Posts Tagged ‘China’

Why a Stolen Democracy Plaque Is Gripping Thailand

April 25, 2017

Missing plaque touches a nerve in a national debate over how to manage the tropical Buddhist kingdom

Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn arrived at the monument of King Rama I after signing a new constitution in Bangkok earlier this month.
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn arrived at the monument of King Rama I after signing a new constitution in Bangkok earlier this month. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK—It’s a mystery that’s captivating Thailand: Who stole a brass plaque commemorating the revolution that ended royal rule 85 years ago?

As memorials go, it’s not showy. The 12-inch plaque was set in the roadway at Royal Plaza near a statue of King Rama V, a 19th century monarch. It marked the spot where in 1932 a group of military officers and civil servants declared the country a constitutional monarchy, relegating the king to a figurehead presiding over a series of elected governments and military juntas that endure to this day.

Days passed before anyone noticed the plaque was gone. Then, on April 14, word got out that it was stolen and replaced by a new plaque urging Thais to be loyal to their nation, family and monarch, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, or Rama X.

The swap made headlines, touching a nerve in a national debate over how this tropical Buddhist kingdom should be governed.

A new plaque that replaced the stolen one at Royal Plaza urged Thais to be loyal to their nation, family and monarch.
A new plaque that replaced the stolen one at Royal Plaza urged Thais to be loyal to their nation, family and monarch. PHOTO: REUTERS

With pressure building at home and abroad, Thailand’s military rulers plan to hold elections next year after it took power in a coup nearly three years ago. But persistent questions remain over how much power Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s junta is prepared to yield.

The military-appointed Senate will have a say who succeeds the general. The army will have the right to form a new government during times of crisis. And it’s unclear whether the junta will loosen rules that ban political gatherings of more than five people.

Diplomats and academics say the junta is trying to foment a nationalist mood in part to bolster support for Thailand’s royalist establishment and to further isolate former Thai leaders Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, both of whom still enjoy a strong following in rural Thailand for their pro-poor policies.

Mr. Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives in exile. A court removed Ms. Yingluck from office in May 2014 and she is now fighting graft charges for which she faces a lengthy potential sentence. She denies any wrongdoing.

“Thailand is entering a new era where the political divides will be sharper and more dangerous,” said Chotisak Onsoong, an activist who was once pelted with popcorn in a cinema for refusing to stand for the Thai royal anthem that is played before screenings.

Mr. Chotisak and other pro-democracy activists are trying to find out what happened to the plaque.

Some of them blame royalist-nationalists for the theft as part of a bid to recast Thailand’s history as devoid of any democratic tradition. Royalist groups have previously conducted ritual ceremonies by the plaque to pray for its divine disappearance. Vandals gouged its brass face.

One historian sympathetic to this view, Thepmontri Limpaphayorm, said he viewed plaque as an affront to Thailand’s monarchy and late last year issued a threat.

“If you don’t come dig it out by December 30, my friends and I will consider that there’s no owner,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “We will remove or destroy it ourselves. If you want to keep it as a souvenir, come and get it.”

Mr. Thepmontri, who once wrote a book criticizing a revolt against military rule titled “Peeling Back the October 14 Scab: A Worm on the Face of Thai History,” denies removing the plaque, but applauds its loss.

Police, meanwhile, say they don’t know who took it. Bangkok officials say security cameras in the busy area were offline for upgrades on the night the plaque was apparently removed.

Officials say they won’t pursue the case unless the owner steps forward to claim it—something the government hasn’t done. Gen. Prayuth has dismissed the plaque’s disappearance as a distraction.

Thailand's Prime Minister, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, offered a traditional greeting as he arrived to the Government House in Bangkok this month.
Thailand’s Prime Minister, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, offered a traditional greeting as he arrived to the Government House in Bangkok this month. PHOTO: REUTERS

“Please don’t make us solve issues that are not a matter of life and death,” he said, later warning demonstrators not to stage protests over it.

Still, when a constitutional expert attempted to present a petition to probe the theft at a government office, the response from armed soldiers suggested that the whodunit was more important than Gen. Prayuth suggested.

