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South Korea abortion ban ruled 'unconstitutional' 

South Korea's ban on abortion has been ruled unconstitutional in a historic court decision. The country's constitutional court ordered that the law must be revised by the end of 2020.

Under the 1953 ban, women who procured abortions could be fined and imprisoned, except in cases of rape, incest or risk to their health. South Korea is one of the few developed countries where abortion is criminalised.

In 2017, an opinion poll found just over 51.9% favoured ending the ban. The law was reviewed after a challenge from a female doctor, who said the ban endangered women and limited their rights.

The BBC's Seoul Correspondent Laura Bicker says the push for change comes from a burgeoning movement fighting for women's rights in South Korea.

Campaigners seeking an end to the law say it is part of a broader bias against women in the country.

South Korea is home to a large number of evangelical Christians, however - and some want abortion to remain illegal because they say it forces women to think deeply about the decision.

How did activists react?

Hundreds of protesters from both sides of the debate gathered outside the court ahead of the ruling, separated by police.

While pro-choice activists celebrated the announcement, anti-abortion campaigners were left in tears.

How widespread is abortion in South Korea?

Despite the restrictive law, abortions are widely accessible in South Korea and can be carried out safely. A survey last year found that one in five women who had been pregnant had had an abortion, and just 1% fell under the country's legal exemptions.

An estimated 50,000 abortions were carried out in South Korea in 2017, compared with government estimates of about 169,000 cases in 2010.

This fall is largely attributed to improvements to contraceptive services and products, which are now widely available, and a better understanding of birth control. 


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Boeing: Airlines ground 737 Max 8 jets after latest crash

Several airlines have grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 jets following a deadly Ethiopian Airlines crash.The flight crashed minutes after takeoff on Sunday, killing all 157 people on board.It was the second disaster in five months involving a Boeing 737 Max 8.

Aviation regulators in China and Indonesia have suspended flights using that model. Ethiopian Airlines, Cayman Airways and Comair, have also grounded their 737 Max 8 aircraft.

Boeing shares fell 13% in early trading on Wall Street, but then recovered some of those losses.While experts warn it is too early to say what caused the Ethiopian Airlines disaster, it comes after the same model crashed in a flight operated by Lion Air in October. The plane lost altitude soon after takeoff, killing 189 people on board.

"Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing 737 Max 8 planes and happened during take-off phase, they have some degree of similarity," the Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement.

The Chinese regulator ordered local carriers to ground all 737 Max 8 flights by 18:00 local time (10:00 GMT). Air China, China Eastern Airlines, Kunming Airlines, and China Southern Airlines are among the carriers affected. More than 90 Boeing 737 Max 8 models are in use in mainland China.

The Indonesian Transport Ministry said inspections would begin on 12 March of one Garuda Indonesia plane and 10 operated by Lion Air.

Planes would be grounded until cleared by safety regulator. Shares in French aerospace group Safran, which makes the engines for the 737, fell on Monday.

The aircraft is relatively new to the skies, having only been in commercial use since 2017. Boeing said it was "deeply saddened" by the crash and is sending a team to provide technical assistance to the investigation.

The investigation will be led by Ethiopian authorities co-ordinating with teams of experts from Boeing and the US National Transportation Safety Board.

The Indian government said it was discussing the situation with local regulators. Jet Airways and SpiceJet - neither of which made any comment - both use the aircraft.

Comair, which has the franchise for British Airways in South Africa, said it was removing its 737 Max from its schedule while it "consults with other operators, Boeing and technical experts".

According to Boeing's website, 16 airlines have taken delivery of the 737 Max 8. 

TUI Group has 15 in its fleet and said it is in close contact with the manufacturer, but has no plans to take them out of service. It is the only airline to have any such planes registered with the UK's Civil Aviation Authority.

A spokesperson for Flydubai told Reuters the carrier is "monitoring the situation". Norwegian Airlines, which has 18 in its fleet largely flying between Ireland the US, is continuing to use the planes.

Its director of flight operations said the airline will follow any recommendations from Boeing and aviation authorities. It has three - including one from London Gatwick to Helsinki - in use today.

