IMF pronounces Bulgaria’s banks safe just two weeks before Bank Run

Friday, 11 July 2014

Head in Hands

Earlier this summer, IMF bureaucrats went to Sofia, Bulgaria to study the country’s economic progress.

And roughly a month ago, they released an official report which stated, among other things, that Bulgarian banks are “stable and liquid.”

Talk about epic timing. Because less than two weeks later, Bulgaria’s banking system was in the throes of a full-blown crisis.

There was a run on two of the nation’s largest banks—several hundred million dollars had been withdrawn in a matter of hours.

And the Bulgarian central bank had to step in and take over both of them or risk a collapse in the entire system.

This is the modern miracle of fractional reserve banking. When you make a deposit, your bank only holds a tiny percentage of that cash. Continue reading “IMF pronounces Bulgaria’s banks safe just two weeks before Bank Run”

Eccentric philanthropist is taking 1,000 homeless New Yorkers out to lunch in the hope it will inspire Wall Street to open its pockets

 EEV Note – If you have any love of country left, do not let this happen

Article Quotes:

 they must sing for their supper – the patriotic ditty Learn from the Good Model Citizen Lei Feng, named after the supposedly selfless People’s Liberation Army soldier hailed by Mao Zedong.

– Overseeing proceedings will be 200 Chinese volunteers recruited from Columbia and New York universities dressed in green military uniforms.

– “If I am wealthy enough, I will purchase CNN,” he said. “I hope Hong Kong tycoons can lend me money to complete this deal and let’s together promote ‘positive energy’ worldwide.”


Eccentric philanthropist Chen Guangbiao on a mission in New York (and he sings too)

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 June, 2014, 10:41pm

Alice Yan


Chen Guangbiao says he has a big heart. “Every single cent I earn is earned through honest and legal means.” Photo: Simon Song


Controversial Chinese philanthropist Chen Guangbiao arrives in New York tomorrow bursting with ideas for how he can help America’s poor and the country’s ailing newspaper industry. But first he has some requirements. Continue reading “Eccentric philanthropist is taking 1,000 homeless New Yorkers out to lunch in the hope it will inspire Wall Street to open its pockets”

The world’s worst countries for workers – U.S. is now a 4 on a scale of 1 to 5, ( 5 being the worst )

New ITUC Global Rights Index – The world’s worst countries for workers

 19 May 2014

A global leaderboard in the race to protect workers’ rights was released today at the ITUC World Congress in Berlin. The ITUC Global Rights Index ranks 139 countries against 97 internationally recognised indicators to assess where workers’ rights are best protected, in law and in practice.

“Countries such as Denmark and Uruguay led the way through their strong labour laws, but perhaps surprisingly, the likes of Greece, the United States and Hong Kong, lagged behind,” said ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow. “A country’s level of development proved to be a poor indicator of whether it respected basic rights to bargain collectively, strike for decent conditions, or simply join a union at all.” Continue reading “The world’s worst countries for workers – U.S. is now a 4 on a scale of 1 to 5, ( 5 being the worst )”

Hong Kong issues Vietnam travel warning after mobs torch Chinese factories

Beijing and Hong Kong authorities warn against travel to Vietnam after protesters, angry over oil drilling in disputed waters, run amok

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 12:23pm

Denise Tsang and Agencies in Hanoi

The Hong Kong government issued an amber travel warning for Vietnam after protesters there vandalised hundreds of foreign-owned factories and torched at least 15 of them.

The riots followed a large protest by workers on Tuesday against China’s recent placement of an oil rig in disputed waters around the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Continue reading “Hong Kong issues Vietnam travel warning after mobs torch Chinese factories”

Shanghai court seizes Japanese ore carrier in second world war reparations dispute

UPDATED : Monday, 21 April, 2014, 6:24am

A court in Shanghai has seized a large Japanese ore carrier at a port in Zhejiang province to enforce a verdict seeking compensation for the sinking of two civilian Chinese cargo ships during the second world war. Continue reading “Shanghai court seizes Japanese ore carrier in second world war reparations dispute”

EU members consider selling residency to attract wealthy Chinese

Financially troubled EU countries are reaching out to wealthy foreigners – particularly from China – to offer residency in return for investment

UPDATED : Thursday, 06 February, 2014, 3:28am
Benjamin Robertson and Patrick Boehler
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Illustration: Sarene Chan

Jason Wu of Shanghai says he loves Portugal’s scenery and climate. He admires Europe’s education system. He’s so enamoured that he bought a 1,200-square-foot apartment in Lisbon’s riverside Parque das Nacoes district for €520,000 (HK$5.5 million), which gave him another benefit: permanent residency in the European Union. Continue reading “EU members consider selling residency to attract wealthy Chinese”

Mexican cartel smuggling cocaine into Hong Kong amid booming demand for drugs / ‘unholy alliance’ between notorious Sinaloa cartel and local triads

EEV CONNECTION – US government had a deal with Mexican drug cartel Sinaloa that allowed the group to smuggle billion of dollars of drugs in return for information on its rival cartels ( Link ) . If confirmed, corruption is now endemic at the highest levels of Government

Fears of ‘unholy alliance’ between notorious Sinaloa cartel and local triads to take advantage of booming demand for cocaine and ‘Ice’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 February, 2014, 4:14am
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A 567kg cocaine seizure in Tuen Mun in 2011. Photo: Dickson Lee

One of the world’s largest and most notorious drug cartels is targeting Hong Kong as it seeks to expand its operations into lucrative new markets, the Sunday Morning Post has learned. Continue reading “Mexican cartel smuggling cocaine into Hong Kong amid booming demand for drugs / ‘unholy alliance’ between notorious Sinaloa cartel and local triads”

ChinaLeaks: Chinese elite’s offshore accounts exposed in unprecedented leak

Family members of Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping, along with Tencent billionaire and China’s richest woman, are among 20,000 people in Hong Kong, the mainland and Taiwan whose offshore holdings have been exposed

UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 11:10am

Patrick Boehler


A combined images of some famous billionaires mentioned in the ICIJ report. Photo: SCMP Pictures

Relatives of at least five current and former members of China’s top leadership have been exposed as holders of offshore accounts, as part of a revelatory report by investigative journalists.

The leak, part of a package of 2.5 million files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, points to nearly 22,000 offshore clients with addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong and 16,000 offshore clients from Taiwan. Continue reading “ChinaLeaks: Chinese elite’s offshore accounts exposed in unprecedented leak”

Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite

offshore leaks china
        Illustration: Tim Meko

Files shed light on nearly 22,000 tax haven clients from Hong Kong and mainland China.

Note: A Chinese version of this story is available here

Close relatives of China’s top leaders have held secretive offshore companies in tax havens that helped shroud the Communist elite’s wealth, a leaked cache of documents reveals.

The confidential files include details of a real estate company co-owned by current President Xi Jinping’s brother-in-law and British Virgin Islands companies set up by former Premier Wen Jiabao’s son and also by his son-in-law.

Nearly 22,000 offshore clients with addresses in mainland China and Hong Kong appear in the files obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.  Among them are some of China’s most powerful men and women — including at least 15 of China’s richest, members of the National People’s Congress and executives from state-owned companies entangled in corruption scandals. Continue reading “Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite”

China tells Japan it would ‘consider cancelling air zone in 44 years’

UPDATED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 6:04pm

Chris Luo

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Yang Yujun, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defence, briefs reporters at a recent Beijing news conference. Photo: CNS

China’s defence ministry on Thursday hit back forcefully at Japan’s objections to its newly-established Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea that covers long-disputed islets claimed by both countries.

“Japan has absolutely no right to make irresponsible comments regarding China setting up the East China Sea ADIZ,” ministry spokesman Yang Yujun told media in a routine press conference, according to China’s Ministry of National Defence website.

Continue reading “China tells Japan it would ‘consider cancelling air zone in 44 years’”

China’s influence over the media growing globally, says US think tank

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 9:36pm

Patrick Boehler

  • kenya-africa-china-media_ken11_30762975.jpg
Africa Live presenter Beatrice Marshall says that through her news show Africans “are telling the story from our perspective”. Photo: AFP

China’s government and state-owned companies are putting more pressure on media outlets around the world to prevent and punish reporting critical of Beijing, a US-based think tank has said.

“These measures obstruct newsgathering, prevent the publication of undesirable content, and punish overseas media outlets that fail to heed restrictions,” the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC writes in a report released on Tuesday.

“Indirect pressure [is] applied via proxies – including advertisers, satellite firms, and foreign governments – who take action to prevent or punish the publication of content critical of Beijing,” it said.

The report by the US government-sponsored institution documented a series of efforts by Chinese government diplomats to stop critical coverage in France, Germany, Britain, Indonesia, and New Zealand. It also linked the spending of advertising revenue by Chinese companies and access to the Chinese market with publications’ adherence to the party line.

Last year, the websites of the International Herald Tribune and Bloomberg were blocked in China after the two media outlets reported on the extensive family fortunes of former premier Wen Jiabao and current President Xi Jinping. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have both traced attempts to hack their networks to China.

Sarah Cook, the author of the study and a senior research analyst at the Freedom House think tank in Washington DC, said Hong Kong has been most affected. “The most notable change under [President Xi Jinping’s administration] has been the reportedly renewed commitment to ‘regain the Hong Kong media’ and subsequent personnel changes, both at the Liaison Office and within some pro-Beijing news outlets, where there is closer scrutiny by internal censors to what is published,” she said.

Hong Kong’s standing in the think tank’s annual freedom-of-the-press index has declined over the past years, falling from 30 to 35 on its 100 points ranking, in which zero denotes completely free and 96 equates to the status of the media in North Korea. In 2008, Freedom House downgraded its assessment of the SAR’s press from “free” to “partly free”.

Chinese-language news outlets outside China have also taken more advertorials and free content from Chinese state media, which have replaced Hong Kong outlets as the pre-eminent source of information, the report said.

“Although living in Australia, ‘new migrants’ from China are still surrounded by the Chinese media dominated by Chinese government views and narratives,” it quoted Feng Chongyi, professor at the University of Technology Sydney’s China Research Centre.

In Canada, Beijing-friendly Chinese-language papers have an inflated circulation, giving them an unfair advantage when obtaining revenue through advertising, Jack Jia, founder of the Toronto-based twice-weekly Chinese News told the researcher.

For Cook, much is at stake: “Those of us outside China, are deprived of potentially important information about a major trading partner, emerging health and environmental crises, and an accurate understanding of the scale and intensity of human rights abuses.”


China and The Art of (losing) War

October 20, 2013 06:05

For centuries, China’s leaders have relied on Sun Tzu’s masterpiece of strategy. The result? Tragedy, weakness and defeat to inferior forces.

Chinese leaders sun tzu art of war
These traditional Russian Matryoshka dolls feature Chinese leaders since the overthrow of the imperial Qing dynasty in 1911, through 2002. Sinologist Edward Luttwak argues that the country has suffered immensely due to its rulers dependence on Sun Tzu’s strategy masterpiece, The Art of War.  (Goh Chai Hin/AFP/Getty Images)

HONG KONG — There’s no question that Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” is a brilliant strategy manual.

Everyone from Oracle’s Larry Ellison to the New England Patriots’ Coach Belichick has cited the ancient general’s maxims.

Even Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf was a Sun Tzu devotee.

But when it comes to China’s foreign policy, Sun Tzu’s theories is leading China astray.

That’s one of the intriguing arguments put forward by Edward Luttwak, a China expert and military strategist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in his new book, “The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy.

Luttwak argues that by bullying its neighbors and resorting too often to deception, China is suffering the shortcomings of ancient strategic ideas. These practices, he says, have generated resentment toward China.

With a recent Pew Poll showing that only 5 percent of Japanese and 37 percent of Americans have a positive view of China — down 24 and 14 percentage points, respectively, from previous surveys — it’s clear that something is wrong with China’s diplomacy.

In a conversation with GlobalPost, Luttwak explains why he thinks Chinese leaders would be wise to shed Sun Tzu’s theories if they want to build better relations with the outside world. (The interview has been edited and condensed by GlobalPost.)

GlobalPost: One of the arguments in your book is that Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” is an obstacle to China’s foreign affairs. Why is that?

Edward Luttwak: This literature, which China’s leaders greatly admire, induces a greatly mistaken sense of superior skill. They are convinced that it is full of secrets for success. But China’s history is in fact a long history of defeats. That is ignored by them as they revel in the subtlety and complexity and tricks of this literature.

This is like someone who is a terrible driver who imagines he is a superb racecar driver, but he cannot get out of the garage.

In what ways have these sources led China astray internationally?

The ancient sources are full of suggestions for tricks and manipulations. These are clever, and work within the same culture, but do not work inter-culturally. Picture Manchu nomads on horseback approaching Ming dynasty generals who are busy quoting Sun Tzu. What do they do? They conquer them and rule them for 300 years. That’s the Qing dynasty.

Then think of the Mongols. Before that it was two Turkic dynasties. The Central Asians and people of the northern steppes knew all about diplomacy and interacting with other powers. And therefore they completely outmaneuvered the Chinese. For the last 1,500 years, the Chinese have been more under foreign rule than Chinese rule.

This is what you learn from Sun Tzu.

You don’t use military power to destroy the enemy at great cost, you use it as a clever means to get him to do something you want. Just as in the Senkaku islands, you don’t send an invasion fleet, which would start a war. You use clever maneuvers designed to intimidate and win without a war.

The effect of these has been to mobilize Japanese in a serious and structural way, to turn off the trend of getting closer to China, to the benefit of the US. They are basically inducing Japan to militarize against China — the opposite effect of what they wanted.

Tell us some other examples?

[China’s surprise attack on India in October 1962] is a very explicit example.

When Mao did it, he said, this is how we do it: We are not going to invade India, we will not destroy India. We are just going to follow the proper techniques of Sun Tzu: You don’t use force to crush the enemy, you use it to intimidate and nudge them back to the negotiating table. But it had the opposite effect, so that today the border dispute is still not resolved.

You also see it in the current Senkaku dispute. The idea there is that you get someone to withdraw by marching and displaying your army in front of his fortress.

And in dealing with Vietnam, China is affirming its maritime claims by sending Chinese fishing fleets. They are all expressions of this mentality, which is the idea that you win against other countries by clever tricks.

These tricks have turned the Japanese from potential clients into desperate enemies. They have turned the Philippines from rejecting American bases to wanting them back. Even the Indonesians and the Indians, who have really no reason for hostility, China has managed to increase this antagonism.

What are the strengths of Sun Tzu’s ideas? In other words, where are they still applicable?

They are useful. They have absolute usefulness in intra-Chinese politics. They teach a lot of important lessons. Mao could use them to fight Chiang [Kai Shek] and Chiang to fight Mao. And for members of the Standing Committee who are trying to outmaneuver each other, the ideas are very useful.

But not for foreigners who respond very differently. If the Senkakus belonged to a Chinese kingdom, the strategy would work.

What would be a more effective strategy for China internationally?

If you want to be a global power you must have amicable relations with your neighbors. If China understood that, it would wonder, ‘How does the US do it?’ The US does it by deferring to its neighbors — because of its superior strength —  and acting as if it were not at all superior.

You have to take your power out of the interaction. When the US president talks with the Mexican president, the fact that the US could invade is taken entirely out of the discussion.

With Canada, the imbalance of power is entirely irrelevant. A few years ago we got into a timber war, and at no point did Canadians believe that the US would push it around.

To what extent is American diplomacy suffering from a lack of understanding about the Chinese viewpoint on foreign affairs?

I think that Americans grossly overestimate the relative strength of Chinese diplomacy because they are not aware of the strength of US diplomacy. They see correctly China’s superb ability to make wealth from earth and water. But they are always surprised by China’s incompetence in dealing with foreign powers.

What was America’s strength? It was having discovered — and it was a discovery — that you become very powerful by acting very weak.

The US was not born with this. The US fought with the Canadians, it fought with Mexico. It was only later that Americans learned that in dealing with all its weaker neighbors and allies, that it has to offset its strengths by very humble behavior.

See the 60 year history of NATO, where the US was deferring to Luxembourg. They kept NATO together not by imposing their power and authority, but by the opposite: By accommodating, by treating even the weakest member as someone important.

By listening to them.

George Osborne: ‘Second-rate Britain’ needs to be more like China


Chancellor dismisses suggestions that China has a ‘sweatshop’ economy and wishes Britain would be more like the communist country

Lewis Smith

Friday, 18 October 2013

Britain is no longer great, is defeatist and unambitious and needs to be more like China, the Chancellor has said.

In an astonishing trashing of his country’s attitudes, George Osborne added that Britain had lost its “can do” approach and had been relegated to the status of a “second-rate power”.

He was speaking at the end of a five-day trip to China in which he had been awed by the speed and scale of China’s economic development.

Dismissing suggestions that China has a “sweatshop” economy, he said he wished Britain would be more like the communist country.

“I also feel a bit like, my God, we’ve really got to up our game as a country, and the whole of the West has to understand what is happening here in Asia,” the Daily Telegraph reported him as saying.

He claimed, as he waited in Hong Kong for a flight home, that the positive attitude of the country during the Victorian era and while Margaret Thatcher was prime minister has been lost.

“I do think there’s an ambition in the country and a sense of optimism and ‘can do’ which our country had in the Victorian age and had at other points in our history,” he said.

“Somewhere along the line in Britain there were bits that were great about British industry that we allowed to wither.”

He added: “There has been at times in Britain a sense of defeatism. You saw that in the late 1970s when everyone was resigned to the decline of empire and Britain being the sick man of Europe. Margaret Thatcher turned that around. You saw that three years ago when everyone thought we couldn’t tackle our debt problems and the financial crisis had relegated us to a second-rate power.”

While criticising Britain’s failures he maintained that, with the help of the Coalition, the country is beginning to improve and might one day be able match the energy shown by China and “be the best”.

In a week in which he has opened the door to China investing in new nuclear power in Britain, he said attitudes to the communist state must change.

The Chancellor described China as a country with an ancient civilisation and one that should be treated with respect. He said: “China is not a sweatshop. China is different. If we have just a black and white view of China as a communist country of cheap manufacturing, and the only thing we want out of them is access to their market, then we are missing out in a very big way as a country. China is what it is. And we have to either be here or be nowhere.”

Meanwhile the Chancellor  expects to make a decision about breaking up Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) imminently.

The Chancellor said he was looking at hiving off weaker parts of the state-controlled firm into a “bad bank”.

He told the Daily Telegraph the issue was “top of his in-tray”.

“We are looking at the case for a bad bank and, if not a bad bank, what is the alternative strategy that really gets on top of the problems in that bank and goes on being what I want it to be which is a bank supporting the British economy,” Mr Osborne said.

However, he stressed the Government was not currently “close to the stage of being able to sell RBS shares”.

“RBS was a much more complex bank,” he said. “To be fair to management past and present, it was a bank that was in a lot more trouble.”

Mr Osborne also said he was considering offering state-owned shares in Lloyds to the general public.

“We are now looking actively at a retail offer for the next tranche of Lloyds shares,” he said.

US army developing ‘Iron Man’ body armour for soldiers of the future

Superhuman suits worn by comic book heroes may not be science fiction if US army scientists succeed in developing advanced body armour

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 October, 2013, 6:15am

Agence France-Presse      in Washington


US Army Sergeant Matthew Oliver showcases an example of futuristic soldier armour at the Chicago Auto Show last year. Photo: SMP

US army researchers are working on building hi-tech body armour that would give soldiers “superhuman strength” in a real-life version of the suit featured in Iron Man films.

