Moody’s Downgrades China Over Worries About Its Growing Debt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

SHANGHAI — Moody’s Investors Service downgraded its credit rating on China’s sovereign debt by a notch on Wednesday, saying that the steady buildup of debt in the Chinese economy would erode the country’s financial strength in the coming years.

In a bluntly worded statement, Moody’s said that the Chinese government remained committed to achieving high economic growth despite slowing productivity gains and a shrinking population of working-age adults. The only way for China to achieve that high growth is to allow its debt to continue to grow as a way to stimulate the economy, Moody’s warned.

”The downgrade reflects Moody’s expectation that China’s financial strength will erode somewhat over the coming years, with economywide debt continuing to rise as potential growth slows,” the credit rating firm said.

Moody’s moved down China’s debt rating to A1 from Aa3, but changed its outlook for further ratings adjustments to stable, from negative.

Moody’s action is still likely to anger Chinese officials, who have tried hard to persuade the Chinese public and the international financial community that they have the country’s debt troubles well in hand.

Stock markets in China and Hong Kong opened slightly lower on Wednesday on the news. The Australian dollar, which is widely considered a barometer of investor sentiment about China because Australia sells so much of its raw materials to that country, weakened against the United States dollar.

Venezuela sends 2,000 troops to state hit by looting, protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Venezuela sends 2,000 troops to state hit by looting, protests

Workers of the health sector and opposition supporters take part in a protest against President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello
By Anggy Polanco | SAN CRISTOBAL, VENEZUELA

Venezuela said it was sending 2,000 soldiers on Wednesday to a border state that is a hotspot of anti-government radicalism after a night of looting in which one 15-year-old died as political unrest rumbled on in the volatile nation.

Most shops and businesses in San Cristobal, capital of Tachira state on the Colombian border, were closed and guarded by soldiers on Wednesday, though looting continued in some poorer sectors, residents said.

People made off with items including coffee, diapers, and cooking oil in a country where a brutal economic crisis has made basic foods and medicine disappear from shelves.

Barricades of trash, car tires, and sand littered the streets, as daily life broke down in the city that was also a hotspot during the 2014 wave of unrest against leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

Hundreds of thousands of people have come onto the streets across Venezuela since early April to demand elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign aid and autonomy for the opposition-led legislature.

Maduro’s government accuses them of seeking a violent coup and says many of the protesters are no more than “terrorists.” State oil company PDVSA also blamed roadblocks for pockets of gasoline shortages in the country on Wednesday.

In Tachira, teenager Jose Francisco Guerrero was shot dead during the spate of looting, his relatives said.

“My mom sent my brother yesterday to buy flour for dinner and a little while later, we received a call saying he’d been injured by a bullet,” said his sister Maria Contreras, waiting for his body to be brought to a San Cristobal morgue.

The state prosecutor’s office confirmed his death, which would push the death toll in unrest to at least 43, equal to that of the 2014 protests.

’21ST CENTURY JEWS’

With international pressure against Venezuela’s government mounting, the United Nations Security Council turned its attention to the country’s crisis for the first time on Wednesday.

“The intent of this briefing was to make sure everyone is aware of the situation … we’re not looking for Security Council action,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told reporters after the session.

“The international community needs to say, ‘Respect the human rights of your people or this is going to go in the direction we’ve seen so many others go’ … We have been down this road with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma.”

Venezuela’s U.N. envoy Rafael Ramirez in turn accused the United States of seeking to topple the Maduro government.

“The U.S. meddling stimulates the action of violent groups in Venezuela,” he said, showing photos of vandalism and violence he said was caused by opposition supporters.

Venezuelans living abroad, many of whom fled the country’s economic chaos, have in recent weeks accosted visiting state officials and their family members.

Maduro on Tuesday likened that harassment to the treatment of Jews under the Nazis.

“We are the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler pursued,” Maduro said during the cabinet meeting. “We don’t carry the yellow star of David … we carry red hearts that are filled with desire to fight for human dignity. And we are going to defeat them, these 21st century Nazis.”

The German Nazis and their collaborators persecuted and killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during the 1930s and 1940s.

Social media has for weeks buzzed with videos of Venezuelan emigrees in countries from Australia to the United States shouting insults at public officials and in some cases family members in public places.

Maduro’s critics say it is outrageous for officials to spend money on foreign travel when people are struggling to obtain food and children are dying for lack of basic medicines.

But some opposition sympathizers say such mob-like harassment is the wrong way to confront the government.

Graphic on Venezuela’s economic woes: here

(Reporting by Anggy Polanco, additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea, Brian Ellsworth, Girish Gupta and Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas, Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations in New York; Writing by Girish Gupta and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Hay)

Australia Seizes Huge Drugs Haul From China

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

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Australia seizes huge drugs haul from China

AUSTRALIAN police have seized 903 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine smuggled from China inside boxes of hollow floorboards — the largest haul of the illicit drug in Australia, officials said yesterday. methamp

Law enforcement agencies valued the seizure, mostly found in a Melbourne warehouse in February, at almost A$900 million (US$680 million).

Two Australian men, aged 53 and 36, have been charged with commercial drug trafficking and face life in prison if convicted, police said. A search is underway for another two suspects in Melbourne.

Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan described the concealment of the drug inside 70 boxes of wooden floorboards as “quite complex, quite unique.”

Gaughan said police knew the identity of the syndicate that supplied the drug, best known as ice. He would not be more specific than to say the drug originated from somewhere in Asia.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan praised Australia’s cooperation with China’s National Narcotics Control Bureau which he said had stopped 7.5 tons of drugs from reaching Australian streets. Australia was the only Western country that had a joint taskforce with the Chinese bureau based in Guangzhou.

