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BEIJING (AP) — First lady Michelle Obama plans to avoid politics and focus on education and people-to-people contacts on her first visit to China.
 
Mrs. Obama's schedule includes a speech to Chinese and American students at Peking University and visits to the cities of Xi'an in the west and Chengdu in the southwest.
 
She was due to arrive Thursday, traveling with her mother and two daughters on the seven-day, three-city visit.
 
On Friday, Mrs. Obama is due to spend the day with Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
 
"I think this is a very good opportunity to improve the China-U.S. relations, as the first lady can represent the soft side of diplomacy," said Wang Dong, a political scientist at Peking University's School of International Studies.
 
"Michelle Obama herself has been accomplished in areas such as women's rights, children issues and education, and I think members of the Chinese public are anticipating her visit with a positive attitude," Wang said.
 
The first lady intends to avoid contentious issues such as human rights, trade and cybersecurity, according to White House officials preparing the trip.
 
They said the first lady will use her personal stories to express American values. On Tuesday, she is due to visit a high school in Chengdu.
 
"Her focus on people-to-people relations, her focus on education and youth empowerment is one that we believe will resonate in China," Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters ahead of the visit. "We also believe it's a message that is really fundamentally in the interest of the United States."
 
The first lady and her family also will visit the imperial palace and Great Wall in Beijing. While in Xi'an, she plans to visit ancient city walls and the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum. In Chendgu, the first lady is scheduled to visit a panda conservation center.
 
The trip provides an opportunity for President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to cultivate a personal relationship through their wives following their meeting in Sunnylands in California last year, Wang said.
 
"Such a personal relationship with mutual trust is crucial, as the China-U.S. relationship has entered a more challenging phrase," Wang said.
 
Her host is Peng Liyuan, Xi's wife, who accompanied her husband on the Sunnylands visit but did not meet Mrs. Obama, who stayed in Washington. Her absence left some Chinese grumbling and the visit allows the first lady to make up for it.
 
"I think this provides a natural reason to stay engaged" before Xi and Obama can meet again, Wang said.
 
The trip also gives Peng unusual prominence in a Chinese official culture that usually keeps leaders' spouses in the background.
 
Peng, a popular folk singer, was better known than Xi before he became Communist Party leader and president.
 
"She has a good presence on television," said Willy Lam, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "This is a formidable soft power china can use for the world to see China is not a monolithic society."
 
Chinese media have compared the dress styles of the two women with side-by-side photos.
 
The newspaper China Daily devoted a full page Thursday to their fashion choices.
 
"They know that what they do will be put under a microscope, including the clothes they don, and they parlay that kind of influence into exposure for causes with larger meanings," the newspaper said.
Published in National News
   BEIJING (AP) — Authorities in eastern China announced a ban Tuesday on live poultry sales following an increase in the number of people infected with the H7N9 strain of bird flu, with the busy Chinese New Year travel period already under way.
   So far this year, the virus has killed 19 people in China out of 96 infections, Feng Zijian, the deputy director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday, according to state media. A week ago, more than 50 cases had been reported. The virus remains hard to catch and most cases have been linked to contact with poultry.
   The jump in cases comes during the 40-day travel period around Chinese New Year, a period that concerns health authorities because of the volume of people traveling in crowded trains and buses, often with live chickens aboard.
   Chinese are expected to make 3.6 billion trips as families reunite. The holiday, which officially starts Friday, also falls during the winter months when flu typically rages.
   On Tuesday, Hong Kong authorities culled 20,000 birds, mostly chickens, at a wholesale market after poultry from southern mainland China tested positive for the H7N9 virus, the first time it had been found in imported poultry in Hong Kong. They put the birds into black plastic bags and pumped in carbon dioxide to suffocate them, and closed the market for three weeks.
   Live poultry trading will be halted in cities in coastal Zhejiang province from Feb. 15, where 49 people have been infected and 12 people have died this year, according to the Zhejiang Daily, which is run by the province's propaganda department. From July, city poultry markets will be closed.
   Neighboring Shanghai will halt live poultry trading for three months starting Friday. The city has reported eight infections and four deaths this year.
   The World Health Organization says there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission, but has recommended close monitoring given the holiday travel and the potentially unpredictable behavior of flu viruses.
   Over the weekend, health authorities in eastern Jiangxi province confirmed a second human case of H10N8, a new strain of bird flu known to affect humans. They said the 55-year-old woman was in critical condition. The first case was confirmed in December after a 73-year-old woman died from the virus.
Published in National News
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 16:07

Officials: Baucus to be named ambassador to China

 WASHINGTON (AP) - Democratic officials say President Barack Obama intends to nominate Montana Sen. Max Baucus as ambassador to China.
 
   The nomination is subject to Senate confirmation. The Democrat had announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election.
 
   The 72-year-old Baucus is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, with jurisdiction over taxes, trade and other areas.
 
   He was instrumental in efforts to pass Obama's health care law four years ago and has spent much of this year seeking to build support for a sweeping overhaul of the tax code.
 
