Posts Tagged ‘China’

“Victory in Kirkuk is a victory over the US and Israel and an answer to Trump’s threats to Iran” — Hezbollah, Syria, Iran Increasing Pressure on Israel — Kirkuk a victory by the resistance over the United States and Israel

October 23, 2017
BY ANNA AHRONHEIM
 OCTOBER 22, 2017 16:57

 

Kurdish expert to ‘The Post’ Iranian-backed victory in Kirkuk has allowed Iran to create a new route to northern Syria and Mediterranean, increasing pressure on Israel.

Hezbollah official: Kurdish defeat is a victory over US and Israel

A Hezbollah fighter stands at a watch tower at Juroud Arsal, the Syria-Lebanon border. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Hezbollah’s executive council deputy head Sheikh Nabil Qaouk has called the routing of Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Kirkuk by Iranian-backed Iraqi troops a victory by the resistance over the United States and Israel.

“Our victory in Kirkuk is a victory over the US and Israel and an answer to Trump’s threats to Iran,” Qaouk said on Sunday, during a religious ceremony in the southern Lebanese town of Bazouriyeh.

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File photo from a Hezbollah event.

Qaouk, Hezbollah’s top official in South Lebanon, said the region has entered a new phase that favors Hezbollah.

“The qualitative and strategic gains achieved by Iraq in Kirkuk is a new achievement for the resistance axis and a new defeat for Trump, America, Israel and others in the region,” he said, adding that America will not be able to change Hezbollah’s positions by their sanctions, “not today, tomorrow or in the future. Hezbollah will complete its path to victory.”

Iraqi forces backed by Iran’s Popular Mobilization Units and other Iranian-backed militias, easily routed the Peshmerga forces from the oil-rich province of Kirkuk last week. This comes after Kurds voted in favor of an independence referendum in late September. As the Iranian-backed forces took over Kirkuk and other Kurdish-held territory in the neighboring provinces of Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah, the US – a staunch ally of the Kurds – did not intervene politically or militarily, saying only it was “monitoring the situation.”

According to Ceng Sagnic, coordinator of the Kurdish Studies Program at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies in Tel Aviv, Iran has created a new route from Iran to northern Syria, increasing pressure on Israel, which is concerned about the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria.

“Iran is in need of secure access routes extending from the Iran-Iraq border to the Lebanon-Israel-Syria triangle in southwestern Syria, in order to increase pressure on Israel, while creating alternative routes to supply Hezbollah both in Syria and Lebanon,” Sagnic told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

“Shi’ite militias were able to control most of the Iraq-Syria borderline adjacent to the US-influenced zone in Syria, creating a safe passage from Iran to northern Syria, while encircling the US and coalition bases in both countries,” Sagnic said. He added, “By doing so, Iranian-backed groups did not only circumvent the Sunni-majority areas of central Iraq to reach Syria, and thus, to the Mediterranean.”

According to Sagnic, these developments brought with them “an added value of harassing US allies in Syria with a dramatically expanded Iranian role in the country, by paving parallel paths to the south and north of the US-influenced zone in Syria, which will eventually force US allies like SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] to foster relations with Iran, if not fully abandon the Western camp.”

Sagnic told the Post that developments in Iraq reflect remarks made last May by Qais Al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, one of the strongest Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. In those comments, Al-Khazali said Iran’s goal in the region was to create a “Shi’ite full moon,” not a “Shi’ite crescent,” as many experts and officials have said.

After more than six years, as the war in Syria seems to be winding down in Assad’s favor, Israel fears Iran will help Hezbollah produce accurate precision-guided missiles, helping it and other Shi’ite militias strengthen their foothold in the Golan Heights.

Also on Sunday, Hezbollah Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem stated, “The Zionist occupation was and will remain Lebanon’s enemy… All those who justify collaboration with this enemy can be described as Israeli collaborators themselves.”

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© AFP/File | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) during a welcoming ceremony on January 23, 2016 in the capital Tehran

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China’s Pursuit of Fugitive Businessman Guo Wengui Kicks Off Manhattan Caper Worthy of Spy Thriller

October 23, 2017

Pressure from Beijing officials seeking Mr. Guo’s return sparks frantic response from Trump administration—and Pennsylvania Station, JFK airport standoffs

Exiled Chinese businessman Guo Wengui at the Manhattan hotel where he now lives, Sept. 30. Photo: Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

Guo Wengui, a wealthy Chinese businessman, sat in the sun room of his apartment on the 18th-floor of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel on New York’s Fifth Avenue. With him were four officials from China’s Ministry of State Security, whom Mr. Guo had agreed to meet.

For many months, Mr. Guo, from his self-imposed exile, had been using Twitter to make allegations of corruption against senior Chinese officials and tycoons. During the hourslong conversation, the officials urged him to quit his activism and return home, after which the government would release assets it had frozen and leave his relatives in peace.

Chinese businessman Guo Wengui at his apartment at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in Manhattan, where he says he was visited by officials from China’s Ministry of State Security.

Chinese businessman Guo Wengui at his apartment at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in Manhattan, where he says he was visited by officials from China’s Ministry of State Security

Liu Yanping, the lead official, said he had come on behalf of Beijing “to find a solution,” according to Mr. Guo and a partial audio recording Mr. Guo said he made of the May encounter and posted online in September.

Mr. Liu’s demeanor made clear this wasn’t a friendly negotiation, and he hinted at the risks for Mr. Guo. “You can’t keep doing this forever,” Mr. Liu can be heard telling Mr. Guo on the audio recording, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “I’m worried about you, to tell you the truth.”

The dramatic meeting sparked an unresolved debate within the Trump administration over the Guo case and laid bare broader divisions over how to handle the U.S.’s top economic and military rival, according to people familiar with the matter. U.S.-China relations have been upset by disagreements over trade, cyberespionage and policy toward North Korea, and Mr. Guo’s New York stay is only adding to the tension.

Mr. Guo shows a video he says he made of the visit to his home by Chinese state security officials.  Photo: Michael Bucher/The Wall Street Journal

The Chinese officials, who were in the U.S. on visas that didn’t allow them to conduct official business, caught the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which wanted to move against them, according to people familiar with the matter. The bureau’s effort ran into friction with other U.S. officials, including those at the State Department, who have tended to favor a less-confrontational approach, according to the people.

Some U.S. national security officials view Mr. Guo, who claims to have potentially valuable information on top Chinese officials and business magnates and on North Korea, as a useful bargaining chip to use with Beijing, the people said.

The episode took a twist when President Donald Trump received a letter from the Chinese government, hand-delivered by Steve Wynn, a Las Vegas casino magnate with interests in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau. Mr. Trump initially expressed interest in helping the Chinese government by deporting Mr. Guo, but other senior officials worked to block any such move, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

Wynn Resorts Ltd. Chief Marketing Officer Michael Weaver said in a written statement to the Journal: “[T]hat report regarding Mr. Wynn is false. Beyond that, he doesn’t have any comment.”

Highlights

  • WHO: Guo Wengui, also known as Miles Kwok, is a wealthy Chinese businessman who fled China in 2014 and entered the U.S. the following year.
  • WHY HE MATTERS: In 2017, Mr. Guo launched an aggressive campaign to expose alleged corruption among China’s business and political elites, which has elicited sharp rebukes from the Chinese government. Beijing’s subsequent alleged efforts to remove Mr. Guo from the U.S. and bring him back to China have become a flashpoint in the U.S.-China relationship.
  • TARGETS: Among others, Mr. Guo is taking aim at Wang Qishan, the Communist Party’s top anticorruption official and a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Mr. Guo claims the Wang family owns a large interest in HNA Group, one of the country’s largest and most acquisitive conglomerates. HNA has denied the charge and sued Mr. Guo for defamation.
  • ALLEGATIONS: China is investigating Mr. Guo in at least 19 major criminal cases that involve bribery, kidnapping, fraud, money laundering and rape. Mr. Guo has denied the allegations and said they are part of a misinformation campaign against him being waged by Chinese officials.
  • LEGAL STATUS: Mr. Guo applied for asylum in the U.S. in September and his application is pending. Beijing has declared him a criminal suspect and has requested an Interpol arrest notice against him.

