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Beijing Says No to Open Elections in Hong Kong

From Andrew Stevens, CNN September 1, 2014 — Updated 0324 GMT (1124 HKT)   STORY HIGHLIGHTS Beijing says only candidates approved by a nominating panel can run to lead Hong Kong The city’s current leader insists it’s a step in the right direction Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy Central movement says it’s a move that stifles […]

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China Seizes 30,000 Tons of Chicken Feet Tainted by Hydrogen Peroxide

By Wilfred Chan, CNN August 26, 2014 — Updated 0436 GMT (1236 HKT)   STORY HIGHLIGHTS Authorities have seized over 30,000 tons of contaminated chicken feet Chicken feet are a popular snack in China Hydrogen peroxide is used as a disinfectant and bleach, but is harmful to eat   Hong Kong (CNN) — In the […]

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Water Starved Beijing Residents Dig Wells Outside Their Homes

By Dayu Zhang and Zoe Li, CNN August 22, 2014 — Updated 0554 GMT (1354 HKT)   STORY HIGHLIGHTS Residents in Beijing sick of water shortages, start digging wells Water authorities: Fixing the shortages is complicated Freshwater supply increasingly a problem in China   Beijing (CNN) — At first glance, it seems like a lot […]

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Chinese School Children “Forced to Give Blood”

BBC NEWS 16 August 2014 Last updated at 15:41   Police in China have arrested seven people thought to be behind a scheme that forced schoolchildren to give blood, state media says. According to police, at least eight children aged between 10 and 16 were made to donate blood to a company in Gansu province […]

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Tesla Settles Dispute With Trademark Troll in China

By Sophia Yan @sophia_yan August 8, 2014: 12:21 AM ET   HONG KONG (CNNMoney) Tesla has resolved a long-running trademark dispute that compromised the automaker’s operations in China. Chinese businessman Zhan Baosheng — who registered the “Tesla” trademark years before the automaker entered the country — had sued the company for infringement. Tesla (TSLA) said […]

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Chinese Police Take a Shine to Dazzling Traffic Offenders

By Euan McKirdy, CNN August 7, 2014 — Updated 0854 GMT (1654 HKT)   STORY HIGHLIGHTS Blindingly simple idea sees Chinese police using headlights to punish traffic offenders Use of high-beam lights punished in Shenzhen with eye-for-an-eye punishment China’s netizens split on the subject with some complaining of police overreaching their authority   Hong Kong […]

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Chinese Socialite’s Fall From Grace Capped With Salacious Televised Confession

By Zhang Dayu and Katie Hunt, CNN August 6, 2014 — Updated 0427 GMT (1227 HKT) STORY HIGHLIGHTS Guo Meimei is one of China’s most high-profile social media celebrities Socialite made a startling televised confession this week after her arrest last month She detailed a life of illicit sex and gambling   (CNN) — A […]

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Record-Breaking Skyscraper Threatened by Sinkholes

By Euan McKirdy, CNN August 5, 2014 — Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)   STORY HIGHLIGHTS Appearance of mystery sinkholes around Seoul have authorities baffled Holes near construction of the Lotte World Tower, the world’s 6th tallest building, have led to a review Following April’s Sewol ferry tragedy, safety has become a focus in South […]

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Meat Scandal Takes a Bite out of McDonald’s Sales in Japan

By Sophia Yan @sophia_yan July 30, 2014: 1:51 AM ET

 

HONG KONG (CNNMoney)

China Meat ScandalA tainted meat scandal that originated in China is now starting to stink up McDonald’s sales.

The fast food chain’s Japanese unit said Tuesday that it will fall short of profit and sales targets for the year, after a longtime meat supplier was shut down last week by authorities for unsanitary practices.

As meat from the supplier has been pulled out of circulation, McDonald’s outlets in China, Hong Kong and Japan have stopped selling items such as Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets.

The scandal has led to “negative impact on sales and consumer confidence,” the company’s Japanese unit said in a statement. “Our sales and profit expectations have been reduced.”

The meat scandal began when Chinese television showed workers at a Shanghai food plant handling expired and tainted meat with their bare hands. Workers at the Chinese subsidiary of Illinois-based OSI Group said that the meat smelled bad, and they could be seen processing meat that had fallen on the floor.

McDonald’s (MCD) Japan had previously forecast sales of 250 billion yen ($2.5 billion) and net income of 6 billion yen ($59 million) for the year. The company said it isn’t able to provide new targets as the scandal’s full impact is still unfolding.

McDonald’s shares traded in Japan fell 2.8% Wednesday morning , and have shed nearly 4% since the food safety issue began unfolding last week.

Related: Big Mac shortage in China as scandal-ridden supplier issues recall

McDonald’s has had a “challenging” year thus far in Japan, even before news hit over the bad meat scandal. The Japanese unit saw net income tumble 60% to 1.9 billion yen ($19 million) in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year. Sales at its directly owned stores and franchises dropped 4% after planned store closures.

Oher food chains have been caught up in the scandal, including Yum Brands (YUM), which operates KFC and Pizza Hut in China, Burger King (BKW), Papa John’s (PZZA) and Starbucks (SBUX).

Many companies have cut their ties with the supplier, but McDonald’s has largely stood by OSI Group.

 

CNN / REUTERS VIDEO: China Meat Scandal

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Twelve Chinese Petitioners in Pesticide Suicide Bid

RFA ( Radio Free Asia) 2014-07-16

PetitionersTwelve people are in hospital in Beijing after two mass suicide attempts apparently triggered by failure by the authorities to look into their grievances, including forced evictions, witnesses said.

Five petitioners from the southwestern province of Guizhou on Wednesday attempted suicide in a Beijing police station by drinking pesticide simultaneously, an eyewitness said.

The five, who had pursued complaints against local government officials to no avail and were in the process of being detained at a Beijing police station, downed the pesticide within a few feet of an Anhui petitioner surnamed Zhu.

“There was an iron railing between us, and they were outside the security checkpoint and we had already passed through it,” Zhu said.

“Then they drank the pesticide and fell to the floor.”

She said one of the women had remained conscious briefly.

“We asked her where she was from, so we could send out a tweet on their behalf,” Zhu said. “She said a couple of things, and then white foam started coming out of her mouth and she fainted away.”

Photos blocked
Zhu said police at the scene had stopped people from taking photos of the petitioners.

“When they fell to the floor, all the petitioners gathered round and started shouting, but the police corralled us and wouldn’t let us see,” Zhu said.

