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Economy Dominates Final Days of Australian Election Campaign

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 18:40
Australians vote in a general election on Saturday. The management of the economy has been central in the campaign. It has not been in recession since the early 1990s, but the economy is showing signs of slowing down. The environment is another key concern for voters as the campaign enters its final days. Money is being pumped into this election campaign like never before. Cash-infused minor parties, including one backed by a billionaire mining tycoon, are competing with the two dominant players: the center-right Liberal-National coalition and the Labor opposition. “We are seeing expensive elections, said Stewart Jackson from the University of Sydney. "We have been seeing them for some time. I actually think you will see the expenditures go up considerably at this election. There is an awful lot of television advertising, but then also onto Facebook and onto Twitter and onto Instagram and the social media platforms.” Scott Morrison, the Liberal Party prime minister, is asking voters to trust his management of the economy that is based on a simple philosophy. “My family story is not uncommon in our country," he said. "Australians quietly going about lives with simple, decent, honest aspirations. Get an education, get a job, start a business, take responsibility for yourself, support others, work hard.” The economic focus of the opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten is major tax reform. “We have said that we want multinationals to pay their fair share," he said. "I announced yesterday a new scheme to stop some multinationals treating the Australian tax system as a doormat, which they wipe their boots on coming in and out of Australia.” For many Australians the environment is their number one concern in this election. A lightning rod for conservationists is the Carmichael mine in Queensland that is proposed by the Indian company, Adani. It would be one of the biggest coal mines in the world if it goes ahead. Mary Carroll, who runs a tourism agency in the city of Rockhampton, says the region needs the resources industry. “There’s seven mines at the moment," she said. "They’re all going through their approvals process at the moment and I think one of the fears out there with all of the talk about one particular mine, the Carmichael mine, is that if it doesn’t proceed, perhaps the others won’t.” But a Queensland voter, Rochelle Rodier, says the Indian-run project must be rejected. “Adani is just no! No! No! If Adani opens up, the whole Galilee Basin opens up. Terrible. Disaster for Australia, disaster for the world,” she said. Australia’s Climate Council, an independent campaign group, is warning that if left unchecked, global warming could wipe more than $2.5 trillion from the domestic economy over the next 80 years. The council’s chief executive, Amanda McKenzie, says the situation is already dire. “What this report shows us is that there is a real cost to failing to act. In the last four years, pollution has gone up and up and up in Australia," she said. "At the same time, we have seen mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, we have seen nearly 50 C [Celsius] days in some parts of Australia, fruit cooking on trees. There are real costs of failing to act on climate change and that is what we have tried to quantify in this report.” Sixteen million Australians are eligible to vote. Many yearn for political stability and an end to party infighting in a country where it’s been more than a decade since a prime minister served a full term in office.  

Indonesia Government Looks for Alternatives to Overcrowded Prisons

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 17:55
The visiting room at Kerobokan Correctional Facility in Bali is usually full in the morning until noon on weekdays, when families and friends are allowed to visit. About 15 inmates were standing from behind bars and talking to their guests on the other side. Amalia, not her real name, was visiting her son to bring him lunch on Thursday last week. He was recently incarcerated for getting into a fight in Denpasar, the capital of Bali. She complained that the Kerobokan Prison is overcrowded.   “I think they have too many prisoners, but other than that the condition is alright. My son said the wardens are friendly,” she said without disclosing her son’s name for security reasons. Kerobokan prison now hosts more than 1,700 people in a facility that was designed for 323 inmates. The Governor of Bali, I Wayan Koster, told the media during a visit to the prison at the end of April that the government is trying to find a solution. “I think we need to relocate, this is no longer feasible,” he stated. Meanwhile in Cipinang Correctional Facility in Jakarta, there are more than 2,900 inmates in a building that is supposed to accommodate only 880. Other facilities suffer from the same condition, according to the Directorate General of Correctional at the Indonesian Ministry of Law and Human Rights, there are 265,574 incarcerated people while the facilities across Indonesia only has the capacity for 126,963. Drug cases as biggest contributor According to Genoveva Alicia, a researcher from the Institute of Criminal and Justice Reform (ICJR), overcrowding in prisons in Indonesia can be categorized as extreme and the problem occurs in almost all provinces in Indonesia. “It’s not only a problem in the big cities, on average the overcrowding is more than 99 %. Only in six areas, including Yogyakarta the problem is not as bad,” she said. Alicia cited one of the reasons for the overcapacity of correctional facilities in Indonesia is because in the judicial system, it is easy for people to end up in jail and stay less than one year. But the biggest contributors of the prison population are those who were involved in a drug case. Ade Kusmanto, the head of Public Relations at the Directorate General of Correctional, said drug cases make up around 48 percent of all criminal activities. There are more than 127,000 incarcerations due to drugs. Out of that number 75,000 are dealers and 51,000 are users. “I’m hoping the politics of law will change in dealing with drug cases, so that users will not be sentenced to jail. It can be alternative punishment such as rehabilitation or community service while they are being rehabilitated,” he told VOA.   Drug crime in Indonesia is regulated under the law no. 35/2009 on drugs. While the law stated that users should be rehabilitated, oftentimes they end up in jail for drug possession. Kusmanto mentioned it was also because rehabilitation for drug users has not been fully applied, law enforcement usually resorts to a prison sentence. “If these (drug) users are given alternative sentencing, other than prison, imagine how many of them would be out of jail,” he added. Alternative non-custodial sentences Alicia said to solve the problem of prison overcapacity, the government should be prepared to give alternative punishment other than prison time. She believes that Indonesia already has a system for non-custodial sentences, such as fine, probation or community services, which can be applied to less severe crimes with no victim. “But the problem is, these alternatives are not being utilized. We have a problem in resources, with the institutions, and also with technical regulation,” she told VOA. The only thing that has been running well for the law enforcement is jail sentencing. “That’s why in their minds, you can only punish people by putting them in correctional facilities,” Alicia added. Kusmanto admitted there is a lack of human resources which would make it difficult for the law enforcement to give out alternative punishment. He gave an example with probation after serving prison time. The parole officers have to cover such a big area with too many parolees that it becomes difficult for them to supervise everyone. “We have limited number of officers, meanwhile there are a lot of parolees they have to visit one-by-one. Make sure they are behaving well,” he said. Revitalization of correctional facilities Kusmanto said the Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights, Yasonna Laoly, issued a ministerial decree no. 35/2018 on revitalization of correctional facilities in Indonesia. The Directorate General will also reduce overcrowding by evenly distributing the number of inmates from one facility to other neighboring facilities that are less full. “And we will focus on changing the behavior of inmates and provide them with services such as counseling and guidance, to prevent them from going back,” he explained. Kusmanto added that with the new decree, other institutions including the law enforcement and other ministries will work together to find a solution. But Alicia said the problem cannot be solved if the government does not start to think about non-custodial alternatives. “We’re talking about input and output, even if all region has a facility, if we don’t regulate the input the number will never be reduced. The government should think about the alternative,” she said.  

