China

Apple Inc. is investing $1 billion in Didi Chuxing, China's most popular ride-hailing app.

It's a striking foray into the Chinese market — where Apple has recently faced strategic challenges — and a possible hint as to Apple's continued interest in the world of transportation. The company has widely been rumored to be working on self-driving cars.

One recent afternoon, I was walking up Nanjing West Road, Shanghai's traditional shopping street, when I ran into a crowd of protesters being chased off by a plainclothes cop wielding a bullhorn and a line of uniformed police. Demonstrations like this in the heart of the city are rare and sensitive for the government, which fears political unrest as China's economic growth continues to slow.

I asked a fleeing protester what had happened.

"Don't walk alongside me," pleaded the woman, named Zhao, staring straight ahead. "The police will detain me."

It only opened around six months ago — and now comes word that Apple's iTunes Movies store in China is closed at least temporarily, along with its iBooks Store. The company has issued a statement saying that it hopes to reopen the movie and book services soon.

The closure was reportedly ordered by the Chinese government last week; according to local media, it comes just as a controversial Hong Kong film that's been censored in China is being released on Apple's Hong Kong iTunes service.

The dispute over the South China Sea, one of the most complicated geopolitical issues of the 21st century, keeps heating up. China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and other regional governments are all part of the dispute — along with the United States.

Here are four key things to know about the dispute.

1. What's At Stake

The South China Sea holds immense resources, from the oil and gas located underneath the seabed to the lucrative fishing it has afforded for generations.

It's not often that the governments of major nations are so concerned about hunting down the authors of anonymous online letters.

But that is what's happening in China, as police have detained and questioned journalists and the families in China of overseas dissidents, in an apparent effort to find out who wrote a letter calling for President Xi Jinping to step down.

In 2009, pro soccer player Lyle Martin was playing for the Vancouver White Caps, in a North American league below Major League Soccer, when he got talking with a teammate about his future. The teammate introduced him to an agent who floated the idea of playing in China.

"I was like, 'China?!'" Martin says. "Are we talking about the same place?"

Last summer, a Chinese-American woman and NPR listener reached out with an unusual request. She asked me to help find her sister, who'd vanished in the mountains of Yunnan province in southwest China.

"My little sister has been missing since Nov. 23, 2013," the woman wrote in an email. "She married a farmer in a remote village and was abused by her husband shortly after her marriage. She escaped from him after a few abuses."

At first glance, the front-page headlines in China's Southern Metropolis Daily on Feb. 20 looked like normal fare: coverage of a speech by President Xi Jinping and a politician's funeral.

But read vertically, and there's a message that seems to criticize a government crackdown on the media.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing reports that an editor at the major tabloid has been fired for allegedly sneaking in the subversive message, and walks us through what it says.

Ren Zhiqiang, 54, is a brash, sharp-tongued Chinese real estate mogul who is sometimes likened to Donald Trump. In recent days, he has become the target of a government campaign to discredit him, becoming the focus of a bitter debate about Communist Party control of media and the limits of free speech.

In the wake of North Korea's nuclear weapons test last month and its long-range missile test in early February, the U.S. and China have agreed on a draft U.N. resolution imposing new sanctions on Pyongyang. North Korea is already under a raft of international sanctions, but the new proposal would tighten them and impose new bans.

"We have seen evidence of surface-to-air missile deployments to Woody Island," a U.S. defense official says, in the first official public comments about China placing a weapons system on a disputed island in the South China Sea.

From Shanghai, NPR's Frank Langfitt reports:

"The missiles appear to be Chinese HQ-9s with a range of more than 100 miles, which would pose a potential threat to aircraft in the area. Woody Island is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan.

In Hong Kong's densely packed Causeway Bay district, a red sign with a portrait of Chairman Mao looms over the bustling storefronts and shoppers. The sign indicates that there is coffee, books and Internet on offer inside.

Customers go past a window where travelers can exchange foreign currencies, up a narrow staircase and into a room stacked high with books. The walls are painted red and decked out with 1960s Cultural Revolution propaganda posters and other Mao-era memorabilia. The aroma of coffee and the sound of jazz waft over the book-browsing customers.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

There are legitimate questions about proposed multi-billion dollar methanol plants at the ports of Tacoma and Kalama, according to Gov. Jay Inslee. He said the plants offer benefits but their water usage and possible pollution need to be carefully considered. 

Eugene Hoshiko / AP

Starbucks shares fell about 4 percent after the close of regular trading on Thursday after the company reported fiscal first-quarter results. 

In China, sales growth at the company's stores that have been open at least a year showed a slowdown, adding to recent concerns about the health of that country’s economy. 

