Lawmakers Say It Appears Michael Flynn Acted Illegally In Taking Russian Payments, Not Disclosing Russia Dealings

April 25, 2017

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah (right), and ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speak to reporters about Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senior lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee say Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, appears to have violated the law when he took payments from groups associated with foreign governments.

Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and ranking member Elijah Cummings, D-Md., spoke at a news conference Tuesday, after they received a classified briefing.

“I see no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law,” Chaffetz said.

Flynn was paid tens of thousands of dollars for appearances he made in Russia, including payments from a Kremlin-backed media organization. He was also paid for lobbying efforts that may have benefited the Turkish government.

As a retired lieutenant general, Flynn was required to obtain permission before receiving foreign payments, Chaffetz and Cummings say. But the classified briefing they received suggested Flynn neither asked permission nor reported the funds he received for a trip to Moscow.

“It does not appear to us that [permission] was ever sought,” Chaffetz said. He noted it will be up to the Department of the Army to make a final determination on whether Flynn broke the law.

“As a former military officer you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else, and it appears as if he did take that money,” Chaffetz said. “It was inappropriate and there are repercussions for the violation of law.”

Cummings said they could not discuss the contents of the classified documents they saw. “But we can say this: They are extremely troubling,” he said. “I believe these documents should be declassified to the fullest extent possible.”

Cummings also said the White House has refused to release information about Flynn’s foreign contacts and connections.

The House Oversight Committee had requested Flynn’s security clearance paperwork, references to foreign contacts, receipts for payments from abroad and requests for permission to receive foreign payments.

Each request was denied. The administration had a range of reasons. In a letter on Wednesday, the White House referred some requests to the Department of Defense, claimed to not have “possession, custody or control” of other documents, said some files are “likely” to contain classified information, and questioned the relevance of other documents.

“The White House has refused to provide this committee with a single piece of paper,” Cummings said, “and that is simply unacceptable.”

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/04/25/525568470/lawmakers-say-it-appears-michael-flynn-acted-illegally-in-taking-russian-payment

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Flynn May Have Broken Law by Not Disclosing Russia Dealings, Lawmakers Say

WASHINGTON — Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, may have violated federal law by not fully disclosing his business dealings with Russia when seeking a security clearance to work in the administration, the top oversight lawmakers from both parties in the House said Tuesday.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah and chairman of the House oversight committee, said Mr. Flynn also appeared to have inappropriately accepted the funds without permission.

“As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else,” he said. “And it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate, and there are repercussions for a violation of law.”

The declaration came after Mr. Chaffetz and other members of the committee reviewed classified documents related to Mr. Flynn, including the form he filled out in January 2016 to renew his security clearance, known as a SF 86.

White House officials have refused to turn over documents related to the hiring and firing of Mr. Flynn, the House’s top oversight lawmakers said Tuesday.

South China Sea: Former Philippine Foreign Secretary Suggests ASEAN Member States Make Hague International Court Ruling Part of Code of Conduct

April 25, 2017
The Philippines’ former top diplomat said the position that China’s SCS build-up is a fait accompli should be rejected. File

MANILA, Philippines –  Former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario yesterday urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to make the South China Sea (SCS) ruling an “integral” part of the Code of Conduct framework and the eventual finished document.

The Philippines’ former top diplomat said the position that China’s SCS build-up is a fait accompli should be rejected.

While most states strive for a peaceful, rules-based regional order in Southeast Asia, Del Rosario said China’s unilateralism has put this common vision at grave risk.

He urged ASEAN to be united in countering this challenge to its regional centrality and solidarity, noting that promoting the rule of law and strengthening multilateralism in support of the law must be key parts of ASEAN’s response.

“ASEAN and the international community as a whole should utilize the principles in the arbitral ruling to move diplomatic engagement forward,” Del Rosario said during the forum titled “The South China Sea: The Philippines, ASEAN, and their International Partners.”

The Philippines, under the Duterte administration, has decided to set aside the ruling in settling the maritime dispute with China.

“On shelving the ruling, what would happen if we should pass the point of no return?” Del Rosario asked.

The Philippines took a risk when the Philippine government went to arbitration at The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013 with Del Rosario as foreign affairs secretary.

The ruling of the international arbitral tribunal not only vindicated the Philippines, but also upheld the rule of law over the waters and global commons of the SCS, making the ruling an integral part of the universal body of international law.

Manila made a strong contribution to the region, as the ruling benefited not only the claimants but also the whole world.

“My hope is that our ASEAN neighbors share the pride of what a member state like ours can accomplish, and see in the ruling an opportunity for all of the Southeast Asian region. Ultimately, advocating a rules-based regime is deeply embedded in who we are and what we must do,” Del Rosario said.

As this year’s chair of the ASEAN, the Philippines, he emphasized, has a unique and important opportunity to dwell on how it can work with its neighbors to ensure that a rules-based order succeeds.

Del Rosario also pointed out that the purpose of the cooperation should go beyond maintaining friendly ties, as the Philippines must also cooperate to ensure a neighborhood where countries follow the rules and uphold their commitments.

