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Moon Outlines S. Korean Economic Plan as Think Tanks Point to Continued Slowing

4 hours 28 min ago
The economic outlook in South Korea is not good, according to the Hyundai Research Institute, which stated in a report this week that the economy “reached its peak in May 2017” and may bottom out in 2020. The bad economic news continues to contribute to President Moon Jae-in’s plummeting approval rating, which now stands at 45 percent, his lowest evaluation according to Gallup Korea. The latest poll indicates 53 percent of businesses gave Moon a negative rating, compared to only 41 approving of his administration. The Hyundai Research Institute forecasts South Korea’s economic growth rate at 2.5 percent for the coming year, a rate matched by the LG Economic Research Institute. The state-run Korean Development Institute and the International Monetary Fund estimate a 0.1 percent higher growth rate. However, the Bank of Korea is an outlier and holds on to the most optimist view of a 2.8 to 2.9 percent growth rate through 2020. Kim So Young, an economics professor at Seoul National University said Asia’s fourth-largest economy is slowing down, “but at this moment, it’s not at it’s worst.” Research Fellow Chung Min, at the Hyundai Research Institute, said data it collected predicts things will approach the economy’s lowest point during the second half of 2019. The 2018 third-quarter data led Seoul to cut its upcoming economic outlook, citing weak investments and global trade disputes. "The economy is faced with downward risks such as deepening trade disputes, spreading financial instability in emerging markets amid the normalizing monetary policy by the major countries," according to the government outlook.  Experts agreed with that assessment, but had more to add. Kim So Young said rising household debt is another factor, and Yonsei University professor of economics Taeyoon Sung cited two other potential causes. One, he said, is major businesses have lost their competitiveness in global markets. The other is the Moon administration’s mandate to increase the minimum wage. Sung asserted higher wage costs have had a huge impact on the market economy. Hansung University assistant professor Kim Sang Bong specifically identifies potential hardships the South Korean semiconductor sector may face because of increased competition from China and potential for the United States economy to “bottom out” in 2020 as well because of its own trade issues. Hopes of a turnaround Monday, Moon unveiled his plan to stave off South Korea’s stagnant economy and reverse course from his administration’s income-led growth policy, dubbed “J-nomics” (a combination of the president’s name (Jae-in) and economics). Moon said in a ministers meeting that “we have to put policies that would vitalize the economy through innovation in regulation and encourage investment and, at the same time, lift regional economies and balanced development.” Moon acknowledged that “it’s difficult to radically change an economy in a five-year term… In the process of changing the economic policy direction [to income-led growth], there could be some controversy and doubts, but we need to take an attitude to see [the changes] bear fruit with patience.” Taeyoon Sung finds it hard to be optimistic about South Korea’s economy, predicting a continued downward trend for the country and calling the global situation “out of control.” Hyundai Research Institute’s Chung Min said, “In the short-term, the administration needs to encourage investment and regulatory reform is required for that (reform) to take place, particularly in the SOC (Social Overhead Capital, a term referring infrastructure needs of a society).” “Because investment in the construction sector is decreasing, it is necessary to have early execution of SOC [projects],” he added. “In the long-term, economic restructuring should take place, leading to a more active economy.” The Hyundai Research Institute recommends the government carry out more flexible economic policies and consider an interest rate cut, "also, they should pursue expansionary fiscal policies and front load 2019 budget in the first half.” Kim So Young agrees that altering South Korea’s current economic policies is a wise course of action, because the nation cannot control external conditions like the tariff dispute between Washington and Beijing. Moon’s announcement “patches” things, said Kim Sang Bong, “but it offers no consistent policy.” Leading Sung to mention that whatever changes are implemented, it will be difficult to forecast any type of recovery time should the economy “bottom out” as the Hyundai Research Institute predicts. Chung Min noted that continued and careful monitoring of the economy is needed. Lee Ju-hyun contributed to this report.

Japan to Buy More Stealth Jets, Radar to Counter China, Russia

8 hours 15 min ago
Japan will accelerate spending on advanced stealth fighters, long-range missiles and other equipment over the next five years to support U.S. forces facing China's military in the Western Pacific, two new government defense papers said. The plans are the clearest indication yet of Japan's ambition to become a regional power as a military build-up by China and a resurgent Russia puts pressure on its U.S. ally. "The United States remains the world's most powerful nation, but national rivalries are surfacing and we recognize the importance of the strategic competition with both China and Russia as they challenge the regional order," said a 10-year defense program outline approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government on Tuesday. The United States, followed by China, North Korea and Russia, are the countries that most influenced Japan's latest military thinking, the paper said. China, the world's second biggest economy, is deploying more ships and aircraft to patrol waters near Japan, while North Korea has yet to fulfill a pledge to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs. Russia, which continues to probe Japanese air defenses, said on Monday it had built new barracks for troops on a northern island it captured from Japan at the end of World War II.  More stealth fighters Japan plans to buy 45 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 stealth fighters, worth about $4 billion, in addition to the 42 jets already on order, according to a separate five-year procurement plan approved on Tuesday. The new planes will include 18 short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) B variants of the F-35 that planners want to deploy on Japanese islands along the edge of the East China Sea. The islands are part of a chain stretching past Taiwan and down to the Philippines that has marked the limit of Chinese military dominance east of the disputed South China Sea. The navy's two large helicopter carriers, the Izumo and Kaga, will be modified to accommodate F-35B operations, the paper said. The 248-meter- (814-ft.)long Izumo-class ships are as big as any of Japan's aircraft carriers in World War II. The ships will need reinforced decks to withstand the heat blast from F-35 engines and could be fitted with ramps to aid short take-offs, two defense ministry officials told Reuters. Trade war threat The new F-35 order may also help Japan avert a trade war with the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose tariffs on Japanese car imports, thanked Abe for buying the F-35s when the two met at a summit in Argentina this month. Other U.S.-made equipment on Japan's shopping list includes two land-based Aegis Ashore air defense radars to defend against North Korean missiles, four Boeing Co KC-46 Pegasus refueling planes to extend the range of Japanese aircraft, and nine Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye early-warning planes. Japan plans to spend 25.5 trillion yen ($224.7 billion) on military equipment over the next five years, 6.4 percent higher than the previous five-year plan. Cost-cutting will free up another 2 trillion yen for purchases, the procurement paper said. Japan only spends about 1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, but the size of its economy means it already has one of the world's largest militaries. "The budget is increasing and there has been an acceleration to deploy capability as soon as possible," Robert Morrissey, head of Raytheon's unit in Japan, said this month. Wary of North Korean promises to abandon ballistic missile development, Japan's military is buying longer-range Raytheon SM-3 interceptor missiles to strike enemy warheads in space. The defense papers assessed non-traditional military threats as well. A new joint-forces cyber unit will bolster Japan's defenses against cyber attacks. More electronic warfare capabilities are planned. Japan's air force will also get its first space unit to help keep tabs on potential adversaries high above the Earth's atmosphere.

