China arrests 62 suspects abroad, $1.5 billion seized in P2P crackdown

(Reuters) – China has arrested 62 suspects abroad and seized 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in assets from 380 fraudulent peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms since June as part of a crackdown on online finance, the public security ministry said.

The arrest of P2P suspects hiding overseas is a top priority of Operation Fox Hunt, part of President Xi Jinping’s war on corruption that includes bringing back government officials and business executives who have fled abroad with assets.

The ministry said their teams “successfully brought back 62 criminal suspects from 16 countries and regions, including Thailand and Cambodia.”

The suspects are accused of crimes related to illegal fundraising, the ministry said on its website.

P2P platforms gather funds from retail investors and loan the money to small corporate and individual borrowers, promising high returns. At its peak in 2015, the sector had about 3,500 businesses in China.

The P2P industry had outstanding loans of 1.49 trillion yuan ($217.96 billion) last year, far larger than the combined sector outside China.

After Beijing moved to defuse debt bubbles and reduce risks in the economy, including the shadow lending sector, a wave of company collapses hit the P2P sector and triggered protests by angry investors who had lost their life savings.

The latest investigations found that many fraudulent P2P operators had lured investors with the promise of high returns, but had falsified investments and embezzled funds, the ministry said.

($1 = 6.7658 Chinese yuan renminbi)

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The Great Fall of China! Visitors struggle on icy stones of landmark

The Great Fall of China! Tourists are seen slipping and struggling to walk on the icy stones of iconic landmark as freezing temperatures hit Beijing

  • Snow and sub-zero temperatures have left site’s stony surface covered in ice
  • Visitors seen falling and sliding down the rocky incline at the Beijing landmark 
  • The city received its second snowfall of the season on Tuesday, triggering alerts

Snowfall and freezing temperatures in Beijing have caused ice to form on road surfaces, leaving some unfortunate visitors on The Great Wall of China in a slippery situation.

Footage filmed during the Lunar New Year holiday shows tourists falling and struggling to walk along the famous fortress attraction after a layer of ice had formed on the stony surface. 

The capital city received its second snowfall of the season on Tuesday, triggering an alert for icy roads and low visibility. 

In the footage, a woman is seen laughing and sliding down the stony slope and bumping into her friend, who had also fallen over. Others were seen desperately clinging onto the handrails

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The incident took place on an unspecified stretch of the 13,000-mile landmark located in northern China and was filmed by onlookers and shared on social media.

In the footage, a young woman is seen laughing and sliding down the stony slope and bumping into her friend, who had also fallen over. 

Meanwhile dozens of other visitors were filmed clinging desperately onto the handrails to prevent them from slipping down the incline. 

The woman finally stops sliding down the rocky incline after bumping into her friend.  Beijing received its second snowfall of the season on Tuesday, triggering an alert for icy roads

Beijing experienced its first snow of the season on February 6. More snow is expected for the rest of the week. 

The city’s meteorological service issued a yellow alert for icy roads on Tuesday and Wednesday. It also warned of low visibility on the roads as many people return to work as the Spring Festival holiday concluded. 

The yellow alert is the lowest level in the three-tiered warning system of yellow, orange and red. 

Several bus routes and sections of highways were temporarily closed as well, according to Xinhua News Agency.  

People gather to view the snow-covered moat around the Forbidden City, the former imperial palace, after a snowfall in Beijing on Tuesday

A section of the Great Wall of China is covered in snow in Jixian county, Tianjin in 2013

People in China made 415 million domestic trips during the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, an increase of 7.6 per cent from the same period last year, according to Xinhua. 

The Great Wall of China, listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1987, was initially built in 7th century BC to keep invaders out of the Chinese Empire.

The ancient heritage site stretches about 21,200 kilometers (13,000 miles) and spans 15 provincial areas. 

The Badaling Great Wall in Beijing, the most visited section, receives more than 20,000 visitors every day, according to a previous report by Xinhua News.   

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New Zealand's Ardern says China flight's return not a red flag for ties

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – An Air New Zealand flight bound for Shanghai was turned back because of an “administrative issue” and the incident holds no political implications for ties with China, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

The flight, with about 270 passengers, left Auckland shortly before midnight on Saturday but turned around several hours into the journey and landed in New Zealand on Sunday morning, the national carrier, part-owned by the government, has said.

“I think it is important to be really clear and not confuse administrative and regulatory issues as issues to do with the relationship,” Ardern told a weekly news conference.

“This was very much an administrative issue,” she added. “There’s an expectation that inbound aircraft be registered, that the flight in question had not fulfilled the administrative requirements.”

