China launches anti-dumping probe into EU, US, Japan, Taiwan plastics

Beijing — China’s commerce ministry on Sunday launched an anti-dumping probe into POM copolymers, a type of engineering plastic, imported from the European Union, United States, Japan and Taiwan.

The plastics can partially replace metals such as copper and zinc and have various applications including in auto parts, electronics, and medical equipment, the ministry said in a statement.

The investigation should be completed in a year but could be extended for six months, it said.

The European Commission, which oversees EU trade policy, said it would carefully study the contents of the investigation before deciding on any next steps.

“We expect China to ensure that this investigation is fully in line with all relevant WTO (World Trade Organization) rules and obligations,” a spokesperson said.

China’s plastics probe comes amid a broader trade row with the United States and Europe.

The United States on Tuesday unveiled steep tariff increases on Chinese electric vehicles, or EVs, computer chips, medical products and other imports.

On Friday, the European Union launched a trade investigation into Chinese tinplate steel, the latest in a string of EU trade and subsidy probes into Chinese exports.

Most notably, the European Commission launched a probe last September to decide whether to impose punitive tariffs on cheaper Chinese EVs that it suspects of benefiting from state subsidies.

Beijing argues the recent focus by the United States and Europe on the risks to other economies from China’s excess capacity is misguided.

Chinese officials say the criticism understates innovation by Chinese companies in key industries and overstates the importance of state support in driving their growth.

Russian court freezes assets of two German banks in gas project dispute 

VIENNA — A court in the Russian city of St. Petersburg has ordered the seizing of assets of Germany’s Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank in the country, the Russia state news agency Tass says. The order is in response to a lawsuit over the planned construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal in the Baltic Sea.

The banks were among the guarantors in the contract for building a gas processing plant by a multinational construction firm, Renaissance Heavy Industries, and German company Linde. But the project was cancelled after Western sanctions, with the banks withdrawing their guarantees.

The cancellation came at the request of RusChemAlliance, a subsidiary of Russian gas giant Gazprom and the operator of the project, German news agency dpa reported.

RusChemAlliance paid advances to Linde for the building of the plant. The company is claiming about 238.61 million euros ($260 million) against Deutsche Bank and 94.92 million euros ($103 million) against Commerzbank, according to dpa.

In a statement, Deutsche Bank said that it has made a provision for approximately 260 million euros ($283 million) under an indemnification agreement.

It also said that it would need to assess the immediate operational impact in Russia and see how the claim will be viewed by the Russian courts.

Western nations have imposed a wide range of sanctions against Russia over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

China property shares jump on report of government plans to buy homes

HONG KONG — Shares of Chinese property developers rallied on Thursday after a report that China was considering a plan for local governments across the country to buy millions of unsold homes from distressed companies to ease a protracted property crisis. 

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Mainland Properties Index closed up 4.9% to the highest since November 24. The sub-index has gained around 30% since mid-April, when the market started speculation that more supportive measures would be rolled out to stabilize the ailing sector after months of disappointing home sales. 

Defaulted private developer Fantasia and KWG Group jumped 63% and 40%, respectively, while state-backed Sino-Ocean Group surged 46%. 

Hong Kong’s markets were closed on Wednesday for a public holiday. They have been catching up to gains in mainland property shares since the previous day. 

China’s CSI 300 Real Estate index firmed 3.5% on Thursday, following a 2.2% rise on Wednesday.  

Bloomberg News said on Wednesday the State Council was gathering feedback on the preliminary plan from various provinces and government bodies after a meeting of the ruling Communist Party leaders in late April called for efforts to clear mounting housing inventory. 

Local state-owned enterprises would be asked to help purchase unsold homes from distressed developers at steep discounts using loans provided by state banks, according to the report, which added that many of these homes would be converted into affordable housing. 

China’s housing ministry, central bank, the National Financial Regulatory Administration and the Ministry of Natural Resources scheduled a news briefing Friday afternoon about the supporting policies to ensure housing delivery, according to a notice on Thursday. 