Mr. Guo, who built a real-estate empire in Beijing, has said he fled China in 2014 after hearing that a state security official to whom he was close would soon be arrested. Beijing has said it is investigating Mr. Guo in at least 19 major criminal cases that involve bribery, kidnapping, fraud, money laundering and rape, allegations that Mr. Guo denies.

Beijing has branded Mr. Guo as an attention-seeking criminal. Beginning this year, his near daily broadcasts on Twitter alleging official corruption have attracted many followers in China, who find ways to bypass China’s internet firewall.

Mr. Guo’s application for asylum in the U.S. is pending. He settled at the Sherry-Netherland in 2015, paying $67.5 million for the apartment overlooking Central Park.

The account of Mr. Guo’s interactions with U.S. and Chinese officials is based on a review of audio and video recordings he said he made of some conversations, discussions with Mr. Guo and with U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

The recent chapter in China’s pursuit of Mr. Guo began May 24, when Mr. Liu, a top official in charge of discipline at the security ministry—China’s equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency—went with his colleagues to the fugitive’s New York home. They entered the U.S. on transit visas, which allow foreign government officials only to travel through the U.S. for a short period en route to another destination.

Mr. Guo said he had agreed to meet the officials because Mr. Liu had permitted Mr. Guo’s wife to leave China and join him in the U.S.

The Chinese officials spoke to Mr. Guo at length, touching on subjects including employees and family members who had been detained in China. Mr. Guo said the officials told him the government would treat him favorably only if he would stop inciting anti-Communist Party sentiment.

Mr. Guo didn’t agree to the officials’ demands.

Later that afternoon, at the beginning of rush hour around 5 p.m., agents from the FBI confronted the Chinese officials at New York’s Pennsylvania Station, according to people familiar with the incident.

At first, the Chinese said they were cultural affairs diplomats. Then they admitted to being security agents. The FBI agents instructed them to leave the country, saying they were in violation of their visas and weren’t to speak to Mr. Guo again.

The Chinese got on the train to Washington. The FBI assumed they would be gone in 24 hours.

Two days later, on May 26, Mr. Liu and the other Chinese officials returned to Mr. Guo’s apartment ahead of a planned flight back to China in the late afternoon.

U.S. law-enforcement authorities, whom Mr. Guo had told about the impending visit, decided it was time to act. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn prepared charges alleging visa fraud and extortion, according to people familiar with the matter. FBI agents raced to John F. Kennedy International airport ahead of the officials’ scheduled 4:50 p.m. Air China flight.

Meanwhile, the Chinese officials dined on dumplings prepared by Mr. Guo’s wife, who was still grateful to Mr. Liu for letting her leave China, according to her husband. Mr. Guo said he again declined the officials’ offer of clemency in exchange for silence, and walked the group out of the building.

Prosecutors were still scrambling to secure final signoff from Washington to go ahead with the planned arrests at the airport.

The Sherry-Netherland Hotel in Manhattan.  Photo: Michael Bucher/The Wall Street Journal

With the flight preparing to board and FBI agents taking positions on the jet bridge, White House national security officials convened a conference call with participants from the State and Justice Departments, the Pentagon and the intelligence community.

State Department officials, worried about collateral consequences for U.S. personnel in China, hesitated to approve the Justice Department’s plan to make arrests.

An alternative was presented: Subject the Chinese officials to additional screening, which would cause them to miss their flight and buy some time, people familiar with the call said.

U.S. officials couldn’t fashion a consensus to approve either plan, and the FBI agents were permitted only to confiscate the Chinese officials’ phones before the plane took off.

A State Department representative said in a written statement: “Decisions on these kinds of matters are based on interagency consensus.”

In a written statement about the events provided to the Journal, a Justice Department spokesman said: “It is a criminal offense for an individual, other than a diplomatic or consular officer or attaché, to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign power without prior notification to the Attorney General.”

The spokesman added that the U.S. is “committed to continuing cooperation with China” on fugitive cases, and that the U.S. “is not a safe haven for fugitives from any nation.”

The U.S. and China have no extradition treaty, a recurring point of tension. Since 2014, China has escalated its global efforts to capture Chinese fugitives accused of corruption, including those who have fled to the U.S. The initiative, dubbed “Operation Fox Hunt,” often involves pressuring relatives in China, confiscating the target’s assets and sending agents to deliver personal threats.

Beijing officials tell their American counterparts they are justified in engaging in such activities because the U.S. carries out similar operations on foreign soil as well, U.S. law-enforcement officials say.

In June, U.S. officials revisited the JFK incident during a policy coordination meeting that grew heated.

Mr. Guo shows documents he says expose corruption in the Chinese government.Photo: Michael Bucher/The Wall Street Journal

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, then senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council, confronted Susan Thornton, an East Asia expert who serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State, charging her agency was improperly hindering law-enforcement efforts to address China’s repeated violations of U.S. sovereignty and law, according to people familiar with the discussion.

State department officials criticized the FBI for not seeking permission from them before initially engaging the Chinese officials, the people said.

State Department official Laura Stone said she was already facing retaliation from Beijing, saying Chinese officials had allegedly confiscated her notebook as she was trying to leave the country, the people said.

The FBI’s assistant director of the counterintelligence division, Bill Priestap, deadpanned in response: “Was it because you had been trying to kidnap and extort someone in China?”

Separately, at a June meeting in the Oval Office, counterintelligence officials briefed President Trump on Beijing’s alleged efforts to steal cutting-edge research from labs and trade secrets from U.S. companies, according to people familiar with the meeting.

The president, surrounded by his top aides, including Vice President Mike Pence, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, his former chief strategist Steve Bannon and other national security and economic advisers, asked to see policy options in 90 days. In the meantime, he said he knew of at least one “Chinese criminal” the U.S. needed to immediately deport, according to the people.

“Where’s the letter that Steve brought?” Mr. Trump called to his secretary. “We need to get this criminal out of the country,” Mr. Trump said, according to the people. Aides assumed the letter, which was brought into the Oval Office, might reference a Chinese national in trouble with U.S. law enforcement, the people said.

The letter, in fact, was from the Chinese government, urging the U.S. to return Mr. Guo to China.

The document had been presented to Mr. Trump at a recent private dinner at the White House, the people said. It was hand-delivered to the president by Mr. Wynn, the Republican National Committee finance chairman, whose Macau casino empire cannot operate without a license from the Chinese territory.

A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Some aides tried to shut the topic of conversation down, including by noting Mr. Guo is a member of the president’s Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla., according to the people familiar with the meeting. The aides later worked to prevent any possible attempts to deport Mr. Guo, an action they believed would deprive the U.S. of a key point of leverage to use against Beijing, the people said.

Mr. Guo in his apartment in New York. Photo: Michael Bucher/The Wall Street Journal

In early September, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz, who supervises the international affairs office at the Justice Department, traveled to China for an anticorruption conference and lodged a protest with Chinese law-enforcement authorities about China’s aggressive efforts to force alleged fugitives to return from the U.S., people familiar with the matter said.

