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US Shoe Industry Protests Possible Tariffs on Chinese Imports

More than 170 American shoe manufacturers and retailers, including such well-known athletic shoe brands as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to exempt footwear from any further tariffs he imposes on imported goods from China.

The lobby for the shoe industry, the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, told Trump in a letter that his proposed 25 percent tariff on shoes imported from China “would be catastrophic for our consumers, our companies and the American economy as a whole.” The industry imported $11.4 billion worth of shoes from China last year, although some manufacturers have been shifting production elsewhere, especially to Vietnam and Cambodia.

It said the proposed tariffs on shoes made in China could cost U.S. consumers more than $7 billion annually on top of existing levies.

“There should be no misunderstanding that U.S. consumers pay for tariffs on products that are imported,” the 173 companies said, rejecting Trump’s frequent erroneous statement that China pays the tariffs and that the money goes directly to the U.S. Treasury.

Trump has been engaged in a string of reciprocal tariff increases with China on imported goods arriving in each other’s ports as the world’s two biggest economies have tried for months — unsuccessfully so far — to negotiate a new trade pact.

After Trump imposed new 25 percent taxes on $200 billion worth of Chinese products earlier this month, he also set in motion plans to impose a new round of levies on virtually all Chinese imports, another $300 billion worth of goods, including shoe imports, clothing and electronics.

The U.S. leader said that if American companies did not like the tariffs on Chinese imports, they could move their production inside the United States or to another country whose manufactured products are not taxed when they are sent to the U.S. But the footwear lobby rejected Trump’s suggestion.

“Footwear is a very capital-intensive industry, with years of planning required to make sourcing decisions, and companies cannot simply move factories to adjust to these changes,” the industry told Trump.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office has published a list of products that would be covered by the expanded tariffs and set a hearing for June 17.

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Death Penalty Possible in Myanmar Cannabis Farm Case

A court in Myanmar on Tuesday formally charged an American man and two local co-workers with violating drug laws concerning marijuana, with potential penalties ranging from five years’ imprisonment to death.

The court in the central Mandalay region charged John Frederic Todoroki with violating five sections of the drugs and narcotics law covering possession, sale and trafficking of illegal drugs, lawyer Thein Than Oo said by phone. The defendants contend they were growing hemp, not marijuana. Both are subspecies of the cannabis plant genus.

 

The mildest penalty facing the defendants is five years if they are convicted of growing narcotic drugs. The most severe penalty is 15 years to death for trafficking narcotic drugs.

 

The company that operates the 20-acre (8-hectare) farm on an industrial estate where police arrested the three late last month says it had official permission from the Mandalay regional government to grow hemp, which can be processed into CBD — cannabidiol — a non-intoxicating compound that many believe has health benefits.

 

Hemp can be grown legally in many countries, and is often used for making CBD products. Myanmar law does not seem to clearly distinguish between hemp and marijuana.

 

Police who raided the III M Nutraceutical Co. plantation said they found about 349,300 marijuana plants, 5,200 seedlings, 380 kilograms (838 pounds) of marijuana seeds, 1,804 grams (64 ounces) of marijuana oil, and chemicals and laboratory equipment.

 

The company said in an April 26 statement that the plants are actually hemp, and its project was approved by the Mandalay region government last August for research and development purposes. It said its farm has been growing industrial hemp, kenaf, peppermint, coffee and eucalyptus, and is strictly doing research, with no sales or distribution.

 

Another lawyer working on the case, Khin Maung Than, said the company received official permission for the enterprise because it was growing hemp.

 

Thein Than Oo said there was nothing stealthy about the project, and any action against the company should be done administratively rather than prosecuting it under the drug laws.

 

He expressed concern for the health of 63-year-old Todoroki, who he said had lost considerable weight since being detained after the raid.

 

“The heat is too strong even for locals, how could he resist the heat,” the lawyer said.

 

The Ngunzun township court in Mandalay’s Myingyan district scheduled its next hearing for June 4.

 

Todoroki’s co-defendants are Shein Latt and Shun Lei Myat Noe. When they were in court last week, Shun Lei Myat Noe’s parents said she was a simple worker at the enterprise, ignorant of what was going on and seeking mainly to improve her English-language skills.

 

Police have said they are also seeking to arrest Alexander Skemp Todoroki. It’s unclear where the Todorokis, believed to be father and son, last lived in the U.S.

 

 

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Former Philippine Judge Says She Was Held at Hong Kong Airport

A former Philippine Supreme Court justice who accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court said she was barred for hours Tuesday from entering Hong Kong.

Conchita Carpio-Morales said she was stopped by immigration authorities and was held in a room at Hong Kong’s airport for about four hours and ordered to take a flight back to Manila. She had planned to take a vacation for five days in Hong Kong with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, who were all allowed entry.

