A water-proof drone is being used by Australian scientists to collect the highly-treasured nasal mucus of migrating whales. The snot is rich with fresh DNA, viruses and bacteria, and is collected by a drone that hovers over the blowholes of humpback whales as they embark on their epic annual journey along Australia's east coast.
Whales, like all mammals need air, and come to the surface to breathe through a blowhole.
Vanessa Pirotta, a marine biologist at Macquarie University, says that nasal mucus indicates the health of the whale.
“It is the juicy biological mixture that you see as a whale takes a breath as they surface from the water," she said. "You often see that plume and it sounds like this like [sounds of sharp breaths] as a whale breathes because, after all, they are mammals like you and I and they have two nostrils, and it is the humpback whale that I am talking about. So as they take a breath it is a lot of lung bacteria coming out from their lungs, which we can collect to provide a snapshot of whale health.”
Australian researchers have attached a petri dish that is used in scientific tests to a drone which flies through the whale’s nasal mist.
“As a whale comes to take a breath — you can actually see it coming to the surface on really good weather days that is — the drone then lowers, the petri dish is then opened and the drone is flown through the densest part of the whale snot, collecting the sample in the petri dish. Now once this happens the lid is shut and the drone is flown back to the research vessel and we collect the sample to later process it in the laboratory,” said Pirotta.
The research could help to solve one of the mysteries of another magnificent creature of the deep — the Southern right whale. Its numbers have recovered on Australia’s west coast since hunting was outlawed but its population on the eastern seaboard remains stubbornly low.
In the past studies into whale health had to rely on examining whales that were either killed or those whales that had been stranded on a beach.
Drones allow scientists to collect samples from free-swimming whales to gather information in a safe and non-invasive way.
U.S. President Donald Trump has arrived in Japan for a four-day state visit heavy on ceremony and sports, although a senior White House official promises “there’ll be some substantive things to announce.”
A focus on photo opportunities rather than dealmaking may be intentional on the part of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has forged a close relationship with Trump. The two have met or spoken more than 40 times, which is “absolutely unprecedented,” according to the White House.
Keio University Professor Tomohiko Taniguchi, the prime minister’s primary foreign policy speechwriter, envisions that apart from the visit’s ceremonial aspects, there will be little of substance. But Taniguchi points out Abe is the only foreign leader with whom “Trump can spend hours and hours speaking without prepared talking points, which in itself bears strategic value for Japanese diplomacy.”
Asked by VOA if the trip would result in any deliverables on trade and defense cooperation, a senior U.S. official pointing to a scheduled Monday Trump-Abe news conference replied, “they’ll have some very interesting announcements concerning the range of the relationship.”
The president is to attend a banquet with the new emperor, golf with the prime minister and view the ancient sport of sumo — awarding the “Trump Cup” to a champion wrestler.
One goal of Abe’s during their time together in Tokyo is to ensure Trump is committed to next month’s Group of 20 leaders summit Japan will host in Osaka.
“The meeting will test Japan’s ability to act as a global statesman and champion the need for multilateralism,” says Shihoko Goto, the Wilson Center’s deputy director for geoeconomics and senior associate for Northeast Asia. “Making sure the United States is fully engaged in the G-20 summit will certainly be a key factor for Japan to achieve that goal.”
Abe also is eager to get Trump’s commitment not to skip this year’s Group of Seven summit in France.
“It’s critical for Japan’s survival that the U.S. uphold the international institutions built after the war,” says Michael Green, the Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Abe hopes to demonstrate “nobody works better with this president or the United States than Japan,” Green added. “That’s an important message for Asia, which has seen mixed signals out of Washington over the last decade about whether China or Japan would be the most important partner for the U.S.”
Both leaders also desire an economic pact following the U.S. withdrawal from the multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
“Japan’s priority is to have a bilateral trade deal with the United States that would not impede its exports,” Goto, of the Wilson Center, told VOA. “In addition, Japanese businesses are looking for stability in trade rules, and certainly stability in U.S.-China relations that would allow them to make investment decisions in the longer term.”
Abe will have ample opportunity to lobby Trump about the global world order and trade while they golf and then sit side by side close to the sumo ring before their formal summit Monday.
No immediate breakthrough in the trade arena is foreseen by analysts.
“Exactly how and when agriculture and autos is going to be addressed is still very much up for debate,” said Matthew Goodman, senior adviser for Asian economics at CSIS.
There is anxiety among Japanese officials that Trump could lash out at his hosts and reinforce his tough stance on trade.
“My gut is that he will be, in this context, on his best behavior because of the pomp and circumstance of this visit and the golf and all the rest of it,” predicted Goodman, a former White House and National Security Council staffer.
Trump on Monday also meets with Emperor Naruhito and attends a state banquet.
The U.S. president is Japan’s first formal guest of the Reiwa era, which began May 1 with the new monarch ascending to the Chrysanthemum Throne, succeeding his elderly father, Akihito, who abdicated.
Yokosuka naval base
Plans are being made for Trump and Abe on Tuesday to inspect a Japanese helicopter carrier at the Yokosuka naval base, putting the final focus for the president’s visit on the close military relationship between the two countries, which were on opposing sides during World War II.
The 250-meter-long Izumo is categorized as a helicopter carrier but could be modified to launch the short take-off and landing version of the F-35B supersonic stealth fighter jet.
“The Japanese have not decided officially yet whether they’ll procure the F-35B, but there’s an awful lot of interest. I’m sure Donald Trump would like to sell them,” Green told VOA. “The impression the Abe government had was that the Obama administration was much more ambivalent about all this stuff.”
Trump’s enthusiasm signals “to the region and to the Japanese public, and the American public, that the U.S. is fully supportive of what Abe is trying to do on security,” adds Green, a former National Security Council staffer.
At Yokosuka, Trump also is scheduled to address U.S. military personnel aboard a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship while it’s still Memorial Day back home, specifically noting the “global nature of the partnership between Japan and the United States,” according to a senior White House official.
U.S. President Donald Trump is heading to Japan for a four-day state visit heavy on ceremony and sports, although a senior White House official promises "there'll be some substantive things to announce."
A focus on photo opportunities rather than deal-making may be intentional on the part of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has forged a close relationship with Trump. The two have met or spoken more than 40 times, which is "absolutely unprecedented," according to the White House.
Keio University Professor Tomohiko Taniguchi, the prime minister's primary foreign policy speechwriter, envisions that apart from the visit's ceremonial aspects, there will be little of substance. But Taniguchi points out Abe is the only foreign leader with whom "Trump can spend hours and hours speaking without prepared talking points, which in itself bears strategic value for Japanese diplomacy."
Asked by VOA if the trip would result in any deliverables on trade and defense cooperation, a senior U.S. official pointing to a scheduled Monday Trump-Abe news conference replied, "they'll have some very interesting announcements concerning the range of the relationship."
The president is to attend a banquet with the new emperor, golf with the prime minister and view the ancient sport of sumo -- awarding the “Trump Cup” to a champion wrestler.
One goal of Abe's during their time together in Tokyo is to ensure Trump is committed to next month's Group of 20 leaders summit Japan will host in Osaka.
"The meeting will test Japan's ability to act as a global statesman and champion the need for multilateralism," says Shihoko Goto, the Wilson Center's deputy director for geoeconomics and senior associate for Northeast Asia. "Making sure the United States is fully engaged in the G-20 summit will certainly be a key factor for Japan to achieve that goal."
Abe also is anxious to get Trump's commitment not to skip this year's Group of Seven summit in France.
"It's critical for Japan's survival that the U.S. uphold the international institutions built after the war," says Michael Green, the Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Abe hopes to demonstrate "nobody works better with this president or the United States than Japan," Green adds. "That's an important message for Asia, which has seen mixed signals out of Washington over the last decade about whether China or Japan would be the most important partner for the U.S."
Both leaders also desire an economic pact following the U.S. withdrawal from the multinational Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
"Japan's priority is to have a bilateral trade deal with the United States that would not impede its exports," Goto, of the Wilson Center, tells VOA. "In addition, Japanese businesses are looking for stability in trade rules, and certainly stability in U.S.-China relations that would allow them to make investment decisions in the longer term."
Abe will have ample opportunity to lobby Trump about the global world order and trade while they golf and then sit side by side close to the sumo ring prior to their formal summit on Monday.
No immediate breakthrough in the trade arena is foreseen by analysts.
"Exactly how and when agriculture and autos is going to be addressed is still very much up for debate," says Matthew Goodman, senior adviser for Asian economics at CSIS.
There is anxiety among Japanese officials that Trump could lash out at his hosts and reinforce his tough stance on trade.
"My gut is that he will be, in this context, on his best behavior because of the pomp and circumstance of this visit and the golf and all the rest of it," predicts Goodman, a former White House and National Security Council staffer.
Trump on Monday also meets with Emperor Naruhito and attends a state banquet.
The U.S. president is Japan's first formal guest of the Reiwa era, which began May 1 with the new monarch ascending to the Chrysanthemum Throne, succeeding his elderly father, Akihito, who abdicated.
Yokosuka naval base
Plans are being made for Trump and Abe on Tuesday to inspect a Japanese helicopter carrier at the Yokosuka naval base, putting the final focus for the president's visit on the close military relationship between the two countries, which were on opposing sides during World War Two.
The 250-meter-long Izumo is categorized as a helicopter carrier but could be modified to launch the short take-off and landing version of the F-35B supersonic stealth fighter jet.
"The Japanese have not decided officially yet whether they'll procure the F-35B, but there's an awful lot of interest. I'm sure Donald Trump would like to sell them," Green tells VOA. "The impression the Abe government had was that the Obama administration was much more ambivalent about all this stuff."
Trump's enthusiasm signals "to the region and to the Japanese public, and the American public, that the U.S. is fully supportive of what Abe is trying to do on security," adds Green, a former National Security Council staffer.
At Yokosuka, Trump also is scheduled to address U.S. military personnel aboard a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship while it's still Memorial Day back home, specifically noting the "global nature on the partnership between Japan and the United States," according to a senior White House official.
North Korea is blaming the United States for deadlocked nuclear negotiations, vowing they will "never be resumed" unless Washington abandons demands for disarmament.
U.S. President Donald Trump's second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended in February without agreements on sanctions relief for Pyongyang and on concessions the North would make regarding its banned nuclear and ballistic programs.
A statement issued Friday through Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency, citing a North Korean spokesman, accused the U.S. of intentionally causing the talks to collapse with impossible demands.
The statement said North Korea "took crucial and meaningful measures," including the discontinuation of nuclear and ballistic missile testing and steps toward the "repatriation of the American POW/MIA remains." But instead of responding to "our goodwill measures in the same manner," the statement said the U.S. "deliberately pushed the talks to a rupture by merely claiming the unilateral disarmament of the DPRK," a reference to North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
North Korea said the U.S. "would not be able to move us even an inch with the device it is now weighing in its mind, and the further its mistrust and hostile acts towards DPRK grow, the fiercer our reaction will be."
The U.S. has maintained the talks failed because of North Korean demands for sanctions relief in exchange for a partial dismantling of its nuclear programs.
After the collapse of the Trump-Kim summit, Pyongyang also slowed the pace of talks with South Korea, which seeks warmer relations with its northern neighbor and a bigger role in reviving U.S.-North Korean talks.
Pyongyang's statement came just hours before Trump travels to Japan for a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in which the North Korean nuclear issue will likely be a top agenda item.
Taiwan said Tuesday it will continue doing "humanitarian" search and rescue work in the South China Sea, where it holds the largest of about 500 tiny islets.
In a statement, the Coast Guard Administration said it will "deepen its cooperation mechanism" with surrounding countries, the agency said.
China, the most powerful claimant to the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea that's rich in fisheries and fuel reserves, calls Taiwan its own despite self-rule of some 70 years. Officials in Beijing demand that other countries, including the four Southeast Asian states with competing claims to the sea, avoid any formal relations with Taiwan.
But joint search-and-rescue work, even if not publicly supported by other countries, would give Taiwan a welcome name abroad for cooperation rather than for extending the sovereignty dispute. Taiwan has tried over the past decade to stand out from China, which has bilateral issues with an array of countries, by spreading its culture, disaster relief and economic aid overseas.
"The best way at the moment for us to make entry is truly through humanitarian rescue work," said Huang Chung-ting, a Chinese politics and military affairs assistant research fellow with the Taipei-based policy analysis nonprofit Institute for National Defense and Security Research. "Only under this framework can we possibly raise the odds of South China Sea cooperation with surrounding countries and even the United States."
Taiwan started describing Taiping Island as a search-and-rescue hub for the contested sea's Spratly Islands in 2015. Taiwanese personnel on the island were already helping about 10 boats a year from China or Vietnam, usually during storms, a coast guard official said then.
That year ex-president Ma Ying-jeou called Taiwan a humanitarian player in the sovereignty dispute and urged all claimant countries to share resources. The following year Taiwan's coast guard and navy held search-and-rescue exercises near Taiping Island with the aim of helping sailors from any country as needed.
On Tuesday, the coast guard joined five other Taiwan government agencies for search-and-rescue drills. They simulated the rescue of a fishing boat accident that had killed one and injured five, two seriously. The agencies used four ships, four drones, two planes and a helicopter for the drill, the coast guard statement said.
Taiping Island works as a rescue center because the 400-meter- wide by 1,400-meters-long island supports a 10-bed hospital in addition to an airstrip and a pier.
Taiwan will increase cooperation mainly by rescuing more foreign-registered fishing boats in distress, and those ships are unlikely to refuse help, a coast guard spokesperson said Friday.
Bridging rival claimants
Taiwan already exchanges "intelligence" and scientific research reports with other South China Sea claimants without upsetting China, said Huang Kwei-bo, vice dean of the international affairs college at National Chengchi University.
The other claimants to all or part of the sea are Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. They might help Taiwan's search-and-rescue work, but only quietly or informally, analysts expect.
"In principle, there are both intelligence report exchanges and marine science cooperation, but when it comes to conducting humanitarian drills around Taiping Island, the stances of nearby Southeast Asian counties are unclear because they might be afraid of Beijing's attitude," Huang Kwei-bo said.
A country that helped Taiwan publicly might be seen as conceding its own sovereignty claims to Taiwan and anger China. China controls 90 percent of the sea, much of it by landfilling small islets for military use since 2010. Beijing mutes anger in Southeast Asia by using its massive economy to offer trade and investment benefits.
The United States might back Taiwan's search-and-rescue work, since it has taken other steps under President Donald Trump since 2017 to check China's reach in the sea, said Lin Chong-pin, a retired strategic studies professor in Taiwan. Joint humanitarian work moves the maritime dispute "in a direction that Beijing doesn't want to happen," Lin said.
"Of course, the United States would be eager to do something to challenge China," he said. Other countries, he added, are probably "hedging" on how to work with Taiwan.
The U.S. government has taken other steps under President Donald Trump since 2017 to check China's reach in the sea.
On Wednesday the U.S. Navy passed two warships through the strait separating Taiwan from China, the island's defense ministry said. China resents those ship movements, which have become routine over the past year, as intervention in its relations with Taiwan.
Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush has been awarded Australia’s largest individual libel payout after winning a defamation lawsuit against a Sydney newspaper
A “recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind,” is how Justice Michael Wigney described the allegations made against Rush in the Daily Telegraph, which is owned by the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
Lawyers for the Queensland-born actor, who starred in "Pirates of the Caribbean," "The King’s Speech" and the "Life and Death of Peter Sellers," insisted he had been portrayed as a “pervert and sexual predator” and that his reputation had been “smashed and destroyed.”
A three-week trial took place in late 2018 in the federal court in Sydney. Earlier this year Wigney ruled in Rush’s favor, and said that the case should have been settled out of court.
“It plainly would have been better for all concerned if the issues that arose in the saga that played out in this courtroom in October and November last year had been allowed to be dealt with in a different way and in a different place to the harsh and uncompromising adversarial world of a defamation proceeding,” Wigney said.
In 2017, the Daily Telegraph, one of Australia’s most popular newspapers, claimed the Hollywood star acted inappropriately toward a young actress during a production of King Lear at the Sydney Theatre Company.
Rush said he felt “numb” after reading the article, and went into “an emotional spiral.” He had offered to settle his case for defamation for $34,000 and a front-page apology but that was rejected by the newspaper’s publisher. It insisted its story was true but now has to pay the Oscar-winning actor about $2 million for lost earnings and compensation. Never before in Australia has an individual been awarded libel damages on this scale.
Rush said the articles were compiled because the Sydney tabloid had wanted an Australian angle on accusations of sexual assault leveled at U.S. film producer Harvey Weinstein.
The Rush defamation trial is, so far, the only case in Australia associated with the #MeToo movement to have reached a legal conclusion.
Academics say an “unfortunate side effect of the decision” is that it will probably prevent the discussion and reporting of other sexual harassment allegations.
Same-sex couples tied the knot in emotional scenes in Taiwan on Friday, the first legal marriages in Asia hailed by activists as a social revolution for the region.
Taiwan’s parliament passed a bill last week that endorsed same-sex marriage.
More than 160 same-sex couples married Friday, according to government data, after years of heated debate over marriage equality that has divided the self-ruled and democratic island.
Twenty couples queued to tie the knot at a marriage registration office in downtown Taipei, where rainbow flags were on display alongside stacks of government-issued, rainbow-themed registration forms.
“I feel very lucky that I can say this out loud to everyone: I am gay and I am getting married,” said Shane Lin, a 31-year-old baker who with his partner were the first couple to register in the Taipei office.
“I am extremely proud of my country Taiwan,” said a tearful Lin.
The euphoria and emotion among the island’s gay community was on display as newly-wed couples walked down a rainbow-colored carpet in a nearby park, watched by families and friends as well as diplomats and reporters.
‘The right we deserved’
Chi Chia-wei, an activist who brought a case to Taiwan’s constitutional court that led to a landmark court ruling on same-sex marriage in 2017, congratulated the couples.
“This is the right that we deserved from a long time ago,” he said, draped in a giant rainbow flag that symbolizes the colors of the international gay movement.
“As a beacon in Asia, I hope Taiwan’s democracy and human rights could have a ripple effect on other countries in Asia,” he added.
Supporters also celebrated on social media, sharing posts with the rainbow colors of the gay rights movement.
Friday’s celebration followed a years-long tussle over marriage equality that culminated in the 2017 declaration by the constitutional court giving same-sex couples the right to marry, and setting a deadline of May 24 for legislation.
Marriage equality was backed by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), but the measure could complicate President Tsai Ing-wen’s bid for a second term in elections next year.
Conservative groups that oppose same-sex marriage said the legislation disrespected the people’s will.
Same-sex marriage is not recognized by Hong Kong and neighboring China, which regards Taiwan as a wayward province to be returned to the fold by force, if necessary.
It marks another milestone in Taiwan’s development as one of the region’s more liberal societies, in contrast with China’s strongly autocratic government.
Across the strait, many Chinese congratulated Taiwan’s newlywed same-sex couples on platforms such as Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
“For once I thought the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan would impact on the Chinese government, making them heed our appeals,” one Weibo user said. “But then I found the shock actually makes the government more scared, stepping up their crackdown on us.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused the head of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies of lying about his company's relationship with the government in Beijing.
Pompeo said in a CNBC interview Thursday that Huawei "is tied not only to China but to the Chinese Communist Party." He added, "The existence of those connections puts American information that crosses those networks at risk."
Huawei, the world's largest maker of telecommunications network equipment, is a leader in 5G technology. It has been trying to win contracts to build a global network that would make the internet much faster.
Last week, the U.S. government banned American companies from doing business with Huawei, escalating a heated trade war between the world's two largest economies.
CEO Ren Zhengfei has maintained his company would not share secret user information. Huawei denies it is controlled by Beijing. The company also says it does not work with the Chinese government, an assertion Pompeo dismisses.
"To say that they don't work with the Chinese government is a false statement," Pompeo said of Huawei. "He is required by Chinese law to do that," Pompeo added. "The Huawei CEO on that at least isn't telling the American people the truth, nor the world."
Pompeo confirmed a recent New York Times report that China was using a high-tech surveillance system as part of a policing effort that could track and subdue members of ethnic groups, including Muslim Uighurs.
The United States alleged earlier this month that Beijing had confined significantly more than a million minority Muslims in "concentration camps."
Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankia said Tuesday in a Fox News interview there were training centers for those convicted of minor offenses. Pompeo responded that the facilities were actually "authoritarian re-education institutions."
China said Thursday it had lodged a protest with Washington after two US warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait amid rising tensions between the two powers.
The US Navy said the USS Preble, a destroyer, and USNS Walter S. Diehl, a supply ship, conducted a routine transit "in accordance with international law" on Wednesday.
"The ships' transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific," the navy said. "The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows."
US warships periodically conduct "freedom of navigation" exercises in the narrow waterway separating the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, triggering angry responses from Beijing every time.
Beijing views any ships passing through the strait as essentially breaching its sovereignty, while the US and many other nations view the route as international waters open to all.
"We have lodged solemn representations with the US," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular press briefing.