“One policeman saw me taking photos and dragged me into an office where he snatched my cell phone and deleted the photos,” she added.

An officer who answered the phone at the Fuyou Street police station on Wednesday declined to comment on Zhu’s account.

“I don’t know about this,” the officer said, before hanging up the phone.

Earlier, seven petitioners from the eastern province of Jiangsu had staged a similar collective suicide bid outside the offices of the China Youth Daily newspaper group.

“They have all been taken to hospital,” an employee who answered the phone at the newspaper offices said on Wednesday.
But she declined to comment further. “I don’t know about this,” she said.

Media reports said the five men and two women from Qingyang township in Jiangsu’s Sihong county had been taken to a nearby emergency room after swallowing liquid pesticide.

Black jails

Complaints documents found on the petitioners indicated they were pursuing a complaint about forced eviction from their homes last year, and had been locked up in an unofficial detention center, or “black jail,” by local officials in retaliation.

China’s army of petitioners frequently report being held in “black jails,” beaten, or otherwise harassed,if they persist in a complaint beyond its initial rejection at a local level.

“They probably had reached the end of the road and the end of all hope,” a petitioner from the northeastern province of Liaoning surnamed Zhao told RFA.

“There are a lot of journalists outside a newspaper office, so it’s pretty sensitive, and there is a chance it will get reported,” he said.

“If they did it outside a government building, the authorities would lock down any information about it, and it would have all been for nothing.”

Attempted suicides are growing increasingly common among disgruntled petitioners, many of whom are forced evictees, and most of whom pursue complaints against local officials for years or even decades with no result.

Growing numbers
Tianwang rights website founder Huang Qi said his group now hears a growing number of reports of such protests across China.

“There were two cases of petitioners attempting mass suicide in Beijing today,” Huang said. “The escalation in this sort of extreme incident shows that China’s petitioners have nowhere to have their complaints heard.”

“It also shows that the nationwide anti-corruption campaign isn’t helping the interests of ordinary people at the grass-roots level,” he said.

“The highest levels of leadership need to launch a high-level campaign immediately against corruption at the village and township levels, and to pay out compensation to disadvantaged groups, who are mostly farmers who have lost their land,” Huang said.

‘Disappeared’
On June 24, five petitioners who drank pesticide in a suicide pact in Beijing to protest their forced eviction “disappeared” after being taken to hospital, relatives said at the time.

And last December, 13 protesters staged a mass suicide attempt in Beijing after a failed bid to win compensation over forced eviction from their homes.

Petitioners file nearly 20,000 grievances in person every day to complaints offices across the country, according to official figures released last November.

The government’s complaints website currently receives around 1,200 complaints on any working day online, many of them linked to forced evictions.

Violent forced evictions, often resulting in deaths and injuries, are continuing to rise in China, as cash-strapped local governments team up with development companies to grab property in a bid to boost revenue, rights groups say.

Amnesty International collected reports of 41 cases of attempted or completed suicide by self-immolation from 2009 to 2011 linked to forced evictions, compared with less than 10 cases reported in the entire previous decade.

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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Brand Wars: Battling China’s Trademark Squatters

By Sophie Brown, CNN

July 18, 2014 — Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT)

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Many register trademarks of well-known foreign brands in China to sell them for large sums
  • Top Australian winemaker at center of legal dispute after failing to register Chinese name for its brand
  • China’s trademark laws tend to favor so-called “trademark squatters” over foreign companies
  • New amendments to laws and greater understanding of China’s system likely to make things easier for companies

 

PenfoldsHong Kong (CNN) — They’re known as trademark “squatters” and they’ve long caused headaches for foreign companies entering the Chinese market.

Savvy to China’s complex trademark laws, these individuals target valuable foreign brands and register them as trademarks in China.

When international companies want to launch their products on the Chinese market, they’re often left with little choice but to cough up huge sums to buy back the trademark, rebrand their product or fight for the right to use the brand through lengthy legal battles.

One of Australia’s most popular wine brands, Penfolds, is currently at the center of a legal dispute over the use of its own name in China. Treasury Wine Estates, the owner of the wine, said this week that someone in China has claimed ownership of the Chinese name for Penfolds — Ben Fu — a transliteration that means “chasing prosperity.”

The company is engaged in legal action with the individual to “ensure the integrity of the brand is protected,” a spokesperson for Treasury told CNN in an emailed statement.

Notorious squatter

That individual, according to the Australian Financial Review, which first broke the story, is a “notorious trademark squatter” named Li Daozhi. A Spanish-Chinese wine distributor, Li won a similar case against a French winemaker last year.

Treasury is confident it is the lawful owner of the trademark, the company’s spokesperson said, and the Australian winemaker did initially win a court case allowing it to use the Chinese name for its wine in China.

But Li is now appealing the decision, according to the AFR.

“It will take some time for the Chinese legal system to process this matter,” Treasury said.

Treasury’s case and the many others that have made headlines in recent years should be a warning to foreign companies of the risks they can be exposed to if they fail to familiarize themselves with trademark laws in one of the world’s largest consumer markets, legal experts say.

‘First to file’ wins

Many foreign businesses have come unstuck because China’s trademark laws follow a “first to file” principle. That means whoever has a trademark registration approved first in China, owns the rights to that trademark. This differs from countries like the United States and many Commonwealth countries that follow a common law system, where a person registering a trademark also has to show they’ve used, or plan to use the mark in business.

But companies do have opportunities to challenge trademarks already registered in China. One option is to prove the individual deliberately claimed ownership of the brand with the intention of blackmailing a foreign brand entering the market. Another is to show that the brand was already well-known when the trademark was registered.

In practice, convincing a court on these points has proved difficult for many companies, but legal experts believe recent amendments to China’s trademark laws, among other factors, could improve trademark protection for foreign brands.

Here are some of the most recent, prominent cases.

Tesla

Earlier this month, Chinese businessman Zhan Baosheng reportedly sued U.S. electric car manufacturer Tesla for illegally using its own name, and demanded that the company stop all car sales and marketing activities in China.

Zhan, who has a history of filing trademarks for names used by foreign brands, is seeking 23.9 million yuan (US$3.84 million) from Tesla. He says he filed for the right to use the English name Telsa in 2006, and planned to manufacture an electric car named after the inventor Nikola Tesla. He later applied to register related trademarks, including a Chinese transliteration of the name and the U.S. auto manufacturer’s logo.

Tesla, which launched its Model S luxury electric car in China last year, says its claim to the name has already been upheld by other Chinese authorities and the lawsuit is without merit. A Beijing court is due to hold an appeal hearing on August 5.

