Signs Point to China, US Deal to Avert Further Tariff Hike

As China and the United States resume high-level talks in Washington Thursday, there are signs that the two may be closing in on a deal.

Reuters news agency is reporting that top trade officials from both sides are trying to hammer out the details of six broad agreements aimed at resolving the most difficult issues from forced technology transfers, to state subsidies and cyber theft.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump said there is no “magical date” for reaching a trade deal, a comment some felt suggests that the March 1 deadline, which could trigger a steep hike in tariffs from both countries, could be postponed if progress is being made.

Meanwhile, a senior Communist party adviser, speaking at a forum organized by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, predicted Washington and Beijing would reach a trade deal in early March . He also said that Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, is likely to be released by April or May.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference hosted by the newspaper, Xie Maosong, an adjunct professor at the Central Party School, said he was confident that is what would happen because of what he called the countermeasures China had taken.

Those “countermeasures” include Bejing’s detention and charging of two Canadian citizens — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — for endangering state security.

Meng is currently on bail in Canada awaiting possible extradition to the United States.

According to a Reuters report on Thursday, U.S. and Chinese negotiators are working on six broader agreements as well as a 10-item list of shorter-term measures.

Analysts tell VOA, that while it appears a more comprehensive deal is coming together, the details of any agreement will be key in determining whether it is a success or just an opportunity to kick long-standing issues down the road.

Christopher Balding, an economist and associate professor at Fulbright University Vietnam, said deals like the one China and the United States are working on take time.

There will be a lot of paperwork and time spent making sure individual agreements for industries are worked out, he said.

“The other issue that is going to be the real hang up, and this is going to be the real hang up for Beijing, is that there is some type of verification mechanism,” Balding said. “It’s not just the agreement, but what comes after the agreement.”

William Choong, a senior fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Singapore, said while they are two entirely different issues, the way President Trump is handling China is similar to how he is working with North Korea.

Choong said much like the meeting between Kim Jong Un and Trump in Singapore led to a North Korea deal 1.0, next week we’re going to get a 2.0 deal with North Korea in Vietnam.

The trade deal that is coming up is similar, he said.

“It will not be the all and end all. We are going to see more iterations along the road,” Choong said. “Whatever agreement they settle on, that the Americans and Chinese agree on, will be enough to let go of some of the steam, some of the pressure that has built up.”

That will give Trump a chance to kick the March 1 deadline further down the road, he added.

Chinese state media reports on Thursday were upbeat about the meetings.

An editorial in the China Daily, entitled “Decisive Talks Must be Forward Thinking,” said, “both sides should cherish the narrowing of their differences that has been achieved, as it has involved more than just picking off low-hanging fruit.”

Calling President Trump’s suggestion that the deadline could be delayed a “conciliatory signal,” the paper also added that it would be “naïve to think that such a Gordian knot of differing goals and ambitions will be simple to unravel, especially as the discussions are now about the most divisive and touch-a-nerve issues.”

It also said Washington needs to be realistic about what China can and cannot do. What that actually entails will only be clearer when the complete agreement is released.

“China more than anything wants this to go away because it is hindering a lot of their confidence building measures and investment decisions, that’s what they are really hoping to get out of it [a deal],” Balding said.

Choong agrees, noting that what Beijing wants is to get Trump off its back. But, he added, how China could change course enough on issues such as forced technology transfers is unclear.

“I do not know how the Chinese are going to put something that is significant enough in the agreement to actually placate the Americans,” Choong said. The Chinese, he said, are looking for a way to play Trump, much like North Korea has done.

“If Trump gets enough on paper that looks satisfactory, he can go away to the Twitter-verse and say look I’ve got this big deal with the Chinese.”

 

 

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Male, Female or X? Air Passengers to Get More Gender Options From Airlines

British Airways and Air New Zealand have joined a wave of major U.S. airlines planning to introduce extra gender options for LGBT+ passengers who don’t identify as either male or female.

LGBT+ groups have welcomed the change, saying it would smooth the way for many trans, intersex and non-binary passengers — or those who simply don’t look typically male or female — who have long faced discrimination when flying.

“It’s a big move”, Julia Ehrt, of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Persons presenting as gender non-conforming or trans persons who might not have been able to change their name or gender markers in passports regularly have serious challenges in traveling.

“That can range from being challenged about your gender marker or first name upon check-in or at security, through to outright denial of being able to board a plane.”

Global aviation body the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently released new guidance for airlines who want to offer non-binary gender options for passengers.

Typical examples of non-binary markers could include a X or ‘undisclosed’ instead of male or female, and the gender-neutral title Mx instead of Mr or Mrs.

