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China Set to Spend Billions on ‘One Belt One Road,’ But Some Want Focus on Poverty

Running 1,300 kilometers over the world’s highest mountain pass, the “Friendship,” or Karakoram, Highway is evidence of China’s willingness to spend big as a contributor to global development.

Costing tens of billions of dollars, the road links western China with Pakistan, part of Beijing’s “One Belt One Road” Initiative, which seeks to rekindle ancient Silk Road trade routes linking China with Europe and Africa and is a central tenet of President Xi Jinping’s leadership, said professor Steve Tsang of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. 

“The government is committed to do whatever it can to make sure that it is successful,” Tsang said. “So a lot more money and resources will be put into it to support that.”

But figures show that since the Karakoram Highway was built, Pakistani exports to China have fallen while imports have increased, raising concern China’s new Silk Road could become a one-way street. 

WATCH: China to Spend Billions More on ‘One Belt’ Initiative, but Campaigners Want Focus on Poverty

​Address poverty

Stephen Gelb of the Overseas Development Institute says Beijing should focus its investments on global development goals.

“At the moment there’s a lot of focus on infrastructure and particularly transport, pipelines, that sort of thing, which don’t directly address poverty,” Gelb said. “And in fact there’s been in some cases some controversy about the social and environmental impacts. But I think the focus should be to address development, including poverty and related issues.”

Gliding above the choking traffic of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the Chinese-funded tramway system opened last year at a cost of half a billion dollars. Beijing says investments like this will boost African economies, thereby alleviating poverty.

Gelb says it is also part of China’s plan to become a dominant force on the global stage.

“It was affirmed in Xi Jinping’s speech (this week to China’s Communist Party Congress),” he said, “China’s very much about these days rules-based global governance, multilateralism, globalization.” 

Visiting India this week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused China of not always playing by those rules.

“China, while rising alongside India, has done so less responsibly, at times undermining the international, rules-based order,” Tillerson said.

Paying the piper

Recipient countries have welcomed Chinese investment, which sometimes comes with fewer conditions than Western aid, such as demands for democratic reform. But Tsang warns there could be a sting in the tail.

“The real issue will come when some of those countries, particularly in central Asia, have to pay back some of the loans that were acquired in the Belt and Road Initiative,” Tsang said. “And most of those countries will have problems paying back those loans.”

For now, Chinese investment continues to expand. Development campaigners say Beijing’s focus should be not only on ports and pipelines but on tackling poverty.

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Philippines Faces More Transit Strikes Ahead of Year-end Reform Deadline

A mass transit strike in the Philippines this week risks more disruptive collective action unless drivers and the government settle differences over costly upgrades to an aging yet iconic vehicle fleet, analysts say.

Thousands of drivers and operators of “jeepneys” went on strike Monday and Tuesday. The government called for two days off work and school to minimize disruption for commuters. Jeepneys are distinctly Philippine vehicles that are about the size of small buses and provide most urban mass transit.

President Rodrigo Duterte wants the aging fleet replaced by January 1 to combat air pollution. But operators may lack the money for vehicle replacements. Experts say a new strike could erupt without compromise by officials, disrupting already difficult commutes in major cities such as the capital, Manila.

“They have to meet in the middle,” said Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist with Banco de Oro UniBank in Metro Manila. “So, it’s more of a communication problem to probably try to address both areas, making government aware of certain things. They just have to do a compromise somewhere.”

Costly demand

The drivers went on strike to draw attention to the role of their smoke-belching but colorfully decorated vehicles. Some people carried flags and placards; a few blocked roads. Smaller strikes were held last month and in February for the same cause.

The Philippine government last year approved a modernization program to replace jeepneys older than 15 years with low-polluting vehicles, such as solar-powered ones.

It has neither offered financing to the operators nor addressed a likely increase in passenger fares on newer jeepneys, said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

“It seems like the government is already set to implement the phase-out of the jeepneys by January of next year,” Atienza said. “So it appears to disregard the livelihood of a mass of jeepney drivers who will lose their jobs. They won’t [have] money to pay for the new units, so many of them will be jobless.”

A political camp called Piston Partylist is speaking out for drivers’ interests in the legislature, adding a political element to the dispute. Experts expect more strikes over the next two months unless drivers reach a deal with the government.

