Posts Tagged ‘China’

How Donald Trump Has Upended U.S. Foreign Policy

January 17, 2018

In his first year, president has reshuffled U.S. relationships, elevating Gulf Arab leaders, alienating Europeans and eschewing some tough talk on China and Russia

From left, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Melania Trump and President Trump during the opening of an anti-extremist center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. CreditSaudi Press Agency

President Trump’s First Year in Office
From the moment he was inaugurated, President Trump brought dramatic change to the White House. Here’s a recap of the whirlwind year …
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In May, a blue and white 747 emblazoned with the presidential seal cruised over Saudi Arabia and Jordan before entering Israeli airspace, making a short but historic journey from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.

That flight, carrying President Donald Trump on his first foreign trip, was remarkable not just because it was the first direct presidential flight between Saudi Arabia and Israel. It also was a potent symbol to the world that Mr. Trump had his own ideas about America’s best friends and enemies.

Gone were the days of visiting Mexico and Canada first—something every president since Reagan (and nearly all of his predecessors) have elected to do. To the contrary, Mr. Trump has soured both of those relationships, repeatedly threatening to withdraw from the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and even telling The Wall Street Journal last week that he would use negotiations on the pact to pay for a controversial wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a bid to correct what he views as the faults of his predecessor Barack Obama’s foreign policy, Mr. Trump has reshuffled the deck of American relationships, elevating Gulf Arab leaders, alienating Europeans and eschewing some of the tough talk typically reserved for the heads of China and Russia, diplomats, former officials and analysts said.

A White House official, however, noted that Mr. Trump has formed improbable friendships with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron. “They don’t look like Trump types,” the official said.

Mr. Trump has left diplomats around the world scrambling to make sense of what exactly his “America First” vision means for them. Last week, U.S. diplomats were left to defend what some lawmakers said was Mr. Trump’s reference to Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries.”

Mr. Trump has invoked what he says are Mr. Obama’s mistakes in nearly every major foreign policy roll out—from pulling out of the Paris climate accord, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and, most recently, threatening to walk away from the Iran nuclear agreement unless European officials agree by May to address concerns not covered by the original accord.

“He viewed President Obama as having embraced the wrong policies, the wrong allies, and he’s picking the ones that are going to make America great,” said Andrew Bowen, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute with ties to the Trump administration. “There is a certain personal obsession in his foreign policy to roll back President Obama.”

Mr. Trump accompanied then-Saudi Arabian Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House in March.Photo: Shealah D. Craighead/Planet Pix/ZUMA PREEESS

Since taking office last year, Mr. Trump has forged close bonds with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, all of whom had particularly frosty relationships with Mr. Obama. He also withdrew from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership accord that Mr. Obama championed and pared back the former president’s opening to Cuba.

The White House official said Mr. Trump is “very carrot and stick” in his relationships, and usually offers blunt assessments of how he can help allies as well as what his concerns are.

He has refrained from criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin and has touted his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He even suggested to the Journal, in remarks later disputed by the White House, that he has a good relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Many leaders have perceived that flattering Mr. Trump will pay dividends. South Korean President Moon Jae-in went out of his way to compliment Mr. Trump’s tough talk for helping to bring about conversations between North and South Korea ahead of the winter Olympics next month.

“All presidents look at the world in terms of personalities and personal matters, but this president more than most measures everything off of how people react to him,” said Aaron David Miller, an adviser to Republican and Democratic secretaries of State now at the Wilson Center.

Most European leaders haven’t been so quick to flatter Mr. Trump, and the results are palpable.

From the moment he was inaugurated, President Trump brought dramatic change to the White House. Here’s a recap of the whirlwind year in Washington. Photo Illustration: Heather Seidel/The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Trump last week scrapped a planned visit to London, capital of America’s historically closest ally, after U.K. leaders criticized him for retweeting videos posted by a far-right British group and as activists prepared protests against his visit. The American leader said he canceled the trip because he didn’t want to back the opening of the new U.S. Embassy there after the Obama administration sold the old one for “peanuts.”

Never mind that the plan to move the embassy began under the Bush administration and that the building’s value declined after the U.K. granted it historic status.

Mr. Trump’s focus on relationships, particularly with those who are complimentary, has also emboldened some leaders in the Middle East. Some diplomats say that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, has been able to seize on of Mr. Trump’s fondness for Saudi Arabia to advance its interests.

Mr. Trump chatted with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in November. Photo: Andy Wong/Associated Press

The Trump administration has infrequently raised a Saudi Arabia-led feud of Gulf Arab states with Qatar as the months drag on, Arab diplomats say.

“Trump is creating a moment in 2018, whether you’re Saudi Arabia or Qatar, when everyone is willing to geopolitically hedge now,” Mr. Bowen said. “Trump has found friends, but he’s made it pretty clear it’s a deal, not an alliance”

Still, officials and experts say Mr. Trump has successfully been able to keep intact an international coalition against Islamic State, with Iraq recently declaring victory over the extremists.

“That’s the kind of thing only the United States can do,” said James Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Baghdad and Ankara and a senior official in the George W. Bush administration. “He didn’t screw it up.”

