For China And The U.S. ‘Cooperation Is The Only Way Forward’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

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Cooperation the only way forward

COOPERATION is the only correct choice for China and the United States, President Xi Jinping told visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Beijing yesterday.

There are important development opportunities resulting from China-US relations, said Xi during the meeting in the Great Hall of People in Beijing.

Xi said he had maintained sound communications with his US counterpart Donald Trump through phone calls and messages, and they had agreed that the two countries could be good cooperative partners.

Xi said that to advance China-US ties in a healthy and steady manner, both sides could enhance exchanges at various levels; expand cooperation in bilateral, regional and global fields; and properly address and manage sensitive issues.

Xi suggested the two countries increase strategic trust and mutual understanding, review bilateral ties from long-term and strategic perspectives and expand fields of cooperation for their mutual benefit.

The two countries should also enhance coordination on regional hotspot issues, respect each other’s core interests and major concerns and encourage friendly exchanges between their two Peoples.

Tillerson told Xi, who extended an invitation for President Trump to visit China, that the US president valued communications with his Chinese counterpart and looked forward to meeting Xi and visiting China.

The US side is ready to develop relations with China based on the principle of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, said Tillerson.

China and the US are discussing arrangements for a meeting between the two presidents and exchanges at other levels, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during his talks with Tillerson on Saturday.

“We attach great importance to your visit,” Wang told the US visitor at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.

It was Tillerson’s first visit to China since he assumed office last month and he is also the first Cabinet-level official in the new US administration to visit.

China-US ties are developing steadily in a positive direction, Wang said.

He called for more cooperation in foreign affairs, the economy and trade, the military, law enforcement, people-to-people exchanges and local communication.

The essence of China-US trade relations is mutual benefit, said Wang, and he encouraged both countries to expand trade and investment cooperation.

Wang also restated China’s position on Taiwan and South China Sea issues, emphasizing that China and the US should respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, discreetly deal with sensitive issues to protect bilateral ties from unnecessary influences.

Tillerson said the US adheres to the “One China” policy and added that closer cooperation and coordination between the two countries was necessary in the face of a changing international situation. The US would like to have more high-level exchanges with China, and more dialogue in diplomatic security, macroeconomic policy coordination, law enforcement, cyberspace and people-to-people exchanges, he said.

Tillerson’s visit aims to make “political preparations” for the meeting between two presidents, and both sides would make the best use of this chance to seek common ground, said Jia Xiudong, a researcher with the China Institute of International Studies.

Tillerson arrived in Beijing on Saturday from Seoul. His first official Asian tour began on Wednesday and also took him to Japan.

US, China to Increase Cooperation on North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS PAPER ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

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US, China to Increase Cooperation on North Korea

Korea

Beijing – The United States and China vowed to work together against threats of the North Korea’s nuclear program, while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the situation has reached a “dangerous” level.

Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart’s language seemed more reconciliatory in light US President Donald Trump’s accusations that China was not exerting enough efforts to control its troublesome neighbor. Beijing had meanwhile accused the White House of causing tensions.

“I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions on the peninsula are quite high right now and things have reached a rather dangerous level. And we have committed ourselves to doing everything we can to prevent any kind of conflict from breaking out,” Tillerson added during a press conference in Beijing with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Tillerson’s visit to China is the last leg of his Asian trip, where he made stops in Japan and South Korea.

He avoided using strong language during the joint press conference with Wang, who seemed to have reproached his counterpart for statements he had made earlier this week.

Wang urged the US to remain “cool-headed” and defended his government’s position, saying all international parties should seek diplomatic solutions while implementing UN sanctions against the regime in North Korea.

“We hope that all parties, including our friends from the United States, could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision,” he added.

Neither parties announced any tangible future steps to solve the issue and Tillerson did not publically respond to Beijing’s calls for negotiations with North Korea.

Trump had increased the pressure on China, accusing it of not exploiting all means possible to control North Korea, whom he said considered Beijing to be its closest ally and economic benefactor.

“North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!” he tweeted.

The developments come after North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year and launched missiles last month. The US considered the test-launch an attack on its bases in Japan.

The developments alarmed South Korea, spurring it to deploy the US’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD). The Chinese leadership had accused the US of aggravating the situation through military trainings with its ally Seoul and the deployment of THAAD.