Before he could present his papers, troops intercepted Srisuwan Janya at the building entrance and took him off to any army camp where he was interrogated for 12 hours before being released late at night.

In an interview, Mr. Srisuwan said the soldiers offered him two meals, but that their goal was clear.

“They asked me to go slowly,” Mr. Srisuwan said. “The army doesn’t want to see any conflicts over this.”

Write to James Hookway at


Iran nuclear deal reviewed as uncertainty grows

April 25, 2017


© AFP/File | Critics of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani charge that the 2015 nuclear deal has failed to bring anticipated economic benefits

VIENNA (AFP) – Iran and major powers were set to review adherence to their 2015 nuclear agreement on Tuesday, as uncertainty grows about the landmark accord’s future under US President Donald Trump.

The regular quarterly meeting was expected to hear, as Washington confirmed last week, that Iran is sticking to its deal with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

The accord saw Tehran drastically curb its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of Western and UN sanctions.

However, Trump has ordered a 90-day review, saying last Thursday that Iran was “not living up to the spirit” of the “terrible” deal because of its actions in other areas.

This refers to Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, rebels in Yemen and militias in Iraq and in Lebanon as well as Tehran’s ballistic missile programme.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday the review would examine the nuclear accord “in the larger context of Iran’s role in the region and in the world, and then adjust accordingly.”

Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last Wednesday expressed misgivings about the nuclear deal itself, in particular time limits in key areas.

Iran cut the number of centrifuges that “enrich” uranium — making it suitable for power generation and at high purities for a bomb — from about 19,000 to 5,000.

Together with other restrictions and ultra-tight UN inspections, Iran pledged to stay at this level for 10 years and not to enrich uranium above low purities for 15 years.

Its uranium stockpile will also stay below 300 kilograms — well short of what would be needed for an atomic bomb — for 15 years.

Tillerson said that the accord “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran” and had been a way of “buying off” Tehran “for a short period of time”.

– Tehran not satisfied –

Iran is not happy either, with critics of President Hassan Rouhani — facing a tough battle for re-election next month — charging that the nuclear deal has failed to provide all the promised economic benefits.

While nuclear-related sanctions were lifted, those related to human rights or missiles remained or have been expanded, frustrating Iran’s efforts to boost trade.

Last week Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Trump’s comments by saying that Washington was failing to live up not just to the spirit of the nuclear deal, but its wording too.

“So far, it has defied both,” Zarif said on Twitter.

Tuesday’s “Joint Commission” meeting from 0930 GMT among senior diplomats was to be held behind closed doors — in the same plush Vienna hotel where the deal was hammered out — with no press events planned.


Asian stocks near 2-year high, euro steady as French vote lifts mood — UK deficit falls to lowest level since 2008

April 25, 2017

Image may contain: one or more people

A businessman looking at an electronic share indicator at the window of a securities company in Tokyo.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) – Asian equities hit a near two-year high on Tuesday (April 25), buoyed by a jump in risk appetite following the centrist victory in the first round of the French presidential election that also lifted the euro and pressured safe-haven assets.

The Canadian dollar slid after the US announced new duties averaging 20 per cent on Canadian softwood lumber imports. The US dollar strengthened 0.4 per cent to C$1.3549.

European stocks also look set for a strong start, with financial spreadbetter CMC Markets expecting Britain’s FTSE 100 to open up 0.2 per cent and Germany’s DAX to start the day 0.3 per cent higher. France’s CAC 40, which jumped 4.1 per cent to post its biggest one-day gain in almost five years on Monday, is set to open up 0.4 per cent.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.6 per cent, hovering near the highest level since June 2015 hit earlier in the session, on its fourth straight day of gains.

“Asian markets appear to be still lingering in the glow of relief after the French election,” said Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG in Singapore. “The jubilance in markets overnight has also added to the optimism.”

US President Donald Trump’s promise of an announcement on a tax reform plan on Wednesday could offer further impetus to markets, she added.