In 2002, ASEAN and China committed to a non-binding agreement over how claimants should all behave in the SCS. In the spirit of preventing and reducing tensions, the countries committed to self-restraint from activities that would complicate or escalate disputes.

“I am sorry to say that in the years that followed, one country did not exercise the necessary restraint expected of it,” Del Rosario said.

In 2017, as in 2012, he said that the greatest immediate source of regional uncertainty has been China’s unlawful efforts to expand its footprint throughout the SCS.

“Our region cannot promote the rule of law while ignoring the law as it stands,” Del Rosario said. “Moreover, we must not accept the position that China’s South China Sea build-up is a fait accompli that renders us helpless.”

It should be unthinkable for any diplomatic mechanism – whether bilateral or multilateral – to be used as a channel to reward unilateral activity or preserve unlawful gains, according to Del Rosario.

He urged the Philippines to speak out and work with its neighbors and friends to stand united in protest of island-building and militarization, Filipino fishermen being barred from entering Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, irreparable destruction of marine commons and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s challenged flyover in the SCS.

“We cannot wait for a ‘better time’ to come – we must create that time ourselves, lest that opportunity be lost forever,” Del Rosario said.

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/04/26/1694039/asean-urged-make-scs-ruling-part-sea-code

Related:

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 (Philippine Star)

 — From March 25, 2017 with links to other related articles

 

 (National Geographic on the South China Sea)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

Islamic State ‘executes’ at least 15 civilians in Mosul

April 25, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | IS members who killed 15 civilians in Mosul drove black vehicles and posed as Iraqi government forces, such as those seen here, to trick residents

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Jihadist militants from the Islamic State group posing as liberating security forces killed at least 15 civilians who welcomed them in central Mosul, officials said on Tuesday.

Wearing police uniforms, they entered parts of the Old City on Monday to trick residents into showing their support for the federal forces, the Joint Operations Command (JOC) and a local official said.

“Daesh (IS) terrorist gangs committed a brutal crime yesterday morning in an area of Mosul’s Old City,” the JOC said in a statement.

It said the jihadists, who are defending their last Mosul bastions against a huge six-month-old offensive by the security forces, wanted to “confound civilians who expressed joy and welcomed them with chanting”.

They killed women and children, the JOC said, “to make it clear the area was still under enemy control”.

The statement did not specify how many were killed in that manner but Hossameddin al-Abbar, a member of Nineveh provincial council, told AFP at least 15 civilians were shot dead.

“Daesh members, some of them wearing federal police uniforms, entered the Al-Maidan and Corniche areas of the Old City,” he said.

“They were driving black vehicles and posing as liberators from the Iraqi forces,” Abbar added.

“When some families welcomed them, they arrested several of them. They executed at least 15 other people,” he said.

South China Sea, the Philippines and China: Philippine Government Did Not Trigger Sea Dispute; Aquino administration insisted upon adherence to international law

April 25, 2017
FILE – In this Friday, April 21, 2017, file photo, an airstrip, structures and buildings on China’s man-made Subi Reef in the Spratly chain of islands in the South China Sea are seen from a Philippine Air Force C-130 transport plane of the Philippine Air Force. Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Armed Forces Chief Gen. Eduardo Ano flew to the island of Pag-asa in the South China Sea on Friday, drawing a protest from China, which also claims the remote territory. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

MANILA, Philippines — The arbitration case that the Philippines filed before an international tribunal might have affected China’s actions in the South China Sea but did it did not trigger the island-building.

FILE — In this Dec. 24, 2015, photo, provided by Filipino fisherman Renato Etac, a Chinese Coast Guard boat approaches Filipino fishermen near Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Scarborough Shoal has always been part of the Philippines, by international law. China says it is happy to control fishing in the South China Sea. Credit: Renato Etac

The camp of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has claimed that the arbitration case filed by the Aquino administration pushed Beijing to build artificial islands in the contested waters.

Estelito Mendoza, a Marcos-era solicitor general and Arroyo’s lawyer, even claimed that it was relatively quiet and peaceful in the South China Sea during the Arroyo administration.

READ: Fact check: No tension in South China Sea during Arroyo administration?

Several experts have agreed that China had been planning the militarization of the South China Sea even before the Philippines filed an arbitration case before a United Nations-backed tribunal in 2013.

De La Salle University Professor Renato De Castro said that China’s actions in the South China Sea were not directed against the Philippines or the Aquino administration in particular.

“They already had it in mind that’s why the purpose, of course, of having control of those features in the South China Sea is to transform them into artificial islands that could be facilities wherein they could conduct reconnaissance,” De Castro said in a forum organized by the Stratbase ADR Institute on Tuesday.

De Castro added that China’s plan of installing surface-to-air missiles in the South China Sea might have been planned as early as the mid-1990s in the aftermath of the Taiwan Strait crisis, when China test-fired missiles in waters surrounding Taiwan.

The US responded by sending two carrier battle groups and an amphibious assault ship to the region.  The USS Nimitz and her escorts as well as the amphibious assault ship USS Belleau Wood sailed across the Taiwan Strait.