“It is a very serious blow to organized crime around the country,” Keenan said of the latest seizure.

Australia’s drug users pay up to 80 times the price the drug would fetch in China, Keenan said.

Australia’s previous largest haul of ice was almost 880 kilograms seized in Sydney in November 2014. The country’s largest seizure of cocaine was in February when a yacht was intercepted with 1.4 tons of the drug.

Uber Used Secret Greyball Tool To Deceive Authorities Worldwide

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Uber’s Greyball tool was developed to weed out riders thought to be using its service improperly.Credit Mark Ralston/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was being resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been outright banned.

The program, involving a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials. Uber used these methods to evade the authorities in cities such as Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China, Italy and South Korea.

Greyball was part of a broader program called VTOS, short for “violation of terms of service,” which Uber created to root out people it thought were using or targeting its service improperly. The VTOS program, including the Greyball tool, began as early as 2014 and remains in use, predominantly outside the United States. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team.

Greyball and the broader VTOS program were described to The New York Times by four current and former Uber employees, who also provided documents. The four spoke on the condition of anonymity because the tools and their use are confidential and because of fear of retaliation by the company.

Continue reading the main story

Uber’s use of Greyball was recorded on video in late 2014, when Erich England, a code enforcement inspector in Portland, Ore., tried to hail an Uber car downtown as part of a sting operation against the company.

At the time, Uber had just started its ride-hailing service in Portland without seeking permission from the city, which later declared the service illegal. To build a case against the company, officers like Mr. England posed as riders, opening the Uber app to hail a car and watching as the miniature vehicles on the screen made their way toward the potential fares.

But unknown to Mr. England and other authorities, some of the digital cars they saw in their Uber apps were never there at all. The Uber drivers they were able to hail also quickly canceled. That was because Uber had tagged Mr. England and his colleagues — essentially Greyballing them as city officials — based on data collected from its app and through other techniques. Uber then served up a fake version of its app that was populated with ghost cars, to evade capture.

Portland vs. Uber: City code officers try to ticket drivers 

At a time when Uber is already under scrutiny for its boundary-pushing workplace culture, the Greyball tool underscores the lengths to which the company will go to win in its business. Uber has long flouted laws and regulations to gain an edge against entrenched transportation providers, a modus operandi that has helped propel the company into more than 70 countries and to a valuation close to $70 billion.

Yet using its app to identify and sidestep authorities in places where regulators said the company was breaking the law goes further in skirting ethical lines — and potentially legal ones, too. Inside Uber, some of those who knew about the VTOS program and how the Greyball tool was being used were troubled by it.

In a statement, Uber said, “This program denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service — whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers.”

Dylan Rivera, a spokesman for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, said in a statement: “We’re very concerned to hear that this practice continued at least into 2015 and affected other cities.

“We take any effort to undermine our efforts to protect the public very seriously,” Mr. Rivera said.

Uber, which lets people hail rides from a smartphone app, operates multiple kinds of services, including a luxury Black Car one in which drivers are commercially licensed. But one Uber service that many regulators have had problems with is the company’s lower-cost service, known as UberX in the United States.

UberX essentially lets people who have passed a cursory background check and vehicle inspection to become an Uber driver quickly. In the past, many cities banned the service and declared it illegal.

That’s because the ability to summon a noncommercial driver — which is how UberX drivers who use their private vehicles are typically categorized — often had no regulations around it. When Uber barreled into new markets, it capitalized on the lack of rules to quickly enlist UberX drivers, who were not commercially licensed, and put them to work before local regulators could prohibit them from doing so.

After authorities caught up, the company and officials generally clashed — Uber has run into legal hurdles with UberX in cities including Austin, Tex., Philadelphia and Tampa, Fla., as well as internationally. Eventually, the two sides came to an agreement, and regulators developed a legal framework for the low-cost service.

That approach has been costly. Law enforcement officials in some cities have impounded or ticketed UberX drivers, with Uber generally picking up those costs on behalf of the drivers. Uber has estimated thousands of dollars in lost revenue for every vehicle impounded and ticket dispensed.

This is where the VTOS program and the use of the Greyball tool came in. When Uber moved into a new city, it appointed a general manager to lead the charge. The manager would try to spot enforcement officers using a set of technologies and techniques.

One method involved drawing a digital perimeter, or “geofence,” around authorities’ offices on a digital map of the city that Uber monitored. The company watched which people frequently opened and closed the app — a process internally called “eyeballing” — around that location, which signified that the user might be associated with city agencies.

Other techniques included looking at the user’s credit card information and whether that card was tied directly to an institution like a police credit union.

Enforcement officials involved in large-scale sting operations to catch Uber drivers also sometimes bought dozens of cellphones to create different accounts. To circumvent that tactic, Uber employees went to that city’s local electronics stores to look up device numbers of the cheapest mobile phones on sale, which were often the ones bought by city officials, whose budgets were not sizable.

In all, there were at least a dozen or so signifiers in the VTOS program that Uber employees could use to assess whether users were new riders or very likely city officials.

If those clues were not enough to confirm a user’s identity, Uber employees would search social media profiles and other available information online. Once a user was identified as law enforcement, Uber Greyballed him or her, tagging the user with a small piece of code that read Greyball followed by a string of numbers.

When a tagged officer called a car, Uber could scramble a set of ghost cars inside a fake version of the app for that person, or show no cars available at all. If a driver accidentally picked up an officer, Uber occasionally called the driver with instructions to end the ride.

Uber employees said the practices and tools were partly born out of safety measures for drivers in certain countries. In France, Kenya and India, for instance, taxi companies and workers targeted and attacked new Uber drivers.

