Updated: 41 min 42 sec ago
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is hinting that the goodwill established with the United States in 2018 may not continue into 2019. In his New Year's Day address Tuesday, Kim said he would be willing to hold another summit with President Donald Trump, but demanded sanctions relief. "If the U.S. fails to carry out its promise to the world ... and remains unchanged in its sanctions and pressure upon the DPRK, we might be compelled to explore a new path for defending the sovereignty of our country and supreme interests of our state," Kim warned. Most of his New Year speech focused on the moribund North Korean economy and his desire to improve the lives of its citizens — a task that is nearly impossible if trade with North Korea is severely limited. Kim expressed a "firm will" that North Korea will no longer produce or test nuclear weapons or "use or spread" its arsenal. Negotiations between the United States and North Korea have stalled since the June summit in Singapore. Trump has reportedly questioned why the U.S. has provided the lion's share of the cost of the military alliance and defense of South Korea and has asked Seoul to contribute significantly more. Trump has also questioned the need for U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula. There were several diplomatic breakthroughs between Pyongyang and South Korea in 2018 — a sign that the South could be moving away from the U.S. and more toward the North — something that would more than please Kim. 'Blackmail' Former U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Evans Revere — who has spent many hours negotiating with North Korea — says the U.S. is sailing in uncharted and potentially dangerous waters in Korea. "The statement by the North Koreans that they might seek a new path for a new way to defend their country's sovereignty, I think, is a pretty explicit reference to their preparedness to resume nuclear and ballistic missile testing in the coming months if things do not go their way," Revere said. "It's an attempt to blackmail the United States." Revere said the U.S. and North Korea have different definitions of the word "denuclearization." He said Washington applies it to the North while Pyongyang believes it applies to the entire Korean peninsula. He said the North "is tired of hearing Secretary [of State] Pompeo and other members of the administration talk about denuclearization as the U.S. defines it." There has been no official reaction to Kim's speech from the State Department or White House. Ira Mellman contributed to this report.
During the past year, the United States and China have clashed increasingly over trade, their visions for the world and national security. In 2019, the question of whether the world's two biggest economies can work out a trade deal is something that is set to have an impact not only on their relationship, but the broader Chinese economy as well. Going forward, the trade war will be a big part of the story because of the uncertainty it creates, noted Scott Kennedy, director of the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "Not because of high tariffs per se, but the effect that it has on Chinese companies' willingness to invest at home and abroad," he said. Economic crossroads As 2018 drew to a close, the Chinese economy was at a crossroads. Real estate and retail sales started to falter. Car sales too started to sputter. The stock market dropped more than 20 percent and the government was taking measures to control unemployment. Increasingly, some academics and former officials began to question decisions the communist party has made, be it economic policy or the government's approach to the trade dispute with Washington. Some such as former World Trade Organization negotiator Long Yongtu has knocked the government's decision from the get-go in the trade war — to slap a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybean imports — calling the decision "unwise" and "ill-thought out." When the trade tussle with Washington began kicking into gear earlier last year, China repeatedly said that while it did not want a trade war it would fight to the end. There were many who expressed confidence that China would not only fight, but win. Others are not as sure. In a recent address in Shanghai, senior economist Xiang Songzuo said China needed to reflect on not only the slowing economy and mounting economic pressures, but the trade war and the impact it is having as well. "We need to reflect on the mistakes we've made. We need to reflect on the future and the real steps that we can take to lift up the economy and help it to truly continue to see stable growth," Xiang said. My way As some see it, the choice is simple: Do some heavy lifting and further liberalize or face an even sharper slowdown in economic growth. China says it wants reform, but on its own terms — a message China's powerful leader Xi Jinping drove home at recent meeting marking 40 years of reform and opening up. He also had this ominous warning: "Every step in our reform and opening up is not easy. In the future, we will inevitably face all sorts of risks and challenges, even unimaginable tempestuous storms." No one knows if 90 days will be enough for the U.S. and China to make a deal. At best, analysts said the two sides can hopefully figure out what they can take care of now and what will have to put off for later, but not forever. Grand bargain For years, the United States took a patient approach to China, trying to work with Chinese authorities bilaterally and through multilateral institutions to push forward liberalized reform. Now, that approach has shifted to one that is more impatient and sharper elbowed, analysts note. The approach is pressing China to make big changes in a short amount of time. President Donald Trump's policies are having an impact on global supply chains that is driving a shift away from China and having an impact on Chinese access to technology as well, said Jerome Cohen, a professor at New York University School of Law. "We're going to find the danger of China and the U.S. separating economically, and it is going to have a bad impact on both countries, more severe on China than on the United States," Cohen said. The arrest of high-tech giant Huawei's chief financial officer has added to the complexity of the trade tussle. For now, Washington and Beijing are trying to keep the two issues separate, but clearly, the trade war is about much more than trade. It's also about assumptions that have long been the foundation of U.S.-China relations, said Kennedy. "I think the U.S. goal still is to right the ship to find a place where we can interact with each other peacefully on the commercial side while protecting our national security. I don't think the U.S. has decided to give up and say forget it, we can't interact with these folks, we have to have a divorce. It's going to be cold war number two," he said. For now, whether that happens depends on how the Chinese respond, he added. Going forward, however, deep uncertainty at the commercial and government level will continue.
