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China’s Top Diplomat Calls for US Restraint on Trade, Iran 

Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday that recent U.S. words and actions had harmed the interests of China and its enterprises, and that Washington should show restraint, China’s Foreign Ministry said. 

 

Speaking to Pompeo by telephone, Wang said the United States should not go “too far” in the current trade dispute between the two sides, adding that China was still willing to resolve differences through negotiations but that the nations should be on an equal footing. 

 

On Iran, Wang said China hoped all parties would exercise restraint and act with caution to avoid escalating tensions. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that Pompeo spoke with Wang and discussed bilateral issues and U.S. concerns about Iran, but she gave no other details. 

 

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased in recent days, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict. Earlier this week the United States pulled some diplomatic staff from its Baghdad embassy following attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. 

Harder line

 

China struck a more aggressive tone in its trade war with the United States on Friday, suggesting a resumption of talks between the world’s two largest economies would be meaningless unless Washington changed course. 

 

The tough talk capped a week that saw Beijing unveil fresh retaliatory tariffs, U.S. officials accuse China of backtracking on promises made during months of talks, and the Trump administration level a potentially crippling blow against one of China’s biggest and most successful companies. The United States announced on Thursday it was putting Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., the world’s largest telecom equipment maker, on a blacklist that could make it extremely hard to do business with U.S. companies.  

 

The U.S. Commerce Department then said on Friday that it might soon scale back restrictions on Huawei. It said it was considering issuing a temporary general license to “prevent the interruption of existing network operations and equipment.” 

 

Potential beneficiaries of this license could, for example, include telecom providers in thinly populated parts of U.S. states such as Wyoming and Oregon that purchased network equipment from Huawei in recent years. 

 

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about state media reports suggesting there would be no more trade negotiations, said China always encouraged resolving disputes with the United States through dialogue and consultations.

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Filly Dies on Track at Pimlico Day Before Preakness

A filly collapsed and died while running at Pimlico Race Course on Friday, the day before the track was set to host the second leg of Thoroughbred racing’s  Triple Crown series. 

 

Congrats Gal faltered in the upper stretch of the Miss Preakness Stakes in 83-degree heat and was eased to the finish line. 

 

The Florida-bred 3-year-old was running her sixth career race. She came in last in the eighth race on the card and fell to the dirt about 100 yards past the finish line.  

  

Clearly distraught, Congrats Gal jockey Trevor McCarthy said the filly felt hot walking on the track before the race. As a medical team rushed to the scene, McCarthy said, “She’s clearly sound. Nothing’s broken or anything like that.” 

 

After being treated on the scene, Congrats Gal was taken from the track by ambulance. 

 

The Stronach Group, which owns Pimlico, and the Maryland Jockey Club confirmed the death in a statement: “Commission veterinarians attended to the horse immediately. A full necropsy will be performed to try to determine the cause of death.” 

 

The death marred one of the two biggest days of the year at Pimlico, where a sizable crowd gathered for Black-Eyed Susan Day.  

  

Covfefe won the eight-horse race for 3-year-old fillies.

Three-time winner

Owned by Charles Biggs, Congrats Gal was sired by A.P. Indy. She had a 3-1-1 record going into the race with winnings of $134,740. 

 

The Preakness on Saturday did not feature the Kentucky Derby winner for the first time since 1996, ending any prospects for a Triple Crown.

In the Derby, a tight crowd of horses near the finish line on a muddy track could have led to a disastrous collision. 

 

When Maximum Security drifted to his right in the final turn, his back legs almost became entangled with those of War of Will behind him. The foul caused Maximum Security to be the first Kentucky Derby winner to be disqualified for interference in the 145-year history of the race.  

  

It would've been catastrophic had he fell,'' War of Will trainer Mark Casse said.What didn’t happen was the most important thing of all for people’s lives, for our sport and for everything.” 

 

It’s been a difficult year for horse racing — and 149-year-old Pimlico, which has deteriorated to the point where the Stronach Group has advocated moving the Preakness to nearby Laurel Park. 

