Beijing Warns US Against Imposing Tariffs on Chinese Goods

China vows it will fight back if the United States goes through with plans to impose huge tariffs on Chinese goods.

President Donald Trump’s administration said in a statement Tuesday it planned to impose 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese goods that contain “industrially-significant technology.” It said the proposed tariffs are in response to China’s practices with respect to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation.  

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying blasted the Trump administration’s apparent reversal Wednesday in Beijing. Hua warned the administration risked squandering its credibility in international relations with every “flip flop” and contradiction of its previous stance.

Hua stressed Beijing is not afraid of engaging in a trade war, and will take “forceful” measures if the tariffs are imposed.

The White House said it will announce the final list of covered imports by June 15, 2018, and the tariffs will be imposed shortly thereafter.

Trump announced in April he planned to impose tariffs on $150 billion worth of Chinese goods, and Beijing responded by declaring it will retaliate by imposing similar amount of tariffs of imported American goods.

After two rounds of trade talks aimed at avoiding a full-blown trade war, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the two sides had reached a deal for Chinato buy more American goods to “substantially reduce” the huge trade deficit with the United States.

The Trump administration said in its statement trade talks with China will continue and it will request China remove all of its many trade barriers, including non-monetary trade barriers, and that tariffs and taxes between the two countries be “reciprocal in nature and value.” 

China in violation

The Trump administration’s decision to take action is a result of an investigation conducted by the U.S. Trade Representative under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to determine whether Beijing’s trade practices may be “unreasonable or discriminatory” and that may be “harming American intellectual property rights, innovation or technology development.”After a seven-month investigation, the USTR found the policies were in violation.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is set to go to Beijing this week to negotiate on how China might buy more American goods to reduce the huge U.S. trade deficit with Beijing, which last year totaled $375 billion.

Hosting

more

Analysis: N. Korea Sees US Economic Handouts As Threat

The U.S.-North Korea summit appears to be back on track, but Pyongyang is showing increased impatience at comments coming out of Washington that what leader Kim Jong Un really wants, even more than his nuclear security blanket, is American-style prosperity.

It’s a core issue for Kim and a message President Donald Trump shouldn’t ignore as they work to nail down their summit next month in Singapore.

Kim is as enthusiastic as Trump to see the summit happen as soon as possible, but the claim that his sudden switch to diplomacy over the past several months shows he is aching for U.S. economic aid and private-sector know-how presents a major problem for the North Korean leader, who can’t be seen as going into the summit with his hat in his hand.

The claim is also quite possibly off target. 

North Korea is far more interested in improving trade with China, its economic lifeline, and with South Korea, which it sees as a potential gold mine for tourism and large-scale joint projects. Getting the U.S. to back off sanctions so he can pursue those goals, along with the boost to his legitimacy and whatever security guarantees he can take home, is more likely foremost on Kim’s mind. 

Even so, the North’s perceived thirst for U.S. economic aid has consistently been the message coming from Trump and his senior officials. All Kim needs to do, they suggest, is commit to denuclearization and American entrepreneurs will be ready to unleash their miracles on the country’s sad-sack economy.

“I truly believe North Korea has brilliant potential and will be a great economic and financial nation one day,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Kim Jong Un agrees with me on this.” 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has laid Washington’s road map out in more detail.

“We can create conditions for real economic prosperity for the North Korean people that will rival that of the South,” he said earlier this month in a televised interview. “It won’t be U.S. taxpayers. It will be American know-how, knowledge, entrepreneurs and risk-takers working alongside the North Korean people to create a robust economy for their people.” 

Pompeo suggested that Americans help build out the North’s energy grid, develop its infrastructure and deliver the finest agricultural equipment and technology “so they can eat meat and have healthy lives.”

Kim has emphatically not agreed to any of that. 

Under Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, international sanctions on North Korea are stronger than ever. Sanctions relief would open the door for more trade with China, South Korea and possibly Russia – partners North Korea trusts more than it trusts Washington – and potentially unlock access to global financial institutions. 

The last thing Kim wants is to give up his nuclear weapons only to have his country overrun with American businessmen and entrepreneurs.

