yellow Sea is being planned as North Korea carried out an illegal provocation, the sinking of the Cheonan."

The South, citing the findings of a multinational investigation, accuses the North of torpedoing the warship in March with the loss of 46 lives. The North angrily denies responsibility.

China warned the United States and South Korea Thursday against holding the war games near its waters, and urged them not to worsen tensions with its ally North Korea.

"China has expressed its serious concerns with relevant parties," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang in Beijing.

"We are firmly opposed to foreign military vessels engaging in activities that undermine China's security interests in the Yellow Sea or waters close to China."

The drill was originally set for last month but was delayed until the United Nations Security Council wrapped up discussions on the sinking.

The South announced its own non-military reprisals against the North, including a partial trade ban, and also urged the Security Council to censure Pyongyang.
Permanent council members China and Russia have not, however, publicly accused the North of being to blame for the sinking.

According to a draft statement set to be adopted Friday US time, the council will condemn the attack which led to the sinking but stop short of directly blaming the North.

The draft, approved by all five permanent members, takes note of North Korea's denials of involvement. But it expresses "deep concern" at the findings of the multinational probe implicating the North.

It "underscores the importance of preventing such further attacks or hostilities against the ROK (South Korea)", while praising Seoul for its restraint in the months following the attack.

Seoul's foreign ministry could not immediately be reached for comment on the draft. But a ministry official quoted by Yonhap news agency expressed satisfaction.

In its current form the statement would send "a clear and stern" message to North Korea, the unidentified official said.

"It noted the result of the investigation that held North Korea responsible and expressed deep concern over that. So, the council essentially condemned North Korea."

Taiwan forecasts GDP, jobs rise from China trade pact

TAIPEI, July  9, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan said Friday a major trade pact it has forged with China is expected to boost its economy by 0.4 percentage points and create 60,000 new jobs in two years.

The two sides last month signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) to remove tariffs for 539 Taiwanese products ranging from petrochemical to auto parts and textiles within three years.

The "early harvest" list will raise Taiwan's economic growth by an estimated 0.4 percentage points or an equivalent of 55 billion Taiwan dollars (1.71 billion US), an aide quoted economic minister Shih Yen-shiang as saying.

It is also expected to save about 29.5 billion Taiwan dollars in tariffs for local manufacturers and generate 60,000 new jobs, he said.

The signing of the agreement, by far the most sweeping ever between the two sides, marks the culmination of a Beijing-friendly policy introduced by Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou after he assumed power in 2008.

But opponents say the accord will strengthen Beijing's power over the island, marking a first step towards reunification.

China is Taiwan's largest trading partner, its largest investment destination, and now also home to a growing number of Taiwanese people.

Taiwan and China have been governed separately since a civil war in 1949, but Beijing considers the island part of its territory and has vowed to get it back, by force if necessary.

Chinese monk held for murder of priest and nun

BEIJING, July  9, 2010 (AFP) - Police have arrested a 43-year-old Catholic monk who confessed to the murder earlier this week of a priest and a nun in northern China, state media reported Friday.

The suspect, identified as Zhang Wenping, was taken into custody on Thursday in Hohhot in the Inner Mongolia region, and later confessed to the double homicide, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Police are still investigating, the report said. A motive for the crime was not immediately clear.

The priest, Zhang Shulai, and the nun, Wei Yanhui, were found dead on Tuesday in the nursing home where they worked, in a church in the city of Wuhai.

The Xinhua report suggested they were members of the official Chinese Catholic Church. AsiaNews, a Vatican-based news agency, had reported they were members of a church not sanctioned by the government.

China has about five million Catholics who worship at Communist Party-sanctioned "official" churches, while up to 11 million reportedly worship at "underground" churches not approved by Beijing.


Western food fuelling SE Asia diabetes boom: researchers

SYDNEY, July 7, 2010 (AFP) - The growing popularity of Western junk food is fuelling a diabetes boom across Southeast Asia, Australian researchers warned on Wednesday.

Studies found about 11 percent of men and 12 percent of women in Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh City had type 2 diabetes without knowing it, on top of the four percent of people who are diagnosed sufferers.

"Dietary patterns have been changing dramatically in Vietnam in recent years, particularly in the cities as they become more Westernised," said Tuan Nguyen of Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

"There are fast food outlets everywhere."

He said the findings, based on testing a random sample of 721 men and 1,421 women, mirrored the results of a similar study carried out in Thailand.

"Because of that, we feel very confident that we can extrapolate our findings to other parts of Southeast Asia including Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia and Laos," he said.

Type 2, the most common form of diabetes, is caused by high levels of fat and sugar in the diet and a lack of exercise, and can lead to heart disease, vision loss, limb amputation and kidney failure.

Co-author Lesley Campbell said developing countries were facing a "sad story" where they are affected by Western lifestyle diseases alongside hunger and poverty, but without the health resources to treat them.

"Unfortunately, we are watching, in just over a generation, a very rapid increase in diabetes" in developing nations, she said.

The researchers have developed a simple risk assessment for diabetes, using only blood pressure and waist-to-hip ratio, which they hope will help doctors detect those most likely to have the disease.

China's AgBank raises 10 billion dollars in Shanghai IPO

SHANGHAI, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - Agricultural Bank of China said on Wednesday it raised 68.5 billion yuan (10.1 billion US dollars) from the Shanghai portion of its initial public offering.

The amount included the overallotment option and put the bank on track to achieve the largest IPO on record by raising up to 22.1 billion dollars ahead of its dual listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai, the bank said in a statement to the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

AgBank, the last of China's four big banks to list, said it sold 25.57 billion shares in Shanghai, including the overallotment option, at 2.68 yuan a share, the top of a 2.52-2.68 yuan indicative price range.

Agbank, China's third-largest bank by assets, attracted 32.5 billion yuan from 27 domestic cornerstone investors including China's major insurance companies and a number of big state-run companies, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

The bank sold 10.23 billion shares, or 40 percent of its Shanghai portion to the cornerstone investors, the statement said.

AgBank's IPO looked set to overtake that of Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, which raised 21.9 billion dollars in an IPO in Shanghai and Hong Kong in 2006, as the world's biggest.

"If you need any evidence where the future of capital markets" lies, "it is the Agricultural Bank of China set to announce a record amount raised in an IPO," Royal Bank of Scotland said in a research note.

"European banks could only dream of raising this much capital at the moment."

AgBank has set a price in Hong Kong of 3.20 Hong Kong dollars (41 US cents) a share, just above the middle of the expected range, Dow Jones reported.

"It is on track to be the largest IPO in the world this year due to the weak market sentiment domestically and internationally," Shanghai Securities analyst Cai Junyi said.

"But whether it can overtake ICBC, we need to see how many shares will be issued in the end."

The bank in recent weeks scaled back its original 30-billion-dollar target due to market volatility tied to concerns about the global economy and questions about a balance sheet dented by bad loans.

But Shanghai-based Orient Securities analyst Jin Lin said the bank's exposure to inland China, which has economically lagged behind coastal regions, could also be seen as providing huge growth potential.

"AgBank has its advantage in rural China, which is different from the other major banks, making its shares attractive to some investors," Jin said.

AgBank had said the stock would be priced between 2.88 and 3.48 Hong Kong dollars a share.

The bank said it would publicly announce the price on Friday.

Agbank aims to float 15 percent of its enlarged share capital. But if it fully exercises its over-allotment options, it could float 16.87 percent, according to its prospectus.

AgBank will also offer Japanese investors a portion of its shares ahead of its listings in Shanghai and Hong Kong, Nomura Securities, one of the two lead underwriters in Japan, said Wednesday.

"The offering will start on Monday, targeting Japanese investors," said Nomura spokesman Kenji Yamashita.

The size of the Japan sale has yet to be decided, he said, adding that   Daiwa Securities Capital Markets would be the other lead underwriter.

Citing an unnamed source, the Nikkei business daily reported that AgBank hoped to raise up to 50 billion yen (570 million dollars) in Japan, where many wealthy investors are also following the growth outlook of the Chinese market.

Francis Lun, general manager of Hong Kong's Fulbright Securities, said Beijing was determined to make a success of the state-owned bank's IPO.

"The central government is going all out to make sure (AgBank's) IPO is a success," he told AFP. "They're determined to make a good show. Otherwise they would lose face."