The blueprint for the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) would include an exoskeleton to allow a soldier to carry heavy equipment, built-in computing power, beefed up protection to stop bullets and a system to monitor vital signs, defence officials said.

“Some of the potential technologies planned for TALOS research and development include advanced armour, situational awareness, command and control computers, power management systems, and enhanced mobility exoskeletons,” according to a US Army statement.

US Special Operations Command put out the call last month for research papers on potential technologies that a “smart” combat suit could incorporate.

The request for “white papers” will extend through September 2014, and then defence officials will weigh how to proceed while taking into account growing pressures on the Pentagon budget, said army spokesman Roger Teel.

The new combat armour might also employ “liquid armour,” reminiscent of the Terminator films, though the technology is still in an early stage of development, Teel said.

The liquid would transform into a solid if a magnetic or electrical charge was applied.

“There is a liquid armour that they are looking at developing,” said Teel, adding that scientists at MIT were studying the idea. “It could possibly be turned on with a battery switch” to deflect gunfire, he said.

TALOS “is an advanced infantry uniform that promises to provide superhuman strength with greater ballistic protection,” according to an army statement.

In a crude animated demonstration video released by the army on how the combat suit might operate, a soldier in science fiction-inspired gear stands in a doorway as bullets bounce off at close range from an unidentified enemy.

The project’s acronym, TALOS, refers to the automaton of Greek mythology made of bronze that Zeus deploys to safeguard his lover Europa.

Despite previous weapons programmes that came to little, officials say the technologies for the ambitious project are not out of reach, even if they sound more like the stuff of myth or movie.

The concept of providing virtual displays of battlefield forces in a soldier’s helmet screen resembles similar efforts already underway for a sophisticated helmet for pilots flying the new F-35 fighter jet.

As the proposed suit would draw on a range of technical disciplines, the military expects the project to be developed jointly by academia, government scientists and technology firms.

Although the project evokes comparisons with Tony Stark’s superhero suit from the Iron Man movies, no one is claiming the smart armour will enable soldiers to fly. “It’s not going to be all that,” Teel said. “But it’s going to be special.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as ‘Iron Man’ soldiers taking shape in lab.

London to become next offshore yuan trading centre after Hong Kong

    Tuesday, 15 October, 2013 [Updated: 5:32PM]

Reuters in Beijing

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (left) shakes hands with Chinese Vice Premier Ma Kai after a signing ceremony in Beijing on Tuesday. Photo: EPA

China will give London-based investors the right to buy up to 80 billion yuan (HK$101.2 billion) worth of mainland stocks, bonds and money market instruments, making it the next offshore yuan trading centre after Hong Kong.

The agreement, announced by Britain and China in a joint statement on Tuesday, falls under the Renminbi Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor plan, or the RQFII.

This is the first time the RQFII has expanded outside Hong Kong to give investors more avenues to invest yuan and more incentives to hold the currency – an outcome desired by China which wants to turn the renminbi into a widely-traded currency some day.

Today we agreed the next big step in making London a major global centre for trading and now investing the Chinese currency
UK Chancellor George Osborne

In return for the RQFII, the British government has agreed to start talks to allow Chinese banks to set up wholesale units in the United Kingdom, the two governments said.

“The renminbi will now have a firmer footprint in the European market,” ANZ analysts said in a note.

“With the increasing presence of Chinese banks in London, the granting of the RQFII license will strengthen and widen the platform for London to develop the offshore RMB (renminbi) bond market.”

Under the agreement, London and Beijing will also allow for the yuan to be traded against sterling directly, as opposed to going through the dollar, thereby markedly reducing transaction costs.

A handful of countries including Singapore, Frankfurt, Taiwan and Kenya are vying for Beijing’s approval to be a designated centre for clearing yuan trades outside of China in the hope of offering what may be a lucrative financial service. But Chinese analysts have said London is a natural choice given it is as a major centre for global currency trades.

Started in 2011 as a way of enticing investors to hold the yuan, the RQFII now has a global quota of 350 billion yuan, of which 134 billion yuan is utilised.

“Today we agreed the next big step in making London a major global centre for trading and now investing the Chinese currency,” said UK Chancellor George Osborne, who is in Beijing.

Tuesday’s agreement comes after Britain and China agreed to set up a currency swap line of up to 200 billion yuan in July in a move aimed at boosting trade and financial stability.

China last week also signed a 300 billion yuan swap agreement with the European Central Bank in the second-largest of such deals to date.

Friends of EEV:

Printing Hong Kong Near Convention Center Wan Chai North: Brochures

Laptops Snowden took to Hong Kong, Russia were a “diversion”

Source: Reuters – Fri, 11 Oct 2013 04:42 PM

Author: Reuters

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON, Oct 11 (Reuters) – The four laptop computers that former U.S. spy contractor Edward Snowden carried with him to Hong Kong and Moscow were a “diversion” and contained no secrets, according to an ex-CIA official who met with Snowden in Russia this week.

The classified documents that Snowden had downloaded from the U.S. National Security Agency were stored on smaller devices, such as hard drives and thumb drives, and they have not been turned over to the Russian or Chinese authorities, said Ray McGovern, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst.

On Wednesday, Snowden held a six-hour meeting in Moscow with McGovern and three other former U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials who have all become critics of government surveillance programs.

Snowden, 30, is living in a secret location in Russia, beyond the reach of U.S. authorities who want him on espionage charges because he leaked the details of top-secret electronic spying programs to the media.

He had traveled to Hong Kong in May and later, under pressure from China, flew to Moscow.

U.S. officials have said that they were operating on the assumption that any classified materials downloaded by Snowden have fallen into the hands of China and Russia’s spy agencies, though the officials acknowledge they have no proof of this.

McGovern said Snowden made it clear at their Wednesday meeting that there was “nothing on” his laptops.

The former CIA analyst had traveled to Russia to give Snowden an award for “Integrity in Intelligence.” The other Americans who went with him were Coleen Rowley, a former FBI agent; Jesselyn Radack, a former Justice Department official; and Thomas Drake, a former NSA official who the U.S. government had prosecuted for allegedly leaking secrets about an NSA project called “Trailblazer.”

In a telephone interview from Moscow, McGovern said Snowden told him that Drake was the “model” for his decision to leak U.S. secrets. The government eventually dropped all but a relatively minor charge against Drake, to which he pleaded guilty.

McGovern said Snowden had “no regrets at all and he said it very convincingly.”

Snowden is “well protected” but also said he “can do pretty much what I like” and can “get out and about,” according to McGovern.

He declined to discuss where and how they met with Snowden, but he said that they had to pass through metal detectors before the meeting and that Snowden appeared to be attended by some kind of official Russian security detail.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his close collaborator Sarah Harrison, a British journalism student who has been helping Snowden, played a major role in arranging for the meeting, McGovern said.

Harrison remained with Snowden as he spent several weeks in legal limbo in a Moscow airport transit zone, and stayed in Russia after he was granted temporary asylum.

McGovern said that at his Moscow hotel, he met Lon Snowden, Edward’s father, who traveled this week to try to see his son. He said Edward Snowden indicated an eagerness to re-connect with his father.

The Russian news agency Interfax on Friday reported that Edward and Lon Snowden had “quite an emotional meeting” at an undisclosed location. No other details were available and Anatoly Kucherena, the Russian lawyer who has been assisting Edward Snowden, could not be reached for comment.

‘Catastrophe’ as 114 million Chinese suffer diabetes thanks to economic boom

Shocking survey shows 11.6pc of people suffer from rampant diet-related disease, with around one third of the world’s diabetics living in China

Thursday, 05 September, 2013 [Updated: 7:42AM]

Bloomberg and Lo Wei

  • 08d8bcc4d1492d8da026f9c5d08814f6.jpg
Overweight children at a fitness camp in Wuhan. Diabetes in Asians is triggered at a lower weight than in the West. Photo: Xinhua

About 11.6 per cent of adults in mainland China, or 114 million people, suffer from diabetes, a comprehensive nationwide survey on the disease shows.

It means that almost one in three diabetes sufferers globally is in China, a development one world expert on the disease called a catastrophe. It is now more common in China than in the US, where 11.3 per cent of adults are diabetic.

The number of diabetics on the mainland shot up by 22 million, the equivalent of Australia’s population, between 2007 and 2010, according to the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Rapid changes in lifestyle are the key factor. American diabetics are usually overweight, but those on the mainland are not, the researchers found.

“Diabetes may have reached an alert level in the Chinese general population, with the potential for a major epidemic of diabetes-related complications, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, and chronic kidney disease,” wrote the research team, led by Guang Ning from the laboratory for endocrine and metabolic diseases at the Ministry of Health.

“Poor nutrition in utero and in early life combined with overnutrition in later life may contribute to the accelerated epidemic of diabetes in China.”

The report is based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of 98,658 adults in 2010. A similar survey in 2007 pegged diabetes prevalence at 9.7 per cent, or 92.4 million adults.

Almost two-thirds of patients treated for diabetes did not have adequate blood-sugar control, the authors found. For every mainlander diagnosed with diabetes, at least two more will be unaware they have it.

“China is now among the countries with the highest diabetes prevalence in Asia and has the largest absolute disease burden of diabetes in the world,” the researchers wrote.

Dr Chan Wing-bun, clinical director of Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Diabetes and Endocrine Centre, said: “The most alarming part of the finding is the extremely rapid increase.”

Chan said that when a poor society becomes richer, changes in diet and lifestyle mean that many people will develop diabetes. After a while, people become health-conscious and the rate falls.

Changing diet is a factor in the increase in diabetes. Photo: AFPHe took Hong Kong as an example. The rate increased in the 1980s and 1990s, reaching about 10 per cent. But the most recent survey, conducted in 2004, saw a drop to seven per cent.

Asians have been shown to be more prone to diabetes than Westerners. Scientists have suggested that insulin cell function is weaker in Asians, said Chan.

The average body mass index, or BMI, in diabetics in the study was 23.7, compared with 28.7 in the US.

As in the rest of Asia, the young and middle-aged were most at risk, the study found. Pre-diabetes, or those on the verge of developing diabetes, was present in 40 per cent of adults aged 18 to 29, and 47 per cent among those 30 to 39.

“The alarmingly high figures for pre-diabetes are very scary,” said Juliana Chan, a professor of medicine and therapeutics at Chinese University who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. “A lot of people think diabetes is a disease that mainly affects the elderly, but we have a very unhealthy young population that may lose their ability to work in the prime of their lives, and this would also have an impact on their families and on society,” she said.

Paul Zimmet, honorary president of the International Diabetes Federation, said diabetes in China had become a “catastrophe”. He said the increase in the prevalence of diabetes in the country was “unparalleled globally”.

“The booming economy in China has brought with it a medical problem which could bankrupt the health system,” said Zimmet. “The big question is the capacity in China to deal with a problem of such magnitude.”

China’s diabetes-related medical costs were estimated at 173.4 billion yuan (HK$214 billion) a year in 2010. The rising trend has strained health services and helped fuel growth in drug sales of 20 per cent a year.

Costs are expected to skyrocket in the next 10 to 20 years as the millions of sufferers seek treatment and care for related ailments such as kidney failure, stroke and blindness.

Harry’s view

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as 114 m mainlanders hit by diabetes epidemic.

Nepotism is giving way to elite breeding

Source: Mon, 26 Aug 2013 04:29 PM

Graduates set next to the Chinese flag during a graduation ceremony at Fudan University in Shanghai June 28, 2013 REUTERS/Aly Song


(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

LONDON, Aug 26 (Reuters Breakingviews) – The role of family ties is changing in modern economies. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is looking at an example of old fashioned nepotism – some JPMorgan JPM.N hires in China which might amount to bribery under U.S. law. Whatever happens in this case, a new style of family power – “elite breeding” – is flourishing around the world.

The Chinese economy is developing rapidly. Still, despite three generations of management by the bureaucratic Chinese Communist Party and two decades of few-holds-barred capitalism, family connections remain crucial. In an online survey for the China Youth Daily newspaper, 80 percent of the respondents said that professional success depended primarily on winning the “competition of family background”.

The tendency to follow in relatives’ footsteps now looks like unjust nepotism. But before the advent of bureaucratic meritocracies, impersonal institutions and modern individualism, it was standard practice. In pre-industrial economies, children usually took on the land and trades of their parents and merchants often worked only with kith and kin. The economy was like the rest of society; political power and social status were also usually inherited.

In industrial societies, the attitude towards families has become much more ambivalent. Genes don’t appear in job descriptions, and most people are in favour of social mobility – children ending up richer or poorer than their parents. The advent of universal schooling has given everyone a chance, and many have taken it.

This meritocracy has made steady progress. Less than half a century ago, a distinguished lineage or a family fortune was often enough to gain admission to leading universities. That now happens rarely, even if the children of big donors may face lower hurdles for admission than poorer rivals. And these days, in developed countries a phone call from Dad can rarely secure more than a temporary internship anywhere other than at the family firm.

Miles Corak, a Canadian professor, studied what happens to the sons of American men whose incomes were in the bottom 10 percent. One third of them end up in the top half of their generation’s earners.

However, family still matters. Corak also notes that a quarter of the sons of the top 10 percent of best-paid American males end up in the top 10 percent of their own generation’s income rankings. Many studies suggest that social mobility in most developed countries is declining.

There are two distinct worries about the resurgence of family-as-destiny economies. The first is a sort of negative nepotism: the children of the poorest members of society are increasingly likely to follow their parents in lives of economic non-achievement. That’s not just down to social prejudice. Rather, these are children who are most likely to be poorly educated, and education is increasingly a prerequisite for even modest economic success.

The second worry is that the United States, United Kingdom and other developed economies are becoming more like the Chinese young people’s image of China – lands where almost all of the best jobs are reserved for the kids of the elite.

There’s something to that, but in richer countries traditional nepotism – jobs for my kids or for my friend’s kids – is a relatively small part of the story. What successful parents offer instead are the ingredients of success. They put their children in the best, most expensive, schools and push them to do well. The young people travel, learn many skills, socialise with other privileged families and run into members of the elite from around the world. Privilege isn’t inherited directly, but it might as well be.

Indeed, the quasi-nepotism of elite breeding may be more troubling than the simple class prejudice it supplants, because the new meritocratic approach cannot be dismissed as unfair. It is reasonable for companies to want employees who are not only bright and skilled, but have the right connections and a global feel. By those fairly objective standards, hard working young people with every advantage usually beat out equally talented rivals who did not have personalised tutoring and summer camps on another continent. No wonder that in China and elsewhere, privilege is increasingly inherited.


The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is looking at whether the bank’s Hong Kong office hired the children of powerful heads of state-owned companies in China with the express purpose of winning underwriting business and other contracts, a person familiar with the matter said. The SEC is questioning JPMorgan’s relationships with at least two families in China that may have legitimate explanations, the source said.

The Pre-Snowden NSA leaks – Bumblehive, Operation Thinthread, Going Dark, Stingray, Trapwire, Total Information Awarness, etc..

Editors Note ( Ralph Turchiano ) – This is a requested Re-post from 2013

The Intelligence community began to lose control prior to Snowden. The Boston Bombing event resulted in over zealous Intelligence Consultants revealing trade secrets. Then Following the AP, and Fox having their communications compromised Snowden became a well timed distraction.

Below are just some of the leaks that occurred months prior to Snowden. In my humble opinion there was an incredible disintegration of intelligence integrity many months in advance of any Wikileaks revelations. So much so, Snowdens impact was not highly relevant to the damage that was already done. If anything, it was a well timed distraction.

Low-power Wi-Fi signal tracks movement — even behind walls

Contact: Sarah McDonnell 617-253-8923 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

‘Wi-Vi’ is based on a concept similar to radar and sonar imaging

CAMBRIDGE, MA — The comic-book hero Superman uses his X-ray vision to spot bad guys lurking behind walls and other objects. Now we could all have X-ray vision, thanks to researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

Researchers have long attempted to build a device capable of seeing people through walls. However, previous efforts to develop such a system have involved the use of expensive and bulky radar technology that uses a part of the electromagnetic spectrum only available to the military.

Now a system being developed by Dina Katabi, a professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and her graduate student Fadel Adib, could give all of us the ability to spot people in different rooms using low-cost Wi-Fi technology. “We wanted to create a device that is low-power, portable and simple enough for anyone to use, to give people the ability to see through walls and closed doors,” Katabi says.

The system, called “Wi-Vi,” is based on a concept similar to radar and sonar imaging.  But in contrast to radar and sonar, it transmits a low-power Wi-Fi signal and uses its reflections to track moving humans. It can do so even if the humans are in closed rooms or hiding behind a wall.

As a Wi-Fi signal is transmitted at a wall, a portion of the signal penetrates through it, reflecting off any humans on the other side. However, only a tiny fraction of the signal makes it through to the other room, with the rest being reflected by the wall, or by other objects. “So we had to come up with a technology that could cancel out all these other reflections, and keep only those from the moving human body,” Katabi says.

Motion detector

To do this, the system uses two transmit antennas and a single receiver. The two antennas transmit almost identical signals, except that the signal from the second receiver is the inverse of the first. As a result, the two signals interfere with each other in such a way as to cancel each other out. Since any static objects that the signals hit — including the wall — create identical reflections, they too are cancelled out by this nulling effect.

In this way, only those reflections that change between the two signals, such as those from a moving object, arrive back at the receiver, Adib says. “So, if the person moves behind the wall, all reflections from static objects are cancelled out, and the only thing registered by the device is the moving human.”

Once the system has cancelled out all of the reflections from static objects, it can then concentrate on tracking the person as he or she moves around the room. Most previous attempts to track moving targets through walls have done so using an array of spaced antennas, which each capture the signal reflected off a person moving through the environment. But this would be too expensive and bulky for use in a handheld device.

So instead Wi-Vi uses just one receiver. As the person moves through the room, his or her distance from the receiver changes, meaning the time it takes for the reflected signal to make its way back to the receiver changes too. The system then uses this information to calculate where the person is at any one time.

Possible uses in disaster recovery, personal safety, gaming

Wi-Vi, being presented at the Sigcomm conference in Hong Kong in August, could be used to help search-and-rescue teams to find survivors trapped in rubble after an earthquake, say, or to allow police officers to identify the number and movement of criminals within a building to avoid walking into an ambush.

It could also be used as a personal safety device, Katabi says: “If you are walking at night and you have the feeling that someone is following you, then you could use it to check if there is someone behind the fence or behind a corner.”

The device can also detect gestures or movements by a person standing behind a wall, such as a wave of the arm, Katabi says. This would allow it to be used as a gesture-based interface for controlling lighting or appliances within the home, such as turning off the lights in another room with a wave of the arm.

Unlike today’s interactive gaming devices, where users must stay in front of the console and its camera at all times, users could still interact with the system while in another room, for example. This could open up the possibility of more complex and interesting games, Katabi says.



Written by Helen Knight, MIT News Office

US Senators Warn of Soviet Revival, Want ‘Consequences’ Over Snowden

Jun. 25, 2013 – 06:00AM   |

WASHINGTON — Senators from both US political parties on Tuesday urged the Obama administration to take steps forcing Moscow to suffer “consequences” for refusing to hand over NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

Republicans and Democrats are fuming about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision against extraditing Snowden, who leaked information about several of Washington’s most classified anti-terrorism surveillance programs to reporters. And they want Putin and Russia to pay.

