Updated: 1 hour 51 min ago
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.
Kim Jong Un will be keeping North Korea watchers busy on New Year's Day, when he is expected to give his annual address laying out the country's top priorities for the year ahead. The speech, which is normally broadcast on North Korea's state-run television network, is often the best gauge of what the North Korean leadership is focused on and what tone it will take in its dealings with the outside world. For 2019, it will be parsed carefully for clues about Kim's thinking on denuclearization talks with Washington and a second summit with President Donald Trump, relations with South Korea and Pyongyang's efforts to get out from under international sanctions as it tries to build up its domestic economy. A look at Kim's plate for the coming year: The economy This is Kim's primary concern. He made that clear in his 2018 News Year's address and his government has been hammering it home ever since. In his first televised speech, at a military parade in 2012, Kim vowed the nation would never again have to tighten its belts, a reference to the economic hardships it has faced, including a disastrous famine in the 1990s. While they remain isolated and unable to travel or experience foreign media freely, North Koreans are aware of the yawning prosperity gap between themselves, South Korea and China. Kim has tried to address that by initiating infrastructure projects in major cities, building up the capital and allowing — if not overtly supporting — the spread of the market economy. What's not clear is how far he is willing to go with the kind of fundamental, systemic reforms needed to really ensure sustainable growth. North Korea has hinted it wants to join the World Trade Organization and be more a part of the global economic community. But that would also require some risky moves — like increased transparency and commitment to global rules and norms. A big question is how much control Kim is willing to relinquish in exchange for prosperity. North Korea is entering the fourth year of a five-year economic plan that Kim announced with great fanfare at a rare congress of his ruling party in 2016. If precedent is any indication, he will go into some detail outlining, sector by sector, the country's successes so far and emphasizing what remains to be done. This part of the speech is usually couched in deliberately vague, broad or aspirational language and is directed at the domestic party leadership. But if Kim is serious about change, this could be where he drops some important hints. The nukes North Korea is still standing firmly behind the agreements it made with Trump at the Singapore summit. The problem is that North Korea's interpretation of what they agreed to is at odds with that of the Trump administration. Kim never agreed to unilaterally throw away his hard-won nuclear arsenal, which he maintains is a necessary deterrent to the threat of an attack by the United States. The North's moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches also isn't part of the summit agreement and there is no explicit promise in the Singapore joint statement that the North won't continue producing or developing its missiles. So while the missiles have stopped flying for now, there's still a lot up in the air. Kim agreed the North would “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” But from the North's perspective, it must include the removal of what it has always claimed is the reason why it has nukes in the first place — the threat of a U.S. nuclear attack. While not directly criticizing Trump, a tactic it is likely to stick with until it sees the overall process as seriously off the rails, the North has tried to play him against his advisers while it pushes for security guarantees and sanctions relief. The bottom line is that North Korea hasn't given up much since Singapore. And it doesn't think Washington has, either. Trump has said a second summit could be held soon. The New Year's speech gives Kim a golden opportunity to set the goalposts and to try to further detach Trump from his advisers. The South In contrast to Pyongyang's dealings with Washington, relations between North and South Korea have seen a major thaw. With three leaders' summits in 2018 and dozens of other meetings, the Koreas have opened a liaison office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, created border buffers and no-fly zones to reduce military tensions, and jointly surveyed North Korea's outdated railways and roads with the goal of connecting them with the South. They even vowed to make a bid to jointly host the 2032 Summer Olympics. But Seoul cannot proceed without the removal of U.S.-led international sanctions. While President Moon Jae-in sees inter-Korean reconciliation as a crucial part of nuclear diplomacy, his enthusiasm for engagement has caused discomfort in Washington. Pyongyang, meanwhile, has already begun expressing its frustration with the slowdown in inter-Korean projects and demanded that Seoul break from Washington's lead. Some analysts expect Kim to further try to drive a wedge between the allies with a nationalistic call for stronger inter-Korean cooperation, while painting Washington as a bad-faith actor refusing to take corresponding measures to the North's unilateral dismantlement of a nuclear test site and the suspension of nuclear and long-range missile tests.