Singapore's SilkAir said it was in contact with Boeing and all its flights using 737 Max 8 aircraft - of which it has six - are operating as normal, while Air Italy is also operating its planes as normal.

Several North American airlines also operate the aircraft and have said they are monitoring the investigation.Southwest Airlines flies 34 of the aircraft and said it had been in contact with Boeing and was operating as normal. American Airlines and Air Canada each have 24 in their fleet. (BBC)

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‘It’s no longer free to pollute’: Canada imposes carbon tax 

Canada has imposed a landmark carbon tax on four provinces which had defied Ottawa’s push to combat climate change, prompting unhappy premiers to say they would challenge the measure. The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, citing international commitments to fight global warming, had made clear for two years he would slap the tax on any of the 10 provinces that did not come up with their own plans by 1 April.

The measure is opposed by Ontario, the most populous province, where Trudeau’s Liberals need to do well to stand a chance of retaining power in a federal election this October.

Carbon pollution will initially cost C$20 ($15) a tonne, rising by C$10 a year until it reaches C$50 in 2022. It also applies in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

“As of today, it’s no longer free to pollute anywhere in Canada,” the environment minister, Catherine McKenna, said on Twitter.
“Climate change is real ... some politicians may not care much, but our kids and our grandkids do.“

Official data regularly show Canada has little chance of meeting its climate change goals of reducing emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030.

Although Ottawa says the money collected will be returned to taxpayers in the form of rebates, right-leaning parties portray it as a cash grab.
The Conservatives, who polls show could win the October election as a scandal over alleged political interference dogs Trudeau, promise to scrap the measure.

Ontario premier Doug Ford vowed to oppose what he called “the worst tax ever” in court.

“We’re going to keep fighting this carbon tax with every single tool at our disposal,” he said in a filmed statement.

Scott Moe, the premier of Saskatchewan, which has already launched a challenge, said he hoped the tax was an April Fool’s joke.

“We now have four provinces representing half the population in this nation that say this is a flawed policy,” Moe told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Trudeau’s other efforts to combat climate change are also proving a challenge.

Last year the government unveiled legislation to overhaul environmental assessments of energy projects, paying more attention to greenhouse gas emissions. Critics say this will deter future investment at a time when existing projects are already in trouble.

Canada bought Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd’s Trans Mountain crude pipeline for $4.5bn last year after the company expressed doubts it could proceed with plans to more than double the existing capacity.

(The Guardian)

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Thailand elections: Party that nominated Princess Ubolratana for PM dissolved

Thailand's top court has dissolved an opposition party that nominated the king's sister as its candidate for prime minister.

Thai Raksa Chart is backed by exiled ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed by a military coup in 2006.

Analysts say dissolving the party will make it harder for Mr Thaksin's supporters to win the national election due later this month.

Thailand is run by the military, which took over in a coup five years ago.

The Constitutional Court, which issued Thursday's ruling, said Princess Ubolratana's nomination threatened the neutrality of the monarchy.

The party's executive board members have been banned from politics for 10 years, and it can no longer contest the election.

"The monarchy is above politics, and to maintain political neutrality, the king, the queen and princesses can never exercise political rights by casting votes," Judge Nakharin Mektrairat said at the end of an extensive ruling.

A royal candidate would have given forces loyal to Mr Thaksin a decisive advantage in this month's election, says the BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok.

Thursday's move will rob the pro-Thaksin camp of enough parliamentary seats to put its goal of winning a majority in the election almost certainly out of reach, our correspondent adds.

Thai Raksa Chart was seen largely as a proxy for Pheu Thai, the main pro-Thaksin party, to get more seats, analysts say.

A new 2017 constitution introduced a rule that there would be a ceiling on how many seats each party could win.

The 24 March vote will be the first since the current Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, took power in a 2014 military coup - overthrowing the democratically elected government. (BBC)

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Internet blacklisting is taking off across the world

Once relegated to the world’s most repressive dictatorships, internet filtering has taken off as a tool for an increasing number of governments around the world to censor access to content deemed inappropriate by government authorities. New Zealand was the latest to join this growing trend, when several major Internet Service Providers (ISPs) blocked access to selected websites believed to host copies of the attack video or other details about the attack. While there may be broad agreement regarding the removal of a terror video, the use of ISPs to enforce nation-wide content bans raises questions about whether such practices will expand across the world to include other content governments wish to restrict.