John McCain, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, told reporters Putin’s decision should lead Obama to order a “re-evaluation” of Washington’s relationship with Moscow.

“A re-evaluation of every aspect of our relationship with Russia, recognizing that Putin is exactly what he is: an apparatchik KGB colonel that has no interest in the same values and principles that we hold. And he is acting in a more erratic and anti-Western [manner] all the time.

“This harkens back to to the [19]60s by them saying that Mr. Snowden is not in Russia,” McCain said. “Technically, because he’s in the transit lounge, that’s true. But it’s old Soviet double speak.”

One of McCain’s Senate GOP “Three Amigos” partners, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, facing a re-election fight in that conservative state, delivered a rhetorical elbow to the Obama White House.

“I’m surprised this administration has not figured out Russia,” Graham said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Russia is in the hands of an autocrat. Russia’s government has been corrupted. They don’t have a real legislature. The Duma is a rubber stamp. All institutions of democracy have been diminished in Russia.

“When people do that inside their country, they’re generally not inclined to follow the rule of law outside their country,” Graham said. “I’m just amazed that we don’t get what Putin is up to. He’s trying to re-create the old Soviet Union attitude and image.”

The outrage was not limited to Obama’s Republican foreign policy and national security critics.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., another senior Foreign Relations Committee member, called on Obama to ensure Moscow feels some pain from “consequences” enacted because of the Snowden situation.

“I would think that it does affect our relationship. This is a security issue,” Cardin said. “It is hard to understand Russia’s response. So I expect that will [factor] into the equation of our relationship.”

While Democrats also called for Washington to get tougher with Moscow, they were quick to underscore how important they view US-Russian relations.

“We have a very important relationship with Russia. We have to work together. We want to improve our relationship. That remains true today, even though we don’t understand why Russia didn’t cooperate with us on a matter of homeland security. It will have a consequence.”

The US government has charged Snowden with stealing government property, transmitting national security information without approval and willfully communicating classified data to unauthorized individuals. All violate the US Espionage Act, and could leave Snowden in prison for decades.

But first, another government would have to turn him over to American authorities. Officials in Hong Kong and China opted against doing so, then Putin announced Wednesday he also would not extradite Snowden, who is holed up in a Russian airport.

McCain and others also called on Obama to punish Beijing for allowing Snowden to remain at large.

“What about China? A re-evaluation there, too. Same thing,” McCain said. “A realistic assessment of our relationship with this countries.”

Cardin echoed McCain when asked about what US officials should do about Hong Kong’s and China’s refusal to hand over Snowden: “Same thing about China.”

But Cardin said US officials are still trying to piece together China’s decision, whereas Putin’s is clearly a jab at America.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., struck a calmer tone: “I think the relationship is chilly enough without having to make it chillier.”

Levin said Congress needs to closely examine the role of private contracts — Snowden used his information technology position at Booz Allen Hamilton to access the classified data.

“Congressional oversight can be very effective. It was effective with contractors … relative to the contractors we had in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Levin said. “The Armed Services Committee had an investigation of the role of contractors [in those war zones], and things have changed as a result; we’re a lot less reliant on contractors.”|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|p

Chinese businessman behind $40 bln Nicaragua canal denies special ties

Tue, Jun 25, 2013     Reuters

BEIJING – The mysterious Chinese businessman behind a US$40 billion (S$50.8 billion) plan to build a canal through Nicaragua pledged transparency on Tuesday – but refused to reveal where he attended college.

Wang Jing, 40, who says his initial wealth came from a gold mine investment in Cambodia, is the only public face for a project that on paper would challenge the Panama Canal’s monopoly on transporting oil, ore and containers between Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico ports and Asian markets.

Nicaragua’s Congress last week granted Wang’s Cayman Islands-registered HKND company a 50-year concession to develop the canal, following a September agreement with president Daniel Ortega. HKND in turn is a unit of HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co., Ltd, a firm Wang had registered in Hong Kong just a month before the deal with Ortega.

Wang denied any family connection to the Chinese government, military or ruling Communist Party. Connections, or guanxi, are often the hidden ingredient behind sudden success in China.

“I always hoped people would pay attention to the project and not to me personally,” he told a news conference at a luxury hotel in central Beijing.

“I am a very normal Chinese citizen. I couldn’t be more normal.”

The plan – which has generated a lot of scepticism from industry experts – is to build a 286-km (178-mile) canal connecting the Caribbean with the Pacific via Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest freshwater lake.

It would cost about four years’ worth of Nicaragua’s annual gross domestic product, and would likely be three times longer than the Panama Canal, which took a decade to build.

Speaking later in an interview with Reuters, Wang said HKND would head a consortium of partners that would operate “fairly, impartially and openly” and might include international firms.

It would be financed by large Chinese and international banks that he declined to name, although he said financing negotiations were going smoothly.

A likely partner is China Railway Construction, one of the country’s largest state-owned infrastructure developers, according to HKND materials promoting the project. Another of Wang’s companies, the unlisted Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Group, signed a cooperation accord with China Railway earlier this year.

On one point, Wang was explicit – he would maintain at least a 5 per cent stake in HKND, and he would remain in charge. He owns 100 per cent of HKND.

“Any future partners or consortium will respect my views and opinions very much,” he said.

Wang projected annual shipping revenues of $5.5 billion when the canal is at full capacity. The deal calls for construction to be completed in five years, but contains no penalties for delay. Once constructed, ownership of the concession would gradually return to Nicaragua.

The tall, round-faced Wang was unknown when he privatised loss-making state-owned Xinwei in 2010 and transformed it. Xinwei booked over 2 billion yuan (S$412 million) in profits last year, Chinese media reported, mostly building wireless networks in other countries.

Xinwei’s website carries photographs of Xi Jinping, now China’s president, and Li Keqiang, now premier, visiting Xinwei.

Wang told journalists he studied traditional Chinese medicine, but added it was “inconvenient” to say at which university. He then took an interest in mining in Southeast Asia, including the Cambodian gold mine, he said.

Wang said he lived in his native Beijing with his mother, younger brother and daughter. Corporate records show a hotel management company registered to Wang and his brother, Wang Peng, as well as other small entertainment and telecommunications companies under their names.

Reuters was not able to locate the hotel management company at its registered address.

Wang’s nearly 40 per cent stake in Xinwei is worth about $1 billion, based on the asking price for a minority share in the firm currently on sale by state-owned Datang Telecommunications.

Chinese censors target Winnie the Pooh and Tigger

China’s army of internet censors have picked an unusual target in their battle to wipe dissent from the country’s computer screens: Winnie the Pooh and Tigger.

The two images were published side by side this week on the Twitter-like Chinese social media site Weibo.

The two images were published side by side this week on the Twitter-like Chinese social media site Weibo. Photo: REUTERS


By , Shanghai

1:38PM BST 14 Jun 2013

Following the recent California summit between Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping, Chinese micro-bloggers picked up on an uncanny resemblance between a photograph of the two presidents strolling through the Sunnylands estate and a cartoon image of A. A. Milne’s cartoon creations.

The two images were published side by side this week on the Twitter-like Chinese social media site Weibo.

But the posts were almost immediately “harmonized”, as censors appeared to take exception to the comparison between their president and a podgy bear who once roamed Sussex’s Ashdown Forest.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post said over-zealous censors had “nipped in the bud what could have been a positive PR campaign tailor-made for President Xi Jinping.”

The Communist Party’s internet censors often appear determined to delete even the slightest hint of government criticism from social media sites.

Earlier this month, authorities targeted a photo-shopped image – also on Weibo – of the famous Tiananmen Square photograph in which a lone protester faces down a line of tanks. The image – in which the tanks were replaced with giant rubber ducks – irritated authorities enough that not only did they remove the picture itself, they also blocked all internet searches related to the squeaky bath toys.

But a recent Harvard study, which analysed millions of micro-blog posts, concluded that posts “with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored” than other posts.

In fact, the study found that the censors’ key aim was to curtail “collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilisation”.

There is no suggestion that Winnie the Pooh or Tigger had been plotting to stir up social unrest in China.

Americans start operation “Troll the NSA”


Tuesday, 11 June 2013

An operation to troll the NSA has started up online in a bid to jam the spy scanners.

The plan is to ‘test’ the system by sending a message full of terrorist buzz words to the agency Wednesday at 7pm EST.

The website was set up in response to the accusations at the U.S. government is collecting and looking at data from Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Apple through a secretive program codenamed PRISM.

Operation ‘Troll The NSA’ describes the plan stating: ‘If millions of us, all at the exact same time, call or email someone with our keywords-of-terror-filled script, we can give our nation’s impressive surveillance system the kind of test it deserves.

‘They say they don’t read or listen to the contents of our messages. Why not test it out? It’ll be fun.’

The creators of the website have written a seemingly innocent email about a bad job and travel plans addressed from a disgruntled employee to a friend.

But words designed to catch the scanner’s interest litter the script, including famous American landmarks such as ‘Manhattan,’ ‘Golden Gate Bridge’, ‘Brooklyn Bridge’,’ Verrazano Narrows Bridge’ and ‘Financial District.’

It also included words associated with terrorists such as ‘death to millions of Americans,’ ‘strike at any second’ and ‘oppressive regime.’

They hope that the scanner will pick up the words and consequently get jammed from the overload.

The stunt was set up by two BuzzFeed employees.

Chris Baker and Mike Lacher, creative directors at the news site, say they hope millions of people will take part.

‘It would be amazing if we actually did screw with their systems a little bit,’ said Baker.

‘But the ultimate goal is that the site itself will get enough attention … that NSA becomes aware of it on some level and gives them a moment to reflect on their duties,’ he told the Daily Beast.

Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who leaked the secret information about a classified U.S. government surveillance program is currently on the run in Hong Kong.

Snowden, 29, is a technology expert working for a private firm subcontracted to the US National Security Agency.

Last week he told the Guardian newspaper of a mammoth surveillance operation run by the NSA on telephone and Internet records around the world.

In the US, in a spectacularly strange way he has been branded a traitor by the mainstream media. Perhaps, it now makes sense why Snowden chose to leak the information to a British newspaper. Is the US Media in on it?


Americans widely back NSA phone tracking: poll

11   Jun 2013

A solid majority of Americans support the US government’s programs tracking telephone records to try to uncover terror, a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll found Monday.

Despite US intelligence concerns raised by contractor Edward Snowden’s leak of the government’s monitoring of private users’ Web traffic and US citizens’ phone records, Americans may be surprisingly comfortable with their loss of privacy in the interest of national security.

Overall, 56 percent of Americans told pollsters it was “acceptable” for the National Security Agency to access the telephone records of millions of Americans through secret court orders, compared to 41 percent who said it was not.

And 45 percent said the government should be able to prod further and monitor everyone’s online activity if the surveillance would prevent another terror attack like 9/11 in 2001.

However, a slim majority of 52 percent said they were against such sweeping measures.

Snowden, 29, is holed up in Hong Kong, which has an extradition treaty with the United States, and he is cooperating with the British-based Guardian newspaper, which revealed his identity at his own request.

Officials have refused to be drawn on whether Washington plans to demand Snowden’s extradition.

But President Barack Obama’s spy chief, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, has described the leak as gravely damaging to US intelligence gathering, and referred the matter to the Justice Department, which has launched an investigation

BREAKING NEWS: Defense contractor, 29, who leaked NSA documents reveals himself

  • Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA  technical assistant, says he passed the classified information to The Guardian
  • The documents  blew open a number of intense NSA surveillance operations and caused a firestorm  over the government’s actions
  • Snowden, a high  school drop-out, says he leaked information because  he doesn’t ‘want to live in  a society that does these sort of things’
  • Comes after  National Intelligence director James R Clapper defended the surveillance  programs for keeping America safe
  • NSA filed  criminal report with Justice Dept. in relation to leaks to The Guardian and The  Washington Post

By  Anna Sanders and Helen Pow

PUBLISHED: 14:09 EST, 9 June  2013 |  UPDATED: 15:34  EST, 9 June 2013

The whistle-blower responsible for leaking  confidential NSA documents in one of the most serious breaches in U.S. political  history has come forward.

Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA  technical assistant, claims he passed the classified information that blew open  a number of intense surveillance operations to the media because he doesn’t  ‘want to live in a society that does these sort of things.’

Snowden, who now works for Booz Allen  Hamilton, a defense contractor for the National Security Agency, caused a  firestorm after he leaked the top-secret documents to The Guardian over several  days of interviews.

Whistle-blower: Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA technical assistant, claims he passed the classified information to the media 

Whistle-blower: Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA  technical assistant, claims he passed the classified information to the  media


He said he wanted to own up to the leak  because he didn’t believe he’d done anything illegal.

‘I have no intention of hiding who I am  because I know I have done nothing wrong,’ he told The  Guardian.


Explaining his decision to disclose the  sensitive documents, North Carolina native said: ‘I  understand that I will be  made to suffer for my actions,’ but ‘I will be satisfied if the federation of  secret law, unequal pardon and  irresistible executive powers that rule the  world that I love are  revealed even for an instant.’

He said he was bracing for the government to  demonize him, but he hoped  that his coming forward would not divert attention  away from the  revelations he made public.

‘I really want the focus to be on these  documents and the debate which I  hope this will trigger among citizens around  the globe about what kind  of world we want to live in,’ he told The Guardian.

‘My sole motive is to inform the public as to  that which is done in their name and that which is done against  them.’

Hide out: Snowden boarded a plane to Hong Kong, pictured, on May 20 and has been there since 

Hide out: Snowden boarded a plane to Hong Kong,  pictured, on May 20 and has been there since

Snowden was living ‘a very  comfortable life’  with his live-in girlfriend in Hawaii, where he earned $200,000 with Booz  Allen.

But he said: ‘I’m willing to sacrifice all of  that because I can’t in good  conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy  privacy, internet  freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with  this  massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.’

According to The Guardian, Snowden copied the  final set of documents he intended to disclose three weeks ago, at the NSA  office in Hawaii where he had been working.

He then told his boss and his girlfriend that  he’d be away for a few weeks, keeping the reasons vague as only someone working  in intelligence can, and on May 20, he boarded a plane to Hong Kong, where he  remains.

He chose Hong Kong because ‘they have a  spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent,’ he  said.

Defensive: Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper said in a statement Saturday that disclosures on intelligence gathering practices were 'reckless' 

Defensive: Director of National Intelligence James R  Clapper said in a statement Saturday that disclosures on intelligence gathering  practices were ‘reckless’


The Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper responded Saturday to the disclosure of classified government surveillance programs as a new report sheds light on the gathering system 'Boundless Informant'Informant: The Director of National Intelligence James R Clapper released a statement on PRISM, which is reported to have been used to gather information from Internet companies like Facebook

Informant: The Director of National Intelligence James R  Clapper, left, released a statement on PRISM, which is reported to have been  used to gather information from the data centers of Internet companies like  Facebook, one of which is pictured left

'Necessary': The top intelligence official, James R Clapper, said the NSA's intelligence measures disclosed in recent reports were 'used to keep Americans safe' 

‘Necessary’: The top intelligence official, James R  Clapper, said the NSA’s intelligence measures disclosed in recent reports were  ‘used to keep Americans safe’

Snowden said he has been holed up in a hotel  room since arriving in the city, leaving it just three times for  fear he’s  being spied on.

He described to the newspaper how he rims the  door of the plush hotel  room, where he is eating all of his meals, with pillows  to prevent  anyone from eavesdropping.

Snowden has good reason to be  concerned. The  NSA – the most powerful and secretive organization in the world – is hunting him  down, having visited his home in Hawaii twice  and already contacted his  girlfriend.

Sitting in his hotel room alone, he has  watched television reports and read  articles online since the news of the leaks  first broke, and he is  well aware of the threats being thrown his  way.

And given the Obama administration’s track  record at prosecuting  whistle-blowers, he fully expects to get the same  treatment. But he  insists he is not afraid of what lies ahead because ‘this is  the choice  I’ve made,’ he told The Guardian.

According to newspaper, he broke down just  once during the series of interviews, when he was discussing the impact his  actions would have on his family, many of whom work in government agencies or  departments. He said these fears for his family’s welfare kept him up at  night.

Snowden’s ability to get to the center of the  NSA is impressive given he attended community college in Maryland to obtain his  high school diploma but dropped out before completing.

Ten years ago he enlisted in the US army and  began a training program to join the Special Forces, explaining to The Guardian  that he wanted to fight in the Iraq war because he felt he had an obligation as  a human being to help free people from oppression – the same reason he is giving  to justify his leaks. But he broke both his legs in a training accident and was  discharged.

He got his first NSA job working as a  security guard at one of the agency’s facilities at the University of Maryland  before moving to the CIA to work on IT security. There, he rose  quickly.

He was given more and more access to  top-secret documents as he climbed the ranks. And in 2007, he was stationed with  diplomatic cover in Geneva, Switzerland, where he was responsible for  maintaining computer network security.

The clearance sparked his concern for the  intense surveillance detailed in the documents.

He told The Guardian of one incident where  CIA operatives got a Swiss banker drunk in an effort to recruit him as an  informant to obtain secret banking information.

He said they encouraged him to drive home  intoxicated in his car and when he was arrested for DUI, the undercover agents  offered to help and managed to recruit the banker after the favor.

He said this and other things he witnessed in  Geneva disillusioned him about how his government worked and how this in turn  impacted the world.

‘I realized that I was part of something that  was doing far more harm than good,’ he said.

He told The Guardian that he first considered  exposing the Government’s secrets in Geneva but he chose not to because he  didn’t want to endanger anyone – the CIA deals in people rather than systems or  technology.

When he quit that role in 2009, he took up a  job with an outside contractor and was assigned to an NSA facility in  Japan.

He said he was disappointed President Obama  advanced the policies he was hoping the newly elected President was stamp out,  and that ‘hardened’ him.

He said he could no longer wait around for  someone else to act, and after spending three years learning just how ‘intent’  the NSA was to make every conversation and behavior in the world known to them,  he took the leap.

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British shops ration baby milk as Chinese demand surges

Thu, 11 Apr 2013 15:13 GMT


* Chinese distrust domestic milk after contamination scandal

* Students, visitors sending “unofficial exports” to China

* Shoppers restricted to two boxes

By Peter Griffiths and Dasha Afanasieva

LONDON, April 11 (Reuters) – British shops are rationing sales of baby milk after Chinese visitors and bulk buyers cleared their shelves to send it to China, where many parents fear the local versions are dangerous.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), whose members account for 80 percent of the sector, said many stores had imposed a two-box limit on each customer to deter the “unofficial exports” to China.

Demand for foreign milk powder has been high in China since at least six infants died and 300,000 fell ill in 2008 after they drank milk laced with the industrial chemical melamine.

The scandal sapped consumer confidence in Chinese-made food and led to shortages of powdered milk in Hong Kong and Australia as people bought boxes to export to China.

The rise of the middle-class Chinese working mother has greatly increased sales of baby milk in the world’s most populous country. Fast-growing markets like China support a global baby food market worth an estimated $30 billion a year.

“The major retailers of baby milk – supermarkets, chemists – are restricting sales,” said BRC spokesman Richard Dodd. “They have done this in response to some customers buying unusually large amounts. The irregular buying patterns are thought to be a result of unofficial exporting to China.”

The buyers include Chinese tourists and students who take a few cartons home with them or post them to relatives. There are also organised groups who buy large amounts of powder to export to China, one businessman involved in the trade told Sky News.