Food Safety, Pollution Top Vietnam’s Latest Survey of Public Concerns

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 17:50
The biggest worries among Vietnamese people are food safety, pollution, and corruption, according to a new survey that suggests not enough has been done about these issues since they were raised two years ago. Food safety led the list of 13 concerns, with 86 percent of people citing it in the public opinion study done in late April by Indochina Research Vietnam Ltd. Rounding out the top five concerns were education and health care. Pollsters called it surprising and interesting that these findings resembled the five biggest worries that came up in their canvassing of two years earlier, as well. “This result is similar to the one in 2017, suggesting that problems people are concerned about are still there and not yet resolved,” said Indochina Research, a firm based in Ho Chi Minh City that conducts market research.  While the same problems have persisted over the years, a closer look at the data shows they can be broken down along gender, income, and geographic lines.  Pollution, for example, holds the No. 2 spot across the board. But there is greater anxiety in Hanoi in the north, where it was referenced by 82 percent of residents surveyed, compared with a lower 73 percent of residents in Ho Chi Minh City in the south. Geography explains the difference, given the capital city’s closer proximity to the factory-filled southern provinces of China, which consistently contribute to more toxic air than is inhaled in Ho Chi Minh City. But breathing bipeds all over the country view dirty air as a growing threat, which international scientists recently linked to dementia. Vietnamese say they will no longer accept that businesses must pollute the environment in order to make money. “Pollution was once accepted as the inevitable by-product of industrial development and promoted as economic progress,” oped contributor Thu Van wrote in Vietnam News, the state news agency, calling on government officials to take action. “It’s time they treat air pollution as a public health crisis.”  Thu Van thinks the Southeast Asian country should reduce the number of cars on the road, force drivers to use eco-friendly gas, crack down on dirty factories, and move away from coal fired power plants.  Public sentiment in the Indochina Research poll also diverged depending on whether the respondents were male or female. The company said women were more likely than men to express concerns about sexual harassment, health care, and food safety.  That matches findings in a study co-sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development in March. “Women read the fine print,” said Caterina Meloni, USAID Green Invest Asia’s gender and social inclusion adviser. “They are looking for the best ways to deploy their money to protect their family’s health, their land’s longevity, their community’s well-being.” The Green Invest Asia study found food safety to be more of an issue in Vietnam than in Indonesia, the Philippines, or Singapore. “Food safety is a top concern for women in Vietnam, where women are willing to pay a premium of up to 30 percent for sustainably-certified organic food, which is higher than in other countries surveyed,” the agency said in a statement.  Everyday Vietnamese worry because they don’t know the sources of their food. Not only has the problem not abated since Indochina Research did its poll in 2017, but some new risks have emerged. In addition to the possibility of food poisoning, whether from wedding parties or sit-down bistros, swine fever has spread around Asia in recent months, including in Vietnam. Other concerns noted in Indochina Research’s latest gauge of public opinion include clean water access, global warming, journalism quality, unfair competition, and gender discrimination. 

Beijing Readies 2 New Aircraft Carriers

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 14:44
The deployment this year of a second aircraft carrier and construction of a third will allow China to position one of the carriers in the contested South China Sea, maritime policy experts believe. A carrier known only as Type 001 has been tested in China for formal use by September. Another is being built for a launch in 2022, the China Power Project of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a May 7 research note.  China is likely to base one carrier in the South China Sea, position one in the East China Sea, and let the third travel the world, said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.  “I don’t think that they will actually go attack people, but of course just the show of force is quite impressive,” he said. Deterrent effect China has the world’s third-strongest armed forces. It has more overall firepower than five other countries that compete for sovereignty in the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea. The others are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.  The U.S. Navy has passed ships though the sea 10 times under U.S. President Donald Trump as a warning to China to share the waterway. Beijing calls the U.S. passages violations of Chinese sovereignty. China, through its aircraft carrier program, wants to improve air-to-air capabilities so it can “head off” any third party that gets too close, said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan. “I think basically it will be East China Sea and South China Sea, because they are enhancing their power projection and so-called the active defense strategy through the first-island chain,” he said. The first-island chain usually refers to Japan, Taiwan and major Southeast Asian archipelagos.  China and Japan contest part of the East China Sea. Beijing also claims sovereignty over Taiwan, which lies about 160 kilometers away from the mainland and also has a stake in the East China Sea. The self-ruled island is building up its own forces to resist China. Last week it broke ground on a shipyard to develop its first diesel-electric submarine. Second and third Chinese carriers The first Chinese carrier, a former Soviet vessel, began plying the seas near China’s east coast in 2012 under its new name, the Liaoning. Built in 2017, the Type 001 vessel started trials last year. China’s official Xinhua News Agency said in November that shipbuilders had kicked off work on the “new generation” third carrier. Other Chinese media say the third carrier may be bigger and stronger than the previous two. CSIS' China Power Project has collected satellite images over a Shanghai shipyard, which shows a bow and main hull section of a “large vessel.” It calls the carrier Type 002. “Chinese weapons enthusiasts and foreign observers have long asserted that China has begun to build its third carrier at China State Shipbuilding Corp.’s Jiangnan Shipyard Group in Shanghai, speculating that it will be bigger and mightier than the Liaoning and the second carrier,” the state-run China Daily news website said in November. Chinese carrier technology still needs “a lot of improvements” in terms of technology and handling carrier-based fighter jets, Yang said. Chilling effect offshore But a carrier fleet of any kind, especially with planes parked on the mothership, would alarm the other countries, the experts say.  China would see its carrier in the South China Sea as a “counterbalance” against the U.S. Navy ships that pass off the west coast of Taiwan near the same sea, said Eduardo Araral, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school. Normally, the Chinese “flex” their muscle after the U.S. makes a move, he said.  A U.S. aircraft carrier, if sent to the South China Sea as well, could easily end up facing off against the Chinese vessel, Singapore Institute of International Affairs' Oh said. Other Asian countries with claims – about 90% of the entire sea -- will probably do little if a Chinese carrier stays low key, Araral said. That could mean sticking to undisputed South China Sea tracts near the Chinese coastal province of Hainan, he added. “Reaction would come when the aircraft carrier would be patrolling regularly and along (with) a fleet of other vessels,” he said. “Then it’s going to rattle the nerves in the neighborhood, because they would be misreading what this is.” Sending a carrier to the South China Sea would “compel” other Asian maritime claimants to seek U.S. government help, solidifying a Western-allied, “anti-Chinese alliance” of countries, said Fabrizio Bozzato, a Taiwan Strategy Research Association fellow.  Those allies might in turn send “massive naval forces” including their own carriers to the sea, he said.