China's Xi Calls for Reform Implementation, Offers No New Measures

9 hours 8 sec ago
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday called for the implementation of reforms but offered no new specific measures in a highly anticipated speech that marked the 40th anniversary of China's move towards market liberalization. In a speech lasting nearly an hour-and-a-half, Xi called for support of the state economy while also guiding the development of the private sector, and said China will expand efforts at opening up and ensure the implementation of major reforms. "We must, unswervingly, reinforce the development of the state economy while, unswervingly, encouraging, supporting and guiding the development of the non-state economy," Xi said during a speech at Beijing's Great Hall of the People. Xi was speaking on the day China marked as the 40th anniversary of the start of late leader Deng Xiaoping's campaign of "reform and opening up," which led to explosive industrial growth that made China's economy the world's second-largest. "Opening brings progress while closure leads to backwardness," he added. "Every step of reform and opening up is not easy. In the future, we will be inevitably faced with all sorts of risks and challenges, and even unimaginable tempestuous storms," said Xi, stressing the role the ruling Communist Party. Xi was speaking amid mounting pressure to accelerate reforms and improve market access for foreign companies as a bitter trade war with the United States weighs on the Chinese economy. China's heavy support of its sprawling state sector has been a point of contention with the United States. The trade war has spurred some Chinese entrepreneurs, government advisers and think tanks to call for faster economic reforms and the freeing up of a private sector stifled by state controls and struggling to gain access to credit. Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed early this month to a 90-day truce in the trade dispute, which halted the threatened escalation of punitive tariffs while the two sides continue negotiations. In his speech, Xi enumerated the accomplishments of China's development. "Grain coupons, cloth coupons, meat coupons, fish coupons, oil coupons, tofu coupons, food ticket books, product coups and other documents people once could not be without have now been consigned to the museum of history," he said. "The torments of hunger, lack of food and clothing, and the hardships which have plagued our people for thousands of years have generally gone and won't come back." Numerous luminaries in attendance were cited for their contributions to China's economic reforms including the heads of online giants Alibaba, Tencent Holdings and Baidu and car maker Geely Automobile Holdings.

UN Condemns N. Korea Rights Violations, Nuclear Spending

9 hours 40 min ago
The U.N. General Assembly on Monday condemned North Korea's "systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights" and its diversion of resources into pursing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles over the welfare of its people.   It noted "with concern" that over 10 million North Koreans are estimated to be undernourished and that there is "an unacceptably high prevalence of chronic and acute malnutrition" in the reclusive northeast Asian nation.   The resolution, sponsored by Japan and the European Union, was adopted by consensus, though countries including Russia, China, Cuba and Venezuela disassociated themselves from it. Many expressed opposition to assembly resolutions singling out specific countries and said the Geneva-based Human Rights Council should deal with rights issues. North Korea's U.N. ambassador, Kim Song, said his country "categorically rejects" the resolution, calling it "a product of (a) political plot and hostile forces."   He accused Japan of "provoking confrontation" with North Korea "by going back against the main trend in (the) Korean peninsula" when delicate political negotiations are underway. Since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reached out to South Korea and the United States early this year, the two Korean leaders have met several times and Kim held a historic summit with President Donald Trump — with another one expected in the new year. But there has been no significant progress on Kim's commitment to nuclear disarmament, and as a result no lifting of U.N. or U.S. sanctions against North Korea.   The resolution's approval followed the U.S. failure to get enough votes to discuss North Korea's human rights record in the Security Council a week ago. It had succeeded for the last four years, and diplomats said the U.S. is likely to try again in the new year when five new members join the council.   A statement released Monday by North Korea's U.N. Mission noted opposition to the U.S. move and asserted again that the Security Council "is neither a place for discussion on any human rights issue nor a platform where a human rights issue is politicized to flare up confrontation."   Whatever the change in the Security Council's composition, North Korea said it shouldn't be used as a platform "where U.S.'s high-handedness and arbitrary practice would prevail."   The General Assembly resolution adopted Monday expresses "very serious concern" at reports of torture, detention, rape, public executions, the imposition of the death penalty, the absence of the rule of law, and "collective punishments extending up to three generations."   It also expressed concern at forced labor in North Korea and its "extensive system of political prison camps where a vast number of persons are deprived of their liberty and subjected to deplorable conditions" as well as "all-pervasive and severe restrictions, both online and offline, on the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion or belief, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association."   The resolution condemns "the systematic abduction, denial of repatriation and subsequence enforced disappearance of persons, including those from other countries, on a large scale."   It "acknowledges" the findings of the U.N. commission of inquiry on North Korea in 2014. The commission said testimony and information it gathered "provide reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the state for decades and by institutions under the effective control of its leadership."   The General Assembly strongly urged North Korea "to immediately put an end to the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights" by fully implementing U.N. resolutions and recommendations including closing prison camps and releasing all political prisoners.

China Hopes for 'Orderly' Brexit, Calls for More Open EU Economy

10 hours 6 sec ago
China hopes Britain's exit from the European Union can happen in an orderly way and that the bloc will reduce hurdles to Chinese investment and keep its markets open, China's foreign ministry said on Tuesday. China, the world's second-largest economy, has watched Brexit nervously, worried not only about potential market turmoil from a disorderly departure but about losing Britain's supportive voice for free trade within the EU. "China hopes to see Brexit proceed in an orderly fashion and stands ready to advance China-EU and China-UK relations in parallel," the ministry said in a lengthy policy document on EU ties. The EU and China are often at loggerheads over trade and other issues, with the EU sharing many of the same concerns as the United States about market access, trade imbalances and intellectual property rights protection. The bloc is China's largest trading partner while China is its biggest trading partner after the United States. The EU has been pressing for better access to the Chinese market for its companies, while China has complained about what it sees as unfair restrictions on Chinese investments in the EU. Despite events such as Brexit, China said the EU has remained committed to integration, pressed on with reforms and played a major role in regional and international affairs. Beijing has promised to look at the possibility of reaching a "top notch" free trade deal with Britain post-Brexit. The Brexit process is currently deadlocked with just over 100 days until Britain is due to leave the EU. On trade, China's white paper said the EU should ease high-tech export controls on China and facilitate mutual investment. The government will significantly ease market access and endeavor to foster a "stable, fair, transparent, law-based and predictable business environment that protects the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investment and treats Chinese and foreign firms registered in China as equals," it said. "China hopes that the EU will keep its investment market open, reduce and eliminate investment hurdles and discriminatory barriers, and provide Chinese companies investing in Europe a fair, transparent and predictable policy environment and protect their legitimate rights and interests." The EU last month provisionally agreed on rules for a far-reaching system to coordinate scrutiny of foreign investments into Europe, notably from China in the wake of a surge in Chinese investments, to end what a negotiator called "European naivety."

