China nabs 46 in mafia bust linked to Hilton Hotel: media

BEIJING, July 24, 2010 (AFP) - Police in southwestern China have arrested 46 people in an organised crime gang, including a top shareholder of a Hilton Hotel shut after it was found running a prostitution ring, state media said.

The arrests came in the municipality of Chongqing, where authorities have since last year carried out a major mafia crackdown that has exposed a thriving underworld in the mega-city of 30 million people.

Those arrested included Peng Zhimin, 47, owner of Qinglong Property Development Co, which in turn owned the Chongqing Hilton Hotel, official Xinhua news agency said in a report late Friday.

Peng was arrested on organised crime, prostitution, bribery, intentional injury, and other charges, it said, quoting local police.

It said the former director and vice director of a district-level agriculture, forestry and water resources bureau also were detained for allegedly sheltering the gang.

The hotel was shut down in late June over the prostitution and organised crime allegations.

The Hilton International Hotel Group, which manages the business in a joint venture with the property company, said at the time it was fully cooperating with the investigation.

Reports last month had said 22 people were arrested.

Peng ran a club in the hotel where prostitution, drug abuse, gambling and gang activities were carried out, Xinhua quoted police as saying.

He also is charged with seeking protection from officials by bribing them with money and sex, it added.

It said Peng had built a fortune selling fake cigarettes and in real estate. He served a previous jail term for theft.

The Chongqing crime crackdown has resulted in more than 3,300 detentions and hundreds of prosecutions, including the trials of nearly 100 officials.

China earlier this month executed Wen Qiang, a former top Chongqing police and justice official at the centre of the scandal. He had been convicted on charges including rape and taking bribes to protect criminal gangs.

China taking 'more aggressive' stance at sea: US admiral

NEW DELHI, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen said on Friday that China had adopted an increasingly aggressive stance on the high seas, with Beijing pushing territorial claims.

Mullen also repeated criticism of Beijing for breaking off military contacts with the United States earlier this year, and for a lack of "transparency" in its military build-up.

During a visit to New Delhi, Mullen said Indian officials shared US concerns about China's approach and agreed on the need to ensure open access to vital sea lanes across the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

"China seems to be asserting itself more and more with respect to the kinds of territorial claims in islands like the Spratlys," said Mullen, the US military's top officer, referring to the island chain in the South China Sea.

"They seem to be taking a much more aggressive approach" in waters Beijing deems of economic and strategic interest, he told reporters.

The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said he has also moved from "being curious about where China is headed (militarily) to being concerned about it".

US officials worry that China's more assertive stance in the Pacific Ocean and its anti-ship missile arsenal, capable of striking aircraft carriers, could undercut America's long-dominant naval power in Asia.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile said at security talks in Hanoi on Friday that resolving disputes over the South China Sea was "pivotal" to regional stability.

Beijing's claims over potentially resource-rich archipelagos in the South China Sea conflict with those of some members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEAN favours a united front on the South China Sea issue but Beijing prefers to deal with individual claimants, and was not happy that Clinton and 11 other delegates raised the matter in Friday's talks, diplomats said.

Singapore dollar to strengthen amid expanding economy: IMF

WASHINGTON, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - The Singapore dollar is expected to strengthen as the island's economy rapidly expands, the IMF said Friday.

Singapore, unlike many other economies, uses the exchange rate rather than interest rates to conduct monetary policy.

In a report after annual consultations with the Singapore authorities, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said the Singapore dollar "would likely strengthen in real effective terms over time as reforms promote faster productivity growth and the domestic economy continues to expand."

The Singapore dollar "appears to be somewhat weaker than its medium-term equilibrium level although considerable uncertainty clouds this assessment," said the report by the fund's board.

In a surprise move in April, Singapore unexpectedly revalued its currency and said it would seek further strength to contain inflation.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the de facto central bank of the city state, revalued upward its targeted trading band for the currency and said it would now allow a "modest and gradual appreciation" of its currency, shifting from "zero appreciation."

Analysts described the MAS policy move as "aggressive" but the central bank said it was necessary to curb inflationary pressures.

Singapore's monetary policy is conducted via the local currency, which is traded against a basket of currencies of its major trading partners within an undisclosed band known as the nominal effective exchange rate.

The IMF report forecast the Singapore economy would expand a rapid 9.9 percent in 2010 before slowing down to 4.9 percent next year.

The government last week upgraded its 2010 growth forecast to a blistering 13 to 15 percent, setting the stage for Singapore to become the world's fastest-growing economy this year.

The new estimate, up sharply from an earlier prediction of 7.0 to 9.0 percent, outstrips forecasts of around 10 percent growth in regional powerhouse China and comes despite lingering worries over the US and European economies.

The IMF said Singapore's exchange rate regime "remains appropriate" and that the exchange-rate centered monetary framework was an important source of stability in challenging times.

The fund also said that while building strong foreign exchange and fiscal reserve buffers was a central element of Singapore's economic strategy, "a slower pace of reserve accumulation could be expected given Singapore's demographic profile going forward."

Singapore has foreign exchange reserves worth hundreds of billions of dollars, including those in one of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds.

The city-state is Southeast Asia's wealthiest economy in terms of gross domestic product per capita.

But its dependence on trade makes it sensitive to economic disturbances in developed nations such as key European and United States markets.


Taiwan eyes closer Japan trade ties after China pact

TAIPEI, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou said Friday he hoped to boost economic ties with Japan, following the recent signing of a major trade pact with China.

"We hope to cooperate with Japan in the areas of trade and economy to further boost our ties after the signing of ECFA," a statement from Ma's office quoted him as saying while meeting a delegation of Japanese politicians.

He was referring to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement, the most sweeping ever between Taiwan and the mainland, which marked the culmination of Ma's Beijing-friendly policy.

Ma had also said Taiwan was eyeing a free trade agreement with Japan, its second largest trading partner after China.

Taiwan's minister without portfolio, Yiin Chii-ming, is due to leave for Japan on Sunday to kick off a government initiative to attract more overseas investment.

Yiin told reporters that he was scheduled to meet executives from leading Japanese corporations such as Sony, Mitsubishi and Hitachi in the hope that Taiwan and Japan can "jointly explore the mainland market."

Japan, like most countries, officially recognises Beijing instead of Taipei, but Taiwan maintains friendly relations with Japan.

Taiwan has assured Japan it has nothing to fear over the island's warming ties with China, which it split from in 1949 after a civil war.

The Japanese chamber of commerce in Taipei has called for a free trade agreement with the island and supported Taiwan's trade pact with China, saying it could benefit Japanese businesses on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Singapore dog breeder jailed for animal cruelty

SINGAPORE, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - A Singaporean dog breeder convicted of cruelty to animals will have to serve a six-week jail sentence after failing to pay a fine, a government agency said Friday.

The Agri-Veterinary Authority (AVA), which safeguards food supply as well as the health of animals, said its investigations found that 43-year-old Ng Kok Ming had caused unnecessary suffering to six dogs he owned.

Ng was fined 30,000 Singapore dollars (21,850 US) after a court trial but was unable to pay the amount, so he has to serve time in prison.

The AVA said Ng had compromised the animals' welfare by failing to "provide adequate food and veterinary attention" to the dogs.

It said it began investigations in August after a routine inspection at a farm that housed three dogs Ng had given away after he ran into financial trouble.

Singapore, where pet ownwership is growing in popularity, has been cracking down on animal cruelty.

In February, a 41-year-old man was jailed for 10 weeks after he pleaded guilty to killing a cat by smashing it twice against a wall.

Two owners of a dog shown being beaten in a clip posted on video-sharing site YouTube have been issued a stern warning.

China, Singapore forge bilateral currency swap

SINGAPORE, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - The central banks of Singapore  and China have signed a bilateral currency swap agreement likely to boost the internationalisation of the yuan, a press statement said Friday.

"The People's Bank of China (PBC) and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) today announced the establishment of a bilateral currency swap arrangement," said a MAS statement issued after a meeting in Beijing.

Financial institutions in Singapore and their customers will be provided with Chinese yuan financing for trade and direct investment through the swap, MAS stated.

"The arrangement is a key pillar of cooperation between the PBC and the MAS and serves to promote bilateral trade and direct investment for economic development of the two countries."

Lasting for three years and extendable by mutual agreement, the swap will provide Chinese yuan liquidity of up to 150 billion yuan and Singapore dollar liquidity of up to 30 billion dollars -- about 22 billion US dollars.

The deal would also "facilitate the internationalisation of the Chinese yuan," the statement said.