Duterte Allies Appear to Have Won Philippine Senate Seats

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 08:37
President Rodrigo Duterte's allies appeared to have overwhelming leads in elections for the Philippine Senate, one of the opposition's last bulwarks against a brash populist leader accused of massive human rights violations. Preliminary results comprising 94% of returns from Monday's midterm elections showed at least eight candidates endorsed by Duterte were leading in races for 12 seats in the 24-member Senate. Official Commission on Election results are expected to be declared in about a week. Those leading include Duterte's former national police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, who enforced the president's crackdown on illegal drugs, a campaign that left thousands of suspects dead and drew international condemnation.  Monday's vote is seen as a gauge of public support for Duterte, who is midway through the single six-year term Philippine presidents are allowed under the constitution. His anti-drug crackdown, unorthodox leadership style, combative and sexist joke-laden outbursts, and contentious embrace of China have been the hallmarks of his presidency. Duterte's three children were also expected to win races for mayor, vice mayor and a congressional seat representing their southern home region of Davao city. The 74-year-old maverick leader first carved a reputation as an extra-tough mayor of the city who hunted drug addicts and criminals on a Harley Davidson motorcycle and carried the nickname Duterte Harry after the gunslinging Clint Eastwood film character. "Undoubtedly, the Duterte magic spelled the difference,'' presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a news conference.  "The overwhelming majority of the electorate have responded to the call of the president to support those whom he said would help pass laws supportive of his goal to uplift the masses of our people and give them comfortable lives.'' Manila-based analyst Ronald Holmes, however, said that except for dela Rosa and Duterte's longtime aide, Bong Go, who entered politics for the first time without their own established bases of support, other leading administration senatorial contenders earned votes based on their own political track records.  The flipside of Duterte's perceived endorsement strength was the weakness of the opposition ticket and its campaign, said Holmes, who heads Pulse Asia, an independent pollster that predicted the dominance of Duterte's senatorial bets. Another analyst, Richard Heydarian, said many Filipinos seem more open to authoritarianism due to failures of past liberal leaders from long-established political clans. Such a mindset has helped the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos make a political comeback, the latest through the senatorial bid of one of his daughters, Imee Marcos, who was endorsed by Duterte and whose vote tally in unofficial results indicated a victory. Duterte, who has shown little tolerance for critics, especially those who question his anti-drug campaign, aimed for stronger leverage in the traditionally more independent Senate to bolster his legislative agenda. That includes the return of the death penalty, lowering the age for criminal liability below the current 15, and revising the country's 1987 constitution primarily to allow a shift to a federal form of government, a proposal some critics fear may be a cover to remove term limits. Last year, opposition senators moved to block proposed bills they feared would undermine civil liberties. The handful of incumbent opposition senators whose seats were not up for election could potentially get backing from leading independent aspirants to veto Duterte's emerging majority in the upper chamber. At least seven senators are needed to block any proposal by Duterte's camp to revise the constitution, which was passed with anti-dictatorial safeguards in 1987, a year after Marcos was ousted by an army-backed "people power'' revolt. "While we expect dissent to continue, we hope that that same be demonstrated with fairness and within the bounds of the law, as well as with deference to the leaders duly chosen by the electorate,'' Panelo said. Aside from the drug killings, Duterte's gutter language and what nationalists say is a policy of appeasement toward China that may undermine Philippine territorial claims in the South China Sea have also been the cause of protests and criticism. Opposition aspirants consider the Senate the last bastion of checks and balances given the solid dominance of Duterte's loyalists in the lower House of Representatives. Voters in Monday's elections made their choices for 18,000 congressional and local posts, including 81 governors, 1,634 mayors and more than 13,500 city and town councilors in 81 provinces. In the Manila metropolis, younger mayoral candidates defeated three long-entrenched political clan leaders, including former President and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada, who lost to Isko Moreno Domagoso, also a former movie actor. The elections were relatively untroubled, despite pockets of violence in southern Mindanao region, which is under martial law as government forces hunt down Islamic State group-linked militants and communist insurgents. 

US, China Trade War Already Reshaping Trade Links

Wed, 05/15/2019 - 01:33
With the Trump administration locked in an escalating trade war with China, much of the media focus is on the immediate impact of decisions by leaders on both sides to impose sharp tariffs on goods flowing between the two countries. But while consumers and exporters in both countries will suffer in the near-term, an even more disruptive possibility looms in the long term: a “decoupling” of two massive economic systems that have become deeply interdependent over the past several decades. At the root of the dispute is a U.S. effort to force China to bring its trade policies in line with other major industrialized countries. Specifically, the U.S. wants to see China stop subsidizing domestic firms to help them compete on the world stage, eliminate the widespread theft of intellectual property by Chinese businesses, and open its markets to foreign competition. The U.S. is also putting pressure on specific Chinese telecommunications firms, out of concern that they could be used by the Chinese government to spy on global rivals. In recent days, the two countries have both ratcheted up economic pressures. As negotiations over a major trade deal stalled last week, President Trump announced that he would direct his administration to hike tariffs to 25% on Chinese goods that accounted for $200 billion in imports last year. He indicated that he would eventually move to place that same levy on all $540 billion of annual Chinese imports. The Chinese government retaliated Monday with the imposition of tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods that flow into its country, and indicated that it will take more drastic steps if necessary. While many experts believe that the two countries will strike a deal before the new tariffs really start to bite, there is increasing concern that strife between the world’s two largest economic powers could persist, forcing a disruptive overhaul of global supply chains that would echo around the world. In fact, there is evidence that companies are already taking the first steps in a significant reorientation of global supply chains. According to Paul Triolo, practice head for Geo-Technology at the Eurasia Group, there already has been a significant amount of decoupling by companies in the information and communications technology industries, as well as furniture, apparel, and agricultural products. “US technology companies are already withholding new investment in manufacturing facilities based in China, and shifting parts of supply chains as feasible to southeast Asia and beyond,” he said in an interview. “There is a spectrum of potential options here, and so far most of the ‘easy’ stuff has been moved. The equation becomes much more complicated for things like advanced electronics.” Understanding why this would be so disruptive requires digging below the surface of most discussions of US-China trade. Political rhetoric about trade, much of it originating in President Trump’s Twitter feed, tends to oversimplify — and frequently misrepresent — the reality of global trade flows. The exchange of goods between the two countries is portrayed as a zero-sum game, in which U.S. consumers face a simple choice between buying widgets manufactured in China and buying competing products manufactured in the U.S. Bilateral trade, intermediate goods The truth is far more complex. Combined exports and imports between the two countries totaled $650 billion in 2018, according to U.S. government figures. Goods moving from China to the U.S. make up just under two-thirds of that total, and they are not limited to the cheap clothes and toys that made up a large portion of Chinese exports a generation ago. Smartphones, appliances, computers and other goods travel in a constant stream across the Pacific to U.S. markets. Importantly, though, those finished goods often contain key elements, like microchips, that were originally manufactured in the U.S. and exported to China. These “intermediate goods” represent a huge market for U.S. technology firms. Similarly, intermediate goods made in China find their way into finished products that bear the “Made in the U.S.A.” stamp. As a whole, intermediate goods make up between 60% and 65% of all global trade flows, which further illustrates the complexity of worldwide supply chains. Restructuring supply chains These complex manufacturing relationships have grown up over decades, and are very much baked into the way companies in both countries do business. Now, as the trade war escalates, they are facing the real possibility that ongoing conflict between Washington and Beijing could require companies to restructure global supply chains in a way that will provide more certainty and stability in the future. But doing so would be a long and difficult process, experts warn. “These value chains, or supply networks are both highly specialized and quite idiosyncratic,” said Scott Miller, a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Abshire-Inamori Leadership Academy said in an interview. “Company A and Company B might be in the same business, but the way they organize their supply network could be quite different.” “The idea of ‘decoupling,’ well, if you’re in a business that requires assembly at scale, you’re going to find it hard replacing China,” Miller said. “It can be done, but it’s real work.” The problem is even worse if a company has developed a network of qualified suppliers in China. Replacing them is not like flipping a switch, he said. “It takes time, energy and capital to develop suppliers,” Miller said. Should it come to that, economists warn, the effects on both countries, at both the macro- and microeconomic levels, could be immense. Cost of tariffs Within the U.S. alone, the potential damage from the proposed tariffs would be huge, warned Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. Writing in a note to investors on Wednesday, he said, “The hit from 25% tariffs on all imports would be at least 0.6% of GDP, and probably much more as companies would have to rebuild entire supply chains. The hit to earnings growth would be of the order of 10%.” It is also apparent that many of the supposed benefits of decoupling won't necessarily accrue to the United States. President Trump has suggested that his trade policies will bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., but by all indications, the manufacturers who are already starting to move away from China are relocating to other low-wage countries, like Vietnam and Mexico. As grim as some of these predictions are, there is a school of thought in which the divisions between the U.S. and China, and their global impacts, become much, much worse. Worst scenario In an appearance on the television program Face the Nation on Sunday, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson warned that if China and the U.S. successfully isolate themselves from one another — particularly in the realm of technology — the result could be a bifurcated global system that will devastate economic relationships. “The real risk is that both countries through their actions will throw up or create an economic iron wall which means we'll be decoupling global supply chains, right?” said Paulson, who also served as CEO of the investment bank Goldman Sachs. “We'll be having two systems with incompatible standards and rules," he added. "And so as I look at it the defining strength of America is innovation and we need to protect our technology, need to protect our innovation. But if we close ourselves off from other, you know, other innovative economies and entrepreneurs, we jeopardize our leadership position in the world and we're much less attractive as a destination for foreign investment.” Triolo, of the Eurasia Group, gave voice to a concern that fewer commentators are willing to discuss out loud, but which must lurk in the back of many business leaders’ minds. “Many companies are now for the first time factoring in the potential for the trade and tech conflict to morph into a real shooting conflict, either by accident or miscalculation or deliberately,” he said. “The potential for actual conflict has now gone way up for the period 3-5 years out, and this has to be taken into account when multinationals are looking at global supply chain risk. “The best case scenario, a trade truce with China making some limited concessions, will not necessarily improve this dynamic,” he said. “U.S. focus on the nature of China’s political system, the control of the Party over information, [Chinese President] Xi’s unwillingness to cede more state control of the economy, etc. are all contributing to the ‘clash of civilizations’ meme which is gaining traction among the extreme factions on each side, diminishing the room for rebuilding trust, which is now arguably at an all time low.”

