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Uganda Launches China-Built Isimba Dam

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 22:41
Uganda on Thursday launched the China-built Isimba Hydropower Dam in the country's east. The $568 million dam is expected to improve access to power in Uganda, where less than 30 percent of people are on the grid, and cut power costs. However, the dam has come at a price for residents. For many locals, the Victoria Nile River is their only source of water to do laundry, bathe, and collect water for use at home. But a fence is being constructed to close access to the river. It is a river that families depend on, says local resident Diana Namuli. She says children swim whenever they want, but soon that won't be possible. Mothers also will not be able to send their children to fetch water, Namuli says. The dam constructed by China International Water and Electric Cooperation will increase electricity access, but it has come at a price for the local ecology as well. Before the dam, this Uganda part of the Nile River brought tourists to its waterfalls and wildlife.  Visitors came to see red-tailed monkeys and endangered pangolins, among others.  At the official launch of the dam Thursday, officials acknowledged choosing 183 megawatts of clean power over access to water and natural beauty. "It's been a delicate balance for government," said Simon Kasyate, spokesman for the Uganda Electricity Generating Company. "And we had to make that choice. And therefore, with the coming in place of this hydro power station, it meant that of course we destruct the social setting up of the communities around. Where someone walked with their little jerrycan and fetched water off a stream, now you have got a reservoir which is a Lake. Where someone simply walked through and crossed to visit their kith and kin across the river, now we have a hydropower station that has its own restrictions because of the safety nature and the safety precautions that we put around." Critics say China's infrastructure projects in Africa increase Beijing's influence on the continent, along with African debt.  China's ambassador to Uganda, Zheng Zhuqiang, calls the allegations groundless. "On the contrary, in pursuing cooperation, China values sincerity, friendship and equality. Pursue common interest, win-win cooperation and our friendship first," Zheng said. In addition to the Isimba Dam, China is financing the $2 billion, 600-megawatt Karuma Hydropower Dam, in northern Uganda. Once active, the two hydropower dams will nearly double Uganda's power supply. Uganda's future generations will see if the electricity is worth the cost.

Some Controversy in Uganda Surrounding China-Built Dam

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 22:12
Uganda has launched a Chinese-built hydropower dam in the eastern part of the country, which will improve access to power but at the cost of the local environment. The$568 million Isimba Hydropower Dam will cut electricity costs and put more Ugandans on the power grid, in a country where less than 30 percent of the population has access to power. But as Halima Athumani reports from Kayunga, the dam comes at a price for the local people and ecology.