“They’re beating the cars with metal bats,” Courtney Love, the singer and celebrity, tweeted from an Uber car at a time of clashes between the company and taxi drivers in Paris in 2015. Ms. Love said protesters had ambushed her Uber ride and held her driver hostage. “This is France? I’m safer in Baghdad.”

Uber has said it was also at risk from tactics used by taxi and limousine companies in certain markets. In Tampa, for instance, Uber referred to collusion between the local transportation authority and taxi companies in fighting ride-hailing services.

In those environments, Greyballing started as a way to scramble the locations of UberX drivers to prevent competitors from finding them. Uber said it remained the primary use of the tool today.

But as Uber moved into new markets, its engineers saw that those same techniques and tools could also be used for evading law enforcement. Once the Greyball tool was put in place and tested, Uber engineers created a playbook with a list of tactics and distributed it to general managers in more than a dozen countries across five continents.

At least 50 to 60 people inside Uber knew about Greyball, and some had qualms about whether it was ethical or legal. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team, headed by Salle Yoo, the general counsel. Ryan Graves, an early hire who became senior vice president of global operations and a board member, was also aware of the program.

Ms. Yoo and Mr. Graves did not respond to a request for comment.

Outside scholars said they were unsure of the program’s legality. Greyball could be considered a violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or possibly intentional obstruction of justice, depending on local laws and jurisdictions, said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University, who also writes for The New York Times.

“With any type of systematic thwarting of the law, you’re flirting with disaster,” Mr. Henning said. “We all take our foot off the gas when we see the police car at the intersection up ahead, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But this goes far beyond avoiding a speed trap.”

To date, Greyballing has been effective. In Portland that day in late 2014, Mr. England, the enforcement officer, did not catch an Uber, according to local reports.

And two weeks after Uber began dispatching drivers in that city, the company reached an agreement with local officials for UberX to be legally available there.

Australia Expresses Regret For Offending Indonesia’s Military

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Australia expresses regret for offending Indonesia’s military

Australian Army soldiers assist Indonesian Army personnel during the Junior Officer Combat Instructor Training course conducted by the Australian Army’s Combat Training Centre in Tully, Australia, October 10, 2014. Australian Defence Force/Handout via REUTERS
By Colin Packham and Tom Westbrook | SYDNEY

Australia expressed regret on Thursday and promised a thorough investigation of “insulting” teaching material found at a west Australian military base that led to Indonesia suspending defense ties between the often uneasy Asia-Pacific neighbors.

Indonesia confirmed on Wednesday it had suspended military cooperation with Australia in December, a decision that was initially said to have been taken independently by the military.

However, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on Thursday he had given his permission for the suspension of ties and that his defense minister and military chief had been asked to investigate.

Such military ties cover a range of activities from counterterrorism cooperation to border protection.

Jakarta and Canberra have had a rocky military relationship in recent years, and Australia stopped joint training exercises with Indonesia’s Kopassus special forces after accusations of abuses by the unit in East Timor in 1999, as the territory prepared for independence.

Ties were resumed when cooperation on counterterrorism became imperative after the 2002 bombing of two nightclubs on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne said on Thursday an investigation into the offensive materials that were found at Campbell Barracks in the west Australian city of Perth would be concluded “imminently”.

“We have indicated our regret that this occurred and that offence was taken. I think that’s appropriate when a significant counterpart raises their concerns with you,” Payne told reporters in Sydney.

Australia would present the findings of the report to Indonesia’s government and military, Payne said.

Payne refused to reveal the exact nature of the offending material, although Indonesia media have reported that a senior Indonesian military officer training in Australia took offence at a poster questioning Indonesian sovereignty over the western half of the island of Papua.

Media have also reported that the same officer also found documents that ridiculed the founding ideology of Indonesia’s National Armed Forces.

Papua, where there is a long-simmering separatist movement, is a politically sensitive issue in Indonesia.

“We of course … recognize Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and that is our firm and stated position,” Payne said.

She said the offending material had been removed and that all training documents would be “culturally appropriate”.

Indonesia most recently suspended military ties with Australia in 2013 over revelations that Australian spies had tapped the mobile telephone of then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Indonesian and Australian officials stressed that the bilateral relationship had not stalled, unlike in 2013.

“I think our relations with Australia remain in a good condition. The problem has to be clarified first at the operational level so the situation will not heat up,” Widodo told reporters in Jakarta.

Australia needs Indonesia’s help to enforce its controversial immigration policy that includes turning back boats carrying would-be asylum seekers. Payne said there was “no indication” of any change”.

(Reporting by Colin Packham and Tom Westbrook; Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe and Kanupriya Kapoor in JAKARTA; Editing by Paul Tait)

Shopping in Australia, while in China

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC NEWS NETWORK AND THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

Shopping in Australia, while in China

  • 24 October 2016
  • From the section Business
Media caption Phil Mercer reports from Sydney on the booming business of “freelance exporting”

In Sydney, a multi-million dollar export industry starts with a simple trip to the shops.

Laden with plastic bags that are almost too heavy to carry, we meet Rika Wenjing, a 24-year-old accountancy graduate from Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.

She labours with tins of infant food, supplements and skin lotions from a discount chemist to sell to customers back home in China.

Rika has worked part-time for the past two years as a daigou, a freelance retail consultant.

Rika Wenjing in a vineyardImage copyright RIKA WENJING
Image caption  Wenjing started working as a daigou while she was a student

She is glued to her phone and tablet, using the messaging app WeChat to build a network of 300 clients who aren’t afraid to pay premium prices for trustworthy Australian goods.

“In the beginning I just had my friends and my aunty to buy baby formula or unique brands from Australia, like Ugg boots. Then I wanted to build a platform to show more products to them,” she told the BBC. “I don’t want just to earn money, I want to provide products to my friends.”