Trump’s First Year

Video: A Recap of Trump’s Whirlwind First Year
For Business, Trump’s First Year Is a Net Success
Stock Market Roared, Boosted by Earnings and Tax Cut
Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-donald-trump-has-upended-u-s-foreign-policy-1516185000

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Tillerson warns North Korea that failure to negotiate giving up its nukes could trigger military action

January 17, 2018

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing and suit

Foreign Minister Taro Kono (left), Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (second left), U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (second right) and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha pose for a photo with other ministers during a meeting to discuss the Korean Peninsula in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday. | THE CANADIAN PRESS / VIA AP

Japan Times —

AP, AFP-JIJI, REUTERS

JAN 17, 2018

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Tuesday that if North Korea does not choose to negotiate on giving up its nuclear weapons that pose a growing threat to the United States it could trigger a military response.

After a meeting of U.S. allies on how to beef up the sanctions pressure, Tillerson stressed that the Trump administration seeks a diplomatic resolution in the nuclear standoff, but he said the North has yet to show itself to be a “credible negotiating partner.” He said U.S.-North Korea talks would require a “sustained cessation” of threatening behavior.

U.S. officials have reported a debate within the Trump administration over whether to give more active consideration to military options, such as a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean nuclear or missile site.

Tillerson brushed off a question about such a “bloody nose” strike, telling a closing news conference: “I’m a not going to comment on issues that have yet to be decided among the National Security Council or the president.”

However, he said the threat posed by North Korea was growing.

“We all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation,” Tillerson said when he was asked whether Americans should be concerned about the possibility of a war. He said North Korea has continued to make significant advances in its nuclear weapons through the thermonuclear test and progress in its intercontinental missile systems.

“We have to recognize that the threat is growing and that if North Korea does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation then they themselves will trigger an option,” he said.

His uncompromising message came after a gathering in Vancouver of 20 nations that were on America’s side during the Korean War, where there was skepticism among the allies over North Korea’s sincerity in its recent diplomatic opening with the U.S.-allied South. The meeting convened days after a mistaken missile alert caused panic on Hawaii, a stark reminder of the fears of conflict with the North.

Despite Washington’s tough stance and determination to keep up the pressure on North Korea, President Donald Trump has signaled openness to talks with the North under the right circumstances. After months of insults and blood-curdling threats traded with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump suggested in an interview last week that the two leaders could have a positive relationship.

Tillerson declined to say Tuesday whether Trump has spoken directly to Kim.

“I don’t think it’s useful to comment” he said. “We are at a very tenuous stage in terms of how far North Korea has taken their program and what we can do to convince them to take an alternative path. And so when we get into who’s talking to who and what was said, if we want that to be made know or made public we will announce it.”

Tillerson was joined by his hawkish Japanese counterpart, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, in calling for tougher punitive measures against Pyongyang.

But South Korea, while publicly maintaining faith with Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, struck a markedly more optimistic tone, arguing that renewed North-South talks show sanctions are already working.

Key players China and Russia were not invited to the meeting of the powers that united under U.N. command to fight North Korea in the 1950-1963 war, and denounced the gathering as a Cold War throwback.

“We must increase the costs of the regime’s behavior to the point that North Korea must come to the table for credible negotiations,” Tillerson said in his opening remarks at the meeting.

“We will not allow North Korea to drive a wedge through our resolve or solidarity,” he added.

The top U.S. diplomat, hosting the event with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, called for North Korean ships to be intercepted at sea and for new international measures to be implemented every time Pyongyang tests new weapons.

“First, we all must insist on a full enforcement of U.N. Security Council sanctions, as this is the letter of the law. We especially urge Russia and China in this matter,” he said.

“Second, we all must work together to improve maritime interdiction operations. We must put an end to illicit ship-to-ship transfers that undermine U.N. sanctions.

“And, third, there must be new consequences for the regime whenever new aggression occurs.”

He received backing Kono in public opening remarks, but South Korea’s Kang Kyung-Wha sounded a more cautious note and told the 20 senior envoys that sanctions pressure is already making progress.

Some observers have welcomed North Korea’s decision to meet with Seoul’s representatives and to send a delegation to the South’s upcoming Winter Olympics as a sign that tensions may be lowered.

But Kono urged the allies not to let their guard down as they seek to force Pyongyang to agree to negotiate its own nuclear disarmament.

Without explicitly pointing to Seoul, Kono warned that the Kim regime “must be intending to drive a wedge between those tough countries and those that are not so tough,” adding that other countries should not to “be blinded by North Korea’s charm offensive.”

“I am aware that some people argue that because North Korea is engaging in inter-Korean dialogue, we should reward them by lifting up sanctions or by providing some sort of assistance,” he said.

“Frankly, I think this view is just too naive. I believe that North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear missile programs,” he said.

For her part, Kang welcomed international support for the sanctions regime, but her opening remarks in Tuesday’s session carried a more optimistic message than that of her Japanese neighbor.

“I believe that the two tools, tough sanctions and pressure on the one hand and the offer of a different brighter future on the other, have worked hand in hand,” she said.

“Indeed the concerted efforts of the international community has begun to bear fruit,” she explained.

“We should take note that the North has come back to inter-Korean dialogue for its participation in the Winter Games, as evidence and observations accumulate to show that sanctions and pressure are beginning to take effect.”

If the sanctions regime is to survive and eventually force Kim to the table, it will require Russia and especially China to continue to support the measures they agreed to in U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Moscow and Beijing were not represented in Vancouver and angrily dismissed the talks.