Japan’s Nikkei rose more than 1 per cent to a three-week high. South Korea’s KOSPI also advanced 0.7 per cent to the highest level since April 2015.

Chinese shares rose 0.1 per cent, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.9 per cent. The Chinese index posted its worst day in 2017 on Monday amid signs Beijing will tolerate further market volatility as regulators clamp down on shadow banking and speculative trading.

Indonesian stocks opened at an all-time high, and Malaysian stocks hit their highest level since May 2015.

Australia and New Zealand are closed for the Anzac Day holiday.

“The risk-on sentiment is resulting in foreign inflows into Asia supporting asset prices, and investors are putting North Korean tensions to one side for now,” said Khoon Goh, head of Asia research at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group.

North Korea conducted a massive live-fire drill on Tuesday on the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its army, media reports said on Tuesday. South Korea’s defence ministry could not immediately confirm the report.

Polls show Emmanuel Macron defeating anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen by as much as 30 percentage points in the second round of the French presidential election in two weeks.

Overnight, the MSCI World index surged 1.6 per cent to touch an all-time high, and holding near that level on Tuesday.

The pan-European STOXX 50 index soared 4 per cent, its best day in nearly two years.

On Wall Street, all three major indexes jumped more than 1 per cent, with the Nasdaq closing at a record high.

The euro was steady at US$1.08645, retaining most of Monday’s 1.3 per cent gain. On Monday, it posted its strongest one-day performance in 10-1/2 months, which lifted the common currency to a 5-1/2-month high.

The euro’s earlier gains had weighed on the dollar index, which touched a four-week low overnight. The index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of trade-weighted peers, was marginally higher at 99.134, failing to make up most of Monday’s 0.9 per cent loss.

The dollar advanced 0.3 per cent to 110.05 yen on Tuesday, extending Monday’s 0.5 per cent jump as investors sold off the safe-haven yen.

A strong earnings season in the US has also lifted investors’ spirits, with 77 per cent of the 100 S&P 500 companies that have reported first-quarter results so far beating profit expectations.

This week is set to be the busiest in at least a decade, with over 190 S&P 500 companies reporting first-quarter results, including heavy weights Alphabet and Microsoft .

In commodities markets, oil prices crept higher after six straight sessions of losses, although gains were capped by fears that pledged output cuts by major producers may not be able to rein in oversupply.

US crude gained 0.5 per cent to US$49.47 a barrel, but hovered close to the lowest level in almost four weeks hit on Monday.

Global benchmark Brent climbed 0.5 per cent to US$51.84 after also hitting a four-week low overnight.

Gold slipped 0.15 per cent to US$1,273.22 an ounce, remaining near a two-week low touched overnight.

UK deficit falls to lowest level since 2008
  • FTSE 100: +0.28pc
  • DAX: -0.01pc
  • CAC 40: +0.38pc
  • IBEX: -0.13pc

 David Cheetham, of XTB, said: “After some sharp moves on the European open yesterday, this morning has seen a sense of calm restored as markets continue to digest the recent political events in France. The FTSE 100 has added to Monday’s gains and has now recovered most of the losses seen last week following the announcement of a snap general election in the UK. In an interesting divergence which reveals a shift in driving forces on the markets, the pound remains well supported and not far from 2017 highs seen last week against the US dollar with the inverse correlation between these two subsiding somewhat in recent trade.”


Resurgent euro keeps pound under pressure

The pound remains under pressure today at the hands of a resurgent euro, which rallied yesterday as markets began to price in a Macron presidency.

Although it regained some momentum in early trade, the pound remains down 0.04pc on the day at 1.1783 against the euro.

Yesterday, the pound suffered its worst day against the euro since early January, falling around 1.4pc.


Institute of Chartered Accountants: Significant amount of work to do to repair public finances

Commenting on UK public finances, Ross Campbell from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales said: “Whatever the outcome on June 8, it’s important to recognise there is still a significant amount of work to be done to repair the public finances – which are projected to stay in deficit for years to come.