Pfizer

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer fought an 11-year trademark, patent and 3-D trademark battle over the Viagra brand after it failed to register the Chinese name for the erectile dysfunction drug before it introduced the product on the Chinese market in 2000.

It won the patent and 3-D trademark litigation but lost the trademark case because it couldn’t provide sufficient evidence to show it had become well-known among Chinese consumers under the name Weige (meaning “mighty brother”). For similar reasons, luxury retailer Hèrmes and whisky brand Chivas Regal have lost bids to stop clothing manufacturers from selling products under their names.

Singers and sports stars

Celebrities aren’t immune either. A man in Guangzhou owns the right to use the name of Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber, while the names of World Cup stars like Germany’s Philipp Lahm and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo are used to promote products ranging from shoes to pesticide, according to China Daily.

Two years ago, U.S. basketball legend Michael Jordan filed a lawsuit against a sportswear company called Qiaodan Sports (a transliteration of Jordan’s name). The multi-million dollar company even registered trademarks for the names of his two sons, Jeffrey and Markus (Jiefuli Qiaodan and Makusi Qiaodan).

And it’s not only foreign stars who have been affected. In 2006, Chinese NBA star Yao Ming managed to block the trademarking of his name on a line of women’s sanitary products.

Castel Frères

In the largest trademark litigation case in China’s wine industry to date, French winemaker, Castel Frères had to completely rebrand its wines in China after losing a four-year legal battle to Li Daozhi, the defendant in the Penfolds case.

Li’s company reportedly registered “Kasite” to import Spanish wines, and later French wines, into China about 15 years ago. Around the same time, Castel began bottling wine in China and became known to Chinese consumers by the same Chinese name. (In a market where many consumers don’t read Latin letters, Chinese characters hold much more sway when it comes to brand recognition.)

Li reportedly offered to sell the trademark to Castel for 1 million euros ($1.3 million). Castel refused the offer and chose to sue Li in 2005, arguing that his company had not used the Kasite name in three years. Li subsequently sued Castel for trademark infringement and was awarded 33.73 million yuan (US$5 million) by a Zhejiang court last year. But China’s supreme court overturned the verdict and has ordered a retrial, which is still pending. In the meantime, Castel has registered a new Chinese trademark, “Kasidaile.”

Will thingsimprove?

New amendments to China’s trademark laws that came into effect in May this year could make things easier for foreign companies. “The extent of which we’re not sure,” said Deanna Wong, a partner at law firm Hogan Lovells, because there haven’t been any major decisions handed down subsequent to the changes.

Stan Abrams, Asia legal counsel at Bentley Systems in Beijing, said the laws will make things easier, but the number one reason these kind of disputes are likely to decrease is that companies are better informed about navigating the Chinese market these days.

“A lot of (these disputes) originated years and years ago. It’s been a multi-year process of litigation,” Abrams said.

“In some cases, when you’re talking about companies from common law countries, they came over here and were really unfamiliar with the legal system. They didn’t realize it was a file-first system.”

“A lot of them didn’t do their homework and were making crazy mistakes when using their foreign names in the local market.”

Overseas companies better understand what evidence they need to make a good case these days, added Wong.

What can foreign companies do?

For many companies it’s probably already too late to assert their rights over their brands, according to Abrams.

“For a lot of them, unfortunately the answer is invest in time travel technology because if you have a problem the chances are the roots of it are years old.”

Those companies should take steps to find out immediately where they stand right now, he added. It’s easy to do a free, informal search of China’s online trademark database.

If the trademark has already been registered by someone else, companies will have to go through “painful” legal proceedings that could take several years. If the company loses, it faces the choice of shelling out a lot of money to buy the trademark or rebranding.

Companies should make sure they have the right advice on the ground, that takes into consideration their long-term business strategy, such as any new markets the brand may enter in the future, said Wong.

Even for companies that don’t have global or local help there’s a wealth of information that they can access on the internet these days, in ways that most businesses 15 or even 10 years ago couldn’t, said Abrams.

While the cost of registering a trademark is miniscule compared to the amount a company could end up paying in legal fees, Abrams points out that not all companies, especially start-ups, have the financial flexibility to ensure all their brands have comprehensive trademark coverage.

For those companies, he suggested getting minimal coverage for core brands and expanding from there. “You just have to be smart about it,” he said.

 

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Wartime Confessions Reignite China and Japan’s “War of Words”

By David McKenzie and Zoe Li, CNN

July 16, 2014 — Updated 0522 GMT (1322 HKT)

 

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Sino-Japanese relations fast deteriorating amid tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea
  • Analysts say China and Japan are engaged in a war of propaganda and rhetoric
  • Jeff Kingston: “These battles over history undermine trust and limit the room for diplomacy”

 

WAR ConfessionsBeijing (CNN) — Chinese state media frequently treats Japan’s atrocities of the past like breaking news of today. But lately, the steady flow of war history-related news has become a flood.

Amid fast-deteriorating Sino-Japanese relations, China’s State Archives Administration recently re-opened case files from a Chinese military tribunal in 1956 and launched a dedicated website to publish summaries of confessions by 45 convicted Japanese war criminals.

Among the horrifying accounts posted online by Chinese authorities are confessions of raping countless women, burying people alive and performing human vivisections in China — all handwritten by captured Japanese army officers after World War II and long sealed in the state archives in Beijing.

The Chinese government’s target is clear.

“Since the Abe cabinet came into power in Japan,” begins the online introduction to the confessions, referring to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “It has openly confused right and wrong to mislead the public, in an attempt to whitewash the history of external aggression and colonialism.”

Tense seas

China and Japan have a dark history of conflict, including the nine-year Second Sino-Japanese War during which the contentious Nanjing Massacre took place from December 13, 1937 to March 1, 1938. Japanese soldiers committed mass murders and forced Chinese and Korean women into sexual slavery during the occupation of Nanjing.

But it was a more recent flare-up, say analysts, which brought the historic grievances back out into the open.

Relations between China and Japan became strained in 2012 when Japan claimed islands in the East China Sea.

China then declared in November 2013 an Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea, imposing air traffic restrictions over the disputed area.

China’s moves have made Japan and other nations in South East Asia nervous over it’s expanding military and more assertive foreign policy, accusing China of trying to change the status quo.

A right turn

In December, Abe further stoked tensions by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine where Japanese soldiers are honored — including wartime leaders convicted as class-A war criminals. Abe became the first sitting prime minister to make the provocative visit since Junichiro Koizumi went in 2006.

