China says could adjust yuan if it fuelled deficit

BOAO, April 15, 2011 (AFP) - China's commerce minister said Friday Beijing could adjust its currency policy if it found the yuan's appreciation had contributed to the nation's first quarterly trade deficit in seven years.

"If it's (trade deficit) caused by the exchange rate, then possibly we will have to readjust our exchange rate policy," Chen Deming told delegates at an annual international forum on the southern island of Hainan.

"If the deficit is not caused by the exchange rate of the RMB, then I don't think we need to slow down or adjust the pace of the RMB exchange rate revaluation," he said at the gathering in Boao, referring to the currency's official name of renminbi.

The Boao forum has brought together leaders in government, business and academia in Asia and other continents every year since 2001 to discuss pressing issues in the region and the rest of the world.

China posted its first quarterly trade deficit in seven years in the first three months of 2011 amid rising commodity prices, which analysts said suggested it was making progress in rebalancing its export-reliant economy.

Beijing is under growing pressure from its trade partners for a stronger currency, with its critics claiming a weak yuan gives Chinese firms an unfair advantage and exacerbates global trade imbalances.

China pledged in June to loosen its grip on its currency following intense international pressure. The value of the yuan has strengthened less than five percent since then -- not quickly enough for some of its trade partners.

Policymakers have repeatedly vowed to make the yuan exchange rate more flexible but ruled out a rapid appreciation, arguing such a move would hurt the country's vast manufacturing sector and trigger widespread job losses.

Google tips hat to Charlie Chaplin with video doodle

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2011 (AFP) - Google paid tribute to Charlie Chaplin on Friday by transforming the celebrated logo on its homepage into a silent movie.

When clicked, the logo, known as the "Google doodle," plays a silent film featuring members of the doodle team acting out Chaplin-esque sketches.

Google said the doodle honoring Chaplin, who was born on April 16, 1889, is its first live-action video and was created by the Google doodle team with help from the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

"We hope that our homage gets people talking about his work and the many virtues of silent film," Google "doodler" Ryan Germick said in a blog post.

The Mountain View, California-based Google frequently changes the colorful logo on its famously spartan homepage to mark anniversaries or significant events or pay tribute to artists, scientists, statesmen and others.

White House unveils cyber ID proposal

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2011 (AFP) - The White House unveiled a plan on Friday designed to boost confidence and business in cyberspace through the creation of a single, secure online credential.

"By making online transactions more trustworthy and better protecting privacy, we will prevent costly crime, we will give businesses and consumers new confidence, and we will foster growth and untold innovation," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

"That's why this initiative is so important for our economy," Obama said.

The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC) proposes the creation of secure and reliable online credentials that would be available to consumers who want to use them.

It would be private-sector driven and participation would be voluntary.

The "identity ecosystem" would involve the use of a single credential -- unique software on a smartphone, a smart card or a token that generates a one-time digital password, for example, -- and would eliminate the need to remember multiple passwords.

"The consumer can use their single credential to log into any website, with more security than passwords alone provide," the White House said.

"Consumers can use their credential to prove their identity when they're carrying out sensitive transactions, like banking, and can stay anonymous when they are not," it said.

"The Internet has transformed how we communicate and do business, opening up markets, and connecting our society as never before," Obama said. "But it has also led to new challenges, like online fraud and identity theft, that harm consumers and cost billions of dollars each year."

The White House said the goal is to "make online transactions more trustworthy, thereby giving businesses and consumers more confidence in conducting business online."

In addition to providing more security for consumers, the White House said the proposed system could also provide better privacy protections.

"Today, a vast amount of information about consumers is collected as they surf the Internet and conduct transactions," it said. "How organizations handle that information can vary greatly, and more often than not, it is difficult for consumers to understand how their privacy will (or will not) be protected.

"The NSTIC seeks to drive the development of privacy-enhancing policies as well as innovative privacy-enhancing technologies to ensure that the ecosystem provides strong privacy protections for consumers," it said.

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, speaking at an event at the US Chamber of Commerce here, said "we must do more to help consumers protect themselves, and we must make it more convenient than remembering dozens of passwords.

"Working together, innovators, industry, consumer advocates, and the government can develop standards so that the marketplace can provide more secure online credentials, while protecting privacy, for consumers who want them," Locke said.

The Washington-based Center for Democracy & Technology issued a statement emphasizing that the NSTIC was not proposing a national identification program.

"There are two key points about this strategy: First, this is NOT a government-mandated, national ID program; in fact, it's not an identity 'program' at all," said CDT president Leslie Harris.

"Second, this is a call by the administration to the private sector to step up, take leadership of this effort and provide the innovation to implement a privacy-enhancing, trusted system," Harris said.


Philippines to boost Spratly patrols

MANILA, April 15, 2011 (AFP) - The Philippine military said Friday it planned to use a new US-made vessel to boost patrols in disputed South China Sea waters, amid a flare-up in tensions with China over rival claims.

The navy was looking to use the modern Hamilton-class patrol craft, recently bought from the United States, around the Philippine-claimed area of the Spratly archipelago, military spokesman Brigadier-General Jose Mabanta said.

"That's one of the possible areas. We really have to secure some of our possessions, and the Spratlys is one of our possessions," Mabanta told AFP when asked where the vessel would be deployed.

Mabanta said a Philippine navy crew was currently in the United States training to operate the patrol craft, and that it was expected to arrive in June.

The US navy describes the Hamilton as a high endurance cutter with close-in weapons systems.

The Philippine navy has a tiny and old fleet compared with China.

The Philippine fleet is made up of recommissioned former US navy vessels, headlined by Rajah Humabon, a Cannon-class destroyer escort that was built during World War II and is one of the world's oldest operational warships.

The Philippines and China, along with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam, claim all or part of the Spratlys, which are believed to sit on vast mineral resources and lie near vital sea lanes.

The dispute flared up again last month when Manila complained that Chinese patrol boats had harassed a Philippine oil exploration vessel in disputed waters near the Spratlys.

The Philippines later announced plans to pursue oil exploration in the area and to upgrade its military airfield on one of the islands, and lodged a formal protest at the United Nations over China's claims.

Amid the flare-up China has repeatedly reiterated its exclusive claims to all the disputed areas and their adjacent waters, much of which are much closer to Philippine land than Chinese.

The United States considers the Philippines a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organisation military ally and the two countries are bound by a 1951 mutual defence pact.

China has repeatedly told the United States it has no right to be involved in the Spratlys dispute.

China 'Jasmine' detentions up to 54: rights group

BEIJING, April 15, 2011 (AFP) - China has detained at least 54 dissidents, activists and others in an ongoing severe crackdown on dissent highlighted by the recent detention of famed artist Ai Weiwei, a rights group said Friday.

The latest to be taken into custody include Ni Yulan, an outspoken wheelchair-bound activist for housing rights, and her husband Dong Jiqin, the Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) said in a statement.

Ni was detained April 7 in Beijing for "creating a disturbance", and Dong also is missing after being taken away by police, CHRD said. Beijing police denied knowledge of their cases when contacted by AFP.

China has launched a fierce crackdown on government critics and activists in an apparent bid to squelch any political movements similar to the "Jasmine" revolutions that have rocked the Arab world.

After the Middle East unrest, online calls for anti-government demonstrations in China also surfaced. Police have clamped down to prevent that, and no protests have been reported.

Earlier this month, police took into custody Ai Weiwei, an internationally known artist who has angered authorities with his involvement in a number of sensitive activist campaigns and his criticism of the ruling Communist Party.

The government has said the burly, bearded avant-garde artist was detained on suspicion of "economic crimes" but has provided no evidence, details, or access to the accused.

However, Hong Kong's Wen Wei Po newspaper -- which is controlled by China's government -- reported on Thursday that police have solid evidence that Ai evaded paying his taxes and was "confessing".

Citing unnamed sources, it said the amount of taxes avoided by Ai was "quite large" and that it had "solid witness, documented, and circumstantial evidence" of his guilt.

It said he also was suspected of bigamy and disseminating pornography on the Internet. Neither Ai's wife, lawyer or other family members were immediately reachable by AFP on Friday.

CHRD said it had documented the criminal detention of at least 38 dissidents and activists, while 16 other people were missing after being taken away by police.

Ai's detention has drawn worldwide condemnation, with the United States, Britain, France and numerous rights groups calling for his release. Ai, born in 1957, currently has his work on display in London's Tate Modern gallery.

Human rights activists have condemned the Chinese crackdown, saying authorities were trampling China's own laws aimed at protecting citizens from arbitrary arrest and ensuring freedom of expression.