“Whoever is Chancellor after the election will need to employ robust fiscal measures to tackle the massive level of public indebtedness we currently see today.

“While Brexit may dominate the pre-election narrative, it is equally important that all party manifestos tackle structural problems that plague the UK’s economy – including the longstanding problems of Government spending more that it earns and a lack of incentives to drive economic growth.”

Most of the larger UK March Public Finances deficit was higher debt interest presumably on RPI Index Linked Bonds.

He suggested that extra investment in infrastructure projects was needed “to spearhead the UK’s economic reboot in a post-Brexit landscape”.

Read the full report by Tim Wallace here


IHS Markit: UK public finances figures ‘pleasing and welcome news’ for Chancellor Hammond

Weighing in on the UK public finances data, economist Howard Archer, of IHS Markit, said the figures were both “pleasing and welcome news” for Chancellor Philip Hammond as he essentially met the markedly lowered 2016/17 fiscal target contained in the March budget.

Go to The Telegraph:

Is Philippines offering Beijing an olive branch over South China Sea?

April 25, 2017

Manila will push for code of conduct to govern disputed waters at upcoming Asean summit, Philippines foreign minister says

By Kristin Huang
South China Morning Post

Tuesday, April 25, 2017, 11:51am
 A Philippine boat fishes during sunset at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea this month. Photo: Reuters

N. Korea leader Kim Jong-Un delighted to entertain with massive artillery display to mark 85 years since the founding of its army — “largest ever firing drill”

April 25, 2017


© KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/File | It is assumed that North Korea’s conventional firing drill on Tuesday to mark the 85th anniversary of its army was overseen by leader Kim Jong-Un

SEOUL (AFP) – Nuclear-armed North Korea on Tuesday marked a military anniversary with a conventional firing drill, reports said, as the South announced joint naval exercises with a US aircraft carrier in the flashpoint region.

Speculation had mounted that Pyongyang could carry out a sixth nuclear test or another missile launch to mark 85 years since the founding of its army.

But no such event — which usually happens in the morning — had taken place by noon, and Seoul’s defence ministry said “no unusual development had been detected”.

Instead the South’s Yonhap news agency cited an unnamed government source saying Pyongyang marked the anniversary with its “largest ever firing drill”, carried out in the eastern port city of Wonsan and presumed to have been overseen by leader Kim Jong-Un.

North Korea has ambitions to build a missile capable of reaching the US mainland and tensions have soared in recent months as it carried out a string of missile tests that sparked tit-for-tat sabre-rattling between it and Washington.

Pyongyang’s rhetoric always intensifies in the spring, when Seoul and Washington hold joint military drills it sees as rehearsals for an invasion.

The North’s Rodong Sinmun — the official mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea — warned Tuesday of dire consequences in the event of a US-led pre-emptive strike.

It promised “the most brutal punishment… in the sky and land as well as at sea and from underwater without any warning or prior notice”.

North Korea launched two missile tests this month while US President Donald Trump and his senior aides have warned that “all options are on the table” against Pyongyang, including military action.

Trump on Monday urged the UN Security Council to consider stronger sanctions against Pyongyang, and US senators will be briefed on North Korea at the White House on Wednesday.

Washington has sent the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the Korean peninsula, where it is expected to arrive — after a derision-provoking delay — later this week.

The vessel will take part in joint naval drills with the South’s forces to “demonstrate Seoul and Washington’s strong determination to punish North Korean provocations”, the South Korean Navy said in a statement.

They will take place in the East Sea, the South’s name for the Sea of Japan, it said, and the two allies will also begin joint naval exercises in the West Sea on Tuesday “in relation to the current security situation”.

The nuclear-powered US submarine USS Michigan also made a port call to the South’s Busan on Tuesday in another show of force.

Trump has said the US was sending an “armada” to the Korean peninsula, including submarines.

The USS Michigan is built to carry submarine-launched ballistic missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of making precision strikes against the North’s nuclear facilities, Yonhap said.

But the South Korean Navy called the vessel’s visit “routine”, adding it would not take part in any joint exercises.