AgBank may ditch its long-held mandate to focus on lending to poor farmers after it becomes a public company, Lun predicted.

"I think they will junk that policy and become more like a commercial bank," he said.
The lender's stock is set to begin trading in Shanghai on July 15, and in Hong Kong a day later.

Southern Chinese oppose ban on Cantonese TV

HONG KONG, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - A call by officials in southern China to ditch Cantonese in favour of Mandarin for prime-time TV shows Wednesday sparked fears about the future of the dialect.

Nanfang Daily, a mainland newspaper, reported that the People's Poliitical Consultative Conference in Guangzhou had written to the local government calling for the change on local TV ahead of the Asian Games in November.

Adopting China's official language, also known as Putonghua, would promote unity, "forge a good language environment" and cater to non-Cantonese-speaking Chinese visitors at the huge sporting event, authorities were quoted as saying.

But the move has lead to fears among some Cantonese-speakers, who fear the decline of a language which serves as the mother tongue in Hong Kong, Macau, China's southern Guangdong province, and which is widely spoken throughout overseas Chinese communities.

Mainland China made Putonghua the country's official language in 1982, leading to bans on the use of the country's myriad dialects at many radio and television stations.

"Is the change really necessary? If television stations cannot broadcast in Cantonese, the new generations of Guangdong people would not know how to speak their own language in the long run," a Guangzhou resident wrote online.

"All young people in Guangzhou can speak Putonghua. But the dialect presents the Canton culture. We have to support and use it in daily life," Luo Bihua, a clerk in Guangzhou, told the Post.

TV stations in Guangdong, which has about 110 million people, are allowed to broadcast in Cantonese only because of its proximity to Hong Kong, according to the South China Morning Post.

Guangzhou once spearheaded China's economic reform, but was soon overtaken by cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. The city is now filled with migrant workers from other parts of China who do not speak Cantonese.

Local authorities see the Asian Games an opportunity to remake Guangzhou's image and reaffirm its status as one of the mainland's key cities.

Peugeot and China's Changan to sign joint venture: PSA - Lead

PARIS, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - France's PSA Peugeot Citroen and China's Changan Automotive Group will on Friday sign a joint venture deal to produce vehicles in the world's top auto market, a PSA director said.

Peugeot, Europe's number two carmaker in terms of sales behind Germany's Volkswagen, and Changan signed a letter of intent to form the 50-50 venture in May that laid the groundwork for the deal.

A final accord will be signed on Friday, Jean-Marc Gales, director for Peugeot brands said on Wednesday on the sidelines of a meeting to present the latest sales figures.

The partnership is to build light utility vehicles and passenger cars in the booming Chinese market.

Car sales in China hit 13.64 million units in 2009, overtaking the United States as the world's number one auto market.

 "Asia is a priority," said Gales. "Two-thirds of world growth in the next ten years will be in Asia... These are priority markets for us."

Beijing has offered incentives such as lower purchase taxes and subsidies for fuel-efficient vehicles in rural areas to boost the sector.

Peugeot has a separate joint venture with Dongfeng Motor Corporation and their two factories in Wuhan, the capital of central China's Hubei province, have a production capacity of 450,000 vehicles.

PSA's objective is to double its market share over the next six years, from 4 percent to 8 percent, said Gales.

Taiwan flat-panel maker sues Sony for patent infringement

TAIPEI, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan's leading supplier of flat-panel TV screens, Chimei Innolux Corp, Wednesday filed a lawsuit in the US against Sony, accusing the Japanese company of patent infringement, Chimei Innolux said.

The lawsuit filed at an Arkansas district court of the United States seeks to "halt the sale and demand compensatory damages over a wide range of Sony products that infringe CMI's patented inventions," the company said.

Among the products are Sony's Bravia LCD televisions, Cybershot digital cameras and digital photo frames, Chimei Innolux said.

The company has also filed a similar lawsuit against Sony in China, with the Beijing Intermediate People's Court.

"We are committed to protecting our valuable intellectual property, our industry partners, and most importantly our customers," said Peterson Tien, company general counsel and vice-president.

The company became operational in March after Innolux Display Corp., an affiliate of Hon Hai Prescision Industry Co, acquired Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp. and TPO Displays Corp.


Vietnam arrests 99 from Taiwan, China for fraud: report

HANOI, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - Vietnamese police have arrested 99 people from China and Taiwan for international phone and Internet fraud that allegedly led to millions of dollars in losses, state radio reported Wednesday.

The arrests took place between late June and last week in southern Ho Chi Minh City, Voice of Vietnam said, citing the Ministry of Public Security.

It said the suspects included 76 Taiwanese and 23 Chinese.

Police seized telecommunications equipment, computers and telephones, the report added.

Major General To Lam told the radio network that the criminals often took over entire hotels of 30 to 40 rooms for their operations.

The suspects allegedly made random phone calls posing as telecom officials, police officers and prosecutors, urging people to wire money to specified accounts.

"They asked the hotel owners to sign contracts for the use of international phones and Internet, with Vietnamese operators. They used the name of Vietnamese to operate but the Vietnamese had no direct involvement in their operations," the general said.

Some of the foreign victims reported they had lost millions of dollars, Voice of Vietnam said.

Police in Taiwan on July 1 announced the arrest in Vietnam of 32 people from the island and 14 mainland Chinese for suspected involvement in telephone scams.

Taiwanese fraud rings have recently relocated to Vietnam after the island's police joined forces with Chinese and Thai authorities to bust their operations, Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau said.

The scams mostly targeted Taiwanese and Chinese nationals.

China says gold not key to its foreign currency investments

BEIJING, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - Gold will not be a key investment for China's massive foreign exchange reserves, its foreign exchange regulator said Wednesday, noting poor returns from the precious metal in the past 30 years.

China currently has 1,054 tonnes of gold and will alter its holdings according to "market conditions", the State Administration of Foreign Exchange said on its website.

China has the world's largest stockpile of foreign exchange reserves, with 2.447 trillion dollars at the end of March.

While gold bars provided a buffer against inflation, there were other assets that offered similar protection, the regulator said.

Other reasons for limiting investment in gold were the high cost of storing it and volatility in international prices, the regulator said.

It also said limited supplies of gold -- annual global production stands at 2,400 tonnes -- meant large purchases by China could drive up prices of gold jewellery and other products, hurting domestic consumers.

The statement was released a day after SAFE said the country's huge foreign exchange reserves would continue to bring reasonable returns and pledged to widen investments to include more emerging nations' currencies.

Japan's foreign population down for first time in 48 years

TOKYO, July 7, 2010 (AFP) - The number of foreign residents in Japan fell for the first time in nearly half a century last year as a severe recession hit jobs in the auto and other industrial sectors, according to government data.

A total of 2.186 million people were listed as foreign residents at the end of 2009, down 1.4 percent from a year earlier, ending a rising streak for the 47 consecutive years since 1962, the justice ministry said.

"We assume one of the reasons was that the global financial crisis triggered a recession," prompting companies to shed jobs, an official at the ministry's immigration bureau said.

Japan has one of the world's lowest birth rates, but it has rejected large-scale immigration of unskilled workers.

The ratio of foreign residents to Japan's total population of 127 million was only 1.71 percent in 2009.

The global slowdown since 2008 badly shook Japan's automakers, which hire South American descendants of Japanese immigrants on assembly lines.

The government grants a special visa to these Japanese descendants, but the number of Brazilians in Japan decreased by 14.4 percent in 2009 and the number of Peruvians was down 3.8 percent.

Apple bars developer from App Store

NEW YORK, July 6, 2010 (AFP) - Apple said Tuesday it has barred a Vietnamese program developer from its application store on iTunes for fraudulent activity.

"Developer Thuat Nguyen and his apps were removed from the App Store for violating the developer Program License Agreement, including fraudulent purchase patterns," Apple said in a statement.

Apple did not provide any further details about the incident involving the App Store, which offers free and paid applications for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

But the California company's statement followed reports on various technology blogs that iTunes was hit by a scam over the weekend.

According to Engadget.com, programs developed by the unknown Nguyen grabbed 42 of the top 50 sales positions in the App Store's book category at one point.

Engadget said it had received reports from a number of people that hundreds of dollars had been spent from their iTunes accounts to buy books from Nguyen's company.