US Sportswear Traced to Factory in China's Internment Camps

17 hours 19 min ago
Barbed wire and hundreds of cameras ring a massive compound of more than 30 dormitories, schools, warehouses and workshops in China's far west. Dozens of armed officers and a growling Doberman stand guard outside.  Behind locked gates, men and women are sewing sportswear that can end up on U.S. college campuses and sports teams.  This is one of a growing number of internment camps in the Xinjiang region, where by some estimates 1 million Muslims are detained, forced to give up their language and their religion and subject to political indoctrination. Now, the Chinese government is also forcing some detainees to work in manufacturing and food industries. Some of them are within the internment camps; others are privately-owned, state-subsidized factories where detainees are sent once they are released. ​The Associated Press has tracked recent, ongoing shipments from one such factory inside an internment camp to Badger Sportswear, a leading supplier in Statesville, North Carolina. The shipments show how difficult it is to stop products made with forced labor from getting into the global supply chain, even though such imports are illegal in the U.S. Badger CEO John Anton said Sunday that the company would source sportswear elsewhere while it investigates. Chinese authorities say the camps, which they call training centers, offer free vocational training for Uighurs, Kazakhs and others, mostly Muslims, as part of a plan to bring minorities into “a modern civilized” world and eliminate poverty in Xinjiang. They say that people in the centers have signed agreements to receive vocational training. The Xinjiang Propaganda Department did not respond to a faxed request for comment. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman accused the foreign media Monday of making “many untrue reports” about the training centers, but did not specify when asked for details. “Those reports are completely based on hearsay evidence or made out of thin air,” the spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said at a daily briefing.  However, a dozen people who either had been in a camp or had friends or family in one told the AP that detainees they knew were given no choice but to work at the factories. Most of the Uighurs and Kazakhs, who were interviewed in exile, also said that even people with professional jobs were retrained to do menial work.   Payment varied according to the factory. Some got paid nothing, while others earned up to several hundred dollars a month, they said — barely above minimum wage for the poorer parts of Xinjiang. A person with firsthand knowledge of the situation in one county estimated that more than 10,000 detainees — or 10 to 20 percent of the internment population there — are working in factories, with some earning just a tenth of what they used to earn before. The person declined to be named out of fear of retribution. A former reporter for Xinjiang TV in exile said that during his month-long detention last year, young people in his camp were taken away in the mornings to work without compensation in carpentry and a cement factory. “The camp didn't pay any money, not a single cent,” he said, asking to be identified only by his first name, Elyar, because he has relatives still in Xinjiang. “Even for necessities, such as things to shower with or sleep at night, they would call our families outside to get them to pay for it.” Rushan Abbas, a Uighur in Washington, D.C., said her sister is among those detained. The sister, Dr. Gulshan Abbas, was taken to what the government calls a vocational center, although she has no specific information on whether her sister is being forced to work.  “American companies importing from those places should know those products are made by people being treated like slaves,” she said. “What are they going to do, train a doctor to be a seamstress?”                      *** The predominantly Muslim Uighur and Kazakh ethnic minorities in China live mostly in the Xinjiang region bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, with a legacy dating back to ancient traders on the Silk Road. In recent decades, violent attacks by Uighur militants have killed hundreds and prompted the Chinese government to blanket Xinjiang with stifling security.  About two years ago, authorities launched a vast detention and reeducation campaign. They also use checkpoints, GPS tracking and face-scanning cameras for surveillance of ethnic minorities in the region. The slightest perceived misstep can land someone in the internment camps. Men and women in the complex that has shipped products to Badger Sportswear make clothes for privately-owned Hetian Taida Apparel in a cluster of 10 workshops within the compound walls. Hetian Taida says it is not affiliated with the internment camps, but its workforce includes detainees. As China faced growing international pressure about the detention camps, its state broadcaster aired a 15-minute report in October that featured a “vocational skills education and training center” in the southern Xinjiang city of Hotan. “Terrorism and extremism are the common enemy of human civilization,” the China Central Television program began. In response, the report said, the Xinjiang government was using vocational training to solve this “global issue.”  Wu Hongbo, the chairman of Hetian Taida, confirmed that the company has a factory inside the same compound as the training center featured in the China Central Television report. Hetian Taida provides employment to those trainees who were deemed by the government to be “unproblematic,” he said, adding that the center is government-operated. “We're making our contribution to eradicating poverty,” Wu told the AP over the phone.  The 20 to 30 trainees at the factory are treated like regular employees and make up a small fraction of the hundreds of people in its workforce, he said. Trainees featured in the state television report praised the Communist Party for saving them from a criminal path. “I don't dare to imagine what would have happened to me if I didn't come here,” one Uighur student said. “The party and government found me in time and saved me. They gave me a chance to reinvent myself.” The segment said that in addition to law and Mandarin-language classes, the training center collaborated with companies to give trainees practical experience. Trainees were shown hunched over sewing machines in a factory whose interior matches that of Hetian Taida's main Hotan branch, as seen in prior Chinese media reports. Police told the AP journalists who approached the compound earlier this month that they could not take photos or film in the area because it was part of a “military facility.” Yet the entrance was marked only by a tall gate that said it was an “apparel employment training base.”  Posters line the barbed-wire perimeter, bearing messages such as “Learn to be grateful, learn to be an upright person” and “No need to pay tuition, find a job easily.” Nathan Ruser, a cyber-policy researcher at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), analyzed satellite images for the AP and found that in Hetian Taida's case, the apparel factory and the government-run training camp are connected by a fenced path. “There are watchtowers throughout,” Ruser said. “There are clear fences between the buildings and walls that limit movement. Detainees can only access the factories area through walkways, and the entire facility is closed.” The AP could not independently determine if any workers were allowed to come and go, or how much if anything they were paid. At least 10 times this year shipping containers filled with thousands of men's, women's and youth polyester knitted T-shirts and pants were sent to Badger Sportswear, a 47-year-old athletic gear seller. The company mostly manufactures in Nicaragua and the U.S., and there is no way to tell where the products from Xinjiang specifically end up. But experts say supply chains are considered tainted by forced labor and modern slavery if even one item was produced by someone forced to work. Sprinkled on the Internet are clues that repeatedly tie the company to the detention camp's sewing factory floor.              Shawn Zhang, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, noted an overlooked Hotan city social media post from February about the first batch of some 1.5 million pieces of clothing worth $400,000 heading overseas from the Hetian Taida Factory. In the middle of a photo of young women flashing the peace sign is Badger Sportswear's marketing director Ginny Gasswint, who is quoted as saying she's surprised the workers are “friendly, beautiful, enthusiastic and hardworking.” Badger Sportswear goes to sports teams large and small, ranging from ranging from Charlotte Country Day School Squash team in Charlotte, North Carolina, to Rhode Island's Coventry Little League and Hansberry College Prep in Chicago, according to its website and advertisements. The AP also found dozens of college bookstores advertising their gear printed on Badger Sportswear, including Texas A&M, University of Pennsylvania, Appalachian State University, University of Northern Iowa, University of Evansville and Bates College. However, it's impossible to say if any particular shirt is made with forced labor. Badger chief executive Anton said Sunday that his company has sourced products from an affiliate of Hetian Taida for many years. He said about a year ago, the affiliate opened a new factory in western China. Anton confirmed Badger Sportswear officials visited the factory and have a certificate that the factory is certified by social compliance experts. “We will voluntarily halt sourcing and will move production elsewhere while we investigate the matters raised,” he said. Badger Sportswear was acquired by New York investment firm CCMP Capital Advisor in August 2016. Since then, CCMP has acquired three more team sportswear companies, which they are managing under the umbrella of Founder Sport Group. In recent years, Badger imported sportswear — jerseys, T-shirts, workout pants and more — from Nicaragua and Pakistan. But in April this year, it began importing 100 percent polyester T-shirts and pants from Hetian Taida Apparel, according to U.S. customs data provided by ImportGenius, which analyzes consumer shipments. The address on the shipping records is the same as for the detention camp.    The U.S. and United Nations say forced labor is a type of modern slavery, and that items made by people being exploited and coerced to work are banned from import to the U.S.  It's unclear whether other companies also export products made by forced labor in Xinjiang to the U.S., Europe and Asia. The AP found two companies exporting to the U.S. that share approximately the same coordinates as places experts have identified as internment camps, and Chinese media reports mention “training” there. But the AP could not confirm whether the companies use forced labor.                   *** The detention camp system is part of China's increasingly stringent state security under President Xi Jinping. Some detainees told AP earlier this year about beating, solitary confinement and other punishments if they do not recite political songs, names and phrases. The AP has not been given access to these facilities despite repeated attempts to get permission to visit. Not all the camps have forced labor. Many former detainees say they were held in facilities that didn't have any manufacturing equipment and focused solely on political indoctrination. “They didn't teach me anything. They were brainwashing me, trying to make us believe how great China is, how powerful it is, how developed its economy is,” said Kairat Samarkan, a Kazakh citizen who said he was tortured with a metal contraption that contorts your body before being released in February after he tried to kill himself. Interviewees described a wave of factory openings earlier this year. Ex-detainee Orynbek Koksebek said that shortly before his release in April, the director strode into his class and announced that a factory would be built in the camp. Koksebek, who cannot speak Mandarin, listened to a policeman as he translated the director's words into Kazakh for the roughly 90 women and 15 men in the room.   “We're going to open a factory, you're going to work,” Koksebek recalled him as saying. “We'll teach you how to cook, how to sew clothes, how to fix cars.”   This fall, months after Koksebek's release, news began trickling into Kazakhstan that the Chinese government was starting forced labor in internment camps and would transfer some detainees out into gated, guarded factories. The workers must live in dormitories on factory grounds. Contact with family ranges from phone calls or in-person visits, to weekends at home under police surveillance.  In October, Chinese authorities acknowledged the existence of what they called vocational training centers. State media published an interview with Shohret Zahir, the governor of Xinjiang, saying that “some trainees” were nearly done with their “courses.” “We will try to achieve a seamless connection between school teaching and social employment, so that after finishing their courses, the trainees will be able to find jobs and earn a well-off life,” Zahir said. The forced labor program goes along with a massive government initiative to develop Xinjiang's economy by constructing enormous factory parks. Another internment camp the AP visited was inside a factory compound called Kunshan Industrial Park, opened under the national anti-poverty push. A local propaganda official, Chen Fang, said workers inside made food and clothes.  A hospital, a police station, smokestacks, dormitories and a building with a sign that read “House of Workers” could be seen from outside the surrounding barbed wire fencing. Another section resembled a prison, with guard towers and high walls. The AP did not track any exports from Kunshan to the U.S. Many of those with relatives in such camps said their loved ones were well-educated with high-paying jobs before their arrest, and did not need a poverty alleviation program. Nurbakyt Kaliaskar, a sheepherder's wife in Kazakhstan, said her daughter, Rezila Nulale, 25, was a college graduate with a well-paid advertising job in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, where she lived a typical urban lifestyle with a computer, a washing machine and an apartment in the city center Then last August, after returning from a visit to her family across the border in Kazakhstan, Nulale vanished. She didn't answer phone calls and stopped showing up to work.  Four months later a stranger contacted Kaliaskar online and confirmed her fear: her daughter had been detained for “political training.” The next spring, she said she fainted when two cases of her daughter's clothes were delivered to her home in Kazakhstan.    Last month, Kaliaskar got word via a friend who knows the family that Nulale was working in a factory next to the camp where she had been detained. The friend had heard from Kaliaskar's brother, who had visited Nulale, bringing medicine for an injured hand. Kaliaskar learned her daughter wasn't being paid and had to meet a daily quota of three articles of clothing. She couldn't leave. Her uncle thought she looked pale and thin. They say they're teaching her to weave clothes. But the thing is, she's well educated and had a job,” said Kaliaskar. “What's the point of this training?” A former detainee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect himself and his family members, said other detainees from his camp also had been forced into jobs at factories far away. They were taken to a government office and handed labor contracts for six months to five years in a distant factory, which they were required to sign. If they ran from the factories, they were warned, they'd be taken straight back to the camps for “further education.”   Farmers, herders and manual laborers with little Mandarin and no higher education say they appreciated Beijing's past initiatives to help the poor, including subsidized housing and the installation of electricity and running water. But the camps, the forced education, and the factories, they say, go too far.   “I never asked the government to find work for my husband,” said Mainur Medetbek, whose husband did odd repair jobs before vanishing into a camp in February during a visit to China from their home in Kazakhstan. She has been able to glean a sense of his conditions from monitored exchanges with relatives and from the husband of a woman who is in the same camp. He works in an apparel factory and is allowed to leave and spend the night with relatives every other Saturday. Though she's not certain how much her husband makes, the woman in his camp earns 600 yuan (about $87) a month, less than half the local minimum wage and far less than what Medetbek's husband used to earn.  Since her husband was detained, Medetbek and her children have had no reliable source of income and sometimes go hungry. The ordeal has driven her to occasionally contemplate suicide. “They say it's a factory, but it's an excuse for detention. They don't have freedom, there's no time for him to talk with me,” she said. “They say they found a job for him. I think it's a concentration camp.”                   