While he was there, Beijing attempted to force another Chinese national to return from the U.S., the people said, without providing details.

On Oct. 4, Mr. Guo was scheduled to speak at the Hudson Institute, a prominent Washington think tank, the same day China’s Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun was scheduled to meet with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others for high-level talks on law enforcement and cybersecurity.

In the days leading up to the speech, the Hudson Institute detected a Shanghai-based attack aimed at shutting down access to its website, according to a spokesman. The Chinese Embassy also called Hudson personnel warning them not to give Mr. Guo the opportunity to speak, according to several people who received such calls.

The institute canceled the event. Kenneth Weinstein, the Institute’s president, said Beijing “sought to dissuade” it from holding the event but said the change of plans was caused by poor planning, not Chinese pressure.

Mr. Guo continued to antagonize the Chinese in the run-up to the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade Congress, which began Wednesday. President Xi Jinping is seeking to solidify his position as the country’s strongest leader in decades during the weeklong event.

Earlier this month at an event in Washington, Mr. Guo released copies of an alleged Chinese government document purporting to authorize a group of spies to be dispatched to the U.S. to stop him and other targets. Beijing has said the document is a forgery.

He also met with lawmakers and Mr. Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who continues to advocate that the U.S. take a hard line on economic negotiations with China. Mr. Guo posted photos of himself with Mr. Bannon on a new English-language Twitter account he recently launched.

—Nicole Hong and Michael C. Bender contributed to this article.

Write to Kate O’Keeffe at kathryn.okeeffe@wsj.com, Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com and Cezary Podkul at cezary.podkul@wsj.com

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-hunt-for-guo-wengui-a-fugitive-businessman-kicks-off-manhattan-caper-worthy-of-spy-thriller-1508717977

Indonesia, Singapore should encourage conflicting parties to solve South China Sea dispute

October 23, 2017

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Indonesia, Singapore should encourage conflicting parties to solve South China Sea dispute

Illustration of South China Sea. (www,beforeitnews.com)

Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Indonesia and Singapore can take the initiative to encourage countries involved in the South China Sea dispute to sit together to solve it, Indonesian senior diplomat Hasjim Djalal said.

“Indonesia and Singapore can take the initiative to bring the conflicting parties to negotiations,” he said in a discussion on “The South China Sea Disputes: Will ASEAN and China Find Convergence?” here on Saturday.

The discussion was held as a side event of the 3rd Indonesian Foreign Policy Conference themed “Win-Winning ASEAN, Conquering Globalization”. The conference highlighted 50 years of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and globalization.

As non-claimant countries, Indonesia and Singapore can take the initiative to bring claimant countries to a meeting, he said.

According to the expert in law of the sea, non-claimant ASEAN member states should encourage claimant countries to sit together to find a solution to the dispute.

“We need diplomatic initiative on the part of Indonesia and Singapore as non-claimant ASEAN member states to encourage claimant ASEAN member states to sit together with China,” he said.

The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

An estimated US$5 trillion worth of global trade passes through the South China Sea and many non-claimant states want the South China Sea to remain international waters.

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China’s rising authoritarianism has a stark human cost — China’s human rights activists “certainly haven’t been crushed.”

October 22, 2017

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By Jonathan Kaiman
The Los Angeles Times

Li Heping spent his career trying to hold Chinese Communist Party officials accountable for their darkest behavior. He believed in an authority higher than the party — China’s own legal system. And for that, he suffered tremendously.

Since the late ’90s, Li, a 46-year-old human rights lawyer, had defended China’s most persecuted groups: dissidents, petitioners, victims of land grabs and forced demolitions, church leaders, practitioners of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong. Then came the “709” crackdown — named for July 9, 2015, the night it began — when authorities detained or interrogated more than 300 lawyers and their associates, including Li. They held Li without charge for nearly two years. And this May, they let him go — on the condition he remain silent.

“What my husband has gone through during that 22 months in jail was relentless, inhuman, perverted and unthinkable,” said his wife, Wang Qiaoling, 44, who has emerged as an outspoken advocate for rule of law amid her husband’s enforced silence. “The police will torture you till the edge of death, both physically and mentally.”

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping ascended to power in 2012, he has both amassed extraordinary power — analysts routinely call him China’s strongest leader since Mao Tse-tung — and ratcheted up repression to its highest levels since the early 1990s.

This week, a twice-a-decade Communist Party congress is almost certain to grant him another five-year term. Yet beyond the congress’ displays of pageantry and protocol — its chandeliers, identical black suits and long, turgid speeches — Li’s experience is a vivid reminder of the party’s propensity for maintaining its grip on power through violence and fear.

The Communist Party, under Xi, has introduced new, draconian legislation tightening control over religion, foreign non-governmental organizations and the internet. Xi’s sweeping anti-corruption drive has “punished” more than a million officials and suppressed competing party factions. He has repeatedly vowed to preside over a “national rejuvenation” — one that categorically rejects “Western values” such as democracy, rule of law and freedom of speech. The media has been neutered. Scores of lawyers, activists and journalists have been jailed.

“After several hundred years, the Western model is showing its age,” the state-run New China News Agency said in a Tuesday commentary.

China’s Communist Party leaders have “determined that they must not drop their guard on being in control,” said Stein Ringen, emeritus professor at the University of Oxford and author of “The Perfect Dictatorship: China in the 21st Century.” “During the 1980s, when things were relatively open, and people felt like things were moving in a direction of greater openness — that was because there was disagreement. There were different factions in the party leadership, and a debate about what direction the party would take.

“Now there is no debate,” he continued. “It’s absolutely hierarchical.”

Li knew the party’s wrath long before the 2015 crackdown. In 2007, as Beijing prepared to host the Olympics, plainclothes men abducted Li, held him for eight hours, beat him and shocked him with electric batons. They warned him to leave the city and dumped him in the woods. For years, authorities had kept his home under constant surveillance.

But the 2015 crackdown was different — more comprehensive, and more severe.

On July 10 that year, police took Li into custody and ransacked his home and office for files, computers and external hard drives. For the first six months, Wang said, they kept him in solitary confinement. Two guards forced him to stand between them for 15 to 16 hours a day, giving him about eight inches of space.

“Once you move, they would slap, kick and beat you,” Wang said. “They would also write down every detail about your movements, such as, ‘You moved your nose,’ ‘You frowned’ and so on.”

People dressed like doctors forced Li to take drugs — at least half a dose daily, and at least six types altogether. He believed they were blood pressure medications, hallucinogens and sedatives. They made him dizzy and fatigued. “The damage it has on a person’s brain is unthinkable,” Wang said. “You behave like a psychiatric patient. Your brain starts to lose control of how you behave and what you say.

“These types of physical torture are less bloody and violent, yet the damage they do to your body is relentless,” she continued. “Most normal people cannot bear it at all.”

In 2016, authorities transferred Li to an ordinary detention facility in the city of Tianjin, near Beijing, where he lived on a long hall with other prisoners. The torture didn’t stop — authorities shackled his wrists to his ankles for a month. They made him sit on a stool for 16 hours straight.

On April 28, 2017, they gave him a rushed, secret trial. According to authorities, he pleaded guilty to attacking China and its government via social media and interviews with the foreign press. A judge convicted him of “subversion of state power” and released him on a suspended sentence, meaning even a minor infraction could send him back to jail.

At home, Li looked in a mirror for the first time in 22 months. The gaunt, gray-haired skeleton staring back shocked him.

“He can no longer work as a normal person,” Wang said. “His lawyer’s license has been [invalidated], and he lost his physical freedom to go outside Beijing.”