Cultural icon

Jeepneys emerged after U.S. colonization of the Philippines ended in 1946. In much of the country, passengers can hail them from any roadside. They pay according to distance traveled, sometimes as little as 14 cents (seven pesos). Passengers normally sit on two long benches facing each other in a pickup truck-style bed covered with a roof. Passengers help one another pass fares up to the driver and pass back any change.

Operators often paint the vehicles in their own style and name them after women or religious figures, making the vehicles a hallmark of Philippine culture.

In Philippine cities, jeepneys provide most of the local mass transit because of the lack of bus systems or wide-reaching commuter rail networks.

Reaching a compromise on vehicle replacement could be tough in today’s political climate, said Christian de Guzman, vice president and senior credit officer with Moody’s in Singapore. He cites a “heightened level of noise” and “confrontational politics” since Duterte took office in June last year.

“If you go to social media, there’s certainly a great degree of polarization that has happened over a fairly short amount of time,” de Guzman said. “Since Duterte has come in, there’s this ‘with-us-or-against-us’ type of mentality.”

Threat of more strikes

The strike earlier this week “barely affected the riding public,” the presidential office said on its website.

But repeated transit strikes or a prolonged one would eat away at commerce if people face trouble getting to work, analysts say. Low-paid commuters would also need to pay more for taxis or ride-sharing apps.

Participants in major events such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations leadership summit scheduled for Nov. 10 to 14 in Manila use private cars, leading to little disruption. If the summit coincides with a strike, delegates will find relatively little traffic in the typically gridlocked city.

“It’s sad to say, but if you ask me, traffic was tolerable,” Ravelas said, recounting the strike this week. “It just highlights the main problem, which is too many vehicles.”

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Political Uncertainty Slows Down Kenya’s Economic Growth

Kenya’s economy is expected to grow next year by 5 percent, down from a projected 6 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. The slowdown is largely blamed on the political uncertainties related to the re-run presidential election scheduled for October 26. Mohammed Yusuf reports from Kisumu, an opposition stronghold in western Kenya.

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High Schoolers Experience What it is Like to be Professionals

When the new school year started in September, 16-year-old Aelina Pogosian couldn’t wait to tell her friends about the most interesting part of her summer vacation: her RISE internship, working three weeks in the biology lab at Montgomery College.

“A lot of the materials and machinery we used is not given at most high schools, which is really important for me to learn how to use these things,” she said. “And I got to learn a lot at the same time I was able to have a lot of fun. And I met some new people.”

Among those new people was Jennifer Sengbusch, instructional lab coordinator, who worked closely with Aelina.

“At first, working in the lab I had to go over safety rules with her to avoid any injury to herself,” Sengbusch said. “We also went through working with chemicals, making solutions, doing calculations. Then we progressed into doing more complicated things as measuring protein concentrations and doing DNA tests.”

And the internship wasn’t all inside a lab, it also included some animal husbandry experience with the lab’s snakes and tortoises.

Real interesting experiences

Aelina is one of more than 400 students from all of Montgomery County’s 25 high schools who took part in the RISE program in its first year. RISE stands for Real Interesting Summer Experience, and those experiences were offered at construction companies, police stations, marketing firms, fire stations and more. More than 140 businesses, government agencies and nonprofits offered to host the students for the paid internships.

Local activist Will Jawando founded the program and says it has two main goals.

“The first goal is to expose our students to career opportunities early on so they can inform their education or training after high school,” he said.

The second is boosting the local economy.

“We said there are 30,000 middle-skill-level jobs here in Montgomery County that are not filled,” Jawando said. “So how do we also expose them to that there are jobs here in the county that they could be doing in a year or two that pay well and are on career track? So it was also an economic development tool. So it not only benefits the students, but hopefully it benefits the county and the region, if they stay here, they become productive citizens and as taxpayers.”

Local government support

The program received partial funding from the Montgomery County Council. Councilman Craig Rice helped secure the money.

“All the time in government, there are always so many needs and so many things that are important, whether it’s our roads or our infrastructure, all the different types of programs that we provide as government, but it is really important to make sure that we’re providing for our future generation,” Rice said.

He stressed that providing high school students with real life career opportunities was a priority.

“It’s really something that if we’re going to be serious about being globally competitive, we’re going to be serious about providing a number of different options for our children, we’ve got to make sure that we put our money where our mouth is,” Rice added.