On the first day of the school year at the Asian University for Women in southern Bangladesh, groups of teenage girls in skinny jeans, sleeveless tops and T-shirts chattered, their laughter carrying through the sticky air. Formin Akter, 19, stood in a corner by a row of suitcases, facing away from the students who seemed so modern and full of confidence. Wearing a tunic and pants that hung loosely on her, she nervously adjusted a brown georgette scarf that kept slipping from her head. When she finally saw someone she recognized, she beamed, holding a card tied to red straps around her neck. "Look at my identity card!" she said, flashing it like a gold medal. Getting a college ID may have been a mildly exciting rite of passage for other new students. For Formin, a stateless Rohingya Muslim from Buddhist-dominated Myanmar, it meant the world. She had spent most of her life dreaming about this moment. But as a Rohingya in Myanmar's apartheid-like Rakhine State, her goal of attending university had been thwarted. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled a campaign of arson, rape and killing by the military since August 2017, and many of those still in the country are languishing in de facto internment camps. Raised by a father who wanted more than his peasant's life for his daughters, Formin and her older sister, Nur Jahan, had defied those in their community who believed education was wasted on women. They were the only two girls from their village ever to finish high school. Back then, the sisters made a pact. Someday, they would go to university together. In her dorm room, Formin moved her belongings into a cupboard: a small pile of clothes, a dinner plate, a steel pot. Her Burmese-English dictionary — one of the few things she had taken with her when fleeing Myanmar a year before — was tucked on the top shelf. On one of the walls of the dorm, someone had painted a quote from the Harry Potter series: "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live." A few hours to the south, in the world's largest refugee camp, her sister Nur Jahan spends her days teaching children and trying to forget how close she was to realizing her childhood dream. This year, her parents pushed her to accept a young man's proposal; now, she is married and pregnant, and must stay at home. Formin said her sister calls her every day. Formin is excited about college, but she knows she's a constant reminder of the education that her sister, and hundreds of thousands of other Rohingya women, can't have. "I miss my sister more than anything else," she said. "Every time I spent with her, I miss." Skipping a rope in a remote village The two girls loved to skip rope together when they were growing up in Hlaing Thi, an all-Muslim village of about 6,000 people in Rakhine, one of Myanmar's poorest and least-developed states. Now the village where the girls grew up is no longer home. Scores of Rohingya houses in northern Rakhine, including those in Hlaing Thi, were burned and abandoned in what the United Nations has called an "ethnic cleansing" carried out with "genocidal intent." Satellite images show what remains of the village: rolling green interspersed with the fields that former neighbors left behind, cut here and there by narrow streams. Formin would visit one of those streams every day with her mother to collect drinking water in plastic pails. Since the military launched its crackdown in August 2017, more than 730,000 Rohingya have fled northern Rakhine for neighbouring Bangladesh. About 15,000 fled this year alone. Myanmar's government denies committing abuses against the Rohingya, saying the military action in northern Rakhine came in response to attacks by Muslim militants. Still, the country doesn't grant most Rohingya citizenship, and Myanmar authorities refer to the Rohingya as "Bengali," a derogatory term because it implies they are interlopers from Bangladesh. The government and the military didn't respond to questions about specific incidents in this story. Restrictions on education, employment and travel meant most Rohingya were like Formin's father, farmers or day laborers largely cut off from the outside world. According to a 2015 survey by the Yangon-based Center for Diversity and National Harmony, Rakhine had the country's lowest literacy levels and the lowest rates of primary and secondary school enrollment in Myanmar. Rohingya students struggle to understand teachers because their language isn't recognized in the public school system. But Formin's uncle, Sayat Hossain, showed what was possible against the odds. Admitted to an engineering college in 1994 in the then-capital, Yangon, he was forced to leave school after it was shut down in response to pro-democracy protests two years later, and he fled Myanmar to find work as a day laborer in Malaysia. Eventually he made his way to asylum in Norway, where he now works as a translator. "My uncle studied, so he is in Norway. My father didn't study, so he is a farmer," Formin said. For many in Formin's village, her uncle was something of a local hero. "There was no family like theirs in the village," Mohammed Bashar, the Rohingya chairman of Hlaing Thi, said from a refugee camp in Bangladesh. "They understood the value of an education." Formin's father, Mohammed Hossain, imagined a happier future for his daughters. "You get respect when you have an education," he said. "Illiterate people have to do hard work, but educated people can find comfortable work. I wanted that for my girls." In 2012, when Formin was 13 and Nur Jahan was 16, an international humanitarian group was operating schools for children in need of a secondary school education in northern Rakhine. It offered the sisters the chance to study under a program that would cover their tuition and living expenses. But they would have to move away from home. There were murmurs of disapproval in the village. "People thought the girls would be ruined," said Bashar, the former village chairman. Formin's father said he was often told by fellow villagers: "No matter how much you make them study, they have to sit at home and cook for their husbands. What is the point?" But he allowed his daughters to go away to school — just as racial and religious tensions in Rakhine boiled over. Malala on the radio In a white notebook with pink flowers, Formin kept a diary. "I wrote about some happy and sad things every day," she said. "If someone said anything bad about me, I used to write about that." In maintaining that diary, Formin had unconsciously started creating a record of events in Rakhine that few in the largely illiterate population were documenting firsthand. "At that time, we didn't have TV, radio or mobile," she said, matter-of-factly. Just weeks after Formin and her sister began school away from their village, communal violence broke out. It was June 2012, and thousands were displaced across Rakhine State as Buddhists and Muslims torched each other's homes. "We saw the military shoot two people going on a motorcycle," Formin said. Schools were shut, travel was risky, and the hostel where she and other students lived had to close. Authorities responded to the violence, in part, by barring the Rohingya from enrolling in the only university in Rakhine State, citing unspecified "security concerns," according to a report by U.N. investigators earlier this year. That effectively denied the Rohingya access to higher education, which was already limited because of travel restrictions, the report said. But that didn't break the sisters' determination to keep studying. Formin and Nur Jahan moved to a secondary school in Kyein Chaung, a village with a bustling market where Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus ran shops alongside each other. Kyein Chaung had been largely untouched by the wave of violence in 2012, and things began to look hopeful. In 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy swept elections and came to power in a country that had long been ruled by generals. Many Rohingya rooted for Suu Kyi, who had been a political prisoner, believing she would put an end to their persecution. Nur Jahan, three years older, had finished high school and was teaching children for an international nongovernmental organization. She wanted Formin to graduate, like her, and was paying her sister's study costs with her NGO salary. At school in Kyein Chaung, Formin met a teacher, Ali Ahmed, who was one of the few Rohingya licensed to teach in public schools. He says he encouraged her and other Rohingya students to dream big. "Master Ali," as the students called him, would often pepperhis lectures with inspiring stories, sometimes pulled from news reports he heard on the small radio he kept. That was how he first heard about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani peace and