Bloomberg News said in a separate report on Thursday that the State Council plans to hold a meeting with key officials from the housing ministry, financial regulators, local governments and state banks on Friday morning to discuss the property market, including a proposal to clear excess housing inventory. 

Reuters could not independently verify the reports.  

China’s property sector slipped into a debt crisis in mid-2021. Since 2022, waves of policy measures have failed to turn around the sector, which represents about a fifth of the economy and remains a major drag on consumer spending and confidence. 

Over the past years, some local governments already announced plans to buy unfinished or unsold homes from developers and turn them into social housing, but the scale has been small. 

Authorities also in recent weeks ramped up policies intended to clear the stock of unsold housing. Large cities such as Beijing and Shenzhen have eased home purchase restrictions, with some allowing homebuyers to “swap” to a new home from an old one. 

“We believe this could be a game changer in the sense that property sales may at least stabilize rather than turn worse,” JPMorgan said in a report, referring to the reported plan in consideration. 

The bank, however, added it is skeptical about whether the scale would be large enough to trigger a market recovery unless the funding would come from the central government. 

Nomura said if local governments could acquire a meaningful volume of unsold homes from developers, it would help resolve the inventory issue and channel fund flows to the credit-trapped private companies, said Nomura.  

This, in turn, would support construction activities and alleviate the sector’s downward spiral, it said. 

However, some have been concerned about the lack of housing demand in smaller cities, with worries surfacing that such a plan would further weigh on the financial health of local governments.  

Local governments are already more than $9 trillion in debt and pose a major risk to China’s economy and financial stability. 

“It would only work in higher-tier cities but not lower-tier ones; where would the buyers come from?” said an analyst from another Asian bank, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media. “Telling local governments in those cities to buy inventory would just burn their balance sheet.” 

Biden quadruples tariffs on Chinese EVs

WASHINGTON — In a bid to revive domestic manufacturing, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he is imposing a drastic tariff increase on Chinese electric vehicles and new levies on computer chips, solar cells and lithium-ion batteries.      

“We’re not going to let China flood our market making it impossible for American auto – auto manufacturers to compete fairly,” Biden said. “I will do it by following international trade laws.”  

Tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, also known as EVs, will be quadrupled to a 100% rate. Solar cell and semiconductor imports from China will be subject to a 50% tariff, double the current rate. The rate on certain steel and aluminum imports will increase to 25%, more than triple the current level.  

The tariff increase will cover $18 billion in Chinese products. Tariffs on EVs, steel and aluminum, and solar cells will take effect this year, and next year for chips.   

United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the administration has provided pre-notification to Beijing.     

“We have made clear this is not about escalation,” she said. “This is about the consequences of decades of economic policy and the need for the United States to defend our rights.”   

The move is designed to offset “China’s unfair practices and subsidies and level the playing field for U.S. automakers and auto workers,” National Economic Adviser Lael Brainard told reporters Monday ahead of the announcement.  

“China is simply too big to play by its own rules,” she said. “China is using the same playbook it has before to power its own growth at the expense of others by continuing to invest, despite excess Chinese capacity, and flooding global markets with exports that are underpriced due to unfair practices.”     

China’s “forced technology transfers and intellectual property theft” have contributed to its control of the majority of global production for the critical inputs “creating unacceptable risks to America’s supply chains and economic security,” the White House said.

Responding to the U.S. announcement, China said Tuesday the move “will seriously affect the atmosphere of bilateral cooperation.”    

“The U.S. is essentially using the ‘overcapacity’ narrative to kneecap other countries’ strong industries and practice protectionism and trample on market principles and international trade rules in the name of ‘fair competition.’ This is nothing but bullying,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters Tuesday in Beijing.

Tough on China    

The move follows a three-year review of the policies of Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, who is the Republican presumptive presidential nominee. Both candidates have used their campaign events to compete in showing who is tougher on China ahead of the November election.  

“My predecessor promised to increase American exports and boost manufacturing, but he did neither. He failed,” Biden said.   

The former president said Tuesday that the Biden administration’s new tariffs will not be enough to compete against Beijing.  

