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Exhibition Looks Into Shadowy World of Australian Espionage

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 17:49
A new public exhibition has opened in Australia charting country's history of espionage and revealing the personal experiences of secret agents. It features the gadgets they used, surveillance images and case studies. This is the first time an Australian intelligence agency has taken part in a public exhibition. Officials hope it will help Australians to consider the "nature and purpose" of the nation’s security organizations at a time when new threats — both at home and overseas — are emerging. The exhibition explores the age-old challenge of balancing the needs of national security and human rights. The display at Western Sydney University asks whether students who took part in a May Day march in Australia in 1966 or women involved in the anti-conscription ‘Save Our Sons’ movement were really a threat to the country. “Whether it is 1901, 1950, 1970 or now you can see in each case this tension between national security and individual and community rights and liberties, but also the potential for influence of politics onto national security," says Leanne Smith, the director of the Whitlam Institute at Western Sydney University. "It certainly raises a lot of the questions that you could have in a contemporary conversation around national security and human rights today.” Among several case studies on display is one of the most dramatic episodes in Australia’s Cold War history. In 1954, Vladimir Petrov, a diplomat at the Soviet Embassy in Canberra, defected. He had passed a file on Soviet activities in Australia in return for cash and political asylum. Petrov and his wife Evdokia had been working as spies, but feared they would be killed if they went back to the Soviet Union a year after the death of the dictator Joseph Stalin. Also on display at the exhibition in Sydney are gadgets used by Australian spies, including recording equipment hidden in radios, cameras hidden in books and letters written in invisible ink. Curators say the display gives visitors an opportunity to look at the real stories of espionage ‘behind the gloss of make-believe.’ Australia has six main intelligence agencies, including the Australian Security Intelligence Organization. Its work is often compared to the FBI in the United States or Britain’s MI5.      

China and Vietnam are Regularly Clashing at Sea Despite Diplomacy

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 15:52
A capsized Vietnamese fishing boat that Hanoi says was hit by a Chinese vessel in contested waters is the latest in what scholars call a string of often unreported maritime mishaps between the two sides despite official efforts to get along. The fishing boat carrying a crew of five capsized on March 6 near the Paracel Islands, a group of South China Sea islets claimed by both countries but controlled by China. The National Committee for Incident-Natural Disaster Response and Search and Rescue in Hanoi says a Chinese vessel rammed the boat near Discovery Reef due east of Vietnam and southwest of Hong Kong, according to the news website VnExpress International. Another Vietnamese fishing boat rescued the crew, the report says. China rejects blame for the mishap. Although the capsized boat is the biggest publicized incident at sea since a May 2014 mass boat ramming incident, Asian maritime scholars call it one in a series.  “This matter is not a special matter,” said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University in Taipei. Each side stands ready to repel the other, he said, meaning ultimately boat crews get hurt. “More or less, these things have happened before. Normally you'll see when relations are good, these things are covered up but when they're not, the incidents are made bigger,” Huang said. Maritime clashes, diplomatic repair work China and Vietnam are the two most outspoken rival claimants to parts of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea that stretches as far south as the island of Borneo. The two communist neighbors also fought a land border war in the 1970s, causing long-term distrust between governments. China and Vietnam got into two landmark, deadly naval clashes, in 1974 and 1988, over control of the sea that’s prized for fisheries as well as fossil fuel reserves. The 2014 boat-ramming incident followed the placement of a Chinese oil drilling rig in the South China Sea. Smaller clashes take place without causing much uproar, said Jay Batongbacal, international maritime affairs professor at University of the Philippines. In 2011, for example, a Chinese patrol vessel “reportedly cut the exploration cables” of a Vietnamese seismic survey ship in Vietnam’s exclusive maritime economic zone, according to a 2018 study by the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. Repair work Communist party envoys often meet after incidents at sea to foster a period of calm. Each side depends on the other economically. China looks to Vietnam as a place to sell raw materials for manufacturing, while Vietnam counts China as its biggest export market. But to prove their maritime sovereignty claim, Vietnamese authorities sometimes encourage fishing vessels to violate China’s unilateral moratorium on fishing in disputed waters, said Trung Nguyen, international relations dean at Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities.  Anti-China sentiment runs high among regular Vietnamese citizens too, and the government can tap into that when it needs a shot of public support. Vietnamese news media initially did not identify China as a player in the March 6 mishap, Nguyen said. He suspects the Communist Party eventually gave the media a "green light." “I think that the party-to-party relations have to figure out a way to solve the problem, otherwise similar incidents can happen in the future,” Nguyen said. Two-way relations are “not bad” at the moment, Huang said, noting Vietnam’s recent inclusion under China’s pan-Asian Belt-and-Road infrastructure development plan. The two sides also still live by a 2011 agreement to solve their maritime disputes through negotiations. Code of Conduct The March 6 incident may become a talking point between China and the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations as they negotiate a maritime code of conduct by 2021, analysts believe. Association members Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines vie with China over claims to the same sea. Vietnam is also a member. A code would spell out how naval and coast guard vessels, including drones, can avoid accidents, Huang said, but it’s unclear whether it would apply to private vessels. China and the Southeast Asian bloc have talked about a code since 2002, with China delaying it part of that time. Beijing has the strongest military position among claimants to the disputed sea. Other countries would consider backing code proposals to stop incidents like the one March 8, Batongbacal said. “I'm sure that this incident will be considered by other countries in discussing the code of conduct, so Vietnam’s proposals I’m sure will have some bearing on that,” he said.