China says first quarter growth at 9.7%

BEIJING, April 15, 2011 (AFP) - China said Friday its economy grew at a robust but slightly slower pace in the first quarter of 2011 while inflation accelerated despite efforts to rein in soaring food and property prices.

Gross domestic product in the world's second-largest economy expanded by 9.7 percent on year in the first three months of the year, the National Bureau of Statistics said -- beating Dow Jones Newswires' estimate of 9.5 percent.

The economy grew 9.8 percent in the final quarter of 2010 and 10.3 percent for the entire year.
"The national economy maintained steady and fast development and had a very good beginning (to the year)," NBS spokesman Sheng Laiyun said.

The politically sensitive consumer price index rose 5.4 percent year-on-year in March -- the fastest pace since July 2008 and well above the government's 2011 target of four percent -- and 5.0 percent in the first quarter.

Keeping inflation at 5.0 percent was "no easy job", said Sheng, as food prices soared 11 percent in the first quarter and housing costs rose 6.5 percent. Inflation hit 4.9 percent in February.

Sheng said China "must persist in managing inflation expectations" but noted prices fell 0.2 percent in March from February which was a "good sign".

But analysts said the government had more work to do.

"The Chinese economy is not slowing as planned or desired. Inflation remains stubbornly high," said Alistair Thornton, an analyst at IHS Global Insight.

Lu Ting, an economist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, said prices normally fell more than 0.2 percent following the Chinese New Year holiday.

"That's why policymakers are a bit nervous about inflation pressures and they raised (the) tone on inflation fighting this week," said Lu.

Premier Wen Jiabao vowed last weekend to ramp up efforts against rising costs, and an industry association on Wednesday ordered businesses not to raise prices and heed Beijing's call to stabilise costs to help tame inflation.

Top leaders, ever fearful of inflation's historical potential to trigger social unrest in the country of more than 1.3 billion people, have been struggling to rein in food and property costs.

Prices have remained high despite four interest rate hikes since October and tougher restrictions on bank lending.

The producer price index, which measures the cost of products at the factory gate, rose 7.3 percent year-on-year in March, up from 7.2 percent in February, the NBS said.

Global commodity prices have been rising in response to the disasters in Japan and the conflict in oil-rich Libya, fanning inflation and increasing pressure on China's millions of poor.

Sheng said investment in real estate development soared 34.1 percent on year to 884.6 billion yuan ($135.4 billion) in the first quarter. Other data released Thursday showed a bigger than expected rise in new loans last month.

Foreign exchange reserves soared past $3 trillion for the first time at the end of March. The world's largest stockpile has been rising as Beijing buys foreign currencies used to pay for the country's exports in order to control the value of the yuan.

Industrial output from China's millions of factories and workshops rose 14.4 percent year-on-year in the first quarter, while fixed asset investment, a measure of government spending on infrastructure, rose 25 percent.

Retail sales in the first three months of the year were up 16.3 percent.

Warner to sell entire company, near agreement: WSJ

NEW YORK, April 14, 2011 (AFP) - Warner Music Group Corp. is seeking to sell the entire company, rather than parts of the business, and could agree on a buyer within weeks, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

The newspaper, citing "people familiar with the matter," said Warner Music's board reached the decision to pursue a sale of the whole company at a meeting on Tuesday after receiving second-round offers from bidders.

The Journal said bids were received for all of Warner Music and for one or the other of its major units -- its recorded-music business, which includes the Atlantic and Warner Bros. record labels, and the Warner/Chappell music-publishing division.

The newspaper said last week's bids for the entire company, which has a market capitalization of $1.1 billion, were around $3 billion, including the assumption of debt.

It said the bidders for the entire company are Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Cos., Access Industries, a holding company controlled by industrialist Len Blavatnik, and private-equity firm Platinum Equity.

Bidders for part of the company were Live Nation Entertainment Inc., Japan's Sony Corp. and BMG Rights, a joint venture between buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and German publisher Bertelsmann AG.

Warner Music, whose talent includes Metallica, Kid Rock and Green Day, is controlled by private-equity firms and chief executive, Edgar Bronfman Jr., who bought the company from Time Warner Inc. in 2004 for $2.6 billion.

Warner Music shares declined 1.05 percent to $7.53 in early afternoon trading on Wall Street on Thursday.

Huffington says blogger suit 'without merit'

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2011 (AFP) - Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, has dismissed as "utterly without merit" a lawsuit filed against the website claiming compensation for unpaid bloggers.

Huffington, who sold The Huffington Post to AOL two months ago for $315 million, said the vast majority of contributors to her news and opinion site are happy to do so for free because of the exposure it gives them.

Jonathan Tasini, a freelance journalist, sued The Huffington Post on Tuesday and is demanding at least $105 million for unpaid bloggers on the grounds that they should be compensated for the value they have created for the website.

Tasini is seeking to have the suit accepted as a class action representing more than 9,000 writers and others who contributed material to The Huffington Post for free since it was launched six years ago.

Huffington, in a blog post late Wednesday, said the lawsuit is so "utterly without merit" that she is "hesitant to take any time away from aggregating adorable kitten videos to respond."

The kitten reference is a jibe at Bill Keller, the executive editor of The New York Times, who called Huffington recently the "queen of aggregation" and said part of the appeal of her site is its "adorable kitten videos."

On a more serious note, Huffington said "our group blog is part of our DNA.

"We are proud of the impact it has had as a platform that amplifies the voices of those who contribute to it, and enables a wide variety of people to reach larger audiences with their ideas, opinions, passions, books, movies, causes and candidacies.

"People blog on HuffPost for free for the same reason they go on cable TV shows every night for free: either because they are passionate about their ideas or because they have something to promote and want exposure to large and multiple audiences," she said.

"Bottom line: the vast majority of our bloggers are thrilled to contribute -- and we're thrilled to have them," she said. "Indeed, we are inundated with requests from people who want to use our platform."

Huffington also noted that unpaid bloggers are not the only contributors to The Huffington Post. "We also employ a newsroom staffed by hundreds of full-time editors, writers and reporters," she said.

The Huffington Post attracts some 25 million unique visitors a month to its lively mix of news, entertainment, opinion and blogs submitted by academics, entertainment figures, politicians and others.


Sony eyes two-week summer break to save energy

TOKYO, April 14, 2011 (AFP) - Sony said Thursday it was considering having all its employees in Japan take two-week summer vacations to save energy, amid power shortages in the aftermath of the March 11 disasters.

By shutting down offices, air conditioners, elevators, and other facilities, the electronics giant believes it could save up to 25 percent of the power it normally consumes during the peak summer months, said a Sony spokesman.

"We hope efforts like this will significantly reduce our power consumption," he said.

The decision, if made official, would affect 16,000 Japan-based workers, he said, adding that many of its factories are run by subsidiaries and might continue normal operations.

The government is set to order major firms to cut their power consumption by 25 percent this summer, when power use peaks in part due to air conditioner use, as the region served by Tokyo Electric Power faces shortages of at least 20 percent of demand.

The 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami battered the northeast coast on March 11, prompting 11 of Japan's 55 nuclear reactors to shut down automatically and knocking out cooling systems at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Three reactors were already idle at the world's largest nuclear power plant at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa on Japan's western coast due to a 2007 earthquake, and the recent disaster also damaged several thermal power plants.

Sony's summer leave might be broken into a series of off-duty days, rather than a one-time extended vacation, the spokesman added.

The Japanese giant is also considering bringing its normal business hours forward from the usual 9:00 am or 9:30 am start to 8:00 am, enabling offices to close earlier, he said.

Sony may also open its offices at weekends and close on normal business days, he said.
Among many energy-saving schemes, major manufacturers have discussed taking turns to close their factories to save electricity.

Analysts have warned of the likely slowdown of the economy through this summer, as manufacturers are forced to limit production due to the power shortfall.

Spotify slaps limits on free music service

STOCKHOLM, April 14, 2011 (AFP) - Swedish music streaming service Spotify said Thursday it would cut back on its free version, slashing the amount of times a track can be played and the total amount of music users can listen to.

Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek said in a post on Spotify's official blog that new users would be able to enjoy the free services "as it is today" for the first six months.

"As of May 1, any user who signed up to the free service on or before November 1, 2010 will be able to play each track for free up to a total of five times. Users who signed up after the beginning of November will see these changes applied six months after the time they set up their Spotify account," Ek said.

The total amount of music users of Spotify's free service can access per month will also be slashed six months after they join Spotify.

"The total listening time for free users will be limited to 10 hours per month after the first six months," Ek explained.

