By Adedapo Adesanya
The United States-China relations took another downturn on Wednesday as the American government ordered China to cease all operations and events at its consulate in Houston, Texas.
This worsened the already strained relationship between both world powers who are caught in an ongoing trade war, the coronavirus pandemic, and US criticism of China’s human rights abuses.
According to the US State Department spokeswoman, Ms Morgan Ortagus, the consulate was directed to close in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.
The US government has always accused China of engaging in massive illegal spying for years and influencing operations, claiming that those activities have increased over the past few years.
In a statement posted on its official social media platform, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the order to close the consulate was a “political provocation unilaterally launched by the US side, which seriously violates international law, basic norms governing international relations and the bilateral consular agreement between China and the US.”
The statement continued that the US is “shifting the blame to China with stigmatization and unwarranted attacks against China’s social system, harassing Chinese diplomatic and consular staff in the US, intimidating and interrogating Chinese students and confiscating their personal electrical devices, even detaining them without cause.”
It added that “China is committed to the principle of non-interference. Infiltration and interference is never in the genes and tradition of China’s foreign policy.”
The country also called on the US to reconsider, saying if it insists on going through with the line of action, it will react with firm countermeasures.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also sent a warning to Chinese students in the US, asking them to be alert as US law enforcement agencies have stepped up arbitrary interrogations, harassment, confiscation of personal belongings and detention targeting Chinese international students in the US.
The closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston comes soon after reports emerged of the US indicting two men accused of spying on US vaccine development on behalf of China’s security services.
However, Business Post understands that there is no clear evidence to link both events together but it shows that President Donald Trump administration is determined to step up the counter-attacks aimed at China.
An escalation may affect the trade talks between both economies, a discussion that has been established recently due to a tariff war that started in 2018 over unfair trading practices and intellectual property theft.
COVID-19 Vaccines Sales Thriving on Dark Web—Kaspersky
By Adedapo Adesanya
Cybersecurity giant, Kaspersky, has warned that scammers have started selling unverified COVID-19 vaccines on the dark market.
It noted that the entire globe is currently undergoing one of the largest and most complex vaccination campaigns in history and, not surprisingly, scammers and sellers have been eager to make a profit off the process.
Kaspersky researchers examined 15 different marketplaces on the Darknet and found advertisements for three major COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Moderna.
According to the report, the majority of sellers came from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America (USA) and the prices per dose ranged from $250 to $1,200, with an average cost of about $500.
The cybersecurity outfit noted that communications are made via encrypted messaging apps like Wickr and Telegram, while payments are requested in the form of cryptocurrency, primarily Bitcoin.
Kaspersky warned that the majority of these underground sellers have made between 100-500 transactions, indicating that they’ve been completing sales but what exactly Darknet users are purchasing remains unclear.
The company noted, “With the information available to Kaspersky experts, it’s impossible to tell how many of the doses of the vaccine being advertised online are actual doses (many medical facilities have found themselves with leftover doses and how many advertisements are a scam.
“Even if you did receive something in the mail, most likely what you would receive would not be an effective, valid dose. More importantly, obtaining such doses is illegal.”
Speaking on this, Mr Dmitry Galov, a security expert at Kaspersky said, “You can find just about anything on the Darknet, so it’s not surprising sellers there would attempt to capitalise on the vaccination campaign. Over the past year, there have been a whole host of scams exploiting the COVID-19 topic, and many of them have been successful.
“Right now, not only are people selling vaccine doses, but they’re also selling vaccination records – pieces of paper that can help you travel freely.
“It’s important for users to be cautious of any “deal” related to the pandemic, and, of course, it’s never a good idea to buy a vaccine off the Darknet,” he added.
Kaspersky offered that people stay safe from scammers at the time of COVID, noting that experts recommend: “Never buy products – including vaccine doses – on the Darknet.
“If you see an advertisement for something related to COVID, look carefully at the URLs of the sites that you visit. If just one letter looks out of place, or if the usual .com has been replaced with .com.tk or something along those lines, your gut should tell you it’s phishing. Never enter personal information on such a site.
“Pay attention to grammar and layout on both the sites you visits and the emails you receive. If something smells phishy, it probably is.”
Kaspersky is a global cybersecurity company founded in 1997. Kaspersky’s deep threat intelligence and security expertise are constantly transforming into innovative security solutions and services to protect businesses, critical infrastructure, governments and consumers around the globe.
The company’s comprehensive security portfolio includes leading endpoint protection and a number of specialized security solutions and services to fight sophisticated and evolving digital threats.
Ghana, UK Sign $1.6bn Bilateral Trade Deal
By Adedapo Adesanya
Ghana and the United Kingdom have signed a trade agreement worth $1.6 billion in one of the latest bilateral deals since Britain exited the European Union (EU).
In an agreement signed yesterday, the terms will allow duty-free and quota-free access for Ghana to the UK market and preferential tariff reductions for UK exporters to the Ghanaian market.
It means Ghanian products such as bananas, tinned tuna and cocoa can be exported to Britain without tariffs.
Before the UK left the European trade bloc, Britain set up UK Economic Partnerships with 16 African countries so it could continue deals it already had while it was in the EU.
They are the same pacts as what the EU offers Africa, which is African countries do not pay tariffs or duties on exports to the UK.
However, Ghana was exempted from that list, subjecting Ghanian importers to heavy tariffs and extra paperwork.
The UK government said Ghana’s largest exports to Britain include mineral fuels and oil, preparations of fish, fruit, cocoa and cocoa preparations.
“The agreement will enter into effect following the completion of relevant internal procedures required in both Ghana and the UK,” both governments said in the statement.