In its brief statement, Apple sought to calm potential fears among iTunes customers, stressing that "developers do not receive any iTunes confidential customer data when an app is downloaded."

Apple did not confirm iTunes accounts had been compromised but advised users whose "credit card or iTunes password is stolen and used on iTunes" to contact their financial institution and change their iTunes password.

Sony to introduce new PlayStation3 with bigger memory

TOKYO, July 6, 2010 (AFP) - Electronics giant Sony said Tuesday it will introduce an upgraded PlayStation 3 videogame console in Japan at the end of July, with a bigger memory and a new white version on offer.

The company will sell a 160-gigabyte model for 29,980 yen (341 dollars), the same price at which the Tokyo-based company had previously offered its 120-gigabyte console, it said in a statement.

It will also introduce a 320-gigabyte model for 34,980 yen. Both models will be available from July 29 in Japan. Sony did not indicate worldwide release plans in the statement.

The move comes amid heightened competition between Sony and gaming rival Microsoft, with both giants looking to release motion-sensing controllers later this year in response to the runaway success of Nintendo's Wii.

PlayStation Move wands will hit the market in time for the year-end holiday shopping season in the United States.

The devices let PS3 play be controlled with swings, jabs and other natural movements instead of toggle-and-button commands that have been trademarks of play on PS3 and rival Xbox 360 consoles by Microsoft.

Microsoft's Kinet technology will use a 3-D camera and gesture recognition software to let people play videogames using natural body movements instead of hand-held controllers.

Sony shares closed 1.33 percent higher at 2,361 yen in Tokyo Tuesday.

Solar plane sets out on historic flight

PAYERNE, July 7, 2010 (AFP) - An experimental solar-powered aircraft took off from a Swiss airbase here in the early hours of Wednesday in a bid to make history by flying round the clock and through the night.

Solar Impulse whirred along the runway at Payerne in western Switzerland, reaching 35 kilometres per hour (22 mph) as lone pilot Andre Borschberg gently lifted into clear skies at 6.51 am (0451 GMT) on a scheduled 25 hour flight,

"This should be a great day of all goes well," said team chief Bertrand Piccard, who made the first non-stop round-the-world flight in a balloon more than a decade ago.

"It's clear that this is something that is completely different at least for aviation, but it's also something completely different to what has existed in our society," he added moments before take-off.

"The goal is to take to the air with no fuel. The goal is to show that we can be much more independent from fossil energy than people usually think."

The ground control crew were due to decide about 13 hours later, shortly before dusk, whether Borschberg should press on through darkness.

The go-ahead will depend on the sun's ability to charge up Solar Impulse's batteries in the daytime and the threat of strong high altitude winds, joint flight control chief and former astronaut Claude Nicollier said.
"We're confident the plane can do it," he added.

The round-the-clock flight by the prototype built last year is the first major hurdle for the project since it started seven years ago, with the aim of flying around the world by 2013 or 2014.

A first attempt was called off an hour before scheduled take off last Thursday after an electronic component failed, but it was replaced within days.

The single seater shaped like a giant dragonfly is clad with solar panels across a wingspan the size of an Airbus A340 airliner

But the high tech craft is powered by just four small electric motors -- as the crew put it, the "power of a scooter" -- and weighs little more than a saloon car, saving even on an automatic pilot.

Borschberg, a former fighter jet pilot, has to stay alert for the whole flight with the help of space mission-like ground control team.

Solar Impulse has completed at least 10 test flights since it first hopped along a runway seven months ago, staying aloft for up to 14 hours in the long summer daylight hours.

But the ultimate test will be to fly on through darkness and land back at Payerne shortly after dawn on Thursday having been fuelled by nothing but the sun's rays.

The pioneering bid is being monitored by the international aeronautical federation (FIA), which oversees aviation records.

China on heatwave alert as temperatures soar

BEIJING, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - China issued a fresh heatwave alert Wednesday as soaring temperatures -- some of them record highs -- were again forecast for large swathes of the nation, sparking concerns about power shortages.

The National Meteorological Centre warned that large parts of northern and central China would again be hit by "sweltering heat and very little rain", with temperatures set to hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

It set the heat alert at "orange" -- the second-highest rating on a four-colour scale.
The extreme heat, which began at the weekend in most areas, has led to hospital wards packed with people suffering from heat-related illnesses, a surge in air conditioner sales and even a plague of locusts in Inner Mongolia.

Zookeepers used giant ice blocks to keep animals cool, the Xinhua news agency reported.

In several cities including Beijing, where the temperature hit 40.6 degrees Celsius on Monday, authorities reported that overheated vehicles had caught fire, state media said.

The heatwave comes after torrential rains in June, mainly in southern parts of the nation, caused massive floods and landslides that killed at least 266 people.

The soaring temperatures have led to fears of power shortages in several provinces due to high demand for air conditioning, the state-run Global Times reported.

In the southern city of Guangzhou, authorities had opened nearly 500 shelters equipped with air conditioning units and water for people to escape the heat, the report said.

Water demand has also soared along with the high temperatures.

In Beijing on Monday, nearly three million cubic metres of water was pumped into the capital, the largest single-day usage since tap water was brought into operation in 1910, the China Daily reported.

Authorities in the capital said they would double a "high temperature" subsidy for people working outside in the heat, or whose workplaces were hotter than 33 degrees Celsius.

Those who work outside will now get an extra 120 yuan (18 dollars) a month, while people in hot indoor places will be paid 90 yuan, the report said.

Singapore says Malaysia yet to plead clemency for drug mule

SINGAPORE, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - Singapore has yet to receive a request for clemency from the Malaysian government for a drug trafficker facing the death penalty in the city-state, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman was quoted in a newspaper report Tuesday as saying Malaysia will plead with its neighbour to spare the life of convicted drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong.

Singapore's foreign ministry said in a statement it "is aware of the media reports on the issue" but that it "has yet to receive any request for clemency from the Malaysian government".

Yong faces the death penalty, which is carried out by hanging, after he was convicted in 2008 of trafficking 47 grams (1.65 ounces) of heroin into Singapore.

Both Malaysia and Singapore have tough anti-drug laws and rarely seek clemency for nationals facing drug charges in the other country.

But Anifah spoke out after Singapore's highest court in May rejected a death sentence appeal by Yong, who was 19 when he was caught.

"We sympathise with what has transpired and will do everything possible within our power or within diplomatic channels to resolve this," Anifah was quoted as saying by Malaysia's New Straits Times newspaper.

"He has one more avenue (of appeal) and I will be writing to the government of Singapore to plead for his clemency," Anifah said.

In Singapore, the death penalty is mandatory for anyone caught trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of cocaine or 500 grams of cannabis.

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has said Singapore, with a population of nearly five million, has one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world. It put 420 people to death between 1991 and 2004.

Singapore officials have defended its use of the death penalty, saying capital punishment had deterred drug dealers from operating in the country and spared the lives of thousands of young people from drugs.

China's mega AgBank IPO seen as vote of confidence - Lead

SHANGHAI, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - China's massive initial public offering of Agricultural Bank is on track to set a world record and reflects continued confidence in the country's economy, analysts said Wednesday.

AgBank -- the last of China's big four lenders to float shares -- is set to raise 22.1 billion dollars later this month if over-allotment options are exercised in both Hong Kong and Shanghai.

"If you need any evidence where the future of capital markets" lies, "it is the Agricultural Bank of China set to announce a record amount raised in an IPO," RBS said in a research note. "European banks could only dream of raising this much capital at the moment."

AgBank has set a price in Hong Kong of 3.20 Hong Kong dollars (41 US cents) per share, a little off the top of the expected range, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

In Shanghai, the price has been set at 2.68 yuan (39 US cents) -- the top of the expected range, the report said.

AgBank looked set to surpass previous IPO record holder Industrial and Commercial Bank of China's 21.9 billion-dollar offering in 2006, but may fall short of the target it had hoped to raise, of 23.2 billion dollars.

"It is on track to be the largest IPO in the world this year due to the weak market sentiment domestically and internationally," Shanghai Securities analyst Cai Junyi said. "But whether it can overtake ICBC, we need to see how many shares will be issued in the end."

The bank in recent weeks scaled back its original 30 billion-dollar target due to market volatility tied to concerns about the global economy and questions about a balance sheet dented by bad loans.