Czech Republic Warns Against Using Huawei, ZTE Products

21 hours 54 sec ago
The Czech Republic's cybersecurity watchdog is warning against the use of products by Chinese electronics giant Huawei and another Chinese telecommunications company, ZTE. The National Cyber and Information Security Agency said Monday their software and hardware pose "a security threat." Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies. It has become the target of U.S. security concerns because of its ties to the Chinese government. The U.S. has pressured other countries to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information. A Czech spy agency recently warned against the activities of Chinese spies on Czech territory.

Report: China Driving Use of Armed Drones in Middle East

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 22:36
The use of armed drones in the Middle East, driven largely by sales from China, has grown significantly in the past few years with an increasing number of countries and other parties using them in regional conflicts to lethal effects, a new report said Monday.   The report by the Royal United Services Institute, or RUSI, found that more and more Mideast countries have acquired armed drones, either by importing them, such as Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, or by building them domestically like Israel, Iran and Turkey. China has won sales in the Middle East and elsewhere by offering drones — otherwise known as UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles — at lower prices and without the political conditions attached by the United States.   The Associated Press reported earlier this year that countries across the Middle East locked out of purchasing U.S.-made drones are being wooed by Chinese arms dealers, helping expand Chinese influence across a region vital to American security interest.   It noted the use of Chinese armed drones across Mideast battlefields, including in the war on Yemen, employed by the Emirati air force. Iran has also violated Israeli airspace with armed UAVs from bases in Syria, provoking armed Israeli response on the suspected bases.   The RUSI report , entitled "Armed Drones in the Middle East: Proliferation and Norms in the Region," said that by capitalizing on the gap in the market over the past few years, Beijing has supplied armed drones to several countries that are not authorized to purchase them from the U.S., and at a dramatically cheaper price.   "China, a no-questions-asked exporter of drones, has played and is likely to continue playing a key role as a supplier of armed UAVs to the Middle East," it said.   The report explored where and how each of the states have used their armed drones and whether they have changed the way these countries approach air power. It found that Iran, the UAE and Turkey all changed the way they employ airpower after they acquired armed drones.   For Turkey and the UAE, armed drones enabled them to conduct strikes in situations where they would not have risked using conventional aircraft, it said. Iran developed armed drones from the outset specifically to enable to project power beyond the reach of its air force, which is hamstrung by obsolete aircraft and sanctions, the report added.   The report said it remains to be seen whether and how the loosening of restrictions on the exportation of armed drones by the Trump administration will alter dynamics in the region. The administration in April permitted U.S. manufacturers to directly market and sell drones, including armed versions, although the government must still approve and license the sales.   Aniseh Bassiri Tabrizi, who authored the report along with Justin Bronk, said proliferation of armed drones in the Middle East is unlikely to stop and could in fact accelerate despite the changes introduced by the U.S. administration.   "Over the past two years the sales have increased massively and they are likely to increase even more," she said. "This kind of collaboration is just going to grow especially in cases where countries don't have the capacity to build them themselves."    