“The most important relevant parties of the Korean Peninsula issue haven’t taken part in the meeting so I don’t think the meeting is legal or representative,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

Lu denounced the “Cold War mentality” of “relevant parties,” without naming the United States, which is urging Beijing to cut off fuel oil supplies to Pyongyang to force it to negotiate its own nuclear disarmament.

With China absent from Vancouver, Trump spoke with his counterpart, Xi Jinping.

According to the White House, the pair expressed hope that a recent resumption in face-to-face talks between North and South Korea “might prompt a change in North Korea’s destructive behavior.”

But Trump also “committed to sustain the United States-led global campaign of maximum pressure to compel North Korea to commit to denuclearization.”

Trans-Pacific tensions have been running high for months, despite the recent return to direct talks between Kim’s regime and President Moon Jae-In’s South Korea.

Meanwhile, U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster held secret meetings in San Francisco over the weekend with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s top national security adviser and a senior South Korean official, a U.S. official said.

The three discussed North-South talks last week and a shared commitment to keep up the U.S.-led pressure campaign against Pyongyang, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

McMaster in recent weeks has been among the more hawkish of top aides to Trump on the need to actively consider military options, according to other U.S. government sources.

U.S. officials say hawks in the Trump administration remain pessimistic that the North-South contacts will lead anywhere.

Even so, they say debate within the U.S. administration over whether to give more active consideration to military options, such as a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean nuclear or missile site, has lost momentum ahead of the Olympics.

Brian Hook, the U.S. State Department’s head of policy planning, told MSNBC the North-South talks were a positive step, but North Korea had been taking advantage of goodwill gestures for decades and needed to “earn their way back to the negotiating table.”

Over the weekend, a false alarm in Hawaii warning of an incoming ballistic missile rattled nerves, and earlier this month, Trump and Kim traded saber-rattling bluster.

As the talks got under way, Pyongyang issued its first response to Trump’s argument that his nuclear arsenal dwarfs the North’s fledgling missile batteries.

Official party newspaper Rodong Sinmun dismissed Trump’s “swaggering” as the “spasm of a lunatic” frightened by North Korea’s power and the “bark of a rabid dog.”

The Vancouver meeting kicked off late Monday with a dinner and several bilateral meetings, before Tuesday’s talks to hammer out next steps in the standoff.

Further bilateral talks between the North and South are scheduled for Wednesday, after the Vancouver meeting.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said while he believed war was “avoidable,” peace was far from “guaranteed.”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/01/17/asia-pacific/u-s-led-meeting-urges-pressure-north-korea-despite-north-south-detente/#.Wl8msKinGUk

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China to step up cryptocurrency crackdown

January 17, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | The international value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has plunged amid Asia crackdown fears

BEIJING (AFP) – China is preparing for a new crackdown on cryptocurrency, planning to stamp out remaining trading in the country, according to state media.China will gradually clean up over-the-counter trading platforms, peer-to-peer networks where large exchanges occur and firms registered in the country which allow Chinese to trade overseas, the state-run Securities Journal said Tuesday.

The publication cited an anonymous source close to regulators tackling online finance risks.

The new plan follows China’s crackdown on cryptocurrency trading last year, which saw Beijing shut down bitcoin exchanges and ban all initial coin offerings.

But alternative channels for trading cryptocurrencies have popped up, including on social networks like WeChat, QQ and Telegram.

Those online groups facilitating large-scale peer-to-peer trade appear likely to suffer greater scrutiny in the coming months.

The international value of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has plunged in recent days amid fears of a crackdown in Asia and concerns that many currencies’ rapid rise in value last year could reflect an inflating bubble.

At one point on Wednesday, the price of bitcoin on some exchanges had tumbled more than 20 percent, falling below the $10,000 mark that the currency broke through in November of last year.

The market movements come just one month after the most valuable cryptocurrency bitcoin broke through the $20,000 mark in December.

Tillerson Warns Threat of North Korea War Growing Despite Talks

January 17, 2018

Bloomberg

By Nick Wadhams

 Updated on 
  • Diplomats from 20 nations discuss ways to toughen sanctions
  • Russia and China not invited to ministers’ summit in Vancouver
 Image result for rex tillerson, Vancouver, photos
North Korea Tops Trump Foreign Policy Agenda

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered a sobering assessment about the possibility of war with North Korea, saying advances in that country’s nuclear program meant the situation was “very tenuous.”

“We have to recognize that that threat is growing and if North Korea does not choose the pathway of engagement, of discussion, negotiations, then they themselves will trigger an option,” Tillerson told reporters on Tuesday night, shortly before North Korea resumed talks with Seoul on joining next month’s Olympic Games in South Korea.

“We’re at a very tenuous stage in terms of how far North Korea has taken their program,” he said.

Tillerson spoke in Vancouver, where top diplomats from 20 nations gathered to explore new ways to enforce sanctions and choke off North Korea’s economy. The meeting came at a time of heightened anxiety over the threat of war, a feeling that was exacerbated last weekend when officials in Hawaii erroneously sent out a warning that a ballistic missile was heading toward the islands.

In his remarks, Tillerson rejected any proposal calling for a “freeze” on U.S.-South Korean military exercises in order to get talks started, a recommendation repeatedly made by China and Russia. Kim Jong Un’s government has said its weapons program is essential to its survival and has repeatedly said the U.S.’s joint drills with South Korea threaten it.

Tillerson declined to comment on the possibility of a limited pre-emptive strike against North Korea, and also wouldn’t address an interview with the Wall Street Journal published last week in which U.S. President Donald Trump refused to say whether he’d spoken with Kim.