China is hesitant to increase its pressure on North Korea, whose reactions can be unpredictable.

Washington and Seoul insist that the THAAD system is for defense purposes only, but Beijing fears it could undermine its capabilities to denuclearize North Korea.

Beijing had always called for diplomatic talks to denuclearize North Korea, which is barred by the UN from proceeding with its program.

Wang also said that the Korean peninsula nuclear issue is of interest to everyone, reiterating his country’s commitment to the goal of denuclearization

“We are for the settlement of this issue through dialogue and negotiations and the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula and the overall region,” he added on Saturday.

Wang reiterated that China, as a close neighbor of the peninsula and a major power, has devoted a lot of energy and efforts to seek a settlement to the issue. The tremendous important efforts China has made are visible to all, he said.

Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil before being appointed secretary of state, said that a military option is possible if Pyongyang intensified its work.

“We do believe that if North Korea stands down on this nuclear program, that is their quickest means to begin to develop their economy and to become a vibrant economy for the North Korean people,” the US officials said.

He added: “All options are on the table, but we cannot predict the future.”

Maybe one of the reasons for the calm American-Chinese rhetoric is the expected talks between US President Trump and Chinese President Xi during the latter’s upcoming visit to US next month, the first such summit between the two leaders.

Trump is expected to host Xi at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach on April 6 and 7 for an informal “no necktie” encounter. Experts hope this meeting will reduce tensions between the two officials.

China shares US fears of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambition, but it makes sure not to provoke its neighbor.

In February, Beijing issued a strong position when it announced it will stop coal imports from North Korea until the end of this year.

North Korea expert at Beijing University Wong Dong said: “It is a mistake to think that China can control Pyongyang and it is not reasonable for Washington to accuse Beijing of doing nothing. The situation is complicated and sensitive and there is no magical solution.”

The Obama administration ruled out any diplomatic involvement with Pyongyang until the latter shows commitment to denuclearization.

The communist state insists on owning nuclear weapons to defend itself and executed its first test in 2006 despite international objection. It had done four other tests, two last year.

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Demonetisation Be Damned! The Indian Rupee Is On A Tear

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF QUARTZ INDIA)

LOOK AT IT FLY

Demonetisation be damned! The Indian rupee is on a tear

March 17, 2017 Quartz India

It’s been a great week for the Indian rupee.

On March 16, at Rs65.41 per US dollar, the currency hit a one-year high against the greenback.

Much of the strengthening has to do with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) recent electoral wins in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhandand solid performances in two other states. The strong showing reflects just how well the party is positioned to sweep the next general elections in 2019 and hand Narendra Modi a second term as prime minister. Some of that magic is rubbing off on the markets.

“Since the start of the week, equity markets and the Indian rupee have rallied sharply in response to the strong performance of the main ruling party in recent state elections,” DBS Bank said in a March 16 report.

So far, the Indian currency has been the third-best performing in Asia in 2017. The rupee has gained 3.4% this year against the US dollar, only trailing the South Korean won and the Taiwanese Dollar.

Meanwhile, the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike on March 15—only the third since the economic crisis of 2008—hit the dollar. When the US dollar falls, capital outflows from emerging markets are restricted, thus strengthening local currencies like the Indian rupee.

The rupee’s strengthening comes after a free fall triggered by Modi’s move to demonetise 86% of the currency notes (by value) in November 2016. Initially it had been estimated that the currency ban would dent the GDP and take a toll on the economy.

In January, a Reuters poll of some 30 foreign exchange strategists had estimated that the Indian currency could see a record fall this year because of the currency ban. But India’s Central Statistical Office’s estimates show that the economy grew at 7% during the October-December 2016 quarter, and the rupee is holding strong.

One reason for the rupee’s surge is also that the macro-economic factors that influence a currency—inflation and current account deficit (CAD)—are looking good for India at the moment. While inflation is being restricted in its safe zone of sub 6%, India’s CAD (the excess of imports over exports) has also been falling.

What next

A strong rupee is good news for corporate India. Many firms hold debt in foreign currencies, so a fall in the exchange rate means their interest outgo will reduce. “Many Indian entities including short-term trade finance people remain unhedged for their offshore liability. They (companies) are likely to have gained from the rupee’s sharp rise in the last few days. At least, interest liability has reduced, adding to balance sheet gains,” Jayesh Mehta, country treasurer at Bank of America told the Economic Times.

However, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) could soon step in to stabilise the rupee’s movement. Some reports suggest that the central bank already is buying dollars through public sector banks.

“The rupee appreciation, we feel is not sustainable and would revert to the range of Rs66-66.5 range, to begin with as the fundamentals do not warrant such unbridled enthusiasm,” a report by CARE Ratings said. “The outcome of the elections has been the main driving force. A strong rupee may not be good for our exports and the RBI is cognizant of the same.”

SWIFT Messaging System Cuts Off Remaining North Korean Banks

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

SWIFT messaging system cuts off remaining North Korean banks

By Tom Bergin | LONDON

SWIFT, the inter-bank messaging network which is the backbone of international finance, said it planned to cut off the remaining North Korean banks still connected to its system, as concerns about the country’s nuclear program and missile tests grow.

SWIFT said the four remaining banks on the network would be disconnected for failing to meet its operating criteria.

The bank-owned co-operative declined to specify what the banks’ shortcomings were or if it had received representations from any governments.

Experts said the decision to cut off banks which were not subject to European Union sanctions was unusual and a possible sign of diplomatic pressure on SWIFT.

Belgium-based SWIFT has previously refused to cut off Burmese, Russian or Syrian banks which were subject to sanctions by other countries, such as the United States, citing a policy of remaining politically neutral.

SWIFT ignored years of pressure linked to Iran’s nuclear program, and only cut off Iranian banks in 2012 after the EU passed specifically tailored sanctions. SWIFT is overseen by the central bank of Belgium which is subject to EU law.

“The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) banks remaining on the network are no longer compliant with SWIFT’s membership criteria,” SWIFT spokeswoman Natasha de Teran said in a statement.

“As a result, these entities will no longer have access to the SWIFT financial messaging service. Given the increased ongoing international attention on the DPRK, SWIFT has informed the Belgian and EU authorities,” she added.

Last week, the Belgian authorities said they would no longer allow SWIFT to provide services to North Korean banks which were under U.N. sanctions.

That followed a U.N. report in February that said North Korea was relying on continued access to the international banking system to flout sanctions imposed in relation to its nuclear program.

Former SWIFT chief executive Leonard Schrank said the only previous occasions he could remember when SWIFT had cut off banks not subject to EU sanctions was when the banks had lost their banking license or a country’s central bank had ceased functioning.

“This is a very, very serious action,” he said, adding it could open SWIFT up to pressure in respect of other countries.

A spokesman for the European Commission denied leaning on SWIFT: “This is a commercial matter for SWIFT. We do not interfere in the business decisions of any such company,” he said.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury and Belgian Foreign Ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

South Korea Removes President Park Geun-hye

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

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Supporters of President Park Geun-hye of South Korea at a protest near the Constitutional Court on Friday, before the court issued a ruling to oust her. Her removal from the presidency capped months of turmoil.CreditKim Hong-Ji/Reuters

SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean court removed the president on Friday, a first in the nation’s history, rattling the delicate balance of relationships across Asia at a particularly tense time.

Her removal capped months of turmoil, as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets, week after week, to protest a sprawling corruption scandal that shook the top echelons of business and government.

Park Geun-hye, the nation’s first female president and the daughter of the Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, had been an icon of the conservative establishment that joined Washington in pressing for a hard line against North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

Now, her downfall is expected to shift South Korean politics to the opposition, whose leaders want more engagement with North Korea and are wary of a major confrontation in the region. They say they will re-examine the country’s joint strategy on North Korea with the United States and defuse tensions with China, which has sounded alarms about the growing American military footprint in Asia.

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Portraits of North Korea’s previous leaders, Kim Il-sung, left, and Kim Jong-il, on display in Pyongyang, the capital. North Korea’s nuclear weapons program will be a prominent issue in South Korea’s coming presidential campaign. CreditEd Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Park’s powers were suspended in December after a legislative impeachment vote, though she continued to live in the presidential Blue House, largely alone and hidden from public view, while awaiting the decision by the Constitutional Court. The house had been her childhood home: She first moved in at the age of 9 and left it nearly two decades later after her mother and father were assassinated in separate episodes.