Other victims of the 709 crackdown have made what appears to be forced pre-trial confessions on state television. Virtually all of them cast their legal work as criminal, anti-China and supported by hostile “foreign forces.” Under Xi, these confessions — a relic of Cultural Revolution-era public humiliations — have spiked. At least 40 were broadcast between 2013 and 2016.

Only one lawyer, Wang Quanzhang — a 41-year-old advocate for marginalized groups — still awaits trial. Authorities have not explained the delay. His wife, Li Wenzu, who has not seen him since his detention, believes he may simply be unwilling to bend.

“The government is aiming to punish current arrested activists, and also to frighten the potential activists of the future,” said Li, 32. “Since the [709] cases are fundamentally made up by the government, it’s also difficult for the government to find any evidence that proves them guilty.”

In March, Li and her 4-year-old son, Wang Guangwei, moved in with Wang (and her 6-year-old daughter, Li Jiamei) at her three-bedroom apartment in southern Beijing. They still visit the police and judicial organs — as well as foreign embassies — to advocate for Wang’s release.

“The human rights lawyers’ circle is very small, but we all help each other and cooperate each other and support each other,” she said.

China’s human rights activists “certainly haven’t been crushed,” said Eva Pils, a human rights expert from King’s College London who knows many of the lawyers. “Even in the most desperate situations, they’re resisting in small but significant ways.”

A revolving cast of up to 20 security guards around Li and Wang’s apartment restrict their movement, and state security agents have harassed Li’s aging parents in central China’s Hubei province.

“I don’t believe the situation will change in the short term,” Li said. “But I believe this is a natural reaction — to fight to save my husband, and for his freedom, without any hesitation, no matter the price I have to pay.”

Nicole Liu and Gaochao Zhang in the Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

Tesla Strikes Deal With Shanghai to Build Factory in China

October 22, 2017

Arrangement could enable electric-car maker to slash production costs, but would still likely incur 25% import tariff

Image result for Tesla, electric car, photos

Electric-car maker Tesla Inc. has reached an agreement to set up its own manufacturing facility in Shanghai, according to people briefed on the plan, a move that could help it gain traction in China’s fast-growing EV market.

Image result for Tesla, electric car, photos

The deal with Shanghai’s government will allow the Silicon Valley auto maker to build a wholly owned factory in the city’s free-trade zone, these people said. This arrangement, the first of its kind for a foreign auto maker, could enable Tesla to slash production costs, but it would still likely incur China’s 25% import tariff.

Tesla is currently working with the Shanghai government about details of the deal’s announcement, such as timing, one of these people said. The effort comes as President Donald Trump, who has been critical of China’s trade policies, prepares to visit Beijing early next month.

A Tesla spokesman didn’t have a comment beyond reiterating the company’s previous statement in June that it planned to “clearly define” production plans in China by year’s end. The Shanghai government didn’t reply to a request for comment.

China’s EV market—already the world’s largest—is primed for growth. The Chinese government is targeting 7 million EV sales a year by 2025, up from 351,000 last year, and in September it ordered all auto makers already operating in China to start producing EVs by 2019. Officials have also said they are working on a plan to ban gasoline cars.

A pair of Tesla Inc. electric vehicles sit outside the company’s showroom in Shanghai. The auto maker has come to an agreement with the Shanghai government to open a manufacturing facility in the city’s free-trade zone, according to people familiar with the plan.
A pair of Tesla Inc. electric vehicles sit outside the company’s showroom in Shanghai. The auto maker has come to an agreement with the Shanghai government to open a manufacturing facility in the city’s free-trade zone, according to people familiar with the plan.PHOTO: QILAI SHEN/BLOOMBERG NEWS

China had previously circulated a proposal that would allow electric-car makers into the country without local partners if they were to locate in the so-called free-trade zones. The government set up the country’s first such zone in Shanghai in 2013, and has since approved 10 more around the country.

Until now, foreign auto makers have built cars in China through joint ventures with local manufacturers. That allows them to avoid the 25% tariff on autos, but also forces them to split profits, and potentially share technology, with the local partner—something that has tripped up Tesla’s previous efforts to expand there.

Under current rules, the cars Tesla builds in the free-trade zone would still count as imports and incur the tariff. Auto analysts in Shanghai doubt the Chinese government has any incentive to give Tesla special treatment.

“Government regulators examine every deal and try not to set a precedent,” said Bill Russo, chief executive of Automobility, a Shanghai-based consultancy, and a former Chrysler executive. “Whatever deal Tesla gets, others will want it too.”

A plant in Shanghai’s free-trade zone still has clear benefits, Mr. Russo said. It would give Tesla a base from which to export to the region, while offering proximity to the Chinese supply chain, thereby lowering production costs and the sale price of Tesla cars sold there. Today, a Tesla costs roughly 50% more in China than it does in the U.S.

Manufacturing in Shanghai would also put Tesla in good standing with the Chinese government, said Michael Dunne, a longtime auto-industry consultant who spent years in Asia. Having Tesla cars built on Chinese soil would please Beijing officials, he said, which “in turn, will give Tesla goodwill leverage to negotiate better China market-access terms in the future.”

The auto maker reported more than $1 billion in revenue in China on sales of roughly 11,000 imported vehicles, representing about 15% of total revenue. Sales in China were up from about $319 million in 2015.

In June, Tesla revealed it was in talks with the Shanghai government about the possibility of opening a factory and reiterated that it aims to define its China production plans by year’s end. A month earlier, Chief Executive Elon Musk cryptically had told analysts that a change in China rules would be “good timing.”

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, spoke at a forum in Hong Kong in January 2016. Mr. Musk has previously signaled a desire to expand Tesla’s manufacturing capabilities in China and Europe.
Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, spoke at a forum in Hong Kong in January 2016. Mr. Musk has previously signaled a desire to expand Tesla’s manufacturing capabilities in China and Europe. PHOTO: JUSTIN CHIN/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Mr. Musk has said Tesla could cut prices in China by one-third by reducing shipping costs and avoiding import duties.

Mr. Musk has previously signaled a desire to expand manufacturing capabilities in China and Europe. The company, which manufactures its vehicles in Fremont, Calif., does final assembly at a facility in Tilburg, Netherlands, for the European market.

Fremont is currently under pressure to expand manufacturing capacity to meet Mr. Musk’s ambitious goals of making 10,000 Model 3 sedans a week by the end of next year. The Model 3, priced starting at $35,000, is part of his vision for expanding the auto maker beyond selling luxury niche vehicles.

While the cost of introducing the new vehicle has left the auto maker with little cash to spare, investors’ enthusiasm for Mr. Musk’s vision has helped push shares of the company up more than 50% this year so far, propelling Tesla’s market value to rival General Motors Co.’s .

Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. acquired a 5% stake in Tesla in March, giving Mr. Musk a powerful ally in China.

Write to Tim Higgins at Tim.Higgins@WSJ.com, Trefor Moss at Trefor.Moss@wsj.comand Eva Dou at eva.dou@wsj.com

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/tesla-strikes-deal-with-shanghai-to-build-factory-in-china-1508670181
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Tesla Inc. might be able to drive into China, but it won’t be able to ride solo.The electric-car maker could strike an agreement as early as this week allowing it to make vehicles in China, Bloomberg News reported on Monday. That would give the U.S. company an opening into the world’s largest auto market.

Just consider it another part of Tesla founder Elon Musk’s worldwide domination plan. (Come on, he must have it all sketched out on the back of a paper napkin somewhere, right?)

But while Musk has blown into powerfully dug-in industries like autos, space and energy with little deference to precedent, in China he faces a different beast. He’s going to have to play by the rules.