Cementing a deal that has been hinted at for months, China is moving forward to build what's believed to be its first overseas military facility, in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti. The outpost is meant to bolster the Chinese navy's efforts to prevent piracy.

At least three other countries — the U.S., France and Japan — have military bases in Djibouti, drawn to the country's strategic location and stability. The presence of military ships from those countries and China has been credited with reducing piracy in the region.

Port of Tacoma

A Chinese-backed group wants to build what they say would be the world’s biggest methanol plant at the Port of Tacoma, raising lots of concerns among nearby residents, who will have a chance to weigh in on the project at a scoping meeting this Thursday. 

Built it and they didn't come.

That could be the motto for China's infamous "ghost cities" — vast housing complexes that were frantically erected over the past decade but remain largely uninhabited.

For years, the real estate market in China has been booming. Chinese laws allow city governments to cheaply grab nearby rural areas for development, and that's fueled the frenzy to build, build, build. Over the past 20 years, the country's urban areas have quintupled.

A historic meeting is happening this Saturday in Singapore between the two Chinas — that is, the leaders of China and Taiwan. They're meeting for the first time since 1949, when one side lost the Chinese civil war and fled to Taiwan.

On the streets of Taiwan's capital, Taipei, everyone speaks Chinese. And everyone looks Chinese — as 98 percent of the population is ethnically Chinese. But the experiences of those in Taiwan haven't been the same as China's for decades.

Updated on Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 3 a.m. ET.

The USS Lassen has sailed within 12 nautical miles of the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The Pentagon says the guided missile destroyer passed by the Subi Reef on Tuesday morning local time, NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

The move, which the Obama administration has billed as exercising the right to freely navigate international waters, is being characterized as a challenge to China's claim of control over the area.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

On the day that Chinese President Xi Jinping toured Boeing's wide-body jet factory in Everett, Boeing announced a deal to sell 300 airplanes to Chinese airlines and leasing companies and build a 737 completion and delivery center in China. 

Paula Wissel

Hundreds of supporters waved as Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in downtown Seattle today. As the motorcade zipped by on the way to the Westin Hotel, Tony Zhao held up a giant red flag with five yellow stars on it.

He was not the only one waving a Chinese flag. Some well-wishers held the red flag in one hand and the American flag in the other.

SounderBruce / Flickr

The strong economic ties between China and Washington state are in the spotlight this week with the upcoming visit by China’s president. Real estate development has gotten a boost from Chinese investors in recent years, but one key program that facilitates that investment is set to expire this month. 

Andrea Melendez / AP

Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet with titans of Northwest commerce this week on their home turf: Think Boeing, Starbucks, Microsoft and Amazon. Visits from Chinese dignitaries are often accompanied by announcements of deals or sales.

North Korea is getting pressure from its one and only ally, China, to tone down its latest blustery rhetoric and not to conduct a planned space launch or possible nuclear test.

Saul Loeb / AP

When the Chinese president visits Seattle next week, he’ll take time to drop in at a Tacoma high school. That visit is the result of lots of behind-the-scenes effort in Tacoma and in the Chinese city of Fuzhou. The two municipalities have long ties with each other.

Gregory Youtz is the chair of the Tacoma Fuzhou Sister City Program and a music professor at Pacific Lutheran University. He says a lot of Chinese people will be exposed to Tacoma because of the president’s visit.

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

King County is poised to join the city of Seattle and several other municipalities in passing a resolution banning the burning and the transportation of coal in Washington state. 

King County Council member Larry Philips is leading the charge to bring the county on board with what towns and cities all over the region have already done: saying loud and clear that coal is not the answer to the future of energy. The opponents are calling for a comprehensive environmental review of the effects of a proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham. 

photosteve101 / flickr.com

Are hackers from China stealing U.S. secrets?

China has denied these allegations for years. But a recent report by cybersecurity firm Mandiant thoroughly documents the activities of a team in China that has apparently ransacked terabytes of data from U.S. corporations.

Our technology commentator, Strategic News Service publisher Mark Anderson, has been warning us about the growing cyber threat from China. On this month’s edition of The Digital Future, Mark tells KPLU’s Dave Meyer the Mandiant report is truly a “smoking gun".

Scott Le Duc

Starbucks says profit in its most recent quarter climbed 13 percent as the coffee giant benefits from a big push into Asia.

What began as a company's suspicion that its infrastructure was being hacked turned into a case of a worker outsourcing his own job to a Chinese consulting firm, according to reports that cite an investigation by Verizon's security team. The man was earning a six-figure salary.

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