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Experts See Washington’s 'Big Deal' Approach to Denuclearizing N. Korea Facing Rejection

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 09:15
Pyongyang is likely to reject Washington’s “big deal” approach toward denuclearizing North Korea as indicated by signals the country has been sending through missile launch preparations, said experts. U.S. Special Representative Steve Biegun laid out President Donald Trump’s approach toward denuclearizing North Korea at a conference held by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Monday, saying, “We are not going to do denuclearization incrementally.” Biegun also said sanctions imposed on North Korea will not be lifted until North Korea achieves complete denuclearization.  Washington took an all-or-nothing approach or “big deal” approach toward North Korea’s denuclearization when it began its negotiations last year but gradually shifted to a phased, incremental approach, which is favored by Pyongyang, until the Hanoi summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. And weeks before the Hanoi summit, Biegun seemed to suggest in a speech at Stanford University that the U.S. would pursue a step-by-step approach toward achieving agreements made at the Singapore summit last June. ​Now, the U.S. has resumed its initial “big deal” position, and Biegun said last month’s Hanoi summit faltered because North Korea asked the U.S. to lift “basically all the sanctions” while offering to dismantle “a portion of their nuclear program.” Scott Snyder, director of the U.S.-Korea policy program at the Council of Foreign Relations, said the Hanoi summit revealed the U.S. has reverted to its original position. “It turns out that going for a ‘big deal’ almost brought the U.S. back to its initial negotiating position,” said Snyder. “And it raised the bar in terms of what both the U.S. was willing to give to Kim Jong Un, but also in terms of what the U.S. was expecting from Kim Jong Un.” Biegun also said that North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons “would be unacceptable” at the Carnegie conference. Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will not accept the U.S. position. “Kim has been clear and consistent from his first meeting with (Chinese President) Xi (Jinping) in Beijing that North Korea wants to move forward in a ‘phased synchronous process,’” said Manning. The leaders first met in March 2018 before the first inter-Korean summit was held in April. ​“Pyongyang will not accept the idea they give up everything, trust the U.S. and then they get some benefit,” Manning said. “It is too asymmetrical.” Evans Revere, acting assistant secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs during the George W. Bush administration, said, “Pyongyang will reject U.S. efforts to pursue a ‘big deal’ requiring North Korea to give up the entirety of its nuclear weapons and related weapons of mass destruction program” because it considers them “the key to the survival of the regime.” Revere said North Korea will consider giving up its nuclear weapons only when the current level of pressure increases to an “existentially overwhelming array of sanctions and pressure.”  He continued, “The current sanctions and other measures have not reached the level necessary to compel the shift we seek. It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will be able to muster the diplomatic, political and moral leadership necessary to achieve the end it seeks.” Since the Hanoi summit breakdown, movements have been detected around North Korea’s missile facilities suggesting the country is not living up to its commitments made at the first summit and possibly preparing to launch a missile.  Commercial satellite images showed North Korea rebuilding the Sohae Satellite Launching Station at Tongchang-ri, which Pyongyang began to dismantle after the first summit with the U.S. in Singapore. ​There were also movements around the Samundong facility that suggest preparations may be underway for a test missile launch.  Experts see these activities as North Korea signaling its refusal to accept the U.S. position. “Kim Jong Un is sending a warning to Washington that he’s prepared to resume satellite launches if there’s no agreement on lifting sanctions in exchange for some measures toward denuclearization,” said Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction during the Obama administration. Robert Gallucci, chief U.S. negotiator during the 1994 North Korean nuclear crisis, said North Korea is expressing “its unhappiness over the position taken by the U.S. at the Hanoi summit” which was rejecting its offer to dismantle the Yongbyon nuclear facility in exchange for receiving sanctions relief from the U.S.  Christopher Hill, a chief negotiator with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration, said he would be surprised if North Korea would fire a missile, but because “all the president’s men are getting less patient,” firing a missile would be “the end of this diplomatic phase.” Lee Jo-eun, Ahn So-young contributed to this report which originated with the VOA Korean Service. 

Australian Cardinal Sentenced to 6 Years for Sex Abuse  

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 08:30
Australia's Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Vatican official to be convicted of sex abuse, has been sentenced to six years in prison.  The former chief financial officer at the Vatican and an adviser to Pope Francis was sentenced for molesting two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral more than 20 years ago. Pell, 77, was convicted in December of raping a 13-year-old choirboy and indecently dealing with the boy and the boy's 13-year-old friend in the late 1990s. The assaults happened just months after Pell became archbishop of Melbourne. A court had suppressed the news of his conviction because there was a second case pending against Pell. That case has since been withdrawn. Victoria state County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd on Wednesday said Pell's attack on the victims was "breathtakingly arrogant" adding that the cardinal had assaulted the boys with "callous indifference to the victims' distress." Pell and his legal team plan to appeal.

Trump Proposes Trimming Missile Defense as North Korea Pushes Ahead

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 08:12
Just when it looks like North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may restart his ballistic missile testing program, U.S. President Donald Trump has proposed trimming the missile defense budget, as one set of deterrents is delayed by two years. The U.S. Missile Defense Agency — charged with developing, testing and fielding a ballistic missile defense system — will delay the expansion of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system by two years because of a delay in the redesign of the Raytheon Co-made "kill vehicle" the system uses. A "kill vehicle" pops off the top of the defending missile above the Earth's atmosphere and seeks out and destroys the attacking missile's warhead. The GMD is a network of radars, anti-ballistic missiles based in Alaska and California, and other equipment designed to protect the United States from intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMS. The expansion of the field of interceptors in Alaska from 44 ground-based interceptors, or GBIs, to 64 had been slated for completion in 2023. But the delay, due to technical issues and not connected to the cut in the agency's budget, now means that the placement of the additional 20 interceptors will not be operational until 2025, the MDA said Tuesday. "The important thing is to get it right, and if we're going to build more GBIs, we want to put the best kill vehicle on the top of it," said Tom Karako, a missile defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. At the same time, North Korea has been pushing ahead with its nuclear weapons program after a summit meeting between Kim and Trump in Hanoi ended abruptly on Feb. 28 without an agreement on denuclearization. New activity has been detected at a North Korean ICBM plant, South Korean media said Thursday, as Trump said he would be "very disappointed" if Pyongyang rebuilt a rocket site. In the budget, the Missile Defense Agency, or MDA, saw its appropriation cut by $1 billion to $9.4 billion. Previous budget boost Michelle Atkinson, chief financial officer of the MDA, told reporters, "What you are seeing in '20 actually looks like a decrease, but it's really just the declining funding," as the agency comes off recent financial injections. Trump's smaller request comes on the heels of a significant budget boost last year after several North Korean missile tests. The MDA projected a budget of $9.2 billion in 2021, and $9.1 billion in 2022, continuing the trend of declining funding. One Pentagon-wide effort in lasers that could be used to defeat missiles saw investment slow dramatically. After nearly doubling just the MDA's budget for directed energy from $109 million in 2018 to $224 million in 2019, the Pentagon as a whole plans to invest only $235 million in the technology in fiscal 2020. Among other proposals included in a recently published Missile Defense Review is one involving lasers mounted on drones — aimed at stopping missiles just after takeoff in what is called the boost phase. During this portion of the flight the missile is most vulnerable, flying at its slowest speed, easily detected by the heat from its engines and incapable of evading interceptors as it accelerates to break out of the Earth's atmosphere.