Six months later, Abe declared a more liberal interpretation of Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution, essentially lifting a decades-long ban that prevented its military from fighting abroad.

The following month, China released the Japanese wartime confessions online. Beijing also marked the anniversary of the Second Sino-Japanese War with an elaborate commemoration ceremony at Lugou Bridge, the site of the first showdown.

“China is responding to Prime Minister Abe’s attempts to rehabilitate the discredited wartime past. It’s trying to underscore the fact that Japan suffers from selective amnesia,” says Jeff Kingston, an expert in Asian regional tensions and a professor at Temple University, Japan Campus.

Global strategy

For long-time China watchers, this back-and-forth may be escalating at an alarming rate, but it is nothing new.

“Since the early 1990s, the communist party has been trying to stoke anti-Japanese patriotism among the Chinese people mostly because they wanted to regain some of the legitimacy they lost in the Tiananmen Square massacre,” says Kingston, referring to the bloody military crackdown on Chinese student demonstrators in 1989.

For China’s president, the nationalism stoked by anti-Japanese sentiment, could become a powerful tool.

“Nationalism is a very potent force in China right now. Xi is strengthening nationalistic sentiment to unify the country behind him and reinforce his own position as leader,” says Frank Ching, a political commentator.

Beyond fomenting patriotism at home, China is also reminding its international partners that Japan hasn’t come clean about its past.

Kingston explains that Japan’s imperialist history “is Abe’s Achilles’ heel.” By highlighting Abe’s right-wing inclinations, China can drive a wedge between the U.S. and Japan, while pulling South Korea — another nation that suffers wartime scars inflicted by Japan — closer.

China appears to be using it’s propaganda push to isolate Japan from its allies.

Resolution

But China’s heavy-handed propaganda may backfire in the end because foreign governments may see it in a more cynical light.

“If they press their case more quietly, it would be more effective,” says Kingston.

It may also lead the nations further away from resolution.

“These battles over history undermine trust and limit the room for diplomacy. It’s very difficult for both sides to find a face-saving way to climb down,” says Kingston.

Abe has repeatedly called for face-to-face talks with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping. “The door for dialogue is always open on my side, and I hope China has the same attitude,” the Japanese leader said.

But analysts are not hopeful for talks, as both nations wait for the other to make the first move.

“The Chinese side has made it clear that they will not talk to Abe unless he takes action to show that his attitude has changed, but I don’t see Abe doing that in the absence of any commitment from China for a meeting first,” says Ching.

All eyes are now on the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit coming up in November during which Abe has invited Xi to a meeting on the sidelines. The two leaders have never met since both came to power in 2012.

 

CNN VIDEO: Wartime Confessions

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Apple iPhone a Danger to China National Security: State Media

BEIJING Sat Jul 12, 2014 10:19am EDT

 

iPhone(Reuters) – Chinese state media branded Apple Inc’s iPhone a threat to national security because of the smartphone’s ability to track and time-stamp user locations.

A report by broadcaster CCTV on Friday criticized the iPhone’s “Frequent Locations” function for allowing users to be tracked and information about them revealed.

“This is extremely sensitive data,” said a researcher interviewed by the broadcaster. If the data were accessed, it could reveal an entire country’s economic situation and “even state secrets,” the researcher said.

Apple said in a statement sent to Reuters on Saturday that it was committed to protecting the privacy of its users, and that no unique information related to the user or the device was transmitted when using the location functions.

(Reuters) – Chinese state media branded Apple Inc’s iPhone a threat to national security because of the smartphone’s ability to track and time-stamp user locations.

A report by broadcaster CCTV on Friday criticized the iPhone’s “Frequent Locations” function for allowing users to be tracked and information about them revealed.

“This is extremely sensitive data,” said a researcher interviewed by the broadcaster. If the data were accessed, it could reveal an entire country’s economic situation and “even state secrets,” the researcher said.

Apple said in a statement sent to Reuters on Saturday that it was committed to protecting the privacy of its users, and that no unique information related to the user or the device was transmitted when using the location functions.

Google Inc services have been disrupted in China for over a month, while the central government procurement office has banned new government computers from using Microsoft Corp’s Windows 8 operating system.

Other U.S. hardware firms such as Cisco Systems Inc and IBM Corp have experienced a backlash in China from what analysts and companies have termed the ‘Snowden Effect’, after U.S. spying revelations released last year by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

(Reporting by Paul Carsten in BEIJING and Adam Jourdan in SHANGHAI; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Sophie Walker)

 

 

 

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Why China is Stealing America’s Corn Seeds

By Charles Riley @CRrileyCNN July 3, 2014: 11:20 PM ET

 

HONG KONG (CNNMoney)

Stealing America's CornThree years ago, a security guard working for seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred came across something unusual on a road in Iowa: Just off the pavement, a man was on his knees, digging in a field.

Challenged by the guard, Mo Hailong claimed to be an employee of the University of Iowa who was traveling to a nearby conference. He jumped back in his car and sped away.

U.S. authorities would later accuse Mo, and five other Chinese nationals, of stealing corn seeds and attempting to smuggle them back to China.

A seventh defendant, Mo Yun, was arrested and charged Wednesday with stealing trade secrets for her husband’s seed company — the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Company.

The details of the case, laid out by prosecutors, underscore the difficulty of safeguarding U.S. intellectual property, and the determination of some foreign rivals to acquire technology by illicit means.

For six years, the Chinese nationals hopscotched across rural Iowa and Illinois, stealing valuable inbred corn seed from Pioneer, Monsanto (MON) and LG Seeds, prosecutors said in an updated indictment. The group rented storage facilities, bought their own testing field and concocted elaborate cover stories.

“These are actually very serious offenses,” one of the accused said during a recorded conversation reproduced in the indictment. “They could treat us as spies,” his colleague replied.

Three members of the group tried to smuggle the stolen goods out of the U.S. in 2012, concealing hundreds of seeds in Orville Redenbacher popcorn boxes and Subway napkins. One tried to reach Canada; the others boarded aircraft bound for Beijing.

The Chinese nationals weren’t risking imprisonment for just any corn — they were after inbred seeds used to create the hybrids that are then sold to farmers.

Inbreds are closely guarded secrets. Companies spend tens of millions of dollars on research to produce strains that boost yields and are resistant to drought and insects.

China has become a major corn importer in recent years, and the stolen technology could have played a role in boosting domestic production.