But Shanghai-based Orient Securities analyst Jin Lin said the bank's exposure to inland China, which has economically lagged behind coastal cities, could also be seen as providing huge growth potential.

"AgBank has its advantage in rural China, which is different from the other major banks, making its shares attractive to some investors," Jin said.

AgBank had said the stock would be priced between 2.88 and 3.48 Hong Kong dollars a share. In Shanghai, the rural lender's share sale had a price range of 2.52-2.68 yuan.

The bank said it would publicly announce the price on Friday.

Francis Lun, general manager of Hong Kong's Fulbright Securities, said Beijing was determined to make a success of the state-owned bank's IPO.

"The central government is going all out to make sure (AgBank's) IPO is a success," he told AFP. "They're determined to make a good show. Otherwise they would lose face."

AgBank may ditch its long-held mandate to focus on lending to poor farmers after it becomes a public company, Lun predicted.

"I think they will junk that policy and become more like a commercial bank," he said.
The lender's stock is set to begin trading in Shanghai on July 15, and in Hong Kong a day later.

Google says still waiting for China licence decision

BEIJING, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - Google's application for renewal of its licence to operate in China, the world's largest Internet market, is still under review, a company spokeswoman and a government official said Wednesday.

The US web giant, embroiled in a row with Beijing over state censorship, is awaiting word that its Internet Content Provider licence -- vital to its operations in a country with more than 400 million web users -- is still valid.

Google China spokeswoman Marsha Wang, who said the company was still awaiting a final decision, explained that its ICP licence remains valid as long as the government has not expressly rejected it.

"The licence runs till 2012. The licence needs to be checked every year," Wang told AFP.

"Everything will be as usual if the company passes the check," she said, however adding that the government could opt to cancel the licence ahead of the 2012 deadline.

"We have not received any information that it is invalid now," Wang said.

An official with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the main regulator of China's Internet industry, told AFP that Google's application was still under consideration.

"We need time to review because they submitted the documents quite late," said the official, who asked not to be named. He added that he could not say when a reply could be expected.

Google said last week that it would stop automatically redirecting Chinese users to an unfiltered site in Hong Kong, a process it began in March in response to state censorship and cyberattacks it claims came from China.

All mainland users are now directed to a new landing page on google.cn, which links to the Hong Kong site.

"It's clear from conversations we have had with Chinese government officials that they find the redirect unacceptable -- and that if we continue redirecting users, our Internet Content Provider licence will not be renewed," Google's chief legal officer David Drummond said on the company's official blog.

"Without an ICP licence, we can't operate a commercial website like google.cn -- so Google would effectively go dark in China," he said.

"This new approach is consistent with our commitment not to self-censor and, we believe, with local law."

A web page maintained by Google on the accessibility to its services in mainland China, google.com/prc/report.html, on Wednesday listed its web search service as "partially blocked" for the past week.

AFP attempts on Wednesday to use the Google Suggest function, which provides users with suggested words as a they type a query into the Google search box, in mainland China were unsuccessful.

China executes official at heart of graft trials: Xinhua

BEIJING, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - China on Wednesday executed a former top police and justice official at the centre of a huge graft and organised crime scandal that riveted the nation, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Wen Qiang, 54, the former head of the judiciary in the southwestern Chongqing region and also an ex-deputy police chief, was sentenced to death in April for charges including rape and taking bribes to protect criminal gangs.

His conviction brought to a climax a crime crackdown that lifted the lid on the seamy underworld in the mega-city of more than 30 million people and has resulted in more than 3,300 detentions and hundreds of prosecutions.

China pumps billions of dollars into Canada's oil sands - Focus

BEIJING, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - Energy-hungry China, once stung in its efforts to secure access to resources in North America, is making a more subtle push into Canada's oil sands, and the new approach is paying off, experts say.

Chinese firms seeking a toehold in the largest known crude deposit outside the Middle East have opted for joint ventures and partial stakes to avoid the kind of political uproar sparked when CNOOC tried to take over US oil group Unocal in 2005.

"They are tiptoeing around the edge, not challenging anybody, not getting in any American Senators' faces -- just very quietly taking a position," said David Hewitt, regional head of oil and gas research at CLSA in Hong Kong.

"You haven't seen an aggressive attempt to buy whole companies, to own management or have dominant control."

Since the failed bid for Unocal, Chinese firms have pumped billions of dollars into the Alberta oil sands region in western Canada, which has estimated reserves of 175 billion barrels.

That compares with the more than 260 billion barrels in Saudi Arabia.

"Taking a partial stake is a lot more palatable," said Victor Shum, a Singapore-based analyst at energy consultancy Purvin and Gertz.

In the latest deal, China's 300-billion-dollar sovereign wealth fund agreed in May to invest 1.25 billion Canadian dollars (1.17 billion US) in Canadian oil sands giant Penn West to help develop its "vast oil sands resources".

Sinopec Corp, China's second-largest oil producer and top refiner, sealed a deal in April to buy US oil firm ConocoPhillips' nine percent stake in Syncrude Canada Ltd, the biggest oil sands producer, for 4.65 billion US dollars.

In August last year, PetroChina -- the country's top oil producer -- agreed to invest 1.9 billion Canadian dollars for a 60 percent stake in two projects held by Athabasca Oil Sands Corp.

The cost of extracting the heavy oil, or bitumen, from sand and clay has not deterred Chinese companies which are also scouring Africa, South America and Central Asia for energy resources needed to power the fast-growing economy.

China, the world's second largest consumer of oil after the United States, uses about eight million barrels of crude a day and imports about four million barrels, according to the US Department of Energy's statistics agency.

"Canada has some of the largest crude oil reserves in the world," said Tom Grieder, Asia Pacific energy analyst at IHS Global Insight.

Chinese state-run firms "are keen to use their financial clout to take positions in these areas to boost their reserve replacement ratios and future production streams," he said.

Concerns over state-owned companies buying key resources -- the main reason for the failure of the Unocal bid -- have been set aside by Canadian lawmakers eager to attract investment in the wake of the global financial crisis.

After the PetroChina deal was approved, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was quoted as saying: "Expect more Chinese investment in the resource and energy sectors... there will definitely be more."

Purvin and Gertz's Shum said the market environment was "completely different from 2005", with some oil majors halting projects due to the economic downturn.

"Following the financial crisis, Chinese companies are the ones with a lot of financial resources backed by the Chinese government," he said.

The massive Chinese investment also comes as US firms Conoco, Chevron and Shell face growing pressure from shareholders and green groups concerned about the impact of oil sands mining on the environment.

Environmentalists say oil sands extraction produces three to five times more carbon emissions than conventional oil production and requires tailing ponds that leak cyanide, oil, arsenic, copper and iron into local waterways.

While conventional crude oil is pumped from the ground, the sticky oil must be extracted from underneath the region's coniferous forest, separated from the sand and water, then upgraded and refined.

Despite the growing unpopularity of oil sands, further Chinese investment in the controversial fuel is in the pipeline, analysts say.

"At the moment national oil companies are targeting minority stakes to downplay political opposition and to acquire technical experience in oil sands," said Grieder.

"I think they will start to build on these deals and secure new ones in future years as opportunities arise."

With China's oil imports expected to more than double to nine million barrels per day by 2020, energy security will remain the key concern for top leaders in Beijing, said CLSA's Hewitt.

"Security of supply is absolutely essential to the Chinese," he said.

A passion for compassion: New wave of charity in Taiwan - Feature

HSINPU, July  7, 2010 (AFP) - After a life lived in frugality, former Taiwanese soldier Hu Shou-hung donated everything he had, the equivalent of 30,000 US dollars, to charity.

The 88-year-old, who rents a shabby house in the small town of Hsinpu in the island's north, hit the headlines when he gave his life's savings to a veteran group to help orphans of deceased members, but he did not do it for fame.

"Money should be given to those who badly need it. I'm old, and besides, the monthly subsidies provided by the government are enough to support my living," said Hu. He receives a military pension equal to about 420 US dollars a month.

Hu is a representative of a new wave of charity in Taiwan where people who are not extraordinarily rich give away their money for those less fortunate.

What is remarkable is they do it without expecting anything in return -- either celebrity status in this life or salvation in the next -- but simply to help others.