   There was no immediate comment from the White House.
 
   The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the nomination in advance of Obama's announcement.
Published in National News
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 01:30

Cargo ship hits seawall off South Korea; 9 dead

   SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A cargo ship hit a seawall off South Korea's southeastern coast and partly sank in an accident that killed nine crew members and left two missing, coast guard officers said Wednesday. Eight crew members were rescued.

   The ship is owned by a Chinese firm and flagged in Panama, and its crew is nearly all Chinese with one Vietnamese.

   The 8,461-ton ship had anchored off the port city of Pohang but high waves forced it against the seawall Tuesday afternoon, a coast guard statement said.

   All 19 people on board were listed as missing about 14 hours after the accident as winds and waves hampered rescue efforts.

   Early Wednesday, coast guard rescuers found eight sailors either floating in the sea or waiting for help on the front of the ship. Most of the vessel has sunk, coast guard officers said. They spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to speak to the media on this matter. The rescued sailors were wearing life jackets, the officers said.

   The coast guard also collected the dead bodies of nine crew members but two are still missing, the officers said.

   China's official Xinhua News Agency said the ship, the CHENGLU15, belonged to China's Lishen International Shipping Group Corp. in Zhejiang province.

   The ship had unloaded its freight and was set to leave for Japan. The coast guard officers said the ship was carrying about 130 tons of bunker oil and diesel fuel.

Published in National News

   SYDNEY (AP) — Australian police seized around 200 million Australian dollars ($190 million) worth of methamphetamine hidden in the tires of a truck shipped from China, officials said Friday.

   Three Melbourne men were arrested after officials found more than 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of the drug in a shipment from Shanghai that arrived in Melbourne on Oct. 1, the Australian Federal Police said.

   "The concealment did show up on X-ray but what was unusual about the truck was when you just looked at it, nothing," Australian Customs and Border Protection Service Victoria regional director Graham Krisohos said.

   Two of the three men arrested were dock workers in Melbourne. The men face charges of importing and attempting to possess drugs and face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.

   Australian police have made a series of large drug busts in recent months. The country is becoming an increasingly lucrative market for international drug networks because of the strength of the local currency and resilience of the national economy compared to other wealthy nations.

Published in National News

   ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — China is warning other world powers of global economic risks of a potential U.S.-led military intervention in Syria'a civil war.

   Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao says such "military action would definitely have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price."

   He spoke in St. Petersburg on Thursday ahead of a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 leading world economies.

   He cited estimates that a $10 rise in oil prices could push down global growth by 0.25 percent.

   He urged a negotiated U.N. solution to the standoff over allegations that Syria's government used chemical weapons against its own people, expressing hope that "the world economic balance will become more stable rather than more complex and more challenging."

Published in National News
Wednesday, 21 August 2013 00:30

21 killed in northwest China flash flood

   BEIJING (AP) - Chinese state media say a flash flood swept through a construction site and killed at least 21 workers in the northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai. Three workers are still missing.

   The official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday that rescuers are searching for those missing from Tuesday's disaster in Wulan county, and that seven injured people had been sent to hospitals. The remote region lies amid high mountains, 2,500 kilometers (1,500 miles) west of Beijing.

   Elsewhere in China, heavy flooding in the extreme south and northeast has left more than 200 dead or missing in recent days.

   Flooding and landslides in southern China have been chiefly caused by rains brought by last week's Typhoon Utor. Another storm was bearing down on Taiwan and expected to arrive on mainland China sometime Thursday.

Published in National News

   BEIJING (AP) — A strong earthquake in a dry, hilly farming area in western China knocked down power lines and damaged scores of homes early Monday, killing at least 47 people and injuring nearly 300, the local government said.

   The quake hit near the city of Dingxi in Gansu province, a region of mountains, desert and pastureland. Residents described shaking windows and swinging lights but little major damage and little panic. Tremors were felt in the provincial capital of Lanzhou 177 kilometers (110 miles) north, and as far away as Xi'an, 400 kilometers (250 miles) to the east.

   "You could see the chandeliers wobble and the windows vibrating and making noise, but there aren't any cracks in the walls. Shop assistants all poured out onto the streets when the shaking began," said a front desk clerk at the Wuyang Hotel in the Zhang County seat about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the epicenter. The clerk surnamed Bao refrained from identifying herself further, as is common among ordinary Chinese.

   With a population of 26 million, Gansu is one of China's more lightly populated provinces, although the New Jersey-sized area of Dingxi has a greater concentration of farms in rolling hills terraced with fields for crops and fruit trees. Dingxi has a total population of about 2.7 million.

   The deaths and injuries were reported in Min County and other rural southern parts of the municipality, Dingxi Mayor Tang Xiaoming told state broadcaster CCTV. Tang said damage was worst in the counties of Zhang and Min, where scores of homes were damaged and telephone and electricity services knocked out.