China’s New Silk Road May Hurt Italian Workers, Analysts Say

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 21:54
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will sign up his country Saturday to China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious trillion-dollar transcontinental trade and infrastructure project. The memorandum signing in Rome is the centerpiece of Chinese President Xi Jinping's three-stop visit to Europe and it will make Italy the first G-7 nation to participate in China's so-called New Silk Road. Italy's endorsement of the BRI, which spans Eurasia as well as the Middle East and parts of Africa, has prompted the disquiet not only of the United States, but also of European Union leaders, who have voiced concern about Beijing's growing political clout in Europe and its use of commerce as a tool of statecraft. The U.S. has been critical of the trillion-dollar project and warned about the risks of "debt-trap diplomacy." Members of the EU are worried the plan could add to fissures in an already strained coalition. They aren't alone in worrying about what the longer-term consequences on Italy might be if signing up for BRI moves from symbolism into full participation. Matteo Salvini, head of the populist Lega party, which represents one-half of Italy's coalition government, is indicating his opposition by staying away from the signing ceremony and won't be present at a scheduled gala dinner afterward. Salvini, an ideological bedfellow of Donald Trump and friend of the U.S. president's former adviser, Steve Bannon, frets the BRI risks turning Italy into a Chinese colony and will saddle it with more debt. He also has publicly indicated his security concerns about allowing the Chinese control of critical infrastructure, including major ports. "Before allowing someone to invest in the ports of Trieste or Genoa, I would think about it not once but a hundred times," Salvini said earlier this month. Some Italian officials in the economy and finance ministry have also offered behind-the-scenes warnings. They argue that while engaging with Beijing in this manner may help boost Italian exports to China, a prospect highlighted by Xi in marketing BRI, it will likely result in a bigger boost for cheap Chinese exports to Italy. Such a scenario, they caution, could have a ruinous impact on domestic Italian producers and workers. "If trade does take off significantly, it might be a matter of short-term gain, but long-term pain," one official told VOA. Despite the warnings, as well as U.S. and EU disapproval of Italy's BRI endorsement, Conte and Luigi Di Maio, leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which makes up half of the country's populist coalition government, says Chinese investment could kick-start Italy's sputtering economy. Several of the EU's smaller cash-strapped nations have also signed up in the past two years to China's BRI, hoping that by doing so their economies will be boosted. Italy slipped into recession last year and its debt levels are among the highest in Europe. The populist coalition government came to power in June 2018 with high-spending plans, promising expensive pension reforms and a living wage for all Italians. Italian ministers favoring BRI accuse other large EU countries, including France, which is critical of the BRI, of hypocrisy, saying they conduct multi-million-dollar deals anyway with China albeit outside the framework of the New Silk Road initiative. "The way we see it, it is an opportunity for our companies to take the opportunity of China's growing importance in the world," Italy's under secretary of state for trade and investment, Michele Geraci, told foreign reporters. But some Italian officials worry that view might be short-sighted. They say while the BRI may offer Italy new funding sources — the country is still lagging well behind the foreign investment levels it enjoyed before the 2008 global financial crash — it could trigger a significant wave of Chinese imports, which would have long-term detrimental consequences for Italian industry, employment and politics. The officials in the country's finance ministry, who declined to be identified for this article, have been scrutinizing recent academic studies on the impact of Chinese imports on local labor markets. A series of studies, including those by economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson, suggests that Western countries and regions exposed to rising Chinese import competition see a major jump in unemployment, lower labor force participation and lower wages. Unskilled and manual workers are especially adversely affected. The impacts "are most visible in the local labor markets in which the industries exposed to foreign competition are concentrated. Adjustment in local labor markets is remarkably slow, with wages and labor force participation rates remaining depressed and unemployment rates remaining elevated for at least a full decade after the China trade shock commences. Exposed workers experience greater job churning and reduced lifetime income," noted Autor, Dorn and Hanson in a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, an influential U.S.-based nonprofit. Other recent academic studies have noted that the regions of the U.S. and Europe most impacted by trade with China are the ones which in recent elections and plebiscites have backed populist candidates and nationalist causes like Brexit, support fueled by anger at the effects of globalization. Brexit is Britain's decision to leave the European Union. "Ironically, looking to Beijing for an economic boost and to alleviate economic deprivation could well hurt the workers and businesses who backed populists in the first place and who the populists want to help — Salvini gets that, but the rest of the coalition doesn't," observed an Italian official.

North Korea Withdraws from Liaison Office with South Korea

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 18:31
North Korean has withdrawn its liaison office with South Korea. The North notified the South of the abrupt move Friday at the two Koreas' weekly meeting at their joint offices in the Northern city of Kaesong. South Korea Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sun told Reuters the North said the move was on "instructions from a higher level." South Korea said in a statement that the North's decision to withdraw from the office was "regrettable," but said the South would continue to work at the offices. The news of the withdrawal follows last month's collapsed meeting in Vietnam between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump. The two leaders squabbled over the U.S. sanctions on North Korea because of the North's nuclear program. The liaison office opened last September as part of a series of steps aimed at reconciliation between the two nations.  

Pressured by China’s Military Updates, Taiwan Asks US for More Weapons

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 15:14
Taiwan, faced with an increase in military spending by its main rival China, is seeking a range of new, advanced weapons systems from the United States, officials in Taipei confirmed this week. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said Tuesday in Taipei that her government had made a formal request to the United States for advanced fighter jets. Local media say she wants 66 American-made F-16 Viper fighter jets, an upgrade over Taiwan’s existing F-16 fleet. A defense ministry spokesperson reached Wednesday did not rule out that possibility. Taiwan’s armed forces rank 22nd in the world. China ranks much higher, behind only the United States and Russia, and outspends Taiwan on weaponry. This year Beijing announced a 7.5 percent defense budget increase, compared with Taipei’s 5.6 percent hike this year. And with Chinese threats to reunify with the self-ruled island, by force if necessary, regional analysts say Taiwan is keen to boost its military preparedness, with U.S. help, to counter any threat from the mainland. “I think it’s trying to emphasize that Taiwan is a very close U.S. ally and also sending a political message that we are urgently in need of U.S. support,” said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the think tank Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan. ​China’s modernization China’s People’s Liberation Army is restructuring and advancing technologically, the U.S. defense department said in its annual report to Congress last year. It’s eyeing Taiwan in particular, the report says. To restructure the armed forces, China has shifted personnel away from the army to its navy and air force to win any “local wars” characterized by “real-time, data-networked command and control, and precision strike,” the Pentagon report says. To modernize, China is shifting toward outer space technology and cyber capabilities, the report says. “Because for the past few years China’s investment in defense has been extremely fast, that has caused this severe imbalance. Taiwan basically must arm and defend itself, so we hope that in terms of defense we can achieve a sense of balance and develop what we need to develop,” Taiwan ruling party legislator Lee Chun-yi said. For the current arms sale request, he said, “that’s our initial motivation.” Defense analysts have said Taiwan would best resist China through asymmetrical warfare, meaning effective resistance of an enemy with targeted firepower rather than overwhelming force. ​Informal U.S. alliance U.S. officials will evaluate the purchase request for 120 working days, Taiwan defense ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said. They would decide, he said, what exact kinds of aircraft and other weapons systems, such as radars, Taiwan should buy. An arms package would probably include training for Taiwan’s armed forces, Chen said. Defense officials in Washington declined to comment on the latest request. Although China bristles whenever the U.S. government announces arms sales to Taiwan, Washington cites a 40-year-old congressional act that allows it to defend the island. The United States sees Taiwan as one of several democratic friends in the Western Pacific, valuable as China becomes more powerful militarily and economically. President Donald Trump’s administration has particularly favored Taiwan as it pressures China over trade issues. The administration agreed to sell Taiwan $1.42 billion in advanced arms in mid-2017. In October last year, the U.S. Congress approved a $330 million sale of spare parts for military aircraft and other weaponry. Existing Taiwanese air force jets, including older F-16s, Mirage 2000s and domestically produced fighters, are aging after 20 years of use, Chen said. To keep up with China’s “ceaseless” military research and development as well as “frequent” exercises off the coast, Taiwan needs better planes, Chen said. “We hope this purchase of advanced fighters will let us improve our air defense safety. China’s military power after all is always growing, so we need to have some defensive capability,” Chen said. “This is an extremely important key to maintaining peace in the region.”