Indonesian Woman Suspected in Assassination of Kim Jong Un's Half-Brother Released

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 13:22
An Indonesian woman held in Malaysia since 2017 on suspicions of assassinating the North Korean leader's half-brother was released from detention Monday. The Shah Alam High Court, outside Kuala Lumpur, discharged Siti Aisyah without an acquittal after Malaysian prosecutors withdraw the murder charge without giving a reason. As she heard the court announcement, Aisyah, 26, hugged her co-defendant Doan Thi Huong, a 30-year-old Vietnamese woman, and cried.  Immediately after, she was rushed to an elevator and escorted to an Indonesian embassy car waiting outside the courthouse. Her lawyers said she is expected to fly to Jakarta soon. Indonesian Ambassador Rusdi Kirana thanked the Malaysian government for Aisyah’s release and said: "We believe she is not guilty.'' Meanwhile, the trial of Huong was put on hold. The court had scheduled to hear Huong’s defense on Monday after months of delay. The two women were accused of smearing VX liquid nerve agent on Kim Yong Nam's face in an airport terminal in Kuala Lumpur on February 13, 2017.  They were the only suspects in custody after four North Korean suspects fled the country the same morning Kim was killed. Lawyers for the women has said they were pawns in a political assassination in which the North Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur was involved. Aisyah had been working as a masseuse in Kuala Lumpur, while Doan was an entertainer. Kim Jong Nam was the eldest son of North Korea's ruling family. He had been living abroad for years but could have been considered a threat to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's rule.

US: 'No Illusions' about Possible N. Korean Missile Activity

Sun, 03/10/2019 - 21:39
The White House said Sunday it does not "have any illusions" about whether North Korea is preparing to resume missile testing, but refused to assess commercial satellite imagery suggesting Pyongyang is assembling a new rocket. National security adviser John Bolton told ABC News the U.S. watches North Korea "constantly," but added, "I'm not going to speculate on what that commercial satellite imagery shows." The Feb. 22 imagery seems to show new North Korean missile activity at an assembly operation, but Bolton said the U.S."relies on its own" satellite surveillance and draws its conclusions from those images. "We see exactly what they're doing," he said. "We look every day at the intelligence. I don't want to get into speculation as to what they're doing." After last month's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, U.S. President Donald Trump said he trusted Kim's pledge to him that he would not resume nuclear or missile testing. Bolton said that Trump "is confident in his relations with Kim Jong Un." Asked about the commercial satellite images on Friday, Trump said he would be "very disappointed" if North Korea resumed nuclear testing. He said he has greatly improved U.S. relations with North Korea during his time in office. "Look, when I came in," he said, "under the Obama administration, North Korea was a disaster. You were going to war, folks, whether you know it or not. . . . I inherited a mess." He continued, "Right now you have no testing, you have no nothing. Let's see what happens, but I would be very disappointed if I saw testing." North Korean state media said for the first time on Friday that the summit late last month made no advances and its people were blaming the U.S. for the lack of an agreement. Trump and Kim met in Vietnam in a summit meant to reach an agreement on North Korean denuclearization. But the meeting collapsed over an impasse over how many weapons sites North Korea would shut down and the extent of economic sanctions relief the U.S. would offer in return. Following the summit, South Korean newspapers reported there was evidence of new activity at the Sohae long-range rocket site, a site Kim agreed last year to shut down as part of confidence-building measures with the United States.                      

Malaysia Deports 7 for Alleged Ties to Terrorist Group

Sun, 03/10/2019 - 20:22
Malaysian police said Sunday that six Egyptians and a Tunisian man believed to be linked to an African-based terror group have been detained and deported.   One of the Egyptians and the Tunisian national are suspected members of Ansar Al-Sharia Al-Tunisia, which is based in North Africa and listed as a terrorist group by the United Nations, national police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun said in a statement.   Fuzi said the two were detained in 2016 for trying to illegally enter an African country. He said they used fake passports to enter Malaysia in October last year and were planning to sneak into a third country to launch attacks.   Five other Egyptians and two Malaysians were detained last month for providing food, shelter, air tickets and employment for the two suspected terrorists, Fuzi said.   He said authorities are concerned with the entry of foreign terrorist fighters as investigations showed they may use Malaysia as a "safe haven'' or a logistics hub to launch attacks in other countries.   The six Egyptians and the Tunisian were reported March 5 and blacklisted from entering Malaysia, Fuzi said.    