China’s foreign ministry has not made any comment yet.

Ardern’s remarks came after some politicians and analysts questioned whether the incident pointed to broader issues in New Zealand’s ties to its key trading partner.

“We need to know what has happened here. Is it part of the ongoing deterioration in relations between this New Zealand government and China?” opposition National Party leader Simon Bridges wrote on social network Twitter on Sunday.

In November, New Zealand’s intelligence agency rejected the telecommunication industry’s first request to use Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s equipment in its planned 5G mobile network, citing national security concerns.

That followed a defence policy statement in July, in which New Zealand said China’s rising influence in the South Pacific could undermine regional stability, and alluded to tension in the disputed South China Sea, sparking complaint from China.

“There’s a heightened degree of sensitivity around the relationship right now,” said David Capie, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.

“On a range of issues with China this government has signalled it’s taking a different stance to its predecessor, so I think people are waiting to see if and how Beijing responds.”

The rescheduled flight landed in Shanghai on Monday, data from flight tracking website FlightAware shows.

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Chinese businessman denies reported justification for Australian visa cancelation

SYDNEY (Reuters) – A prominent Chinese businessman and political donor, linked in the past to a row about the promotion of Chinese interests, said on Friday Australia’s decision to rescind his visa was based on nothing more than speculation.

Huang Xiangmo is unable to return to Australia after the government rejected his application for citizenship and revoked his visa while he was overseas, newspaper reports said this week.

Australian media, citing unidentified sources, said Huang was denied residency after intelligence agencies concluded he could undertake “acts of foreign interference” and that he was unfit for residency.

Huang rejected that assessment and criticized Australia in his first public comments since the visa cancellation was revealed.

“It is profoundly disappointing to be treated in such a grotesquely unfair manner. The decision to cancel my visa was based on unfounded speculations that are prejudiced and groundless,” Huang told the Australian Financial Review.

“There are many Australian companies in China, aren’t they more likely to be susceptible to potential manipulation by the Chinese government?” he said.

Representatives for Australia’s Department of Home Affairs and a spokeswoman for Minister for Immigration David Coleman did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

China’s foreign ministry, in a short statement read over the telephone to Reuters, said it did not know anything about the issue, but that China never interferes in the internal affairs of other countries.

Huang’s expulsion comes as Australia and China seek to repair ties that have been strained since 2017, when Canberra accused Beijing of meddling in its domestic affairs. China denies the accusation.

Huang emerged as one of Australia’s biggest political donors soon after he began living in Australia. He rose to prominence after an influential opposition lawmaker was forced to resign in 2017, when allegations emerged that he was linked to Chinese-aligned interests.

The lawmaker, Sam Dastyari, sought to encourage a senior politician not to meet a Chinese pro-democracy activist opposed to Beijing’s rule in Hong Kong in 2015.

Dastyari was also recorded warning Huang that his phone may be tapped.

Huang stopped political donations after that incident but later expanded his business interests in Australia. He paid nearly A$1 billion ($715 million) in 2018 for two Australian projects owned by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group.

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Chinese authorities block access to Australian detained for suspected espionage: lawyers

BEIJING (Reuters) – Two lawyers hired by the wife of an Australian detained in Beijing for suspected espionage said they have been denied access to him by Chinese authorities on the grounds that the detainee did not agree to their appointment.

Yang Hengjun, a 53-year-old Chinese-born writer, was detained in the southern city of Guangzhou while waiting for a transfer to Shanghai last month, after flying in from New York.

He was taken to Beijing, where China has said the city’s State Security Bureau is holding him under “coercive measures”, a euphemism for detention, as he is investigated on suspicion of “endangering state security”.

One of the lawyers, Mo Shaoping, said the state security bureau informed him on Friday that Yang “did not accept lawyers appointed by his family”, but that the bureau rejected his request to verify this with Yang in person. 

“The thing we’re most concerned about is whether this is the real wish of Yang Hengjun,” the other lawyer, Shang Baojun, told Reuters, adding that they hoped to glean more information when Australian consular officials are allowed to meet with him next.

China’s Ministry of State Security has no publicly available contact details. The Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment on Saturday, but has previously said that Yang’s rights and interests were being protected in accordance with the law.

Mo previously told Reuters that his client was suspected of “espionage”, and was being held under “residential surveillance at a designated location”.

The special detention measure allows authorities to interrogate suspects for six months without necessarily granting access to legal representation. Rights groups say that the lack of oversight raises concern about abuse by interrogators.

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China to execute driver who killed passenger of ride-hailing firm Didi

BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese court on Friday sentenced a man to death for raping and killing a female passenger of ride-hailing company Didi Chuxing last year, while he was employed as a driver.

