US, EU, Japan Slam Market Distortion in Swipe at China

The United States, European Union and Japan vowed Tuesday to work together to fight market-distorting trade practices and policies that have fueled excess production capacity, naming several key features of China’s economic system.

In a joint statement that did not single out China or any other country, the three economic powers said they would work within the World Trade Organization and other multilateral groups to eliminate unfair competitive conditions caused by subsidies, state-owned enterprises, “forced” technology transfer and local content requirements.

The move was a rare show of solidarity with the United States at a World Trade Organization meeting dominated by differences over U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” trade agenda and U.S. efforts to stall the appointment of WTO judges.

It reflected growing frustration among industrial countries over China’s trade practices, along with concerns that other developing countries will follow Beijing’s lead.

The statement said protectionist practices “are serious concerns for the proper functioning of international trade, the creation of innovative technologies and the sustainable growth of the global economy.”

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said China’s industry subsidies, including for aluminum and steel, were flooding global markets and hurting European workers in a “very, very dramatic” way.

“There’s no secret that we think that China is a big sinner here, but there are other countries that are as well,” Malmstrom told reporters on the sidelines of a business forum.

In the opening session of the WTO ministerial conference in Buenos Aires on Monday, the United States and Japan criticized a lack of transparency in some WTO members’ trade practices, a thinly veiled swipe at Beijing.

China, meanwhile, appealed for members to “join hands” and uphold WTO rules to protect globalization in the face of rising protectionism.

The joint statement came after Japan approached the European Union and the United States about overcapacity, according to an EU source, with both Tokyo and Brussels concerned about the possibility the Trump administration could act unilaterally.

“There is a thought that if we bring them into the fold, and can work jointly with them, then it reduces the risk of them going alone,” the source said.

​’Playing by the rules’

Washington, Brussels and Tokyo have previously raised complaints about China’s excess production capacity in a number of industrial sectors that has pushed down world prices and caused layoffs elsewhere.

The United States recently sided with the EU in arguing that such distortions mean the WTO should not grant China market economy status, a move that would severely weaken their trade defenses.

“We have been … reaching out to China to tell them they really must start playing by the rules,” Malmstrom told reporters.

The EU’s and Japan’s willingness to cooperate with the Trump administration comes despite disagreements over the role of the WTO and the future of multilateral trade deals. 

Trump has expressed his preference for bilateral negotiations, and his trade rhetoric has cast a cloud over the WTO meeting.

Efforts on Tuesday to make progress on a ministerial statement from all 164 WTO members were unsuccessful, since one country could not agree on the language, WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell told reporters, declining to name that country.

U.S. officials last month blocked WTO efforts to draft a statement of unity over the “centrality” of the global trading system and the need to aid development.

A spokeswoman for the office of the U.S. trade representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Trump administration is considering several unilateral tariff actions on steel, aluminum and China’s intellectual property practices that are likely to draw disputes from WTO members.

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Afreximbank Pledges Up to $1.5B to Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe

The African Export and Import Bank has pledged up to $1.5 billion in new loans and financial guarantees to Zimbabwe in a major boost for new President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, the bank’s president and chairman said Tuesday.

Mnangagwa, who took over last month after veteran autocrat Robert Mugabe quit following a de facto military coup, has vowed to focus on reviving the struggling economy and provide jobs in a nation with an unemployment rate exceeding 80 percent.

Afreximbank was the only international lender that stood by Zimbabwe throughout Mugabe’s repressive 37-year rule, but its quick announcement of a fresh package of loans and guarantees appeared to be a vote of confidence in the new government.

Cairo-based Afreximbank was a major funder of Zimbabwe while the country was cut off from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for having defaulted on its debt in 1999.

Bank president and chairman Okey Oramah told reporters after a meeting with Mnangagwa and senior government officials that Afreximbank would provide $150 million to local banks to help them pay for outstanding critical imports.

“We also discussed a number of other areas that involve additional investment from us for something that will be in the order of $1 billion to $1.5 billion that will include certain kinds of guarantees to encourage investors to come to Zimbabwe.

“We … want to make sure that we support the stabilization of the economy, that means providing liquidity to make sure that the situation where people are rushing every time to look for cash is dealt with,” Oramah said.

In August, before Mugabe’s ouster, Afreximbank provided $600 million to help Zimbabwe pay for imports and $300 million to allow it to print more “bond notes,” a quasi-currency that officially trades on par with the U.S. dollar.

