Tokyo, Dec 12 (AP/UNB) — Asian shares rose Wednesday amid hopes for U.S.-China trade talks.
ASIA'S DAY: Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 added 1.7 percent in early trading to 21,501.95. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.8 percent to 5,618.70. South Korea's Kospi was up nearly 1.0 percent at 2,073.20. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 1.5 percent to 26,166.63, while the Shanghai Composite index rose 0.5 percent to 2,607.24.
TRADE TALKS: Recent media reports say China agreed to reduce tariffs on U.S. autos. That raised hopes the two countries can make progress on their trade dispute. Investors worry weaker global trade would dent economic growth around the world and corporate profits.
WALL STREET: The S&P 500 dipped by 0.94 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 2,636.78, while the Dow Jones industrial average fell 53.02, or 0.2 percent, to 24,370.24, and the Nasdaq composite rose 11.31, or 0.2 percent, to 7,031.83. Slightly more stocks fell on the New York Stock Exchange than rose.
THE QUOTE: "U.S.-China trade developments appear to be the outstanding item set to aid Asia markets," said Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG in Singapore. "Much needed positive news in the form of auto tariff reduction underpinned the early optimism."
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil gained 64 cents to $52.29 a barrel. It rose 65 cents to settle at $51.65 per barrel Tuesday. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 67 cents to $60.87.
CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 113.49 Japanese yen from 113.08 yen late Tuesday. The euro slipped to $ 1.1333 from $1.1384.
Tokyo, Dec 11 (AP/UNB) — A Tokyo court ruled Tuesday that Nissan Motor Co.'s former chairman, Carlos Ghosn, and another executive will remain in custody through Dec. 20, more than a month after their arrest. Their detention could continue for months more under the Japanese legal system.
Ghosn's lawyer filed a protest with the court against the prolonged detention, the Tokyo District Court said.
The court decision comes a day after Ghosn, fellow Nissan executive Greg Kelly and Nissan Motor were charged with violating financial laws by underreporting Ghosn's pay by about 5 billion yen ($44 million) in 2011-2015. They were arrested on Nov. 19 and are being held at a Tokyo detention center.
The extension of their detention is to allow time for investigation into additional allegations prosecutors issued Monday, against Ghosn and Kelly, of underreporting another 4 billion yen ($36 million) in 2016-2018.
The arrest of the man credited with saving Nissan when it was on the verge of bankruptcy two decades ago has stunned many and has raised concerns over the Japanese automaker and the future of its alliance with Renault SA of France.
No trial date has been set, as is routine in Japan. Prosecutors can add more allegations to extend detention, and it remains unclear when Ghosn and Kelly might be released.
The prosecutors say they consider Ghosn and Kelly flight risks.
Ghosn's legal team has not issued an official statement, but those close to him have said he is asserting innocence. The office of Motonari Ohtsuru, one of the lawyers, declined comment, saying he was not there.
The U.S. lawyer for Kelly, Aubrey Harwell, has said his client insists he is innocent and that Nissan insiders and outside experts had advised him that their financial reporting was proper.
The maximum penalty for violating Japan's financial laws is 10 years in prison, a 10 million yen ($89,000) fine, or both. The conviction rate in Japan is over 99 percent.
Nissan has said an internal investigation found three types of misconduct: underreporting income to financial authorities, using investment funds for personal gain and illicit use of company expenses.
Nissan, as a legal entity, was also charged Monday. Nissan is not under supervision or being monitored, although it is cooperating with the prosecutors' investigation, according to company spokesman Nicholas Maxfield. Nissan said in a statement that it takes the indictment "extremely seriously." It promised to strengthen its governance.
Helsinki, Dec 10 (AP/UNB) — A Swedish think tank said Monday that Russia has emerged as the world's second-largest arms producer after the United States. Russia surpassed Britain, which had held that spot since 2002 and remains Western Europe's No. 1 arms maker.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in its annual report on the world's 100 biggest armaments groups that the combined arms sales of Russian companies amounted to $37.7 billion in 2017, an 8.5 percent rise from a year earlier. Russia's sales accounted for 9.5 percent of a worldwide total of $398.2 billion.
