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Kim Jong Un in Russia for Putin Meeting

3 hours 34 min ago
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has arrived in the far eastern region of Russia for his first ever meeting with Vladimir Putin, which Kim says is the initial step toward closer ties with Moscow. Wearing a black fedora hat and matching dark overcoat, the smiling Kim was greeted by Russian officials and a military band Wednesday in the port city of Vladivostok.  The North Korean leader made the short trip to Vladivostok via his signature armored green and yellow train.  During an earlier stop in the border city of Khasan, Kim said this “will not be the last” trip to Russia, adding it is the first step toward improved Russia-North Korea relations, according to a readout issued by local Russian authorities. At the Thursday summit, Kim is expected to push Putin for economic aid — specifically relief from international sanctions that remain in place after nuclear talks with the United States broke down. Kim no longer a pariah? It is the latest high-profile summit for Kim, who until last year hadn’t left North Korea since taking power in 2011. Over the past year Kim has met twice with U.S. President Donald Trump, three times with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, four times with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and once with Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong. "What this has mainly done is give Kim some international credibility. I mean, he was a pariah a year ago. And now he's everybody's prom date, everyone wants to be seen with him on their arm," said Ralph Cossa of the Pacific Forum. Although the meetings have raised Kim’s global stature, they have failed to reduce the sanctions pressure hurting his economy. After a February Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi ended in no deal, the United States has insisted it will not relax sanctions until North Korea commits to abolishing its nuclear weapons program. ​Putin: not much of a help? With Putin’s own economy hurting, it isn’t clear that North Korea is a priority. And without buy-in from the United States, it is not clear how much he could do anyway. Russia-North Korea trade fell dramatically last year, by more than 56 percent to $34 million, according to Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov, who was quoted in Russian state media. “This is primarily due to the fact that Russia is forced to follow international sanctions that were imposed on the DPRK,” said Ushakov, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name. By contrast, North Korea was earning about $100 million a year in hard currency from the Kaesong Industrial complex before it closed, points out Troy Stangarone of the Washington DC-based Korea Economic Institute. Kaesong, located just north of the inter-Korean border, used South Korean capital and North Korean labor to produce goods, before being closed after a North Korean nuclear test in 2016. South Korea has expressed an interest in reopening the complex, but appears unable to do so unless the United States relaxes sanctions. Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, signed onto tougher sanctions amid North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in 2016 and 2017. However, Moscow later called for sanctions against Pyongyang to be eased. Putin as spoiler? Under Putin, Russia has attempted to disrupt U.S. interests around the world, in countries including Syria, Ukraine, and Venezuela. But Putin is not likely to play the role of spoiler in the North Korea-U.S. talks, in part because he doesn’t have much leverage over Pyongyang, said Andrei Lankov, a professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University. “And in this case, Russia’s interests are not that different from that of the United States. Both sides want to preserve the status quo and want denuclearization,” Lankov said. The Soviet Union was once one of North Korea’s main financial backers. But after the Soviet Union broke up, Moscow prioritized relations with the South, before later adopting a policy of “equidistance” between the two Koreas.

Post-Election, Indonesian President Expected to Go Soft on China Despite Maritime Flaps

4 hours 51 sec ago
Indonesian President Joko Widodo is expected to warm toward China in his second term in search of infrastructure funding instead of challenging Chinese sovereignty in a fishery-rich sea between them. The leader who since 2014 has emphasized domestic issues in Asia’s third largest country rather than foreign policy initiatives will probably build up Indonesia’s status as a node in China’s $1 trillion-plus Belt and Road Initiative, scholars who know the country say. The 6-year-old initiative is aimed at opening trade routes around Eurasia via infrastructure projects. Indonesia’s government will repel any Chinese vessels from waters it claims near the Natuna Islands, experts say, but otherwise avoid confronting the militarily stronger China over maritime sovereignty. The president, often known by his hybridized name Jokowi, won a second five-year term April 17. “Although Jokowi sought to downplay Chinese-funded projects in recent elections, he is likely to continue the current stance of attracting Chinese capital for infrastructure development while reinforcing defenses around the Natuna islands against Chinese encroachments and illegal fishing,” said Mohan Malik, a professor in Asian security with the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in the United States. Stable Sino-Indonesian relations would advance Beijing’s goal of keeping Western-aligned powers out of the South China Sea dispute, possibly in Indonesia’s defense, while ensuring that the impoverished archipelago of some 13,000 islands gets vital infrastructure support. No compromise on the Natuna Islands Widodo’s next five years as president are expected overall to extend his maritime policies since 2016. Widodo parted ways around then with five predecessors by trying to shape Indonesia as a maritime power, according to published research by the East-West Center think tank in Honolulu. It says he sought to turn Indonesia into a “two-ocean, Indo-Pacific power” in view of the archipelago’s expanse. China claims most of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea that reaches from the Natuna chain to the Chinese mainland. China doesn’t claim the tiny Natuna islets, but in 2016 its foreign ministry cited historic rights for its fishing boats to use nearby waters.  Indonesian authorities have burned dozens of foreign fishing boats, and last year the country opened a base in the Natuna Islands with a hangar for drones and up to 1,000 personnel who could be trained for any kind of operation. “Back then, Jokowi basically said you need to guard Indonesia’s status as a maritime power," said Alan Chong, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, referring to Widodo's first term. The base, he said, "is in line, very clearly in line, with that.” Also last year, Indonesia renamed part of the disputed ocean tract the North Natuna Sea, drawing an angry response from China. China might look for natural gas deposits in the contested waters, said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia. But if Indonesia just repels individual Chinese vessels without making a political scene, he said, it’s harder for China to initiate any trouble. “Unless there’s provocation or an incident that comes up, Indonesia basically won’t react too much to the matter of those islands,” said Tai Wan-ping, Southeast Asia-specialized international business professor at Cheng Shiu University in Taiwan. "They might make a verbal response but not military action.” Capital from China Indonesia’s reliance on China for help developing infrastructure will temper ambitions to stand up for the Natuna waters, some analysts believe. Widodo’s comments on foreign relations are aimed at courting Chinese development help rather than in taking a stand on “issues such as the South China Sea crisis,” writer Nithin Coca said in a report for the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Australia. Indonesia was once “more cautious in its approach” to the Belt and Road, “conscious of ensuring that investments bring real benefits to the nation while minimizing any negative effects,” Jakarta-based investment research and advisory institute Tenggara Strategics said last year in a research paper.  In August, Widodo told the Indonesian People’s Consultative Assembly his government would focus on “acceleration of infrastructure development” to catch up with other countries and create new economic centers in the country.  China has already offered billions of U.S. dollars to Indonesia for infrastructure such as a railway line on the main island Java. Too much could irritate Indonesians who already resent China so much that they rioted in the 1960s against ethnic Chinese in their country. “He wants the ports through the archipelago to be modernized and the sea lanes to become the really major safe transit route, and so getting extra crumbs or not so much crumbs, half a loaf of bread, from China would be to his advantage, but I think there also is an underlying anti-China sentiment in Indonesia,” Thayer said.