In the aftermath of the New Zealand attack, several major Internet Service Providers across New Zealand blocked access nation-wide to an opaque list of websites believed to be either hosting copies of the attack video or sensitive details of the attack. The secret nature of the blacklist and opaque manner in which the companies decided which websites to add to the list or how to appeal an incorrect listing, echoed similar systems deployed around the world in countries like China.

China’s famed Great Firewall operates very similarly, with the government blocking websites across the country in a similarly opaque fashion and with little recourse for appeal. Much like the New Zealand model, blocking occurs through a public-private partnership of the government listing content it wishes blocked and ISPs instituting blocks to prevent their customers from consuming it.

Like New Zealand’s recent blocking efforts, China’s system officially exists for the same reason: to block access to disturbing content and content that would disrupt social order. In the Chinese case, however, the system has famously morphed to envelope all content that might threaten the government’s official narratives or call into question its actions.

In New Zealand’s case, website censorship was limited to a small set of sites allegedly hosting sensitive content relating to the attack. Yet, the government’s apparent comfort with instituting such a nation-wide ban so swiftly and without debate reminds us of how Chinese-style censorship begins.

Few would likely argue that the general public needs to be able to consume the graphic details of a terror attack. Yet, once governments normalize the infrastructure and practice of blocking access to content, there is little to stop them from declaring other kinds of violent content off-limits and then eventually move towards blocking any kind of societally troubling content.

One could easily imagine governments around the world using a similar argument to institute automatic bans on any video that depicts violence and using that process to block the posting of citizen video of police use of force. Suddenly all of those cellphone videos capturing security forces around the world using force to silence government critics would be banned under the auspices of preventing access to violent material.

Imagine if such tools had been in place half a century ago to allow the US Government to block all publication of images of the Kent State shooting. Written descriptions of that day’s events alone would likely not have been able to galvanize public opinion like the graphic imagery of its aftermath. Moreover, the government could easily have dismissed such written statements as hyperbole or “fake news.”

Similarly, written descriptions of prisoner abuse and torture by the US at Abu Ghraib could easily have been dismissed as overwrought falsehoods in a way that the stark graphic images that spread virally could not.

We understand atrocities through their historical records. One of the most common tools of Holocaust denial is to claim that all of the photographic evidence of the time was staged or fabricated. Imagine if, with the flip of a switch, a government could simply block all access to all information about the Holocaust out of concern that it would affect the public? In our increasingly digital world, if all traces of the Holocaust are deleted or blocked, suddenly it ceases to exist as a public topic of conversation and most importantly, warning. As we forget our history we are doomed to repeat it.

Today Tiananmen Square exists in our public memory because China is able to block access to all mention of those events only within its own borders, while the rest of the world is free to condemn it. What might happen if our globalized social media companies permitted governments like China to ban all mention of a violent event from their country from access anywhere in the world? Our planet’s worst atrocities could simply be swept away.

Indeed, the Burmese government would likely be first in line to exercise such powers to eliminate global discussion of the events within its borders.

Citizen video shot on cellphones has become a particularly powerful way of holding governments accountable. Yet, here again, if governments can flip a switch to block all access to content they deem sensitive, it would not be hard to foresee a rush by governments everywhere to block all footage of encounters with security services. Venezuela would suddenly be a rich utopia where there is no suffering or conflict, if it was able to block all access to imagery and video worldwide depicting otherwise.

Most importantly, as we’ve seen in a growing number of nations, such censorship efforts naturally progress towards any content viewed as troublesome by the government. In a world in which even democratically elected governments increasingly attack the press and look to restrict their ability to hold elected officials accountable, it is not hard to imagine governments exercising such powers to simply take any news outlet offline that dares to venture from the party line.

Indeed, Russia appears to be heading swiftly in that direction.