Spotify stressed the changes would mainly affect the heavy users of its free version, saying most users accessed the service to discover new music.

As for the limit on the amount of times a song can be played "the average user won't reach the limit on plays for seven out of 10 tracks, after a year of using Spotify," Ek said.

The Swedish company said last month it had reached one million paying customers -- a number that doubled in under a year -- and Ek said the ratio of paying subscribers to free users was 15 percent, which put the total amount of Spotify users at 6.5 million as of last month.

Founded in 2006, Spotify is one of the world's largest streaming websites and is available only in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Britain, France, Spain and the Netherlands because of copyright issues.

The service reached one million total users two years ago. In July 2010, it had about 500,000 paying users.

Spotify users can stream music for free from the service in exchange for listening to advertising, but can also pay five or 10 euros ($6.9 or $13.8 dollars) to gain ad-free access to the service.

The 10-euro version allows users to listen to their playlists whilst offline and to access their music through their mobile phones.

'World's first 3D porn film' opens in Hong Kong

HONG KONG, April 14, 2011 (AFP) - Movie-goers flocked to see what is billed as the world's first 3D porn film as it opened to packed cinemas across Hong Kong on Thursday, with some screenings selling out completely.

Loosely based on a piece of classical Chinese erotic literature, the $3.2-million Cantonese-language movie "3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy" features orgies, swinging and some very graphic sex scenes.

Curious movie-goers from all walks of life -- office workers, retirees and students -- formed long queues outside cinemas in the southern Chinese city, eager to catch an eyeful of steamy 3D action.

Many in the crowd were women and were not shy about watching the movie.

"I'm not normally much of a movie-goer, but this one is just too good to miss," 32-year-old Justin Lai told AFP as she waited at a cinema in Causeway Bay, one of the city's busiest entertainment districts.

"I'd like to see what 3D porn is like on the big screen."

 College student Yan Shek, 21, was also among the first to see the movie in a morning screening. The 113-minute film has been rated Category III in Hong Kong, which bars anyone under 18 from watching it.

"We are very curious," she said. "It is the first time to see an X-rated film in the cinema. It should be very interesting."

Another movie-goer said he snuck out of work to watch the movie.

"I'm catching the first show on the first day so I'll be the first of my friends to see it," said sales executive David, who declined to be identified in full.

Set in the Ming dynasty, the film chronicles the story of a young man who, after being introduced to the erotic world of an aristocrat, realises his ex-wife is the love of his life.

The film stars Japanese adult actresses Yukiko Suo and Saori Hara.

The movie will open in Taiwan on Friday and has sparked strong interest in many Asian markets, including Japan and South Korea, as well Europe and the United States, according to the producer.

Travel operators were reportedly organising moviegoing excursions to Hong Kong and Taiwan for tourists from mainland China, where strict censorship rules prevent any screening of the film.

"We are very pleased with ticket sales," Sharyn Yau, publicist for China 3D Digital Entertainment Ltd told AFP.

"Last week, we heard that 70-80 percent for this weekend's tickets have already been sold. People obviously love the movie."

But South China Morning Post film critic Paul Fonoroff was left rather underwhelmed by the romp, describing it in a review as over-long, one-dimensional and short on real passion.

"Perhaps the most ironic element is the script's ostensible moral that sincere love is more satisfying than wanton promiscuity, a concept which, if truly put into practice, would cause ticket sales to go flaccid," he wrote.

The movie is a remake of the 1991 film "Sex and Zen", which is still the highest-grossing Hong Kong adult movie of all time.

 "3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy" opens ahead of reported plans by other filmmakers to produce similar 3D porn movies.

Italian director Tinto Brass has announced he is to produce a 3D remake of his 1979 erotic film Caligula, while Hustler plans to release a pornographic spoof of 3D science fiction film Avatar, the top-grossing movie of all time.

Japan suffers record fall in foreign visitors

TOKYO, April 14, 2011 (AFP) - The number of foreign visitors to Japan suffered its biggest ever decline in March, falling by 50 percent, as a massive earthquake and tsunami scared travellers away, the government said Thursday.

Many foreign governments urged their citizens to stay away from Japan after the biggest earthquake ever recorded there triggered a deadly tsunami and the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Just 352,800 foreigners arrived in Japan in March, 50.3 percent fewer than the same month in 2010 and the largest decline ever recorded, the Japan National Tourism Board said.

"Visitors decreased as media reports about the quake and nuclear accident worldwide prompted authorities overseas to issue advice to their citizens to refrain from visiting Japan," a government tourism official said.

The March 11 disaster was the worst to hit Japan since World War II, and is now known to have killed 13,456 people, with another 14,851 still unaccounted for.

It has derailed a target of attracting 11 million visitors to the country, set on the basis of a long-term rising trend since the start of the 1970s.

A total 8.6 million people travelled to Japan last year, marking a healthy rebound from the 6.8 million in 2009 when the swine flu pandemic and global economic downturn curbed international travel.

Japan has been looking to boost the number of foreign tourists visiting, partially to offset a declining domestic market caused by a sluggish economy and a greying population.

Sheep with scrapie found in Japan

TOKYO, April 14, 2011 (AFP) - A dead sheep infected with scrapie -- a degenerative disease of the nervous system similar to mad cow disease -- has been found in western Japan, an official said on Thursday.

The animal died on March 31 on a farm in Fukuoka prefecture where around 50 sheep and goats were kept, said prefectural official Shigetaka Yamashita, adding tests had identified the cause of death as scrapie.

It was the first case of the disease in Japan since 2005 when it was detected in a flock in Kanagawa, south of Tokyo, Yamashita said.

"The sheep will be incinerated soon and we will check the remaining sheep and goats at the farm," he said, adding that the prefecture had no plan to impose any ban on shipments of sheep or goats.

Sheep farming is not common in Japan and is mainly concentrated on the far northern island of Hokkaido.

Scrapie is related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, a highly infectious condition that has devastated whole herds of cows in Japan and other parts of the world, and which has been linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

New Zealand outlaws Internet file-sharing

WELLINGTON, April 14, 2011 (AFP) - New Zealand passed a law against online piracy Thursday which outlaws file-sharing and threatens repeat offenders with having their Internet access cut off.

The new law allows for penalties of up to NZ$15,000 ($12,000) to be paid to the copyright owner and if this is ineffective offenders can have their Internet account suspended for up to six months.

"Online copyright infringement has been damaging for the creative industry, which has experienced significant declines in revenue as file sharing has become more prevalent," Commerce Minister Simon Power said.

"This legislation will discourage illegal file sharing and provide more effective measures to help our creative industries enforce their copyright."

The new law gives copyright owners the power to send evidence of alleged infringements to Internet service providers, who will then send up to three infringement notices to the account holder.

If the warnings are ignored then a claim can be made to the Copyright Tribunal which can make awards of up to NZ$15,000 against the account holder.

The new law will take effect on September 1 but will not apply to mobile networks until October 2013.

Only the Green Party and two independent MPs voted against the bill although there were strong objections by user groups over the past year as it went through the select committee process.

MPs were accused of not understanding file sharing and Internet basics.

'Strong interest' in first yuan-denominated REIT

SINGAPORE, April 14, 2011 (AFP) - The IPO of the world's first yuan-denominated real estate investment trust (REIT), owned by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing's Cheung Kong Holdings, has seen strong investor interest, its issuers said Thursday.

The Hui Xian REIT initial public offering (IPO) was launched Monday in Hong Kong and is set to become the first yuan-denominated offering outside of mainland China.

"Participating in this renminbi-denominated REIT is equivalent of participating in the development of China or participating in the development of renminbi so that actually has probably a very wide appeal," said Hui Xian chairman Kam Hing Lam, who was in Singapore for an investor roadshow.

Dow Jones Newswires said Wednesday that the institutional tranche of the offering was already fully subscribed, quoting an anonymous source.

The REIT, a unit of Hong Kong-listed Cheung Kong, hopes to raise as much as $1.7 billion from the Hong Kong IPO.

It is tied to the Oriental Plaza, a sprawling 100,000 square metre (1.1 million square foot) facility in Beijing's prime Wangfujing Street which includes a mall that commands some of the city's highest rental rates, executives said.

"So given the aspect of iconic project, the valuations, I think the pricing is more than fair and we believe we'll be doing well," said John Lim, executive director of Singapore-based ARA Asset Management.

The IPO consists of two billion units and is priced at 5.24 yuan (80 US cents) to 5.58 yuan each, giving it an expected market capitalisation of 26.2-27.9 billion yuan.