Active, curious and dedicated

Jennifer Sengbusch says RISE gave her a chance to work with high school students who may soon be applying to attend Montgomery College. She found them curious and eager to learn.

“I think high school students are more inquisitive” than college students, she observed, “the high school students really ask a lot of great questions.”

She was also pleased to find Aelina, engaged and prompt.

“I didn’t realize that she was arriving an hour early just so she would be on time, that she would be sitting on the end of the hallway and I glanced over and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ She said ‘I just didn’t want to be late.’”

After a successful start this summer, RISE participants and organizers hope the program will expand next year and inspire surrounding counties to offer similar Real Interesting Summer Experiences.

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Last Holden Rolls Off Factory Line in Australia

The last mass-produced car designed and built in Australia rolled off General Motors Co.’s production line in the industrial city of Adelaide on Friday as the nation reluctantly bid farewell to its auto manufacturing industry.

GM Holden Ltd., an Australian subsidiary of the U.S. automotive giant, built its last car almost 70 years after it created Australia’s first, the FX Holden, in 1948.

Since then, an array of carmakers including Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi, Chrysler and Leyland have built and closed manufacturing plants in Australia.

Clocking out for last time

After the last gleaming red Holden VF Commodore, a six-cylinder rear-wheel drive sedan, left the plant in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth that had grown over decades to provide its workforce, 955 factory workers will clock off the last time

“It’s pretty tragic really that we’ve let go probably one of the best cars around the world,” an auto painter who identified himself as Kane told reporters.

The 36-year-old was worked at Holden for 17 years and starts a new job with an air conditioner manufacturer Monday. But he knows many other former Holden employees won’t find jobs so quickly.

Dozens of Holden enthusiasts gathered outside the factory, bringing with them generations of Holdens dating back to favored FJ models that were built between 1953 and 1956.

South Australia state Premier Jay Weatherill said car manufacturing was seminal to the state’s industrial know-how.

“It has provided the backbone for our manufacturing capability in this state,” Weatherill told reporters. “It’s given us … the capacity to imagine ourselves as an advanced manufacturing state.”

​Iconic Australian brand

Holden is an iconic Australian brand and has been a source of national pride for generations.

The V8 Holden Commodore has sold in the United States since 2013 as the Chevrolet SS.

The brand will survive although Holdens will all now be imported from GM plants around the globe.

Holden retains design and engineering teams, a global design studio, a local testing ground, 1,000 employees and a 200-strong national dealer network.

The brand that became known as “Australia’s own car,” accounted for more than half the new cars registered in Australia by 1958.

The reasons behind the demise of Australian auto manufacturing are numerous.

The first Holden cars were built in an era of high Australian tariffs and preferential trade with former colonial master Britain, which encouraged global carmakers to set up local factories to increase market share.

Australian import tariffs have since tumbled through bilateral free trade deals with car manufacturing countries like the United States, Japan, China, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.

The Holden workers’ union blames a lack of government support through subsidies for GM’s decision to end manufacturing.

There had been debate about whether the 7 billion Australian dollars ($5.5 billion) that the government spent on the car industry in subsidies since 2001 was worth the jobs that it created.

“We’re not just losing a car, we’re not just losing an industrial capability. We’re losing an icon and that is a tragedy,” Labor lawmaker Nick Champion, who represents the Holden factory region, told reporters Thursday.

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At G-7, Social Media Firms Pushed to Do More to Fight Terror

Technology firms have improved cooperation with the authorities in tackling online militant material but must act quicker to remove propaganda fueling a rise in homegrown extremism, acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said Wednesday.

The United States and Britain will push social media firms at a meeting of G7 interior ministers this week to do more on the issue, Duke told reporters in London where she had been meeting British Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

Duke said there has been a change in the attitude of tech companies since a rally organized by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August turned deadly when a counter-protester was killed by a car driven into a crowd.

“There has been a shift and for us somewhat with the Charlottesville incident,” she said. “There are a lot of social pressures and they want do business so they really have to balance between keeping their user agreements and giving law enforcement what they need.

“The fact they are meeting with us at G7 is a positive sign. I think they’re seeing the evidence of it being real and not just hyperbole.”

Series of attacks

After a series of Islamist militant attacks this year, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her ministers such as Rudd have been demanding action from tech leaders such as Facebook, Google and Twitter to do more about extremist material on their sites.