Tibet Supporters Mark 60th Anniversary of Failed Uprising Against China

Sun, 03/10/2019 - 17:20
Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of Tibet's failed uprising against China. The abortive mission forced the Dalai Lama, Tibet's traditional Buddhist leader, into exile in mountainous Dharamsala, in India, where he established a Tibetan government-in-exile. He launched his campaign for a free Tibet from Dharamsala. His efforts earned him worldwide respect and fame as an adherent of non-violence. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. The 83-year-old Dalai Lama continues to live in Dharamsala. Devotees at the Dalai Lama's temple in Dharamsala observed the anniversary Sunday with chants and prayers. Some had painted "Free Tibet" on their faces. A photo exhibit entitled "60 Years of Tibetan Resistance" is on display at the Tibet museum in Dharamsala. A march, marking the anniversary, was planned in New Delhi, India's capital. Under Chinese rule, critics say Tibet's unique cultural heritage and language are slowly fading away. China insists that Tibet has been under Chinese rule for centuries, but Tibetans insist they were essentially independent for most of that time. An editorial in China's official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday that under China's rule Tibet has experienced economic growth, increased lifespans and improved education. Xinhua said "Sixty years since the epoch-making democratic reform in Tibet, people... have enjoyed unprecedented human rights in history." Tibet monitoring groups, however, disagree with that assessment. The International Tibet Network said in a statement that "China has ridden roughshod over the human and political rights of citizens under its rule for far too long." It added: "With resistance by the Tibetan people so strong and vibrant, it's time for a response from the international community that matches their courage and conviction."

Report: Asian Wildlife Trafficking is Skyrocketing

Sun, 03/10/2019 - 13:50
A recent study of the illegal wildlife trade shows that trafficking in endangered species is increasing in volume and value, further fueling the global extinction crisis. The report shows that Hong Kong is increasingly becoming a center of that trade. VOA's Kevin Enochs reports.

Cambodian Farmers Struggle Against Changing Climate

Sun, 03/10/2019 - 12:15
Built atop the bones of the dead, Trapaing Thmar reservoir is largest irrigation project built by the Khmer Rouge regime. Today, it is running dry amid one of the worst droughts to hit Cambodia in living memory. In northwestern Cambodia, more than 400 kilometers from Phnom Penh, the vast protected area serves as a crucially important source of water for thousands of rice farmers and their families in Phnom Srok district and other neighboring areas. Trapaing Thmar reservoir is also the habitat of numerous endangered species, including the Sarus crane, the world’s tallest flying bird. During a recent visit to the area, farmers were fishing and pumping water to their rice fields from a scattering of small ponds, all that remains of the more than 12,000-hectare reservoir. ​Lack of rain, wet season or dry In this part of Banteay Meanchey province, farmers remark on the lack of rain, during the wet season as well as the dry season. Cambodian farmers grow rice in both seasons. Cambodia’s rainy season typically arrives in May and ends in October and dry season runs from November until April. “It is not like before. It is worse than ever,” said Ping Chantrea, a 30-year-old farmer who adds she can no longer produce enough rice to sell. “It only rained twice during the wet season last year,” she laments from her home in Ponley commune’s Porabun village, a concern echoed by others. “Early this year until now, it has not rained at all,” said Chantrea who is eight months pregnant. “I lost the money I saved from my wedding,” she added. ​Rice production falls Farmers in this district have complained that production of rice in both rainy and dry seasons has declined.  Another farmer, Laing Thom, says he believes the temperature is rising and the rains are no longer as regular as they once were. “Now it is just only about 8 a.m., but it is very hot,” Thom said. Cambodia has been ranked among the Southeast Asian countries most vulnerable to climate change, according to a report by Asian Development Bank. Many of Cambodians rely on agriculture, and the changes to the country’s climate lead to more droughts or more floods. According to UNDP statistics, 22,695 Cambodians out of every million were impacted by natural disasters in the country between 2005 and 2012, especially by flood and drought. Flooding in 2009, 2011 and 2013 led to more than $1 billion in damage and 461 fatalities. Thom says he cannot produce as much rice on his 2.6-hectare farm. “I can’t make a profit, or even cover the cost of fertilizer,” he said, complaining of price manipulation. Farmers expect to sell their rice for at least 18 to 20 cents per kilogram, but it has been sold at a lower price. ​Only one rice crop On Feb. 20, Prime Minister Hun Sen, citing the drought, asked rice farmers to plant only for the wet season harvest. “Please farm only one crop this year because we do not have enough water,” Hun Sen told thousands of workers in Kandal province, adding that Cambodia will face a severe drought and water shortages this year. In a directive dated Jan. 17, Hun Sen called on local authorities and villagers to conserve water for crops because Cambodia will likely be indirectly impacted by El Niño, which refers to a short-term period of warm ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, stretching from South America towards Australia. Cambodia will also grapple with soaring temperatures of between 40 and 42 degrees Celsius in April and May. Lim Kean Hor, minister of water resources and meteorology visited the Trapaing Thmar reservoir area Feb. 23, and told Phnom Srok villagers that by farming during the dry season, they had acted against Hun Sen’s directive. “They have farmed more than the plan allowed. They were allowed to farm only a total of 5,000 hectares of land,” said the minister, adding “we lack water” until an anticipated break in mid-May. Impact on farmers Drought has now affected more than 20,000 hectares of rice fields in 13 provinces, according to Cambodia’s National Committee for Disaster Management. In 2015, Cambodia experienced its worst drought in half a century, with most of its 25 provinces experiencing water shortages, and about 2.5 million people severely affected. Mean Seum, chief of Chantrea’s Porabun village, said an estimated 10 percent of the normal amount of rice will be produced this year. “Mostly they owe money to microfinance [institutions] and other people,” he said. “The debt will be more.” Since April 2017, the interest rates on new loans from MFIs and rural credit operators was set to a maximum of 18 percent. Prime Minister Hun Sen said that the MFIs and credit operators previously offered loans with interest rates of 20 and 30 percent per year. “If it is worse like that in the future, parents will migrate to work in Thailand or children will be forced to work,” he added. “There is no family in this village whose members don’t go to Thailand,” he said, adding that the migrants work in construction or agriculture. Normally the migrant workers return to help their families with the harvest.  “But they won’t come this year,” he added. Seum himself has three hectares of land and rents two hectares for farming. But he cannot break even in the current climate, he said. “People also get angry with each other because some families get water for their rice fields and some don’t,” he added. Families who live closest to Trapaing Thmar are the ones who get the water supply for their crops. Thousands of families Em Dara, the technical assistant at the Ministry of Water Resources, who oversees the reservoir, said about 5,000 hectares of land have been affected so far. “It has affected thousands of families,” he said. “Some don’t have water to use now.” “It has affected species and fish in the reservoir as well. The climate has changed now. It is the worst in 10 years,” he said. The reservoir can store up to 180 million cubic meters of water, but now holds less than 1 million cubic meters, according to Dara. Villagers are also concerned about the impact on fish stocks, which nationwide provide a living for millions of Cambodians and up to 80 percent of all animal protein in the diet. “There is no water. This year is worse than other years,” said Mea Siz, 58, as he fished at Trapaing Thmar reserve. “I am now concerned about fish here.” Taking a chance Having land to farm crops, especially rice, is central to the lives of many Cambodians. It is what gives them a sense of security, community and family. Eighty-five percent of Cambodia’s approximately 16 million people depend on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods. Despite being aware of the water shortage, farmers in this district say they have decided ignore Hun Sen’s directive and farm through the dry season. “I could not make do with just the rice farmed during rainy season, so I decided to go ahead in the dry season, but it was not successful,” Chantrea said. “I thought that the water in the reservoir was enough, but it was not because many farmers have done farming at the same time and the water is insufficient,” she added. Deu Yuch, another farmer, says the poor farming conditions have led him to fall behind. He reckons he’s about $3,000 in debt. “I don’t know what to do, but will keep growing rice in the next season,” he said. “We have no choice. We have to take a chance.” Some parts of the community have been provided water from an irrigation system built by Chinese investors. The water has been transported from nearby provinces Siem Reap and Oddar Meanchey, according to Khut Khuon, Poichar commune chief. Khut Khuon Poichar says farmers will pray for rain during Choul Chhnam Thmey, the Cambodian New Year, celebrated from April 14 to 16 this year. “We will ask the Buddha to give rain,” he said. ​As the drought continues to blast the countryside, Chantrea says she is worried that it will get worse and she will not have enough water to farm in the wet season. “What can I do? I have to take the chance to do it,” she said. Farmer Laing Thom said villagers would attend a New Year ceremony to seek help from Tevada, a host of guardian angels central to Cambodians’ traditional spiritual belief system. “We are farmers, if we don’t do farming, what do we have to eat? So I take a chance with Tevada. I pray to Tevada to bring rain so it will be cold and have water,” Thom said.

