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US blacklists Xiaomi, CNOOC, Skyrizon, raising heat on China

Inside Telecom Staff

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US blacklists Xiaomi, CNOOC, Skyrizon, raising heat on China

The U.S. government has blacklisted Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. and China’s third-largest national oil company for alleged military links, heaping pressure on Beijing in President Donald Trump’s last week in office.

The Department of Defense added nine companies to its list of Chinese companies with military links, including Xiaomi and state-owned plane manufacturer Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (Comac).

U.S. investors will have to divest their stakes in Chinese companies on the military list by November this year, according to an executive order signed by Trump in November.

Xiaomi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Xiaomi Corp. overtook Apple Inc. as the world’s No. 3 smartphone maker by sales in the third quarter of 2020, according to data by Gartner. Xiaomi’s market share has grown as Huawei’s sales have suffered after it was blacklisted by the U.S. and its smartphones were cut off from essential services from Google.

Separately, the Commerce Department put China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) on the entity list, an economic blacklist that forbids U.S. firms from exporting or transferring technology with the companies named unless permission has been obtained from the U.S. government. The move comes after about 60 Chinese companies were added to the list in December, including drone maker DJI and semiconductor firm SMIC.

CNOOC has been involved in offshore drilling in the disputed waters South China Sea, where Beijing has overlapping territorial claims with other countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

“China’s reckless and belligerent actions in the South China Sea and its aggressive push to acquire sensitive intellectual property and technology for its militarization efforts are a threat to U.S. national security and the security of the international community,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

“CNOOC acts as a bully for the People’s Liberation Army to intimidate China’s neighbors, and the Chinese military continues to benefit from government civil-military fusion policies for malign purposes,” Ross said.

CNOOC did not immediately comment.

Chinese state-owned company Skyrizon was also added to the economic blacklist, for its push to “acquire and indigenize foreign military technologies,” Ross said.

Beijing Skyrizon Aviation, founded by tycoon Wang Jing, drew U.S. criticism for an attempt to take over Ukraine’s military aircraft engine maker Motor Sich in 2017. The concern was that advanced aerospace technology would end up being used for military purposes.


HONG KONG (AP) — By ZEN SOO

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GM looking to build 2nd US battery factory, Tennessee likely

Associated Press

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GM looking to build 2nd US battery factory, Tennessee likely

General Motors says it’s looking for a site to build a second U.S. battery factory with joint venture partner LG Chem of Korea.

The companies hope to have a decision on a site in the first half of the year, spokesman Dan Flores said Thursday.

Flores would not say where the company is looking, but it’s likely to be near GM’s Spring Hill, Tennessee, factory complex, which is one of three sites the company has designated to build electric vehicles.

A joint venture between GM and LG Chem currently is building a $2 billion battery factory in Lordstown, Ohio, near Cleveland, that will employ about 1,000 people. The site is fairly close to GM’s two other designated electric vehicle plants, one in Detroit and the other north of the city in Orion Township, Michigan.

GM is likely to need far more battery capacity if it’s able to deliver on a goal of converting all of its new passenger vehicles from internal combustion engines to electricity by 2035.

LG Chem now has a battery cell plant in Holland, Michigan, that supplies power to the Chevrolet Bolt hatchback and the new Bolt electric SUV.

Industry analysts have said that automakers face a global shortage of batteries as the industry moves away from gasoline powered vehicles. Most of the world’s batteries are built in China and other countries.

The Wall Street Journal first reported that GM and LG Chem are pursuing a site in Tennessee to build a new battery plant.

GM’s venture is risky, at least based on U.S. electric vehicle sales. Last year full battery electric vehicles accounted for only 2% of the U.S. market of 14.6 million in new vehicle sales. But automakers are set to roll out 22 new electric models this year and are baking on wider consumer acceptance.

The consulting firm LMC Automotive predicts that U.S. battery powered vehicle sales will hit over 1 million per year starting in 2023, reaching over 4 million by 2030.


DETROIT (AP) — By TOM KRISHER

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UK competition watchdog investigates Apple’s App Store

Associated Press

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UK competition watchdog investigates Apple's App Store

U.K. authorities have launched an investigation into Apple’s App Store over concerns it has a dominant role that stifles competition and hurts consumers.

The Competition and Markets Authority said Thursday it was looking into “suspected breaches of competition law” by Apple. The announcement adds to regulatory scrutiny of the iPhone maker’s app distribution platform, which is also the subject of three antitrust probes by the European Union’s executive Commission.

Apple said the App Store is “a safe and trusted place for customers” and a “great business opportunity for developers.”