education rights activist. He took the story to Formin's class with a challenge: "If she can go to Oxford from Pakistan, why can't you?" Formin was struck by the story from the moment she heard how a young Muslim woman from rural Pakistan stood up to the Taliban, survived a gunshot wound to the head from a would-be assassin and, in 2014, won the Nobel Peace Prize. At home, she told her family all about Malala. "Did you know they put a gunto her head?" Formin said. "She is a great girl. She cares about education, not other things." In her class, she also heard the story of Helen Keller's remarkable education. Her sister Nur Jahan found her a copy of Keller's autobiography, and she read it with the same rapt admiration. "She is blind, but she didn't stop learning," Formin said. "We can see everything … we can't stop studying." The heroic stories of Malala and Helen kept her dreams of university alive. And she began to nurture another desire: to become an inspiration for Rohingya girls like her. Could she pass her exam? On Oct. 8, 2016, Formin remembers, she went to bed early because she had a physics and chemistry test the next morning. When she woke before dawn for a final round of study, all the students in her lodgings were already up. Overnight, dozens of Muslim militants armed with sticks, knives and homemade weapons had launched an attack on police outposts. The attack marked the emergence of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a group that claimed to be fighting for the rights of the Rohingya. In the early light, Formin said, she could see soldiers fanning out across the village. She heard gunfire. The students hunkered down in their lodgings, afraid to move. Some 80,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in the months that followed, many claiming soldiers had torched homes, arrested and tortured suspected militants and raped women. Once again, schools were shut, and gradually reopened over the next few weeks. But Formin's parents had no plans of sending her back this time. They were terrified. It wasn't until four months later, as Formin's high school graduation exam neared, that her parents finally relented. They were still fearful, her mother said, but they also wanted to prove wrong those in the village who had predicted that Formin would fail. Formin and her father made the risky trip back to her high school to take the test. Of the 150 girls who sat for the exam at the Kyein Chaung school in March 2017, only four would pass. Myanmar's Education Ministry typically puts matriculation results on Facebook, but Formin's village rarely had a connection. She asked a friend in another village to look for her roll number on the list of those who had passed, but the friend couldn't find it. Formin cried for days. One evening, one of her teachers called and asked her: "Formin, your roll number is 542?" "I said yes." "OK," he said. "You passed your exam." ‘I thought I was going to die’ Formin returned to school to receive her diploma. But once again, violence intervened. The militant group ARSA had waged a more ambitious attack in the early hours of Aug. 25, 2017, across security posts in northern Rakhine. In the military's response, the U.N. said, entire Rohingya villages were razed, scores of women were raped and murdered, and an estimated 10,000 people, if not more, were killed. The military denies these allegations and says it made a proportionate response to militant attacks. As houses went up in flames in Hlaing Thi, Formin's mother called her at her lodgings. "Our village is burning. We are leaving for Bangladesh," she said. "What will you do, Formin?" Formin didn't know what to do. She felt paralyzed as the rattle of bullets went on and on around her. For the first time in her life, she said, she felt hope slipping away, and she cried, cried because she was scared for her life, and cried for her dream of attending college. "I thought I was going to die," she said. "I thought that would be the last day of my life." Formin remained locked up inside her lodgings for two days. But as she saw local Buddhists and the military start to burn houses in the village, an account that echoes those of other eyewitnesses on both sides of the conflict in Rakhine, she decided to escape with five schoolmates. She was in a panic over how to get away. From afar, her sister Nur Jahan helped her once again. "She didn't know the way. When I called her on the phone, Formin was crying," Nur Jahan said. "There was military everywhere." "Just follow the people," Nur Jahan told her. Using the dim light of a small phone her father had given her, Formin walked with crowds of people heading toward the border through monsoon-drenched forests and streams, protecting her belongings that were wrapped carefully in plastic under her arm. The group moved by night to avoid security forces and civilian mobs, stopping at abandoned houses for shelter. Along the way, Formin said, she saw several bodies. At the border with Bangladesh, Formin paid the equivalent of $10 to a boatman to cross the Naf River. On a wooden boat with nine other people, she reached the other shore and a refugee camp that would become a home in exile. When she was reunited with her family at the camp, one of the first things she asked about was her books back home. Between tears, her mother told her the house had burned down. Formin's most prized possessions had turned to ash. Gone too, was a small pink-and-white notebook, her first diary. A sister left behind Almost exactly a year since she had fled her country to reach the refugee camps of Bangladesh, Formin was preparing to leave. She was going to college. "I am happy, but nervous," she said, blushing, as she sat on her knees on the mud floor of a hut. She and 24 other Rohingya girls from the refugee camps had been accepted to the university's "Pathways to Promise" program, which offers a full scholarship to selected young women in marginalized communities. She dipped a hand into a purse to fish out a compact face powder with a mirror. She held the mirror in one hand and with the other lightly dabbed the peach-colored powder onto her cheeks with the puff, moving her face from left to right. "I have watched makeup videos," she said, giggling. She also now had a smartphone that she'd bought with her earnings from working as a translator and community health worker for NGOs in the camp. She had filled it with language learning apps: Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, English; and a Bollywood movie about a Hindu boy and Muslim girl who flee communal riots together, and eventually get married. But marriage hasn't been a fairytale ending for her sister Nur Jahan. In May, Nur Jahan married a Rohingya from their village. Like Formin, she had been desperate to continue studying, but she was older, and there was no guarantee the university program in Chittagong would come through. "After coming here, we were worried about our daughters' future. The situation became uncertain," their father said. "She has younger sisters who are growing fast." So when a proposal came from a fellow refugee who had spent time working in Saudi Arabia, her parents pushed her to accept. Her husband declined to allow Nur Jahan to be interviewed alone. She sat in a chair with her back straight and legs folded, listening attentively and speaking enthusiastically about her relationship with Formin and their life back in Hlaing Thi. But midway during talk of college, as Nur Jahan tried to stay composed in front of her husband, her voice cracked, and she started to cry. "Our father was very poor, but he helped a lot for our studies," she said. "We made a pact that we would go to college together, and after we finished our education, we would help our father any way we can." Her 79-year-old grandfather, Nur Ahmed, said: "Nur Jahan is even smarter than Formin. She would do even better at college. "I know she is sad. We are also sad. We wish we had waited. But now we cannot do anything. I am happy for Formin, but I feel bad for Nur Jahan. She still blames us Formin is hoping to study law after she completes her five-year university program, including two years spent improving her English, math and comprehension skills. "I am a Rohingya. If I become a lawyer, I can do something for the cause of the Rohingya," she said. She reflected on her role models, Malala and Helen Keller. And she spoke of another woman whom she revered. Growing up, she said, she idolized Suu Kyi, who has drawn international criticism for her silence on the plight of the Rohingya. "Yes, yes, I really liked her!" she said. "We thought that woman stood for everyone." If she ever met Suu Kyi, she said, she would ask her: "I am Rohingya, but I am also a woman like you. We are all women like you. Please put yourself in our place. What do you feel?"