Zimbabwe has a foreign debt of more than $7 billion and in September said it would not be able to pay $1.8 billion in arrears to the World Bank and African Development Bank until economic fundamentals improved.

The southern African nation, which dumped its hyperinflation-hit currency in 2009, is struggling with a severe dollar crunch that has seen banks fail to avail cash to customers while importers struggle to pay for imports.

Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa promised in a budget speech last week to re-engage with international lenders, curb spending and attract investors to revive the economy.

On Tuesday, Chinamasa described Afreximbank as a “pillar of strength” and said the economy was “in for some very good times.”

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Filipino Houses From Debris, Californian Fruit Pickers’ Homes Win Major Award

A project in the Philippines that used debris to rebuild typhoon-ravaged houses and Californian homes providing year-round housing for migrant workers won one of the world’s most prestigious housing awards on Tuesday.

The development charity CARE used innovative techniques, such as teaching building skills to residents and using wreckage from destroyed homes, to rehouse more than 15,000 Filipino families devastated in 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan.

“This is the first time self-recovery has been used on such a large scale,” said David Ireland, director of British charity World Habitat, which co-hosts the World Habitat Awards together with the United Nations (U.N.) settlement program, UN-Habitat.

“It has helped more people, more quickly, than traditional disaster recovery programs. The potential of this approach to be used elsewhere is absolutely huge.”

The winners of the competition, which was established in 1985, received 10,000 pounds and opportunities to share their ideas around the world.

The second winner was Mutual Housing, a not-for-profit affordable housing developer in Yolo County in northern California, which built the first permanent year-round homes for seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers.

Tens of thousands of workers are brought in from Central America at harvest time to do low-wage jobs, often living in sub-standard houses in government-funded migrant centers.

“It has been a complete 180 degree turn since we’ve been living here,” said Saul Menses, who moved into one of Mutual Housing’s 62 apartments and houses in Spring Lake, some 60 miles (97 km) northeast of San Francisco, in 2015.

“For five years, we lived in an apartment there that was very cold and in poor condition. My wife had to board the windows up with tape and unclog the sink daily.”

The Spring Lake houses are the United States’ first certified zero-energy rental homes, meaning they consume less energy than they produce, using solar power, efficient lights and drought-resistant landscaping.

Seasonal work also disrupts family life for the estimated 6,000 migrants who come to Yolo County for the harvest, making it difficult for children to stay in one school. The new houses are less than 1 km from a secondary school and other services.

“Seasonal agricultural laborers are one of the most marginalized groups in the USA,” said World Habitat’s Ireland. “Mutual Housing California have managed to help a group not normally reached and proven that you don’t have to be a homeowner or on a high income to embrace green lifestyles.”

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Facebook to Book Advertising Revenue Locally Amid Political Pressure

Social media giant Facebook said on Tuesday it would start booking advertising revenue locally instead of re-routing it via its international headquarters in Dublin although the move is unlikely to result in it paying much more tax.

Corporate taxation has become a hot-button topic in the wake of revelations of tax avoidance schemes by multinationals which have led to calls for companies to pay more tax while Europe has begun exploring options for taxing digital giants.

Facebook Chief Financial Officer Dave Wehner said the company had decided to move to a local selling structure in countries where it has an office to support sales to local advertisers.

“In simple terms, this means that advertising revenue supported by our local teams will no longer be recorded by our international headquarters in Dublin, but will instead be recorded by our local company in that country,” Wehner said in a blog post.

Tuesday’s announcement follows Facebook’s April 2016 shift to recording revenues from its large UK sales customers in Britain which resulted in an increase in the tax it paid.

“We believe that moving to a local selling structure will provide more transparency to governments and policy makers around the world who have called for greater visibility over the revenue associated with locally-supported sales in their countries,” Wehner said.

The European Commission is working on legislative proposals, expected in March, to increase taxes on multinational digital companies, who are accused of paying too little in the EU by booking profits in low-tax countries where they have their EU headquarters, like Ireland and Luxembourg.

Among the options the EU executive is considering to raise taxes quickly on tech giants is a levy on revenues from advertising, according to an EU document published in September.

Other short-term options are a tax on turnovers of digital firms and a withholding tax on electronic transactions. Wehner said Facebook would implement the change throughout 2018 and aim to complete it by the first half of 2019.

Facebook’s recent experience in Britain suggests that the move will not lead to the company paying significantly more in tax.