“There are three types of people like us. The first you get (are) students or visitors who get asked to send one or two tins back to family or friends. Then you get small and medium businesses like me,” the man, based in northern England, told Sky News.

“The third group of people are the biggest sellers. They buy directly from health distributors – the kind of people who supply supermarkets.”


Supermarkets in Britain put up signs telling customers they could only buy two boxes of milk powder per visit. Shoppers in London said they had noticed sporadic shortages and had had to visit different chains to find a preferred brand.

“On Sunday, we couldn’t get any in Asda or Tesco and we had to go to Sainsbury’s,” said Lyn Patterson, walking with her grandson Jacob in Oxford Street, one of the capital’s busiest shopping areas. “They’re sold out all the time. But we’ve never run out – we always have a carton on standby.”

Boxes of baby milk costing around 10 pounds ($15) in Britain are on sale on Chinese websites for up to three times as much.

French food group Danone, which makes the Aptamil and Cow & Gate milk brands, apologised to British consumers and said it had increased production.

“We understand that the increased demand is being fuelled by unofficial exports to China to satisfy the needs of parents who want Western brands for their babies,” it said.

Nestle, the world’s biggest food company, said its milk products were unaffected.

Bulk buying in Hong Kong earlier this year prompted the government to restrict the amount of milk powder mainland Chinese could take back with them. It followed complaints of shortages and rocketing prices.

Beijing has tried to reassure people that milk powder and dairy products in China are now safe and rigorously tested. However, lax regulatory enforcement is still a problem. ($1 = 0.6525 British pounds)  (Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Emma Thomasson in Switzerland; Editing by)


Isles flare-up will be Japan’s fault, China says”Its reporter mentioned reports that the Chinese military is gearing up for WAR over the isles – a point that Lu did not deny.”

Ho Ai Li

The Straits Times

Publication Date : 03-03-2013

China yesterday said it will hold Japan responsible for any flare-up over the disputed isles at the centre of the worst tensions between the two countries in 40 years.

“If Japan continues its mistaken ways over the Diaoyu isles, even sending planes and vessels from its Self Defence Force to disrupt the normal patrols of Chinese planes and ships, leading to an accidental armed conflict, it has to bear all consequences,” said spokesman Lu Xinhua of China’s top political advisory body.

Lu, of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), was answering a question from the state China Daily newspaper. Its reporter mentioned reports that the Chinese military is gearing up for war over the isles – a point that Lu did not deny.

He claimed that the spat over the Diaoyu isles, called Senkaku by the Japanese, was created solely by Japan.

Lu is a former deputy foreign minister. Thus, his response is seen as a possible reflection of Beijing’s thinking on the dispute.

China is willing to get along amicably with Japan and other countries, but it will not back down over territory and sovereignty, said a stern Lu.

He was all smiles though when asked about Hong Kong, where he was based for China’s foreign affairs ministry from 2006 until now.

He urged residents there to be tolerant of the huge inflows of mainland visitors, blamed for such problems as rising prices and a scarcity of milk powder.

Last year, Hong Kong had almost 35 million mainland arrivals, or five times its population.

“What I want to stress here is that Hong Kong is China’s territory,” Lu said.

“It was a British colony for more than 160 years, but now has returned to the motherland.”

Hong Kong residents should understand that it was natural for mainland Chinese to want to see what the former British colony was like, he added.

He answered two questions about Hong Kong and six others on issues like Japan, Taiwan and the environment at a press conference a day before the start of China’s annual political sessions.

More than 1,000 proposals and speeches have been submitted for this year’s sessions, starting today. About 2,200 delegates are taking part.

Politburo Standing Committee member Yu Zhengsheng is slated to take over from outgoing CPPCC chairman Jia Qinglin, and former United Front Work Department head Du Qinglin and his successor Ling Jihua are also expected to hold leadership positions in the CPPCC

Moscow has more Billionaires than any other city

Saturday, 02 March 2013
The Russian capital has more billionaires than any other city in the world, according to a new survey from China.

The study by the Hurun Research Institute says there are over 4000 people who have more than $1 billion on their bank account, and 76 of them reside in Moscow.

Russia has 88 billionaires with a combined wealth of $368bn, and it seems to support the old proverb that “all the money goes to Moscow”.

The wealthiest Muscovite is mining tycoon and Arsenal football club co-owner, Alisher Usmanov, whose fortune is estimated at $19 billion.

The Chinese researchers have given the world’s financial capital, New York, the second spot on their rankings, with 70 residing billionaires.

Honk Kong took the third position in the Hurun Global Rich List 2013, but it stands far behind the leaders, being home to just 54 rich cats.

The Chinese capital, Beijing, is fourth with 41 billionaires, while the long-time leader, London, has given up its positions for good. The British capital has dropped to fifth spot, with only 40 billionaires.

Istanbul (26 billionaires), Mumbai (24), Shanghai (24), Paris (23), Shenzhen (22) and Taipei (22) complete the Top 10.

The conclusion by Hurun Research matches that from Forbes Magazine, who also put Moscow on top of their list of the cities with the biggest super-rich community at 78 billionaires.

Two million government employees will take to Weibo and other websites in an effort to drown out dissenting voices with party-approved propaganda.

January 28, 2013 06:00

Party Trolls: Meet China’s answer to the internet



Weibo propaganda 2013 1 25

A woman views the Chinese social media website Weibo at a cafe in Beijing on Apr. 2, 2012. In an effort to minimize the influence of dissenting voices on the microblogging site, the Chinese government will employ millions of workers to post pro-party messages. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)
What do you think?

HONG KONG — China’s censors have a favorite new tactic: If you don’t like what people are saying online, shout louder.

Faced with the unprecedented explosion of information available to citizens over social media — some of it exposing corruption — officials have realized that simply deleting posts is not enough. They need to push positive propaganda as well.

At a closed-door meeting this week, Beijing’s propaganda chiefs rolled out a new plan to have 2 million propaganda workers spread the Party line on microblogs, according to the Beijing News.

The instructions issue orders for all workers to “read Weibo, open a Weibo account, write Weibo posts, and study Weibo.” (Weibo is the Chinese term for Twitter-like social media.)

Beijing propaganda boss Lu Wei told attendees that all government offices should open an account, with the goal of inundating the Chinese internet with positive tweets about anything the Communist Party deems sensitive: inequality, food prices, economic hardship, unemployment, the runaway real-estate market.

“The strategy has always been to make sure that the voices that are approved by the government are the loudest and clearest and easiest to hear — on all platforms,” says Jeremy Goldkorn, a Chinese media expert in Beijing. “That’s Leninist media strategy adapted to the modern age.”

In its ceaseless campaign to control dissent in China, officials have made clear they are no longer content with simply trying to censor and police online writings; they want to guide the debate as well.

In 2008, Party secretary Hu Jintao laid the groundwork for this policy, stressing the importance of “building new media, creating a new pattern of public opinion guidance” and telling cadres, “We must conscientiously take hold of the building of [propaganda/editorial] teams, enhancing our cohesiveness and fighting strength.”

But the true wake-up moment for Chinese officials came in 2011, when a newly built high-speed train crashed in Wenzhou, killing 40 and injuring 191. Within minutes, survivors were on Weibo sharing photos of the disaster. The government tried to enforce a media blackout, but was overwhelmed by the public backlash online.

Since then, Beijing has introduced more measures trying to counter the power of Weibo.

One of their most powerful tools is a mostly invisible, widely reviled group of online vigilantes called the “50 Cent Party.” Paid by the government to masquerade as ordinary internet users, this mass of private citizens writes posts on internet forums to subtly — or not so subtly — manipulate the conversation toward the Party line. (Their name refers to their rumored pay per post: 50 mao, or 8 US cents.)

Estimated to number from 280,000 to perhaps double that, the 50 Centers play an increasingly important role in the media strategies of local officials. Videos and training documents leaked online reveal some of their priorities. In 2011, a group of 50 Centers received this list of instructions on how to steer conversation:

(1) To the extent possible make America the target of criticism. Play down the existence of Taiwan.

(2) Do not directly confront [the idea of] democracy; rather, frame the argument in terms of “what kind of system can truly implement democracy.”

(3) To the extent possible, choose various examples in Western countries of violence and unreasonable circumstances to explain how democracy is not well-suited to capitalism.

(4) Use America’s and other countries’ interference in international affairs to explain how Western democracy is actually an invasion of other countries and [how the West] is forcibly pushing [on other countries] Western values.

(5) Use the bloody and tear-stained history of a [once] weak people [i.e., China] to stir up pro-Party and patriotic emotions.

But how does it work? Practically speaking, 50 Centers do what Americans think of as “astroturfing”: they write hundreds of posts — often working together — designed to persuade people toward the government’s perspective.

Often the 50 Centers are hit-you-over-the-head obvious; but the most successful ones can be exceptionally crafty. One such commenter explained his skills in a fascinating interview with dissident artist Ai Weiwei last October.

A 26-year-old university graduate, the 50 Center explained that for some assignments — such as softening the blow of news about rising food prices — he plays the troll, distracting people’s anger onto himself. In other situations, he assumes multiple personas, debating himself with two usernames to attract attention, then letting the “correct” view win. For his part-time labor, he makes $8 per 100 posts, he said, for a total of $100 a month.

Asked whether 50 Centers play a big role in shaping public opinion in China, he said yes.

“Truthfully speaking, I think the role is quite big,” he told Ai Weiwei. “The majority of netizens in China are actually very stupid. Sometimes, if you don’t guide them, they really will believe in rumors.”

He estimated that 10 to 20 percent of postings on the Chinese web are from the 50 Cent Party.

And that’s not counting the people working on behalf of private clients. Called the Internet Water Army — because they “flood” target websites — these companies post fake comments, phony news or damaging rumors on a client’s behalf.

Thanks to its online propaganda strategy, some experts say the government is already succeeding to some extent in drowning out dissent. While exposés of corrupt officials continue to leak every day, the debates around them are now carefully monitored and manipulated.

“I think the government has now completely caught up with the Weibo age,” says Goldkorn. “They’ve succeeded in dominating Weibo just like they do every other type of media, or at least having enough control so that it doesn’t get out of hand.”

Chinese scholar warns on Japan’s ‘fast turn right’: “Today it will jeopardize China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Tomorrow it will do the same to yours if unchecked,”


Jan 23, 2013

HONG KONG – A scholar at a Chinese Foreign Ministry think tank warned Tuesday that Japan’s political turn to the right must be checked before its negative effects spread through the region.Ruan Zongze, vice president and a senior fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, said during a luncheon address at Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club that Japan is “turning right fast” amid its territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

“What it has done in the Diaoyu Islands issue is more than a territory dispute with China,” he said, suggesting Japan is turning a blind eye to the international agreements made at the conclusion of World War II by claiming that the disputed islands are its territory.

“Today it will jeopardize China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Tomorrow it will do the same to yours if unchecked,” he warned.

China says the uninhabited islets have been Chinese territory since ancient times and accuses Japan of “stealing” them in 1895 at the end of the Sino-Japanese War. It insists Japan, after its defeat in World War II, was obligated by treaties to return them to China.

Japan dismisses those arguments, pointing out that China and Taiwan only began to lay claim to the islands after a survey conducted by a U.N. agency in late 1968 indicated the possible existence of petroleum resources in the surrounding waters.

Paradox of Vaccination: Is Vaccination Really Effective against Avian Flu Epidemics?



Although vaccination can be a useful tool for control of avian influenza epidemics, it might engender emergence of a vaccine-resistant strain. Field and experimental studies show that some avian influenza strains acquire resistance ability against vaccination. We investigated, in the context of the emergence of a vaccine-resistant strain, whether a vaccination program can prevent the spread of infectious disease. We also investigated how losses from immunization by vaccination imposed by the resistant strain affect the spread of the disease.

Methods and Findings

We designed and analyzed a deterministic compartment model illustrating transmission of vaccine-sensitive and vaccine-resistant strains during a vaccination program. We investigated how the loss of protection effectiveness impacts the program. Results show that a vaccination to prevent the spread of disease can instead spread the disease when the resistant strain is less virulent than the sensitive strain. If the loss is high, the program does not prevent the spread of the resistant strain despite a large prevalence rate of the program. The epidemic’s final size can be larger than that before the vaccination program. We propose how to use poor vaccines, which have a large loss, to maximize program effects and describe various program risks, which can be estimated using available epidemiological data.


We presented clear and simple concepts to elucidate vaccination program guidelines to avoid negative program effects. Using our theory, monitoring the virulence of the resistant strain and investigating the loss caused by the resistant strain better development of vaccination strategies is possible.

Citation: Iwami S, Suzuki T, Takeuchi Y (2009) Paradox of Vaccination: Is Vaccination Really Effective against Avian Flu Epidemics? PLoS ONE 4(3):          e4915.            doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004915

Editor: Carl Kingsford, University of Maryland, United States of America

Received: November 12, 2008; Accepted: November 26, 2008; Published: March 18, 2009

Copyright: © 2009 Iwami et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Funding: Research Fellowships of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for Young Scientists. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

* E-mail:


Highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza A viruses have spread relentlessly across the globe since 2003. They are associated with widespread death of poultry, substantial economic loss to farmers, and reported infections of more than 300 people with a mortality rate of 60% [1]. Influenza prevention and containment strategies can be considered under the broad categories of antiviral, vaccine, and non-pharmaceutical measures [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13]. A major public health concern is the next influenza pandemic; yet it remains unclear how to control such a crisis.

Vaccination of domestic poultry against the H5N1 subtype of avian influenza has been used in several countries such as Pakistan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, China, and Vietnam [14], [15], [16]. Using vaccination to reduce the transmission rate might provide an alternative to mass culling, by reducing both the susceptibility of healthy birds and the infectiousness of infected birds [14], [17], [18]. However, incomplete protection at the bird level can cause the silent spread of the virus within and among birds [11]. Furthermore, vaccines might provide immunological pressure on the circulating strains, which might engender the emergence of drifted or shifted variants with enhanced potential for pathogenicity in humans [1]. Therefore, although vaccination programs have been recommended recently, some field evidence indicates that vaccination alone will not achieve eradication. Moreover, if not used appropriately, vaccination might result in the infection becoming endemic [11], [17].

An important issue related to influenza epidemics is the potential for the emergence of vaccine-resistant influenza viruses. The vaccine-resistant strain, in general, causes a loss of the protection effectiveness of vaccination [19], [20], [21], [22] (there is experimental evidence of the loss of the protection effectiveness for antiviral-resistant strains [23]). Consequently, a vaccination program that engenders the emergence of the resistant strain might promote the spread of the resistant strain and undermine the control of the infectious disease, even if the vaccination protects against the transmission of a vaccine-sensitive strain [20], [21], [22].

For example, in China, despite a compulsory program for the vaccination of all poultry commencing in September 2005, the H5N1 influenza virus has caused outbreaks in poultry in 12 provinces from October 2005 to August 2006 [14], [15], [22]. Genetic analysis revealed that an H5N1 influenza variant (Fujian-like, FJ like), which is a previously uncharacterized H5N1 virus sublineage, had emerged and subsequently became the prevalent variant in each of the provinces, replacing those previously established multiple sublineages in different regions of southern China. Some data suggest that the poultry vaccine currently used in China might only generate very low neutralizing antibodies to FJ-like viruses (seroconversion rates remain low and vaccinated birds are poorly immunized against FJ-like viruses) in comparison to other previously cocirculating H5N1 sublineages [20], [22]. That evidence implies the possibility that the emergence and replacement of FJ-like virus was preceded by and facilitated by the vaccination program, although the mechanism remains unknown epidemiologically and virologically (some researchers consider that the emergence and replacement of FJ-like virus are questionable [24], [25]).

Furthermore, the H5N2 vaccines have been used in Mexico since 1995 [17], [19], [21]. Phylogenetic analysis suggests the presence of (previously uncharacterized) multiple sublineages of Mexican lineage isolates which emerged after the introduction of the vaccine. Vaccine protection studies further confirmed in vitro serologic results indicating that commercial vaccine was not able to prevent virus shedding when chickens were challenged with the multiple sublineage isolates [19], [21]. Therefore, the vaccine protective efficacy would be impaired and the use of this specific vaccine would eventually become obsolete. That fact also implies that the vaccine promotes the selection of mutation in the circulating virus.

The emergence of a vaccine-resistant strain presents the risk of generating a new pandemic virus that is dangerous for humans through an avian-human link because of the spread of vaccine-resistant strain. The dynamics of competition between vaccine-sensitive and vaccine-resistant strains is, in general, complex [8], [9]. Actually, outcomes of the dynamics might be influenced by several factors, including a loss of protection effectiveness, a competitive advantage of vaccine-resistant strain, and a prevalence rate of vaccination. Understanding the dynamics of a spread of vaccine-resistant is therefore crucial for implementation of effective mitigation strategies.

Several theoretical studies have investigated the impact of an emergence of a resistant strain of antiviral drug such as M2 inhibitors and NA inhibitors during an influenza pandemic among humans [2], [3], [8], [9], [10], [12], [26]. However, to our knowledge, no study has used a mathematical model to investigate the application of vaccination program among poultry in the context of an emergence of a vaccine-resistant strain. It remains unclear whether a vaccination program can prevent the spread of infectious disease when the vaccine-resistant strain emerges and how a loss of immunization by vaccination within birds infected with the vaccine-resistant strain affects the spread of infectious disease among birds. Nobody can give a simple and clear explanation to capture the problems described above in a theoretical framework (using numerical simulations, many qualitative and quantitative but sometimes very complex studies have investigated effects of antiviral drugs [3], [8], [9], [10], [12], [26]). Furthermore, we remain skeptical that a vaccination program can reduce the number of total infectious individuals even if the vaccination protects against transmission of a vaccine-sensitive strain. We developed a simple mathematical model to evaluate the effectiveness, as a strategy to control influenza epidemic, of a vaccination program among poultry which can engender the emergence of a vaccine-resistant strain.


Herein, we describe a homogeneous population model of infectious disease and its control using a vaccination program in the presence of a vaccine-resistant strain (Fig. 1).


Figure 1. Model structure for the emergence of vaccine-resistant strain during a vaccination program: Susceptible birds (X) become infected with vaccine-sensitive (Y) and vaccine-resistant (Z) strains at rates in direct relation to the number of respective infectious birds.

We assume that vaccinated birds (V) can be protected completely from the vaccine-sensitive strain, but are partially protected from vaccine-resistant strains with a loss of protection effectiveness of the vaccination (σ). See the Mathematical model section for corresponding equations.


All birds in the effective population are divided into several compartments, respectively including susceptible birds (X), vaccinated birds (V), birds infected with vaccine-sensitive strain (Y), and birds infected with vaccine-resistant strain (Z). We assume that susceptible birds are born or restocked at a rate of c per day and that all birds are naturally dead or removed from the effective population at a rate of b per day.

In the absence of vaccination, transmission occurs at a rate that is directly related to the number of infectious birds, with respective transmission rate constants ω and φ from infected birds with the vaccine-sensitive strain and with the vaccine-resistant strain. The infectiousness of vaccine-sensitive and vaccine-resistant strain are assumed to be exponentially distributed, respectively, with mean durations of 1/(b+my) and 1/(b+mz) days. Actually, my and mz respectively signify virulence of vaccine-sensitive and vaccine-resistant strains.