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Ms. Park’s acts “betrayed the trust of the people and were of the kind that cannot be tolerated for the sake of protecting the Constitution,” Justice Lee said.

As the verdict was announced, crowds watching it on large television screens near the courthouse broke out in cheers. In central Seoul, some people danced to celebrate their victorious revolt against an unpopular leader, with loudspeakers blaring, “All the power of the Republic of Korea comes from the people!”

With the immunity conferred by her office now gone, Ms. Park, 65, faces prosecutors seeking to charge her with bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with a confidante, her childhood friend Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars in bribes from big businesses like Samsung.

By law, the country must elect a new president within 60 days. The acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, an ally of Ms. Park’s, will remain in office in the interim. The Trump administration is rushing a missile defense system to South Korea so that it can be in place before the election.

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Judges at the impeachment ruling at the Constitutional Court on Friday. The downfall of Ms. Park is expected to shift South Korean politics to leaders who want more engagement with the North.CreditYonhap, via European Pressphoto Agency

The last time a South Korean leader was removed from office under popular pressure was in 1960, when the police fired on crowds calling for President Syngman Rhee to step down. (Mr. Rhee, a dictator, fled into exile in Hawaii and died there.)

In a sign of how far South Korea’s young democracy has evolved, Ms. Park was removed without any violence, after large, peaceful protests in recent months demanding that she step down. In addition to the swell of popular anger, the legislature and the judiciary — two institutions that have been weaker than the presidency historically — were crucial to the outcome.

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A protest last month in Seoul, South Korea, demanding Ms. Park’s resignation. CreditKim Hong-Ji/Reuters

“This is a miracle, a new milestone in the strengthening and institutionalizing of democracy in South Korea,” said Kang Won-taek, a political scientist at Seoul National University.

When crowds took to the streets, they were not just seeking to remove a leader who had one year left in office. They were also rebelling against a political order that had held South Korea together for decades but is now fracturing under pressures both at home and abroad, analysts said.

Ms. Park’s father ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979. He founded its economic growth model, which transformed the nation into an export powerhouse and allowed the emergence of family-controlled conglomerates known as chaebol that benefited from tax cuts, anti-labor policies and other benefits from the government.

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Ms. Park, top center, with her father, Park Chung-hee, left, and her mother, Yuk Young-soo, right, in an undated family photograph. CreditYonhap, via Reuters

Ms. Park was elected in 2012 with the support of older conservative South Koreans who revered her father for the country’s breakneck economic growth.

But the nexus of industry and political power gave rise to collusive ties, highlighted by the scandal that led to Ms. Park’s impeachment.

The scandal also swept up the de facto head of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, who was indicted on charges of bribing Ms. Park and her confidante, Ms. Choi.

Samsung, the nation’s largest conglomerate, has been tainted by corruption before. But the company has been considered too important to the economy for any of its top leaders to spend time behind bars — until now. The jailing of Mr. Lee, who is facing trial, is another potent sign that the old order is not holding.

In the wake of the Park scandal, all political parties have vowed to curtail presidential power to pardon chaebol tycoons convicted of white-collar crimes. They also promised to stop chaebol chairmen from helping their children amass fortunes through dubious means, like forcing their companies to do exclusive business with the children’s businesses.

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Celebrating after hearing the decision, in front of the Constitutional Court in Seoul, the capital, on Friday.CreditKim Hong-Ji/Reuters

With the conservatives discredited — and no leading conservative candidate to succeed Ms. Park — the left could take power for the first time in a decade.

The dominant campaign issues will probably be North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and South Korea’s relations with the United States and China.

If the opposition takes power, it may try to revive its old “sunshine policy” of building ties with North Korea through aid and exchanges, an approach favored by China. That would complicate Washington’s efforts to isolate the North at a time other Asian nations like the Philippines are gravitating toward Beijing.

Moon Jae-in, the Democratic Party leader who is leading in opinion surveys, has said that a decade of applying sanctions on North Korea had failed to stop its nuclear weapons programs. He has said that sanctions are necessary, but that “their goal should be to draw North Korea back to the negotiating table.”