Apparel Sector a Reminder That Vietnam and China Must Get Along

5 hours 26 min ago
Vietnam this week just celebrated the fact it has survived nearly a millennium of independence from China, which previously ruled the smaller neighbor for nearly as long. Much is made of the ancient rivalry between the two sides -- but there is far less attention, especially on the international stage, on areas where they both get along fairly well. The textile and garment sector is as good an example as any of this amicable cooperation, given that China is the world’s biggest exporter in the industry, and Vietnam is the second biggest. Analysts often describe Hanoi as taking a path similar to Beijing’s, both having communist leaders who turned toward export-led market capitalism in recent decades, and in terms of selling ever more footwear, clothes and bags to the world, Vietnam is indeed following China’s actions. “China and Vietnam hold a pivotal position in the global textile market,” Chen Dapeng, president of the China National Garment Association, said at a trade conference in Ho Chi Minh City this month. “The industries of the two countries are highly complementary.” The industries compete for customers, but they are also complementary in that Chinese factories supply much of the fabric and other inputs needed in the business, while Vietnamese factory hands are increasingly supplying the labor as costs rise in China. “We believe many in Asia can cooperate,” said Le Tien Truong, CEO of the Vietnam National Textile and Garment Group. “We are not just taking Chinese investment, but also reforming Vietnamese suppliers.” He and others in Vietnam speak of domestic reform because the country does not have as large and complex a network of textile suppliers and processors as in China. That is one reason the smaller country relies on the larger one as its biggest source of imported goods overall. No matter the geopolitical problems at the top, the reality is that textile firms on both sides of the border work together to turn a profit.  On one hand, amid the trade war between the United States and China, the latter competitor has lost some of its business to Vietnam. On the other hand, it is not just foreign third parties moving factories from China to Vietnam, but also Chinese investors themselves, who deem it beneficial to relocate some of their supply chain to the south. This month a large contingent of Chinese textile companies went scouting for Vietnamese partners in the industrial parks just outside Ho Chi Minh City. This global shift in interest toward Vietnam has helped it to catch up to China, which is still the export leader in shoes and garments. “We congratulate Vietnam for that big effort,” said Sun Rui Zhe, president of the China National Textile and Apparel Council. He noted his country looks to support that effort as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, which gives loans and grants to dozens of countries, mostly for infrastructure, but also private industry, including textiles. Beijing has already financed dozens of projects in Vietnam, from coal power to ship yards to fertilizer plants. “China has done our best to improve our relations all over the world,” Sun said.

US Negotiators to Visit China Next Week for New Round of Trade Talks

6 hours 2 min ago
The White House says two senior economic officials will travel to China next week to continue negotiations aimed at resolving the two economic giants ongoing trade war. A statement issued Tuesday says Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will meet with Vice Premier Liu He in Beijing on April 30. The two sides will discuss such issues as intellectual property, forced technology transfer, non-tariff barriers and agriculture.  The White House says Vice Premier Liu will lead a Chinese delegation to Washington for additional talks the following week, on May 8. Washington and Beijing have been engaged in several rounds of talks since the start of the year to resolve a trade war that began last year when President Donald Trump imposed punitive tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports to compel Beijing to change its trading practices. China has retaliated with its own tariff increases on $110 billion of U.S. exports.  The Trump administration is also pushing China to end its practice of forcing U.S. companies to transfer their technology advances to Chinese firms. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jingping agreed to a 90-day truce in the trade war during a meeting in Buenos Aires last December 1. The U.S. president had initially imposed a deadline of March 2 for both sides to reach a deal before imposing a hike in tariffs from 10 to 25 percent, but delayed the increase just days before they were to take effect citing "substantial progress" in the negotiations.

New Zealand, France Plan Bid to Tackle Extremism on Social Media

7 hours 26 min ago
In the wake of the Christchurch attack, New Zealand said on Wednesday that it would work with France in an effort to stop social media from being used to promote terrorism and violent extremism. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement that she will co-chair a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on May 15 that will seek to have world leaders and CEOs of tech companies agree to a pledge, called the Christchurch Call, to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. A lone gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch on March 15, while livestreaming the massacre on Facebook. Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with 50 counts of murder for the mass shooting. "It's critical that technology platforms like Facebook are not perverted as a tool for terrorism, and instead become part of a global solution to countering extremism," Ardern said in the statement. "This meeting presents an opportunity for an act of unity between governments and the tech companies," she added. The meeting will be held alongside the Tech for Humanity meeting of G7 digital ministers, of which France is the chair, and France's separate Tech for Good summit, both on 15 May, the statement said. Ardern said at a press conference later on Wednesday that she has spoken with executives from a number of tech firms including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Google and few other companies. "The response I've received has been positive. No tech company, just like no government, would like to see violent extremism and terrorism online," Ardern said at the media briefing, adding that she had also spoken with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg directly on the topic. A Facebook spokesman said the company looks forward to collaborating with government, industry and safety experts on a clear framework of rules. "We're evaluating how we can best support this effort and who among top Facebook executives will attend," the spokesman said in a statement sent by email. Facebook, the world's largest social network with 2.7 billion users, has faced criticism since the Christchurch attack that it failed to tackle extremism. One of the main groups representing Muslims in France has said it was suing Facebook and YouTube, a unit of Alphabet's Google, accusing them of inciting violence by allowing the streaming of the Christchurch massacre on their platforms. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said last month that the company was looking to place restrictions on who can go live on its platform based on certain criteria.

