Australia worried by reports of Chinese restrictions on its coal

Australia seems to be troubled with Beijing placing new restrictions on imports of Australian coal.

Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham on Tuesday said he was “deeply troubled” by new reports in Chinese state media that the country’s top economic planner has banned certain coal imports from Australia. According to a report the country’s National Development and Reform Commission has given power plants approval to buy overseas coal without restrictions except from Australia.

If true, the reports “would indicate discriminatory trade practices being deployed by Chinese authorities,” Birmingham told Australia’s Radio National. China has already banned or imposed tariffs on a range of other Australian exports.

Spokesman Wang Wenbin acknowledged that “Chinese authorities have recently taken relevant measures against certain Australian products exported to China in accordance with the law and regulations.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said that the government is “seeking clarification” on the reports, adding that the country has yet to hear from the Chinese government. He called reports that China is blocking Australian coal a “bad outcome for the trading relationship” between the two nations.

Relations started worsening since April, when Morrison asked for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Beijing at the time called that move “political manipulation.”

Since then, China has imposed Australian winemakers with heavy tariffs, and banned or taxed exports of other products, including beef and barley.

Morrison said Tuesday that Australia sends 4 billion Australian dollars ($3 billion) worth of thermal coal to China each year, adding that Japan is a bigger market than China for those exports. Thermal coal is primarily used to generate power. In total, Australia exported some 14 billion Australian dollars ($10.5 billion) worth of coal to China in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

But the impact on trade of any move against Australian coal is tough to measure. Australian media pointed out weeks ago that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coal was already being held off the coast of China, an indication that Beijing was at least informally putting pressure on Australia’s vital mining industry.

“This opacity makes it hard to say how much of an escalation this news is,” said Sean Langcake, senior economist at Oxford Economics, noting the existing disturbance in thermal coal trade. “These have clearly not been resolved, and it’s hard not to see this news as a further deterioration.”

Investors in Australia’s major coal producers are apprehensive. Shares in Coronado Global and Yancoal Australia each plunged more than 8% in Sydney on Tuesday. Whitehaven Coal dropped nearly 6% on Tuesday, and is down 10% so far this week.

Analysts at ANZ Research wrote in a research note that the Chinese reports confirm “what has been assumed ever since reports of import restrictions on coal from Australia emerged in October.” They noted that while China has been an important market for Australian thermal coal — it made up nearly a third of Australia’s total exports in 2018 — that market share has been falling ever since.

“Australian exporters have found additional buyers in South Korea, Vietnam and Japan,” the analysts wrote. “As such we see Australia’s thermal coal exports holding up relatively well, despite the Chinese ban.”

Economists have said that other mining materials, majorly iron ore and coking coal used in steelmaking, make up a particularly large share of Australian exports. Langcake told earlier this month that restrictions on such exports are unlikely, given how reliant China’s steel industry is on them.


Putin congratulates Biden on US election victory

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated Joe Biden on his victory in the US presidential election Tuesday, when the Electoral College officially affirmed Biden’s win.

While many world leaders already congratulated President-elect Biden, the Kremlin said at the time that it deemed it “correct” to wait for the official affirmation before Putin congratulated the winner.

“Vladimir Putin wished the President-elect every success and expressed confidence that Russia and the United States, which bear special responsibility for global security and stability, despite their differences can truly contribute to solving many problems and challenges that the world is currently facing,” a Kremlin readout said on Tuesday.

Putin said that “Russian-American cooperation based on the principles of equality and mutual respect would meet the interests of people in both countries as well as the entire international community.”

“For my part, I am ready for cooperation and contacts with you,” the Russian President said.

It’s contrast to 2016, when the Kremlin congratulated US President Donald Trump within hours of the race being called, Biden’s administration will have a very different thought towards Russia.

Biden had called Russia “the main threat” to US national security in an interview. Kremlin spokesman Peskov responded by saying that such rhetoric amplified “hatred towards the Russian Federation.”

Due to the election, the two countries did not reach a deal to extend a key arms reduction treaty signed by Presidents Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, which the Trump administration wanted ahead of election day.


Apple wishes to increase iPhone production for first half of 2021

Apple Inc intents to produce 96 million iPhones in the first half of 2021, a nearly 30% year-on-year increase as per a report.

It has requested suppliers to produce around 95 million to 96 million iPhones, including the latest iPhone 12 range as well as older iPhone 11 and SE, though shortage of key parts could be a problem, the report noted.

This would be a 20% rise from 2019 though the target will be regularly reviewed and revised in accordance to any changes in consumer demand, as per the report.

The probable full-year forecast that the iPhone maker shared with its suppliers suggests it plans to make up to 230 million iPhones in 2021, including both old and new models, the report said.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.