Over the past year, the United States and China have clashed increasingly over trade, their visions for the world and national security. And in 2019, the question of whether the world's two biggest economies can work out a trade deal is something that is set to have an impact not only their relationship but the broader Chinese economy as well. VOA's Bill Ide has this report.
Thailand has become the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize medical marijuana, but the fine print of the legislation has left advocates of the drug's healing potential with mixed feelings. Since the bill was passed on Christmas Eve, some medical marijuana advocates have expressed disappointment the legislation will effectively exclude the private sector from the lucrative industry, worth tens of billions of dollars globally, in favor of government agencies. Voice of America sat down with Thailand's Office of Narcotics Control Bureau Secretary-General Niyom Termsrisuk to find out who exactly will be able to grow, sell, buy and regulate medical marijuana in a country where it has long been a strictly prohibited substance. Speaking through an interpreter, Termsrisuk told VOA that private firms would be able to cultivate, produce and sell medical marijuana, provided they were two-thirds owned by Thai nationals. "From the cultivation to delivering to the patient, it will be under the law and regulation controlled by the committee. If it fits in the regulation and the qualifications that we have, so (then) yes, they can do it," he said. Authorized government agencies, including those overseeing Thai traditional medicine, individual licensed medical doctors; educational institutions and community farmer cooperatives, would all be permitted to cultivate the crop. "We will designate the process and procedure that is standardized so that if any organization comes to fit into that standard that we set, they will have the authority to do it," Termsrisuk said. "But they need to be authorized and registered under the law. And apart from that, it will be in the consideration of the minister of public health but also approved by the committee," he added. There will be strict controls on cultivation, including a mandate that all medical marijuana is grown indoors — which is intended to help prevent illegal practices and ensure quality — but that significantly increases the cost of cultivation. Chokwan Kitty Chopaka, an activist with Highlands Network, has enthusiastically welcomed the legalization but said there were numerous caveats in the legislation that made commercial cultivation effectively precluded. "All of those (groups) are allowed, but only if they are working under the control of those that have the license," she said, adding these licenses were restricted to government research institutions and universities. "But it's not really for commercial purposes, I would say, because it strictly said research, and it also said mainly for teaching," she said. Chopaka was also critical of a five-year restriction the law places on any expansion of these licenses, and a two-year mandated review that she says could, in theory, result in a complete reversal of legalization if the impacts are assessed to be negative. Nevertheless, the law represents a dramatic shift in a country where strongly conservative drug politics have been underlined by zero-tolerance policies, harsh sentencing laws and a brutal war on drugs. A perception of all drug use as evil had been reinforced through Thai educational institutions and political messaging, though cannabis had been used traditionally for centuries, Chopaka said. But as countries such as Canada, a member of the G-7, brought in full nationwide legalization, attitudes in Thailand had also begun to slowly shift, she said. "So, I think the way it's being done, it is baby steps and like they just want to test out the water," she said. Keeping tight control Marijuana-based medicines will be permitted for patients suffering chemotherapy side effects and from Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and as a Thai tradition remedy for cancer pain, according to the ONCB. Thailand's Government Pharmaceutical Organization is already working on strain selection, breed improvement, cultivation and harvesting to produce medicines targeting these conditions. Both medical doctors and Thai traditional healers will be able to prescribe these medications under Thailand's Food and Drug Administration and Ministry of Health. But individuals, including patients, will not be permitted to personally grow marijuana at home, and recreational legalization is not on the agenda for the time being, the ONCB said. "It's almost as strict as Australia but probably not that strict, because (in) Australia, the main rule around it was it has to be your last choice. You have to try all the other stuff first before you use cannabis," Chopaka said of the Thai government's legalization model. Dr. Somyot Kittimunkong, who has stood at the forefront of cannabis legalization advocacy in Thailand, is deeply unhappy with restrictions in the law he believes will cut local farmers out of the medical marijuana market. "This is the main issue — that if they want to help the people at the grassroots level, like the farmers, I think they should allow the Thai farmers to grow for export for making drugs to treat the people," he said. Somyot also interprets the law as constraining commercial entities to cultivation for research only, which he says is unnecessary given the volume of cannabis studies that have already been conducted worldwide. He said mandated indoor cultivation would increase the cost of production by about five times in a country with very good conditions to grow marijuana outside. Mana Siriphittayawat, director of the Legal Affairs Bureau at the ONCB, said that he understood the law may have fallen short of some expectations but defended tight controls to ensure quality and prevent illicit misuse. "We will monitor and control those two things, the production and cultivation, under the necessity (of) using it for medical purposes within the country," he said. Though not yet fully developed, long term the government was looking to develop Thailand's medical marijuana business for export, he said. "We have a vision in developing the medical cannabis business."