The agreement "would not only strengthen Singapore's economic and investment linkages with China but also help to maintain our role as an international financial centre," it stated.

Song Seng Wun, a regional economist at CIMB-GK Research in Singapore, said the agreement reflected the strong financial relations between the two economies, which will be among the world's fastest growing this year.

"If there is a crisis of confidence in each other's currency, the other can come in to help," Song added, but stated the chances of that happening were low.

China official jailed for taking bribes from GOME founder

BEIJING, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - A former top Chinese police official has received a 12-year jail term for graft including taking a million yuan (147,500 dollars) in bribes from a jailed electronics magnate, an official website said Friday.

A Beijing court convicted Xiang Huaizhu of accepting a total of more than two million yuan in cash and luxury cars while serving as the deputy head of the public security ministry's economic crimes department.

The bribes included more than one million yuan from Huang Guangyu, the jailed founder of the GOME electronics chain, who was once China's richest man, according to the news website of the state prosecutor's office.

Huang gave the bribes in exchange for Xiang's "assistance" in the course of investigations into GOME and a real estate company owned by the magnate between 2006 and 2008.

It did not give further details of Xiang's role in the GOME case.

Xiang's wife, Li Shanjuan, who worked in the ministry's auditing department, was also sentenced to 19 months in jail.

Huang was sentenced in May to 14 years in jail for bribery and insider trading -- a spectacular fall from grace for a high school dropout who built up his retail empire from scratch.

Singapore flood risk alarms insurers: report

SINGAPORE, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - Insurers may hike premiums for flood-prone properties in Singapore after a deluge caused millions of dollars in damage and led to luxury stores being barricaded with sandbags, a report said Friday.

"Three floods within a one-month period is unprecedented in Singapore," General Insurance Association president Derek Teo told the Straits Times as businesses and homeowners in the city-state braced for more rains.

The daily estimated that claims for damage to property and vehicles since mid-June could exceed 10 million Singapore dollars (7.28 million US).

Among the flood-prone areas under review is the fashionable Orchard Road shopping belt, home to some of Singapore's richest people.

Some ground-floor establishments in the area, including a branch of the Hermes luxury chain, are now protected by sandbags.

Teo, who could not be reached for comment on Friday, was quoted as saying that the damage resulting from heavy rains and overwhelmed drains "is of concern to insurers, and they are monitoring the situation closely".

Flood insurance used to be thrown in for free because of the competitive market and historically low exposure to such incidents, the report said.

Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew said on Wednesday that floods on the tropical island were unavoidable due to constant rain and scarce land.

The 86-year-old former prime minister, now an adviser to his son Lee Hsien Loong's government, also admitted that government measures to reduce the impact of floods were insufficient.

The Straits Times said one of Singapore's largest insurers, NTUC Income, had received more than 100 flood-related claims for damage to vehicles and property.

Kua Ka Hin, Singapore chief executive of international insurance firm Munich Re, expressed concern that heavily-urbanised Singapore might experience more frequent floods in future.

"Can current drainage infrastructure cope with the new intensity?" he asked.

"Also with urbanisation, there is increased surface run-off. Looking at Orchard Road for example, there are large tranches of land which are now covered in concrete, which previously would have allowed water to permeate naturally," the report quoted him as saying.

Obama to invite SEAsia leaders for summit in US: Clinton

HANOI, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - President Barack Obama will invite Southeast Asian leaders to a summit in Washington later this year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.

"President Obama plans to invite ASEAN leaders to a second US-ASEAN leaders' meeting in the United States this coming autumn," Clinton said in remarks to the 27-member ASEAN Regional Forum security dialogue.

The Washington talks will follow the inaugural meeting that Obama held last year in Singapore with his counterparts from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

His administration has sought to pay more attention to a region that felt neglected by former president George W. Bush's government, which was preoccupied with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"A key element of our strategy is to strengthen regional and global institutions," Clinton said.

"We see ASEAN and the ASEAN Regional Forum as important pieces of a strong, effective architecture for security and prosperity in Asia. So we seek both to support these institutions and work more closely with them," Clinton explained, according to her prepared remarks.

At talks in Hanoi this week, ASEAN foreign ministers agreed to invite the US and Russia to join a key regional dialogue known as the East Asia Summit.

Diplomats said their inclusion would help to "counterbalance" the dominance of rising regional power China.

Clinton said Obama will not be able to join this year's East Asia Summit in October but she will attend, with a view towards Obama's participation next year.

Clinton said the US looks forward "to engaging with the East Asia Summit as it seeks to become a foundational security and political institution for Asia in this century."

In another sign of US engagement with the region, Clinton said US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will join a regional defence ministers' meeting to be held in Vietnam in October.

Southeast Asia, a region of nearly 600 million people, is America's sixth-largest export market and hosts more US business investment than China, Clinton said on Thursday.

ASEAN members are a mixed bag of emerging democracies, monarchies, and communist states, and include military-ruled Myanmar, which is under US sanctions.

In the inaugural US-ASEAN leaders' talks last year, Obama asked Myanmar's Prime Minister Thein Sein to free all political prisoners including the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Top Chinese negotiator to visit Taiwan

TAIPEI, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - A top Chinese negotiator is set to visit Taiwan next month, an official said Friday, his first visit since he was mobbed and shoved to the ground by a pro-independence crowd on the island.

Zhang Mingqing will attend an academic forum in Taipei and plans to meet his Taiwanese counterparts, said an official at Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation, which handles cross-Strait ties.

Zhang, vice president of China's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, will also travel to central and eastern Taiwan but will stay away from the south where the scuffle took place, said the Taipei-based China Times.

Scores of Taiwanese pro-independence activists pushed Zhang to the ground in southern Taiwan in 2008, sparking an angry response from Beijing.

China and Taiwan split in 1949 following a civil war, but Beijing still regards the island as part of its territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Zhang's semi-official association is authorised by Beijing to handle civilian exchanges with Taiwan in the absence of official contact between the two sides.

13 confirmed dead in China mine flood: state media

BEIJING, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - Authorities have confirmed the deaths of 13 workers trapped in a flooded coal mine in northwest China at the weekend -- one of a spate of recent accidents to hit the sector, state media said Friday.

The last five bodies were pulled early Friday from the pit in the city of Jiuquan in Gansu province, Xinhua news agency reported, citing a spokesman for the rescue operation.

China's vast coal mining industry is notoriously accident-prone due to lax regulation, corruption and inefficiency as mines rush to meet soaring demand.

China relies on coal-generated power for about 70 percent of its electricity needs.

A total of 2,631 miners were killed in China last year, according to official figures, but independent labour groups say the actual figure could be much higher as many accidents are covered up to avoid costly mine shutdowns.

In March, a flood at the huge, unfinished Wangjialing mine in the industry's northern heartland of Shanxi left 153 workers trapped underground. A total of 115 were recovered alive, in what was seen as a rare successful rescue.

Yet despite numerous pledges after that accident and other big mining disasters, there is virtually no let-up in the regular reports of deadly mishaps.

Last weekend alone, more than 50 miners were killed in four separate accidents.

Chinese private carrier eyes 2011 listing: state media

SHANGHAI, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - Chinese budget carrier Spring Airlines aims to become the nation's first private airline to go public by listing shares on the mainland stock market next year, state media reported Friday.

"We have chosen the underwriter," the Global Times quoted spokesman Zhang Wu'an as saying.

A different company spokesman declined to comment on the report when contacted
by AFP.

Shanghai-based Spring Airlines, which currently operates 20 Airbus A320 aircraft, earned 160 million yuan (23.6 million dollars) in the first half of 2010, more than doubling its profits from the same period a year earlier.

Revenue for the January-June period grew by 60 percent on year to 1.5 billion yuan, the company said in a statement.

The nation's first privately-run carrier Okay Airways began operating in March 2005 and has pioneered the low-cost model in China.

But privately run airlines face a host of bank-breaking restrictions that put them at a huge disadvantage to bigger, government-linked carriers.

Privately-owned East Star Airlines was grounded by the aviation regulator and then went bankrupt last year as the industry was hit hard by the global financial crisis, which dented domestic travel demand.

Malaysian PM offers pre-poll goodies for key Borneo state

LONG BANGA, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has travelled to a key state on Borneo island to make multi-million-dollar development promises in a bid to galvanise support ahead of landmark elections.

Najib arrived at the remote highland village of Long Banga in Sarawak state by helicopter on Thursday, accompanied by a high-powered team including four senior ministers.

Local politicians have said that state polls could be held in Sarawak as early as October, and the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition -- which rules nationally -- is intent on a big win after humiliating 2008 general elections.