Vietnam Asks Malaysia to Free Woman Accused of Poisoning Kim Jong Nam

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 03:49
Vietnam called on Malaysia on Tuesday to free a Vietnamese woman accused in the 2017 murder of the North Korean leader's half brother, a day after a Malaysian court dropped a similar charge against an Indonesian woman. Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Binh Binh, in a telephone call to his Malaysian counterpart Saifuddin Abdullah, asked Malaysia to "ensure a fair trial and free Vietnamese citizen Doan Thi Huong," the government said in a statement. Huong's co-defendant, Indonesian Siti Aisyah, was freed on Monday after a Malaysian court dropped the charge against her. She and Huong have been accused of poisoning Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with liquid VX at Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. Conviction could carry the death penalty. Minh said in the phone conversation that senior leaders and the people of Vietnam have paid close attention to the trial, the government statement said. Huong's father, Doan Van Thanh, said Siti Aisyah's release was good news for his family. "I believe that my daughter will be released too because she is innocent. We haven't received any information from Malaysia recently, and we are eager to hear from them now," Thanh told Reuters. The court is scheduled to presume proceedings on Thursday. Defense lawyers have maintained that the women were pawns in an assassination orchestrated by North Korean agents. During the trial, the court was shown CCTV footage of two women allegedly assaulting Kim Jong Nam while he prepared to check in for a flight. Siti Aisyah and Huong have maintained that they believed they had been hired to participate in a reality TV prank show.

US Trade Official: US, China Possibly Nearing Deal

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 03:15
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Tuesday that the United States and China are possibly nearing an agreement on a new trade deal, but stopped short of predicting a successful outcome of their lengthy negotiations. "Our hope is that we are in the final weeks of having an agreement," Lighthizer told the Senate Finance Committee. But he said there are still significant issues that need to be resolved. "We can't predict success at this point, but we are working hard," he said. He added the U.S. would insist that any new trade pact include enforcement provisions allowing Washington to reimpose tariffs if China violated terms of the agreement. "We are going to have an enforceable agreement, or [President Donald Trump] won't agree to the agreement,'' Lighthizer said. Trump said last Friday he was confident the U.S. could strike a deal with China, but added, "If this isn't a great deal, I won't make a deal." A new deal could possibly end hefty tariffs both countries have imposed on each other during the last eight months. The U.S. has taxed $250 billion of Chinese imports while China has imposed levies on about $110 billion of U.S. goods. Lighthizer declined to say whether the U.S. would lift its tariffs if a deal is reached. "We have to maintain the right to be able to — whatever happens to the current tariffs — to raise tariffs in situations where there's violations of the agreement," he said. "That's the core. If we don't do that, then none of it makes any difference," he said. The U.S. is demanding wide changes to Chinese industrial policy, including an end to large-scale state intervention in markets, subsidies for various industries and the alleged theft of American technology. Trump has said he would like to have a signing ceremony at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, but the White House said no date has been set.

Whistle-Blower Controversy Casts Shadow Over China’s 'Judicial Progress'

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 22:30
The president of China's Supreme People's Court praised the country’s progress in advancing judicial reform over the past year during an annual government work report Tuesday to the National People’s Congress. An earlier whistle-blower case by a Supreme Court judge tells a different story, which, observers say, may epitomize how China’s judicial system remains very opaque. In his 40-minute-long speech, Zhou Qiang told nearly 3,000 members of the country’s largely rubber-stamp legislature that China’s courts at all levels have fully upheld the principles of legality, presumption of innocence and exclusion of unlawful evidence. Wrongful convictions overturned More than 1,800 wrongful convictions, including 10 major cases of miscarriages of justice, have been overturned in the past year, he added. That was among more than 25 million cases that Chinese courts had tried and closed in 2018, according to Zhou. “[We’ve] strengthened the mechanism to prevent and correct miscarriage of justice while strictly implementing the principle of excluding [the adoption of] unlawful evidence,” Zhou said. Such a mechanism, however, exists in name only, argues rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan. Liu noted that courts in China rarely take the initiative — a top- down approach — in re-opening trials that are problematic. A top-down approach? Instead, he added, most wrongful convictions in China are overturned in a bottom up format: repeated appeals by the victims or their families, some of whom even resorted to extreme measures to seize media attention so that their cases could be brought to light or stood chances of being reviewed again. “Some people, who have been wrongfully accused, serve their jail terms and do not file any appeals. Nor do their family members appeal or lodge any complaints,” Liu said. “What would truly be a mechanism to prevent the miscarriage of justice, is if under such circumstances, the Supreme People’s Court or the Supreme People’s Procuratorate would spot flaws in the cases and re-activate due process to review such cases, uncover mistakes and overturn rulings,” the Beijing-based lawyer added. At Tuesday’s NPC session, Zhou highlighted other statistics, including that Chinese courts have put nearly 30,000 perpetrators of organized crime behind bars, including village- and city-level thugs and some 33,000 officials guilty of corruption or bribe-taking. Judge’s whistle-blowing   But, in contrast to the rosy performance of judicial advancement spoken of by Zhou, a recent whistle-blower case involving Wang Linqiang, a former assistant judge to Zhou’s top court, shed light on the practice of judicial interference or influence peddling in Chinese courts. Wang was the judge for a long-running contract dispute and, in January, helped expose the loss of court documents in the second trial for the dispute that implicated high-ranking officials, including Zhou. The court papers, which Wang claimed to be stolen in late 2016, detailed a mine ownership dispute between private firm Kechley Energy Investment and the state-owned Xian Institute of Geological and Mineral Exploration in northwestern China’s Shannxi province.   Notes that spelled out instructions from higher-ups, including Zhou and his deputy, were said to be among the missing papers, evidence Wang said shows that the court’s top leaders had interfered in the case’s ruling. The case was first tried by a local court in Shannxi, which ruled in favor of Kechley in 2006. But the ruling was later overturned by the province’s high court in 2011. Kecheley then appealed to the Supreme Court, which in late 2017, finalized its ruling in favor of Kechley. But Wang revealed, in several pre-recorded video clips that went viral in December, how some of the case’s court papers had long been stolen from his Supreme Court office, where security was supposedly tight. “I’d like to use this video clip to protect myself from unexpected mishap and save as an evidence,” Wang said in January. Wang added that his superiors were not very eager to locate the papers when he reported the incident of missing papers.   A dramatic turn The judge also noted that he was under pressure from his supervisors to rule in favor of the state-owned institute. Things, however, took a dramatic turn late last month, when a joint investigation team, including members of the Communist Party’s central political legal affairs commission, the disciplinary commission, the top procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security, concluded Wang was the one who stole the documents. Wang’s whereabouts are unknown and he was last seen in a televised confession on state-run channel CCTV. “I took them away on impulse partly to vent my anger, and partly to stop other [judges] from handling the case,” he said on CCTV in February. Following the flip-flop of Wang’s whistle-blowing act, many have called China’s judicial independence into question. Lawyer Liu said the fact that Wang was forced to make a televised confession before any trail has shown that the judiciary in China has no respect for the principle of presumption of innocence.    On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging site, one user questioned why Wang “wanted to turn himself in?” and another wrote “such a sloppy ruling reached on TV only discredited the rule of law in China.” Thousands of other posts in response to news of Wang’s confession were obviously censored, since they were no longer available.  