He believes that Ms. Park’s decision to allow the deployment of the American missile defense system — known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad — has dragged the country into the dangerous and growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing; China has called the system a threat to its own security and taken steps to punish South Korea economically for accepting it.

Conservative South Koreans see the deployment of the antimissile system not only as a guard against the North but also as a symbolic reaffirmation of the all-important alliance with the United States. Mr. Moon’s party demands that the deployment, which began this week, be suspended immediately. If it takes power, it says it will review the deployment of the antimissile system to determine if it is in South Korea’s best interest.

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Equipment for an American missile defense system arrived at an air base in South Korea on Monday. If the opposition party takes power, it says it will review the deployment of the system to determine if it is in South Korea’s best interest. CreditU.S. Forces Korea, via Associated Press

As South Korea has learned in painful fashion, it cannot always keep Washington and Beijing happy at the same time, as in the case of the country’s decision to accept the American missile defenses.

Yet Ms. Park’s impeachment was also a pushback against “Cold War conservatives” like her father, who seized on Communist threats from North Korea to hide their corruption and silence political opponents, said Kim Dong-choon, a sociologist at Sungkonghoe University in Seoul.

Ms. Park’s father tortured and even executed dissidents, framing them with spying charges. Now, his daughter faces charges that her government blacklisted thousands of unfriendly artists and writers, branding them pro-North Korean, and denied them access to government support programs.

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“Her removal means that the curtain is finally drawing on the authoritarian political and economic order that has dominated South Korea for decades,” said Ahn Byong-jin, rector of the Global Academy for Future Civilizations at Kyung Hee University in Seoul.

Analysts cautioned that political and economic change will come slowly.

As Mr. Moon put it recently: “We need a national cleanup. We need to liquidate the old system and build a new South Korea. Only then can we complete the revolution started by the people who rallied with candlelight.”

South Korea Actively Considering Filing A Complaint With The WTO Against China

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS) 

South Korea’s government will consider filing a complaint to the World Trade Organization against what they described as China’s trade retaliation after Seoul agreed to deploy a U.S. anti-missile system, the ruling party said on Tuesday.

Beijing is widely believed in South Korea to be retaliating against some of its companies and cancelling performances by Korean artists after South Korea’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

“We will actively consider whether China’s action is in violation of the South Korea-China free trade deal, while stepping up efforts to minimize damage on South Korean industries,” Lee Hyun-jae, chairman of the Liberty Korea Party’s policy committee, said after meeting senior government officials.

China rejected applications by some Korean carriers, including Jeju Air (089590.KS), to add charter flights between the two countries in March, Yonhap News Agency said on Tuesday, in what is seen as China’s latest retaliation against South Korean firms. Their applications for charter flights to China were rejected for January and February, with no reason given, Yonhap said.

The Chinese government last week ordered tour operators in China to stop selling trips to South Korea, days after the Seoul government secured land for the THAAD system from Lotte Group.

Lee said on Tuesday the government had since agreed to provide an additional 50 billion won ($43.3 million) worth of “special loans” to tourism companies that are experiencing business difficulties.

Chinese authorities have also closed nearly two dozen of Lotte Group’s retail stores following inspections, Lotte said on Monday.

China objects to the THAAD deployment, saying its territory is the target of the system’s far-reaching radar. South Korea and the United States have said the missile system is aimed only at curbing North Korean provocations.

(Reporting by Daewoung Kim and Hyunjoo Jin, Additional reporting by Joyce Lee; Writing by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Paul Tait)

China Reacts Angrily To South Korea Wanting To Be Able To Protect Themselves From North Korean Missiles

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

China angrily reacts with threats after South Korean missile defense decision

Chinese state media has reacted with anger and threats of boycotts after the board of an affiliate of South Korea’s Lotte Group approved a land swap with the government that will enable authorities to deploy a U.S. missile defense system.

The government decided last year to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, in response to the North Korean missile threat, on land that is part of a golf course owned by Lotte in the Seongju region, southeast of Seoul.

The board of unlisted Lotte International Co Ltd approved the deal with the government on Monday.

China objects to the deployment in South Korea of the THAAD, which has a powerful radar capable of penetrating Chinese territory, with Beijing saying it is a threat to its security and will do nothing to ease tension with North Korea.

Influential state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said in an editorial on Tuesday that Lotte should be shown the door in China.

