Posts Tagged ‘South Korea’

South Korea says North agrees to hold summit preparation talks on March 29 — With Tillerson and McMaster Going Out, U.S Inner Circle becomes More Hawkish

March 24, 2018


SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has agreed to hold high-level talks with South Korea on March 29 at the border truce village of Panmunjom to prepare for a summit of their leaders planned for April, the South said on Saturday.

Image result for Kim Jong Un with mobile ICBM photos

A team of three officials will be led by Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of North Korea’s committee for the peaceful reunification of the country, the North told its neighbor early on Saturday, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

“This morning, North Korea sent a message through a communication channel in Panmunjom agreeing to our suggestion made on the 22nd to hold high-level inter-Korea talks,” the ministry said in a statement.

The stakes are higher for a potential summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart that may take place by the end of May, however.

Trump this week named John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations famed for his hawkish views on Pyongyang, to replace White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Image result for John Bolton, photos

John Bolton

Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 13, saying the two had disagreed over Iran and other foreign policy matters.

The Korean talks set for March 29 will precede musical performances in Pyongyang in early April by a group of South Korean singers making a reciprocal visit after the North sent performers to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Artists of both nations will collaborate for a show on April 3, the South’s Yonhap news agency said, citing an aide of President Moon Jae-in.

Moon plans to hold a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un by the end of April.

Reporting by Cynthia Kim; Editing by Richard Pullin and Clarence Fernandez


Stocks Slide as China-U.S. Trade Conflict Kicks Off

March 23, 2018

European and Asian markets fall amid escalating trade tensions

Chinese border police officers watching the arrival of a container ship at a port in Qingdao in Shandong Province. On Friday, China said it planned to impose tariffs on a wide range of American products.CreditChinatopix, via Associated Press
  • Japan’s Nikkei drops 4.5%
  • U.S. stock futures edge lower
  • Bonds gain, yen hits highest since 2016

The global equities swoon deepened Friday in Europe and Asia, as market participants dumped stocks amid escalating trade tensions.

The Stoxx Europe 600 fell 0.9% in the early minutes of trading, following a 4.5% drop in Japan’s Nikkei and declines of 2%-4% in Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia and Shanghai. Futures suggested U.S. stocks would open slightly lower with the S&P 500 poised to edge down 0.2% and the Nasdaq off 0.6%.

The jitters came after the Trump administration on Thursday said it would impose tariffs on tens of billions of dollars of Chinese imports on top of duties on steel and aluminum imports. China’s commerce ministry responded Friday announcing it would levy tariffsagainst $3 billion worth of U.S. goods including pork and recycled aluminum.

“The market is so fixated on the potential effects of tariffs that it’s overshadowing anything else that’s occurring,” said Brent Schutte, chief investment strategist at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Company.

“Overall, I still think the risk of a large trade war, while probably bigger than a year ago, is still not large enough to derail the broader economic story,” he said, but noted there would be a lot of guess work for some time about just how far trade tensions can go.

On Thursday the Dow industrials fell 2.9%, their biggest one-day percentage decline since Feb. 8, while the S&P 500 fell 2.5% to erase all gains for the year.

Although the import tariffs had been telegraphed for weeks, Thursday’s package, covering about $60 billion in goods, sent investors into safe havens. Bonds and gold prices rose and the yen, which tends to rise in times of market stress, hit its highest level against the dollar since Donald Trump won the presidential election.

Gold was last up 1% at $1,340 an ounce. Yields on 10-year Treasurys fell to 2.820% Friday from 2.832% late Thursday in New York, following their biggest daily decline since September. Yields move inversely to prices.

“Yes, the news was out for a while, but the actual action was a bit of a surprise to the market,” said Shinchiro Kadota, a senior forex and rates strategist at Barclays . “Maybe they thought it would be smaller, maybe later.”

In Europe, the basic resources sector led declines with steel manufacturer Outokumpu Oyj down 4.8%. Banks also came under pressure as government bond yields fell.

The U.S. president suspended tariffs for Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, the European Union nations and South Korea, which effectively means tariffs will apply to three major steel exporters; China, Russia, and Japan.

Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average closed down 4.5% Friday as the yen’s sharp gains hit the export-heavy index.