The sail-by comes on top of tensions between the United States and China over trade and US efforts to thwart Chinese telecom giant Huawei over security concerns.
The transit also comes as the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia kicked off operation "Pacific Vanguard" near Guam, bringing together more than 3,000 sailors from the four countries.
Drills will focus on "live fire exercises, defensive counter-air operations, anti-submarine warfare, and replenishment at sea," the US 7th Fleet said.
In April, Beijing said its navy warned off a French warship that had entered the Taiwan Strait and lodged an official complaint with Paris.
China sees Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949.
The US diplomatically recognizes China over Taiwan, but remains the island's chief military ally and arms supplier.
For the Guam naval drills, Australia has contributed two frigates, Japan two destroyers and South Korea one destroyer. The USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet's flagship, will lead the operation from the US side.
Home to more than 160,000 people, Guam was at the center of nuclear tensions between Washington and Pyongyang in 2017, with North Korea threatening to hit the US territory with "enveloping fire."
Calm returned to the streets of Jakarta on Thursday after clashes between police and supporters of the losing candidate in Indonesia's presidential election.
The government has deployed tens of thousands of police officers to deal with violence that spread over two nights. The violence has left at least seven people dead and more than 200 injured.
President Joko Widodo won re-election by defeating former army general Prabowo Subianto by a margin of 55% to 45%, but Prabowo is planning to challenge the result Thursday in the Constitutional Court. He alleged massive fraud but provided no credible evidence.
Widodo has rejected the post-election violence and said he will not tolerate anyone disturbing the country's democratic process.
"We will not give any space for riots, especially those who will damage Indonesia," he told reporters.
National Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told VOA that protests turned violent Tuesday night and continued into Wednesday. Dozens of people were arrested.
Speaking to reporters late Wednesday, Prabowo expressed his condolences for those killed in the protests.
"We support all moral and constitutional means that are peaceful and non-violent in this political fight for our nation. I plead to all elements who [are] exercising their aspiration — the police, the armed forces and everyone else — to refrain themselves from acts of violence, or even verbal violence, anything that is provocative," he said.
Earlier this week, he had urged his supporters to show their support peacefully. "Our steps should be constitutional, democratic, peaceful, without any violence! Those who still believe in me and my friends here ... we fight not for personal benefit, but for the sovereignty of the people, for democracy, for independent Indonesia, to be free from occupation in any form," he said.
Jakarta police spokesman Argo Yuwono told VOA that at least 50,000 police had been deployed in anticipation of the planned protests.
The legalization of marijuana for medical use in Thailand has created confusion over who can produce it and what qualifies consumers to legally use it. The National Assembly approved the legislation late last year, but the regulations governing the new law have yet to be put in place. Steve Sandford spoke to independent producers of cannabis oil as well as consumers affected by the new law as the government's deadline for users to register drew to a close this week.
Calm returned to the streets of the Indonesian capital Thursday after a second night of clashes between security forces and protesters angry about the outcome of last month's election, which handed President Joko Widodo a second term.
Downtown areas of the capital became a battlefield with tear gas, rubber bullets, rocks and firecrackers overnight.
Protesters tore up slabs of pavement, destroyed street signs and set fire to food stalls and a security post.
The unrest followed an early Tuesday announcement by the General Election Commission confirming that Widodo had beaten his challenger, former general Prabowo Subianto, in the April 17 poll.
Deaths rise to 8
The violence began Tuesday night when six people were killed. Two more were killed on Wednesday night, officials said.
Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan said the dead included three teenagers, and 737 people were injured in the rioting, which was concentrated in the central neighborhood of Tanah Abang. State news agency Antara reported that three hospitals had treated more than 350 people for injuries.
But the ranks of the protesters thinned over Wednesday night, and police spokesman Dedi Praseyto said the last ones had dispersed by 7 a.m. (0000 GMT).
Roads that were quiet Wednesday as office workers stayed away from the city center, were abuzz with traffic again Thursday. City workers in orange overalls swept up the debris.
Widodo won more than 85 million of 154 million votes cast, but Prabowo alleged “massive cheating and irregularities” and refused to concede defeat.
The election agency has said there was no evidence of systematic cheating and independent observers have said the poll was free and fair.
In other parts of Indonesia, a mob burned a police station on Madura island, northeast of the main island of Java, while two police posts were set ablaze in Pontianak on Borneo island, media reported.
'Bent on chaos’
Indonesian financial markets were firmer Thursday with the rupiah up 0.5% and the main stock index up 1.6%.
Taye Shim, director of capital markets at Mirae Asset Securities Indonesia, said he did not see the demonstrations as a serious threat to Indonesia's stability.
"While upset supporters might demonstrate their disagreement with the official election results, we don't think it would be a serious threat to Indonesia's democracy," he told Reuters.
Police said the number of arrests linked to the riots had risen to 300.
National police spokesman Muhamad Iqbal said officers had found envelopes with money on some of the people they searched, suggesting instigators were behind the trouble.
"This is not a spontaneous incident, this is something by design. There are indications that the mobs are paid and bent on causing chaos," he said on Wednesday.
Prabowo, in a video posted to his Twitter account late Wednesday, urged his supporters to disperse peacefully.
"I beg you to return to your homes to rest, avoid any actions that would break the law," he said.
Prabowo's political party, Gerindra, complained that the authorities were trying to pin the blame for the riots on him.
Challenging the vote
Andre Rosiade, a spokesman for Gerindra, said a lawsuit would be filed at the Constitutional Court on Friday to contest the election result, which gave Widodo a 55.5% share of votes against 44.5% for his challenger.
Prabowo lost the previous presidential election, in 2014, to Widodo by a slimmer margin and objected to the result then, too.
He also lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Court but the court rejected it.
Analysts say Widodo's double-digit margin of victory this time means the opposition does not have a strong case to claim rigging but he may be able to count on agitation over the result by a strong contingent of Islamist supporters.
The government boosted the number of police and soldiers on duty to 58,000 across Jakarta and temporarily blocked some social media functions to prevent fake news that could fan unrest.
Police displayed at a news conference suspects in orange jumpsuits as well as petrol bombs, arrows, sickles and cash in envelopes.
Police chief Tito Karnavian showed reporters a sniper rifle with silencer and two pistols he said were seized from people days before the rioting.
"There is an effort to provoke, to create martyrs, blame the authorities and invoke public anger," he said.
Scientists say they have pinpointed the source of a globally banned chemical that damages the Earth's protective ozone layer: China.
In a report published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the scientists who monitor the planet's atmosphere say the recent rise in the emission of the ozone-depleting chemical CFC-11 has been traced to two provinces in eastern China.
Any production and use of CFC-11 is a violation of the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 agreement that phased out chlorofluorocarbons that cause damage to the ozone layer.
Ozone is critical to life, limiting the amount of harmful ultraviolet solar radiation that reaches Earth's surface. The recovery of the ozone had been touted as an environmental success story. But since 2012, air samples had shown a troubling amount of CFC-11 present in them. Because the chemical doesn't occur in nature, it indicated an illegal use of the chemical.
Over the last two years, scientists have used air monitoring stations in Japan and Korea along with water studies to pinpoint the offenders as foam factories in the provinces of Shandong and Hebei in eastern China.
Scientists say the report will help Chinese authorities find the exact sources and stop the emissions before they deal a major setback to ozone hole recovery.
A clash between Indonesian security forces and protesters angry over the result of last month's presidential election raged for a second night on Wednesday, turning central Jakarta into a battlefield of tear gas, rubber bullets, rocks and firecrackers.
Protesters tore up slabs of pavement, destroyed street signs and set fire to food stalls and security posts but their numbers thinned as the night wore on. Indonesian TV showed dozens of riot police trying to sleep on debris-strewn streets.
The capital's governor, Anies Baswedan, said six people were killed in the first night of rioting, which was concentrated in the sprawling textile market neighbourhood of Tanah Abang.
State news agency Antara reported that three hospitals had so far treated more than 350 people for injuries.
The unrest followed an announcement on Tuesday by the General Election Commission confirming that President Joko Widodo had beaten his challenger, former general Prabowo Subianto, in the April 17 poll.
Widodo won more than 85 million of 154 million votes cast but Prabowo alleged "massive cheating and irregularities" and refused to concede defeat. The election supervisory agency has said there was no evidence of systematic cheating, and independent observers have said the poll was free and fair.
A crowd of protesters swelled outside the supervisory agency's headquarters on Wednesday, some carrying wooden poles and some with toothpaste smeared around their eyes to mitigate the effects of tear gas.
Many left peacefully, but as night fell others hurled firecrackers and other objects at officers and set blazes as they tried to breach barbed wire separating them from police.
Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon. Medics were seen treating dozens of protesters affected by tear gas and using oxygen to revive some who had passed out.
Many of the protesters appeared to have come from outside Jakarta and police found envelopes containing money on some of the people they searched, national police spokesman Muhamad Iqbal told a news conference on Wednesday.
"This is not a spontaneous incident, this is something by design. There are indications that the mobs are paid and bent on causing chaos," he said.
Vice President Jusuf Kalla called on Prabowo and his running mate, Sandiaga Uno, to rein in their supporters.
"When there is rioting the losses affect us all, the economy as a whole and the people. Remember, what happened in 1998 could happen," he said in televised remarks, referring to rioting in Jakarta two decades ago in which about 1,000 people were killed.
Prabowo has called for peaceful protests and restraint.
"I urge all sides, the people who are expressing their aspirations, the police, the military and all sides to refrain from physical abuse," he told a briefing on Wednesday.
His political party, Gerindra, said on Twitter: “We saw efforts to herd public opinion so that the peaceful protest would look like disturbing acts, with an end goal of discrediting Mr. Prabowo."
A Prabowo campaign official said his camp planned to contest the result of the election — which gave Widodo a 55.5% share of votes against 44.5% for his challenger — in the Constitutional Court on Thursday.
Prabowo also launched an unsuccessful legal challenge after he was defeated by Widodo in the 2014 election.
Analysts have said Widodo's double-digit margin of victory means the opposition does not have a strong case to claim rigging. However, Islamist supporters of Prabowo could cause considerable disruption.
Islamist groups have in the past been able to mobilize mass support.
They organized a series of massive protests from late 2016 against then-Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the first ethnic-Chinese Christian to hold the job, who was subsequently jailed for insulting the Koran.
Authorities say 40,000 police and soldiers have been put on duty across Jakarta to maintain security this week. The government has also temporarily blocked some social media functions to prevent inflammatory hoaxes and fake news that could fan unrest.
Jakarta police tweeted on its official account a short video of topless men, some with heads shaven, squatting in two lines, with a caption that described them as "hundreds of rioters" who had been arrested.
At a news conference, police displayed suspects in orange jumpsuits as well as petrol bombs, makeshift arrows, sickles and cash in envelopes.
Police chief Tito Karnavian, showing reporters a sniper rifle with silencer and two revolvers that were seized from people arrested days before the rioting broke out, said: "There is an effort to provoke, to create martyrs, blame the authorities and invoke public anger."
British and Japanese mobile phone companies said Wednesday they're putting on hold plans to sell new devices from Huawei, in the latest fallout from U.S. tech restrictions aimed at the Chinese company.
Britain's EE and Vodafone and Japan's KDDI and Y! Mobile said they are pausing the launch of Huawei smartphones, including some that can be used on next generation mobile networks, amid uncertainty about devices from the world's No. 2 smartphone maker.
The U.S. government last week restricted technology sales to Chinese telecom gear suppliers because of alleged security risks, though telecom carriers got a 90-day grace period to let them find other suppliers. The sales ban is part of a broader trade war between Washington and Beijing.
British mobile chip designer Arm said separately it was complying with the U.S. rules, after the BBC reported it was suspending business with Huawei — a move that could hobble the Chinese tech company's ability to produce chips for new devices.
Vodafone said in a statement that it's “pausing pre-orders” for the Mate 20X, Huawei's first phone for 5G networks, as “a temporary measure while uncertainty exists regarding new Huawei 5G devices.”
EE CEO Marc Allera said sales would not resume until it gets “the information and confidence and the long-term security” that customers will be supported over the device's lifetime. The company was also set to sell the Mate 20X followed by Huawei's Mate X folding handset.
EE said it's working with Huawei and Google, which makes the Android mobile operating systems to make sure it “can carry out the right level of testing and quality assurance.”
The Trump administration's order last week cuts Huawei's access to American chips and Google, which makes the Android operating system and services for its smartphones.
Y! Mobile, owned by Japanese technology company Softbank, said sales of the Huawei P30 lite, set for May 24, have been delayed, and advance orders were canceled.
SoftBank spokesman Hiroyuki Mizukami said the company wants its “customers to feel safe using our products.”
KDDI also indefinitely delayed its sales, initially set for late May.
It's unclear when, or if, the companies will lift the sales freezes.
British carriers plan this year to roll out 5G services while Japan will follow in 2020. Fifth generation mobile networks will enable superfast downloads and pave the way for new innovations like connected cars and remote medicine.
Arm, which is also owned by Softbank and designs mobile microprocessors that power most of the world's smartphones and tablets, said it “is complying with all of the latest regulations set forth by the U.S. government.”
The company told employees to halt all business deals with Huawei, the BBC reported, citing a company memo that said its designs contained “U.S. origin technology.”
In response to the report on Arm, Huawei said it recognizes that some of its partners are under pressure as a result of “politically motivated decisions” but that it's “confident this regrettable situation can be resolved.”
The ethnic minorities in Vietnam most likely to escape poverty are those who have good infrastructure, sell cash crops besides rice, and look for factory work, according to a report from the World Bank released on Wednesday.
The government plans by the year 2020 to incorporate findings from the report into a strategy for socio-economic development in underserved areas.
"We find this research a valuable source of reference for our policy formulation process, especially at the time when we are now working with concerned ministries and provinces to draw up a master proposal on comprehensive investment" for minorities, said Do Van Chien, who is minister chairman of the government's Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs (CEMA).
The report indicates that minorities will have a better chance to catch up if Vietnam focuses on connectivity in all its forms. That means more infrastructure, from bridges for transporting their products, to internet access for staying informed. It also means the ability to connect to business networks, whether for job openings, supply chain relationships, or other partnerships.
The communist country has 54 ethnic groups that are recognized officially by the government, though others exist as well. These range from the Cham civilization that built ancient towers in the south before the Kinh came from the north, to the K'Ho people of the central highlands, to the Montagnards, who were marginalized after aiding the United States in the Vietnam War.
The difficulties faced by Vietnam's ethnic minorities extends beyond the past few years.
The World Bank estimates that the poverty level among minorities in Vietnam was 23 percent in 2016, about three times the national rate. It said that minorities could account for 84% of the country's population who are still poor by 2020.
Ousmane Dione, the World Bank's country director in Vietnam, hopes some of that can change with suggestions from his office's latest report, Drivers of Socio-Economic Development Among Ethnic Minority Groups in Vietnam.
"From the study, we see tremendous opportunities to further advance the inclusion agenda by consciously adopting a differentiated approach toward development in ethnic minority areas," Dione said. "Vietnam can count on the World Bank's support in mainstreaming this agenda through investments in transport and infrastructure in rural and mountainous areas, [and] agricultural diversification."
SEOUL- Juhyun Lee contributed to this report.
North Korean state media slammed Joe Biden as an "imbecile" and a "fool of low IQ" Wednesday, Pyongyang’s first substantial comments on the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
The commentary in the state-run Korean Central News Agency criticized Biden for recently referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a thug and a tyrant.
"[Biden] reeled off rhetoric slandering the supreme leadership of the DPRK," KCNA said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name. "What he uttered is just sophism of an imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being, let alone a politician."
The statement does not represent a formal endorsement of Trump; North Korean media often lash out at world leaders who criticize members of the ruling Kim family.
"What is interesting this time is that the North Koreans may be attacking who they figure is Trump’s main domestic rival to curry favor with the president," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
Polls indicate Biden leading his Democratic rivals, as well as Trump, in the 2020 race.
The former vice president often criticizes Trump’s diplomatic outreach to authoritarian leaders. He recently slammed Kim as a thug.
"He's the same guy (who had) his uncle's brains blown out sitting across a desk," Biden said earlier this month, referring to Kim’s 2013 execution of his uncle and mentor, Jang Song-thaek.
The un-bylined KCNA editorial did not mention Trump. But it did appear to give a nod to Trump’s newly rolled out nickname for Biden: "Sleepy Joe."
"In April 2011 when the then President [Barack] Obama was in the middle of making a speech, [Biden] was fast asleep in the auditorium," the commentary said, adding Biden became a "laughing-stock of the media."
Trump, who is 72 years old, has attempted to portray Biden, who is 76, as not having enough energy to become president.
KCNA also hit at Biden’s reputation for making verbal gaffes.
"Yet, he is self-praising himself as being the most popular presidential candidate," the editorial said. "This is enough to make a cat laugh."
It isn’t the first time North Korean media have weighed in during a Trump presidential run. In 2016, an editorial in the DPRK Today, a China-based North Korean mouthpiece, called Trump "wise" and "far-sighted," while slamming his opponent Hillary Clinton as "dull."
Even though North Korea has recently taken a more aggressive stance toward the United States, state media have been careful not to criticize Trump. One North Korean official said Kim’s relationship with Trump remains “mysteriously wonderful,” even though nuclear talks have broken down.
Instead, North Korean state media have slammed other U.S. officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton.
"Whether the person is Democrat or Republican, North Korean media will always react against someone who insults their leader," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies. "And unless Trump calls Kim a dictator or says something harsh, North Korea will not directly criticize the president."
Soo Kim, a North Korea watcher and former CIA analyst, agrees that Pyongyang doesn’t typically endorse U.S. presidential candidates. But Pyongyang clearly wants Trump to remain in office so that negotiations can continue, she said.
Nuclear talks broke down following a Trump-Kim summit in February in Hanoi, Vietnam. The two leaders were unable to agree on how to match the pace of sanctions relief with steps to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program.
Kim has said he will give the United States until the end of the year to change its approach, and has begun testing ballistic missiles for the first time in a year and a half.
Trump has shrugged off Kim’s deadline and the missile launches, saying he is in no hurry for a deal.
Japan is shaping up as China’s chief rival in the disputed South China Sea because it has a sustained, multi-pronged approach and a unique set of reasons to test Beijing’s growing influence, analysts say.
The country has emerged since 2017 as a force in the sea. It works with the United States on joint naval exercises including one from May 2-8 that also involved warships from India and the Philippines. Japan has separately sent its Izumo-class helicopter carrier to the sea at least four times since 2017. That year it took a three-month tour.
Japan, unlike the United States, is helping Southeast Asian claimants to the South China Sea develop infrastructure and maritime firepower. Japanese officials don’t claim the sea, but a separate territorial dispute with China motivates them to keep a watch on Chinese influence. Japanese citizens tend to support foreign policy targeting China, analysts say.
“Under (Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe, Tokyo has enhanced defense and security engagements in Southeast Asia, not least with the South China Sea in mind,” said Collin Koh, maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. “I believe Beijing will...be concerned about Japan using the South China Sea.”
At least six other countries with no claims in the South China Sea sovereignty dispute have sent ships into the waterway over the past three years. They are Australia, France, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States. All but Washington send ships too sporadically to cause major alarm in China, despite protests from Beijing’s foreign ministry, scholars have said.
The United States operates the world’s strongest armed forces, and the U.S. Navy has sailed in the sea 11 times under President Donald Trump alone. China worries most about the United States, followed by Japan, Asia scholars say. That's partly because Japan is a U.S. treaty ally of nearly 60 years.
“Japan is more northeast focused, but it does venture down to the South China Sea,” said Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “You can’t push Japan around without thinking about what the U.S. would do.”
Also setting Japan apart, its government has sparred with China since 1996 over sovereignty in parts of the East China Sea. Most Japanese fret over China’s rise, giving their government a stronger mandate to check Chinese expansion through alliances with other countries, said Jeffrey Kingston, history instructor at Temple University’s Japan campus.
“I think there’s a lot of concern about rising China and about North Korea, so in this environment I think the government, which in a way helps to stoke those anxieties, is seizing the opportunity to build these coalitions (and) partnerships,” Kingston said.
Persistence, economic aid
The frequency and duration of Japan’s Izumo tours of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea stand out from other outside parties except for the United States, analysts say. After the May 2-8 exercises, the Izumo joined Australian, French and U.S. ships west of the Indonesian island of Sumatra for another round of South China Sea exercises.
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam claim all or parts of the sea, which stretches from Hong Kong to Borneo. Their exclusive economic zones all overlap the 90 percent that China calls its own. Militarily weaker than Beijing, the Southeast Asian claimants resent China’s use of reclaimed land to build up tiny islets for aircraft hangars, radar systems and support for oil exploration.
Claimant countries prize the sea as well for its marine shipping lanes and undersea reserves of gas and oil. Japan relies on it for raw materials and shipping routes for its exports.
Unlike other outsiders to the dispute, Japan has offered direct military support to countries that contest Chinese maritime claims. Japan's Self-Defense Forces agreed last year to join the United States in joint exercises with the Philippines. This month the Japanese Defense Minister met his Vietnamese counterpart to tighten their maritime security ties.
