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Japan economy shrinks in first quarter – but less than expected | Business and Economy News

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Japan’s economy shrank at a slower-than-initially reported pace in the first quarter, on smaller cuts to plant and equipment spending but the coronavirus pandemic still dealt a huge blow to overall demand.

Separate data showed growth in bank lending slowed sharply in May, while real wages posted the biggest monthly jump in more than 10 years in April, in signs that the world’s third-largest economy was gradually overcoming last year’s pandemic hit.

Among the mixed indicators are some reassuring signs for policymakers, who are worried Japan’s recovery will lag behind chief economies that have rolled out COVID-19 vaccines much quicker and are able to reopen faster.

The revised gross domestic product (GDP) decline was mainly due to a smaller fall in public and capital spending, which both eased less than initially thought, offsetting a slightly larger fall in private consumption.

The economy retreated by an annualised 3.9 percent in January-March, not as bad as the preliminary reading of an annualised 5.1 percent contraction but still posting the first fall in three quarters, Cabinet Office data showed on Tuesday.

The reading, which beat economists’ forecast for a 4.8 percent decline, equals a real quarter-on-quarter contraction of 1 percent from the prior quarter, versus a preliminary 1.3 percent drop.

“Overall, capital spending and private consumption remained weak, which showed weakness in domestic demand,” said Takeshi Minami, the chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute. “The vaccine issue is the most important thing for the (economic) recovery,” he said, adding that the vaccination rate would need to come to about 50 percent to boost the country’s economic recovery prospects.

With Japan’s latest virus emergency set to last through mid-June, about a month before the planned start of the Tokyo Olympics, economists were looking to the GDP report for any signs of extra weakness that would indicate a heightened risk of another contraction this quarter. They did not get that.

“When you see the outlook for the economy, it’s not all bad,” said economist Yoshiki Shinke​​​​​​ at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute. “The pace of vaccination is picking up faster than expected and that’s increasing a chance of robust rebound from the third quarter.”

Pent-up demand

Capital spending shrank 1.2 percent from the prior quarter, better than a preliminary 1.4 percent decrease and matching the median forecast for a 1.2 percent loss. Government consumption fell 1.1 percent, a smaller drop than a preliminary 1.8 percent decline.

Private consumption, which makes up more than half of GDP, dropped 1.5 percent from the previous three months, worse than the initial estimate of a 1.4 percent drop.

However, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said spending could recover as consumers return to the streets.

“If infections subside, there’ll be pent-up demand from not having been able to go eating out or travelling,” Nishimura told reporters after the release of the data.

COVID-19 surge

Net exports – or exports minus imports – subtracted 0.2 percentage point from growth, while the hit to domestic demand pulled it down by 0.8 percentage point, not as bad as a preliminary contribution of minus 1.1 percentage point.

The better-than-expected revision comes after household spending and exports jumped in April, although the gains were inflated largely by the comparison to last year’s deep pandemic-driven plunge.

Total lending by Japan’s banks grew 2.9 percent in May from a year earlier, slowing at a record pace from a 4.8 percent increase in April, Bank of Japan data showed on Tuesday.

Inflation-adjusted wages, a barometer of household purchasing power, rose 2.1 percent in April on a year-on-year basis, the government said.

The bank’s lending slowdown was due largely to the base effect of a COVID-19-driven surge last year, while a drop in consumer prices and rebounds in overtime pay and compensation for part-time workers helped lift wages.

The government has come under political pressure to water down an already stretched fiscal target this year as the cost to combat the health crisis accumulates.

Since the start of the year, Japan’s recovery has been put on pause by on-again-off-again declarations of emergency to try to contain virus flareups.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration has walked a tightrope, using narrowly selected restrictions on restaurants and bars to quell recent outbreaks but letting most other businesses carry on as normal.

That approach has kept the economy from collapsing like it did last year, but it has also failed to stamp out the virus. Meanwhile, a vaccine drive that did not kick into high gear until recent weeks allowed the crisis to drag on, even if case numbers are still far below US or European levels.