‘Philippines just a subset’ 

Foreign policy analyst Richard Heydarian agreed that the Chinese strategy in the South China Sea was not determined by Philippine actions.

“The Philippines is just a subset of a broad range of elements that have pushed China to be more assertive in that part of the world,” Heydarian said.

Heydarian said that claiming that the Aquino administration triggered China’s island-building in the disputed waters is “another form of historical revisionism.”

“It’s just that unfortunately it seems our allies in Washington were completely caught off guard. If you look at the statements by the American officials… they never thought that Chinese are capable of pulling off what many see as geoengineering on steroids,” Heydarian.

De Castro, however, said that the Americans were not caught off guard. They took China for granted as they only saw the Spratly Islands as targets for naval aviation of the US Seventh Fleet.

“They were aware but they basically underestimated the capabilities (of China),” De Castro said.

‘Arbitration case accelerated island-building’

Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said that the arbitration case accelerated China’s construction timetable in the disputed waters.

The Chinese saw the case as part of the US “pivot to Asia” strategy that may end their occupation in the islands.

“They thought that it would be the way by which the US, with the Philippines, would eject or evict the Chinese from the South China Sea,” Batongbacal said.

Defense Analyst Jose Custodio added that China spent the first decade of the 21st century in building up their capabilities in the South China Sea.

“It was a decade that we missed out on… That’s why when the Aquino administration came in, it was at the perfect event that the Chinese already had the capabilities to protect their fishermen and to assert their presence in the South China Sea,” Custodio said.

Custodio added that China has also been building up their maritime capabilities and their coast guard during the past decade.

“The past decade was an opportunity for the Philippines and now when the new administration took over, when the Aquino administration took over, it felt the full brunt of China’s capabilities that it had created in the previous decade,” Custodio said.

The international tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands had ruled that China’s nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea does not have legal basis. It also ruled that Beijing violated its commitment under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea by building artificial islands in the disputed waters.

The Duterte administration said that they would raise the arbitration award with China when the “appropriate time” comes.

RELATED: Del Rosario urges gov’t: Don’t wait for ‘better time’ to assert arbitral award

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/04/26/1693835/analysts-refute-claim-aquino-admin-triggered-sea-row

Peace and Freedom Comment: What the Philippines must ask itself now is: “Is this what we want in the South China Sea? Is the course of China in the South China Sea in the long range beneficial to the Philippine people? Or do the Philippine people decide to invoke international law?

Related:

.

 (Philippine Star)

 — From March 25, 2017 with links to other related articles

 

 (National Geographic on the South China Sea)

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On July 12, 2016 a ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague said China’s nine-dash line claim (shown above) was invalid and not recognized in international law.

Despite all this:

China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ — Should Anyone Invest? — Isn’t That Too Early To Say? — What’s The U.S. National Strategy?

April 25, 2017

The Folly of Investing in China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’

Beijing seeks foreign money for an infrastructure-led growth model just as the initiative begins to fail.

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April 24, 2017 12:45 p.m. ET

On May 13, Beijing will host a summit meeting of countries participating in its massive infrastructure initiative known as “One Belt, One Road”—a belt of overland corridors and a complementary road of sea routes linking China to Eurasia and Africa. Neighboring countries may benefit from Beijing’s investment, but investors have reason to be wary.

The summit follows President Xi Jinping’s January star turn at the Davos World Economic Forum where he touted OBOR as an investment opportunity:  “Over three years ago, I put forward the “Belt and Road” initiative. Since then, over 100 countries and international organizations have given warm responses and support to the initiative. More than 40 countries and international organizations have signed cooperation agreements with China, and our circle of friends along the “Belt and Road” is growing bigger.”

Read the rest:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-folly-of-investing-in-chinas-one-belt-one-road-1493052330

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China’s One-Belt-One-Road initiative is not just about economics

April 25, 2017, 12:56 AM IST in ET Commentary | Edit Page, India, World | ET

By: Sanjaya Baru

Britain used to be called a nation of shopkeepers. China can be called a nation of contractors. Having built its way up to become a $10-trillion economy, China is saddled with over-construction at home and is looking for new construction opportunities worldwide.

The One-Belt-One-Road (Obor) initiative is partly driven by the need to sustain investment, even as domestic consumption and world trade are unable to sustain growth. This much is obvious. But this is not the full story. China’s long-distance construction activity, both across China itself (from the east coast to Xinjiang and Tibet) and across Eurasia, has been driven as much by these economic calculations as it has been by geopolitical ones.

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There is no other part of Obor that is manifestly geopolitical in its scope than the $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Even Pakistani analysts have questioned its economics. Yet, China insists that the CPEC is only about economics.

Responding to Indian concerns about the CPEC passing through territory that is still legally India’s — Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) and Aksai Chin — Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi recently said that the CPEC was an economic project for the “purpose of serving economic cooperation and development. It has no direct link with political and boundary dispute.” Wang then dangled a carrot, stating, “Obor is for common development of all participants. So, we welcome India to take active part in building the Obor.” Ah! Construction projects?