Locked Away, Forgotten: Muslim Uighur Wives of Pakistani Men

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 20:29
The last time Chaudhry Javed Atta saw his wife was over a year ago — the Pakistani trader in dried and fresh produce was leaving their home in northwestern China's heavily Muslim Xinjiang region to go back to his country to renew his visa. He remembers the last thing she told him: "As soon as you leave, they will take me to the camp and I will not come back." That was August, 2017. By then, Atta and Amina Manaji, from the Muslim ethnic Uighur group native to Xinjiang, had been married for 14 years. Atta is one of scores of Pakistani businessmen —— and he says there are more than 200 —— whose spouses have disappeared, taken to what Chinese authorities tell them are education centers. Beijing has been accused of interning members of its Muslim population — by some reports as many as 1 million — to "re-educate" them away from their faith. It is seen as a response to riots and violent attacks that the government blamed on separatists. "They call them schools, but they are prisons," Atta said. "They can't leave." Pakistanis often rally loudly in defense of Islam and Muslims whenever they are perceived offended around the world — most recently over cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. In 1989, protests spread from Pakistan elsewhere, leading to the fatwa by Iran's Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini against author Salman Rushdie for his depiction of Islam in his book Satanic Verses. But political and economic factors, including concerns about losing out on vast Chinese investments, have kept Pakistan and other Muslim countries silent about the plight in China of fellow Muslims, the Uighurs. "Cold, hard interests will always carry the day" in international relations, said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center. "The Muslim world's deafening silence about China's treatment of Muslims can be attributed to its strong interest in maintaining close relations with the world's next superpower." China is financing major development projects in cash-strapped Pakistan. Islamabad says Beijing's up to $75 billion development project known the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — part of an effort to reconstruct the historic Silk Road linking China to all corners of Asia — will bring new prosperity to Pakistan, where the average citizen lives on just $125 a month. For Atta, it's not just the separation from his wife. He has also had to leave their two sons, who are 5 and 7 years old and whose passports were confiscated by the Chinese government, in the care of his wife's family. Otherwise, he said, the authorities would have put them in an orphanage. He went back to China twice for a few months but both times his visas expired and he had to return to Pakistan. Getting in touch with family in Xinjiang is a circuitous route that involves reaching out to Pakistani friends still there, who then track down family members willing to talk. "Now especially I am worried. It is now eight, almost nine months, that I have not seen my children," he said. "I haven't even been able to talk to them." Last week, Atta finally talked to his brother-in-law after a friend discovered he had a heart attack and was recovering in a hospital in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. "He said my sons were good, but he had no news of my wife," said Atta. China routinely responds to queries on Uighurs by saying its policies are aimed at creating "stability and lasting peace" in Xinjiang but President Xi Jinping's campaign to subdue a sometimes restive region, including the internment of more than 1 million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, has alarmed a United Nations panel and the U.S. government. Mushahid Hussain, chairman of Pakistan's Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said the cardinal principle of Pakistan-China relations is to refrain from commenting on anything to do with the other country's domestic issues. "Given the relationship of Pakistan with China, and in the Muslim world in particular, the Chinese narrative is apparently being accepted across the board as the one that is correct," Hussain said. A steady stream of Pakistani men has visited Beijing in recent months, lobbying for the release of their wives to little avail. Some say they met Pakistan's ambassador to China, Masood Khalid, on multiple occasions, and were told their issues were raised privately with the Chinese. Another Pakistani man in a similar predicament, Mir Aman, went to China more than 25 years ago as a poor laborer in search of work. There, he met his wife, Maheerban Gul, they worked hard and eventually bought a hotel. The couple has two daughters, Shahnaz, 16, and Shakeela, 12, both now with their father in Pakistan. Last year, Aman first tried to go back to China alone, but the authorities denied him entry at a border crossing without his wife. Then they returned together to Xinjiang. There, she was ordered to report every morning to the police, who gave her books on the Communist Party to read. "When they would see anything written in Urdu, a prayer mat or something related to religion, they would seize it," he said. "They want to eliminate Islam." After a few weeks, Aman was ordered to leave even though he had a six-month visa. He was told he could return after one month. When he did, his wife was gone. For four months he pestered police every day, threatened to take his life in public. He was finally allowed to see his wife, who was brought to a local police station, for just an hour. They cried. When the meeting ended he was told to go home to Pakistan "and stop making trouble for the administration," Aman said. He has no idea where she is being held.

Nissan Board Meets, no Chairman Picked to replace Ghosn

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 20:01
Nissan's board met Monday but failed to pick a new chairman to replace Carlos Ghosn, who was arrested last month on charges of violating financial regulations, saying more discussion was needed.   Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Hiroto Saikawa told reporters that the board approved a special committee of outsiders to strengthen governance at the company. A date for the selection of a chairman was not decided.   "We plan to be cautious in this process, and I do not plan to rush this," Saikawa said.   The recommendations for beefing up governance are due in March, and Saikawa said he was willing to wait until then to choose a chairman.   The board meeting came amid an unfolding scandal that threatens the Japanese automaker's two-decade alliance with Renault SA of France and its global brand, and highlights shoddy governance at the manufacturer of the Leaf electric car.   Ghosn and another board member Greg Kelly were formally charged last week with falsifying financial reports in underreporting Ghosn's income by about 5 billion yen ($44 million) from 2011 to 2015. They were arrested Nov. 19 by Tokyo prosecutors and remain in detention.   A source close to Ghosn's family says Ghosn is innocent, as the alleged income was never decided upon or paid. Aubrey Harwell, the U.S. lawyer for Kelly, an American, says he is innocent, and that Nissan insiders and outside experts had advised him that the financial reporting was proper.   The chairman must be selected from among the board members. Three outside board members — race-car driver Keiko Ihara, Masakazu Toyoda, an academic, and Jean-Baptiste Duzan, formerly of Renault — are making that decision.   The special committee for governance includes the three outside board members and four other outsiders, including former judge Seiichiro Nishioka.   One candidate for chairman is Saikawa, who was hand-picked by Ghosn to succeed him as chief executive. He has denounced Ghosn and Kelly as the "masterminds" in a scheme to falsify income reports and abuse company money and assets.   Renault has kept Ghosn as chief executive and chairman, saying its investigation has not found wrongdoing in the awarding of Ghosn's compensation.   Nissan Motor Co.'s allegations also include million-dollar homes in several nations, including France, Japan, Brazil, Lebanon and the Netherlands, purchased by Nissan or a subsidiary and used by Ghosn.   Wrangling over a home in Rio de Janeiro has developed into a court battle in Brazil, with Nissan seeking to block Ghosn's family from retrieving items.   Ghosn was born in Brazil of Lebanese ancestry and holds French citizenship. He was sent in by Renault in 1999 to turn around Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy.   It's unclear when Ghosn and Kelly may be released, with Tokyo prosecutors saying they are a flight risk.      

US, China Trade Barbs at WTO Amid Calls for Reform

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 19:02
The United States said on Monday that China's "unfair competitive practices" were harming foreign companies and workers in a way that violates World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, but vowed to lead reform efforts. U.S. trade ambassador Dennis Shea drew fire from Chinese envoy Zhang Xiangchen who said the Trump administration's tariffs on steel and aluminum products allowed protectionism under the guise of dubious national security concerns. The heated words, in texts seen by Reuters, were exchanged at the start of a closed-door review of U.S. trade policies, held every two years at the WTO, which continues on Wednesday. Shea expressed concern about the WTO dispute settlement system having "strayed far from the system agreed to by members" and said that the Appellate Body had overreached in some legal interpretations. Zhang countered that by blocking the selection of judges, Washington was putting the system into paralysis. To force reform at the WTO, Trump's team has refused to allow new appointments to the Appellate Body, the world's top trade court, a process which requires consensus among member states. As a result, the court is running out of judges, and will be unable to issue binding rulings in disputes. Shea described the U.S. economy as "one of the most open and competitive economies in the world," with among the lowest tariffs globally, rejecting criticism by some of the U.S. approach as "unilateralist and protectionist." China has pursued "non-market industrial policies and other unfair competitive practices" aimed at supporting its domestic industries while restricting or discriminating against foreign companies and their goods and services, he said. "The WTO is not well equipped to handle the fundamental challenge posed by China, which continues to embrace a state-led, mercantilist approach to the economy and trade," Shea said. He did not refer to the dispute on steel or automobiles which brought the two powers to the brink of a major trade war but defended the U.S. "Section 301" investigation that found in March that Chinese practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property and innovation were discriminatory. On Section 301, Zhang said the U.S. measures vastly increased tariffs, "bringing back to life the ghost of unilateralism that has been dormant for decades." Shea said the United States was committed to working with like-minded members to address concerns on the functioning of the WTO.  "Reforms are necessary for the continued viability of the institution," he said. Zhang echoed his call, but said: "If the roof of this building is leaking, we should work together to fix it, rather than dismantling it and exposing all of us to rains and storms."

