China sets robust economic target, promises market opening

Published: Sunday, March 04, 2018 @ 7:36 PM
Updated: Sunday, March 04, 2018 @ 7:35 PM

            Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers a work report at the opening session of the annual National People's Congress in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Monday, March 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers a work report at the opening session of the annual National People's Congress in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Monday, March 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

China's top economic official set a robust growth target Monday and promised more market opening and cuts in a bloated steel industry that has inflamed trade tensions with Washington and Europe.

The growth target of "around 6.5 percent" announced by Premier Li Keqiang to China's ceremonial legislature, little-changed from last year, would be among the world's strongest if achieved. The premier also promised progress on developing electric cars and other technology and better regulation of China's scandal-plagued financial industries.

The meeting of the National People's Congress is overshadowed by constitutional changes that would allow President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely, but businesspeople and economists also are looking for signs Xi is speeding up reform. That follows complaints Beijing did too little while Xi focused on amassing power since becoming Communist Party leader in 2012.

"We will be bolder in reform and opening up," said Li in a nationally televised speech to nearly 3,000 delegates to the ceremonial legislature in the Great Hall of the People.

Possible developments this week include the elevation of Xi's top economic adviser, Liu He, who has told foreign businesspeople he supports free markets, to a post overseeing reform.

"The top priority over the past five years was power consolidation," said economist Larry Hu of Macquarie Capital in a report. "Now the power consolidation is close to completed. It remains to be seen how policy priority would change for the next five years."

The growth target officially is a basis for planning instead of a promise about how the economy will perform, but allowing activity to dip below that level could erode public confidence and make investors skittish.

The economy grew by 6.9 percent last year but that was supported by a boom in bank lending and real estate sales that regulators are trying to curb due to concern about rising debt. Analysts have questioned whether Beijing can hit this year's target without stimulus from bank lending and government spending, which would set back reforms aimed at nurturing self-sustaining growth and curbing debt.

Li promised Beijing would open its economy wider to foreign investors by "completely opening up" manufacturing and expanding access to other industries, but gave no details.

Foreign business groups complain previous industry-opening pledges have been diluted by conditions such as ownership limits or requirements to hand over technology that make them unappealing.

At the same time, Li tempered the market-friendly promises by affirming plans to build up state-owned enterprises that dominate most Chinese industries including energy, telecoms and finance.

"Our SOEs should, through reform and innovation, become front-runners in pursuing high-quality development," he said.

The premier promised "substantive progress" in a multi-year campaign to reduce production capacity in steel, coal and other industries in which supply exceeds demand. The United States and the European Union complain that surplus of Chinese steel and aluminum flooding into global markets depresses prices and threatens jobs.

This year's targets include eliminating 30 million tons of production capacity in the politically sensitive steel industry, Li said. It was unclear how that might affect China's annual output of about 800 million tons.

Li also promised to improve oversight of scandal-plagued Chinese financial industries and to control surging corporate debt that prompted rating agencies to cut Beijing's credit rating last year.

Last month, regulators seized control of one of China's biggest insurers, privately owned Anbang Insurance Group, amid concern about whether its debt burden was manageable. Authorities announced its founder and chairman would be prosecuted on charges of improper fundraising.

On Monday, the premier tried to defuse worries rising debt could trigger a banking crisis or drag on economic growth by repeating assurances that Beijing is "completely capable of forestalling systemic risks."

In a sign Beijing might accept slower growth, Li cut the government's budget deficit target to 2.6 percent of gross domestic product from last year's 3 percent, which would reduce the stimulus from public spending.

"The government's bottom line for economic growth is likely to be 6.3 percent," said Tom Rafferty of the Economist Intelligence Unit in a report. He said that was the minimum required to meet Beijing's goal of doubling economic output from its 2010 level by 2020.

The proposal to remove term limits for president from China's constitution has prompted concern a slide toward one-man rule will erode efforts to make economic regulation more stable and predictable.

Officials say China needs continuity as Beijing carries out long-range changes including making state industry more competitive and productive and developing profitable high-tech industry.

Li, the premier, made no mention of the constitutional change or the controversy surrounding it but promised progress on an array of politically challenging goals including the restructuring or bankruptcy of "zombie enterprises," or money-losing but politically favored companies that are kept afloat by loans from government banks.

The premier said Beijing will speed up state-led development in an array of technology fields including artificial intelligence, integrated circuits, mobile communications, aircraft engines and electric cars.

"We will develop intelligent industries," said Li.