British politicians have also called for access to encrypted messaging services like Facebook’s WhatsApp, a campaign that U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave his backing to after meeting Rudd and the head of the UK domestic spy agency MI5 last week.

Internet companies say they want to help governments remove extremist or criminal material but say they have to balance the demands of state security with civil liberties.

“We would like to have the ability to get encrypted data with the right legal processes,” Duke said.

Propaganda’s role

Asked what action governments might take if social media firms failed to act to improve their removal of extremist material, she said: “We will continue to push as far as we can go. I think that we have the cooperation of those companies and we just need to work on that.”

Authorities say propaganda from Islamic State has played a major part in radicalizing people in the West but despite its defeat in its capital Raqqa in Syria, Duke said the group’s online presence was likely to increase.

“I would surmise being able to put terrorist propaganda on the internet might become more imperative,” said Duke, who described the terrorist threat to the United States as being as high as it had been since pre-9/11.

She also warned that those who turned to violence by being radicalized by such material posed a bigger problem than the comparatively small number of fighters who had joined the militant group returning to United States.

“The number of foreign fighters we have returning is declining,” she said. “The number of home-grown violent extremists, most of them inspired by terrorist organizations, is increasing.”

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Workers at iPhone Supplier in China Protest Unpaid Bonuses

Hundreds of workers streamed through dark streets, blocking an entrance to an Apple iPhone supplier’s factory in eastern China to protest unpaid bonuses and factory reassignments, two witnesses and China Labor Watch, a New York based non-profit group, said Thursday.

The protest Wednesday night at Jabil Inc.’s Green Point factory in Wuxi city prompted Apple to launch an investigation and vow to redress the payment discrepancies. “We are requiring Jabil to send a comprehensive employee survey to ascertain where gaps exist in payment and they must create an action plan that ensures all employees are paid for the promised bonus immediately,” Apple said Thursday in an email to China Labor Watch.

The incident highlights the complexity of overseeing global supply chains that can involve hundreds of manufacturers and subcontractors, as well as third-party labor brokers — and their subcontractors — that are tasked with recruiting workers for those factories. Companies differ in the amount of responsibility they are willing to take on. Apple stepped up oversight and disclosure following a spate of negative reports about worker suicides and injuries at suppliers.

After Tim Cook took over as chief executive, in 2011, Apple began publicly identifying top suppliers. It also publishes annual audits detailing labor and human rights performance throughout its global web of suppliers. Apple said it did comprehensive audits of 705 sites last year and documented significant improvements in compliance with its supplier code of conduct.

“About 600 workers went protesting for failing to get their bonus,” a worker who asked that only his family name, Zhang, be published for fear of retribution, said Thursday. He said that like many of his colleagues, he was promised a bonus of up to 7,000 yuan ($1,056) if he stayed for 45 days when he signed up for the job through a labor broker. “It has already been over three months but I still haven’t got the money,” he said.

Tu Changli, a security guard at Jabil’s Green Point factory, said a labor broker promised him 2,000 yuan ($302) if he stayed for two months. “I didn’t get it at all,” he said. He also said he saw hundreds of workers protesting. The company he said he works for, Wu Tai Security Co., declined comment.

A spokeswoman for U.S.-based Jabil, Lydia Huang, disputed those accounts, saying only 20 to 40 employees were actually protesting and the rest were night-shift workers trying to enter the factory. “As long as they can present evidence of promises by brokers we will help them to get paid,” she said.

Jabil, in a statement late Thursday, said it was “committed to ensuring every employee is paid fairly and on time.”

Tensions had been running high at Jabil’s Green Point factory. Tu, the security guard, said he saw a worker talked down from the edge of a rooftop in late September. And Zhang said that on Sept. 30, he saw a security guard hit a worker with a wooden stick so hard the stick broke.

Apple in its email to China Labor Watch said both incidents had to do with disputes with security guards, not underpayment, and added that it was working with Jabil “to make sure their security guards are properly trained to avoid and de-escalate situations.”

The current iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 plus had a 2 percent share of the iOS device market nearly a month after their launch, significantly lagging the 5 percent share grabbed by the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 plus at a similar point last year, according to Localytics, a mobile engagement platform that analyzes iPhone adoption rates. Analysts attribute iPhone 8 sluggishness to the pending release of the iPhone X.


