Chinese state media on Wednesday dangled the threat of cutting exports of rare earths to the United States as a counter-strike in the trade war, potentially depriving Washington of a key resource used to make everything from smartphones to military hardware.
The warning is the latest salvo in a dispute that has intensified since President Donald Trump ramped up tariffs against China and moved to blacklist telecom giant Huawei earlier this month, while trade talks have apparently stalled.
Huawei stepped up its legal battle on Wednesday, announcing it had filed a motion in US court for summary judgement in its bid to overturn US legislation that bars federal agencies from using its equipment over security concerns.
Beijing had already dropped a big hint that rare earths could be in the firing line by showing images last week of President Xi Jinping visiting a rare earths factory in Ganzhou, central China.
An unnamed official from the National Development and Reform Commission, China's state planner, issued a cryptic warning late Tuesday.
"You asked whether rare earths will become China's countermeasure against unwarranted suppression from the US. What I can tell you is that if anyone wants to use products made from our rare-earth exports to curb and suppress China's development, I'm sure the people of Ganzhou and across China will not be happy with that," the official said in answers to questions published by state media.
The official said rare-earth resources should "serve domestic needs first" but China is also willing to meet the "legitimate needs of countries around the world".
Shares in rare earth companies surged in the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets during Wednesday trading.
State media were more blunt.
"Waging a trade war against China, the United States risks losing the supply of materials that are vital to sustaining its technological strength," the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary.
The state-owned Global Times tabloid warned in an editorial posted online that the "US will rue forcing China's hand on rare earths".
"It is believed that if the US increasingly suppresses the development of China, sooner or later, China will use rare earths as a weapon," the nationalist tabloid said.
China produces more than 95 percent of the world's rare earths, and the United States relies on China for upwards of 80 percent of its imports.
Rare earths are 17 elements critical to manufacturing everything from smartphones and televisions to cameras and lightbulbs.
Beijing could hurt US companies in what is shaping up as a battle for who will dominate the future of high-tech.
Huawei took the US to court over a defence bill passed by Congress last year that bans government agencies from using its equipment. But it also faces a recent Trump administration order that cuts it off from critical American-made components for its products.
"The US government has provided no evidence to show that Huawei is a security threat," Huawei's chief legal officer Song Liuping told reporters, rejecting US warnings that the company's equipment could be used by China to spy on other countries.
China has been accused of using its rare earth leverage for political reasons before.
Japanese industry sources said it temporarily cut off exports in 2010 as a territorial row flared between the Asian rivals, charges that Beijing denied.
But experts say the Japan experience showed that China may not have such strong leverage.
"Even with such apparently favourable circumstances, market power and political leverage proved fleeting and difficult to exploit," according to a 2014 report by the Council on Foreign Relations think tank written by University of Texas professor Eugene Gholz.
The report said China's advantages were already slipping away in 2010 due to normal market behaviour, including increases in non-Chinese production and processing capacity, and innovations that have contributed to reducing demand for some rare earth elements.
Analysts have said China appears apprehensive of targeting the minerals just yet, possibly fearful of hastening a global search for alternative supplies of the commodities.
The Global Times acknowledged that using rare earths as leverage could be risky.
"If China decides to ban rare earths export to the US, it would produce complex effects, including incurring certain losses on China itself," it said.
"However, China also clearly knows that the US would suffer greater losses in that situation."
Senior Afghan Taliban officials including the group's top political advisor met with Afghan political figures in Moscow on Tuesday, saying they were committed to peace in Afghanistan — even as US-led talks appear to have stalled.
In a message the Taliban have not altered since talks with the US started last autumn, Taliban co-founder and political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said the insurgents want an end to 18 years of conflict — but would only sign a deal after foreign forces quit Afghanistan.
The Taliban are “really committed to peace, but think the obstacle for peace should be removed first”, Baradar said in a rare televised appearance at the start of the two-day meeting marking 100 years of diplomatic ties between Russia and Afghanistan.
“The obstacle is the occupation of Afghanistan, and that should end,” Baradar added.
Baradar — who helped Mullah Omar found the Taliban — was appointed its political chief in January following his release from a Pakistan prison.
Tuesday's Moscow meeting once again cut out senior members of President Ashraf Ghani's government, which the Taliban consider a US-backed puppet regime, though the head of the Kabul administration's high peace council had been slated to attend.
Other Afghan politicians — including former president Hamid Karzai and candidates challenging Ghani in a presidential election slated for September — were also present.
The talks mark the second time Taliban leaders have met with Afghan figures in Russia, following a February summit that saw the former foes praying together and chatting over meals.