Stocks in China also fell with the Shanghai Composite Index down 3.4%, and the Shenzhen Composite Index down 4.3%.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index skidded 2.8% as index heavyweight Tencent added to Thursday’s 5% post-earnings drop with a 4.3% decline. The drop for the Chinese internet giant, Asia’s biggest company by market value, came as major shareholder Naspers , a South African media and internet firm, said it would sell a small portion of its one-third stake in the company.

China-based pork producer WH Group slumped 5.1%. It owns U.S.-based Smithfield, and its imports of U.S. pork into China will be hit by the new tariffs.

Asian companies, many of which are export-reliant, could get caught in the middle of tit-for-tat trade actions between the U.S. and China. While market sentiment is expected to remain downbeat in the short term, some analysts are cautioning about the longer-term impact.

A trader at the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. U.S. stocks ended lower Thursday, with the Dow plunging over 700 points, after President Donald Trump announced tariffs on Chinese imports.
A trader at the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. U.S. stocks ended lower Thursday, with the Dow plunging over 700 points, after President Donald Trump announced tariffs on Chinese imports. PHOTO: WANG YING/ZUMA PRESS

“Given the high costs of escalation on both sides, and also for the broader Asian supply chain, an extended and comprehensive trade war remains unlikely,” said Hannah Anderson, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

She noted while there may be some negotiating before the tariffs go into effect, “investors should be prepared for headlines to continue to rock markets” meanwhile.

China’s reaction to the Trump administration’s announcement has so far not been as substantial as many had feared. Beijing, for example, hasn’t announced tariffs on the two largest U.S. exports to China—soybeans and airplane parts.

“We retain the view that China is willing to negotiate and is likely to offer concessions,” said Citibank. However, “uncertainty and the fear of escalation will likely hold back market sentiment in the short run.”

Chinese metals futures slumped 5%, and Shanghai rubber futures for a time were down the 7% daily limit.

Soybeans and soybean meal were trading higher in China as investors worried potential tariffs on the oilseed could impact supplies.

Write to Riva Gold at and Lucy Craymer at


  (Wall Street Journal)

 (The New York Times)

Trump’s Half-Baked China Tariffs

March 23, 2018

New York Times EDITORIAL

CreditSally Deng

President Trump is on solid ground when he accuses China of stealing American technology and pressuring foreign companies to hand over intellectual property to Chinese firms as a condition of doing business there. But he does not seem to know how to fix that pressing problem.

Mr. Trump on Thursday announced a three-pronged attack on China. He said he would bring a case against the country at the World Trade Organization, slap about $60 billion of tariffs on unspecified imports from China and impose restrictions on what investments Chinese businesses can make in the United States. His administration argues that these decisions are meant to force President Xi Jinping of China to begin to play by the rules other major economies follow — a goal that eluded President Barack Obama and his predecessors. But it is hard to see how Mr. Trump will do much better. That’s because this president has shown little interest in putting together the kind of effective strategy that would be needed to get China to change its ways.

The first element of the administration’s approach — going to the trade organization to challenge China’s use of technology-licensing policies to transfer know-how from foreign businesses to Chinese companies — is a good start. It also bucks the president’s oft-stated disdain for the trade organization and multilateral institutions in general. But Mr. Trump could have gone much further. He ought to have enlisted Canada, the European Union, Japan, South Korea and other countries to jointly put pressure on China. Technology businesses in these countries have many of the same complaints about China that American businesses do. By assembling a coalition to confront China, Mr. Trump would have left it little room to maneuver. But by acting alone, he has given Mr. Xi the ability to make common cause with other countries that see Mr. Trump as a bully intent on penalizing rivals and allies alike.

The second part of his plan — a 25 percent tariff on certain Chinese products, which the administration says it will specify in the coming days — could cause collateral damage to domestic industry and farmers. The Chinese government is already threatening to retaliate by imposing restrictions on American soybeans, sorghum and other farm commodities in a targeted assault on states that voted for Mr. Trump. The country might also seek to switch from American products to European, Canadian or Japanese equivalents. Tariffs are blunt tools that are far less effective than Mr. Trump realizes. Stocks fell sharply on Thursday after Mr. Trump’s tariff announcement, with the S.&P. 500-Stock Index closing down 2.5 percent for the day.

The last prong of his announcement calls on officials to propose restrictions on China’s acquisition of critical American technologies. This is the weakest of the three steps he is taking, because his administration already has the authority to block foreign acquisitions of American businesses.