Leaders of Hong Kong Pro-democracy Protests Sentenced

7 hours 51 min ago
A court in Hong Kong handed down prison sentences of up to 16 months Wednesday to eight leaders of massive 2014 pro-democracy protests after they were convicted last month of public nuisance offenses.   One other defendant, Tanya Chan, had her sentencing Wednesday postponed because of the need to undergo surgery.   The sentences are seen as an effort by the government of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory to draw a line under the protests. The charges carry potential sentences of up to seven years.   Three were given 16 months, one of them suspended for two years, two were given eight month sentences and two given suspended eight month sentences while another was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.   It was not immediately clear if they planned to appeal.   "I am still peaceful and hopeful to face whatever may happen today," law professor Benny Tai, who helped originate the protests, told reporters on arriving at the court.   Chan said she hadn't lost faith in what the movement stood for. "Although it's an uphill battle, it's not easy, it's time for us to make sure that we are strong enough to face different kind of challenges," Chan said.   The nine were leaders of the "Occupy Central" campaign, which was organized as a nonviolent sit-in that became known as the "Umbrella Movement" after a symbol of defiance against police adopted by the street protests.   Protesters demanded the right to freely nominate candidates for Hong Kong's leader who would then be elected by all of the territory's roughly 5 million voters.   However, they failed to win any concessions from the government and Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam was chosen in 2017 from among a slate of candidates approved by Beijing and elected by a 1,200-member, pro-China electoral body.   Ranging in age from their 30s to 70s, the nine defendants span generations of Hong Kong citizens who have been agitating for full democracy. The defendants had all pleaded not guilty, calling the prosecutions politically motivated. Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997 under an agreement in which China promised the city could retain its own laws, economic system and civil rights for 50 years.   However, Chinese President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has been seen as extending his crackdown on civil liberties to Hong Kong, drawing criticism from commercial and legal associations as well as political, human rights and media groups.   "In the verdict, the judge commented we are naive, believing that by having a occupy movement we can attain democracy. But what is more naive than believing in one country two systems?" protest leader Chan Kin-man said.   In Taiwan, youthful supporters rallied to denounce the convictions and growing pressure from Beijing on both their self-ruled island and Hong Kong.   China has demanded Taiwan agree to its claim to the island as Chinese territory, to be annexed by force if necessary, and accept a "one country, two systems," framework for governing along the lines of that in place in Hong Kong.   "Occupy Central is not a crime," they chanted, as well as the "The Hong Kong government is unjustified."

China Navy Chief Takes Dig at US Freedom of Navigation Patrols

8 hours 46 min ago
Freedom of navigation should not be used to infringe upon the rights of other countries, China's navy chief Shen Jinlong said on Wednesday, taking a dig at the United States and its allies who have sailed close to disputed South China Sea islets. The United States has frequently sent warships near to Chinese-occupied features in the South China Sea, where China has been reclaiming land for runways and ports. Some U.S. allies, including Britain, have followed suit. China regards the patrols by the United States and its allies as a provocation, as it views almost all of the South China Sea as its territory, although Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei and the Philippines all have competing claims. Speaking at a forum in the eastern city of Qingdao, following a major naval parade marking 70 years since the founding of the Chinese navy, Shen said everyone needed to follow the rules and "safeguard good order." "Respect for the rules is the cornerstone of maritime good order," said Shen, who is close to President Xi Jinping. "Freedom of navigation is a concept widely recognized by the international community. However it should not be used as an excuse to infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of littoral states," he added, without naming the United States directly. The United States has sent only a low level delegation to the Chinese navy anniversary events. And unlike its close allies Australia, Japan and South Korea, the United States did not send a ship to take part in Tuesday's naval parade reviewed by Xi himself. "The U.S. government seeks a bilateral relationship that is results-oriented and focused on risk reduction," Lt. Col. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, said in comments sent to Reuters, responding to a question on U.S. participation at the event. "The U.S. Navy will continue to pursue its primary goal of constructive, risk-reduction focused discourse with the PLAN," he said, referring to the People's Liberation Army Navy. Shen said that China was continuing to advance talks on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea, which Beijing has been having with Southeast Asian states for the past few years. "We are committed to making the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation," he added, speaking to an audience of both senior Chinese and foreign navy officers, but without giving details. The navy has been a key beneficiary of Xi's ambitious military modernization plan, which has seen China develop aircraft carriers, advanced new warships and nuclear submarines, and stealth jets for the air force. "We adhere to non-conflict and non-confrontation and strive to be a stabilizer for maritime peace," Shen said.