Google and Bing gain as Yahoo! slips in search

SAN FRANCISCO, April 13, 2011 (AFP) - Google and Bing gained ground in the US Internet search market in March at the expense of Ask, AOL, and Yahoo!, according to figures released Wednesday by industry tracker comScore.

Google continued to be the prime tool used to seek online information, handling 65.7 percent of "explicit" queries as compared to 65.4 percent the previous month, comScore reported.

Yahoo! websites remained the second most popular place for Internet searches, but its portion of queries slid 0.4 percent in the month to 15.7 percent, according to comScore.

The number of online searches done using Microsoft's Bing service rose 0.3 percent to 13.9 when compared to February.

Since Bing powers Internet search at Yahoo! websites, the engine actually accounted for 29.6 percent of US queries in what was seen as positive momentum for Microsoft in the market.

Ask and AOL saw their search shares drop a tenth of a percent each to 3.1 and 1.6 respectively, according to comScore.

More than 16.9 billion "explicit core searches" were conducted in March, with Google tending to 11.1 of them, comScore reported.

Explicit searches were described as people seeking online information they clearly intended to interact with.

Japan's seismologists blinded to March 11 quake: journal

PARIS, April 13, 2011 (AFP) - Japan's seismologists were so entrenched in outdated beliefs about seismic hazard that they became blinkered to the risk of the March 11 mega-quake, a commentary in a top science journal charged on Wednesday.

Writing in the journal Nature, Robert Geller, an American who is professor of seismology at the University of Tokyo, said Japanese government scientists had become fixated by the risk of a big quake on Japan's southern Pacific coast.

This had skewed their view of the risks for the country's northeast, where the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami left more than 26,500 people dead or missing, he said.

Geller pointed the finger at a belief, entrenched for decades, that Japan faces imminent risks of a huge earthquake in a plate boundary off the southern coasts of Honshu and Shikoku.

Government-made hazard maps of the Tokai, Tonankai and Nankai "earthquake zones" are hugely promoted in public awareness campaigns and have gained the status of holy writ, he said.

But, said Geller, these maps are based on two assumptions, the "characteristic earthquake" and "seismic gap" theories, which date from the 1960s and 70s and have not been supported by evidence.

"This misleads the public into believing that the clock is ticking down inexorably on a magnitude-eight earthquake that is certain to strike the Tokai district in the near future," he said.

Geller said that since 1975, no large earthquake had occurred in any of the three zones billed by government scientists as the country's most hazardous regions.

In contrast, all earthquakes that have caused 10 or more fatalities in Japan since 1979 have occurred in places that were categorised as being of relatively low probability, he said.

Had the scientists delved into historical records showing that quake-generated tsunamis had repeatedly struck northeastern Japan over past centuries, the March 11 thrust could have been "'foreseen', in a general way," argued Geller.

Its timing and location would not have been known, but at least its potential force could have been factored into the design of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, he said.

Geller said establishment thinking and scientific complacency had been moulded by a 1978 law, the Large-Scale Earthquake Countermeasures Act (LECA).

This requires the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) to operate an alert system based on the assumption that early warning can be given of a Tokai quake.

"It is time to tell the public frankly that earthquakes cannot be predicted, to scrap the Tokai prediction system and to repeal the LECA," said Geller.

"All of Japan is at risk from earthquakes, and the present state of seismological science does not allow us to reliably differentiate the risk level in particular geographic areas."

US online ad revenue hits record $26 billion

WASHINGTON, April 13, 2011 (AFP) - US online advertising revenue rose 15 percent last year to a record $26 billion, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers said Wednesday.

US online advertising revenue increased 19 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier to $7.45 billion, also a record, the IAB and PwC said.

Search advertising accounted for $12 billion, or 46 percent of total online ad revenue last year, while display-related advertising totaled $9.9 billion, or 38 percent of total online ad revenue, they said.

Display advertising includes rich media, digital video and banner ads.

The IAB and PwC for the first time also provided an estimate for US mobile advertising revenue. They estimated US mobile advertising revenue for 2010 was between $550 million and $650 million.

"With a strong rebound from 2009, the $26 billion spent on Internet advertising points to a continued focus on digital media ad spend, with dollars catching up to the eyeballs," said PwC partner David Silverman.

US online advertising revenue fell three percent in 2009 compared with the previous year, the first year of decline since 2002.

"Consumers have shifted more of their time to digital media -- watching television shows and movies online -- and advertisers now accept this multifaceted medium as a key component for reaching their targets," IAB president and chief executive Randall Rothenberg said.

Malaysian news portal crippled by cyberattacks

KUALA LUMPUR, April 13, 2011 (AFP) - Malaysia's top news portal Malaysiakini remained crippled Wednesday, more than 24 hours after cyber attackers struck ahead of hotly contested state elections on Borneo island.

Steven Gan, its co-founder and chief editor, said the site would continue to report on Saturday's vote in Sarawak state despite the shutdown, which came days after whistleblowing website Sarawak Report was hit by a similar attack.

"I believe the attack is linked to our reporting on the campaigning for the Sarawak elections and it is no coincidence that this has happened to us three days after Sarawak Report was also attacked," he told AFP.

"We are trying to get our website up and running and we are providing our content for free at the moment as we will continue reporting on what is happening in Sarawak. We will not stop, we will prevail," he added.

Malaysiakini, which gained international fame as an alternative source of news during the rule of former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, earns part of its revenues from subscriptions.

Gan said the "denial of service" attack began Tuesday morning when the portal's servers were swarmed by massive and coordinated traffic from overseas, forcing it to post its reports on blogsites as well as Twitter and Facebook.

Malaysia's major newspapers and broadcasters are closely linked with the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, but online news portals and blogs have become a lively forum for dissent and debate.

Saturday's polls in Sarawak, a resource-rich but impoverished state, is viewed as a barometer of the BN's popularity ahead of general elections expected to be called by Prime Minister Najib Razak this year.

However, a key issue in the elections is the fate of the state's chief minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, who has headed Sarawak since 1981.

Websites such as Sarawak Report have been publishing articles on the wealth accumulated by Abdul Taib and his family, as well as allegations linking his close friends to the exploitation of resources in the oil, mineral and timber-rich state.

Malaysiakini has been reporting closely on the state election over the last two weeks and published articles on alleged vote-buying by BN campaigners, as well as the post-election fate of Abdul Taib amid a clamour from critics for him to step down.

Although BN is expected to retain power in Sarawak, where it held 63 of the 71 seats in the state assembly before it was dissolved in March, some analysts say the ruling coalition may lose seats in Saturday's vote.

The opposition is aiming to deny the government a two-thirds majority that effectively allows the BN to pass legislation without any obstruction.

China state paper blasts Japan over nuclear crisis

BEIJING, April 13, 2011 (AFP) - Japan owes its neighbours an apology for failing to tell them about the severity of its nuclear crisis, a Chinese state newspaper said Wednesday, accusing the West of letting Tokyo off the hook.

The English-language Global Times, which has ties to the ruling Communist party, also rounded on the West for engaging in double standards by treating Japan with kid gloves due to its status as a key US ally.

The government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan "made a mistake in withholding the truth," the Global Times said in a commentary, saying Tokyo had engaged in a "cover-up" of what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi atomic plant.

"The Kan administration owes a serious official apology to neighbouring countries," it said.

Premier Wen Jiabao on Tuesday asked Kan to "promptly and accurately inform China" about developments in the crisis, state media said, after Tokyo upgraded its emergency to a maximum seven, on a par with the Chernobyl disaster.

Beijing has repeatedly asked that its neighbour be transparent about the impact of the March 11 accident at the facility northeast of Tokyo, which was triggered by a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

"Surprisingly, Western governments and media have been mild-mannered toward Japan's misconduct," the Global Times said.

"Had this incident taken place in a country like China, would the US and Europe have shown such tolerance? If the crisis had happened in a Western country, would their media have been so complacent?" it added.

"A nuclear crisis is borderless, and its handling will influence the attitudes of all other nuclear states. Being selfish on a nuclear issue is appalling, and the correction of such selfishness must be swift."

Japan upgraded the emergency on Tuesday to a seven, the top level on the UN's International Nuclear Events Scale (INES). Other experts including those at France's nuclear safety agency had already boosted the rating.

A top-level emergency is defined as a "major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures".

The disaster has sparked concern in China, where low levels of radiation have been detected in the air across the nation and on spinach grown in some parts of the country's north including Beijing.

China's government has consistently stressed that the amounts involved were far too low to pose a health hazard.