The crime triggered fierce public and government criticism of Didi – whose backers include Uber Technologies Inc, Apple Inc and Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp – and led to a safety overhaul at the company.

The court in the eastern coastal city of Wenzhou announced the death penalty for 28-year-old Zhong Yuan, who committed the crime in August, in a post on its Twitter-like Weibo account.

“The criminal means were extremely cruel and the consequences of the crime are extremely serious,” the court said.

Didi suspended its carpool service Hitch after the incident and pledged a business overhaul to put a greater emphasis on safety, including strict rules for drivers who want to pick up passengers late at night.

A Didi spokesman said the company had no comment on the court sentence. Reuters was unable to reach Zhong for comment.

A technology news website reported on Wednesday that Didi is looking at cutting headcount in some departments by up to 20 percent, and plans to hire more engineers experienced in safety and driver engagement.

($1 = 6.7334 Chinese yuan renminbi)

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Burning Iranian oil tanker sinks, 29 crew feared dead

Iranian tanker ablaze since colliding with a freighter off China coast finally sinks with crew still missing.

    An Iranian oil tanker that caught fire after colliding with a freighter in the East China Sea more than a week ago has sunk, with some 30 crewmen still missing, Chinese state media said on Sunday.

    The stricken tanker, registered under Panama and named the Sanchi, had been adrift and on fire since January 6 collision. China Central Television (CCTV) reported that large amounts of oil were burning where the tanker went down.

    “Currently, it has already sunk,” CCTV said, citing the Shanghai Maritime Search and Rescue Centre. It showed a video of a tower of billowing black smoke and flames on the surface of the water. The ship sank before 5 pm (0900 GMT), CCTV said.

    At the time of the accident, the ship had 32 crew members on board: 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis. A rescue team from China has recovered three bodies and retrieved the “black box”.

    The Port and Maritime Organization of Iran (MOI), in a statement on Sunday, extended its condolences to the families of the sailors, stating that no crew members had survived the accident.

    A Chinese salvage team on Saturday recovered two bodies from the tanker. Another body, presumed to be one of the Sanchi’s sailors, was found on Monday and brought to Shanghai for identification.

    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had told his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif by telephone that “as long as there is 1 percent of hope, China will continue to make 100 percent effort” to rescue and recover other members of the crew.

    The tanker, owned by National Iranian Tanker Co, was carrying almost 1 million barrels of condensate, an ultra-light crude oil, to South Korea.

    It collided with the CF Crystal (IMO:9497050), which was carrying grain from the United States, about 160 nautical miles (184 km) off China’s coast, near Shanghai.

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    UK, China sign $13bn worth of trade deals

    British Prime Minister Theresa May hopes to secure a free trade agreement before leaving the European Union in 2019.

      British business leaders have started a three-day trip to China by signing $13bn worth of trade deals.

      British Prime Minister Theresa May hopes to secure a free trade agreement before leaving the European Union in 2019.

      Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown reports from Beijing.

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      Xi Jinping’s China and the Australian left’s dilemma

      The arrest in Beijing last week of the Chinese-born Australian writer Yang Hengjun has sent shockwaves through the community of writers, academics, journalists and activists engaged with China. That someone so experienced in handling the vicissitudes of the party state could fall victim to its machinations points to just how perilous China’s politics have become.

      Australian blogger Yang Hengjun was detained by secret police as he arrived in China.Credit:Sanghee Liu

      But Yang’s arrest is only the most recent case in a period during which the future that Australia once imagined with China at its centre has been upturned.

      From 2016 and the Sam Dastyari affair through to the vitriolic debate about PRC party-state influence in our political life and the international reporting of mass internment camps in China’s western region of Xinjiang, plus a multitude of other issues, has come a dawning awareness of the hard political realities of China under Xi Jinping.

      Yet the heavy lifting in this critical national debate on China has been led by a small and unlikely coalition of specialist academics, journalists and policymakers, rather than a broad spectrum of our political and public life.

      That the right wing in Australia would be absent is hardly a surprise. It has largely retreated into a hypertensive reactionary echo chamber and is unserious on substantive national questions.

      More dispiriting is the silence of the progressive left in Australia.

      Mainstream progressivism has studiously diminished, deflected or looked away from China’s direction under Xi. The Dastyari affair was reduced to partisan politics or insinuations about the role of ASIO. The national shame of offshore detention has been turned into a moral equivalence to neutralise any response to the internment camps in Xinjiang.

      The accusation of anti-China xenophobia has been readily used to close down debate about the nature of the PRC party state and its implications for Australia.