Analysts: China Trying to Use Belt and Road Meeting to Counter US Influence

9 hours 46 min ago
China is getting ready to welcome representatives from 150 nations, including senior leaders of 40 countries, to discuss its international infrastructure program at the second Belt and Road Forum, beginning Thursday and running through Saturday in Beijing. Analysts say it is not merely a conference on infrastructure building, but an attempt by China to display its popularity and power as a political rallying force. This is significant in view of severe criticism by the United States, which has described the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, as China’s “vanity project.” “It is a political show of strength. BRI has assumed the characteristics of a global public good,” said Sourabh Gupta, senior fellow at the Institute for China-America Studies in Washington. “In a sense, conceptually, it is about China slipping itself into American clothing which the U.S. itself has discarded. It is about mainstreaming China as a leader of the global development system.” China has repeatedly denied it has a political purpose in trying to construct connectivity projects across the world. “The ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ is not a geopolitical tool but a platform for cooperation. We welcome all parties to take part in it,” Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a recent press conference. The forum is expected to see an emphasis on the importance of multilateralism and its criticism of protectionism in business and world affairs. Some observers see this as a veiled attempt by Beijing to build up world opinion against the United States. Countering US clout Zhiqun Zhu, chair at the department of international relations at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, said the meeting will reflect China’s growing clout. "When the U.S. focuses on "America first" under President [Donald] Trump, China is quickly emerging as a leader in the global economy and global governance." Political clout comes from success in international affairs, however, and not by merely hosting political theater. Although China has achieved some success in its infrastructure program, it has faced several setbacks, with Sierra Leone, Malaysia and Myanmar canceling or scaling back previously negotiated construction deals. "A lot of the forum will be an attempt at restoring the Belt and Road brand, which has been tarnished over the past two years," said Jonathan Hillman, director of the Reconnecting Asia project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. The U.S. has said it will not send a high-level delegation to the forum. It expressed disappointment at Italy’s recent decision to join the BRI. “Secretary Pompeo has very publicly gone to every corner of the world and denigrated China’s overseas development lending and projects-based model,” Gupta said, referring to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said no country has a right to stop others from attending the forum. “All countries have the freedom to participate, but they don’t have the right to prevent other countries from taking part,” he said. Zhiqun Zhu said instead of running a smear campaign, the U.S. should work with China to ensure that investments in BRI projects are more rule-based and transparent. World opinion Germany, France, Japan and Australia are expected to send mid-level officials. They have raised serious objections, saying they would like to see BRI become more transparent, environmentally sustainable and offer equal business opportunities to all participating countries. “At the end of the day, Europe genuinely wants China to grow into the role of a ‘responsible stakeholder;’ but, responsible stakeholder-ship means that China needs to up its game and conform to prevailing international standards in its practices – be it trade, investment or development,” Gupta said. India, China’s neighbor, is expected to stay away from the forum. It has said the BRI program violates the country’s sovereignty because some of its projects are located in Pakistan-controlled areas that India regards as its own. India was the only major country to stay away from the first meeting of the forum in 2017. “India’s stand has increased international attention on some of the troubling aspects of the BRI plan,” said Ananth Krishnan, visiting fellow at Brookings India. “India was the only country to publicly flag issues such as opacity and debt when the first Belt and Road Forum was held in 2017.” Gupta at the Institute of China-America Studies thinks many of the objections raised against BRI will be sorted out in negotiations between China and different countries. “A Chinese menu is on offer but it is not pre-set and it is not being force-fed to host countries,” he said. “It is for host countries, though, to impose themselves and set the minimum standards of project integrity – although China would do well to set a reasonably high bar in this regard of its own volition.”

Japan's Heisei Imperial Era: Three Generations Look Back, and Ahead

10 hours 35 min ago
Japan's Heisei era, which began when Emperor Akihito inherited the throne on Jan. 7, 1989, and ends when he abdicates on April 30, saw economic stagnation, disasters and technological change. Generations of Japanese lived through those decades. Their differing views and experiences will shape the legacy of the Heisei years. Wartime experiences For decades, Haruyo Nihei kept her wartime memories locked away: mothers and infants burnt alive by incendiary bombs; herself struggling under corpses of fleeing victims; her sister's body covered with maggot-infested burns. But in 2002, almost six decades after World War II ended and 13 years after Akihito took the throne, she decided to speak out. The trigger: a visit to a new museum about the March 10, 1945, U.S. firebombing that killed an estimated 100,000 people in Tokyo. Nihei, now 82, still hopes that by recounting her experience as an 8-year-old in the final days of the conflict, she can convey the horrors of war to young Japanese who know only peace. "Children today ... don't know anything about war and that's wonderful. But if they don't know about how Japan fought a war some 70 years ago, we may follow a mistaken path again," Nihei told Reuters before speaking to students at the museum. Preventing Japan from forgetting the tragedy of war has been a consistent priority of Akihito, in the name of whose father, Hirohito, Japanese troops fought World War II. Nihei said she admired Akihito's efforts, including trips to overseas battle sites such as Saipan in 2005 to pray for war dead from Japan and other countries. "When I saw the image of the emperor and empress [bowing at a seaside cliff] on Saipan, I felt they were truly sorry for the sins the Emperor Showa had committed," she said, referring to Hirohito by his posthumous name. "I was moved."  But she worries the wartime past has little resonance for today's Japanese youth. "I want them to study about the past properly and link that to the future," she said. Burst bubble For Kenji Saito, Heisei was a time of shocking change and liberating opportunity. Saito, a former computer systems engineer, was on a business trip in November 1997 when he got a phone call. "Don't you work for Yamaichi?" a relative asked. Media had reported Yamaichi Securities, Japan's oldest and fourth-largest brokerage, was headed for collapse under the weight of losses hidden for years after the "bubble economy" of soaring asset prices burst. The image of Yamaichi's then-president Shohei Nozawa apologizing and crying as he begged for jobs for the firm's nearly 8,000 employees became a symbol of the financial turmoil that ushered in Japan's "lost decade" of stagnation. The Heisei era also saw the unraveling of a lifetime employment system that was once a pillar of the country's post-war rise. "No one ever thought Yamaichi would collapse," said Saito, who had joined the firm as a 22-year-old college graduate. After the brokerage failed, he worked for a computer systems company run by his former boss. By 2005, he'd had enough of the corporate rat race and left to start a ramen shop that has since expanded to 10 restaurants. The economic stagnation of much of the era has left a gloomy taste for many, but Saito said he felt liberated. "I think for myself and can act on my own," he said. "For me, the Heisei years were good." Still, he worries too many Japanese lack entrepreneurial spirit. "People want stability. To put it negatively, they lack the spirit to challenge." Future angst A massive natural disaster, technological change, and anxiety about the future are what university student Yuri Harada thinks of when she ponders the Heisei era. Harada was 11 when a massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit northeast Japan on March 11, 2011, triggering a nuclear meltdown in Fukushima. "Even in Tokyo, the shaking was strong and students panicked," said Harada, 19 and a student at Waseda University. She walked three hours to get home because trains had stopped and later saw the devastation on TV. "It was really shocking." In elementary school, Harada longed for a smartphone, just beginning to spread in Japan. At first, her parents said it was too costly, but by the time she was in junior high, the devices were ubiquitous. "I feel as if the advance of technology corresponded with my growing up," she said. Japan is in the midst of a historic labor shortage, but Harada recalled the "employment ice age" her elders suffered through after the economic bubble burst. She is concerned a potential downturn could wreck the job market again. "Frankly ... I worry whether this sellers' market will persist," she said. Longer term, she worries whether Japan's social stability will crumble. Japan this month introduced a visa program to let in more blue-collar workers, a big step in the immigration-shy country. "If we don't do this properly, we could follow the same path" as Western countries gripped by anger over immigration, said Harada, who has studied abroad and majors in international relations. Such fears cloud her hopes for the new Reiwa imperial era, which begins May 1. "I'd like to be optimistic, but I can't," she said.