Pundits say that fresh nationwide elections could follow soon after the Sarawak polls, which will provide the BN with an indication of levels of support on Borneo that are key to its holding power nationally.

Najib's four-hour visit to Long Banga, home to indigenous tribespeople, comes after the BN suffered a disastrous defeat to the opposition in a parliamentary by-election in Sarawak in May.

The premier was in an ebullient mood after receiving a spectacular welcome in Long Banga, telling some 2,000 people from the Penan, Kayan, Saban and Kenyah tribes that their welfare and economic needs will be guaranteed.

He was treated to a traditional hornbill dance, and performers in bright yellow and black outfits sang songs calling for the resolution of long-standing problems like land rights and infrastructure.

"The response is great. It was very spontaneous. The promises will be delivered," Najib told AFP.

The premier pledged 100 million ringgit (over 31 million dollars) to complete the long overdue Beluru-Lapok road which connects the coastal town of Miri and villages in Baram district deep in Borneo's interior.

He allocated six million ringgit for a mini hydro-electric dam for Long Banga, one million ringgit for a road linking the village to an airport, and 500,000 ringgit for a mobile medical clinic.

One Penan family trekked five hours through the jungle to hear Najib's pledges.
"We have heard many promises. We are frustrated as our land problems are not solved yet," Daud Sedin, 35, told AFP. "Maybe I will turn to the opposition now."

The Penan are some of the most disadvantaged of Malaysia's indigenous people.

Najib did not address complaints that their traditional land is being razed by logging and plantations, nor allegations of rape by timber company workers against Penan women.

Henry Tugak, 52, a member of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu, a governing coalition member and the ruling party in Sarawak, said many voters were dissatisfied after two decades of promises to build the Lapok road.

"Najib came here to steer Sarawakians to vote BN. But it is going to be tough.

Victory is not going to be easy as there is also unhappiness with chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud. Morally he should go," he said.

Taib has been in power in Sarawak for 29 years and voters and businesses are increasingly disgruntled with his long reign.

Malaysia's political landscape was transformed in the 2008 national elections which saw the opposition secure unprecedented gains, seizing five states and a third of parliamentary seats and threatening the BN's half-century grip on power.

Baidu hacker lawsuit can proceed in US court

NEW YORK, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - A US judge ruled Thursday that Baidu has a "plausible" legal case against a domain registry firm that let hackers commandeer the Chinese Internet search giant's website.

Chin backed two of seven claims Baidu made against  in a suit filed in January.

In a partial victory for domain name company Register.com, US District Judge Denny Chin dismissed five of seven claims Baidu made against the firm, including breach of contract, complicity in trademark infringement and aiding trespass. He only backed two of Baidu's counts against Register.

"I hold that Baidu has alleged sufficient facts in its complaint to give rise to a plausible claim of gross negligence or recklessness," Chin said in his ruling.

"If these allegations are proven, then Register failed to follow its own security protocols and essentially handed over control of Baidu's account to an unauthorized intruder, who engaged in cyber vandalism."

Hackers launched a cyber-attack on Baidu on January 11 by gaining access to the search firm's account at Register, in a move the firm said cost it millions of dollars.

For about five hours, Baidu traffic was rerouted to a Web page showing an Iranian flag; a broken Star of David, and a written message stating "This site has been hacked by the Iranian Cyber Army."

Baidu is the world's third largest Internet search engine and is reported to control more than 70 percent of the Chinese-language market.

Hackers seized the Baidu account by duping a Register tech support worker into changing the email address that Baidu had on file at US-based Register, legal documents maintained.

The Register support worker asked the imposter for security verification information but didn't bother to check whether it was correct as required by Register policy, according to court paperwork.

The hacker later pretended to forget the Baidu account password and, because of the altered email address, was sent a link granting access and control.

"If Register had simply followed its own security protocols, the attack surely would have been averted and neither Register nor Baidu would have been victimized," Chin concluded.

Baidu and Register are due back in Chin's New York courtroom next month for a pre-trial hearing.

China's star blogger treads fine line

HONG KONG, July 23, 2010 (AFP) - China's most popular blogger recalls being baffled when a publisher told him he could not run an article because it mentioned a person ordering a dish of lamb.

"I did not get it. What's wrong with eating lamb?" Han Han says.

The publisher explained that by ordering lamb, the diner could be someone who did not eat pork.

And that could imply he was a Muslim -- a particularly sensitive subject in China following deadly ethnic unrest in Xinjiang last year that pitted mostly Muslim Uighurs against the nation's dominant Han group.

The 27-year-old high school drop-out and champion amateur race-car driver said he was frustrated that self-censorship by mainland publishers was often more stringent than the authorities themselves.

"I wish there was a law saying clearly what can be done and what can't be. I wish we could lay all the issues on the table and discuss frankly about them."

Han, famous for his witty, scathing critiques of China's corrupt officials and social issues, has achieved phenomenal fame in the country's tightly monitored cyberspace.

He has accumulated more than 300 million hits on his blog, making it the most popular in China -- and probably the world.

A top-earning author with a dozen titles under his belt, Han was named by TIME magazine as among the world's 100 most influential people, grouping him alongside US President Barack Obama and pop star Lady Gaga.

He said he had also recently rejected an invitation to promote a commercial product on his blog with the reward of 10,000 yuan (1,500 US dollars) for each word he writes -- with no word limit.

"Some people are beneficiaries of a flawed judicial system. Some are beneficiaries of a chaotic society. I just happen to have benefited from telling the truth," he recently told reporters at the Hong Kong Book Fair.

Han conceded that technological advances have played a vital role in his success.
"In the Internet era, once an article is posted online, there is nothing one can do to deny its existence," Han said, referring to the fact that his readers always managed to copy contentious articles from his blog to their own sites -- before they were taken down by China's Internet police.

Before the launch of his popular literature-themed magazine "Party" this month, Han said he spent time and money consulting different publishers in the futile hope of preserving the articles in their original form.

"It is about making compromise all the time," he said. "I still had to follow the rules because I wanted the magazine to be a legal publication."

All 500,000 copies of the bi-monthly's first issue, which included articles by other writers, sold out just four days after its release, government newspaper China Daily reported, smashing sales records.

For many, Han is the unofficial voice for China's "Post 80s", a generation born into the country's economic boom who are typically regarded as spoilt as the single child in the family, apolitical, rebellious and status-obsessed.

Han shot to fame in 2000 after he published "The Triple Gate", a novel based on his own experience as a school drop-out in Shanghai that mocked China's rigid education system.

He has criticised China's "underground Internet commentators" --  hired by the government to skew public opinion by posting comments online favourable to the authorities.

The blogger also likes to ridicule officials' conservative and outmoded approach to handling crises.

"Sometimes, the incident itself was not a big deal. But it was blown up by the government officials themselves," he said.

After a man stabbed 32 people -- mostly small children -- at a kindergarten in eastern China in April, he wrote: "By controlling the media, prohibiting hospital visits, diverting attention, the (local) government managed to re-direct people's anger towards the killer to the government itself."

Despite his bravado, some critics have pointed out that Han has always been careful not to challenge the one-party rule of the Communist Party.

Han himself admits that he abides by the rigid -- if unwritten -- rules to ensure that his voice continues to be heard.

Asked about his views on the crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, he changed subject.

"I fell in love with this girl in the mainland a few days ago," he said.

"She's worried that if I said anything anti-government, I won't be allowed back to China."

US looks to deepen SEAsia commitment: Clinton

HANOI, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - The United States looked Thursday to deepen its renewed commitment to Southeast Asia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told her regional counterparts.

"United States is a Pacific nation and we are committed to being an active partner with ASEAN and with all of you," Clinton told ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

She reminded them that last year in Thailand the US "recommitted" to the region.

"Today we will discuss our progress and the concrete steps we are taking to make good on this promise, including new investments in shared priorities and new avenues for cooperation," she said.

The region of nearly 600 million people is America's sixth-largest export market and hosts more US business investment than China, she said.

"Our partnership is rooted in common interests," Clinton told her counterparts.

"We are committed to assisting the nations of Southeast Asia to remain strong and independent and that each nation enjoys peace, stability, prosperity and access to universal human rights."

Although her reference to human rights was a general one, the issue remains contentious while bilateral ties expand between Vietnam and the US 15 years after normalising relations following the Vietnam War.

The US embassy has often commented on rights issues in the country.

"We have consistently moved in the direction of engagement and cooperation, even on those issues where we disagree," Clinton said in Hanoi.

At a press conference after meeting her Vietnamese counterpart Pham Gia Khiem, Clinton said Vietnam "is on the path to becoming a great nation" with unlimited potential.