Conventional wisdom says that will mean complying with China’s so-called 50-50 rule, which compels foreign carmakers to form joint ventures with local companies. If Tesla wants to build a plant in Shanghai, the most obvious choice would be a partnership with a state-owned entity like SAIC Motor Corp.

But SAIC has partnerships with Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co., and competitors have relationships with Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobile NV among others. It’s hard to imagine Elon Musk jumping into bed with an old guard that Tesla was spawned to disrupt. Ditto for the 15 so-called startups with permits to make electric vehicles in China, most of which have ties to traditional automakers.

While there are a handful of Chinese automakers without foreign partners, such as Great Wall Motor Co., they have little to offer Tesla and it’s likely Musk will try to get more creative.

The idea of China bending the rules for an American company may sound laughable, but the government has already flirted with the idea of relaxing the joint-venture ownership restriction.  It’s already done so for suppliers.

It’s also important to consider that China might have much to gain from bringing Tesla aboard. The government is intent on increasing annual sales of electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and fuel-cell cars 10-fold in the next decade, part of efforts to slash air pollution and oil imports. At the same time, it doesn’t want to repeat its mistakes with traditional cars, where foreign partnerships made money but did little to advance automotive technology in the country, according to Jochen Siebert, managing director of JSC Automotive Consulting.

Allowing Tesla to build a factory on Chinese soil could kick-start the stronger electric-vehicle supply chain that the nation will need if it’s going to turbocharge its clean-car industry. It would also create thousands of jobs and advance the government’s goal of moving further up the manufacturing value chain. Musk’s prowess in solar power and space, two areas China is intent on dominating, doesn’t hurt either.

Which brings us back to the rule-bending. Let’s say Chinese authorities are willing to strike a deal with Tesla.

Musk’s company could still form a partnership; it’s just that the Chinese firm wouldn’t have to be a carmaker. Instead, it could be a tech company like Tencent Holdings Ltd., which already has a 5 percent stake in Tesla. Or Baidu Inc., which has been working on driverless technology that could eventually power Tesla’s cars. Or Beijing CH-Auto Technology Co., which has a license to make electric vehicles but is a newcomer to the industry.

Tesla gets to produce vehicles in China. Beijing gets to proclaim it’s a partnership with a local company. Tesla gets to stand guard over its intellectual property around batteries, the company’s true secret sauce, but still benefits from the software or designs that a Tencent, Baidu or Beijing CH-Auto could offer. And China gets to cement its leadership in electric vehicles.

It wouldn’t be the first time China changed the rules to fit its goals.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

  • Tesla already sells cars in China but because they aren’t made in country, they’re subject to hefty taxes that require consumers to pay 1.5 times what Americans would for the same vehicle.
  • Earlier this year the government said it would open up the joint venture ownership restriction “in an orderly manner,” without providing a timelines.

To contact the author of this story:
Shelly Banjo in Hong Kong at sbanjo@bloomberg.net

https://www.bloomberg.com/gadfly/articles/2017-06-20/tesla-getting-hitched-in-china-may-break-the-auto-mold

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Related:

  • BENGALURU: While Tesla is looking at the possibility of building a car factory in China, the California-based electric car maker might consider a car battery factory in India, Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla, said in a tweet. PM Narendra Modi had visited the Tesla factory while on his Silicon Valley visit last month. “Given high local demand, a Gigafactory in India would probably make sense in the long term,” Musk said in response to a specific question about whether he would consider a factory in India too.

  • Tesla reports fourth-quarter earnings this week. For the most part, analysts and observers of the electric-car maker’s fortunes are expecting CEO Elon Musk to report that Tesla delivered fewer cars in the last three months of 2014, and for the whole of the year, than predicted.

  • Benjamin Zhang/Business InsiderElectric-car maker Tesla may be close to making the final arrangements with the city of Shanghai for a car factory in the Chinese market, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday. An agreement with the city could be official as early as this week, Bloomberg said, citing “people familiar with the matter.” Making vehicles in China could help Tesla significantly. Here’s why.

  • TeslaTesla has hired Peter Hochholdinger, an Audi executive of 22 years, to fill the role of vice president of vehicle production. Greg Reichow, Tesla’s former vice president of production, took a leave of absence in early May so “he can have a well-earned break,” a spokesperson told Bloomberg at the time.

  • Given that China is the largest market for the automotive industry, any automaker with a dream to take over the world simply cannot afford to under perform in this country. Though Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ:TSLA) had a rough start in China back in 2014, however, that will not be the case in 2016.

  • On Friday, Barclays maintained an Equal weight rating on Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) stock but lowered the target price from $220 to $200. Brian Johnson, an analyst at the firm explained that although Tesla has set high targets for next few years, it looks very difficult for the Palo Alto-based automaker to make a mark in the mass-market.

  • NEW DELHI: Elon Musk, the legendary entrepreneur who founded electric vehicle maker Tesla, is determined to enter the Indian market. Even though he faces several obstacles, he is trying hard to negotiate his entry with the government. Now he has initiated talks with the government to enter India through the single-brand retail route where the challenge lies in mandatory local sourcing of up to 30% of the value of goods sold in the country. India has set for itself the target of having only electric cars by 2030. But there is a lot of skepticism about the target as it looks too ambitious.

  • Tesla you have a problem, well several actually. But, before we get into all the competition that is about to flood your market, lets take a look at some basic math surrounding your valuation.  Ford currently generates roughly $1,800 of EBITDA per vehicle and trades at a total enterprise value of $35 billion, roughly 3x their median EBITDA forecast for 2017.

  • As if new electric vehicles (EVs) from rival automakers were not a viable threat alone for Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA), now Chinese electric car and battery-maker BYD has vowed to match Tesla’s massive Gigafactory initiative too. According to a report from Reuters, BYD aims to sharply increase output at its own lithium-ion battery plant over the next few years, as it gears up to meet increasing global demand for the specific battery technology coming from EV and energy storage industries.

Militants kill woman, ransack cop’s house in separate incidents in Kashmir’s Pulwama

October 22, 2017

Five masked militants ransacked the house of Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, an assistant sub-inspector in Batagund village of Tral area on Saturday evening

Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor

Indian Army soldier take position behind a tree near the site of a gunfight after militants stormed the District Police Lines (DPL) in Pulwama, August 25, 2017. Express Photo By Shuaib Masoodi

INDIA Updated: Oct 22, 2017 15:07 IST
Agencies, Srinagar

Militants gunned down a woman and critically injured another in south Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Sunday, the police said.The deceased has been identified as Yasmeena, a resident of Khonmoh, and the injured as Ruby, a resident of Seer Tral, they said.

A police cordon was put in place around the area to nab the culprits.

In a separate incident, a group of militants ransacked the house of a police official in the same district, authorities said.

Five masked militants ransacked the house of Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, an assistant sub-inspector (ASI) in Batagund village of Tral area on Saturday evening.

The inmates of the house including Bhat’s father managed to escape immediately upon the arrival of the militants, the authorities added.

Also on Saturday, militants vandalised the houses of two ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) workers in Shopian and Pulwama districts.

 Image result for Batagund village of Tral area, Kashmir, map

Chinese propaganda faces stiff competition from celebrities — “Chinese people are increasingly ignoring party propaganda.”

