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Germany to Gazprom: Your Turbine Is Ready, Let Us Deliver It

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Standing before a hulking metal turbine that normally propels natural gas from Russia to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany rejected Russia’s contention that technical problems were behind the sharp curtailment in gas flows to Germany.

He said the only reason the machine had not yet been returned to Russia after undergoing maintenance work was that Gazprom, Russia’s state energy giant, did not want it back.

The turbine, which is at the heart of a dispute between Germany and Gazprom, was on display Wednesday at a news event in the western German city of Mülheim an der Ruhr, where its has been stored since it was returned from refurbishment in Canada.

Gazprom and Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s president, have blamed Siemens Energy, the turbine’s manufacturer, for delays in returning it to Russia. They have repeatedly cited the need for “required documents and clarifications,” and said the turbine’s absence was the reason it had slashed gas flows to 20 percent of capacity.

Gazprom issued a statement later on Wednesday saying the sanctions enacted by Canada, Germany and Britain prevented it from taking the turbine back. But Mr. Scholz had said earlier that nothing was standing in the way of its return.

After weeks of releasing only terse responses, the German side seemed intent on calling the bluff of Gazprom and Mr. Putin.

“It is obvious that nothing, nothing at all, stands in the way of the further transport of this turbine and its installation in Russia. It can be transported and used at any time,” Mr. Scholz told reporters. “There is no technical reason whatsoever for the reduction of gas supplies.”

European officials say Russia is cutting back its gas deliveries to punish Europe for its opposition to the war in Ukraine. In mid-June, Gazprom cut back the amount of gas it was delivering to Germany through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to only 40 percent of possible capacity. Last week, it reduced the amount again by half.

Germany still relies on Russia to meet about a third of its natural gas needs, down from more than half before the start of the war but still enough to leave the country reeling from the cuts. It is scrambling to store up enough of the fuel before demand rises in winter, in hopes of staving off rationing and shutdowns of key industries if Russia cut off supplies entirely.

Gas storage facilities in Germany were 69 percent full on Wednesday, but officials told companies and citizens to begin reducing their energy usage as much as possible while the weather was still warm. Nearly half of all homes in Germany are heated with gas, and households, along with essential infrastructure such as hospitals and rescue services, will be given priority in the event of shortages.

Mr. Putin has suggested that Germany could solve its gas problem by opening the second pipeline that was mothballed days before Russia invaded Ukraine, Nord Stream 2.

That proposal was echoed by Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, who remains close to Mr. Putin despite being outcast by his own political party, the Social Democrats, and many Germans. In an interview with the German newsweekly Stern, Mr. Schröder, who met with the Russian president in Moscow last week, also said the Kremlin was open to talks to end the war, on condition that Ukraine surrender its claim to Crimea — which Russia annexed in 2014 — as well as its aspirations to join NATO.

Asked about the prospect of restarting Nord Stream 2, Mr. Scholz stifled a laugh, pointing out that its twin pipeline running under the Baltic Sea, Nord Stream 1, was already being underused, as were other overland links through Ukraine, as well as one through Belarus and Poland — that Russia had put under sanctions.

“There’s enough capacity with Nord Stream 1,” he said. “All the contracts that Russia has concluded for the whole of Europe can be fulfilled with the help of this pipeline.”

The reduced flows of natural gas have caused prices in Europe to jump to record highs. On Wednesday they remained about double what they were in mid-June, when Russia began restricting flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

Christian Bruch, the head of Siemens Energy, who appeared with Mr. Scholz, said that his company was in regular talks with Gazprom over the issue of the turbine and that it was eager to return it so other Siemens turbines used in the pipeline could also be taken for maintenance.

But the Russian company has a “different view” of the situation, he said, without elaborating.

“This turbine is ready to go immediately,” Mr. Scholz said. “If Russia does not take up this turbine now, it shows the whole world that not taking it is just an excuse to reduce gas supplies to Germany.”



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Proud, Scared and Conflicted. What the China Protesters Told Me.

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They went to their first demonstrations. They chanted their first protest slogans. They had their first encounters with the police.

Then they went home, shivering in disbelief at how they had challenged the most powerful authoritarian government in the world and the most iron-fisted leader China has seen in decades.

Young Chinese are protesting the country’s harsh “zero-Covid” policy and even urging its top leader, Xi Jinping, to step down. It’s something China hasn’t seen since 1989, when the ruling Communist Party brutally cracked down on the pro-democracy demonstrators, mostly college students. No matter what happens in the days and weeks ahead, the young protesters presented a new threat to the rule of Mr. Xi, who has eliminated his political opponents and cracked down on any voice that challenges his rule.

Such public dissent was unimaginable until a few days ago. These same young people, when they mentioned Mr. Xi online, used euphemisms like “X,” “he” or “that person,” afraid to even utter the president’s name. They put up with whatever the government put them through: harsh pandemic restrictions, high unemployment rates, fewer books available to read, movies to watch and games to play.

Then something cracked.