Japanese officials are lending money to both Southeast Asian countries for infrastructure projects.
China cites documents going back to dynastic years to show historic use of the sea, bolstering its claim. The Chinese foreign ministry protests when U.S. ships or U.S.-allied ships sail there, calling the moves outside intervention in a regional dispute.
Japan’s activity is unlikely to stop China from operating in the sea’s Paracel Islands, a chain it has controlled since the 1970s, or militarizing three major islets in the Spratly archipelago, scholars have said. But they say the activity may help deter China from taking more islets claimed by other countries.
“China will reverse the argument to say ‘you all are militarizing the South China Sea, not me, and I think they will just play that game and not do anything further,” said Alan Chong, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
One person was killed in Jakarta Wednesday as supporters of Prabowo Subianto, the former army general who lost the election, clashed with the security forces.
Protesters refused to disperse as police tried to persuade them to leave saying that it's Ramadan and they should refrain from committing violence during the holy month. The protesters even set fire to a police dormitory and vehicles. The police finally used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
National Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told VOA that protests turned violent Tuesday night and continued until early Wednesday. Dozens of people were arrested.
On Tuesday, another police spokesman M. Iqbal, told journalists that police will not use live bullets to control the demonstration.
Indonesia's Election Commission on Tuesday confirmed that Indonesian President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, has been re-elected with 55.50% of the vote, defeating former army general Prabowo. The victory was confirmed by the General Elections Commission (KPU). Prabowo, a four-time presidential candidate who is associated with the traditional political elite and hard-line Islamists, captured 44.50%.
Prabowo released a statement via video on Tuesday, urging his supporters to show their support peacefully. “Our steps should be constitutional, democratic, peaceful, without any violence! Those who still believe in me and my friends here... we fight not for personal benefit, but for the sovereignty of the people, for democracy, for independent Indonesia, to be free from occupation in any form.”
Prabowo refused to accept the results and declared himself the winner. In his first news conference Tuesday morning, he said that his campaign team plans to challenge the election in the Constitutional Court. He alleged massive fraud but provided no credible evidence.
Former Indonesia president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyonoy – one of the parties that support Prabowo – also released a video Tuesday night. He said Indonesians should be grateful and relieved that there were no riots or violence during the election announcement. “I pray to God that a peaceful, safe and orderly atmosphere can be maintained. Although people should be given their right to express their opinions, including protests (of the election's result), the key is that any protest should be carried out in a responsible, orderly and peaceful manner.”
Jakarta police spokesman , Argo Yuwono, told VOA that at least 50,000 police have been deployed in anticipation of the planned riots.
The first woman to head the powerful Bangladeshi garment manufacturers association says the industry continues to suffer from an “image deficit” since a 2013 incident in which more than 1,000 workers, mostly women, died in the collapse of a factory building.
Rubana Huq is the first female president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), a powerful lobbying group of 4,500 clothing factories that employs an estimated 4 million workers, mostly women.
In an interview with VOA, Huq says she plans to improve transparency in all aspects of the Ready Made Garments (RMG) industry, which was damaged by the Rana Plaza incident in April 2013, when 1,134 workers were killed when a factory building collapsed in Dhaka.
She says one of her priorities in the next two years would be to offer transparency in areas including the working environment, labor relations, compliance and fair pricing among all the stakeholders, including buyers, consumers, manufacturers, laborers, media and monitoring agencies. She says these changes will improve the image of RMG of Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is the second-largest clothing exporting country in the world, with the RMG sector accounting for 84% of annual exports, according to a January 2018 Textile Today report.
Two decades of experience
Huq has been involved in the industry for more than two decades. In hindsight, she says, the failure of the Bangladesh industry to establish its own regulatory body was a huge mistake.
She says she intends to create a Bangladesh regulatory agency to supervise and monitor the industry. If the country had done so years ago, Huq says the BGMEA would not have been compelled to take remedies from Accord, a legally binding agreement among global brands, retailers and trade unions that works to provide a safe and healthy garment industry for workers.
After the Rana Plaza accident in 2013, Accord started to work in Bangladesh to improve safety standards in the apparel sector with a five-year time frame, which ended in June 2018. The Bangladesh Supreme Court deferred until May 19 the hearing of a petition filed by Accord to extend its tenure in Bangladesh.
The court on Sunday, however, approved a plan to transfer the factory oversight team, run by Accord, and its duties to representatives from the top garment manufacturer’s association.
Trade union leaders said the plan would “compromise the safety and security of garment workers” and gave too much power to factory owners, who would become responsible for maintaining standards in the industry.
“This deal is sure to compromise the safety and security of garment workers given there will be no independent decision-making by the Accord,” Babul Akter, president of the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation, told Reuters news agency in an interview. “This was framed without any discussion with labor unions.”
According to a report published in The Daily Star in April, Iftekharuzzaman, the executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said, “The safety in the garment sector improved a lot after the Rana Plaza collapse incident six years ago.”
Yet the image of the RMG sector of Bangladesh has largely remained negative, especially, outside Bangladesh, according to Huq.
She thinks one way to counteract this would be to tell the stories of the BGMEA. She says there is a disconnect between the RMG industry and consumers in Europe and the United States who buy the clothing.
She has proposed adding a QR code on the tag of each Bangladesh-made product. A QR code is a small, digitally encoded pattern of squares and dots designed to be read by a smartphone scanner.
The code would send consumers to a website where they could view short video clips that tell the story of the laborers behind the products produced by the BGMEA.
Huq says she believes consumers would support and empathize with the workers’ unique life situations.
The technology would increase the cost of each product a few cents, Huq says, adding her fellow manufacturers are not keen on the idea.
“Nobody wants to spend extra now,” she says. However, without adding the technology, “we would not be able to remain competitive,” she says.
Huq says she sees gender equity as an area for improvement as well.
She claims there is no gender pay gap in Bangladesh’s RMG sector, which “employs more than 3 million women.” Men and women are paid equally, she claims, adding that if maternity benefits are taken into account, women enjoy more benefits than their male counterparts.
According to World Bank research, however, while approximately 80% of garment workers in Bangladesh are women, they are paid less and occupy more junior positions than men. To better understand the wage gaps between male and female workers, Andreas Menzel and Chris Woodruff studied employees in a sample of 44 Bangladeshi garment factories. They found that men are promoted slightly more frequently, and most promotions occur when workers leave one factory for a higher grade somewhere else.
And according to a Daily Star report, although the labor law in Bangladesh requires employers to provide workers with 16 weeks of maternity leave with full pay, a recent study found that only 28.7% of the workers get maternity leave for that period. Also, a common practice at factories is to pay the workers the entire 16 weeks’ salary when they come back to work after childbirth, which is a violation of the law.
Huq admits, there are few women in mid- to upper levels of management, a condition she says she hopes to address during her term.
To do so, she envisions developing more training opportunities for women in the RMG workforce so more women can move upward to mid- and top-level management positions.
In the wake of the “fourth industrial revolution,” Huq sees the need for training for workers as well.
The World Economic Forum describes the fourth industrial revolution as changes at breakneck speed that “herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management and governance” — characterized by a range of new technologies affecting the physical, digital and biological worlds.
She says workers need to be retrained and better equipped to meet the challenges of digitalized, “smart” production and manufacturing processes. She also emphasized the importance of educating the large section of labor that has a low literacy level.
Huq says the biggest challenge facing Bangladesh’s RMG sector in the next few years is to find ways to retrain the laborers, transforming them from low-end workers to coders.
Huq also claims Bangladesh has the most green) factories in the world.
Bangladesh has several factories that have received LEED certification, which comes from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) that commends eco-friendly practices. Bangladesh has 11 Platinum-, 15 Gold- and five Silver-rated factories in operation.
Another 150 factories have registered for the LEED certification. Among the 10 highest rated LEED certified factories in the world, four are in Bangladesh.
When it comes to pricing garments, however, Bangladesh does not levy a “green price,” a price that includes the cost to the industry to make the factories and production environmentally sound, she says.
She also says the pricing structure must be adjusted because of a recent increase in the minimum wage for workers.
A price war among local manufacturers and exporters is also affecting the price of apparel, Huq says, adding the RMG sector is facing a real challenge to maintain sustainable growth.
To address this issue, Huq says the BGMEA should enforce a base price for products and no manufacturer should be allowed to export items below that price. She admits, however, that enforcing such a base price would be very challenging.
She also says the time has come to enforce a base pricing among all manufacturers in Bangladesh.
Sri Lanka, for example, has enforced a base price for all its manufacturers, which means they cannot export their products below that price. In Bangladesh, most manufacturers want to offer a lower price to their buyers to stand out from their competitors, meaning it would be a challenge to enforce a similar base price.
When her first term ends in two years, Huq hopes she’ll be remembered for being the first BGMEA president with a Ph.D., as well as the first female leader of the organization. On a personal note, she also is the first woman whose husband also headed the association.
A Chinese woman charged with lying to illegally enter President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort told a stunned judge Tuesday that she wants to fire her attorneys and represent herself.
Yujing Zhang surprised U.S. District Judge Roy Altman during what was to have been a routine hearing over whether to delay her trial, which is scheduled to start next week. She faces up to five years in prison on charges of unlawful entry and making false statements. She has pleaded not guilty.
According to media reports, Zhang, 33, told Altman she wants to dismiss her public defenders and represent herself.
"I don't need the attorneys, thank you," Zhang told Altman through an interpreter. Zhang speaks some English, according to court documents, but her skill level is a matter of dispute between prosecutors and her attorneys.
"Do you want to represent yourself or do you want a lawyer?" Altman replied. "Today, I don't want the attorney," Zhang replied through the translator. She did not say why.
Altman tried to dissuade Zhang, telling her, "You understand, I've been a lawyer for a long time and I think this is a very bad decision?"
"I understand, but I hope I can have this opportunity," she replied.
Assistant federal public defender Kristy Militello told Altman that Zhang has refused to meet with her attorneys and raised concerns about Zhang's mental health. Altman said he would not allow Zhang to dismiss her attorneys until she has been examined by a psychiatrist. If deemed competent, the judge said, she could represent herself.
The public defenders had asked Altman to postpone the trial's scheduled May 28 start, saying they haven't had enough time to fully prepare her defense as many of the documents are written in Mandarin. Prosecutors were not opposed and Altman indicated he would grant the request, even before Tuesday's events.
Charges against Zhang
Zhang, a Shanghai-based business consultant, is charged with lying to Secret Service agents to enter Mar-a-Lago on March 30. Agents say she had arrived in the U.S. days earlier and told them she was at Mar-a-Lago to attend a United Nations friendship event that she knew had been canceled.
Prosecutors say she was carrying four cellphones, a laptop and an external hard drive, telling agents that she feared they would be stolen if she left them in her hotel room. However, when agents searched her room at a nearby hotel, they say they discovered more electronics gear — including a device to detect hidden cameras — $8,000 in cash and numerous credit and debit cards.
Zhang's public defenders have said she came to Mar-a-Lago believing there would be a dinner that evening for the United Nations group, part of a $20,000 travel package she had purchased from a man named "Charles" she only knew through social media. They have pointed to a receipt Zhang received from Charles Lee, a Chinese national who promotes such events at Mar-a-Lago, and a flyer she had promoting it.
Lee ran the United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, which is not affiliated with the U.N., and was photographed at least twice with Cindy Yang, a Republican donor and former Florida massage parlor owner.
The president was visiting Mar-a-Lago the weekend of Zhang's arrest, but was at his nearby golf club when she arrived and she was never near him.
Indonesian police fired tear gas Wednesday to disperse protesters in central Jakarta following a rally held after official results showed President Joko Widodo had been comfortably re-elected, a Reuters witness said.
The General Election Commission (KPU) confirmed unofficial counts by private pollsters in the April 17 election, which gave Widodo a 55.5% share of votes against 44.5% for his opponent Prabowo Subianto.
Widodo won more than 85 million votes of a total of 154 million cast in the world’s third-largest democracy, but Prabowo told reporters he believed there had been widespread cheating and about 1,000 supporters gathered in Jakarta.
The rally ended peacefully, but later Indonesian police fired tear gas as some protesters hurled fireworks and other objects at officers in riot gear in a main street in the capital, TV footage showed.
Prabowo, a retired general, pledged he would “continue to make legal efforts in line with the constitution to defend the mandate of the people.”
Sufmi Dasco Ahmad, the legal director of Prabowo’s campaign team, confirmed it planned to contest the result in the Constitutional Court.
On Monday, an election supervisory agency dismissed claims of systematic cheating, citing a lack of evidence. Independent observers have said the poll was free and fair.
Flanked by riot police, Prabowo’s supporters had earlier gathered mainly at the election supervisory agency (Bawaslu) in the heart of the city’s commercial and government district.
There was also a small rally at the KPU in support of the election commission.
Chief Security Minister Wiranto told a briefing there had been plans for “massive demonstrations to storm the KPU, Bawaslu, parliament and the state palace.”
He threatened severe punishment for criminal activity and vowed to maintain security, while denying authorities were being draconian.
‘Leader for all Indonesians’
The KPU announced official results more than a day earlier than expected after working into the early hours of Tuesday, a move that meant the announcement came before planned protests.
A relaxed looking President Widodo pledged Tuesday to be a leader for all Indonesians.
“We are grateful and proud that amid our differences, we have been mature in keeping the peace,” he said on a visit to a poor neighborhood of the capital.
Ben Bland, director of the Southeast Asia Project at Lowy Institute, said the election showed how identity and religious politics appeared to be increasingly “embedded in the political discourse in Indonesia.”
“The challenge for Jokowi is to try and find a way to defuse tensions,” said Bland, using the president’s nickname.
Financial markets were mixed, with stocks up nearly 1% and the rupiah off 0.1%.
Andry Taneli, a portfolio manager at Ciptadana Asset Management, said stocks had responded positively to the official result.
“On the other hand there is concern of Prabowo not accepting the result, but we can see everywhere the police and army are ready to ensure security,” Taneli said.
Prabowo had warned the cheating claims could trigger “people power”-style protests, though ahead of the result he had urged supporters in a video to be “peaceful in our struggle.”
Authorities have tightened security in the capital in a bid to choke off any civil unrest and detained dozens of militant Islamists suspected of planning attacks. Police said they had held or interrogated at least three leading opposition figures for suspected treason.
Police have rolled out extra barbed wire and readied armored trucks and water cannon around the KPU. Some schools in Jakarta have also shut this week and offices allowed staff to work from home.
The losing candidate can lodge a challenge in the constitutional court within three days, otherwise the election panel will officially declare the winner. Prabowo’s challenge to his 2014 defeat by Widodo was rejected.
More than 170 American shoe manufacturers and retailers, including such well-known athletic shoe brands as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to exempt footwear from any further tariffs he imposes on imported goods from China.
The lobby for the shoe industry, the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, told Trump in a letter that his proposed 25 percent tariff on shoes imported from China "would be catastrophic for our consumers, our companies and the American economy as a whole." The industry imported $11.4 billion worth of shoes from China last year, although some manufacturers have been shifting production elsewhere, especially to Vietnam and Cambodia.
It said the proposed tariffs on shoes made in China could cost U.S. consumers more than $7 billion annually on top of existing levies.
"There should be no misunderstanding that U.S. consumers pay for tariffs on products that are imported," the 173 companies said, rejecting Trump's frequent erroneous statement that China pays the tariffs and that the money goes directly to the U.S. Treasury.
Trump has been engaged in a string of reciprocal tariff increases with China on imported goods arriving in each other's ports as the world's two biggest economies have tried for months — unsuccessfully so far — to negotiate a new trade pact.
After Trump imposed new 25 percent taxes on $200 billion worth of Chinese products earlier this month, he also set in motion plans to impose a new round of levies on virtually all Chinese imports, another $300 billion worth of goods, including shoe imports, clothing and electronics.
The U.S. leader said that if American companies did not like the tariffs on Chinese imports, they could move their production inside the United States or to another country whose manufactured products are not taxed when they are sent to the U.S. But the footwear lobby rejected Trump's suggestion.
"Footwear is a very capital-intensive industry, with years of planning required to make sourcing decisions, and companies cannot simply move factories to adjust to these changes," the industry told Trump.
The U.S. Trade Representative's office has published a list of products that would be covered by the expanded tariffs and set a hearing for June 17.
A court in Myanmar on Tuesday formally charged an American man and two local co-workers with violating drug laws concerning marijuana, with potential penalties ranging from five years' imprisonment to death.
The court in the central Mandalay region charged John Frederic Todoroki with violating five sections of the drugs and narcotics law covering possession, sale and trafficking of illegal drugs, lawyer Thein Than Oo said by phone. The defendants contend they were growing hemp, not marijuana. Both are subspecies of the cannabis plant genus.
The mildest penalty facing the defendants is five years if they are convicted of growing narcotic drugs. The most severe penalty is 15 years to death for trafficking narcotic drugs.
The company that operates the 20-acre (8-hectare) farm on an industrial estate where police arrested the three late last month says it had official permission from the Mandalay regional government to grow hemp, which can be processed into CBD — cannabidiol — a non-intoxicating compound that many believe has health benefits.
Hemp can be grown legally in many countries, and is often used for making CBD products. Myanmar law does not seem to clearly distinguish between hemp and marijuana.
Police who raided the III M Nutraceutical Co. plantation said they found about 349,300 marijuana plants, 5,200 seedlings, 380 kilograms (838 pounds) of marijuana seeds, 1,804 grams (64 ounces) of marijuana oil, and chemicals and laboratory equipment.
The company said in an April 26 statement that the plants are actually hemp, and its project was approved by the Mandalay region government last August for research and development purposes. It said its farm has been growing industrial hemp, kenaf, peppermint, coffee and eucalyptus, and is strictly doing research, with no sales or distribution.
Another lawyer working on the case, Khin Maung Than, said the company received official permission for the enterprise because it was growing hemp.
Thein Than Oo said there was nothing stealthy about the project, and any action against the company should be done administratively rather than prosecuting it under the drug laws.
He expressed concern for the health of 63-year-old Todoroki, who he said had lost considerable weight since being detained after the raid.
"The heat is too strong even for locals, how could he resist the heat," the lawyer said.
The Ngunzun township court in Mandalay's Myingyan district scheduled its next hearing for June 4.
Todoroki's co-defendants are Shein Latt and Shun Lei Myat Noe. When they were in court last week, Shun Lei Myat Noe's parents said she was a simple worker at the enterprise, ignorant of what was going on and seeking mainly to improve her English-language skills.
Police have said they are also seeking to arrest Alexander Skemp Todoroki. It's unclear where the Todorokis, believed to be father and son, last lived in the U.S.
A former Philippine Supreme Court justice who accused Chinese President Xi Jinping of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court said she was barred for hours Tuesday from entering Hong Kong.
Conchita Carpio-Morales said she was stopped by immigration authorities and was held in a room at Hong Kong's airport for about four hours and ordered to take a flight back to Manila. She had planned to take a vacation for five days in Hong Kong with her husband, son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, who were all allowed entry.
Hong Kong airport and immigration officials later told her "there was a mistake" and that she could proceed with her trip to Hong Kong, but she and her family had already decided to return home because of the incident, she said.
"I have never been subjected to this kind of humiliation," Carpio-Morales told The Associated Press by telephone while waiting for her flight back to Manila. She said she and her family did not want to take the risk of being subjected to further scrutiny.
A Hong Kong immigration official who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a specific immigration case said Carpio-Morales had been admitted to Hong Kong.
After flying back to Manila with her family late Tuesday, Carpio-Morales told reporters she had repeatedly asked Hong Kong airport authorities why she was denied entry but was told only that it was because of unspecified "immigration reasons."
Carpio-Morales, 77, is a respected former Supreme Court associate justice and head of the Ombudsman, a special anti-corruption agency. She retired from government service last year. In March, she and former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario took the bold step of filing a complaint against Xi and other Chinese officials over Beijing's assertive actions in the disputed South China Sea, which they say deprived thousands of fishermen of their livelihoods and destroyed the environment.
They accused Xi and other Chinese officials of turning seven disputed reefs into man-made islands, causing extensive environmental damage, and of blocking large numbers of fishermen, including about 320,000 Filipinos, from their fishing grounds.
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua called the complaint a "fabrication." Chinese officials also raised their concern over the complaint in a meeting with Philippine officials in Manila in April, saying the case is "affecting the prestige of our leader," a Philippine official told the AP on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
The legal offensive against China contrasts with President Rodrigo Duterte's rapprochement with Beijing since he took office in mid-2016 while often criticizing the security policies of the United States, a treaty ally.
Del Rosario said Tuesday that he and Carpio-Morales filed the complaint "to be able to push back against the bullying and harassment that we have been encountering from our goliath of a neighbor" and Carpio-Morales's treatment in Hong Kong was "more of the same."
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said the Duterte administration asked its diplomats to help Carpio-Morales and her family return to the country safely. The Philippine deputy consul general in Hong Kong, Germinia Aguilar-Usudan, told ABS-CBN News Channel in Manila that the Philippines will ask Hong Kong authorities about the incident.