“China’s eating our lunch right now,” Trump said, adding that Biden should slap tariffs on “much more than electric vehicles.”     

“They’ve also got to do it on other vehicles, and they have to do it on a lot of other products,” Trump told reporters as he entered court for his hush money trial in New York.   

Asked by reporters on Trump’s comment about China eating America’s lunch (unfairly taking advantage of the U.S.), Biden responded, “He’s been feeding them a long time.”  

The Trump campaign hit back, calling Biden’s action a “weak and futile attempt to distract from the grievous harm his insane Electric Vehicle mandate is doing to the U.S. auto industry.”    

   

“The fact that these tariffs do not apply to gas-powered cars and trucks but only to Chinese EVs shows that this has nothing to do with protecting American Workers,” Trump campaign press secretary Karoline Leavitt said in a statement. “It’s all about Crooked Joe’s agenda of killing gas-powered automobiles while forcing Americans into ultra-expensive Electric Vehicles they don’t want and can’t afford.”  

   

Asked by VOA to respond to such criticism, Tai said the tariffs are “designed to be strategic and not chaotic. They are designed to be effective and not emotional.”   

   

Preempting future increases  

Currently, the U.S. imports almost no EVs from China, but the Biden administration is trying to preempt potential future increases, said Rachel Ziemba, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, or CNAS.  

The tariffs hit sectors where the administration has been investing with industrial policy tools, including the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS and Science Act, Ziemba told VOA, referring to Biden’s climate and energy legislation, and legislation to boost domestic semiconductor research and manufacturing.  

“In a sense, these tariffs are part of a policy initiative to make sure that Chinese companies can’t benefit from that U.S. government subsidy,” he said.  

The move is likely to increase friction between the world’s two largest economies and is not likely to change Beijing’s behavior.    

“China opposes unilateral tariffs that violate WTO rules and will take all measures necessary to defend our legitimate rights and interests,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang said.      

Biden reiterated he wants “fair competition with China, not conflict.” He said the U.S. is in a stronger position to win because of the investments his administration has made to revive domestic manufacturing.  

According to a 2022 report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, China spent more on industrial policy ($248 billion) than it did on its defense spending ($240 billion) in 2019.  

China spends far more supporting its industries than any other economy in the CSIS study, and more than twice as much as the U.S.  

Circumventing through Mexico 

On the same day Biden announced the new tariffs, Chinese automaker BYD, the world’s largest electric vehicle producer, unveiled the Shark, a midsize hybrid-electric pickup truck, in Mexico. In February, BYD said it was looking for a location in Mexico for its factory.   

A Mexico-made EV with sufficient North America-sourced parts could qualify for tariff-free entry into the U.S. market under the 2020 United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA. 

The administration said Beijing’s move to circumvent tariffs via a U.S. free trade partner is “a pattern” of “serious concern” that it’s investigating. 

With Chinese EV production moving out of China, taking action against Chinese EVs in third country markets is something that the administration should deeply explore, said Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. trade negotiator who is now vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. 

Blocking Beijing’s circumvention effort can be done by amending the USMCA or through supplemental agreements, or an investment screening mechanism separate from the USMCA, she told VOA. “I’m sure there are other alternatives as well that are being explored.”  

Tai would only reveal that addressing the issue will “require a separate pathway,” without providing details. “I would just ask you to stay tuned,” she said. 

Anita Powell contributed to this report.

China tests European unity through Xi Jinping’s trip

Taipei, Taiwan — Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded his high-profile European tour Friday after signing dozens of agreements with France, Hungary and Serbia, while reiterating Beijing’s desire to enhance “mutually beneficial cooperation” between China and Europe.

Some analysts say Xi’s trip to Europe is part of Beijing’s attempt to undermine European unity while deepening its foothold in the European Union through elevated economic ties with Hungary, a member of the 27-nation bloc.

“Beijing has identified France as a weak link in the EU” that it could potentially influence because of French President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to prioritize his country’s “strategic autonomy,” and the Chinese government “thinks they can use Hungary and Serbia to influence Central and Eastern Europe,” said Sari Arho Havren, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in Brussels.