US Charges 2 Chinese Engineers with Stealing Trade Secrets

13 hours 26 min ago
The Justice Department on Tuesday announced indictments against two Chinese nationals accused of working together to steal trade secrets from General Electric. Xiaoqing Zheng pleaded not guilty Tuesday in U.S. federal court in Albany, New York. Co-defendant Zhaoxi Zhang is believed to be in China. Both are charged with economic espionage and stealing trade secrets. Zheng is also charged with lying to FBI investigators. "The indictment alleges a textbook example of the Chinese government's strategy to rob American companies of their intellectual property and to replicate their products in Chinese factories, enabling Chinese companies to replace the American company first in the Chinese market and later worldwide," U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Demers said. He said the United States will not stand by and watch the world's second-largest economy commit "state-sponsored theft." Zheng was an engineer at General Electric's power and water plant in Schenectady, New York. U.S. prosecutors allege he stole multiple electronic files describing designs and engineering of GE gas and steam turbines and emailed them to Zhang. The indictments accuse the pair of using the stolen information to profit from their business interests in two Chinese companies — Liaoning Tianyi Aviation Technology and Nanjing Tianyi Avi Tech. Prosecutors say the two defendants knew their activities would benefit the Chinese government. If convicted, Zheng and Zhang could spend 25 years in prison and be fined more than $5 million. Zheng could also face an additional five years and a $250,000 fine for allegedly lying to the FBI.

Japan's PM Vows to Help France in Rebuilding Notre Dame

14 hours 44 min ago
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pledging to help France rebuild the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral. Abe stopped in France Tuesday as part of his tour of Europe and North America. Speaking alongside French president Emmanuel Macron, Abe said through a translator he "was deeply saddened by the damage inflicted to the World Heritage'' building. He said the Japanese government "will spare no effort to bring its cooperation'' in the reconstruction. Macron and Abe will discuss the agenda for the upcoming Group of Seven and Group of 20 leaders' summits that France and Japan will respectively host this year. In their statement at the Elysee palace, they said they will also talk about boosting economic growth through free trade, and address issues including North Korea and plastic waste in ocean.

Thai Election Commission Moves to Disqualify Anti-Junta Politician

16 hours 9 min ago
Thailand's Election Commission on Tuesday accused a prominent anti-junta politician of breaching the election law, moving to disqualify him from parliament almost a month after the disputed March 24 election. Rising political star Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 40, is accused of holding shares in a media company after registering his candidacy, which would violate the election law.  The outcome of the first national election since a 2014 military coup is still unclear. Final results due on May 9 will indicate whether a pro-army party has enough seats to allow junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha to remain in power. Thanathorn's progressive, youth-oriented Future Forward Party came third in the election in a surprisingly strong showing. His party has joined an opposition "democratic front" with a party loyal to Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted as prime minister by the military, to try to block Prayuth, who led a 2014 coup against a pro-Thaksin government. The Pheu Thai Party loyal to Thaksin won the most seats in parliament but not a majority. The pro-army Palang Pracharat party came second. Thanathorn, the heir to an auto parts fortune, has brought a new element to Thai politics that have for 15 years been divided between the royalist-military establishment and the populist "red shirts" linked to Thaksin. "The evidence has shown that Thanathorn is the owner or a shareholder of V-Luck Media company," Sawang Boonmee, deputy secretary-general of the Election Commission, told reporters. "This disqualifies him from having the right to become a candidate for member of parliament based on the constitution and the election law." Thanathorn has previously denied breaching electoral law, saying he sold his shares in the media company on Jan. 8, prior to registering as a candidate. He has seven days to submit evidence to the Election Commission to refute the allegation. If found guilty, Thanathorn would be banned from running for election for one year. He could also face criminal charges for contesting the election knowing he was ineligible, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a ban from politics for 20 years. Thanathorn, who was traveling back to Thailand from the Netherlands, posted on Facebook: "I was just told from Thailand to quickly return to prepare for an unexpected situation. See you in Thailand." Thanathorn faces two other criminal charges, one of sedition for allegedly aiding anti-junta protesters in 2015, and another for cybercrime for a speech he made on Facebook criticizing the junta last year. In a separate legal proceeding, the Thai Supreme Court on Tuesday sentenced former premier Thaksin in absentia to three years in prison for conflict of interest by ordering a state-owned bank to lend money to Myanmar so it could buy products from Thaksin's own business while he was in office. Thaksin, who was overthrown by the military in 2006 and lives in self-imposed exile, has already been sentenced to two years in prison in a separate 2008 corruption conviction. He said the corruption cases were politically motivated.