Facebook reported a dramatic rise in revenues and profits reported in the UK for 2016 and had a 2.5 million pound ($3.34 million) tax bill against racking up tax credits in previous years.

However, while the change did lead to an increase in the tax it paid, Facebook still enjoyed a low effective tax rate.

That’s because, even with this measure, Facebook declares relatively little profit in Britain. It reported a profit margin of under 7 percent for 2016 in Britain, compared to a group wide margin of around 45 percent for the year.

Much of the profit linked to UK sales is reported elsewhere are a result of inter-group transactions worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

($1 = 0.7491 pounds)

Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Tom Bergin in London; Editing by Adrian Croft.

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Survey: Majority in US Believe Government Corruption Has Risen Under Trump

A new survey shows that nearly six in 10 Americans believe the level of government corruption has risen in the year since U.S. President Donald Trump was elected and that the White House is now a more corrupt institution than Congress.

Berlin-based Transparency International says its survey of 1,000 Americans in October and November revealed that 44 percent believe that Trump and White House officials are corrupt, up from 36 percent recorded in a similar survey in early 2016 at the start of former U.S. president Barack Obama’s last year in office.

The Trump White House responded Tuesday by saying it has acted to end corruption and increase transparency in government.

The anti-corruption group says nearly seven of 10 of those it surveyed believe the U.S. government is failing to fight corruption, up from half in 2016. The group defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.

“I think the survey shows that Americans are disappointed that the government has not delivered on its promises to clean up government. Around the world we’ve seen that when elected officials fail to deliver on their anti-corruption promises, it has a corrosive effect on public trust in government,” said Zoe Reiter, Transparency International’s representative. “We are having a cultural moment in history in America that our elected officials really need to wake up to.” 

Responding for the White House, Principal Deputy White House Spokesman Raj Shah said, “Actually, we’ve done quite a bit to end corruption and increase transparency in government. We’ve elevated the status of the ethics office, issued guidance to staff to be more cooperative with congressional resolutions, and we’ve said we want government agencies to be as transparent as possible. We have worked hard to work back the backlog of FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests to make information about the government more available. What people say they believe in this [TI] survey has more to do with the media barrage of negative coverage than with actual corruption.”

Global perspective

In the survey, Transparency International asked people how well their government is doing at fighting corruption.

In 2016, people in the United States had slightly more faith in their government’s efforts than the global average.

“In 2017, citizens’ responses to this question are now much worse and similar to what people in Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Uganda told us. In terms of perceptions of the level of corruption in the Office of the President, the global average is that less than a third of people say their executive is highly corrupt,” said Transparency International researcher Coralie Pring.

“In 2016, the U.S. was already over this mark [36 percent]. However, the figure is now even worse at 44 percent — comparable to what people in Pakistan, Armenia and El Salvador told us,” Pring told VOA.

Survey numbers

The survey says 38 percent of Americans believe members of Congress are corrupt and 33 percent believe government officials are. Congress fared the worst in last year’s survey.

The poll says 32 percent think business executives are corrupt, 23 percent believe local government officials are corrupt and 22 percent believe religious leaders are corrupt. Judges and magistrates fare the best, with 16 percent of Americans believing they are corrupt.

The survey shows that close to a third of African-Americans believe police are corrupt, compared to a fifth of those polled overall. Slightly more than half say they feared retaliation for reporting what they believe to be wrongdoing, up from slightly less than a third in 2016.

Transparency International says its survey shows “people are now more critical of government efforts to fight corruption. From just over half in 2016, nearly seven in 10 people in the United States now say that the government is doing a bad job at combating corruption within its own institutions. This is despite widespread commitments to clean up government.”

Those surveyed said that while public protests and speaking out can be effective in fighting corruption, the best way is to vote out of office politicians they believe to be corrupt.

The anti-corruption group says that while Trump was elected on a vow to make government work better “for those who feel their interests have been neglected by political elites,” the opposite has happened.

“Rather than feeling better about progress in the fight against corruption over the past year,” the group said, “a clear majority of people in America now say that things have become worse.”

VOA’s Ken Bredemeier and Peter Heinlein contributed to this report.

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Cryptocurrency Exchanges Coinbase, Bitfinex Down

Digital currency exchange operators Coinbase and Bitfinex reported problems with service through their websites on Tuesday, frustrating traders seeking to cash in on the latest surge in the value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Wallet-provider Coinbase’s website showed “service unavailable” early on Tuesday U.S. time, flashing a message that said it was down for maintenance. Its exchange gdax.com was still quoting prices, although it also said it was experiencing a “minor service outage.”