The founder of Chinese telecom giant Huawei is dismissing the decision by the United States to blacklist the company on the grounds it poses a threat to U.S. national security.
In a series of interviews with state-run news outlets Tuesday, Ren Zhengfei said the Trump administration’s actions underestimate his company’s true capabilities to continue operating and developing the next generation of mobile technology commonly referred to as 5G.
Last week's order would curb the future transfer of hardware, software and services to Huawei, possibly limiting the Chinese company's expansion globally and its efforts to overtake South Korea's Samsung as the world's biggest smart phone manufacturer.
The world’s second biggest smartphone maker sustained a major blow Monday when the giant U.S. search engine Google announced it will restrict Huawei from access to its popular Android operating system in compliance with the order.
Google services were already banned in China, so analysts say the impact of the curb on technology sales could mostly affect Huawei's international sales, making its phones less attractive to customers if they do not have Google features. Last year, Huawei sold nearly half of its production of 208 million smart phones overseas and the rest in China.
The U.S. Commerce Department on Monday granted Huawei a 90-day license to continue providing software updates to existing Huawei smartphones and maintain existing networks.
The Chinese firm is at the center of ongoing trade disputes between Washington and Beijing. The U.S. contends that Huawei's technology could be used to spy on Americans, allegations Huawei has repeatedly denied.
The U.S. battle with Huawei has also ensnared Ren Zhengfei’s daughter, Meng Wanzhou, who serves as the company’s chief financial officer. Meng was arrested last December in Vancouver on a U.S. warrant charging her with violating sanctions on Iran, a move that angered China and led to the arrest of two Canadian nationals in an apparent retaliation against Canada.
China and the U.S. are in the midst of months-long trade talks with the world's two biggest economies engaging in tit-for-tat tariff increases on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of exports.
Authorities in New Zealand have charged the self-avowed white supremacist who killed 51 worshippers at two Christchurch mosques back in March with terrorism.
The single charge filed Tuesday against Australian Brenton Tarrant is the first of its kind under New Zealand’s Terrorism Suppression Act, which was passed in 2002 in the wake of the al-Qaida-led terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. the previous year. Prosecutors have also charged him with an additional count of murder over a worshipper who died in the hospital earlier this month, along with two additional counts of attempted murder, bringing that number to 40.
Up to 200 family members of the victims and survivors of the attack were informed of the new charges at a private meeting with police.
The 28-year-old Tarrant live-streamed the March 15 shootings at the al-Noor and Linwood mosques on Facebook from a head-mounted camera.
He is currently being held at a maximum security prison where he was ordered to undergo psychiatric tests to determine if he is mentally fit to stand trial. His next court date is June 14.
The 28-year-old Tarrant e-mailed a lengthy white nationalist manifesto to more than 30 recipients just minutes before the attacks – including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – in which he allegedly denounced Muslims and called immigrants "invaders."
A New Zealand coal mine that has been sealed shut since 29 workers were killed in an explosion more than eight years ago reopened Tuesday.
Mining experts entered the Pike River Mine to begin a search for the men’s remains and any evidence that could explain what caused a buildup of flammable methane gas that is blamed for the November 2010 disaster that initially trapped 31 miners. Two of the workers managed to escape after the explosion.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern heeded the demands of the families of the 29 dead workers to reopen the South Island after she took office in 2017. Andrew Miller, the special minister appointed by Ardern to lead the reentry efforts at Pike River said, “New Zealand is not a country where 29 people can die at work without real accountability. And that is why today we have fulfilled our promise.”
An official inquiry determined that mine’s operators had allowed the miners to operate in unsafe conditions. Labor violation charges were filed against Peter Whittall, the mine’s chief executive, but were later dropped, and no criminal charges were filed in connection with the tragedy.
Trump administration sanctions against Huawei have begun to bite even though their dimensions remain unclear. U.S. companies that supply the Chinese tech powerhouse with computer chips saw their stock prices slump Monday, and Huawei faces decimated smartphone sales with the anticipated loss of Google's popular software and services.
The U.S. move escalates trade-war tensions with Beijing, but also risks making China more self-sufficient over time.
Here's a look at what's behind the dispute and what it means.
What's this about?
Last week, the U.S. Commerce Department said it would place Huawei on the so-called Entity List, effectively barring U.S. firms from selling it technology without government approval.
Google said it would continue to support existing Huawei smartphones but future devices will not have its flagship apps and services, including maps, Gmail and search. Only basic services would be available, making Huawei phones less desirable. Separately, Huawei is the world's leading provider of networking equipment, but it relies on U.S. components including computer chips. About a third of Huawei's suppliers are American.
Why punish Huawei?
The U.S. defense and intelligence communities have long accused Huawei of being an untrustworthy agent of Beijing's repressive rulers — though without providing evidence. The U.S. government's sanctions are widely seen as a means of pressuring reluctant allies in Europe to exclude Huawei equipment from their next-generation wireless networks. Washington says it's a question of national security and punishment of Huawei for skirting sanctions against Iran, but the backdrop is a struggle for economic and technological dominance.
The politics of President Donald Trump's escalating tit-for-tat trade war have co-opted a longstanding policy goal of stemming state-backed Chinese cyber theft of trade and military secrets. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week that the sanctions on Huawei have nothing to do with the trade war and could be revoked if Huawei's behavior were to change.
The sanctions' bite
Analysts predict consumers will abandon Huawei for other smartphone makers if Huawei can only use a stripped-down version of Android. Huawei, now the No. 2 smartphone supplier, could fall behind Apple to third place. Google could seek exemptions, but would not comment on whether it planned to do so.
Who uses Huawei anyway?
While most consumers in the U.S. don't even know how to pronounce Huawei (it's "HWA-way"), its brand is well known in most of the rest of the world, where people have been buying its smartphones in droves.
Huawei stealthily became an industry star by plowing into new markets, developing a lineup of phones that offer affordable options for low-income households and luxury models that are siphoning upper-crust sales from Apple and Samsung in China and Europe. About 13 percent of its phones are now sold in Europe, estimates Gartner analyst Annette Zimmermann.
That formula helped Huawei establish itself as the world's second-largest seller of smartphones during the first three months of this year, according to the research firm IDC. Huawei shipped 59 million smartphones in the January-March period, nearly 23 million more than Apple.
The U.S. ban could have unwelcome ripple effects in the U.S., given how much technology Huawei buys from U.S. companies, especially from makers of the microprocessors that go into smartphones, computers, internet networking gear and other gadgetry.
The list of chip companies expected to be hit hardest includes Micron Technologies, Qualcomm, Qorvo and Skyworks Solutions, which all have listed Huawei as a major customer in their annual reports. Others likely to suffer are Xilinx, Broadcom and Texas Instruments, according to industry analysts.
Being cut off from Huawei will also compound the pain the chip sector is already experiencing from the Trump administration's rising China tariffs.
The Commerce Department on Monday announced an expected grace period of 90 days or more, easing the immediate hit on U.S. suppliers. It can extend that stay, and also has the option of issuing exemptions for especially hard-hit companies.
Much could depend on whether countries including France, Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands continue to refuse to completely exclude Huawei equipment from their wireless networks.
The grace period allows U.S. providers to alert Huawei to security vulnerabilities and engage the Chinese company in research on standards for next-generation 5G wireless networks.
It also gives operators of U.S. rural broadband networks that use Huawei routers time to switch them out.
Could this backfire?
Huawei is already the biggest global supplier of networking equipment, and is now likely to move toward making all components domestically. China already has a policy seeking technological independence by 2025.
U.S. tech companies, facing a drop in sales, could respond with layoffs. More than 52,000 technology jobs in the U.S. are directly tied to China exports, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association, a trade group also known as CompTIA.
What about harm to Google?
Google may lose some licensing fees and opportunities to show ads on Huawei phones, but it still will probably be a financial hiccup for Google and its corporate parent, Alphabet Inc., which is expected to generate $160 billion in revenue this year.
The Apple effect
In theory, Huawei's losses could translate into gains for both Samsung and Apple at a time both of those companies are trying to reverse a sharp decline in smartphone sales.
But Apple also stands to be hurt if China decides to target it in retaliation. Apple is particularly vulnerable because most iPhones are assembled in China. The Chinese government, for example could block crucial shipments to the factories assembling iPhones or take other measures that disrupt the supply chain.
Any retaliatory move from China could come on top of a looming increase on tariffs by the U.S. that would hit the iPhone, forcing Apple to raise prices or reduce profits.
What's more, the escalating trade war may trigger a backlash among Chinese consumers against U.S. products, including the iPhone.
"Beijing could stoke nationalist sentiment over the treatment of Huawei, which could result in protests against major U.S.technology brands," CompTIA warned.
Indonesia on Monday sentenced a French drug smuggler to death by firing squad, in a shock verdict after prosecutors had asked for a long prison term.
The three-judge panel in Lombok handed a capital sentence to Felix Dorfin, 35, who was arrested in September at the airport on the holiday island next to Bali, where foreigners are routinely charged with drugs offenses.
Indonesia has some of the world's strictest drug laws -- including death for some traffickers.
It has executed foreigners in the past, including the masterminds of Australia's Bali Nine heroin gang.
While Dorfin was eligible for the death penalty, prosecutors instead asked for a 20-year jail term plus another year unless he paid a huge fine equivalent to about $700,000.
But Indonesian courts have been known to issue harsher-than-demanded punishments.
Dorfin was carrying a suitcase filled with about three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of drugs including ecstasy and amphetamines when he was arrested.
"After finding Felix Dorfin legally and convincingly guilty of importing narcotics ... (he) is sentenced to the death penalty," presiding judge Isnurul Syamsul Arif told the court.
The judge cited Dorfin's involvement in an international drug syndicate and the amount of drugs in his possession as aggravating factors.
"The defendant's actions could potentially do damage to the younger generation," Arif added.
The Frenchman made headlines in January when he escaped from a police detention center and spent nearly two weeks on the run before he was captured.
A female police officer was arrested for allegedly helping Dorfin escape from jail in exchange for money.
It was not clear if the jailbreak played any role in Monday's stiffer-than-expected sentence.
Wearing a red prison vest, Dorfin, who is from Bethune in northern France, sat impassively through much of the hearing, as a translator scribbled notes beside him.
After the sentencing, he said little as he walked past reporters to a holding cell.
"Dorfin was shocked," the Frenchman's lawyer Deny Nur Indra told AFP.
"He didn't expect this at all because prosecutors only asked for 20 years."
The lawyer said he would appeal against the sentence, describing his client as a "victim" who did not know the exact contents of what he was carrying in the suitcase.
"If he had known, he wouldn't have brought it here," Indra added.
In Paris, the French foreign ministry said it was "concerned" by the sentence and reiterated France's opposition to the death penalty.
"We will remain attentive to his situation," the statement said, adding that seven French people faced the death penalty worldwide.
In 2015, Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran -- the accused ringleaders of the Bali Nine -- were executed by firing squad in Indonesia.
The Bali Nine gang's only female member was released from jail last year, while some others remain in prison.
The highly publicized case sparked diplomatic outrage and a call to abolish the death penalty.
"The death penalty verdict marks another setback for human rights in Indonesia," Human Rights Watch campaigner Andreas Harsono said Monday.
"The Indonesian government's many pledges about moving toward abolishing the death penalty clearly meant nothing in Lombok".
There are scores of foreigners on death row in Indonesia, including cocaine-smuggling British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford and Serge Atlaoui, a Frenchman who has been on death row since 2007.
Last year, eight Taiwanese drug smugglers were sentenced to death by an Indonesian court after being caught with around a tonne of crystal methamphetamine.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, has been re-elected with 55.50% of the vote, defeating former army general Prabowo Subianto. The victory was confirmed by the General Elections Commission (KPU).
"The number of valid votes for candidate No. 1, Jokowi-Ma'ruf Amin, is 85,607,362 votes. The number of valid votes for candidate No. 2, Prabowo Subianto-Sandiaga Uno, is 68,650,239," said KPU Commissioner Evi Novida Ginting Manik at the KPU office early Tuesday.
The announcement came an hour after the KPU completed the national recapitulation of the first simultaneous elections since the country began democratic presidential elections in 2004. Approximately 193 million voters went to more than 810,000 polls.
Widodo captured votes in 21 provinces.
Subianto, a four-time presidential candidate who associated with the traditional political elite and hard-line Islamists, captured 44.50% of the votes in 13 provinces.
Taiwan is protesting China's decision to exclude the island from participation in the annual World Health Assembly, calling such action an unjustified political move that could harm global health.
The 72nd session of the World Health Organization's World Health Assembly takes place May 20-28 in Geneva, Switzerland.
This move is particularly ironic this year, as the theme of the assembly is universal health coverage. Taiwan's national health system is widely considered one of the best in the world.Taiwan's minister of health and welfare, Chen Shih-chung, says the island is ready to share its experiences on how to achieve affordable, efficient universal health coverage with the global community.
"However, under pressure from the People's Republic of China, Taiwan is currently excluded by WHO from the global health network," Chen said. "Inviting Taiwan to participate in the WHA would be consistent with WHO's espousal of health for all."
The health minister notes Taiwan's exclusion poses health risks to everyone. Chen says diseases do not stop at borders, and international cooperation is needed to combat epidemics that could spread to every corner of the world.
Chen tells VOA he has written several letters to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to protest Taiwan's exclusion from the World Health Assembly. Chen says he has received no response. He says WHO has even rejected Taiwan's offer for help in combating the Ebola epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
"Our president announced we would donate $1 million U.S. to combat Ebola; but this donation, even this donation was not accepted by the WHO. So, this is a pity in our situation. We want to do something, but WHO did not accept us to do something for the world," Chen said.
WHO estimates it needs $98 million to run its Ebola operation. It is facing a funding shortfall of some $63 million.
Despite pressure from China, Taiwan's officials say they have received support for their bid to join the WHO from a number of countries including the United States, Japan, Germany and Australia.
The U.S.-China trade war has not spared European companies in China. More than one-third of them are feeling a direct impact on their businesses and fear the situation will worsen in the coming weeks.
“They [European companies] are feeling more anxious than they felt last year, rising tensions such as the trade tensions that we are facing currently that don’t seem to be on the point of being sorted out quickly,” European Chamber Vice President Charlotte Roule told VOA.
The trade conflict has come on top of several other problems faced by European companies in China.
“Macroeconomic challenges such as the Chinese economic slowdown and global economic slowdown are worrying them,” Roule said.
In a survey conducted last January and released Monday, the European Chamber of Commerce in China reported the trade war has impacted 25% of its members engaged in U.S.-bound exports from their operations in China.
Since January, the United States has since expanded its tariff measures against China-made goods, while Beijing has announced its own set of retaliatory measures. These moves would affect a larger number of European companies, including those that import products from the U.S.
Significantly, the survey showed that only five percent of the chamber’s member companies see the trade tussle as an opportunity for themselves.
The trade war involves two countries at the political level, but has impacted other businesses with overlapping interests and intertwined connections across regions and industry segments.
Nick Marro, an analyst at the Economic Intelligence Unit, cited the example of China-based joint ventures between European and China companies engaged in producing electronic components. They will be hit by Washington’s decision to raise taxes on goods made in China. Similarly, U.S.-based European companies exporting to China would be affected.
“Trade wars are very complicated. You can't isolate these effects to one or two countries,” Marro said.
The extent of the trade war's impact varies from one industry sector to another, said Jacob Gunter, the chamber’s policy and communications coordinator. But Gunter said there is considerable fear that the impact might prove to be widespread and severe.
“European companies share many of the U.S.’ concerns, but strongly oppose the blunt use of tariffs,” according to the chamber.
The trade war was ranked fourth among the concerns of European companies when the survey was taken last January. But the companies were more concerned about the economic slowdown in China and the world, besides the rising labor cost in China.
“European firms confront the same challenges facing their U.S. rivals, such as local protectionism or burdensome administrative processes. And developments in the trade war to date have yielded little immediate progress on these issues,” said Marro.
Even without the trade war, European companies face considerable difficulties due largely to regulatory controls and inadequate implementation of market access rules made by the central government in Beijing.
Chamber members presented a bleak outlook of the business situation in China in the coming years. About 47% of those surveyed said they expect regulatory obstacles to actually increase in the next five years.
The survey reported that business optimism on growth over the next two years dropped from 62% in 2018 to 45% in 2019.
Analysts said China will increasingly try to woo the European Union and its markets in order to protect itself from aggressive U.S. trade actions. But the bloc is undecided on what stance to take, because any move in favor of China would not be lauded in Washington.
“The EU is kind of in a difficult position. People are pushing the EU to choose the U.S. or China. I think the EU is choosing the EU,” Gunter said. "The EU is taking necessary measures to protect its own interest and expand business relations with China," he said.
“There is an opportunity for China and the EU to work together. As far as the trade conflict is concerned, it should try to mediate the conflict, instead of taking sides,” he said.
European companies said there is no sign of the Chinese government trying to make life easier for them, even after battling the United States in the trade conflict for 10 months.
Last January, most European companies told surveyors they have not changed their strategy owing to the trade war. But analysts said many of them will have to rethink the way they do business.
“European companies will seek to minimize their exposure to political risk by adopting their global supply chains, said Max Zenglein, head of economic research at the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) in Berlin.
“Export-oriented businesses, in particular at the lower end of the value chain, are likely to shift to other Southeast Asian nations. This is, however, a process that takes time,” he said.
The giant U.S. internet search engine Google said Monday it is restricting China's Huawei from access to its Android operating system in compliance with the Trump administration's blacklisting of the world's second biggest smartphone maker as a national security threat.
Google said it is "reviewing the implications" of last week's order requiring export licenses for technology sales to Huawei.
The U.S. and Chinese companies said millions of Huawei phones already in use around the world would continue to have access to such popular Google services as Gmail, YouTube and maps.
But last week's U.S. order would curb the future transfer of hardware, software and services to Huawei, possibly limiting the Chinese company's expansion globally and its efforts to overtake South Korea's Samsung as the world's biggest smart phone manufacturer.
Google services were already banned in China, so analysts say the impact of the curb on technology sales could mostly affect Huawei's international sales, making its phones less attractive to customers if they do not have Google features. Last year, Huawei sold nearly half of its production of 208 million smart phones overseas and the rest in China.
"Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products, covering those that have been sold and that are still in stock globally," a Huawei spokesman said.
The Chinese firm is at the center of ongoing trade disputes between Washington and Beijing. The U.S. contends that Huawei's technology could be used to spy on Americans, allegations Huawei has repeatedly denied.
China and the U.S. are in the midst of months-long trade talks with the world's two biggest economies engaging in tit-for-tat tariff increases on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of each other's exports.
Yammy and her friends sleep in shifts. They venture out of the house they share only every few days to stock up on food, and have stopped their live webcasts so as not to give away their location.
Together they comprise the band Faiyen, Cold Fire, whose blistering lyrics bashing Thailand's constitutional monarchy and military government have put them at dangerous odds with the country's ruling junta.
Like the dozens of other Thai dissidents who have exiled themselves to Laos in recent years for fear of attack or arrest back home, the forced repatriation and disappearance of four fellow Thai activists in recent weeks have left them rattled.
"It's made us more certain that we are wanted by the Thai government," Yammy, the stage name of Romchalee Sombulrattanakul, told VOA by phone Saturday.
"We now take turns sleeping so that there is always someone awake around the clock," she said. "We don't leave our place unless it's necessary, only to buy food, and we buy food that can last us for two, three days."
The added caution follows unconfirmed reports that three Thai activists living in Laos were arrested in Vietnam and tuned over to Thai authorities on May 8, and the forced repatriation of another Thai activist from Malaysia two days later, confirmed by her lawyer.
The woman deported from Malaysia was being held at Bangkok's central women's prison and faces charges of sedition and joining a secret organization, her lawyer told VOA Thursday. Thailand's security czar, Prawit Wongsuwan, told reporters the week before that the government did not have the three who went missing in Vietnam, though rights groups fear the junta may be holding them in secret.
Dissidents in Laos have been on heightened alert at least since December, when Surachai Danwattananusorn, who ran an online radio show from the country critical of the Thai junta and monarchy, went missing. The following month, two of his colleagues, Chatcharn Buppawan and Kraidej Luelert, turned up dead; their bodies were found in the Mekong River stuffed with concrete.
In a letter addressed to the Thai government in March, a group of U.N. envoys noted that the activists were wanted and all tied to the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), a political movement affiliated with ousted Prime Minister and junta foe Thaksin Shinawatra. “Given the active arrest warrants and their involvement with the UDD, it is believed Thai officials may be responsible," they said.
The military has reportedly said it had no information about the bodies.
Spokesmen for the government and police did not reply to multiple requests for comment last week. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said she had no information about the latest cases or any recent efforts to bring wanted dissidents back to Thailand, but added that the government followed all applicable laws and procedures.
But activists and rights groups say the latest repatriation and disappearances may portend more to come and have made dissidents in neighboring countries ever more vigilant.