Hong Kong airport and immigration officials later told her “there was a mistake” and that she could proceed with her trip to Hong Kong, but she and her family had already decided to return home because of the incident, she said.

“I have never been subjected to this kind of humiliation,” Carpio-Morales told The Associated Press by telephone while waiting for her flight back to Manila. She said she and her family did not want to take the risk of being subjected to further scrutiny.

A Hong Kong immigration official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a specific immigration case said Carpio-Morales had been admitted to Hong Kong.

After flying back to Manila with her family late Tuesday, Carpio-Morales told reporters she had repeatedly asked Hong Kong airport authorities why she was denied entry but was told only that it was because of unspecified “immigration reasons.”

Carpio-Morales, 77, is a respected former Supreme Court associate justice and head of the Ombudsman, a special anti-corruption agency. She retired from government service last year. In March, she and former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario took the bold step of filing a complaint against Xi and other Chinese officials over Beijing’s assertive actions in the disputed South China Sea, which they say deprived thousands of fishermen of their livelihoods and destroyed the environment.

They accused Xi and other Chinese officials of turning seven disputed reefs into man-made islands, causing extensive environmental damage, and of blocking large numbers of fishermen, including about 320,000 Filipinos, from their fishing grounds.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua called the complaint a “fabrication.” Chinese officials also raised their concern over the complaint in a meeting with Philippine officials in Manila in April, saying the case is “affecting the prestige of our leader,” a Philippine official told the AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

The legal offensive against China contrasts with President Rodrigo Duterte’s rapprochement with Beijing since he took office in mid-2016 while often criticizing the security policies of the United States, a treaty ally.

Del Rosario said Tuesday that he and Carpio-Morales filed the complaint “to be able to push back against the bullying and harassment that we have been encountering from our goliath of a neighbor” and Carpio-Morales’s treatment in Hong Kong was “more of the same.”

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Duterte administration asked its diplomats to help Carpio-Morales and her family return to the country safely. The Philippine deputy consul general in Hong Kong, Germinia Aguilar-Usudan, told ABS-CBN News Channel in Manila that the Philippines will ask Hong Kong authorities about the incident.

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AP Explains: US Sanctions on Huawei Bite, But Who Gets Hurt?

Trump administration sanctions against Huawei have begun to bite even though their dimensions remain unclear. U.S. companies that supply the Chinese tech powerhouse with computer chips saw their stock prices slump Monday, and Huawei faces decimated smartphone sales with the anticipated loss of Google’s popular software and services. 

The U.S. move escalates trade-war tensions with Beijing, but also risks making China more self-sufficient over time.

Here’s a look at what’s behind the dispute and what it means.

What’s this about?

Last week, the U.S. Commerce Department said it would place Huawei on the so-called Entity List, effectively barring U.S. firms from selling it technology without government approval. 

Google said it would continue to support existing Huawei smartphones but future devices will not have its flagship apps and services, including maps, Gmail and search. Only basic services would be available, making Huawei phones less desirable. Separately, Huawei is the world’s leading provider of networking equipment, but it relies on U.S. components including computer chips. About a third of Huawei’s suppliers are American. 

Why punish Huawei?

The U.S. defense and intelligence communities have long accused Huawei of being an untrustworthy agent of Beijing’s repressive rulers — though without providing evidence. The U.S. government’s sanctions are widely seen as a means of pressuring reluctant allies in Europe to exclude Huawei equipment from their next-generation wireless networks. Washington says it’s a question of national security and punishment of Huawei for skirting sanctions against Iran, but the backdrop is a struggle for economic and technological dominance. 

The politics of President Donald Trump’s escalating tit-for-tat trade war have co-opted a longstanding policy goal of stemming state-backed Chinese cyber theft of trade and military secrets. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week that the sanctions on Huawei have nothing to do with the trade war and could be revoked if Huawei’s behavior were to change.

​The sanctions’ bite

Analysts predict consumers will abandon Huawei for other smartphone makers if Huawei can only use a stripped-down version of Android. Huawei, now the No. 2 smartphone supplier, could fall behind Apple to third place. Google could seek exemptions, but would not comment on whether it planned to do so.

Who uses Huawei anyway?

While most consumers in the U.S. don’t even know how to pronounce Huawei (it’s “HWA-way”), its brand is well known in most of the rest of the world, where people have been buying its smartphones in droves.

Huawei stealthily became an industry star by plowing into new markets, developing a lineup of phones that offer affordable options for low-income households and luxury models that are siphoning upper-crust sales from Apple and Samsung in China and Europe. About 13 percent of its phones are now sold in Europe, estimates Gartner analyst Annette Zimmermann.

