VOA Asia

Subscribe to VOA Asia feed VOA Asia
asia
Updated: 32 min 12 sec ago

US, South Korea Shrug Off North Korean Missile Test

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 18:19
The United States and South Korea have offered only a muted response to North Korea’s first ballistic missile test in a year and a half. That is because both governments have incentives to make sure talks with North Korea are not derailed, as VOA’s Bill Gallo reports from Seoul. ((NARRATOR))

China, Wary of US, Pushes to Accelerate Accident Prevention Deal in Disputed Sea

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 17:12
China and Southeast Asian countries that dispute sovereignty over a strategic Asian sea aim to speed up talks toward a code of conduct that would lower the risk of accidents and help keep the U.S. government out of the fray. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said his country and a bloc of Southeast Asian states will "speed up" talks on a code of conduct in the South China Sea, Beijing's state-run China Daily reported March 8. Wang told reporters days later the talks were "gathering pace under a clear road map.” That goal should mean a 2020 signing date -- ahead of an earlier Chinese forecast of 2021 -- for the agreement aimed at guiding ships away from mishaps in the vast, crowded South China Sea, some analysts believe.  China resents the U.S. Navy for passing ships through the sea, where Beijing has a military and technological advantage over the four Southeast Asian countries that also claim parts of it. An early signing of the code would show Washington that Beijing can work with its neighbors without U.S. influence, scholars say. ​“If there’s no United States, the Chinese won’t say that the code of conduct is a must-have document,” said Yun Sun, East Asia Program senior associate with the Stimson Center think tank in Washington, D.C. “With a code of conduct, the Chinese could tell the Americans that ‘we already have a deal, and there’s no reason for you to get involved and whatever we do is between me, China, and them, Southeast Asian countries,’” she said. Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam claim all or parts of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea that’s prized for fisheries, shipping lanes and fossil fuel reserves. China has alarmed the others since 2010 by building artificial islands for military installations.  Washington, which counts some of the other states as allies, stepped up naval patrols of the sea in 2017 to monitor Chinese activity there. Laggard increases speed China and the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have talked off and on about a code of conduct for the sea since ASEAN endorsed the idea in 1996. Some analysts believe China had once stalled the process but came around in 2016 after losing a world court arbitration over the legal basis for its claim to about 90 percent of the sea. As tough Sino-ASEAN discussions began after a 2017 commitment to reach a deal, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang anticipated last year the code would take three years to finish.  Next year is likely for a deal on the code of conduct because China hopes to work with Vietnam, the 2020 chair of ASEAN, said Termsak Chalermpalanupap, fellow with the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. China and ASEAN are focusing this year on trade liberalization, he said. ​“I think the Chinese side seems to indicate they now want to make it quicker," he said. "I think it may be next year. Next year will be the turn of Vietnam chairing ASEAN. I think China may have strategic reasons to work with Vietnam.” Vietnam is the most outspoken Southeast Asian country with claims to the sea. Although accidents are rare in the sea today, Vietnamese and Chinese vessels rammed one another over a Chinese oil rig in 2014. They also engaged in deadly clashes in 1974 and 1988. The code of conduct is due to set out guidelines for stopping such incidents in the sea that supports one-third of the world’s marine shipping traffic and a fishing industry that employs an estimated 3.7 million people. Foiling US naval movements Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Navy has passed ships through the South China Sea at least 10 times. China resents those movements, because the militarily stronger U.S. government -- an old Cold War foe -- makes no claim to the sea. ​Progress toward the code of conduct will improve spirits at future Sino-ASEAN joint military exercises, said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. Next month, the Pentagon will unveil a new Indo Pacific military strategy before defense chiefs around the Asia Pacific at the Shangri-La Dialogue later this month, according to the USNI News website. The strategy is seen as a way to monitor Chinese maritime expansion. “Probably China wanted to have some input before the U.S. pronouncement,” Huang said. U.S. officials have historic alliances with Taiwan the Philippines plus a budding relationship with its old war foe Vietnam. Those countries, all militarily weaker than China, look to Washington to cap Chinese influence.  Tough talks Acceleration of talks toward a code of conduct won’t be easy, analysts have warned. They expect that sovereignty-conscious Beijing will oppose defining the scope of the sea, resist any binding agreement and block provisions for enforcement that would limit Chinese maritime activities. ASEAN is expected to ask for those details during talks. ASEAN finds some of the Chinese demands are “impossible,” Sun said. China has advocated before a speedier deal to show goodwill in Southeast Asia, yet without results, cautioned Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. “From time to time they will put out statements like that,” he said. “The negotiations simply did not conclude.”

