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Disasters abound

An earthquake, a mining catastrophe, and a ship crash on the Great Barrier Reef dominate the news. Hu meets Obama in Washington. China bans minors in Internet cafes. Twenty-two couples stand trial for spouse-swapping. Plus, Dylan is banned, an “Obama club” opens, and Shanghai holds restaurant week.

 Top News: A massive 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck Qinghai Province in China’s far west. The official death toll is 791 with 294 missing and more than 1,000 seriously injured. The province is among China’s most rural, tucked between Tibet and Xinjiang, and most residents are nomadic herders, which kept the death toll low compared to the devastating Sichuan earthquake of two years ago. If you’d like to donate to the relief effort, here is a link that explains how.

In Central China’s Shanxi province, a coalmine disaster left at least 37 people dead; however, rescuers were officially able to save 115 miners. There are rumors that the death toll number could be much higher, as undocumented mine workers might not have been counted among the dead. In addition, some questioned why many of the rescued miners had no facial hair and clean hands after being trapped for days.

In yet another disaster, a Chinese ship carrying 950 tons of oil and about 65,000 tons of coal crashed into Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, leaking oil and cutting a 2-mile scar in the reef. The ship ended up in restricted waters after taking an illegal shortcut. In addition, the captain took 90 minutes to call for help after the accident. COSCO, the owner of the ship, faces a one million Australian dollar fine, and both the captain and chief officer have been charged in the accident.

While some Chinese companies flout laws abroad, China has established a few new ones at home. China’s 81,000 Internet cafés will now restrict people under 18-years-old from entering. If a café is caught three times allowing underage customers, its license will be revoked. As most Chinese do not own home computers and schools lack funding, many children will now have no access to computers.

Shanghai has also strengthened its drunk driving laws. If someone is caught intoxicated behind the wheel, they will be forced to take a seven-day training course before being allowed to drive again. In addition, their insurance will go up between 15 and 30 percent. Drunk driving is a big problem in China and 1,024 people died last year in 2,831 traffic accidents in Shanghai alone.

For the first time in 20 years, China has arrested and charged citizens with "group licentiousness,” or swinging. Twenty-two people are standing trial in Nanjing for participating in 22 spouse-swapping events. The case is garnering a lot of debate within China about changing sexual attitudes. If convicted, the defendants will face five years in prison.

In what is one of the strangest product scandals to come out of China, about 80 percent of China’s paper napkins are tainted with poisonous chemicals and unsafe for use, according to the International Food Packaging Association. In addition, about 50 percent of disposable dishware for take out meals was found to be tainted and unsafe.

Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Washington for President Obama’s nuclear summit. The visit is a sign of warming relations after increased tensions in the past few months. Hu talked about sanctions on Iran, but refused to make any substantive changes to China’s policy. In addition, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner met with Vice Premier Wang Qishan to address China's currency controls, but no substantive policy changes were promised.

In a repeat of the Gmail attacks that led Google out of China, human rights activists and journalists’ Yahoo email accounts have been hacked from China. According to the Foreign Correspondents Club of China, at least ten journalists have had their accounts broken into and their emails forwarded to another address.

Money: State-owned China Central Television (CCTV) will team up with Grupo Televisa, the world’s largest Spanish language broadcaster, to produce a soap opera in China, which will be distributed in Latin America. There is no word on why Televisa would team up with the CCTV, which is known for its poorly acted and generally boring television series. 

Brazilian oil giant Petrobras is looking to sell two oil blocks on Brazil’s northern coast to Chinese oil firm Sinopec. The move is a way for Petrobras to raise funds for the estimated $200 billion exploration and extraction of oil in the oceanic subsalt region off the country’s southeastern coast. That area is the largest oil find in the Americas in nearly four decades.

Elsewhere:  Music fans in China are angry about the Ministry of Culture’s decision to ban Bob Dylan from playing concerts in Beijing and Shanghai. Although the Ministry officially denies ever having received an application from Dylan, in actuality the 68-year-old legend’s counterculture status was likely the reason for his rejection.

But those that still want a little American icon with their nighttime entertainment are in luck. The ridiculously named Obama Club is opening in Shanghai. Here is their website, which is still under construction. According to the U.S. Consulate, the club has no connection to the President of the United States.

From Apr. 26 to May 2, Shanghai will hold its Restaurant Week. The city’s top dining establishments will offer 3-course lunches and dinners for Rmb150 and Rmb250, respectively. Here is a link to the participating restaurants.