Taiwan leader defends China student policy

TAIPEI, April 13, 2011 (AFP) - Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou on Wednesday defended the government's move to admit students from mainland China, saying the academic exchanges would help tackle disputes with Beijing.

In another sign of fast-warming ties between the rivals, Taiwan's education ministry decided last week that from the next autumn term local colleges and universities will be allowed to take in up to 2,000 mainland students.

The move has sparked strong objections from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which warned that an influx of mainland students could pose a threat to national security and worsen unemployment.

But Ma, who initiated the island's detente with Beijing since he took office in 2008, insisted the policy would be in Taiwan's interest.

"These students may become good friends of Taiwan after they return to the mainland," he said after hearing a report during a meeting of the ruling Kuomintang party which he leads.

"So allowing more mainland students to study here may facilitate understanding between the two sides and eventually may help solve the disputes" that have split Taiwan and the mainland since 1949 at the end of a civil war, Ma said.

Taiwan's parliament in January passed a bill to admit the first batch of Chinese students, with a number of restrictions in place, such as barring them from working and from applying for state scholarships to protect the rights of locals.

Taiwanese students have been enrolling at mainland universities for years, attracted by China's rising international clout and relatively low tuition fees.

Officials on both sides have pledged to promote cultural and educational ties after a series of measures to boost trade links in recent years.

Despite the easing of tensions, Beijing still considers the island part of its territory to be taken back by force if necessary.


Facebook saga grows with new legal drama

SAN FRANCISCO, April 12, 2011 (AFP) - The drama of the Facebook story heightened on Tuesday as a man with a shady past used old emails and a powerful law firm to press his claim to half the online social networking firm.

A legal claim filed last year by Paul Ceglia and deemed dubious by many was being re-evaluated after lawyers at DLA Piper amended the complaint to include emails that appear to back the New York State man's position.

Ceglia contended that he hired then Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg in 2003 to do software coding for a StreetFax website and wound up providing seed money for what Zuckerberg than called "the face book."

Evidence presented by Ceglia, whose background includes criminal charges for fraud and a conviction for possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms, included a signed contract and email exchanges.

"This is a fraudulent lawsuit brought by a convicted felon, and we look forward to defending it in court," Facebook lawyer Orin Syder of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher said in a statement.

"From the outset, we've said that this scam artist's claims are ridiculous and this newest complaint is no better."

Ceglia claims that he provided Zuckerberg with two thousand dollars in exchange for half of what is now Facebook, which boasts more than 600 million members and was recently valued at $50 billion.

DLA Piper has defended the integrity of the email, saying it has conducted tests to confirm the exchanges were not altered.

Zuckerberg reportedly did work on StreetFax for Ceglia, but Facebook wasn't part of the deal.

Zuckerberg signed a contract with Ceglia in April 2003 for "the purchase and design" of a live Harvard yearbook website with the working title of "The Face Book," according to the lawsuit.

Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com in February 2004, eventually dropping "the" from its name.

Malaysia unveils plan to double capital market

KUALA LUMPUR, April 12, 2011 (AFP) - Malaysia on Tuesday unveiled a plan to more than double its capital market size to 4.5 trillion ringgit ($1.5 trillion) by 2020.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is also the finance minister, said the government will allocate more funds to develop venture capital and private equity firms.

"We must do everything we can to ensure that Malaysia's capital market doesn't just grow, it grows with minimal risks in a well-regulated environment," he told fund managers and investors at an investment forum.

Malaysia's current capital market is worth 2.0 trillion ringgit, according to local bourse officials.

Najib gave some details of the government's plans to divest its holdings in state-linked companies with the aim of increasing liquidity in the country's stock market.

Federal land authority Felda Global Bhd's sugar refining unit Malayan Sugar Manufacturing would be listed on the stock exchange in July, he said.

Najib said expanding the capital market was a needed to help boost Malaysia's role as an Islamic capital hub.

The Islamic capital market in Malaysia is set to increase almost threefold to 2.9 trillion ringgit by 2020 from 1.1 trillion in 2010, he said.

One economist hailed the plan as demonstrating the government's commitment to bolster the local capital market.

"The plan is geared towards enabling the government to reach its high-income nation target by 2020 through a more facilitative role of capital markets," Yeah Kim Leng, chief economist from ratings agency RAM Holdings said.

But Yeah said it was crucial for the government to maintain investor confidence.

"Higher confidence will mean a more efficient mobilisation and effective harnessing of both domestic and foreign investments," he said.

Najib has unveiled a series of economic reforms since taking power in 2009 aimed at creating 3.3 million jobs and raise Malaysia's average per capita income to 15,000 ($5,000) ringgit by 2020 from about 7,000 at present.

Export-dependent Malaysia was hit hard by the global slowdown but it rebounded with 7.2 percent growth in 2010 and it is expected to grow five to six percent this year.

Chinese navy less assertive in 2011: US admiral

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2011 (AFP) - A top US officer said Tuesday that China's navy has adopted a less aggressive stance in the Pacific in recent months after protests from Washington and other nations in the region.

Admiral Robert Willard, head of US Pacific Command, told senators the trend since January represented a "positive" step after mounting tension over territorial disputes in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

"There has been a retrenchment a bit by the Chinese navy, such that while we continue to experience their shadowing of some our ships that are operating in some of these waters, we have not seen the same level of assertiveness in 2011 that we witnessed in 2010," Willard told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The admiral said he was heartened by the development as US military relations have resumed with China and "perhaps we can make an advancement in that regard."

Willard said China's more conciliatory outlook had followed "very strong statements" by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates over Beijing's actions in the region.

President Barack Obama's administration has argued that the US Navy and other countries have a right to operate in the South China Sea under international law, despite Beijing's insistence on an "economic exclusion zone."

Gates and Clinton have called on China to join in a regional effort to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Willard said that there was no doubt that China "aims to have great influence over that maritime space, and especially over the contested areas that they've laid claim to in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea."

China has claimed mineral rights around the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, and argued that foreign navies cannot sail through the area without Beijing's permission.

In September, Japan and China clashed over the disputed Senkaku Islands, known as the Diaoyu Islands in China.

Willard also told lawmakers that China's plans to deploy an aircraft carrier will have an effect on the balance of power in the region.

He said it would take some time before the aircraft carrier, an old Soviet ship that has been refurbished, is fully operational after a period of testing.

"But I think as a symbol, the feedback that we receive in our dialogue throughout the region is that the regional partners regard this step by the Chinese in the midst of what has otherwise been a remarkable growth in their military capability as significant," he said.

China's spending on new weapons has caused concern abroad but Beijing says its military is only focused on defending the country's territory.

The Chinese army is hugely secretive about its defense programs, which benefit from a big military budget boosted by the nation's runaway economic growth


Apple's iPad to remain top tablet in 2015: Gartner

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - The tablet computer market is heating up with new entrants all the time, but Apple's iPad will remain the top device over the next few years, according to technology research company Gartner.

Gartner, in a forecast released Monday, said mounting competition will see Apple's share of the touchscreen tablet market decline but the iPad will still make up nearly half of all tablets sold in 2015.

Gartner said the iPad will account for 47 percent of worldwide sales of 294.3 million tablets in 2015, down from 63.5 percent of 108.2 million units to be sold in 2012 and 68.7 percent of 69.7 million tablets to be sold this year.

The iPad, which was released in April of last year, accounted for 83.9 percent of the total 17.6 million tablets sold in 2010, according to Gartner.

Gartner said tablets running Google's Android operating system will see their market share rise steadily -- from 14.2 percent last year, to 19.9 percent this year, to 24.4 percent in 2012 and 38.6 percent in 2015.

Tablets running Blackberry maker Research In Motion's QNX software will claim 5.6 percent of the tablet market this year, 6.6 percent in 2012 and 10.0 percent in 2015, Gartner said.

The only other significant player in Gartner's forecast was Hewlett-Packard with tablets running the WebOS operating system acquired from Palm.

WebOS tablets were forecast to have 4.0 percent of the market by the end of 2011, 3.9 percent by 2012 and 3.0 percent by 2015.

Microsoft, which has been marketing its Windows operating system to tablet makers around the world, was notably absent from the Gartner forecast.

Blackberry's first tablet, the PlayBook, goes on sale on April 19.

Gartner research vice president Carolina Milanesi said "it will take time and significant effort for RIM to attract developers and deliver a compelling ecosystem of applications and services around QNX to position it as a viable alternative to Apple or Android.

"This will limit RIM's market share growth over the forecast period," Milanesi said.

"It will be mainly organizations that will be interested in RIM's tablets because they either already have RIM's infrastructure deployed or have stringent security requirements," she said.