From "fire and fury" to talks of a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula, 2018 was a significant year of engagement for the once reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including multiple meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore. VOA's Steve Miller takes a look back over the past year as experts look ahead to 2019.
An international trade association says on-the-job slayings of journalists and news media staff rose again in 2018 following an overall decline during the past half-dozen years. The International Federation of Journalists said in an annual report set for release Monday that 94 journalists and media workers died in targeted killings, bomb attacks and conflict crossfire this year, 12 more than in 2017. Before the declines seen in five of the past six years, 121 people working for news organizations were slain in 2012. Since the federation started its annual count in 1990, the year with the most work-related killings, 155, was 2006. The deadliest country for people who work in the news media this year was Afghanistan, where 16 of the killings occurred. Mexico was next, with 11. Yemen had nine media slayings and Syria eight in 2018. Beyond the tragedy of lives lost, such killings affect the pursuit of truth and sharing of information in communities and countries where they happen, the president of the International Federation of Journalists said. “Journalists are targeted because they are witnesses,” the group's president, Philippe Leruth, told The Associated Press. “And the result of this, when a journalist or many journalists are killed in a country, you see an increase of self-censorship.” Iraq, where 309 media professionals were killed over the past quarter-century, long topped the federation's annual list. The federation identified a photojournalist as the one victim in the country this year. While 2018 brought a worldwide increase, the total remained in the double digits for a second year running. The total of 155 in. The IFJ connects some 600,000 media professionals from 187 trade unions and associations in more than 140 countries. The group said the new report showed that journalists face dangers apart from the risks of reporting from war zones and covering extremist movements. “There were other factors, such as the increasing intolerance to independent reporting, populism, rampant corruption and crime, as well as the breakdown of law and order,” the Brussels-based group said in a statement. Suddenly high on the list, in sixth place, was the United States with five killings. On June 28, a gunman in Annapolis, Maryland, opened fire in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette newspaper and fatally shot four journalists and a sales associate. The man had threatened the newspaper after losing a defamation lawsuit. The Oct. 2 slaying of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who lived in self-imposed exile in the United States, had worldwide impact. He went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to formalize a divorce so he could marry his Turkish fiance, but instead was strangled and dismembered there - allegedly by Saudi agents. Khashoggi wrote critically of Saudi Arabia's royal regime, and the alleged involvement of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the journalist's slaying has put the governments of other countries under pressure to sever economic and political ties. “Jamal Khashoggi was a very well-known figure, but you know, the most shocking statistic is that we know that nine of 10 journalist murders remain unpunished in the world,” Leruth said.
A recent call for a Quran test in Aceh province for Indonesian presidential candidates is facing strong criticism by Muslim scholars, who say the move would undermine racial unity. On Saturday, the Council of Preachers Association in Aceh sent an invitation to both presidential candidates in the April 2019 vote — incumbent Joko Widodo and opponent Prabowo Subianto — to attend a Quran recitation test in the capital of Aceh province on January 15. The chairman of that council, Marsyuddin Ishak, told VOA that the test is important to reveal the true image of the presidential candidates as well as continue a tradition in their province, the only one that implement the Sharia-law in Indonesia. Quran recitation is a requirement to compete in local elections in Aceh. " Our leaders in here — the governor, the member of parliament and other councils — are all tested to read the Quran. The next president will be our leader too, so we want to know their capability in reading Quran as our local leaders in here,” said Marsyuddin. However, former president of Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta, Dr. Komaruddin Hidayat, told VOA that the test is unnecessary and exaggerates the importance of religion. “I really regret it. Our lives must be based on a constitution. Understanding and learning more about our religion is important, but it doesn’t mean that we fail our live if we can’t read the Quran," he said. "Religion never became the standard to graduate from school or to get a job. I give you another example : if we want to test an airplane pilot, we test his knowledge on the airplane not about his ability to read the Quran. The same case with the presidential election.” He adds that it’s better if any test was based on the candidates’ sensitivity to people of different religions and how will he fight for the rights of minorities. Dr. Rumadi Ahmad, an official with the country's largest Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama, told VOA that the Quran recitation test is a clear example of politicizing religion. “This is an exaggeration of religion in politics. We don’t have to use the capability to read the Quran as an issue in the coming election. This is a clear tendency to politicize religion. It’s dangerous and will arouse hatred among people of various races and religions in the country,” said Rumadi. The invitation that was sent to both presidential candidates asks them to read Al-Fatiha (the first surah in Quran) and then another surah that will be determined by the organizer. According to Marsyuddin Ishak, Joko Widodo's team has replied to the invitation by saying that they will consider it and discuss it further. Prabowo has not replied.