Japanese ‘Twitter killer’ sentenced

A Japanese man known as “Twitter killer” who was found guilty of killing nine people in a high-profile mass murder case in 2017 was sentenced to death on Tuesday, the Tokyo District Court Tachikawa branch confirmed.

Takahiro Shiraishi, 30, was convicted of murdering, raping, dismembering, and storing the nine victims’ bodies in his apartment in Zama, Kanagawa prefecture, on the outskirts of Tokyo, the court said.

Shiraishi was arrested in October 2017 when police searched his home to investigate the disappearance of a 23-year-old woman who had posted suicidal notes on social media, including Twitter.

Three cooler boxes and five containers were found in Shiraishi’s room, containing human heads and bones with the flesh scraped off, according to the reports.

The nine victims, eight women and one man were aged between 15 and 26, were found.

The victims had posted online that they wanted to kill themselves, and were subsequently contacted by Shiraishi through social media platforms.

Using a handle which loosely translates as “hangman,” Shiraishi invited them to his apartment in Zama, promising to help them die.

Shiraishi pleaded guilty to murdering the victims, saying in court that he had killed them to satisfy his sexual desire.

Shiraishi does not intend to appeal the verdict and will be on death row until Japan’s justice minister signs the execution order as per reports.

In Japan the death penalty is executed by hanging, with execution dates not made public till the penalty is carried out.


US deaths from COVID-19 pass 300,000

The death toll from the COVID-19 in the United States has crossed 300,000 on the same day the first vaccines against COVID-19 were administered in the country. The country is hardest hit by virus across the globe in terms of number of deaths and cases.

According to a report by Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 16 million cases confirmed in the US, where the total population is approximately 300 million.

Experts say the death toll is a serious reminder to follow restrictions despite optimistic inoculation outlook.

There is a surge in infections as the US enters its coldest months.

The healthcare workers on Monday received the freshly-authorized Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot. About three million doses are being shipped across the US, and are expected to arrive at more than 600 sites by Wednesday.

The first shots on Monday was the beginning of the largest vaccination campaign in American history. If a second vaccine, produced by Moderna Inc, is authorized in the coming days, officials say 20 million people could be vaccinated by month’s end.

The head of the White House’s vaccine program said that everyone in the country who wants the vaccine should be able to get it by halfway through 2021 if development, approval, and distribution goes according to the plan.

Health experts have warned that the initial doses of the vaccine will not be enough to cut the current surge, which has threatened to overrun healthcare systems in several areas.


Investigation identifies Russian officers who tailed Navalny before poisoning

An undercover team working for Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) followed opposition leader Alexei Navalny on more than 30 trips to and from Moscow starting in 2017 before he was poisoned in August, according to an investigation led by Bellingcat.

The Kremlin has denied having any role in the poisoning of Navalny, who is one of the most prominent domestic critics of President Vladimir Putin. But an analysis of “voluminous telecom and travel data” by Bellingcat suggests the poisoning with the nerve agent Novichok “was mandated at the highest echelons of the Kremlin.”

“This investigation is particularly important due to the legal vacuum in which no country other than Russia — the country implicated in the assassination attempt — has offered its jurisdiction for an official investigation into Navalny’s near-fatal poisoning,” writes Bellingcat, an open-source journalism website that also identified the Russian officers behind the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in the U.K.

In addition to detailing specific movements and calls made by the officers believed to be involved in the poisoning, Bellingcat’s investigation also notes that Russia is operating a clandestine chemical weapons program operating under the cover of an FSB investigative unit.

Bellingcat found the attack was the result of years of stalking that began at least a month after Navalny’s 2017 announcement that he would contest against Putin in presidential elections the next year.

The investigation names two Russian doctors working with at least five FSB operatives who flew with Navalny at least 30 times over three years, and perhaps tried to poison him at least once before the August attack.

Some FSB agents traveled to the hospital in the city of Omsk where Navalny was admitted after the poisoning.

“Believe me when I say discovering Russia has a long running nerve agent based assassination programme targeting its most well known opposition figure was as much a shock to me as it is to you. How can governments across the world ignore this?” Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins tweeted.


Cuomo, de Blasio warn NYC to prepare for ‘full shutdown’

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday said that the city could soon be facing a “full shutdown” and that the city needed to “get ready” for such an event as COVID-19 spread is high.

In a press conference with reporters, he referenced remarks by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who warned that a new shutdown could be coming.

“The governor said in a New York Times interview over the weekend that we should prepare for the possibility of a full shutdown,” de Blasio said. “I agree with that, we need to recognize that that may be coming and we’ve got to get ready for that now because we cannot let this virus keep growing especially at a moment we are finally getting the vaccine and can turn the corner.

On Sunday, the mayor’s office announced that there had been 206 hospitalizations, above the city’s 200 threshold, while there were 2,209 new cases and a seven-day average positivity rate of 5.53%.