The case is the latest in a series of incidents involving Chinese nationals working in the U.S. Some are accused of stealing rice technology and aerospace secrets for China.

“Identifying and deterring those focused on stealing trade secrets, propriety and confidential information or national security information is the number two priority for the FBI second only to terrorism,” FBI special agent Thomas Metz said in a statement.

Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Company, and its subsidiary, Beijing Kings Nower Seed, did not respond to requests for comment.

Analysts say that Beijing’s use of economic espionage can be attributed in part to its drive to modernize the country in recent decades.

The illicit acquisition of technology has helped China accelerate the process, bypassing problems that would otherwise require years of research to resolve. It’s an issue that has drawn the attention of the White House.

Related: China’s long history of spying on business

President Obama has raised the issue with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. But his arguments have carried less weight following revelations by Edward Snowden that U.S. agencies were attempting to monitor Chinese telecommunications company Huawei.

Chinese officials have been quick to levy charges of hypocrisy against the U.S. An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in May that the U.S. was engaged in theft of secrets and snooping on companies, politicians and others.

– CNN’s Vivian Kam contributed reporting.

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Hundreds Arrested at Sit-ins Following Huge Pro-Democracy Rally in Hong Kong

By Tim Hume and Zoe Li, CNN

July 2, 2014 — Updated 0332 GMT (1132 HKT)

 

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Huge crowds march in Hong Kong calling for democracy on the anniversary of handover
  • NEW: 511 protesters arrested at illegal sit-ins following the march, say police
  • An annual event, the march is especially charged this year amid a heated political climate
  • Pro-democracy activists are threatening to “occupy” downtown if calls are not heard

 

Pro-democracy RallyHong Kong (CNN) — Hundreds of demonstrators were arrested at illegal sit-ins in Hong Kong early Wednesday, following a huge rally calling for democracy in the Chinese territory.

Large crowds had turned out for a march through the city’s central business district Tuesday, in a massive show of defiance against Beijing’s vision for the city’s political future.

Police said 98,600 people took part in the march, while organizers said 510,000 participated. Statisticians from the University of Hong Kong estimated the turnout as between 154,000 and 172,000.

At the end of the rally, student activist groups staged illegal sit-ins at two locations, in the heart of the business district and outside the office of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Police said 511 people were arrested at the sit-ins, for illegal assembly and obstructing police officers.

At about 3 a.m., officers began arresting demonstrators at one of the sites, telling those present to disperse or face charges. Buses were brought in to transport protesters away, and arrests continued through the night, police said.

Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old co-founder of Scholarism, one of the student groups behind the sit-ins, said the demonstrations were a success.

“We were able to show that peaceful, non-violent protest is possible,” he told CNN. “We did not engage in any verbal or physical conflict with the police.”

‘Last resort’

Pro-democracy protests on July 1 — the anniversary of the 1997 handover of the former British colony to China — are an annual event in Hong Kong.

But public anger over a recently published Chinese “white paper”declaring Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the territory, released amid a campaign by pro-democracy activists for universal suffrage, drew a larger than usual turnout.

READ MORE: Hong Kong politics — an explainer

Marchers gathered in Victoria Park before setting out along the protest route through the downtown business district, amid sweltering temperatures and sporadic heavy rain showers.

Posters of the cover of the controversial Beijing “white paper,” which stressed that Hong Kong does not have “full autonomy” and comes under Beijing’s control, were taped to the ground along the route for protesters to trample underfoot. At one point along the march route, a protester flogged a giant model of the white paper with a whip.

“This is our last resort. If we don’t say anything, then Hong Kong will turn into a Chinese city,” said a 50-year-old protester, who like many on the march, was not comfortable giving her full name.

A 36-year old teacher was marching with his wife and two young children. “I want them to grow up in a society in which we can freely express ourselves,” he told CNN.

“I hope that Hong Kong can be like the old days, a place where we have a chance to express our opinions and voice our needs.”

Johnson Yeung Ching-yin, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, the organizers of the rally, said it was a pivotal moment for political reform in Hong Kong.

“If we want real democracy right now, then this rally is very significant,” he said.

“We can show the world and show the central government that Hong Kong people want democracy so badly and we will fight for it at all costs.”

One country, two systems’

As a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong’s seven million residents are afforded greater civil liberties than those in the Mainland under the “one country, two systems” policy.

This reflects an agreement reached between China and the United Kingdom prior to the handover, which promised Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years after its return.

But there are increasing fears that those freedoms are being eroded.

The Hong Kong government has promised residents they will be able to vote for their next chief executive in 2017 elections, but Beijing says it will only allow candidates who “love China.”

Unofficial ‘referendum’

Pro-democracy activist group Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) recently conducted an unofficial referendum in which Hong Kongers could register a “vote” in favor of free elections for the city’s next leader.

According to organizers, more than 780,000 did so, significantly higher than the 100,000 they were initially expecting.

Beijing condemned the referendum, with state media editorials branding it an “illegal farce” and accusing activists of sowing “hatred.”

But Yeung said he believed the referendum had helped pressure leaders in Hong Kong and Beijing towards a more moderate position.

Occupy Central says that if its calls to reform electoral processes fail, then it is prepared to resort to civil disobedience. The group has floated plans to “occupy” the central business district by mustering thousands of protesters to sit and peacefully block traffic.

The white paper was published last month just days after 100,000 people showed up to an annual candlelit vigil for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

‘Puppet government’

Lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan said that the march was necessary to send a message to Beijing.

“The Hong Kong government is only a puppet of the central government,” she told CNN. “We must pressure the central government and tell them not to ignore the will of the Hong Kong people.”

The Hong Kong government said in a statement that it shared the aspirations of the people “to successfully implement universal suffrage … as scheduled and in accordance with the law, so that more than five million eligible voters could elect the next [Chief Executive] through ‘one person, one vote’ in 2017.”

The statement warned that while the government respected the right to freedom of expression, any breach of the law would be dealt with strictly.

READ MORE: Alarm in Hong Kong at Beijing “white paper” affirming Chinese control

CNN’s Wilfred Chan, Euan McKirdy and Pamela Boykoff contributed to this story.

 

CNN VIDEO: Pro-Democracy Rally

 

 

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After Almost 800,000 Occupy Central “Vote”, Hong Readies for Massive Protest

By Euan McKirdy and Wilfred Chan, CNN

June 30, 2014 — Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Unofficial referendum on Hong Kong’s political future draws almost 800,000 votes
  • Results were announced just before the anniversary of the 1997 handover of power, traditionally a big day for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong
  • Hong Kongers angered by what they perceive to be Beijing’s undue influence over their political destiny

 

Occupy CentralHong Kong (CNN) — July 1, 2014, the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, promises to be a hot, stormy day.