A display of ugg bootsImage copyright  IMAGES
Image caption  boots are popular with Chinese shoppers

In Australia, it’s estimated there are 40,000 daigou, which means “on behalf of” in Mandarin.

The online shopping agents are almost exclusively from mainland China, and are young migrants or international students looking for flexible ways to help cover their rent and university fees.

The epicentre of the trade is in Sydney, a city with a growing Chinese community and frequent direct flights to China, which makes doing business quicker and smoother.

Earlier this year, Beijing tightened regulations on cross-border online shopping, but there is still money to be made, especially in baby milk formula, known as “white gold”.
Shoppers in China cannot always find the brands of baby milk formula they want locally

In 2008, at least half a dozen children died and as many as 300,000 fell ill in China after consuming milk products contaminated by melamine, a chemical used in plastics and adhesives. Since then, imported milk has become highly prized by sections of China’s affluent and health-conscious middle classes.

“Everyone cannot buy the good quality or the reliable formula in China, so they want to buy from Australia. Maybe it is more expensive, they don’t care [about] the price but they do care about the quality,” Rika explains.

At the height of a boom last year in demand in China for milk formula, a buying surge from daigou attracted criticism in sections of the Australian media for leaving domestic shoppers empty-handed. As demand peaked last year some shops limited the amount of formula customers could buy

Daigou came to prominence in Europe by shipping luxury goods such as Gucci handbags to China. In Australia, the trade revolves around everyday items including food, beauty products, wine and clothes.

“There are smaller daigou, so mum doing a home business and ship the product to China. There are also those which open up their own shop and try to do a bigger-scale business,” says Benjamin Sun, the co-founder of Think China, a digital marketing company in Sydney.

“Some of the daigou… establish their own logistics, own e-commerce website and try to formally distribute the products. It is all about trust, that is what daigou is doing – building trust between their clients. They are small but they are a lot of people. If you add them together, they are huge.”

Benjamin SunImage copyright BENJAMIN SUN
Image caption Benjamin Sun says the work of a daigou is all about building trust with clients

Daigou typically charge premiums of about 50% above the retail price in Australia. But even allowing for transport fees, buyers in China invariably pay much less for the same product in a local shop – assuming it is available.

The industry with its home-spun roots does have its challenges. Customers must be convinced the goods they receive are genuine, and not fake, and that the supplier is reliable.

Consultants often live stream their visits to supermarkets and chemists to prove the authenticity of the goods they send. It is an industry founded on trust.

In the Sydney suburb of Yagoona, Bob Sun, originally from the city of Dalian but now studying accountancy at Macquarie University, is renting a warehouse with three Chinese friends for their expanding business.

They pack their products – again mostly milk powder, vitamins and skin creams – with Australian magazines to help prove their provenance.

“The income from daigou is reasonable compared to other working opportunities like working in a restaurant and that sort of thing. The profit is really enough to cover your rent. It is easy to do that,” the 24-year-old student told the BBC.

“The biggest reason for me to do daigou is to not work in some company or to work in a restaurant. It is flexible.”

These freelance exporters have created thousands of trading routes both small and big into China, a market that can be almost impenetrable for some Australian companies, and others from New Zealand. Increasingly firms are collaborating with specialist consultants to harness their contacts and expertise.

“We think daigou are good for both the local economy… and they are very good for our business,” says Peter Nathan, chief executive of A2 Milk, a New Zealand baby formula manufacturer that also operates in Australia.

“We clearly believe they are a positive force and it’s fair to say that it is something we are accessing.”

Donald Trump Is Using 23 Million People In Taiwan As A Trade Bargaining Ploy With China?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Why Donald Trump Really Shouldn’t Play Games with China Over Taiwan

The U.S. President-elect has said the “One China” policy was up for negotiation and dependent on what Beijing does for the U.S. in return

East Asian geopolitics is a tapestry of fictions. Beijing insists Taiwan is part of China, despite the island of 23 million being self-governing for over half-a-century. The constitution of Taiwan — officially called the Republic of China, a legacy of the routed Nationalists (KMT) flight across the Strait in 1949 following China’s civil war — still claims dominion of all of the Chinese mainland and even Mongolia. The U.S. concedes Taiwan is part of China, having broken off diplomatic relations one China policy

with Taipei in 1979, yet is treaty-obliged to sell the island the weapons it uses to protect itself from Beijing.

One can have sympathy for Donald Trump not wanting to partake in such a charade, which is commonly known as the “One China” principle. The U.S. President-elect had the backing of many people in Taiwan when on Dec. 2 he accepted a phone call from its President, Tsai Ing-wen. Owing to “One China,” which was negotiated by an earlier KMT government in Taiwan, it was the first direct contact between the leaders of Taiwan and the U.S for almost four decades. When Beijing cried foul, Trump sent a series of unrepentant tweets, culminating with an interview on Fox on Sunday during which he said “One China” was up for negotiation and dependent on what Beijing does for the U.S. in return.

Read More: ‘Trump Truly Is a Mad Dog’: How Chinese Social Media Melted After the Taiwan Call

“Trump’s taking a more realpolitik approach, saying there are no sacred cows, we won’t be pushed around and everything is on the table,” says Prof. Nick Bisley, an Asia expert at Australia’s La Trobe University.

But Trump should be wary of wielding realpolitik in this land of fictions. Beijing regularly cites the “Taiwan question” as one of its “core interests,” and the topic is toxic even among otherwise politically inert Chinese. On Wednesday, An Fengshan, a spokesman for China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office, said, “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait will be seriously impacted” if the U.S. wavers on “One China.”