Small Parties Put Thai Coup Leader on Course to Remain in PM Post

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 22:25
Thai Prime Minister and 2014 coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha took a giant leap closer to holding on to his post after 11 small parties endorsed his candidacy Monday, although a scramble for control of the lower house of parliament continues. The 11 parties each landed one of 500 seats in the House of Representatives thanks to an unorthodox formula the junta-appointed election commission devised after the March 24 poll. The algorithm dropped the threshold of votes needed to secure a party-list seat — based on the proportion of nationwide ballots won — from about 71,000 to 30,000. Along with the expected support of the 250 members of the junta-appointed Senate, their endorsements give the bloc of pro-military parties led by Palang Pracharath the combined majority it needs in both houses to vote Prayuth into a new term. But with a combined 135 elected seats, the bloc is lagging in the race to shore up a majority in the House of Representatives itself, which it will need to push through any legislation. Its rival for control of the lower house is the Democracy Front, a bloc of seven parties with 245 seats on a single-minded mission of breaking the stranglehold the military has had on Thai politics since the coup. The main mid-size parties in play, with more than enough seats to swing the lower house either way, are the Democrat Party and Bhumjaithai. Neither has yet declared for either bloc. Days after the election, Pheu Thai, the heavyweight of the Democracy Front, offered to consider Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul for prime minister if he joined, said Thepparith Senamngern, a deputy spokesman for Pheu Thai. Heir to one of Thailand's largest construction companies, Anutin made headlines on the campaign trail for pushing a pro-cannabis platform. He wants to make marijuana — legalized for medical use in February — the country's next major cash crop and give every Thai the chance to grow up to six plants each. Thepparith said the front was still in "hard negotiations" with Bhumjaithai. But now that the 11 smallest parties have called for Palang Pracharath, he conceded it could only make Anutin prime minister on the off-chance that enough senators break faith with the junta that appointed them and either vote for someone other than Prayuth or abstain. With a majority in the lower house, he added, the front could not only block legislation from pro-military parties but start rolling back the new Constitution the junta drafted after taking power. He said enough votes in the lower house could bypass attempts by the Senate to block amendments. "We just need six seats, right, to be [2]51," Thepparith said. "So is it farfetched? I don't think so. Is it a bit hard?.... Yeah." Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University, said it was unlikely at best. He said the 11 parties' decision to declare for Palang Pracharath was expected as a quid pro quo for their seats, and all but certain to cement Prayuth's return as prime minister. "It's quite certain that they can make Prayuth the prime minister with the 250 senators," he said. "But they also still want to make sure that they have enough seats in the lower house, in the House of Representatives. Otherwise, it wouldn't make sense for them to become a government with a minority voice in the House." Titipol said Monday's endorsements gave Palang Pracharath the momentum to keep adding to its bloc and that Bhumjaithai and the Democrat Party were likely to end up cutting deals with it as well. "At the moment, Bhumjaithai and Democrat still can play the game... to get what they want. I don't think they would decide not to be with Palang Pracharath. At the end, they would go with some deal that they get from Palang Pracharath and support Palang Pracharath to form a government," he said. "If you look back at Thai politics, in the past, it's always like this. They negotiate to have good Cabinet ministries, so that they can perhaps get some interest or benefit to the party." A spokesman for Palang Pracharath did not reply to requests for comment. Regardless of which bloc prevails, it could be weeks before Thailand has a new government. Parliament is due to convene by May 25 and will vote on a prime minister early next month. The new Cabinet will then form in late June, clearing the way for the junta and the government it set up after the coup, the National Council for Peace and Order, to step down.  

Diplomats Visit Canadian Think Tank Expert in China Custody

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 22:12
Diplomats have visited a Canadian think tank expert whose detention in China is believed to be an attempt to pressure Canada to release Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou. Canadian consular officials visited with Michael Kovrig on Monday, the country's diplomatic service said in an emailed message. No details were given in keeping with privacy rules. Chinese official media have accused Korvig, a former diplomat and Asia expert at the International Crisis Group, of acting with Canadian businessman Michael Spavor to steal state secrets. Both were arrested on Dec. 10 after Meng was arrested in Vancouver on Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities who want her extradited to face fraud charges. In its statement, Global Affairs Canada said it was concerned about the men's “arbitrary” detentions and called for their immediate release. Meng, the daughter of Huawei's founder, is accused of lying to banks about the company's dealings with Iran in violation of U.S. trade sanctions. Her attorney has argued that comments by U.S. President Donald Trump suggest the case against her is politically motivated. Washington has pressured other countries to limit use of Huawei's technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information. China and the U.S. are currently embroiled in a trade dispute that has beleaguered global financial markets. Another Canadian held in China, Robert Schellenberg, was re-sentenced to death in a drug case following Meng's detention. His case is currently under appeal.