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VIDEO: Skiers forced to jump off ski lift after malfunction

Published: Friday, March 16, 2018 @ 12:03 PM

Skiers were forced to jump for their lives and others were flung off a ski lift at a Georgian ski resort after a serious malfunction.

Skiers were forced to jump for their lives and others were flung off a ski lift at a Georgian ski resort after a serious malfunction.

At least eight people were injured in the incident according to local media, there were no fatalities. 

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Holiday makers were travelling downhill at the Gudauri ski resort when the ski lift went out of control and started to pick up speed moving backwards. A video of the incident showed horrified onlookers shouting in panic as people were thrown off the lift. 

Local media reported that a Swede and Ukrainian were among those hurt. 

LOCAL CRIME: Fairborn woman accused of stealing $116K from Moraine business

The Mountain Resort Development Company of the Ministry of Economy of Georgia stated that they had contacted the ski-lift producer, Georgian media said.

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Kathmandu plane crash: At least 50 dead, several injured, officials say

Published: Monday, March 12, 2018 @ 1:08 PM
Updated: Monday, March 12, 2018 @ 1:08 PM

At Least 38 Killed In Plane Crash In Nepal

A passenger plane caught fire, then crashed while landing at Nepal’s Kathmandu airport Monday.

 >> PHOTOS: Kathmandu plane crash kills dozens, Nepal police say

>> Read more trending news 

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Experts see Trump, North Korea leader meeting risky, hopeful

Published: Sunday, March 11, 2018 @ 7:15 PM

            A protester stands to oppose the United States’ policies against North Korea near U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 9, 2018. After months of trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation, Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un by the end of May to negotiate an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, South Korean and U.S. officials said Thursday. No sitting American president has ever met with a North Korea leader. The signs read: “Oppose Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) .” (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
            Ahn Young-joon
A protester stands to oppose the United States’ policies against North Korea near U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 9, 2018. After months of trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation, Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un by the end of May to negotiate an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, South Korean and U.S. officials said Thursday. No sitting American president has ever met with a North Korea leader. The signs read: “Oppose Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) .” (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)(Ahn Young-joon)

Local reaction Friday to news that North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump plan to meet in May for nuclear disarmament talks seemed to fall under the same category: surprise, skepticism and a belief it never would have happened a few months ago.

The whiplash development could put two leaders who’ve repeatedly insulted, threatened and dismissed each other in the same room, possibly in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

It comes after Kim has referred to Trump as a “senile dotard” and Trump has repeatedly referred to the North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man.” The possible summit would also take place as the North snaps off regular weapons tests in a dogged march toward its goal of a viable nuclear arsenal that can threaten the U.S. mainland.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who some believe has maneuvered the two leaders to this position, called it an “historical milestone” that will put the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula “really on track.”

But the White House on Friday seemed to pull back on the initial announcement, saying North Korea must meet “concrete and verifiable steps” before the meeting could take place.

Former Dayton Congressman Tony Hall, who has made several trips to North Korea, said a meeting between the two leaders would be hopeful after a barrage of insults.

“We were very close to being in a very, very touchy situation where both leaders were yelling back and fourth and calling each other names and that wasn’t a good situation,” said Hall, a Democrat. “The United States has nothing to lose by two leaders sitting down and talking about nuclear disarmament.”

RELATED: Experts divided on how to handle North Korea Still, there is plenty of skepticism about what the meeting might accomplish.

North Korea has made a habit of reaching out, after raising fears during previous crises, with offers of dialogue meant to win aid and concessions, experts point out. Some speculate that the North is trying to peel Washington away from its ally in Seoul, weaken crippling sanctions and buy time for nuclear development. It has also, from the U.S. point of view, repeatedly cheated on past nuclear deals.

Gary A. O’Connell, a retired chief scientist at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said North Korea poses a “credible, growing” nuclear missile threat to the United States.

“Whether they have achieved everything they need to do is still unknown,” he said. “They’re certainly close, if not already there.”

Prestige bid

The meeting would mark the first time a sitting American president has met with a North Korean leader, noted Laura M. Luehrmann, Wright State University political science professor and director of the program in international and comparative politics.

“This is a prestige bid by Kim — Kim is inviting Trump to demonstrate that Kim’s investment in nuclear weapons and missile capability has brought the U.S. to a position of treating Kim Jong Un as an equal,” she said in an email.

RELATED: Greenville native sent to North Korea on UN relief mission Luehrmann said North Korea signaling it would suspend nuclear and missile tests prior to the talks is a positive, but the path forward could be perilous.

“What if these talks fail?” she asked. “Are we then in a more dangerous situation?”