“When we get into who’s talking to who and what was said, if we want that to be made known or made public, we will announce it,” he said. At the same time, he again called on Pyongyang to come to talks on dismantling its nuclear program.

“The North Koreans know our channels are open and they know where to find us,” he said, later adding: “It’s time to talk, but they have to take the step that says they want to talk.”

Trump has taken credit for the resumption of talks between Pyongyang and Seoul, which took place again on Wednesday. Those discussions have been limited to planning for North Korea to send a delegation to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Tensions Building

Those talks, initially heralded as a breakthrough and a way to ease tensions, are causing new strains. North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency warned Sunday that an effort by South Korea to link reconciliation to denuclearization were “ill-boding” and risked “chilling the atmosphere.” The two nations, which are still technically at war, have agreed to hold military talks and further high-level dialogues.

There’s also some division among the allies. Japan, for example, has been wary of any rapprochement with North Korea, wanting to keep talks focused only on the nuclear issue. It has portrayed ongoing talks between North and South Korea about next month’s Winter Olympics as a transparent effort to buy time to keep working on its nuclear weapons.

“In any case, what we should have in mind is that North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and missile programs, even as we speak, and we should not be naïve about their intent,” Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said.

China, Russia

Tuesday’s discussions were conceived by the U.S. primarily as a show of unity as it seeks to drive North Korea further into isolation and get it to negotiate away its nuclear program. Yet divisions were apparent from the start, with the organizers declining to invite Russia and China, the two nations that maintain the strongest economic ties with the North.

One focus of the discussions was maritime interdiction — stopping ship-to-ship oil transfers and keeping vessels from bringing goods to and from North Korea. Officials said that may include getting the United Nations to block port access for some ships known to be involved in that trade. The American-led pressure campaign has also sought to persuade countries to expel North Korean diplomats and cut any remaining ties to the country.

Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, said that the pressure campaign against North Korea was beginning to have an effect. She deflected a question about whether Trump’s rhetorical exchanges with Kim were making matters worse.

“It is North Korea’s actions which are making us all less safe and to which we all need to respond,” she said.

The Vancouver meeting included representatives from co-host Canada, France, Japan, Britain, Belgium, Denmark and Thailand.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-16/u-s-seeks-north-korea-sanctions-at-summit-lacking-china-russia

Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong jailed over protest

January 17, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File / by Elaine YU | Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, 21, became the face of the 2014 Umbrella Movement calling for greater democracy in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (AFP) – 

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was jailed for the second time Wednesday for his role in mass pro-democracy protests as concern grows that prison terms for young campaigners are shutting down debate in the semi-autonomous city as Beijing increases control.

Wong, 21, who became the face of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, was handed a three-month sentence on a contempt charge for obstructing clearance of a major protest encampment, to which he had pleaded guilty.

He was already on bail pending an appeal over a six-month sentence for another protest-related offence.

Judge Andrew Chan described Wong’s involvement in obstructing the clearance in 2014 as “deep and extensive” in his written judgement.

“He played a leading role on that day,” he added. “The only appropriate punishment for Mr Wong is immediate imprisonment.”

Fellow activist Raphael Wong was jailed for four months and 15 days over the same incident.

Chan denied both bail but defence lawyers pushed for him to reconsider his decision and were granted a further hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile both activists were taken into custody by security guards.

“Our determination to fight for democracy will not change!” Raphael Wong shouted as he was led away.

Fourteen other defendants including leading activist Lester Shum were given suspended sentences on contempt charges.

Campaigners fear that the raft of cases against activists and the jail terms handed down to democracy leaders are discouraging young people from expressing their views and exercising their right to peaceful protest.

Freedom of speech and demonstration is protected by the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

– ‘No regrets’ –

Ahead of the hearing, Joshua Wong — who became the teenage face of the Umbrella Movement — said he had “no regrets” about his involvement.

“They can lock up our bodies but they can’t lock up our minds,” he told reporters.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the High Court, chanting: “Civil disobedience, no fear!” and “I’m a Hong Konger, I want universal suffrage!”

They were countered by a small group of pro-Beijing protesters waving the national flag of China and supporting Hong Kong’s department of justice. They displayed a banner calling the activists “mobsters” and saying they must “pay the price” in jail.

The Umbrella Movement was an unprecedented rebuke to Beijing as tens of thousands of protesters brought parts of the city to a standstill demanding fully free leadership elections to replace a system where the chief executive is selected by a pro-Beijing committee.

They failed to win concessions and since then leading activists have been charged over their involvement.

Beijing has been further incensed by the emergence of some activists calling for independence for Hong Kong since the failure of the Umbrella Movement to win reform.

Wong’s party Demosisto wants self-determination for the city.

Hong Kong has been governed under a “one country, two systems” deal since 1997, when Britain handed the territory back to China.

The agreement allows citizens rights unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and a partially directly elected parliament, as well as an independent judiciary, but there are concerns those liberties are being eroded.

Wong was jailed for six months in August on unlawful assembly charges for involvement in the storming of a fenced-off government forecourt known as Civic Square in September 2014, which sparked the wider Umbrella Movement rallies.

Wong and fellow campaigners Nathan Law and Alex Chow were originally given non-custodial sentences by a lower court over that incident, but after the government’s intervention they were jailed by the Court of Appeal.

The government’s move was seen as further evidence of Beijing’s growing influence over Hong Kong.