Some analysts expect Japan’s economy to post another contraction in the current quarter – pushing it back into a technical recession – as an extension of coronavirus emergency curbs for Tokyo and other main areas hurts domestic demand.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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The scrappy Hong Kong tabloid that refused to bow to Beijing | Freedom of the Press News

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Hong Kong, China – The last edition of the Apple Daily, the small scrappy Hong Kong tabloid that emerged as a champion of democracy and outspoken critic of China, has rolled off the presses, four days after the newspaper celebrated its 26th anniversary.

The paper had been raided by police twice during the past 10 months on suspicion of violating the National Security Law that was imposed by Beijing almost a year ago. Since the first raid last August, founder Jimmy Lai, 73, has been in jail awaiting trial under the law.

Last week’s raid saw five top executives, including its chief editor, arrested for alleged security offences as 500 police officers swooped in on Apple’s headquarters, with another staffer – the head editorial writer – apprehended on Wednesday morning.

The final nail in the coffin, however, was Hong Kong authorities’ freeze on the bank accounts of the media group that owns the paper. The move made it impossible for the paper to pay its staff and vendors, even as readers snapped up copies to show their support.

The decision was based on “employee safety and manpower considerations”, Apple Daily said as it announced its closure on Wednesday.
“Here we say goodbye. Take care of yourselves.”

Staff members of Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital clap out the final edition of a paper that began publishing in 1995 and became a thorn in Beijing’s side [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” framework meant to guarantee rights and liberties absent in the mainland. For most of the past 20 years, the territory has remained a bastion of press freedom in a country where media is muzzled.

“The demise of Apple Daily negates ‘one country, two systems’ and sets the stage for ‘one country, one system,’” said Willy Lam, a longtime commentator on Chinese politics and a veteran newspaper editor.

Bold, brash

Founded just two years before the handover, Apple Daily was at once a gamble and a leap of faith.

“The paper wanted to have some impact not just on Hong Kong but also to support the liberalisation of China,” Lam told Al Jazeera. “But as China has become less open to Western values, the paper has focused on defending Hong Kong values and holding Beijing to account.”

In its inaugural editorial, Apple Daily said it aimed to be a paper for the Hong Kong people.

Lai, its founder and funder, a devout Catholic who had made a fortune in the fashion business, named the paper after the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden in the Old Testament. Its rhyming couplet jingle – “An Apple a day, no liars can hold sway” – caught the attention of Hong Kong readers used to more staid offerings.

It was loud. It was bold, It was flashy.

The paper grabbed attention when it splashed a surreptitiously shot photo of Deng Xiaoping – China’s then-paramount leader died in February at the age of 92 – on his deathbed on the front page.

Brashness was its selling point.

Its reporters frequently skewered public officials and needled the comfortable.

“It speaks truth to power and finds a way to do profitably,” said Lokman Tsui, assistant professor of journalism at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai, standing by one of the printing presses in 2009, created a hugely popular paper that supported democracy, was unafraid to speak truth to power and critical of the Communist Party in Beijing [File: Alex Hofford/EPA]
Apple Daily’s founder and funder, Jimmy Lai, was arrested in August under the national security law and the paper’s headquarters raided. He has now been jailed [File: Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

The paper catered to high brow and low. Colourful spreads of scantily-clad female models appeared in the same section of the paper as erudite columns featuring quotes in Latin and Classical Chinese. With a couple of exceptions, its ranks of columnists were the who’s who of the territory’s pro-democracy circle.

Giving people what they want

Launched at the dawn of the internet age, the daily was quick to adapt to the digital world. Its website pioneered animated news – a mix of stills, short clips and clever graphics with narration dripping with sour sarcasm. Its lifestyle channel on YouTube built a fervent following.

A decade in, the paper’s circulation peaked at 500,000 in a city of approximately six million people with a dozen dailies.

Apple Daily’s brand of advocacy journalism would soon make the paper a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party. But to Lai, a rags-to-riches maverick millionaire now named Public Enemy No. 1 by Beijing, it was all about giving his customers what they would buy, even down to protest poster inserts.

In the summer of 2019, amid popular opposition to legislation that would send Hong Kong residents for trial in mainland China, the paper shorthanded “extradition to China” into the homophonic colloquial Cantonese expression of seeing someone to the grave. The expression immediately caught on and became a rallying cry in the protest movement.

“At times, we might have gone overboard but everything we did fell within the bounds of the law,” said Robert Chan, 45, who has covered mainland China for the paper for the past three years.