For Taiwan, the “One China” policy is partly a millstone, precluding the island from a seat at the U.N. or from joining potentially lucrative free trade groupings. But conversely, the agreement — otherwise known as the “1992 Consensus” — has allowed peaceful ties to flourish across a previously truculent Strait. Today, tourists and exchange students flock in both directions and 40% of Taiwan’s exports go to the mainland. Taiwan has a lot to gain from official recognition but even more to lose. “In the short term the [Taiwan] government seems to be very excited about [Trump addressing ‘One China’],” says Prof. Tang Shaocheng, an international relations expert at Taiwan’s National Chengchi University. “But the consequences — the reaction from Beijing — is still unpredictable.”

Donald Trump Angers China With Historic Phone Call to Taiwan’s President
Trump went where no U.S. commander-in-chief had gone since diplomatic relations were restored with China in 1979 — by speaking directly to the President of Taiwan, the island-state of 23 million that is essentially an independent country.

Taiwan would bear the brunt of a metastasizing Sino-U.S. relationship, though Trump has never mentioned what the island’s citizens desire during his bating of the Chinese leadership. Instead, the President-elect has treated the case like a business deal, jostling for the smallest advantage, while needling the world’s second largest economy over trade tariffs and alleged currency manipulation. “Trump is trying to get some more bargaining chips to use later with Beijing,” adds Tang. “Taiwan is just a leverage point for Trump.” And Trump’s actions elsewhere are recasting the rules of the game and further imperiling the island’s people.

Read More: Trump’s Doubting of ‘One China’ Has Sparked Both Hope and Fear in Taiwan

The other headline of Trump’s nascent foreign policy is warming ties with Russia. Trump repeatedly praised President Vladmir Putin during his presidential campaign, flying in the face of the international condemnation prompted by Moscow’s 2014 annexing of the Crimea, not to mention its steadfast support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. On Wednesday, Trump named his candidate for Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil chief with a long history of deals with the Kremlin, and who was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship in 2013. The nod raised eyebrows even within Trump’s own party.

“I don’t know what Mr. Tillerson’s relationship with Vladimir Putin was,” Sen. John McCain told Fox News on Saturday. “But I’ll tell you it is a matter of concern to me.”

What exactly Trump hopes to gain from courting Putin is unclear. The real estate mogul may have been elected on promises to put “America first,” but Putin is a Russian nationalist of the deepest dye and unlikely to yield much of consequence to Washington. One theory is that Trump is maneuvering for a “reverse Nixon” strategy: teaming up with Moscow to isolate Beijing, in a mirror of U.S. policy to counter the Soviet Union in the 1970s. However, that is unlikely to bear fruit. According to Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think-tank, Beijing and Moscow have never been as close as they are today. “I would call them a ‘détente’ state of relations,” says Trenin. “That’s somewhere between a strategic partnership and a full-fledged alliance.”

Read More: China Says Donald Trump’s Suggestion of Closer U.S.-Taiwan Ties Are ‘Out of the Question’

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s seminal One Belt, One Road economic strategy — a rekindling of the iconic land and maritime Silk Road though infrastructure and development projects — is dependent on rosy relations with Russia and particularly Central Asia, which is largely beholden to the Kremlin. Today, Russia is the world’s top oil exporter — accounting for 70% of all national exports — and its top customer is China, which bought 22 million tons in the first half of this year. Squabbles over disputed territory in Central Asia have been solved with surprising prudence and a raft of pipeline and other infrastructure deals have been struck. “Relations are robust and I can only see them getting stronger,” says Trenin.

By contrast, the U.S. has little to offer Russia. But Trump’s fawning of Putin does have an effect. Trump announced Tillerson’s appointment just as Assad’s Russian-backed troops retook Aleppo, displacing thousands and reportedly slaughtering scores of innocents. But Beijing is most acutely aware that the Kremlin suffered few repercussion from its seizing of Crimea, other than economic sanctions it shrugged aside (and Trump could soon lift them at a stoke of his pen.) If Trump wants to put ethics aside and talk realpolitik: What would the U.S. do if China decided to retake Taiwan?

Read More: Donald Trump Details Plan to Rewrite Global Trade Rules

To rephrase: What could it do? The U.S. military is stronger that China’s overall, though a war in China’s coastal waters would be bloody and impossible to win. The Philippines, traditionally America’s staunchest ally, has become antagonistic with Washington and chummy with China since new President Rodrigo Duterte took office. There are also resurgent calls to removed U.S. troops from bases in South Korea and Japan, who both list China as their largest trading partners. Beijing has built islands — dubbed unsinkable aircraft carriers — in the South China Sea, which new satellite images indicate contain significant weaponry. Not to forget that Trump campaigned on drawing down commitments on costly wars overseas.

“Xi is a tough guy and has shown unprecedented tolerance for Trump’s arrogance,” says Prof. Shi Yinhong, director of the Center on American Studies at Beijing’s Renmin University. “But if Trump still wants to mess with China’s core interests after he becomes President, Sino-U.S. ties will suffer the greatest damage since [the resumption of diplomatic relations]. China will not compromise.”

Trump thinks he is being clever by shaking up the status quo in East Asia, but there is a reason why all six preceding U.S. Presidents have firmly stuck to the convenient fiction of “One China.” In a game of true realpolitik when everything is on the table, China knows exactly what it wants — and it also now knows what it can probably get away with.