But the suffocating weather won’t stop pro-democracy Hong Kongers — possibly hundreds of thousands of them — from filling the streets. Activists are openly challenging China’s vision for the city’s political future, and they believe the public is on their side.

In a recent unofficial referendum organized by pro-democracy activist group Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP), 787,767 Hong Kongers voted in support of free elections for the city’s next leader.

READ MORE: Hong Kong’s ‘referendum’ — What you should know

The almost-800,000 figure represents about 22% of registered voters in Hong Kong, out of a total of 3.5 million registered voters, according to government figures. Before the vote began ten days ago, organizers were hoping around 100,000 people would participate.

Benny Tai, a co-organiser of OCLP, said Hong Kongers were “using this opportunity to at least show Beijing how determined we are for universal suffrage.”

Hong Kong’s former second-highest-ranked official, Anson Chan, echoed the sentiment in an interview with CNN on Monday.

“Whatever Beijing says in public now I think it can hardly afford to ignore the voices of 780,000 people.”

But the Chinese government’s reaction was decidedly more frosty, with the government declaring the poll “illegal” and its results “invalid” even before the ballots were counted.

Rimsky Yuen, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice, has previously said there is no legal basis for the vote.

Yuen, as well a number of other, pro-establishment voices, declined to speak to CNN.

A recent Chinese state media editorial said the poll was a “farce.” Searches for the referendum have also been heavily censored on the Chinese internet.

Showdown over democracy

The city’s pro-democracy camp wants fully democratic elections for the city’s next leader, while China insists it will only allow elections in which it gets to approve the nominees. Specifically, Beijing says it will only allow candidates who “love China.”

The Occupy Central referendum outlined three plans to reform the upcoming election. All three plans proposed that candidates be nominated publicly, regardless of whether the candidates have Beijing’s blessing.

42% of participants picked a proposal by the Alliance for True Democracy, which said candidates for Hong Kong’s chief executive should be nominated by the public, and conditions such as requiring candidates to “love China” should not be allowed.

Another question asked if Hong Kong’s legislature should veto any nomination process that did not meet “international standards.” This was overwhelmingly approved in the referendum.

The high numbers are a sign that Hong Kongers are not about to back down, said Tai.

“We have an offer and we have a baseline, and this is the thing we will give to the (Hong Kong government),” he told CNN. “I think a responsible government must respond to that. I cannot see any reason for refusing to meet with us.”

But if negotiations fail, and no progress is made through legal means, then the group is prepared to disrupt the city to make their statement heard. As a final strategy, Tai says his group may marshal 10,000 people to sit and peacefully block traffic in downtown Hong Kong as a way to pressure Beijing into allowing Hong Kong to exercise “genuine universal suffrage.”

“We will only resort to the civil disobedience action as our last resort,” said Tai. “Only after exhausting all the legal means and still fail to achieve our goals will we resort to civil disobedience.”

Grassroots support

The city is politicized like at no other time in its recent past. While the July 1st anniversary of the handover has always brought demonstrators out onto Hong Kong’s hot, crowded streets, often numbering over 100,000, this year protests are expected to be super-sized.

Many Hong Kongers are enraged after the recent publication of a white paper by the Chinese government which declares Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong.

Chan said the white paper violates the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined in Hong Kong’s constitutional Basic Law, which lets the city maintain high autonomy despite being a part of China.

The white paper “makes it quite clear that whatever autonomy we enjoy is for the central government to give and to take away at its pleasure,” she said. “I think this has caused real concern.”

The inflammatory document came days after 100,000 people showed up to an annual candlelit vigil for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

“(The white paper) has spectacularly backfired, it’s made people even more angry,” Chan said.

What’s next?

The situation in Hong Kong is volatile. Some activists fear a crackdown on freedoms by the Chinese central government, and others look nervously to the possibility of unrest at tomorrow’s mass protest.

Michael DeGolyer, Director of the Hong Kong Transition Project, an independent organization that monitors governance in the territory, said the future is incredibly difficult to assess because no one is totally sure what China’s officials are thinking.

“We’re in a situation where we have a new regime in power and much more volatile circumstances, and we have groups that are much more separatist, challenging the legitimacy of the central government altogether,” he said.

“In these circumstances, it is extremely difficult to tell what the central government intends and what they’re thinking and how they’ll react.”

But despite the uncertainty, Hong Kong’s democracy supporters remain hopeful.

“I do not think Beijing has made up its mind on universal suffrage, so let’s see what happens in the months ahead,” said Chan.

“The government stance has a little bit softened in the last few days. There’s a chance there,” said Tai. “After (the July 1 protest), we may be able to see whether there’s any change in the stance of the Chinese government.”

 

CNN VIDEO: Hong Kong – Occupy Central

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China “Baby Hatch” Inundated With Abandoned, Disabled Children

By Connie Young, for CNN

June 30, 2014 — Updated 0456 GMT (1256 HKT)

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Jinan ‘baby hatch’ overwhelmed since opening on June 1
  • Over 100 children abandoned, all had disabilities or medical conditions
  • City has had to introduce new rules to reduce number of babies, children
  • Babies must now be less than one year old, from the local area

 

Baby HatchesJinan, China (CNN) — Along a winding Chinese mountain road dotted with inns and restaurants is Jinan Orphanage, a place of refuge and site for troubled parents to dump unwanted children.

The government-run orphanage in eastern China opened its first baby hatch on June 1, International Children’s Day, as a symbolic step to show the country’s commitment to improving child welfare.

However, it since proved so popular that authorities have had to introduce new rules to limit the number of babies and children being abandoned.

In just 11 days, 106 children, all with disabilities or medical conditions, were dropped off at the Jinan facility, according to local state media. That is more than the 85 orphans the city accepted the entire previous year.

In one reported case, a six-year-old girl was pushed out of a car in front of the hatch. In her pocket was $430 and a piece of paper with her birth date and time written on it, according to state media.

Waiting outside the hatch

CNN waited outside the hatch on a Tuesday afternoon to see how often it was being used.

The hatch is a small, detached room at the side of the orphanage, equipped with a crib, incubator and air conditioning. Once the child’s guardian leaves the hatch, the door locks and an alarm sounds, alerting staff to the anonymous drop.