Milanesi said that in general, "smartphone users will want to buy a tablet that runs the same operating system as their smartphone.

"This is so that they can share applications across devices as well as for the sense of familiarity the user interfaces will bring," she said.

Google buys Canadian mobile music company

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - PushLife, a Toronto-based mobile music service, announced Monday that it has been acquired by Internet giant Google.

Details of the transaction were not released but the technology blog StartupNorth put the purchase price at $25 million.

"As Google is driving innovation on the mobile Web across a wide variety of areas, we thought joining the company would be a perfect fit," PushLife said in a statement on its website.

The company said it would join Google's engineering team in Canada to help build mobile applications.

PushLife, which was founded in 2008, allows users to synch digital content from their iTunes or Windows Media libraries with smartphones running Google's Android software and Blackberry devices.

Google is reportedly planning a digital music product to compete with Apple's iTunes but has not announced any plans yet.

Billboard.com reported in September that Google is courting record labels for a service that would let people store music on the Internet for streaming to Web-connected devices.

Google invests $168 million in solar power plant

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - Google said Monday it has invested $168 million to help complete the construction of one of the world's biggest solar energy power plants in California's Mojave Desert.

The plant, which is being developed by BrightSource Energy, will generate 392 gross megawatts (MW) of clean solar energy when it is completed in 2013, enough to supply power to 85,000 homes a year.

"That's the equivalent of taking more than 90,000 cars off the road over the lifetime of the plant, projected to be more than 25 years," Google's director of green business operations Rick Needham said in a blog post.

"The investment makes business sense and will help ensure that one of the world's largest solar energy projects is completed," Needham said.

The US Department of Energy said meanwhile that it has finalized $1.6 billion in loan guarantees to support the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System.

"Today's announcement is creating over 1,000 jobs in California while laying the foundation for thousands more clean energy jobs across the country in the future," US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

"Through the loan program we are supporting some of the largest, most innovative clean energy projects in the world, and those investments are helping us to out-compete and out-innovate our global competitors to win the future," Chu said.

President Barack Obama's administration has been encouraging companies to invest in green growth, calling it a new source of jobs and fearing that other nations -- led by China -- are stealing the march.

The Ivanpah project uses mirrors called heliostats to focus the rays of the sun onto a solar receiver on top of a tower. Steam generated by the solar receiver spins a turbine and generator to make electricity.

The Ivanpah Power Tower will be 450 feet (137 meters) tall when it is completed and will use more than 173,000 dual-mirror heliostats.

The project is being built by US engineering giant Bechtel and construction began in October 2010.

The Mountain View, California-based Google said the BrightSource investment brings the company's total investment in clean energy projects to $250 million.

Kindle e-reader cheaper with on-screen ads

SAN FRANCISCO, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - US online retail powerhouse Amazon on Monday introduced a cut-price version of its Kindle electronic reader that features on-screen ads.

Kindle with Special Offers e-readers priced at $114 each will begin shipping in the United States on May 3, according to Amazon.

Amazon charges $139 for the same Kindle without ads or deals displayed as screen savers and on the home page. The e-readers connect to the Internet to download digital books using wireless connections to routers at "hotspots."

A version of the e-reader that accesses the Internet using a built-in 3G telecom connection is priced at $189.

"We're working hard to make sure that anyone who wants a Kindle can afford one," Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said in a release.

"Kindle with Special Offers is the same #1 bestselling Kindle -- and it's only $114."

Sponsors of Kindle screensaver ads include US car maker Buick, credit card company Visa, and Proctor & Gamble beauty products line Olay, according to Amazon.

Launch deals included discounts on audible books, digital music, a Roku Streaming Player, and Amazon.com gift cards.

Microsoft, Google tussle over government contract

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - Microsoft fired a broadside at Google on Monday in a battle over a US government contract, accusing its rival of issuing misleading claims.

Google rejected the charges by the Seattle-based software giant in the legal tussle over a nearly $60 million contract with the US Department of Interior.

Microsoft said documents unsealed in the court case showed that "Google Apps for Government," Google's Internet-based suite of office tools, had not been certified under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).

"Given the number of times that Google has touted this claim, this was no small development," Microsoft deputy general counsel David Howard said in a blog post. "It's time for Google to stop telling governments something that is not true."

FISMA lays out the security standards for information management systems such as email.

Google and Onix Networking Corp., a reseller of Google products, filed suit against the US government last year claiming the terms for the Department of Interior contract favored Microsoft.

Google argued that the terms of the bid for an email, calendar and document collaboration system for some 88,000 Interior Department employees implicitly rule out a Google product and favored one from Microsoft.

Google was promoting Google Apps for Government for the contract over Microsoft's solution.
Google said Monday in response to Microsoft's accusations that a version of Google Apps has already received FISMA clearance.

"We did not mislead the court or our customers," Google said in a statement. "Google Apps received a FISMA security authorization from the General Services Administration in July 2010.

"Google Apps for Government is the same system with enhanced security controls that go beyond FISMA requirements," Google said.

Relations between the technology giants have become increasingly acrimonious of late and Microsoft last month joined an anti-trust complaint in Europe against Google over Internet search.

In February, Google accused Microsoft's search engine Bing of copying its results.

IMF says China's yuan 'substantially' undervalued

BEIJING, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - The International Monetary Fund said Monday that China's yuan is "substantially weaker" than it should be and warned inflation in the world's second-largest economy would hit five percent in 2011.

The Washington-based lender also noted growing concerns over the potential for "steep corrections" in Chinese property prices -- a key worry for Beijing -- and "boom-like" credit as banks undermine official efforts to curb lending.

"The currency of China still appears substantially weaker than warranted by medium-term fundamentals," the IMF said in its 2011 World Economic Outlook, adding to growing international calls for a more flexible exchange rate.

A stronger currency and higher interest rates would help emerging economies such as China avoid overheating and ease global trade imbalances, which was "essential" to putting the recovery on a stronger footing, the IMF said.

"Countries are often tempted to resist the exchange rate appreciation that is likely to come with higher interest rates and higher inflows," it said.

"But appreciation increases real income, is part of the desirable adjustment, and should not be resisted."

China has faced growing pressure to let the yuan strengthen, with critics claiming the currency is grossly undervalued and results in relatively cheap Chinese-made goods flooding overseas markets.

Inflation was likely to hit five percent in 2011 compared with 3.3 percent last year -- well above the official target of four percent -- as price pressures spread from food to "other items including housing", the IMF warned.

The fund forecast China's economy to grow 9.6 percent this year -- matching the latest estimate by the Asian Development Bank and outstripping Beijing's own eight percent target -- with domestic demand becoming a bigger driver.

China's economy grew 10.3 percent in 2010.

Premier Wen Jiabao vowed at the weekend to ramp up efforts against  inflation ahead of the release of key data this week that is likely to show consumer prices rose more than five percent year-on-year in March and China's economy grew around 9.5 percent in the first quarter.

Stability-obsessed leaders have been trying to tame inflation, which has a history of sparking social unrest in the country of more than 1.3 billion people, as soaring global oil and commodity prices drive up domestic costs.

Beijing has hiked interest rates four times since October and tightened restrictions on bank lending -- but the IMF noted that banks' "financial innovation and off-balance sheet activities" were undermining these efforts.

The IMF said "nascent overheating pressures" must be addressed, warning "an abrupt slowdown of economic activity in China, perhaps following a credit and property boom-bust cycle, would adversely affect the whole region."

Steve Jobs biography to be published next year

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - US publisher Simon & Schuster will publish an official biography next year of Steve Jobs, the Apple visionary behind the Macintosh computer, the iPhone, iPod and iPad.

"iSteve: The Book of Jobs," will be written by former Time magazine managing editor Walter Isaacson and will hit bookstores in early 2012, Simon & Schuster said in a statement.

The authorized biography of the intensely private Apple co-founder will be based on three years of exclusive interviews Isaacson has conducted with Jobs, family members, Apple colleagues and competitors, the publisher said.

Isaacson is the author of biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Henry Kissinger, and currently heads the Aspen Institute, a non-profit think tank.

"This is the perfect match of subject and author, and it is certain to be a landmark book about one of the world's greatest innovators," Simon & Schuster publisher Jonathan Karp said.

"Just as he did with Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, Walter Isaacson is telling a unique story of revolutionary genius," Karp said.

Jobs, 56, went on medical leave in January, his third since 2004, but has retained his title of chief executive at Apple.

Jobs underwent an operation for pancreatic cancer in 2004 and received a liver transplant in 2009, but he has not released any details about his latest health issues.