“We also propose that Chinese society should coordinate voluntarily in expanding restrictions on South Korean cultural goods and entertainment exports to China, and block them when necessary,” it said in its English-language edition.

The paper’s Chinese version said South Korean cars and cellphones should be targeted as well.

“There are loads of substitutes for South Korean cars and cellphones,” it said.

The WeChat account of the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said late on Monday that cutting diplomatic ties should also be considered.

“If THAAD is really deployed in South Korea, then China-South Korea relations will face the possibility of getting ready to cut off diplomatic relations,” it said.

The official Xinhua news agency also said in a commentary late on Monday that China “did not welcome this kind of Lotte”.

“Chinese consumers can absolutely say no to this kind of company and their goods based on considerations of ‘national security’,” it said.

South Korea’s defense ministry said on Tuesday it had signed a land swap deal with Lotte on the golf course in exchange for providing military property. A South Korean military official told Reuters the military would begin installing fences and soldiers would patrol the area.

The Lotte Group said on Feb. 8 Chinese authorities had stopped construction at a multi-billion dollar real estate project in China after a fire inspection, adding to concern in South Korea about damage to commercial relations with the world’s second-largest economy.

Asked if South Korea had demanded the Chinese government suspend any economic retaliation, South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun said: “We have continuously persuaded China so far and will keep continuing efforts to do so.”

South Korean government officials have said THAAD is a defensive measure against North Korean threats and does not target any other country.

South Korea’s central bank said this month the number of Chinese tourists visiting the tourist island of Jeju had fallen 6.7 percent over the Lunar New Year holiday from last year, partly because of China’s “anti-South Korea measures due to the THAAD deployment decision”.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL; Editing by Paul Tait)

The Sad Life And Death Of Kim Jong Nam: Ostracized By His Father And Murdered By His Brother

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Kim Jong Nam led a life of loneliness and fear and seclusion, rejected by his father, orphaned by his mother, stuck in a shadowy exile where he constantly had to worry about spies and secret agents and reporters.And it all came to a pitiful end, with Kim slumped in a chair in a Malaysian airport clinic, his belly protruding from his navy-blue polo shirt, then dying in an ambulance en route to the hospital. He had been smeared with VX, a lethal nerve agent that is used as a chemical weapon.

“He’s like a country-and-western song — it’s sad, sad stuff,” said Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch website.

Kim’s painful demise is a blow for the United States and South Korea, which have lost a potential source of intelligence on the world’s most secretive regime. They also have lost a potential replacement for his half brother Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader who again has thrown down the gauntlet to the outside world.

“Kim Jong Un is testing nukes and missiles like crazy,” said Alexandre Mansourov, a North Korea leadership expert who once studied at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. “Now he feels confident enough to send his goons around the world to assassinate people he doesn’t like.”

CCTV footage allegedly shows attack on Kim Jong Nam

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CCTV footage released on Feb. 20 purportedly shows the attack on Kim Jong Nam, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother, at Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia a week earlier. The footage has been edited for clarity. (CCTV via Fuji TV)

Kim Jong Un feels this emboldened because he keeps challenging the outside world, especially the United States, and it does nothing to stop him, Mansourov said. “It’s a sign of supreme confidence that he can get away with anything, that he can literally get away with murder.”

The blame for the well-planned attack on Kim Jong Nam in a Kuala Lumpur airport terminal on Feb. 13 is, however, being directed squarely at the leader of North Korea.

Malaysia says that Kim died because of exposure to VX, and it has implicated eight North Koreans in the attack, including a diplomat and a scientist.

South Korean intelligence officials have said that Kim Jong Un put out a “standing order” for his older half brother’s assassination years ago, but even so, analysts agree that he would have had to give the green light for this attack.

“The fact that so many North Korean agents were involved shows that the operation was planned well in advance and was done with Kim Jong Un’s blessing,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former North Korea analyst at the CIA.

It would not be the first time Kim Jong Un has acted in such a ruthless way. The 33-year-old has ordered the purge or execution of several hundred officials during his five years at the helm. These included his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who had been a mentor to Kim Jong Nam and was accused of amassing too much power.

“This fits into the larger narrative of what Kim Jong Un wants to do,” said Ken Gause, a North Korea leadership expert at CNA, a Virginia-based consulting firm. “He’s getting rid of potential contenders to the throne.”