After nearly three long years of “zero Covid,” which has turned into a political campaign for Mr. Xi, China’s future looks increasingly bleak. The economy is in its worst shape in decades. Mr. Xi’s foreign policy has antagonized many countries. His censorship policy, in addition to quashing challenges to his authority, has killed nearly all fun.

As a popular Weibo post put it, Chinese people are getting by with books published 20 years ago, music released a decade ago, travel photos from five years ago, income earned last year, frozen dumplings from a lockdown three months ago, Covid tests from yesterday, and a freshly baked Soviet joke from today.

“I think all of these have reached a tipping point,” said Miranda, a journalist in Shanghai who participated in the protest on Saturday evening. “If you don’t do anything about it, you could really explode.”

In the last few days, in interviews with more than a dozen young people who protested in Shanghai, Beijing, Nanjing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Wuhan, I heard of a burst of pent-up anger and frustration with how the government implements “zero Covid.” But their anger and despair goes beyond that, all the way to questioning the rule of Mr. Xi.

Two of these people said that they don’t plan to have children, a new way to protest among young Chinese at a time when Beijing is encouraging more births. At least four of the protesters said that they were planning to emigrate. One of them refused to look for a job after being laid off by a video-game company in the aftermath of a government crackdown on the industry last year.

They went to the protests because they wanted to let the government know how they felt about being tested constantly, locked inside their apartments or kept away from family and friends in the Covid dragnet. And they wanted to show solidarity for fellow protesters.

They are members of a generation known as Mr. Xi’s children, the nationalistic “little pinks” who defend China on Weibo, Facebook and Twitter. The protesters represent a small percentage of Chinese in their 20s and early 30s. By standing up to the government, they defied the perception of their generation. Some older Chinese people said that the protesters made them feel more hopeful about the country’s future.

Zhang Wenmin, a former investigative journalist known under her pen name Jiang Xue, wrote on Twitter that she was moved to tears by the bravery of the protesters. “It’s hard for people who haven’t lived in China in the past three to four years to imagine how much fear these people had to overcome to take to the streets, to shout, ‘Give me liberty, or give me death,’” she wrote. “Amazing. Love you all!”

As first time marchers, most of them did not know what to expect. A Beijing protester said that she was so tense that she felt physically and emotionally exhausted the next day. More than one person told me that they needed a day to collect their thoughts before they could talk. At least three cried in our interviews.

They are proud, scared and conflicted about their experiences. They have different views about how politically explicit their slogans should be, but they all said that they found shouting the slogans cathartic.

Miranda, who has been a journalist for eight years, said that she couldn’t stop crying when she shouted with the crowd, “freedom of speech” and “freedom of press.” “It was the freest moment since I became a journalist,” she said, her voice cracking.

All the people I interviewed asked me to use only their first name, family name or English name to protect their safety. They had felt a relative safety when marching with others just days earlier, but none dared to put their name to comments that would be published.

The slogans that they recalled chanting were all over the place, illustrating the wide frustration with their lives. “End the lockdown!” “Freedom of speech!” “Give back my movies!”

Quite a few of them were taken aback by how political the Saturday protest in Shanghai turned out to be.

They were equally surprised, if not more, when more people returned on Sunday to request the release of protesters who had been detained hours earlier.

All six Shanghai protesters I spoke with thought that they were going to a vigil on Saturday evening for the 10 victims who died in a fire Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region in China’s west. In the beginning, the atmosphere was relaxed.

When someone first chanted, “No more Communist Party,” the crowd laughed, according to Serena, a college student who is spending her gap year in Shanghai. “Everyone knew it was the redline,” she said.

Then it became increasingly charged. When someone yelled, “Xi Jinping, step down!” and “C.C.P., step down!” the shouts were the loudest, according to Serena and other protesters who were also there.

In Beijing, a marketing professional in her mid-20s with the surname Wu told her fellow protesters not to shout those politically explicit slogans because that would guarantee a crackdown. Instead, she shouted slogans that urged the government to implement the rule of law and release detained Shanghai protesters.

A protester in Chengdu and one in Guangzhou, separated by 1,000 miles, both said that they were stopped from shouting slogans that other demonstrators deemed too political and were told to stick to the Covid-related demands.

For many of them, this weekend was their first brush with the police. A protester named Xiaoli in Chengdu said that she had never seen so many police in her life. After being chased by them, she said that she could hear her heart beating fast when she passed by officers on her way home.

It was clear that many protesters blame Mr. Xi for the extremely unpopular “zero-Covid” policy. A young Shanghai professional with the surname Zhang said that Mr. Xi’s norm-breaking third term, secured at last month’s party congress, spelled the end of China’s progress. “We all gave up our illusions,” he said.

He cried when he mentioned an old man’s question during this year’s Shanghai lockdown, “Why has our country come to this?” Mr. Zhang, who said that he grew up poor in a village, was grateful for the government’s assistance in his education. “I thought we would only move upward,” he added.