“What does North Korea mean by the suggestion that it will consider denuclearization as a condition for these talks?” she added. “It seems highly unlikely that (Kim) would surrender the nuclear weapons program that has brought him to this point. Trump’s acceptance of Kim’s invitation very well may be the right thing to do at this point — it is far better than the threats to ‘push the button’ that we had earlier in the year. But it is also a major gamble.”

Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown praised the development but insisted that Pyongyang must eventually give up its nuclear weapons program.

Portman, R-Ohio, said the United States should continue its robust economic sanctions against North Korea “until North Korea changes course and ends its dangerous pursuit of nuclear weapons that threaten the United States and our allies.”

Brown, D-Ohio, called on Trump to “work with our allies to end North Korea’s nuclear program and I’m glad the sanctions Congress passed against North Korea helped bring Kim Jong-un to the table.”

Brown and Portman both supported a bill last year that imposed sanctions on North Korea for testing a long-range ballistic missile. The bill was approved following the death of Otto Warmbier of Wyoming, Ohio, after he had been held in a North Korean prison.

‘Not a breakthrough’

RELATED: Otto Warmbier remembered Donna Schlagheck, a retired Wright State professor, said Trump’s quick agreement to meet with the leader of the North Korean regime showed a disregard for decades of diplomatic procedures to reach a deal. She said she was “horrified” the meeting might deliver nothing to the United States.

“It’s not a breakthrough,” she said. “It’s another one of those moves out of left field. There is no diplomatic process of negotiations … to move the parties a little bit closer toward a common goal and there isn’t even a common goal.”

If the Trump administration is successful at getting North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons programs, it could be a boost for Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, said Glen Duerr, associate professor of international students at Cedarville University. It would likely be compared to former President Barack Obama’s decision to kill or captured Osama Bin Laden, he said.

“It could be the key that unlocks the door to 2020 (for Trump),” said Duerr. “It would be hard for any Democratic nominee to say they have better foreign policy ideas.”

Dayton a target?

Duerr warned that a nuclear war with North Korea could put Dayton on a list of targets because of Wright-Patterson. Dayton would likely be on the list for a second or third wave of attacks, he said.

“This is a powerful strategic center for the middle of the United States, so there is the potential at least, Duerr said but added: “It doesn’t worry me to the point that I’m moving to the mountains or to Kentucky.”

Hall, former executive director of the Alliance to End Hunger, said North Korea has few resources and about 80 percent of its population lives in hunger.

“They’re going to put on a big show they are a powerful country and all that, but the fact is they are a country that is starving and we need to realize that when we got to peace talks with them,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

The story so far: President Donald Trump accepted North Korea’s invitation for direct talks with Kim Jong Un, to be held by May.

What’s new: Local experts react with surprise and skepticism mixed with hope, warning what might happen if the talks fail.

What’s next: Details, including whether North Korea will meet conditions set by the White House for the talks.

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Google celebrates International Women's Day with interactive doodle

Published: Wednesday, March 07, 2018 @ 1:05 PM

What You Need To Know: International Women’s Day

Have you peeped at Google? It’s all about International Women’s Day. 

>> Read more trending news 

The search engine, which sometimes uses its homepage to honor important figures and events, is observing the occasion one day early with some interactive animation. 

Celebrated around the world every March 8, the holiday recognizes women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements. It also serves as a call to action to accelerate gender parity.

When you visit Google, you can press the play button to dig through the personal narratives of a dozen women artists from around the global. The subjects, who were specially selected by the platform, shared their diverse experiences with visual drawings.

“Each story represents a moment, person, or event that has impacted their lives as women,” the site wrote in a statement. “While each artist tells a unique story, the themes are universal, reminding us of how much we often have in common.”

The works have been translated across more than 80 languages to inspire as many people as possible. And Google is encouraging others to post about their unique journeys using the hashtag #HerStoryOurStory on social media. 

Check out the doodle archive to see the animation, and take a look at the full list of participants below.

1. Anna Haifisch – “Nov 1989”

2. Chihiro Takeuchi – “Ages and Stages”

3. Estelí Meza – “My Aunt Blossoms”

4. Francesca Sanna – “The Box”

5. Isuri – “Aarthi the Amazing”

6. Karabo Poppy Moletsane – “Ntsoaki’s Victory”

7. Kaveri Gopalakrishnan – “Up on the Roof”

8. Laerte – “Love”

9. Philippa Rice – “Trust”

10. Saffa Khan – “Homeland”

11. Tillie Walden – “Minutes”

12. Tunalaya Dunn – “Inwards”

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