Several major U.S. airlines including United, American Airlines and Delta have confirmed they are preparing to bring in more gender options in the wake of the new guidelines.

Now British Airways and Air New Zealand say they are planning to follow suit.

“We know how important it is for all of our customers to feel comfortable and welcome no matter how they self-identify,” a spokesman for British Airways said on Wednesday.

“We are working to change our booking platform to reflect this.”

Air New Zealand said it was “exploring how we can introduce non-binary gender options across our various digital environments.”

The Lufthansa Group, which owns Lufthansa, SWISS and Austrian Airlines, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it was “taking the implementation of additional gender options into consideration.”

Up to 1.7 percent of people are intersex  meaning they are born with sex characteristics that are neither definitively male or female – according to the United Nations.

In addition, studies suggest that a growing number of people identify as trans or non-binary.

More than 10 percent of U.S. adults identify as LGBT+, rising to 20 percent among younger millennial, found a 2016 study by LGBT+ group GLAAD which argued that youth increasingly reject binary identities such as male or female.

Experts said airlines would be looking to adapt to changing demographics and social norms.

“The world itself is evolving… it’s in airlines’ interests to show they are friendly to all types of people,” said British aviation expert John Strickland.

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Samsung’s Folding Phone Aims to Rejuvenate Smartphone Market

Ten years after launching its Galaxy line of smartphones, Samsung Electronics unveiled a new form of the ubiquitous device — a phone that seamlessly turns into a tablet — to create some new excitement in the sluggish global smartphone market.

At an event in San Francisco on Wednesday, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Fold, its long-awaited foldable smartphone. Only FlexPai, by Royale, a U.S.-based Chinese company, has anything like it on the market, but the FlexPai has garnered mixed reviews.

Samsung ignored the FlexPai’s existence and unveiled the Galaxy Fold as if it were the first of its kind.

“The size of our screens is still fundamentally limited by the size of our devices until now,” said Justin Denison, Samsung senior vice president of product marketing. “With the Galaxy Fold, we are creating a new dimension for your phone and your life. We are giving you a device that doesn’t just define category, it defies category.”

 

WATCH: Samsung Rolls Out New Smartphones

Three apps at once for multitasking

When closed, the Galaxy Fold is a smartphone. When opened, the Fold turns into an expansive tablet.

The device is for the impatient multitaskers because users can run three apps at the same time and continuously use the apps while moving from phone to tablet.

The Galaxy Fold is slated to go on sale in late April. It will cost nearly $2,000. That price tag caused sticker shock at the event, eliciting gasps and some grumbling among the audience.

But it appears the Galaxy Fold is in keeping with Samsung’s aim to generate buzz for the smartphone market, while also aiming for the market’s high end, where Apple and its iPhone dominate.

Slumping smartphone sales

The challenge smartphone makers have faced in recent years is that consumers hold on to the devices for longer and longer, seeing few reasons to upgrade.

The leader in worldwide smartphone sales, the South Korean electronics firm is hoping to give consumers a few reasons to trade in their older ones, and generate buzz about what smartphones can be in the future.

Samsung’s new line of Galaxy smartphone, the S10, comes in three models, S10e, S10 and the S10+. The S10 models have bigger screens, more battery life and more cameras packed in each device than earlier Galaxy lines.

​Ultrasound fingerprint scanner

The S10 has the world’s first “ultrasonic fingerprint scanner,” which uses sound waves that bounce from a user’s fingertip to unlock a device. It’s unclear if the fingerprint scanner will work through screen savers. And the S10 can act as a charger for other devices such as watches.

The S10 line, with a price starting at $749, will start shipping March 8.

Samsung executives say that with the firm’s foldable phone and new S10 line, it is ushering in the mobile era for the next decade.

“For those who say everything possible has already been done,” said DJ Koh, president and CEO of Samsung’s IT and mobile communications division. “I say open your mind and get ready for the dawn of a new mobile era.”

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Students Build City of the Future

A future of rising oceans and stronger storms awaits the next generation as the climate warms. It will take talented engineers and city planners to tackle those challenges. The annual Future City competition aims to get middle school students excited about learning the skills they’ll need. More than 40,000 students from 1,500 schools participated this year. VOA’s Steve Baragona was at the finals in Washington.