"The Thai government has stepped up pressure more and more, and it seems that now it has reached the point that neighboring governments surrender," said Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch.
"We have learned that the remaining activists in Lao have received warnings that there could be a new round of attempts to arrest them by Thai authorities. They have been told to move their location. As for activists in Cambodia, they have been told to lay low and stop any political activity," he said.
The number of self-exiled dissidents in the region is hard to pin down. While some keep a high profile online, others choose to keep quiet.
Sunai said there were likely more than 20 in Laos, about half of them with open cases for lèse majesté, sedition or security related crimes. Yammy put the number at over 30.
Snea Thinsan, founder of the U.S.-based Thai Alliance for Human Rights, said there may be more than 100 in Laos, along with a handful in Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
He said the news of the past few weeks has sent them deeper underground and scrambling to find asylum farther afield, especially the most outspoken among them.
"All these vocal ones, the...active ones, know that their lives are in danger, they could be the next victim," he said. "So that means, especially now, they are doing every way they can to really leave the country, leave Laos."
Those who can are trying to leave the region altogether, worried that nowhere in Southeast Asia is safe any longer. Malaysia deported Praphan Pipithnamporn on May 10 even after she had applied for asylum with the UNHCR, the U.N.'s refugee agency; her lawyer said the country accorded her none of the due process she was owed under its international treaty obligations.
Snea said a prominent Thai activist in Cambodia left for the Middle East a few weeks ago after a senior Cambodian official told him his government could not resist mounting pressure from Thailand to send him back much longer. Yammy said she and her band mates were recently told by a senior official with an international organization in Bangkok that they may be targeted this week, and that they were working with a team of lawyers to land asylum in Europe.
While many of the activists are UDD members, some support and promote the Organization for Thai Federation, which would like to turn Thailand into a federated republic shorn of its constitutional monarchy.
Even questioning the monarchy's position is a high-risk gamble in Thailand, where tough lèse majesté laws place the royal palace beyond reproach. The junta's top leaders have branded group members separatists and "traitors" and a threat to national security.
But Sunai said their modus operandi has been peaceful.
"They haven't committed any act of violence at all, so therefore this is still within the bounds of free expression," he said.
Before fleeing to Malaysia in January, Praphan had been arrested for wearing a T-shirt bearing the Organization for Thai Federation's logo and handing out leaflets at a Bangkok shopping mall.
Snea said a few dissidents in exile have espoused more extreme tactics but added that all should be afforded due process.
"They may have [made] mistakes, they may have done something illegal, OK. When you catch them, then bring them to justice, fair trial, open trial," he said.
The United States military said one of its warships in the South China Sea sailed Monday near the disputed Scarborough Shoal claimed by China and the Philippines.
"USS Preble sailed within 12 nautical miles of Scarborough Reef in order to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law," a spokesman for the Seventh Fleet, Commander Clay Doss said.
It was the second U.S. military freedom of navigation exercise in the region in the last month.
Speaking at an international security conference in Singapore Wednesday, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said “routine” freedom of navigation operations will proceed with transparency, consistency and predictability.
A rare U.S. Coast Guard exercise in the South China Sea this month shows that the United States is broadening its reach in a disputed waterway, a new pressure point between Washington and the sea’s chief claimant Beijing.
On May 14 the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bertholf joined two Philippine coast guard vessels for training in “maritime security” and “law enforcement capabilities” in the sea, the U.S. Indo Pacific Command said in a statement. They spotted two Chinese vessels in a disputed area of the South China Sea that day near Scarborough Shoal west of the Philippine island of Luzon, Philippine media reported.
China and the Philippines dispute sovereignty of the shoal, which Chinese vessels took in 2012. China claims about 90 percent of the whole surrounding sea, including tracts that five other governments including the Philippines call their own.
While U.S.-Philippine joint exercises are routine, the Coast Guard seldom gets involved, maritime experts say. The last U.S. Coast Guard vessel in the Philippines, a treaty ally since 1951, visited more than seven years ago.
The U.S. sent its cutter last week to diversify resistance against Chinese expansion in a sea where Washington has multiple allies and China is becoming more sophisticated toward defense, scholars believe.
“That’s about interoperability, that’s about increasing their capabilities,” said Stephen Nagy, senior associate politics and international studies professor at International Christian University in Tokyo. “That’s a message to Beijing that the United States is engaging in the region at four or five different levels, not just a military level.”
More than the navy
The United States makes no claim to the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea, but it wants to keep the waterway open internationally. The U.S. Navy routinely has sent vessels into the sea 11 times since President Donald Trump took office in 2017. The most recent sailing came Sunday (May 20) when the USS Preble passed within 12 nautical miles (22.2 kilometers) of Scarborough Shoal.
A broader, Navy-plus strategy began showing in 2016 when the U.S. government lifted a ban on selling certain weapons to Vietnam. In March this year, two pairs of U.S. B-52 bombers flew over the disputed sea.
Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam claim all or parts of the sea. They value mainly it for fisheries and undersea fossil fuel deposits. China has alarmed the other governments since 2010, when it began reclaiming land to expand tiny islets for military installations. China operates Asia’s strongest armed forces.
U.S. officials may have sent the coast guard vessel to stress "law enforcement” and head off any fears of naval conflict, said Jonathan Spangler, director of the South China Sea Think Tank in Taipei.
China and Taiwan send their own coast guard vessels for law enforcement, he added. Among the would-be crimes: drug traffic and illegal fishing.
“It would be reasonable to try and frame any sort of operations in the South China Sea or any sort of cooperation with South China Sea littoral states as cooperation on law enforcement rather than cooperation on maritime defense,” Spangler said.
U.S. officials in turn see Chinese forces as more than a navy, said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan. They follow its navy, coast guard and armed fishing boats that can be used for Chinese government-sponsored work, he said.
“I think the use of the United States Coast Guard is part of dealing with the low intensity, short of naval engagement, but involving the Chinese maritime militia or the Chinese fishing boats or weaponized fishing boats,” Huang said.
Why the Philippines
The cutter reached port in Manila on Wednesday to “share experiences” on maritime law enforcement, the U.S. Indo Pacific Command statement added, quoting the vessel’s commanding officer.
The Philippines, like other Southeast Asian claimants to the sea, lacks the military strength of China. But decades of bilateral agreements plus six years of joint naval exercises with the United States, a former Philippine colonizer, give Manila support.
A world arbitration court backed the Philippines in 2016 by rejecting the legal basis for China’s maritime claims. China, however, still keeps ships at Scarborough Shoal. Over the past half year, scores of Chinese fishing boats have passed near another disputed islet that the Philippines is building up.
The Philippine government is making a “coordinated effort” to balance foreign policy between the superpowers, said Herman Kraft, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines. Philippine defense officials are handling the U.S. side of that equation, including coast guard ties, he said.
“What’s actually interesting is the extent to which they've fundamentally allowed the Department of Defense to nurture the relationship with the U.S. military and auxiliary forces,” Kraft said.
Vietnam and Europe could be swapping more pomelo fruit and Portuguese cheese soon if a new trade deal comes into effect, linking two regions that have been looking for an alternative to the trade tensions brought on by the United States.
The European Parliament is scheduled to discuss the trade deal on May 28, after years of negotiations between Vietnam and the European Union. The deal is significant not only because it facilitates exports, like tropical fruit, but also as it lays out commitments on human rights, labor unions, and protection of the environment. Critics, though, say the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement would not really enforce human rights standards and would continue the offshoring of jobs that has left workers vulnerable.
For the EU, the deal is one more way to access Asia’s fast-growing economies, set a model for trading with developing countries, and hold Vietnam’s one-party state accountable on its promise to level the business playing field.
For Vietnam, it is a chance to call itself a country open for business, with many trade deals, as well as raise quality standards to those expected by European customers.
“It includes a lot of commitments to improve the business environment in Vietnam,” Le Thanh Liem, standing vice chair of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee, said at a European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam event.
Vietnamese officials often say that it helps to have an external factor to get difficult internal reforms over the finish line. For example it might be hard to convince conservatives to allow workers to form their own labor unions. But if there is an outside incentive, such as greater trade with the EU, that could bring conservatives on board.
Labor unions were one concern for Europeans. Another is the loss of blue-collar jobs to Asia, including to Vietnam. European workers worry that as they take gig jobs, like food delivery, in place of their old stable jobs, there is less of a safety net through long-term employers or through tax-funded government programs. And there is one more concern raised through the trade deal:“We have some concerns about human rights in Vietnam, but that has been discussed,” Eurocham chair Nicolas Audier said at the chamber event.
Amnesty International reported this month that the number of Vietnam’s political prisoners jumped to 128 from 97 last year, despite the fact that Hanoi says it does not jail people for political reasons.
Some question if the EU is applying consistent standards as it moves toward the trade deal with Vietnam, even while punishing nearby Myanmar and Cambodia for human rights abuses. Brussels is pulling back its Everything But Arms scheme of preferential trade access for the two other countries, based in part on Cambodia’s crackdown on opposition politicians in the 2018 election and on Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s mass killing of the mostly Muslim Rohingya.
But both Vietnam and the EU want more trade options because a major trading partner, the United States, is turning away from the world economy. Washington pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in 2017, removing a key reason that Hanoi signed the deal, which was to get Vietnamese textile and garment companies more access to U.S. customers. Europe was also hit when Washington slapped tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum in 2018, and now it is threatening more import duties on European cars.
So the EU and Vietnam are still working on their trade deal, and it is reflected in Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s schedule. He paid a visit to EU member states Romania and the Czech Republic in April, then hosted a state visit from Romania in May. Lobbying for the deal continued as he welcomed the Swedish crown princess this month, and he will return the courtesy, with the next trip on his calendar planned for Stockholm.
U.S. Senator Mark Warner said on Sunday that he has been organizing meetings between U.S. intelligence officials and the country's business and academic communities to urge caution in their relationships with China.
"I have been convening meetings between the intelligence community and outside stakeholders in business and academia to ensure they have the full threat picture and hopefully, make different decisions about Chinese partnerships," Warner said in a statement.
Accusing China of undermining U.S. security, Warner, a Democrat, said the meetings were aimed at increasing awareness about tactics used by China against the United States.
In a series of classified briefings with U.S. companies, the country's intelligence heads have warned about potential risks of doing business with China, the Financial Times reported earlier on Sunday.
The briefings to educational institutions, venture capitalists and technology firms have been given by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, along with officials from the FBI and the National Counter-Intelligence and Security Center, the FT reported, citing officials who attended the briefings.
The development comes as the United States and China have been engaged in trade tensions for months over issues including technology, cyber security, tariffs, industrial subsidies and intellectual property rights.
On Thursday, the United States added Huawei Technologies Co Ltd to a trade blacklist, immediately enacting restrictions that will make it extremely difficult for the company to do business with U.S. counterparts.
The move came amid concerns from the U.S. that Huawei's smartphones and network equipment could be used by China to spy on Americans, allegations the company has repeatedly denied.
The decision was slammed by China, which said it will take steps to protect its companies.
U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad was scheduled to visit Tibet this week, a U.S. embassy spokesperson said, the first visit to the region by a U.S. ambassador since 2015, amid escalating trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The visit follows passage of a law in December that requires the United States to deny visas to Chinese officials in charge of implementing policies that restrict access to Tibet for foreigners, legislation that was denounced by China.
"This visit is a chance for the ambassador to engage with local leaders to raise longstanding concerns about restrictions on religious freedom and the preservation of Tibetan culture and language," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Branstad was traveling to Qinghai and neighboring Tibet from May 19 to May 25 on a trip that will include official meetings as well as visits to religious and cultural heritage sites, the spokesperson said.
In December, China criticized the United States for passing the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, saying it was "resolutely opposed" to the U.S. legislation on what China considers an internal affair, and it risked causing "serious harm" to their relations.
The U.S. government is required to begin denying visas by the end of this year.
The visit comes as tensions have been running high between the two countries over trade. China struck a more aggressive tone in its trade war with the United States on Friday, suggesting a resumption of talks between the world's two largest economies would be meaningless unless Washington changed course.
On Saturday, China's senior diplomat Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that recent U.S. words and actions had harmed the interests of China and its enterprises, and that Washington should show restraint.
While the Trump administration has taken a tough stance towards China on trade and highlighted the security rivalry with Beijing, it has so far not acted on congressional calls for it to impose sanctions on China's former Communist Party chief in Tibet, Chen Quanguo, for the treatment of minority Muslims in the Xinjiang region, where he is currently party chief.
A State Department report in March said Chen had replicated in Xinjiang policies similar to those credited with reducing opposition to Chinese rule in Tibet.
Beijing sent troops into remote, mountainous Tibet in 1950 in what it officially terms a peaceful liberation and has ruled there with an iron fist ever since.
Australia's prime minister went to his Pentecostal church Sunday after nailing a surprise victory Saturday in the country's general election.
Polls had indicated that Scott Morrison and his conservative Liberal-National coalition government were sure to loose.
The polls, however, were wrong.
Morrison was swept back into office, leaving the pollsters and the opposition Labor Party scratching their heads wondering how they miscalculated the odds.
"I have always believed in miracles," Morrison told a cheering crowd Saturday.
U.S. President Donald Trump, whose presidential victory was also a shock to pollsters and the U.S. Democratic party, called Morrison to offer his congratulations. The White House said "the two leaders reaffirmed the critical importance of the long-standing alliance and friendship between the United States and Australia."
By all accounts, North Korea’s cash-strapped economy is flagging under crippling international sanctions and the slowdown means the traditional elite and a rising merchant class may be feeling pinched, experts say.
“The elites in Pyongyang are really feeling it,” said Joshua Stanton, a Washington attorney who helped draft the North Korean Sanctions Enforcement Act in 2016.
“They’re having a very tough time right now. I think they’re losing their wealth rapidly. And they’re concerned about the government’s policies and directions, and the failure to get sanctions lifted in Hanoi,” he continued.
North Korean aristocrats
The most privileged government and military officials, considered North Korea’s aristocrats, are estimated to number about 2,000 people. Born into families who backed the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung in the 1940s and 1950s, they are fiercely loyal to the Kim dynasty, said William Brown, former CIA analyst and a North Korea economy expert.
Despite their fealty to current leader Kim Jong Un, this top echelon of what is supposed to be a classless society is losing money. The state-run enterprises they control in the centrally planned socialist economy — heavy industries such as mining and light industries such as textile and clothing factories — have been hit hard by the sanctions that President Donald Trump refused to lift at the Hanoi summit earlier this year, demanding that North Korea agree to full denuclearization as a precondition for relief.
These families share their profits from state enterprises with a newer privileged class, the merchants called donju, who help the aristocrats by facilitating the export of goods produced from state-run mines, farms and factories or by selling them domestically now that sanctions make overseas trade difficult, Brown, the economy expert, said.
Similar to oligarchs or private entrepreneurs and capitalists by the Western standards, the donju emerged from the market economy, which grew out of the country’s worst famine in the 1990s as workers, paid by the state in food rations, started trading whatever they could find for food on black markets. The markets established in a time of shortages were legitimized, then encouraged under Kim. Today, the donju partner with the elite families, providing funds for construction projects such as building apartments in Pyongyang while the families provide labor, usually workers they re-assign from state-owned enterprises.
“The donju touch on about just everything, everything from construction to manufacturing to things happening in the markets to transportation issues,” said Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses.
“Right now, they’re under increasing pressure in terms of … getting the hard currency that they need in order to continue to do various projects that they do inside North Korea, which allows them to maintain their influence that they have within the regime and on the society,” he added.
Limiting luxuries, confiscating wealth
Unlike ordinary North Koreans, members of these privileged classes enjoy a luxurious lifestyle. Some drive imported cars. Some occasionally travel abroad. Others send their children to the country’s prestigious Kim Il Sung University, Kim Jong Un’s alma mater.
But as the government runs ever shorter on hard currency, it’s confiscating their wealth.
“[The] North Korean government has always historically used a lot of its money to keep those people happy,” said Stanton, listing gifts of luxury goods, apartments and “access to … material wealth.”
But that’s changing, Stanton said, “because the government is running out of money, it’s doing a lot of anti-corruption investigations and inspections. It’s trying to find their money, their savings, any cash that they have stored away, any bank accounts that they have in China, any wealth that they’ve accumulated.”
The overall lack of cash and the government’s confiscation of what it finds among the elite are creating discontent but not so much as to trigger organized unrest.
“They could put pressure on Kim definitely,” Brown said. “But [as] more of a loyal opposition rather than a radical opposition. I think … the most likely unrest would come from workers, state enterprise laborers, miners, people who are working for the state and who are barely being paid at all, and have to go into the marketplace to make a living.”
A ‘mounting toll’
In October 2006, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) imposed sanctions on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s first nuclear weapons test. They were designed to pressure North Korea into ending its nuclear ambitions by banning sales to Pyongyang of heavy weaponry, missile technology and material, and select luxury goods, according to a Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder. In March 2016, the UNSC sanctioned sales of aviation fuel to North Korea after its fourth nuclear test.
Since November 2016, after Pyongyang’s fifth nuclear test, the UNSC has aimed sanctions at North Korea’s economy by banning its export of key commodities such as copper, coal, seafood, textiles and labor.
The sanctions were aimed at cutting off foreign currency flowing into the country — most of the wages paid to North Korean workers contracted to work overseas ended up in Pyongyang — and the UNSC capped North Korea’s imports of the crude oil and refined petroleum that the country needs to sustain its economy and run the military.
Since Trump took office in 2017, the U.S. has issued its own set of sanctions through the so-called “maximum pressure campaign,” which blocks from the U.S. financial system any foreign business or individual involved in trade with North Korea, and exposes any assets of the foreign businesses or individual to seizure by the U.S. government. Last week, U.S. officials seized a North Korean ship allegedly used in the illegal coal trade.
“I’m convinced that the international and other sanctions on North Korea are taking a mounting toll on [North Korean] economy,” said Evans Revere, former State Department official in the George W. Bush administration.
“The pressure from sanctions and related measures may not now be enough to destabilize the regime,” he added, “but if these measures remain in place, and especially if more sanctions and other measures are applied, they have the potential to do so.”
Economic growth impaired
According to a report on 38North, a website devoted to analyzing North Korea, the growth rate of the country’s economy in 2018 was 4.6%, the lowest since 2006, based on the assessment it made from the data on North Korea’s 2019 budget reported at its parliamentary session in April.
“This corresponds with Western reports on sanctions, especially those issued since 2017, having an impact on North Korea’s economy,” the report said.
Troy Stangarone, senior director at the Korean Economic Institute, said, “Kim Jong Un does face a dilemma” of how long he can “continue on the current path without sanctions relief.”
Many coal mines in North Korea are reportedly closed because of a drop in coal exports, and transportation and military sectors are also struggling because they are running short on raw materials.
Scores of government-backed factories closed after the Hanoi summit, and workers were told to find work elsewhere because the factories are unable to keep the lights on, pay their workers or provide food rations.
“What we have now is a situation where North Korea’s heavy industry appears to be collapsing,” Stanton said. “The effect of this is going to become more noticeable in the coming weeks and months.”
North Korea is currently facing a food crisis with more than 10 million people estimated to be without enough food to last until next year, according to a U.N. report on the country’s food security issued earlier this month.
As the state-enterprises are failing, displaced factory workers are turning to the private markets to make money, much as they did in the 1990s.
“It allows people to get off the official economy, the economy that is controlled by the state, which has basically dried up early since the ’90s, into the 2000s, and the 2010,” Gause said. “That part of the top-down economy has been weaker and weaker, and the markets have basically filled in the gaps.”
Stangarone said, “As long as North Korea’s able to control the flow of information and maintain control of the population, I think this shift towards marketization is probably permanent.”
Gause said, “If [Kim] is not able to show progress on [economy] … either one, he’s got to re-engage in diplomacy with the United States and see if he can get sanctions relief there or he has to potentially go toward more brinkmanship in order to try to reset the chess board.”
Huawei Technologies' founder and chief executive said Saturday that the growth of the Chinese tech giant "may slow, but only slightly," because of recent U.S. restrictions.
In remarks to the Japanese press and reported by Nikkei Asian Review, Ren Zhengfei reiterated that the Chinese telecom equipment maker had not violated any law.
"It is expected that Huawei's growth may slow, but only slightly," Ren said in his first official comments after the U.S. restrictions, adding that the company's annual revenue growth might undershoot 20%.
On Thursday, Washington put Huawei, one of China's biggest and most successful companies, on a trade blacklist that could make it extremely difficult for Huawei to do business with U.S. companies. China slammed the decision, saying it would take steps to protect its companies.
Trade, security issues
The developments surrounding Huawei come at a time of trade tensions between Washington and Beijing and amid concerns from the United States that Huawei's smartphones and network equipment could be used by China to spy on Americans, allegations the company has repeatedly denied.
A similar U.S. ban on China's ZTE Corp. had almost crippled business for the smaller Huawei rival early last year before the curb was lifted.
The U.S. Commerce Department said Friday that it might soon scale back restrictions on Huawei.