Imam Tells New Zealand: ‘We Are Not Broken’

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 14:52
Thousands of people gathered Friday for a mass funeral in a cemetery in New Zealand where 26 of the 50 victims of a mass shooting in a mosque last Friday were buried. The youngest victim buried was 3 years old. Earlier, at an outdoor service across from the mosque where the fatal attack happened in Christchurch, Imam Gamil Fouda addressed a crowd of thousands, telling them that “We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken.” He told the crowd “hate will be undone and love will redeem us.” The imam thanked “the neighbors who opened their doors to save us from the killer” and “those who pulled over their cars to help us.” Fouda also acknowledged New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for “Holding our families close and honoring us with a simple scarf. He said the prime minister’s leadership was “a lesson for the world.” Women around New Zealand wore headscarves Friday to show their support and respect for the Muslim community. Reuters reports that female police officers at the outdoor service also donned headscarves and wore a red rose on their uniforms. Before the imam spoke, there was a public call to prayer at the park that was broadcast on radio and television across the country. Two minutes of silence followed the call to prayer in remembrance of those who died in the mosque. Ardern said after the call to prayer: “New Zealand mourns with you, we are one.” Ardern has been swift in her reaction to the bloody attack on the mosque. Weapons ban She imposed an immediate ban on all military-style semi-automatic and automatic assault rifles. The ban, which the prime minister announced Thursday in Wellington, includes high-capacity magazines, which can hold multiple rounds of ammunition, and accessories that can convert ordinary rifles into fast-acting assault rifles. Ardern said she imposed the sales ban to prevent stockpiling and that a complete ban on the weapons would be implemented after new laws take effect. Ardern also announced a large-scale buyback scheme to encourage owners of such weapons to surrender them to authorities. She said the government could spend up to $140 million to buy back guns from owners who turn them in. The military and police would be exempt, as would pest control businesses. New Zealand police said on their website a “transitional period” would allow people to turn in their guns without penalty. Parliament is expected to approve the proposed laws when it reconvenes in mid-April. Authorities have charged 28-year-old Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant with murder in connection with the March 15 attacks on the al-Noor and Linwood mosques. The self-proclaimed white nationalist did not enter a plea in his initial court appearance the day after the attack. His next court appearance is April 5.

Northern Australia Braces for Trevor; African Countries Clean Up After Idai

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 14:01
Northern Australia is bracing for a powerful cyclone that is expected to make landfall Saturday. Authorities have begun evacuating about 2,000 people from areas on Cyclone Trevor's projected path. The preparations in Australia are underway as three southern African countries struggle with death and destruction brought on by Cyclone Idai. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.