Group Warns of 'Ruthless Crackdown' on Cambodian Journalists

18 hours 13 min ago
For former Radio Free Asia reporter Yeang Sothearin, life took a drastic turn when Cambodian police came to detain him and his colleague Uon Chhin in November 2017. They were accused of conspiring with foreign powers, charges they have since denied. “My son is 10 and my daughter is eight, but when I was in prison, I tried to hide [it from] them … I told them I went to study to continue my PhD degree at Prey Sar [prison] – they did not know that it was a prison," said Sothearin. "They missed me so much, they said, ‘Oh papa, you should stop studying, come back home.’ But I tried to convince them and I said I need to continue my study until I pass the exam and maybe come back.” His children learned the truth anyway through social media. And while the two reporters were released in August last year and reunited with their families, the charges have not been dropped. About a month ago, the investigating judge forwarded the case for trial. Sothearin denies all charges, and believes his arrest was a response to RFA’s government-critical reporting, as well as an effort “to silence independent journalists who dare to write anything that could be negative of the government.” Sothearin’s and Unon Chhin’s case had been slammed by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which has criticized a “ruthless crackdown” in Cambodia on journalists. In a report titled A Cycle of Fear, recently published ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, the organization says censorship "has become the norm” in Cambodia. The country fell by one spot in RSF's annual ranking, from 142 to 143 out of 180 countries. Last year, Cambodia fell by 10 slots. Over the past two years, the independent newspaper Cambodia Daily was forced to shut down, Radio Free Asia was compelled to close its office in the country, and more than 30 radio stations saw their licenses revoked. Just days after the Reporters Without Borders report last year, the “last bastion of the independent press, the Phnom Penh Post, was bought by a Malaysian businessman with ties to the Cambodian government," this year's report says. “Journalists who still dare to do investigative reporting on subjects that are not to the regime’s liking, such as prostitution of minors, are imprisoned,” the report reads. Cambodia's Interior Minister Sar Kheng, after the report was released, said the government is committed to strengthening democracy. But Sothearin, who now works for an NGO, said he can no longer work as a journalist because he is still under court supervision. “When I write an article that might [make] someone not happy with me, they might take action against me again,” he said. Government official Huy Vannak says Sothearin's fears are unfounded. Vannak, who simultaneously serves as undersecretary of state at the interior ministry and head of the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia, argued that Cambodian reporting merely lacks quality, not freedom. “You have to dare to challenge,” he said. “I don’t see anyone go to jail because of your writing. Only if you have a mistake.” For Sothearin, challenging the government was part of his job. He is still waiting to see evidence in the case against him and his colleague, he said. While the case is still pending, his children keep asking whether he will go back to prison, he said. And with his passport confiscated, he cannot leave the country, even to visit his parents in an area that is now part of neighboring Vietnam. Some journalists in Cambodia say they are forced to practice self-censorship, steering away from topics that could get them in trouble with the authorities. Thai Sothea, founder of the news site Cambonomist, said he stays clear from politics as it is too sensitive of an issue. Instead, he focuses on business news. “I have to admit that we have a relatively high level of self-censorship…. We know for sure how far we can go,” he said. Sothea said his focus on business allows him to continue to work as a journalist. “I have to try to be someone that can still inform the public in a way that keeps myself safe,” he said. But Vannak insisted that accusations of self-censorship by journalists are based on a cultural misunderstanding. “I think that is a wrong perception of [a] different culture. In Cambodia what we say it’s self-awareness…. Everyone has self-awareness [here], you know [to] follow the code of ethics what is right and what is wrong, I think it’s a normal practice that everyone has to have self-awareness …. "You see our culture, [it] is [a] more respectful culture, we are Buddhists, we listen to teachers, we listen to monks, and listen to fathers and parents,” he said.    

China’s Growing Interest in Middle East Sets Off US Alarm Bells

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 23:19
China pledged $23 billion in loans and aid to Middle Eastern countries last year and signed another $28 billion in investment for infrastructure and construction projects. As Chinese influence and business spread across the region, however, U.S. officials, suspicious of Chinese geostrategic intentions, are becoming increasingly wary. They have urged Israel to reverse a deal giving a Chinese firm operational control of the port at Haifa, where American warships frequently dock. Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump urged Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu to curb his country’s warming bilateral ties with China, cautioning that otherwise U.S.-Israeli relations could suffer, according to American and Israeli officials. Earlier in the year, John Bolton, U.S. national security advisor, also raised Washington’s worries with Netanyahu — and not just about Chinese management of the port at Haifa but also regarding Israeli use of Chinese telecom technology, which they fear will be used for spying and data gathering.  The Jerusalem Post has reported the U.S. Navy is considering switching its use of the port once the Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) — a firm in which the Chinese government has high stakes — officially takes over in 2021. SIPG has been granted the port’s management for 25 years and has committed to invest $2 billion to transform it. And U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a visit to Israel, told his hosts “intelligence sharing might have to be reduced.” He broadened out his warning about Chinese investment to other Middle East nations, saying, “We want to make sure that countries understand this and know the risks,” he said. The bulk of Chinese investment in the region is tied to Beijing’s global trade and infrastructure program, informally known as the New Silk Road and formally as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a scheme launched in 2015 to spur trade along land and sea routes linking Asia, Africa and the Mediterranean. A trillion-dollar trade, investment and infrastructure project, the BRI is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy project and China has already invested or loaned nearly $700 billion in more than 60 countries. Critics say the enormous investment project can easily be leveraged for political and geostrategic influence and countries taking loans are likely to be caught in debt traps, hence Washington’s growing unease. China has signed the Belt and Road cooperation agreements with 17 Arab countries. This week, dozens of heads of state will converge on Beijing for a Belt and Road Forum, the second major international conference on China’s initiative in under two years. But while the U.S. isn’t sending representatives, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the UAE’s prime minister, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and Djibouti’s President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, are all expected to attend. Two years ago, China opened a military base in Djibouti, its first ever overseas base, positioned at a key maritime choke point, the strait of Bab al-Mandeb. The U.S. military already has a base there located just kilometers away. It has been used for operations against jihadist groups like Islamic State and al-Qaida. Some U.S. officials see China’s move into Djibouti as a sign of broader and possibly military ambitions. Beijing maintains the BRI is only about greater connectivity and trade and can help solve major international challenges. China’s official news agency, Xinhua, says, “The initiative is a perfect example of China sharing its own wisdom and solutions for global growth and governance.” But critics have noted that China is not shy about using trade and investment as a tool for statecraft and has in the past readily used commerce to extend its sphere of influence. U.S. policymakers fear that under the guise of the BRI, Beijing is also aiming to upset America’s traditional alliances. They question whether Beijing’s interests are purely economic. Others see China's growing role in the region as mainly focused on securing energy resources and its thirst for oil. “In recent years, the region has been the source of as much as half of China’s imported oil. The BRI is expected to facilitate Chinese energy firms’ delivery of even larger volumes from the region,” according to Indonesian academic Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat, writing for the U.S.-based Middle East Institute. Karen Young of the American Enterprise Institute recently argued in a paper for the Washington-based research group that the Gulf Arab states have been eager to deepen ties with China, seeing it as its main “next-generation energy market” for oil and gas exports. The relationship is unlikely to be frictionless, she says. Chinese and Arab interests could be at odds, too. She notes, “China is also a competitor in some areas where Arab Gulf states are investing in infrastructure, ports and political outreach to secure new security partnerships, particularly in the Horn of Africa.” Meanwhile, while African and even European states have been ready to accept large Chinese loans for infrastructure projects, raising fears they will be caught in debt traps, which can then be used for political leverage by Beijing, Arab states, even cash-strapped ones, have been far more cautious about accepting loans. Algeria two years ago announced it wouldn’t enter major loans deals with the Chinese.