That formula helped Huawei establish itself as the world’s second-largest seller of smartphones during the first three months of this year, according to the research firm IDC. Huawei shipped 59 million smartphones in the January-March period, nearly 23 million more than Apple.

Ripple effects

The U.S. ban could have unwelcome ripple effects in the U.S., given how much technology Huawei buys from U.S. companies, especially from makers of the microprocessors that go into smartphones, computers, internet networking gear and other gadgetry.

The list of chip companies expected to be hit hardest includes Micron Technologies, Qualcomm, Qorvo and Skyworks Solutions, which all have listed Huawei as a major customer in their annual reports. Others likely to suffer are Xilinx, Broadcom and Texas Instruments, according to industry analysts.

Being cut off from Huawei will also compound the pain the chip sector is already experiencing from the Trump administration’s rising China tariffs.

The Commerce Department on Monday announced an expected grace period of 90 days or more, easing the immediate hit on U.S. suppliers. It can extend that stay, and also has the option of issuing exemptions for especially hard-hit companies.

Much could depend on whether countries including France, Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands continue to refuse to completely exclude Huawei equipment from their wireless networks.

The grace period allows U.S. providers to alert Huawei to security vulnerabilities and engage the Chinese company in research on standards for next-generation 5G wireless networks.

It also gives operators of U.S. rural broadband networks that use Huawei routers time to switch them out.

​Could this backfire?

Huawei is already the biggest global supplier of networking equipment, and is now likely to move toward making all components domestically. China already has a policy seeking technological independence by 2025.

U.S. tech companies, facing a drop in sales, could respond with layoffs. More than 52,000 technology jobs in the U.S. are directly tied to China exports, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association, a trade group also known as CompTIA.

What about harm to Google?

Google may lose some licensing fees and opportunities to show ads on Huawei phones, but it still will probably be a financial hiccup for Google and its corporate parent, Alphabet Inc., which is expected to generate $160 billion in revenue this year. 

The Apple effect

In theory, Huawei’s losses could translate into gains for both Samsung and Apple at a time both of those companies are trying to reverse a sharp decline in smartphone sales.

But Apple also stands to be hurt if China decides to target it in retaliation. Apple is particularly vulnerable because most iPhones are assembled in China. The Chinese government, for example could block crucial shipments to the factories assembling iPhones or take other measures that disrupt the supply chain.

Any retaliatory move from China could come on top of a looming increase on tariffs by the U.S. that would hit the iPhone, forcing Apple to raise prices or reduce profits.

What’s more, the escalating trade war may trigger a backlash among Chinese consumers against U.S. products, including the iPhone. 

“Beijing could stoke nationalist sentiment over the treatment of Huawei, which could result in protests against major U.S.technology brands,” CompTIA warned. 

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French Drug Smuggler Sentenced to Death in Indonesia

Indonesia on Monday sentenced a French drug smuggler to death by firing squad, in a shock verdict after prosecutors had asked for a long prison term.

The three-judge panel in Lombok handed a capital sentence to Felix Dorfin, 35, who was arrested in September at the airport on the holiday island next to Bali, where foreigners are routinely charged with drugs offenses.

Indonesia has some of the world’s strictest drug laws — including death for some traffickers.

It has executed foreigners in the past, including the masterminds of Australia’s Bali Nine heroin gang.

While Dorfin was eligible for the death penalty, prosecutors instead asked for a 20-year jail term plus another year unless he paid a huge fine equivalent to about $700,000.

But Indonesian courts have been known to issue harsher-than-demanded punishments.

Dorfin was carrying a suitcase filled with about three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of drugs including ecstasy and amphetamines when he was arrested.

“After finding Felix Dorfin legally and convincingly guilty of importing narcotics … (he) is sentenced to the death penalty,” presiding judge Isnurul Syamsul Arif told the court.

The judge cited Dorfin’s involvement in an international drug syndicate and the amount of drugs in his possession as aggravating factors.

“The defendant’s actions could potentially do damage to the younger generation,” Arif added.

The Frenchman made headlines in January when he escaped from a police detention center and spent nearly two weeks on the run before he was captured.

A female police officer was arrested for allegedly helping Dorfin escape from jail in exchange for money.

It was not clear if the jailbreak played any role in Monday’s stiffer-than-expected sentence.

Wearing a red prison vest, Dorfin, who is from Bethune in northern France, sat impassively through much of the hearing, as a translator scribbled notes beside him.

After the sentencing, he said little as he walked past reporters to a holding cell.

“Dorfin was shocked,” the Frenchman’s lawyer Deny Nur Indra told AFP.