Chinese state media outlets are framing Xi’s European tour as a success by highlighting the positive aspects of the trip. The state-run Global Times described the 18 deals that China and France signed this week as “a positive signal for European entrepreneurs and a stabilizer to China-Europe trade ties against [the] decoupling push.”

Meanwhile, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said China’s decision to elevate ties with Hungary marks “the most recent stride in China’s effort to deepen cooperation with Central and Eastern European nations.”

Judging from the substance of his trip, Arho Havren said, Xi did achieve some success in testing unity in Europe.

Additionally, Arho Havren said Xi’s recent interactions with Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also expose a fault line between Germany and France — the EU’s top two economies — regarding how to handle relations with China.

“Since Scholz prioritized German interests due to fear of Chinese countermeasures during his trip to Beijing, [it’s clear] that Beijing has been successful in influencing the German businesses and through them, the chancellor,” she told VOA in a written response.

Unlike Scholz, some experts said Macron tried to show that he supports the EU’s common approach toward China by inviting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to join his initial meeting with Xi in Paris.

“I think conveying the sense that [projecting European unity] is the top priority for French diplomacy has been the successful part of Xi’s European tour for Paris,” Mathieu Duchatel, director of international studies at the French policy group Institut Montaigne, told VOA by phone.

Overall, Arho Havren said some European countries should understand they can’t influence China’s behavior by engaging with them individually. Rather, such practice runs the risk of creating disunity within the EU, which is what Beijing seeks.

“China will continue its efforts to keep the EU disunited by playing the target countries’ vulnerabilities and egos against one another,” she told VOA.

EU’s economic security agenda

Some observers say one of China’s initiatives to challenge the EU’s unity is to slow down the bloc’s efforts to carry out key parts of its economic security agenda. In recent months, the EU has launched anti-subsidy investigations into several Chinese products, including green energy and security devices.

During his meeting with Macron and von der Leyen, Xi said there is no such thing as “China’s overcapacity problem,” and he urged the EU to “develop the right perception of China and adopt a positive China policy.”

Despite Beijing’s denial, von der Leyen reiterated on Wednesday that Europe needs to stop China from flooding the European market “with massively subsidized electric cars.”

“We have to tackle this, [and] we have to protect our industry,” she said during the party convention of the Christian Democrats in Berlin.

Duchatel said China has not been “very successful” in slowing down the EU’s economic security agenda. “I don’t think China can turn away that wave because when it comes to using [the economic security] instruments to reestablish some form of balance in our relations with China, there is a broad agreement across Europe,” he told VOA.

While there is a consensus across Europe that the EU should strengthen its capacity to defend its interests, Duchatel said there is a lack of unity in the bloc about how to build leverage against China. “We are failing in terms of having a more offensive agenda to force some concessions [from Beijing],” he told VOA.

Countries may “get some nuances in the Chinese language regarding Ukraine, or words regarding withholding tariffs on [French] brandy. [They] don’t really get anything tangible [from Beijing],” Duchatel said.

Following his meeting with Xi and von der Leyen, Macron said he welcomed China’s pledge not to supply arms to Russia, while Xi said he supports Macron’s proposal for a global truce during the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

No major changes

Despite Beijing’s attempt to portray Xi’s visit as productive regarding improving EU-China relations, some analysts say they don’t expect the trip to reshape the dynamics between Beijing and Brussels.

Justyna Szczudlik, deputy head of research at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, told VOA that since France is the most important stop for Xi’s trip and Macron showcased his support for the EU’s approach toward China, she doesn’t anticipate “any huge change to EU-China relations” following Xi’s visit.

While the economic security agenda will remain the EU’s main approach to handling trade relations with China, Duchatel said many European countries say that China’s investment environment “has become very risky” and that Beijing has failed to persuade European governments that its partnership with Russia “is not something that goes against European security.”

“I don’t think Xi’s words in Paris have changed this perception, so his visit [won’t] make up for the trust lost over the last few years,” he told VOA.