Observers of this trend say it was set off by Chen Shu-chu, a vegetable vendor in her late 50s who donated 10 million Taiwan dollars (310,000 US dollars) to charity, much of it to orphaned children.

She had been giving away money for years, but she only attracted attention -- in Taiwan and globally -- after Time magazine named her one of the world's 100 most influential people this year.

"My decision was influenced by her," Hu said slowly as he turned off the radio, the only entertainment in his narrow living room, and stared pensively at the wall, where the paint was peeling off.

"I've been thinking that since a woman like Chen Shu-chu is able to do a lot of good things, why can't I," he said, after a long pause.

Chen, who was reluctantly turned into an overnight sensation by the island's media, has rekindled the interest in giving, charity groups said.

Taipei-based United Way of Taiwan, which helps handicapped people among others, said that in some recent weeks it had seen the value of its irregular donations surge by more than one third to over 100,000 Taiwan dollars.

"The point of Chen's story is that all of sudden many people found that even though they may not be rich, their tiny but persistent small donations may come as a great help to some people," said Hu Yu-fang of United Way.

The fervour may cool down somewhat after Chen slides back into anonymity, but her impact will remain, charity groups said.

"Chen is like a seed," said Phyllis Weng, a senior social worker of the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families in the central Taiwan city of Taichung.

"It has taken deep root in the hearts of many people. Her influence will be far-reaching."

Chen, who was born to a poor family of eight people, has spent her entire life working 18-hour days while surviving on simple meals to amass the fortune that bit by bit has gone to charity.

While experts have been exploring the motivation behind her lifelong commitment to doing good, the media-shy philanthropist simply said: "I felt happy whenever I could help other people."

"This is amazing and makes her deeds unique," said Chang Wei-an, a social scientist at the National Tsing Hua University.

"Unlike a number of domestic groups who have reached out to the needy for salvation and other religious reasons, Chen has been doing this for nothing, and for 47 years."

Traditionally, people in Chinese communities have donated money in the belief they could redeem sins committed by themselves or their relatives.

Others have done so for more mundane reasons, such as a chance to receive tax rebates from the government.

Chen's motives are both simpler and deeper -- a wish to give back to the community -- and this has in fact acted as a guideline for Chinese people's behaviour for centuries, Chang said.

"This way of thinking has prevailed at various social levels. It has been passed down from generation to generation through folklore and dramas, rather than from books," he said.

China signs major deal to build refinery in Nigeria

LAGOS, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - China has signed a deal to build an eight-billion-dollar refinery in Nigeria, a government official said on Tuesday, in a fresh example of Beijing's aggressive investment in Africa.

The agreement also highlights Nigeria's lack of fuel and electricity despite being one of the world's largest oil producers, with the country's refineries malfunctioning and having been hampered by corruption.

China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) signed the deal with Nigeria to build the refinery in the commercial hub of Lagos, a sprawling city of some 15 million people that experiences regular power outages.

"The deal is a three-way thing between Lagos State, NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) and a consortium of Chinese investors under the aegis of China State Construction Engineering Corporation Limited," Lagos state government spokesman Hakeem Bello told AFP.

Bello said the refinery, to be located in Lagos' Lekki free trade zone, will have the capacity to refine 300,000 barrels of oil per day and 500,000 metric tonnes of liquefied petroleum gas per year.

The Chinese state firm will contribute 80 percent of the capital while the NNPC will take care of the remaining 20 percent, he said.

Lagos state government will provide the land and infrastructure.

The Lagos refinery is part of a huge 23-billion-dollar deal to build three refineries and a petrochemical complex in one of Africa's biggest tie-ups with China.

The new refineries are expected to add some 750,000 barrels per day capacity in Nigeria, according to NNPC.

The west African country, a member of OPEC, relies on crude exports for more than 95 percent of its foreign exchange earnings but imports about 60 percent of its local fuel needs because state refineries are barely functional.

Nigeria's four refineries -- with total capacity of 445,000 barrels per day -- are using less than 30 percent of their installed capacity, according to official figures.

Corruption and poor maintenance have undermined their performance.

Five murdered in revenge attack in China

BEIJING, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - A disgruntled man in central China has confessed to stabbing to death five people, including a baby, in the latest grisly knife attack to strike the nation, state media said Tuesday.

Wang Haiyin said the killings in the village of Shangboshu village in Henan province on Sunday were motivated out of revenge over the refusal of the village chief to dole out a pension and allocate land, Xinhua news agency said.

Besides killing village head Wang Chengguo, Wang also stabbed to death four of his family members, including a five-month-old infant, the report said. A six-year-old was also critically injured.

It was not immediately clear if the two Wangs were related, but in rural Chinese villages people sharing the same surname are often relatives.

The late village head was in charge of public security and presided over petty village disputes, the report said, adding that police were further investigating the circumstances of the attack.

China has witnessed a spate of violent killings in recent years, many linked to disgruntled and often impoverished farmers seeking revenge for alleged social injustices.

Last month, a woman armed with a knife went on the rampage on an overnight passenger train in northeastern China, stabbing and wounding nine people as they slept.

The same day, a bank guard opened fire in a court building in the central province of Hunan, shooting dead three judges and wounding three other people before killing himself.

China has also witnessed a number of attacks on young schoolchildren around the country since March that have left 17 people dead, including 15 pupils, and scores injured.

The attacks have triggered an intense debate, with some experts saying the assaults show China is paying the price for focusing on economic growth while ignoring problems linked to rapid social change.

China objects to US unilateral sanctions on Iran

BEIJING, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - China warned other nations Tuesday against taking unilateral actions against Iran's nuclear programme outside newly passed UN sanctions and denounced the United States for making such moves.

China, under pressure from the United States and Europe, last month voted with 11 other UN Security Council nations for a fourth set of sanctions on Iran over its uranium enrichment.

The sanctions target Iran's Revolutionary Guard, ballistic missiles and nuclear-related investments.

Last week, US President Barack Obama signed into law far-reaching new sanctions on Iran that aim to curb Tehran's fuel imports and deepen its international isolation.

"We have noted the US announcements on unilateral sanctions on Iran," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told journalists.

"China believes that countries should earnestly, correctly and comprehensively implement the sanctions and avoid making arbitrary interpretations that expand the Security Council sanctions."

Qin reiterated China's long-standing position that diplomacy and dialogue were the best way to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.

Western governments suspect Iran of seeking to develop a weapons capability under cover of its civilian nuclear programme, an allegation Tehran strongly denies.

Chinese-built hospital risks collapse in Angola: state radio

LUANDA, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - Luanda's general hospital has evacuated 150 patients over worries that the four-year-old, Chinese-built structure could collapse, state radio reported Tuesday.

The patients were evacuated after the discovery of "deep cracks in the walls of the paediatrics and gynaecology wards", the report said.

The eight-million-dollar hospital was built by the China Overseas Engineering Group Company (COVEC), through credit lines provided by Beijing, according to the private weekly O Pais.

The ruling MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) has dispatched one of its parliamentarians, Ariana Afonso, to inspect the damage.

"A structure built so recently should not present this type of problem, which puts patients' lives in danger," she said on state radio.

"Luanda's provincial government should find those responsible. Because eight million dollars is a lot, for a building that took so little time to build," she added.

Since the 27-year civil war ended in 2002, Angola has embarked on a major reconstruction drive with hefty aid from China, which has provided credit lines in exchange for Angolan oil.

China has granted nine billion dollars in loans since the end of the war. Another six billion dollars in credit is under negotiation.

China defends jailing of US geologist

BEIJING, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - China on Tuesday defended the jailing of an American geologist on state secrets charges, rejecting US protests over the sentence and telling Washington not to interfere on the issue.

US geologist Xue Feng was sentenced to eight years in jail on Monday on charges related to the sale of a database relating to China's oil industry.

US Ambassador Jon Huntsman, who attended the sentencing, had expressed dismay over the court's decision and vowed to continue to follow up the case with Chinese authorities, US diplomats said.

"This case was handled by China's judiciary, which judged it strictly in accordance with the law," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told journalists.

"This is an internal affair of China, China's judicial sovereignty brooks no foreign interference."

Xue, a naturalised US citizen, was detained in November 2007 on charges of attempting to acquire and sell the oil industry database, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, a rights group.