At least 22 people have died because of landslides and flooding triggered by a tropical cyclone that brought heavy rains to central Philippines, a disaster agency official said Sunday. The people, including a 3-year-old boy, were reported dead as of Sunday morning, said disaster agency spokesman Edgar Posadas, after a tropical cyclone barreled through the eastern Visayas and Bicol regions on Saturday. "The wind was not strong but it caused flooding and landslides," Posadas said. The number of casualties could rise as rescue and retrieval operations continue. Local media have reported dozens missing or trapped by the landslides. A regional office of the disaster agency said it was working to confirm the deaths of 38 people in the Bicol region, located south of the main island of Luzon. Thousands of passengers were stranded at seaports, airports and bus terminals as dozens of inter-island trips were canceled. The tropical depression, which has since been downgraded to a low pressure area, left the Philippines on Sunday afternoon. About 20 tropical cyclones hit the Philippines every year.
The relationship between United States and China has grown increasingly tense since June, when Washington slapped tariffs on key imports from Beijing, and China returned the gesture. The Trump administration says it is trying to reset the country's economic and strategic relationship with China, to put America first. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara reports on how the administration has confronted China in 2018.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sent a letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in Sunday calling for more peace talks between the leaders in the new year following their active engagement in 2018, South Korea’s presidential office said. Moon’s office said Kim also expressed regret that he couldn’t make a planned visit to Seoul, South Korea’s capital, by the end of December as pledged by the leaders during their last summit in September in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. The Blue House didn’t fully disclose Kim’s letter. 'Difficulties ahead' Moon later thanked Kim for his “warm” letter in a tweeted message and said without elaborating that Kim expressed strong willingness to carry out the agreements he made this year during a series of inter-Korean summits and a historic June meeting with President Donald Trump. “There will still be a lot of difficulties ahead,” Moon said in his message. “However, our hearts will become more open if we put in that much effort. There’s no change in our heart about welcoming Chairman Kim (to the South).” The tweet also included a photo that showed a ruby-colored folder emblazoned with the seal of Pyongyang’s powerful State Affairs Commission and the top part of Kim’s letter, which started with: “Dear your excellency President Moon Jae-in. Our meeting in Pyongyang feels like yesterday but about 100 days have already passed and now we are at the close of an unforgettable 2018.” Summits, goodwill gestures Through three summits between Moon and Kim this year, the Koreas agreed to a variety of goodwill gestures and vowed to resume economic cooperation when possible, voicing optimism that international sanctions could end to allow such activity. The rivals have also taken steps to reduce their conventional military threat, such as removing mines and firearms from the border village of Panmunjom, destroying some front-line guard posts and creating buffer zones along their land and sea boundaries and a no-fly zone above the border. “Chairman Kim said that the leaders by meeting three times in a single year and implementing bold measures to overcome the long period of conflict lifted our (Korean) nation from military tension and war fears,” Kim Eui-kyeom, Moon’s spokesman, said in a televised briefing. “Chairman Kim said he will keep a close eye on the situation and expressed strong will to visit Seoul. ... Chairman Kim also expressed his intentions to meet President Moon frequently again in 2019 to advance discussions on the Korean Peninsula’s peace and prosperity and discuss issues on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the spokesman said. Moon’s office did not reveal how Kim Jong Un’s letter was delivered or whether he made any comments about his planned second summit with Trump in 2019. New Year's address The letter comes days before Kim is expected to address North Koreans in a New Year’s speech that North Korean leaders traditionally use to announce major policy decisions and goals. Kim used his New Year’s speech a year ago to initiate diplomacy with Seoul and Washington, which led to his meetings with Moon and a historic June summit with Trump. In his meetings with Moon and Trump, Kim signed on to vague statements calling for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing when or how it would occur. Post-summit nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang quickly settled into a stalemate as the countries struggled between the sequencing of the North’s disarmament and the removal of U.S.-led international sanctions against the North. There continue to be doubts about whether Kim will ever voluntarily relinquish his nukes, which he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival. Kim and Trump are trying to arrange a second summit in early 2019.