North Koreans Go to Polls to Approve Parliament Lineup

Sun, 03/10/2019 - 11:47
Millions of North Korean voters, including leader Kim Jong Un, went to the polls Sunday to elect roughly 700 members to the national legislature. In typical North Korean style, the vote was more of an endorsement than a competitive contest: Voters were presented with just one state-sanctioned candidate per seat. They cast their ballots to show their approval or, very rarely, disapproval. The elections, held every five years, are for the entire Supreme People’s Assembly, which, on paper at least, is the highest organ of power in North Korea. Its delegates come from across the country and all walks of life. The candidates are selected by the ruling Korean Workers’ Party and a couple of other smaller coalition parties that have seats in the assembly but exercise little independent power. Most prominent candidate Kim, fresh off his trip to Hanoi for his second summit with President Donald Trump, is the most prominent candidate of all. Though his power rests in his complete control over the ruling party, government and military, Kim is running for re-election in his Pyongyang district. Turnout is generally reported at 99 percent or higher. That should of course be taken with a grain of salt, but voting is generally regarded as a duty and responsibility and simply staying at home is not an option. “I’m very proud to be voting for the first time,” said 19-year-old university student Kim Ju Gyong. Under North Korean law, citizens can vote from the age of 17. Voting begins around 10 a.m. depending on the location and continues until late evening. Voters show election officials their ID cards to receive their ballot, which they cast in a private booth. If they approve, they simply put the ballot in the box. If they don’t approve, they cross the name out. Photos and profiles of the candidates are posted before each election. ​No one votes against “No one votes against the candidate,” said Jin Ki Chol, the chairman of an election committee for a polling station in central Pyongyang. “Everyone knows the candidate well. She has been serving them well for the past five years, so they support her.” Election days have a festive mood. There are often bands playing music as voters wait in line, and group dancing for those who have already finished. “The election system of the DPRK is most popular and democratic as it makes all citizens take part in the election of power organs with equal rights,” the North’s official news agency said in a report ahead of Sunday’s vote, using the acronym for the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Elections, it added, are “an important occasion in further strengthening the government and displaying the solidity and invincibility of the socialist system in which the leader, the party and the masses form a harmonious whole.” To underscore that harmony, North Korean media reported that Kim was elected unanimously to his assembly seat in 2014. ​The deputies The number of deputies in the assembly is based on population, each represents from 30,000-35,000 people. Officials at two polling stations said they were not sure of the exact number this year, or when the results would be announced. Five years ago, 687 deputies were elected and the results were announced two days after the vote. While they are decidedly not intended to foster policy debates among the general populace or for the voters to change, bottom-up, the national course, the elections are an important means for the regime to reward up-and-coming cadres and replace incumbents who have served their usefulness. For the authorities, the elections provide a veneer of democracy and a means of monitoring the whereabouts and loyalties of citizens. Outside observers note that mustering the nation also provides a chance for the authorities to hone their mobilization skills, check the efficiency of local leaders and keep tabs on potential problems. In the North’s close-knit society, the pressure to conform is strong. Refusing to fulfil duties such as voting or participating in expected group activities can bring particularly harsh social ostracism, if not actual legal repercussions. The deputies to the assembly generally meet just once or sometimes twice a year, usually in March or April, to approve policies already hashed out by the ruling party, which is headed by Kim. A much smaller group, the presidium of the assembly, meets more often and is more closely involved in the actual functions of the government. 