"And that is among the reasons why we express concern about arrest and conviction of people of peaceful dissent, attacks on religious groups and curbs on Internet freedom," she said.

Pham said that although the two sides have differences over rights, dialogue is the best way to enhance their mutual understanding.

China's most popular blogger admits to restraint

HONG KONG, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - China's most popular blogger, Han Han, famous for poking fun at prominent figures and officials, on Thursday hinted even he has had to bite his tongue in a tightly controlled media landscape.

The 27-year-old school dropout and champion rally driver was named by TIME magazine this year as one of the world's 100 most influential people, putting him in the same league as US President Barack Obama and pop star Lady Gaga.

With his charming good looks and characteristic literary wit, the celebrity rebel's blog has registered more than 300 million hits, making him the most popular blogger in China -- and possibly the world.

Despite his outspokenness, Han admitted Thursday that even he had to follow rules in China's strict publishing industry to make his voice heard.

"It's about making compromise all the time. It's not just about the government," he told reporters at the Hong Kong Book Fair, when asked about his hugely successful bi-monthly magazine "Party" launched earlier this month.

"There is a censorship system following the publication of the magazine. Sometimes, self-censorship is more stringent than any other type of censorship," he added.

Han is widely portrayed as an icon for China's "Post-80s", a generation born into the country's economic boom who are rebellious, apolitical and status-obsessed.

Now China's top-earning author with more than 10 novels under his belt, Han said the tone of his new magazine was milder than the sarcasm-filled critiques posted on his blog.

"If you want those critiques, go to my blog."

All 500,000 copies of the magazine's first issue, which included articles by other writers, sold out just four days after its release, government newspaper China Daily reported, smashing sales records for local booksellers.

Han said he would donate one million yuan (147,000 US dollars) from the sales to a charity, possibly an animal rights group.

Han shot to fame in 2000 after he published "The Triple Gate," a novel based on his experience as a high school dropout in Shanghai and which mocked China's rigid education system.

His writing has also touched on China's "Internet commentators," who are hired by the government to skew public opinion by posting pro-state views online.

China behind two-thirds of all fake EU customs seizures

BRUSSELS, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - China was the source of 64 percent of all counterfeit goods seized at European Union borders last year while 73 percent of all fake medicines impounded came from the UAE, a EU report said Thursday.

From 118 million articles intercepted at ports and other entry points by EU customs in 2009, at least half in some categories and as much as 90 percent in others came from China, the European Commission customs report said.

They included shoes (90 percent from China), electronic goods (81 percent), clothing items (72 percent), cosmetics (47 percent) and toys (31 percent).

Cigarettes and tobacco together accounted for 35 percent of all fake goods held, the vast majority of which arrived through ports with heavy Chinese investment such as in Greece and in Italy, the report said.

The figures were revealed by the European Commission in an annual report on EU customs enforcement of intellectual property rights. An EU source said taxation commissioner Algirdas Semeta would raise the issue with the Chinese during a visit next month.

The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, emerged as having a near-monopoly on seized fake medical products including condoms, a combined category that accounted for one in 10 of all counterfeit seizures.

Egypt was behind 63 percent of electronic goods seizures and Turkey 57 percent of alcohols, the report said.

Asked about the implications of fake medicines and other items including auto parts entering the region, a commission spokesman said it was "not part of (customs') tasks to test if products are dangerous."

However there was an "increase of products that are potentially dangerous," the official said.

China's star blogger says women is his biggest problem

HONG KONG, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - China's most famous blogger Han Han, praised for his searing critiques of corrupt officialdom and social issues, conceded Thursday that his biggest problems may be in the romance department.

"I myself have lots of problems. Relationship problems, for example," the 27-year-old told reporters at the Hong Kong Book Fair after he was asked to offer a critique of his private life.

"I may have a very nice girlfriend, but I will fall in love with another girl at the same time. I may want to marry this girl, but I may also want to marry another girl."

"It's like my fate is in the hands of women."

Asked to comment about the generation born after 1990, Han, who is based in China, said: "I don't know much about the Post 90s, except the girls (in that generation)."

The high-school dropout and amateur champion race-car driver parachuted to fame after his blog registered more than 300 million hits, turning it into the most popular blog in China -- and possibly the world.

His charming looks and literary fame have earned him a huge following, with female fans leaving affectionate messages on his blog and swarming the Hong Kong Book Fair, in the hope of seeing the star author in person.

Han was nominated by TIME magazine as among the world's 100 most influential people this year, putting him in the same league as US President Barack Obama and pop star Lady Gaga.

NY Times posts revenue growth, reversing slide

NEW YORK, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - The New York Times Co. reported a slight increase in quarterly revenue on Thursday as double-digit growth in digital advertising helped offset a continued slide in print advertising.

The Times Co., which owns The Boston Globe, International Herald Tribune and other newspapers in addition to the flagship New York Times, said revenue rose 1.2 percent in the second quarter to 589.6 million dollars over a year ago.

Net profit declined to 32 million dollars, or 21 cents per share, from 39 million dollars, or 27 cents per share, a year earlier when the media giant posted a large tax benefit.

"These positive results continued to build on the momentum of the past few quarters as the company was able to increase revenues and decrease operating costs," Times Co. president and chief executive Janet Robinson said.

Times Co. revenue had been sliding for several years and fell 3.2 percent in the first quarter of the year and 11.5 percent in the previous quarter.

The Times Co. said digital advertising revenue rose 21.2 percent in the second quarter while print advertising revenue fell 6.1 percent. That was an improvement on the previous quarter when print ad revenue fell 12.3 percent.

"We experienced positive trending in both print and digital advertising revenues," Robinson said in a statement.

"Online advertising revenues have become a larger part of our mix and made up 26 percent of the company's total advertising revenues in the 2010 second quarter, up from 22 percent in the same prior-year period," she said.

Robinson said print advertising is expected to improve in the third quarter while digital advertising is expected to "trend in the mid to high teens."

The Times said it expects higher year-over-year costs in the third quarter due to rising newsprint prices, increased promotional spending and expenses related to the plan to start charging readers of NYTimes.com in January.

Robinson, in a conference call with analysts, said the Times had seen little impact during the quarter from the launch of the New York edition of The Wall Street Journal.

"We have not seen any measurable impact in regards to advertising schedules and we have not seen any measurable impact in regards to circulation," she said.

Robinson also said there had been 4.5 million downloads of the New York Times free iPhone application since its launch two years ago and more than 400,000 downloads of its free application for the iPad.

"We're also planning a full paid app for the iPad as part of our overall paid strategy," she said but did not announce a date for its release.

The second-quarter results included a 9.1-million-dollar gain from the sale of part of the Times Co.'s holdings in New England Sports Ventures, which includes the Boston Red Sox baseball team and their stadium, Fenway Park.

The Times Co. said it will continue to search for a buyer for all or part of its stake in New England Sports Ventures.

Times Co. shares were trading 2.10 percent higher in New York at mid-day at 9.24 dollars.


US envoy sees growing ties with Malaysia

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2010 (AFP) - The nominee to be the next US ambassador to Malaysia on Wednesday forecast growing cooperation between the countries and praised the Southeast Asian nation's first deployment to Afghanistan.

"US-Malaysian relations are showing signs of growth," career diplomat Paul Jones said in his confirmation hearing before the Senate, which is likely to approve him.

"Malaysia's recent decision to deploy medical/reconstruction support troops to Afghanistan will contribute to international stabilization efforts," said Jones, now the deputy US special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Muslim-majority Malaysia this month started the deployment of a 40-member medical unit to Afghanistan's Bamiyan province, where they will work with New Zealand medics.

While Malaysia said the decision came at the request of the Afghan government, it was seen in Washington as the latest sign of a thaw in the long frosty ties between Malaysia and the United States.

Malaysia's veteran former leader Mahathir Mohamad was a strident critic of US foreign policy. Current Prime Minister Najib Razak paid a rare visit to Washington in April and met President Barack Obama at a summit on boosting nuclear security.

Jones also praised cooperation between the Malaysian and US militaries to secure the Malacca Strait, a critical channel for oil to East Asian economies.

Malaysia has "a particularly strong relationship with the Pacific Command, which I certainly intend to continue and encourage," Jones said.

Jones did not ignore concerns, saying: "The continued strengthening of democracy and rule of law in Malaysia remains a priority interest for the United States."

Malaysia's opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is on trial for sodomy charges which he says are politically motivated.