 (Monday, April 24, 2017)

North Korea moving artillery as U.S. submarine makes South Korea port call — Intelligence experts now believe North Korea “capable of producing a nuclear bomb every six or seven weeks”

April 25, 2017


The USS Michigan, an Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarine, arrives at a naval base in Busan, South Korea, April 25, 2017. Cho Jueong-ho/Yonhap via REUTERS
By Ju-min Park | SEOUL

North Korea put on a massive live-fire drill on Tuesday to mark the foundation of its military, media reports said, as a U.S. submarine docked in South Korea in a show of force amid growing concern over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

The port call by the USS Michigan came as a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group steams for Korean waters and as the top nuclear envoys from South Korea, Japan, and the United States met in Tokyo to discuss the North’s refusal to give up its nuclear program.

Fears have risen in recent weeks that North Korea could soon conduct another nuclear test or long-range missile launch in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that the North appeared to have deployed a large number of long-range artillery units in the region of Wonsan on its east coast on Tuesday, conducting a large-scale, live-fire drill.

The report, citing an unidentified government source, said the live-fire exercise was possibly supervised by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

While South Korea’s Defence Ministry could not immediately confirm the report, the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said: “Our military is closely monitoring the North Korean military’s movement in Wonsan areas and we are firmly maintaining readiness.”

North Korea defiantly said in a state media commentary marking the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army’s that its military was prepared “to bring to closure the history of U.S. scheming and nuclear blackmail”.

“There is no limit to the strike power of the People’s Army armed with our style of cutting-edge military equipment including various precision and miniaturized nuclear weapons and submarine-launched ballistic missiles,” the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

South Korea’s Navy said it was conducting a live-fire exercise with U.S. Navy destroyers on Tuesday in waters west of the Korean peninsula and would soon join the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group approaching the region.

The carrier group was sent to the region as a warning to North Korea and a show of solidarity with U.S. allies.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshide Suga, told a media briefing that China’s nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, would hold talks with Japanese Foreign Ministry officials on Tuesday. A ministry source said Wu was likely to meet his Japanese nuclear counterpart on Wednesday.

Emerging from talks with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, said: “As we discuss these things all our steps and every part of them will be in coordination and consultation with our partners.”

“We believe China has a very, very important role to play,” Yun said.


Matching the flurry of diplomatic and military activity in North Asia, the State Department in Washington said on Monday U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would chair a special ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council on North Korea on Friday.

Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Joint Chiefs chairman General Joseph Dunford, would also hold a rare briefing for the entire U.S. Senate on North Korea on Wednesday, Senate aides said.

On Monday, U.S. President Donald Trump called for tougher new U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang, saying the North was a global threat and “a problem that we have to finally solve”.

“The status quo in North Korea is also unacceptable,” Trump told a meeting with the 15 U.N. Security Council ambassadors, including China and Russia, at the White House. “The council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”

The official China Daily said on Tuesday it was time for Pyongyang and Washington to take a step back from harsh rhetoric and heed the voices of reason calling for a peaceful resolution.

“Judging from their recent words and deeds, policymakers in Pyongyang have seriously misread the U.N. sanctions, which are aimed at its nuclear/missile provocations, not its system or leadership,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

“They are at once perilously overestimating their own strength and underestimating the hazards they are brewing for themselves,” it said.

In a phone conversation with Trump on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for all sides to exercise restraint.

As the carrier group drills continued, the USS Michigan arrived in the South Korean port of Busan on Tuesday, the U.S. Navy said. The nuclear-powered submarine is built to carry and launch ballistic missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

As well as his military show of force, Trump has also sought to pressure China to do more to rein in its nuclear-armed neighbor.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally, has in turn been angered by Pyongyang’s belligerence, as well as its nuclear and missile programs.

Angered by the approach of the carrier group, which could arrive within days, North Korea said the deployment of the USS Carl Vinson was “an extremely dangerous act by those who plan a nuclear war to invade”.