Rescuers recovered six more bodies buried under tons of mud from a landslide that crashed onto a hilly village on Indonesia's main island of Java, bringing the death toll to 15, officials said Tuesday. The landslide that plunged down surrounding hills just before sunset Monday buried 30 houses in Sirnaresmi village in West Java's Sukabumi district. Sixty people who lost their homes were forced to move to a temporary shelter, said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho. Television video showed relatives wailing as they watched rescuers pull a mud-caked body from a devastated hamlet. It was placed in a blue bag and taken away for burial. Authorities struggled to bring tractors and other heavy equipment over washed-out roads after torrential rains sent mud and rocks crashing onto the hilly hamlets. Hundreds of police, soldiers and residents dug through the debris with their bare hands, shovels and hoes as heavy rain hindered their efforts. "Lack of equipment, bad weather and a blackout hampered our rescue efforts for those who are still missing and feared dead," Nugroho said. Made Oka Astawa, head of the operations division at the National Search and Rescue Agency, said the six bodies were found under 4 meters (13 feet) of mud with the help of two excavators that managed to reach the devastated area. Astawa said rescuers also pulled out four injured people, including an infant who died in a hospital. Twenty villagers are still believed to be missing. He said the search effort was halted late Tuesday due to darkness and heavy rains that made the landslide areas unstable. The operation is to be resumed early Wednesday. Seasonal rains and high tides in recent days have caused dozens of landslides and widespread flooding across much of Indonesia, a chain of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile flood plains close to rivers. The landslide occurred during New Year's Eve celebrations. On Dec. 22, the Anak Krakatau volcano in the Sunda Strait erupted and partially collapsed into the sea, causing a tsunami that killed at least 437 people on Java and Sumatra islands. At least 16 people are still missing and more than 33,700 residents were displaced.
Thousands of demonstrators marched in the streets of Hong Kong on New Year's Day to protest China's apparent tightening grip on the semi-autonomous territory. Pro-democracy activists have become alarmed over a series actions taken by Hong Kong's pro-Beijing government, including banning the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party for reasons of national security, rejecting the renewal of a visa of a Western journalist who hosted a forum with the head of the party, and barring pro-democracy candidates from running in local elections. Several pro-independence activists were among the protesters taking part in Tuesday's march. Hong Kong's youth-driven pro-democracy movement sprung from the massive 2014 pro-democracy "Umbrella Revolution" demanding fully free elections. Hong Kong has enjoyed numerous freedoms under the "one country, two systems" formula established when Britain relinquished control of the territory in 1997, including the right to assembly and free speech.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is warning that the current goodwill with the United States could end if Washington continues to impose sanctions to force his regime to denuclearize. In his annual New Year's Day address, Kim said it was his "firm will" that North Korea will no longer produce or test nuclear weapons, nor would it "use or spread" its arsenal. He added he was prepared to hold another meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump this year. But he said his country may have to take another path unless Washington takes "corresponding measures." He also called on the United States and South Korea to end all joint military drills. Kim Jong Un and President Trump signed a vague agreement during their historic summit in Singapore last June, but further negotiations have stalled over Pyongyang’s demand for front-loaded sanctions relief tied to small progress, and its opposition to Washington’s call for complete denuclearization prior to granting any concessions. North Korea is also demanding that the United States and South Korea first issue a peace declaration to formally end hostilities and replace the armistice that has been in effect since the Korean War ended in 1953. Critics worry a peace declaration could undermine the justification for the U.S. military presence in South Korea. Despite Kim's warning, South Korea's Unification Ministry welcomed his address, saying it reflected Kim's commitment towards complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula, and the continued improvement of inter-Korean relations. Tuesday's speech was delivered exactly one year after Kim announced his willingness to send a contingent of North Korean athletes to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea the following month. The speech set off a series of diplomatic breakthroughs, including three summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the meeting with President Trump.
Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn will have his official coronation on May 4, the palace announced Tuesday. The coronation will be more than two years after Vajiralongkorn succeeded his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died at age 88 after reigning for seven decades. The palace said the coronation ceremonies for Vajiralongkorn, 66, will be held on May 4-6, with the monarch making a public appearance on the last day. Bhumibol's coronation, held almost four years after he was named king, took place in 1950 on May 5, a date that is a public holiday in Thailand. Major royal ceremonies in Thailand are usually very ornate, but Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said in June last year that Vajiralongkorn had expressed the desire that his coronation be held in a relatively modest manner, though in keeping with elaborate royal tradition. Vajiralongkorn gave a New Year's Eve address televised Monday night, wishing the Thai people good health, happiness and prosperity, and urging them to act virtuously for the sake of the nation. His New Year's greeting card, another tradition, expressed similar sentiments.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen says China must accept Taiwan's status as a self-ruled island. In a New Year's Day address from her office, President Tsai said China had to "respect the insistence of 23 million people for freedom and democracy," and for both sides to face the reality that there are fundamental differences between their "values and lifestyles" and political systems. Relations between Beijing and Taipei have been strained since Tsai, the leader of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, took office in 2016 and refused to accept the concept of China and Taiwan joined together as one China. Beijing has mounted an aggressive posture towards the self-ruled island, carrying out numerous military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, blocking Taipei's participation in international organizations, and persuading several nations to switch diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China. President Tsai called on China to seek "peaceful" ways to sort out their differences.