Their appeal against their sentences is currently being considered by Hong Kong’s top court.

by Elaine YU
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Trump’s Catch-22 With Iran and the Palestinians Could Blow Up at Israel

January 16, 2018

Like his threats to cut Palestinian funding, the U.S. presidents new demands for the Iran nuclear agreement suffer from inconsistencies that cannot be resolved

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TOPSHOT - Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City, near the border with Israel, on January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED
Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City, near the border with Israel, on January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABEDMOHAMMED ABED/AFP
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Lately, U.S. President Donald Trump is looking like a suicide bomber loaded with explosive devices that he’s releasing in different corners of the world. Fortunately, in most cases we’ve only had threats, finger wagging, shocking tweets and fake bombs, but there is no guarantee that the next one won’t be real.

At least two of these bombs could blow up in Israel’s face. Trump’s threat to significantly cut the funds the administration provides to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and the aid it gives the Palestinian Authority in order to force Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to launch negotiations with Israel is already shaking up refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, making the Jordanian kingdom tremble and sending Lebanon into a panic.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, January 10, 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, January 10, 2018. Evan Vucci/AP

In 2016 the administration gave UNRWA $355 million, a third of the agency’s budget. The expected cut is $65 million, around half of the first contribution that had been scheduled for 2018. Add to this the cuts to the PA funding, which amounted to $357 million last year and whose extent for this year isn’t clear. The significance is that the PA, Jordan – home to more than two million Palestinian refugees – and the government of Lebanon, where 175,000 refugees live according to a recent survey (previous UNRWA estimates put the number between 400,000 and 500,000), will have to finance the education, health and welfare services that will be affected by the cuts.

Jordan and Lebanon already bear the heavy burden of aiding Syrian refugees, which is only partially funded by the United Nations and donor states and which isn’t enough to assure them a reasonable quality of life. The Gaza Strip, where most of the Palestinian refugees are concentrated, has been in crisis mode for some time, and the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service believe the economic stress could lead to its total collapse. Rich Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are helping the PA, but it’s doubtful they will step in to fill the gap created by the American cutbacks, especially since they are coordinating their positions with the U.S. administration on the peace process.

It isn’t clear how Trump’s sanctions strategy against the PA will lead to a change in the Palestinian stance. Abbas has made it clear that he no longer considers the United States a fair broker and that economic pressure won’t make him adopt any program Trump presents.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018.AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI

There is a paradox here: The IDF is asking – or even demanding – that the Israeli government consider steps to alleviate the dangerous economic pressure on Gaza’s two million residents, and announced that it intends to approve a few thousand more permits for Palestinians to work in Israel. Meanwhile, the U.S. administration is adopting a policy aimed at curbing the threat of a violent outburst that could lead to a war with Israel, which undermines this demand.

The second potentially explosive charge, the sanctions on Iran, is no less worrisome. This week Trump gave the world powers four months to change the nuclear agreement that was signed with the Islamic Republic in 2015. Among other things, the new deal must include a ban on developing ballistic missiles, a halt in support for terror groups and a clause that keeps these restrictions in place forever in order for the United States to remain party to it. The U.S. president made it clear that if there was no progress in talks with his European partners, Russia and China, to fix the agreement, he would withdraw from it even sooner.

Like the threat to the Palestinians, this demand suffers from an inconsistency that cannot be resolved. The requirement to eliminate the nuclear deal’s time frame testifies to the faith the U.S. administration has in the Iranian leaderships desire and ability to uphold its terms, even as the administration itself (not just the EU and the International Atomic Energy Agency) admits that it hasn’t violated it to date. In other words, the deal may not be perfect, but according to Trump himself, the Iranian partner is a rational and responsible entity, to which one could make the demand that it sign to an eternal agreement – otherwise, what’s the point of making such a condition? In fact, what’s the point in signing any agreement with Iran at all?

Under the agreement, Iran is not required to subject its ballistic missile program or its military bases to international inspection. It announced this week that it does not plan to respond to the American demand to begin talks on changing the deal’s terms.

Meanwhile, Congress has so far refused to take up the gauntlet, passed to it by the president in October, to begin legislating new sanctions on Iran; the EU fears the new initiative, which could create a rift between Europe and the United States and freeze the huge ongoing European investment in Iran. Russia termed Trumps decision extremely negative, and China, Iran’s largest oil customer, is concerned about factors liable to complicate the agreement, as the Chinese foreign minister told his Iranian counterpart. It’s therefore doubtful that Trump will find partners among the agreement’s signatories to realize his latest demand.

In the worst-case scenario, Iran revives its nuclear program if the United States imposes new sanctions on Tehran or pulls out of the agreement. Under the more comfortable scenario, Europe, Russia and China continue to do business with Iran and thus push Washington into an isolated corner internationally. In such a case Trump could respond by punishing the states and international corporations that don’t uphold the American sanctions, but that would turn the U.S. into a Western country hostile to the West.

Israel’s great interest is for Iran to abide by the nuclear deal and not risk it being voided by its most important ally. The real concern regarding Iran’s ballistic missiles must lead to the opening of a parallel negotiations channel with Iran, but not by holding the nuclear agreement hostage.

Israel achieved one of the most important strategic achievements in its history when it succeeded in mobilizing a strong international coalition against the Iranian nuclear threat. Trump might now crush that achievement and sabotage any chance of reaching any kind of agreement with Iran on its nuclear program or its ballistic missiles in the future. In the cases of both Iran and the Palestinian Authority, where Trump treads, Israels toes get broken.