US House Passes Bills in Support of Taiwan

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 08:57
The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously backed legislation supporting Taiwan, which faces military and diplomatic pressure from China, as members of the U.S. Congress push for a sharper approach to relations with Beijing. The House passed the measures as Washington and Beijing continue months-long trade negotiations. China said Tuesday that China’s Vice Premier Liu He, would travel to Washington for talks this week, setting up a last-ditch bid for a deal that would avoid a steep increase in tariffs ordered by U.S. President Donald Trump. The House voted 414-0 for a non-binding resolution reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Taiwan. It also backed by unanimous voice vote the “Taiwan Assurance Act of 2019,” which supports Taiwan and urges it to increase its defense spending, noting Washington should conduct “regular sales and defense articles” to Taiwan and backing Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. There was no word on when the Assurance Act might come up for a vote in the Senate, which would be necessary before it could become law. Both measures reflect U.S. concern over any efforts by Beijing to influence Taiwan. Washington has no formal ties with Taipei, but is bound by law to help provide the island with the means to defend itself and is its main source of arms. Beijing regards Taiwan as its sacred territory and regularly calls it the most sensitive and important issue in ties with the United States. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has also scheduled five hearings this week on the relationship between the United States and China.

Release of Myanmar Journalists Comes With a Warning

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 06:44
Myanmar’s release of two journalists on Tuesday came as a welcome surprise to families and supporters, but free press advocates are skeptical the move means real change has come to the nation. The journalists were granted amnesty after spending more than 500 days in prison for covering the government crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

UWSA Celebrates 30 years of Autonomy Inside Myanmar

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 05:52
An autonomous ethnic army inside Myanmar with direct connections to China! In Myanmar’s Shan State, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) recently celebrated three decades of peace and autonomy since 1989, when the Communist Party of Burma was ousted and the new leaders formed what is now Myanmar’s largest ethnic faction. With shared culture and business interests with China, the UWSA is seen as an example for smaller ethnic armies also seeking autonomy within Myanmar. Steve Sandford reports for VOA.

US Lawmakers Alarmed by New Trump Tariffs on Chinese Goods

Wed, 05/08/2019 - 03:25
U.S. President Donald Trump's intention to further hike U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods has alarmed American lawmakers of both parties who fear dire economic consequences from escalating tensions between the United States and its trading partners. "I'm anxious for the tariff war to come to an end," Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of agriculturally rich Kansas told VOA on Tuesday. "Exports are very important to the economy of my state. I would encourage the rapid resolution between the United States and China, because it has an immediate and consequential effect on the livelihoods of lots of people." "The [president's] whole tariff policy has been dangerous folly," New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez said. "I hear it from New Jersey companies that recently, just this past week, told me about tariffs they have to pay on particular products that they can't get anywhere else [but foreign suppliers]." ​Who's paying? On Sunday, Trump announced that tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods would rise from 10% to 25% as of Friday. He tweeted that "China has been paying" U.S. tariffs and that China's "payments are partially responsible for our great economic results." Such assertions are disputed by many lawmakers, including Republicans who, on other matters, often come to the president's defense. "Currently, U.S. importers have paid the U.S. government over $16 billion in tariffs on imports from China," Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford said via Twitter. "This tax is not paid for by Chinese exporters, this is all paid by U.S. importers." ​Trade talks to continue Despite Trump's tariff threat, Chinese officials have signaled they intend to continue trade discussions with Washington, prompting some lawmakers to applaud what they see as the White House's hardball negotiating stance toward Beijing. "The only reason that China is at the [negotiating] table is because of these tariffs, let's not kid ourselves," Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said. "China has been cheating … and it's got to stop. And President Trump has been the first president to call their hand." Some Democrats, meanwhile, credit Trump for confronting China over its trade practices but fault the strategy and tactics the president has employed. "I commend President Trump for saying the status quo with China is not working," Virginia Democratic Sen. John Warner said. "China is not playing by the rules, and my fear is the president may end up with a deal where the president sells an extra $100 billion of [American] soybeans, but these broader issues around technology ... and [China's] ongoing theft of intellectual property go unaddressed." "Tariff policy by tweet does not work," said Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is seeking next year's Democratic presidential nomination. "We've had two years of experience now [with Trump], and it just seems to be getting worse and worse." ​Beyond China Tariff concerns on Capitol Hill extend beyond China. A group of Republican lawmakers has urged Trump to halt tariffs targeting Canadian and Mexican goods, warning the measures could torpedo Congress's consideration of a newly negotiated free trade pact between the United States and both nations. Regarding the president's new tariff threat on Chinese exports, some Republicans are willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt — for now. "Perhaps the president is espousing additional tariffs for purposes of getting China's attention and to negotiate an agreement. That would be a wonderful outcome," Moran said. "The challenge is: it's not just one country that can impose tariffs. So, when the United States [previously] imposed tariffs, China retaliated on products from the United States. And that is very damaging to the ability to earn a living."