The young protesters are most conflicted about the impact of their actions. They felt powerless about changing the system as long as Mr. Xi and the Communist Party are in power. They believe that many people in the public supported them because the unyielding Covid rules have violated what they see as baseline norms of Chinese society. Once the government relaxes the policy, they worry, the public’s support for protests would evaporate.

At the same time, some of them argued that their protests would make the public aware of their rights.

No one knows what the protests will become — a moment in history, or a footnote. The official state media has kept quiet, though some pro-government social media bloggers have pointed fingers at “foreign forces.” Police have enhanced their presence on the streets and called or visited protesters in an attempt to intimidate them.

I asked Bruce, a Shanghai finance worker in his 20s, whether the protests meant that people have changed their view of Mr. Xi. He responded, “It was probably not because the public’s opinion of him changed, but because those who are critical of him have spoken up.”

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‘Golden era’ for Britain and China’s relationship is over, UK PM Rishi Sunak says

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Sunak’s comments come shortly after groups of people across China held public demonstrations to protest the country’s stringent zero-Covid policy.

Daniel Leal | Afp | Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the so-called “golden era” of relations with China was over, warning that Beijing’s move toward even greater authoritarianism posed a systemic challenge to Britain’s values and interests.

“Let’s be clear, the so-called ‘golden era’ is over,” Sunak said Monday in his first major foreign policy speech.

His reference to the “golden era” for the U.K.-China relationship echoed comments made by former U.K. Finance Minister George Osborne in 2015, who had claimed Britain could be China’s “best partner in the West.”

Sunak said it had been “naïve” to believe that closer economic ties over the previous decade could lead to social and political reform and accused Beijing of “conspicuously competing for global influence using all of the levers of state power.”

He warned, however, that Britain could not rely on “simplistic Cold War rhetoric.”

China’s embassy in London was not immediately available to respond to a request for comment.

Sunak has faced pressure from Conservative backbenchers to toughen his stance on China since he took over as party leader and prime minister last month.

“We recognize China poses a systemic challenge to our values and interests — a challenge that grows more acute as it moves towards even greater authoritarianism,” Sunak said in his speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London.

His comments come shortly after public demonstrations were held across China to protest the country’s stringent zero-Covid policy. A BBC journalist on Sunday was beaten and briefly detained by police while covering an anti-government protest in Shanghai.

“Instead of listening to their people’s protests, the Chinese government has chosen to crack down further, including by assaulting a BBC journalist,” Sunak said.

“The media and our parliamentarians must be able to highlight these issues without sanction, including calling out abuses in Xinjiang and the curtailment of freedom in Hong Kong.”

Sunak said the pace of geopolitical change was intensifying and “short-termism or wishful thinking will not suffice” in the face of challenges posed by Russia and China.

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Global stocks brush off China protest concerns

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Global stocks rebounded on Tuesday following a sharp fall, after protests in China against the government’s strict zero-Covid policies spooked investors and added to uncertainty about the outlook for the world’s second-biggest economy.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index soared 5.2 per cent following a 1.6 per cent slump in the previous session, while China’s CSI 300 added 3.1 per cent.

The moves came despite the imposition of a fresh round of business closures and quarantines of close coronavirus contacts in Shanghai, and as the country reels from widespread demonstrations against President Xi Jinping’s stringent lockdown measures.

Europe’s regional Stoxx 600 added 0.3 per cent in early trading having lost 0.6 per cent on Monday, while London’s FTSE 100 rose 0.6 per cent. Contracts tracking Wall Street’s benchmark S&P 500 gained 0.4 per cent while those tracking the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 traded 0.6 per cent higher.

US equities have rallied this month but sold off on Monday on what Neal Shearing, chief economist at Capital Economics, described as a “risk-off” session for investors.

The protests in China created “enormous” uncertainties about the speed at which the country might reopen next year, Hudson added, with any relaxation of zero-Covid policies likely to lead to a further surge in cases and a hit to the supply side of China’s economy.

Investors were also alert to hawkish comments from John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who warned on Monday that US unemployment could rise from its current level of 3.7 per cent to between 4.5 per cent and 5 per cent by the end of next year.

The Fed funds futures market now assigns a 63 per cent probability to the central bank raising rates by 0.5 percentage points in December — potentially ending a run of four consecutive 0.75 percentage-point increases — but Williams stressed that officials had plenty of work to do in their battle to bring inflation back down to 2 per cent.

“Inflation is far too high, and persistently high inflation undermines the ability of our economy to perform at its full potential,” he said in a statement. Those concerns were echoed by James Bullard, president of the St Louis branch of the Federal Reserve, who said on Monday that the central bank’s aggressive monetary tightening was not yet finished.

Even so, the decline in US stocks on Monday was “a slow and steady ride”, said Mike Zigmont, head of trading and research at Harvest Volatility Management.

“The absence of emotion in [the] sell-off suggests that it was partially expected and doesn’t change the sentiment of the market,” Zigmont added. “There was no sharp drop to scare investors off their bids.”

Oil prices, meanwhile, rose on Tuesday, with international benchmark Brent crude oil up 2 per cent at $84.84 a barrel, after declining 0.5 per cent in the previous session.

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