At the beginning of the vaccination program, X moves directly to V by the vaccination. However, after some period after the initial vaccination, the direct movement might vanish because almost all birds are vaccinated. Therefore, we can assume that vaccination is only administered to the newly hatched birds. The newly hatched birds are vaccinated at the rate 0≤p≤1 (more appropriately, p is proportional). Actually, p represents the prevalence rate of the vaccination program.

To simplify the theoretical treatment, as described in [11], we assume that the vaccinated birds can be protected completely from the vaccine-sensitive strain (note that the assumption is not necessary for our results: see Supplementary Information: Text S1, Fig. S10, S11). Actually, in laboratory experience, many avian influenza vaccines confer a very high level of protection against clinical signs and mortality (90–100% protected birds) [21]. However, many factors determine whether a vaccinated bird becomes infected, including age, species, challenge dose, health, antibody titre, infections of immunosuppressive diseases, and cross-reactivity of other avian influenza serotypes [11], [27], [28], [29]. On the other hand, we assume that the vaccinated birds are partially protected from the vaccine-resistant strain at the rate (proportion) 0≤1−σ≤1 because of cross-reactivity of immune systems [19], [20], [22], [23], [29] (e.g., σ = 0 represents complete cross immunity against vaccine-resistant strains). Actually, σ represents a loss of protection effectiveness of the vaccination caused by a vaccine-resistant strain.

Mathematical model

We extended the standard susceptible–infective model [30] including the effect of a vaccination program that can engender the emergence of a vaccine-resistant strain. Our mathematical model is given by the following equations: (1) Model (1) is a simplified one that is used in [31]. We considered a mechanism for the emergence and replacement of the FJ-like virus over a large geographical region in China using a more complex patch-structured model in the heterogeneous area [31]. Here we investigate the impact of the vaccination program in a homogeneous area and specifically examine the role of epidemiological parameters such as the prevalence rate of the vaccination program (p) and the loss of protection effectiveness of the vaccination (σ) in the spread of the disease.

Estimation of epidemiological parameters

Baseline values of model parameters and their respective ranges used for simulations are presented in Table 1 and 2. These parameters are based on avian influenza epidemics among poultry in The Netherlands in 2003 [32], [33], [34].


Table 1. Description of physical characteristics, transmission, infectious, and vaccination parameters of the model with their baseline values and ranges used for simulations.



Table 2. Basic reproductive numbers and invasion reproductive numbers before the vaccination program.


The initial population size was c/b = 984 birds at the 2003 epidemic [34]. Usually, the mean lifespan of poultry is about 2 years. However, we assume that the mean duration of a bird being in effective population is about 1/b = 100 days because of migration and marketing. Therefore, the birth or restocking rate of birds is c = 9.84 birds per day. Estimated infectious period and transmission parameters are 1/(b+my) = 13.8 days and ω = 4.78×10−4 day−1 individual−1, respectively, [34]. These physical characteristics, in addition to infectious and transmission parameters, are used in our model as parameters of the vaccine-sensitive strain.

The epidemiological and biological feature of antiviral drug-resistance is well reported in [23]. The transmissibility and virulence of drug-resistant strains are usually lower than those of the wild strain because of its mutation cost [8], [10], [23], [35]. Actually, antiviral drugs are also used for prophylaxis drug intervention as vaccination [8], [10], [12]. Herein, we use some reduced value of transmissibility (φ/ω = 0.58) and the increased value of infectious period of the vaccine-sensitive strain ((b+my)/(b+mz) = 1.32) for parameters of vaccine-resistant strain (sensitivity analyses are given in Supplementary Information: Text S1, Fig. S6, S7, S8, S9).

Reproductive numbers

A measure of transmissibility and of the stringency of control policies necessary to stop an epidemic is the basic reproductive number, which is the number of secondary cases produced by each primary case [30]. We obtain basic reproductive quantities of vaccine-sensitive strain and vaccine-resistant strain before vaccination program (superscript n means no vaccination). In fact, during the vaccination program, the basic reproductive numbers depend on the rate of prevalence of the vaccination program. We derived these basic reproductive numbers depending on the prevalence rate in Supplementary Information: Text S1. With the estimated parameters in Table 1 the basic reproductive number of vaccine-sensitive and vaccine-resistant strain are and , respectively (note that corresponds to an estimated value in [34]).

Furthermore, to clarify the concept of competition among strains simply, we introduce the invasion reproductive number for the vaccine-resistant strain before the vaccination program , which signifies an expected number of new infectious cases with the vaccine-resistant strain after a spread of a vaccine-sensitive strain among birds. The invasion reproductive number is considered as a competitive condition (relative fitness), which represents some advantage measure of the vaccine-resistant strain against the vaccine-sensitive strain. The estimated invasion reproductive number of the vaccine-resistant strain is . During the vaccination program, the invasion reproductive number also depends on the prevalence rate of the vaccination program (see Supplementary Information: Text S1).


We consider a scenario in which a vaccine-resistant strain can emerge (i.e., be eventually selected) during a vaccination program designed to be effective against the spread of a vaccine-sensitive strain. This implies that : otherwise the vaccine-resistant strain can not emerge at all (see Supplementary Information: Text S1, Fig. S1, S2, S3). Acquisition of resistance ability usually engenders a strain which, in the absence of a pharmaceutical intervention, is less fit than the sensitive strain [8], [9], [12], [35]. Therefore, . We generally assume the following conditions for reproductive numbers before the vaccination program (our baseline parameter values are satisfied with these assumptions):

The assumption precludes the possibility that a pre-existing vaccine-resistant strain beats the vaccine-sensitive strain before the vaccination program because .

Evaluation of the effect of a vaccination program

Although vaccination is an important tool to control epidemics, the use of vaccination might engender a spread of a vaccine-resistant strain. To demonstrate the interplay between these opposing effects, we simulated our model to determine the final size of an epidemic (total infected individuals Y+Z at equilibrium level) over vaccination prevalence (0≤p≤1) in Fig. 2 (we use our baseline parameter values except for mz). We assume that the loss of the protection effectiveness is 35% (σ = 0.35: this value can be chosen arbitrarily with little effect on the meaning of the results). The estimated infectious period of the vaccine-sensitive strain is 13.8 days [34] (see Table 1). Therefore, the virulence of vaccine-sensitive strain is my = 0.062 day−1. Results show that the patterns of the final size can be divided into two cases, which depend strongly on the virulence of the vaccine-resistant strain. If the virulence of the vaccine-resistant strain is lower than that of vaccine-sensitive strain (e.g., we choose mz = 0.045), then increasing the prevalence rate of vaccination from 13.5% to 30.3% can increase the final size (green line at top figure in Fig. 2). On the other hand, if the virulence is higher (mz = 0.065), increasing the prevalence always decreases the final size (bottom figure in Fig. 2). These two patterns are qualitatively preserved for different virulence of the vaccine-resistant strain.


Figure 2. Final size of epidemics related with the prevalence rate of the vaccination: The top figure represents that the vaccination is not always effective in the case of lower virulence of vaccine-resistant strain.

The bottom figure represents that the vaccination is always effective in the case of higher virulence of the vaccine-resistant strain. We assume that σ = 0.35, mz = 0.045 (top) and mz = 0.065 (bottom). These values of σ and mz are not so influential on the result. The blue, green, and red lines respectively signify situations in which only the vaccine-sensitive strain exists, both the vaccine-sensitive and the vaccine-resistant strains exist, and only the vaccine-resistant strain exists.


In [8], [9], although they consider the emergence of an antiviral drug-resistant virus, a similar tendency (increasing the treatment level increases the final size of the epidemic) was obtained through complex models that are difficult to treat mathematically. The mathematical model presented herein demonstrates that the patterns of final size over vaccination prevalence only depend on the virulence of the vaccine-resistant strain as follows (see Supplementary Information: Text S1). Increasing the prevalence rate increases the final size when only both strains co-exist if the virulence of vaccine-resistant strain is lower than that of vaccine-sensitive strain (my>mz). That is to say, the vaccination is effective when either a vaccine-sensitive or a vaccine-resistant strain exists. On the other hand, if the virulence of vaccine-resistant strain is higher than that of vaccine-sensitive strain (my<mz), the final size always decreases as the prevalence rate increases. The other parameters can not change these patterns. In fact, many studies have ignored the impact of the virulence of the vaccine-resistant strain. In [7], we also found that the virulence of mutant strain determines a choice of the optimal prevention policy for avian influenza epidemic. Therefore, we suggest that, to monitor and investigate the virulence evolution between the vaccine-sensitive and vaccine-resistant strain is important to develop avian flu epidemic plans. In fact, if the vaccine-resistant strain has higher virulence than the vaccine-sensitive strain, the vaccination program is always effective, even though the program engenders the emergence of a vaccine-resistant strain. On the other hand, if the vaccine-resistant strain has lower virulence, we must carefully manage vaccination to prevent the spread of a vaccine-resistant strain.

Impact of loss of protection effectiveness of vaccination

To ensure an effective vaccination program, the vaccine must protect vaccinated animals against clinical signs of the disease and prevent mortality [21]. However, the vaccine-resistant strain causes a loss of the protection effectiveness of the vaccination [19], [20], [21], [22], [37]. We investigate an impact of the loss of the protection on change of final size of the epidemic over the vaccination prevalence. Assume, hereafter, that the virulence of vaccine-resistant strain is lower than that of vaccine-sensitive strain (my>mz): otherwise, the vaccination is always effective (our baseline parameter values are satisfied with my>mz). Actually, a resistant strain seems to have reduced virulence in general [8], [10], [23], [35].

We conduct a simulation using our model to elucidate the change of the final size with the loss of the protection effectiveness 5%, 15%, and 80% over vaccination prevalence in Fig. 3. Results showed that the patterns of the change are divisible into three cases. In theory, we can estimate the threshold values of the loss of the protection which determines the patterns (see Supplementary Information: Text S1, Fig. S4):


Figure 3. Impact of the loss of the protection effectiveness of the vaccination on the change of the final size of the epidemic: The losses of the protection in the top, middle, and bottom figure are σ = 0.05, 0.15, and 0.8, respectively.

The top (0≤σσ*) and middle () figures portray the possibility of eradication of the infectious disease through the vaccination program. However, in the bottom figure (), the vaccination engenders a failure to prevent the spread of the disease. The patterns of the change are divisible into these three cases, depending on the loss of the protection. The blue, green, and red lines respectively correspond to the situation in which only the vaccine-sensitive strain exists, both the vaccine-sensitive and the vaccine-resistant strains exist, and only the vaccine-resistant strain exists.


In fact, σ* = 0.056 and in our simulation from Table 1. When the loss of the protection is between 0% and σ* = 5.6% (5%: the top figure in Fig. 3), the vaccination can control the epidemic with the prevalence rate of 84.7% without the emergence of a resistant strain (a vaccine-resistant strain never emerges in the population). Therefore, increasing the prevalence rate of vaccination always decreases the final size of the epidemic. For the loss of the protection is between σ* = 5.6% and (15%: the middle figure in Fig. 3), the vaccination eventually prevents the spread of the disease with 94.1% of vaccination prevalence in spite of the emergence of the resistant strain. Increasing the prevalence rate from 31.5% to 44.1% increases the final size. Therefore, the vaccination is not always effective. However, when the loss of the protection is between and 100% (80%: the bottom figure in Fig. 3), the vaccination no longer controls the disease (even if the prevalence rate is 100%) and the vaccine-resistant strain spreads widely through the population instead of the vaccine-sensitive strain. In this case, the vaccination only slightly provides beneficial effects for preventing the spread of the disease. Therefore, the loss of the protection effectiveness of vaccination plays an important role in preventing the spread of the disease.

Vaccination can facilitate spread of disease

Sometimes a considerable spread of the resistant strain partially compromises the benefits of a vaccination program [19], [20], [22], [37]. For example, even if we can completely execute the vaccination program (p = 1), the final size of the epidemic can become larger than that before the vaccination program (p = 0) by the emergence of vaccine-resistant strain (bottom figure in Fig. 3). This implies that the vaccination, which is expected to prevent the spread of the disease, can instead help the spread of the disease. If the loss of the protection effectiveness of vaccination is high (σ*σ≤1), the vaccination might increase the final size over vaccination prevalence compared with that before the vaccination program (vaccination always decreases the final size if 0≤σσ* (top figure in Fig. 3)). Here we can also calculate such a risk of help, which depends on the loss of the protection (see Supplementary Information: Text S1). Let

Actually, σc = 0.236 in our simulation is from Table 1. When the loss of the protection is between 23.6% and 100%, we found that the vaccination program is attended by the risk that the final size becomes larger than that before the vaccination program (see Supplementary Information: Text S1).

Difficulty of prediction of a prevalent strain

Vaccination is well known to engender “silent carriers or excretors” if the vaccine can not completely protect the vaccinated animals against clinical signs of the disease [16], [21]. The existence of silent carriers or excretors is dangerous because they become a virus reservoir and shed the virus into their environment, causing potential outbreaks among their own and other species. Furthermore, even if a vaccination is effective in a bird (individual level), an incomplete vaccination program for all birds (population level) can engender the “silent spread” of an infectious disease [1], [11]. Additionally, we found that it is difficult for us to predict a prevalent strain even if we can completely estimate the basic reproductive number of vaccine-sensitive and vaccine-resistant strains during the vaccination program (although estimations, usually, are almost impossible). Even when the basic reproductive number of the vaccine-resistant strain is less than that of the vaccine-sensitive strain (), the vaccine-resistant strain can beat the vaccine-sensitive strain and spread widely through the population (see Supplementary Information: Text S1, Fig. S5). Therefore, a non-ideal vaccination program might make a prediction of prevalent strain difficult.

Optimal prevalence rate of vaccination program

In the absence of a vaccine-resistant strain, a goal of vaccination program is to reduce the basic reproductive number of vaccine-sensitive strain to be less than 1. We assume that . Therefore, the vaccination can eradicate the vaccine-sensitive strain if at least 84.7% of the birds in poultry are vaccinated effectively based on the fraction of [30]. However, in the presence of the resistant strain, the simple theory is inapplicable to an optimal prevalence rate of vaccination program. Here we define the optimal prevalence rate of a vaccination program which minimizes both the final size of the epidemic and the prevalence rate (see Supplementary Information: Text S1).

We calculate the optimal prevalence rate, which depends on the loss of the protection effectiveness of the vaccination in Fig. 4 (sensitivity analyses are given in Supplementary Information: Text S1, Fig. S6). At the point where the loss of the protection effectiveness is greater than some threshold value σo, the optimal prevalence rate changes catastrophically from high prevalence rate to a low prevalence rate. Here


Figure 4. Optimal prevalence rate of vaccination program: Increasing of the loss of the protection effectiveness engenders a catastrophic change in the optimal prevalence rate.

The optimal rate increases as the loss increases if the loss of the protection effectiveness is small (0≤σσo). This implies that a small loss of the protection effectiveness can be compensated by a high optimal prevalence rate of the vaccination program. On the other hand, if the loss is large (σoσ≤1), the optimal rate decreases as the loss of the protection effectiveness increases. This eventuality implies that a large loss of the protection effectiveness is no longer compensated by the high optimal prevalence rate of the vaccination program. Therefore, a low prevalence rate, which does not engender the emergence of a vaccine-resistant strain becomes optimal because the poor vaccine engenders the increase of final size of the epidemic because of the spread of the resistant strain.


Actually, σo = 0.461 in our simulation from Table 1. The optimal prevalence rate is 84.6% when the loss of the protection effectiveness is between 0% and 5.6%. In addition, if the loss rate is between 5.6% and 20.1%, then the optimal prevalence rate increases from 84.6% to 100%. Furthermore, if the loss rate is between 20.1% and 46.1%, then the optimal prevalence rate must always be 100%. Consequently, as long as the loss of the protection effectiveness is small (0%–46.1%), the loss can be compensated by a high optimal prevalence rate of the vaccination program. However, if the loss rate is greater than 46.1%, the loss is no longer compensated by the high prevalence rate of the vaccination program. The optimal prevalence rate changes catastrophically from 100% to 10.2%. Afterward, as the loss rate increases from 46.1% to 100%, the optimal prevalence rate decreases from 10.2% to 4.72% (the low prevalence rate becomes optimal). This is true because the poor vaccine (with a large loss of the protection) engenders the emergence of the vaccine-resistant strain for the high prevalence rate; in addition, the spread of the resistant strain increases the final size of the epidemic. Therefore, the loss of the protection effectiveness strongly impacts also on the optimal prevalence rate.

Variation of final size of epidemic according to the vaccination program

In countries where poultry are mainly backyard scavengers, optimum vaccination coverage might be difficult to achieve [21]. The final size of the epidemic might be increased and the program might fail if the optimal prevalence rate of the vaccination program can not be achieved. However, if we can achieve optimum vaccination coverage, the final size is greatly reduced. The final size of the epidemics can be variable depending on the prevalence rate. Here we calculate the optimal (smallest) and worst (largest) final size of the epidemic over the vaccination prevalence (see Supplementary Information: Text S1) in Fig. 5 (black and yellow bars respectively represent the optimal and worst final size). The variation of the final size is between black and yellow bars shown in Fig. 5 (sensitivity analyses are given in Supplementary Information: Text S1, Fig. S7).


Figure 5. Variation of the final size of the epidemic over the vaccination prevalence: The black bar represents the optimal (smallest) final size of the epidemic.

The yellow bar represents the worst (largest) final size of the epidemic over the vaccination prevalence. The variation of the final size depending on the prevalence rate is between black and yellow bars. If the loss of protection effectiveness is small, then the variation is very large. On the other hand, if the loss becomes large, then the variation decreases. Therefore, the final size of the epidemic is strongly affected by the vaccination coverage and the loss of protection effectiveness: a bad vaccination program (far from the optimal prevalence rate) increases the final size and prevents eradication of the disease.


If the loss of protection effectiveness is small, then the variation is very large. The vaccination program can eradicate the disease or reduce the final size of the epidemic to a very small size if we can execute the vaccination program near the optimal prevalence rate. The variation is sensitive for the prevalence rate. Therefore, we must carefully manage the vaccination program to control the disease when the loss is small. However, as the loss of protection effectiveness increases, the variation decreases. In particular, when the loss is medium, the reduction of the variation is remarkable. In addition, the reduction of the variation remains almost unchanged when the loss is large. This implies that the variation becomes insensitive if the loss is high. In this case, even if we can execute the vaccination program near the optimal prevalence rate, the effect of the program is not large. Therefore, although the final size is strongly affected by the vaccination coverage and a non-optimal vaccination program (far from the optimal prevalence rate) increases the final size, in general, good vaccine treatment with small loss of protection effectiveness has a great possibility for disease control. Demonstrably, poor vaccine application has little or no benefit.

Effects of non-pharmaceutical intervention

Avian influenza vaccination need not be used alone to eradicate the disease: additional non-pharmaceutical intervention is beneficial. Additional interventions must include culling infected animals, strict quarantine, movement controls and increased biosecurity, extensive surveillance [11], [16], [21], [34], [37]. We investigate the effects of some additional non-pharmaceutical intervention measures on the vaccination program. The effects are considered by changing model parameters (1).