To Pyongyang’s ears, that scenario is less an offer than a threat. 

Despite its very real need for foreign investment, Kim’s regime has good reason to be wary of economic aid in general. Opening up to aid inevitably involves some degree of increased contact with potentially disruptive outsiders, calls for change, loosening of controls and restrictions – all of which could be seen as a threat to Kim’s near absolute authority.

North Korea’s message on that has been clear. 

Almost as soon as Pompeo started talking about his plan to rebuild North Korea’s economy, Kim Kye Gwan, the North’s first vice foreign minister, shot back that Pyongyang has no interest in that kind of help, saying, “We have never had any expectation of U.S. support in carrying out our economic construction and will not at all make such a deal in future, too.” 

State media unleashed another attack on the idea Sunday, calling Fox News, CBS and CNN “hack media on the payroll of power” for airing programs that featured U.S. officials talking about how large-scale, nongovernmental economic aid awaits North Korea if it moves toward verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.

The North’s media have been careful not to criticize Trump directly. 

But the issue is sensitive enough that the North has also stepped up its response in ideological terms, stressing the superiority of the socialist system and the value of independence, while warning against the underhanded scheming of the “imperialists,” which in North Korea speak is interchangeable with “Americans.”

“It is the calculation of the imperialists that they can attain their aims without firing a single shot if they make the people degenerate and disintegrate ideologically and foment social disorder,” said an editorial Sunday in the ruling party’s newspaper.

The commentary went on to call the capitalist way of life “ideological and cultural poisoning” and concluded, “Unless such poisoning is prevented, it would be impossible to defend independence and socialism and achieve the independent development of each country and nation.”

Hosting

more

Starbucks Closes Stores, Asks Workers to Talk About Race

Starbucks, mocked three years ago for suggesting employees discuss racial issues with customers, asked workers Tuesday to talk about race with each other.

It was part of the coffee chain’s anti-bias training, created after the arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks six weeks ago. The chain apologized but also took the dramatic step of closing its stores early for the sessions. But still to be seen is whether the training, developed with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and other groups, will prevent another embarrassing incident. 

“This is not science, this is human behavior,” said Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz. He called it the first step of many.

The training was personal, asking workers to break into small groups to talk about their experiences with race. According to training materials provided by the company, they were also asked to pair up with a co-worker and list the ways they “are different from each other.” A guidebook reminds people to “listen respectfully” and tells them to stop any conversations that get derailed. 

“I found out things about people that I’ve worked with a lot that I didn’t know,” said Carla Ruffin, a New York regional director at Starbucks, who took the training earlier Tuesday and was made available by the company to comment on it. 

Ruffin, who is black, said everyone in her group said they first experienced bias in middle school. “I just thought that was pretty impactful, that people from such diverse backgrounds, different ages, that it was all in middle school.”

She said the training and discussion was needed: “We’re never as human beings going to be perfect.”

Starbucks declined to specify how much the training cost the company, though Schultz said it was “quite expensive” and called it “an investment in our people and the long-term cultural values of Starbucks.”

The chain also lost sales from closing early, but the late-in-the-day training sessions meant no disruption to the busier morning hours.

At the company’s Pike Place Market location in Seattle, commonly referred to as the original Starbucks, the store stopped letting people in at 1 p.m.

Trina Mathis, who was visiting from Tampa, Florida, was frustrated that she couldn’t get in to take a photo but said the shutdown was necessary because what happened in Philadelphia was wrong.

“If they haven’t trained their employees to handle situations like that, they need to shut it down and try to do all they can to make sure their employees don’t make that same mistake again,” said Mathis, who is black.

Others visiting the store questioned whether the training would make a difference or suggested it was overkill.

Anna Teets, who lives in Washington state, said the problem has been fixed and the company has dealt with the situation. “It’s been addressed,” she said.

The training was not mandatory, but Starbucks said it expected almost all of the 175,000 employees at 8,000 stores to participate and said they would be paid for the full four hours. Executives took the same training last week in Seattle.

Training in unconscious, or implicit, bias is used by many corporations, police departments and other organizations. It is typically designed to get people to open up about prejudices and stereotypes — for example, the tendency among some white people to see black people as potential criminals.