Report: N. Korea May Be Preparing Missile or Space Launch

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 20:13
North Korea may be preparing for a missile or space launch, U.S. news outlet NPR has reported, based on satellite image analysis of a key facility near Pyongyang. NPR said the images of Sanumdong, one of the facilities Pyongyang has used to produce inter-continental ballistic missiles and space rockets, were taken days before U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Hanoi for their high-stakes summit, which ended in failure. The photos by the firm DigitalGlobe show the presence of cars and trucks at the site on February 22, said NPR - which has exclusive access to the imagery. It added that rail cars and cranes can also be seen at a yard. "When you put all that together, that's really what it looks like when the North Koreans are in the process of building a rocket," Jeffrey Lewis, a researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, was quoted as saying by NPR on Friday. The Sanumdong analysis comes days after the specialized website 38 North and the Center for Strategic and International Studies said Pyongyang may have resumed operations at its long-range rocket launch site at Sohae, based on their study of satellite imagery from March 6. The development is likely to further compound Washington's frustration over the lack of progress in its bid to get the North to give up its atomic arsenal, especially after the February 27-28 summit between Trump and Kim collapsed without so much as a joint statement -- let alone an agreement on nuclear disarmament. According to senior U.S. officials, in the week leading up to the Hanoi summit, the North Koreans had demanded the lifting of effectively all U.N. Security Council economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang since March 2016. In return, Pyongyang offered only to close part of the Yongbyon complex, a sprawling site covering multiple facilities. The North is also believed to have other uranium enrichment plants. But North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho disputed the U.S. account, saying Pyongyang offered to dismantle all "nuclear production facilities in the Yongbyon area" in exchange for partial sanctions relief. Trump said Friday that his relationship with Kim "remains good", despite the setback in Hanoi. U.S. officials have said Washington believes the "final, fully verified denuclearization" of North Korea is still possible by the end of Trump's first term. Kim released his first public message since the Hanoi summit on Saturday earlier this week, instructing propaganda officials to conduct "positive information" activities to spur scientific and technological development, according to a Saturday report by North Korean state media outlet KCNA.  

Japanese Woman Honored by Guinness as Oldest Person at 116

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 18:40
A 116-year-old Japanese woman who loves playing the board game Othello was honored Saturday as the world’s oldest living person by Guinness World Records. The global authority on records officially recognized Kane Tanaka in a ceremony at the nursing home where she lives in Fukuoka, in Japan’s southwest. Her family and the mayor were present to celebrate. Tanaka was born Jan. 2, 1903, the seventh among eight children. She married Hideo Tanaka in 1922, and they had four children and adopted another child. She is usually up by 6 a.m. and enjoys studying mathematics. The previous oldest living person was another Japanese woman, Chiyo Miyako, who died in July at age 117. The oldest person before Miyako was also Japanese. Japanese tend to exhibit longevity and dominate the oldest-person list. Although changing dietary habits mean obesity has been rising, it’s still relatively rare in a nation whose culinary tradition focuses on fish, rice, vegetables and other food low in fat. Age is also traditionally respected here, meaning people stay active and feel useful into their 80s and beyond. But Tanaka has a ways to go before she is the oldest person ever, an achievement of a French woman, Jeanne Louise Calment, who lived to 122 years, according to Guinness World Records. Guinness said the world’s oldest man is still under investigation after the man who had the honors, Masazo Nonaka, living on the Japanese northernmost island of Hokkaido, died in January at 113.