In the European Union (EU), regulations for the control of avian influenza strains are imposed by EU council directive 92/40/EEC [34]. Virus output is reduced by the killing and removal of infected poultry flocks (culling). During the H7N7 epidemic in The Netherlands in 2003, this and other approaches were executed. To investigate the effectiveness of the control measures, A. Stegeman et al. quantified the transmission characteristics of the H7N7 strain before and after detection of the first outbreak of avian influenza in The Netherlands in 2003 [34]. In Table 1, we present the chosen epidemiological parameters, which are estimated on the H7N7 epidemic before notification of the circulation of the avian influenza (these parameters are not affected by the additional control measures). Here we choose other epidemiological parameters for vaccine-sensitive strain which are estimated by the H7N7 epidemic after the notification in [34] (these parameters are affected by the additional control measures) to evaluate an effect of the non-pharmaceutical intervention on the vaccination program. The estimate of the transmission parameter ω decreases considerably from 4.78×10−4 day−1 individual−1 to 1.70×10−4 day−1 individual−1 by the control measures. Furthermore, the estimate of the infectious period 1/(b+my) is also reduced from 13.8 days to 7.3 days. Therefore, control measures can reduce the basic reproductive number from 6.53 to 1.22 [34]. In addition, we assume, for example, that the relative transmissibility of vaccine-resistant strains is φ/ω = 0.7 and that the relative infectious period of vaccine-resistant strain is (b+my)/(b+mz) = 1.32 (these values are not strongly influential on our results).

We calculated the threshold values of the loss of protection effectiveness of the vaccination and present them in Table 3 when the vaccination program accompanies non-pharmaceutical intervention. Results show that the non-pharmaceutical intervention markedly reduces the risk of the emergence of the vaccine-resistant strain because σ* changes from 5.6% to 37.2%. In addition, the possibility that the vaccination program eventually eradicates the spread of the disease increases because changes from 20.1% to 88.6%. Furthermore, because σc changes from 23.6% to 100%, the vaccination program always decreases the final size of the epidemic compared with that before the vaccination program, even if the size increases when both strains co-exist. When the vaccination program accompanies non-pharmaceutical intervention, even if the loss of protection effectiveness is increased considerably by the vaccine-resistant strain, the loss can almost be compensated by the high optimal prevalence rate of the vaccination program: σo changes from 46.1% to 96.8%.


Table 3. Threshold values of the loss of protection effectiveness of the vaccination.


Figure 6 portrays the optimal prevalence rate of a vaccination program (top figure) and the optimal final size of the epidemic (bottom figure) with (pink curve and bar) or without (black curve and bar) the non-pharmaceutical intervention. The non-pharmaceutical intervention makes it easy to achieve an optimal prevalence rate and to prevent the spread of the disease. Moreover, catastrophic change does not occur until the loss of protection effectiveness becomes very high (top figure in Fig. 6). Furthermore, the optimal final size is also dramatically reduced by the additional intervention (bottom figure in Fig. 6). Even if vaccination without the additional intervention can not prevent the spread of the disease, the vaccination with the intervention can eradicate the disease (for example σ = 60%). Therefore, non-pharmaceutical intervention improves weak points of vaccination programs such as the difficult control of optimal vaccination coverage, the small applicability of the program with respect to the loss of protection effectiveness caused by the vaccine-resistant strain, and so on.


Figure 6. Effects of non-pharmaceutical intervention: The top figure shows the optimal prevalence rate of the vaccination program with (pink curve) or without (black curve) non-pharmaceutical intervention.

The non-pharmaceutical intervention readily achieves the optimal prevalence rate and hinders the catastrophic change. The bottom figure shows the optimal final size of the epidemic with (pink bar) or without (black bar) the non-pharmaceutical intervention. The intervention also dramatically reduces the final size of the epidemic.


Time-course of the spread of the disease

Finally, we investigate the time-course of spread of the disease according to vaccination and non-pharmaceutical interventions for 500 days in the presence of a vaccine-resistant strain. The results are presented in Fig. 7. We consider that the vaccination program and non-pharmaceutical interventions are executed after the vaccine-sensitive strain spreads and becomes endemic (around 200 days). Furthermore, the vaccine-resistant strain is assumed to occur in a few individuals after the start of the vaccination program (around 260 days). We assume that the prevalence rate of the vaccination program is p = 50%, the loss of protection effectiveness is σ = 80%; the other parameters are the same as those used in the descriptions above. These values of p and σ are not influential on our results (sensitivity analyses are shown in Supplementary Information: Text S1, Fig. S8, S9).


Figure 7. Time-course of the spread of the disease with vaccination and non-pharmaceutical interventions: We calculate epidemic curves with a vaccination program for 500 days.

The vaccination program and non-pharmaceutical intervention are started after the vaccine-sensitive strain becomes endemic (around 200 days). We assume that the vaccine-resistant strain occurs after the start of vaccination (around 260 days). The top, middle, and bottom figures respectively depict time courses of infection without the vaccination program, with only the vaccination program, and with both the vaccination program and the non-pharmaceutical intervention. The blue and red curves respectively represent the number of infected individuals with vaccine-sensitive and vaccine-resistant strains. We assume that the prevalence rate of vaccination program is p = 0.5, the loss of protection effectiveness is σ = 0.8.


The top figure in Fig. 7 depicts the epidemic curve without the vaccination program. It is apparent that the vaccine-sensitive strain (the blue curve) becomes endemic at around 200 days after a pandemic phase of the disease if we execute no intervention policy. The middle figure portrays the time-course of spread of the disease, assuming the vaccination program alone. A vaccine-resistant strain (the red curve) emerges and spreads widely through the population by replacing the vaccine-sensitive strain. It becomes endemic at around 450 days. This result shows the possibility that the emergence and replacement of the resistant strain can be facilitated by the vaccination program, as in some vaccination programs [19], [21], [22]. We can observe that it takes about several months for the resistant strain to beat the sensitive strain (see the middle figure in Fig. 7). Actually, the replacement time of the resistant strain was reported as several months in the China and Mexico epidemics [19], [21], [22]. The final size of the simulated epidemic is larger than that before (without) the vaccination program because the loss of protection effectiveness σ = 80% is greater than (see Fig. 3). In this case, the vaccination program negatively affects the control of infectious disease. The bottom figure presents the time-course of the spread of the disease with both the vaccination program and non-pharmaceutical interventions. The vaccine-sensitive strain is dramatically reduced and the vaccine-resistant strain hardly spreads in the population; therefore, both strains are eventually controlled at a low level by the interventions. Thus, non-pharmaceutical interventions can help the vaccination program and control the resistant strain to spread in the population.


A serious problem of vaccination strategy is the emergence of vaccine-resistant strains [19], [20], [21], [22]. Even if a resistant strain emerges, a vaccination program must be managed to control the spread of the disease. In the absence of the resistant strain, our mathematical model certainly shows that a large prevalence of the vaccination program might markedly reduce an epidemic curve and the final size of the epidemic. Therefore, we can control infectious diseases as in previous models [30]. However, in the presence of the emergence of a vaccine-resistant strain, the vaccination program can not simply control the spread of the disease. The control of the infectious disease through vaccination becomes more difficult.

The paradoxical result obtained here is that if the virulence of vaccine-resistant strain is less than that of vaccine-sensitive strain, the final size of the epidemic might increase as the prevalence rate of the vaccination program increases (see Fig. 2). A vaccination that is expected to prevent the spread of the disease can instead foster the spread of the disease. Although qualitatively similar results were obtained through more complex models [8], [9], which can be treated analytically only to a slight degree, one of our important results is the clear and simple concept illustrating the value and pitfalls of vaccination programs; the concept can help farmers and administrators to avoid negative effects from paradoxical phenomena.

We investigated how the loss of protection effectiveness impacts a vaccination program’s results in the lower virulence case. If the loss of protection effectiveness is between 0 and , the vaccination program can eventually eradicate the disease, even if a vaccine-resistant strain emerges (see Fig. 3). In particular, if the loss is between 0 and σ*, the program prevents even the emergence of the resistant strain. However, when the loss is greater than , the program no longer prevents the wide spread of the resistant strain in spite of the large prevalence rate of the program. Furthermore, if the loss is between σc and 1, the program presents the risk that the final size will become larger than that without the vaccination program. Therefore, in the context of the emergence of the resistant strain, we must carefully execute the program to exercise a positive effect of the vaccine effectively. Additionally, we investigated the optimal prevalence rate of the vaccination program, its final size, and the worst-case final size (see Fig. 4, 5 and Supplementary Information: Text S1). The catastrophic change of the optimal prevalence rate and the variation of the final size depending on the loss of protection effectiveness were confirmed.

From our theoretical analysis, we propose that monitoring the virulence of the resistant strain and investigating the loss resulting from a resistant strain can have important consequences for developing a vaccination strategy. In particular, all thresholds derived herein are only constructed using basic reproductive numbers and transmissibilities that prevail before the vaccination program, which can be estimated using epidemiological data (it is usually almost impossible to estimate basic and invasion reproductive numbers during vaccination programs). Therefore, using our theory, we were able to calculate various risks in the vaccination program using the available data (Table 3) and propose how we might use a poor vaccine, which has a large loss of protection effectiveness, against the resistant strain to maximize the effects of the program (Fig. 4, 5, and 6). For the results reported here, we assumed that the vaccinated birds can perfectly protect the infection from the vaccine-sensitive strain. Although that assumption is not unreasonable [21], in Supplementary Information: Text S1, Fig. S10, S11, we present an investigation of the effect of the loss of protection effectiveness against the vaccine-sensitive strain. Qualitatively similar results were obtained using numerical simulations.

Vaccination is now being used extensively to aid the prevention of emergence or to control the spread of avian influenza [14]. However, if the vaccinations are not used appropriately, prevention and control will be negatively affected by the vaccination program [1], [11], [19], [21], [22]. Actually, when the vaccine-resistant strain emerges, our model predicts various risks in the program. Therefore, to eradicate the infectious disease effectively by vaccination, early detection of the resistant strain, monitoring of its virulence and loss of protection effectiveness of vaccination caused by the resistant strain, and attendance of non-pharmaceutical interventions, in addition to collaboration among farmers, industry, public health authorities, and the government are all required.

Supporting Information

Figure S1.

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Figure S2.

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Figure S3.

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Figure S4.

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Figure S5.

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Figure S6.

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Figure S7.

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Figure S8.

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Figure S9.

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Figure S10.

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Figure S11.

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Text S1.

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Author Contributions

Analyzed the data: SI TS YT. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: SI TS YT. Wrote the paper: SI.


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New evidence that green tea may help fight glaucoma and other eye diseases

2010 study posted for filing

Contact: Michael Bernstein
American Chemical Society

This release is available in Chinese.

Scientists have confirmed that the healthful substances found in green tea — renowned for their powerful antioxidant and disease-fighting properties — do penetrate into tissues of the eye. Their new report, the first documenting how the lens, retina, and other eye tissues absorb these substances, raises the possibility that green tea may protect against glaucoma and other common eye diseases. It appears in ACS’s bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Chi Pui Pang and colleagues point out that so-called green tea “catechins” have been among a number of antioxidants thought capable of protecting the eye. Those include vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Until now, however, nobody knew if the catechins in green tea actually passed from the stomach and gastrointestinal tract into the tissues of the eye.

Pang and his colleagues resolved that uncertainty in experiments with laboratory rats that drank green tea. Analysis of eye tissues showed beyond a doubt that eye structures absorbed significant amounts of individual catechins. The retina, for example, absorbed the highest levels of gallocatechin, while the aqueous humor tended to absorb epigallocatechin. The effects of green tea catechins in reducing harmful oxidative stress in the eye lasted for up to 20 hours. “Our results indicate that green tea consumption could benefit the eye against oxidative stress,” the report concludes.




“Green Tea Catechins and Their Oxidative Protection in the Rat Eye”


Chi Pui Pang, Ph.D.
Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong Eye Hospital
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Phone: 852 27623169
Fax: 852 27159490

Chinese official says ‘no time limit’ on ships sailing near Senkakus ” “important” for China to “safeguard” China’s claim to the islands”

Monday, Nov. 12, 2012


HONG KONG — The head of China’s Oceanic Administration has said there is “no time limit” on Chinese patrol vessels sailing near the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands, a Hong Kong newspaper reported Sunday.


The Ming Pao daily, in a report from Beijing, quoted Oceanic Administration Secretary Liu Cigui as saying it is “important” for China to “safeguard” China’s claim to the islands, which are called Diaoyu by China.

Liu, a former official in Fujian Province in China’s southeast, was promoted to the Oceanic Administration early last year, the newspaper said.

He also called Hong Kong activists who have landed on the disputed islands in the past “patriots,” the Ming Pao reported.

Earlier, in Naha, the Japan Coast Guard said Chinese surveillance vessels sailed Sunday in an area just outside Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands, a major source of recent friction between the two countries, for the 23rd straight day since Oct. 20.

Since Wednesday, four Chinese maritime surveillance vessels have been in the contiguous zone near the group of islets in the East China Sea, according to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.

The coast guard said it warned the Chinese vessels over the radio not to enter Japanese territorial waters. But one of the vessels responded that it was on a regular patrol of areas administrated by China.

Taiwan, HK reminded to stick to One-China principle: Would be recovered by force if necessary – not to contemplate independence

Taiwan, HK reminded to stick to One-China principle
Kor Kian Beng The Straits Times Publication Date : 09-11-2012

In his last major speech as Communist Party chief, Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday issued reminders – some say warnings – to “compatriots” in Taiwan and Hong Kong to adhere to the One-China principle.

More specifically, he warned Taiwan – which China considers a renegade province that would be recovered by force if necessary – not to contemplate independence.

“The Chinese government will never allow anyone or any force to separate Taiwan from the motherland by any means,” he said, adding that such attempts were doomed to fail.

Speaking at the opening of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) five-yearly congress, he also gave a veiled warning to Hong Kongers about their Chinese identity.

He said he hoped to see Hong Kongers, along with those in Macau, play an active role in national affairs and share with fellow mainlanders “the dignity and glory of being Chinese”.

Observers in Hong Kong believe Hu’s remarks served as a warning to the former British colony, where anti-mainland sentiment and nostalgia for the British colonial era have been growing in the past year.

Upset by the massive influx of mainlanders since the 1997 handover and an increasing influence by the central government in domestic affairs, some Hong Kongers have waved the British colonial flag during protests. Meanwhile, voices from a fringe movement have called for independence.

Said Professor Joseph Cheng of the City University of Hong Kong: “The waving of the colonial flag has really touched the nerve of Beijing… As the scale of discontent of the people grows larger, Hu’s speech seems to show that Beijing is very concerned about the situation now.”

But Hu also pledged the mainland’s willingness to work with both regions.

He suggested that China and Taiwan should explore a joint mechanism to build confidence between their militaries. This could help maintain stability in cross-strait relations “so as to open a new horizon in advancing the peaceful growth of these relations”.

Both sides should also explore political relations and make “reasonable arrangements” for them, he said.

Cross-strait ties have warmed since Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou came to power in 2008. Analysts said Hu’s speech signalled that Beijing was prepared for more flexibility on Taiwan.

The development of “political relations” could be as simple as the setting up of representative offices, which is already on the cards, said Prof Tung Chen-yuan of Taipei’s National Chengchi University.

But it would be harder to reach a military trust mechanism and peace treaty, he said.

China’s economic destiny in doubt after leadership shock: “the greatest turn-over of top cadres since Mao’s revolution”

The forces of reaction and economic folly threaten to prevail in China. The long political arm of Jiang Zemin has reached out from the shadows to thwart reform, with huge implications for Asia and the world.


The forces of reaction and economic folly threaten to prevail in China. The long political arm of Jiang Zemin has reached out from the shadows to thwart reform, with huge implications for Asia and the world.

If reports from the Hong Kong press and China’s blogosphere are correct, a remarkable upset has occurred on the eve of the ten-year power shift next week — the greatest turn-over of top cadres since Mao’s revolution. Photo: Reuters
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

By , International business editor

5:00PM GMT 04 Nov 2012

If reports from the Hong Kong press and China’s blogosphere are correct, a remarkable upset has occurred on the eve of the ten-year power shift next week — the greatest turn-over of top cadres since Mao’s revolution.

The 86-year Mr Jiang — who rose to supreme leader on the bones of Muxidi and Tiananmen in 1989 — has placed his accolytes in charge of the economy, propaganda, as well as the Shanghai party machine.

The hardliners seem poised to snatch control of the seven-man Committee, tying the hands of incoming president Xi Xinping and premier Li Keqiang. If confirmed, long-term investors may have to rethink their core assumption about the future course of China.

This power struggle going into the 18th Party Congress matters more in the sweep of history than the run-off two days earlier between a centrist Barack Obama or the centrist Mitt Romney, though the stage drama is less compelling.

Mr Jiang’s rear-guard coup should give pause to thought. It was he who instituted the Patriotic Education movement in schools in the 1990s, whipping up nationalist fervour to replace the lost mystique of Maoism. The effect was to nurture revanchist hatred against Japan, creating a monster that now requires feeding.

His eerie return comes at a time when China and Japan are “one error away” from outright war over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, to cite the findings of four American diplomats in a report to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Stewart Patrick from the US Council of Foreign Relations likens East Asia to Europe just before the First World War. It was then that Sir Norman Angel famously argued that the great European powers were so intertwined by trade and investment that conflict had become unthinkable. Nationalist emotions decided otherwise.

Any conflict over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands would put the US in an impossible position since it is obliged by treaty to uphold Japanese control over the islands — and to go to war under Article V if Japan is attacked. The Noda government in Tokyo seems determined to hold America to that pledge.

Mr Patrick said that blank cheques to headstrong allies in the region could “set disaster in motion”, proving as dangerous as Germany’s blak cheque to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914.

The Obama “pivot” in US geostrategy away from the Muslim World and towards the Far East — viewed by Beijing as the containment of China — should have been the central focus of the third Obama-Romney debate. It became instead a ritual repetition of cliches on Iran.

From leaks so far, it appears that Guangdong party leader Wang Yang and the national party organisation chief Li Yuanchao have been struck from the Standing Committee.

These were the two rising stars annointed by outgoing President Hu Jintao to carry through the great economic reform, averting the “middle income trap” that lies in wait for any catch-up nation that relies too long on cheap exports, imported technology, and indiscriminate state credit.

Their defeat looks like a triumph for status quo hardliners who claim that tight party control of banks and key industries shielded China from the global capitalist heart attack of 2008-2009. Whether they really believe this — or merely aim to safeguard vested interests — it is arrant nonsense.

China rebounded in 2009 because it blitzed the system with fiscal stimulus worth 16pc of GDP, and because credit growth running near 30pc each year had not yet run out of momentum. It was a short-term cyclical effect.

Similar claims were made about Japan a quarter century ago when it brushed off America’s 1987 crash with deceptive ease. We all had to listen to lectures from the Left on the virtues of Japan’s dirigiste MITI model, with its intimate cross-holdings of banks and corporate Samurai.

The contours of China’s excess are by now well-known. Investment reached a world record 49pc of GDP last year, a level unseen in other Pacific tigers during their growth spurts. Consumption has fallen to 37pc of GDP, from an already very low 48pc a decade ago.

Negative real interest rates and restrictions on investing abroad forced savings into a housing bubble, pushing home to income ratios to 16 to 18 or even higher in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Shenzhen.

As premier Wen Jiabao likes to put it, China’s economy is “unstable, unbalanced, uncoordinated and ultimately unsustainable.” It is why his allies in China’s Development Research Centre (DRC) joined forces earlier this year with the World Bank to warn that the export-led growth model launched thirty years ago by Deng Xiaoping’s is now obsolete.