Geopolitical analysts have long argued that China’s rise has so far been unique in that, unlike most other ‘Great Powers’, it has become one without firing a single shot. This is not entirely true since China has fired at least three times in the past half-century: at the Soviet Union, at India, and at Vietnam. But it is true that China’s has so far risen more as a ‘geoeconomic’ power, using its economic muscle to browbeat difficult neighbours and economic partners. Consider some recent actions on the economic front that China has taken, or threatened to take, in the case of Britain, the Philippines, Mongolia and so on.

Make Trade, Not War

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As a geoeconomic power, China has used its economic muscle to achieve geopolitical aims. This is not news. Over the last two decades, China has locked the West and Russia into a relationship of economic dependence by offering to their consumers lowcost consumer goods. Russia President Vladimir Putin knows better than anyone that restive Russian citizens have been kept happy with access to low-cost goods from China. Deprived of that source, the Russian consumer would become sullen.

The US has so far shied away from fighting its dependence on China and President Donald Trump is the first leader to insist that Americans ‘buy American’ and China better get used to ‘fair trade’ terms rather than ‘free trade’. The proof of that puddingwill be in the eating. It was not happenstance that the first Chinese to call on Trump was Alibaba executive chairman Jack Ma.

It is only pure economists, innocent about geopolitics, who insist that trade is a win-win game and economic interdependence contributes to peace. It was one of the pious tenets of the Washington Consensus in economics that no two trading partners have ever gone to war.

Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet Union and Mao Zedong’s China disproved that dictum, just as Margaret Thatcher’s Britain did when it attacked Argentina, a trade partner.

There are many such examples. So, China’s assurance that Obor is ‘merelyan economic and development project’, and that India should not object to it merely because of territorial disputes, carries little weight, if any. The list of 28 heads of state and government who have confirmed their attendance at the Obor Summit on May 14-15 in Beijing is a mix of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and European Union (EU) countries, Russia, and a couple of African nations. This is not a particularly high-profile gathering. So, there is no reason why Prime Minister Narendra Modi should attend it.

The Modi government’s stance, that China needs to explain to it the Obor initiative and the CPEC project before it can take a view, has widespread political support at home cutting across party lines.

Reliance on Geo
China’s economic initiatives on the foreign trade, investment and infrastructure construction fronts have underscored the wisdom of Nobel laureate economist and professor Thomas Schelling’s famous words, “Aside from war and occasionally aside from migration, trade is the most important relationship that most countries have with each other. Broadly defined to include investment, shipping, tourism and the management of enterprises, trade is what most of international relations are about. For that reason, trade policy is national security policy.”

In short, the Obor initiative, much less CPEC, is not just about economics. Without doubt it is about geoeconomics — the deployment of economic instruments in pursuit of geopolitical objectives.

The writer is Honorary Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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 A Chinese cargo train, to be used as part of China-Iran efforts to revive the Silk Road, arrives in Tehran in February 2016. Photo: EPA
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One Belt & One Road Initiative: Beyond physical infrastructure
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2017-04-24 09:25:47

 

At the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR)-organised forum on The Belt and Road Initiative: Risk Management, which was held in Beijing, Pathfinder Foundation Executive Director Luxman Siriwardena, in his presentation emphasised the potential of the initiative for economic development of Sri Lanka, as it enables the country to enhance its strategic value in the Indian Ocean.

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Infrastructural development projects such as the Hambantota port, Mattala airport and Colombo International Financial City (Colombo Port City), could greatly benefit and probably become financially viable in the medium-term with the success of the Maritime Silk Road.

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However, he emphasized that while the development of physical infrastructure is a necessary condition by itself, it is insufficient for sustainable long-term growth and development of Sri Lanka’s economy. He added that Sri Lanka needs to move from the current policy environment of uncertainty and inconsistency to a more predictable one.
He also made a case for reforms in areas affecting private sector initiatives and doing business. To maximize benefits of the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative, which is a positive development in the current global environment, Sri Lanka needs to vigorously pursue a reform agenda and take robust measures to eliminate corruption at all levels.

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The forum was participated by 26 foreign and 20 Chinese scholars. CICIR is China’s premier policy think tank, which cooperates closely with the Pathfinder Foundation. The focus of the forum was to seek ways and means of enhancing mutual benefits and win-win outcomes through the OBOR initiative.

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In-depth analysis of risks and challenges resulting from the B&R initiative as well as prospects for achieving higher level of economic prosperity by the participating countries, including Sri Lanka, were among the main topics of discussion.

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The B&R initiative, also known as the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, could be considered as China’s grand plan for economic and social development of the countries along the OBOR. This initiative gives priority to facilitating multidimensional connectivity among all the participating countries.

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It is considered that connectivity is an integral element of building of the B&R initiative. In this context, connectivity includes not only the physical connection of infrastructure but also the soft connection of policies, rules and regulations and people-to-people connections.