Ren said the company was prepared for such a step and that Huawei would be "fine" even if U.S. smartphone chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. and other American suppliers would not sell chips to the company.
Huawei's chip arm HiSilicon said Friday that it had long been prepared for the possibility of being denied U.S. chips and technology, and that it was able to ensure a steady supply of most products.
The Huawei founder said that the company would not be taking instructions from the U.S. government.
"We will not change our management at the request of the U.S. or accept monitoring, as ZTE has done," he said.
In January, U.S. prosecutors unsealed an indictment accusing the Chinese company of engaging in bank fraud to obtain embargoed U.S. goods and services in Iran and to move money out of the country via the international banking system.
Ren's daughter, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, was arrested in Canada in December in connection with the indictment. Meng, who was released on bail, remains in Vancouver and is fighting extradition. She has maintained her innocence.
Ren has previously said his daughter's arrest was politically motivated.
The U.S. State Department has cleared $314 million in possible sales of air defense missiles to South Korea, the Pentagon said, as tensions re-emerge on the Korean Peninsula.
South Korea, a key Asian ally of the United States, asked to buy up to 94 SM-2 missiles used by ships against air threats, along with 12 guidance systems and technical assistance, for a total cost of $313.9 million, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said on its website. The agency, a unit of the Department of Defense, delivered certification on Thursday notifying Congress of the possible sale.
The proposed sale, announced Friday by the Pentagon, comes after North Korea recently criticized South Korea's defense purchases from the United States, including the arrival of the first F-35 stealth aircraft.
With denuclearization talks stalled after a second summit between North Korea and United States broke down in Hanoi in February, North Korea went ahead with more weapons tests this month.
The reclusive North and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, rather than a peace treaty.
South Korea already uses SM-2 missiles developed by Raytheon Co., but is building more missile defense-capable destroyers equipped with the weapon.
North Korea has boasted about its indigenous surface-to-air missiles.
Separately, Japan, another key U.S. ally in the region, was also cleared to buy $317 million worth of medium-range air-to-air missiles from Washington, the DSCA said.
Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday that recent U.S. words and actions had harmed the interests of China and its enterprises, and that Washington should show restraint, China's Foreign Ministry said.
Speaking to Pompeo by telephone, Wang said the United States should not go "too far" in the current trade dispute between the two sides, adding that China was still willing to resolve differences through negotiations but that the nations should be on an equal footing.
On Iran, Wang said China hoped all parties would exercise restraint and act with caution to avoid escalating tensions. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that Pompeo spoke with Wang and discussed bilateral issues and U.S. concerns about Iran, but she gave no other details.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased in recent days, raising concerns about a potential U.S.-Iran conflict. Earlier this week the United States pulled some diplomatic staff from its Baghdad embassy following attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
China struck a more aggressive tone in its trade war with the United States on Friday, suggesting a resumption of talks between the world's two largest economies would be meaningless unless Washington changed course.
The tough talk capped a week that saw Beijing unveil fresh retaliatory tariffs, U.S. officials accuse China of backtracking on promises made during months of talks, and the Trump administration level a potentially crippling blow against one of China's biggest and most successful companies. The United States announced on Thursday it was putting Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., the world's largest telecom equipment maker, on a blacklist that could make it extremely hard to do business with U.S. companies.
The U.S. Commerce Department then said on Friday that it might soon scale back restrictions on Huawei. It said it was considering issuing a temporary general license to "prevent the interruption of existing network operations and equipment."
Potential beneficiaries of this license could, for example, include telecom providers in thinly populated parts of U.S. states such as Wyoming and Oregon that purchased network equipment from Huawei in recent years.
On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about state media reports suggesting there would be no more trade negotiations, said China always encouraged resolving disputes with the United States through dialogue and consultations.
Each week for the last five or six years, a man named Alan crosses into mainland China to work on sales for a packaging factory. His job, and the location, worry him now that Hong Kong is considering a law change that would compel Hong Kong to turn over criminal suspects to mainland China.
“Every single business that’s working in China has broken some sort of laws. Every single one of them,” said Alan. He asked that his surname be withheld out of concern for his and his family’s safety. “It’s impossible not to break a law in China when running a business because the laws are so onerous."
“I know I’m not wanted, but who knows?” he said. “The whole thing about living in Hong Kong is, there is a certain amount of protection from China.”
That protection could soon vanish.
A proposed amendment, backed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, would free Beijing to demand that Hong Kong surrender criminal suspects to China to face trial there.
Similar concerns were shared in Washington Wednesday. Four democracy activists from Hong Kong urged Congress to pressure the Hong Kong government to shelve proposed changes to the law that would allow Beijing to demand that criminal suspects be extradited to face trial there.
In Washington, former Hong Kong lawmakers Martin Lee and Nathan Law reminded the bi-partisan panel, the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, that China’s opaque and political legal system operates without the transparency or standards used in the West. China could get someone on the mainland to swear an affidavit that a suspect had committed an offense and then demand that Hong Kong send the suspect to face prosecution, Lee said.
"This goes to the heart of what Hong Kong people truly fear: that those of us who dare speak out to defend human rights and democracy… will risk trumped up arrest, torture and unfair trial in mainland China,” Law said, a lawmaker until 2017 when he was ejected by a court using a controversial legal opinion issued by China’s legislature.
"Our generation is especially concerned about being sent to a place that does not respect human rights," he said.
The testimony came days after Hong Kong’s legislature erupted in a brawl when members of the body’s two opposing camps physically battled for control of the bill currently in a legislative committee.
The bill would allow Hong Kong to send criminal suspects to other jurisdictions where the territory does not currently have extradition pacts. That includes Taiwan and China.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, says the change is needed fast, before a Hong Kong man suspected of killing his girlfriend in Taiwan last year is freed. Lawmakers and scholars proposed alternative language, including a proposal for extradition to Taiwan only. The government said Hong Kong needs a broad policy to handle fugitives or the city will become a haven for them.
The four guests in Washington made clear that the extradition bill doesn’t only threaten permanent residents who are protected by a Common Law legal system in Hong Kong. Also vulnerable are foreign workers and the 85,000 Americans who live in the former British colony that was surrendered to China in 1997. The commission’s witnesses said the American officials should press Hong Kong’s human rights concerns as the United States continues to negotiate with China about the ongoing battle over tariffs.
Lee said if the bill is passed, Hong Kong’s guaranteed rights to free speech and assembly, and a Common Law court, will be finished. “There’s this under-appreciation of what happens in mainland China,” Lee said. “There’s no rule of law. They want to get you, they get you. Period. Your right of appeal is null.”
The group made their case on Capitol Hill Wednesday as the bill continues to deeply divide Hong Kong people. Tens of thousands of residents demanded that the bill be shelved and that their chief executive resign as they marched through Hong Kong streets on April 28. It was the largest protest in the Chinese territory since tens of thousands staged a sit-in for free elections in 2014.
The committee witnesses mentioned the increasing difficulties faced by Beijing government opponents in Hong Kong. Earlier that day, six pro-democracy activists were convicted of joining an unlawful protest in Hong Kong in 2016 to oppose an imminent constitutional interpretation from Beijing.
That rare ruling was triggered by a legal challenge to the oath-taking by eight new lawmakers. Soon after, Beijing required oaths to be delivered “sincerely and solemnly,” as written, with no option to retake them. Hong Kong courts soon used the interpretation retroactively to bar two elected lawmakers from restating their pledges and expelled four legislators who had been sworn in.
Lee urged U.S. officials to remind corporations that their freedoms and businesses are threatened with the law. Individuals could face prosecutions and businesses would lose guarantees of a transparent legal system.
“They would rather we fight the fight for them,” Lee said. “They don't want to stick their necks out. I reckon the business people must be persuaded to come around. So they understand that human rights are preserved for everybody.”
Votes were being counted in Australia's general election on Saturday, with senior opposition lawmakers gaining confidence that they will form a center-left government with a focus on slashing greenhouse gas emissions.
A Galaxy exit poll found that the opposition Labor Party could win as many as 82 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to form government.
"I feel positive. I feel like we are ahead, but I am more cautiously optimistic than confident,'' Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said.
Voting in Australia's eastern states, where most of the 25 million population lives, ended at 6 p.m. (0800 GMT). Polls close on the west coast two hours later.
Opinion polls suggest the conservative Liberal Party-led coalition will lose its bid for a third three-year term and Scott Morrison will have had one of the shortest tenures as prime minister in the 118-year history of the Australian federation.
Morrison is the conservatives' third prime minister since they were first elected in 2013. He replaced Malcolm Turnbull in a leadership ballot of government colleagues in August.
Morrison began the day campaigning in the island state of Tasmania in seats he hopes his party will win from the center-left Labor Party opposition. He then flew 900 kilometers (560 miles) home to Sydney to vote and to campaign in Sydney seats.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten had said Saturday morning that he was confident Labor would win, but Morrison would not be drawn on a prediction.
"Tonight the votes will be counted up and we'll see what the outcome is. I make no assumptions about tonight,'' Morrison said after casting his vote.
Outside the polling booth, Morrison was approached by a demonstrator protesting the proposed Adani coal mine that the government recently approved. But security intercepted her before she could reach the prime minister.
Shorten contained his campaigning to polling centers in his home town of Melbourne, where he voted Saturday morning.
Shorten said he expected that Labor would start governing from Sunday. He said his top priorities would be to increase wages for low-paid workers, hike pay rates for working Sundays and reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.
"The world will know that if Labor gets elected, Australia's back in the fight against climate change,'' he said.
Shorten has been campaigning hard on more ambitious targets to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.
Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas. It is also one of the world's worst carbon gas polluters per capita because of a heavy reliance on coal-fired electricity.
As the driest continent after Antarctica, it is also particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as wildfires and destructive storms.
The government has committed Australia to reduce its emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor has promised a 45% reduction in the same time frame.
Shorten, a 52-year-old former labor union leader, has also promised a range of reforms, including the government paying all of a patients' costs for cancer treatment and a reduction of tax breaks for landlords.
Morrison, a 51-year-old former tourism marketer, said he had closed Labor's lead in opinion polls during the five-week campaign and predicted a close result.
Morrison promises lower taxes and better economic management than Labor.
An opinion poll published in The Australian newspaper on Saturday put Labor ahead of the conservatives 51.5% to 48.5. The Newspoll-brand poll was based on a nationwide survey of 3,038 voters from Monday to Friday. It has a 1.8 percentage point margin of error.
Political analyst William Bowe said it was unclear how the greater support for Labor evident in polls would translate into seats.
He said the conservatives had been "trying to plot a narrow path to victory'' by targeting their campaigning on vulnerable Labor seats in Sydney, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
A factor that was not fully reflected in the latest poll was the death Thursday night of former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke. He is widely praised for the economic reforms that his government achieved from 1983 until 1991, and his support for Shorten was expected to boost Labor's vote.
Both major parties are promising that whoever wins the election will remain prime minister until he next faces the voters' judgment. The parties have changed their rules to make the process of lawmakers replacing a prime minister more difficult.
During Labor's last six years in office, the party replaced Prime Minister Kevin Rudd with his deputy Julia Gillard, then dumped her for Rudd.
North Korea has asked United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to deal with the “illegal” seizure of one of its cargo ships by the United States, state media said Saturday.
“This act of dispossession has clearly indicated that the United States is indeed a gangster country that does not care at all about international laws,” the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations said in a letter sent to Guterres dated Friday, according to North Korea’s KCNA news agency.
Pyongyang’s protest to the United Nations over the seizure comes amid mounting tensions since a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, aimed at bringing about the denuclearization of the North, broke down in Hanoi in February.
The letter also called for “urgent measures” by Guterres and claimed that Washington infringed the North’s sovereignty and violated U.N. charters.
With the denuclearization talks stalled, North Korea went ahead with more weapons tests this month. The tests were seen as a protest by Kim after Trump rejected his calls for sanctions relief at the Hanoi summit.
North Korea has said the ship seizure violated the spirit of the summit and demanded the return of the vessel without delay.
The U.S. Justice Department said the North Korean cargo ship, known as the “Wise Honest,” was seized and impounded to American Samoa. The vessel was accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of sanctions and was first detained by Indonesia in April 2018.
India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has one unwanted lead in this month's general election race - according to data from an electoral watchdog it is fielding the most candidates among the major parties who are facing criminal charges. Its main rival, Congress, is just a step behind.
Election laws allow such candidates to run so long as they have not been convicted, on grounds both of fairness and because India's criminal justice system moves so slowly that trials can take years, or even decades, to be resolved.
Still, the number of such candidates accused of offenses ranging from murder to rioting has been rising with each election.
Analysts say political parties turn to them because they often have the deepest pockets in steadily costlier elections, and that some local strongmen are seen as having the best chance of winning.
Nearly one-in-five candidates running for parliament in the current election has an outstanding criminal case against them, inching up from 17% in the previous election and 15% in 2009, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-profit organization that analyzed candidates' declarations.
The data shows that 40% candidates from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP face criminal charges, including crimes against women and murder, followed by the Congress party at 39%.
Among the smaller parties, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has an even higher proportion, with 58 percent of its candidates embroiled in criminal cases.
Polls have suggested that the BJP and its allies lead the race to win the mammoth, staggered election that began last month and ends on Sunday. Votes will be counted on Thursday.
"Parties only think about winnability and they know that money power and muscle power of such candidates ensures that win," said Anil Verma, head of the ADR.
With 240 cases against him, K Surendran of the BJP tops the list of candidates with the most outstanding criminal complaints that include rioting, criminal trespass and attempted murder.
He said most of the cases stem from his involvement in theBJP campaign to oppose the entry of women and girls of menstruating age into the Sabarimala temple in his home state of Kerala.
"I understand that an outsider might feel that I am a grave offender but, in reality, I am completely innocent of these charges," he said. "It was all politically motivated."
Dean Kuriakose from the Congress party has 204 criminal cases against him, the second highest, the data showed. Most of the cases were related to a political agitation against the ruling Communist Party in Kerala, which turned violent.
He was not available for comment. But a party spokesman said Kuriakose was innocent. "He was falsely charged by the police under influence from Kerala government," the spokesman said.
Political analysts say that often people vote for candidates who face criminal charges because they are seen as best placed to deliver results. In some parts of India local strongmen mediate in disputes and dispense justice.
"Powerful people, even if criminals, offer a kind of parallel system of redressal," said K.C. Suri, a professor of political science at the University of Hyderabad.
A separate ADR survey of more than 250,000 voters last year found 98% felt candidates with criminal backgrounds should not be in parliament, though 35% said they were willing to vote for such a candidate on caste grounds or if the candidate had done "good work" in the past.
Trade tensions between the United States and China are deepening. After months of talks, the two sides appear no closer to reaching a deal. VOA spoke with business owners in southern China about the toll from the prolonged standoff. VOA Mandarin Service reporter Ye Bing has more from Guangdong.
Australians began voting in a federal election on Saturday, with bookies predicting a return to power for the Labor party after six years in the political wilderness and a campaign in which it has put climate change and tax reform at the top of its agenda.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made economic management the centerpiece of the campaign for his conservative Liberal-National coalition, which has held power since 2013.
Poll opened at 8 a.m. (2200 GMT on Friday) and will close at 6 p.m. (0800 GMT). Voting is compulsory in Australia and the result should be known on Saturday evening.
The campaign ended on a sombre note, with the death on Thursday of the popular former prime minister and Labor stalwart Bob Hawke. Hawke, who was prime minister from 1983 to 1991, was 89.
While it seems unlikely that Hawke's death will have any impact on how voters cast their ballots, Labor leader Bill Shorten said it had made him more determined than ever.
"I already feel a responsibility to millions of people to win. But sure, I want to do it for Bob as well. I don't want to let his memory down," Shorten told Channel Nine.
Shorten seems to have struck a chord with voters who feel financially left behind and are worried about the environment with his promise to cut both generous tax concessions enjoyed by the wealthy and greenhouse gases.
Morrison has criticized Labor's policy as an attack on people's aspirations.
A final opinion poll conducted by Newspoll for The Weekend Australian on Friday showed Labor's lead over the National-Liberal coalition at 51.5% to 48.5%.
"I am nervous because it's a big day, it's a very big deal," Shorten said on Saturday. "But I'm confident that we have done the homework."
Shorten will vote in Melbourne in his seat of Maribyrnong, while Morrison is spending the day visiting polling booths in Tasmania before heading home to Sydney to vote.
Opinion polls indicate that Morrison has narrowed Labor's lead during the campaign, but many voters are still angry about the ousting of his socially moderate predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, in a backbench revolt last August.
Turnbull was the second prime minister to be ousted while in office by the ruling Liberal Party amid deep divisions over climate and energy policy.
While polls show most Australians support stronger action to tackle climate change, Morrison's coalition strongly supports the coal industry.
Morrison has said Australia would meet its commitment under the Paris Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 26% and 28% on 2005 levels, but says more ambitious targets would damage the economy.
Shorten said that, if elected, his government would aim to cut carbon emissions by 45% from 2005 levels by 2030, with net zero emissions by 2050.
With about 17 million eligible voters, the Electoral Commission is operating more than 7,000 polling stations in venues such as surf clubs, schools and public halls.
There will also be about 90 voting centers overseas.
A time difference of two hours between the east and west coasts means voting centers in Western Australia will still be open as the initial counts start coming on the populous east coast.
The American Embassy in Jakarta has issued a security warning for Americans in Indonesia, citing concerns over the official announcement of the results of the Indonesian presidential and legislative elections on May 22 by the General Election Commission (KPU).
"Indonesian police officials have publicly cited a heightened risk of terrorism in connection with the finalization of election results, and media has reported recent arrests of Indonesians on terrorism charges," the embassy posted on its website on Friday.
Be aware of demonstrations
The American Embassy also warned of ongoing demonstrations at several offices related to the elections and around several public places in downtown Jakarta, including offices of KPU and the General Elections Supervisory Board (BAWASLU). Demonstrations are also expected in several other cities, such as Surabaya in East Java and Medan in North Sumatra.
The warning coincided with an announcement by Inspector General Mohammad Iqbal of the National Police Public Relations Division, who said at a press conference that nine people had been arrested earlier in the week in connection with a plot to bomb several unspecified locations during the current election period.
The suspects, aged between 24 and 45, are from a Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) terrorist cell in Central Java. Arrested Tuesday, six of the suspects had returned home after traveling to the Middle East to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, according to authorities quoted by the Straits Times.
68 suspects arrested since start of year
Since January, Indonesia's Anti-Terror Detachment-88 has arrested 68 terrorism suspects, including the nine taken into custody this week, Iqbal said at the press conference. Seven were shot dead and one died after blowing himself up as he was about to be arrested in Sibolga, North Sumatra, Iqbal said, adding, "This group will take advantage of the democracy momentum because for them democracy is not in line with their understanding, and for them it is a target for their actions."
On April 17, Indonesians voted in the first simultaneous elections since the country began democratic elections, with 193 million voters going to more than 810,000 polls. The first democratic presidential election took place in 2004.
The results, according to early returns, showed that incumbent President Joko Widodo defeated his opponent, Prabowo Subianto, a retired military general associated with the traditional political elite, who had vowed to challenge the official results if they confirmed that Widodo would have a second term. Widodo is the first Indonesian president from outside the Jakarta elite.
The U.S. Commerce Department may soon scale back restrictions on Huawei Technologies after this week's blacklisting made it nearly impossible for the Chinese company to purchase goods made in the United States, a
department spokeswoman said Friday.
The Commerce Department may issue a temporary general license to allow time for companies and people who have Huawei equipment to maintain reliability of their communications networks and equipment, the spokeswoman said.
The possible general license would not apply to new transactions, according to the spokeswoman, and would last for 90 days.
A spokesman for Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Commerce Department on Thursday added Huawei to a list of entities that are banned from doing business with U.S. companies without licenses.
The entities list identifies companies believed to be involved in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.
Potential beneficiaries of the temporary license could include internet access and mobile phone service providers in thinly populated places such as Wyoming and eastern Oregon that purchased network equipment from Huawei in recent years.
Bangladeshi authorities and the U.N. refugee agency have registered more than a quarter million Rohingya refugees and presented them with identity documents that grant them a number of rights and safeguards.
Unlike citizens of a country, stateless people have few rights. They may be deprived of an education, a job or health care. Those who are not registered at birth have no identity. That is the situation for millions of Rohingya who were stripped of their citizenship in neighboring Myanmar in 1982. Many of them are sheltering in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, after fleeing killings and persecution in Myanmar.
Change for better
For most of the more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, things are about to change for the better. The U.N. refugee agency says the more than 270,000 Rohingya refugees who have completed the registration process have for the first time ever received an identity card.
UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic says the ID card includes a photo and key information, such as name, date of birth and place of birth. It also indicates Myanmar as the country of origin.
"The first and foremost purpose of this registration is humanitarian in order to safeguard their right to return, to regulate their stay and also to make sure that we do not know only how many people there are, that we have a detailed profile which allows us with the more accurate data to deliver far better assistance to this massive refugee population," Mahecic said.