 

In addition, the safety of the horses has come into focus. There have been 23 horse deaths at Santa Anita Park in California over a span of three months.

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3 Months After Birth is Critical For Mom’s Health

Women who get good pre-natal care before they deliver, vastly increase their chances to have healthy babies. But what happens after they give birth? VOA’s Carol Pearson reports a survey of mothers in the U.S. shows they slack off on their own health needs which doesn’t help them with a new baby.

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Ebola Containment Efforts in DRC Threatened by Insecurity, Underfunding

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies warns the Ebola epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo could spread to urban areas and across international borders because of heightened insecurity and a serious shortage of money. DR Congo Ministry of Health reports 1,739 cases of Ebola, including 1,147 deaths, which indicates a 66 percent fatality rate. 

The Ebola epidemic in conflict-ridden North Kivu and Ituri provinces started 40 weeks ago on August 1.  What is particularly frightening about the latest situation report is that 20 percent of overall cases have occurred in just the last three weeks.

The International Red Cross Federation finds this sharp upsurge alarming.  It is urging the international community to redouble its efforts to contain this deadly virus before it escalates further.  

The IFRC’s Director of Health and Care, Emanuele Capobianco, says the Ebola response faces a double jeopardy of insecurity and critical underfunding.  He says the security situation is complex and will require a range of responses.  But he notes the funding situation could be fixed now.

“At the moment, the financial situation for many of the humanitarian organizations is quite dire,” he said. “There is a real need to step up the response.  Otherwise, activities will have to be scaled down and the impact on the future of the epidemic will be extremely serious.”  

People who get infected with the Ebola virus have a very high risk of dying.  Studies from the 2014 historic outbreak in West Africa show that between 60 and 80 percent of Ebola cases were linked to Ebola-infected bodies at traditional burials.

Capobianco says Red Cross efforts to provide communities with safe and dignified burials are meeting with increasing success.

“Up to now, there have been up to 5,000 safe and dignified burials conducted and they are conducted for, as I mentioned before, the people who died either in the community or the Ebola treatment centers of Ebola confirmed,” he said.  Also, for people who may be just suspected of Ebola.  And, that is why the number of 5,000 is so high.  That is a critical part of the work that we have done and which, at the moment is threatened by the lack of funding.”  

Capobianco says the Red Cross has received less than half of the $30 million it needs to carry out its Ebola-control activities across affected parts of DR Congo, as well as preparedness efforts in neighboring Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda.

He warns Red Cross operations will be forced to close within the next two weeks without additional urgent investment.  

 

 

 

 

 

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US Warns Airliners Flying in Persian Gulf Amid Iran Tensions

U.S. diplomats warned Saturday that commercial airliners flying over the wider Persian Gulf faced a risk of being “misidentified” amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

The warning relayed by U.S. diplomatic posts from the Federal Aviation Administration underlined the risks the current tensions pose to a region crucial to global air travel. It also came as Lloyd’s of London warned of increasing risks to maritime shipping in the region.

 

Concerns about a possible conflict have flared since the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran that has seen America order nonessential diplomatic staff out of Iraq. President Donald Trump since has sought to soften his tone.

 

Meanwhile, authorities allege that a sabotage operation targeted four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and Iran-aligned rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for a drone attack on a crucial Saudi oil pipeline. Saudi Arabia directly blamed Iran for the drone assault, and a local newspaper linked to the al-Saud royal family called on Thursday for America to launch “surgical strikes” on Tehran.

 

This all takes root in Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions. Iran just announced it would begin backing away from terms of the deal, setting a 60-day deadline for Europe to come up with new terms or it would begin enriching uranium closer to weapons-grade levels. Tehran long has insisted it does not seek nuclear weapons, though the West fears its program could allow it to build atomic bombs.

 

The order relayed Saturday by U.S. diplomats in Kuwait and the UAE came from an FAA Notice to Airmen published late Thursday in the U.S. It said that all commercial aircraft flying over the waters of Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman needed to be aware of “heightened military activities and increased political tension.”