China: Muslim 'Training Centers' May 'Gradually Disappear' Some Day

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 21:16
Chinese authorities said Tuesday that internment camps in the western region of Xinjiang will "gradually disappear" if a time arises when "society does not need them." China is facing global backlash over the camps, which officials maintain are actually vocational training centers. "Some international voices say Xinjiang has concentration camps and re-education camps," Xinjiang Governor Shohrat Zakir said on the sidelines Tuesday of the annual meeting of China's ceremonial legislature. "These kinds of statements are completely fabricated lies, and are extraordinarily absurd." Some one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic minorities are being held in the centers, the United Nations estimates. Former detainees have described harsh conditions, including psychological torture and political indoctrination. Beijing contends the camps are part of a broader campaign to reduce the threat of Islamic extremism. "The number of people in the education centers should be less and less, and if one day society no longer needs [them], these education centers can gradually disappear," Zakir said. The Xinjiang Party's current secretary, Chen Quanguo, enacted hard-line policies while serving as secretary in the Buddhist region of Tibet. Observers say he has imposed tighter security and surveillance measures to Xinjiang. Zakir reiterated Beijing's claim at the meeting there have been no violent incidents in Xinjiang in more than two years. But the United States says the conditions in Xinjiang are "completely unacceptable."    

China Tweaks Tech Supremacy Plan

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 18:57
For the first time in recent years, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s annual Government Work Report did not mention Made in China 2025, the country’s ambitious plan to achieve high-tech dominance, and that has analysts asking whether Beijing is going to completely overhaul the plan or keep it going quietly behind the scenes. Made in China 2025 relies heavily on government subsidies to Chinese companies and their ability to acquire new technologies covering 10 different sectors such as electric cars, emerging bio-medicine, next-generation information technology, advanced robotics and artificial intelligence. The plan is part of China’s broader industrial policy outlined in the 13th Five-Year plan, which lays out government goals from 2016-2020. It raised concerns, however, because of China’s use of forced technology transfers and specific targets to capture market share by 2025. The plan has been a focus of discussion between U.S. and Chinese negotiators, with Washington demanding an end to subsidies given to local companies under the plan. The United States also wanted China to do away with unfair trade practices that include the forcible transfer of technology from foreign companies. A significant portion of technologies used in China in the 10 listed sectors come from foreign sources. But the government is now amending laws that will leave Chinese companies in a somewhat difficult situation. It is also expected to cut subsidies it gives to local companies in order to overcome objections raised by the United States during the trade war. New laws and policy changes that the government is bringing on during the ongoing sessions of China’s legislature, or National People’s Congress (NPC), would seriously affect its ability to acquire foreign technology. “China will suffer in the short run but in the medium run they seem to be fine,” said Lourdes Casanova, director at Cornell’s Emerging Markets Institute. To a great extent, Chinese companies have used three means to acquire technology: the use of borrowed or stolen ideas, the forcible transfer of know-how from foreign partners and the purchase of foreign companies. Acquisitions by Chinese companies have now become problematic because of growing cautiousness and recent legislation in the United States and European Union. Some analysts believe there were design defects in the 2025 plan itself, and the government has been rethinking it for some time now. “The original 2025 plan was too nationalistic and too top down. It was wasteful,” Mats Harborn, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, told VOA. “They [government leaders] thought technology should be owned by Chinese companies. There was a ‘we can do this on our own’ attitude,” “There is a shift or maturity in understanding. There is an understanding that China cannot do all things on its own. It has to use international value chains and integrate as much as possible,” Harborn said. New information emerging now suggests there has been a struggle within the government about the suitability of this grandiose plan. “It [the strategy] should not have been done that way anyway. I was against it from the start, I did not agree very much with it,” Lou Jiwei, China’s finance minister between 2013 and 2016, said on the sidelines of the legislative meeting in Beijing. Other legislators told VOA the government is making adjustments in accordance with public opinion. Putting less emphasis on Made in China 2025 “reflects a more rational approach by the government, to reduce unnecessary obstacles, noises and reaction, to keep moving forward in a positive direction,” said Tang Nong, a NPC delegate from Guangxi. “The government is moving forward with the 13th Five-Year plan. What is Made in China 2025, is it a plan or a broad outline?” asked Sun Xianzhong, an NPC delegate and professor of international law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Analysts believe the government may revamp and repackage the plan, but it is unlikely to soften its efforts. “The government remains committed to moving China's economy up the value chain and will continue to use a variety of active industrial policies to achieve this goal,” said Duncan Innes-Ker, regional director for Asia at The Economist Intelligence Unit. Harborn believes the government will shift from the idea of acquiring new technologies to absorbing them in the industrial value chain. “This is a wakeup call. The new focus will be on integrating the best technologies at the best price and creating the best final product or service,” he said. State owned companies in China may be better able to readjust themselves if the 2025 plan is revamped because their focus is more on revenues than on profit. “For a state-owned company, profits going down in favor of revenues or jobs, so what’s the problem? They are fine,” said Casanova adding, “Profits are less or not of primary consideration.”      