At the time of his arrest, the 44-year-old Xue was working for the US energy and engineering consulting firm IHS, the group said in a statement.

Both Xue and IHS have stated that they believed that the database was a commercially available product. After Xue purchased the database, it was subsequently classified as a state secret, the statement said.

Dui Hua's Joshua Rosenzweig told AFP that one of the group's many concerns was its suspicion that "some of Xue Feng's statements to the police might have been obtained under coercion including torture".

Xue's arrest and drawn-out trial has cast a spotlight on the pitfalls of doing business in China, especially for those born in China who have been educated abroad and taken on a foreign nationality.

"Do you think we should release him without any charges and then people will say the judicial system is fair and transparent?" spokesman Qin asked journalists.

"The rights of the defendant were fully guaranteed."

Most Taiwanese positive about China trade pact: government

TAIPEI, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - A majority of Taiwanese people think a recently signed trade pact with China will help bolster the island's economy without hurting its political status, the government said Tuesday, citing a survey.

A total of 59.2 percent of 1,114 people surveyed from Friday to Sunday said they believed the trade pact inked last week will benefit Taiwan's economy, said the Mainland Affairs Council, the top China policy making body.

At the same time, 58.9 percent said they did not feel Taiwan's sovereignty was negatively impacted by the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA).

Taiwan's Beijing-friendly administration has hailed the ECFA, saying it will bolster the island's economy, but the opposition claims it will undermine Taiwan's de facto independence.

Fwd: Malaysia activists slam failure to curb Penan rape cases

KUALA LUMPUR, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysian activists on Tuesday slammed the government for failing to curb an epidemic of rape and harassment against women and girls from the Penan tribe in Borneo.

A landmark official investigation released last September confirmed that indigenous people living in remote areas of Malaysian Borneo were being targeted by timber firm workers including some who preyed on schoolgirls.

But the Penan Support Group, a team representing 36 rights groups, said new cases continue to take place and released accounts of victims who described violent sexual exploitation in their isolated communities.

"Even though the report has confirmed sexual assaults indeed take place, the government remains in denial and no headway has been made since then," spokesman John Liu told a news conference.

It said that among the new cases was a 14-year-old girl who was raped and then forced to marry her attacker, who then abandoned her when she was heavily pregnant.

Another victim said she and her sister were abducted by two loggers and kept in a logging camp for a week, where she was beaten and raped repeatedly and left pregnant.

The government probe said much of the sexual abuse took place when Penan youngsters were forced to hitch rides with loggers to travel between the dense rainforest and boarding schools in larger towns.

"The abuse is systematic and structural," said Penan Support Group member Wong Su Zane, from the Women's Aid Organisation.

"The perpetrators are from the logging company and they have a lot of power over the Penans who depend on them, while the Penan women have no access to justice and redress," Wong said.

The rape allegations are just one of the grievances that the Penan are fighting to highlight.

There are at least 10,000 Penan in Sarawak, but their way of life is under threat from extensive logging of their traditional hunting grounds, as well as the spread of palm oil and timber plantations.

Penan chiefs say that after enduring decades of logging which has decimated the jungles they rely on for food and shelter, they now face the new threat of plantations which will destroy forest resources and pollute the rivers.

The tribespeople armed with spears and blowpipes have previously set up blockades against logging and plantations on their ancestral land.

The plight of the Penan people was made famous in the 1990s by environmental activist Bruno Manser, who campaigned to protect their way of life and fend off the loggers, before he vanished in 2000 amid suspicion of foul play.

Singapore detains 'radicalised' army trainee

SINGAPORE, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - Singapore has detained a 20-year-old army trainee who wanted to fight with Islamic militants in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq, the government said Tuesday.

Muhammad Fadil bin Abdul Hamid, a Singaporean, was detained in April under the country's tough Internal Security Act, which allows for detention without trial, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said.

The suspect, who was serving his mandatory two-year military service, had been "deeply radicalised by the lectures of radical ideologues such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Sheikh Feiz Muhammad," the MHA said in a press statement.

He "became convinced that it was his religious duty to undertake armed jihad alongside fellow militants and strive for martyrdom," the statement added.

Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim who holds dual US-Yemen citizenship, is known as the "Bin Laden of the Internet," as he has a blog and Facebook page and posts his lectures on popular video-sharing website YouTube.

The MHA said Muhammad Fadil had "initiated online communication" with the radical cleric and "expressed his desire to fight alongside Anwar" in places like the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Afghanistan.

He then "made online contact with a suspected Al-Qaeda recruiter who encouraged him to fight in Afghanistan," researched information on bomb-making and posted a video justifying suicide bombing, MHA said.

Singapore, one of Asia's most affluent cities and a regional base for thousands of multinational companies, is a prime target for attacks by militant groups chiefly because it is an ally of the United States and other Western countries, according to security analysts.

China confident of reasonable returns on forex reserves

BEIJING, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - China's huge foreign exchange reserves will continue to bring reasonable returns, the forex regulator said Tuesday as it pledged to widen investments to include more emerging nations' currencies.

"We are confident that we will achieve long-term, stable and relatively good returns on foreign exchange reserves," the State Administration of Foreign Exchange said on its website.

China's foreign exchange reserves, the world's largest stockpile which reached 2.447 trillion dollars at the end of March, withstood the impact of the global financial crisis and actually made money, it said.

The administration said it would "continue to diversify investment" and expand the currencies held in its portfolio beyond the dollar, yen and euro to include units of emerging economies.

It downplayed concerns that the nation's forex reserves may suffer hefty losses due to the weakening dollar, arguing that the overall impact would be limited as other currencies in its portfolio appreciate.

China's central bank last month pledged to let the yuan trade more freely against the dollar and has so far allowed the currency to strengthen around 0.7 percent against the greenback.

Three on trial over Malaysia church bombing

KUALA LUMPUR, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - Three dispatch riders went on trial in Malaysia on Tuesday accused of being behind one of a spate of attacks on places of worship that have raised ethnic tensions in the Muslim-majority nation.

The trio are the first to stand trial following the attacks, which were triggered by a court ruling that overturned a government ban on non-Muslims using the word "Allah" as a translation for "God".

Azuwan Shah Ahmad and brothers Raja Mohamad Faizal Raja Ibrahim and Raja Mohamad Idzham are charged with firebombing a church in a southern suburb of Kuala Lumpur on January 7 and face up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

Religion and language are sensitive issues in multi-racial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.

The three men, who have all pleaded not guilty, are among 19 people arrested over attacks on 11 churches, a mosque and two Muslim prayer halls with Molotov cocktails, stones and paint following the December 31 court ruling on "Allah".

The government argues that the use of the word by Christians, who make up nine percent of the population, could cause confusion and encourage religious conversion, which is illegal for Malaysian Muslims.

The row is one of a string of religious disputes that have erupted in recent years, straining relations between Malays and minorities who fear the country is being "Islamised".

Deputy public prosecutor Azlina Razdi said 25 witnesses would take the stand in the trial of the three men, which is expected to last two months.

"We are not interested in the motives of the accused but in whether they committed the offence of attacking the church," she told reporters.

Hanif Hashim, lawyer for the accused brothers, said his clients were not at the scene of the crime.

Malaysia urged to scrap coal plant in eco-sensitive Borneo

KUALA LUMPUR, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - Environmentalists on Tuesday condemned a plan to build a coal-fired power plant on Malaysian Borneo, saying it will harm the island's fragile coral reefs and rainforests.

The 300-megawatt plant in Lahad Datu, in the east of Sabah state, will face the Coral Triangle which is one of the world's most biodiverse marine environments.

The area, which spans the seas around East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands, is home to 75 percent of all known coral species.

The opposition is led by Green Surf, a coalition of groups including the Malaysian Nature Society, which says the proposal will displace villagers and threaten endangered species including orangutans and Bornean rhinos.

"There is deep concern globally about the proposal to build a 300-megawatt plant in Sabah which is known for its orangutan, rhinos and renowned marine sites like Sipadan," said Cynthia Ong from Green Surf.

"We are saying no to the coal plant. Borneo is a bio-diversified hotspot, and it will have an impact on the coral reefs," she told AFP.

News reports said construction of the 1.7 billion ringgit (532 million dollar) power plant could start in mid-2011 if government approval is granted. The station could begin operating in two years.