Malaysia Charges Goldman Sachs, 2 Employees in 1MDB Probe

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 16:53
Malaysia filed criminal charges Monday against subsidiaries of Goldman Sachs and two of its employees in connection with the investigation of corruption at the state-owned 1MDB investment fund. A former 1MDB employee, Jasmine Loo Ai Swan, and financier Jho Low were also charged. The Malaysian attorney general's office said Jasmine Loo Ai Swan and Jho Low conspired with Goldman Sachs employees Tim Leissner and Roger Ng Chong Hwa to bribe Malaysian officials into picking the bank to underwrite $6.5 billion in bonds. In return, Goldman Sachs received $600 million in fees, which the attorney general said was "several times higher than the prevailing market rates and industry norms." The statement announcing the charges also said that in addition to receiving some misappropriated bond proceeds, the Goldman Sachs employees also got "large bonuses and enhanced career prospects." The charges follow similar ones filed by the U.S. Justice Department in November against Jho Low and Roger Ng Chong Hwa for the same alleged scheme. Leissner pleaded guilty to his own U.S. charges of conspiring to launder money and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and was ordered to forfeit $43.7 million.

Chinese Get Chances to Invest in Vietnam Despite Political Rifts

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 13:35
Vietnam is gradually offering the eager Chinese new places to invest, from real estate to factory production, despite its history of resisting China over political issues. Chinese investors are buying property in the financial center, Ho Chi Minh City, and may get a chance from next year to lease land for up to 99 years in three special economic zones. A bill to open those zones is due for legislative action in early 2019 after being called off twice this year due to public protests. Pressure on Chinese firms from rising U.S. tariffs is pushing some into Vietnam, which Washington does not see as a trade rival. Then there’s China’s Belt-and-Road program for giving grants and other aid for infrastructure around Eurasia. A lot of Vietnamese, while still wary of China politically, will accept Chinese investment if it helps their sector of the domestic economy, analysts in Ho Chi Minh City expect. “I think we have to look at it from many angles,” said Trung Nguyen, international relations dean at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities. “Businesses maybe they welcome the money especially in real estate, because they can welcome it like one channel of financing into the market and they can create a lot of jobs in many sectors,” he said. “But on the other hand, they also create a crowding-out effect and we drive out many small businesses out the market.” Old baggage, new opportunities Vietnamese resent China over territorial disputes going back centuries, including a border war in the 1970s and an ongoing maritime sovereignty spat over tracts of the resource-rich South China Sea. Thousands rioted in 2014 against Chinese-owned businesses after a flare-up in the maritime spat. But the Southeast Asian country already counts China as a chief supplier of raw materials for export manufacturing, an engine behind Vietnamese economic growth of around 6 to 7 percent per year. Now Chinese officials want to help fund Vietnamese infrastructure projects as part of their $1 trillion Belt-and-Road initiative aimed at opening new trade channels around Eurasia.  Vietnam, though less receptive than neighbors Cambodia and Laos, accepted Chinese development aid and a construction contract for an elevated commuter railway that opened this year in the capital Hanoi. Separately, Chinese companies are looking for manufacturing bases outside China so they can ship exports to the United States without paying tariffs that have surged this year due to a festering Sino-U.S. trade dispute.  Chinese firms such as wireless earphone maker GoerTek have expressed an intent to locate production in Vietnam, which is cheap and close by, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s government levies import tariffs on $250 billion worth of goods shipped from China. Since last year, Chinese investment in higher-end residential property in Ho Chi Minh City has risen from 2 percent to 31 percent, according to commercial real estate services firm CBRE. On another economic front, the number of Chinese tourists rose 49 percent from 2016 to 2017. Passive acceptance The government welcomes Chinese investment but, in view of people's suspicions toward China in general, will not show the enthusiasm it offers to other countries, experts believe. The country “welcomes” Chinese capital while remaining "wary about risks” such as environmental pollution and imported Chinese labor, the website VietNamNews says. The website noted an influx of “large-scale projects” such as $2 billion thermal power plant and a $150 million plastics factory. Expect “quite a lot” of Chinese investment in Vietnam over the next two years yet with more attention to Europe and the Pacific, said Maxfield Brown, senior associate with the consultancy Dezan Shira & Associates in Ho Chi Minh City.  “You're never going to see the government come out and restrict or condemn Chinese investment inside of Vietnam,” he said. “No one can deny there are historical tensions between the two countries. I think the way that the Vietnamese government has chosen to approach this issue is to be friends with everyone.” Vietnam has raised interest in Europe and around the Pacific Rim by chasing free trade deals. Vietnamese officials can head off a backlash against new inflows of Chinese money by ensuring it helps more than hurts, said Phuong Hong, communications director with a hotel and restaurant chain based in Ho Chi Minh City.

The Price of Progress in China: 'We Traded Our Lives for Development'

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 08:44
For four years at the turn of the century, Wang Zhaohong worked on a demolition crew in Shenzhen, clearing the way for the once-tiny border village to become a bustling metropolis. Now, emaciated and struggling for breath, the bedridden 50-year-old says the work he did will end up killing him. Without proper safety equipment, he and his colleagues from a remote county in Hunan province inhaled so much construction dust during Shenzhen's development boom that they contracted silicosis, a lung-destroying condition. Wang's case is acute. He expects to suffocate by Chinese New Year. This month, China will celebrate the 40th anniversary of its "Reform and Opening," the economic policy that transformed it into the world's second-largest economy. Even as hundreds of millions of people have left poverty, Wang and others like him are reminders of the heavy human toll of China's development, and authorities have sought to censor information and suppress protests. About 6 million Chinese either suffer from or have already died from pneumoconiosis, or dust-caused lung damage that includes silicosis, according to estimates by Love Save Pneumoconiosis, a Beijing NGO that advocates for workers suffering from the condition. Hundreds of migrant workers from three counties in Hunan province, including Wang, have been protesting for compensation from Shenzhen. "We used to wear the same mask for 10 days before getting a new one," Wang said in his village in poor, rural Sangzhi county. "At the time our boss would say to us, 'If you use a new mask every single day, how will I ever make any money?'" The workers earned 5,000-6,000 yuan ($739-$870) each month, double or triple what other migrant workers were paid at the time. Almost no one signed contracts, which has made it nearly impossible for them to seek adequate compensation. The Shenzhen government has offered some workers payments dependent on the severity of their illness of up to 220,000 yuan ($32,000), according to Gu Fuxiang, one of the worker representatives. But he said it was not nearly enough. Their prospects look grim in what has been a nearly decade-long fight. Security forces attacked them during their most recent sit-in at Shenzhen's city hall in early November, according to five workers who were there. "For both the local government here and the Shenzhen government, maintaining stability is absolutely their first priority," said Gu, who has less severe silicosis. "We traded our lives for development," he said. "The government doesn't care if we're sick, if we die." A Shenzhen government spokesman referred questions to the police department, social security department, health department and economic reform department. The health department hung up on a call seeking comment; the economic reform department declined to comment. The police and social security departments did not respond to multiple calls. Shenzhen's growth The health crisis is not unique to China; advocacy groups in the United States struggled for decades to win compensation for workers dying of such "dust diseases." But the pace of China's building boom has created an unprecedented number of casualties in just 40 years. No city in history has grown faster than Shenzhen, whose economic output surpassed that of its next-door neighbor, Hong Kong, for the first time last year. Shenzhen expects to have the largest metro network in the world by 2030, with 32 subway lines, according to the official China Daily newspaper. Migrant workers laid the foundations for many of Shenzhen's best-known sites, from the city's northern train station, which connects Shenzhen to Hong Kong and Beijing, to the Ping An International Finance Tower, the fourth-tallest building in the world. Despite the megacity's success, workers have mostly had to take out high-interest bank loans and borrow from family and friends to cover medical costs, their children's school fees and other expenses. To pay for his hospital visits, Wang borrowed 50,000 yuan from a rural banking cooperative that is charging him 11.27 percent interest per quarter, according to the loan document he showed Reuters. "The bank still gives us loans because our children co-sign. My son has agreed to pay them back once I'm dead," he said as he rotated homegrown sweet potatoes roasting over charcoal next to his bed. The Shenzhen government paid Wang 130,000 yuan in 2009, when his illness was diagnosed, but he says it hasn't been enough. "In China, the problem isn't a lack of money. Shenzhen has an enormous social insurance fund. The problem is ideology," said Pun Ngai, a sociology professor at Hong Kong University, who has spent years following the workers' plight. "The Shenzhen government doesn't think these workers are their responsibility since they aren't Shenzhen residents," Pun said. "And the government is worried if they submit to the workers' demands, people from other provinces will also come seeking compensation." The social insurance fund of Shenzhen, with an official population of 12.5 million, totaled more than 540 billion yuan at the end of 2017, according to official figures. Maintaining stability The workers told Reuters that Beijing has come down hard, threatening them and anyone who comes into contact with them if they speak out. Authorities in mid-November forbade all websites from reporting or publishing stories related to the Hunan workers suffering from silicosis, according to the China Digital Times, which tracks censorship in China. Prominent state-owned newspapers and television stations covered their plight in 2009 but this year have been silent on the issue. This censorship is consistent with an overall political tightening in China over the past five years and comes amid a crackdown on student-worker protests that started in southern China and spread around the country. In August, about 50 students and other activists from around the country came to Shenzhen to protest with factory workers about the poor conditions at a factory owned by Jasic, a welding company. "The case of the silicosis workers this year has become very, very sensitive because the government is worried it will become connected to the Jasic case," Pun said. The workers have made 11 trips to Shenzhen this year but say they are still waiting for adequate compensation. They are asking for compensation of between 500,000 yuan and 1.1 million yuan, depending on the worker's condition, Gu said. Less than 12 hours after Reuters arrived in Sangzhi county, the local police began calling workers, ordering them to report to the local police station and verify with whom they had met. The Sangzhi county police declined to comment. "The authorities really know how to frighten us; a lot of the workers are too scared to have anything to do with foreign media right now," said Gu, adding that Shenzhen government officials had told him both his phone and WeChat were monitored. But Wang said he was more worried about the huge debt he was leaving to his family, and repeatedly wondered aloud whether there was any point in telling his story. "Our country has progressed so quickly over the past 40 years, farmers don't necessarily have to farm anymore, it's really wonderful," he said wistfully, breathing with the aid of tubes in his nose, as X-ray images of his stricken lungs hung in the small window that looks out onto his neighbor's house. "I wish I wasn't bedridden, then I could go out and explore all that is out there," he said. "Instead, I'm going to die very soon."