US-China Trade Talks Reach Critical Phase

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 18:52
Deal or no deal? Trade talks between the U.S. and China -- the world’s two largest economies -- have reached a critical phase. Yet mixed signals coming from the White House and Beijing are causing analysts to question whether President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, will be able to finalize an agreement to end a costly trade war by early April as originally predicted. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Monday that the two sides haven’t set a date yet for a signing summit between Trump and Xi to end the dueling tariffs that are hurting both countries’ economies. In an appearance on Fox News over the weekend, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that negotiations are "making great progress." However, last week the Chinese side reportedly canceled tentative plans to have Xi travel to President Trump’s Florida retreat, Mar-a-Lago, at the beginning of April for a signing ceremony, causing some analysts to question whether an agreement is truly imminent. Trump has repeatedly touted progress in the talks, but warned that he would pull out of the negotiations if he concluded he wasn’t getting a good enough deal. "He’s going to make a deal if it’s in the best interest of America," Sanders said. "If he doesn’t feel like it’s a good deal, it’s not worth just signing a piece of paper." Any deal negotiators reach is likely to address U.S. concerns with what it sees as unfair trade practices by the Chinese government to advantage its domestic industries over foreign competitors. It is also expected to include provisions that would reduce the trade deficit between the two countries, most likely through Chinese government-directed purchases of U.S. commodities, like soybeans and liquefied natural gas. Hanging in the balance is a crucial relationship that accounted for $710 billion in two-way trade in 2017, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. That trade also supported about 911,000 U.S. jobs in 2015, the latest year for which that data is available. High political stakes But the political stakes for the two leaders are nearly as great as the economic ones. And both Trump and Xi must be able to extract major concessions from the other in order for the negotiations to be successfully concluded, analysts say. "If an agreement is finally reached between China and the United States in the trade war, it will certainly be a win-win outcome," said Mei Xinyu, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation in Beijing. "If one side wins and the other side loses, an agreement cannot be reached." Trump is coming off a failed nuclear summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un last month, undercutting his claims of deal-making mastery. The White House has been praising Trump’s decision to use tariffs on a wide array of Chinese goods to drag Beijing to the negotiating table. However, despite the president’s claims to the contrary, economists have found that the full burden of the tariffs is actually being passed on to U.S. manufacturers and consumers in the form of higher prices, while U.S. farmers are being punished by retaliatory sanctions levied by China. In addition, last week the administration received two doses of bad economic news. On Friday, the Labor Department reported surprisingly low job growth in February. That followed the announcement by the Commerce Department on Tuesday that the U.S. trade deficit, excluding services, hit its highest level in history at $891 billion in 2018. (Including services, on which the U.S. runs a surplus, the total trade deficit was $621 billion, a 12.5 percent increase over the previous year.) The factors driving the increased trade deficit are many and varied, and often have little or no connection to the administration’s trade policies. But for President Trump, who promised to quickly eliminate the trade deficit, those numbers pose a real political problem. While President Xi currently faces no major challenge to his leadership of China -- he is effectively president for life -- a slowing economy and a stock market battered by fallout from the trade dispute make reaching a deal at least as much of a priority for him as it is for Trump. Striking an agreement with Trump on a large package of Chinese purchases of American agriculture and manufacturing products will be "the easiest thing" for the Chinese to do, "because it doesn’t force them to make any internal change in their economy," said William Reinsch of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Trump’s success or failure in the talks will be largely measured by the number of economic and structural changes he extracts from the Chinese government to provide the U.S. with more of a competitive edge in the future – but that won’t be easy. "So the big number today may cause the president to focus more on Chinese purchases and less on the harder things we’re asking them to do," added Reinsch, who is the Scholl Chair in International Business at CSIS. No half-baked deal However, not all experts on trade with China see this as a likely outcome. Erin Ennis, executive vice president of the US-China Business Council, said that neither side has much incentive to accept a half-baked deal. "Neither side seems interested in compromising for the sake of compromise," Ennis said. "In many ways, the concern that has been expressed here in the United States about the president settling for a weak deal are messages that are actually being voiced in China as well about concern that President Xi might settle for a weak deal. Neither side has any sort of motivation to agree to something that doesn’t have at least something that’s in its interest."  The U.S. is the destination for 19 percent of all Chinese exports, according to World Bank data. This means that the near-term health of the Chinese economy is dependent on the ability of its companies to sell to the U.S. market. On Thursday, it was announced that China’s exports in February were 21 percent lower than they had been the previous year, marking the third straight month of decline. The trade battle with China began last summer when, in a series of back and forth moves, the U.S. imposed tariffs on Chinese imports and Beijing retaliated with levies of its own. By December, when the two countries agreed to temporarily halt the escalation, about $200 billion in Chinese imports faced 10 percent tariffs in the U.S., and another $50 billion faced a 25 percent charge. In China, $50 billion worth of goods imported from the U.S. faced a 25 percent tariff, and another $60 billion in imports faced levies of between 5 and 10 percent. Tariffs were scheduled to ratchet up yet again on March 1, but Trump announced a delay in late February, saying "substantial progress" had been made in talks led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He. The sticking points The U.S. and Chinese negotiating teams are treading familiar ground as they work toward a deal. Many of the complaints that the Trump administration is seeking to address have been raised by former U.S. presidents and businesses for years. For example, China has a long and well-documented history of ignoring the intellectual property rights of foreign companies and individuals. American businesses have repeatedly complained about the government-supported theft of trade secrets by Chinese firms. Any deal that fails to bind China to greater respect for intellectual property rights would be largely viewed as a failure for the Trump administration. Another issue, also related to intellectual property rights, is what’s become known as "forced technology transfer." For many foreign firms, handing over data on proprietary technologies and innovations has become a de facto requirement for operating within the Chinese market. U.S. negotiators are seeking an end to that practice. Chinese lawmakers are reportedly drafting legislation that would address many of the intellectual property concerns that trouble foreign firms. U.S. negotiators, however, will want to see signs of a commitment to enforcement beyond the simple passage of a new law. Chinese government's economic controls One of the widest gaps between the U.S. and China is on the question of government involvement in the economy. While the U.S. government is generally expected to take a laissez-faire approach to businesses operating within the law and applicable regulations, the Chinese government plays a far more active role. The government owns many businesses outright, and offers industrial subsidies to others. While the attitude in the U.S. is that these practices create an unfair playing field, Beijing defends them as necessary to its plan to drag the massive Chinese economy into the modern era by developing high-value industries quickly. The problem, according to Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow with the Peterson Institute for International Economics, is that Beijing and Washington are operating on very different timelines. In Beijing, he said, "They are trying to maintain substantial rate of growth of the economy to facilitate the adjustment needed in their labor force, but they are trying to do it in a way that does not undercut the authority of the Communist Party." That places them in conflict with the priorities of the U.S., which would like to see China take quick and decisive action to cut state intervention in the economy. "It can’t happen in the time period that is desired by U.S. politicians, because they -- and especially the president -- want immediate gratification," Schott said. "It’s in the interest of the Chinese officials to have an incremental transition ... but they are willing to look at a longer horizon than U.S. political leaders can do, because U.S. leaders have to answer to the electorate and Chinese leaders don’t." U.S. negotiators will also be looking for the Chinese to roll back restrictive regulations that make it difficult for U.S. businesses to operate in China, particularly rules that limit the ownership stake that a non-Chinese individual or corporation can hold in ventures doing business there. Also in play are rules that make it extremely difficult for foreign firms to gain regulatory approval for products in certain industries, such as biotechnology. The Chinese legislature is expected to put forward proposed legislation that would accomplish many of these goals in the near future. Guarantees against currency manipulation Given China’s history of manipulating the value of its currency, the renminbi, U.S. negotiators will also be seeking guarantees that Beijing won’t artificially lower its value against the dollar in order to make exported Chinese products relatively less expensive than similar products made by foreign competitors. Also essential to the U.S. will be some sort of enforcement mechanism that guarantees that China actually takes steps it commits to in negotiations. This is a trickier proposition than it might seem, because it would likely require the Chinese government to allow a degree of foreign monitoring of its interactions with domestic industries -- a level of transparency rarely seen in Beijing’s relations with the outside world. Finally, any deal is also expected to include a provision under which the Chinese government agrees to direct spending toward U.S. commodities, like soybeans or liquefied natural gas (LNG), in an effort to reduce the trade deficit between the two countries. Economically speaking, such an arrangement would likely make little real difference to the U.S. economy in the near term, except insofar as suppliers who had lost business due to tariffs would be getting it back. The soybean and LNG China purchases won’t represent new U.S. production, but rather a change only in who does the buying. Given how much President Trump has invested in making the trade deficit with China a political symbol, however, it is considered unlikely that he would agree to a deal that doesn’t let him claim a win on that particular issue. But without the more important structural changes in China’s economy and trade practices, said Derek Scissors, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, "We will be right back in a situation where you know we have been in for some time." Mandarin service reporters Mo Yu and Lin Feng also contributed to this report.