Mr. Trump prides himself on being tough, especially on foreigners who he argues have been taking advantage of the United States. But in practice, he has displayed great weakness in dealing with other countries by fawning over autocrats like Mr. Xi and President Vladimir Putin of Russia. He has also reversed and contradicted himself so frequently that it can be impossible for not just adversaries, but even his own staff, to know what he stands for and what he is trying to achieve. Further, his wishy-washiness allows leaders of other nations to cut favorable deals with him that undermine the very policies he says he is trying to advance.

For example, on Thursday the administration said that it would exempt the European Union, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea and Australia from tariffs on steel and aluminum imports he signed this month. That is in addition to exemptions the president previously granted to Canada and Mexico. Experts say this means that more than half of the metal the United States imports will now be free from those tariffs, calling into question the point of these tariffs aside from misleading American companies and workers into thinking that the president was doing something for them. Might Mr. Trump cut a similarly bizarre deal with Mr. Xi the next time the two leaders meet at Mar-a-Lago? It’s anybody’s guess.

US: EU, 6 other economies exempt from metals tariffs for now

March 22, 2018


© POOL/AFP/File | US trade representative Robert Lighthizer announces temporary exemptions on metals tariffs for the EU and six other economies

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The European Union and six other economies will be exempt at least temporarily from the harsh steel and aluminum tariffs President Donald Trump has imposed, a top US trade official said Thursday.US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told a Senate committee that Trump authorized a “pause” in the imposition of the tariffs, which take effect Friday, while talks are underway to find a more permanent solution.

Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and South Korea will also be exempt from the penalties of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum, along with the EU, he said.

Washington already had announced that major metals exporters Canada and Mexico would be exempt as talks continue to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement.

And this week EU and US officials issued a joint statement saying they were working towards a solution to avoid tariffs on the trading bloc.

“The idea that the president has is that, based ona certain set of criteria, that some countries should get out,” Lighthizer said in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee.

“There are countries with whom we’re negotiating” and there will be “a pause in imposition of tariffs with respect to those countries,” he said.

Many countries, including the EU, have warned the White House that they will retaliate forcefully if they are face with tariffs on metals products.

The Trump administration has stressed that the primary target is China, which has long had massive overproduction that has impacted the global market for steel and aluminum, which poses a national security threat to the US economy.

Designed in California and made in China: How the iPhone skews the U.S. trade deficit

March 22, 2018

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U.S. President Donald Trump often tweets from his iPhone about pressuring China to address its $375 billion trade surplus with the United States. But a closer look at the Apple smartphone reveals how the headline figure is distorted.

The big trade imbalance — at the heart of a potential trade war, with Trump expected to impose tariffs on Chinese imports this week — exists in large part because of electrical goods and tech, the biggest U.S. import item from China.

Apple Inc.’s iPhone, however, illustrates how a big portion of that imbalance is due to imports of American-branded products — many of which use global suppliers for parts but are put together in China and shipped around the world.

Take a look at the iPhone X. IHS Markit estimates its components cost a total of $370.25. Of that, $110 goes to Samsung Electronics in South Korea for supplying displays. Another $44.45 goes to Japan’s Toshiba and South Korea’s SK Hynix for memory chips.

Other suppliers from Taiwan, the United States and Europe also take their portion, while assembly, done by contract manufacturers in China like Foxconn, represents only an estimated 3 to 6 percent of the manufacturing cost.

Current trade statistics, however, count most of the manufacturing cost in China’s export numbers, which has prompted global bodies like the World Trade Organization to consider alternative calculations that include where value is added.

The impact on export data of just the iPhone could be major.

Apple shipped 61 million iPhones to the United States last year, data from researchers Counterpoint and IHS Markit show, spending $258 on average to make each iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

Using a rough calculation, that implies the iPhone 7 series added $15.7 billion to the U.S. trade deficit with China last year, about 4.4 percent of the total. That is also about 22 percent of the $70 billion in cell phones and household goods the U.S. imported from China.

“With an iPhone, where China is just the final assembler, most of the value (contributed by China) is just the labor rather than the components themselves,” said John Wu, an economic analyst with a U.S.-based think tank, the Information & Innovation Foundation.

Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics research at Oxford Economics, notes that U.S. companies’ using global supply chains to manufacture products in China means other economies would be caught in the crossfire of a trade war.

“That is an important reason why U.S.-China trade friction will cause collateral damage, especially in other Asian economies,” he said, adding that in value added terms, the U.S. trade deficit with China was only $239 billion last year, 36 percent lower than the headline number.

For its part, Apple has responded to Trump’s concerns with a pledge to bring some suppliers to the United States. It said in January it planned to pay $55 billion to U.S. suppliers this year.

Over the last decade, Apple shipped 373 million iPhones, worth $101 billion by manufacturing value, in the United States, according to researcher StrategyAnalytics.

The iPhone’s contribution to U.S. trade deficits is almost certain to have grown sharply alongside higher retail prices and shipments.

But the manufacturing value does not include the intellectual property value Apple adds through engineering and design work done in its headquarters in Cupertino, California, as well as margins taken by distributors.

The iPhone X has a manufacturing cost of about $400, an $800 wholesale cost, and a $1,200 retail unsubsidized cost, according to analysts.

Siri, Apple’s “digital assistant,” reflects the challenge of knowing exactly where the value of an iPhone comes from — even if it is put together in China. If users ask Siri where she is from, the response is: “Like it says on the box. … I was designed by Apple in California.”

The closely intertwined manufacturing ecosystem has led to warnings that a trade war would be painful for all sides.

Forty-five U.S. trade associations representing some of the largest U.S. companies urged the president on Sunday not to impose tariffs on China, warning it would be “particularly harmful” to the U.S. economy and consumers.

Retailers and shoemakers, including Wal-mart and Nike, also sounded the alarm on Monday over concerns the plans would result in higher consumer prices.

A 10 percent tariff levied on Chinese electronics imports would slow the growth of U.S. output by $163 billion over the next 10 years, and a 25 percent tariff would slow output by $332 billion, according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

Kuijs wrote that both sides would likely show restraint. All-out economic war, he added, “would cause major economic damage globally.”

Trump to Ramp Up Trade Restraints on China

March 21, 2018

White House plans to raise barriers for Chinese firms looking to acquire advanced American technology

A crane loads shipping containers at a port in Qingdao in China's eastern Shandong province. The administration plans to release proposed punitive measures aimed at China that include tariffs on imports worth at least $30 billion.
A crane loads shipping containers at a port in Qingdao in China’s eastern Shandong province. The administration plans to release proposed punitive measures aimed at China that include tariffs on imports worth at least $30 billion. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

WASHINGTON—The White House is preparing to crack down on what it says are improper Chinese trade practices by making it significantly more difficult for Chinese firms to acquire advanced U.S. technology or invest in American companies, individuals involved in the planning said.

The administration plans to release on Thursday a package of proposed punitive measures aimed at China that include tariffs on imports worth at least $30 billion.

But the tariffs won’t be imposed immediately. Rather, U.S. industry will be given an opportunity to comment on which products should be subject to the duties. As part of the package, the White House will announce possible investment restrictions by Chinese firms in the U.S. and will direct the Treasury Department to outline rules governing investment from China.

Final details of the plan, including the amount of imports to be hit by tariffs, remain in flux, those involved with the discussions said. While the rough amount and rationale for the tariffs are expected to be disclosed on Thursday, the final decisions will come once U.S. industry has had its say, they said.

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment.

The effort stems from a monthslong investigation by the administration into Chinese intellectual property practices that found the damage to U.S. companies from forced technology transfer is $30 billion annually.

Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States

Why CFIUS Is Becoming a Bigger Deal for Deals

A secretive panel called CFIUS is paving the way for President Trump to block more foreign business deals due to national security concerns. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains why you’ll hear more about CFIUS during the Trump era. Illustration: Laura Kammerman

The administration has warned Beijing that it risked tariffs if it didn’t significantly liberalize its market and eliminate practices that disadvantage foreign firms.

While the administration’s plans to put tariffs on China have received most of the attention, it is considering other significant penalties, especially those aimed at state-owned Chinese firms. It plans to argue that Chinese state-owned firms buy U.S. technology not for commercial purposes, but to apply for military use and otherwise gain an edge in the race for global technological dominance.