Historically only dictatorships closed news outlets for negative coverage, but in our digital world a government need not actually close a news outlet, they can simply flip a switch to block it from access, silencing it just as effectively and without drawing any attention to its actions.

The problem with censorship is that while there might be wide agreement that the general public need not have unrestricted access to a horrific terrorist video, such removal sets society upon a slippery slope towards governments exercising those powers to block content troublesome to itself, such as excessive use of force by police or even non-violent content like corruption allegations against senior government officials. It also raises important historical questions regarding how we’ve understood atrocities in the past versus how we will understand them in our digital future and what it means when governments have the ability to erase all traces of events.

There are no easy answers to these questions, but they are critical questions for us as societies to have. How do we prevent the perpetrators of violence from achieving notoriety or inspiring others, while ensuring society learns and takes action to ensure such events do not take place again? At the same time, how do we ensure governments do not exercise their powers to censor their own accountability, such as blacklisting coverage of corruption allegations?

Putting this all together, our digital world has granted governments unprecedented control over the informational ecosystems of their citizenry. Rather than rendering governments obsolete and ensuring unfettered information access, the web has actually not only entrenched the power of governments over information but gone further to grant them powers of control unimaginable in the print era. Where this takes us remains to be seen but is something that must be decided by societies in the open rather than by governments in the dark.


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Seventeen die in Delhi Hotel fire 

At least 17 people have died in a Delhi hotel fire that broke out early on Tuesday morning, police said. Eyewitnesses said the dead included a woman and a child who attempted to jump from a window to safety.

Officials said 35 people were rescued. Some were injured and have been taken to the hospital. Hotel Arpit Palace is located in Karol Bagh, an area popular with tourists for its budget hotels and shopping.

Videos recorded by eyewitnesses show people jumping from the building - in one of them, a man can be seen hanging on to the side of the building before he jumps off.

"There was wooden panelling in the corridor, because of which people couldn't use the corridors to leave the hotel," firefighter Vipin Kenta told the Hindustan Times newspaper.

He said they were still investigating what caused the fire. Local media reported that most of the deaths were caused by suffocation. Fire accidents are not uncommon in Indian cities, where builders often flout safety regulations.

Many structures, both old and new, lack proper fire exits. In recent months, officials have shut down a number of shops and restaurants in some of Delhi's most exclusive neighbourhoods for not following fire safety measures.

Owners of commercial buildings have also been known to construct additional floors without the necessary permissions.

Delhi minister Satyendra Jain told the NDTV news website that the Arpit Palace had built the fifth floor with a kitchen and a terrace, even though the owners only had permission to build four storeys. (BBC)

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Indonesia floods leave dozens dead! 

At least 73 people have died and more than 60 are missing in flash floods in Indonesia's eastern province of Papua. Rescue workers are struggling to reach remote parts of the province, and there are fears the number of dead may rise. Roads have been blocked by landslides and fallen trees, and floodwaters have damaged two bridges and more than 100 houses.

More than 4,000 people have been forced from their homes, and some are sheltering in government offices. Local residents said torrential rain began on Saturday evening and continued into the night, triggering mudslides and flash floods.

The search for victims continues in the town of Sentani, one of the worst affected areas. At least 51 people were killed in the town, national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told Reuters news agency. Another seven confirmed deaths were in the nearby provincial capital Jayapura, Mr Nugroho added.

However, a five-month-old baby was rescued in the city after being trapped under the rubble for hours, according to the military. The baby was later reunited with his family. His father survived but his mother's whereabouts is unknown. (BBC)

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Trump announces second North Korea summit

US President Donald Trump has announced in his State of the Union speech that he will hold a second nuclear summit with North Korea's leader this month.

The president said on Tuesday night that he would meet Kim Jong-un in Vietnam from 27-28 February.

Plans for a second summit have been in the works since the two leaders' historic talks last year. Trump and Kim's meeting last June in Singapore was the first ever between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader.

On Tuesday night, Trump said: "Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months.

"If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea. "Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one."

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New Zealand mosques: Several dead after shootings in Christchurch

There are "multiple fatalities" after shootings at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, police in New Zealand have confirmed.Three men and one woman are in custody, police commissioner Mike Bush told a news conference.