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As Democrats Lean Left for 2020, Trump Cries Socialism

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is the latest entrant into the increasingly crowded Democratic presidential field for 2020. Sanders and several other Democrats in the race advocate progressive views on key issues like the economy, the environment and health care. In response, President Donald Trump charged that the Democratic Party is headed down the road of socialism, setting up what could be a major ideological debate next year. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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Resumption of High-level US-China Trade Talks Raises Hopes

The Trump administration is set Thursday to resume high-level talks with Chinese officials, aiming to ease a trade standoff that’s unnerved global investors and clouded the outlook for the world economy.

A Chinese delegation led by Vice Premier Liu He will meet in Washington with a U.S. team led by Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as well as Larry Kudlow, a key White House economic adviser, and Peter Navarro, a trade adviser. The talks are expected to end Friday.

The world’s two biggest economies are locked in a trade war that President Donald Trump started over his allegations that China deploys predatory tactics to try to overtake U.S. technological dominance. Beijing’s unfair tactics, trade analysts agree, include pressuring American companies to hand over trade secrets and in some cases stealing them outright. 

To try to force China to change its ways, Trump has imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions in Chinese goods. Beijing has retaliated with tariffs of its own. China rejects the allegations and complains that Washington’s goal is simply to cripple a rising economic competitor.

On March 2, the Trump administration has warned, it will escalate its import taxes on $200 billion in Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent if the two sides haven’t reached a resolution by then. But in recent days, Trump has signaled that he may be willing to extend the deadline if negotiators are making progress.

The conflict has rattled markets. It’s also fanned uncertainty among businesses that must decide where to invest and whether Trump’s tariffs – which raise the cost of the affected imports – will be in effect long enough to justify replacing Chinese suppliers with those from countries not subject to the tariffs. 

The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have all downgraded their forecasts for the global economy, citing the heightened trade tensions.

After meetings last week in Beijing, Lighthizer said the two countries had “made headway.” 

And citing upbeat comments from the two countries, Xingdong Chen, chief China economist at BNP Paribas, said the negotiators are “likely to make progress, convincing Trump it is worth extending the tariff truce if necessary.”

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US Judge Grants Former Trump Lawyer Prison Delay

A U.S. judge on Wednesday granted a request by Michael Cohen, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, to delay the start of his prison term by two months.

Cohen, 52, had been scheduled to report to prison on March 6 to begin a three-year sentence for fraud, tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and lying to Congress.

In a letter to Judge William Pauley, one of Cohen’s lawyers asked that the date be pushed back to May 6 so Cohen can recover from shoulder surgery and prepare for upcoming testimony before Congress.

Judge Pauley agreed to the request.

Cohen is scheduled to deliver closed-door testimony to the House Intelligence Committee on February 28 and has also been subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Planned open-door testimony to the House Oversight Committee was put off after what Cohen alleged were public threats against him and his family from Trump and Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Cohen admitted multiple charges in December related to work he performed for the real estate tycoon and pledged to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Mueller leads the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, a probe that increasingly menaces the White House.

Cohen notably told prosecutors that Trump directed him to arrange illegal hush payments to two alleged former lovers ahead of the 2016 election.

He also admitted lying to Congress over pursuing a Moscow real estate deal in Trump’s name during the election, even after Trump had secured the Republican nomination.

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Sanders’ Early Fundraising Surpasses Rivals

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders’ campaign announced Wednesday it raised nearly $6 million during its first day of online fundraising, easily exceeding first-day totals amassed by his rivals.

More than 220,000 donors contributed to Sanders, a Senator from Vermont, in a 24-hour period since he announced his bid Tuesday for the White House, eclipsing his 2015 first-day fundraising total of more than $1.5 million.

Public disclosures showed Senator Kamala Harris of California was previously the top early Democratic fundraiser, with more than 38,000 donors contributing $1.5 million. Harris announced her candidacy on January 21.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts raised nearly $300,000 online on December 31, the day she announced an exploratory campaign committee.

Senator Amy Klobuchar raised more than $1 million in 48 hours after launching her campaign on February 10, campaign officials said.

Sanders’ show of strength is not surprising. He raised more than $200 million when he opposed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

In its announcement Wednesday, the Sanders campaign touted a large grassroots donor base that includes individuals who have already “contributed $600,000 in donations that will recur every month.”

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US Trade Representative to Testify on China Next Week

 U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will testify next week at a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on U.S.-China trade issues, a spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee said on Wednesday.

Lighthizer has been the lead negotiator in ongoing trade negotiations with Beijing as the world’s two largest economies seek to find agreement amid a bitter dispute that has seen both sides impose tariffs on imports.

In a statement, the committee said the hearing was scheduled for Feb. 27, just days ahead of President Donald Trump’s March 1 deadline that the Republican U.S. leader has said could slide.

China and the United States began their latest round of talks this week.

 

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