“He didn’t expect this at all because prosecutors only asked for 20 years.”

The lawyer said he would appeal against the sentence, describing his client as a “victim” who did not know the exact contents of what he was carrying in the suitcase.

“If he had known, he wouldn’t have brought it here,” Indra added.

In Paris, the French foreign ministry said it was “concerned” by the sentence and reiterated France’s opposition to the death penalty.

“We will remain attentive to his situation,” the statement said, adding that seven French people faced the death penalty worldwide.

In 2015, Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran — the accused ringleaders of the Bali Nine  — were executed by firing squad in Indonesia.

The Bali Nine gang’s only female member was released from jail last year, while some others remain in prison.

The highly publicized case sparked diplomatic outrage and a call to abolish the death penalty.

“The death penalty verdict marks another setback for human rights in Indonesia,” Human Rights Watch campaigner Andreas Harsono said Monday.

“The Indonesian government’s many pledges about moving toward abolishing the death penalty clearly meant nothing in Lombok”.

There are scores of foreigners on death row in Indonesia, including cocaine-smuggling British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford and Serge Atlaoui, a Frenchman who has been on death row since 2007.

Last year, eight Taiwanese drug smugglers were sentenced to death by an Indonesian court after being caught with around a tonne of crystal methamphetamine.

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Joko Widodo Re-Elected Indonesian President

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, has been re-elected with 55.50% of the vote, defeating former army general Prabowo Subianto. The victory was confirmed by the General Elections Commission (KPU). 

“The number of valid votes for candidate No. 1, Jokowi-Ma’ruf Amin, is 85,607,362 votes. The number of valid votes for candidate No. 2, Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno, is 68,650,239,” said KPU Commissioner Evi Novida Ginting Manik at the KPU office early Tuesday. 

The announcement came an hour after the KPU completed the national recapitulation of the first simultaneous elections since the country began democratic presidential elections in 2004. Approximately 193 million voters went to more than 810,000 polls.

Widodo captured votes in 21 provinces.

Subianto, a four-time presidential candidate who associated with the traditional political elite and hard-line Islamists, captured 44.50% of the votes in 13 provinces. 

 

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US Ambassador to China Visiting Tibet This Week

U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad was scheduled to visit Tibet this week, a U.S. embassy spokesperson said, the first visit to the region by a U.S. ambassador since 2015, amid escalating trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The visit follows passage of a law in December that requires the United States to deny visas to Chinese officials in charge of implementing policies that restrict access to Tibet for foreigners, legislation that was denounced by China.

“This visit is a chance for the ambassador to engage with local leaders to raise longstanding concerns about restrictions on religious freedom and the preservation of Tibetan culture and language,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Branstad was traveling to Qinghai and neighboring Tibet from May 19 to May 25 on a trip that will include official meetings as well as visits to religious and cultural heritage sites, the spokesperson said.

In December, China criticized the United States for passing the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, saying it was “resolutely opposed” to the U.S. legislation on what China considers an internal affair, and it risked causing “serious harm” to their relations.

The U.S. government is required to begin denying visas by the end of this year.

The visit comes as tensions have been running high between the two countries over trade. China struck a more aggressive tone in its trade war with the United States on Friday, suggesting a resumption of talks between the world’s two largest economies would be meaningless unless Washington changed course.

On Saturday, China’s senior diplomat Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that recent U.S. words and actions had harmed the interests of China and its enterprises, and that Washington should show restraint.

While the Trump administration has taken a tough stance towards China on trade and highlighted the security rivalry with Beijing, it has so far not acted on congressional calls for it to impose sanctions on China’s former Communist Party chief in Tibet, Chen Quanguo, for the treatment of minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region, where he is currently party chief.

A State Department report in March said Chen had replicated in Xinjiang policies similar to those credited with reducing opposition to Chinese rule in Tibet.

Beijing sent troops into remote, mountainous Tibet in 1950 in what it officially terms a peaceful liberation and has ruled there with an iron fist ever since.

 

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Australia Prime Minister Has ‘Miracle’ Election Win

Australia’s prime minister went to his Pentecostal church Sunday after nailing a surprise victory Saturday in the country’s general election.

Polls had indicated that Scott Morrison and his conservative Liberal-National coalition government were sure to loose.

The polls, however, were wrong.

Morrison was swept back into office, leaving the pollsters and the opposition Labor Party scratching their heads wondering how they miscalculated the odds.

“I have always believed in miracles,” Morrison told a cheering crowd Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump, whose presidential victory was also a shock to pollsters and the U.S. Democratic party, called Morrison to offer his congratulations. The White House said “the two leaders reaffirmed the critical importance of the long-standing alliance and friendship between the United States and Australia.”