Official Thai Election Results Favor Anti-Military Party

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 20:09
Thailand's Election Commission has officially endorsed the results from the country's March 24 general election, declaring that the Pheu Thai Party associated with fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra topped the field by winning 136 constituencies. The commission said Tuesday the rival military-backed Palang Pracharath Party trailed it with 97 seats. The top two competitors are seeking partners to form a parliamentary majority. There are 500 seats in the House of Representatives, and the 350 allocated Tuesday were won by direct vote. The remaining 150 so-called party list seats will be awarded based on a proportion of the overall nationwide vote, and the commission must allocate them by Thursday. Deputy Election Commission Secretary-General Sawang Boonmee cautioned that endorsements could be withdrawn after investigations into more than 400 complaints are resolved.  

Myanmar Releases Reuters Reporters from Jail

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 19:00
Two Reuters journalists who were arrested for violating Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act were released Tuesday. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were among the thousands of prisoners pardoned by President Wyn Myint as part of an annual amnesty issued by authorities around the time of the traditional New Year, which began April 17.

Myanmar Releases Reuters Journalists from Prison

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 18:06
Two Reuters journalists are back with their families and colleagues Tuesday after being released from prison in Myanmar after President Win Myint issued a blanket pardon for thousands of prisoners. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been sentenced to seven years in jail for breaking the Official Secrets Act. The pair were investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya by police and soldiers in the village of Inn Din at the time of their arrest in 2017. Their colleagues watched and cheered as Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo walked free Tuesday. "We're really happy and excited to see our family and colleagues. I don't know what to say, we're very excited." Wa Lone said after his release. "I really want to meet my family and I am supposed to go to the cinema with my family tonight," Kyaw Soe Oo told reporters. Their long awaited reunion with the families, comes just two weeks after Myanmar’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal of their convictions. . At one point in their trial, a law enforcement official testified he planted documents on the two men. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for their work in uncovering the massacre, which they shared with two colleagues who completed the story after their conviction.

Top Chinese Economic Official to Travel to US for New Round of Trade Talks

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 17:14
China has confirmed that its top trade negotiator will travel to the United States to conduct a new round of trade talks later this week, even after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened higher tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods after he complained the process is taking too long.   The Commerce Ministry issued a statement Tuesday that Vice Premier Liu He, President Xi Jinping’s top economic advisor, will meet with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for two days of talks beginning Thursday.   Trump's Twitter comments on Sunday about the new tariffs sent Asian stocks and U.S. futures tumbling Monday and added uncertainty over the future of U.S.-China trade negotiations. Despite the market drop, China's official media stayed silent on Trump's comments all morning. Hours later, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that China is "trying to get more information" about Trump's comments about new tariffs but stressed that Beijing's negotiating team is still preparing to travel to the U.S. for talks this week. Geng did not say whether Vice Premier Liu would lead the delegation.   “The tweet is a big wrench in China’s foreign trade policy,” Nick Marro, analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU), told VOA. “There were a lot of expectations that at least the groundwork for a deal will be finalized this week,” he said, explaining why Beijing should be upset by the new threat.   Tweet with teeth   In his tweet, Trump said he would increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent on Friday. This would reverse a decision Washington took last February to keep it at 10 percent in the midst of trade talks.   “The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No!,” Trump said, expressing dissatisfaction about the pace of trade negotiations and what he considered a Chinese attempt to renegotiate some aspects of the proposed deal. Lighthizer on Monday confirmed that tariffs will be imposed Friday. He and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin told reporters Trump had learned over the weekend that Chinese officials "were trying to go back on some of the language'' that had been negotiated in 10 earlier rounds of talks. They did not offer details.   Trump also said his policy of hiking taxes on Chinese goods had paid dividends.   “These payments are partially responsible for our great economic results,” he said.   He went further, saying another $325 billion of Chinese goods which “remain untaxed” will be taxed at 25 percent. He did not specify a timeline for making this change.   Unaffected stance   In its response Monday, the Chinese foreign ministry expressed hope that there is no change in the situation, and the two countries will continue to strive for an end to the trade war.   “What is of vital importance is that we still hope the United States can work hard with China to meet each other half way, and strive to reach a mutually beneficial, win-win agreement on the basis of mutual respect,” Geng said.   Echoing China’s confidence that trade talks would not be disrupted by Trump's tweet, Shanghai-based expert Shen Dingli said, “China and the U.S. have big and overlapping stakes in bilateral trade. They will overcome any difficulties for a successful outcome of the trade talks.”  