Malaysian Man Utd fans cry foul over ban on 'devil' shirts

KUALA LUMPUR, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Manchester United's fans in Malaysia erupted in astonishment and anger on social media Thursday after clerics warned Muslims against wearing the team's famous jersey with its "devil" emblem.

Manchester United and the rest of the English Premier League are hugely popular in Muslim-majority Malaysia, where conservative religious leaders said the jersey was un-Islamic and should be banned.

Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook were flooded with comments from fans in the Southeast Asian nation.

"Maybe the religious leaders are just fans of Liverpool?" quipped one supporter on Twitter.

"Why this become an issue after Manchester United has won the title for 11 times? They haven't been watching the matches all this while?" said Sharifah Shahidah, a die-hard Manchester United fan of two-decades standing.

"What am I gonna do with all my Man Utd jerseys? And my sons' jerseys?" Sharifah, a Muslim mother of two and an IT programmer, asked on her Twitter account.

"Should I cover the emblem with a picture of flower?"

Malaysian clerics said Wednesday that Muslims must not wear the iconic red jersey because devils should be shunned, not celebrated, and urged those who had worn the garment to "repent immediately".

Also off-limits are the shirts of teams including Brazil, Portugal, Barcelona and Serbia, all of which carry an image of the Christian crucifix in their team emblems.

"This is very dangerous. As a Muslim, we should not worship the symbols of other religions or the devils," said Nooh Gadot, a top Islamic leader from southern Johor state.

Manchester United Fan Club Malaysia, which has about 7,000 members, declined to comment, but the fan club's chief, Lawrence How, noted there was no official ban on the jerseys.

The clerics agreed there was no "fatwa", or religious edict, but that one was not needed when it was clearly wrong for Muslims to wear such a garment.

Malaysia is a generally moderate Islamic country, but conservative clerics have issued controversial edicts in the past, including a ban on the ancient practice of yoga, which is criticised for including Hindu elements.

Malaysia closes top dive sites hit by coral bleaching

KUALA LUMPUR, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Malaysia has closed some of its top dive sites, on the tropical islands of Tioman and Redang, which have been hit by coral bleaching caused by global warming, officials said Thursday.

The reefs, which attract some 500,000 tourists annually, will be off-limits to divers and snorkellers until the end of October in an attempt to relieve stress on the fragile marine ecosystems.

"Nine diving sites out of 83 sites all over the country are closed," Shahima Abdul Hamid, the Marine Park Department's director of planning and management, told AFP.

The closure would give the coral an opportunity to regenerate and would remove stress caused by tourism-related activities such as diving, the department said.

Coral bleaching, which can eventually cause corals to die, occurs when stresses including rising sea temperatures disrupt the delicate, symbiotic relationship between the corals and their host organisms.

The department's director-general, Abdul Jamal Mydin, told reporters that in some areas 60-90 percent of the coral had been damaged, and that three entire islands around Tioman in Malaysia's southeast had been closed.

"We are monitoring the extent of coral bleaching at all marine parks in the country. In the meantime, we are building artificial reefs and coral transplants," he was quoted as saying by the Star daily.

The Malaysian Nature Society applauded the move to give the reefs a break.

"In Malaysia, corals are facing a vast variety of threats even without the coral bleaching episodes," said the society's head of conservation Yeap Chin Aik.

Apart from global warming, "the other threats are uncontrolled tourism, and land-based threats which result in pollution," he said.

Typhoon Chanthu lashes flood-hit China

CHONGQING, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Typhoon Chanthu lashed southern China on Tuesday with punishing winds and heavy rain in the latest weather challenge for a country in which flooding has killed 700 people this year.

Chanthu made landfall in Guangdong province with winds of up to 126 kilometres per hour (78 mph), as the nation grapples with its worst flooding in 10 years, which is expected to continue as the typhoon season gains pace.

Chanthu's winds and rain were expected to rake Guangdong, the island province of Hainan and the Guangxi region with "ferocious precipitation", the China Meteorological Administration warned.

The typhoon made landfall near the city of Wuchuan. State-run television broadcast images of large waves crashing onto the Guangdong shore and said electricity, telecommunications and water services were cut in some areas.

Guangdong and Guangxi are among the areas already hit by torrential rains and subsequent flooding that has killed hundreds over the past several weeks and caused scores of rivers and lakes across the region to reach danger levels.

At least 701 people have died from the beginning of the year to July 20, while 347 people remain missing, vice minister of water resources Liu Ning told reporters Wednesday.

The Civil Affairs Ministry said three million people have been evacuated.

The flooding has intensified amid increasingly wet weather across several provinces since June. The ministry has said nearly 500 people have been killed or gone missing since July 1 alone.

Liu warned of more misery to come as the typhoon season gets into gear, saying six to eight major typhoons were expected in the coming months.

The weather administration warned people in Chanthu's westward-moving path to avoid unnecessary trips outdoors until the all-clear is given.

At least two dozen flights in and out of Hainan's Haikou city were cancelled Thursday, airport officials announced.

Elsewhere, the weather administration forecast light to moderate rain for the next three days across parts of China most affected by the recent flooding, including the provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi, Hubei, Anhui, and Yunnan.

Liu said Wednesday that more than 230 rivers in the country had seen water levels rise beyond warning points, with two dozen exceeding historic highs.

Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed in floods and landslides, and economic losses have hit at least 142 billion yuan (21 billion dollars), he said. The deaths and damage are China's worst in a decade.

The floods have dominated the country's attention for weeks, with state television each day broadcasting dramatic images of flood victims being rescued from raging rivers or plucked from rooftops in inundated villages.

The situation has triggered fears China could see a repeat of disastrous 1998 floods, when heavy rain swelled the Yangtze, China's longest river, and many tributaries, leading to a series of devastating levee collapses.

At least 4,150 people were believed killed, 18 million were evacuated and millions of homes destroyed in the country's worst floods in recent memory.

Liu and other officials said the 2006 completion of the Three Gorges Dam -- which was built partly for flood control -- and other flood-control projects since then would prevent such a recurrence.

Angry Foxconn chief warns on Taiwan investment plans

Angry Foxconn chief warns on Taiwan investment plans

TAIPEI, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - The head of Taiwanese IT giant Foxconn has hit out at critics who claim the firm mistreats Chinese workers and threatened to review his company's investment plans on the island.

Terry Gou, chairman of the group which is a major sub-contractor for Apple and other electronics giants, was responding to Taiwanese criticism following a series of suicides at the company's plants in China.

"I don't know why our image has been smeared to this extent," he was quoted by Huang Chiu-lien, chief financial officer of the group, as saying during a briefing Wednesday for selected journalists.

"He said he was even wondering if there was still room for us in Taiwan.... We'll review our local investment plans, but the plans as a whole have not yet been finalised," Huang said, referring to plans that could be worth hundreds of millions of US dollars.

The comments come after protests by Taiwanese academics who have claimed that Foxconn ill-treats workers in Chinese cities such as Shenzhen and have labelled the company a "shame on Taiwan".

A total of 11 Chinese employees have committed suicide this year at Foxconn plants by jumping from buildings, including 10 in Shenzhen. Another worker at a Foxconn affiliate died this week after falling from a dormitory.

Gou has said none of the deaths were directly work-related and that he has been cleared by Chinese authorities of any wrongdoing.

Foxconn, which is also known as Hon Hai, announced last month it would hike monthly salaries for assembly line workers in Shenzhen by nearly 70 percent to 2,000 yuan (290 dollars) from October 1 to help stem the problems.

"Some local academics even protested outside the Hon Hai headquarters claiming that Hon Hai is a shame of Taiwan. Gou said he felt agonised upon seeing this," Huang said.

Taiwan and China have been governed separately since a civil war in 1949, but Beijing considers the island part of its territory.

Temasek launches landmark 40-year bond

SINGAPORE, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - State-linked investment giant Temasek Holdings on Thursday announced a 40-year bond worth one billion Singaporean dollars (727 million US) priced at 4.2 percent a year.

The bond, due to expire in August 2050, is the first corporate bond priced in the local currency to have such a long duration, Temasek's treasury head Alyssa Ong said in a press release.

"We are delighted to pioneer the longest-dated SingDollar corporate bond to date," she said.

Proceeds from the bond will be used to fund Temasek and its investment holding companies' "ordinary course of operations," it added.

The bond has been give top ratings by global credit ratings agencies Standard & Poor's (S&P) and Moody's Investors Service.

"The 'AAA' corporate credit rating and stand-alone credit profile on Temasek reflect the company's exceptional liquidity position, highly diversified and liquid investments," S&P said separately.

"In addition, most of Temasek's major investments have strong business risk profiles, with steady and sustainable cash flows."