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Kaori Kaneko, Linda Sieg, Elaine Lies and Tim Kelly in TOKYO, and Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick, Susan Heavey and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)


 (Monday, April 24, 2017)


WASHINGTON — Behind the Trump administration’s sudden urgency in dealing with the North Korean nuclear crisis lies a stark calculus: a growing body of expert studies and classified intelligence reports that conclude the country is capable of producing a nuclear bomb every six or seven weeks.

That acceleration in pace — impossible to verify until experts get beyond the limited access to North Korean facilities that ended years ago — explains why President Trump and his aides fear they are running out of time. For years, American presidents decided that each incremental improvement in the North’s program — another nuclear test, a new variant of a missile — was worrisome, but not worth a confrontation that could spill into open conflict.

Now those step-by-step advances have resulted in North Korean warheads that in a few years could reach Seattle. “They’ve learned a lot,” said Siegfried S. Hecker, a Stanford professor who directed the Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico, the birthplace of the atomic bomb, from 1986 to 1997, and whom the North Koreans have let into their facilities seven times.

North Korea is now threatening another nuclear test, which would be its sixth in 11 years. The last three tests — the most recent was in September — generated Hiroshima-size explosions. It is unclear how Mr. Trump would react to a test, but he told representatives of the United Nations Security Council at the White House on Monday that they should be prepared to pass far more restrictive sanctions, which American officials say should include cutting off energy supplies.


Thai junta defends ‘cheap’ $393 mn Chinese sub purchase

April 25, 2017


© AFP/File | Defence spending typically surges under coup-installed regimes in Thailand, which has seen more than a dozen putsches in the past 80 years


The Thai junta on Tuesday defended $393 million earmarked for a Chinese submarine, batting back criticism of the secrecy of the deal, its high cost and the questionable utility of the warship.

The submarine sale is the latest defence deal between Beijing and Bangkok, who have grown ever closer since Thailand’s 2014 coup.

The Southeast Asian country has already scooped up several dozen Beijing-built tanks and plans to buy three submarines in total — a purchase that will amount to $1 billion.

The military-led cabinet approved the funds for the first submarine purchase last week — a decision that was not made public until Monday, triggering concern about a lack of transparency.

The deal has long fuelled controversy in Thailand, with critics saying the submarines are not needed in a country with shallow surrounding waters and no stake in the South China Sea disputes that have embroiled its neighbours.

The huge cost of the vessel has also raised eyebrows in a kingdom where ordinary people are feeling the pinch of a stuttering economy.

On Tuesday defence minister Prawit Wongsuwon insisted Tuesday the deal was “transparent” and a good bargain for the Thai navy.

“The reason we choose Chinese-built submarines is because they are the cheapest when compared to other countries’ offers,” he told reporters.

The submarines are needed to “protect our natural resources in the Andaman Sea,” he added, stressing that neighbouring countries “all have submarines.”

Prawit said the first submarine will be delivered within the next six years, with two more expected over the next decade.

Defence spending typically surges under coup-installed regimes in Thailand, which has seen more than a dozen putsches in the past 80 years.

The army, navy and air force tussle over the spoils of budget hikes, reflecting the balance of power among the military.

Beijing has stepped into profit off the army’s spending spree since its most recent coup, which strained ties between Bangkok and its longstanding ally Washington.

Thailand last operated submarines in its waters 50 years ago.

© 2017 AFP

Entire U.S. Senate going to White House for North Korea briefing

April 24, 2017

Published April 24, 2017

Fox News


Military parade in Pyongyang, 15 April
Reuters photo

The entire U.S. Senate has been invited to the White House for a briefing Wednesday on the North Korea situation, amid escalating tensions over the country’s missile tests and bellicose rhetoric.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed the upcoming briefing, for all 100 senators, on Monday.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats plan to provide the update to lawmakers.

It is rare for the entire Senate to be invited to such a briefing.

Spicer clarified that while the event will take place on the White House campus, it is technically a Senate briefing and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is the one who convened it.

The briefing, first reported by Reuters, was confirmed after President Trump earlier spoke to the leaders of both China and Japan.