 

This presents “an increasing inadvertent risk to U.S. civil aviation operations due to the potential for miscalculation or misidentification,” the warning said. It also said aircraft could experience interference with its navigation instruments and communications jamming “with little to no warning.”

 

The Persian Gulf has become a major gateway for East-West travel in the aviation industry. Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, home to Emirates, is the world’s busiest for international travel, while long-haul carriers Etihad and Qatar Airways also operate here.

 

In a statement, Emirates said it was aware of the notice and in touch with authorities worldwide, but “at this time there are no changes to our flight operations.”

 

Qatar Airways similarly said it was aware of the notice and its operations were unaffected.

 

Etihad, as well as Oman Air, did not respond to a request for comment Saturday about the warning.

 

The warning appeared rooted in what happened 30 years ago after Operation Praying Mantis, a daylong naval battle in the Persian Gulf between American forces and Iran during the country’s long 1980s war with Iraq. On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes chased Iranian speedboats that allegedly opened fire on a helicopter into Iranian territorial waters, then mistook an Iran Air heading to Dubai for an Iranian F-14. The Vincennes fired two missiles at the airplane, killing all aboard the flight.

 

Meanwhile, Lloyd’s Market Association Joint War Committee added the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the United Arab Emirates on Friday to its list of areas posing higher risk to insurers. It also expanded its list to include the Saudi coast as a risk area.

 

The USS Abraham Lincoln and its carrier strike group have yet to reach the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes. A Revolutionary Guard deputy has warned that any armed conflict would affect the global energy market. Iran long has threatened to be able to shut off the strait.

 

Benchmark Brent crude now stands around $72 a barrel.

 

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Scientists Use DNA of Dust to Trace Where an Object’s Been

Clothing, medicine and other items in one’s environment all have genetic markers, or fingerprints, that provide clues to where they came from, according to scientists.

Researchers are analyzing the microorganisms in dust particles that land on surfaces and are using artificial intelligence to read and classify the unique genetic codes of the microbes that vary from place to place.

“It is the collection of bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa that are present in any environment,” said Jessica Green, microbial systems expert and co-founder of Phylagen, a company that is building a microbial map of the world. Phylagen is collecting dust from different places and turning it into data by studying the DNA of the microscopic organisms in the particles.

​Exposing labor abuses

Phylagen says its findings will provide real world applications. The California-based company says one application involves companies that outsource the manufacturing of products, such as clothing.

According to Human Rights Watch, unauthorized subcontracting of facilities in the apparel industry occurs often, and it is in these places that some of the worse labor abuses happen.

Phylagen is digitizing the genome of different locations by working in more than 40 countries and sampling the dust in hundreds of factories. The goal is to create a database so the microbes on each product can be traced.

“We sample the DNA of the products, and then, we use machine learning algorithms to map what is on the product with the factory, and can therefore verify for brands that their goods are made by their trusted suppliers in factories where you have good labor conditions, good environmental conditions versus unauthorized facilities which can be really detrimental,” Green said.

Tracking diseases, ships

With a database of distinct microbial DNA, Green said other possible future uses could include predicting the outbreak of disease and helping law enforcement track the movement of ships, since shipping logs can be falsified. Even counterfeit medicines could be traced as the database of microbial information grows, she said.

“We can sequence the DNA of seized counterfeit pills, cluster together pills that have similar microbial signatures and then use that to help both pharmaceutical companies and the government, the U.S. government, gain some intelligence about how many different sources of these manufacturing facilities are there,” Green said.

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Vietnam’s Tech Futurists Lay Out Economic Alternatives

Nations racing to develop 5G technology that is fast enough to power the next stage of innovation range from South Korea to Finland, but a young contender wants to jump into the game: Vietnam.

The Southeast Asian country announced with much fanfare this month that a test of fifth generation telecommunications technology, in the form of a phone call, was successful.

The call to test 5G matters, not just for the internet, but for Vietnam’s goal of building a digital economy.