China’s Hot Housing Market Begins to Cool

January 16, 2018

State measures push down prices in megacities and raise debt peril

Image result for apartment homes in China, photos

Vertical Housing, Hangzhou, China by Wang Shu (Amateur Architecture Studio)

BEIJING—China’s housing market has defied gravity and government restraints for two years, floating on a tide of bank loans and speculation. Until now.

In Beijing and Shanghai—two of the country’s largest markets—and other megacities, sales have stalled and prices have dropped, falling slightly in some pockets and dramatically in others.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-hot-housing-market-begins-to-cool-1516098600

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BEIJING – China’s property market is expected to cool in the fourth quarter as real estate investment growth faltered, monthly property sales value dropped and home prices declined in hotspot cities, economists said.

The property market remained stable in October, with new residential housing prices seeing slower growth year on year in 13 of the 15 major cities considered the hottest markets, including Beijing, the National Bureau of Statistics data showed.

“The investment and speculation fever in the country’s property market has been dampened this year by a new round of cooling measures,” said Yan Yuejin, senior researcher with E-house China R&D Institute.

In the first 10 months, property investment rose 7.8 percent from a year earlier, compared with 8.1 percent in the January-September period. The figure focuses largely on residential real estate but also includes commercial and office space.

“Given there is little room for home prices in the 70 large and medium-sized cities surveyed to rise, price growth on a yearly basis is expected to stay on a downward track,” said Yan.

Last month, home prices in the biggest cities softened slightly and gains in smaller cities slowed, the NBS data showed.

“It is the first time since 2016 that home prices in 10 hotspot cities witnessed year-on-year drops in October, in contrast with only three cities in September. The home buying fever has been cooled in hotspot cities amid tough government curbs,” said Zhang Dawei, a Centaline Property analyst.

Sales by value fell by 1.7 percent year on year in October compared to a 1.6-percent gain in September, the first decline in monthly property sales value since March 2015, according to the NBS data.

On a yearly basis, both new and second-hand home prices in first-tier cities reported slower growth for the 13th consecutive month in October. New home prices in smaller second- and third-tier cities also witnessed continuous year-on-year drops.

“Twenty of the 70 large and medium-sized cities saw second-hand home price declines last month, seven cities more than in September. The declining trend has maintained for months, showing an overall cooling property market,” said Yang Hongxu, deputy head of E-house China R&D Institute.

Since late last year, dozens of local governments have passed or expanded restrictions on house purchases and increased the minimum down payment required for a mortgage.

The property market was also cooled by relatively tightened liquidity conditions as the government moved to contain leverage and risk in the financial system.

Latest data from the People’s Bank of China showed that loans to the real estate sector continued to grow at a slower pace, with outstanding loans up 22.8 percent year on year to 31.1 trillion yuan ($4.7 trillion) by the end of September, 1.4 percentage points lower than the rate seen at the end of June.

Recent policies have showed the government will not loosen its stance in curbing property speculation, and that will limit the upward potential for housing prices, said Bank of Communications in a research note.

Authorities stepped up measures to act against irregularities in property financing earlier this month, prohibiting property developers, real estate agencies as well as Internet finance and micro-loan companies from offering illicit down payment financing for buyers.

Despite tough curbs, property sales are still hot in some cities, leading Chengdu and Nanjing to start a lottery-like registry system for home buyers to restrict property purchases, according to Zhang.

“The government will continue to toughen regulation, spreading measures to hot second- and third-tier cities, and even fourth-tier cities,” said Zhang.

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2017-11/21/content_34801401.htm

Tentative moves to improve China-Japan ties hit after Chinese nuclear submarine passes near disputed islands — “We urge Japan to stop stirring up trouble on the Diaoyu islands issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said

January 16, 2018

By Walter Sim
The Straits Times
January 16, 2018

TOKYO – The unprecedented entry of a Chinese advanced stealth nuclear submarine into waters near islets contested by Japan and China in the East China Sea has jeopardised tentative moves to improve bilateral ties.

Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera on Monday (Jan 15) slammed the Chinese action last Thursday as one that “unilaterally raises tensions”. Beijing, however, said that it was merely tracking and monitoring two Japanese naval ships passing through the area.

The Chinese submarine has been identified as a new Shang-class vessel that is 110m long and has a displacement of 6,100 tons. It can be equipped with torpedoes and cruise missiles longer in range than on conventional submarines.

In a separate incident on Monday, three China Coast Guard patrol vessels entered the territorial waters around the islets known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. It was the second such incident this year with the first occuring last Sunday (Jan 7).

Tokyo has lodged protests against these “incursions”, prompting Beijing to retort that it does not accept these representations as it considers the islets as Chinese territory.

“We urge Japan to stop stirring up trouble on the Diaoyu islands issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in Beijing on Monday, in response to questions posed by Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

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Earlier at a news conference in Tokyo on Monday, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga had described the Senkaku islands as “Japan’s inherent territory legally and historically”. He also said the spate of incidents recently was “extremely regrettable”.

Last week, Mr Suga reaffirmed that Japan would “resolutely defend its land, territorial waters and airspace”, while handling the situation “firmly and calmly”.