Trump spoke by phone with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Xi told Trump that China strongly opposed North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and hoped “all parties will exercise restraint and avoid aggravating the situation,” according to Chinese broadcaster CCTV. Trump hopes China could increase pressure on its isolated ally instead of using military options or trying to overthrow Kim Jong Un’s regime.

Trump and Abe agreed to urge North Korea to refrain from provocative actions.

Meanwhile, U.S. commercial satellite images indicated increased activity around North Korea’s nuclear test site, while Kim has said that the country’s preparation for an ICBM launch is in its “final stage.”

South Korea’s Defense Ministry has said the North appears ready to conduct such “strategic provocations” at any time. South Korean Acting Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn has instructed his military to strengthen its “immediate response posture” in case North Korea does something significant on the April 25 anniversary of its military. North Korea often marks significant dates by displaying military capability.

On Monday, Trump also had lunch with ambassadors of countries on the U.N. Security Council. Ahead of the meeting, Trump called for “big reforms” at the U.N. and criticizing its handling of recent events in Syria and North Korea – but said it has “tremendous potential.”

“You just don’t see the United Nations, like, solving conflicts. I think that’s going to start happening now,” he said.

Fox News’ Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


North Korea: U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis Returning To U.S. For White House Meeting On North Korea on Wednesday — Trump Meets With U.N. Security Council Ambassadors at the White House Today

April 24, 2017

Fox News is reporting that U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is returning to the U.S. to participate in a high-level planning meeting at the White House on Wednesday.

President Trump is convening a meeting of his top national security advisors to go through the latest information  about the situation in North Korea



Trump: Time to remove ‘blindfolds’; U.N. must ready new North Korea sanctions

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
By Steve Holland and Ben Blanchard | WASHINGTON/BEIJING

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday the U.N. Security Council must be prepared to impose new sanctions on North Korea, amid escalating tensions over its missile and nuclear programs, saying people had acted as if “blindfolded” for decades on a big problem that finally needed to be solved.

“The status quo in North Korea is also unacceptable,” Trump told a meeting of U.N. Security Council ambassadors at the White House, held at a time of mounting concern that North Korea may be preparing a sixth nuclear bomb test.

“The council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Trump said.

“This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not. North Korea is a big world problem and it’s a problem that we have to finally solve,” he said. “People put blindfolds on for decades and now it’s time to solve the problem.”

Trump gave no indication as to when new sanctions should be imposed on North Korea. U.S. officials say his administration has been debating whether they should be held as response to any new North Korean missile or nuclear test, or imposed as soon as they can be agreed.

Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier called for all sides to exercise restraint in a telephone call about North Korea with Trump, as Japan conducted exercises with a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group headed for Korean waters.

Angered by the approach of the USS Carl Vinson carrier group, a defiant North Korea, which has carried on nuclear and missile tests in defiance of successive rounds of U.N. sanctions, said on Monday the deployment was “an extremely dangerous act by those who plan a nuclear war to invade”.

“The United States should not run amok and should consider carefully any catastrophic consequence from its foolish military provocative act,” Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a commentary on Monday.

Two Japanese destroyers have joined the carrier group for exercises in the western Pacific, and South Korea said on Monday it was also in talks about holding joint naval exercises.

Worry that North Korea could be preparing to conduct another nuclear test or launch more ballistic missiles has increased as it prepares to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday.

It has marked similar events in the past with nuclear tests or missile launches.

Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike.

China is North Korea’s sole major ally but it has been angered by its nuclear and missile programs and is frustrated by its belligerence.

China has repeatedly called for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and is worried the situation could spin out of control, leading to war and a chaotic collapse of its isolated, impoverished neighbor.

Trump, in his phone call with Xi, criticized North Korea’s “continued belligerence” and emphasized that its actions “are destabilizing the Korean peninsula”, the White House said.

“The two leaders reaffirmed the urgency of the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, and committed to strengthen coordination in achieving the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” it said.

Xi told Trump China resolutely opposed any actions that ran counter to U.N. resolutions, China’s foreign ministry said.