Mahecic says the UNHCR and Bangladeshi authorities hope to complete the registration process for the entire refugee population by November. He cites a number of benefits associated with having an ID card.
Mahecic says the data will allow aid agencies to target assistance to people in acute need, including women and children heading families and people with disabilities. With the monsoon season approaching, he says the registration data will help reunite families who are separated during storms.
He notes the refugees are ripe for exploitation by smugglers and traffickers. Mahecic says the ID card will help authorities combat that nefarious trade.
Australia's prime minister said on Friday that two Rwandan refugees who resettled in Australia after 15 years in U.S. detention are no longer suspects in the massacre of eight tourists in Uganda 20 years ago.
U.S. news outlet Politico reported that former Hutu rebels Leonidas Bimenyimana and Gregoire Nyaminani spent more than a decade in a Virginia state jail before Australia accepted them last year. The transfer was part of a refugee swap deal in which the United States agreed to resettle up to 1,250 refugees who Australia banishes to immigration camps on the poor Pacific island nations of Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said both men had been cleared of suspicion in the ax and machete slayings of four Britons, two Americans and two New Zealanders who were in a Ugandan wild park in 1999 to see mountain gorillas.
"These specific allegations were reviewed by our security agencies and by our immigration authorities and they were not found to be upheld," Morrison said. "As a result, they were allowed to come to Australia."
The questions over the potential threat posed by the refugees are embarrassing for a conservative government that is running for reelection on Saturday on a platform of tougher policies on border protection than their center-left Labor Party opponents. The government argues that Labor would allow criminals who traveled to Australia by boat without documentation to stay as refugees.
Morrison said both men had undergone security and character assessments as well as investigations into whether they were associated with war crimes.
Morrison said: "I know what the claims are. But the claims and facts are different."
Relatives of the massacre victims are angry with the deal.
DeAnne Haubner Norton's older brother Rob Haubner, 48, and sister-in-law Susan Miller, 42, were both senior executives of Intel Corp. from Oregon who were killed during their honeymoon.
Haubner Norton told Australian Broadcasting Corp. the refugee swap deal was "clearly bad and a dud."
The two Rwandans "say, `I don't want to go to Rwanda; I don't want them to hurt me,"' Haubner Norton said. "Well, my brother was probably saying the same thing as [they] were taking a weapon to him."
Scottish-born Australian David Roberts' 23-year-old son Steven Roberts was also killed. The son was a British citizen who lived in the Australian city of Melbourne.
The father, who lives in the Australian city of Perth, called for whoever wins the election to review the decision to allow the Rwandans to settle in Australia.
Roberts said he found it hard to believe that Australia would accept two men with such serious allegations against them in return for refugees held on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island who have no criminal pasts.
"The people they had on Manus Island were innocent people, they weren't criminals or murderers," Roberts said.
Senior Labor lawmaker Tony Burke said that if his party wins the election, his government would seek immediate briefings from security agencies "to find out what on earth has happened."
After the 1999 massacre, U.S. prosecutors charged the men under terrorism statutes, extradited them from Rwanda and demanded federal deaths penalties. But a Washington judge ruled in 2006 that the men's confessions were obtained through torture in Rwandan detention and the case was dropped.
The men had previously admitted to being members of the Congo-based Liberation Army of Rwanda, which has since changed its name to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda _ a rebel group consisting of former Hutu militiamen and soldiers responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and which continued to fight against the Tutsi-dominated government in Kigali. It is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S.
Both men fought against being returned to Rwanda, but did not have a right to remain in the United States.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced at former U.S. President Barack Obama's Leaders' Summit on Refugees in 2016 that Australia would participate in the U.S.-led program to resettle Central American refugees from a camp in Costa Rica. Australia also increased its refugee intake by 5,000 to 18,750 a year.
It later became apparent that Obama had agreed to accept Australia's refugees who by then had been languishing on the Pacific islands for three years.
President Donald Trump reluctantly agreed to honor the deal, which he described as "dumb," when he took office in 2017. But Trump promised the refugees would be subject to "extreme vetting" before they were accepted by the United States.
Fewer than 500 refugees have since found new homes in the United States under the deal.
The United States must show sincerity if it is to hold meaningful trade talks, China said on Friday, after U.S. President Donald Trump dramatically raised
the stakes with a potentially devastating blow to Chinese tech giant Huawei.
China has yet to say whether or how it will retaliate against the latest escalation in trade tension, although state media has taken an increasingly strident tone, with the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily publishing a front-page commentary that evoked the patriotic spirit of past wars.
China's currency slid to its weakest in almost five months, although losses were capped after sources told Reuters that the central bank would ensure the yuan did not weaken past the key 7-per-dollar level in the immediate term.
The world's two largest economies are locked in an increasingly acrimonious trade dispute that has seen them level escalating tariffs on each other's imports in the midst of negotiations, adding to fears about risks to global growth and knocking financial markets.
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang, asked about state media reports suggesting there would be no more U.S.-China trade talks, said China always encouraged resolving disputes between the two countries with dialog and consultations.
"But because of certain things the U.S. side has done during the previous China-U.S. trade consultations, we believe if there is meaning for these talks, there must be a show of sincerity," he told a daily news briefing.
The United States should observe the principles of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, and they must also keep their word, Lu said, without elaborating.
On Thursday, Washington put telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, one of China's biggest and most successful companies, on a blacklist that could make it extremely difficult for the telecom giant to do business with U.S. companies.
That followed Trump's decision on May 5 to increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, a major escalation after the two sides appeared to have been close to reaching a deal in negotiations to end their trade battle.
'Wheel of destiny'
China can be expected to make preparations for a longer-term trade war with the United States, said a Chinese government official with knowledge of the situation.
"Indeed, this is an important moment, but not an existential, live-or-die moment," the official said.
"In the short term, the trade situation between China and the United States will be severe, and there will be challenges. Neither will it be smooth in the long run. This will spur China to make adequate preparations in the long term."
The impact of trade friction on China's economy is "controllable," the state planner said on Friday, pledging to take countermeasures as needed, Meng Wei, a spokeswoman for the National Development and Reform Committee (NDRC), told a media briefing.
The South China Morning Post, citing an unidentified source, reported that a senior member of China's ruling Communist Party said the trade war with the United States could reduce China's 2019 growth by 1 percentage point in the worst-case scenario.
Wang Yang, the fourth-most senior member of the Communist Party's seven-member Standing Committee, the top decision-making body, told a delegation of Taiwan businessmen on Thursday that the trade war would have an impact but would not lead to any structural changes, the paper said, citing an unidentified source who was at the meeting.
One company that says it has been making preparations is Huawei's Hisilicon unit, which purchases U.S. semiconductors for its parent.
Its president told staff in a letter on Friday that the company had been secretly developing back-up products for years in case Huawei was one day unable to obtain the advanced chips and technology it buys from the United States.
"Today, the wheel of destiny has turned and we have arrived at this extreme and dark moment, as a super-nation ruthlessly disrupts the world's technology and industry system," the company president said in the letter.
The letter was widely shared on Chinese social media, gaining 180 million impressions in the few hours after it was published on the Weibo microblogging site.
"Go Huawei! Our country's people will always support you," wrote one Weibo user after reading the letter.
A record number of 8.34 million university graduates are set to enter the Chinese job market this summer amid escalating trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.
Observers say that as China’s export-dependent economy braces for more hits from tariff hikes, which U.S. President Donald Trump recently imposed, the country’s job markets will be tighter for everyone including fresh graduates.
And the impact of a job mismatch among college graduates has long weighed on their actual employment rate at only 52% this year, according to a recent survey.
That means more than 4 million graduates will soon join the ranks of those unemployed, although many of them may opt to pursue higher education, the survey found.
Tightening job market
“Graduate employment has always been problematic in China. Given the current situation with the trade war, I think we should expect it to be even more so this year,” said Geoffrey Crothall, spokesperson at China Labor Bulletin.
“And there’s always been a mismatch between the expectations of graduates, the reality of the job markets and particularly the expectations of employers,” he added.
Graduates will either take longer to find a job or settle with one that has lower pay or poor career prospects, Crothall said.
Making matters worse, the number of job opportunities in China is on the wane as China tries to move away from labor-intensive industries, said Wang Zhangcheng, head of the Labor Economics Institute at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.
“The transformation of industrial structure and the U.S.-China trade war [is making the situation worse]. Also, China’s economy no longer grows at a fast pace. Instead, it has matured with mid- to low-paced growths. Under such circumstances, the demand for labor has declined,” Wang said.
“Plus, many jobs have been replaced by robots as a result of the development of artificial intelligence in the past two years. That surely adds pressure on job seekers,” he added.
Fewer jobs, more seekers
A recent report by Renmin University of China (RUC) and career platform Zhaopin.com found that the number of job seekers in China grew 31% year-on-year in the first quarter – the highest growth in workers since 2011 -- while the number of job vacancies shrank by 11% at the same time.
China’s job market prosperity index has dropped to a record low since 2014, it concluded.
However, the latest available state statistics paint a slightly different picture.
Official data showed that China’s surveyed unemployment rate in urban areas stood at 5.2% in March, down 0.1 percentage points from February.
Analysts described the country’s job markets as “stable overall” although the surveyed unemployment rate in 31 major cities went up 0.1 percentage points month-on-month, to 5.1% in March – the highest since late 2016.
Still, China’s State Council has made “saving jobs” one of its top policy priorities since late last year, offering incentives for firms with no or few layoffs and subsidies for internships or on-the-job training.
And college graduates remain a focal point of the council’s employment stabilization plan, along with migrants and laid-off workers.
Distorted graduate employment
China used to boast a graduate employment rate of more than 90% as universities rushed graduates to sign so-called “tripartite employment agreements” with potential employers.
Any refusal may risk their chances of thesis defense or diplomas.
Such agreements are nonbinding on the employers to offer jobs, but distort the overall graduate employment rate, which has allowed universities to attract new students – a fraud that the Ministry of Education now forbids.
In a recent notice, the ministry has disallowed universities from withholding graduates’ degree certificates if they refuse to sign such agreements.
In spite of the ban, graduates still complain about “being forcefully employed.”
On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, one user wrote, “Our school still forces you to sign the agreements. The career adviser calls every day, pulling a long face.”
Another student from Rizhao Polytechnic in Shandong province noted, “Those who have signed the agreements have completed their thesis defense while many of us who haven’t signed the agreements can do nothing but wait.”
One user urged that unless the government writes the ban into law and imposes penalties, no universities would comply.
Another cause of concern for graduate employment is the long-standing mismatch between the knowledge and skills students have acquired from years of studies in universities, and the private sector’s actual job requirements, professor Wang said.
Given the shifts of production paradigms and “widening structural gaps in labor forces allocations, many of our universities have set up professional courses which may not keep up with the changing [requirements] of the labor markets. That leads to the scenario that many graduates may not find the right career fit for their skills,” the professor said.
As a solution, the education ministry has encouraged universities to focus on fundamentals by providing multifaceted cultivation of talents, so graduates leaving school will meet what different jobs require.
Juhyun Lee contributed to this report.
SEOUL -- As U.S. President Donald Trump intensifies his trade battle with China, one of the hardest-hit countries could be South Korea.
Asia’s fourth-largest economy, South Korea is especially vulnerable to the tariff war because of its reliance on foreign trade -- in particular, exports to its two biggest trading partners: China and the United States.
After U.S.-China trade talks broke down, Trump last week raised tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, and threatened to do so with $300 billion more. China retaliated with tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods.
The trade war escalation, which rattled markets and threatened to hold back global growth, comes at an especially bad time for South Korea, whose economy unexpectedly contracted in the first quarter.
“South Korea is particularly vulnerable,” says Xu Xiao Chun, an economist who monitors South Korea for Moody’s Analytics. “It’s not inconceivable that you could see a second consecutive quarter of contraction of GDP, which would make it a technical recession.”
Trade war exacerbates tech woes
As the world's leading producer of memory chips that go into consumer electronics, such as cellphones and computers, South Korea benefited from years of rapid and consistent growth in the global smartphone market.
But global demand for smartphones has plateaued. That, combined with a slowdown in China and sluggish global growth, has hurt South Korea’s export-driven economy.
In April, South Korea’s exports declined for the fifth consecutive month, falling 2% compared to the same period a year earlier.
“South Korea’s economy was already going down the wrong path... but the latest escalation in the trade war really puts a spanner (obstacle) in the works,” Xu said.
South Korea was always likely to be hurt by the U.S.-China trade war just by virtue of its proximity to China, its biggest trading partner and top export destination.
South Korea’s exports to China could be cut by about $1.3 billion a year, said An Sung-bae with the state-run Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.
But the U.S.-China tariffs also pose a more specific threat to South Korea’s crucial semiconductor industry.
Here’s how it works:
South Korea sends semiconductors to China, where they are placed into smartphones and other electronics. China then ships many of those assembled products to the United States.
Trump’s tariffs could drastically raise the price of those electronics. For example, the cost of an iPhone XS could go up by around $160 if Trump follows through on all his tariff threats, one analyst at Morgan Stanley estimated.
Those higher prices would result in fewer shipments of electronics from China to the United States. Which means South Korea would be selling a lot fewer semiconductors to China.
That could put a major dent in South Korea’s economy, since semiconductors make up nearly half of its total shipments to China.
“Companies that mainly target the Chinese market will suffer... and the South Korean export business relies heavily on the Chinese market,” said Mun Byung-Ki, a senior researcher at the Korea International Trade Association.
A bright spot?
But some analysts say the situation may not be that dire. One reason: even if South Korean exports to China decline, it may make up the gap by shipping more products to the United States -- a situation that could potentially provide a major boom for South Korea’s tech industry.
Alex Holmes, a Singapore-based analyst at Capital Economics, says that already may be happening. Though South Korea's overall export numbers are suffering, its shipments to the United States are growing, he says.
That’s particularly the case for Korean electronics that fall under U.S. tariffs. Those tariffed goods have well out-performed non-tariffed items, Holmes says, “which suggests that U.S. companies have already switched suppliers as a result of tariffs.”
The increased shipments to the United States almost cover the equivalent hit South Korea has taken as a result in the falling Chinese demand, Holmes adds.
The tariffs could also have a long-term impact on manufacturing in Asia, as companies shift their production bases away from China as a way to shield themselves from the trade war.
A growing number of Asian companies, including some South Korean memory chipmakers, have already begun shifting their manufacturing centers to fast-growing and cheaper countries in Southeast Asia.
“If South Korea wants to find cheaper factories in say Vietnam or one of the ASEAN countries, it could make its money back or potentially even grow more than it would have if it relied on Chinese manufacturing,” Xu said. "But those sort of actions take a lot of time, a lot of capital, and there is a lot of risk involved.”
With no end in sight to the U.S.-China trade tensions, it’s a pattern that could be repeated, threatening China's reputation as a low-cost production base.
“The knock-on effect of this trade war will be to locate a lot more production capabilities in other countries in Asia,” Xu said.
A South Korean and three Filipinos have been freed following months of captivity in Libya, Seoul and Abu Dhabi said Friday.
The release of the hostages was mediated by the United Arab Emirates, which worked with the self-styled Libyan National Army led by commander Khalifa Hifter.
Since last month, Hifter’s forces have been battling in western Libya, trying to take the capital of Tripoli and have been locked in heavy fighting in and around the city with militias loosely allied with a U.N.-supported government. Several Arab countries, including the UAE and Egypt are backing Hifter.
The UAE’s foreign ministry said the four hostages, who were held captive by unnamed armed groups in Libya, have been released thanks to “intensive efforts” made by the UAE in coordination with Hifter’s forces.
The four are civilian engineers who were working at a desalination plant in Libya, the ministry said in a statement.
“Upon receiving requests from the Philippines and South Korea, the UAE communicated with the Libyan National Army to work on releasing them and to ensure their safety,” the statement said.
South Korea’s presidential office issued a similar announcement. Presidential national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said in a televised briefing that South Korea thanks the UAE government for the rescue efforts.
The UAE ministry said the four were airlifted to Abu Dhabi before being taken to their home countries.
Chung said the 62-year-old South Korean national surnamed Joo was freed after 315 days of captivity. An initial medical checkup showed Joo has no major health problems; he was to return home on Saturday.
Both UAE and South Korean announcements didn’t provide details about how the hostages were set free or which armed groups held them.
The pro-Hifter Al Marsad news website reported Friday that the hostages were moved from one “criminal gang” to another before Hifter’s forces located and freed them. No other details were reported.
China’s retaliatory measures against the United States in their ongoing trade war have raised questions about the limitations of Beijing’s ability to fight back.
Beijing’s retaliation did not match the size of Washington’s action of raising tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%. China has imposed additional taxes on a wide range of American goods worth $60 billion. But Beijing has left out some crucial goods from enhanced taxation. They include technology-related products and farm commodities like soy beans.
Most of the American products covered by additional taxation will see tariffs rising to 15-20% while only a few will be taxed at 25%.
“Beijing wants to minimize the domestic economic impact caused by tariff retaliation. Thus, commodities that might cause greater domestic repercussions have been excluded,” said Zhengyuan Bo, the Beijing-based analyst for consulting firm GRisk.
US pork takes a hit
But China is showing its muscle in other ways. Chinese buyers are cutting back on imports of American pork to the extent of $6.5 billion. This will seriously hurt U.S. pork farmers because China is the second biggest importer of American pork.
Few expected China to take this measure at a time when its domestic pig farms have been hit by African swine fever. Some reports said Chinese pig breeders are at risk of losing one-third of their livestock.
“As a result of the African swine flu outbreak in China, the supply of pork has been affected. In April, pork prices surged by 14.4 percent. In order to push down prices, China will need to import more pork,” said Max Zenglein, head of economic research at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, or Merics, in Berlin.
But imports may prove to be difficult because Beijing has cut down on imports from the U.S. and neighboring Vietnam has also been hit by the pig disease. China’s Communist leaders are gauging the extent of sacrifices that Chinese consumers are willing to make at a time when the country in engaged in a bitter trade war, analysts said.
Technology mostly off-limits
China is in no mood to take chances with the supply of crucial American technology, which is essential for the survival and growth of hundreds of Chinese companies and joint ventures involving local and U.S. firms.
This is why Beijing has spared many technology-related products in its decision to impose additional taxes.
“Technology is one of the core issues that Beijing is targeting to support high-value jobs and eventually push up the income curve, much like Japan and Korea,” said Mark Tanner, managing director of research firm China Skinny.
On top of these measures, China has offered the advantage of tax exclusion for domestic companies that have been hardest hit by the U.S. trade action. The government will subsidize some of the additional import costs, particularly in the import of technology related products.
Analysts said China may have limited capability for tit-for-tat taxing of U.S. goods, but it has other equally strong ways of pressuring Washington.
One of them is its ability to get the Chinese public to adhere to what the authorities want, even if they have to reduce purchases of highly taxed American goods.
“China doesn’t have to reduce demand for foreign products through tariffs. It can simply direct that purchases be stopped,” said Doug Barry, an executive with U.S.-China Business Council.
Zenglein of Merics said, “Although China imports less from the U.S., American companies are heavily invested in the market and generate significant profits there. This gives China considerable leverage.”
Chinese authorities also could consider putting pressure on American businesses operating in China by cutting back on its own buying of U.S. products. Beijing recently moved away from buying U.S.-made Boeing aircraft after two accidents and enhanced its purchase of Airbus jets made in France.
“China also has non-tariff options for making life distressing for U.S. business people, such as more frequent inspections, costly audits, national security reviews and other forms of harassment,” Barry said.
Barry said the U.S. industry is heavily dependent on Chinese manufacturers for a wide range of goods and parts, which cannot be easily substituted by supplies from other countries. Chinese companies are accustomed to the requirements of American users after decades of mutual dealings — something other markets cannot learn in a hurry, he said.
The question remains, however, whether Beijing would use this as leverage, because cutting off supplies from China would hurt its companies and cause large-scale disruptions and unemployment.
Hsu Pei-chieh and her partner Yang Hsun are tired of trying to explain their relationship to everyone else. They’re going steady and share everything down to a parking pass. Hsu, 30, and Yang, 29, want to tell the outside world they’re spouses because they already call each other “wife.”
People will get it if the couple can give their relationship a “name,” said Hsu, a Taipei office worker.
The pair has also worked with Taiwan’s 20-year-old LGBT movement, which is unusually vibrant for Asia because of free speech protections and lack of a strong organized religion. Thanks to that movement, parliament approved Asia’s first bill Friday to legalize same-sex marriage along with a suite of legal protections, such as insurance and inheritance benefits.
“Today, with the passage of the law, I believe it’s got major significance for gender equality and even for the values of broader diversity,” said Hung Ya-li, deputy head of the Taiwan-based Garden of Hope Foundation’s civic dialogue office. “It wasn’t easy to get here.”
Hsu and Yang expect marriage to qualify them for joint travel insurance, faster tax filing and the rights to raise children together. They’re talking about one child, maybe two.
“The two of us haven’t actually run into any huge issues, but when little things come up, they can be troubling,” Hsu said. “It takes a lot of effort and energy to handle the accumulation of things that come up living together.”