At least eight people were injured when a man deliberately drove his car into a crowded Tokyo street filled with people who had gathered for the city's New Year's festivities. The incident happened shortly after midnight Tuesday on Takeshita Street in the city's popular Harajuku fashion district near the Meiji Shrine. Police took a man in his 20s into custody and charged him with suspicion of attempted murder.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Tuesday he hopes to extend his high-stakes nuclear summitry with President Donald Trump into 2019, but also warns Washington not to test North Koreans' patience with sanctions and pressure. During his televised New Year's speech, Kim said he's ready to meet with Trump at any time to produce an outcome "welcomed by the international community." However, he said the North will be forced to take a different path if the United States "continues to break its promises and misjudges our patience by unilaterally demanding certain things and pushes ahead with sanctions and pressure." Kim also said the United States should continue to halt its joint military exercises with ally South Korea and not deploy strategic military assets to the South. He also made a nationalistic call urging stronger inter-Korean cooperation and said the North is ready to resume operations at a jointly run factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and restart South Korean tours to the North's Diamond Mountain resort. Neither of those is possible for South Korea unless sanctions are removed. Some analysts say North Korea has been trying to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul while putting the larger burden of action on the United States. Pyongyang over the past months has accused Washington of failing to take corresponding measures following the North's unilateral dismantlement of a nuclear testing ground and suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests. Kim used his New Year's speech a year ago to start a newfound diplomatic approach with Seoul and Washington, which led to three summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and a historic June summit with Trump in Singapore. Kim also met three times with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which boosted his leverage by reintroducing Beijing — Pyongyang's main ally — as a major player in the diplomatic process to resolve the nuclear standoff. Stalled talks But nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled in recent months as they struggle with the sequencing of North Korea's disarmament and the removal of U.S.-led sanctions against the North. The North has also bristled at U.S. demands to provide a detailed account of nuclear and missile facilities that would be inspected and dismantled under a potential deal. The hardening stalemate has fueled doubts on whether Kim will ever voluntarily relinquish the nuclear weapons and missiles he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival. In his meetings with Trump and Moon, Kim signed vague statements calling for the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it would occur. But North Korea for decades has been pushing a concept of denuclearization that bears no resemblance to the American definition, with Pyongyang vowing to pursue nuclear development until the United States removes its troops and the nuclear umbrella defending South Korea and Japan. The North in a blunt statement last month reiterated its traditional stance on denuclearization, saying it will never unilaterally give up its weapons unless Washington removes what Pyongyang describes as a nuclear threat. Washington and Pyongyang have yet to reschedule a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean officials after the North canceled it at the last minute in November. There are views that North Korea wants a quick second summit because it thinks it can win major concessions from Trump that they probably couldn't from lower-level U.S. officials, who are more adamant about the North committing to inspections and verification.
History shows that cooperation is the best choice for both China and the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Donald Trump in a congratulatory message Tuesday to mark 40 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations. The two countries are currently engaged in a truce in their bitter trade war, holding talks to try and end a dispute that has seen them level increasingly severe tariffs on each others' imports. In his message to Trump, Xi said China-U.S. relations have experienced ups and downs and made historic progress over the past four decades, state news agency Xinhua said. This has brought huge benefits to the two peoples and has contributed greatly to world peace, stability and prosperity, Xi added. "History has proved that cooperation is the best choice for both sides," Xi said. Sino-U.S. relations are in an important stage, he added. "I attach great importance to the development of China-U.S. relations and am willing to work with President Trump to summarize the experience of the development of China-U.S. relations and implement the consensus we have reached in a joint effort to advance China-U.S. relations featuring coordination, cooperation and stability so as to better benefit the two peoples as well as the people of the rest of the world," he said. This year marks a series of sensitive anniversaries for China, including, in June, 30 years since the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square. On Wednesday, Xi will make his first public appearance at an anniversary-related event, giving a speech about self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its sacred territory, on the 40th anniversary of a key policy statement that led to a thaw in relations with the island.
Australia has issued a statement raising concerns about China's detention of two Canadian citizens after foreign policy experts questioned why Canberra had been silent. The arrests of entrepreneur Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, a former former diplomat, earlier this month came after Canada detained a Huawei executive in Vancouver at the request of the United States. There was swift condemnation of the arrest of two Canadians by the European Union, Britain, Germany and France. They were concerned about the apparent political motivation of their detention. China accused Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig of endangering state security. Despite the international outcry Australia, another of Canada's key western allies, stayed silent. There was no official explanation but a group of 30 academics and former diplomats signed a petition urging Canberra to call for the pair to be freed. Shoulder-to-shoulder Rory Medcalf, the head of the National Security College at the Australian National University says Australia must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Canada. "If middle-sized democracies do not stand together against offensive behavior by China on the international stage they one-by-one we will be subjected to similar punishment or bullying on those occasions when our interests clash with China’s,” Medcalf said. In response, Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne has issued a brief statement, which does not back Canada's call for the two men to be immediately released. "The Australian government is concerned about the recent detention of two Canadian citizens in China,” Payne said. “We would be very concerned if these cases were related to legal proceedings currently under way in Canada involving a Chinese citizen, Ms Meng Wanzhou." Trading partners China is Australia's biggest trading partner. But relations have soured in recent times over allegations that Beijing has meddled in Australia's domestic politics, while Canberra has been accused by China of cyber espionage. Earlier this month, Australia said its companies were among the global victims of an extensive campaign of cyber espionage attacks backed by the Chinese government. Canberra said cybercrime had "the potential to undermine global economic growth, national security and international stability."