October 22, 2017

The Associated Press

In this Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017 photo, Chinese women walk past advertisement featuring teen idol Lu Han, also known as China's Justin Bieber in Beijing, China. China works to stifle celebrities as it seeks to dictate the values the nation’s youth should embrace. It’s part of the most ambitious effort in years to shape the country’s booming entertainment industry. Instead of selfish, rich stars, the state is promoting performers who are all about patriotism, purity and other values that support the party’s legitimacy, whether in movies about revolutionary heroes or through rap music. Photo: Ng Han Guan, AP / Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In this Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017 photo, Chinese women walk past advertisement featuring teen idol Lu Han, also known as China’s Justin Bieber in Beijing, China. China works to stifle celebrities as it seeks to dictate the values the nation’s youth should embrace. It’s part of the most ambitious effort in years to shape the country’s booming entertainment industry. Instead of selfish, rich stars, the state is promoting performers who are all about patriotism, purity and other values that support the party’s legitimacy, whether in movies about revolutionary heroes or through rap music. Credit: Ng Han Guan, AP

HONG KONG (AP) — When the propaganda film, “The Founding of an Army,” hit theaters in China recently, the reaction wasn’t quite what the ruling Communist Party might have hoped for.

Instead of inspiring an outpouring of nationalism and self-sacrifice for the state, it was roundly mocked for trying to lure a younger audience by casting teen idols as revolutionary party leaders.

Viewers more used to seeing the idols play love interests in light-hearted soap operas responded to the film by projecting “modern-day romantic narratives on the founding fathers of the nation,” said Hung Huang, a well-known social commentator based in Beijing. “It was hilarious.”

While China’s resurgent Communist Party once pushed its policies on an unquestioning public, it now struggles to compete for attention with the country’s booming entertainment industry and the celebrity culture it has spawned.

“Chinese people are increasingly ignoring party propaganda and are much more interested in movie stars, who represent a new lifestyle and more exciting aspirations,” said Willy Lam, an expert on Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

President Xi Jinping, who will cement his authority with his expected endorsement to a second five-year term at this week’s national party congress, has placed a priority on stamping out too much Western influence in Chinese society in part so the party can dictate the values the youth should embrace.

Authorities have responded by taking aim at everything from gossip websites to soap opera story lines to celebrity salaries. Instead of selfish, rich stars, the state is promoting performers who are all about patriotism, purity and other values that support the party’s legitimacy.

The results have at best been mixed and at worst ham-fisted and out of touch.

One problem is that the party’s values often clash with what young Chinese want to watch, according to Hung. Among the more popular shows watched by Chinese youth are those that center on palace intrigue, martial arts fantasies, high school romances or single, independent women.

“While the government could once dictate to young people what they should value and how they should lead their lives, they find themselves completely without the tools to do that now,” she said.

In the 1970s, the state was able to promote people seen as paragons of youthful devotion and selflessness, but Hung said that no longer works because young Chinese — like their counterparts in the West — now prefer to follow celebrity gossip and have the tools with which to do so.

Just this month, teen idol Lu Han, also known as China’s Justin Bieber, announced he had a girlfriend, triggering a flood of shares, responses and 4 million “likes” within a few hours that briefly crashed the country’s popular Weibo microblog service.

A recent commentary in The Global Times, a party newspaper with a nationalistic stance, railed against such celebrity worship, saying China had now surpassed the West in that regard.

“It’s unfair that these stars accrue such glory, unimaginable to those who have made a decisive contribution to the country,” the commentary said.

That was likely a reason the government-backed China Alliance of Radio, Film and Television moved last month to cap the pay of actors, whose salaries had hit historic highs as young Chinese and a burgeoning middle class increasingly spend on movie tickets and goods.

In another move earlier this year, authorities closed 60 popular celebrity gossip and social media accounts and called on internet giants such as Tencent and Baidu to “actively propagate core socialist values, and create an ever-healthier environment for the mainstream public opinion.”

The tension between popular culture and state propaganda isn’t new in China. In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping’s lieutenants railed against spiritual pollution. But it has gained new traction since Xi came to power in 2012 and officials began a wide-ranging crackdown on perceived societal ills from corruption to dissent to — now — entertainment.

“Xi Jinping has been advocating a revision to traditional, Confucian moral standards,” Lam said. “The definition of what is vulgar or morally problematic has been inflated and expanded so that it has become all-encompassing.”

Shows about the pursuit of great wealth and luxury that used to be tolerated under Xi’s predecessor, aren’t anymore.

The government has demanded that broadcasters “resist celebrity worship” and limit the air time dedicated to film and TV stars.

“The party does not want these entertainment programs to compete with news programs and ‘morality shows,’” said Jian Xu, a Chinese media research fellow at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia.

From left, Wang Yuan, Wang Junkai and Yiyang Qianxi of the Chinese boy band TFBoys performing at an awards ceremony in Beijing last year. Credit Imagechina, via Associated Press

One example of a state-approved show is “Touching China,” which honors people who have “touched the nation with their tenacity, bravery and wisdom.”

The government has also tried to shape some celebrities into party-sanctioned role models.

Thanks to their wholesome image and uplifting, patriotic lyrics, the TFboys, China’s first home-grown boy band, have risen to fame because of “political opportunities” they’ve been given, Xu said. The band is pursued by adoring fans and has performed twice on the coveted Lunar New Year gala hosted by state broadcaster China Central Television; it has also been promoted by the Communist Youth League.

Stars deviating from the party’s image of purity and moral acceptability, however, have been punished. In a high-profile drug crackdown in 2014, authorities publicly chastised a succession of celebrities caught using drugs, including Jackie Chan’s son, Jaycee Chan, and singer Li Daimo, forcing them to apologize on state television.

Beijing may struggle to win over young Chinese, but it won’t stop its carrot-and-stick approach to regulating the industry.

“The government’s method of punishment and praise is very obvious: If you work with me, you will reap the benefits, if you don’t, you won’t. If you’re a good boy, you get candy, if you don’t, you won’t,” Xu said.

Source with more Photos:

http://www.fairfieldcitizenonline.com/news/world/article/Chinese-propaganda-faces-stiff-competition-from-12296628.php#photo-14396622

Kurds Say Now America is No Longer a Trustworthy Ally; Donald Trump Betrayed Us — “We were not supported by the American ally” — “Iran was here, the U.S. was not here.”

October 22, 2017
Time magazine

Armed Kurdish civilians set-up checkpoints in Kirkuk Monday morning as they tried to prevent Kurdish peshmerga fighters from evacuating the city as Iraqi government forces advanced.

The peshmerga left along with tens of thousands of fleeing civilians that jammed the road from Kirkuk to Erbil. Resident burnt tires and shouted “shame on you,” while some civilians pointed guns as the peshmerga departed.

 Image result for Kurds, october 2017, flags, photos
Iraqi Kurds fly Kurdish flags during an event to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum, September 16, 2017 (SAFIN HAMED-AFP)

By mid-afternoon, the Kurds had lost control of Kirkuk, Iraq’s most contested city. Young Arab men hung an Iraqi flag from a bridge as American-made Humvees rolled through the streets, closely followed by pick-up trucks filled with fighters from the mostly-Shia Popular Mobilization Forces.

“Now all Kirkuk can see this flag,” said Abdullah Gubal as he hung it over a billboard for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the leading Kurdish political party in Kirkuk.

Claimed by both the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional authority in Erbil, the fate of Kirkuk should have been decided by referendum a decade ago. Kurds took control of Kirkuk when Iraqi forces fled ISIS’s advance in June of 2014. The Kurdish leadership vowed they wouldn’t hand the city back. But Kirkuk’s government buildings and Kurdish party headquarters were virtual empty Monday and residents said they saw Kurdish officials and forces leave before the Iraqi forces advanced.

“They sold Kirkuk,” said Ahmad Mohamed holding his Kalashnikov at the edge of the city with a group of angry Kurdish volunteer fighters pledging to go back and push the Iraqi forces out.