The 105-story Ryugyong Hotel has long been a blot on the Pyongyang skyline. The world’s tallest unoccupied building has towered over North Korea’s capital since 1987, a grand but empty pyramid entirely dark except for the lone aircraft warning light at its top. Outsiders saw the unfinished building as the epitome of failure, while people inside the country took care to rarely mention it at all. Light show That is, until light designer Kim Yong Il made the building once again the talk of the town. In a brilliant flip of the script, the Ryugyong has been reborn as a symbol of pride and North Korean ingenuity. For several hours each night, the building that doesn’t have electricity inside becomes the backdrop of a massive light show in which more than 100,000 LEDs flash images of famous statues and monuments, bursts of fireworks, party symbols and political slogans. The Ryugyong is still unfinished. There’s no public date when, or if, it will host its elusive first guest. Questions remain over whether the glass-and-concrete hotel is structurally sound. And North Korea’s electricity supply is limited as-is. But never mind all that. Proud designer “I feel really proud,” Kim, the vice department director of the Korean Light Decoration Center, told The Associated Press in a recent interview at the foot of the hotel. “I made this magnificent design for this gigantic building and when people see it, it makes them feel good. It makes me proud to work as a designer.” The display was first lit in April to mark the birthday of the country’s “eternal president,” Kim Il Sung. Designer Kim said the preparations took about five months. He was in charge of the designing and programming the light display, which took him two months. Another specialist was responsible for the physical setup and electrical wiring. Giant LED displays has been used around the world for many years — and on an even bigger building. Japanese designer Yusuke Murakami and a London-based company collaborated in 2016 on an LED animation on Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s largest tower. The 330-meter (1,083-feet) Ryugyong tower has three distinct sides. The main show is displayed on the front, while simpler designs light up the other two. For a conical section at the very top, Kim created the image of the red, white and blue North Korean flag waving in the wind. It is 40 meters tall and visible from any direction. The four-minute main program begins with an animation showing the history of the nation, followed by homages to ideals like self-reliance and revolutionary spirit and a procession of 17 political slogans such as “single-minded unity,” “harmonious whole” and “100 battles, 100 victories.” The lights are connected to a computerized controlling system about the size of a household DVD player. “The whole program can be stored on an SD card and put into the controller,” Kim said. “We can do the diagnostics on a laptop.” Kim Jong Il legacy The Ryugyong is a big part of the legacy of second-generation leader Kim Jong Il, current leader Kim Jong Un’s late father. He ordered it built as part Pyongyang’s preparations for the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students, which it hosted in 1989 as a kind of counterpoint to the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The Ryugyong was supposed to be the world’s tallest hotel, surpassing another in Singapore that was built by a South Korean company, but the building fell by the wayside as North Korea experienced a severe economic crash and famines in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. It languished in limbo until Egypt’s Orascom Group, which established the North’s cellphone system, helped fund the completion of its glassy exterior in 2011. ‘Hope for the future’ Like his father, Kim Jong Un has a penchant for ambitious building projects, including 82- and 70-story residences in the capital’s “Ryomyong,” or “dawn,” district that opened last year and a massive science and technology complex with a main building shaped like a giant atom. “The goal of setting up this light screen is to give confidence and hope for the future to our people,” Kim, the designer, said as he watched people walking by in the light of his massive display. “The response has been great. The national flag at the top of the building is hundreds of meters high and everyone can see it. It fills them with pride and confidence in being a citizen, willing to work very hard.” He declined to guess when the hotel itself might open. “That’s not my field,” he laughed. But he said there’s no plan to turn off the Ryugyong light show, though updates could be in the works. “We could change the content,” he said. “The demands and aspirations of the people and the times change, so we can change the program to reflect that.