Australia, Indonesia Sign Free Trade Pact

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 17:45
Australia this week signed a free-trade agreement with Indonesia.  Australia shares a long maritime boundary with Indonesia and has close security ties, but experts have said that the bilateral economic relationship has been underdeveloped. Australia hopes that will change after the signing of a long-awaited free trade agreement. It was delayed last year when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison suggested he might move his country’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In response Indonesia, a strong supporter of the Palestinian territories, considered putting the trade deal on hold. Australia later decided not to relocate its embassy in Israel, which has diffused much of the tension. Indonesia hopes the trade pact signed in Jakarta this week will give its people more opportunities to work in Australia, as well as support for its palm oil industry. The deal is expected to benefit Australia’s agricultural and education industries. Australian universities and vocational training colleges will be allowed to operate in Indonesia. Its cattle farmers, grain growers, vegetable producers and steel makers are also expected to benefit. “If you are a cattle producer across flood-ravaged north Queensland, or indeed the Northern Territory (or) elsewhere across the country, you are going to see huge growth in access for both live and frozen beef and cattle,” said Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham. “If you are working in the steel industry, you are going to see an opportunity for us to be able to export the equivalent of five Sydney harbor bridges each and every year in terms of steel production.” The Business Council of Australia and the National Farmers’ Federation both support the trade deal, but trade unions say it could damage Australian jobs by allowing more Indonesian workers into the country. They fear migrant workers could be exploited and underpaid by unscrupulous employers. The deal took eight years to negotiate. The signing ceremony has been deliberately low-key because of its proximity to an Indonesian presidential election next month.  Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population, and is home to 260 million people. Australia has a population of 25 million. Experts say the Australian-Indonesia pact is a timely signal to the international community about the importance of free trade. Australia has 10 free trade agreements currently in force, including accords with China, Japan and Korea.

Trump Would Be Surprised if North Korea Resumed Tests

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 13:15
Despite satellite images and analyst reports of renewed activity at a North Korean long-range rocket site, President Donald Trump says he believes he has a strong relationship with Chairman Kim Jong Un and would be surprised if he resumed nuclear tests. Lawmakers say the president was right to walk away from the summit in Hanoi and both sides should let lower-level negotiators work through complex details before another summit. VOA's Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

Chinese FM: Huawei Case Is 'Deliberate Political Suppression'

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 05:32
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday called the legal clash between Chinese company Huawei and the U.S. government "deliberate political suppression," and he vowed to protect the rights of Chinese companies and citizens abroad.    "It's quite obvious to any fair and unbiased person that the recent action against a particular company and Chinese individual is not just a pure judicial case but deliberate political suppression," Wang said on the sidelines of China's annual parliament session.    "We have already and will continue to take all necessary steps and resolutely safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies and citizens," he said, though he did not elaborate on what those steps would be. Washington has banned U.S. companies from using Huawei technology, warning that doing so could result in security breaches.   In December, Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei's chief financial officer, on U.S. charges that she violated sanctions against Iran. Her extradition hearing is to begin May 8.    Since Meng's arrest, two Canadians have been arrested in China, and a third who was already in Chinese prison for a drug crime has seen his sentence switched from 15 years to death.    On Thursday, Huawei announced it had filed a lawsuit in the U.S., arguing that legislation Congress passed last year restricting Huawei business in the United States was "unconstitutional" because it singled out the company for penalties.    The United States has also warned other countries that Huawei technology could allow Chinese intelligence agents to infiltrate their networks.    "This ban is not only unlawful but also harms both Huawei and U.S. consumers," Huawei's rotating chairman, Guo Ping, told reporters Thursday in Shenzhen.   No choice   Guo said that Huawei was left with no choice but to take legal action, noting that neither lawmakers nor the government had shown any proof to date to back up concerns the company is a security risk.    China expert Dean Cheng of the Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy told VOA's Xu Ning that even though Huawei is not owned by the Chinese government, it would probably cooperate with the government if asked to.     "Huawei is not a state-owned enterprise," Cheng said, but "broadly speaking, Chinese companies will respond to requests or demands from the Chinese government."   In addition, he said, "Huawei coding appears to be often very poor. Whether that's deliberate or not is unclear. But Huawei has also been very, very slow in addressing those issues. So we have a fundamental quality control issue here."  Julian Ku, a constitutional law professor and associate dean at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., told VOA's Qiao Zhan that Huawei has a minimal chance of winning, but "not an impossible chance."    He said the United States would probably file a motion to dismiss the Huawei case, arguing that Huawei's legal claims "don't have any basis so we don't need to go to trial because no evidence is required to resolve the case." Then, he said, the court would most likely schedule a hearing to consider that argument.    U.S. vigilance On Thursday, U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, but said the government needs to be vigilant when making procurement decisions.     "The United States advocates for secure telecom networks and supply chains that are free from suppliers subject to foreign government control or undue influence, which would pose risks of unauthorized access and malicious cyber activity," said Palladino in response to questions posed by VOA during a briefing.     "We believe that these risks posed by vendors subject to extrajudicial or unchecked compulsion by foreign states that do not share our values need to be weighed rigorously before making procurement decisions on these technologies," he added.