—With reporting by Zhang Chi / Beijing

Obama fast-tracks secretive plan to import 1,800 Muslims rejected by Australia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CREEPING SHARIA NEWS)(I HAVE ALSO SEEN THIS SAME INFORMATION IN AUSTRALIAN NEWS PAPERS IN THE PAST 4-6 WEEKS SEVERAL TIMES)

Obama fast-tracks secretive plan to import 1,800 Muslims rejected by Australia

no-refugees-demonstration

If the reported number is 1,800, expect a much larger number with many more to follow. Don’t expect big media to investigate (i.e., do their job). Source: Obama fast-tracks plan to take Muslim migrants rejected by Australia

by Leo Hohmann

The chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees are demanding the Obama administration provide details of a secret resettlement deal in which the U.S. has agreed to take up to 1,800 mostly Muslim asylum seekers who have been rejected by Australia as illegal aliens.

Congress only learned of the deal through media reports two weeks ago and, according to a letter sent to administration officials by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the deal is not only a matter of grave national security concern, but it could be illegal.

That’s because it amounts to an international treaty that Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated without consulting or notifying Congress according to Article II, Section II of the U.S. Constitution, according to the letter, sent by the two lawmakers Nov. 22 to Kerry and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Grassley is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Goodlatte chairs the same committee in the House.

The rejected aliens come from terror-infested countries including Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan.

Nearly 2,500 of them were interdicted off the coast of Australia in 2013 in accordance with that country’s policy of not accepting any of the wave of “refugees” streaming out of the Middle East. Unlike Europe, Australia effectively said “no” to the United Nations’ plan to open up Western democracies for millions of refugees fleeing not only the Syrian civil war but conflicts in Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and even countries like Pakistan that are not at war. Germany alone has accepted 1.5 million Muslim refugees and subjected itself to thousands of sexual assaults on its women and girls.

But migrants who tried to get to Australia did not find a welcome mat. They were rescued by the Australian coast guard from their unsafe vessels and taken to off-shore camps on the Islands of Papua New Guinea and Nauru, where they have remained ever since. The United Nations stepped in and is looking for countries that will take the asylum seekers.

The U.N. found a taker in the Obama administration. Kerry confirmed he had reached a deal to take an undetermined number of the 2,465 aliens for permanent resettlement in the United States. Goodlatte and Grassley said they have since found out that up to 1,800 of the boat people could end up being distributed to U.S. cities and towns. But very little information has been released about the aliens or how many will end up in which American cities.

“This situation is concerning for many reasons,” the letter states. “First, your department s negotiated an international agreement regarding refugees without consulting or notifying Congress. Such information was not disclosed to Congress during the annual refugee consultation that occurred on September 13, 2016, even though your staff confirmed that the agreement had, at the time, been negotiated ‘for months.’ Second, the agreement and the number of refugees to be resettled has been deemed by your departments as classified, thus the American people are left in the dark as to the rationale for this agreement. Third, the individuals who will be resettled are coming from countries of national security concern. In fact, two of the countries are officially designated by the State Department to be State Sponsors of Terrorism. Finally, it begs the question why Australia and other countries refuse to admit these individuals, what other countries are doing to help alleviate the situation, what kind of precedent this sets for future refugees interdicted at sea by Australian forces and prevented from entering Australia, and how a similar situation will be prevented in the future.” Read the entire letter from Grassley and Goodlatte.

They came from the following countries:

Iran
Sri Lanka
Pakistan
Afghanistan
Somalia
Iraq
Sudan
Stateless

No details have been released as to how many from each country would be considered for resettlement in the U.S., what cities or states they would be sent to, the breakdown of men, women and children, or the state of their health. The U.S. sent teams to begin screening the aliens almost immediately after the deal was brokered by Kerry, according to the letter.


Read it all and this previous Hohmann piece: Leaked memo: Refugees vet themselves

China Confiscates Singapore Military Equipment They Bought From Taiwan

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SHANGHAI DAILY NEWS)

Warning against Taiwan military ties

CHINA yesterday warned countries against maintaining military ties with Taiwan, after Singaporean armored troop carriers were seized en route from the island.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China was verifying reports that Hong Kong customs had seized nine Singapore troop carriers and other equipment in 12 containers being shipped from Taiwan after military exercises.

Hong Kong customs said its officers were still investigating the shipment.

“The entry and exit of foreign personnel and goods in the Hong Kong special administrative region should respect its relevant laws,” Geng said.

“I wish to reiterate that the Chinese government consistently and resolutely opposes any form of official exchanges, including military exchanges and cooperation, between countries with which we have diplomatic relations and the Taiwan region.”

The seizure comes amid rising tensions between China and Singapore, which has deepened its security relationship with the United States over the past year.

Regional diplomatic sources say Chinese officials are particularly concerned at Singapore’s hosting of increased deployments of US P-8 Poseidon surveillance planes, which are equipped with various sensors that can target China’s expanding Hainan-based submarine fleet.

Singapore has had a long-standing if low-key military relationship with Taiwan. Singaporean defense experts say the Singaporean military still maintains a small semi-permanent presence in Taiwan, with larger numbers of infantry troops being sent to the island for annual training drills.

It has gradually reduced that training, moving to other facilities in Australia and India, but is unlikely to pull out of Taiwan completely, experts said.

Singapore defense ministry officials said yesterday that the shipment involved no ammunition or sensitive equipment, and it had earlier contracted commercial shipping line APL to handle the cargo.

“APL was required to comply with all regulations including … obtaining the necessary permits required to transit through ports,” a ministry statement said.

APL staff are now working with Hong Kong officials to free the shipment, aided by Singaporean diplomats and military officials, it said.

An APL spokesman confirmed the discussions. “APL is committed to ensuring cargo security as well as full compliance with all regulatory and trade requirements in its conduct of business,” he said.

APL is a subsidiary of the French-based CMA CGM Group.