‘Without even one friend’

Kim Jong Nam was the result of a secret relationship between North Korea’s second-generation leader, Kim Jong Il, and his consort, an actress named Sung Hye Rim.

He led a lonely childhood in Pyongyang, “without even one friend,” Sung’s sister wrote in her memoir.

When he was 8, Kim moved to Moscow with his aunt and grandmother, but he hated it. He then moved on to Geneva. There he seemed to fit in better, although he still lived in a cloud of half-truths.

“He introduced himself as the son of the North Korean ambassador,” said Anthony Sahakian, a Swiss businessman who went to school with Kim, whom he knew as “Lee.”

“North Korea, South Korea — we were 13 years old. We didn’t know the difference,” Sahakian said.

But some things did make Kim different — for instance, he had a driver’s license that said he was older than he was.

“That was strange because he showed up in a Mercedes 600, driving it himself,” Sahakian said, referring to the huge sedan that was a favorite among dictators. “At the time, all we wanted to do was drive, so we were very jealous. We’d skip class and go somewhere else during the day to drink coffee.”

Kim was multilingual as a result of his international childhood. He spoke fluent English and French, and Sahakian said they conversed in Russian.

In 1988, when he was almost 18, Kim went back to Pyongyang and to a life of cloistered misery, the polar opposite from his freewheeling youth in Europe. To boot, he found that the affection his father once had showered upon him now was directed at a new family, which included a young boy called Jong Un.

Kim Jong Nam had talked about “life in the palace” being oppressive. “He had everything he could possibly desire, but he was in a black depression there,” said a school friend who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details.

So Kim Jong Il struck a deal with his son: If he got married and had a child, he could leave, the friend said.

Kim Jong Nam married and had a son in 1995, although it is not known exactly when he left North Korea.

Certainly a turning point came in 2001, when the family was caught entering Japan on false Dominican Republic passports. Kim, whose passport name was Chinese for “Fat Bear,” told the authorities that they had wanted to go to Tokyo Disneyland.

After that, the family moved to Macau, where they were under Chinese protection and could live relatively freely, with Kim indulging his passion for gambling. He traveled to Beijing, where he was thought to have another family, and around Southeast Asia, popping up in Indonesia and Singapore.

He also traveled regularly to Europe — sometimes to see his oldest son, who had been studying in France, and sometimes on business, apparently buying wine or property for wealthy Asian clients.

He always kept his wits about him, said Sahakian, who had seen his old friend several times in Geneva in recent years. “He wasn’t paranoid, but he was worried,” he said. “When he was out he was careful, and he avoided talking to Asians because he was worried they were spies. He was on his guard, but it wouldn’t stop him.”

Dynastic competition

Although he had been mentioned as a potential leader in dynastic North Korea, friends say he did not have any interest in the prospect.

But he appears to have antagonized his younger brother just enough. In 2010, the day before Kim Jong Un was to make his first appearance as heir apparent in North Korea, Kim Jong Nam gave an interview to Japan’s TV Asahi in which he said that the choice was his father’s and that there appeared to be internal reasons for hurrying the process along.

“Personally speaking, I am opposed to the third-generation succession,” he said, a statement that might be considered anodyne elsewhere but was tantamount to treason in North Korea.

Madden, of North Korea Leadership Watch, said that there was always a chance of Kim Jong Nam’s being thrust into leadership. “Jong Nam still had a power base, and there was always a remote possibility that he would take power,” he said.

Terry, the former CIA analyst, agreed. “However improbable, there are always rumors that Kim Jong Nam could replace Kim Jong Un as the head of the regime at the behest of China or the U.S.” she said.

There have been reports in South Korea that Kim Jong Nam had acted as a middleman between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and officials in North Korea. Just a few days before his death, a South Korean newspaper reported that Kim Jong Nam had tried to defect to South Korea several years ago.

This would have given the regime ample reason to get rid of him, said Cheong Seong-chang, senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, a South Korean think tank.

Indeed, Kim’s defection would have been much more catastrophic for the regime than that of Thae Yong-ho, the deputy North Korean ambassador in London who fled to South Korea last year, said one former official in the regime.