The investigation was triggered in part by complaints from app developers that Apple will only let them distribute their apps to iPhone and iPad users through the App Store. The developers also complained that the company requires any purchases of apps, add-ons or upgrades to be made through its Apple Pay system, which charges up to 30% commission.

“Millions of us use apps every day to check the weather, play a game or order a takeaway,” Andrea Coscelli, the authority’s CEO, said in a statement. “So, complaints that Apple is using its market position to set terms which are unfair or may restrict competition and choice – potentially causing customers to lose out when buying and using apps – warrant careful scrutiny.”

The watchdog said it would consider whether Apple has a “dominant position” in app distribution for Apple devices in the U.K., and, if it does, whether the company “imposes unfair or anti-competitive terms on developers” that results in less choice or higher prices for consumers buying apps and extra.

Apple said it looked forward to explaining its App Store guidelines to the U.K. watchdog.

“We believe in thriving and competitive markets where any great idea can flourish,” the company said by email. “The App Store has been an engine of success for app developers, in part because of the rigorous standards we have in place — applied fairly and equally to all developers — to protect customers from malware and to prevent rampant data collection without their consent.”

By The Associated Press

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UK extends job support, tax breaks for pandemic-hit economy

Associated Press

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UK extends job support, tax breaks for pandemic-hit economy

Britain’s treasury chief on Wednesday announced an additional 65 billion pounds ($91 billion) of support for an economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, extending job support programs and temporary tax cuts to help workers and businesses in his annual budget.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons that it is too soon for the government to rein in spending, saying that his plans would “protect the jobs and livelihoods of the British people” through September as the government slowly lifts lockdown restrictions that have shut businesses across the U.K.

At the same time, he said Britain must be prepared to cut the deficit, announcing plans to increase the tax on corporate profits and boost revenue from personal income taxes in 2023.

“An important moment is upon us,” Sunak told the House of Commons. “A moment of challenge and of change. Of difficulties, yes, but of possibilities, too. This is a budget that meets that moment.”

U.K. public borrowing has risen to levels not seen since World War II as the government seeks to cushion the fallout from COVID-19, which has reduced gross domestic product by 10% and cost more than 700,000 people their jobs. Projections released Wednesday by the Office for Budget Responsibility show that the economy will still be 3% smaller five years from now than it would have been without the pandemic.

Sunak said government support programs have succeeded in mitigating the impact. The unemployment rate is now expected to peak at about 6.5%, rather than the 11.9% forecast last July, he said, citing estimates from the Office for Budget Responsibility. The economy is forecast to grow 4% this year and 7.3% in 2022.

On Wednesday, Sunak announced plans to extend those support programs for six months. They include a furlough program, under which the government pays 80% of the wages for private employees unable to work during the pandemic, as well as grants for self-employed workers, a temporary increase in welfare payments and tax relief for businesses.

Sunak cheered business leaders by offering a tax credit of up to 130% of the money companies invest in expanding and improving their operations. Sunak said the credit is expected to increase investment by 10% or 25 billion pounds over the next two years, creating jobs and boosting economic growth.

Stephen Phipson, chief executive of Make UK, described the policy as bold.

“Manufacturers have strong intentions to invest in capital equipment as well as digital and green technologies which are crucial for our long-term recovery,” he said. “Today’s announcement should help turbocharge investment to ensure that those plans turn into reality in the short-term.”

Looking to the future, Sunak said the government will in 2023 increase corporation tax to 25%, from the current rate of 19%, and freeze personal income tax thresholds, which will increase revenue as inflation boosts incomes.

But opposition leader Keir Starmer accused Sunak of failing to address deep-seated economic problems and banking on a “consumer spending blitz” to bail out the economy.

Starmer said the budget fails millions of key workers who are having their pay frozen, businesses swamped by debt, and families paying higher local property taxes.

“The central problem in our economy is a deep-rooted insecurity and inequality, and this budget isn’t the answer to that,” Starmer said. “So rather than the big, transformative budget that we needed, this budget simply papers over the cracks.”

Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party’s leader in Parliament, criticized Sunak for continuing a strategy of temporary support that leaves businesses and consumers unsure of the future.

The budget leaves Scottish voters with a clear choice as the SNP campaigns to hold a second referendum on independence from the U.K., Blackford said.

“For the people of Scotland, this budget comes at a critical moment of choice,” he said, echoing Sunak’s language. “Post-Brexit and post-pandemic, Scotland now has a choice of two futures: The long-term damage of Brexit and more Tory austerity cuts, or the opportunity to protect her place in Europe and to build a strong, fair and green recovery with independence.”

LONDON (AP) — By DANICA KIRKA

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