   Su Wei, leader of a 120-member rescue team from the paramilitary People's Armed Police, told state broadcaster CCTV that they were on their way to the epicenter, but progress was being slowed by mud and rock slides blocking the road.

   The Chinese Red Cross said it was shipping 200 tents, 1,000 sets of household items, and 2,000 jackets to the area and sending teams from both Lanzhou and Beijing to help with relief work and assess further needs.

   Heavy rain is expected in the area later in the week, raising the need for shelter and increasing the chance of further landslides.

   The government's earthquake monitoring center said the initial quake at 7:45 a.m. (2345 GMT Sunday) was magnitude-6.6 and subsequent tremors included a magnitude-5.6.

   The quake was shallow, which can be more destructive. The center said it struck about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) beneath the surface, while the Gansu provincial earthquake administration said it was just 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) deep.

   The U.S. Geological Survey measured the magnitude of the initial quake as 5.9 and the depth at 10 kilometers (6 miles).

   Initial measurements of an earthquake can vary widely, especially if different monitoring equipment is used.

   Dingxi is about 1,233 kilometers (766 miles) west of Beijing.

   China's worst earthquake in recent years was a 7.9-magnitude temblor that struck the southwestern province of Sichuan in 2008, leaving 90,000 people dead or missing.

Published in National News
Thursday, 18 July 2013 02:20

Poll: US still seen as top economic power

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is still viewed as the world's leading economic power in many countries, according to polls in 39 nations by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project. But as the Great Recession has buffeted the U.S. economy, China has gained rapidly in the eyes of the rest of the world, and many say it ultimately will replace America as the world's top global economic force.

 

In 22 of the 39 nations polled, the U.S. is seen as the top global economy, while China is viewed as having the upper hand in eight countries, including U.S. allies Canada, Britain, Germany and France. Surprisingly, Americans are about evenly divided over which country has the stronger economy, with 44 percent saying China and 39 percent the United States.

 

Since 2008, the population share that calls China the world's top economy has just about doubled in Spain, Germany and Britain, nearly tripled in Russia, and gained 22 points in France. Of the 20 countries Pew surveyed in both 2008 and 2013, all but two are now significantly more likely to say China is the world's leading economic power.

 

In 18 of the countries polled, half or more believe China has or will replace the U.S. as the world's top economic force, while majorities in only three believe the U.S. will maintain its top economic position.

 

The surveys, conducted before news about the NSA's surveillance programs broke, also found that 37 of the 39 countries saw the U.S. as a good steward of individual liberty than a poor one.

 

Before leaks of classified documents revealed widespread U.S. tracking of Internet communications among people in other countries, many said they were confident President Barack Obama would do the right thing in world affairs, including 88 percent in Germany and 83 percent in France, two allies whose official reactions to the spying program have been broadly negative. Few in those nations think the U.S. gives their countries' concerns much weight when setting foreign policy; just 35 percent in France and half in Germany say America considers their interests at least "a fair amount."

 

Other findings from the surveys:

 

— The U.S. is viewed favorably by a majority in 28 of the 38 other nations tracked in the poll, with favorability ratings above 80 percent in Ghana, Senegal and Kenya in Africa, Israel in the Middle East and the Philippines in Asia. America fares worst in the Middle East, where most have an unfavorable opinion in five of seven nations surveyed, including 81 percent with a negative view in Egypt and 70 percent unfavorable in Turkey.

 

— Among those in nations that receive U.S. economic aid, Egyptians and Pakistanis are more apt to say the assistance is having a negative impact on their country, while other African nations surveyed view such assistance as a positive influence.

 

— Majorities in just three of the 39 countries say they approve of the U.S. use of drones to target extremists: Israel (64 percent approve), the United States (61 percent approve) and Kenya (56 percent approve).

 

— More than 9 in 10 in Japan (96 percent) and South Korea (91 percent) say that China's growing military power is a bad thing.

 

The Pew Research Center interviewed 37,653 respondents in 39 countries from March 2 through May 1, 2013. Interviews were conducted face-to-face or by telephone, depending on the country, and are representative of at least 95 percent of the adult population of each nation except for China and Pakistan, where the samples were disproportionately urban, Argentina, Bolivia, Greece, Indonesia and Malaysia, where some difficult to reach or rural populations were excluded, and the Czech Republic and Japan, where interviews were conducted either by cellular or landline telephone only.

Published in National News

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. (AP) — Another two hours of talks are scheduled today in California between President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

They'll wrap up their talks with a range of issues. Obama and Xi met for several hours yesterday evening discussing cyber-espionage and other issues.

Obama says the U.S. and China are in "uncharted waters" as they tackle the contentious issue of cybersecurity.

The two leaders carefully avoided directly accusing each other of spying. But they acknowledged an urgent need to find a common approach to addressing the matter.

U.S. officials cast the more relaxed summit at a California estate as an opportunity for Obama and Xi to hold candid and free-flowing talks on the issues that define the relationship between the two countries, including the economy, climate change and North Korea's nuclear provocations.

Published in National News
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