The administration believes that Beijing, in requiring U.S. companies to form joint ventures to do business in China, then pressures them to transfer important technology to their Chinese partners. The U.S. also contends Beijing improperly subsidizes Chinese companies looking to overtake U.S. rivals in such advanced technologies as semiconductors, artificial intelligence and robotics.

Chinese officials have said that they are improving their protection of intellectual property and liberalizing their economy. They also complain that the U.S. hasn’t given them a specific list of demands that they need to meet to head off tariffs.

The country’s responses to challenges from President Donald Trump loomed large as China’s leaders closed out an annual political gathering on Tuesday.

Premier Li Keqiang, the titular No. 2 leader, struck a conciliatory tone on trade with the U.S. At a news briefing in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Mr. Li said “there are no winners” in a trade war between the world’s two largest economies, and appealed for calm.

People involved in the planning say the Trump administration is looking at making reciprocity the core of U.S. investment relations with China, meaning that the U.S. would impose restrictions on Chinese investment similar to those that U.S. firms face in China. That could mean that the U.S. would insist that Chinese firms form joint ventures before doing business in the U.S., unless China dropped those restrictions.

The U.S. has already made it more difficult for Chinese companies to invest in the U.S. by blocking Chinese bids to purchase U.S. semiconductor firms. That is done by an interagency review of foreign acquisitions by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. Congress is looking to broaden CFIUS reviews of acquisitions so they include joint ventures too.

The expansion would include reviews of technology transfers to foreigners and could apply to joint ventures both outside and within the U.S. But CFIUS looks solely at national security concerns. The administration wants to address economic harm as well, according to these people.

Any imposition of tariffs, without going first to the World Trade Organization, is sure to prompt a chorus of criticism not just from Beijing but from U.S. industry, which has opposed tariffs as counterproductive. The WTO adjudicates trade cases and has the power to authorize tariffs in cases where a losing party doesn’t change its practices. The administration is also considering bringing a case against Chinese trade practices that are covered by the WTO.

Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, said he opposes the broad imposition of tariffs. “American producers who haven’t gotten a fair shake in the past aren’t going to get that back by just have tariffs slapped on imports indiscriminately,” he said.

Tariffs are bound to cause China to retaliate, said Clement Leung, Hong Kong’s representative in the U.S. Chinese officials “cannot show any weakness” at a time when the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, has just been confirmed for his second term, Mr. Leung said. Hong Kong, a trading center that operates somewhat independently from the rest of China, would be hurt by limits on trade.

Whatever the political blowback, Harvard law professor Mark Wu, a trade expert, says that the White House has authority to impose tariffs under section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.

“In situations where the U.S. Trade Representative deems unfair trade practices to fall outside the scope of a WTO-covered agreement, then the statute permits the executive branch to take action directly without first seeking recourse through WTO dispute settlement” procedures, he said.

Frustration with Chinese trade practices has been building among both the governments and private sectors of the U.S., Japan and Europe. One reason the U.S. is considering a separate WTO case is to try to recruit allies to pressure China. But any move to impose tariffs could allow Beijing to portray itself as a victim. Coalition-building has become more complicated in the wake of a separate U.S. action to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from allied nations.

For instance, finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 countries, meeting in Buenos Aires on Tuesday, failed to reach any new agreement on shared principles when it comes to trade policies, as the split between the U.S. and other major economies deepened over the U.S.’s tariff policies.

The administration is considering recommendations from two other reports that would impose draconian investment restrictions on China. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a Congressional panel that takes a hard line on China, last year urged the administration to prohibit “the acquisition of U.S. assets by Chinese state-owned or state-controlled entities, including sovereign wealth funds.”

A report for the Pentagon by its Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, which examines technology issues, has recommended that the Pentagon pursue a policy of “deterring Chinese technology transfer” by broadening CFIUS’s mandate and strengthening export controls on technology to China.

China Investment Corp¸ Chinese sovereign-wealth fund which could get hit by sanctions, is putting together a fund targeting as much as $5 billion with Goldman Sachs Group Inc.,aimed at investing in U.S. manufacturing and other sectors. CIC hopes the fund would pass muster with U.S. regulators, say those people familiar with the plans.

It is unclear how far the administration will go in pursuing these ideas. Blocking the acquisition of all purchases by Chinese state firms, for instance, would mean that Chinese state-owned airlines couldn’t buy Boeing jets. Toughening export controls on, say, semiconductor production machinery could cede the market to Japanese vendors.