Trial Set for Woman Accused of Lying to Get Into Trump Club

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 22:00
A Chinese woman accused of lying to briefly gain admittance to President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida is scheduled to go on trial next month.   Federal court records show Yujing Zhang will go on trial May 28 in Fort Lauderdale on charges of lying to federal agents and illegal entering. She faces up to five years in prison if convicted.   The 33-year-old was arrested March 30 after the Secret Service says she falsely told agents she was a member of the club.   Agents say she told a clerk inside she was attending a nonexistent Chinese American event. She was arrested after agents found her carrying four cellphones, a laptop and an external hard drive.   Trump was visiting the club that weekend but was at his nearby golf course when Zhang arrived.  

China Lashes Out at Washington’s Decision on Iran Oil Sanctions

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 21:07
Beijing has lashed out at a U.S. decision to impose sanctions on countries that buy Iranian oil, warning that it will intensify turmoil in the Middle East and in the international energy market. "China firmly opposes the U.S. implementation of unilateral sanctions and its so-called long-armed jurisdiction," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a Tuesday press briefing. The White House announced on April 22 that the United States will not renew exemptions granted in 2018 to five buyers of Iranian oil -- top customer China as well as India, Turkey, South Korea, and Japan -- pressuring importers to stop buying from Tehran. The exemptions, or waivers, allowed the five countries to buy Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions. The White House has said that the decision to end them is intended to bring Iran's oil exports -- a key source of revenue for the authoritarian government -- to zero. The United States has said it was working with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two of the largest oil exporters, to ensure the market was "adequately supplied." Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival, welcomed the U.S. decision to end all Iran sanctions waivers by May. "Saudi Arabia fully supports this step...as it is necessary to force the Iranian regime to end its policy of destabilizing stability and its support and sponsorship of terrorism around the world," Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said on April 23. Japan has said it expects a limited impact from the U.S. decision. "We will closely watch international oil markets and exchange views with Japanese companies involved in crude imports and may consider taking necessary measures," Japan’s trade and industry minister Hiroshige Seko said on April 23. A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry dismissed the U.S. decision on April 22, calling sanctions "illegal" and saying that the country "did not and does not attach any value or credibility to the waivers.” The United States quit a 2015 deal between Iran and world powers that granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program. Renewed U.S. sanctions have hit Iran's economy and contributed to the fall of the national currency, the rial. Some information was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters

Kim Jong Un, Putin Set for Talks in Russia Thursday

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 20:42
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is due to travel this week to the far-eastern Russian city of Vladivostok for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin on Tuesday confirmed the two leaders are meeting on Thursday. Kim is expected to push Putin for sanctions relief amid stalled nuclear talks with the United States. Over the past year, Kim Jong Un has held high-profile summits with U.S. President Donald Trump as well as the leaders of Vietnam. China, and South Korea. "What this has mainly done is give Kim some international credibility. I mean he was a pariah a year ago. And now he's everybody's prom date, everyone wants to be seen with him on their arm," Ralph Cossa of the Pacific Forum told VOA via Skype.   Kim wants relief from painful U.N. sanctions that remain in place after nuclear talks with the United States broke down. Putin may not provide much help. With his own economy hurting, North Korea is not seen as a top priority. But the summit could help reduce North Korea’s reliance on China, its biggest trading partner. "I think he's just trying to cover all his options. You know, North Korea has historically survived by playing Russia against China, and playing everyone against everyone else," Cossa said. Residents in the port city of Vladivostok are excited to host the meeting. “I believe they will come to some agreement," said a resident of Vladivostok. "It is pretty scary when you hear all the time about nuclear testings, because Vladivostok is just a couple hundred kilometers away from North Korea’s testing sites.” But it’s not clear how the meeting will help break the deadlock between Kim and Trump. Kim and Trump have held two summits as part of an ongoing effort to denuclearize North Korea, but the efforts have stalled.