Apple's fortunes have been uniquely linked to Jobs, who returned to the then flagging company in 1997 after a 12-year absence and introduced innovative and wildly successful products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

Google issues trivia challenge

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - Google launched a daily trivia game on Monday which involves scouring the Internet search engine for the answers to questions.

"A Google a Day" will feature a different question each weekday at agoogleaday.com and above the crossword puzzle in The New York Times.

The answer to each day's question will be revealed the next day at agoogleaday.com and in the Times, Google said in a blog post.

"Just like traditional crossword puzzles, the difficulty of the questions increases over the course of the week, so by Thursday or Friday, even the most seasoned searcher may be stumped," Google said.

Google created the agoogleaday.com search site so players do not potentially run into answers posted by other players on google.com.

Monday's first question was: "Two future presidents signed me. Two didn't because they were abroad. Despite my importance, modern viewers seem to think I have a glaring spelling error. What is it?"

The answer can be found at agoogleaday.com.

Facebook to launch China site with Baidu: report

BEIJING, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - Facebook has signed an agreement with Chinese search engine giant Baidu to set up a new social networking site in China, a leading web portal reported Monday.

The new website will not be linked to Facebook's global service, which is currently blocked in China, the report on Sohu.com said, citing unnamed Baidu employees.

The agreement follows several meetings between Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Baidu's chief executive Robin Li, it added, and comes amid reports the US social networking giant is eyeing a move into mainland China.

Baidu spokesman Kaiser Kuo refused to comment when contacted by AFP, and the Sohu report was later taken off the website.

Facebook said in February it had opened a Hong Kong office, its third in Asia, while Zuckerberg visited China in December, prompting suggestions that Beijing may eventually welcome the California company.

During his China visit, Zuckerberg met with Charles Chao, chief executive of popular web portal Sina.com, as well as Li to discuss the world's biggest web market, a hugely lucrative landscape.

China has 450 million Internet users and rising, but it is also peppered with dominant domestic brands, technical hurdles and the threat of censorship.

Beijing has set up a vast online censorship system sometimes dubbed the "Great Firewall of China" that aggressively blocks sites and snuffs out Internet content on topics considered sensitive.

The system currently prevents most of the nation's web users from accessing Facebook.
The Sohu.com report said the launch date for the new website had not yet been decided.


Singapore in talks to be Chinese yuan trading hub

SINGAPORE, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - The central banks of Singapore and China are in talks to set the city-state up as a trading hub for the Chinese yuan, a report said Monday.

The move would allow Chinese banks to do more business outside the mainland and also bolster Beijing's aim to promote its currency as an international unit.

Hong Kong is the only city outside mainland China where offshore trading of the yuan, or renminbi, is allowed.

The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the matter, said the  People's Bank of China had been receptive to interest from Singapore to be a market for the buying and selling of the Chinese currency.

It said, however, that a decision on the outcome of the talks was not imminent.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) did not comment directly on the report when contacted by AFP, but said the city-state "is well positioned to facilitate trade-linked business flows with mainland China".

The People's Bank of China did not respond immediately to questions faxed by AFP.

A greenlight from China will boost Singapore's status as one of the top financial hubs in Asia alongside Hong Kong and Tokyo. The city-state is the second largest forex trading centre in Asia after Japan.

Top leaders in Beijing want to see the yuan adopted as a global reserve currency to reflect China's growing economic and political clout.

Allowing the yuan to be used more widely overseas also helps China reduce the amount of dollars flowing into the country, which is adding to its already world-beating foreign exchange stockpile and fanning inflation.

Last year, the MAS signed a three-year currency swap agreement with China that allows the city-state to tap up to 150 billion yuan ($23 billion) in liquidity from its Chinese counterpart.

In addition, banks such as HSBC, Singapore's DBS Bank and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China currently offer yuan banking services in Singapore.

Singapore nuclear decision "long way away": government

SINGAPORE, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - Singapore is "a long way away" from a decision on whether to include nuclear power as part of its energy policy, a senior government official said on Monday.

S. Iswaran, the Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, said a "pre-feasibility study" was being carried out in order to "better understand the complex field of nuclear energy."

But "even with the completion of the pre-feasibility study, we will still be a long way away from making any decisions on nuclear energy for Singapore per se," Iswaran told parliament.

He said the crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by the March 11 quake and tsunami, made it even more crucial for Singapore to embark on the study.

Insights gained from the study will enable Singapore to understand the industry better since its neighbours including Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia have indicated plans to use atomic power.

"Even if we do not proceed with nuclear energy for Singapore, we need to understand its implications for the region and for us in Singapore," Iswaran said.

The city-state currently generates its power from oil and gas fired power stations.

The month-old nuclear plant crisis in Japan has triggered concerns globally on the use of nuclear power plants to supplement existing energy sources.

But Iswaran said nuclear power cannot be ruled out as an option because of the world's growing thirst for increasingly scarce energy supplies.

SGX chief disappointed at bourse merger veto

SINGAPORE, April 11, 2011 (AFP) - The architect of a doomed merger between the Singaporean and Australian stock markets expressed disappointment Monday at Canberra's veto, but said he was still in the hunt for other deals.

The Swedish chief executive of the Singapore Exchange (SGX), Magnus Bocker, issued his first public comments after Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan on Friday formally blocked the tie-up with the Australian Securities Exchange.

"I think we got a very clear signal on Friday," Bocker said on the sidelines of a corporate event. "We will take the time to analyse that. I think there is no doubt that it was a disappointment."

But he added: "The primary focus has been all the time on organic growth... there will always be opportunities like the one with ASX."

Swan had rejected the proposed merger on the grounds that it was essentially a takeover by SGX that offered no benefits to Australia.

"Let's be clear here: this is not a merger. It's a takeover that would see Australia's financial sector become a subsidiary to a competitor in Asia," he said on Friday.

"It was a no-brainer that this deal is not in Australia's national interest."

China posts first quarterly trade deficit in seven years

SHANGHAI, April 10, 2011 (AFP) - China said Sunday it had posted its first quarterly trade deficit in seven years, despite a narrow surplus in March, as rising commodity prices pushed manufacturers' costs higher.

China recorded a small trade deficit of $1.02 billion for the first quarter, its first since the beginning of 2004. But analysts said a large trade surplus was expected for the full year as its exports tend to grow later in the year.

"China's demand is strong and the prices of bulk commodities are high currently, but the situation won't last as China's exports usually go up in the second half of each year," UBS economist Wang Tao told Dow Jones Newswires.

Exports rose 26.5 percent on year in the first quarter and imports were up 32.6 percent on year.
The quarter's trade deficit was due to the strong rise in imports, the General Administration of Customs said in a statement.

"The value of imports in the first quarter hit a record high for the first time of more than $400 billion," the customs administration said.

For the month of March, China bounced back to a $140 million surplus after posting a $7.3 billion-trade deficit in February -- its first since March 2010.

February's slowdown was typical of China's festive season, when factories ease off -- and in most cases close -- after cranking up production before the Lunar New Year holiday.

March exports rose 35.8 percent from the same month a year earlier, up from February's 2.4 percent rise.

Imports rose 27.3 percent, up from 19.4 percent in February. Rising prices for raw materials helped push up the value of imports.

The March surplus caught analysts by surprise. A Dow Jones poll of 13 economists had forecast a median monthly deficit of $4.0 billion for March.

In 2010, China posted a $7.24 billion deficit in March, as companies stocked up on imported raw materials, many of which were later processed into goods for export. For the full year, China posted a $183.1 billion surplus.

Analysts said the quarterly trade deficit suggested China was making progress in rebalancing its export-reliant economy.

"The rebalancing is happening. It's only a matter of time," BNP Paribas economist Isaac Meng told Dow Jones, adding rising import prices were eroding the surplus while domestic inflation was raising export prices.

Washington, one of the harshest critics of Beijing's trade policy, acknowledged in March that China was taking steps to boost imports.

US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said last month that China had no alternative but to shift its growth strategy towards relying more on domestic growth as demand weakens in the US and Europe -- but added it needed to do more.

China is planning to cut tariffs on imports as it seeks to boost domestic demand, state media has reported.

The state-run China Daily quoted Vice-Commerce Minister Zhing Shan last month as saying not only would the government cut tariffs, but it would also relax some restrictions on importers.

British banker dies after Singapore rooftop plunge

SINGAPORE, April 10, 2011 (AFP) - A British banker died in Singapore after plunging nearly 30 metres from a hotel rooftop in the new waterfront Marina Bay business district, police and local media said Sunday.