Ottawa's Ambassador Meets with 2nd Canadian Citizen Arrested in China

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 06:48
China has allowed the Canadian ambassador to meet with a second Canadian citizen detained for reasons that are still unclear, the foreign ministry in Ottawa said. Ambassador John McCallum spoke with Canadian business executive Michael Spavor on Sunday — two days after he met with another Canadian detainee, former diplomat Michael Kovrig. A foreign ministry statement said Sunday the ambassador will continue providing consular services to Spavor and will seek further access to him. China detained both men after Canadian police arrested senior Chinese telecom executive Meng Wanzhou earlier this month in Vancouver on a U.S. warrant. Meng is out on bail awaiting possible extradition to the United States on charges of evading U.S. sanctions against Iran. Canada denies Meng's arrest was a political move. It says it was purely a judicial matter and a case of Canada living up to its treaty obligations to the United States. "We are being absolutely clear on standing up for our citizens who have been detained, trying to figure out why, trying to work with China to demonstrate that this is not acceptable," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said late last week. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also calls the arrests in China unacceptable. Ottawa has declined to say why it believes the two Canadians were arrested. But China's state-run Beijing News newspaper says the two are suspected of activities that endanger Chinese national security.

More Than 40 Injured in Northern Japan Explosion

Mon, 12/17/2018 - 05:03
At least 42 people have been injured, including one critically, in an explosion at a restaurant in northern Japan. The blast Sunday night at a two-story restaurant in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido Island, is being investigated, police said. TV footage from Japanese public broadcaster NHK showed smoke rising from the building, which eventually collapsed. Residents in the area said they smelled gas around the time of the explosion that shattered windows in nearby homes and partially buried cars in debris. City officials set up shelters for area residents as fire officials warned of the possibility of secondary explosions.

Executive's Arrest, Security Worries Stymie Huawei's Reach

Sun, 12/16/2018 - 20:45
While a Huawei executive faces possible U.S. charges over trade with Iran, the Chinese tech giant's ambition to be a leader in next-generation telecoms is colliding with security worries abroad. Australia and New Zealand have barred Huawei Technologies Ltd. as a supplier for fifth-generation networks. They joined the United States and Taiwan, which limit use of technology from the biggest global supplier of network switching gear. Last week, Japan's cybersecurity agency said Huawei and other vendors deemed risky will be off-limits for government purchases. None has released evidence of wrongdoing by Huawei, which denies it is a risk and has operated a laboratory with Britain's government since 2010 to conduct security examinations of its products. But the accusations, amid rising tension over Chinese technology ambitions and spying, threaten its ability to compete in a sensitive field as carriers prepare to invest billions of dollars. "This is something that's definitely concerning Huawei at this stage, because there is a political angle to it and a business angle," said Nikhil Bhatra, a senior researcher for IDC. Huawei is no ordinary electronics supplier. The company founded in 1987 by a former military engineer is China's first global tech brand and a national champion at the head of an industry Beijing is promoting as part of efforts to transform this country into a technology creator. It has China's biggest corporate research-and-development budget at 89.7 billion yuan ($13 billion) in 2017 - 10 percent more than Apple Inc.'s - and foreign customers can draw on a multibillion-dollar line of credit from the official China Development Bank. That puts Huawei at the heart of strains over the ruling Communist Party's technology aspirations, competition with Western economies and ties between companies and government, including possibly spying. A European Union official, Andrus Ansip, expressed concern that Chinese rules requiring telecom equipment suppliers to cooperate with intelligence services would involve possible "mandatory backdoors" in computer or telecom systems. "Do we have to be worried about Huawei and other Chinese companies? Yes, I think we have to be worried," said Ansip, the trade bloc's vice president for a digital single market. The company says it is employee-owned and operates independently. It denies it designs equipment to allow eavesdropping or that it is controlled by the Communist Party - a stance critics including some U.S. senators say is doubtful in China's state-dominated system. The company notes it uses the same global components suppliers as Western manufacturers. "Not a single shred of evidence against the company has ever been presented," Huawei said in a written response to questions. The company is the "most examined telecoms equipment vendor," the statement said. It said foreign officials visit regularly to see "the lengths we go to assure them of the integrity of our technology." Huawei, headquartered on a leafy campus in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, has been working on 5G since 2009 and is one of the major suppliers of the technology, along with Sweden's LM Ericsson and Finland's Nokia Corp. The company whose technology winds up being adopted stands to reap billions of dollars from sales and license fees. ​5G promises more than just faster mobile phone service. It is designed to support vastly expanded networks of devices from internet-linked cars and medical equipment to factory robots and nuclear power plants. Annual sales of 5G network gear are forecast to reach $11 billion by 2022, according to IHS Markit. That makes it more politically sensitive, raises the potential cost of security failures and requires more trust in suppliers. Even a "really minuscule" risk could disqualify a provider, said Andrew Kitson, head of technology industry research for Fitch Solutions. But Kitson sees commercial motives behind the accusations against Huawei. He said many come from U.S. and European suppliers that are losing market share to Chinese rivals. "There never has been any actual proof," said Kitson. "They've only got to make a few insinuations for other governments to sit up and think, hang on, even if there is no proof, it is too much of a risk." Huawei took a new hit on Dec. 1 when its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Vancouver on U.S. charges of lying to banks about transactions with Iran. Huawei is more politically important than ZTE Corp., a Chinese rival that was nearly driven out of business after Washington blocked it from buying U.S. technology over exports to Iran and North Korea. President Donald Trump restored access after ZTE paid a $1 billion fine, replaced its executives and hired U.S.-picked compliance officers. That won't work with Huawei, which is the "key to Beijing's aspirations to lead globally" on 5G, said Eurasia Group in a report. It said Chinese leaders would see an attempt to impose ZTE-style controls as "tantamount to an open technology war." Huawei's U.S. business evaporated after a 2012 congressional report labeled the company and ZTE security threats. The same year, Australia banned it from bidding on a national high-speed broadband network. Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its territory and regularly threatens to attack, imposed curbs in 2013 on Huawei and other Chinese telecoms technology. Lawmakers are discussing expanding the controls. Elsewhere, Huawei supplies phone carriers in Asia, Africa and Europe. The company says it serves 45 of the 50 biggest global telecom operators. Its 2017 global sales rose 16 percent to 604 billion yuan ($92.5 billion) while profits increased 28 percent to 47.5 billion yuan ($7.3 billion). Huawei accounted for 28 percent of last year's $32 billion global sales of mobile network gear, according to IHS Markit. Ericsson was second with 27 percent and Nokia had 23 percent. ZTE, South Korea's Samsung Electronics Corp. and other vendors made up the rest. Asked about the impact of security concerns on its 5G business, Huawei said this year's total revenue - which also includes the No. 3 global smartphone brand and an enterprise unit - should exceed $100 billion. That would be an 8 percent gain over 2017. Washington is pressing allies to shun Huawei, but Germany, France and Ireland say they have no plans to ban any 5G network suppliers. Huawei "has an important place in France" and "its investments are welcome," the country's economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, said Dec. 7, according to news reports. The company has agreements to field test 5G equipment with Deutsche Telekom, Bell Canada, France's Bouygues, Telecom Italia, India's Bharti Airtel and carriers in Singapore, South Korea and Ireland. China's foreign ministry complained critics were "hyping so-called threats" to hamper Huawei's business without evidence. As for Ansip's concern about eavesdropping, "we have no such law that authorizes" backdoors, said a spokesman, Lu Kang. IDC's Bhatra warned excluding Huawei would leave countries with only two major 5G suppliers, Ericsson and Nokia. He said that would limit competition, raise prices and might slow innovation. Already, industry analysts say telecoms equipment costs more in the United States and other markets that lack lower-priced Chinese competitors. "There are quite widespread implications," said Bhatra.