First in Asia
Religion, conservative family values and political systems that discourage LGBT activism have stopped momentum in Asian countries from China through much of Southeast Asia into the Middle East. In China particularly, restrictions on assembly and media coverage have stopped the 100 LBGT groups from getting the word out.
Taiwan’s movement meanwhile has spawned annual Gay Pride parades of up to 80,000 people. Thousands stood in the rain outside Taiwan’s parliament Friday to prod legislators into passing the bill.
Legislators were already facing a deadline from a 2017 Constitutional Court order that required parliament to change laws to legalize same-sex marriage before May 24.
Taiwan will stand out now for its tolerance of LGBT couples, scholars on the island believe.
“If these kinds of people can be more visible, happening in our everyday life, I think that will be quite good,” said Shiau Hong-chi, professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan.
“I think the law change is the basic infrastructure that we have already pushed forward, which I believe is quite positive for democracy in Taiwan,” he said.
Worldwide, Taiwan joins 27 countries in legalizing same-sex marriage.
At least 20 same-sex couples are planning a mass marriage registration in Taipei on May 24, a spokesman for the advocacy group Marriage Equality Coalition Taiwan said earlier in the month. About 1,200 newlyweds and their invitees will hold a mass party a day later on a blocked-off boulevard outside the presidential office, the event organizer said.
Jay Lin, 45, is one who plans to marry — once his child care obligations allow him the time. He and his partner in Taipei are raising two boys who will turn 3 in June.
“It’s definitely something we’re planning to do,” said Lin, a Taipei-based online streaming service founder. “A lot of gay parents are excited about that already.”
The court order of 2017 also brought out Taiwan’s more conservative side, including Christian groups and backers of the traditional Chinese family headed by one man and one woman. They had protested in the streets and lobbied lawmakers, who face re-election next year, to block same-sex marriage.
“Catholicism’s definition of marriage is one man, one woman,” said Chen Ke, a Catholic pastor in Taiwan and an opponent of same-sex marriage. “Nothing else is marriage. We will respect the law, but it’s not our religion.”
Opinion surveys in 2012 and 2015 found that slight majorities of Taiwanese support same-sex marriage, but local media outlet The News Lens and PollcracyLab found in a March 2018 survey that people held “malleable” views based on how the term “legalization” was framed.
In November last year, voters passed a referendum in support of male-female marriages only. Legislators since then have fretted about which side to back.
“I don’t think (parliament) wants to touch this,” said Joanna Lei, CEO of the Chunghua 21st Century Think Tank. “They would just wash their hands of it. Wherever you are, you may be pleasing 50 percent of the people.”
But most legislators who spoke Friday advocated some measure of protection for same-sex couples.
Taiwan’s legislature has passed a law allowing same-sex marriage in a first for Asia.
The vote Friday allows same-sex couples full legal marriage rights, including in areas such as taxes, insurance and child custody.
Taiwan’s Constitutional Court in May 2017 said the constitution allows same-sex marriages and gave parliament two years to adjust laws accordingly.
Taiwan’s acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships began in the 1990s when leaders in today’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party championed the cause to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society. Although claimed by China as its own territory, Taiwan is a self-governing democracy with a vibrant civil society.
Australia’s opposition leader said he wants to win elections Saturday for his Australian political hero whose death overshadows the final days of campaigning.
The death of former Prime Minister Bob Hawke at his Sydney home Thursday has turned the national focus to the legacy of his center-left Labor Party government, which modernized the Australian economy from 1983 until 1991.
The immensely popular 89-year-old had given his imprimatur to opposition leader Bill Shorten, who opinion polls suggest is the favorite to win the election.
Win for Bob
Shorten said Friday that Hawke had given him his blessing when they last met at Hawke’s home last week.
“Bob was generous in his last remarks to me, and he said we were doing really well and he was very proud of me,” Shorten told Nine Network television.
“I already feel a responsibility to millions of people to win. But sure, I want to do it for Bob as well. I don’t want to let his memory down,” Shorten added.
Many commentators believe Hawke’s death at such a crucial time in the five-week campaign is a blow to the conservative Liberal Party-led coalition’s chances of winning a third three-year term.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday described Hawke as Labor’s best prime minister.
“He was beyond politics. All Australians could connect with Bob Hawke,” Morrison told Nine. “That I think was his great charm and his great strength and that enabled him to take the country with him on quite a number of important things.”
Long-serving prime minister
Hawke was Australia’s third longest-serving prime minister and the longest-serving Labor prime minister.
He was ousted by his own party during a recession in 1991. But the economic reforms he made are often cited as a major reason that Australia has not had a recession since.
Morrison said Friday the election result “is going to be incredibly close.”
An opinion poll published in The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Friday showed Labor ahead of the conservatives 51% to 49%.
But the difference is within market researcher Ipsos Australia’s 2.3 percentage-point margin of error.
The poll was based on a nationwide telephone survey of 1,842 voters this week from Sunday to Wednesday.
Final campaign pitches
Shorten invoked the memory of another Labor hero Thursday when he made his final campaign pitch in the same western Sydney venue where party leader Gough Whitlam gave what has been remembered as his “It’s Time” speech in 1972.
“It’s Time” was also the campaign slogan. Weeks after his speech, Labor won its first federal election victory since 1946 and Whitlam became a reforming prime minister.
Morrison accused Labor of indulging in self-congratulation with the reminder of the Whitlam victory.
Whitlam, who died in 2014, is remembered for sweeping reforms including government-funded universal health care and free university education. But he is also remembered for financial mismanagement that led to his government being fired in 1975 by the Australian governor-general, who represents Australia’s head of state, British Queen Elizabeth II.
As anticipation builds for the next-generation mobile communications or 5G, security has become a heated topic. The U.S. government has launched an unprecedented campaign urging countries to ban one of the key makers of equipment for the new network, China-based telecom titan Huawei. But Huawei is vowing to refuse to assist any country in spying and even claims it would rather go out of business. VOA's Bill Ide recently visited the company's headquarters in China's southern city of Shenzhen.
A Chinese official denies allegations by activists that China’s government is blocking Muslim religious practices in the restive Xinjiang region during the holy month of Ramadan.
A Chinese diplomat in neighboring Pakistan said Beijing has put only partial restrictions on Ramadan activities, not a total ban on fasting by the Uighur minority in Xinjiang.
“There’s no blanket ban. That’s Western propaganda,” Lijian Zhao, the deputy chief of mission at China’s embassy in Islamabad, told VOA.
Zhao said that Xinjiang residents were free to fast during Ramadan and that restrictions were limited to those with official responsibilities to ensure their religious practices did not interfere with their public duties.
“Restrictions are with the Communist Party members, who are atheists; government officials, who shall discharge their duties; and students who are with compulsory education and hard learning tasks,” he said.
The official’s comments come as human rights activists and Uighur advocacy groups have expressed concern about the Chinese government's widening its repression of thousands of Uighurs as they joined millions of Muslims from around the world to fast during Ramadan, which began May 5 and continues for a month.
Dolkun Isa, the head of the Germany-based World Uighur Congress, told VOA that Uighurs who are working in the public sector and students are asked to appear daily at canteens during lunch or they will be accused of secretly fasting and hiding “extremist” tendencies.
Disputing Zhao’s assertion that the restrictions were limited, the exiled Uighur leader Isa said government workers were also forced to take home food and share with their family members. Other common Muslim practices, such as attending prayer and wearing a headscarf, are also banned for local residents.
“In some cases, Uighur employees are forced to take home pork and ordered to share with their families,” said Isa. “The restrictions on Ramadan have been in place every year since 2016, but they are especially hard this year.”
The vast region of deserts and mountains in the northwest is home to nearly 22 million people and has the greatest concentration of Muslims in China, estimated to be about 11 million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities.
Conflict in the region is not new. The Chinese government has for decades suppressed a separatist movement by Uighurs to establish an independent state called East Turkestan. Uighurs accuse the government of forcing demographic changes by settling millions of Han Chinese in the region.
The government in Beijing has in recent years faced growing international condemnation over the detention of more than a million minority Uighurs and other Muslims in so-called re-education camps.
Earlier this month, Randall Schriver, who leads Asia policy at the U.S. Department of Defense, said that the estimated number of detainees could be “closer to 3 million citizens.”
“The Communist Party is using the security forces for mass imprisonment of Chinese Muslims in concentration camps,” Schriver said at a Pentagon briefing.
The term “concentration camps” is generally associated with the death camps operated by Nazi Germany in 1940s.
Chinese officials, however, say that their measures in Xinjiang are needed to combat the threat of terrorism and that the camps are nothing but vocational training centers. They are asking the U.S. to “stop interfering” in their domestic affairs.
“We urge the relevant U.S. individual to respect the fact, abandon bias, exercise prudence in words and deeds, stop interfering in China’s domestic affairs, and earnestly contribute to mutual trust and cooperation between us,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang at a press briefing last week.
Shuang said their measures at “vocational and educational training institutions” operate according to law and they endorse all ethnic group members with “positive social effects.”
In December 2015, China passed its controversial anti-terror law, which according to Human Rights Watch gave government agencies “enormous discretionary powers.”
The government’s April 2017 regulations to “prevent extremism” drew international outcry, with critics saying they violated basic human rights and religious freedom.
According to the state-run newspaper China Daily, the regulations forbid people in the region from wearing full-face coverings and long beards. They also prohibit them from “choosing names in an abnormal way” or “rejecting or refusing state products and services that include radio and television programming.”
Taiwanese legislators are scheduled to decide Friday on legalizing same-sex marriage, marking a potential first in Asia.
Lawmakers pressured over the past two years by LGBT groups as well as church organizations opposed to same-sex marriage will choose between bills that broadly legalize the unions and give couples many of the tax, insurance and child custody benefits available to male-female married couples.
If the legal changes are approved, Taiwan would become the first place in Asia with a comprehensive law supporting same-sex marriage.
Taiwan's Constitutional Court in May 2017 said the constitution allows same-sex marriages and gave parliament two years to adjust laws accordingly.
The court order mobilized LGBT advocacy groups pushing for fair treatment, as well as opponents among church groups and advocates of traditional Chinese family values.
"It's a breakthrough, I have to say so. I could not imagine that could happen in just a few years,'' said Shiau Hong-chi, professor of gender studies and communications management at Shih-Hsin University in Taiwan.
Religion, conservative family values and political systems that discourage LGBT activism have stopped momentum in Asian countries from China through much of Southeast Asia into the Middle East. Thailand, however, is exploring the legalization of same-sex civil partnerships.
Taiwan's acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships began in the 1990s when leaders in today's ruling Democratic Progressive Party championed the cause to help Taiwan stand out in Asia as an open society. Although claimed by China as its own territory, Taiwan is a self-governing democracy with a vibrant civil society.
Opponents have raised fears of incest, insurance benefit scams and children confused by having two mothers or two fathers. Both sides of the issue have held colorful street demonstrations and lobbied lawmakers.
In November 2018, a majority of Taiwan voters rejected same-sex marriage in an advisory referendum.
Bills on the table Friday include one authored by the government. Another version plays to both sides of the debate by allowing marriages but with conditions such as calling them "unions'' and imposing restrictions on adopting children.
"If it doesn't go through, that would be disappointing,'' said Hsu Pei-chieh, 30, a Taipei office worker hoping to marry her female partner and raise at least one child. "If we're married it would be easier for the outside world to understand us.''
Opinion surveys in 2012 and 2015 found that slight majorities of Taiwanese backed legalizing same-sex marriage.
A defeat for the bill in the legislature on Friday would allow the Constitutional Court order to proceed, effective May 24. Same-sex couples could register their marriages then with local governments, but without guarantees of the legal benefits given to male-female couples.
I.M. Pei, the versatile, globe-trotting architect who revived the Louvre with a giant glass pyramid and captured the spirit of rebellion at the multi-shaped Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has died at age 102.
Pei's death was confirmed Thursday by Marc Diamond, a spokesman for Pei's New York architectural firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.
Pei's works ranged from the trapezoidal addition to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the chiseled towers of the National Center of Atmospheric Research that blend in with the reddish mountains in Boulder, Colorado.
His buildings added elegance to landscapes worldwide with their powerful geometric shapes and grand spaces. Among them are the striking steel and glass Bank of China skyscraper in Hong Kong and the Fragrant Hill Hotel near Beijing. His work spanned decades, starting in the late 1940s and continuing through the new millennium. Two of his last major projects, the Museum of Islamic Art, located on an artificial island just off the waterfront in Doha, Qatar, and the Macau Science Center, in China, opened in 2008 and 2009.
Pei painstakingly researched each project, studying its use and relating it to the environment. But he also was interested in architecture as art -- and the effect he could create.
"At one level my goal is simply to give people pleasure in being in a space and walking around it,'' he said. "But I also think architecture can reach a level where it influences people to want to do something more with their lives. That is the challenge that I find most interesting.''
Pei, who as a schoolboy in Shanghai was inspired by its building boom in the 1930s, immigrated to the United States and studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. He advanced from his early work of designing office buildings, low-income housing and mixed-used complexes to a worldwide collection of museums, municipal buildings and hotels.
He fell into a modernist style blending elegance and technology, creating crisp, precise buildings.
His big break was in 1964, when he was chosen over many prestigious architects, such as Louis Kahn and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, to design the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston.
At the time, Jacqueline Kennedy said all the candidates were excellent, "But Pei! He loves things to be beautiful.'' The two became friends.
A slight, unpretentious man, Pei developed a reputation as a skilled diplomat, persuading clients to spend the money for his grand-scale projects and working with a cast of engineers and developers.
Some of his designs were met with much controversy, such as the 71-foot faceted glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre museum in Paris. French President Francois Mitterrand, who personally selected Pei to oversee the decaying, overcrowded museum's renovation, endured a barrage of criticism when he unveiled the plan in 1984.
Many of the French vehemently opposed such a change to their symbol of their culture, once a medieval fortress and then a national palace. Some resented that Pei, a foreigner, was in charge.
But Mitterrand and his supporters prevailed and the pyramid was finished in 1989. It serves as the Louvre's entrance, and a staircase leads visitors down to a vast, light-drenched lobby featuring ticket windows, shops, restaurants, an auditorium and escalators to other parts of the vast museum.
"All through the centuries, the Louvre has undergone violent change,'' Pei said. "The time had to be right. I was confident because this was the right time.''
Another building designed by Pei's firm -- the John Hancock Tower in Boston -- had a questionable future in the early 1970s when dozens of windows cracked and popped out, sending glass crashing to the sidewalks, during the time the building was under construction.
A flurry of lawsuits followed among the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., the glass manufacturer, and Pei's firm. A settlement was reached in 1981.
No challenge seemed to be too great for Pei, including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which sits on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Pei, who admitted he was just catching up with the Beatles, researched the roots of rock `n' roll and came up with an array of contrasting shapes for the museum. He topped it off with a transparent tent-like structure, which was "open -- like the music,'' he said.
In 1988, President Reagan honored him with a National Medal of Arts. He also won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, 1983, and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal, 1979. President George H.W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.
Pei officially retired in 1990 but continued to work on projects. Two of his sons, Chien Chung Pei and Li Chung Pei, former members of their father's firm, formed Pei Partnership Archiitects in 1992. Their father's firm, previously I.M. Pei and Partners, was renamed Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.
The museum in Qatar that opened in 2008 was inspired by Islamic architectural history, especially the 9th century mosque of Ahmed ibn Tulun in the Egyptian capital of Cairo. It was established by the tiny, oil-rich nation to compete with rival Persian Gulf countries for international attention and investment.
Ieoh Ming Pei (pronounced YEE-oh ming pay) was born April 26, 1917, in Canton, China, the son of a banker. He later said, "I did not know what architecture really was in China. At that time, there was no difference between an architect, a construction man, or an engineer.''
Pei came to the United States in 1935 with plans to study architecture, then return to practice in China. However, World War II and the revolution in China prevented him from coming back.
During the war, Pei worked for the National Defense Research Committee. As an "expert'' in Japanese construction, his job was to determine the best way to burn down Japanese towns. "It was awful,'' he later said.
In 1948, New York City real estate developer William Zeckendorf hired Pei as his director of architecture. During this period, Pei worked on many large urban projects and gained experience in areas of building development, economics and construction.
Some of his early successes included the Mile High Center office building in Denver, the Kips Bay Plaza Apartments in Manhattan, and the Society Hill apartment complex in Philadelphia.
Pei established his own architectural firm in 1955, a year after he became a U.S. citizen. He remained based in New York City. Among the firm's accomplishments are the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Pei's wife, Eileen, who he married in 1942, died in 2014. A son, T'ing Chung, died in 2003. Besides sons Chien Chung Pei and Li Chung Pei, he is survived by a daughter, Liane.
Facebook has announced it removed 265 Facebook and Instagram accounts, pages, groups, and events from its service Thursday because of what it called "coordinated inauthentic behavior."
In a statement, the company said the objectionable activity originated in Israel and focused on events in Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger, and Tunisia, along with some activity in Latin America and Southeast Asia.
Facebook said "the people behind this network used fake accounts to run pages, disseminate their content, and artificially increase engagement. They also represented themselves as locals, including local news organizations, and published allegedly leaked information about politicians." The statement said the people in question "frequently" posted about political news, including elections, candidates' views, and criticism of political opponents.
In the statement, Facebook said "We're taking down these pages and accounts based on their behavior, not the content they posted."
Facebook said it has sent a cease-and-desist letter to the organization responsible for the posts, which it named as Archimedes Group. It said the group and all its subsidiaries are now banned from Facebook for "repeatedly" violating Facebook policies.
In detail, Facebook said it has removed 65 Facebook accounts, 161 pages, 23 groups, 12 events, and four Instagram accounts. The accounts had, collectively, some 2.8 million followers and the groups had some 5,500 members. Archimedes Group's spending on ads in Facebook amounted to some $812,000, paid in U.S. dollars, Israeli shekels, and Brazilian reals.
It was not clear whether the events listed by Archimedes Group on Facebook ever took place. Facebook said it could not confirm.
Thailand's Election Commission recommended Thursday that the leader of major political party opposed to military rule be barred from taking his seat in the soon-to-be-convened parliament because he is accused of violating electoral rules.
The commission announced that evidence showed that Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit of the Future Forward party had violated the law by holding shares in a media company, and it was passing its findings to the Constitutional Court for a ruling.
The party already denied breaking any rules when the issue was first raised last month. Thanathorn already faces several criminal complaints and other protests to election authorities that could lead to his or his party's disqualification.
Thanathorn is the co-founder of Future Forward, which positioned itself as youth-oriented and deeply opposed to military rule ahead of its strong, surprise third place finish in the March 24 general election. He comes from a family that made its fortune in the auto parts industry, and his wealth helped him establish the party just last year.
The military-backed Palang Pracharath party is tipped to lead a government expected to be formed in the next few weeks and headed by Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has served as prime minister since seizing power in a 2014 army coup.
Thanathorn's supporters believe Thailand's conservative establishment is trying to eliminate his party to boost Prayuth's chances.
The Election Commission was appointed by the ruling junta's allies, while the Constitutional Court has a long history of ruling in favor of the country's conservative establishment.
Speaking at a news conference shortly after the commission's announcement, Thanathorn tried to assure his followers that he would survive the challenge.
“We are not at risk,” he said. “Even the Election Commission is too afraid to make the ruling themselves. We are confident that with the truth and the evidence that we have, that this matter shouldn't affect my candidacy.”
Thanathorn's party has said it would support the bid of the anti-military Pheu Thai party, which won the most seats in the lower house, to form the next government. Palang Pracharath, which came in second, is also trying to put together a ruling coalition.
On Thursday, however, Thanathorn said that Future Forward might try to lead a majority coalition.
“Future Forward party is ready to be the government and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is ready to be the prime minister,” he said, adding that he has spoken with some other parties about blocking the military's efforts to keep its allies in power.
China says two Canadian citizens who have been in detention since late last year have been formally charged with stealing state secrets, a move that is expected to further increase tension between the two countries.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang announced the arrests of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor on Thursday in Beijing during a regular press briefing. Lu said the arrests were made in accordance with Chinese law. Lu said China hopes that Ottawa "will not make irresponsible remarks" about the country's judicial system.
In a statement issued hours after Beijing's announcement, Canada's Foreign Ministry said Ottawa "strongly condemns" the "arbitrary arrest" of the two men and demanded their immediate release.
Kovrig and Spavor were detained separately Dec. 10 on suspicion of "engaging in activities that endanger the national security of China." The move came days after Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer for Chinese tech giant Huawei, was arrested at the Vancouver airport on a U.S. warrant on charges of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, is under house arrest awaiting possible extradition to the U.S.
Canada has refused China's demand to release Meng.
Kovrig once served Canada as a diplomat to Beijing. He is a senior adviser for the International Crisis Group, which researches peaceful solutions to global conflicts. Spavor is a businessman and director of an exchange group that arranges sports and educational exchanges with North Korea.
Another Canadian citizen sentenced to 15 years in prison on drug charges in China now faces the death penalty.