“Imagine how detrimental the impact would have been if Kim Jong Un’s half brother were to speak out against Kim Jong Un,” said the former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety. “It would have a much bigger impact than Thae Yong-ho is having now in South Korea.”

Thae has become an outspoken critic of the regime, calling for a flood of information into North Korea to encourage people there to flee or rise up.

The downside for the United States and South Korea is that they have lost the opportunity to recruit someone in the family to provide information. They also have lost someone who could be installed as a slightly friendlier leader in North Korea while still maintaining the Kim family bloodline — an important factor in Korean culture.

“They wanted him alive, not dead,” said Mansourov. “The only party interested in his premature departure was Pyongyang.”

Malaysian Authorities Still Baffled Concerning The Murder Of Half Brother Of North Korea’s Leader

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

DETERMINING whether poison killed the half-brother of North Korea’s leader in a busy airport is proving difficult for Malaysian officials, who said yesterday that autopsy results are so far inconclusive.

More than a week has passed since Kim Jong Nam was approached by two women at a budget air terminal in Kuala Lumpur and apparently attacked in the face with an unknown substance. Kim did not suffer a heart attack and had no puncture wounds, such as those a needle would have left, Director General of Health Noor Hisham Abdullah told reporters. He did not dismiss poison as a potential cause.

“We have to confirm with the lab report before we can make any conclusive remark,” he said.

He added that medical specimens had been sent to experts for analysis.

However, Rahmat Awang, director of Malaysia’s National Poison Center in Penang, said he had not yet received any samples despite expecting them to arrive two days ago. He said with such a high-profile case, specimens were likely being sent to his lab and to facilities abroad to seek the cause of death or confirm findings already reached in Kuala Lumpur.

Identifying a specific poison could be challenging, especially if a minute amount was used and it did not penetrate fat cells in the victim’s tissue. If the toxin only entered the bloodstream, it could leave the body very quickly. And even if a substance was found, it would need to match the symptoms Kim Jong Nam experienced before death.

The more unique the poison, the harder it was to find.

“Our lab, for example, traces the usual chemicals,” Awang said. “If the substance involved is not something we often see, the likelihood is that we might not be able to detect it.”

Highly sophisticated facilities, such as in Japan or at the FBI’s crime lab in the United States, are among those that have greater capabilities for discovering unusual toxic substances.

The case has perplexed leading forensic toxicologists who study murder by poison. They say the airport attack is a bizarre case, and question how the two women could walk away unscathed after deploying an agent potent enough to kill Kim Jong Nam before he could even make it to the hospital.

Some type of nerve gas or ricin, a deadly substance found in castor beans, have been suggested as possible toxins used. A strong opioid compound could also have been liquidized, though that would likely have incapacitated the victim immediately. Surveillance footage instead shows Kim walking calmly downstairs to the airport’s clinic.

Kim, the older half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, had spent most of the past 15 years living in China and Southeast Asia. The victim is believed to have had at least three children with two women. No family members have come forward to claim the body.

The attack spiraled into diplomatic fury when Malaysia refused to hand over Kim Jong Nam’s corpse to North Korean diplomats after his death, and proceeded with an autopsy over the ambassador’s objections.

The two nations have made a series of increasingly angry statements since then, with Malaysia insisting it is simply following its legal protocols, and North Korea accusing Malaysia of working in collusion with its enemy South Korea.

Seoul’s spy agency believes North Korea was behind the killing, but has produced no evidence.

Kim Jong Nam was not known to be seeking political power.

Malaysia summons North Korean ambassador, recalls envoy from Pyongyang

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Malaysia summons North Korean ambassador, recalls envoy from Pyongyang

Malaysia’s foreign ministry summoned North Korea’s ambassador on Monday over allegations he had made over the Southeast Asian country’s handling of the investigation into the murder in Kuala Lumpur of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother.

Malaysia also recalled its envoy from Pyongyang “for consultations”, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said the North Korean ambassador Kang Chol was summoned for “an explanation on the accusations he made against the Government of Malaysia in his press conference on 17 February 2017”.

“In his press conference, the Ambassador…insinuated that…the Malaysian Government had ‘something to conceal’. The Ambassador also alleged that Malaysia was ‘colluding and playing into the gallery of external forces’,” the statement said.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor)

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