In the first of two attempted drops, two men walked up to the hatch and started taking photos of a sign with detailed instructions on how to drop off a baby.

The instructions said that parents should leave a date of birth, as well as details of any medical conditions the child may have. It also asked people not to take any equipment from the hatch.

Half an hour later, the same two men pulled up in a silver hatchback with a woman in the back. Orphanage workers and guards scurried over to the car. The woman told them her baby had a congenital heart disease and they had no money to treat her.

The workers advised the woman to take her baby to the city hospital, which provides free medical services. If she could not be treated there, then she could bring the baby back, they said. The men quickly got back into the car drove away.

The second drop, only one hour later, involved a 21-year-old man from Sichuan, a province in southwestern China, who walked up the busy road, cradling a baby and a bag of belongings. As the man went to the hatch, orphanage staff and guards stood in his way, preventing him from opening the door. He walked back defeated, silent and stony-faced.

When CNN caught up to him, he broke down in tears, sobbing as he held his baby closer to his chest. His son, dressed in clean clothes and a bonnet, was sleeping. The young man said his baby had water on the brain.

“I just want to leave him there because with the state at least he has hope. We have no money. We’ve spent everything,” he said as he wept. The man walked back about a half a mile down the road where his uncle had parked after driving him to the hatch.

When asked why the orphanage would not accept the baby, the staff replied, “He’s not allowed. We have regulations. We only accept people from this city.”

The orphanage staff told the father to travel back to his hometown in Sichuan — more than 1,000 miles away on the other side of the country — to drop off his baby.

New rules imposed

The locals-only rule was applied soon after the hatch opened to try to limit numbers. Now, babies must also be less than one year old, and can only be dropped off between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

A handful of police, orphanage workers and volunteers stand guard at the hatch 24 hours a day, making it increasingly difficult for any parent to abandon a child anonymously.

The country is divided on the topic of hatches, with many believing that the government is condoning child abandonment and even encouraging it by opening hatches. Outside the hatch are prominently placed slogans condemning child abandonment, a reminder from the government that the practice is technically illegal, even though the provision of baby hatches amounts to turning a blind eye to that.

History of China’s hatches

The first pilot hatch was introduced in 2011. Now there are 32 across the country, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

“We had to find a more humane way to take in abandoned babies,” said Dr. Wang Zhenyao, one of the founders for China’s child welfare policy and a retired Ministry of Civil Affairs official.

“In reality, children were being thrown into trash cans, on the side of roads, in front of hospitals, or in front of the Ministry of Civil Affairs so we had to standardize it and regulate it.”

According to UNICEF, there were around 712,000 orphans in China in 2010, but child welfare groups believe that the number could be in the millions if you account for children in non-government orphanages and foster homes.

Unlike in the 1980s and 90s, when most abandoned babies were girls, now most suffer from a range of disabilities and medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, congenital heart disease, club feet and cleft lips.

Changing attitudes, improving welfare

Wang said baby hatches were a step in the right direction for the country, but acknowledged that changing mindsets and improving social welfare would pose a challenge in the years to come.

“If you don’t give up your child, then nobody will help you,” Wang told CNN. “But once you abandon your child, the government must take over.”

“This is not a good solution. Instead the government should step forward to subsidize parents and enable them to take care of their children. This is a simple truth that is hard to explain to society.”

According to Wang, China has only 10,000 social workers handling 100,000 abandoned children, a ratio of one social worker to ten orphans. In more developed nations, the ratio is normally two social welfare workers to every orphaned child, he said.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs seems to have recognized the problem and has set an ambitious target of increasing the number of social welfare workers to two million by 2015.

Until then, it’s likely the hatches will continue to be used by parents too poor or too overwhelmed to keep their children at home.

CNN’s CY Xu and Serena Dong contributed to this report.

CNN VIDEO: China’s Baby Hatches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pakistani Newlyweds Decapitated by Bride’s Family in Honor Killing

 

By Shelby Lin Erdman, CNN

June 29, 2014 — Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)

 

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Newlyweds in Pakistan are killed by the bride’s family over opposition to the wedding
  • Police say the couple was lured back to the bride’s village, tied up and beheaded
  • Family members turned themselves in after the murders and are now jailed

 

Pakistani Honour Killing(CNN) — A young newlywed couple in northeastern Pakistan died a horrible death at the hands of the bride’s family in the latest honor killing in the nation, police in Pakistan said Saturday.

The couple, identified as Sajjad Ahmed, 26, and Muawia Bibi, 18, were married by a Pakistani court on June 18 against the wishes of the Bibi family, Punjab police official Mohammad Ahsanullah told CNN.

On Thursday, the bride’s father and uncles lured the couple back to the village of Satrah in Punjab province, where Ahsanullah said the pair were tied up and then decapitated.

Despite the fact that there were no outside witnesses, family members turned themselves in to police and are now jailed in the Sialkot district of Punjab, Ahsanulluh said.

Such killings often originate from tribal traditions in Pakistan and usually happen in rural areas. Human rights activists said bystanders, including police, don’t often interfere because the killings are considered to be family matters.

According to the United Nations, some 5,000 women are murdered by family members in honor killings every year.

However, women’s advocacy groups believe the crime is underreported and that the actual death toll from this all too common crime is actually much higher.

In Pakistan, 869 women were victims of honor killings last year, according to the country’s human rights commission.

Earlier in June, 18-year-old Saba Masqood was found left for dead inside of a sack in a canal in Pakistan, injured by gunfire. She accused her brother and father of shooting her because they didn’t approve of her marriage to a neighbor. She survived, but many aren’t so lucky.

Last month, the death of a pregnant Pakistani woman made headlines around the world.

Farzana Parveen, 25, was attacked with bricks by about 20 people, including members of her immediate family, police said. And her husband, Mohammad Iqbal, told CNN that he had killed his first wife six years ago so he could marry Parveen.

Pregnant Pakistani woman beaten to death with bricks

I killed my first wife, stoned Pakistani woman’s husband says

CNN VIDEO: Pakistani Honour Killing

 

 

 

 

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Party Boss of China’s Guangzhou Investigated for Graft

BEIJING Fri Jun 27, 2014 5:11am EDT

 

Wan(Reuters) – The Chinese Communist Party boss of the southern city of Guangzhou is being investigated for corruption, the party’s anti-corruption body said on Friday, the latest target of President Xi Jinping’s war on graft.

Wan Qingliang was suspected of “serious disciplinary violations”, the usual euphemism for graft, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said. It provided no other details and it was not possible to reach Wan for comment.