The low-hanging fruit of state-driven industrialisation has been picked. Stagnation lies in wait if the country clings to the dirigiste model. “China has reached another turning point in its development path when a second strategic, and no less fundamental, shift is called for,” they said,

“The forces supporting China’s continued rapid progress are gradually fading. The government’s dominance in key sectors, while earlier an advantage, is in the future likely to act as a constraint on creativity.”

Their report said the country risks hitting the sort of “invisible ceiling” that blighted Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. Remarkably few states have managed to break out of the middle income trap and jump — as Japan, Korea, and now Chile have done — to the vastly higher per capita income levels of the OECD bloc.

China has used up its catch-up cards, reaching the Lewis Point where the flood of cheap labour from the countryside dries up. It faces a “wrenching demographic change” as the old-aged dependency ratio doubles to North European levels within 20 years.

Manufacturing wages have been rising by 16pc a year for a decade, outstripping productivity. The gains from now on must come the hard way — from inventive dynamism. That is nigh impossible in a top-down system where free thinking is suspect, and party bosses channel credit to pet projects.

“The role of the private sector is critical because innovation at the technology frontier is quite different in nature from catching up technologically. It is not something that can be achieved through government planning.”

The picture is not black and white, of course. China is a mosaic of different systems. The party allows local trial and error under its strategy of “crossing the river by feeling the stones”, but the state’s grip remains suffocating. The report said a quarter of China’s state companies are losing money. They have a productivity growth rate two-thirds lower than private firms, yet they gobble up most of the available credit.

We don’t know the the real state of official finances. The DRC said state enterprises have built up “large contingent liabilities” that have yet to be accounted for. It revealed two weeks ago that local government debt is out of control in a number of regions, with debt service costs exceeding 100pc of the total budget in 78 cities.

It said that 42pc of local debts come due by the end of 2012. Presumably they will be rescued by state banks in one way or another, but that merely perpetuates a broken model.

The World Bank and the DRC say there is nothing inevitable about China’s economic fate. Whether it succeeds or fails is entirely a political choice, and one that is being made before our eyes.

It has every chance of reclaiming its place it enjoyed in the early 1800s under the Qing Dynasty as a flourishing economic hub, before the onset of catastrophic decline, but only if it grasps the nettle now.

We will learn on November 15 as the Standing Committee takes in place on the dais — and from the exact order of entry — where the balance of power lies for the next ten years, the final ten years before China’s demographic crunch closes the window altogether. The omens have suddenly darkened

New evidence that green tea may help improve bone health

20009 study posted for filing

Contact: Michael Woods
American Chemical Society

Researchers in Hong Kong are reporting new evidence that green tea — one of the most popular beverages consumed worldwide and now available as a dietary supplement — may help improve bone health. They found that the tea contains a group of chemicals that can stimulate bone formation and help slow its breakdown. Their findings are in ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a bi-weekly publication. The beverage has the potential to help in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and other bone diseases that affect million worldwide, the researchers suggest.

In the new study, Ping Chung Leung and colleagues note that many scientific studies have linked tea to beneficial effects in preventing cancer, heart disease, and other conditions. Recent studies in humans and cell cultures suggest that tea may also benefit bone health. But few scientific studies have explored the exact chemicals in tea that might be responsible for this effect.

The scientists exposed a group of cultured bone-forming cells (osteoblasts) to three major green tea components — epigallocatechin (EGC), gallocatechin (GC), and gallocatechin gallate (GCG) — for several days. They found that one in particular, EGC, boosted the activity of a key enzyme that promotes bone growth by up to 79 percent. EGC also significantly boosted levels of bone mineralization in the cells, which strengthens bones. The scientists also showed that high concentrations of ECG blocked the activity of a type of cell (osteoclast) that breaks down or weakens bones. The green tea components did not cause any toxic effects to the bone cells, they note.




ARTICLE #3 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE “Effects of Tea Catechins, Epigallocatechin, Gallocatechin, and Gallocatechin Gallate, on Bone Metabolism”


Ping Chung Leung, Ph.D.
Institute of Chinese Medicine
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Shatin, Hong Kong
People’s Republic of China
Phone: 852-22528868
Fax: 852-2632441

Exclusive: EU insurers strip cover from ships storing Iran oil

By Luke Pachymuthu and Randy FabiPosted 2012/10/12 at 1:17 am EDT

SINGAPORE, Oct. 12, 2012 (Reuters) — Two European insurers have withdrawn cover for tankers involved in the Iranian oil trade, the first such move since tough new sanctions were imposed in July, documents obtained by Reuters show.

The tankers, operated by Hong Kong’s Titan Petrochemicals Group Ltd, were used to store Iranian oil for top oil trader Vitol and little known shipping firm Glammarine, Reuters reported previously.

While the European Union sanctions bar Western-based insurers from covering tankers that carry, rather than store, Iranian oil, the documents show the insurers were not prepared to risk falling foul of the curbs.

“Titan’s conduct breaches the spirit if not the wording of U.S. and EU sanctions against Iran,” a September 14 document quoted Mike Salthouse, director of North Insurance Management, as saying on behalf of the North of England P&I Association, Titan’s main insurer.

“Were the Association to continue to provide insurance to the Titan fleet we have concluded that there would be a high probability of further breaches of sanctions,” it said.

Gard, the world’s second-largest marine insurer, also dropped the shipping and oil storage company, according to a September 7 document from the insurer to Titan. It had covered one of the firm’s floating oil storage vessels.

Both European insurers declined to comment.

Titan must now find new insurers to continue operating its floating storage business off Malaysia, one of the biggest in Southeast Asia. That could prove difficult if other Western-based insurers, which cover around 90 percent of the world’s tanker fleet, also decide to shut Titan out.

Titan officials could not be reached for comment.

The company’s floating oil storage business generated more than $64 million in revenue last year, about a fifth of Titan’s total revenue, according to the firm’s annual results. Titan hires the floating storage vessels under long-term contracts with independent shipowners such as Norway’s Frontline.

Frontline, the world’s largest independent oil tanker operator, has withdrawn the charter for at least one of Titan’s fleet due to the ship’s involvement in the Iranian oil trade, a Frontline official told Reuters.

Heavy with debt and with five straight years of losses, Titan is being sold to Chinese oil trader Guangdong Zhenrong Energy Co Ltd, whose parent, Zhuhai Zhenrong, is blacklisted by the United States as the biggest supplier of refined petroleum products to Iran.

Titan is locked in a legal battle with U.S. buyout fund Warburg Pincus, which holds a stake of around 10 percent in the shipper. New York-based Warburg has ploughed $215 million into Titan since 2007 in an unprofitable investment, and has filed a petition to wind up the company through the Bermuda courts.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in London and Stephen Aldred in HONG KONG; Editing by Michael Urquhart and Ian Geoghegan)

‘Food terrorism’ a new concern in China-Japan rift

KuchikomiOct. 07, 2012 – 06:30AM JST( 2 )


In a matter of weeks from mid-September, Japan-China relations have chilled to a level not seen in recent memory.

“In China, Japanese nationals have been singled out for attacks, such as the hot broth from a bowl of noodles being flung on a Japanese customer, or a man assaulted on the street in Hong Kong,” a Japanese exchange student in China tells Shukan Jitsuwa (Oct 18).

“There’s also been rumors going around that Japanese women in China were raped. Everybody’s terrified that sooner or later one of these rumors will prove to be true.”

With some Japanese in China afraid to go out in public, another concern has surfaced: that something will happen in Japan as well.

“It’s ‘food terrorism,’” says a source employed by one of Japan’s security agencies. “Concerns have surfaced that the incident of poisoned ‘gyoza’ (pot-sticker dumplings) will be repeated. The existence has been confirmed of Chinese terrorists who may be plotting to lace food imports bound for Japan with poison, moved by the slogan ‘Ai guo wu sui’ (no guilt for criminal acts perpetuated in the name of patriotism).”

The previous incident dates back four years, when 10 Japanese children and adults who had consumed frozen gyoza produced by Tenyo Shokuhin in China and sold through a cooperative in Japan reported symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. Fortunately there were no fatalities.

It was determined that the gyoza had been laced with an agricultural pesticide.

“Initially when the news broke, China tried to avoid any responsibility, insisting that the poison had been added after the food arrived in Japan,” says a source described as an “Foreign Ministry agent.” “Several months later, however, similar reports of poisoning occurred in China, and the police, who were concerned over protests, announced they’d arrested a temporary worker at Tenyo Shokuhin, who had poisoned the gyoza out of dissatisfaction over wages. The incident was reported in China via the Internet and in newspapers, so Chinese are well aware of what happened.”

But now Japan’s security apparatus is concerned that terrorists with “patriotic” motives will adopt similar measures.

“We’ve also received data concerning this via the CIA,” says the aforementioned security source. “The plot involves a fanatical right-wing Chinese organization that is planning to pay some poor worker at a factory to poison food. In China now, the gap between rich and poor has widened remarkably and education in morals has been lacking. The data we’ve obtained appears to be highly accurate.”

About 60% of the vegetables, sea foods and other semi-processed and frozen foods imported into Japan are sourced from China. Over the last decade, the volume of imports have jumped fivefold.

“Gyoza are not the only item to be concerned about,” says a journalist covering foreign affairs. “Japan imports ‘udon’ (a type of noodle), croquettes, rice pilaf dishes, hamburgers, cutlets and so on. Likewise for frozen vegetables—there are potatoes, ‘edamame’ (unshelled soya beans), string beans, spinach, corn, broccoli, mixed vegetables and so on. Japan is dependent on China for over half the vegetables on its dining tables. It’s occurred to practically anybody that workers, either through bribery or acting out of a sense of righteous resentment are capable of poisoning a batch.

“Should such a thing occur,” he adds, “panic would break out in Japan. The controversy over the Senkakus would disappear.”

“The Noda-led government has no ability to contain the present situation,” remarks the aforementioned security source. “The police and foreign ministry security groups and the special intelligence unit attached to the cabinet have been collating this data and issued warnings, but to be frank, it’s like trying to grab hold of a cloud—there are limits to what we can accomplish. All we can do is go on collecting the data.”

Despite possible blows to its trade, tourism and retail sectors, the magazine warns, Japan will need to maintain close vigilance for the duration.

Hong Kong tycoon offers $65 million bounty to marry off lesbian daughter

*EngineeringEvil:  * Would like 2nd Confirmation of this release.

By Agence France-Presse Wednesday, September 26, 2012 2:46 EDT

File photo shows gay and lesbian activists during a gay pride march in Hong Kong via AFP

A Hong Kong tycoon has offered a $65 million “marriage bounty” to any man who can win the heart of his lesbian daughter, a report said Wednesday.

Cecil Chao announced the financial reward of HK$500 million after his daughter, Gigi, married her same-sex partner of seven years in France earlier this year, the South China Morning Post reported.

“I don’t mind whether he is rich or poor. The important thing is that he is generous and kind hearted,” 76-year-old Chao was quoted as saying.

“Gigi is a very good woman with both talents and looks. She is devoted to her parents, is generous and does volunteer work,” he added.

He also rejected “false reports” that Gigi, 33, had married abroad, saying she was still single.

Chao, who owns publicly-listed property developer Cheuk Nang, could not be reached for comment.

Same-sex marriages are not recognised in Hong Kong, a socially conservative Chinese city where homosexuality was decriminalised in 1991.

Chao is well known in Hong Kong’s social circles and regularly appears at public events with his latest young girlfriend.

He reportedly once claimed to have had intimate relations with 10,000 women.

Google falls flat in China, Baidu remains Dominant: Google to end music search and download service in China

Google to end music search and download service in China

By Agence France-Presse Friday, September 21, 2012 12:12 EDT

Google homepage file photo via AFP


US Internet giant Google said Friday that it would stop providing music search and download services in China from next month after a disappointing response from users.

More than two years ago, Google effectively shut down its Chinese search engine, providing mainland users with a landing page that redirects to its uncensored site in Hong Kong.

Google said at the time the move was in response to censorship by the Chinese authorities.

In its latest decision, Google said in a statement it would halt services launched in 2009 with Chinese music downloading website

“We have decided to shut down the music search services in China and turn our focus to more influential products,” Boon-Lock Yeo, senior engineering director of Google China, wrote on the unit’s blog.

“This product was not as influential as we expected.”

Google will transfer staff from the music project to other areas, the statement said.

“We’ve been dedicated to developing products that can really change people’s lives. During this process… you not only need to consider what should be carried forward, but also need to deliberate what should be stopped,” Yeo said.

In the second quarter of this year, Google had 15.7 percent of the market for search engines in China while domestic leader Baidu commanded a whopping 78.6 percent share, according to consultancy Analysys International.

For the first time more millionaires call Asia-Pacific, instead of North America, ‘home’

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 4:10 EDT

Swimming pool on a sunny day.Pattaya city in Thailand via Shutterstock

Asia-Pacific has overtaken North America as home to the most millionaires for the first time, boosted by a rise in the number of wealthy in China and Japan, a report released on Wednesday showed.

The region had 3.37 million high net worth individuals (HNWIs) in 2011 compared to North America’s 3.35 million, a study jointly published by consulting firm Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management found.

Europe possessed 3.17 million HNWIs, which are defined as those having investable assets of $1 million or more excluding their primary residence and luxury possessions including art.


“Asia-Pacific is now home to more high net worth individuals than any other region for the first time,” Barend Janssens, head of emerging markets for RBC, told a press conference in Singapore.

Asia-Pacific overtook Europe in 2010 to take second place and a strong growth in the millionaire population — particularly in Japan and China — coupled with a fall in the number of the rich in North America led to the region taking first, Janssens said.

“The most significant finding is that Asia-Pacific’s population of high net worth individuals grew at a rate of 1.6 percent in 2011, twice the rate of the global population of 0.8 percent,” he said.

“This is driven by growth in Japan of up to 4.8 percent and China of up to 5.2 percent.”

Japanese formed the bulk of the HNWIs in the Asia-Pacific, constituting 54.1 percent of the total regional population of the rich.

China and Australia ranked second and third at 16.7 percent and 5.3 percent respectively.


Together, the three countries accounted for 76.1 percent of HNWIs in the region.

Despite hosting the most HNWIs, Asia-Pacific still lagged behind in terms of total investable wealth at $10.7 trillion, compared to $11.4 trillion for North America.

International factors such as the eurozone crisis coupled with domestic issues, including, sinking property prices and inflation bit into the pockets of millionaires, said Claire Sauvanaud, vice president of Capgemini Asia-Pacific.

International capital outflows from the region also held back its rich, with China and India seeing $1.6 billion and $4.09 billion in foreign institutional investor funds leave their markets last year, data showed.

But Sauvanaud said the region — led by economic powerhouses China and India — would be able to weather the problems.

“The diverse nature of Asia-Pacific exports and economies means the outlook for the region as a whole remains very strong,” she stated.

“China and India are the ones to watch. Despite their challenges they are likely to remain two of the fastest-growing economies in the world in the very near future.”

[Swimming pool on a sunny day.Pattaya city in Thailand, via]

The United States, long considered a champion of economic freedom, plunged to No. 18 in new rankings published in the 2012 Economic Freedom of the World

The United States, long considered a champion of economic freedom, plunged to No. 18 in new rankings published in the 2012 Economic Freedom of the World, an annual report co-authored by Florida State University economics Professor James Gwartney.

The report is published by Canada’s Fraser Institute in cooperation with institutes in 78 other nations and territories. The U.S. publisher is the Cato Institute. The 2012 report, released on Sept. 18, uses 42 different variables derived from sources such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to measure the degree to which the institutions and policies of 144 countries are consistent with economic freedom.

“The report indicates that the U.S. is on the wrong track,” Gwartney said. “Freer economies grow more rapidly and achieve higher income levels. Now, for more than a decade, the United States has been expanding the size of government, increasing both debt and regulation, and using subsidies, grants, tax breaks and mandates to centrally plan large sectors of the economy. A system of crony capitalism has emerged. The declining economic freedom rating of the United States provides confirmation of this trend.”

The cornerstones of economic freedom are personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to compete, and security of private property, according to Gwartney, who has served as an author of the report since its inception in 1996. Gwartney’s co-authors this year are Robert A. Lawson of Southern Methodist University and Joshua Hall of Beloit College.

To determine the rankings, the authors used an index that measures the degree to which countries rely on rule of law and markets rather than political decision-making to allocate resources. The current ratings and rankings are based on data through year-end 2010.

Hong Kong once again topped the rankings of the 144 countries, followed by Singapore, New Zealand and Switzerland. Australia and Canada were tied for fifth.

From 1980 to 2000, the U.S. ranking was third, behind only Hong Kong and Singapore. However, since 2000, the U.S. ranking has slid steadily downward to eighth in 2005, 10th in 2008, and now 18th in 2010. The economic freedom score of the United States now falls below Finland and Denmark, two European welfare states. The United States also trails Mauritius, Chile, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Estonia, Taiwan and Qatar.

The summary ratings of countries range from a low of approximately 3.0 to a high of near 9.0. The U.S. rating has fallen from 8.65 in 2000 to 7.70 in 2010. This approximate 1-point decline may not sound like much, but the report argues that a 1-point change in a country’s rating is associated with between a 1- and a 1.5-percentage-point decline in long-term economic growth.

Historically, the per capita income of the United States has grown at an annual rate of a little more than 2 percent. A 1-percentage-point decline would mean future annual growth of per capita income in the 1 percent range, half the historic average, Gwartney said. The growth rate of per capita income in the United States averaged 2.3 percent in the 1980s and 2.2 percent during the 1990s, but it fell to an annual rate of only 0.7 percent from  2000 to 2010.

“This sluggish growth will be the new norm unless we move away from the policies that are undermining economic freedom,” Gwartney said.

The rankings of other large economies include Japan (20th), Germany (31st), Korea (37th), France (47th), Italy (83rd), Mexico (91st), Russia (95th), Brazil (105th), China (107th) and India (111th).

Venezuela has the lowest level of economic freedom among the 144 countries for which data are available. Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Republic of Congo and Angola round out the bottom five nations.

In addition to the country summary rating, the study also measures economic freedom in five areas: (1) size of government, (2) legal structure and security of property rights, (3) access to sound money, (4) freedom to trade internationally, and (5) regulation of credit, labor and business.

The full 2012 report and data from previous annual reports are available at

Japan’s ambassador-designate to China dies in Tokyo: ministry

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s ambassador-designate to China, Shinichi Nishimiya, died on Sunday in a Tokyo hospital, the Foreign Ministry said, three days after he was found unconscious on a Tokyo street.

              Doctors were looking into the cause of death, ministry official Takashi Ariyoshi said in a statement, but no other details were available. Nishimiya, 60, was found unconscious on a street near his home on his way to work.

              Nishimiya was to have left in mid-October to take over from Uichiro Niwa as Japan’s top envoy in Beijing.

              While coincidental, Nishimiya’s death came as tensions flared up between Japan and China over a disputed group of islands in the East China Sea claimed by both countries.

              Anti-Japan protests flared in cities across China for a second day on Sunday, with police using tear gas and water cannon to drive back thousands of protesters in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong.

              The protests, the latest setback in long-troubled relations between China and Japan, followed Japan’s decision on Tuesday to buy the disputed islands, called Senkaku by Tokyo and the Diaoyu by Beijing and which could contain rich gas reserves, from a private Japanese owner.