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The first session of the forum was devoted to examining the ways and means of enhancing mutual benefits, on which the keynote presentation was made by former US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman.

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He opined that the B&R initiative, though Chinese in origin and concept, has now entered a phase, where broader section of the international community could participate and reap benefits resulting in upliftment of their living standards.

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His positive view of the Chinese initiative was particularly interesting as President Xi Jinping in his meeting with President Trump made a request for the United States to participate in the implementation of the B&R initiative.

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In addition to the participation in the Belt and Road Forum, the Pathfinder Foundation Executive Director also had discussions with Xu Yongquan, Deputy Director General of China Centre for Contemporary World Studies (CCCWS), a prominent and influential think tank of the Communist Party of China.

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During the meeting with Xu, it was agreed that the Pathfinder Foundation and CCCWS would continue to explore the ways and means for strengthening China-Sri Lanka economic and other relations. As a follow up to this discussion and on the recommendation of the CCCWS, the Pathfinder Foundation has already taken steps to join the Silk Road Think Tank Association (SRTA).

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In addition, negotiations are underway to conduct a B&R conference with the participation of leading regional think tanks.

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– See more at: http://www.dailymirror.lk/article/One-Belt-One-Road-Initiative-Beyond-physical-infrastructure-127641.html#sthash.ZlsEx0PQ.dpuf

US consumer confidence declines in April as optimism wanes

April 25, 2017

AFP

© GETTY/AFP/File | Despite consistently solid employment data, consumers’ assessment of the labor market was moderately less favorable in April 2017

WASHINGTON (AFP) – 

US consumer confidence retreated in April after two months of records, as optimism about the economy dwindled, the Conference Board reported Tuesday.

Consumers were less optimistic about the outlook in the short-term, while a growing percentage felt business conditions were bad, according to the monthly survey.

The index slipped to 120.3 from 124.9 in March, when confidence hit a 16-year high. A key component of the index, measuring views on the present situation, dropped to 140.6 from 143.9.

President Donald Trump’s election in November sparked a wave of economic optimism on hopes for his aggressively pro-growth agenda of tax cuts, slashed regulation and infrastructure spending. But as Trump approaches his first 100 days, the political reality that putting the agenda into action will be difficult is setting in.

Despite the decline, consumer confidence “still remains at strong levels,” said Lynn Franco, the Conference Board’s director of economic indicators.

“Consumers assessed current business conditions and, to a lesser extent, the labor market less favorably than in March.”

Analysts had expected a much smaller decline, to 122.3, according to a consensus forecast.

Those surveyed who said business conditions are “good” declined to 30.2 percent from 32.4 percent, while those saying conditions are “bad” rose slightly to 13.8 percent from 13.1.

And despite consistently solid employment data, consumers’ assessment of the labor market was moderately less favorable. Those stating jobs are “plentiful” declined to 30.8 percent from 31.8 percent, while those claiming jobs are “hard to get” was virtually unchanged at 19.1 percent.

Likewise, measures for the outlook for business conditions and the labor market over the next six months were less optimistic, the survey showed.

Despite the decline, Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the figures seem more realistic than last month.

“The March reading always looked overcooked relative to other surveys, so we regard this decline as a correction rather than the start of a sustained weakening,” he said in a research note.

China bans religious names for Muslim babies in Xinjiang — Eliminating a Culture

April 25, 2017

List of banned baby names released amid ongoing crackdown on religion that includes law against veils and beards

Uighur women in loose, full-length garments and headscarves associated with conservative Islam visit a market in the city of Aksu in western China’s Xinjiang province.
Uighur women in loose, full-length garments and headscarves associated with conservative Islam visit a market in the city of Aksu in western China’s Xinjiang province. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

Many couples fret over choosing the perfect name for their newborn, but for Muslims in western China that decision has now become even more fraught: pick the wrong name and your child will be denied education and government benefits.

Officials in the western region of Xinjiang, home to roughly half of China’s 23 million Muslims, have released a list of banned baby names amid an ongoing crackdown on religion, according to a report by US-funded Radio Free Asia.

Names such as Islam, Quran, Saddam and Mecca, as well as references to the star and crescent moon symbol, are all unacceptable to the ruling Communist party and children with those names will be denied household registration, a crucial document that grants access to social services, healthcare and education.

A full list of names has not yet been published and it is unclear exactly what qualifies as a religious name.

China blames religious extremists for a slew of violent incidents in recent years that have left hundreds dead. It has launched a series of crackdowns in Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur minority and one of the most militarised regions in the country.

Uighur rights groups complain of severe restrictions on religion and freedom of expression, and say the attacks are isolated incidents caused by local grievances, not part of a wider coordinated campaign. Young men are banned from growing beards in Xinjiang and women are forbidden from wearing face veils.

Rights groups were quick to condemn the name ban, which applies to dozens of names deemed by Communist party officials to carry religious overtones.

“This is just the latest in a slew of new regulations restricting religious freedom in the name of countering ‘religious extremism,’” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “These policies are blatant violations of domestic and international protections on the rights to freedom of belief and expression.