An Aussie Intern in Israel – Part One: The Personal Experience

 

An Aussie Intern in Israel – Part One: The Personal Experience

I once thought that I fell for a young man, a love completely against my will and every subjective, objective, emotional thought I had and yet there he was plaguing my mind despite me. The facts are that he certainly has a ridiculous personality, divided between his willful submission to societal norms caused by a desperate need for approval and his frustrated anxiety to be who he wants to be. In fact, he claims to be a determinate as a way to escape his own will and freedom due to the intensity of his self-doubt and yet plays deceitful games, lies and tricks the people around him to satisfy his ego and covert the misery he feels for being such a coward. His life is an image creation and though he despises such mediocrity, he tames the desire for freedom by creating fictional characters and stealing the experiences from others. This, and finding happiness in other peoples’ misery. I desired nothing more than to see him embrace his freedom as I could sense a purity or goodness within him beyond what I had ever seen before but time and time again, despite every comment made, every lesson thrown in his direction, he always withered back into his shell, hiding himself behind the shadows. In all the bad he did to me – all of which I knew as I knew what he was – I realized I fell in love with the belief in his potential to break out of this repetitive stupidity, to become honest to himself which is the only way to obtain what genuine morality provides; everlasting peace. But last Christmas, seeing him only worsen I realized to my immediate disappointment that his refusal to better himself was much stronger than I could impress and being profoundly saddened at his failure to a point of making myself seriously sick, to save myself from the heartache I decided to search elsewhere for what I had hoped to find in him.

And I think I found him. His name is Israel.

From the soundless alarm made from the gentle, orange sunrise piercing through the giant tree outside my bedroom window that form shapes on the wall to the random crazy man shouting for no apparent reason on the side of the street. The impolite service, the politics, history, feeling lost in the maze of an unknown language as I stand in shock as people ride hand-made motorized bicycles in the middle of a busy, disorganized road. The combination of young, perfectly tanned girls wearing short dresses that expose their tattoos to women dressed modestly in long skirts and shirts with a scarf over their heads. The dilapidated buildings and infrastructure that is nevertheless functional and the sudden silence during shabbat. On one end I see an overweight, bearded man wearing a payos and hat with a gun strapped around his thigh and on the other I see young, attractive men sipping beers in their board shorts. I am lost in the chaos, overwhelmed by the constant honking of the horns, the failure to understand where to go or what bus to catch. And I love every minute of it.

It goes against every rational, subjective, emotional understanding I have of a place to call home, living in Melbourne – the most livable city in the world – and having an attitude of refined simplicity and quality. Such is the appeal of this country, with the ridiculous personality divided between a strong, almost mad ego and a genuine goodness. There is so much to learn, so much to change for the better and I want to play my part, to flow in the chaotic tide of its beauty and terror even if multiple barriers causes him to reject me, trick me or hurt me. I have fallen in love with the endless possibilities that Israel has to offer.

 

Desert Queen

At the onset of my Masters degree in Human Rights Law, I was told that there would be opportunities to pursue international internships funded by Monash University and noticed several availabilities in Israel. Though I had yet to apply, something told me that I was going and I could only go if I was offered the funds to do so since financial constraints would prevent me from visiting independently. You could imagine how overwhelmed I felt the moment I received the ‘congratulations’ letter, but certainly not as accomplished and confident the moment I stood on the balcony at my Tel Aviv apartment knowing that throughout October I will be in the most complex, beautiful place in the world. Since completing my studies in Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies several years back at the Australian National University, I have always wanted to come and experience everything that I had learnt about the Arab/Israeli conflict and about Middle Eastern politics in general, of Islam and Judaism and the legal and social issues – something I shall write more about in Part Two: The Political Experience of this blog post. But my love of history and of biblical history in particular was the source of what really compelled me to this region.

Interestingly, however, I though it would be in Jerusalem that I would find a sense of belonging but – as I had experienced in Rome – it was certainly not what I had anticipated, on the contrary. I unwittingly found a love of the rustic and almost cruel Negev region and also in restricted and abandoned streets of Bethlehem. Perhaps it was simply just a string of bad luck, yet I was hoodwinked on several occasions in Jerusalem, losing a substantial amount of money to a taxi driver who intentionally dropped me off at the wrong place, from staying in a terrible apartment though the images showed it otherwise, to be given incorrect directions from a mini-market employee when all I needed to do was walk less than thirty seconds away from the location, I became confused and a little disgruntled. The attitude to Tel Aviv – where I am primarily based – is a liberal city, left-wing and youthful and yet here I have felt welcomed, the vibe being that of kind solicitation, a warmth and eagerness. When I was in Rome, a similar and overwhelming experience had occurred just the same and I felt a strong desire to leave the city and return back to Tuscany where I felt at home in the hills with its peaceful culture, music, art and the medieval architecture. Perhaps, as I said, it was just bad luck and I will endeavor to try Jerusalem once more in anticipation of a better experience.

It was nevertheless unexpected that traversing the Judean Desert, from the Dead Sea to Ein Gedi, from Eilat and even to Jordan where experiencing Wadi Rum since watching Laurence of Arabia would have been as appealing as it has to me. Like most adventurers, some find it appealing to climb mountains, others hiking forests or out at sea, for me it would seem that there is a desert appeal, the richness of archaeological and historical artifacts and stories, the cruelty and beauty.