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“We urge Japan to stop stirring up trouble on the Diaoyu islands issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in Beijing on Monday

Waters surrounding the uninhabited islets, which are administered by Japan, are said to be rich in oil and natural resources. The islets have, time and again, caused tensions between China and Japan and the latest incidents have come as ties were improving. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed a “fresh start” to relations in rare bilateral talks last November.

Last Thursday’s incident marked the first time since June 2016 that a Chinese military vessel had entered the so-called “contiguous zone” around the disputed islets. It also marked the first time that a nuclear submarine entered the area.

Mr Onodera, speaking to reporters on Monday, said: “Such nuclear-powered submarines are difficult to detect because they can remain far beneath the surface for extended lengths of time. We’ll keep our guard up to respond swiftly if a similar incident happens.”

Mr Suga, for his part, stressed on Monday the urgency to step up bilateral efforts to realise an air and maritime communication mechanism to avoid an accidental conflict in and over the East China Sea.

A nation’s “territorial waters” refer to an area extending out 12 nautical miles from the coast, while the “contiguous zone” refers to the band of water in an area between 12 and 24 nautical miles from land.

The submarine’s movement through the contiguous zone does not contravene international law. Beijing’s Ministry of National Defence had voiced “strong discontent with Japanese efforts to sensationalise a legitimate action by the Chinese navy”.

Nonetheless, Japan’s conservative daily Yomiuri Shimbun slammed the Chinese action as one that, while legal, “needlessly raises tensions” and said it was “unacceptable from the viewpoint of security”. It added that China’s unilateral claims over the islands were “irrelevant”.

Emeritus professor Shinya Murase of Tokyo’s Sophia University observed that Chinese ships had periodically entered Japanese waters as a means to “demonstrate its position that the islets belong to China”.

“Intrusion into territorial waters by the coast guard vessels is clearly a violation of the state’s sovereignty,” added Dr Murase, who is a visiting professor at China’s Peking University and is a member of the United Nations International Law Commission.

He said that China ought to resolve the issue by peaceful means, such as taking its claims up at the International Court of Justice.

The University of Tokyo’s Dr Shin Kawashima, who studies Sino-Japan ties, said the entry of a nuclear submarine into waters near the disputed islands marked a “new phase in Chinese escalation”.

He added: “China is sending a message to Japan that while on the one hand, it is willing to improve bilateral ties, on the other it will not loosen its stance on territorial and security issues in the East China Sea.”

 http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/tentative-moves-to-improve-china-japan-ties-hit-after-chinese-nuclear-submarine-pass

For Businesses, Donald Trump’s First Year Is a Net Success

January 16, 2018

CEOs’ relationship with the president had some tense moments, but most corporate chiefs welcomed the big corporate tax cut and push to ease regulations

WASHINGTON—The tax overhaul that President Donald Trump signed into law last month capped a year in which his initiatives on taxes, regulation—and many of his public pronouncements on the economy—have been broadly welcomed by business.

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the president most closely aligned with business interests in decades: he was roundly criticized for his remarks about a deadly white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, Va., last August. After that, several CEOs resigned in protest from his business advisory councils, although administration officials say they had largely fizzled out by then.

In pure policy terms, however, business groups and executives say the $1.5 trillion of corporate-focused tax changes and the bevy of completed and proposed rule changes aimed at cutting regulatory burdens on business have made 2017 a net success for business.

“If Hillary [Clinton] had been elected, we would have had more regulation and higher taxes,” said Byron Wien, an executive at Blackstone Group L.P . , on a recent investor call. “Trump was elected; we have less regulation and lower taxes.”

TRUMP’S FIRST YEAR

  • Stock Market Roared During Donald Trump’s First Year, Boosted by Earnings and Tax Cut

Heading into his second year, the president faces some significant decisions that could create tension with business on issues executives care about, such as trade, immigration and health care.

Some of this was captured by Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue last week in his annual address on the state of business. He urged the president not to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, to preserve temporary residency for some 200,000 workers the administration wants to deport and to avoid a confrontation with North Korea. Mr. Donohue also offered support to embattled tech firms who have come under new scrutiny in the past year.

Image result for Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue, photos

Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue

Trade presents some particularly difficult decisions. Nafta, and the president’s threat to pull the U.S. out of it, remains a concern both for U.S. companies that have grown up around the free trade it brought to the continent, and farmers who have taken advantage of markets in Mexico and Canada that the pact has opened for their exports.

China brings its own set of challenges. Many multinational companies and ardent free-traders have grown frustrated, along with Mr. Trump, with what they see as Beijing’s backsliding on market-opening promises in recent years. Even many officials from the previous Obama administration now say they should have steered a harder line on Chinese trade practices, while many business groups share Mr. Trump’s criticisms of China.

Still, the companies are nervous about how his administration will ramp up pressure on Beijing. While American executives generally still favor intensified negotiations over trade sanctions, they worry that Trump aides will deploy tariffs, quotas and investment limits that could prompt swift retaliation, triggering a costly trade war.

In October, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office held a public hearing seeking business input for a continuing probe into widespread complaints about China forcing U.S. companies to turn over intellectual property. While many witnesses confirmed the problems and said they supported the Trump administration probe, they warned against overreach.

Erin Ennis, a top official at the U.S.-China Business Council, cautioned against “simply seeking to impose penalties or to restrict trade which could have the effect of inhibiting commercial cooperation that benefits U.S. companies and U.S. citizens.”