UN Investigator: N. Korea’s Human Rights Record Still Poor Despite Diplomacy

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 16:33
A United Nations investigator finds the easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula has done nothing to improve human rights in North Korea, saying the situation remains widespread and in violation of international human rights law. The investigator submitted his report to the U.N. human rights council in Geneva on Monday. U.N. special investigator Tomas Ojea Quintana welcomes the interaction between the United States and North Korea over that country’s nuclear program. He says meetings between leaders of the two countries can build trust and move toward the goal of creating a permanent peace. But he says this high-level diplomatic track is having no impact on alleviating the serious humanitarian problems affecting the population. He says more than 10 million people, or 41 percent of the population, continue to suffer from lack of food and access to essential health services, clean water and sanitation. He notes international and bilateral sanctions are making things worse.  Ojea Quintana says he is particularly concerned about serious human rights violations in North Korea’s detention and prison system. He says people sent to political prison camps have no legal rights. “I also received reports pointing to widespread and systematic torture and ill-treatment in detention facilities," he said. "North Korean citizens who are detained in China are repatriated and have stated that they are subject to torture, cruel or degrading treatment.”  Ojea Quintana says prisoners reportedly are being kept in cramped cells with inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene. He says they do not receive adequate food or health care and are subject to forced labor in dangerous conditions. The U.N. investigator is urging the government to allow international monitors to access these camps and to start releasing prisoners. He also calls on China and other countries to protect North Koreans who arrive on their territory as refugees and to not send them back to North Korea where they face many risks. North Korea, which has refused to cooperate with Ojea Quintana or grant him access to the country, boycotted his presentation. The delegation did not bother to use its right of reply as a concerned country.