Trump: 'Very Disappointed' if North Korea Resumes Nuclear Testing

Sat, 03/09/2019 - 01:19
U.S. President Donald Trump said he would be "very disappointed" if North Korea is resuming nuclear testing after his recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump made the comments to reporters Friday as he prepared to travel to Alabama to view tornado damage. He said he has greatly improved U.S. relations with North Korea during his time in office. "Look, when I came in," he said, "under the Obama administration, North Korea was a disaster. You were going to war, folks, whether you know it or not … I inherited a mess." He continued, "Right now you have no testing, you have no nothing. Let's see what happens, but I would be very disappointed if I saw testing." North Korean state media said for the first time on Friday that the summit made no advances and its people were blaming the U.S. for the lack of an agreement. Trump and Kim met last week in Vietnam in a summit meant to reach an agreement on North Korean denuclearization. But the meeting broke down over an impasse regarding how many sites North Korea would shut down. Following the summit, South Korean newspapers reported there was evidence of new activity at the Sohae long-range rocket site, a site Kim agreed last year to shut down as part of confidence-building measures with the United States.

Trump: China Trade Deal Must Be 'Very Good,' or No Deal

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 23:32
U.S. President Donald Trump says he will not sign a trade deal with China unless it is a "very good deal." Trump made the comments Friday as he left the White House to tour tornado damage in the southern U.S. state of Alabama. The United States and China have been battling over trade tariffs since last year. The White House is planning a summit between Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Florida later this year. "If this isn't a great deal, I won't make a deal," Trump said. Then he added: "We will do very well either way, with or without a deal." The trade dispute between the United States and China has begun to affect China's economic growth. China's exports and imports fell significantly more than expected in the month of February, data published Friday by the country's customs administration showed. China's trade surplus with the U.S. narrowed to $14.7 billion for the month, from $27.3 billion in January. China's February exports plummeted 20.7 percent from the same period a year prior, and imports dropped 5.2 percent from a year earlier, considerably more than expected. According to a Bloomberg News poll, the forecast was 5.0 percent and 0.6 percent respectively.    China economist Chang Liu of Capital Economics in London told VOA that the drop in Chinese exports is due, at least in part, to the tariffs. Last year, he said, "firms were front-loading their shipments [shipped more goods in the first half of the year] to avoid further threat of further tariffs. So that dropped the exports in the second half of last year. … So, literally, that is a tariff effect." Recent economic data reveal the difficulties China faced in the fourth quarter of 2018 as its growth rate slowed to 6.4 percent. In January, an import barometer of prices in the industrial sector neared contraction, while manufacturing activity in February marked the worst performance in three years. China's government announced major tax cuts, fee reductions and a looser monetary policy to combat the economic growth slowdown.

South Korean Air Pollution Puts Focus on Government, China

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 22:28
Record high ultra-fine dust levels in South Korea this week are creating urgency for political leaders to take action towards ensuring more breathable air. Levels of particulates smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM 2.5) in diameter hit new records on Monday and Tuesday, soaring in excess of what international health officials deem acceptable. The World Health Organization recommends keeping PM 2.5 pollutants below 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Seoul’s concentration of fine dust measured 111 micrograms Wednesday, with even higher levels in outlying regions. The capital region’s iconic mountain and skyscraper cityscape has been a dim and hazy silhouette for much of the week, and mobile phones across the country have been vibrating with warnings from the government that citizens should limit outdoor activities. Anti-pollution masks are a frequent sight on convenience store shelves and on commuter faces. The pollution levels have triggered local emergency measures around the country under which coal plants and other pollution emitting facilities can be restricted. Older diesel cars can also be banned from roads, and school and work hours can be curtailed at the discretion of local officials. A high concentration of automobiles is one factor cited in South Korea's pollution problem, something the government is trying to mitigate with a major push toward hydrogen and fuel cell vehicle development. South Korea has also pivoted away from nuclear energy in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, reverting to coal for energy needs. However, experts say as much as 70 percent of the dust blows over from China. Shing Yong-seung, with the Research Institute of Public Health and Environment in Seoul, said fireworks displays in China contributed in part to the recent spike in pollutants over the Korean peninsula. “On February 19, we were able to confirm that chemicals used in Chinese fireworks increased up to 11 times higher than the previous concentration,” Shin told reporters in a Wednesday briefing. “This means that China's pollutants have also affected the country, especially Seoul,” he said. President Moon Jae-in instructed government officials Wednesday to discuss ways for South Korea and China to cooperate, including collaboration on artificial rainfall, or cloud-seeding to rinse some of the particles out of the air. “Since China is more advanced in artificial rainfall technology,” spokesman Kim Eui-Kyeom told reporters,“the president instructed the Environment Ministry to push forward on artificial rainfall projects with China in the West Sea.” Lawmakers from South Korea’s three largest parties say they’ll work together to pass new measures next week aimed at combating severe fine dust. Many South Koreans complain that short term domestic steps will not sufficiently clear the air, saying only more proactive cooperation with China is likely to have any chance of being effective in the long run.