Zimbabwean Villagers Resist a Chinese Company's Mining Project

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 16:33
Zimbabwe has clamored for outside investment in recent years, but villagers north of the capital are resisting a Chinese mining project they say will spoil the environment and fail to bring them much benefit.  The villagers are from Domboshava, a rocky area north of Zimbabwe’s capital, and they are disputing a Chinese company's decision to start quarry mining.  Seventy-year-old Florence Nyamande is among those saying no to the proposed project by Aihua Jianye Company. “The Chinese are the money mongers of Zimbabweans. They take riches here, they take it to China. They do not develop our places. So we do not need them here,” Nyamande said. “Seriously with a deeper heart, seriously with a mind, we are disappointed. We said 'No' and 'No'. That is multiplicated (multiplied) ‘No.’” ​The villagers do not think Aihua Jianye will create the 500 jobs in the area it promised. They also say the quarry mining will leave large ponds filled with dirty water.  Zimbabwe Deputy Minister of Information Energy Mutodi – who is the parliament member for the area – is also against the $500 million quarry mining project.  He says he is not going against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s mantra that “Zimbabwe is open for business.” “It is open to business, but not to business that is gong to affect our environment. We want to preserve the environment. We want our community to develop, yes. But let our environment remain intact. We cannot have a situation come here take the proceeds, enjoy it in other countries, yet our people remain poor,” Mutodi said. Mutodi notes the Chinese company has advertised for only 40 jobs in the area, less than one-tenth of what it promised. Percy Mudzidzwa, whose company GeoGlobal Environmental Solutions is representing the Chinese firm, rejects allegations that 20,000 people would be affected by the 33 hectare mining project.  Some locals say the project will affect a graveyard and a natural spring. Mudzidzwa says that is not so.  “Not even a grave is going to be moved. But there is a misconception. We proposed that that the graves be fenced. There is a spring, which is above the grave site, we proposed that the spring be fenced too,” Mudzidzwa explained. Now the project waits for the country’s Environmental Management Agency to make a final call if the Chinese company can go ahead. 

New UN Campaign to Bring Youth into Gender Equality Fight

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 12:28
The U.N. women's agency launched a campaign Monday to bring a young generation of women and men into the campaign for gender equality ahead of next year's 25th anniversary of the conference that adopted the only international platform to achieve women's rights and empowerment. UN Women announced its new "Generation Equality: Realizing women's rights for an equal future'' at a news conference where it also made public events planned to mark adoption of the 150-page platform for action to achieve gender equality by 189 governments at the 1995 Beijing women's conference. "Today, nearly 25 years after the historic Beijing conference, the reality is that not a single country can claim to have achieved gender equality,'' said a statement from UN Women's executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. "Despite some progress, real change has been too slow for most women and girls in the world, and we see significant pushback in many places.'' "Women continue to be discriminated against and their contributions undervalued,'' she added. "They work more, earn less and have fewer choices about their bodies, livelihoods and futures than men - and they experience multiple forms of violence at home, at work and in public spaces.'' Mlambo-Ngcuka said the General Equality campaign is aimed at speeding systematic change "on the laws, policies and outdated mindsets that must no longer curtail women's voice, choice and safety.'' UN Women's deputy executive director, Asa Regner, said at the news conference that there have been positive results since Beijing. She pointed to a record number of girls in school, better access to health care, a decrease in maternal mortality, more women in top positions in the business world and fresh efforts to address violence against women and to put women at peace negotiating tables. ​​But she said the biggest challenges are to change male-dominated "power structures'' that leave far more women and girls facing poverty and violence. Ahead of next year's anniversary events, UN Women has asked all 193 U.N. member nations to submit details and data on what their countries have done to implement the 1995 Beijing platform, Regner said. As of Friday, she said, it had received 22 responses but hopes the entire membership will answer. The Beijing platform called for bold actions in 12 critical areas for women and girls including combatting poverty and violence, improving human rights and access to reproductive and sexual health care, and ensuring that all girls get an education and that women are at the top levels of business and government, and the top table in peace negotiations. Events leading up to next year's anniversary include the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women's annual meeting in March 2020 devoted to Beijing's implementation, a high-level meeting when world leaders gather for the annual General Assembly session in September 2020, and a "Global Gender Equality Forum'' co-hosted by France and Mexico in France bringing civil society representatives and activists of all ages together to look to the future. No date has been announced yet for that event. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at Monday evening's opening of an exhibition on women who were part of the Soviet Union's military effort in World War II that "we will not achieve peace'' or any of the U.N.'s development goals for 2030 "without the full and equal participation of women.'' "Yet we all know that there is still a stark imbalance of power around the world, and we are even seeing a backlash in some areas against women's rights,'' he said. Regner said the majority of countries favor progress on gender equality, but there is "pushback.'' There are governments and movements, she said, that value "so-called traditional family values and other ideas around women's and men's roles both in families and in societies which do not correspond to international agreements, and which would not necessarily give women the space and possibility to decide over their own lives, bodies, economic empowerment, etc.'' Regner, a former Swedish minister, said UN Women's task is to spur implementation of Beijing and other agreements - and "we will never back down.''