The UK has said it sees Africa’s potential and showed this when British Prime Minister, Mr Boris Johnson skipped the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos to host the UK-Africa investment summit in 2020 where deals worth almost $8 billion were announced.
The country showed its commitment by signing a trade deal with Egypt in December. The agreement will allow British businesses and consumers to benefit from continued preferential access to the market, which will help boost vital trade and investment.
In addition to securing trade, the UK noted that it will strengthen its relationship with Egypt and building co-operation on important issues including education, the environment and human rights.
The total trade on goods and services between the UK and Egypt was worth £3.5 billion in 2019, which the country says it will expand.
Critics have noted that despite this, the UK is likely to prioritise deals with the EU, United States, China, South Korea and Australia ahead of Africa.
UN Seeks $266m for East African Refugees
By Ahmed Rahma
The United Nations on Tuesday appealed for $266 million to help feed more than three million refugees and asylum seekers across East Africa, suffering extra hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in a joint statement stated that lockdowns and other measures to contain the contagion have made it more difficult for refugees to get food or earn money.
“We’ve never had such a terrible funding situation for refugees,” said WFP’s regional director for East Africa, Mr Michael Dunford, adding that $266 million was needed for the next six months just to cover refugees’ minimum needs.
The UNHCR estimates almost three-quarters of some 4.7 million refugees living in the 11 countries where it works in the region do not have enough to eat.
“The pandemic has been devastating for everyone, but for refugees even more so,” said UNHCR’s Clementine Nkweta-Salami. “Unless more funds are made available, thousands of refugees including children will not have enough to eat.”
She said refugees faced with food rationing and cash cuts are already turning to “negative coping strategies” including skipping meals, selling assets, child labour and increased domestic violence.
“There is often a desperation and a feeling of no alternative,” she said.
The funding shortfall has led the WFP to slash its monthly assistance for refugees by more than half in Rwanda, and make big cuts in countries including Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan.
“We are deeply concerned that if cuts continue, (refugees) will be faced with a very difficult decision: stay in the camps where food and nutrition security is deteriorating or consider risking going back when it is unsafe,” Mr Dunford said.
Facebook Partners German Media on News Contents
By Adedapo Adesanya
Popular social media giant, Facebook, will start showing news contents from numerous German publishers and media outlets on a dedicated part of its site from May.
In an online news conference, Mr Jesper Doub, the Director for News Partnerships in Europe said, “We’re going to invest about a billion dollars in Facebook News worldwide over the next three years.”
“Facebook News in Germany is part of that,” he added.
Although he didn’t specify how much individual publishers will be paid, he noted that it was important for publishers to partner with Facebook so that they can be remunerated for content linked to on the site.
He, however, clarified that the content does not have to be produced especially for Facebook.
“What’s important here is that content itself doesn’t end up on Facebook, but we put links to the publishers’ offerings,” Mr Doub stressed.
According to Facebook, partners so far include Germany’s Spiegel news magazine, the Funke Media Group and Hamburg-based publishing house Gruner + Jahr, which belongs to the Bertelsmann Group.
Mr Doub described Facebook News as “a long-term collaboration”, adding that, “We believe it will take several years before the product is really good.”
Facebook News was launched in the United States in 2020 and was recently introduced in the United Kingdom.
In Australia, Facebook agreed last week to support publishers of its choice after a tough battle with the government there about paying for content.
The row had briefly prompted Facebook to ban news content from its platform.
Ghana’s President, Wife Receive COVID-19 Vaccine
Ghana’s first citizen, Mr Nano Akufo-Addo and his wife, Mrs Rebecca Akufo, have received the COVID-19 vaccine, signifying the beginning of the vaccination in the country.
According to reports, the duo got vaccinated at the 37 Military Hospital in Accra, Ghana on Monday, March 1, 2021.
Before taking the shot, President said, “I decided to take it [the vaccine] publicly to clear all doubts and urge everyone to also accept the vaccine.”
“It’s important to state that this vaccine is safe by being the first to have it. So, everybody in Ghana should feel comfortable about taking the vaccine. It is important that everybody at the end of the day is vaccinated. That is our objective,” Mr Akufo-Addo said.
The president called on Ghanaians not to be complacent but rather continue to observe the necessary safety protocols in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All the other protocols remain in place until we are satisfied that the virus finally disappears from Ghana,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, and his wife, Mrs Samira Bawumia, are also expected to be inoculated later in the day at a different health facility.
It is important to note that while vaccination commenced today in Ghana, Nigeria is yet to get her own vaccines.
Business Post earlier reported today that the federal government has opened a portal for the registration of vaccination in Nigeria. The African giant expects its vaccines on Tuesday. The type is the one produced by AstraZeneca and nearly 4 million doses are expected.
Okonjo-Iweala Resumes as WTO Director-General
By Ahmed Rahma
The newly-elected Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has assumed office today, March 1, 2021.
The former Nigerian finance minister, the first woman and African to be in that position, is the organisation’s seventh DG.
Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, whose tenure as the DG will end on August 31, 2025, revealed her plans to work with other members of the organisation to restructure the global trade body.
“Some WTO rules and procedures also need to be revisited, including the procedure for appointing director-general,” she noted in her acceptance speech.
The new WTO boss added that the trade body’s rulebook needed to reflect 21st-century realities such as e-commerce, the digital economy, and the pandemic.
The lengthy selection process ended up with Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, who spent 25 years at the World Bank, to lead the body by the WTO’s 164 members on February 15.
The council’s consensus made her appointment possible.
The process was hampered by the United States’ objection under former President Donald Trump, despite the approval of council members in October 2020.
Her election has been described as a welcome development because of her experience at the World Bank. She is believed to be the right person to lead the WTO.
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