World Newsletter

15th Aug 2019

Asserting that India and China have "already grown" and it was unfair of them to take advantage of the "developing countries" tag by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), US President Donald Trump said he would not let it happen anymore. He expressed hope that WTO will treat the US "fairly". On Tuesday, addressing a gathering at Pennsylvania, Trump said India and China- the two economic giants from Asia- are no longer developing nations and as such they cannot take the benefit from the WTO. "They (India and China) were taking advantage of us for years and years," he said, pointing out that WTO's 'developing nation' tag for India and China put the US to disadvantage. "We're not letting that happen anymore.Everybody is growing but us," he added. His comments came days after he asked the WTO to define how it designates developing-country status. Trump's move apparently aimed at singling out countries like China, Turkey and India, which are getting lenient treatment under the global trade rules. Known for championing 'America First' policy, Trump has been a vocal critic of India for levying "tremendously high" duties on US products and has described the country as a "tariff king". The Geneva-based WTO is an intergovernmental organisation that regulates international trade between nations. Under the global trade rules, developing countries claim entitlement to longer timeframe for the imposition of safeguards, generous transition periods, softer tariff cuts, procedural advantages for WTO disputes and the ability to avail themselves of certain export subsidies. FACEBOOK LISTENED TO USERS' PRIVATE CONVERSATIONS: REPORT Facebook has paid hundreds of contractors to listen to and transcribe snippets of users' conversations, U.S. media reported on Tuesday. Facebook acknowledged the transcriptions, which were first reported by Bloomberg, telling the news agency in a statement that they were made with users' permission, but that the practice has nonetheless been stopped. "Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago," the company said. The contractors were testing the ability of the social network's artificial intelligence to interpret messages, and the only users affected were those on Facebook Messenger app who had opted to have their voice chats transcribed. Bloomberg said the contractors working on the project were "rattled" by listening to private audio whose origin wasn't disclosed and which sometimes contained vulgar content. The contractors also weren't told the reason why they were doing the transcribing, the news agency reported. Apple and Google have in recent weeks said they've halted the practice, while Amazon gives users the option of blocking the collection of their voice by Alexa, the artificial intelligence driving their Echo voice assistant. WHO ARE PROTESTING IN HONG KONG? THE YOUNG, HIGHLY EDUCATED MIDDLE CLASS Since June, Hong Kong has witnessed an unprecedented series of protests in opposition to a Bill that allows extradition to mainland China. What is the profile of these protesters? They are young, generally in their twenties, concludes a study that has sought to profile the participants of 12 protests between June 9 and August 12. Most of them have had a higher education, and those who identify themselves as "middle class" outnumber those who call themselves "lower class". The study was led by researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Lingnan University, the Hang Seng University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Baptist University. The 12 surveys covered 6,688 respondents; the percentage of male respondents (50.5 to 64.2 per cent) was generally higher than that of female ones, except on June 26 (42.6 per cent male respondents). In general, the majority of respondents belonged to the age group 20-29. The proportion aged 20-24 ranged from 16.3 per cent to 54.2 per cent, and the proportion aged 25-29 ranged from 11.6 to 34.2 per cent across the surveys. There were also younger respondents aged 19 or below, ranging between 6.0 and 15.6 per cent. HONG KONG CRISIS: TRUMP MOOTS 'PERSONAL MEETING' WITH CHINA'S XI US President Donald Trump has suggested meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the deepening political crisis engulfing Hong Kong. In a tweet Mr Trump said he was confident Mr Xi could deal with Hong Kong's increasingly fractious protests "quickly and humanely". He wrote that Mr Xi "is a great leader who very much has the respect of his people". The president signed off the tweet with a question: "Personal meeting?" The Chinese government has strongly criticised the protesters, calling their behaviour "close to terrorism". A direct military intervention by China is feared by activists but thought unlikely by analysts. Separately, the US president's national security advisor, John Bolton, warned China