Myanmar Lawmaker: 50 Believed Dead in Mudslide at Jade Mine

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 20:29
More than 50 people are believed to have died in a mudslide at a jade mining site in northern Myanmar, a lawmaker representing the area said Tuesday. Tin Soe said three bodies have been recovered and 54 people remain missing after the accident Monday night in the Hpakant area of Kachin state. “The rescue process will not be easy as they're under the mud, not just ordinary soil. It is really difficult to get the bodies back,” he said. The mud flowed down on the workers from a lake. The landscape in the area is extremely uneven, with mountains of debris and valleys formed from abandoned mines. The mud covered not only the workers but also mining equipment, including bulldozers and backhoes, from the Myanmar Thuya Co. and 9 Dragons Co. Tin Soe said the missing were buried under mud up to 100 feet (30 meters) deep. “There is no machine to pump out the mud,” he said by phone. “It could cost millions of dollars.” Local officials did not answer phone calls seeking comment on the accident. Myanmar's Information Ministry said on its Facebook page that rescue operations have been carried out since Tuesday morning by local authorities together with social welfare organizations. A similar accident involving the release of a massive amount of mud occurred in March, damaging some equipment but causing no deaths. Accidents involving heavy casualties in the jade mining area are not rare, but usually have a different cause. They usually occur at the foot of giant mounds of discarded earth that has been mined in bulk by heavy machinery, with scavengers searching for scraps of jade at their base. The scavengers are usually itinerant workers from other areas who are not registered with local authorities, so the identities of victims, and even the death toll, often remain unknown. Scavenging for jade remnants is dangerous and not well regulated. More than 100 people were killed in a single landslide in November 2015. Hpakant, 950 kilometers (600 miles) north of Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, is the center of the world's biggest and most lucrative jade mining industry. According to Global Witness, a London-based group that investigates misuse of revenues from natural resources, the industry generated about $31 billion in 2014, with most of the wealth going to individuals and companies tied to Myanmar's former military rulers. Local activists said the profitability of jade mining led businesses and the government to neglect enforcing already very weak regulations in the industry. The region is also enmeshed in an armed conflict between the government and ethnic rebels from the Kachin Independence Army. “Many jade mining companies do not follow rules and regulations on where or how to dump waste piles,” Maw Htun Awng, a mining governance researcher, said after an accident last year that killed at least 15. “Then there are no actual mechanisms to watch if these companies are following these rules and that's why this is part of the cumulative impact.”

Kim Expected to Ask Putin for Economic Help During Summit

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 20:14
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected to travel this week to the far-eastern Russian city of Vladivostok for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. As VOA's William Gallo reports from Seoul, Kim is expected to push Putin for sanctions relief amid stalled nuclear talks with the United States.

Powerful Quake Hits Philippines, Day After Deadly Temblor

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 16:04
A new powerful earthquake hit the central Philippines on Tuesday, a day after 6.1 quake hit the country's north and killed at least 11 people. The U.S. Geological Survey put the magnitude of Tuesday's quake at 6.4, while the local seismology agency said it was a 6.5. The quake was centered near San Julian town Eastern Samar province and prompted residents to dash out of houses and office workers to scamper to safety. There were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage from the new quake.  Classes and office work were suspended in San Julian, where cracks on roads and small buildings and a church were reported. Power was deliberately cut as a precaution in the quake's aftermath, officials said. Rescuers worked overnight to recover bodies in the rubble of a supermarket that crashed down in Monday's quake, which damaged other buildings and an airport in the northern Philippines. The bodies of four victims were pulled from Chuzon Supermarket and three other villagers died due to collapsed house walls, said Mayor Condralito dela Cruz of Porac town in Pampanga province, north of Manila. An Associated Press photographer saw seven people, including at least one dead, being pulled out by rescuers from the pile of concrete, twisted metal and wood overnight. Red Cross volunteers, army troops, police and villagers used four cranes, crow bars and sniffer dogs to look for the missing, some of whom were still yelling for help Monday night. Authorities inserted a large orange tube into the rubble to blow in oxygen in the hope of helping people still pinned there to breathe. On Tuesday morning, rescuers pulled out a man alive, sparking cheers and applause. ​"We're all very happy, many clapped their hands in relief because we're still finding survivors after several hours,'' Porac Councilor Maynard Lapid said by phone from the scene, adding that another victim was expected to be pulled out alive soon. Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda said at least 10 people died in her province, including some in-hit Porac town. The magnitude 6.1 quake damaged houses, roads, bridges, Roman Catholic churches and an international airport terminal at Clark Freeport, a former American air base, in Pampanga. A state of calamity was declared in Porac to allow contingency funds to be released faster. A child died in nearby Zambales province, officials said. At least 24 people remained missing in the rice-growing agricultural region, most of them in the rubble of the collapsed supermarket in Porac, while 81 others were injured, according to the government's disaster-response agency. The four-story building housing the supermarket crashed down when the quake shook Pampanga as well as several other provinces and Manila, the Philippines' capital, on the main northern island of Luzon. More than 400 aftershocks have been recorded, mostly unfelt. The U.S. Geological Survey's preliminary estimate is that more than 49 million people were exposed to some shaking from the earthquake, with more than 14 million people likely to feel moderate shaking or more. Clark airport was closed temporarily because of damaged check-in counters, ceilings and parts of the departure area, airport official Jaime Melo said, adding that seven people were slightly injured and more than 100 flights were canceled. In Manila, thousands of office workers dashed out of buildings in panic, some wearing hard hats, and residents ran out of houses as the ground shook. Many described the ground movement like sea waves. A traffic-prone Manila street was partially closed after a college building was damaged by the quake and appeared to tilt slightly sideways toward an adjacent building, officials said. Many schools and government offices, including courts, in the densely packed Manila metropolis were closed Tuesday to allow inspections of their buildings. One of the world's most disaster-prone countries, the Philippines has frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions because it lies on the so-called Pacific "Ring of Fire,'' a seismically active arc of volcanos and fault lines in the Pacific Basin. A magnitude 7.7 quake killed nearly 2,000 people in the northern Philippines in 1990.