              (Reporting by Yuko Inoue; Editing by Paul Tait

Where is China’s president-in-waiting? Mystery surrounds absent politician who hasn’t been seen for a week

By Anna Edwards

PUBLISHED:10:15 EST, 10  September 2012| UPDATED:10:19 EST, 10 September 2012

Xi Jinping, Vice President of the People's Republic of China, has had his meetings cancelled
Xi Jinping, Vice President of the People’s Republic of  China, has had his meetings cancelled

China’s president-in-waiting Xi Jinping has  not been seen in public for more than a week, prompting a wave of speculation on  the reason for his absence.

Mr Xi cancelled meetings with visiting  foreign dignitaries including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and  Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong.

But his sudden absence has not been  reportedly fully explained by Chinese authorities and his movements have been  shrouded in mystery.

China may now be a lynchpin of the global  economy and a force in international diplomacy, but the lives of its leaders  remain a puzzle to its 1.3 billion population.

So when the presumptive head of that opaque  leadership disappears from public view, rumour mills naturally go into a  frenzy.

‘There is a long-standing practice of not  reporting on illnesses or troubles within the elites,’ said Scott Kennedy,  director of Indiana University’s Research Centre for Chinese Politics and  Business in Beijing.

‘The sense is that giving out such  information would only fuel further speculation.’

Adding further fuel to the fire, a scheduled  photo session with visiting Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, which  the media were asked to cover, was abruptly taken off the programme.

In the dark: After his meeting with Hilary Clinton was cancelled, the Chinese population are speculating where their vice-president is
In the dark: After his meeting with Hilary Clinton was  cancelled, the Chinese population are speculating where their vice-president  is

The Foreign Ministry claimed the Xi and  Thorning-Schmidt meeting was never intended to take place.

‘As I said last week, China’s state  councillors will meet the Danish prime minister,’ Foreign Ministry spokesman  said.

When asked about the rumours of an injury,  he said ‘we have told everybody everything,’ and refused to  elaborate.

Most online speculation about the portly  59-year-old Mr Xi has centred on a back problem, possibly incurred when he took  a dip last week in the swimming pool inside the Zhongnanhai leadership compound.  Another rumour has the back being hurt in a soccer game.

This year, China has seen an unusual amount  of political intrigue.

There was the downfall of Politburo member  Bo Xilai, a foprmer Party secretary of  Chongqing, exposing divisions within the  leadership and prompting rumours of nefarious activity ranging from the  wiretapping of top leaders to an attempted coup.

The sudden transfer of a key secretary to  president Hu Jintao earlier this month also spawned conjecture about a Ferrari  crash involving the aide’s son and an ensuing attempted cover-up.

The tension and uncertainty are heightened by  the timing ahead of a generational shift to a new leadership that is to be  headed by Mr Xi.

Mr Xi is expected to first assume Mr Hu’s  mantle as Communist leader at a party congress held once every five years.

Yet the dates for the meeting, expected in  the second half of October, have yet to be announced, prompting talk that at  least some of the seats on the nine-member Standing Committee remain up for  grabs.

Wang Xiangwei, editor-in-chief of Hong Kong’s  South China Morning Post and a long-time state media insider, wrote that Chinese  leaders’ meetings are planned well in advance and cancellations are extremely  rare.

‘Baring Mr Xi himself offering a very  unlikely explanation today about his cancelled meetings last week, the outside  world may never know the exact reason, and the rumours are unlikely to fade  away,’ he wrote

Read more:

St. Jude develops vaccine against potential pandemic influenza virus H5N1 using reverse genetics (Using H1N1, requested repost 2003)

Contact: Bonnie Cameron 901-495-4815 St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Special modification of reverse genetics created at St. Jude allowed vaccine to be custom-made within weeks of emergence of virus

(MEMPHIS, TENN.–April 2, 2003) Scientists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital announced today the development of a vaccine against H5N1, a new lethal influenza virus that triggered the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a pandemic alert in February 2003.

The virus appeared in birds in Hong Kong late last year and subsequently killed one of two infected people with rapidly progressive pneumonia in the past month.  St. Jude developed the vaccine in only four weeks from the time it received the H5N1 sample from colleagues in Hong Kong.

The announcement comes at a time when a second, as-yet-unidentified virus, has taken several lives around the world. The unknown virus, which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), appears to have originated at the same time and in the same place as the new “flu.”

The development of the initial (“seed”) batch of H5N1 vaccine is significant because humans do not have a natural immunity to the virus, according to Robert Webster, Ph.D., a member of the Department of Infectious Diseases at St. Jude. Rather, humans appear to become infected through contact with chickens and other birds. In the past the virus killed only the chickens it infected. But the new variant of H5N1 also killed many kinds of wild birds, which is unusual.

If H5N1 acquires the ability to pass from human to human, there would be the potential for concern similar to that for SARS, according to Webster.

“It’s likely there were two things that prevented the 1997 poultry influenza outbreak in Hong Kong from becoming more deadly–its inability to spread from human to human and the slaughter of more than 1.5 million chickens and other birds in the open-air markets of Hong Kong, which eliminated the source of the virus,” Webster said. “In fact, the sudden appearance of SARS in the same region of the world is just another warning that the large populations of people and poultry in this region are a potential source of viruses.”

Webster is the director of the WHO’s U.S. Collaborating Center at St. Jude that studies animal influenza viruses. It is the only WHO laboratory that focuses on the transmission of animal viruses to humans.

Webster’s laboratory has sent the seed H5N1 vaccine to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the World Influenza Center in London for further testing, in preparation for initial Phase I and Phase II trials in humans.  “It’s important to move right along with these trials in case the virus begins spreading from person to person,” Webster says. Led by Richard Webby, Ph.D., and Daniel Perez, Ph.D., the St. Jude laboratory team successfully modified a technique called reverse genetics to permit them to develop the H5N1 vaccine so quickly. Using the samples of H5N1 obtained from Hong Kong, Webby mixed two genes from H5N1 with six genes from a second virus (A/PR8/34)[H1N1]). H1N1 is a rapidly growing “master” strain of virus commonly used to make vaccines.

The genes from flu viruses produce proteins called HA and NA, which are on the surface of the virus, in full “view” of the immune system. Webby took the modified gene for HA and the NA from H5N1 and mixed them inside a cell with six genes from H1N1. The HA gene was modified to abolish its ability to cause disease and therefore made it safer to use in the vaccine.

The genes mixed together, and the resulting vaccine virus produced in the cell thus carried HA and NA from H5N1. But because of the alterations to the HA, and the rest of the genes being derived from H1N1, the new virus vaccine cannot cause disease. Rather, it can only stimulate the immune system to respond to H5N1.

“The St. Jude vaccine is like a gun without ammunition,” said Elaine Tuomanen, M.D., director of the St. Jude Department of Infectious Diseases. “The vaccine looks deadly enough for its HA and NA proteins to alert the immune system. But in reality, it’s carrying blanks that can’t cause disease.”

Key to the quick success in developing the vaccine was the on-campus availability of GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) facilities, which are equivalent in quality to those used by pharmaceutical companies to make biological agents such as vaccines. In addition, the centralization of genetic analysis and other molecular biology work, performed in the Hartwell Center for Bioinformatics and Biotechnology at St. Jude, greatly accelerated the process of building the vaccine components.

“We’ve been lucky twice with H5N1–once in 1997 and once so far during this current outbreak–in not experiencing human-to-human transmission,” Webster says. “But the mixing bowl in Hong Kong is still stirring up new variations of familiar viruses. Although we just made a vaccine against one of that mixing bowl’s nasty viral brews, SARS shows us there’s always another threat down the road.”


St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in Memphis, Tennessee, was founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas. The hospital is an internationally recognized biomedical research center dedicated to finding cures for catastrophic diseases of childhood. The hospital’s work is supported through funds raised by ALSAC. ALSAC covers all costs not covered by insurance for medical treatment rendered at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Families without insurance are never asked to pay. For more information, please visit

A small genetic change makes flu virus deadly ( H5N1 2001 Requested Repost)

Contact: Jeff Minerd 301-402-1663 NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

A small genetic change makes flu virus deadly

A tiny change in one of the influenza virus’s 10 genes is key to making certain strains of the virus especially virulent to humans, scientists report in the Sept. 7 issue of Science. This discovery helps explain why an influenza outbreak four years ago in Hong Kong killed an unusually high proportion of the people it infected – six out of 18, says lead researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka, D.V.M., Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“We have found that a limited number of very tiny genetic changes in a specific gene, one called PB2, can have a big effect on how potent the influenza virus is,” says Dr. Kawaoka, a grantee of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).  “Because the influenza virus constantly mutates, and because only a few changes can make a non-pathogenic virus highly pathogenic, we should assume that an outbreak of any new strain or subtype is potentially dangerous to humans.”

“To prepare for future influenza pandemics, NIAID has supported efforts to understand how new virus strains potentially harmful to humans appear,” says Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID director. “This study is an elegant example of research that provides insight into the emergence of virulent viruses and can help us develop better strategies for detecting future outbreaks.”

Wild waterfowl are natural reservoirs for the influenza virus; these birds transmit the virus to pigs or chickens, which then pass it on to people. The deadly outbreak of influenza virus subtype H5N1 in Hong Kong in 1997 was the first documented case of an influenza virus jumping directly from chickens to people.  Public health authorities responded by ordering the slaughter of more than 1 million live poultry to prevent further spread of the virus to humans.

Dr. Kawaoka and colleagues obtained samples of the H5N1 viruses that had infected Hong Kong residents during the 1997 outbreak. Testing these viruses in laboratory mice, the researchers found good correlation between how sick certain H5N1 strains made mice and how sick they had made humans.  The researchers divided the H5N1 strains into two groups: one that caused systemic lethal infection in the mice and one that was relatively benign.  Mice are a good model for studying H5N1, Dr. Kawaoka says, because this virus affects mice and humans similarly.

Next, Dr. Kawaoka used a technology that allows him to genetically engineer “designer” influenza viruses from scratch.  By systematically swapping the genes from the harmful and benign viruses, then testing how those engineered viruses affected mice, he discovered that the PB2 gene from the harmful group gives the virus its potency.  Then, through testing viruses that contained variations of this PB2 gene, he further identified a tiny change within the gene – a change of just one unit of RNA – that appears to be key to the virus’s virulence.

The function of the PB2 gene is not completely understood, but scientists believe it codes for an enzyme that helps force the host cell’s molecular machinery to make more viruses, Dr. Kawaoka explains.  “We don’t know if the mutation we studied is involved in that process, but our next step will be to find out,” he says.

Just over 10 years ago, researchers developed the ability to genetically engineer influenza viruses, a process known as reverse genetics.  In 1999, Dr. Kawaoka, with support from NIAID, streamlined this technology, making it much more efficient.  Without the ability to engineer influenza viruses through the reverse genetics system, it would not have been possible to create and study variations of the H5N1 virus, Dr. Kawaoka says.  “Just a few years ago, this discovery would not have been possible,” says Carole Heilman, Ph.D., director of NIAID’s Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. “We believe this is the first of many more important discoveries that will arise from this technology.”


For more information on Dr. Kawaoka’s work in this field, other NIAID-supported influenza research, and background on the virus itself, visit Focus on the Flu on the NIAID Web site at  Focus on the Flu also contains information on NIAID-sponsored efforts to prepare for future influenza pandemics.  Such efforts include helping to fund ongoing monitoring of influenza virus strains circulating through live poultry markets in Hong Kong, a project that could nip future outbreaks in the bud.  Other NIAID-supported researchers are examining the history of influenza virus evolution for clues about which new strains might emerge next.

NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.


Hatta M et al.  Molecular basis for high virulence of Hong Kong H5N1 influenza A viruses.  Science 293(5536):1840-42 (2001).

Press releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID Web site at

Superflu is being brewed in the lab (Article H5N1 2004 Requested Repost)

Contact: Claire Bowles 44-207-331-2751 New Scientist

Superflu is being brewed in the lab

AFTER the worldwide alarm triggered by last year’s SARS outbreak, it might seem reckless to set about creating a potentially far more devastating virus in the lab. But that is what is being attempted by some researchers, who argue that the dangers of doing nothing are even greater.

We already know that the H5N1 bird flu virus ravaging poultry farms in Asia can be lethal on the rare occasions when it infects people. Now a team is tinkering with its genes to see if it can turn into a strain capable of spreading from human to human. If they manage this, they will have created a virus that could kill tens of millions if it got out of the lab.

Many researchers say experiments like this are needed to answer crucial questions. Why can a few animal flu viruses infect humans? What makes the viruses deadly? And what changes, if any, would enable them to spread from person to person and cause pandemics that might prove far worse than that of 1918? Once we know this, they argue, we will be better prepared for whatever nature throws at us.

Others disagree. It is not clear how much we can learn from such work, they argue. And they point out that it is already possible to create a vaccine by other means (see page 36). The work is simply too dangerous, they say. “I’m getting bombarded from both sides,” says Ronald Atlas, head of the Center for Deterrence of Biowarfare and Bioterrorism at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. “Some say that this sort of research is dangerous because of the risk of the virus escaping or being using in bioterrorism, and others that it’s good science.”

Some researchers refuse to discuss their plans. But Jacqueline Katz at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC)in Atlanta, Georgia, told New Scientist her team is already tweaking the genes of the H5N1 bird flu virus that killed several people in Hong Kong in 1997, and those of the human flu virus H3N2. She is testing the ability of the new viruses to spread by air and cause disease in ferrets, whose susceptibility to flu appears to be remarkably similar to ours. Albert Osterhaus of Erasmus University in Rotterdam in the Netherlands plans to test altered viruses on rodents and macaque monkeys. Other groups are also considering similar experiments, he says.  If such work were to show that H5N1 could cause a human pandemic, everything that is happening in Asia would be even more alarming, Osterhaus argues. If, on the other hand, it failed to transform H5N1 into a highly contagious human virus, we could relax. “It becomes a veterinary health problem, not a public health problem. That would be an enormous relief.”

But Wendy Barclay of the University of Reading in the UK, who “thought long and hard” about trying to create a pandemic flu virus before abandoning the idea, disagrees. “If you get a negative, how can you be sure that you have tested every option?” she says. Health authorities would still have to take the precaution of creating H5N1 vaccines.

Barclay concedes, however, that creating a virus that spreads in people might tell us how real the threat is. For instance, do you need one mutation for H5N1 to adapt to humans, or dozens?

Osterhaus is more optimistic. “Within the next decade, the whole thing will be solved,” he says. “We will know the rules.” In other words, once experts understand what the genetic sequence of any flu virus means, they could predict which animals it can infect, how severe it will be, and how easily it will spread.

Yet any new viruses could only be tested in human cell cultures or in animals, not on people. None of these methods exactly reflects how flu behaves in humans. This has led some flu experts to argue that attempts to create a pandemic virus should be put on hold until there is agreement on the best way of testing it.  And there is an even more fundamental objection to such experiments: the processes used to create the viruses may be too artificial. Researchers who want to see if H5N1 can be pandemic can take two approaches. One is to tinker with the genome of the bird flu virus to mimic mutations that might occur naturally. This can be done precisely using a technique called reverse genetics (see page 38) The other approach is to mix bird flu genes with those of human flu viruses, either using reverse genetics or through random reassortment in cells infected with both types.

Although reassortment sounds more natural, there’s a problem. “Reassortments can be made very easily in the lab using cells or animals,” says flu expert Graeme Laver, formerly at the Australian National University in Canberra. “But one of the big mysteries is that [human] viruses that appear by reassortment are extremely rare in nature. There is something else involved that we don’t understand.”

Then there is the question of safety. The worst-case scenario is that researchers might end up engineering extremely dangerous viruses that would never have evolved naturally. In 2001, for instance, Australian researchers created a mousepox virus far more virulent than any wild strains. This scenario is unlikely, but not impossible, says virologist Earl Brown of the University of Ottawa, Canada. “You could create something that is right out of whack, but I’d be surprised.”

For those reasons, several prominent flu researchers told New Scientist that the H5N1 experiments must be done at the highest level of containment: Biosafety Level 4, or BSL-4  (see right). But the CDC work is being done at BSL-3Ag, an intermediate level between BSL-3 and BSL-4. Workers wear half-suits with masks or hoods to prevent infection, for instance, rather than full-body suits as in BSL-4.  “US Department of Agriculture guidelines specify that work with highly pathogenic avian strains be done in BSL-3+ (also known as BSL-3Ag) laboratories,” a CDC spokeswomen says. One of the reasons is that the H5N1 virus is regarded as a non-contagious, treatable disease in humans. But this is not necessarily true of all of the genetically engineered strains that might be created. And drug supplies would quickly run out if an escaped virus triggered a major epidemic (see page 39).

A recent report by the US National Academy of Sciences recommends a series of checks be put in place to control such research. It says a panel of leading scientists and security experts should be set up to regulate it. “Some public representation is another option,” says Atlas, who helped draw up the report. At the moment, however, such experiments can be carried out without any special consultation.   Methods like reverse genetics might also be used to create new variants of other diseases. “You can make some pretty unusual things- new viruses that would never have existed in nature,” says Barclay. “It’s not just an issue for flu.”


Rachel Nowak, Melbourne Additional reporting by Michael Le Page

New Scientist issue: 28 February 2004


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Study finds increasing atmospheric concentrations of new flame retardants

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Compounds used in new flame-retardant products are showing up in the environment at increasing concentrations, according to a recent study by researchers at Indiana University Bloomington.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, reports on concentrations of two compounds measured in atmospheric samples collected in the Great Lakes region between 2008 and 2010. Authors are doctoral student Yuning Ma, Assistant Research Scientist Marta Venier and Distinguished Professor Ronald A. Hites, all of the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

The chemicals — 2-ethylhexyl tetrabromobenzoate, also known as TBB; and bis(2-ethylhexyl) tetrabromophthalate, or TBPH — are used to reduce flammability in such products as electronic devices, textiles, plastics, coatings and polyurethane foams.

They are included in commercial mixtures that were introduced in recent years to replace polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), widely used flame retardants that have been or are being removed from the market because of their tendency to leak from products into the environment.

“We find that the environmental concentrations of these compounds are increasing rather rapidly,” Hites said. “It’s rare to find that concentrations of any compound are doubling within a year or two, which is what we’re seeing with TBB and TBPH.”

The researchers measured concentrations of TBB and TBPH in 507 air samples collected at six locations on the shores of the Great Lakes. The samples were collected by the Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network, a joint U.S.-Canada project, conducted by IU researchers, to monitor airborne toxic chemicals that are deposited in the Great Lakes.

The results constitute the first self-consistent data set that shows environmental concentrations of TBB and TBPH increasing relatively rapidly. Previous studies have found the compounds in sewage sludge in California, marine mammals in Hong Kong and household dust and furniture foam in the U.S.

As would be expected, the IU researchers found the largest concentrations of TBB and TBPH in atmospheric samples collected in urban areas: Chicago and, especially, Cleveland. But the compounds were also detected in about half the samples from remote sites at Sleeping Bear Dunes and Eagle Harbor in Michigan and Point Petre in Ontario, Canada. They also were detected at rural Sturgeon Point, N.Y.

TBPH was detected more frequently and in higher concentrations than TBB. The concentrations are similar to those reported previously by Hites and Venier for PBDEs at the Great Lakes sites, suggesting the newer-generation flame retardants may be replacing their predecessors in the environment.