K-Pop Stardom Lures Japanese Youth to Korea Despite Diplomatic Chill

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 11:00
Yuuka Hasumi put high school in Japan on hold and flew to South Korea in February to try her chances at becoming a K-pop star, even if that means long hours of vocal and dance training, no privacy, no boyfriend, and even no phone. Hasumi, 17, joined Acopia School in Seoul, a prep school offering young Japanese a shot at K-pop stardom, teaching them the dance moves, the songs and also the language. She is one of an estimated one million other K-pop star wannabes, from South Korea and abroad, hoping to get a shot at super competitive auditions by major talent agencies that will take on just a select few as "trainees." "It is tough," Hasumi said in Japanese, drenched in sweat from a dance lesson she attended with 15-year-old friend Yuho Wakamatsu, also from Japan. "Going through a strict training and taking my skill to a higher level to a perfect stage, I think that's when it is good to make a debut," she said. Hasumi is one of 500 or so young Japanese who join Acopia each year, paying up to $3,000 a month for training and board. The school also fixes auditions for its candidates with talent management companies that have been the driving force behind the "Korean-wave" pop culture that exploded onto the world stage in the past decade with acts such as global chart topping boy band BTS. The influx of Japanese talent that is reshaping the K-pop industry comes at a time of increasingly bitter political acrimony between the two countries that has damaged diplomatic ties. That the tension has done little to dent the K-pop craze among Japanese youth, and the willingness by Korean agencies to take on Japanese talent, speak to the strength of the ties between their people, according to one long-time observer. "They're nuts about BTS over there in Japan," said Lee Soo-chul, board member of Seoul-Tokyo Forum, a private foundation with members of diplomats and business executives from both countries. K-pop groups, and veteran Korean musicians, are selling out concert halls throughout Japan, said Lee, a former head of Samsung Group's Japanese operations. "There is no Korea-Japan animosity there." Deep Freeze Tensions rooted in Japan's 1910-1945 colonization of Korea have risen after South Korean court rulings against Japanese firms for forced labor, and amid a perception in Korea that Japan's leadership has not adequately atoned for its colonial past. But the popularity of Korean culture and K-pop music is on the rise in Japan, with many fans and artists saying they are not bothered by the diplomatic tension. "I might get criticized for being Japanese, but I want to stand on a stage and make (South Koreans) know Japanese can be this cool," said Rikuya Kawasaki, a 16-year-old Japanese K-pop star hopeful who auditioned unsuccessfully in Tokyo for Acopia School. For schools and agencies, Japan's music market - the second largest after the United States and bigger than China - is a big prize and many have been on a campaign to recruit Japanese talent. "It will be good if Japan and South Korea will get along through music," Hasumi told Reuters during a break from her Korean language class. Some Japanese transplants have already made it big. The three Japanese members of the girl band Twice helped make the group the second most popular act in Japan, after BTS. Their success has prompted JYP Entertainment, the South Korean agency backing Twice, to plan the launch of an idol group comprising only Japanese girls. JYP declined to comment for this story. Agency officials are reluctant to discuss their success in Japan and the infusion of Japanese talent, wary of fueling a politically charged backlash, industry sources said. Hard Road to Stardom There's no shortage of Japanese hopefuls willing to train under talent agencies' watchful eye, some having left successful careers back home in search of K-pop fame. "I've heard stories about no free time or not being able to do what I want. But, I think all of K-pop stars who are now performing have gone down the same road," said Nao Niitsu, a 19-year-old college freshman from Tokyo. During a visit to Seoul paid for by her mother, herself a die-hard BTS fan, Niitsu auditioned for 10 agencies and was accepted by five. Debut is elusive, unlike in Japan where it is easier for idols to get a start and then can hone their skills and work on their appeal with the fans. Miyu Takeuchi said it wasn't a difficult decision to leave a 10-year career with a top idol band AKB48 back home in Japan to sign with the K-pop agency Mystic Entertainment in March as a trainee. Even with her experience, she has seven hours of vocal training a day and two-hour dance lessons twice a week, plus early morning Korean lessons. She is not allowed to have a boyfriend but she says she has no regrets, despite the fact there is no guarantee she will make it. "I don't know how long my training period will be, but it has to reach a point where my coaches and management company say 'Miyu, you are a professional!'" ($1 = 111.1600 yen)