“If the government is serious about bringing stability and harmony to the region as it claims, it should roll back – not double down on – repressive policies.”

Read the rest:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/25/china-bans-religious-names-for-muslims-babies-in-xinjiang

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See also The Telegraph

Uyghur men walk in front of the Id Kah Mosque, China's largest mosque, on July 31, 2014 in Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, China. 

Uyghur men walk in front of the Id Kah Mosque, China’s largest mosque, on July 31, 2014 in Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, China.  CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Chinese government authorities in the northwestern Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang have banned parents from giving their children dozens of ‘extreme’ Islamic names, as part of an ongoing crackdown on alleged ‘extremism’ in the area.

An official list of banned names had previously been circulated in Hotan, south Xinjiang, as early as 2015, sources told Radio Free Asia.

Published by the ruling Chinese Communist Party as ‘Naming Rules For Ethnic Minorities’, the document’s rules now appear to be enforced throughout the region, which is home to the biggest Muslim population in China.

Read the rest:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/25/china-bans-islamic-baby-names-muslim-majority-xinjiang-province/

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China Bans ‘Extreme’ Islamic Baby Names Among Xinjiang’s Uyghurs

2017-04-20
Image may contain: one or more people, people standing and outdoor
Uyghur woman is shown with her children in Kashgar, Xinjiang

Radio Free Asia

Chinese authorities in the northwestern region of Xinjiang have banned dozens of baby names with religious meanings that are widely used by Muslims elsewhere in the world, RFA has learned.

Sources in Hotan, in the southern part of the region, had previously detailed a list of banned names in 2015, but the ban now appears to have been rolled out region-wide.

Islam, Quran, Mecca, Jihad, Imam, Saddam, Hajj, and Medina are among dozens of baby names banned under ruling Chinese Communist Party’s “Naming Rules For Ethnic Minorities,” an official confirmed on Thursday.

An employee who answered the phone at a police station in the regional capital Urumqi confirmed that “overly religious” names are banned, and that any babies registered with such names would be barred from the “hukou” household registration system that gives access to health care and education.

“You’re not allowed to give names with a strong religious flavor, such as Jihad or names like that,’ the official said. “The most important thing here is the connotations of the name … [it mustn’t have] connotations of holy war or of splittism [Xinjiang independence].”

Asked if names of Islamic scholars were acceptable, the employee replied: “Get him to change it; it’s the sort of thing that [could be regarded as] promoting terror and evil cults.”

Asked if Yultuzay, a reference to the star and moon symbol of the Islamic faith, was acceptable, he said: “Actually the star and moon are a pagan symbol.”

“[Mecca] would be a bit over-the-top … I don’t think you could call someone Saddam, either,” he said in response to queries on those names.

“Just stick to the party line, and you’ll be fine,” he said. “[People with banned names] won’t be able to get a household registration, so they will find out from the hukou office when the time comes.”

“They have received training in this sort of thing over here [in Xinjiang] so they’re the experts [on what is allowed],” he said.

Mainstream names

A source meanwhile told RFA that the safest names for Uyghurs are those that sound more “mainstream.”

“I have been talking to friends in Xinjiang about this, and they all say that any with potentially extremist overtones will be banned, but names like Memet … that you see everywhere are considered more mainstream by the Chinese Communist Party,” the source said.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exile World Uyghur Congress group, said the Chinese government is continuing to suppress traditional Uyghur culture by controlling what Uyghurs can call their children.

“In setting limits on the naming of Uyghurs, the Chinese government is in fact engaging in political persecution under another guise,” Raxit told RFA. “They are afraid that people with such names will become alienated from Chinese policies in the region.”

“Yultuzay, for example, is seen by the Chinese government as carrying separatist connotations, to do with religion,” he said. “They are placing limits on Uyghurs’ religious beliefs.”

Strike-hard campaigns

China has vowed to crack down on what it calls religious extremism in Xinjiang, and regularly conducts “strike hard” campaigns including police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people, including videos and other material.

While China blames Uyghur extremists for terrorist attacks, experts outside China say Beijing has exaggerated the threat from the Uyghurs and that repressive domestic policies are responsible for an upsurge in violence there that has left hundreds dead since 2009.

Last month, Xinjiang authorities fired an ethnic Uyghur official for holding her wedding ceremony at home according to Islamic traditions instead of at a government-sanctioned venue.

Salamet Memetimin, the communist party secretary for Chaka township’s Bekchan village, in Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Chira (Cele) county, was among 97 officials recently charged with disciplinary violations, according to an April 10 report by the state-run Hotan Daily newspaper.

Local residents said the woman was relieved of her duties for taking her marriage vows—known as “nikah” in Muslim culture—in her own home.

An official told RFA’s Uyghur service that home wedding vows could give rise to unsanctioned religious leaders promoting “deviant views that contradict ethnic unity and the sovereignty of the county.”

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

http://www.rfa.org/english/news/uyghur/names-04202017093324.html

North Korea Has The U.S. in A Fix — It’s a situation of some powerlessness, at least for now…

April 25, 2017

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Kim Jong-Un. Credit KCNA

 

By Mark Kenny

Sydney Morning Herald

America is the world’s undisputed military superpower but it faces a strategic conundrum over North Korea’s nuclear intentions.