Bitfinex, another cryptocurrency exchange, tweeted it was under heavy distributed denial of service (DDoS) and its application programming interface was down.

DDoS attacks have been common on the internet, using hijacked and virus-infected computers to target websites until they can no longer cope with the scale of data requested. It was not immediately clear if the two incidents were related to any cyberattacks.

Bitfinex last Thursday tweeted that it had been under significant denial of service attack for several days, and that the attack had recently worsened.

Bitcoin exchanges and wallets have a history of being hacked, and security experts say they become more vulnerable to cyber-crime as valuations rise.

There have been at least three dozen heists on exchanges that buy and sell digital currencies since 2011, including one that led to the 2014 collapse of Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin market.

The latest attack came last Thursday, when a Slovenian cryptocurrency mining marketplace, NiceHash, said it lost about $64 million worth of bitcoin in a hack of its payment system.

Bitfinex did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters was unable to contact Coinbase since the website was down.

Reporting By Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Martina. D’Couto and Patrick Graham.

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Trump Blames Democrats for Stoking Sexual Misconduct Allegations

U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Democratic lawmakers Tuesday for fueling the controversy surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct before he was in the White House.

One day after 56 congresswomen, all members of the Democratic Women’s Working Group, called on House leaders to investigate the allegations, the president on Twitter accused Democrats of playing partisan politics and denied knowing any of the women who have leveled accusations against him.

“Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia – so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met.  FAKE NEWS!”

Trump also denounced New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who said Monday on CNN the “allegations are credible” and ” many of them are heartbreaking.”

“Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for [fellow New York Democratic Senator] Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump.  Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!”

Gillibrand responded with a tweet of her own, saying Trump is unable to deny women the right to voice their opinions about him.

“You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office.”

The 56 representatives sent a letter Monday to Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy and Democrat Elijah Cummings of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“At least 17 women have publicly accused the president of sexual misconduct,” the letter from the Democratic Women’s Working Group says.

“The American people deserve a full inquiry into the truth of these allegations.  The president’s own remarks appear to back up the allegations … he feels at liberty to perpetrate such conduct against women.  We cannot ignore the multitude of women who have come forward with accusations against Mr. Trump.”

The letter invites the president to bring forth present evidence in his own defense.

Gillibrand and five other U.S. senators have called for Trump to resign over the allegations.

Gillibrand said if Trump does not immediately resign, Congress “should have appropriate investigations of his behavior and hold him accountable.”

The remarks are similar to calls by Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, and Democratic Senators Mazie Hirono, Jeff Merkley, Cory Booker and Ron Wyden.  All of them urged the president to step down following the announced resignations of three lawmakers: Democratic Senator Al Franken, Democratic Congressman John Conyers and Republican Congressman Trent Franks over sexual misconduct allegations.

Renewed accusations

Three women, who last year accused Donald Trump of making unwanted sexual advances, renewed their allegations Monday, saying it was time Congress investigate claims against the president in the wake of dozens of other powerful American men being held accountable for their treatment of women.

Rachel Crooks, who accused Trump of forcibly kissing her 12 years ago when she worked as a receptionist at his Trump Tower business headquarters in New York, said lawmakers should “put aside their party affiliations and investigate Mr. Trump’s history of sexual misconduct.”

She appeared alongside the two other Trump accusers at a New York news conference: Samantha Holvey, who alleged that Trump walked uninvited into a backstage dressing area where she and others were in various states of undress at a 2012 beauty pageant Trump owned, and Jessica Leeds, who accused Trump of groping her when she sat next to him on a commercial airline flight in the late 1970s.

During last year’s presidential campaign, more than a dozen women accused Trump of sexual misconduct extending over several decades, but he denied all the accusations, and said that an explicit 2005 taped comment of him boasting of groping women was merely “locker room talk.”

The White House again rejected the allegations.

“These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory,” the White House said. “The timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes and the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them.”

Later, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “We feel these allegations have been answered” by the results of the 2016 election. “The American people knew this and voted for the president.”

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Alabama Voters Picking Senator in Race Watched Nationally

Voters in the southern U.S. state of Alabama are voting Tuesday in a closely watched election to fill the Senate seat left by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general.