Starbucks said it would make its training materials available to other companies. Many retailers, including Walmart and Target, said they already offer some racial bias training. Nordstrom has said it plans to enhance its training after three black teenagers in Missouri were falsely accused by employees of shoplifting. 

In the Philadelphia incident, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were asked to leave after one was denied access to the restroom. They were arrested by police minutes after they sat down to await a business meeting.

Video of the arrests were posted on social media, triggering protests, boycott threats and debate over racial profiling, or what’s been dubbed “retail racism.” It proved a major embarrassment for Starbucks, which has long cast itself as a company with a social conscience. That included the earlier, widely ridiculed attempt to start a national conversation on race relations by asking its employees to write “Race Together” on coffee cups. 

Starbucks said the Philadelphia arrests never should have occurred. Some black coffee shop owners in the city suggested black customers instead make a habit of patronizing their businesses. Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse owner Ariell Johnson said she has called the police just once in the two years she has been open. She said that should happen only when there is a provocation or danger.

Nelson and Robinson settled with Starbucks for an undisclosed sum and an offer of a free college education. They also reached a deal with the city of Philadelphia for a symbolic $1 each and a promise from officials to establish a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs.

The two men visited the company’s Seattle headquarters on Friday, Schultz said, to “see what Starbucks does every day.” He added that Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson has agreed to mentor them. “I suspect this won’t be the last time they come,” Schultz said. 

Calvin Lai, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, said diversity training can have mixed effects.  

“In some cases it can even backfire and lead people who are kind of already reactive to these issues to become even more polarized,” Lai said.

One afternoon wouldn’t really be “moving the needle on the biases,” he said, especially since Starbucks has so many employees and they may not stay very long.

Starbucks said the instruction will become part of how it trains all new workers. Stores will keep iPads given out for Tuesday’s meetings and new videos will be added every month for additional training. 

Starbucks said it also plans to hold training at its stores in other countries.

Hosting

more

Canadian Who Aided Yahoo Email Hackers Gets 5-Year Term

A Canadian accused of helping Russian intelligence agents break into email accounts as part of a massive 2014 data breach at Yahoo was sentenced Tuesday to five years in prison and ordered to pay a $250,000 fine.

Karim Baratov, who pleaded guilty in November 2017 in San Francisco, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Baratov, a Canadian citizen born in Kazakhstan, was arrested in Canada in March 2017 at the request of U.S. prosecutors. He later waived his right to fight a request for his extradition to the United States.

Lawyers for Baratov in a court filing had urged a sentence of 45 months in prison, while prosecutors had sought 94 months.

“This case is about a young man, younger than most of the defendants in hacking cases throughout this country, who hacked emails, one at a time, for $100 a hack,” the defense lawyers wrote in a May 19 court filing.

Verizon Communications Inc., the largest U.S. wireless operator, acquired most of Yahoo’s assets in June 2017.

The U.S. Justice Department announced charges in March 2017 against Baratov and three others, including two officers in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), for their roles in the 2014 hacking of 500 million Yahoo accounts. Baratov is the only one of the four who has been arrested. Yahoo in 2016 said cyberthieves might have stolen names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and encrypted passwords.

Gmail targets

When FSB officers learned that a target had a non-Yahoo webmail account, including through information obtained from the Yahoo hack, they worked with Baratov, who was paid to break into at least 80 email accounts, prosecutors said, including numerous Alphabet Inc. Gmail accounts.

Federal prosecutors said in a court filing “the targeted victims were of interest to Russian intelligence” and included “prominent leaders in the commercial industries and senior government officials (and their counselors) of Russia and countries bordering Russia.”

Prosecutors said FSB officers Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin directed and paid hackers to obtain information and used Alexsey Belan, who is among the FBI’s most-wanted cybercriminals, to breach Yahoo.

Hosting

more

US Warns Again on Hacks It Blames on North Korea

The U.S. government on Tuesday released an alert with technical details about a series of cyberattacks it blamed on the North Korean government that stretch back to at least 2009.

The warning is the latest from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation about hacks that the United States charges were launched by the North Korean government.

