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Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris would not invest in Saudi Arabia

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Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris will not invest in Saudi Arabia as he says he does not believe there’s rule of law in the country, and has some concerns about human rights there.

Asked by CNBC’s Hadley Gamble if he would invest in the kingdom, Sawiris said: “No, I would not.”

“Personally, I can invest anywhere in the world, why would I go somewhere where I am not convinced there is a rule of law and order. And that there is real democracy, and that people are free,” Sawiris said Tuesday at the MENA Summit 2019 in Abu Dhabi organized by the Milken Institute.

Saudi Arabia has been under intense scrutiny in recent months, especially after the high-profile killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared last October after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi journalist, who also wrote for the Washington Post, was a prominent critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Turkish officials said he was killed by Saudi agents, but Riyadh denies those allegations. After more than two weeks of denying that he was kidnapped and murdered, Saudi authorities finally admitted he was killed inside the consulate.

Khashoggi’s death prompted the U.S. Treasury to impose economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials, including the crown prince’s former top aide Saud al-Qahtani, who was fired as a result of the investigations.

“I think it goes together — political stability and economic stability, they go together. And also, you need to be somewhere you are comfortable,” Sawiris said, adding that Riyadh needs to “come straight on human rights.”

The kingdom of 33 million has seen steady drops in foreign direct investment flows over the last decade, something it needs for its ambitious Vision 2030 initiative to diversify the country’s economy and grow private sector jobs. Obstacles remain in the form of skills shortages, lower oil prices and rising unemployment in the kingdom.

There’s also been growing international concern over the unpredictability and repressive tactics of the kingdom’s powerful young crown prince.

In 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed ordered an anti-corruption drive, detaining hundreds of Saudi royals and businessmen in the Ritz Carlton hotel and confiscating large portions of their finances.

Emerging markets investor Mark Mobius also urged investors not to put their money in Saudi Arabia.

“The Khashoggi murder is a very bad situation, and as far as I’m concerned I don’t think we should be investing in Saudi Arabia for that reason unless there is some real big change,” Mobius told CNBC last week.

He also pointed to how the plummeting oil prices are “disastrous” for the country, a top oil exporter.

However, some investors, including Michael Milken, the founder of Milken Institute, remain bullish about Saudi Arabia.

Asked if the negative headlines in the kingdom would stop him from investing there, Milken said: Not at all.”

The billionaire philanthropist pointed to “profound changes” in the kingdom in recent years, such as women being allowed to drive and the opportunity for young Saudi men and women to interact at concerts and social events today.

With Saudi Arabia’s booming youth population and its access to a massive regional market, numerous international investors — including BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and the Blackstone Group’s Stephen Schwarzman — remain committed to the kingdom and say they see significant long-term potential.

— CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this report.

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U.S. likely impose sanctions against China over Hong Kong law

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Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 22, 2020.

Leo Ramirez | AFP | Getty Images

The U.S. government will likely impose sanctions on China if Beijing implements national security laws that would give it greater control over autonomous Hong Kong, White House National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said Sunday. 

The draft legislation represents a takeover of Hong Kong, O’Brien said, and as a consequence U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would likely be unable to certify that the city maintains a “high degree” of autonomy. This would result in the imposition of sanctions against China under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, O’Brien said.  

Pompeo has already called the proposal a “death knell” for Hong Kong’s autonomy. O’Brien warned that Hong Kong could lose its status as a major hub for global finance. 

“It’s hard to see how Hong Kong could remain the Asian financial center that it’s become if China takes over,” O’Brien told NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.” He said financial services initially came to Hong Kong because of the rule of law that protected free enterprise and a capitalist system.

“If all those things go away, I’m not sure how the financial community can stay there. …They’re not going to stay in Hong Kong to be dominated by the People’s Republic of China, the communist party.” 

The legislation was announced during the annual session of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress. The session had been delayed for months during the coronavirus pandemic. Hong Kong faced months of at times violent anti-government protests before the pandemic effectively shut China down.  

Hong Kong has been governed under the “one country, two systems” principle since the former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The system gives Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy and a greater degree of freedom for the special administrative region than the rest of China. 

A draft decision on “establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms” for Hong Kong was submitted to China’s parliament Friday, according to state news agency Xinhua. A document explaining the decision said the one-country two systems principle “has achieved unprecedented success in Hong Kong,” but the “increasingly notable national security risks” in the city “have become a prominent problem,” according to Xinhua.  

The document says activities “have seriously challenged the bottom line of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, harmed the rule of law, and threatened national sovereignty, security and development interests,” according to Xinhua.