Indonesia Airline Cancels 49-jet Boeing Deal

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 13:10
Indonesia’s national carrier Garuda has told Boeing it will cancel a multibillion-dollar order for 49 Boeing 737 Max 8 jets after two fatal crashes involving the plane, in what is thought to be the first formal cancellation for the model. “We have sent a letter to Boeing requesting that the order be canceled,” Garuda spokesman Ikhsan Rosan said. “The reason is that Garuda passengers in Indonesia have lost trust and no longer have the confidence” in the plane, he said. The spokesman told AFP that Boeing officials will visit Indonesia next week to discuss Garuda’s plans to call off the order. Garuda had received one of the planes, he said, part of a 50-aircraft order worth $4.9 billion at list prices when it was announced in 2014. Garuda is also talking to Boeing about whether to return the plane it has received, the spokesman told AFP. The carrier had so far paid Boeing about $26 million, while the company’s director told Indonesian media outlet Detik that it would consider switching to a new version of the single-aisle jet. “In principle, it’s not that we want to replace Boeing, but maybe we will replace (these planes) with another model,” Garuda Indonesia director I Gusti Ngurah Askhara Danadiputra told Detik. Will Lion Air follow? Shukor Yusof, head of Malaysia-based aviation consultancy Endau Analytics, said Garuda’s announcement appeared to mark the first formal plans by a carrier to cancel an order for the 737 MAX 8. It “will probably not be the last. There is a risk that Garuda’s rival Lion Air, which also has many 737 MAX 8 orders, might make the same decision,” he said. “That is a risk. This has been made public by the Lion Air CEO. He stated publicly that he is considering” a cancellation. He added that it was difficult to predict whether more major carriers would follow suit. “There are many unanswered questions and each airline has specific needs,” Yusof said. “Each airline needs to deliberate how they want to strategize their fleet management.” Delivery postponed This month, Lion Air said it was postponing delivery of four of the jets after an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 went down minutes into a flight to Nairobi, killing all 157 people on board. Budget carrier Lion, Southeast Asia’s biggest airline by fleet size and a major Boeing customer, said the planes had been on order for delivery this year, but the company was re-evaluating the situation. Lion Air operates 10 Max 8 jets, part of a then-record $22 billion order from Boeing made in 2011. The airlines are the only two that use the Max 8 in Indonesia.

US Imposes First N. Korea-Linked Sanctions Since Failed Summit  

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 09:33
With negotiations at an impasse, Washington has imposed additional sanctions on those assisting Pyongyang — the first such action since February's failed summit in Hanoi between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "This is not really about intensification of pressure," a senior U.S. administration official said. "This is about maintaining pressure as defined by the international community." Thursday's sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department on two China-based shipping companies were the latest evidence of some "leakage" in the enforcement of sanctions by Beijing, but U.S. officials said that overall, China was abiding by the U.N. resolutions slapped on North Korea for its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs. Washington wants Pyongyang to surrender its entire nuclear arsenal and other mass-destruction weapons before being granted any relief from sanctions. The North Koreans insist on sanctions relief before halting production of fissile materials. "Insisting on unilateral North Korean disarmament upfront is pushing on the wrong door. We should be pushing to first slow the program, then cap it, and ultimately keep rollback and disarmament the long-term goal," said Vipin Narang, associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "But every month that passes without a grand deal is one in which North Korea's nuclear program continues to grow larger — increasing the risk of its own use and proliferation to other countries — and the chances of a deal grow smaller." Analysts also worry Kim could grow impatient, turn away from diplomacy with Trump and look to China to provide sanctions relief that North Korea desperately needs. "I'm not sure we can be confident that Beijing will uphold enforcement after Trump so abruptly walked away from negotiations with North Korea," said Jean Lee, who directs the center for Korean history and public policy at the Wilson Center,  a global policy research group in Washington. "I do hope North Korea sticks to negotiation and does not resort to provocation. If Pyongyang doesn't get the response it craves and needs from Washington, North Korea may turn back to a tried and tested strategy: to get Trump, and the world's attention, with another illicit missile launch or test." U.S. officials on Thursday, speaking to reporters on condition of not being named, expressed patience and confidence with their stance toward North Korea.   Patience "What they're facing now is unprecedented," said one U.S. official of the sanctions on North Korea. "We'll give it some time." Lee, currently in Seoul, told VOA she found it "interesting that we're back to a form of strategic patience. There was high hope, especially here in Seoul, that Trump's impatience and unpredictability would lead to fast movement on North Korea. But the Trump administration is finding that it's much tougher than the president may have thought of simply bullying Kim into acquiescence." A prolonged lull in talks "could become risky, and maintaining maximalist positions will not be sustainable," said Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a national security research group in Washington. "They need to negotiate a denuclearization-peace road map soon and preferably an interim agreement on fissile materials. Rapid and complete denuclearization is not realistic. Denuclearization will have to occur in stages but in accordance with an agreed road map on how this all ends," Kim told VOA. The current primary point of pressure on Pyongyang by the international community is on entities, including their ships, involved with illicitly exporting North Korean goods, such as coal, and taking products — especially petroleum — into the impoverished country in violation of U.N. sanctions. Unless North Korea denuclearizes, "we're going to maintain that pressure," a senior U.S official said.  Daily monitoring A coalition of countries — using their vessels, aircraft and classified intelligence means — are daily watching the movement of ships involved in the illegal trade. North Korea and those helping it are trying to obscure identities of ships and cargo by disabling or manipulating systems that identify the vessels for safety and navigation, physically altering vessel identifications and making ship-to-ship transfers to avoid ports, according to a sanctions advisory jointly issued Thursday by the U.S. Treasury and State departments and the Coast Guard. Neither the United States nor any other country has moved to interdict the offending ships. "I don't want to talk about potential steps we may or may not take," replied a senior administration official when asked by VOA whether there was discussion here about using the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard in international waters to take such action. Trump and Kim have held two summits — the first in Singapore last June and the second in Hanoi this February. Trump has not ruled out a third such meeting. "The door is wide open to continuing the dialogue with North Korea. The president wants to see progress at the working level, and he's engaged as well," a senior administration official said.