Trump: US 'Can Make a Deal' with China

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 19:01
Capitol Hill correspondent Michael Bowman and reporter Ira Mellman contributed to this report President Donald Trump said the United States "can make a deal with China tomorrow" to resolve the trade dispute between the world's two largest economies, adding the accusation that China prevented the two sides from completing an agreement. In a series of tweets Tuesday, Trump portrayed the United States as being "in a much better position now than any deal we could have made," and restated his frequent refrain that under his administration other countries will not "take advantage" of the United States when it comes to trade. His latest remarks came after he boosted taxes on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods sent to the United States and moved to impose duties on another $300 billion of Chinese exports. China retaliated by imposing tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods. China hits back The Chinese finance ministry said Monday its new 5% to 25% tax would be imposed June 1 and affect 5,140 U.S. products exported to China. Beijing said its response was targeting "U.S. unilateralism and trade protectionism." "China will never succumb to foreign pressure," the foreign ministry said. "We are determined and capable of safeguarding our legitimate rights and interests. We still hope that the U.S. will meet us half way." The escalation of the tit-for-tat tariff increases had an immediate effect on the U.S. stock market, with the key Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging nearly 2.4% by the close of trading Monday in New York.   Trump has threatened to extend tariffs to an additional $300 billion in Chinese exports that have not been targeted yet, but told reporters Monday: "I have not made that decision yet.''   The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office said Monday that a public hearing would be held on July 17 about the possibility of further tariffs on China, which it said could affect 3,805 product categories. It said the new measures could impose an additional duty of up to 25%. How we got here The Chinese decision to retaliate with tariffs came after the two countries ended their latest trade talks Friday in Washington without reaching a deal. Two U.S. lawmakers voiced support for Trump's trade fight with China, but with reservations. Republican Sen. Roy Blunt told VOA, "If there's a trade fight worth having, it's a trade fight with China. They have not been fair traders." But he said "there is no doubt" that diminished sales of farm products to China have hurt his home state of Missouri and other parts of the agrarian U.S. Midwest. Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said, "There's no doubt that we need to challenge China to change a lot of its trade practices and its domestic business practices. For example, they've been stealing U.S. secrets for a long time. They have these rules that force U.S. companies to transfer technology. So we've got to confront China on that." "The question is what's the smartest, most effective way to do it," Van Hollen said. "And while I support some of the president's strategy, I think some of it's misguided. Obviously, Americans and American consumers are paying more and more by the day. So, it's important that we address the fundamental issues in China's economy.... It's not clear to me that the president's policies are addressing that, but we'll see. I see a tariff-only strategy; I don't see a more comprehensive strategy towards China. I'm not saying that tariffs can't be part of something, but they cannot be the only tool in your tool box." Analyst David Lampton, a fellow at the Stanford Asia Pacific Research Center in Palo Alto, California, said he sees the United States and China as competing to be more than just a dominant economic force. "It includes a mounting arms race and includes diplomatic competition around the world, with China operating in Latin America and Venezuela and so forth, Middle East, in places where we've traditionally seen ourselves as dominant," Lampton said. "And of course we're operating on China's periphery and we're in Vietnam, trying to keep the Philippines in the U.S. column so to speak."

UN Mission Urges Financial Isolation of Myanmar's Military

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 16:31
A United Nations fact-finding mission is urging that countries cut off all business with Myanmar's military as part of efforts to hold the army accountable for human rights abuses. The U.N. Human Rights Council said in a statement on Tuesday that there has been no progress toward resolving the crisis over Myanmar's mostly Muslim Rohingya minority, more than 1 million of whom have fled military "clearance operations'' in the northwest Rakhine region. "The situation is at a total standstill,'' said Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar. Myanmar authorities have razed deserted Rohingya villages and those remaining in the country live in displacement camps and in fear of further military reprisals. "Due to the gravity of the past and continuing violations, attention must be given to the political, economic and financial ties of the Myanmar military - to identify who and what should be targeted so we can cut off the money supply as a means of increasing the pressure and reducing the violence,'' Christopher Sidoti, a member of the mission said in the statement. The mission found that the military has committed atrocities against many ethnic groups living within Myanmar. It also faulted armed ethnic groups for committing human rights abuses. Myanmar denies allegations of human rights violations, saying its security forces have not targeted civilians and have taken action only in response to attacks by Rohingya militants. U.N. officials and others have likened the actions to ethnic cleansing, or even genocide. The Fact-Finding Mission is to hand its findings to a new group of the Human Right Council, the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar, in September. That organization was set up to handle criminal prosecution of violations of international law. The crisis in Rahkine has soured Myanmar's relations with the United States, which had rolled back economic sanctions over the past decade to support political change in the country as it transitioned toward democracy. The U.S. Treasury has imposed sanctions on Myanmar security forces and Washington has barred Myanmar military officials involved in the Rakhine operations from U.S. assistance. Britain has also cut some support. The UN and independent rights advocates want governments to do more to hold the military accountable.

UN Chief Vows World Body Efforts to Combat Hate Speech

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 15:42
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pledging the world body will lead efforts to combat online hate speech in the aftermath of the deadly New Zealand mosque shootings. Guterres made the vow Tuesday during a visit to the al-Noor and Linwood mosques in the city of Christchurch where 51 worshippers were massacred in a shooting spree on March 15 by a self-described white supremacist from Australia.  “I know there are no words to relieve the hurt and sorrow and pain,” the secretary-general said after his visit to the al-Noor mosque, “but I wanted to come here personally to transmit love, support, and total and complete admiration." Warning that “hate speech is spreading like wildfire in social media,” Guterres said he has asked Adama Dieng, his special advisor for the prevention of genocide, to form a team to develop a global plan of action in response.  New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who received international praise for her response to the Christchurch massacre, is planning to co-host a global meeting in Paris this week to drum up support to combat online expression of violence.