China “hopes that all relevant sides exercise restraint, and avoid doing anything to worsen the tense situation”, the Chinese ministry said in a statement, paraphrasing Xi.

The call between the presidents was the latest manifestation of their close communication, which was good for their countries and the world, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.


U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, speaking on NBC’s “Today” program, said the United States and the international community were maintaining pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but were “not trying to pick a fight with him”.

Asked whether a preemptive strike was under consideration, she said: “We are not going to do anything unless he gives us reason to do something.”

“If you see him attack a military base, if you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we’re going to do that. But right now, we’re saying ‘don’t test, don’t use nuclear missiles, don’t try and do any more actions’, and I think he’s understanding that. And China’s helping really put that pressure on him.”

Trump also spoke by telephone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“We agreed to strongly demand that North Korea, which is repeating its provocation, show restraint,” Abe later told reporters. “We will maintain close contact with the United States, keep a high level of vigilance and respond firmly.”

Envoys on the North Korean nuclear issue from the United States, South Korea and Japan are due to meet in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The U.S. government has not specified where the carrier strike group is but U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive “within days”.

South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun gave no details about plans to join the U.S. carrier group for exercises, but said Seoul was holding discussions with the U.S. Navy.

“The South Korean and U.S. militaries are fully ready for North Korea’s nuclear test,” Moon said.

South Korean and U.S. officials have feared for some time that North Korea’s sixth nuclear test could be imminent.

Satellite imagery analyzed by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring project, found some activity at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site last week.

However, the group said it was unclear whether the site was in a “tactical pause” before another test or was carrying out normal operations.

Adding to the tension, North Korea detained a U.S. citizen on Saturday as he attempted to leave the country.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick, Susan Heavey and David Brunnstrom in Washington, Takashi Umekawa and Linda Sieg in Tokyo, James Pearson in Seoul, and Philip Wen, Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel and James Dalgleish)

South China Sea: Vietnam Shows How To Work With Superpowers — China has indeed invaded the Philippines….

April 24, 2017

The Philippine Inquirer

In addressing the conflict between the Philippines and China, let us remember two things:

1) China has legitimate, historical reasons for feeling vulnerable on its seaboard, 2) small Vietnam has successfully fought against China and other mighty powers in safeguarding its sovereignty.

In the past 2,000 years, China has been invaded repeatedly from the sea: by the Japanese in 1592, 1894, 1898 and 1937; by the British in 1839, 1856 and 1898.

After effectively taking control of the Philippines, Spanish hawks urged the conquest of China. Fortunately that plan fell through. However, in the early 20th century, European powers took advantage of China’s weakness to carve out “concessions” in Chinese cities that were de facto colonies.

Though the communists expelled the imperialists in 1949, they were soon confronted by the United States with a chain of military bases, with two big ones in the Philippines. China has become America’s major creditor, yet some American hawks aim to encircle and ultimately destroy China’s military might. Unfortunately, many Filipinos trust the United States and its policy of encirclement. Small wonder, China looks at us as a naive American pawn.

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Let us heed nationalists like Claro M. Recto who pointed out that we cannot be truly independent unless we distance ourselves from the United States and craft our own foreign policy. From the 1950s till the 1960s, Recto warned us about getting dragged into another war with no assurance of immediate American help.

On the other hand, China has indeed invaded territory that is ours. We must resist, lest the Chinese be tempted to grab more. But can we do so? Are we not too small to resist?

The Vietnamese have shown that it is possible. Relying on their own efforts, they drove out the Chinese in 938 and again in 1427; they also defeated the terrifying Mongols in 1288. They defeated the French in 1954, the United States in 1975, and once again the Chinese in 1979.

How did they succeed? Through astuteness on both the battlefield and the halls of diplomacy. We should learn from the brave Vietnamese. While forcefully resisting Chinese incursions, they still manage to attract Chinese investments.

Hopefully, President Duterte can channel his energy into building a strong Philippine military and crafting a nationalistic diplomacy. That will be his legacy. Our nation is divided today. We need a cause that can heal our wounds and bring us together.


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