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Western Influence Feeding the Streets of Iraq

In Iraq, young entrepreneurs cash-in on a food trend popularized in the West. Trucks serving American-style fast food serve meals on-the-go and opportunities for those hungry for work. Arash Arabasadi reports.

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Dow closes above 23,000 for first time; IBM soars

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 23,000 for the first time on Wednesday, driven by a jump in IBM after it hinted at a return to revenue growth.

The Dow hit 22,000 on Aug. 2, only 54 trading days earlier and roughly half the time it took the index to move from 21,000 to 22,000. This marks the fourth time this year the Dow has reached a 1,000-point milestone.

“Retail investors continue to pour into the marketplace, and with each headline about a new record, and especially round numbers like that, people tend to feel like they’re missing out and you kind of suck more people into the market,” said Ian Winer, head of equities at Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

“Ultimately, the only way you’re going to top is by getting everybody all in. And we’re getting close.”

Investors globally pulled $33.7 billion from U.S. equity funds during the third quarter, according to Thomson Reuters’ Lipper research unit. The funds are on course to post net outflows for the full year.

Shares of IBM, which beat expectations on revenue, jumped 8.9 percent and accounted for about 90 points of the day’s 160 point-gain in the blue-chip index.

Solid earnings, stronger economic growth and hopes that President Donald Trump may be able to make progress on tax cuts have helped the market rally this year.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also hit record closing highs.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 160.16 points, or 0.7 percent, to end at 23,157.6, the S&P 500 gained 1.9 points, or 0.07 percent, to 2,561.26 and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.56 point, or 0.01 percent, to 6,624.22.

“Today the catalyst is clearly IBM … which appears to have turned the corner. It gave the Dow the boost to stay over 23,000,” said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Financial in Newark, New Jersey.

The Dow had briefly surpassed the all-time peak on Tuesday but closed just shy of it.

The financial index jumped 0.6 percent, led by bank stocks recovering from recent post-earnings losses. Bullish calls by brokerages helped to support the bank shares.

Bank shares had run up ahead of recent results, which resulted in some selling following the news, Krosby said.

Investors await news on Trump’s decision on the Federal Reserve chair position. The White House said Wednesday Trump will announce his decision in the “coming days.”

Abbott rose 1.3 percent after the company’s profit beat estimates on strong sales in its medical devices business.

After the bell, shares of eBay fell 4 percent following its results.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.09-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.32-to-1 ratio favored advancers. About 5.6 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the 5.9 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.


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A Lifeline for Millions in Somalia, Money Remittance Industry Seeks More Support

Every month, Fatma Ahmed sends $200 of the earnings she makes in London to her family in Somalia.

“It’s for daily life. For rent, for buying grocery things, to live over there. Because actually in Somalia, that much we do not have,” she said.

Remittances from overseas diaspora constitute a vital part of the economy of many developing nations, none more so than Somalia, where the inflows add up to more than foreign aid and investment combined. However, analysts warn that the industry is poorly understood by regulators and banks, putting the welfare of millions of people at risk.

The two million Somalis living overseas send an estimated $1.3 billion back home every year. With no formal banking system in Somalia, most of the diaspora use remittance services.

Technology makes that possible, says Abdirashid Duale, CEO of Dahabshiil, one of Africa’s biggest remittance services.

“Now, it is so instant, where we have the latest technology, with the internet, secure channels that we can use to send money back home,” Duale said. “Or we use mobiles … smartphones, technology where it will help us to deliver money quickly, but less costly. Technology is supporting us also with the compliance issue.”

Remittance companies rely on global banks to route the money, and those banks must comply with regulations on money laundering and the financing of crime and terrorism.

Citing those concerns, many banks have chosen to withdraw from the market. Such a move is unnecessary, says remittance industry expert Laura Hammond of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

“Very often, it is not based on any kind of empirical evidence that shows that money is going into the wrong hands,” Hammond said. “The fear is just there is a conflict in Somalia, there’s the al-Shabab movement. And so there is a problem in a sense, a real precarious nature of the Somali remittance industry.”

The industry received a high-profile boost last month as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donated $1 million using the remittance firm Dahabshiil, along with mobile phone companies Somtel and eDahab, with the money transferred “live” to 1,000 families suffering the drought in Somalia.

The technology is moving fast. However, the cooperation of the global banking system remains key, and the remittance industry wants regulators to do more to support this lifeline.