Witnesses told local media they ran for their lives, and saw people bleeding on the ground outside the Al Noor mosque.Authorities advised all mosques to shut down until further notice. All Christchurch schools are on lockdown.

In a statement to the nation, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said details were not yet clear, "but I can tell you now - this will be one of New Zealand's darkest days". It is not yet known how many shooters there were, but the Herald reports that one gunman is believed to be an Australian who has written a manifesto outlining his intentions. In it, he espouses far-right ideology and anti-immigrant ideology.

Unverified footage purportedly taken by the shooter has emerged, suggesting he filmed as he shot victims. Police called on the public not to share the "extremely distressing" material online.

A spokeswoman said Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) has activated its mass casualty plan, according to New Zealand news site Stuff.co.nz.The plan includes clearing emergency room space for casualties. The spokeswoman did not comment on how many patients were expected.Police earlier cleared Cathedral Square, where thousands of children were holding a rally for action on climate change.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said: "Police are responding with its full capability to manage the situation, but the risk environment remains extremely high. 

As well as the numerous witness reports of casualties, the Bangladesh national cricket team appear to have narrowly escaped the shooting.

A reporter following the team, who were due to play New Zealand in a now-cancelled test match on Saturday, tweeted that the team had "escaped from a mosque near Hagley Park where there were active shooters". Player Tamim Iqbal tweeted that the "entire team got saved from active shooters".

Bangladesh Cricket Board spokesman Jalal Yunus said most of the team had gone to mosque by bus and were about to go inside when the incident took place."They are safe. But they are mentally shocked. We have asked the team to stay confined in the hotel," he told the AFP news agency. (BBC)

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Philippines bomb attack in Church kills 27

Two bombs at a Roman Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippines have killed 27 people and injured dozens more, local officials say. The first blast happened as Sunday Mass was being celebrated at the church on Jolo island, where Islamist militants are active. As soldiers responded, a second device was detonated in the car park.

The attack comes days after a majority-Muslim area in the region voted for greater autonomy in a referendum. No group has so far said it was behind the attack. Jolo has long been a base for militants including those of the Abu Sayyaf group. The local officials say the first blast happened at 08:45 local time (00:45 GMT) inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which has been hit by bombs in the past.

The second explosion was shortly afterwards on the doorstep of the church. Most of the victims are civilians.

Images posted on social media showed the main road leading to the church sealed off by soldiers in armoured personnel carriers. Some of the wounded were evacuated by air to the nearby city of Zamboanga.

Calling the attack a "dastardly act", Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana urged the local population to work with the authorities to "deny terrorism any victory". "We will use the full force of the law to bring to justice the perpetrators behind this incident."

In last week's referendum, voters approved the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in majority-Muslim areas of southern Philippines. But voters in Sulu province, where Jolo is located, rejected it. The referendum was the result of a peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The authorities have previously expressed hopes that the vote could be a political solution to try to end decades of fighting between Islamist separatists and the Philippine army in the predominantly Catholic country. (BBC)

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Italy bans unvaccinated children from school 

Italian children have been told not to turn up to school unless they can prove they have been properly vaccinated. The deadline follows months of national debate over compulsory vaccination.

Parents risk being fined up to €500 (£425; $560) if they send their unvaccinated children to school. Children under six can be turned away.

The new law came amid a surge in measles cases - but Italian officials say vaccination rates have improved since it was introduced.

Under Italy's so-called Lorenzin law - named after the former health minister who introduced it - children must receive a range of mandatory immunisations before attending school. They include vaccinations for chickenpox, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella.

Children up to the age of six years will be excluded from nursery and kindergarten without proof of vaccination under the new rules. Those aged between six and 16 cannot be banned from attending school, but their parents face fines if they do not complete the mandatory course of immunisations.

The deadline for certification was due to be 10 March after a previous delay - but as it fell on a weekend, it was extended to Monday.
"Now everyone has had time to catch up," Health Minister Giulia Grillo told La Repubblica newspaper.