8 more Chinese cities join Hong Kong solo travel scheme

HONG KONG — Eight Chinese cities have joined a program allowing their residents to travel to Hong Kong on their own, rather than as part of a tour group, as part of efforts to boost Hong Kong’s economy. 

Hong Kong is battling to revive its economy following a national security crackdown and COVID-related controls, which led to many locals and expats leaving the city and caused tourist numbers to dwindle to a fraction of prepandemic levels. 

The Individual Visit Scheme began in 2003 as part of a cooperation agreement between mainland China and Hong Kong to boost the city’s economy by allowing Chinese residents to apply for individual travel, rather than in a tour group. 

Fifty-one cities have already joined the program and will be joined by Taiyuan in Shanxi Province, Hohhot in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Harbin in Heilongjiang Province, Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Lanzhou in Gansu Province, Xining in Qinghai Province, Yinchuan in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. 

Hong Kong city leader John Lee said, “These eight cities are all provincial capital cities with large populations, significant economic growth and high spending power.” 

Although recent official figures showed the territory growing 2.7% in the first quarter compared with the year before, local businesses have described shopping malls as “dead,” with low foot traffic and shops covered with “for lease” or “coming up soon” signs. 

One lawmaker recently told the city’s legislature that more than 20,000 companies had deregistered in the first quarter of 2024, up more than 70% from the same period last year. 

China imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020 after months of pro-democracy protests in 2019. In March, authorities enacted another set of security laws that some foreign governments say further undermine rights and freedoms. 

The Hong Kong and Chinese governments have repeatedly said the security laws have brought stability.

Biden set to impose tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles, sources say

WASHINGTON AND SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. President Joe Biden is set to announce new tariffs on China as soon as next week, targeting strategic sectors, including electric vehicles, according to two people familiar with the matter. 

The full announcement, which could take place as soon as Tuesday, is expected to largely maintain existing levies, according to one of the people. An announcement could also be pushed back, the person said. 

The tariffs were also set to include semiconductors and solar equipment, according to one of the people. 

Details on the precise value or categories of tariffs that would be imposed were sketchy, but the administration was said to have zeroed in on areas of interest within strategic competitive and national security areas, one of the people said. 

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office made its recommendations to the White House weeks ago, but a final announcement was delayed as the package was debated internally, according to one of the sources and an additional person familiar with the matter. 

Biden, a Democrat seeking reelection in November, is looking to contrast his approach with that of Republican candidate Donald Trump, who has proposed across-the-board tariffs that White House officials see as too blunt and prone to spark inflation. 

The White House and the office of the U.S. Trade Representative declined to comment. Bloomberg News first reported the story. 

The measures could invite retaliation from China at a time of heightened tensions between the world’s two biggest economies. Trump’s broader imposition of tariffs during his presidency prompted China to retaliate with its own levies. 

Biden has said he does not want a trade war with China even as he has said the countries have entered a new paradigm of competition. 

Both 2024 presidential candidates have sharply departed from the free-trade consensus that once reigned in Washington, a period capped by China’s joining the World Trade Organization in 2001. 

In 2022, Biden launched a review of the Trump-era policy under Section 301 of the U.S. trade law. Last month, he called for sharply higher U.S. tariffs on Chinese metal products, but the targeted products were narrow in range, estimated at more than $1 billion of steel and aluminum products, a U.S. official said. 

Biden also announced launching an investigation into Chinese trade practices across the shipbuilding, maritime and logistics sectors, a process that could lead to more tariffs. 

The Biden administration has also been pressuring neighboring Mexico to prohibit China from selling its metal products to the United States indirectly from there. 

China has said the tariff measures are counterproductive and inflict harm on the U.S. and global economy. 

Air Vanuatu files for bankruptcy protection

MELBOURNE, Australia — Air Vanuatu filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday a day after the South Pacific state-owned carrier cancelled all international flights, stranding thousands of travelers.

The airline on Wednesday canceled more than 20 flights to and from the Australian cities of Sydney and Brisbane, and the New Zealand city of Auckland for the rest of the week. The airline said it was the result of “extended maintenance requirements” on their aircraft.