As Sanctions on N. Korea Remain, Kim’s Economic Development Goals May Recede

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 12:00
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may not be able to achieve his economic development goals given the divergent ideas over denuclearization exhibited by Washington and Pyongyang after the Hanoi summit, said experts. After the Hanoi summit broke down last month over discussions of Washington’s demand on denuclearization and Pyongyang’s demand on sanctions relief, Kim made a first public statement emphasizing economic development, a goal he set for this year during his New Year’s Day speech. If the sanctions are not lifted, North Korea and its citizens will likely to face tougher economic conditions this year. North Korea’s main state media outlet, Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), reported on Saturday that Kim stressed last week “the need to concentrate all efforts of information and motivation on accelerating socialist economic construction.” KCNA added that Kim emphasized the [North] Korean people should “further display their might in the spirit of self-reliance.” Ahead of the report, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton told Fox Business Network last week the U.S. is looking to increase sanctions if Pyongyang is not willing to denuclearize. “They’re not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them,” Bolton said. “We’ll look at ramping those sanctions up in fact.” A State Department official said on Thursday that the U.S. is not looking to provide exemptions to South Korea to resume joint economic projects with North Korea, which Seoul has been pushing for since the first inter-Korean summit in April. Missile sites Based on commercial satellite imagery, North Korea appeared to be rebuilding the Sohae Satellite Launching Station at Tongchang-ri last week. Pyongyang began to dismantle the largest missile engine test site in the country after the first summit with the U.S.in Singapore in June. Movements around the Samundong facility near Pyongyang were also detected last week, suggesting North Korea might be preparing for a missile launch. Built in 2012, the Samundong facility's mission is the development of long-range missiles and space-launch vehicles, such as the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, which analysts agree is capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.  Experts said Kim will not be able to develop North Korea’s economy, one of the world’s most opaque, without a sanctions lift from the U.S. According to South Korea’s central bank, North Korea’s economy shrank 3.5 percent in 2017, a year after the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions banning North Korea’s key exports including coal, textiles and fisheries and limited its imports of oil. Without the income derived from selling those export commodities, the North Korean economy is likely to face limits on its growth.  “Sanctions are really serious obstacles to the prospects for North Korea to fully develop its economy,” said Scott Snyder, director of the U.S.-Korea policy program at the Council of Foreign Relations.  Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said the North Korean economy is likely to dwindle as the result of sanctions.  “Kim’s economy is in difficult shape, squeezed by sanctions,” Manning said. “Some think it is likely to contract in 2019.” Snyder said North Korea will likely continue to look for ways to bypass sanctions, and turn to Russia and China, which have been willing partners in that effort in the past. But, he thinks that Pyongyang is unlikely to get very far with Moscow and Beijing.  Since the U.S.-North Korean summit process started in June, Snyder said China has eased off enforcing sanctions in the past two months. "But I believe that China is willing to continue to apply sanctions up to a point, and that the level of relaxation on the part of China is not going to be sufficient to meet North Korea’s desire toward its needs," he added. Joshua Stanton, a Washington-based attorney who helped draft the North Korea Sanctions Act in 2016, thinks the consequence of sanctions are not rigorous enough at the current level to deter evasions by North Korea. “So far, they are not,” Stanton said. “You need to go out to Chinese banks that continue to launder money for North Korea. And although the Trump administration threatened that, it hasn’t followed through with that threat.”  US legislation A day before the Hanoi summit that took place Feb. 27-28, Congressman Brendan Boyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, introduced a bill calling for the prohibition of lifting sanctions on North Korea.  Stanton said Congress will likely look for ways to make sanctions stronger now that North Korea has demonstrated its unwillingness at the Hanoi summit to agree to U.S. demands on denuclearization.  Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses, said North Korea is most likely to turn to South Korea for concessions and look to resume inter-Korean projects, such as the Kaesong Industrial Complex and Mount Kumgang tourism, which South Korea has been planning to discuss with the U.S. prior to beginning preparatory work because of potential sanctions violations. ​The Kaesong Industrial Complex that opened in 2004 included factories where South Korean manufacturers could employ North Korean workers for low wages. It was shut down in 2016 following a North Korean nuclear test. South Korean tours to the venerated Mount Kumgang ended in 2008 after a South Korean tourist was shot by a North Korean guard.  Gause said, “It will definitely make it more difficult for [South Korean President Moon Jae-in] to just provide concessions to North Korea with the United States taking a hardline following Hanoi.” Snyder thinks “the inter-Korean projects cannot go ahead under current circumstance because they would pursue contrary to the sanctions efforts,” and if South Korea tries to resume the projects with North Korea, “it would definitely create tension.”  “So I believe South Korea is going to get essentially a red light on the idea of large-scale economic cooperation," he added.  Gause, on the other hand, thinks inter-Korean economic projects could help U.S. negotiate denuclearization with North Korea. “If the South Koreans were able to get some sanctions relief and provide North Korea with some resources, maybe reopening the Kaesong Industrial Complex or Mount Kumgang, that could actually lay the path for better negotiations with the United States down the line than if we just take a hard line against North Korea, and they go into a shell,” said Gause.  After the Hanoi summit, Snyder said North Korea is looking for a way to boost its leverage over the U.S. position by making a preparation to resume testing.  “One leverage that North Korea can use to push back on the U.S. position is the idea of making preparations for possible resumption of testing," he said. “It’s kind of logical move for North Korea to make as a means by which to send the signal that the North Koreans also have some leverage and they’re not just going to roll over.” 

Tick Tock, Tick Tock: Tokyo Olympics Clock Hits 500-day Mark

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 11:45
Tick tock, tick tock. The Tokyo Olympic clock has hit 500 days to go.   Organizers marked the milestone on Tuesday, unveiling the stylized pictogram figures for next year's Tokyo Olympics. The pictogram system was first used extensively in 1964 when the Japanese capital lasted hosted the Olympics _ just 19 years after the end of World War II.   A crude picture system was first used in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and later in London in 1948. But the '64 Olympics originated the standardized symbols that have become familiar in every Olympics since then.   Japanese athletes posed with the pictograms and their designer, Masaaki Hiromura. Organizers also toured regions that will host Olympic events, including the area north of Tokyo that was devastated by a 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and resulting damage to nearby nuclear reactors. Unlike other recent Olympics, construction projects are largely on schedule. The new Olympics stadium, the centerpiece of the games, is to be completed by the by the end of the year at a cost estimated at $1.25 billion.   That's not to say these Olympics are problem free.   Costs continue to rise, although local organizers and the IOC say they are cutting costs — or at least slowing the rise.   As an example, last month organizers said the cost of the opening and closing ceremonies had risen by 40 percent compared with the forecast in 2013 when Tokyo was awarded the games.   Overall, Tokyo is spending at least $20 billion to host the Olympics. About 75 percent of this is public money, although costs are difficult to track with arguments over what are — and what are not — Olympic expenses. That figure is about three times larger than the bid forecast in 2013.   Tsunekazu Takeda, the president of the Japanese Olympic Committee and a powerful International Olympic Committee member, is also being investigated in a vote-buying scandal that may have helped Tokyo land the Olympics. Takeda has denied wrongdoing and has not resigned from any of his positions with the IOC or in Japan.   He is up for re-election to the Japanese Olympic Committee this summer and could face pressure to step aside.