North Korea Marks 7th Anniversary of Kim Jong Il Death

Sun, 12/16/2018 - 16:29
North Koreans are marking the anniversary of the death of leader Kim Jong Il seven years ago with visits to statues and vows of loyalty to his son, Kim Jong Un. As snow fell Sunday, a steady flow of North Koreans offering flowers and paying respects to the late leader could be seen at Mansu Hill in central Pyongyang, the location of huge bronze statues of the “Dear Leader” and national founder Kim Il Sung. The anniversary observations were expected to continue through Monday across the country. Kim Jong Un’s rise Though focused on remembrances of his father, the anniversary also marks Kim’s own rise to power. The death of Kim Jong Il on Dec. 17, 2011, thrust Kim into power when he was still in his late 20s and a virtual unknown figure outside of the North.  But, despite many predictions from outside experts that he wouldn’t be up to the task, Kim has managed to consolidate power, bolster the country’s economy in the face of intense international sanctions and attain a goal his father and grandfather could only dream of: He is the first North Korean leader to possess an arsenal of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States. As the nation remembered his father, there was no mention in the state media of the issues that have gotten the most attention elsewhere, including a flurry of speculation in South Korea that Kim might visit Seoul by the end of the year, or how he intends to deal with growing frustration in Washington over the slow pace of denuclearization talks between the two countries. The national news agency, KCNA, instead ran stories about memorials to Kim Jong Il in Libya, Russia and Serbia. ​Closely watched day Even so, the anniversary was being watched closely for any signs of change or hints of what the country’s leadership may be planning in the months ahead. With Kim’s power base seemingly more solid than ever, and his recent effort to establish himself on the world stage through summits with President Donald Trump and others, North Korea watchers have been on the lookout for signs that his own personality cult is being bolstered. Virtually all homes and public offices in North Korea feature portraits of the elder Kims, who are also memorialized in countless statues, mosaics and cenotaphs around the country. North Korean adults wear pins over their hearts bearing the likenesses of Kim Il Sung of Kim Jong Il, or both. This year’s anniversary has so far offered no major departures from past precedent. The North has yet to come out with a Kim Jong Un pin or to order his image join the others on every wall, though Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, have been referred to with increasingly lofty titles: “chairman” for Kim and “respected first lady” for Ri. A special portrait of the young chairman was unveiled recently at a ceremony to welcome the visit of Cuba’s president, but none have appeared in public since. And unlike his father and grandfather, Kim’s Jan. 8 birthday has yet to be declared a national holiday or even marked on most calendars. Sign of strength None of that should be assumed to be a sign of weakness, however. It could in fact indicate strength. Kim is generally afforded the same reverential treatment by the state media and for maintaining a respectful step behind his predecessors, he is credited with showing humility and confidence.

Research Shows Sharp Fall in Australian Shark Numbers

Sun, 12/16/2018 - 15:15
Shark numbers along the Queensland coast have declined by more than 90 percent for some species in the past five decades, according to new research that calls for better protection for threatened species in Australian waters. Australia has 170 types of sharks out of about 440 species globally. Great white and grey nurse sharks are listed as threatened in Australian waters. Researchers from the University of Queensland and Griffith University have analyzed data from shark control programs to gauge changes in populations over the past five decades. Nets and baited hooks have been used in Queensland to reduce the risk of attacks on swimmers and surfers. The research teams looked at the number of white, tiger, hammerhead and whaler sharks caught from the early 1960s to 2016. Fewer sharks, smaller sharks What they found was a shock, according to George Roff from the University of Queensland, who was one of the authors of the study. "The results are quite striking,” he said. “What we found over the last 50 years is a dramatic decline in the numbers of apex sharks on the Queensland coastline. So the number of wild sharks on our beaches have declined by between 74 and 92 percent. “(At) the same time, the size of the sharks are also getting smaller, so there are fewer and smaller sharks on Queensland beaches than there were 50 years ago, and this includes the globally endangered hammerhead sharks that have declined by 92 percent and importantly white sharks that are listed as vulnerable in Australia (and) have shown no sign of recovery despite protections that have been put in place over two decades ago to stop fishing," he added. Overfishing blamed Researchers are blaming overfishing for a sharp fall in hammerhead and great white shark populations. They say that the apparent collapse of certain shark species would indicate that the overall health of the oceans is also in decline. They say there should be greater protection for some of nature's greatest scavengers and predators. Scientists insist that factors such as climate change, which is affecting shark numbers, could not explain the scale of the decline. Australian states have tried different ways to reduce the risk of shark attacks. Authorities in New South Wales favor a high-tech approach to deter and detect predators, including drones that use artificial intelligence to spot sharks near surfers. In January 2014, the Western Australian government responded to a series of attacks with a controversial catch-and-kill policy. Almost 70 sharks were caught and shot before the strategy was abandoned after a recommendation by environmental officials.

Canada Defends Huawei Detention, Pushes Back on Trump Comments

Sun, 12/16/2018 - 04:09
Canada on Friday defended as lawful its detention of a Chinese tech executive that has placed Ottawa at the center of a trade dispute between the U.S. and China. As VOA's Bill Gallo reports, the comments came as China defended its own detention of two Canadian citizens that was widely seen as retaliation.