The latest offering is the eleventh under a 10-billion-US-dollar bond programme, Temasek said.

One of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds, Temasek earlier this month announced a 26-percent dive in profits for the year ended March after being battered by the global financial crisis.

However, the collective value of its investments worldwide reached a record high of 186 billion Singaporean dollars (134 billion US), up by 56 billion dollars, or 43 percent, from 130 billion dollars a year ago.

Most of Temasek's investments are in Singapore and Asia. It has stakes in leading companies including Standard Chartered bank and flag carrier Singapore Airlines.

Strained US-Sino ties loom at Asia security forum - Focus

Strained US-Sino ties loom at Asia security forum - Focus

HANOI, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Strained US-China military relations will be the elephant in the room as Asia's largest security forum meets in Vietnam on Friday amid tensions over North Korea, Taiwan and the South China Sea.

A US-South Korea naval drill in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) next week is exacerbating tensions ahead of the Hanoi meet, to be attended by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

Analysts said the 27-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum was unlikely to bring about a thaw in bilateral military ties, which Beijing froze in January over US weapons sales to Taiwan.

"It's the worst it's been in a long time. US-Sino relations are not in a good place right now," said Ian Storey, a fellow of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

"Particularly significant is that the two militaries aren't talking and there are a lot of issues that they have to discuss."

China suspended military relations in January after Washington unveiled a 6.4-billion-dollar arms package for Taiwan. In May, China rebuffed a planned visit to Beijing by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

US and South Korean plans to hold a series of naval drills from Sunday in response to North Korea's alleged torpedoing of a South Korean warship in March are the latest source of bad blood between Beijing and Washington.

The drills off the Korean peninsula -- relocated from the Yellow Sea due to Chinese objections -- are designed as a warning to nuclear-armed North Korea over the sinking of the warship with the loss of 46 lives, Gates said.

Pyongyang denies involvement and Beijing has refused to blame its communist ally.
"We resolutely oppose foreign military ships and planes coming to the Yellow Sea and other waters near China to engage in activities that affect China's security interests," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said.

During a visit to South Korea this week, Gates acknowledged he was "disappointed" at China's rebuff of his scheduled visit in June but said he was willing to move forward.
"I remain open to rebuilding and strengthening military-to-military dialogue between the United States and China because I think it can play an important role in preventing miscalculations and misunderstandings," he said.

Even so, top US commanders have made it clear they are watching China's military buildup, particularly its naval reach into disputed territories in the resource-rich South China Sea.

Speaking to US troops in South Korea on Wednesday, top US officer Admiral Mike Mullen said China's military had made "a fairly significant investment in high-end equipment" including satellites, aircraft, anti-ship missiles and a planned aircraft carrier group.

He called the move a "strategic shift, where they are moving from a focus on their ground forces to focus on their navy, and their maritime forces and their air force".

US officials worry that China's more assertive stance in the Pacific Ocean and its anti-ship missile arsenal, capable of striking aircraft carriers, could undercut America's long-dominant naval power in the region.

Shi Yinhong, an expert on Sino-US military ties at Renmin University in Beijing, said the relocation of the US-South Korea naval drills from the Yellow Sea would not be enough to re-build trust.

"That alone will not help Sino-US relations and the resumption of military ties," he said.

"The opportunity to fully resume military exchanges has been lost due to the military exercises."

Analysts said ASEAN member states would be looking on in horror as their immediate concerns -- such as territorial claims to islands in the South China Sea -- are drowned out by the noise of Sino-US tensions.

Beijing lays claim to the entire sea but ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam have claims to the Spratly archipelago, along with Taiwan. Vietnam also claims the more northerly Paracels.

The United States meanwhile demands unfettered access to vital sea lanes in the area.

"The current chill in Sino-US military relations is quite unwelcome at the ASEAN Regional Forum," Center for Strategic and International Studies analyst Ernie Bower said.

Honda says strike at China parts supplier over

BEIJING, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - A strike at a Honda parts supply factory in southern China has ended after more than a week of work disruptions, the Japanese automaker said Thursday, adding that production remained unaffected.

The strike was the latest in a series of walkouts by Chinese factory workers -- many at foreign-invested firms -- over pay and conditions in the so-called "workshop of the world".

Honda, Japan's number two automaker, said last week its sales had fallen 2.7 percent year-on-year in June after its China operations were crippled in recent weeks by work stoppages.

The stoppage at a unit of Atsumitec, which supplies gear shift levers for Hondas made in China, began on July 12.

"We have heard (from Atsumitec) that the strike is over," a Honda spokesman in Japan told AFP.

"What we can say is that all assembly plants are operating as usual," he added, declining to elaborate further.

Officials at Atsumitec Co -- 48 percent owned by Honda -- were not immediately available to comment.

Workers were seeking a pay rise of 500 yuan (73.70 dollars) per month, Xinhua news agency reported previously, but it was not clear if their demands had been met or when the workers had resumed their duties.

A separate strike that began Wednesday at an electronic components factory owned by Japanese firm Omron Corp also had not disrupted Honda's production, the spokesman said.

Honda president Takanobu Ito apologised Tuesday about the "commotion" created by the strikes.

"What we have discussed within Honda is that employees and the local management did not have enough communication," he told reporters in Tokyo.

"There are lessons to be learnt from the China case -- we need to have good communication.... It is an area we need to work on (and) measures have been introduced at the management level."

Singapore flood response not sufficient: Lee Kuan Yew

SINGAPORE, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - The Singapore government's measures to reduce the impact of recent floods on homes and businesses were insufficient, the island's founding father Lee Kuan Yew said in remarks published Thursday.

Lee, commenting on Wednesday after Singapore suffered three bouts of severe flooding since mid-June, added that constant rain and limited land area made it difficult to totally prevent floods in the tropical city-state.

"How can you say that the response is sufficient?" Lee was quoted as saying by the Straits Times when asked if the government's measures to alleviate the flooding had been up to standard.

"Of course, Singaporeans expect everything to be perfect - which we try to do, but there are some things which are beyond that."

The 86-year-old former prime minister, now an adviser to his son Lee Hsien Loong's government, said Singapore's small land area made it difficult to deal with "acts of God."

Singapore used to be an exception in a region plagued by disasters but the recent flash floods have caused serious property damage and disrupted lives across the island, denting its reputation for urban management.

Critics have blasted the Public Utilities Board (PUB) for not being prepared to handle the first two floods, while the department defended itself by saying abnormal weather conditions and clogged drains were to blame.

Officials have vowed to improve the drainage network and step up alert systems to forewarn residents and businesses to limit the impact of future floods.

The government has identified 52 flood-prone zones, including the financial district and the Orchard Road shopping belt, and some establishments including luxury shops have resorted to installing unsightly sandbag barricades.

"There is a limited amount of space that you can dig underground, limited amount of space that you can have run-offs for canals," Lee noted.

"Whatever we do when we get extraordinary rains like we had recently, no amount of engineering can prevent flooding... unless you want to lose half the roads and have canals."

China's Huawei denies stealing Motorola's technology

BEIJING, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Chinese telecoms maker Huawei Technologies on Thursday rejected allegations by Motorola that it had stolen technology secrets from the US mobile phone giant over the past decade.

Motorola is suing Huawei in the United States, alleging the Chinese company worked with more than a dozen Motorola employees to secure detailed confidential information about its cellular network equipment, the Wall Street Journal said.

Huawei, which is currently trying to secure its first major deal in the United States, said the accusations were "groundless and utterly without merit".

"Huawei will vigorously defend itself against baseless allegations," the Chinese firm said in a statement sent to AFP.

"As an active and significant player in global standards-setting bodies, Huawei has great respect for the rights of intellectual property holders, and will with equal vigour protect its own hard-earned intellectual property rights."

The case is being heard in a federal court in the US state of Illinois, home to Motorola's corporate headquarters.

Motorola claims one of its employees, Shaowei Pan, secretly reported to Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, a former People's Liberation Army engineer, for years while working at the US company, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Pan then left to help set up a company called Lemko Corp with the alleged purpose of stealing more secrets from Motorola, the report said.

Motorola claims Huawei and Lemko are now selling equipment based on the stolen technology.

It is the first time Motorola has named Huawei in the two-year-old legal proceedings, which also include the former employees and Lemko, the newspaper said.

Huawei denied it had any relationship with Lemko, other than a "reseller agreement".
It is not the first time Huawei has been accused of stealing trade secrets.

In 2003, US high tech giant Cisco Systems alleged the Chinese firm "unlawfully copied and misappropriated" Cisco's software for directing Internet traffic.