Former warlord Atta Muhammad Noor said the previous Moscow meeting had yielded “quite positive results”. “We are for having good relations with our brothers, with the Taliban,” Noor said.
“Let's step back a little, embrace each other and create conditions for the start of peace”.
Moscow appears to be gaining influence in the ongoing process, with the US announcing last month that Washington had reached a consensus with China and Russia on the key formula for a peace deal it is negotiating in Afghanistan.
But a recent sixth round of talks between US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban ended in Doha this month with no tangible progress cited by the negotiating teams.
While the Taliban insist foreign forces must leave Afghanistan before it can agree to peace, the US has refused to agree to a withdrawal until the Taliban put in place security guarantees, a ceasefire, and other commitments including an “intra-Afghan” dialogue with the Kabul government and other Afghan representatives.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who opened Tuesday's meeting, said Russia and Afghanistan have “a shared aim — fighting terrorism” and reiterated that Moscow supports a complete withdrawal of foreign forces.
The Soviet Union and Afghanistan fought a war in the 1980s that resulted in a Moscow's withdrawal after nine years of brutal conflict.
Yemen's Houthi rebels allegedly launched a drone strike on military hangars in Saudi Arabia's Jizan airport near the Yemeni border, according to the group's Masirah TV on Sunday.
There was no immediate confirmation from Saudi authorities or from a Saudi-led coalition that has been battling the Houthis in Yemen for four years.
The Houthis, who ousted the Saudi-backed, internationally recognised government from power in the Yemeni capital Sanaa in late 2014, have stepped up missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities in the past two weeks.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday announced a ban of “military-style” semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines like those used in the shootings at Christchurch mosques last week.
Ardern said a sales ban was effective immediately to prevent stockpiling and would be followed by a complete ban on the weapons after new laws were rushed through.
She said people could hand over their guns under an amnesty while officials develop a formal buyback scheme, which could cost up to 200 million New Zealand dollars ($140 million). The man charged in the mosque attacks had purchased his weapons legally using a standard firearms license and enhanced their capacity by using 30-round magazines “done easily through a simple online purchase,” Ardern said.
“Every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned,” she said. The ban includes any semi-automatic guns or shotguns that are capable of being used with a detachable magazine that holds more than five rounds. It also extends to accessories used to convert guns into what the government called “military- style” weapons. (AP)
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — An Ethiopian Airlines jet faltered and crashed Sunday shortly after takeoff, carving a gash in the earth and spreading global grief to 35 countries that had someone among the 157 people who were killed.
There was no immediate indication why the plane went down in clear weather while on a flight to Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya. The crash was strikingly similar to that of a Lion Air jet in Indonesian seas last year, killing 189 people. Both accidents involved the Boeing 737 Max 8, and China ordered a temporarily grounding of those planes for Chinese airlines Monday.
The crash shattered more than two years of relative calm in African skies, where travel had long been chaotic. It also was a serious blow to state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, which has expanded to become the continent’s largest and best-managed carrier and turned Addis Ababa into the gateway to Africa.
“Ethiopian Airlines is one of the safest airlines in the world. At this stage we cannot rule out anything,” CEO Tewolde Gebremariam told reporters. He visited the crash site, standing in the gaping crater flecked with debris.
Black body bags were spread out nearby while Red Cross and other workers looked for remains. As the sun set, the airline’s chief operating officer said the plane’s flight data recorder had not yet been found.
Around the world, families were gripped by grief. At the Addis Ababa airport, a woman called a mobile number in vain. “Where are you, my son?” she said, in tears. Others cried as they approached the terminal.
Henom Esayas, whose sister’s Nigerian husband was killed, told The Associated Press they were startled when a stranger picked up their frantic calls to his mobile phone, told them he had found it in the debris and promptly switched it off.
Shocked leaders of the United Nations, the U.N. refugee agency and the World Food Program announced that colleagues had been on the plane. The U.N. migration agency estimated some 19 U.N.-affiliated employees were killed. Both Addis Ababa and Nairobi are major hubs for humanitarian workers, and many people were on their way to a large U.N. environmental conference set to begin Monday in Nairobi.
The Addis Ababa-Nairobi route links East Africa’s two largest economic powers. Sunburned travelers and tour groups crowd the Addis Ababa airport’s waiting areas, along with businessmen from China, Gulf nations and elsewhere.
A list of the dead released by Ethiopian Airlines included passengers from China, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Israel, India and Somalia. Kenya lost 32 citizens. Canada, 18. Several countries including the United States lost four or more people.