North Korea Accuses US of 'Robbery' for Seizing Cargo Ship

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 14:14
North Korea accused the United States of robbery Tuesday and demanded the immediate return of a cargo ship seized for allegedly violating international sanctions.  In a statement in the official Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s foreign ministry warned of unspecified “consequences” in response to the U.S. seizure of the vessel.  “The U.S. should carefully deliberate what consequences will follow in the current situation derived by their robbery and promptly return our ship,” the Tuesday statement read.  The KCNA statement claimed the seizure violates the 2018 agreement between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to improve bilateral relations. The United States announced last week it had seized the Wise Honest, which was originally detained in April 2018 by Indonesian authorities.  The 17,000-ton vessel, North Korea’s second-largest cargo ship, had been used to export North Korean coal in violation of international sanctions, U.S. officials say. It is the first time that U.S. officials seized a North Korean vessel.  ​The move further strained ties between North Korea and the United States, which appear to be re-entering a period of hostility after a year of nuclear talks. In recent weeks, North Korea has resumed testing ballistic missiles after refraining from such launches for a year-and-a-half.  U.S. officials have shrugged off the three short-range missile tests, saying the door remains open for talks with the North.  At their first summit in June 2018, Trump and Kim vowed to improve relations and to work “toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” The talks broke down when a second Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam in February failed to result in a deal.  At that summit, Kim offered to dismantle a key North Korean nuclear site in exchange for the United States easing sanctions that are hurting the North’s economy. Trump insisted he would not ease sanctions until North Korea agrees to abandon its entire nuclear weapons program. ​The seizure of the Wise Honest is part of what U.S. officials have described as a campaign of “maximum pressure” against the North.  Under a series of U.S. and United Nations sanctions, North Korea is prohibited from a broad range of economic activities, including exports of materials such as coal.  North Korea has evaded the sanctions, in part by using dozens of ships such as the Wise Honest to conduct ship-to-ship transfers of raw materials.  When it was detained in 2018, the Wise Honest was carrying about 25,500 tons of coal -- a load valued at around $3 million at the time.  U.S. officials believe North Korea uses the money from coal sales to fund its weapons program.  The ship arrived this week at the port of Pago Pago in the U.S. territory of American Samoa. 

Philippine Senate Elections Expand Power of Anti-Drug, Pro-China President Duterte

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 12:21
A coalition victory in the Philippine Senate race Monday will expand President Rodrigo Duterte’s space to advance a deadly anti-drug campaign, rebuild crumbling infrastructure in the impoverished country and tighten relations with China by the end of his term in 2022. Nine of the twelve winners in Senate races are backers of Duterte, who’s halfway through a six-year term, according to unofficial election commission totals released early Tuesday after overnight ballot counting. The other three seats went to independents and the opposition bloc won none. The race among 62 candidates was widely seen as a national midterm vote on Duterte’s popularity.  “It’s basically who are for the president versus who are against him,” said Antonio Contreras, a political scientist at De La Salle University in the Philippines. He called the outcome a “referendum” on the president’s performance to date. The results will give Duterte more confidence to complete his agenda, said Ramon Casiple, executive director with the Philippine advocacy organization Institute for Political and Electoral Reform in Metro Manila.  ​Duterte’s agenda  The Duterte administration hopes to join China in exploring for oil or gas in the South China Sea, tracts of which both countries call their own.  A maritime sovereignty dispute between the two countries had prompted Duterte’s predecessor to file, and win, a world court arbitration case against China in 2016. Duterte set aside the dispute, though Chinese vessels backed by the world’s third strongest military still control a contested shoal near Luzon Island.  China, however, in 2016 pledged $24 billion of aid and investment to the largely impoverished Philippines and committed about half of that to specific projects in April. Some of that funding will bankroll Duterte’s $169 billion, 5-year replacement of outdated or dilapidated infrastructure around the archipelago.  The president is expected to stick with the anti-drug campaign despite what local media outlets estimate at 5,000 deaths, many of them suspected dealers shot during raids by police. He has ordered police to use more restraint since public protests in 2017 against the killings of teenagers. Duterte is also advancing tax reforms that are due to lower poverty to 14 percent of the 105 million population by 2022, down from about 22 percent now.  He needs from 50 to 75 percent of the 24-member Senate to pass some bills, especially outstanding tax reform measures, Casiple said. A hostile Senate could quash bills from the administration or float their own. Economic stability Voters in Metro Manila said Monday Duterte’s rule had led to cleaner, more drug-free neighborhoods as well as overall economic improvement.  Inflation of 6.7 percent that had vexed consumers in September and October had eased to 3.3 percent in March. Overall economic growth reached 6.2 percent in 2018. In Pasay City, a hotel and shopping-rich municipality within Metro Manila, citizens are getting more funds for healthcare, while students are receiving more money for school, said May Isabela De La Pena, 45, a voter in the city and member of a neighborhood council. “Many new buildings, many jobs, the children -- our students -- they have allowances every month (and) we have medical assistance coming from the city,” she said at a crowded elementary school campus where thousands were expected to turn out for 12 hours of voting. ​Weak opposition Duterte’s public satisfaction rating rose to 79 percent in the first quarter of 2019 from 70 percent in September and 74 in December, tracking the fall in inflation.  Despite opposition from academics and the military, Duterte’s 3-year friendship with China does not disturb most common Filipinos, political scholars say. Drug-linked slayings still alarm human rights groups on and offshore, but common people say the crackdown has made a lot of neighborhoods safer at night. Opposition congressional candidates had criticized Duterte over China as well as drugs. “The opposition has not done a good job in portraying itself in a sincere way,” said Eduardo Araral, a Philippine native and associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s public policy school. “They used the China angle, the drug angle, but none of those really stuck on Duterte.” Pro-Duterte candidates for House of Representatives seats were expected to hold their massive majority today. That coalition now controls 245 of the 297 House seats. Presidents in the Philippines by law can serve only one six-year term.

Trump Says US Tariffs on Chinese Goods 'Fill US Coffers'

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 07:53
U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said U.S. tariffs on China bring billions of dollars into U.S. coffers. He said China's retaliatory tariffs can have no effect on the U.S. economy. The escalation of the U.S.-China trade war sent stock markets tumbling on Monday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average falling more than 600 points. Earlier, China announced new tariffs of up to 25 percent on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods, starting June 1. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.

Deepening US-Chinese Trade War Sparks Unease on Capitol Hill

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 06:53
As Washington and Beijing impose ever-higher tariffs, prompting financial markets to falter, U.S. lawmakers are expressing hope for a swift but comprehensive resolution of America's deepening trade disputes with China.  Unease prevailed on Capitol Hill after China retaliated against a new round of American tariffs by hiking duties on U.S.-made goods. Even so, senators of both parties say China must be confronted.  "We need to challenge China to change a lot of its trade practices and its domestic business practices.”said Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen. “For example, they've been stealing U.S. (technological) secrets for a long time." But Van Hollen faults President Donald Trump's focus on tariffs. "What I see is a tariff-only strategy. I don't see a more comprehensive strategy towards China,” Van Hollen said. “American consumers are paying more and more by the day. It's not all about how many sales they (Chinese producers) are making and how many sales the United States is making to China."   Among the most vocal about trade war concerns are American farmers. Republican Senator Roy Blunt represents agriculture-rich Missouri. "We (Missouri farmers) were selling about one out of every four rows of soybeans just to China,” Blunt said. “Soybeans, corn, livestock  that's a great market that's being disrupted.” But Blunt believes Americans understand that short-term economic pain is necessary to secure better trading terms with China. "If there's a trade fight worth having, it's the trade fight with China,” Blunt said. “They have not been fair traders.” While the U.S.-China dispute is grabbing most headlines, Blunt also urged Congress' swift consideration of a new U.S.-Canada-Mexico free trade pact.