Mar Saba Monestary
masada
img_0651 img_0771

Staying in Israel until the end of October, I also find myself being a part of the most celebratory month of the year. Though I have rented an apartment near the beach and so locally there appears to be options to buy groceries or visit a cafe despite the public holiday, I still want to get myself involved and learn more about the customs and traditions. At the moment, the celebration of Rosh Hashanah is underway or the Jewish New Year and Jews all over the world traditionally eat apples dipped in honey to promote a sweet new year. I wish for nothing more than the sweetest New Year and being an avid – perhaps way too avid – fruit lover, I spent a portion of my funds on apples, pears, plums, honey and pomegranates for the two-day holiday. Oh, how I love fruit so I thank Rosh Hashanah for the excuse to eat it all! In the Book of Leviticus, Rosh Hashanah or the Feast of the Trumpets is traditionally a way of reflecting over the past year, to be penitent and to ask God for forgiveness for any wrongdoing made in addition to celebrating the beginning of the harvest. Challah bread – which is circular – is also traditionally served to symbolize the cycle of the year. Shanah tovah u’metukah

Following Rosh Hashanah will be the celebration of Yom Kippur, considered the holiest of holidays for the Jewish community all around the world. Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement require fasting and prayer over the day and night, asking for forgiveness and atoning for any sin or wrongdoing. This is followed by Sukkot or the Feast of the Tabernacles and is a celebration of the exodus through the wilderness as signified in the Book of Leviticus as well as marking the agricultural year from the Book of Exodus. It ends over a period of seven days on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. To be a part of a country celebrating these festivities, I feel honored to be present during October.

A Personal Journey of Recovery

I went through the worst year of my life last year. I found myself being bullied and harassed, I lost all my savings and ultimately my dreams, I had a car accident, I was seriously threatened, physically injured and ill with rapid weight loss, amenorrhea and severe angina, twice hospitalized where I nearly died. All this while I was alone. It felt like the whole world hated me and all I really wanted was one person, a friend, to say that I was going to be okay, only it was the contrary. There were days that I spent hours in physical agony from the angina that I never left the house and to avoid the severity of the situation, I would utilize social networking sites as a way to pretend that I was not as incredibly vulnerable, confused or afraid as I was. It was only when the angina suddenly disappeared to the dismay of my doctor and myself that I was able to slowly stand from the distress and work my way out of the sense of emptiness and hurt. Though I permanently injured my left leg and without a car, despite the pain I forced myself to walk and get groceries, to catch two trains to my new job and back. Slowly but surely and now with an income and employment that gave me purpose, I moved into my own unit and took control of my life once more. I started a master’s degree and began writing my own blog, making a pact with myself that 2016 will be a New Year that will never repeat what I had experienced previously. Step by step, struggle-by-struggle, I gained the strength and did so with independence, hard work, a strong will and my faith in the loving-kindness of God.

In saying all that, the terrible experiences awakened a part of me that I had long kept hidden. I never realized how much my family had hurt me until the recent events because – being alone for so long – the severity of the experience made me realize that I did not want to be alone anymore, which made me question why I was. After a childhood spent being rejected from my parents and relentlessly told by my siblings that I was ugly and stupid, unawares, I believed it and pushed all men away as I kept myself hidden from the fear of being hurt just the same as I never had ambition professionally since I thought I was never good enough. Though no one would know of my inherent isolation, year after year was lost in the acceptance that I was less worthy than everyone else. All these experiences has in a cyclic fashion encapsulated everything that I have decidedly become. Though it was incredibly difficult for me, a photo in my swimsuit at Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea was an effort to express in symbolic format that I will no longer believe that I am ugly and that beauty is the confidence to have self-respect, to commit to a life of moral worthiness, to be genuinely kind and to love with all my heart and though I have not yet been in a relationship, I am no longer embarrassed or afraid neither do I nor will I ever believe in other people’ viciousness. I have conquered hate. My passion now lies in children and my philosophy will remain that every child deserves a childhood. My mother, being a victim of severe domestic violence, failed to adequately care and I know that a childhood can only develop correctly with a mother who is of right mind. Thus, by extension, women’s rights is fundamental to the rights of children. Though I myself can never have children, my fierce maternal instincts, genuine sense of love for all of humankind, honor in my person and respect for myself has led me to commit myself to this purpose. I am also learning to appreciate beauty both physically and subjectively.

Which is why my purpose was found on the day I decided to travel into Bethlehem, the West Bank. Encountering the Palestinian/Israeli conflict directly, it was quite overwhelming to hear stories of Palestinian children being shot dead, something that reaches deep into my soul as completely and unequivocally unacceptable. The restrictions particularly with movement and self-determination, the poverty and lack of opportunity will certainly impact on the well-being of mothers. To change the conditions of society, to prevent the growth or maturation of a negative culture, children need to experience love, happiness, freedom. It was in Bethlehem that I met the founder of the organisation Alrowwad For Culture and Arts, a wonderful organisation in the UNRWA managed refugee camp Aida that provides both women and children with hope through creativity and education.

BanksySpraying on the wall West Bank Wall Aida Camp GraffitiMe with Palestinian Children

img_0431 img_0462

Aida Camp is managed by UNRWA and with more than 3000 inhabitants covering a mere 0.070 square kilometers, it is one of many camps in the region that is susceptible to violence being in a vulnerable location and overcrowded. Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour gave me a plethora of information regarding the work of the organisation and I was so moved by its validity that I have decided to establish Australian Friends of Alrowwad when I get back home to Melbourne as a way of supporting the organisation and the children in the camp. I am apolitical and will ensure that it remains so, my only concern being the rights of women and children despite Israel and Palestine being divided withe a long and intricate history of violence and fear among other delicate issues. My personal experience with hardship and my current state of subjective peace was only possible when I stopped focusing on the evils of the past but took the necessary steps to develop change for the better. It is unfruitful and unproductive otherwise as all experiences should never be forgotten but it is essential to overcome.

I want to end with a quote that I believe stands at the heart of this personal post of mine.

l-56399

 

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oldpoet56

truthtroubles.wordpress.com/ Just an average man who tries to do his best at being the kind of person the Bible tells us we are all suppose to be. Not perfect, never have been, don't expect anyone else to be perfect either. Always try to be very easy going type of a person if allowed to be.

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