Ernst & Young Australia’s Morgan Kelly, Justin Walsh and Andrew Hanson were appointed liquidators in an equivalent of a U.S. Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the firm said in a statement. The liquidators said safety and maintenance checks would be made before normal operations resumed.

Kelly said the airline’s existing management team would remain in place.

“Air Vanuatu is critical to the people of the Republic of Vanuatu and a strategically important business to the nation,” Kelly said. “Our team is working closely with management to ensure continuity of service to customers and to ensure services continue as seamlessly as possible.”

“The outlook for the airline is positive, despite pressures on the broader industry, and we will be focused on securing the future of this strategically vital national carrier,” he added.

Affected travelers would be informed of this disruption and rebooked on flights as soon as operations resumed, the statement said.

Air Vanuatu operates four planes, including one Boeing 737 and three turboprop planes.

Tourism contributed 40% of Vanuatu’s gross domestic product.

The Vanuatu Tourism Office apologized to travelers for the disruption.

“This is an evolving situation and we will continue to post updates,” the office said in a statement.

The office’s chief executive Adela Issachar said the administrator was in discussions with Virgin Australia and Fiji Airways, airlines that currently service Vanuatu, about flying stranded passengers.

“The updated schedule should be advised soon so we’re all looking forward for that,” Issachar told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Kelly said Air Vanuatu had been impacted by labor shortages, rising operating costs, elevated interest rates and tropical cyclones on tourist numbers in recent years.

“We’ll be looking at all options. And the Vanuatu government has indicated that they would prefer to resume operations as quickly as possible. Our role as voluntary liquidators will be to look at to assess all options to achieve that and make that sustainable,” Kelly told reporters.

“So that might involve some kind of sale process, it may involve some kind of partnership arrangement with another airline,” Kelly added.

Australian tourist Sally Witchalls said she and four friends had been checking out of their Port Vila hotel on Wednesday morning when they were told at reception that their Air Vanuatu flight would not fly that day.

She has since discovered that her travel insurance did not cover an airline going into voluntary administration, as Air Vanuatu had done, or bankrupt.

“We’re now on our own working out how we pay for the accommodation from here on out while we wait to see how the situation with Air Vanuatu unfolds,” Witchalls told ABC.

Chinese cities lift curbs on buying homes as property crisis bites 

Beijing — Two of China’s wealthiest cities said Thursday they would lift all restrictions on buying homes, joining a growing list of urban areas rolling back curbs as they look to prop up the faltering property market.

Many Chinese cities imposed restrictions and tough credit requirements on home purchases well over a decade ago in an effort to tamp down soaring prices and rampant speculation.

But they are now reversing those policies in a bid to stem an economic slump characterized by a debt crisis among developers, low demand and falling prices.

The eastern city of Hangzhou — home to 12.5 million people — said Thursday it had ditched all purchase restrictions “to promote the [market’s] stable and healthy development”.

“From the date of issuance… those who buy lodgings within the bounds of this city will no longer have their purchasing qualifications reviewed,” it said.

Hangzhou, a major innovation hub home to tech giants such as Alibaba, is one of the most desirable and expensive places to buy property in China.

In a separate announcement, the northwestern city of Xi’an, which has a population of 13 million, said it had also cancelled all such restrictions.

The announcements quickly racked up more than 230 million views on social media site Weibo, where many users were doubtful the policy would make any difference.

“With Hangzhou’s house prices, what’s the point of cancelling buying restrictions? I still can’t afford it,” wrote one commenter.

Bill Bishop, publisher of the influential Sinocism newsletter, called the move “a sign of desperation.”

“If this does not goose sales there will be more trouble as prices will have to adjust downward a lot,” he wrote on social media site X.

More than 20 cities have abolished home purchase restrictions since the beginning of last year, according to an AFP tally.

Chengdu in southwestern China said last month it would no longer look at prospective buyers’ household registration documents, social security and other conditions before greenlighting purchases.