Escalating US-China Trade War Sends Stocks Plunging

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 03:32
The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 500 points Monday as investors sought shelter from an escalating trade war between the U.S. and China. The Dow and S&P 500 index each fell more than 2% as investors sold trade-sensitive shares in a broad sell-off that extended the market's slide into a second week. Technology stocks led the way lower, with digital storage companies and chipmakers among the big decliners. Heavy equipment makers Deere and Caterpillar drove losses in the industrial sector. The world's largest economies had seemed on track to resolve the ongoing trade dispute that has raised prices for consumers and pinched corporate profit margins. Investor confidence that the two sides were close to a resolution had helped push the market to its best yearly start in decades. Those hopes are now being dashed and replaced by concerns that the trade war could crimp what is otherwise a mostly healthy economy. Analysts have warned that failed trade talks and the deterioration in relations will put a dent in the U.S. and China's economic prospects. "The larger issue with the tariffs isn't the specific amounts of tariffs at any given time, but the uncertainty that's surrounding these tariffs and the `what's-next?' of an escalating trade war,'' said Willie Delwiche, investment strategist at Baird. "That weighs on the global economy and could then weigh on the U.S. economy.'' The Dow dove 544 points, or 2.1%, to 25,398 as of 3:08 p.m. Eastern Time. Earlier, it was down 719 points. Boeing and Caterpillar fell the most in the Dow. Both companies get a significant amount of revenue from China and stand to lose heavily if the trade war drags on. Boeing slid 4.2% and Caterpillar was 4.4% lower. The broader S&P 500 index fell 2.1%. The benchmark index is coming off its worst week since January, though it's still up sharply for the year. The Nasdaq, which is heavily weighted with technology stocks, slid 2.9%, on track for its biggest daily loss of the year. Technology stocks were bearing the heaviest losses. Apple fell 5% and Cisco slid 3.4%. Chipmakers and other technology companies have warned that uncertainty over the trade war's outcome is prompting a slowdown in orders. Bank stocks also fell sharply. Bank of America dropped 3.8% and JPMorgan Chase fell 2.1%. Safe-play holdings were the only winners as traders sought to reduce their exposure to risk. Utilities were the only sector to rise on the stock market, and prices for U.S. government bonds, which are considered ultra-safe investments, rose sharply, sending yields lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.40% from 2.45% late Friday. Overseas markets also fell. European indexes mostly finished more than 1% lower. In Asia, the Shanghai Composite index fell 1.2%. Japan's Nikkei 225 index gave up 0.7% and South Korea's Kospi fell 1.4%. In another sign of how nervous investors were feeling, an index known as Wall Street's "fear gauge,'' which measures how much volatility the market expects in the future, spiked 27%. The VIX, however, is still far below the elevated levels it reached at the end of last year when the S&P 500 came extremely close to entering a bear market, meaning a decline of 20% or more from a recent peak. Trade talks between the U.S. and China concluded Friday with no agreement and with the U.S. increasing import tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods to 25% from 10%. Officials also said they were preparing to expand tariffs to cover another $300 billion of goods. China on Monday announced tariff increases on $60 billion of U.S. imports, particularly farm products like soybeans. The price of soybeans slid 0.8% to $8.03 a bushel. They were trading around $9 a bushel last month and are now at their lowest price since December 2008. The falling price has put pressure on U.S. farmers. Analysts have said investors should prepare for a more volatile stock market while the trade dispute deepens. Many are still confident that both sides will eventually reach a deal. "Since we see a trade accord being reached in the not-too-distant future, we don't expect the market to endure more than a short-lived spate of indigestion,'' said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA. The deteriorating trade negotiations follow what has been a mostly calm period of trading where solid economic data and corporate earnings helped push the market steadily higher. The S&P 500 is still up 12.5% of the year with technology stocks blowing away rest of the market with 18.8% gains. Investors have so far made it through the bulk of first quarter corporate earnings reports in decent shape. Earlier in the year they had expected earnings to severely contract. The results so far show less than a 1% drop in profit. The escalating trade war threatens to spoil an expected earnings recovery in the second half, however. "Investors are increasingly worried an anticipated second-half profit rebound may now evaporate as President [Donald] Trump's threat to tariff the remaining $325 billion in Chinese imports would disproportionately target consumer products like iPhones, thereby posing a greater threat to the consumption-driven US economy,'' said Alec Young, managing director of global markets research at FTSE Russell. Elsewhere in the market, generic drug developers are sinking after many of them were accused of artificially inflating and manipulating prices. The lawsuit from attorneys general in more than 40 states alleges that for many years the makers of generic drugs worked together to fix prices. Teva, which was specifically mentioned, sank 15.1%. Mylan slumped 9.8%. Ride-sharing company Uber tumbled another 11% on its first full day of trading following its rocky debut on the stock market Friday. The stock had priced at $45 at its initial public offering but is now trading just below $37. Gold mining companies were some of the few stocks making gains amid the broad market slump as the price of gold, another safe-play asset, rose 1% to $1,301 an ounce. Newmont Goldcorp rose 2.8%.

US Bans 6 Chinese Tech Firms From Exporting US Goods

Tue, 05/14/2019 - 01:55
The United States has banned six Chinese technology companies from exporting U.S. technologies and goods. The U.S. Commerce Department said Monday four Chinese firms, which also have offices in Hong Kong, are being banned because of their support of Iran's military programs in violation of U.S. sanctions. It said an additional two Chinese firms were added to the banned "Entities List" because they supply technology to organizations affiliated with China's People's Liberation Army. The Commerce Department also banned one Pakistani firm and five entities based in the United Arab Emirates from exporting U.S. goods. "We are putting individuals, businesses, and organizations across the world on notice that they will be held accountable for supporting Iran's WMD [weapons of mass destruction] activities and other illicit schemes," said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. "Moreover, we cannot allow China's civil-military integration strategy to undermine U.S. national security through prohibited technology transfer plots orchestrated by state actors," he added.