The race pits controversial Republican Roy Moore, who is battling sexual harassment allegations, against Democrat Doug Jones, a former prosecutor. The outcome of the race could have national implications for both political parties and for President Donald Trump.

WATCH: Stakes High for Trump in Senate Race in Alabama

Moore has denied several allegations of sexual misconduct when he was in his 30’s involving women who were teenagers at the time, including one who was 14 at the time.

“I do not know them. I had no encounter with them. I never molested anyone,” Moore said in a televised interview Sunday with the Voice of Alabama Politics.

Jones says the accusations make Moore unfit to serve in the Senate.

“It is crystal clear that these women are telling the truth and Roy Moore is not!”

Trump behind Moore

President Donald Trump recorded a get-out-the-vote phone message for Moore and spoke on his behalf at a rally in neighboring Florida on Friday.

“And we want jobs, jobs, jobs. So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it,” he said.

Trump held off on endorsing Moore for several weeks in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations but now says electing Moore is a priority for him.

“We certainly don’t want to have a liberal Democrat who is controlled by Nancy Pelosi and controlled by Chuck Schumer. We don’t want to have that for Alabama,” he said.

In the final days of the campaign, Moore is also highlighting his support for the president’s agenda.

“We are going to see if the people of Alabama will support the president and support his agenda in Washington by electing somebody that is not part of the establishment there.”

Democrat Jones told supporters that Moore’s character is the issue. “We know who we are, Alabama, we know who we are. This is an election to tell the world who we are and what we stand for.”

Republican critics

Several Senate Republicans have called on Moore to quit the race, including majority leader Mitch McConnell.

“If he were to be elected, he would immediately have an Ethics Committee case, and the committee would take a look at the situation and give us advice.”

McConnell now says he will leave it to Alabama voters to render a judgment on Moore.

Alabama’s senior Senator Richard Shelby said on Sunday that he did not support Moore and wrote in another name instead. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the Senate will “have a very tough decision to make” if Moore wins the race on Tuesday. Moore could face a move to expel him depending on whether there is an Ethics committee probe.

Several Senate Democrats said they will push for Moore’s ouster if he is elected. Democrats last week prevailed upon Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota to announce that he would be resigning soon in the wake of sexual allegations made against him.

Political fallout

Some Republicans worry that if Moore is victorious, he could become a rallying cry for Democrats looking to spur voter turnout in next year’s congressional midterm elections.

“Roy Moore, if he does win, is the gift that keeps on giving in terms of Democratic politics,” said South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

Given the recent ouster of Franken and veteran Michigan House Democrat John Conyers, some analysts believe a Moore victory could be damaging for Republicans in next year’s elections.

“Their outrage has been squared or cubed by recent events. And if Roy Moore is elected to the Senate, you could expect that level of outrage to go even higher,” said Brookings Institution scholar Bill Galston.

The Alabama race could also impact the balance of power in the Senate. Republicans currently hold a narrow 52 to 48 seat edge, but a victory by Jones would cut the margin to 51 to 49, possibly making it even more challenging for Trump to get some of his agenda through Congress.

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China Displays Clout at Internet Conference But Some Doubts Remain

China made an impressive display of its clout in the digital economy during a three-day internet conference in Beijing last week by pulling together the participation of U.N. agencies, the World Telecom Union and CEOs of major US based IT companies like Google, Apple and Cisco System.

The conference started with a message from Chinese president Xi Jinping who said, “China would never close its doors. They will only be open wider and wider going forward.”

But at the same time, Xi and Wang Huning, one of the ruling Communist Party’s seven most powerful men, emphasized the need for “cyber sovereignty,” which allows individual countries to establish cyber boundaries to protect their respective sovereign interests.

Xi said that besides benefits, “the internet has also brought many new challenges to the sovereignty, security and development interests of nations across the world.”

The Cyber Administration of China, which organized the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen city, was trying to obtain public confirmation about its Internet policies. This was also the first time the annual conference, which started in 2014, had attracted a high-profile attendance from heads of major international companies and agencies.

Analysts are skeptical the conference helped to boost China’s quest to influence rulemaking in the digital world. Many have noted that none of the foreign speakers specifically referred to Internet controls in China, which include bans on U.S. based services like Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

“I certainly don’t see (this) as China’s role as a rule setting has expanded. The regulatory bodies and standards actually usually doesn’t apply to China,” Jacob Cooke, CEO of consulting firm, Web Presence in China told VOA. “There is actually a noticeable lack of Chinese presence… And, likewise here there is no international presence in terms of regulatory body or rules and regulations.”