That future economy could be filled with deliveries by drone, machine learning to detect cyber attacks, and digital health records — or the economy could stick to traditional businesses like agriculture and tourism, as a new government report lays out.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology jointly launched a report on the digital economy with its Australian counterpart Wednesday, laying out four possible scenarios. Each scenario is at a different level of digitalization, depending on how thoroughly Vietnam adopts new technology.

“I request industries and provinces to improve their awareness of, and responsibility in, steering the science and technology development, and continue to strengthen the relevant legal and policy framework,” Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said in a speech.

“It is critical to focus on the development of the national innovation system,” he added, “putting the businesses at the heart of this system while promoting the linkages among research institutes, universities, and businesses to create and accumulate intellectual assets to fuel economic development in a rapid, inclusive, and sustainable manner.”

In the report titled “Vietnam’s Future Digital Economy: Toward 2030 and 2045,” the four scenarios offer a blueprint for policymakers.

In the first option, the country reaches its full technological potential in the next two decades, with smart cities, high productivity, and high-skilled talent in an economy geared toward services.

In the second scenario, little has changed in that time, with the economy relying on cash and low-wage labor to export farmed goods and natural resources.

Those are the two extremes, while the two remaining scenarios fall somewhere in between, depending on whether Vietnam is more technology consumer or exporter.

“The next wave of digital technologies — artificial intelligence, blockchain, the internet of things, and platforms and cloud-based services — has the potential to transform Vietnam into Asia’s next high-performing economy,” said Lucy Cameron, the lead author of the report. “Vietnam will need to seize these substantial opportunities while carefully navigating a number of risks.”

There are signs the digital technology is already catching on in Vietnam.

Besides the research and development of 5G, companies are using robots in their warehouses, like the country’s largest dairy, Vinamilk, and DB Schenker, a German logistics firm operating in Vietnam. FPT, a domestic electronics business, used artificial intelligence to create a chat bot and made it available to third-party software developers. The gaming startup VNG is introducing virtual reality to its players.

It is not all good news. The rise of ride-hailing apps has been linked to a drop in the use of public transit around the world, and that is happening in Vietnam, too. Local press recently reported a decline in bus use, while the increase of ride hailing has led to clogged city streets.

Even in a best case scenario, there are four potential drawbacks to an increasingly connected Vietnam, according to the report, which is supported by CSIRO’s Data61, the data and digital specialist arm of Australia’s national science agency. They include more threats to cyber security, higher borrowing to fund infrastructure and technological spending, a shortage of technical talent, and reliance on external companies for products and services.

How far Vietnam takes its technological evolution, of course, is up to Vietnam.

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Scientists Build Microbial Map to Trace Where an Object Has Been

Scientists say they have new ways of tracking where clothing, medicines and other items are made, making it harder for unscrupulous businesses to sell items that don’t work or violate laws. The new tools are made possible by using machine learning to profile the unique DNA combinations of invisible microbes that vary from place to place. This technology was highlighted at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, as VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports.

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Deep Sea Explorer Finds Life and Garbage in the Mariana Trench

The Mariana Trench, at 11,000 meters, is the deepest part of Earth. But even at these depths, 11 kilometers below the ocean surface, one explorer found both new species and leftover plastic that we throw away. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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US Says It May Scale Back Some Huawei Trade Restrictions

The U.S. Commerce Department may soon scale back restrictions on Huawei Technologies after this week’s blacklisting made it nearly impossible for the Chinese company to purchase goods made in the United States, a 

department spokeswoman said Friday. 

The Commerce Department may issue a temporary general license to allow time for companies and people who have Huawei equipment to maintain reliability of their communications networks and equipment, the spokeswoman said. 

The possible general license would not apply to new transactions, according to the spokeswoman, and would last for 90 days. 

A spokesman for Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The Commerce Department on Thursday added Huawei to a list of entities that are banned from doing business with U.S. companies without licenses. 

The entities list identifies companies believed to be involved in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States. 

Potential beneficiaries of the temporary license could include internet access and mobile phone service providers in thinly populated places such as Wyoming and eastern Oregon that purchased network equipment from Huawei in recent years. 

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