China Imposes Tariffs on $60 Billion in US Exports

Mon, 05/13/2019 - 21:30
China said Monday it would impose tariffs on $60 billion worth of imports from the United States, retaliating after President Donald Trump boosted taxes on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods sent to the U.S. and moved to impose duties on another $300 billion of Chinese exports. The Chinese finance ministry said its new 5 to 25 percent tax would be imposed June 1 and affect 5,140 U.S. products exported to China. Beijing said its response was targeting "U.S. unilateralism and trade protectionism." "China will never succumb to foreign pressure," the foreign ministry said. "We are determined and capable of safeguarding our legitimate rights and interests. We still hope that the U.S. will meet us half way." The new Chinese taxes came hours after Trump, on Twitter, urged China not to strike back, claiming that "China has taken so advantage of the U.S. for so many years, that they are way ahead (Our Presidents did not do the job). Therefore, China should not retaliate-will only get worse!" The escalation of the tit-for-tat tariff increases had an immediate effect on the U.S. stock market, with the key Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging 1.7 percent at the open of the week's trading in New York. The Chinese announcement came after the world's two biggest economies ended their latest trade talks Friday in Washington without reaching a deal. ‘Both sides will suffer’ Chief White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News Sunday that "both sides will suffer" from the escalating trade war. Trump claimed in another tweet, that "Their (sic) is no reason for the U.S. Consumer to pay the Tariffs, which take effect on China today." But Kudlow acknowledged, "In fact, both sides will pay. Both sides will pay in these things." The U.S. leader has claimed that the Chinese government unfairly subsidizes Chinese companies and steals intellectual property from U.S. firms to manufacture its own products. Kudlow said that in the U.S. "maybe the toughest burdens" are on farmers who sell soybeans, corn and wheat to China. But he said the Trump administration has "helped them before on lost exports" with $12 billion in past subsidies and that "we'll do it again if we have to and if the numbers show that out." Trump has said he will ask Congress to approve another $15 billion in farm subsidies to offset lost sales to China. ‘Right where we want to be’ Trump said on Twitter Sunday "We are right where we want to be with China." Trump on Friday more than doubled tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods, boosting the rate from 10% to 25%, while also moving to impose tariffs on an additional $300 billion of Chinese products, although Kudlow said it could take months for the full effect of the tariffs to be felt. China had previously imposed taxes on $110 billion of American products before Monday's tariff increase. Despite the break-off in trade talks Friday, Kudlow said, "We were moving well, constructive talks and I still think that's the case. We're going to continue the talks as the president suggested." Kudlow said Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are likely to discuss trade issues at the G20 summit in Japan at the end of June. The economic adviser renewed U.S. claims that China had backtracked from earlier agreements reached in the talks, forcing negotiators to cover "the same ground this past week." "You can't forget this: This is a huge deal, the broadest scope and scale ....two countries have ever had before," Kudlow said. "But we have to get through a lot of issues. For many years, China trade was unfair, non-reciprocal, unbalanced in many cases, unlawful." The U.S. has claimed that China steals technology and forces U.S. companies to divulge trade secrets it uses in its own production of advanced technology products. On Saturday, Trump suggested that China could be waiting to see if he wins reelection next year, but said Beijing would be "much worse" off during a second term of his in the White House.  

Taiwan MPs Urged to Back Government in Asia 1st Same-Sex Marriage Law

Mon, 05/13/2019 - 19:30
Taiwan's lawmakers must back the government's draft same-sex law and make the self-ruled island the first place in Asia to allow such unions, LGBT+ campaigners said on Monday, ahead of a key vote in parliament this week. Taiwan has until May 24 to legalize same-sex marriage after a 2017 ruling by the island's top court. The court did not give specific guidance on how laws regulating such unions should be drawn up. Parliament will vote on Friday on same-sex marriage but there are three bills that have been proposed - one by the government and two by lawmakers which LGBT+ groups have described as discriminatory. "We won't accept any more compromise because the (government's) bill is already our bottom line," said Jennifer Lu, the chief coordinator of Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan, an alliance of groups that support gay rights. "If one of the two other bills is passed, we will launch another constitutional court challenge," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Despite some limitations on adoption and foreign spouses, Lu said the government's draft law would give same-sex couples similar legal protections for marriage as heterosexuals. The coalition is urging supporters to gather outside the parliament on Tuesday and Friday ahead of the vote. Legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan has become complex after voters opposed marriage equality in a series of referendums last November, dealing a blow to the island's reputation as a beacon of liberalism in Asia. More than two-thirds of those who voted in the referendum wanted to retain the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman under the civil law. The government's bill proposed same-sex marriage to be legalized under a separate law - a move it said respected both the court ruling and the referendum results. The two other bills - proposed by a ruling and an opposition legislator respectively - offer less protections, does not recognize a gay partner as a spouse, or give relatives the right to ask for an annulment of the marriage. "A child will not be protected if their parents are not seen as spouses under the law," said Reese Li, a spokeswoman from the lobby group LGBT Family Rights Advocacy, which assists same-sex families with children. "We will only support the government's bill," added Li, who estimates there are at least 300 same-sex families in Taiwan. The same-sex marriage issue has been a challenge for President Tsai Ing-wen, who campaigned on a promise for marriage equality in the run up to 2016 polls. Conservative groups that have opposed same-sex marriage have accused the government of ignoring the referendum results and said the government's draft law was unacceptable.  

Is It Time for Vietnam’s Companies to Go Global?

Mon, 05/13/2019 - 13:25
Usually, the U.S. ambassador in Hanoi brings American interests to Vietnam, but next month he plans to take Vietnamese companies to the United States. U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel J. Kritenbrink and his team have been recruiting companies in the Southeast Asian country for a business delegation to Washington, D.C., which sparks a broader question: Is it time for Vietnam's firms to go abroad? “Investing in the United States is one of the best decisions that Vietnamese firms can make, especially as the country’s economy continues to rapidly expand,” Kritenbrink said. “As firms benefit from this expansion, they should look to expand into new markets and it’s only natural to consider one of Vietnam’s largest export markets, the United States.” U.S. economic officers have been holding events in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City throughout the year to lobby them to join the delegation to Washington, which is scheduled for June 10-12. The proposition comes as Vietnam’s economy is maturing, prompting more companies to consider if this is the time for them to take the next step in their growth and expand beyond the country's borders. As Kritenbrink noted, the U.S. is the biggest market for Vietnamese products, which is a reminder that the communist country already has a big presence in the international arena, having established itself as an export powerhouse in the past two decades. ​But Vietnam thinks it would be a major achievement if companies take it to the next level, no longer just shipping goods overseas, but actually setting up operations and offices overseas.  Some corporations have done so already, whether it’s the electronics conglomerate FPT going to Japan or the telecommunications giant Viettel servicing markets from Burundi to Peru. The trend, however, is broadening to businesses that are not as well resourced. Saigon Innovation Hub (Sihub) announced a program last year to provide support to startups that want to go abroad, a program known as Runway to the World.  “Following our strategy toward 2020, Sihub targets to gather all local and international resources to realize the key mission of boosting economic growth,” Huynh Kim Tuoc said for the launch. He is the managing director of Sihub, which is under the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Science and Technology. Supporters say going global is the natural next step in Vietnam’s evolution. In the 1980s, the communist government started allowing business activities typical of a market economy. In the 1990s, the United States lifted its trade embargo, and in the early 2000s, Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization. It has since become a leading exporter of rice, textiles and garments, and phones to the international market. Standard Chartered Bank executive Nirukt Sapru said the context helps, as Vietnam is still seeing increases in gross domestic product, foreign direct investment (FDI) and FDI-driven manufacturing. “Vietnamese mid-corporate manufacturers can capitalize on this and shield themselves from headwinds by pursuing strategies, such as investing in technologies and exploring new markets, which will help them move up the value chain,” said Sapru, who is the chief executive officer for Vietnam, Southeast Asia, and South Asia at the bank. “In fact, we are seeing an increasing number of local electronics players expressing interest to venture overseas for growth.” The headwinds he mentioned include trade challenges that could hurt Vietnam’s exports if they hurt the global economy, such as the trade war between China and the United States, slowing growth in China that could affect demand for products and services elsewhere, and U.S. President Donald Trump’s other tariff fights, such as with Japan and the European Union. By going abroad, Vietnam’s companies hope not just to strengthen their home economy from foreign trade tensions, but also to help build the national brand around the world.

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