UN Probing North Korea Sanctions Violations in 20 Countries

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 10:55
U.N. experts say they are investigating possible violations of United Nations sanctions on North Korea in about 20 countries, from alleged clandestine nuclear procurement in China to arms brokering in Syria and military cooperation with Iran, Libya and Sudan. The expert panel's 66-page report to the Security Council, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, also detailed the appearance in North Korea of a Rolls-Royce Phantom, Mercedes-Benz limousines and Lexus LX 570 all-wheel drive luxury vehicles in violation of a ban on luxury goods.   And it noted a trend in North Korea's evasion of financial sanctions "of using cyberattacks to illegally force the transfer of funds from financial institutions and cryptocurrency exchanges."   The report's executive summary, which was obtained in early February, said North Korea's nuclear and missile programs "remain intact" and its leaders are dispersing missile assembly and testing facilities to prevent "decapitation" strikes.   The full report said "the Yongbyon nuclear complex remained active," noting that satellite imagery through November showed excavation of water channels and construction of a new building near the reactors' water discharge facilities. Satellite imagery also "indicates possible operation of the radiochemical laboratory and associated steam plant," it said.   The panel said it continues monitoring uranium concentration plants and mining sites in the country.   It also has "surveyed, confirmed and reported ballistic missile activity sites and found evidence of a consistent trend" by North Korea "to disperse its assembly, storage and testing locations," the report said.   In addition to using civilian facilities, the panel said North Korea is using "previously idle or sprawling military-industrial sites as launch locations" — some close to, and some up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the assembly or storage sites.   As examples of this trend, it cited the test launch of Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Panghyon aircraft factory on July 4, 2017, and a launch from Mupyong-ni 24 days after that. It said Pyongyang's Sunan International Airport, the country's largest civil-military airfield, was used to launch Hwasong-12 missiles on Aug. 29 and Sept. 15 of that year.   As for trade sanctions, the experts said they continue to investigate two Chinese companies on the U.N. sanctions blacklist — Namchogang Trading Corp. and Namhung Trading Corp. — and associated front companies and their representatives "for nuclear procurement activities."   The panel said it is also currently surveying the world's manufacturers of nuclear "choke point" items such as "pressure transducers," focusing on their end-use delivery verification methods.   The experts said they also were continuing "multiple investigations into prohibited activities" between North Korea and the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.   These include Syrian nationals reported to be engaged in arms brokering on behalf of North Korea "to a range of Middle Eastern and African states, reportedly offering conventional arms and, in some cases, ballistic missiles, to armed groups in Yemen and Libya," the panel said. They also include North Koreans working for sanctioned "entities" and for Syrian defense factories, it said.   The experts said a country, which they didn't identify, had informed them that Iran "was one of the two most lucrative markets" for North Korean military cooperation and that both the Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. and Green Pine Associated Corp. offices in the country "are active." The unnamed country also indicated that North Koreans in Iran were being used as cash couriers, the report said.   The Iranian government replied to the panel that the only North Koreans in the country were diplomats, and they have not violated U.N. sanctions, the report said.   The panel said it is continuing investigations into "multiple attempts at military cooperation" between North Korea and various Libyan authorities and sanctioned "entities" and foreign nationals working on their behalf.   The experts said they are also continuing investigations into military cooperation projects between North Korea and Sudan, including information on activities involving a Syrian arms trafficker and technology for "anti-tank and man-portable air defense systems."

US, North Korea Harden Positions on Denuclearization

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 09:33
North Korea must completely give up its nuclear weapons before the United States begins lifting sanctions. That comment came Monday from the top U.S. envoy on North Korea. It suggests the U.S. is hardening its position following the second summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un - a meeting that failed to result in a deal. More from VOA's Bill Gallo.

Australian Volunteers Clean the Ocean One Straw at a Time

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 04:18
Environmental groups are celebrating efforts to ban what they say is an avalanche of plastic straws polluting the worlds oceans. Chain restaurants like Starbucks and McDonalds are phasing out plastics and U.S. cities like Seattle have banned them entirely. There are billions in the ocean already, but a group of volunteer trash collectors in Australia is trying to at least clean up a local cove. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

South Korea Takes a Baby Step Toward Medical Cannabis Legalization

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 04:18
A very small number of South Korean patients can soon get cannabis-derived medicine. But as Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, some say the moves toward medical legalization are too limited.