China Eyes Alternative Sources for Maritime Expansion

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 22:16
Officials in Beijing are expected to take money from non-defense sources this year to solidify their military control in the disputed South China Sea following a proposed slowdown in formal defense spending. China will increase defense spending by 7.5 percent this year, according to a draft budget report submitted to a National People's Congress session Tuesday. That increase would bring spending to $177.6 billion. The budget grew 8.1 percent last year. Consistent with past practice, the government will protect and possibly expand its already dominant military presence in the South China Sea by drawing from civilian departments and even private Chinese companies, maritime scholars believe. China claims about 90 percent of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea ranging from Hong Kong to Borneo. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim all or parts of the same sea. China’s use of naval ships and military aircraft in contested waters has riled the other claimants since 2010, prompting Washington to send some of its own as a deterrent. “China’s expansion in the South China Sea is a comprehensive effort,” said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. “It involves the military but it also involves even the private sector. “So, you might see a slight decrease in strictly military activities and maybe even installations, but the efforts to claim a large part of the South China Sea to be their own, I think that will still go on,” he said. Multi-agency defense spending China cites historical usage records to claim sovereignty over the sea, including its wealth of fisheries and fossil fuel reserves. Scholars say the People’s Liberation Army Navy has made the sea’s control a priority as the total number of ships rose from 512 in 2012 to 714 ships now. And the navy gets help already. State-run oil driller CNOOC Group has buffered China’s claims by drilling in waters disputed by Vietnam, and private firms based in China reclaimed land to help the government get a foothold on otherwise uninhabitable islets. Two years ago, the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Acoustics and Tongji University in Shanghai said they would build a “long-term observation network” covering the South China and East China seas. CNOOC and China’s Earthquake Administration were also part of discussions about the network, which is due to share data with other countries. The project will bolster the legal basis for Chinese maritime claims, analysts said in 2017. “The PLA operates businesses which accrue income for the acquisition of military products and other sources of income can be drawn from for example the ministry of science so that they can engage in exploring under the term of science diplomacy,” said Stephen Nagy, senior associate politics and international studies professor at International Christian University in Tokyo. A lot of Chinese military infrastructure construction projects are “designed to be dual use and draw funding from local and national non-defense coffers,” according to a study by the China Power Project under U.S.-based think tank Center for Strategic & International Studies. Non-defense agencies should reimburse for disaster relief funded by the defense budget, the study adds. The Chinese government could sell U.S. Treasury bonds as well if it needed more money, said Termsak Chalermpalanupap, fellow with the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore. Pressure to make cuts The People’s Liberation Army could also delay or cut back endeavors elsewhere to “maintain the pace of strengthening China's position in the South China Sea,” said Denny Roy, senior fellow at the East-West Center think tank in Honolulu. Military cutbacks might make little impact for now because the once ambitious Chinese island-building in the South China Sea is “finished” except for maintenance, Chalermpalanupap said. “I think the overall economy of China is slowing down, so I think they have to be more careful on what they are spending in the defense side,” Chalermpalanupap said. “I think no more features to build. They have what they needed.” China can lock in its current holdings, which include the entire 130-islet Paracel archipelago and seven features in the Spratly islands, partly through diplomacy with the other governments that contest its maritime sovereignty, Nagy said. One goal, he said, would be to stop any active multi-country effort to roll back Chinese control.

Myanmar Documentary Highlights Vital Role of Women in Peace Process

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 22:00
A newly released documentary is giving voice to women who have survived civil war in Myanmar. The women are speaking out to show the devastation of war in hopes of achieving peace. VOA Burmese reporter Zaw Htet filed this report from Burma. Ei Thant Sin narrates.

Papuans, Indonesia Military Clash, at Least 4 Dead

Fri, 03/08/2019 - 13:09
Three Indonesian soldiers and at least one Papuan independence fighter were killed in a gunbattle, the military said, adding to more than two dozen deaths in the conflict since November. A force of 50-70 rebels armed with military-grade weapons as well as spears and arrows attacked a group of 25 soldiers in Nduga district in a battle lasting several hours Thursday, said Muhammad Aidi, the military spokesman for Indonesia's easternmost Papua region. The jungled highlands district was the location of a December attack by Papuan fighters on workers at a construction site for the trans-Papua highway that killed 19. Large numbers of people have been displaced by military and police security operations since the Dec. 2 attack. At least 31 people have died since early November in an apparent escalation of attacks by the West Papua National Liberation Army. The figure doesn't include unconfirmed civilian deaths that Papuan activists say resulted from security operations after the Dec. 2 attack. Aidi said the military killed seven to 10 of the Papuan fighters but only found one body, saying the rest were carried away by other fighters. Sebby Sambom, a spokesman for the liberation army, said five soldiers were killed and admitted no deaths for the Papuan fighters. Both sides claimed to have captured weapons. Simmering insurgency An insurgency has simmered in Papua, which makes up the western half of the island of New Guinea, since the early 1960s when Indonesia annexed the Dutch-controlled territory. Discrimination against indigenous Papuans and abuses by Indonesian police and military have drawn renewed attention globally as Indonesia campaigns for membership in the U.N.'s human rights watchdog. Self-determination petition The exiled leader of the Papuan independence movement, Benny Wenda, in January presented a 1.8 million-signature petition calling for self-determination to the U.N. human rights chief in Geneva. Aidi said the soldiers had arrived in the area to guard work on the trans-Papua highway and the attack was unprovoked. According to Sambom, the soldiers had burned traditional dwellings and interrogated villagers, hoping to get information about liberation army positions. Two helicopters sent to take the bodies of the three killed soldiers to the mining town of Timika were shot at but eventually landed after Indonesian forces returned fire, Aidi said.