China is in the midst of a sweeping campaign against deep-rooted corruption launched by Xi after he became head of the Communist Party two years ago, warning the problem is so serious it threatens the party’s very survival.

The commission said the party had also expelled a former senior official in charge of the controversial petitioning system, accusing him of taking bribes, adultery and other violations of the law.

The system of petitions dates back to imperial times as a means for citizens to bring grievances to the attention of government officials by bypassing the legal system or authorities, especially at the local level.

The commission said Xu Jie, formerly deputy head of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, was responsible for a series of cases involving the bureau’s office that receives petitioners “severely violating party discipline and the law”.

An investigation found that Xu abused his position by demanding and receiving bribes, it said in a statement released in its website. Xu was also an adulterer, the commission added, without providing details. Party officials are supposed to be morally upstanding.

Xu will be handed over to judicial authorities and be dealt with “in accordance with the law”.

The southwestern province of Sichuan, which was a powerbase of the influential former domestic security chief, Zhou Yongkang, has emerged as one of the front lines of the anti-corruption campaign.

Sources have told Reuters that Zhou has been put under virtual house arrest while the party conducts a graft probe, though Beijing has yet to make an announcement about his case.

The former party boss of the small Sichuan city of Ya’an was sacked for taking bribes, as well as having improper sexual relationships with married women, the commission said in a separate announcement on Friday.

This week, the largely ceremonial advisory body to parliament expelled a former senior Sichuan military official, Ye Wanyong, though it did not give a reason.

The military has been another target of the corruption fight. In March, China charged former senior army officer Gu Junshan with graft, in what is likely to be the country’s worst military scandal in years. [ID:nL4N0MS2O5]

Gu has been charged with corruption, taking bribes, misuse of public funds and abuse of power.

(Reporting by Li Hui, Ben Blanchard and Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Nick Macfie)

 

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Primark Investigating “Forced Labour” Notes Found in Clothing

By Sophie Brown, CNN

June 26, 2014 — Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)

 

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Woman in Northern Ireland finds note in garment, allegedly from Chinese prisoner
  • Two other cases involving the same retailer have been reported in Wales in recent days
  • Primark is investigating all three incidents, but says circumstances are suspicious
  • Amnesty has documented prison labor camps in China in the past

 

Chinese Labour Camp Note(CNN) — A shopper in Northern Ireland may have gotten more than she bargained for when she reportedly discovered a chilling note stuffed in a pair of pants she purchased from European retailer, Primark.

Scrawled on a yellow piece of paper and wrapped around what appears to be a prison identification card, was a message claiming to be from an inmate at a Chinese prison making clothes for export under conditions of slave labor.

“We work 15 hours every day and eat food that wouldn’t even be fed to pigs and dogs. We’re (forced to) work like oxen,” the handwritten note said in Chinese.

The message appealed to the international community to “condemn these human rights abuses by the Chinese government.”

Tip of the iceberg?

Karen Wisinska, who lives in Northern Ireland’s Fermanagh county, said she bought the pants for about £10 ($16) on a trip to Belfast in 2011, but left the garment in her closet — unworn — after she discovered the zipper was broken.

She only found the note when she retrieved the item while packing for a holiday last week, she said. After getting a rough translation of the note, Wisinka sought help from Amnesty International, an organization that has documented the use of forced labor in Chinese detention facilities in the past.

“I was shocked to find this note and card inside the trousers from Primark and even more shocked to discover that it appears to have been made under slave labor conditions in a Chinese prison,” she told Amnesty.

“I am only sorry that I did not discover the note when I first purchased the clothing — then I could have brought this scandal to light much earlier.”


Broken by China’s labor camps CNN VIDEO: Broken by China’s Labour Camps

China under fire over labor camps CNN VIDEO: China Under Fire Over Labour Camps

 

Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland program director, Patrick Corrigan, described the story as “horrific.”

“It’s very difficult to know whether it’s genuine, but the fear has to be that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Corrigan said.

Investigation underway

Primark denied sourcing clothing made using forced labor in a statement Wednesday, noting the “considerable time delay” since the garment was purchased.

A spokesperson for the company said that particular line of pants was last sold in Northern Ireland in October 2009.

“We find it very strange that this … has come to light so recently, given that the trousers were on sale four years ago,” he said.

Since 2009, the company’s ethical standards team has carried out nine inspections of the supplier who made the garment, and found no prison or forced labor of any kind, the statement said.

Despite the company’s suspicions, the spokesperson said Primark “knows its responsibilities to the workers in its supply chain,” and has started a detailed investigation.

The company is also examining two other cases that have surfaced in Wales in recent days. On two separate occasions, women reportedly found desperate pleas sewn into labels on dresses purchased from the same Primark store in Swansea. One read “Forced to work exhausting hours,” while the other said, “Degrading sweatshop conditions.”

Primark said the circumstances surrounding the incidents were suspicious, since the labels looked very similar and the two garments were on sale around the same time, but they were made in two different countries, “many thousands of miles apart.”

The budget retailer was among a group of international brands that sourced from factories in Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza building, whichcollapsed in April 2013, killing more than 1,000 workers and injuring 2,500 others.

The company said it has paid over $12 million in aid and compensation to to support the victims of the disaster.

Forced laborin China

It’s not the first time western consumers have found distressing notes allegedly from abused workers in detention in China.

In 2011, a woman in the United States found a letter in a mix of broken English and Chinese inside a Halloween decoration purportedly from a inmate who made the object under abusive conditions. Last year, CNN tracked down a Chinese man who claimed he wrote the note, along with more than a dozen others, while at a labor camp in northeastern China.

Sears, the company that owned the store that sold the item, said it found “no evidence” that production was subcontracted to a labor camp during its investigation into the case, but added it no longer sourced from that supplier.

Until recently, China used hundreds of labor camps to detain petty offenders without a trial, under what was known as the laojiao — or “re-education through labor” — scheme. The system was criticized by human rights groups as a means to silence so-called trouble makers, including political dissidents, activists and Falun Gong members.

In November last year, Beijing said it would begin to close the camps. But Amnesty International has since warned that while the laojiao camps have been shut, research suggests that authorities have expanded the use of other forms of arbitrary detention such as “black jails,” enforced drug rehabilitation clinics and “brainwashing centers” to take their place.

CNN could not reach the Xiang Nan prison in China’s Hubei province, where the note found in Northern Ireland allegedly came from. The facility houses around 5,000 inmates, according to China’s justice ministry.