Cisco later dropped the case after Huawei agreed to change its router and switch products.

The latest legal action comes at a critical time for Huawei, which is trying to increase its presence in the US telecoms market despite concerns in Washington about its possible close ties to China's army.

Huawai is currently bidding to sell equipment needed for the expansion of the wireless broadband network of Sprint Nextel, the Financial Times reported early this month.

If the bid is approved, it would mark the first time Huawei has sold equipment to a large US telecommunications operator, though it has made sales to smaller US companies, the newspaper said.

Huawei, which also makes mobile phones, was forced in 2008 to abandon a joint 2.2-billion-dollar bid for US technology firm 3Com due to security concerns.

Rights group says China forces committed abuses in Tibet

BEIJING, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Chinese security forces brutally beat and even shot dead some protesters during unrest in Tibet in 2008, and tortured many in the subsequent crackdown, Human Rights Watch said in a report Thursday.

The New York-based organisation said it had based its findings on interviews with more than 200 Tibetan refugees and other witnesses between March 2008 and April 2010, as well as official information.

"Dozens of eyewitness testimonies and the government's own sources show clearly the official willingness to use lethal force against unarmed protesters," said Sophie Richardson, the group's Asia advocacy director.

"This report decisively refutes the Chinese government's claim that it handled the protests in line with international standards and domestic laws," she said, calling for a Chinese and international probe.

China's government did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.
The unrest began on March 10, 2008 with a string of peaceful protests marking the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule that forced the Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader, to flee into exile.

The demonstrations in Tibet's capital Lhasa later descended into violence and spread to neighbouring areas with significant Tibetan populations.

China -- which insists it adhered to international practices when dealing with the protests -- says 21 people were killed by rioters during the turmoil.

Exiled groups, for their part, say more than 200 Tibetans died -- most of them at the hands of Chinese security forces.

"I can tell you as a responsible official that guns were absolutely not fired," Qiangba Puncog, Tibet's governor at the time, said three days after the Lhasa violence.

But according to the HRW report, witnesses say lethal force was used to disperse demonstrators on March 14 on several occasions, although restraint was used at other times.

"When the soldiers showed up, they threw tear gas... Then there was indiscriminate shooting and we saw two people shot dead in front of us," one Tibetan protester told HRW.

"One died in the doorway of the Mentsikhang (outpatient department of the Tibetan hospital)... That day the hospitals had been ordered not to help anyone."

Other witnesses told stories of fatal shootings -- including at least one innocent bystander who was killed -- in Lhasa and in surrounding Tibetan areas.

The state-run Xinhua news agency acknowledged two shooting incidents -- one where it said police shot four people in "self-defence", and another in which security forces had to fire warning shots.

The HRW report also said some peaceful protests that started on March 10 were broken up with force, with one witness describing police hitting monks and lay-people with electric batons.

According to the report, the government has acknowledged detaining at least 3,300 people over the unrest in Tibetan areas.

Witnesses told HRW of regular beatings and the use of torture to extract confessions.

In one example, Nechung, a 38-year-old mother of four, was detained for eight days in March 2008 for allegedly tearing down the signboard of the police station in Aba, a Tibetan area in Sichuan province, the report said.

When she was freed, "she was unable to speak or eat without vomiting, had bruises on her body and difficulty breathing".

Nechung died 22 days later, it added.

According to the relative of one Tibetan man who was held in three different facilities, detainees at one place near Lhasa had their hands tied behind their backs and were made to kneel with their heads on their knees.

"When they leaned or fell over they were beaten and forced to resume their position. This went on for several days," the relative said.

HRW called on the Chinese government to investigate the protests and their aftermath, and open the region to media and international monitors.

"The need for an international investigation into the situation in Tibet is as great as ever," Richardson said.

"Abuses by security forces are unlikely to quell, and may even aggravate, the longstanding grievances that prompted the protests in the first place."

Flood-hit China braces for typhoon Chanthu

CHONGQING, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Southern China braced Thursday for the arrival of typhoon Chanthu, with flights cancelled and more "ferocious" rainfall forecast after the loss of more than 700 lives in floods this year.

Chanthu's expected mid-day landfall in Guangdong province comes as the nation grapples with its worst flooding in 10 years, which is expected to continue as the typhoon season gains pace.

Chanthu was expected to hit Guangdong, the island province of Hainan and the Guangxi region with maximum winds of up to 126 kilometres per hour (78 mph) and "ferocious precipitation", the China Meteorological Administration warned.

Those are among the areas already hit by torrential rains and subsequent flooding that has killed hundreds over the past several weeks and caused scores of rivers and lakes across the region to reach danger levels.

At least 701 people have died since the beginning of the year, while 347 people remain missing, vice minister of water resources Liu Ning told reporters Wednesday.

The Civil Affairs Ministry said three million people have been evacuated.

The flooding has intensified amid increasingly wet weather across several provinces since June. The ministry has said nearly 500 people have been killed or gone missing since July 1 alone.

Liu warned of more misery to come as the typhoon season gets into gear, saying six to eight major typhoons were expected in the coming months.

The weather administration warned people in Chanthu's westward-moving path to avoid unnecessary trips outdoors until the all-clear is given.

Twenty-six flights in and out of Hainan's Haikou city were cancelled Thursday, airport officials announced.

Elsewhere, the weather administration forecast light to moderate rain for the next three days across parts of China most affected by the recent flooding, including the provinces of Sichuan, Shaanxi, Hubei, Anhui, and Yunnan.

Liu said Wednesday that more than 230 rivers in the country had seen water levels rise beyond warning points, with two dozen exceeding historic highs.

Tens of thousands of homes and other structures have been destroyed in floods and landslides, and economic losses have hit at least 142 billion yuan (21 billion dollars), he said.

The deaths and damage figures are the worst in a decade, he said.

China's Baidu doubles profits in second quarter

BEIJING, July 22, 2010 (AFP) - Chinese Internet search giant Baidu said Thursday its profits more than doubled in the second quarter, as its customer base widened at the expense of rival Google.

The results came after a Chinese research report showed Baidu increased its dominance of the world's biggest online market in the second quarter as Google lost market share during its public spat with Beijing over censorship.

Baidu said net profit soared nearly 120 percent year-on-year to 837.4 million yuan (123.6 million dollars), helped by better-than-expected search engine traffic during the World Cup in South Africa last month.

Profits were kicked higher by an increase in online marketing revenues, which rose almost 75 percent on year to 1.9 billion yuan after the company boosted its sales force and embarked on a campaign to attract more customers.

Revenue is expected to total between 2.2 and 2.6 billion yuan in the third quarter, up 72-77 percent from the same period in 2009, the company forecast.

Chief executive Robin Li said the results underscored "the vast Internet market opportunities for us and the growing appreciation for search engine marketing in China".

"In the years ahead, I am confident Baidu will become even more central to China's Internet ecosystem," Li told reporters in a conference call.

Baidu said it had some 254,000 active online marketing customers in the second quarter, up 25 percent year-on-year and 15 percent more than in the first quarter.

The Chinese company is locked in a fierce battle with Google in the country's lucrative and still-emerging Internet market.

The number of web users in China now stands at around 420 million, according to official figures released last week.

The figure, almost a third of the population, marks an increase of 36 million since the number of users was last given at the end of 2009.

Li noted the massive growth opportunities in China, with "70 percent of the country still offline".

"While we are proud of the exceptional shareholder value created by Baidu, we are just getting started," Li said.

Baidu currently dominates the Chinese market, holding a 70 percent share against Google's 24 percent, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.

The US Internet titan had boasted a 31 percent share in the first three months of the year, before its protracted tussle with the Chinese authorities.

In March, Google said it would no longer bow to government censors and effectively shut down its Chinese search engine, automatically re-routing mainland users to its uncensored site in Hong Kong.

The web giant has since tweaked the way it re-routes users in order to gain the renewal of its business license in China, creating a new landing page with a link to the Hong Kong site, which users must click on themselves.

Analysys said Google's decision to shift its server to Hong Kong and uncertainty over the renewal of its licence had cost the company valuable market share.

Google loses out in Chinese search engine market

BEIJING, July 21, 2010 (AFP) - Google's share of the Chinese search engine market fell in the second quarter while the US Internet giant was embroiled in a public battle with Beijing over censorship, a research firm said Wednesday.

The web titan's share of the world's biggest online market fell to 24.2 percent in the three months to June, from 30.9 percent in the first quarter, Analysys International said in a report.

At the same time, Chinese web search engine Baidu increased its dominance with its market share rising to 70 percent in the second quarter from 64 percent in the first three months of the year.