At Least a Dozen Dead in China Chemical Plant Blast

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 08:30
The death toll from a huge explosion at a chemical plant in eastern China rose to 12 Friday after rescuers pulled dozens of people from the area, state media said. The blaze “has been controlled” by firefighters hours after Thursday’s blast left an industrial park burning into the night in Yancheng in Jiangsu province, according to broadcaster CCTV. As of the early hours of Friday, a total of 88 people were “rescued” from the area, including 12 who died in the disaster, CCTV said. City officials had previously said that at least six people were killed in the explosion, which left dozens injured in the latest incident to put a spotlight on China’s checkered industrial safety record. The explosion, so powerful that it apparently triggered a small 2.2-magnitude earthquake, knocked down factory buildings and shattered the windows of surrounding homes and a school, according to images seen on local media. 

Tibetan Set to Become World's Longest-serving Political Prisoner 

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 06:30
Members of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile are calling international attention to the case of long-imprisoned dissident Lodoe Gyamtso, who with a new sentence announced this week stands to become the longest-serving political prisoner since the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1951.    Gyamtso, 57, also known as Sogkhar Lodoe Gyamtso, had already served a total of 23 years in prison for two previous convictions before receiving the latest 18-year sentence following his arrest while protesting in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa last year. His wife, Gakyi, was sentenced to two years, according to Tibetan exile groups.       If Gyamtso's latest sentence is officially confirmed and he serves the full length, he will have served a total of 41 years in prison, making him not only the longest serving known Tibetan political prisoner, but the longest-serving political prisoner anywhere, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.      News of the sentence was published Wednesday on the website of the Tibetan government-in-exile, known as the Central Tibetan Administration. Some members of the Tibetan parliament called during a session in Dharamsala on Tuesday for exile Tibetan communities to prioritize Gyamtso's case and bring it to the international stage.    Revered figure   "He is someone local people praise as a hero and all Tibetans have a great reverence for him," said MP Atrug Tseten, speaking in Tibetan at the parliament session. "He is someone who has staged many protests, and the Chinese have arrested him twice before. He went all the way to the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and declared that he was going to carry out his world peace campaign for the rest of his life."     Gyamtso completed his first 21-year sentence in 2013 and was released from Drapchi Prison in Lhasa. Two years later, he was arrested again after protesting a Chinese government order requiring Tibetans to wear tiger and leopard skins during an official military ceremony in Nagchu prefecture. The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, had urged a halt to the wearing of wild animal skins years earlier.    The dissident, a native of Sog County, Nagchu prefecture, served two years in prison on that conviction, according to Ngawang Tharpa, a fellow Sog County native and member of the Tibetan exile parliament.    Shortly before his Potala Palace protest last year, Gyamtso posted a video message on social media in which he declared he was launching a "World Peace Movement."     "Hundreds of our heroes, including martyr Thubten Ngundrup, have self-immolated for the world peace," he said, wearing a white robe, or chupa, intended to symbolize innocence. "I, too, for over 20 years made effort for the world peace. … Today on Jan. 28, 2018, I am going to start [again] my world peace movement."   'Secretly' sentenced   Later that day, Gyamtso publicly protested Chinese rule of Tibet in front of the Potola Palace, the former seat of the Tibetan government and the Winter Palace of the Dalai Lamas. Human rights groups reported him missing from that day, but later said that he had been taken to Sog County Prison.      The Center for Tibetan Democracy and Human Rights, a Dharamsala-based human rights group, reported March 15 that  Gyamtso and his wife had been "secretly" sentenced. Three members of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile said that extreme security restrictions in Sog County and the surrounding regions made it very difficult to get detailed information.      These regions "are the most restricted areas [in Tibet]," said Lobsang Dragpa, a Tibetan exile MP. "The entire regions of Tibet's three cholkhas [provinces] are under restriction, and particularly these [two] regions are especially under heavy restriction."        Gyamtso was initially detained on a homicide charge after he killed a man named Gayu in what he claimed was self-defense. While in prison in 1995, Gyamtso led a prison protest against Chinese rule over Tibet in notorious Drapchi Prison. According to Free Tibet, a London-based Tibetan advocate group, he distributed 300 handwritten letters and shouted pro-Tibet slogans.     As a result, he faced torture and was sentenced for execution, according to exile groups. After U.N. intervention on his behalf, the death sentence was commuted to 18 years.      VOA has reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Washington for a comment but did not get a response. 