A police statement to AFP identified the deceased as a British man and an investigation into the "unnatural death" on Thursday evening was ongoing.

"Police received a call... informing us that a person is believed to have fallen from height from a building located along Collyer Quay, into the waters of Marina Bay," the statement said.

"The body of a male British national in his mid-30s was subsequently  brought to shore, and he was pronounced dead by a paramedic at scene.

"Police are investigating the unnatural death."

The Sunday Times said the deceased was William Hart, a 37-year-old British man working in the city-state as head of sales for the Bank of China International.

It said Hart was at the hotel's bar located on the seventh floor when he was believed to have breached a metal railing and glass barrier before falling into the waters.

An employee with the Fullerton Bay Hotel confirmed Thursday's incident but declined to give further details.

China tells US not to interfere on human rights

BEIJING, April 10, 2011 (AFP) - China has told Washington not to interfere in its affairs after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for the release of dozens of activists rounded up in a growing crackdown on dissent.

Beijing rejected an annual human rights survey by the State Department saying China had stepped up efforts to rein in activists, the media and free Internet access and pursued "severe repression" in the Tibet and Xinjiang regions.

"The US should stop interfering in other countries' internal affairs with human rights reports," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement issued late Saturday.

Clinton said on Friday that Beijing's record on human rights was worsening.

"We remain deeply concerned about reports that since February, dozens of people including public-interest lawyers, writers, artists, intellectuals and activists have been arbitrarily detained and arrested."

She highlighted the case of Ai Weiwei, an outspoken artist who helped design the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium for the 2008 Beijing Games. He was detained on April 3 for unspecified "economic crimes."

In an unusual public criticism, a UN human rights panel on Friday also voiced concern at China's treatment of activists and lawyers, saying that so-called enforced disappearances were a crime under international law.

China has warned foreign nations not to interfere over Ai's case. China often bristles at the annual State Department report, hitting back that the United States also has concerns it needs to address.

Hong said Washington should reflect on itself before acting as a "preacher of human rights".

In unusually blunt public comments, US Ambassador Jon Huntsman -- who leaves his post this month -- last week saluted Ai, jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and others who "challenge the Chinese government to serve the public in all cases and at all times".

"The United States will never stop supporting human rights because we believe in the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur," he said.

"We do so not because we oppose China but, on the contrary, because we value our relationship."


Critics say blocked tie-up with SGX may hurt Australia

SYDNEY, April 10, 2011 (AFP) - When Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan declared his decision to reject Singapore's proposed takeover of the local bourse a "no brainer", critics fear he may have scared off future Asian investment.

The Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) and Singapore Exchange (SGX) announced plans in October to merge, hoping to create one of the world's largest financial trading hubs and a rival to Hong Kong.

But the Aus$8.4 billion ($8.8 billion) proposal hit opposition almost immediately, with Canberra lawmakers raising concerns about foreign ownership and Singapore's human rights record.

Swan's remarks in finally blocking the deal on Friday were unequivocal.

"Let's be clear here: this is not a merger. It's a takeover that would see Australia's financial sector become a subsidiary to a competitor in Asia," he said.

"It was a no brainer that this deal is not in Australia's national interest."

Swan said the tie-up would have damaged Australia's "economic and regulatory sovereignty", and come at the risk of many financial sector jobs.

Nor would "becoming a junior partner to a smaller regional exchange" provide a gateway to Asian capital flows because the Singapore exchange had only limited links to the rest of Asia, he added.

Australian stockbrokers welcomed the government's decision, which was backed by the Foreign Investment Review Board, saying the proposal had posed a threat to the nation's ambitions to become a regional financial services centre.

But the rejection of the takeover comes amid intense consolidation within world markets, and Swan's critics said the failure of the Singapore bid would limit the Australian bourse's ability to compete globally.

Matt Robinson, senior economist at Moody's Analytics, said the harm would not stop at the market, with the decision sure to dent Australia's reputation as a destination for foreign capital.

"Rejection on the grounds of loosely defined national interest generates a potentially toxic degree of sovereign uncertainty regarding future M and A (mergers and acquisitions) activity involving Australian companies," said Robinson said in a written commentary.

"The decision has likely damaged Australia's reputation as a destination for foreign capital and will discourage foreign investors from considering future opportunities in Australia."

Asian markets specialist Tony Naughton said it was a politically driven decision, with the ruling Labor party at an eight-year low in the polls and keen to make a show of strength.

"The gist of it is 'leave us alone, we're getting on quite nicely', obviously with the exchange rate at the moment, a still strong-going economy, demand for resources, we're very self-sufficient," said Naughton, head of economics at Melbourne's RMIT University.

"But the signal that I think's been sent is that we're isolating ourselves and we're too proud of what we do and we don't want others interfering," he told AFP.

"I think it might reinforce what I perceive to be a view that Australia's a nice place, but Australians are not really part of Asia."

Professor Ian Harper from Deloitte Access Economics, which helped the ASX build its national interest case for the takeover, said Swan's remark last Tuesday that he was inclined to bar the deal would puzzle Asia.

"I think it would clearly raise eyebrows in Asia as to what it is that we're on about down here," he told ABC Radio last week.

"I mean, we have a relationship with Asia but it's overwhelmingly about exporting commodities into Asia and importing manufactured goods from Asia. Surely there's more to it than that."

The failed merger could also prompt local companies to list overseas rather than in Australia, said Reuben Buchanan, director of private investment platform Wholesale Investor.

"The amount of money that's here for companies to tap into is limited," he said. "The government needs to wake up and get with the times."

Ian Murray, executive chairman of mid-tier exploration company Gold Road Resources, said a Singapore tie-up could have simplified the process for firms such as his to tap into strong investor interest from Asia.

David Gonski, chairman of ASX Limited, refused to comment on whether the scuppering of the deal would hurt Australia's reputation but said Australia should be involved in a much wider dimension than just "Australia onshore".

"We will be looking for some sort of a world view and we will do it obviously consistently with the law," he said. "Affiliations come to mind but that's ahead of us."

ASEAN vows regional help for Japan

JAKARTA, April  9, 2011 (AFP) - Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations vowed Saturday to collaborate in assisting quake-devastated Japan.

The foreign ministers of the bloc and Japan and their representatives met in the ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta to discuss their response to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that hit Japan.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said all 10 ASEAN members had individually assisted Japan such as by sending funds and rescue teams.

"What we did today was how to create collaboration among ASEAN members. So what was bilateral help, now they can be formed into a more cohesive assistance, a regional assistance," Natalegawa told reporters.

Indonesia is the current chair of ASEAN.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who made an opening address before the meeting, also encouraged collaboration and solidarity to help Japan.

"Effective and timely response to natural disasters of such magnitude require a coordinated and coherent approach," he said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto welcomed ASEAN's help, saying Tokyo would also foster development in the Southeast Asian bloc.

"The recovery will co-exist with the development of ASEAN. We will keep on encouraging the growth of ASEAN countries," Matsumoto said.

"During the recovery, we are eager to strengthen cooperation in disaster management," he said.

ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Google adds smartphone 'check-in' deals

SAN FRANCISCO, April  9, 2011 (AFP) - Google has added a Latitude feature that lets people using iPhones or Android-powered smartphones get rewarded for loyalty to shops or restaurants.

The feature that Google rolled out across the United States late Thursday lets people unlock discounts by regularly using location-sharing Latitude applications to check in at a select set of establishments.

"Checking in lets you share the places that you visit and add context to your Latitude location for friends and family," Google Maps software engineer Douglas Graham said in a blog post.

"At the same time, you can keep a history of where you've been while gaining status at the places you visit the most."

Google partners included clothing stores of American Eagle Outfitters, RadioShack consumer electronics shops, and fast-food chains Quiznos and Arby's.

People can check-in places using location-sensing capabilities in smartphones, with deals improving as they advance from "Regular" visitors to "VIP" status and then "Guru" level.

Businesses involved with Latitude check-ins can create their own ranks for frequent visitors. For example, Quiznos has a "Champion of Taste" rank.

Information about the program and companies involved was available online at google.com/latitude/checkin.

In February, Google began letting smartphone users check into spots on the go as the Internet star jumped into the hot location-based services arena with Facebook, Foursquare and Gowalla.

The check-in feature was added to a Latitude service that lets people with GPS-enabled Android smartphones share their whereabouts with selected friends.

Facebook last year released a Places and Deals applications that let members use smartphones to share their whereabouts with friends and get rewarded with notifications regarding deals at nearby shops or restaurants.

Facebook Places marked the firm's first step into location-based services that have been catching on with the popularity of smartphones.