“This is shame on the Kurdish leaders and most of the Kurdish commanders in Kirkuk,” said Wyra Ali. “They didn’t fire one bullet from their weapons. They should defended Kirkuk, but they didn’t.”

Hiwa Osman, a Kurdish analyst, says the peshmerga retreat may have been the result of both confusion and internal division. Since the Kurds’ controversial referendum on sovereignty last month, the division between the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the party of Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, and the PUK has been growing and many here believe the PUK struck a deal to hand over Kirkuk to Baghdad.

“One camp said stay at home,” says Osman. “The other camp said take your weapons and go in to the street.”

In the end, Iraqi forces and allied militias met little resistance in the urban center after clashes with forces outside the city. Overnight Iraqi forces took control of the areas outside the city and by afternoon American-trained elite forces had taken the Kurdish flag off the governors’ office and raised the Iraqi one instead.

Monday’s Iraqi advance on Kirkuk was spurred by the controversial Kurdish referendum on September 25. Washington and Baghdad both urged the Kurdish leadership to postpone the vote, but they went ahead. Since then, Baghdad has been increasing pressure on the Kurds’ semi-autonomous region — halting international flights out of the Kurds’ two international airports and threatening to take control of the borders.

Kurds were outnumbered, out-armed and also unsupported by the ally they share with Baghdad. Both the Iraqi forces entering the city today and the Kurdish forces that left, are funded, trained and equipped by the U.S. and allies in the fight against ISIS, putting Washington in difficult position.

“Where are the American planes?” asked another man. The pop of gunfire could be heard in the distance as the volunteer Kurdish fighters talked about heading in to Kirkuk.
President Donald Trump said Monday that the U.S. would not take sides in the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute. But Jennifer Cafarella, senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, says it’s this position and American tunnel vision on the fight against ISIS that allowed this situation to escalate.

“The U.S. is in a terrible position because we remained focused on the very narrow anti-ISIS mission,” says Cafarella, explaining the U.S. needed to be more engaged before these tensions between the Iraqis and the Kurds spiraled. She also cautions that while U.S. has not been involved, the Iranians have. “Now the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines asking for everyone to deescalate.”

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CNN

Trump’s actions are beginning to have global consequences

Nic Robertson is CNN’s international diplomatic editor. The opinions in this article belong to the author.

Image result for Masoud Barzani, photos, marching, with Kurdish flag

(CNN) — The last time Baghdad sent troops into Kirkuk to kick out Kurdish forces, I was in the first group of journalists taken to see the aftermath.

Bloated bodies and blown-up trucks littered the road as we arrived.
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Fresh on the heels of the allied liberation of Kuwait in 1991, swaths of Iraq’s downtrodden rose up against Saddam Hussein. The Shia in the south and the Kurds in the north were both brutally crushed.
Around Kirkuk we witnessed the ugly aftermath of more killings. Kurds who had been gunned down, their bodies untouched where they fell.
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It was, as my wife — then a CNN correspondent — reported, “an object lesson in brutality.”
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Although Baghdad’s offensive in Kirkuk this week is tame by comparison, it is nevertheless an object lesson not just for the Kurds, but for the US — and President Trump in particular.
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The Iraqi government forces arrived in US-made Humvees and Abrams tanks backed by Shia militias who are supported by Iran. Both the US and Iran are vying for influence in Iraq.
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Iran’s claim is historic, rooted in religious ideology. By contrast, America appears as the Johnny-come-lately.
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So when Trump refused to recertify Iran’s compliance of the Iran nuclear deal last week and threatened to designate Iran’s top military force, the revolutionary guard — the IRGC — a terrorist organization, he wasn’t just slapping down the theocracy — he was also upping the stakes in Iraq.
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Image result for Masoud Barzani, photos, marching, with Kurdish flag
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In part drawing a line in the sand; in part throwing sand in the faces of Iran’s leaders. Iran’s Supreme Leader the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is throwing sand back, pledging to undermine US interests in Iraq and by implication its Kurdish region.
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Not long after my visit to Kirkuk in 1991, the US designated Kurdish areas a safe zone, denying Saddam access.
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Since then, the Kurds — under their leader Masoud Barzani — have cemented autonomy and grown claims for independence, wooing America as a protector by granting oil rights and offering strategic airbases for them — some close to Iran’s border.
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But last month, Barzani pushed the relationship to the brink by forcing through a Kurdish referendum on independence against the express wishes of America, Iraq, and Iran. Only Israel accepted the Kurds’ overwhelming call for independence.
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On the eve of Iraq’s Kurdish offensive this week, an IRGC general slipped into Kirkuk with two Iraqi generals and told the Kurds to get out or be crushed.
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Both the President and the Iranians have put their cards on the table: Trump can’t abide them; they want American influence in the region gone. The days of cooperating over ISIS are likely not long for this world.

iraq kirkuk changing hands wedeman pkg nr_00002711

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Kirkuk on edge after Peshmerga pushed out 02:31
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A marriage of convenience is splintering, as they so often do, into a messy separation.
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If the Iran deal was the pre-nup, the divorce won’t be about who gets to keep how much enriched uranium as much as it will be about who gets which country or region as a sphere of influence.
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The fault lines have been solidifying for decades. A first faint trace came almost a century ago with the Sykes-Picot division of the post-Ottoman Middle East.
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The Sultan’s caliphate was parceled up into trans-tribal, trans-ethnic and trans-secular countries whose citizens were new to such nationhood.
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In the century since, kings and dictators have mostly sought to subjugate in their own interest. National interest has only ever been a tool wielded to hold on to power.
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It is why Iraq and Syria are in turmoil today and why Lebanon is still recovering from a civil war that ended over two decades ago. The region is fragile and every outside player makes it more brittle.
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As former US Secretary of State Colin Powell apparently told President George W. Bush: “If you break it, you own it.”
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Donald Trump may not have created this mess, but his recent pronouncements on the Iran deal appear to lack the leadership skills that would be expected of a US president.
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Indeed, Trump seems to be the only person unable to comprehend the ripple effect of his actions.
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Trump’s sabre rattling on Iran and North Korea isn’t just ensuring that citizens of those countries get in line behind their regimes, but it also exposes the paucity of his policies to a global audience.
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Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control

Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control 01:45
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All of the other signatories to the deal — Russia, China, Germany, France and the UK as well as the EU — urged against doing what he did and risk triggering a collapse of the deal.
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EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini sounded particularly bitter: “It is not (a) bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it.”
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Trump’s more than 200 days in office are shearing him of his allies’ close support.
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His decision on Iran shredded any last vestige of doubt for Trump’s critics and most of his allies that he is setting America’s international standing back years — maybe decades.
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His statement on Iran has been the culmination of months of unease that most European leaders had hoped could be avoided.
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Within a week, their worst fears may be taking shape. Kurds routed from Kirkuk by Iranian-backed forces and the real possibility of a bigger confrontation that could mean more refugees spilling into Europe.
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The assumption that Trump’s impulses can be kept in check by wiser minds in his administration is being challenged.
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: “President Trump’s foreign-policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country … We’re finding new ways to govern that deliver new victories.”
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On Iran, Defense Secretary James Mattis said: “I give advice to the President, he was elected by the American people and I stand by the Iran strategy as it came out today.”
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And Chief of Staff John Kelly offered this guidance on his role at the White House: “I was not sent in to — or brought in to control him.”
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What’s really worrying European diplomats is what could happen if another Middle East conflict kicked off.
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In 2015, a massive wave of refugees principally from the Syrian conflict shifted Europe’s politics to the right and changed the face of the continent.
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More evidence of this came in Austria’s elections last weekend: The world’s youngest-ever leader surfing into power on a wave of anti-migrant rhetoric.
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Voters in Germany, France and Holland have also boosted nationalist hopes of a revival in the immediate aftermath of Britain’s Brexit vote.
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Europe is experiencing a reactionary lurch in which nationalists feel emboldened — and the refugees of Syria’s civil war helped make that happen.
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Another Middle East war would likely cloud Europe’s horizons further. ISIS is using the moment to stoke primal fears. A perfect storm may be brewing.
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Our lives risk being reshaped by inexperienced leaders who like lashing out on both sides of the Atlantic. Don’t tell me that isn’t a recipe for disaster.
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Several reliable Kurds shared their disillusionment with the U.S. and President Donald Trump with Peace and Freedom. One said, “We were confronted with Shia Iraqis with U.S. weapons and we had no ally. The U.S. was not here. But Iran was here.”
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© AFP/File | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) during a welcoming ceremony on January 23, 2016 in the capital Tehran

Image may contain: one or more people, crowd and outdoor

Joint military operation out of question, Pakistan will tell Tillerson — Does China’s Money Run Pakistan? Or The ISI?