Chinese President Lands in Italy, Set to Sign Belt and Road Deal

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 02:57
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Rome on Thursday at the start of a three-day visit during which he will sign an accord drawing Italy into his giant "Belt and Road" infrastructure plan, despite U.S. opposition. Italy, seeking new export deals to boost its stalled economy, will become the first Group of Seven major industrialized nation to join the multi-billion-dollar project, which is designed to improve Beijing's global trade reach. Xi is due to meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella on Friday and is set to sign the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Saturday before traveling to the Sicilian capital Palermo. More than 30 deals, worth up to 7 billion euros, are also expected to be agreed during the trip in an array of sectors, including accords opening up the northern ports of Trieste and Genoa to Chinese containers. "We are at the heart of the Mediterranean, yet the Chinese are everywhere in the region except here," junior industry minister Michele Geraci said in a video on his Facebook page. However, the prospect of the accord has caused ructions both within the coalition government and among Italy's allies — notably in Washington, where the White House National Security Council urged Rome not to give "legitimacy to China's infrastructure vanity project." And on the very day that Xi flew into Rome, European Union leaders in Brussels considered adopting a more defensive strategy towards China, having last week branded the world's second largest economic power a "systemic rival." The European Union has grown increasingly frustrated by what it sees as China's slowness to open its economy and by a surge of Chinese takeovers in critical EU sectors, accusing it of distorting local markets. Rome says such concerns should not stop it improving its ties and points to the fact that 13 EU countries have already signed MOUs with China, including Hungary, Poland and Greece. "We have weighed up all the risks and I think this is a great result for Italy," said Geraci, who lived in China for a decade before joining the government last year. Geraci later added that a Chinese company might even come to the rescue of Italy's perennially sickly national airline, Alitalia, which is struggling to find the foreign suitors it needs to stay solvent. However, in a concession to Washington, the government moved hastily this week to protect its telecoms sector from foreign predators amid concerns that Italy might expose itself to hi-tech espionage as a result of closer links with Beijing. China has shrugged off the controversy, with its vice foreign minister saying it was "hard to avoid misunderstandings" over the burgeoning Belt and Road project. The initiative is aimed at creating a modern-day Silk Road, reviving the ancient trade routes that connected east and west. More than 150 countries, regions and international groups have already signed pacts with Beijing. After his stay in Italy, Xi will fly on to Monaco and France at the head of a 500-strong delegation.

Malaysian Leader in Pakistan to Sign $900M in Investment Deals 

Fri, 03/22/2019 - 02:55
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad arrived Thursday in Pakistan on an official three-day visit, where his high-powered delegation is expected to finalize investment deals worth nearly $900 million, officials said.    The Malaysian leader will also be the chief guest at the Pakistan Day military parade Saturday, the Foreign Ministry announced.    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's adviser on commerce told reporters that business leaders accompanying Mahathir would sign three memorandums of understanding on Friday covering up to $900 million worth of investments in information technology and telecom sectors.   The adviser, Razak Dawood, said the deals with Malaysia would also provide Pakistan a new opening toward membership in the Association of South East Asian Nations. He said Malaysian businessmen had also indicated they would like to invest in other sectors, including energy and textiles, to help Pakistan improve its exports.    Officials said that Malaysia's Proton carmaker signed an agreement late last year with a Pakistani partner to set up an assembly plant in the southern city of Karachi that would be its first facility in South Asia. Khan and his Malaysian counterpart are expected to officiate at a symbolic groundbreaking of the Proton plant Friday. Looking for investors Since taking office last August, Khan has approached nations that have warm relations with Pakistan, including China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Malaysia, to bring investment and financial deposits to help reduce a widening current account deficit and shore up foreign reserves.   Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have deposited or are in the process of depositing $6 billion in loans in recent months. The two countries have also agreed to allow Islamabad to import oil on deferred payments. China is expected to deposit more than $2 billion in the next few days.    Beijing has invested more than $19 billion over the past six years in energy and infrastructure projects under what is known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, as part of its global Belt and Road Initiative.    Last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman visited Islamabad and signed investment agreements worth $20 billion, including a $10 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex in the southwestern port city of Gwadar.    Pakistani officials say they are also close to securing a deal with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package reportedly of up to $12 billion.