On Friday, Cuomo had pointed recent growth in metrics and said, “If you extrapolate out at this rate of growth, you could be looking at the shutdown of New York City within a month.”

De Blasio spoke as a new shutdown of indoor dining in the city, announced by Cuomo last week and backed by the mayor, went into effect. Restaurants had been permitted to resume indoor dining at 25% capacity on Sept. 30 after months of being shut down, but that was ended on Monday with no indication they would reopen in near future.

De Blasio described the vaccine being administered in NYC, as a “shot of hope.” Sandra Lindsay, RN, a critical care nurse at Long Island Jewish Medical Center was the first to receive the shot.

The vaccines will go to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities before the country enters the next phases of distribution.

“We are not done yet with the coronavirus. So let’s celebrate today. Let’s be hopeful. It is a shot of hope. Let’s be clear. It’s not just a shot in the medical sense. It’s a shot of hope,” he said. “But we have to keep fighting this virus in the meantime. So we remain vigilant. We’re going to have a tough December, a tough January.”


Google’s services went down for about an hour

Google’s services went down for about an hour Monday in a huge outage that restricted many people from watching YouTube videos, accessing their Google Docs or sending email on Gmail.

The outage also made Google Classroom temporarily unavailable, denying many students learning remotely from accessing their classes.

A little after 8 am ET, most of Google’s services came back online. The company’s workspace status dashboard had been red across the board, with every single Google service indicating an outage. Later Monday morning, they turned green, indicating that they’re operating normally.

“We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience and continued support,” Google said in a statement.

Google said it will work toward restoring its apps for the remaining people who are still unable to access them, but the problems should largely be resolved.

Downdector reported that millions of users were denied the usage of google and its apps.

Internet services fail due to number of reasons like incorrect installation, server errors etc. The most recent outage took place in September for Google.


75 infected with COVID-19 after Santa visits nursing home in Belgium

Santa Claus spreads more than good cheer at a nursing home in Belgium, with his visit leaving at least 75 people infected with COVID-19, according to a report.

The alleged super-spreading St. Nick was one of the first to fall sick after his visit to the Hemelrijck care home in Antwerp just a week ago, followed by 61 elderly residents and 14 staff, officials said.

“It was made with the best intent, but it went wrong,” the Mayor of Mol, Wim Caeyers, said of the visit, calling it “a very black day for the care home.”

“It is a very great mental strain to bear for the man that played Saint Nicholas, as well as for the organizers and the staff,” Caeyers said.

“It will be all hands on deck during the coming week,” he said of trying to limit the outbreak.

Staff initially insisted that Santa, who was reportedly the son of one of the residents, wore a mask and adhered to safety protocols, as did those who met him. However, photos of the meet-and-greet quickly proved that to be untrue, the mayor told.

Jannes Verheyen, a representative for Armonea, the company that runs the care home, told that everyone was “shocked” at what happened.

“It makes no sense to condemn people,” he said, with staff instead “motivated” to control the virus’ spread.


Stacey Abrams rejects comparison between her refusal to concede and Trump

Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams rejected charges from Georgia’s secretary of State comparing her refusal to concede after her 2018 defeat to Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to President Trump‘s refusal to do the same.

In an interview, Abrams responded to an op-ed penned by Brad Raffensperger (R), in The Wall Street Journal calling Trump’s refusal to concede to President-elect Joe Biden straight out of “the Stacey Abrams playbook.”

In his op-ed, Raffensperger said that Abrams had “refused to concede, announced that she would launch major litigation against Georgia’s election system, and began collecting hundreds of millions of dollars from donors convinced the election had been stolen from her” following her defeat to Kemp.

Abrams pushed back against that assertion, noting that hundreds of thousands of voters were purged from state voter rolls before her race went to the ballot box.

“First and foremost, he’s never listened to what I said,” Abrams said of Raffensperger’s argument.  “I said that the election was stolen from Georgia voters because, under the previous secretary of state, Brian Kemp, millions of voters were…1.4 million voters were purged from the rolls, thousands of voters were denied the right to vote because of [voter registration processes].”

Abrams went on to dismiss any comparison between herself and the president, who she argued was working to disqualify voters from having their voices heard. Her own efforts, she argued, were centered around voter registration efforts in Georgia and fighting against Republican efforts to purge voter rolls.

“There is absolutely nothing commensurate between what I have done and what Donald Trump is trying to do,” said Abrams. “My mission has been very clear since I was 17. And that is expanding access to the right to vote for those who are entitled to vote in our country, and especially in the state of Georgia. What Donald Trump is arguing is that he only wants to count the votes that he likes. He wants to restrict access to the right to vote and restrict who gets to be heard in our country. That is not at all what I’m pushing for.”