She had reportedly resisted political pressure from deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini to extend the deadline even further.
Ms. Grillo said the rules were now simple: "No vaccine, no school".

Italian media report that regional authorities are handling the situation in a number of different ways. In Bologna, the local authority has sent letters of suspension to the parents of some 300 children, and a total of 5,000 children do not have their vaccine documentation up to date.

In other areas there have been no reported cases, while still others have been given a grace period of a few days beyond the deadline.

Is the law having an effect?The new law was passed to raise Italy's plummeting vaccination rates from below 80% to the World Health Organisation's 95% target.

On Monday - the last day for parents to provide documentation proving their children had been properly vaccinated - the Italian health authority released figures claiming a national immunisation rate at or very close to 95% for children born in 2015, depending on which vaccine was being discussed.

The 95% threshold is the point at which "herd immunity" kicks in - when enough of the population is vaccinated for the spread of the disease to become unlikely, thereby protecting those who cannot be vaccinated.

That includes babies too young to be vaccinated themselves, or those with medical conditions such as a compromised immune system.
Last month, an eight-year-old recovering from cancer was unable to attend school in Rome due to his weak immune system.

The child had spent months receiving treatment for leukaemia, but was at risk of infection because a proportion of pupils in the school had not been vaccinated - including several in the same class.

vaccine 1
Demonstrations against compulsory vaccination were held in Rome, 2017. Getty Images 

The Lorenzin law, drafted by the previous government, had a tumultuous birth. When the current coalition came to power, it said it would drop mandatory immunisations although it later reversed its position.

The two populist parties in power had faced accusations that they were pursuing anti-vaccination policies.

Writing in a Facebook post on Monday, Ms Grillo admitted it "is a law that, at the time of approval, we criticised for several reasons" - and said that the law would be changed to include only those vaccinations that were necessary based on scientific data.

Why do parents not immunise their children?

The anti-vaccination movement has been growing globally in recent years, sparking alarm from the World Health Organization.

A long-discredited paper by Andrew Wakefield was behind much of the scare, but rumours around immunisation have continued to spread, leading to public health risks as not enough people are immune to such diseases.

Mr. Wakefield was struck off the UK medical register after fraudulently claiming there was a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) and autism and bowel disease in children.

He made the claim based on the experiences of just 12 children, and no other study since has been able to replicate his results.

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China to top U.S. as world's No. 1 retail market in 2019

China is expected to top the U.S. as the world’s largest retail market this year, a new report says, underscoring the Asian country’s growing middle class and shift to a consumer-driven economy.

Retail sales in China are forecast to grow 7.5 percent to $5.6 trillion in 2019, according to eMarketer’s worldwide retail and e-commerce forecast. Meanwhile, U.S. retail sales are projected to increase 3.3 percent to $5.5 trillion. While growth is slowing for both countries, China is expected to outpace the U.S. through 2022, the report says.

“In recent years, consumers in China have experienced rising incomes, catapulting millions into the new middle class,” says Monica Peart, senior forecasting director at eMarketer.

China is already the world’s leader in e-commerce sales, with 35.3 percent of the country’s retail sales set to take place online this year, eMarketer estimates, compared to 10.9 percent in the U.S. China’s ecommerce sales are projected to grow 30 percent to $1.9 trillion in 2019.

By the end of the year, China will comprise 55.8 percent of the world’s online retail sales, the report says.

PIC market

Shoppers outside Apple's store in Nanjing, China. Will the crowds thin out? (Photo: Apple)

While Alibaba will account for 53.3 percent of China's ecommerce sales this year, its share has been declining as smaller players like social commerce platform Pinduoduogrow, eMarketer says.For the past decade or so, the Chinese government has been trying to shift the underpinnings of the country’s economy from factory exports and commercial and residential investment to consumption.

 “It has really picked up in the last three to five years,” Peart says, a trend highlighted by China's expected rise to .

Millions of Chinese workers have moved from rural to urban areas and realized significant wage increases.

The U.S., however, still far outpaces China in per capita retail spending annually, with projected 2019 sales of $16,661 in the U.S. and $4,056 in China, the study says.

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