Too Many Jobs, Too Few Qualified Workers are Economic Obstacles in Vietnam

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 10:55
Vietnam has long been a tough place to hire and keep employees, but it’s even tougher now, as business trends force companies to scramble to recruit enough staff, according to a new report. Foreign retail brands are entering the market for Vietnamese customers, factories and other businesses are relocating here from China, and employers increasingly need staff with advanced technical skills. All three of these changes triggered a “sudden growth in demand” for a limited pool of talent, said Navigos Group, a company that sells recruitment services and operates the biggest job portal in the country, VietnamWorks. New Companies Need Workers “Companies shifting production from China to Vietnam continue to increase strongly, especially in supporting industries and wood furniture industry,” Navigos Group said in the April report assessing the first quarter of 2019. “There are projects that launch new factories in Vietnam, which are expected to greatly increase the number of employees by double, or triple during the year, especially in the field of electronics, high-end components manufacturing.” Vietnam ranked No. 1 in an analysis of six countries in Asia where manufacturers could move as they leave China, according to a report in December from Natixis, an investment bank. The analysis was based on four criteria: demographic trends, input costs, infrastructure, and the share of foreign manufacturing. Low Supply of Workers Nothing New With all of these investors flooding into Vietnam, the calculus of supply and demand is changing in the workforce. There is a lot of new demand for labor. But supply has been a challenge for years even before this, thanks to a number of reasons. The Southeast Asian country of 100 million people has a low unemployment rate, usually around 2 percent, so most of the people who want jobs already have them. Vietnam’s communist government also guarantees many worker protections, from paid holidays to restrictions on firing. Many Workers Like to Move Around For possibly related reasons, employees, especially younger ones, prefer to leave a job after about three years. This can cut both ways. On the one hand, it might be a good sign that workers do not feel locked into a job just to keep their health insurance or other benefits and have the freedom to move. On the other hand, employers do not want to have to pay to train new people every few years. Add to that challenge the fact that more employers are coming into the country. Gaku Echizenya, the CEO of Navigos Group, sees “the recruitment market in Vietnam becoming more and more vibrant and competitive due to the investment of FDI enterprises,” or foreign direct invested. That includes in the information technology sector, where skill levels are not keeping up with new technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the internet of things. “The demand for recruiting IT human resources is increasing more and more in the digital era, which leads to many challenges to attract and retain talents,” Echizenya said. This demand is rising by 47 percent per year in Vietnam, according to CUTS International, a non-profit consumer advocacy organization. Solutions A possible solution to filling in the skills gap is to train current staff again. Microsoft Asia released data in April showing that employees are far more willing to retrain than their employers think. The study, which covered 15 countries in the Asia Pacific region including Vietnam, found that 22 percent of business leaders think workers do not want to reskill, whereas just 8 percent of workers themselves say that, marking a large disconnect between the two sides. Companies also can broaden their net by hiring candidates with skills obtained through online classes, said Alice Pham, CUTS International country director. “If employers and recruiters do not recognize online degrees, or see knowledge and skills attained digitally as being inferior to those provided by established educational institutions, the learners’ motivation and incentives would be negatively affected and ultimately the appeal of e-learning would be corroded, partially or completely,” Pham wrote in a report for CUTS in August. People in Vietnam traditionally prefer to hire employees with qualifications on paper, from college diplomas to number of years worked. But with talent in short supply, the times are changing, and preferences may have to change with them.