Masidi Manjun, minister for tourism, culture and environment in Sabah, said the coal plant would meet local electricity demands and help drive economic growth.

"One of the problems in Sabah is insufficient power to fuel growth. Sabah is facing a severe under-capacity of energy," he said.

The government will "make a decision soon" but will listen to suggestions from the public, he added.

The plant is the latest energy project to stir controversy in Borneo. The vast Bakun dam in neighbouring Sarawak which saw swathes of rainforest cleared and thousands of indigenous people displaced also drew intense criticism.

Sabah and Sarawak states make up Malaysia's half of Borneo island, which is shared with Indonesia.

Man freezes to death in Taiwan heatwave: police

TAIPEI, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - A 38-year-old Taiwanese man froze to death as a heatwave swept the island after he walked into a refrigeration room to cool off and apparently suffered hypothermia, police said Tuesday.

Chen Sung-mou, a worker at a sugar factory on the offshore island of Penghu, was found unconscious inside the room on Sunday and was pronounced dead in hospital, police told AFP.

He had apparently entered the room to seek refuge from the heat, police said.

But it appeared that hypothermia caused him to fall asleep, trapping him inside the room, even though the door was unlocked.

A heat wave has hit Taiwan in recent days, with temperatures reaching 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) in Taipei on Tuesday.

China on track to become number one IPO market: PwC

SHANGHAI, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - China is on track to become the world's biggest initial public offering market this year in terms of both the number of new listings and funds raised, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The total number of new listings on the country's two bourses in Shanghai and Shenzhen may reach 300 in 2010, compared to 99 last year, business advisers PwC said in a forecast published this week.

Chinese companies are expected to raise 500 billion yuan (73.6 billion dollars) in IPOs this year, it said.

The IPO market picked up significantly in the first half of 2010, even though uncertainties over the global recovery and the euro debt crisis heightened market volatility, Frank Lyn, China Markets Leader for PwC, said.

"This really demonstrates that Chinese companies are developing well, along with the continuing growth of the domestic economy and become more mature," Lyn said in a statement.

Domestic companies have raised 212.7 billion yuan from 176 IPOs in the first half of this year, more than the 187.9 billion yuan raised in the whole of 2009, according to PwC.

The Agricultural Bank of China, the last one of the "big four" state banks to float shares, is seeking to raise up to 23.2 billion dollars in a massive IPO in Shanghai and Hong Kong this month that could be the world's biggest.

In June 2009, China's securities regulator lifted a nine-month IPO moratorium imposed in September 2008, when global markets began to plummet due to the financial crisis.

However the Shanghai Stock Exchange now plans to set up an international board to allow foreign firms and overseas-registered Chinese firms to list shares, but no official timeline has been announced.

China to pump 100 billion dollars into western regions

BEIJING, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - China has said it will invest more than 100 billion dollars this year in 23 new infrastructure projects in impoverished western regions as part of efforts to boost domestic demand.

The plan was announced Monday after Premier Wen Jiabao said the Chinese economy was facing an "extremely complicated" situation and two purchasing manager surveys showed manufacturing activity had slowed in June.

The 682.2 billion yuan will be used to build railways, roads, airports, coal mines, nuclear power stations and power grids, the National Development and Reform Commission said on its website.

Construction will start this year to "actively expand domestic demand and promote the fast and healthy development of the western areas," the top economic planning agency said.

The areas include the northwestern region of Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan and Yunnan in the southwest.

It is unclear whether the spending is part of a 586-billion-dollar government stimulus package unveiled in late 2008 to cushion the impact of the global financial crisis.

China has long sought to boost development in the poorer western areas. It spent 2.2 trillion yuan on 120 major projects between 2000 and 2009, the statement said.

State media reported last month that Beijing would pour around 10 billion yuan in economic aid into Xinjiang from 2011 in a bid to raise the living standards of the Uighur minority.

China may strip sovereign wealth fund of bank stakes: report

BEIJING, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - China is considering stripping the country's 300-billion-dollar sovereign wealth fund of banking stakes to help it get around some US investment restrictions, a report said Tuesday.

The proposal would mean China Investment Corp would no longer be responsible for holding the state's majority stakes in China's largest banks, the Financial Times reported, citing unnamed sources.

It would end CIC's status as a bank holding company in the eyes of the US Federal Reserve and free the Chinese wealth fund of certain restrictions when making investments, the report said.

CIC is believed to be targeting equities, bonds and real estate deals in the US market, it said.

The wealth fund currently holds shares in China's major lenders, securities firms and insurers through its domestic investment arm Central Huijin, which was set up in 2003 and transferred to CIC upon its creation in 2007.

CIC was established to invest overseas some of China's massive foreign exchange  reserves -- which stood at 2.447 trillion dollars at the end of March -- partly to gain better returns.

The bank stakes were valued at around 70 billion dollars in 2007 and the bank dividends have been a major source of CIC's returns as most of its other investments are too young to have had significant yields, the report said.

It is unclear whether the sovereign wealth fund would be compensated for the loss of the bank holdings.

The report said some senior policy makers were pushing for Huijin to be spun out of CIC and handed ownership of the government's stakes in financial groups.

Disney could start work on Shanghai park in Nov: report

SHANGHAI, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - Disney could start building its planned theme park in Shanghai as early as November, a year after Chinese authorities gave the green light for the project, a report said Tuesday.

"Talks on the Disney project are in the final stages and the construction is expected to start as early as November," the China Business News reported, citing an unnamed source.

The park would be Disney's fourth outside the United States and its third in Asia, after Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong -- the last to open in 2005.

All major construction in Shanghai has been suspended until after the World Expo ends on October 31 as part of efforts to improve the city's air quality during the six-month event.

The Shanghai government announced its long-awaited approval for the project in November last year after authorities in Beijing approved Disney's application.

Neither side disclosed any figures or gave a timeframe for the project, but previous reports have said the US entertainment giant will invest 3.6 billion dollars in the 10-square-kilometre (four-square-mile) park.

When asked about the report, Disney said it looked forward to being able to announce a final deal and a timeline for opening in the future.

"Final discussions between Disney and the Shanghai government are not yet complete, and detailed negotiations to produce a final deal will continue for a number of months," a Hong Kong-based Disney spokeswoman told AFP in an email.


Chinese city aims to become next gourmet hotspot - Feature

CHENGDU, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - At Yu Bo's restaurant, tea-and-camphor-smoked duck shares table space with calligraphy brushes made of puff pastry and minced beef, and sea cucumber paired with fried rice and foie gras.

The adventurous chef serves traditional food with a twist at his Yu's Family Kitchen, one of several top-end eateries in the southwestern city of Chengdu, which is looking to become the next global gourmet hotspot.

The capital of Sichuan province -- a region known as the 'land of abundance' for its produce and famous for its beloved pandas -- plans to capitalise on a recent distinction from the UN's cultural body to attract the world's foodies.

"Sichuan food has so many flavours and cooking methods, which means that people from any country can enjoy it," said Yu, sitting in his restaurant which is modelled on official houses of the past, where diners had their own rooms.

Sichuan cuisine is one of eight major culinary traditions in China and is already well known abroad, with popular restaurants in London and New York serving up dishes with quirky names such as pock-marked old woman's tofu.

In February, UNESCO granted Chengdu the title of City of Gastronomy for "being the birthplace of many culinary traditions, home to a vibrant community of gastronomic professionals who are actively promoting innovation in food."

Gong Bao chicken, twice-cooked pork, Zhong dumplings in spicy, garlic sauce, and green beans in ginger sauce are some dishes popular with locals who enjoy food stalls on street corners just as much as more formal restaurants.

The distinction, shared by only one other city in the world -- Popayan in Colombia -- is part of a programme set up by UNESCO in 2004 to support social, economic and cultural development in cities around the world.

Wang Zhonglin, the vice-mayor of Chengdu, has said authorities aim to leverage the award to "build the city into an internationally-renowned gourmet capital".

They are discussing various means of promoting the city's culinary heritage, including promotion campaigns and linking up with other gourmet cities abroad, according to Ye Lang, spokesman for the Chengdu government.

Chengdu, which has already been the host of several gourmet festivals, also plans to try to attract foodies at an exhibition in Paris -- home to UNESCO headquarters -- later this year.