Image result for china's new airliner, photos

China’s new air liner — C919

Business leaders are also eager for the Trump administration to make good on a push to refurbish the nation’s infrastructure, which has raised expectations for companies across the economy, especially in heavy machinery and construction services. But an almost certain fight looms over how to pay for it, conspiring with election-year pressures to make it that much more difficult.

Other promises from the administration and allies in Congress—like an effort to rein in entitlement programs—are viewed with even more skepticism as the time before midterm congressional elections dwindles.

“Mark my words, there is no way in hell that they are that dumb to take up Medicare or Social Security in the election year,” said Tommy Thompson, the former Republican governor of Wisconsin and a board member of Centene Corp. , which administers some health programs, at a presentation for investors. “It would be tantamount to saying, ‘We don’t want to govern anymore.’”

Mr. Thompson said a bipartisan infrastructure bill could have a chance of passage, and an attempt to dig into more divisive issues, such as Social Security and Medicare, could come in 2019.

While executives have praised Mr. Trump’s efforts to slash rules—especially those put in place by his predecessor, Barack Obama —many of them could end up in court, to be fought all over again. That includes the Federal Communications Commission’s December action dismantling Obama-era “net neutrality” rules that required internet-service providers to treat all traffic on their networks the same. Another is Mr. Trump’s reversal of his predecessor’s “clean power plan,” along with a number of other energy and environment rules.

For some executives, life under Mr. Trump has sometimes meant reassuring investors that their companies aren’t his targets—a reference to both his policies and his actions during the presidential campaign, when he singled out companies such as United Technologies Corp. and Lockheed Martin Inc. for criticism.

On an investor call earlier this month, the chief executive of Lakeland Industries Inc., a New York-based maker of protective clothing and work gear, sought to reassure analysts that the Trump administration’s efforts to curb trade deals were aimed at changes in the automotive industry, and wouldn’t hurt Lakeland’s business.

“The apparel business,” CEO Christopher Ryan said, “is not what Mr. Trump is trying to change.”

Business advocates are hoping to channel the administration’s energies in the coming year, as Mr. Trump hopes to pivot to infrastructure and entitlement changes.

“Business is determined to be a voice of reason and a bridge between sides,” Mr. Donohue said. “We’re determined to help, and when necessary, correct our government as it does the nation’s business.”

—Jacob M. Schlesinger contributed to this article.

Write to Ted Mann at ted.mann@wsj.com

Afghanistan can’t support army without US money more than 6 months – Afghan president — “This is the end game.” — ” We are under siege.”

January 16, 2018

Published time: 16 Jan, 2018 10:28

Russia Today, RT

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Without American assistance, Kabul can’t fight the many militant groups active in the country after 16 years of US involvement. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says the national army won’t last longer than six months on its own.
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American taxpayers, who contribute around 90 percent of Afghanistan’s defense budget, are bankrolling a war against terrorists in the county, which the government would not be able to continue without the US funding, Ghani told CBS News on Sunday.

“We will not be able to support our army for six months without US support and US capabilities… Because we don’t have the money,” Ghani said.
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Saying that at least “21 international terrorist groups” are operating in his country, Ghani warned that “terrorists can strike at any time.”

“Dozens of suicide bombers are being sent. There are factories producing suicide bombers. We are under siege,” Ghani told the ‘60 Minutes’ program.

In August, US President Donald Trump announced a new Afghanistan strategy and pledged continued American support for the Afghan military. Trump also said that the US contingent in Afghanistan would be expanded. There are about 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan at present, including the 3,000 sent in September, following Trump’s announcement.

This continues the 16-year incursion that has seen over 2,000 US servicemen lose their lives and over $700 billion spent on military assistance, lined with repeated promises of a soon-to-come victory from three successive US presidential administrations.

Last week US military officials told the Wall Street Journal that the Pentagon hopes to increase the American military presence in Afghanistan in time for spring, by deploying an estimated 1,000 new combat advisers to Afghanistan. The Pentagon is also reportedly sending additional unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as well as helicopters and ground vehicles. With the new arsenal, the US hopes it can finally defeat the Taliban and other insurgent groups in Afghanistan.

“This is the end game. This is a policy that can deliver a win,” the commander of US Armed Forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, told CBS.

“We’re killing them [Taliban] in large numbers. They can either lay down their weapons and rejoin society and be a part of the future of Afghanistan, have a better life for their children and themselves, or they can die,” Nicholson proclaimed.

While the Pentagon is focused on the Taliban fighters, who control approximately half the country, Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) militants are expanding their presence in Afghanistan, Russia warned late last month. Afghanistan watchers say that with the ever-growing threat from the Islamists the US is unlikely to defeat them anytime soon.

“The majority of the country is far worse than it was before the US and NATO came in… NATO at their peak had 150,000 soldiers, about five years ago, and they could not turn the tide,” military analyst Kamal Alam, told RT. “So militarily the US forces and NATO are far less now on the ground… The Taliban are taking more territories. There are more non-state actors like ISIS involved as well. So I think for the US it will be very difficult to turn the tide.”

“The Taliban has not only been able to strengthen itself but there are now 20 other international terrorists groups – that is 21 total, including the faction of ISIS,” Jennifer Breedon, an international criminal law attorney, told RT. “The problem is that the US lacks in its foreign policy understanding, its knowledge of foreign affairs, its knowledge of foreign states, its knowledge of terrorist regimes and why these regimes are able to flourish.”

https://www.rt.com/news/416066-afghanistan-army-us-funding/