China's factory activity shrank in December for the first time in more than two years, an official survey showed Monday, intensifying pressure on Beijing to reverse an economic slowdown as it enters trade talks with the Trump administration. The purchasing managers' index of the National Bureau of Statistics and an industry group, the China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing, fell to 49.4 from November's 50.0 on a 100-point scale. Any reading below 50 shows that activity is contracting. The December figure was the lowest since February 2016 and the first drop since July 2016. In the quarter that ended in September, China's economic growth sank to a post-global crisis low of 6.5 percent compared with a year earlier. The slowdown occurred despite government efforts to stem the downturn by ordering banks to lend more and by boosting spending on public works construction. Forecasters expect annual growth of about 6.5 percent, down slightly from 2017's 6.7 percent. But some industry segments, including auto and real estate sales, have suffered more serious declines. "Downward pressure on the economy is still large," economist Zhang Liqun said in a statement issued with the PMI. Overall orders and exports both contracted, indicating that Chinese factories are suffering from weak demand at home and abroad. Exports to the United States kept growing at double-digit monthly rates through late 2018 despite President Donald Trump's punitive tariffs. But growth in exports to the rest of the world fell sharply in November and forecasters expect American demand to weaken in early 2019. That adds to complications for Chinese leaders who are trying to reverse a broad economic slowdown and avert politically dangerous job losses. Chinese and U.S. envoys are due to meet in early January for negotiations that are intended to resolve their economically threatening trade war. Over the weekend, Trump sounded an optimistic note, tweeting that he had spoken with President Xi Jinping by phone. "Deal is moving along very well," Trump tweeted. "If made, it will be very comprehensive, covering all subjects, areas and points of dispute. Big progress being made!" But economists say the 90-day moratorium on new penalties that was agreed to by Trump and Xi on Dec. 1 is likely too little time to resolve their sprawling dispute. Chinese economic activity already was weakening after Beijing tightened controls on bank lending in late 2017 to cool a debt boom. The downturn was more abrupt than expected, which prompted regulators to shift course and ease credit controls. But they moved gradually to avoid reigniting a rise in debt. Their measures have yet to put a floor under declining growth. Chinese leaders promised at an annual economic planning meeting in mid-December to shore up growth with tax cuts, easier lending for entrepreneurs and other steps.
China has advised the United States against staging an abrupt troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and called for collective international efforts to help initiate a peace process between the South Asian nation's warring parties. The remarks by a top Chinese diplomat Sunday in neighboring Pakistan come amid unconfirmed media reports suggesting President Donald Trump has ordered pulling out half of the more than 14,000 U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan. “They [U.S.] have been in Afghanistan for 17 years. If they are leaving the country, they should try to leave in a gradual and a responsible way,” said Lijian Zhao, deputy Chinese ambassador in Islamabad. Speaking to Pakistani television station GTV News, Lijian emphasized the need for the Taliban and Afghan government to sit together and negotiate a political resolution to a war he said has been going on for nearly 40 years. Only an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process supported by international partners of Afghanistan could help end the hostilities, Lijian noted. “If a civil war broke out after the U.S. withdrawal, the first countries affected will be Pakistan, will be China, and it will be the immediate neighbors. So, we have to sit together with the parties concerned so that we start a peace process,” he said. The U.S. has recently engaged in direct talks with the Taliban to convince them to engage in peace negotiations with the Afghan government. But reports of a potential U.S. withdrawal from the country have worried critics who say the move would reduce the incentive for insurgents to halt fighting and negotiate a deal. Terrorism in Xinjiang Lijian reiterated Beijing’s worries that a volatile Afghanistan would encourage terrorists linked to the outlawed East Turkistan Islamic Movement, or ETIM, to foment violence in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang. The militant group claims to be fighting for the rights of the Uighur Muslim community in Xinjiang, which shares a border with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. “They are still in Afghanistan. They are still posing a threat to the national security of Xinjiang, of China. What they want is to establish a separate state, to separate Xinjiang out of China. This is totally unacceptable to China. So, we will work with the Afghan government to try to eliminate this group,” Lijian pledged. The Chinese diplomat rejected as "groundless Western propaganda" reports that his country was suppressing religious freedom and the rights of Uighur Muslims in the name of fighting terrorism. Rights issues in Xinjiang International human rights groups have expressed concerns that China is forcing Uighur and other Muslim minorities to quit their religious beliefs in internment camps set up in Xinjiang under the guise of vocational education centers. Lijian noted that ETIM is declared a terrorist organization by the United Nations. He said that Chinese authorities, particularly those in Xinjiang, have taken measures against terrorists linked to the group, which has resulted in “zero” incidents of terrorism in the last two years. The Chinese diplomat lamented that Western media describe counterterrorism moves in other parts of the world as "actions for maintaining peace,” but they become human rights issues when China undertakes similar actions. “This is totally [a] double standard and Western propaganda. They are just badmouthing about China,” Lijian said. The Chinese diplomat asserted that Xinjiang is open to international visits, and people can go there to see for themselves that the rights of Uighur Muslims are fully protected.
Moscow rang in the New Year with fireworks over Red Square, concerts and light shows across the city's parks. More than 1,000 ice rinks were also opened in the Russian capital for celebrators. Russia ushered in the new year over several time zones, having started in far eastern Kamchatka. Much of the Middle East has also rang in the New Year. Revelers in Dubai saw fireworks and a colorful light show at the world's tallest tower, Burj Khalif. In the United Arab Emirates, a fireworks display in Ras al-Khaimah reaching nearly 12 kilometers attempted to set a new Guinness World Record. Australia, New Zealand, and surrounding Pacific Island nations were among the first countries to ring in 2019 with fireworks and other celebrations. Monday evening thunderstorms threatened the fireworks show in Sydney, but an estimated 1 million people gathered around various points in Australia's largest city to witness the annual show. More than 400 couples in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta rang in the New Year by participating in a mass wedding ceremony amid tight security. Thousands of spectators gathered in the South Korean capital of Seoul for a laser show, as well as a fireworks display at the city's COEX Mall, as a traditional bell-tolling ceremony rang in 2019 at City Hall. In Japan, many locals went to temples to celebrate the New Year, while others attended an exhibition match between retired U.S. boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather and Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa — a multimillion-dollar fight outside of Tokyo that Mayweather said "was all about entertainment." The United Nations issued a somber warning to the world of continued threats of climate change, growing intolerance, geopolitical divisions and inequality, but also expressed "reasons for hope." A group of journalists will usher in the New Year Monday along with tens of thousands of expected revelers in New York City's Times Square as the time-honored tradition of the annual ball drop recognizes journalism and free speech. In another first, New York police will use a drone to monitor the crowds. The camera-carrying drone will be added to the arsenal of more than 1,200 fixed video cameras that will be deployed by police.