Food critics say Sichuan cuisine is misunderstood. Often known only for its special type of mouth-numbing pepper and spiciness, it encompasses a wide range of flavours native to a province almost as big as Thailand.

Fuchsia Dunlop, a London-based food writer and expert on Sichuan cooking, says the pleasure lies in the "rollercoaster ride" of flavours -- smoky, sweet and salty, gingery.

"The whole point is its contrast and excitement," she told AFP.

And according to Yu, who has travelled abroad to see how his native cuisine is served elsewhere, Sichuan food in other countries is misrepresented.

"It's all about pepper, more pepper, things with heavy flavours and lots of oil, but Sichuan dishes are not like that and people must make this known," he said.

Dunlop says plans to attract foreign foodies to Chengdu could hit a snag as a result of the constant redevelopment of the city, which has seen many quaint, old buildings replaced by modern high-rises.

"When I lived there in the 1990s, the whole city was a warren of little lanes with wooden houses and there were many street vendors and small snack shops," she said.

"There's not really any of that left, so whereas you might go to Italy and you can hang out in beautiful old cities while eating fine food, in China, it's just food."

Dunlop is also concerned that the tradition of rich home cooking is gradually being lost as the modern age creeps in.

"People used to eat so well at home -- the older generation were all making their own winter wind-dried sausages and bacon they would hang up on the eaves of the houses, they were all making their own pickles and preserves," she said.

"But what seems to happen now, the grandparents look after the children, and the adult, professional generation are all out in restaurants or being fed by their parents, and they're not learning how to cook."

Yu, however, says he is not going to let that happen to his own daughter.

"I teach my daughter to make breakfast every day when she gets up -- I'm training her, as I hope she will become a cook," he said.

Malaysia to seek pardon for trafficker on Singapore death row

KUALA LUMPUR, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysia will plead with neighbouring Singapore to spare the life of a drug trafficker who has been sentenced to death in the city state, according to reports Tuesday.

Both Malaysia and Singapore have tough anti-drug laws and rarely seek clemency for nationals facing drug charges in the the other country.

But Foreign Minister Anifah Aman spoke out after Singapore's highest court in May rejected a death sentence appeal by Yong Vui Kong, who was 19 when he became a drug courier three years ago.

"We sympathise with what has transpired and will do everything possible within our power or within diplomatic channels to resolve this," Anifah was quoted as saying by the New Straits Times newspaper.

"He has one more avenue (of appeal) and I will be writing to the government of Singapore to plead for his clemency," Anifah added.

The minister told the paper he was also waiting for Yong's lawyers to provide legal arguments on why his life should be spared. An aide to the minister confirmed his comments but refused further comment.

Yong was convicted in 2008 of trafficking 47 grams (1.65 ounces) of heroin into Singapore and was sentenced to death but appealed the decision, the paper reported.

It said he later withdrew the appeal and then decided to petition Singapore's president for clemency, a request which was rejected.

Just four days before his planned execution, Yong's lawyers filed an appeal to Singapore's Court of Appeal but it was dismissed in May this year.

In Singapore, the death penalty, which is carried out by hanging, is mandatory for anyone caught trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of cocaine or 500 grams of cannabis.

Swiss train vandal appeals against five-month jail term

SINGAPORE, July  6, 2010 (AFP) - A Swiss man convicted last month of vandalising a Singapore metro train has appealed against his five-month jail sentence, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Derek Kang told AFP that his client Oliver Fricker, who is currently serving his jail term, formally tabled the appeal for a lower jail sentence last Friday.

"That is correct," Kang said when asked if his client had lodged the appeal.

Fricker, 32, was also sentenced to three strokes of the cane last month in the Singapore district court after he pleaded guilty to trespass and vandalism which are considered serious offences in the city-state.

Kang said he was not aware if his client has been caned.

Singaporean authorities did not immediately respond to AFP queries on the matter.

Under Singapore's tough laws, a minimum three strokes of the cane is mandatory for vandalism. The punishment entails being struck with a wooden stick on the back of the thigh below the buttocks, which can split the skin and leave lasting scars.

Prosecutors said Fricker and a British friend visiting Singapore broke into a subway depot and spray-painted two carriages before dawn on May 17 as part of a premeditated prank.

Singapore has launched an international hunt for the 29-year-old Briton, Lloyd Dane Alexander, who allegedly planned the act but left the city-state before he could be caught, leaving Fricker to face the consequences.

The city-state, a close US ally in a predominantly Muslim region, says its metro subway system is believed to be a target of Islamic extremists.

Singapore's vandalism laws first became global news in 1994 when an American teenager, Michael Fay, was caned for damaging cars and public property despite appeals for clemency from the US government.

US geologist jailed for eight years in China

BEIJING, July  5, 2010 (AFP) - A US geologist was sentenced to eight years in jail in China on Monday on state secrets charges related to the sale of a database about China's oil industry, a US official and a rights group said.

US Ambassador Jon Huntsman, who attended Monday's sentencing in Beijing, expressed dismay over the punishment for Xue Feng and will continue to discuss the case with Chinese officials, US embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson said.

"The US government has concerns over Dr Xue's wellbeing. We remain concerned with his rights to due process under Chinese law," Stevenson told AFP.

"The protection of US citizens overseas is our highest priority... We will continue to visit him and discuss his case with the Chinese government."

US President Barack Obama discussed Xue's case with Chinese President Hu Jintao during a visit to China in November, US diplomats said previously.

Xue, a naturalised US citizen, was detained in November 2007 on charges of attempting to acquire and sell state secrets -- a database related to China's oil industry, according to the Dui Hua Foundation, a rights group.

Dui Hua's Joshua Rosenzweig told AFP that one of the group's many concerns was its suspicion that "some of Xue Feng's statements to the police might have been obtained under coercion including torture".

During meetings with US consular officials, Xue showed them scars on his arms which he said were from cigarette burns inflicted by his interrogators during his initial period of detention, Rosenzweig said.

At the time of his arrest, the 44-year-old Xue was working for the US energy and engineering consulting firm IHS, Dui Hua said in a statement.

Both Xue and IHS have stated that they believed that the database was a commercially available product. After Xue purchased the database, it was subsequently classified as a state secret, the statement said.

Xue's arrest and drawn-out trial has cast a spotlight on the pitfalls of doing business in China, especially for those born in China who have been educated abroad and taken on a foreign nationality.

Australian national Stern Hu, an executive with the mining giant Rio Tinto, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in March on bribery and trade secrets charges, in a case that raised hackles in Canberra.

"A terrible injustice has been done to Dr Xue and his family, who for more than two and a half years have been waiting for a court to decide this man's fate," Dui Hua's executive director John Kamm said of Monday's verdict.

"I can only hope that the Beijing High People's Court will reconsider the heavy sentence that has been imposed and do so in a far more timely manner so that this man, who suffers from a serious heart condition, can return home to his family and doctors as soon as possible."

It was not immediately clear if Xue would appeal against the verdict.

Repeated calls to the court about the case went unanswered.

China's Ansteel assessing US protest over plant deal: report

BEIJING, July  5, 2010 (AFP) - China's Anshan Iron and Steel Group is looking into a protest by American lawmakers against its deal to build steel plants in the United States, a report said Monday.

"I'm aware of it. We are researching the situation and mulling how to deal with it," said Li Jiangyu, secretary to the president of the Chinese company, in answer to a question about the protest, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

Li added that company president Zhang Xiaogang would fly to the United States Tuesday, but he didn't specify the reason for the trip.

The state-run Chinese mill, also known as Ansteel, in May signed an agreement with US steel mill Steel Development Company that includes the construction of five steel plants in the United States.

The first factory, to be built in Amory, Mississippi, will mainly target the southeastern United States and Latin American markets, the company said previously.

A group of 50 US Congressmen last week wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urging an investigation into the deal.

"We are deeply concerned that their direct investment in an American steel company threatens American jobs and our national security," the lawmakers said in the letter.

"We believe that this investment allows the full force and financing of the Chinese government to exploit the American steel market from American soil."

The Chinese steel deal is the latest in a number of issues that have strained Sino-US ties in recent months, including trade disputes, the value of the Chinese currency and Google's spat with Beijing over censorship.

AFP's calls to Ansteel were not answered.