In Rural Nepal, Solar Irrigation Helps Keep Families Together

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 02:45
Bhadri Sarki used to walk for more than an hour to fetch enough water to irrigate just one apple tree. But since a solar-powered water pump was installed in her village, about 350 km (217 miles) northwest of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, she can hydrate her whole orchard in a few hours. “We have a sufficient amount of water available in the field, and the only work left is to nurture the plants,” Sarki told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. A local official and farmers said improved access to water was helping apple growers in the mountainous region sell surplus produce to boost incomes, reducing pressure on men to migrate in search of work. With an intellectually disabled daughter at home, and her house-builder husband frequently in India, Sarki had found it difficult to find time for daily chores before the pump arrived. The mother-of-three suffered a uterine prolapse and heart-related problems due to her workload and had to visit hospital often, she said. But with water now available on their doorstep, the family’s land is producing more, and there is less financial pressure for Sarki’s husband to go and work across the border. For Sarki and other women in Jumla district in Karnali province - the poorest in Nepal, and with less than a quarter of its land irrigated — the new solar water pump is helping make a tough life easier. Installed about a year ago by development agency Practical Action, the pump was funded by the European Union and Jersey Overseas Aid, a state development agency, at an initial cost of 1.3 million rupees ($11,465). About 14 solar panels produce enough power to pump 20,000 liters of water per day up from the Tila River, which is collected in storage tanks and distributed to fields as needed. Menila Kharel, knowledge management coordinator at Practical Action, said the pump lifted water 90 meters (295 ft), and served 70 households in Dhaulapani village, which has no electric power connection. The UK-based charity has installed six solar pumps in different parts of Jumla — famous for its apples, walnuts and a rare local rice — as well as in neighboring Mugu district. Erratic snow The local government has decided to replicate the scheme on a larger scale in other parts of Jumla district after its success in Dhaulapani. Gangadevi Upadhyay, deputy head of Tatopani rural municipality, said the local authority had started putting in a solar pump in Dagivada village, with an estimated budget of 10 million rupees, which would benefit almost 300 households. “This technology is especially beneficial to women in Jumla where they carry out most of the work in the fields,” she added. Tika Ram Sharma, a senior officer for the Prime Minister’s Agriculture Modernization Project, a 10-year government effort, said Jumla had plenty of sunshine nearly all year round, while the Tila is a perennial river. Both renewable resources had gone untapped, but the solar-powered pump meant they were now being fully utilized, he added. “The pump has proved beneficial at times when traditional methods such as harvesting snow are becoming impractical due to its erratic pattern,” added Sharma. According to a new assessment by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu, future projections point to less snow cover and snow water across basins in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region as the climate warms. Jumla received sufficient snowfall this year for the first time in nearly a decade, local farmers said. Jumla was declared Nepal’s first organic district in 2007, but farmers were unable to make the most of its agricultural potential as they lacked a reliable source of irrigation. Apple bounty Now they have started seeing yields rise since the water pump made irrigation easier. “I used to harvest only what would be sufficient for our family consumption but after this scheme arrived, I have started making some money by selling apples and beans,” said Parwati Rawat, a farmer in Dhaulapani village. The apples used to go pale due to insufficient water, but their quality and color is now much better, she added. Rawat has started inter-cropping high-value vegetables in her apple orchard, instead of less thirsty crops like finger millet, which fetched lower prices. Since the pump was installed, men are finding they need to leave the village less often to make a living, because families are growing enough produce to sell some of their harvest. “My husband often used to go to India for work, but now he doesn’t need to go as frequently as before,” Rawat said. Her husband, Hasta Bahadur Rawat, said they earned a profit of up to 42,000 rupees in one season from selling apples. Tatopani official Upadhyay said many men from Jumla migrated during the winter, returning for the summer - but the rate of migration was slowly decreasing. Firstly, local people were collecting medicinal plants and trading them on a larger scale, she said. Secondly, many farmers in Jumla had started to embrace apple-growing as a business activity since they gained access to road transport in the past decade - and, more recently, electric power for irrigation. “Solar pumps can help in taking apple farming to commercial scale more easily,” Upadhyay added.

US: No Phased Approach to North Korea Denuclearization

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 22:53
The United States will not agree to a phased approach to North Korea's denuclearization, the top U.S. envoy to Pyongyang said Monday. "We are not going to do denuclearization incrementally," Steve Biegun told a nuclear policy conference in Washington. "The president has been clear on that and that is a position around which the U.S. government has complete unity." The comments are the latest evidence the U.S. is hardening its public position following a meeting in Hanoi, Vietnam between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that failed to result in a deal. Before the summit, U.S. officials had suggested they were open to a phased approach, whereby North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons in stages as the U.S. takes corresponding measures. Biegun on Monday said the U.S. would not lift sanctions until North Korea "completes the denuclearization process," though he did say there are "other areas outside lifting sanctions" that the U.S. could offer. North Korea is seeking sanctions relief before it takes any further steps to dismantle its nuclear program. Missile test? Since the Hanoi summit, U.S. officials have threatened to expand sanctions, while commercial satellite images suggest Pyongyang could be preparing a missile test or satellite launch. Trump has said he would be disappointed if North Korea fired a rocket or missile. But Biegun downplayed the importance of the satellite images showing the North Korean activity. "We don't know that it's meant to send any particular statement to us," Biegun said. Commercial satellite imagery suggests North Korea has rebuilt parts of a satellite launching station and has increased activity at a site used to assemble ballistic missiles. In the past, such activity was a sign North Korea was preparing to launch a rocket or missile. Analysts have said the North could be threatening a test in an attempt to improve its bargaining position.   U.N. sanctions ban North Korea from conducting ballistic missile tests. Although Pyongyang insists its satellite launches are part of a peaceful space program, the U.S. views the satellite launches as thinly disguised tests of missile technology.   North Korea has not conducted a missile or nuclear test since late 2017. At the Hanoi summit, Trump said Kim promised him that North Korea would not resume the testing.    

Court Rules Against News Site Critical of Philippine Leader

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 22:39
A Philippine appeals court has upheld a decision that an online news site critical of President Rodrigo Duterte violated a constitutional ban on foreign ownership of news media. The Court of Appeals said in a decision made public Monday that Rappler Inc. effectively allowed U.S.-based investor Omidyar Network "to participate" in its corporate actions and decisions in violation of the constitution, which requires media companies to be fully owned and managed by Filipinos. Rappler argued that it did not grant Omidyar the power to control or influence its news operations, but the appeals court backed a Securities and Exchange Commission decision last year to revoke the site's license. Media watchdogs have said the move was an act to muzzle the media.  

China's MoBike Shutting Some International Operations

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 21:16
Chinese bike-sharing startup Mobike is shutting down operations in Australia and South and Southeast Asia, months after rival Ofo began winding down its international division. "Mobike's international business is undergoing rationalization to improve efficiency," the company said in a statement Monday. "This will result in the closure of some markets, particularly in certain Asia countries." In recent years, Mobike, Ofo and other startups flooded Chinese cities with bright, candy-colored two-wheelers unlocked and tracked using smartphone apps. Two years ago, Mobike began expanding into overseas markets, bringing its signature orange bikes first to Singapore, then Europe, the Americas, and other countries and regions. Technology publication TechCrunch said on Friday that Mobike would shutter all its international operations. Mobike spokesman Steve Milton called the reports "exaggerated," saying the closures were limited to Southeast Asia, specifically India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. "It does not relate to other operations of Mobike International," Milton said. "We are continuing to look for strategic partners, particularly in Europe and Latin America." Three Mobike employees familiar with the closures said they were told by senior executives that the company planned to eventually shutter all its international divisions, not just Southeast Asia and Australia. Two of the employees said the reason for the closures wasn't poor market performance, but because of Mobike's acquisition last year by Chinese online services giant Meituan Dianping. "Meituan doesn't have any overseas business agenda or experience," said one employee, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation from superiors. "They just want to be operating in China, which they can control." The closures come on the heels of turmoil in the Chinese bike-sharing industry. Chinese state media once touted shared bikes as a technology in which China was surging ahead in the new global economy, along with high-speed rail, mobile payments and e-commerce. But following huge investments, the business turned into a brutal cost-cutting war. Last year, Mobike's largest competitor, Ofo, said it was considering filing for bankruptcy as millions of users applied to get their deposits back.