China's pace of reforms will not "stagnate" and its door will open wider and wider, President Xi Jinping said on Monday in his New Year message, as he also warned of challenges ahead. Xi has repeatedly pledged his support for reform this year, as China marks 40 years since landmark economic reforms, amid mounting pressure to accelerate reforms and improve market access for foreign companies as a trade war with the United States weighs on the economy. In a speech carried by all major state media, Xi said that in 2018 China had pushed more than 100 important reform measures. "The world has seen a China whose reforms and opening up have gathered speed, and has seen China's determination to follow through with reforms and opening up," Xi said. "Our pace of reforms will not stagnate, and the door to opening up will widen further." Xi did not make specific mention of the trade war with the United States, noting that 2019 would bring "opportunities and challenges." "As we open our eyes to look at the world, we are faced with huge changes, changes not seen in 100 years," he added, without elaborating. "No matter how the international situation changes, China's confidence and determination to safeguard national sovereignty and security will not change. China's sincerity and goodwill for maintaining world peace and promoting common development will not change."
Two people are dead after a bomb went off at the entrance of a shopping mall in the southern Philippines. More than two dozen others were wounded in the attack in the city of Cotabato Monday. Police later discovered a second bomb that had not detonated in another part of the mall. No group or individual has claimed credit for the bombing. The southern Philippines has been plagued for decades by a violent insurgency by Muslim separatists that has left thousands of people dead. President Rodrigo Duterte placed much of the region under martial law in 2017 after armed separatists seized control of the city of Marawi for several months that year.
Vietnam has earned a name as the chief haven for multinationals hoping to avoid the Sino-U.S. trade dispute of 2018. The Philippines, another Southeast Asian country that has pushed to pick up foreign investment, aims to follow suit. The Philippines boasts young workers skilled in English, quick infrastructure upgrades and a tax system overhaul – though fuel prices and periodic political unrest may check progress, people familiar with the country say. The government approved $17.2 billion in investments, up 47 percent over 2017, the Board of Investments announced on December 24. Those figures “blew past expectations,” the board said. “We do have a market, a growing middle class and qualified workers, but there are economic and political factors that affect the level of confidence among investors, particularly foreign investors,” said Maria Ela Atienza, political science professor at University of the Philippines Diliman. Perks in the Philippines The Philippines would attract foreign investment in part because of its $169 billion infrastructure renewal, Atienza said. The rebuilding is set to run through 2022 and get funding partly by money from China and Japan. “I’m sure the additional financing they’ve been offered is very helpful for them to develop their economy, and the Philippines knows it very much needs infrastructure development to become more competitive,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit. Though too early to say, new infrastructure might help develop energy sources and lower electricity prices that otherwise deter investors, the professor said. Multinationals also consider the English language ability and other skills among workers, she said. Another sought-after skill: training in healthcare. Minimum wages for most manufacturers as well as in the service sectors will rise to $9.50 per day, on par with some of China’s lower pay. “The workforce is still young, so whatever the needs of the new economy will be, the Philippines can provide, given its young workforce,” said Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist with Banco de Oro UniBank in Metro. A tax reform bill, if implemented in Manila, will lead to an “influx” of investment in manufacturing, he said. He was referring to part two of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion, which would cut corporate income tax. The Philippine Economic Zone Authority further helps secure investment by offering “facilitation,” said Carl Baker, director of programs with Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu. China, Japan try it out China topped the list of foreign investors in the Philippines in 2018 with $927 million worth of commitments, up from just $10 million a year ago, the government board said. Like multinationals, companies in China are looking to other countries as an export base that will not trip U.S. tariffs. Japanese companies also expressed particular interest in the past year, Ravelas said. In 2017, Seiko Epson opened a $143 million plant south of Manila. The plant will make projectors and inkjet printers. Around the same time, Shin-Etsu Magnetic Philippines, which produces magnets for electronic devices, opened its eighth plant in the country. Foreign investors that produce exports in China face U.S. import tariffs on $250 billion worth of goods, one result of a trade dispute that consumed the past year. U.S. President Donald Trump regards China as an unfair trading partner. Philippine officials have been drumming up support for foreign investment over the past half-decade as manufacturing costs rise in China. Deterrents to investment Investors have kept away from the Philippines because of its archipelagic location – hard for transport – limits on foreign ownership, and utility rates. Electricity prices, a reflection of underlying energy costs, deter some investors as they top the rest of Southeast Asia except Singapore at $0.11 per kilowatt hour. Government officials are trying to develop new energy sources, including renewables, Ravelas noted. Foreign investors can own no more than 40% cap of land parcels, Philippine-based corporations or public utilities. Philippine workers are more likely to be unionized than in other Asian countries, Atienza said. They tend to be “more vocal” in demands for higher pay compared to other Southeast Asian countries, she added. Localized violence that may erupt ahead of midterm elections in May as well as the government’s struggle against Communist rebels in the countryside could put off hopeful investors, she said. Among south and Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines will “gain the least” from the Sino-U.S. trade dispute, investment bank Natixis said in a research report December 4. It cites “expensive” electricity and “weak” business infrastructure. Vietnam has earned a name through cheap land and labor, government openness to foreign investment and a growing list of free trade agreements. “There is significant competition from other ASEAN countries for attracting investors looking for an alternative to China-based manufacturing,” Baker said.