      There are important exceptions to the left’s silence. Clive Hamilton has pushed the boundaries on the debate over PRC party-state influence. A special mention must go to the Tasmanian Greens leader Cassy O’Connor, who has been uncompromising in highlighting the activities  in Tasmania of the Australian Council for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China, the peak United Front organisation that lobbies to change Australia’s One China policy to align with Beijing’s One China principle.

      Yet O’Connor, like Hamilton, has been subject to the most extraordinary opprobrium for her stand, even from within her own party, and as China has continued down its path under Xi, the equivocation of mainstream progressivism has become ever clearer.

      To understand why means understanding the place of progressive politics in Australia’s neoliberal turn since the 1980s. These are, on the surface, adversarial forces, but in truth progressive politics has been intrinsic to Australian neoliberalism, together forming the two parts of the same story of social and economic change in modern Australia.

      It has often been a difficult partnership, but when a subject has emerged that has been able to reconcile both forces, our public and political life has embraced it.

      China has been such a subject. China offers both a progressive, cosmopolitan vision for a new Australia at home in Asia, and also a market of hundreds of millions waiting for the goods and services of new, competitive Australian businesses.

      On no other issue have progressive politics and corporate Australia deployed their respective arguments so wholly to the same goal. It is no surprise that our universities, the key public instrument for reconciling neoliberalism and progressivism, have built the relationship with China into the core of their institutional purpose.

      Therefore, for progressives to imagine a future for Australia’s relationship with China that faces fully the reality of its party-state system, accepting the profound social, cultural and economic implications of doing so, means seeing the complicity of progressive politics in the neoliberal project and beginning the task of disentangling them.

      This is not a call for grandstanding or belligerence – those are the traits of the right – but to recover the qualities of realism and understanding, tempered with moral and political conviction, that should be at the heart of any progressive political engagement with China and its current system.

      Dr Mark Harrison is senior lecturer in Chinese studies at the University of Tasmania.

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      China jailing of rights lawyer a 'mockery' of law, says rights group

      BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese court on Monday jailed prominent rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang for 4-1/2 years for subversion of state power, a sentence denounced by Human Rights Watch as a “mockery” of Beijing’s claims to champion the rule of law.

      Wang, who had taken cases deemed sensitive by authorities, such as accusations of police torture or defending members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, went missing in August 2015 amid a crackdown on rights activists and lawyers.

      In a short statement on its website, the Tianjin Number 2 Intermediate People’s Court in the northern port city of Tianjin said that Wang had been found guilty.

      It is not possible to contact Wang for comment.

      After Wang’s Dec. 26 hearing, the United Nations called on authorities to “ensure his due process rights are respected” and said that there were “serious human rights concerns” about the way his case had been handled.

      The verdict makes a “mockery” of President Xi Jinping’s claims to champion the rule of law, Wang Yaqiu, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

      China’s criminal law requires that time spent in detention prior to sentencing be deducted, suggesting Wang could be released earlier than his 4-1/2 year jail term, she said.

      The Justice Ministry did not respond to a faxed request for comment on the case.

      During his court appearance, Wang fired his state-appointed lawyer, according to his wife Li Wenzu, who was barred from leaving her Beijing home and could not attend the trial.

      It is not known if Wang defended himself during the trial or whether he will appeal the sentence.

      Li said in a statement on Twitter that her husband was innocent and the “inhuman” behavior of law enforcement officials toward Wang was a violation of Chinese law.

      “I respect and support every choice that Wang Quanzhang has made. I will continue to defend Wang Quanzhang’s rights,” she said.

      Li has championed her husband’s case since he went missing, staging a 100 km (62 miles) march from Beijing to Tianjin, shaving her head to protest his treatment and filing almost weekly petitions to the Supreme People’s Court.

      Wang’s case has been shrouded in secrecy and uncertainty, as authorities have released little information about his well-being and have denied access to Li and the seven lawyers she has appointed to defend him.

      One of the lawyers, Yu Wensheng, had been Wang’s defense attorney, before he was stripped of his license and then arrested in January. He is now being investigated for “inciting subversion”.

      Police turned Western diplomats and foreign journalists away from the courthouse on the day of Wang’s hearing and detained activist Yang Chunlin, who went to Tianjin to support him.

      An indictment document from 2017 said that Wang had “for a long time been influenced by infiltrating anti-China forces” and had been trained by overseas groups and accepted their funding.

      China routinely rejects foreign criticism of its human rights record, saying all Chinese are treated equally in accordance with the law and that foreign countries have no right to interfere.

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