October 22, 2017

By Amir Khan

Published: October 22, 2017
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to arrive in Islamabad on his maiden visit later this month. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to arrive in Islamabad on his maiden visit later this month. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE

KARACHI: Pakistani policymakers have put together their agenda for talks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who will arrive in Islamabad on his maiden visit later this month to enlist “Pakistan’s help for American effort to reach a peaceful solution in Afghanistan”.

Tillerson’s trip comes amid an uptick in Taliban violence in Afghanistan where US-led coalition forces have been battling to quell an increasingly bloody insurgency since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.

President Donald Trump’s top foreign policy aide would be told that Pakistan is willing to further strengthen the intelligence information sharing mechanism with the US in consonance with its national security, according to the agenda shared with Daily Express.

Pakistan offered US joint operation against Haqqanis: Khawaja Asif

“He [Tillerson] will be told that only Pakistani security forces will conduct counterterrorism operations on its soil – and that a joint operation with American or Afghan forces is out of question,” a source said.

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, who recently toured the US, said in a television interview that Pakistan has offered the United States a joint operation against terrorists on its soil. However, he later clarified that he never said Pakistan could allow foreign boots on ground.

According to sources, Pakistani officials have prioritised the issues to be taken up with Tillerson which include the recent strain in Pak-US ties; President Trump’s new Afghan strategy; Pakistan’s role in the Afghan peace process; and Pakistan’s reservations on India’s role in Afghanistan, etc.

Army says ‘joint operation’ on Pakistan’s soil out of question

Top government functionaries would also tell President Trump’s aide that the American policy of pushing Pakistan to ‘do more’ must end as no other country has done as much as Pakistan has in the global war against terrorism. “It would also be conveyed to Tillerson that Pakistan wants to promote relationship with the US on the basis of sovereign equality,” a second source told Daily Express.

The Pakistani side, especially the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) would stress the need for intelligence sharing in the fight against terrorists. The Americans would be asked to share actionable intelligence on terrorists on Pakistan’s soil, and Pakistani forces would take action against them.

US and Afghan officials allege that the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban faction responsible for some the most deadliest attacks in Afghanistan, maintains safe havens inside Pakistan – an allegation Islamabad vehemently denies.

‘Seven JuA militants killed in NATO, Afghan forces raid’

Sources said that Pakistani officials would also ask Tillerson to impress upon the administration of President Ashraf Ghani to dismantle the sanctuaries of terrorists who are using the Afghan soil as a launching pad for mounting attacks inside Pakistan. Though Kabul denies any sanctuaries of Pakistani terrorists on its soil, but Omar Khalid Khorasani, the chief of TTP-Jamaatul Ahrar, was killed in a US drone strike in eastern Afghan province of Paktia earlier this month.

Pakistan would also called for revitalising and reenergising the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) for finding a political solution to the insurgency in Afghanistan, sources said. The quartet, which is made up of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States, met on October 16 in Oman after a long hiatus in an effort to resurrect the moribund Afghan peace process.

President Trump’s Afghan strategy envisages a greater role for Pakistan’s arch-rival India in Afghanistan. But Tillerson would be told that Islamabad could never reconcile to this idea because it is convinced that New Delhi wants to use the Afghan soil to destabilise Pakistan.

Pakistan, Afghanistan to conduct joint border ops under US supervision: Kabul

The multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is also expected to come up for discussion during Tillerson’s visit. US Defence Secretary James Mattis said last week during a hearing of the US Senate Armed Services Committee that CPEC runs through a disputed territory — an allegation originally levelled by India to thwart the project.

The Pakistani side, according to sources, would make it clear to Tillerson that CPEC is very important project for the development of its economy and for regional connectivity and hence any attempt to make it controversial would not be acceptable.

Sources said that Tillerson’s visit is very significant as it would clarify Trump’s policy and set course for future Islamabad-Washington relations.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/1538241/1-joint-military-operation-question-pakistan-will-tell-tillerson/

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U.S. disappointed at China’s lack of progress in pursuing market-oriented reforms — “Too much empty talk”

October 22, 2017

Bloomberg

By Michelle Jamrisko

 
  • Since Xi-Trump meeting, U.S. wanted to see more China progress
  • U.S president scheduled to visit Beijing in November
Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

The U.S. has been disappointed this year at China’s lack of progress in pursuing market-oriented reforms, said a senior administration official, ratcheting up the pressure on the world’s second-largest economy ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit there next month.

While China made progress in previous decades toward market pricing and reducing the number of state-owned enterprises, the U.S. is concerned now with subsidies, excess capacity, and its industrial policy, said the official, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss sensitive policy issues.

A meeting earlier this year between President Xi Jinping and Trump in Mar-a-Lago was very good but the U.S. had hoped for more follow-through on reform, the official said. The Comprehensive Economic Dialogue between the two economies a few months later failed to yield desired results, the person said.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and suit

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The official’s comments follow days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted in an interview growing U.S. impatience with China on issues from North Korea to trade. Trump is due to visit Beijing on Nov. 8 as part of his first trip to Asia, where he’ll also attend a meeting of leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, in Vietnam.

Read More: Tillerson Signals Impatience With China While Vowing to Stay On

Xi’s address to the Communist Party last week demonstrated that the leader is clearly in a strengthened position, so that gives him ample room for building a stronger, more market-oriented economy, the U.S. official said.

APEC Meeting

The official spoke amid talks in Hoi An, Vietnam, where finance ministers and delegates from the 21-member APEC were meeting ahead of the leaders’ summit in early November. While trade — a hot-button issue between the U.S. and China — wasn’t included in the final joint statement, it was discussed at length among the delegates.

Criticism of China’s practices remained a central part of the Trump administration’s policies on trade, which have emphasized “fair” over “free” trade as the president pushes for renegotiation of existing pacts in the name of “America First.”

From the U.S.’s perspective, trade isn’t growth-oriented enough, the official said. Trade should be market-oriented, and free and fair, rather than through gaining an advantage by creating subsidies and industrial policy, or by increasing debt through non-transparent loans, the person said.

Amid China’s massive long-term push to finance infrastructure projects throughout the region and beyond in the Belt and Road Initiative, the U.S. official noted that those, too, should allow more free-market practices. While the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank has made progress on that front, many of the projects with Chinese involvement have meant state-owned entities play a major role, with less transparency, the official said.

Two calls and a fax to China’s foreign affairs ministry went unanswered Sunday outside office hours.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-22/u-s-disappointed-by-china-s-slow-reform-trump-official-says

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