Ethiopian officials declared Monday a day of mourning.
At the Nairobi airport, hopes quickly dimmed for loved ones. “I just pray that he is safe or he was not on it,” said Agnes Muilu, who had come to pick up her brother.
The crash is likely to renew questions about the 737 Max , the newest version of Boeing’s popular single-aisle airliner, which was first introduced in 1967 and has become the world’s most common passenger jet.
China’s civil aviation authority on Monday ordered a nine-hour grounding of that model plane for safety reasons and said it would consult with Boeing and others further.
Indonesian investigators have not determined a cause for the October crash, but days after the accident Boeing sent a notice to airlines that faulty information from a sensor could cause the plane to automatically point the nose down.
The Lion Air cockpit data recorder showed that the jet’s airspeed indicator had malfunctioned on its last four flights, though the airline initially said problems had been fixed.
Safety experts cautioned against drawing too many comparisons between the two crashes until more is known about Sunday’s disaster.
The Ethiopian Airlines CEO “stated there were no defects prior to the flight, so it is hard to see any parallels with the Lion Air crash yet,” said Harro Ranter, founder of the Aviation Safety Network, which compiles information about accidents worldwide.
The Ethiopian plane was new, delivered to the airline in November. The Boeing 737 Max 8 was one of 30 meant for the airline, Boeing said in July. The jet’s last maintenance was on Feb. 4, and it had flown just 1,200 hours.
The plane crashed six minutes after departure , plowing into the ground at Hejere near Bishoftu, or Debre Zeit, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) outside Addis Ababa, at 8:44 a.m.
The jet showed unstable vertical speed after takeoff, air traffic monitor Flightradar 24 said. The senior Ethiopian pilot, who joined the airline in 2010, sent out a distress call and was given clearance to return to the airport, the airline’s CEO told reporters.
In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration said it would join the National Transportation Safety Board in assisting Ethiopian authorities with the crash investigation. Boeing planned to send a technical team to Ethiopia.
The last deadly crash of an Ethiopian Airlines passenger flight was in 2010, when a plane went down minutes after takeoff from Beirut, killing all 90 people on board.
African air travel has improved in recent years, with the International Air Transport Association in November noting “two years free of any fatalities on any aircraft type.”
Sunday’s crash comes as the country’s reformist young prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has vowed to open up the airline and other sectors to foreign investment in a major transformation of the state-centered economy.
Speaking at the inauguration in January of a new passenger terminal in Addis Ababa to triple capacity, the prime minister challenged the airline to build a new “Airport City” terminal in Bishoftu — where Sunday’s crash occurred.
Yidnek reported from Bishoftu, Ethiopia.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation's Council of Foreign Ministers on Saturday reaffirmed its "unwavering support for the Kashmiri people in their just cause" and condemned in the strongest terms the recent wave of Indian terrorism in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, according to a press release issued by the Foreign Office (FO).
In a resolution adopted by the 46th session of Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM), the OIC member states reiterated that Jammu and Kashmir remains the core dispute between Pakistan and India and its resolution is indispensable for the dream for peace in South Asia, the FO said.
The OIC resolution expressed deep concern over the atrocities and human rights violations in Indian-occupied Kashmir.
The resolution, as per the FO, also reminded the international community of its obligation to ensure implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
In the context of the current volatile situation in the region, the OIC member states adopted a new resolution sponsored by Pakistan, which expressed grave concern over the Indian violation of Pakistani airspace; affirmed Pakistan’s right to self-defence; and urged India to refrain from the threat or use of force.
The OIC resolution on regional peace and security in South Asia also welcomed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s renewed offer of dialogue to India and the goodwill gesture of handing over the Indian pilot.
The resolution called for restraint and de-escalation as well as the need to resolve outstanding issues through peaceful means.
In another significant development, the OIC elected Pakistan as a member of its Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission from the Asian region, in acknowledgement of Pakistan’s constructive contribution to human rights discourse, norms and policies.
The OIC adopted two other resolutions sponsored by Pakistan on international disarmament and non-proliferation issues and reform of the UN Security Council.
The strong OIC support to the people of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and the centrality of this core issue to regional peace is recognition of the key role that Pakistan plays as a founding OIC member.
Pakistan boycotted the plenary session of the 46th CFM at the Foreign Minister level as a result of Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj's presence.
Owing to the armed conflict between the two nuclear armed nations, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had asked the organisers, including the UAE crown prince, to withdraw the invitation extended to Swaraj.
However, the invitation was not retracted, leading to Qureshi deciding to skip the CFM meet, which concluded in Abu Dhabi today.