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Saturday that he had a "long and very good call" with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that a possible trade deal between the United States and China was progressing well. As a partial shutdown of the U.S. government entered its eighth day, with no quick end in sight, the Republican president was in Washington, sending out tweets attacking Democrats and talking up possibly improved relations with China. The two nations have been in a trade war for much of 2018 that has seen the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods between the world's two largest economies disrupted by tariffs. Trump and Xi agreed to a ceasefire in the trade war, agreeing to hold off on imposing more tariffs for 90 days starting Dec. 1 while they negotiate a deal to end the dispute following months of escalating tensions. "Just had a long and very good call with President Xi of China," Trump wrote. "Deal is moving along very well. If made, it will be very comprehensive, covering all subjects, areas and points of dispute. Big progress being made!" Chinese state media also said Xi and Trump spoke on Saturday, and quoted Xi as saying that teams from both countries have been working to implement a consensus reached with Trump. Chinese media also quoted Xi as saying that he hopes both sides can meet each other half way and reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial as soon as possible. Having canceled his plans to travel to his estate in Florida for the holidays because of the government shutdown that started on Dec. 22, Trump tweeted, "I am in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal." The Republican-controlled Congress was closed for the weekend and few lawmakers were in the capital. The shutdown, affecting about one-quarter of the federal government including 800,000 or so workers, began when funding for several agencies expired. Congress must pass legislation to restore that funding, but has not done so due to a dispute over Trump's demand that the bill include $5 billion in taxpayer money to help pay for a wall he wants to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.
From “fire and fury” to talks of a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula, 2018 was a significant year of engagement for the once reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, including multiple meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and a summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore. But to fully understand the events of the past year, it’s important to revisit key events in 2017 that created the momentum for the detente achieved in the past 12 months. ‘Rocket man’ to summit In August 2017, Trump took a harsh stance against Kim for threatening the United States. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The remarks elicited a rebuke from North Korea. “We cannot have a sound dialogue with a senile man who can’t think rationally and only absolute force can work on him,” Pyongyang said. “This is the judgment made by our soldiers of the Strategic Force.” Trump took aim at North Korea again at the 2017 United Nations General Assembly where he proclaimed, “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully, this will not be necessary.” Which led Kim Jong Un to announce during his New Year’s address that the “entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons,” a statement linked to the successful Hwaseong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile test in November adding, “This is a reality, not a threat.” 2018 begins with hope Following Kim’s Jan. 1 address, the tone on the peninsula changed. South Korea’s president reached out to Pyongyang to partner with South Korea during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. North Korea’s high-level delegation to the event included Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong. She attended the opening ceremony, sitting along side President Moon and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and was the first member of the ruling Kim family to cross the border since the 1950-53 Korean War. Yongwook Ryu of the Institute for North Korean Studies commented on the change taking place on the peninsula. “In 2017, we witnessed very high tensions, but beginning from 2018, hopes have been raised that Inter-Korean relations would improve [and that] the U.S.