 Apple’s challenge

Apple recently removed hundreds of apps from its app store in China to adhere to the Chinese great firewall of censorship. Apple CEO Tim Cook did not mention that at the conference but said Apple shared the same vision with China on open Internet.

“The theme of this conference—developing a digital economy for openness and shared benefits—is a vision we at Apple share,” Cook said adding, “We are proud to have worked alongside many of our partners in China to help build a community that will join a common future in cyberspace.”

But in the wake of Apple’s decisions to remove APPS and similar moves, questions have surfaced about whether American CEOs are indirectly endorsing China’s censorship methods in their eagerness to obtain a larger slice of the country’s lucrative market.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy specifically targeted the Apple chief for failing to promote freedom of expression. “Apple is clearly a force for good in China, but I also believe it and other tech companies must continue to push back on Chinese suppression of free expression,” Leahy said.

Cook responded with a statement saying, “Each country in the world decides their laws and their regulations, and so your choice is do you participate or stand on the sideline and yell at how things should be…. And my own view, very strongly, is that you show up and you participate, you go in the arena. Because nothing changes from sideline.”

Cooke of Web Presence in China agrees, adding that such questions are not Apple’s responsibility.

“If you want do to business in a country you got to obey rules and laws of that country. That’s with any business. I mean it is not up to you to criticize or change the laws that serve the politicians,” Cooke said.

Robert Elliot Kahn, regarded by many as father of the Internet for co-inventing Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) views the controversy over China’s internet restrictions in a somewhat different light.

“Governments are going to impose their own rules and regulations; that’s the way the world works,” he told VOA on the sidelines of the conference. “But if we can make it easier for people to build better products and services, to get more services to the public and is supported by people and governments around the world, I think that’s progress for humanity.”

Seeking business

It was apparent from the meeting that western businessmen, including Cook and Google CEO Sudar Pichai, were doing what they can to expand in the Chinese market. Although Google’s browser and Gmail is banned in China and the company left China more than seven years ago, Bloomberg recently reported that the company was making a comeback investing artificial intelligence. 

“A lot of work Google does is to help Chinese companies. Many small and medium-sized businesses in China take advantage of Google to get their products to many other countries outside of China,” Pichai said.

Cook pointed out that Apple’s app store has helped give China’s 1.8 million developers total earnings worth $16.9 billion, which is the highest earned by developers in any country.

In a quote widely used in state media Cook said, “many people see China as a big market, but for us the main attraction is the quality of the people.”

But in the end, analysts note that China’s influence remains limited to the extent of the market it can offer to foreign companies and this is limited by the fact that several giant Chinese companies are jostling to fill every inch of the space.

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Waiting for Congress, Mnuchin Makes 2nd Emergency Debt Move

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday he is making a second emergency move to keep the government from going above the debt limit while awaiting congressional action to raise the threshold.

 

In a letter to congressional leaders, Mnuchin said he will not be able to fully invest in a large civil service retirement and disability fund. Skipped investments will be restored once the debt limit has been raised, he said.

 

In September, Congress agreed to suspend the debt limit, allowing the government to borrow as much as it needed. But that suspension ended Friday.

 

The government said the debt subject to limit stood at $20.46 trillion on Friday. Mnuchin has said he will employ various “extraordinary measures” to buy time until Congress raises the limit.

 

The Congressional Budget Office estimated in a recent report that Mnuchin has enough maneuvering room to stay under the limit until late March or early April.

 

If Congress has not acted before Mnuchin has exhausted his bookkeeping maneuvers, the government would be unable to borrow the money it needs to meet its day-to-day obligations, including sending out Social Security and other benefit checks and making interest payments on the national debt.

 

In August 2011, a standoff between Congress and the Obama administration over raising the borrowing limit came down to the wire and prompted the Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency to impose the first-ever downgrade of the government’s credit rating.

 

Raising the debt limit is a separate issue from the need for Congress to pass a spending bill to cover government operations. A failure to pass a spending bill triggers a partial government shutdown but does not carry the potential catastrophic market disruptions that a failure to raise the debt limit poses.

 

In his new letter, Mnuchin said, “I respectfully urge Congress to protect the full faith and credit of the United States by acting to increase the statutory debt limit as soon as possible.”

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