The bind is this: there may be no morally acceptable military option to de-nuclearise the Korean peninsula, even as Washington parades that very eventuality

It’s a situation of some powerlessness and yet one the United States has done much to create over the years, both with the development of its own nuclear arsenal – which, let’s not forget, kicked off this whole global proliferation race – and with its past mercurial responses to states with nuclear aspirations.

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the South China Sea while conducting flight operations on April 9, 2017. Z.A. Landers/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

Think the Soviet Union, China, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Israel, Pakistan, and India. The telling thing about this list is the inconsistency of the American response. Others would call it hypocrisy.

This history may well be under-appreciated in the current stand-off, although presumably not by Kim Jong-un. Indeed, he would note that pariah states such as Iraq and Libya might not have been attacked had they already possessed nuclear weapons. Who knows? Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi may still be in power.

For the militaristic Kim, whose brutal garrison state is bordered by nuclear-armed Russia and China, and corralled to its south and east by US-aligned South Korea and Japan, personal survival and the nuclear deterrent may be interdependent.

Image may contain: fire

North Korean artillery can hit Seoul from the north of the DMZ…

While opinions differ, it is broadly accepted that a pre-emptive strike on the rogue nation’s nascent nuclear program – an attack designed to stop dead its transition to an intercontinental ballistic missile capability – could not be certain of fully identifying, much less completely destroying, the DPRK’s nuclear assets.

In this sense, the US is in a similar position to that it confronted over Saddam Hussein’s putative chemical weapons of mass destruction: a decision based on partial information at best (or lies), to forestall future aggression.

The existence of North Korean weapons of mass destruction is not in doubt – even if doubts do exist as to their number, their precise distribution, and the country’s progress towards full nuclear operability.

As always, intelligence is imprecise, incomplete.

What appears to be more certain though is that a US-led assault would risk mass casualties in Seoul. South Korea’s bustling capital lies just 56 kilometres from of the demilitarised zone.

Short of the military strike option, two other possibilities may reveal themselves in the medium term, one more likely than the other: a successful diplomatic effort, presumably fashioned by Beijing, to convince Pyongyang to voluntarily abandon its nuclear ambitions, or, a nuclear capable DPRK with intercontinental reach – including potentially, to northern Australia.

US Vice-President Mike Pence and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a press conference at Kirribilli House last week.US Vice-President Mike Pence and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at a press conference at Kirribilli House last week. Photo: Getty Images.http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/north-korea-nuclear-standoff-there-are-no-easy-answers-20170424-gvrchh.html

U.S. F35s Fly Into Estonia in Show of NATO Solidarity — RAF Typhoons have arrived in Romania

April 25, 2017

AMARI AIR BASE, Estonia — Two of the U.S. Air Force’s newest and most advanced jets landed in the Baltic state of Estonia for the first time on Tuesday, a symbolic gesture meant to reinforce the United States’ commitment to the defence of NATO allies that border Russia.

The visit of the F-35 stealth fighters, which flew from Britain and spent several hours in Estonia, is part of broader U.S. jet pilot training across Europe as the NATO alliance seeks to deter Moscow from any possible incursion in the Baltics.

Russia denies having any such intention.

“This is a very clear message,” Estonia’s Defence Minister Margus Tsahkna told Reuters. “The United States is taking the show of unity very seriously,” he said of the jets that are designed to avoid detection by conventional radar.

The deployment of NATO troops and equipment, as well as strong words of support from senior U.S. officials, have helped to reassure Baltic leaders who had been worried about U.S. President Donald Trump’s commitment to defending Europe.

In last year’s election campaign, Trump voiced admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and contacts between his aides and Russia before and after the November vote prompted concerns in Europe that Trump would seek a deal with Moscow.

Image result for F-35s, estonia, photos

Trump also described NATO as “obsolete”, though as president he has expressed support for the alliance.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force said a small number of Lockheed Martin Corp F-35A jets, one of the smaller, lighter variants of the fighters, would come to Europe for several weeks of training with other NATO military aircraft.

On Tuesday, the jets spent several minutes making low-flying passes over Estonia’s Amari air base before landing.

“The significance is the demonstration of how NATO is seeking to evolve and develop it air power capabilities,” said Stuart Evans, deputy commander of NATO’s Allied Air Command (AIRCOM) at Ramstein Air Base.

F-35s are in use by the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, and by six other countries: Australia, Britain, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands and Israel. Japan took delivery of its first jet in December.

Estonia and its Baltic neighbours Lithuania and Latvia are former parts of the Soviet Union and today are members of NATO.

They requested greater NATO support following Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

(Editing by Robin Emmott and Gareth Jones)

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Some of the F-35A Lightning II aircraft currently at RAF Lakenheath forward deploy to Estonia — RAF Typhoons have arrived in Romania

According to information available to the Estonia ERR media outlet, an unspecified number of F-35s will arrive at Ämari air base, Estonia, on Tuesday, Apr. 25.