-North Korea relations also would improve,” he said. In April, Moon held the first of three summits with Kim. The pair agreed to work toward denuclearization, ease military tensions, and improve inter-Korean relations. Their third summit in September brought about concrete plans to promote economic ties between the two countries and reduce the chances of skirmishes. In June Trump and Kim met in Singapore. It was the first meeting ever between a North Korean leader and a sitting U.S. president. Significant or window dressing? Ryu calls the April inter-Korean summit and the June Singapore summit two of the most significant events during the past year. He said the Panmunjom Declaration, signed by Moon and Kim in April “was a significant improvement on all the previous inter-Korean summit decorations in terms of making progress in inter-Korean relations with a number of integration projects that seek to develop [the] North Korean economy and invite North Korea to the international community.” However, the Asan Institute’s Seong Whun Cheon downplayed the importance of the summits, criticizing the lack of concrete outcomes and noting Kim Jong Un made his intentions clear during his New Year’s address. “They (the summits) are not big moments … it’s window dressing without substance,” Cheon said. “In order to understand the current issue we’re facing,” he added, “I think we have to read his [New Year’s address] very carefully once again. The first thing he did … was to proclaim that he accomplished his mission of becoming a nuclear weapon [state].” He said that Kim further ordered North Korea to “mass produce” nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles before beginning his economic and cultural engagement policies with the world. Since the third inter-Korean summit in September, North Korea denuclearization talks have stalled and their future remains unknown as 2019 approaches. 2019 unclear During the September inter-Korean summit, Moon invited Kim to visit Seoul. It was a visit that he had hoped would take place before 2019 arrived, but that looks nearly impossible. The Moon administration is still hopeful a visit could take place in early 2019, but no details have been made public. Likewise, Trump has indicated a willingness to meet for a second time with Kim in early 2019, but details of such a summit remain absent. Cheon would like world leaders to take advantage of the “optimistic moment” and persuade Kim Jong Un to abandon his nuclear weapons, creating a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. “The yardstick to use whether the past year was successful in terms of increasing peace and security on the Korean Peninsula is whether Kim Jong Un has made a full commitment [and] to give up nuclear weapons,” he said. However, in his assessment, Kim has not made such a commitment, and Cheon predicts the current impasse with North Korea will continue for years to come, if not decades. Ryu sees a number of likely scenarios taking place in the forthcoming year. “I think the best scenario for everybody is [for] Kim Jong Un [to change] his mind and become serious about denuclearization,” he said, “If he takes steps towards denuclearization, then South Korea, USA, along with many other countries in the international community would provide economic benefits to his government. And that’s good for him.” But “unless we see an entirely different North Korean society [that] have a different view about nuclear weapons … we cannot change anything,” Cheon said. Cheon believes the key to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula is transforming North Korean society and making the population “believe nuclear weapons are actually harmful” and negatively affect their “personal and their country’s prosperity.” He noted this is not something that can be achieved quickly, but is a “long-term game.” If no real progress is made on North Korean denuclearization, Ryu thinks it may be likely that more pressure may be applied to Pyongyang, and events could return to levels of tension last seen in 2017. Lee Ju-hyun contributed to this report.
A Chinese appeals court on Saturday agreed with prosecutors that a 15-year sentence was too lenient for a Canadian man convicted of drug smuggling. The court ordered that Robert Lloyd Schellenberg be retried in the city of Dalian, where he was originally tried and sentenced. The decision will likely aggravate already strained relations between Canada and China over what appear to be retaliatory steps taken by China after Canadian authorities arrested a Chinese tech company executive. Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer for Huawei, was arrested in Vancouver on December 1 on behalf of the United States, which is seeking her extradition over alleged violations of U.S. trade sanctions on Iran. Following the arrest, China detained two Canadian citizens in China on national security charges. A third Canadian citizen, a teacher, was also taken into custody this month over issues with her visa but was released and allowed to return to Canada, Global Affairs Canada announced Saturday. Schellenberg could face a much more severe penalty, including death, when he is retried. The appellate court ruled that the jail sentence handed down by the lower court was "obviously inappropriate" because Schellenberg is accused of "playing an important role" in what may be an international drug smuggling ring, the court's announcement said. In recent years China has executed citizens from several foreign countries, including Britain, Japan and the Philippines, following convictions on drug charges.