Vietnamese Blogger who Vanished in Thailand Jailed in Hanoi

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 23:09
A Vietnamese blogger who vanished in Thailand earlier this year is being held in a Hanoi prison, his friend and wife confirmed Thursday. Truong Duy Nhat wrote weekly posts about politics and current affairs for Radio Free Asia (RFA) and last posted about the prospects for change in Vietnam in light of major anti-government demonstrations in Venezuela. All independent media is banned in Vietnam and bloggers, activists and rights lawyers are routinely jailed. The one-party state has seen an uptick of arrests under a hardline leadership in charge since 2016, with nearly 60 put behind bars last year according to an AFP tally. Nhat, 55, fled to Thailand in January and applied for refugee status with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, according to RFA. His employer and family lost contact with him soon after and he has not been heard from since. The UN said it does not comment on individual cases. Nhat's friend Pham Xuan Nguyen said he visited Hanoi's T-16 jail on Wednesday and received confirmation Nhat was being held there. "I took Nhat's wife to the jail yesterday. I saw the book the jail gave to her to register future visits," he told AFP Thursday. "Inside the book, the date of his arrest was written January 28, 2019... it said that he was transferred to the jail the same day," the friend said, adding that they did not see Nhat. The blogger's wife Cao Thi Xuan Phuong confirmed the account to AFP, declining to comment further. His daughter Truong Thuc Doan, who lives in Canada, said she believes he was taken from Thailand against his will. "It's clear that my father did not voluntarily go back to Vietnam," she told RFA. The circumstances of Nhat's return have not been confirmed by Hanoi and he has not yet been formally charged. RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan said Thursday the organisation remains "very concerned about our contributor and his treatment in detention". This is Nhat's second prison stint. He was jailed for two years in 2014 for "abusing democratic freedoms" after writing blogs critical of Vietnam's communist leadership. Hanoi has in the past forcibly returned corruption suspects, including a former state oil executive kidnapped by Vietnamese security agents from a Berlin park in 2017. Last year, a fugitive spy was sent back from Singapore to face trial for divulging state secrets.  

Erdogan Airs Mosque Gunman Video Ahead Visit by NZ Minister

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 22:30
Turkey’s president has again screened clips of a video taken by the Christchurch mosque gunman, a day before the foreign minister of New Zealand, which is trying to stop its use, is due to visit Turkey. Erdogan broadcast the video at an election rally Thursday in Eskisehir, central Turkey, to criticize the Turkish opposition, which he claimed “did not see the big picture” and threats against Turkey. Erdogan has sparked outrage abroad by showing the videos at election rallies. He also triggered tensions with Australia for comments suggesting that Australians and New Zealanders with anti-Muslim views could return home in coffins. Australia said Thursday that progress had been made on mending ties after a spokesman for Erdogan said the president’s words earlier this week were “taken out of context.”

US Negotiators to Visit China Next Week for New Round of Trade Talks

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 18:50
China says a high-ranking U.S. delegation will travel to Beijing next week to resume negotiations aimed at resolving the ongoing trade war between the world's two leading economies. Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng announced Thursday that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will visit the Chinese capital next Thursday and Friday, March 28 & 29, followed by a trip to Washington in early April by Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. The trade war between the United States and China began last year when President Donald Trump imposed punitive tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports to compel Beijing to change its trading practices. China has retaliated with its own tariff increases on $110 billion of U.S. exports. The Trump administration is also pushing China to end its practice of forcing U.S. companies to transfer their technology advances to Chinese firms. Trump had initially imposed a deadline of March 2 for both sides to reach a deal before imposing a hike in tariffs from 10 to 25 percent, but delayed the increase late last month citing "substantial progress" in the negotiations. But Chinese President Xi Jinping has reportedly cancelled tentative plans to visit Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida next month to sign a final deal, a sign that the talks have stalled. Trump issued a warning Wednesday that U.S. tariffs could remain in place for a "substantial period" to ensure that Beijing lives up to any agreement.  