Reuters Says Two Jailed Reporters in Myanmar Have Been Set Free

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 10:55
Reuters news agency says two of its journalists who have been jailed for violating Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act have been released from prison.   Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted last September and sentenced to seven years in prison.  The pair were covering the brutal military campaign in northwestern Rakhine state that drove nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims across the border into Bangladesh in August 2017.  They were arrested in December of that year after meeting with two police officers at a restaurant in Yangon and given a stack of documents.  The pair were investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya by police and soldiers in the village of Inn Din.   Their release comes just two weeks after Myanmar’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal of their convictions.  Their lawyers said the original conviction should be thrown out because the journalists were setup by police.  At one point in their trial, a law enforcement official testified he planted documents on the two men. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for their work in uncovering the massacre, which they shared with two colleagues who completed the story after their conviction. The arrests of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have sparked international outrage among free speech and human rights activists, who saw the case as Myanmar's first real test of freedom of expression since embracing democracy in 2016 after decades under repressive military rule. A special United Nations investigative panel has accused Myanmar's military of carrying out numerous atrocities during last year's crackdown against the Rohingya Muslims "with genocidal intent." The U.N. panel is calling for the prosecution of its top generals, including the army's commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. 

China to Continue Trade Talks Despite Trump’s Threatening Tweets

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 10:02
Global markets have been volatile after President Donald Trump threatened Sunday to raise tariffs on China. Although Beijing has indicated it will continue trade negotiations scheduled this Wednesday in Washington, the escalating tension between the two powers may have an impact beyond trade, as the Trump administration needs Beijing’s support on various issues, including dealing with North Korea and Iran. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

Zimbabwean Villagers Resist Chinese Company Mining Project

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 10:02
Some Zimbabweans are resisting a move by a Chinese investor to open a quarry mine in a village just outside the capital, Harare. Opponents say the project will displace about 20,000 people who live in the area. But as Columbus Mavhunga reports from Harare, a representative of the Chinese company denies the claim.

US Wary of Chinese, Russian Military Presence in Arctic

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 01:18
Aimed at countering China and Russia's expansion in the Arctic, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday the United States will increase its military presence in the polar region. "We are hosting military exercises, strengthening our force presence, rebuilding our icebreaker fleet, expanding Coast Guard funding, and creating a new senior military post for Arctic Affairs inside our own military," said Pompeo after arriving in Rovaniemi, Finland, for a meeting of the Arctic Council. "The region has become an area of global power and competition," he said. The top U.S. diplomat's warning comes days after a Pentagon report said China could use its civilian research presence in the Arctic to strengthen its military presence. In Beijing, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang pushed back Monday, saying China has been adhering to the path of "peaceful development" and asked the United States to abandon "the outdated concept of Cold War mentality and the zero-sum game." With the steady reductions in sea ice in the polar region, new naval passageways and trade opportunities are seen to be opening up. Last month, Russia announced plans to connect the Northern Sea Route with China's Maritime "Silk Road," a move seen as developing a new shipping channel from Asia to northern Europe. Meanwhile, China's interest in the Arctic has been on the rise in recent years. Beijing's Arctic policy says "China hopes to work with all parties to build a Polar Silk Road through developing the Arctic shipping routes." Sounding the alarm on China's ambition, Pompeo rejected interference by non-Arctic countries in the polar region. "There are only Arctic States and non-Arctic States. No third category exists," said Pompeo during his speech in Finland Monday. Military officials from Russia and China said both countries intended to regularly conduct joint war games, following last September's massive Vostok (East) 2018 military exercises that spanned extensive regions of Siberia, Russia's Far East, the Arctic, and the Pacific Oceans. China was invited for the first time to join the drill. In May of 2013, China became an "observer state" of the Arctic Council with the help of Iceland. Last year, a China-Iceland joint Arctic Research Observatory was established in Karholl, Iceland. The Arctic houses 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, and an abundance of resources, including uranium, rare earth minerals, and millions of square miles of untapped fisheries.