“The jets will remain in Estonia for several weeks and conduct training flights with other aircraft of the U.S. and allied air forces.”

Eight F-35s and 250 airmen belonging to the 34th Fighter Squadron, 388th Fighter Wing and the Air Force Reserve’s 466th Fighter Squadron, 419th Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, have deployed to RAF Lakenheath recently (beginning with the first section of 6 aircraft on Apr. 15).

The 5th generation multirole combat aircraft have deployed to Europe for the first time in support of the European Reassurance Initiative. As done by the preceding US jets operating in the old continent as part of the so-called Theater Security Packages (TSPs), including the F-22 Raptors and the A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, they will visit various Baltic and eastern Europe airbases “to maximize training opportunities, affirm enduring commitments to NATO allies, and deter any actions that destabilize regional security.”

Meanwhile, on Apr. 24, RAF Typhoons have arrived at Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) airbase near Constanta, in Romania for the first time in support of the NATO air policing mission. The aircraft will provide air policing over the Black Sea from May to September 2017.

According to the UK MoD, 135 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) consists of 150 personnel drawn from across the RAF, whose mission is to keep the fast jets flying during their four month deployment.

The mission of patrolling the skies along NATO’s eastern border was intensified following the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The arrival of the British Typhoons is the last of a series of measures “to deter a Russian aggression over the Black Sea.

RAF Typhoons arrive at Mihail Kogalniceanu (MK) airbase near Constanta, in Romania for the first time in support of the NATO air policing mission. (Image credit: Crown Copyright)

https://theaviationist.com/2017/04/24/u-s-f-35a-stealth-fighters-to-move-to-estonia-tomorrow-meanwhile-the-british-typhoons-have-arrived-in-romania/

Suspected Russia hackers ‘targeted Macron campaign’

April 25, 2017

Researchers say the hacker group Pawn Storm tried to interfere in the campaign of French presidential front-runner Emmanuel Macron. US spy agencies suspect the group of having links to Russia’s intelligence apparatus.

Symbolbild Cyberangriff (picture-alliance/dpa/MAXPPP/A. Marchi)

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s political campaign was targeted by a hacker group with suspected Russian connections, a report by a cybersecurity research group said on Tuesday, bolstering previous suggestions that the Kremlin has been trying to interfere in the French elections.

Researchers with the Japan-based anti-virus firm Trend Micro said the Pawn Storm group, which is alleged to have carried out a number of high-profile hacking attacks in the West, used so-called “phishing” techniques in an attempt to steal personal data from Macron and his campaign staffers.

“Phishing” employs lookalike websites designed to fool victims into entering sensitive information such as usernames, passwords and credit card details. Trend Micro said it had recently detected four Macron-themed fake domains being created on digital infrastructure used by Pawn Storm, which is also known as Fancy Bear or APT28.

Trend Micro researcher Feike Hacquebord said that determining who was behind a spying campaign was a difficult challenge in the world of cybersecurity, but that he was almost certain.

“This is not a 100 percent confirmation, but it’s very, very likely,” he said.

Read more: France warns Russia

The Kremlin at work?

Trend Micro did not name any country as being behind Pawn Storm’s activities, but the group is widely suspected of having links to Russia’s security services.

The Kremlin is seen as a keen backer of Macron’s rival in the presidential race, Marine Le Pen, who espouses policies considered as likely to be favored by Moscow, such as France’s exit from the European Union. Macron has always staunchly advocated strengthening, rather than weakening, the bloc.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations of trying to interfere in the French – or other – elections. On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying that claims of the Kremlin’s attempting to influence the election outcome in France were “completely incorrect.”

Pawn Storm is also thought to be behind cyberattacks last summer on the US Democratic National Committee that were suspected to be aimed at undermining Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House. Other suspected targets in recent months include media groups such as “The New York Times” and Al-Jazeera.
Read more: ‘Election cyberattacks threat in Germany’

Präsidentschaftswahl in Frankreich Emmanuel Macron (Getty Images/V. Isore/IP3)Macron is widely seen as likely to win the second round of elections on May 7

Attempted intrusions

The head of Macron’s digital campaign, Mounir Mahjoubi, confirmed to The Associated Press that there had been attempted intrusions, but said they had all been foiled.

Mahjoubi also confirmed that at least one of the fake sites identified by Trend Micro had been recently used as part of an attempt to steal sensitive information from campaign staffers.

An internal campaign report lists thousands of attempted cyberattacks since Macron launched his campaign last year. In February, the campaign’s secretary-general, Richard Ferrand, said the scale and nature of the intrusions indicated that they were the work of a structured group and not individual hackers.

Macron, who won the first round of France’s presidential election on Sunday, will face Le Pen in a runoff on May 7.

The French elections were carefully monitored for digital interference following suspicions that hackers backed by Moscow had attempted to influence the US electoral contest in 2016.

http://www.dw.com/en/suspected-russia-hackers-targeted-macron-campaign/a-38580848

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