Ethiopian Survivor Recounts New Zealand Mosque Attacks

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 15:40
Abdulkadir Ababora was sitting in the front row of a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, last week when a 28-year-old Australian gunman opened fire during Friday prayers. Fifty worshipers were killed in the March 15 attacks in two mosques, and the gunman appeared intent of taking as many lives as possible. “Those who were hit with the automatic weapons fell, and he went and checked those who were breathing and started shooting at those who were already on the ground,” Abdulkadir told VOA’s Afaan Oromoo service. Abdulkadir, meanwhile, lay under a bookshelf, pretending to be dead. “I pulled the Quranic bookshelf on top of me to hide my head under and held my breath so that he didn’t detect I was alive,” Abdulkadir said. The kinds of weapons used in the attack are now banned in the country. New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced Thursday that the government would outlaw “military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles,” effective immediately. Abdulkadir said he “saw blood flowing like a river” as bullets pierced victims in his mosque.  “I didn’t think it was real, and I thought it was something out of a cinema or a movie,” he added. Originally from Ethiopia, Abdulkadir now works as a taxi driver in New Zealand. He left his wife, who gave birth two weeks ago, at home and his other children at school before heading to the mosque that ill-fated day.  “I am not sure if he passed me thinking I was dead, but he shot those who were on my left and right,” Abdulkadir said. “All I was thinking about was my wife and my three children. … I was thinking that it was going to be my turn, and I lost hope at the moment.” Victims’ families have begun receiving their loved ones’ bodies. On Tuesday, six victims’ bodies were returned to families, according to police, and the rest will soon get a place to rest. The victims included refugees from Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan, along with other people seeking refuge. Mike Bush, New Zealand’s commissioner of police, said Thursday that all of the victims have been identified and their families notified, earlier saying, “this is for us an absolute priority for family reasons, for compassionate reasons and for cultural reasons.” Among those killed was 3-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim, the youngest victim of the attacks. Despite the attacks and ongoing islamophobic sentiments, Abdulkadir remains hopeful.  “New Zealand is a peaceful place, and we have never seen anything like this before,” he said. “Migrants are now getting help — more than anytime before — and showing us support and strength.” This story originated in VOA's Horn of Africa’s Afaan Oromoo service.

Taiwan Leader Visits Pacific Allies, to Stop in Hawaii 

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 15:15
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen left Thursday on a tour of diplomatic allies in the Pacific that will end with a stopover in Hawaii. Taiwan has struggled to shore up its dwindling roster of allies as countries are choosing instead to establish relations with Beijing, which considers the self-governing island part of Chinese territory. Tsai will visit Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported. The agency said she will transit through Hawaii on March 27 on her way back from the Marshall Islands, but did not give further details. Only 17 mainly small, developing countries still recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation. The island split from mainland China amid a civil war in 1949. Beijing has recently ratcheted up its rhetoric around “re-unifying” democratically governed Taiwan with Communist Party-ruled mainland China. China is particularly sensitive to cooperation between Taiwan and the U.S. When the latter approved the sale of $330 million of military equipment to Taiwan last September, China warned of “severe damage” to bilateral relations. Ahead of a similar stopover in Hawaii in 2017, China demanded that the U.S. bar Tsai from transiting through in order to “avoid sending any erroneous messages to the Taiwan independence force.”

Australia Evacuates 2,000 People From Storm’s Path

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 14:46
Authorities Thursday were moving about 2,000 people inland from part of Australia’s northern coast ahead of a powerful cyclone expected to hit Saturday. Evacuees were being moved by air and road from remote, mostly indigenous communities on the east coast of the Northern Territory to its capital, Darwin. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said Cyclone Trevor with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour (200 kph) and gusts up to 160 mph was expected to bring heavy rainfall and a dangerous storm surge. An emergency was declared in communities along the western Gulf of Carpentaria where Trevor is expected to make landfall, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said. At landfall, Trevor is forecast to be a Category 4 severe tropical cyclone, roughly similar to a Category 2 or 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale used in the U.S. It’s the largest cyclone-related evacuation in the Northern Territory since Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin in 1974, leaving 71 people dead and forcing the evacuation of 30,000 people. Gunner said the communities are being evacuated because of their remoteness. Almost 1,000 residents had been evacuated by late Thursday from the towns of Groote Eylandt and nearby Numbulwar, Gunner said. Most of Borroloola’s 900 residents were expected to be evacuated, along with several smaller communities. Most would be housed in temporary accommodations in Darwin, Gunner said. Trevor earlier crossed the Cape York peninsula in northern Queensland state, causing flooding, closing roads and knocking out power. No fatalities have been recorded.

New Zealand Suspect Charged With Murder of Person Who is Alive

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 14:08
New Zealand police say they inadvertently charged the mosque terror suspect with the murder of a person who is still alive. Police charged 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant with a single, representative count of murder after 50 people were killed in Friday’s attack on two mosques in Christchurch.  But police said in a statement Thursday that they made an error on the charging sheet prepared for Tarrant’s first court appearance Saturday. Police said they have spoken with the person incorrectly named on the document and have apologized, and said they would change the charge sheet. Police did not offer further details of what went wrong or make anybody available for an interview. The name of the person on the charging sheet has been suppressed by court order. Officials have said more charges against Tarrant would likely follow.