The report includes both domestic and foreign sales around the globe, but doesn't include Chinese companies because of unreliable statistics, the institute said.
Siemon Wezeman, a senior researcher at the institute, said Russian producers of arms and weapon systems have been on a significant growth path since 2011.
"This is in line with Russia's increased spending on arms procurement to modernize its armed forces," Wezeman said.
For the first time in the report's history, a Russian company — the Moscow-based and state-owned Almaz-Antey that makes advanced air defense systems among other things — was listed among the world's top 10 weapons companies.
The report noted Russia started an initiative to consolidate its arms industry in 2007, a process that is expected to be completed soon.
Overall, the U.S. continued to dominate the list with 42 companies accounting for 57 percent of total sales, including the world's largest arms producer, Lockheed Martin Corp.
As a notable development, the report highlighted a 24 percent rise in sales by Turkish arms companies in 2017 from the preceding year. That reflected "Turkey's ambitions to develop its arms industry to fulfill its growing demand for weapons and become less dependent on foreign suppliers," senior researcher Pieter Wezeman said.
Tokyo, Dec 8 (AP/UNB) — Japanese lawmakers early Saturday approved government-proposed legislation allowing hundreds of thousands of foreign laborers to live and work in a country that has long resisted accepting outsiders.
The contentious legislation passed only months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed the plan despite opposition groups' demand for more thorough debate to address concerns about a drastic change of policy.
It's seen as an unavoidable step as the country's population of about 126 million rapidly ages and shrinks. Many short-handed industries, especially in the services sector, already rely heavily on foreign "trainees" and language students. Japan also selectively grants visas to white-collar professionals, often from the West.
Bringing in foreign laborers is a last resort after Abe's deeply conservative government tried to meet labor shortages by encouraging more employment of women and older workers and using more robots and other automation.
"Japan has come to a point where we had to face the reality that there is serious depopulation and serious aging," said Toshihiro Menju, an expert on foreign labor and population issues at the Japan Center for International Exchange.
"Shortages of workers are so serious ... that (allowing) immigrants is the only option the government can take," he said.
Abe's latest plan calls for relaxing Japan's visa requirements in sectors facing severe labor shortages such as construction, nursing, farming, transport and tourism — new categories of jobs to be added to the current list of highly skilled professionals.
The number of foreign workers in Japan has more than doubled since 2000 to nearly 1.3 million last year, out of a working-age population of 67 million. Workers from developing Asian countries used to stay mostly behind the scenes, but not anymore. Almost all convenience stores are partly staffed by Asian workers and so are many restaurant chains.
The fastest growing group of foreign workers is Vietnamese, many of whom are employed in construction and nursing. Construction workers are particularly in demand as Japan rushes to finish building venues and other infrastructure for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
In many cases the workers are subjected to poor working conditions and other abuses.
"I had no time for a holiday. ... Even if I worked so hard I still had no money," said Eng Pisey, 33, from Cambodia, who came to Japan on a training program in 2016 and worked at a garment factory in Tochigi, north of Tokyo. She said she had to borrow $4,000 to pay a broker to arrange her job, and ended up quitting after becoming ill from overwork.
Under the legislation, two categories of workers will be accepted beginning in April: less-skilled workers and former interns with basic Japanese competency are allowed to stay in the country for only up to five years as visitors and cannot bring in family members. That is meant to encourage them to leave when their visas expire, preventing them from settling in Japan.
The second category, those with higher skills, Japanese language and cultural understanding, would be allowed to bring their families and apply for citizenship after living in Japan for 10 years if they commit no crimes.
"Creating new visa statuses to accommodate foreign human resources is our urgent task as we face serious labor shortages, especially at small and medium-size companies," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday.
But details including a new immigration agency, competency tests for applicants and ways to eliminate abusive working conditions still need to be decided.