to tread "carefully" in Hong Kong "because people in America remember Tiananmen Square". A repeat of the military crackdown on the 1989 student-led protests in China would be a "big mistake", he told Voice of America. SUKHOI SU-27 JETS 'CHASE AWAY' NATO F-18 SHADOWING RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTER'S PLANE A major crisis was averted in the skies over Baltic sea when a pack of Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets escorting a plane carrying Russian defence minister chased away a NATO F-18 jet. The NATO jet was allegedly trying to shadow the plane in the air, Zvezda TV, the television channel of the Russian Defense Ministry, reported. In footage released by the Russia Ministry of Defence (MoD), the NATO warplane can be seen approaching minister Sergey Shoigu's plane, which was en route from Kaliningrad region. The minister's plane was being guarded by two Su-27 fighter aircraft which soon sprung into action. The moment the Su-27s made a move, the NATO plane swerved left to bug out. According to RT, a similar air encounter occurred over the Baltic Sea in 2016, when a Eurofighter jet shadowed a minister's plane. That time, the NATO aircraft kept a reasonably distance of about 2 km from the Russian minister's aircraft. Sukhoi fighter jets are the workforce of the Russian air force and are used globally, including by the Indian Air Force. The Su-27 Flanker is a Russian fourth-generation fighter jet that has been around since the 1980s. SHARE MARKETS TUMBLE AS RECESSION FEARS GROW Panic gripped Wall Street on Wednesday as investors fled shares amid fears over a US-China trade war and the health of the global economy. The three main stock markets closed 3% down, with analysts pointing to signals the US may be heading for recession. Weak data from Germany and China, and another attack on the US central bank by President Donald Trump, helped fuel a rush for haven assets like gold. Analyst Oliver Pursche, from Bruderman, said the global picture was precarious. "What's happening in Hong Kong, what's happening with Brexit and the trade war, it's all a mess," the chief market strategist said. "Every central bank around the world is trying to prop up economies and every politician around the world is trying to destroy economies." News that Germany's GDP contracted in the second quarter, and that China's industrial growth in July hit a 17-year low, had already spooked markets in Europe. The FTSE 100 closed down 1.5%, while in Germany and France the markets finished more than 2% lower. Another worry was that the bond market was flashing recession warnings. The yield on two-year and 10-year Treasury bonds inverted for the first time since June 2007. This rare bond market phenomenon is seen as a reliable indicator of possible recession, and preceded the last global downturn more than 10 years ago. Meanwhile, the CBOE volatility index - the so-called fear index - jumped 4.26 points to 21.78, and spot gold prices rebounded, rising more than 1%. All of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500 were in the red, with energy and financial suffering the largest percentage loss. Banks also fell heavily, with Citigroup down more than 5%. CANADA'S TRUDEAU REBUKED ON ETHICS AHEAD OF ELECTION Canada's ethics watchdog slammed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday, concluding in the lead-up October elections that he broke rules by arm-twisting his attorney general to settle a criminal case against engineering giant SNC-Lavalin. The scandal, revealed earlier this year, tarnished the prime minister's golden boy image, cost two ministers and two senior officials their jobs and plunged his Liberals into a dead heat with the opposition Conservatives in the polls. Independent parliamentary ethics commissioner Mario Dion said Trudeau and his officials had wrongly sought to "exert influence over the attorney general in her decision whether to intervene in a matter relating to a criminal prosecution." Trudeau must pay a small fine of up to Can$500 (US$375) for contravening Canada's conflict of interest act, but with only two months before national elections the political costs could be much steeper. Trudeau had steadfastly denied accusations that his inner circle sought to shield SNC-Lavalin from a corruption trial. Dion concluded: "The authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the director of public prosecutions as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson-Raybould as the Crown's chief law officer." He also found that "partisan political interests were improperly put to the attorney general for consideration in the matter," notably that a conviction at trial would result in SNC-Lavalin being deprived of lucrative government contracts resulting in job losses that could harm the Liberals' re-election bid.

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