Several of the biggest cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, have partly lifted curbs but have resisted dumping them entirely.

Property and construction account for more than a quarter of China’s gross domestic product, but the sector has been under unprecedented strain since 2020.

That year, authorities tightened developers’ access to credit in a bid to reduce mounting debt.

Since then, major companies including Evergrande and Country Garden have teetered on bankruptcy, while falling prices have dissuaded consumers from investing in property.

Measures introduced by the central government to support the sector have so far had little effect.

And President Xi Jinping has largely stuck to his often-touted maxim that “houses are for living in, not for speculation.”

Last month, the International Monetary Fund said China’s economic recovery from the pandemic could falter if the crisis was not properly addressed.

“Without a comprehensive response to the troubled property sector, growth could falter, hurting trading partners,” it warned in its World Economic Outlook report.

Africa should forge path for secure data flow across borders, experts say

Nairobi, Kenya — Digital experts called on African countries Tuesday for laws to protect the data of individuals and businesses, saying that a single digital market in which data can safely flow across borders would help overcome barriers to commerce and trade on the continent.

African government information and communications technology representatives, international organizations, diplomats and experts are meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, this week to discuss how data can move freely from one country to another without risking people’s privacy and safety.

Kenyan Information, Communication and Digital Economy Minister Eliud Owalo said Africa needs to improve its laws to deal with emerging issues in the digital space.

“What will enable African countries to remain relevant in the digital marketplace will be our level of creativity and innovation, strategic agility and maneuverability in the digital space,” he said. “And that means we need to continuously, based on what is happening in our operational environment, look at our laws, policies and regulations.”

In its 2023 Londa report, the Paradigm Initiative — an organization that monitors digital rights, environment and inclusion in Africa — said internet shutdowns and disruptions, data protection, disinformation, cybersecurity, surveillance and a lack of freedom of expression and information affect the continent’s digital growth and sustenance.

Experts say that data plays an important role in every sector and that sharing it makes information more accessible, increases collaboration and facilitates knowledge exchange, leading to innovation and growth in business and relations among states.

Paul Russo, the head of Kenya Commercial Group, which operates in seven African countries, says the discussion about data sharing and security is important for businesses.

“This is not only a new area that we need to work together to bring to life, but I also think it’s important for our own businesses to be sustainable,” he said. “At the heart of every business, particularly for those of us in the private sector, is data — both integrity and confidentiality and protection of that data.”

Data misuse and abuse is a worldwide concern, and fears continue to spark debate on how best to safeguard, regulate, monitor and benefit from the available data.

European Union Deputy Head of Mission to Kenya Ondrej Simek said that data protection requires global effort and that gaps must be filled through law.

“Collaboration between data protection authorities around the world is needed to advance the regional and global harmonization of legal and regulatory frameworks,” Simek said.

“One area of specific importance is that of safe cross-border data flows,” he said. “A first step is ensuring the data protection laws are in place. The second one is obviously to operationalize them effectively. These are critical steps toward Africa’s single digital market and toward a global area for safe data exchange.”

Xi, in France, offers few concessions on trade, support for Russia

LONDON — Chinese President Xi Jinping offered few concessions to his counterpart and host Emmanuel Macron as he wrapped up a two-day visit to France on Tuesday evening. Both presidents are seeking to mend ties on Xi’s first trip to Europe in five years, after relations were soured by trade disputes and Beijing’s support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

Macron invited Xi high into the Pyrenees Mountains, the home region of the French president’s maternal grandmother. Beneath snowy peaks shrouded in fog, the two leaders and their wives watched traditional dancers before dining on locally produced ham, lamb, cheese and blueberry pie.

French officials said the mountain trip on Tuesday would provide a chance for less- formal one-on-one discussions after the pomp and ceremony of Xi’s official state welcome in Paris on Monday.

Relations have worsened significantly since Xi last visited the region in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic. Europe accuses Beijing of subsidizing industries that are undercutting its own companies in areas such as electric vehicles — but Macron told his Chinese guests that the European Union is not seeking to cut economic ties.