The move from China has incited strong opposition from pro-democracy activists and politicians. Thousands of protesters demonstrated for the first time since the introduction of the national security laws on Sunday. Hong Kong police fired tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

Nearly 200 political figures from the U.K., Europe, Australia, North America and Asia condemned the laws in a joint statement. 

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Airlines change summer air travel procedures

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Ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, all states in the U.S. began to lift some restrictions implemented to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Government officials are still urging people to practice social distancing and to wear masks in public. 

Changing opinions from scientists and health officials have contributed to some people refusing to wear masks because public health authorities initially advised against wearing masks, saying there was little evidence that it would help prevent people from getting sick.

China’s top diplomat criticized U.S. efforts to hold China accountable for its alleged role in the spread of the coronavirus, calling any aims to force Beijing to pay compensation for the coronavirus a “daydream.”

The number of coronavirus fatalities in New York state fell below 100, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday, marking the lowest daily death toll since March 24.

This is CNBC’s live blog covering all the latest news on the coronavirus outbreak. This blog will be updated throughout the day as the news breaks. 

  • Global cases: More than 5.33 million
  • Global deaths: At least 341,513
  • U.S. cases: More than 1.62 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 96,046

The data above was compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Air travel is going to look different this summer because of the coronavirus

9:03 a.m. ET — Memorial Day weekend is the traditional kickoff to the peak travel season and while demand is showing some signs of life, it is still down about 90% from a year ago. The virus and concerns about it spreading have prompted new procedures at airlines and federal agencies.

The Department of Homeland Security, which includes TSA and customs, is exploring temperature checks at airports. The Transportation Security Administration is also changing some polices to limit physical contact, such as asking travelers to scan their own boarding passes and that they remove food and other items from their bags so officers don’t have to touch bins.

Starting this month, U.S. airlines require that travelers wear masks on board. They are tweaking boarding to fill seats from back to front to limit contact with other travelers. Some airlines are limiting the number of travelers on board, or letting travelers know when their flights are full. Experts warn its nearly impossible to socially distance on an aircraft, however. —Leslie Josephs

AngloGold Ashanti closes mine in South Africa after 53 employees tested positive

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China tells U.S. to stop wasting time in coronavirus battle

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Pedestrians wearing protective masks walk along the street as a screen displaying a live broadcast of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the National People’s Congress in Beijing, China, on Friday, May 22, 2020.

Bloomberg

The United States should stop wasting time in its fight against the coronavirus and work with China to combat it, rather than spreading lies and attacking the country, the Chinese government’s top diplomat Wang Yi said on Sunday.

Sino-U.S. ties have nosedived since the outbreak of the new coronavirus, with the administrations of President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping repeatedly trading barbs over issues related to the pandemic, especially U.S. accusations of cover-ups and lack of transparency.

The two top economies have also clashed over Hong Kong, human rights, trade and U.S. support for Chinese-claimed Taiwan.

State Councillor Wang, speaking at his annual news conference on the sidelines of China’s parliament, expressed his deep sympathies to the United States for the pandemic, where the death toll is expected to surpass 100,000 in the coming days, the highest number of any country.

“Regretfully, in addition to the raging coronavirus, a political virus is also spreading in the United States. This political virus is using every opportunity to attack and smear China,” said Wang, who is also China’s foreign minister.

“Some politicians have ignored the most basic facts and concocted too many lies about China and plotted too many conspiracies,” he added.

“I want to say here: Don’t waste precious time any longer, and don’t ignore lives,” Wang said.

“What China and the United States need to do the most is to first learn from each other and share their experience in fighting against the epidemic, and help each country fight it.”

China and the United States also need to start coordinating macro policies for their respective economies as well as the world economy, he added.

China remains prepared to work with the United States in the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect, Wang said, when asked if Sino-U.S. relations would further worsen.

“China has always advocated that, as the world’s largest developing country and the largest developed country, both of us bear a major responsibility for world peace and development,” he said. “China and the United States stand to gain from cooperation, and lose from confrontation.”

‘Indiscriminate litigation’

Last month, Missouri became the first U.S. state to sue the Chinese government over its handling of the coronavirus, saying China’s response to the outbreak that originated in the city of Wuhan brought devastating economic losses to the state.

Wang said such lawsuits lacked any legal basis. “The China of today is not the China of a century ago, and nor is the world,” he added.

“If you want to infringe upon China’s sovereignty and dignity with indiscriminate litigation, and extort the fruits of the hard work of the Chinese people, I am afraid this is a daydream and you’ll only humiliate yourself.”

Wang also offered his strong support for the World Health Organization (WHO) and its chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, frequent targets of U.S criticism.

“To support the WHO is to support saving lives. This is the choice any country with a conscience should make,” he said.

Trump, who has accused the agency of being “China centric”, has threatened to permanently halt funding to the WHO and to reconsider his country’s membership of the agency.

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