China Prepares for Trade Talks Despite Trump's New Threat

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 00:52
China says its negotiators are preparing to travel to the United States for their next round of trade talks this week, even after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened higher tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese goods after he complained the process is taking too long. Trump's comments about the new tarifs on Twitter on Sunday sent Asian stocks and U.S. futures tumbling Monday and added uncertainty over the figure of U.S.-China trade negotiations. Despite the market drop, China's official media stayed silent on Trump's comments all morning. Hours later, Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters that China is "trying to get more information" about Trump's comments about new tariffs but stressed that Beijing's negotiating team is still preparing to travel to the U.S. for talks this week. "The tweet is a big wrench in China's foreign trade policy," Nick Marro, Analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit (The EIU) told VOA. "There were a lot of expectations that at least the groundwork for a deal will be finalized this week," he said, explaining why Beijing should be upset by the new threat. Tweet with teeth In his tweet issued on Sunday, Trump said he would increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 percent to 25 percent on Friday. This would mark a reversal of a decision Washington took last February to keep it at 10 percent in the midst of trade talks. "The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No!," Trump said expressing dissatisfaction about the pace of trade negotiations and what he considers Chinese attempt to renegotiate some aspects of the proposed deal. President Trump also said that his policy of hiking taxes on Chinese goods had paid dividends. "These payments are partially responsible for our great economic results," he said. He went further saying another $325 billion of Chinese goods which "remain untaxed" will be taxed at 25 percent. He did not specify a timeline for making this change. Unaffected stance In its response Monday, Chinese foreign ministry expressed hope there is no change in the situation and the two countries will continue to strive for an end to the trade war. "What is of vital importance is that we still hope the United States can work hard with China to meet each other half way, and strive to reach a mutually beneficial, win-win agreement on the basis of mutual respect," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng said. What the ministry did not clarify is whether China would send the same envoy, Vice Premier Liu He, as head of the official delegation as originally planned. Echoing China's confidence that trade talks would not be disrupted by Trump's tweet, Shanghai based expert Shen Dingli said, "China and the U.S. have big and overlapping stakes in bilateral trade. They will overcome any difficulties for a successful outcome of the trade talks." The tweet has also made it difficult for Chinese President Xi to make a proposed China-U.S. deal acceptable to his domestic audience. Xi does not want to be seen as being bulled into accepting a deal by the U.S., Nick Marro said. "It has shattered the potential optics around the deal. The tweet makes the deal look like China has no choice but to listen to the U.S." Dingli sees nothing odd about Trump's use of tweet as a foreign policy instrument although this aspect has been widely criticized in some circles. "America does not have a propaganda department like the Chinese government. Therefore, Trump has invented something that is good for him," Dingli said. "A competent propaganda department has made China powerful. My President does not need to use his own account in WeChat [Chinese social media app] to communicate," he said. Washington and Beijing have engaged in reciprocal tariff hikes over the last year while negotiators have engaged in lengthy trade talks, alternating negotiations between the two capitals. Despite an initial goal of finishing by March 1, the two countries have continued to debate several issues, but have yet to complete a deal. Both sides, representing the world's two biggest economies, have said progress is being made. The two countries have been trying to resolve disputes over intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. It is not clear whether the tariffs both countries have imposed will remain in place if an agreement is reached.

Malaysia Extradites Former Goldman Banker Facing US Graft Charge

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 22:32
Malaysia's attorney general said Monday that former Goldman Sachs executive Roger Ng has been temporarily extradited to the U.S. to face criminal charges linked to the alleged multibillion-dollar ransacking of state investment fund 1MDB. Ng, who was arrested in Malaysia in November, has been charged both in the U.S. and Malaysia. Attorney General Tommy Thomas said in a statement that following negotiations, Malaysia agreed to surrender Ng to the U.S. on May 3 for 10 months so that the U.S. prosecution can proceed first. Thomas said Ng will be returned to Malaysia to face charges as soon as the U.S. proceedings are over. "The period of temporary surrender may be extended upon mutual agreement by Malaysia and the U.S.," Thomas added. Malaysian and U.S. prosecutors allege that bond sales organized by Goldman Sachs for 1MDB provided a way for associates of Malaysian ex-leader Najib Razak to steal and launder billions over several years. Najib set up 1MDB when he took power in 2009, ostensibly to accelerate Malaysia's economic development, but the fund amassed billions in debts and is being investigated in the U.S. and several other countries for alleged cross-border embezzlement and money laundering. The scandal helped precipitate Najib's ouster in a historic election defeat last May. Najib himself is facing corruption charges linked to 1MDB but denies any wrongdoing. Malaysia's current government has also filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs, Ng and another former executive, Tim Leissner, and is seeking $7.5 billion in compensation from the bank. Ng, Leissner and Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, identified by the U.S. as a mastermind of the 1MDB fraud, have also been charged in the United States. Leissner has pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy and conspiring to violate foreign bribery laws. Low, who is also wanted in Malaysia, remains at large.

Pages