“Our shared objective is to continue our relationship,” Macron told delegates Monday at the Franco-Chinese Business Council in Paris. “There is no logic in decoupling from China. It’s a desire to preserve our national security, just as you do for your own. It’s a desire for mutual respect and understanding, and a desire to continue to open up trade, but to ensure that it is fully fair at all times, whether in terms of tariffs, aid or access to markets.”

China’s response

Xi made no immediate concessions, said analyst Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies.

“Xi Jinping does not feel that China has an overcapacity issue. And he feels that the European position on Chinese EVs, for example, is unreasonable. But then of course he is also trying to engage with the French and potentially having a leading Chinese car manufacturer setting up facilities in France, as a kind of incentive to persuade that maybe it’s in France’s interest to engage with China and welcome Chinese EVs,” Tsang told VOA.

The trade relationship is tilted in Beijing’s favor, according to Nicholas Bequelin, a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center.

China “has a major export economy towards Europe. The trade deficit in Europe is huge and growing. The de-risking or anti-subsidy policies that the European Union wants to put in place will take a lot of time — and because they affect the different countries in the European Union differently, it is very difficult to get to an agreement,” Bequelin said.

Russia threat

Europe faces the more pressing security threat of Russia, as the Kremlin’s forces slowly advance in eastern Ukraine. China has given Moscow diplomatic and economic support, despite Western appeals for Beijing to help end the illegal invasion.

Xi declared a “no limits” partnership when Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Beijing in February 2022, just days before the Kremlin’s tanks rolled across the Ukrainian frontier.

A recent U.S. assessment concluded that China is providing vital components such as machine tools and microelectronics that Russia is using to make weapons. Last year, trade between China and Russia hit a record $240 billion.

Speaking in Paris Monday, Xi rejected European accusations that China was aiding Russia’s war.

“China is neither the creator of the crisis, nor a party, a participant of the war. However, we didn’t just watch the fire burning across the river but have been playing an active role in achieving peace,” Xi told reporters.

Europe’s message

China’s claim is demonstrably false — and European leaders must take a tougher line, said analyst Igor Merheim-Eyre, a policy adviser at the European Parliament and research fellow at the University of Kent.

“We’ve already had [German] Chancellor Olaf Scholz, we’ve had Macron, we’ve had Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, we have [EU Commission] President [Ursula] von der Leyen, all making trips to Beijing and repeating the same message: that China should not be supporting Russia in its aggression against Ukraine. And in those two years, I see no change,” Merheim-Eyre told VOA.

“What they’ve really failed at is spelling out to Xi Jinping what will be the cost of China supporting Russia’s war of aggression — which it clearly is. I mean if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t already have four Chinese companies on the EU sanction list. And the circumventions are much broader than that,” he said.

Costs for China

Europe should make the costs clear, said analyst Tsang, because China’s “policy has always been one of declaring neutrality, supporting Putin and refusing to pay a price for that.”

Sanctioning Chinese companies that are supplying Russia’s military would likely be effective, he said. “For Xi Jinping, the important thing is that he stays in power, and that means he has to keep the Chinese economy on an even keel. Supporting Putin is a desirable thing — but fundamentally staying in power overrides the aspirational goal of undermining U.S. global preeminence and leadership.” Tsang said.

“Shared interest”

Von der Leyen on Monday urged Beijing to help end the war. “We agree that Europe and China have a shared interest in peace and security. We count on China to use all its influence on Russia to end Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” she said in a recorded video address.

But European leaders should be more realistic about Beijing’s ambitions, argued analyst Merheim-Eyre.

“I’m looking at my world map, and I’m trying to see where exactly this common interest lies. Because wherever I look, from Africa to the South China Sea to Ukraine, China is playing a destructive role, and I do not see common areas of interest in these matters.”

After visiting France, Xi was headed Tuesday for Serbia, a key Balkan partner in Beijing’s Belt and Road investment program. On Wednesday, Xi is due to travel to Hungary, his closest European ally and a longtime thorn in the side of EU unity on Russia and China policy.

VOA’s Mandarin Service contributed to this story.