China's search market was worth 2.67 billion yuan (394 million dollars) in the second quarter, up 48 percent year on year.

"Uncertainty over Google helped Baidu to expand its market share," Analysys said.
In March, Google said it would no longer bow to government censors and effectively shut down its Chinese search engine, automatically re-routing mainland users to its uncensored site in Hong Kong.

The web giant has since tweaked the way it re-routes users in order to gain the renewal of its business licence in China.

Analysys said Google's decision to shift its server to Hong Kong and uncertainty over the renewal of its licence cost the company valuable market share.

"But now the uncertainties have been resolved, Google will make a comeback," the research firm said.

The number of Internet users in China has leapt to 420 million, according to official figures released last week.

The figure, almost a third of the population, marks an increase of 36 million -- more than the population of Canada -- since the number of users was last given at the end of 2009.

Baidu is due to release its second-quarter results, which analysts expect to show a 67-70 percent year-on-year increase in revenue.


China flood toll tops 700 with conditions set to worsen

BEIJING, July 21, 2010 (AFP) - Flooding in China that has killed more than 700 people this year and inundated countless communities looks set to worsen as the country gets deeper into typhoon season, the government warned Wednesday.

But officials, in the first high-level press briefing on weeks of deadly flooding plaguing much of the country's southern half, said a disaster on the scale of historic 1998 flooding on the Yangtze River would likely be averted.

A total of 701 people have died so far this year in flooding that has also left 347 people missing, Liu Ning, head of the country's flood control authority and vice minister of water resources, told reporters.

He said the annual rainy season would continue at least through August, and that more downpours were expected, further straining reservoirs and other water control projects, especially as the East Asian typhoon season has just begun.

"During this period there will be heavy rainfall and serious floods. The rainfall will continue," Liu said.

He said meteorologists expected heavy rains could spread to northern China, possibly causing flooding along major rivers such as the Huai, Yellow and Songhua.

"In these rivers they haven't seen major floods in many years and they are very likely to see some soon. So we must anticipate big disasters," he said.

Liu said more than 230 rivers in the country had seen water levels rise past warning points, with two dozen exceeding historic highs.

Liu did not say how many of the 701 deaths came since June, when the current bout of extreme rains began, but he said 187 of the deaths -- and 173 of those left missing -- occurred in just the past two weeks.

Tens of thousands of homes and other structures have been destroyed in floods and landslides, and economic losses have hit at least 142 billion yuan (21 billion dollars), with 110 million people affected, he said.

The floods have dominated the country's attention for weeks, with state television each day broadcasting dramatic images of villagers being rescued from raging rivers or plucked from rooftops in inundated villages.

The situation has triggered fears China could see a repeat of the disastrous flooding of 1998, when heavy rain swelled the Yangtze, China's longest river, and many tributaries, leading to a series of devastating levee collapses.

At least 4,150 people were believed killed, 18 million were evacuated and millions of homes were destroyed in the floods, the country's worst in recent memory.

However, Liu and other officials stressed that lessons learned from 1998, and the 2006 completion of the Three Gorges Dam -- which was built partly for flood control -- would prevent such a recurrence.

He said rainfall levels, although extremely high, have remained 20 percent lower than those of 1998.

And although the upper reaches of the Yangtze drainage basin have seen the highest flood peak since 1987, Liu said the dam would prevent flood surges on the river's upper and lower reaches from "converging" as they did in 1998.

He said the government was now feverishly coordinating the release of water by dams throughout the region to maintain a smooth flow.

"The Three Gorges Dam is now playing an effective role in flood control," Liu said, adding that numerous dams and other flood control facilities were built in the wake of the 1998 disaster on the Yangtze.

"All these efforts have laid a good foundation and act as a pillar in our flood control campaign," he said.

However, Liu also acknowledged that six small dams had collapsed this year and more than 1,000 displayed potential "risks".

Watchdog criticises Singapore over case of British

SINGAPORE, July 21, 2010 (AFP) - Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has urged London to "do everything possible" to prevent Singapore from charging the British author of a book on executions in the city-state.

In a statement issued late Tuesday, the Paris-based group known by its French acronym RSF dismissed allegations against Alan Shadrake, 75, who was arrested Sunday after launching a book critical of Singaporean justice.

Shadrake, who lives in neighbouring Malaysia and Britain, is out on bail ahead of a court hearing on July 30 when he is expected to be charged over the publication of his book "Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock".

RSF said the charges expected to be laid against Shadrake by the Attorney-General's Chambers were "just a series of biased and malicious allegations that show that the case is an abuse of judicial authority".

"Reporters Without Borders calls on the British government to do everything possible to get the Singaporean authorities to drop the charges," RSF said.

The British High Commission (embassy) in Singapore is providing consular assistance to Shadrake.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Chambers, which prosecutes state cases, said the office had no immediate reaction to the RSF statement.

The Briton, expected to be charged with criminal defamation and contempt of court, was bailed out by Singaporean activists early Tuesday after undergoing police interrogation.

Rachel Zeng, a local human rights activist close to Shadrake, said the author was summoned Tuesday by the police to an investigation session lasting nine hours, and was due to return Wednesday for another round of questioning.

A police spokesman confirmed that Shadrake had been "called to assist in further investigations" on Tuesday.

Zeng said the book was selling briskly across the border in Johor Bahru, a Malaysian city frequently visited by Singaporeans.

Shadrake's book alleges double standards in Singapore's use of the death penalty, which is carried out by hanging for crimes like murder and drug trafficking.

Foreign execs grow impatient with China - Focus

Foreign execs grow impatient with China - Focus

BEIJING, July 21, 2010 (AFP) - China's growing importance to companies' bottom lines has led foreign firms to complain more openly about what they say are unfair business policies and market restrictions, experts say.

While many top executives express their frustrations anonymously through their chambers of commerce, others from leading US and European firms are openly saying they are unhappy with the investment environment in China.

"These companies have a lot more at stake than they used to when China was an interesting experiment for them," said Patrick Chovanec, a professor at Tsinghua University's school of economics and management in Beijing.

"They can't afford to hope that things will get better -- they need to express their concerns."

Last week, senior officials from German firms BASF and Siemens added their voices to the chorus of complaint over the business climate -- during a meeting attended by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

BASF chief executive Jurgen Hambrecht complained that foreign companies were forced to transfer business and technological know-how to their Chinese competitors in exchange for market access, according to the Financial Times.

Siemens chief executive Peter Loescher -- whose company last week signed a deal to create a joint venture with Shanghai Electric Group in the steam and gas turbine power plant market -- said foreign firms "expect to find equal conditions in the fields of public tenders".

Merkel herself prodded China on the issue Friday, saying she hoped that "German enterprises can enjoy the same access to the Chinese market" as Chinese firms do in her country.

Those remarks follow public complaints by other senior executives of foreign companies including General Electric and US Internet giant Google, which was embroiled for months this year in a row with Beijing over censorship.

"I think they are emboldened because they feel now many people are coming out to complain," said Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai.

GE chief executive Jeffrey Immelt reportedly told a private dinner in Italy that China was becoming more protectionist and that Beijing was hostile towards foreign companies.

The company later objected that the comments had been taken out of context -- after they made headlines around the world. GE then was named as a supplier of the electronic systems for China's first-ever jumbo passenger jet.

Earlier this year, Google effectively shut down its Chinese search engine and rerouted users to a server in Hong Kong after a public spat with Beijing over state censorship and cyberattacks the company said originated in China.

The US web giant has since tweaked the way it rerouted users, in order to gain the renewal of its business licence in China -- a move which underlined the importance of the world's third-largest economy to many foreign companies.

Surveys by the American and European chambers of commerce in recent months also show overseas companies are increasingly unhappy with the way they are treated in China.

American executives reported feeling increasingly unwelcome while European businesses warned their investment in China was not "unconditional", suggesting they would consider pulling out of the country if the situation worsened.

Rein however said he does not believe the investment environment in China is any worse than it was a decade ago -- the market is just far more crucial to the foreign firms present in the world's most populous country.

"It's always been difficult to operate here," Rein said.

"You have always had to transfer technology and have joint ventures, but it is a market that matters now."

At last weekend's meeting with German businesses, Wen rejected suggestions that the Asian giant did not provide a level playing field to foreign investors and insisted overseas businesses were not at a disadvantage.

Rein said he expected the Chinese government to ease restrictions on foreign firms in the next six to 12 months, as they try to walk a fine line between securing foreign investment and avoiding criticism at home.

"I think the government is very sensitive to be seen letting foreign companies making money off poor Chinese," Rein said.

"They need to be protectionist for political reasons."