A representative with Pyongyang’s mission to the United Nations declined comment. North Korea has routinely denied involvement in cyberattacks against other countries.

The report was published as U.S. and North Korean negotiators work to resuscitate plans for a possible June 12 summit between leaders of the two nations. The FBI and DHS released a similar report in June 2017, when relations were tense between Washington and Pyongyang due to North Korea’s missile tests.

The U.S. government uses the nickname “Hidden Cobra” to describe cyber operations by the North Korean government, which it says target the media, aerospace and financial sectors, and critical infrastructure in the United States and around the globe.

Tuesday’s report did not identify specific victims, though it cited a February 2016 report from several security firms that blamed the same group for a 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The alert provided a list of 87 IP addresses, four malicious files and two email addresses it said were associated with “Hidden Cobra.”

Last year’s alert was published on the same day that North Korea released American university student Otto Warmbier, who died days after his return to the United States following 17 months of captivity by Pyongyang.

Hosting

more

US Consumer Confidence Rebounds, House Prices Increase

Consumer confidence rebounded in May, but households were a bit pessimistic about their short-term income prospects even as they expected strong job growth to persist, which could restrain consumer spending.

The Conference Board said on Tuesday its consumer confidence index rose 2.4 points to a reading of 128.0 this month from a downwardly revised 125.6 in April. The index was previously reported at 128.7 in April.

“If consumers don’t step up their spending … then the growth outlook this year may disappoint on the weak side,” said Chris Rupkey chief economist at MUFG in New York.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the data amid a deepening political crisis in Italy. The dollar rose to a 10-month high against the euro, while U.S. Treasury yields fell.

Stocks on Wall Street dropped, with the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average touching near three-week lows.

The Conference Board’s so-called labor market differential, derived from data on respondents’ views on whether jobs are plentiful or hard to get, increased to 26.6 in May, the best reading since May 2001, from 22.7 in April.

That measure, which closely correlates to the unemployment rate in the Labor Department’s employment report, suggests that labor market slack continues to shrink.

But consumers were less upbeat about their short-term income prospects. The share of consumers expecting an improvement in their income fell to 21.3 percent this month from 21.8 percent in April. The proportion expecting a decrease rose to 8.2 percent in May from 7.9 percent in the prior month.

Buying plans drop

The weak income readings are despite massive tax cuts which the Trump administration claimed would boost paychecks for American workers. The $1.5 trillion tax cut package came into effect in January.

Consumers also showed a reluctance to commit to purchases of big-ticket items this month, with intentions to buy automobiles, houses and appliances declining. Consumer spending braked sharply in the first quarter and there are signs that it picked up early in the April-June period.

A separate report on Tuesday showed the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller composite index of home prices in 20 metropolitan areas increased 0.5 percent in March after rising 0.8 percent in February. House prices gained 6.8 percent in the 12 months to March after rising by the same margin in February.

The solid gains are at odds with recent data which had suggested a cooling in house prices. The Federal Housing Finance Agency reported last week that house prices edged up 0.1 percent in March from February.

The regulator’s index is calculated by using purchase prices of houses financed with mortgages sold to or guaranteed by mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

“While the weakness in the FHFA house price data raised some concerns that the trend in house price appreciation had started to shift lower, so far, the Case-Shiller data do not support that view,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York.

The house price inflation is being fueled by an acute shortage of homes available for sale, which is hurting the housing market.

Hosting

more

France to Beef Up Emergency Alert System on Social Media

France’s Interior Ministry announced plans on Tuesday to beef up its emergency alert system to the public across social media.

The ministry said in a statement that from June during immediate threats of danger, such as a terror attack, the ministry’s alerts will be given priority broadcast on Twitter, Facebook and Google as well as on French public transport and television.

The statement said that Twitter will give “special visibility” to the ministry’s alerts with a banner.

In a specific agreement, Facebook will also allow the French government to communicate to people directly via the social network’s “safety check” tool, created in 2014. 

The ministry said that this is the first time in Europe that Facebook has allowed public authorities to use this tool in this way.

This announcement comes as a much-derided attack alert app launched in 2016 called SAIP is being withdrawn after malfunctions. 

Hosting

more