That is until the passage of the security law, which punishes what the authorities deem subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life sentences.

Prosecutors have used Lai’s frequent meetings with US officials in recent years, from the then-vice president on down, as “evidence” of his alleged “collusion with foreign powers”.

Staff from Apple Daily and its publisher Next Digital work on the final edition of their newspaper on June 23. In its first-ever editorial, the paper said it wanted to be a publication of the Hong Kong people. It printed a million copies of its final edition [Tyrone Siu/Reuters]

Early last month, rumours started to circulate that Beijing wanted to see the paper be shuttered in time for the Communist Party’s centenary celebrations on July 1.

Technology reporter for a decade, Alex Tang, 37, said like most of his colleagues he had become conditioned to taking unsubstantiated gossip with a grain of salt – until the second raid and the company asset freeze.

During the past few days, some of the 800 reporters at the paper were frustrated by the lack of a definitive answer on the last publishing date and severance.

“Management said they’d hang on till the bitter end, and they’ve kept their word,” said Tang. “The company has done its best.”

Apple Daily will live on as a website on the self-governing island of Taiwan, where it ceased paper publication last month.

But in Hong Kong, China news reporter Chan said he will mourn the loss of far more than his livelihood.

“With the paper gone, so would the values it represents: pursuit of freedom and democracy,” he said.



Source – www.aljazeera.com

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‘Real and present danger’: Sydney imposes new COVID curbs | Coronavirus pandemic News

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Restrictions cover an estimated five million people after Delta variant-linked cases, as neighbouring New Zealand raises alert level.

People in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, have been ordered not to leave the metropolitan area, as authorities scramble to contain a number of new coronavirus cases of the Delta variant – a development that has prompted neighbouring New Zealand to raise its alert level following possible exposure from a tourist from Australia.

New South Wales (NSW) State Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the stricter curbs – affecting about five million people who live and work in the city – on Wednesday.

“Clearly this is an evolving situation,” Berejiklian said at a news conference.

The new rules took effect at 4pm Sydney time (06:00 GMT) and will remain in force for a week.

“Given what has occurred the NSW government will be taking action today to limit the spread of what is a very contagious variant of COVID.”

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard described the situation as “a very real and present danger” for the city as a cluster first identified in the beach surburb of Bondi grew to 21 cases with eight confirmed on Wednesday morning.

Most of the newly confirmed cases were traced to a single event, where a mass gathering was held on Tuesday.

“This is a new and more dangerous version of the virus,” Hazzard said during the news conference.

The new restrictions include a limit on household visitors to five people, including children, Berejiklian said.

Mask wearing, which had already been reinstated on Friday, will be extended with people required to wear masks in all indoor settings outside the home and at organised outdoor events. The measures also include capacity limits on public transport and in gym classes, while singing at indoor venues, including places of worship, will not be allowed.

Authorities are also urging people to come forward for testing.

“If we adhere to the health orders today, we will have a good chance on getting on top of this outbreak,” Berejiklian told reporters.

New Zealand on alert

 

As of Wednesday, Australia had recorded more than 30,300 cases and 910 deaths.

The country has been among the world’s most successful in containing the pandemic, allowing it to reopen its border to New Zealand.

But the new cases are testing the travel bubble between the neighbours.

On Wednesday, New Zealand raised its pandemic alert level in Wellington to level two, which is one level short of a lockdown.

Earlier, an Australian tourist who visited the capital city over the weekend tested positive for COVID when they returned to Sydney.

“These are precautionary measures which will remain in place while we contact trace and test all of those we need to,” New Zealand’s COVID response minister Chris Hipkins said.

Under the elevated alert level, offices, schools and businesses are still allowed to open, but people are required to follow social distancing rules.

Gatherings of more than 100 people are banned, including weddings and other parties.

New Zealand has a population of five million people, and has recorded a total of 2,720 cases and 26 deaths. The country has posted a 98.2 percent recovery rate.

In Australia itself, Queensland and Victoria have both closed their borders to people from many parts of Sydney as a result of the new cases.





Source – www.aljazeera.com

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River Nile dam: Egypt new African allies

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Recent years have seen a dramatic re-engagement with Africa, especially the Nile Basin countries.



Source – www.bbc.co.uk

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