Many Japanese understand the need to solve labor shortages. Industry groups have urged the government to expand the work visa program so they can legally hire more foreign workers.
But Abe's traditional political base and opposition groups oppose the change — for different reasons.
Abe has denied that Japan is opening the door to immigrants. His right-wing supporters view Japan as a homogenous society and want to keep out outsiders, especially those from other Asian countries. They cite concerns over risks of more crime.
Human rights activists and lawyers have criticized the legislation, saying it has insufficient protections and support for foreign workers and lacks a vision for how Japan might create a more inclusive society that accepts diversity.
Since 1993, Japan's Technical Intern Training Program has provided on-the-job training in the name of international cooperation, mostly to workers from other Asian countries. The trainees often have worked under poor conditions. In 2017 some 7,000 of the 270,000 technical interns fled, citing underpay and mistreatment, according to government statistics.
Shoichi Ibusuki, a lawyer specializing in labor cases who aids victimized foreign students and interns, says the program is a guise for using cheap labor. He says it should be scrapped and replaced.
Ibusuki supports giving unskilled workers official status, but says the legislation fails to provide enough protections for workers. In particular, he is unhappy with the lack of restrictions on recruiting brokers who are cited as a cause of abuse. "The program seems to treat foreign workers like goods, not humans," he said.
Huang Shihu, a Chinese intern, said he came to Japan to study the language while working, but suffered a severe hand injury after being employed for about six months at a tin factory in Kobe. He said his employer claimed it could not pay him compensation because it was bankrupt.
"With this hand injury I can't work. I don't know what to do," Huang told reporters, showing his still bandaged fingers. "I really feel wronged by the company."
Menju said the lack of oversight in the existing trainee program allowed mistreatment to persist, with foreign workers seen as cheap labor willing to tolerate harsh conditions. He hopes the new program will allow a fresh start.
The legislation is not so great, he says, but may mark a turning point. "This is the first time people started to discuss the issue of foreign workers," Menju said. "Before that it was a taboo."
Tokyo, Dec 6 (AP/UNB) — Asian stock prices skidded Thursday following the arrest of a senior official at Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei that could derail progress in China-U.S. trade talks.
KEEPING SCORE: Hong Kong's Hang Seng index tumbled 2.6 percent to 26,117.28 and Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 fell 2.1 percent to 21,435.96. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.6 percent to 5,635.60, while South Korea's Kospi sank 1.3 percent to 2,072.79. The Shanghai Composite index dropped 1.3 percent to 2,615.82. Shares also fell in Taiwan and all other regional markets.
HUAWEI: The news of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou's arrest sent shares sharply lower. Share prices rallied early in the week following President Donald Trump's agreement with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping over the weekend to hold off on further retaliatory moves in a festering trade war. But they've since fallen back amid confusion over what the two sides agreed to and whether the deal will enable Beijing and Washington to resolve longstanding, profound differences over technology policy and other issues. China demanded Meng's immediate release and warned the case might lead to retaliation against American and Canadian executives in China.
ANALYST'S TAKE: "We are closely watching the developments in Asia after reports that Canada has arrested the Huawei CFO facing U.S. extradition for allegedly violating Iran sanctions. This headline is quite significant as the U.S. government is attempting to persuade allies to stop using Huawei equipment due to security fears, and this headline could weigh negatively on tech stocks," said Stephen Innes, head of trading at Oanda in Singapore.
TECHNOLOGY STOCK: Technology shares declined, with Japan's Nintendo Co. down 4.3 percent; Samsung Electronics Co. lost 1.8 percent; ZTE Corp. declined 5.8 percent and Japan's SoftBank Group Corp. dropped 4.6 percent in morning trading.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 21 cents to $52.68 a barrel. It fell 0.7 percent to $52.89 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, declined 10 cents to $61.46.
CURRENCY: The dollar slipped to 112.81 yen from 113.19 yen. The euro inched up to $1.1347 from $1.1342.