The administration’s actions on China come on the heels of plans to levy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Japan, Korea and the European Union are scrambling to get exemptions from those levies, which are set to go into effect on Friday.

North Korea to Meet for Talks With U.S., South Korean Delegations in Helsinki

March 19, 2018

Comes ahead of U.S.-North Korea summit expected by May

Choe Kang Il, a senior North Korean diplomat handling North American affairs, is seen at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday.
Choe Kang Il, a senior North Korean diplomat handling North American affairs, is seen at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday.PHOTO: KIM JIN-BANG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEOUL—A North Korean official will hold unofficial talks in Finland with a delegation from the U.S. and former South Korean government officials, Seoul’s foreign ministry said, amid a flurry of recent diplomatic activity before an expected U.S.-North Korean summit by the end of May.

However, American officials said the meeting in Finland isn’t part of the process leading up to a planned meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but would be an informal discussion of the sort that have occurred periodically among former officials, academics and experts from the U.S., North Korea and South Korea.

A South Korean foreign ministry spokeswoman declined to say when the meeting would take place. She wouldn’t identify attendees except to say that the South Korean delegation would include civilian academics, alongside former government officials.

South Korea’s semiofficial Yonhap news agency reported that Washington’s former ambassador to Seoul, Kathleen Stephens, would attend. Neither Ms. Stephens nor the U.S. Embassy in Seoul could be reached immediately for comment.

The American officials said that Ms. Stephens, who served as the U.S. ambassador in Seoul from 2008 to 2011, wasn’t carrying a message on behalf of the Trump administration or serving as an interlocutor for the State Department.

Trump administration officials have said they haven’t yet heard from North Korea regarding Mr. Trump’s agreement to meet Mr. Kim, announced in a surprise move last month.

In a television appearance Sunday, South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha said North Korea’s Kim appeared to be assessing how to go forward after Mr. Trump’s decision, though she expressed confidence the meeting would take place.

“We believe the North Korean leader is now taking stock and seeing what this means and preparing for his positioning on this,” Ms. Kang told CBS News.

Unofficial meetings involving North Korea and the U.S., sometimes known as Track 2 talks, have been held before.

But the news of the discussions in Finland follows diplomatic action in recent days concerning Pyongyang’s nuclear program. On Saturday, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho concluded a three-day visit to Sweden that included talks with his Swedish counterpart and a meeting with the prime minister.

The State Department has said that visit had no connection to the upcoming summit expected between Messers. Trump and Kim.

Sweden is one of a handful of Western countries to maintain an embassy in North Korea’s capital, and represents U.S. diplomatic interests there. It is also among a few of Washington’s European allies that have consistently backed talks with North Korea.

Swedish officials in the past have helped secure the release of U.S. citizens detained in North Korea. At least three Americans are known to be still detained in the country.

On Sunday, hours before Seoul’s announcement about the Finland talks, a senior North Korean foreign ministry official, Choe Kang Il, was seen boarding a flight from Beijing to Helsinki, Yonhap reported. Mr. Choe is the deputy director of North American affairs at Pyongyang’s foreign ministry.

The Helsinki gathering follows announcements by Seoul officials this month that Mr. Kim was willing to discuss ways to dismantle his country’s atomic weapons.

Separately, South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, U.S. national-security adviser H.R. McMaster, and Japanese national-security adviser Shotaro Yachi convened in San Francisco over the weekend and agreed on the need to pursue complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Seoul’s presidential Blue House said on Monday.

North Korea advanced its nuclear-weapons program dramatically over the past year in defiance of progressively tougher United Nations sanctions, launching intercontinental ballistic missiles that it has said can reach the mainland U.S. The regime conducted its sixth nuclear-weapons test in September.

Finland doesn’t have an embassy in Pyongyang. But the country has served a neutral role in international relations since the end of World War II, acting as a broker between the West and the Soviet bloc during the Cold War.

Write to Andrew Jeong at

Asean-Australia Special Summit Faces Difficult Issues This Week-End

March 16, 2018

SYDNEY – For the first time, Australia will be hosting a summit with leaders from the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean), as it seeks to build closer ties with Asean nations.

The two-day summit in Sydney, starting on Saturday (March 17), is seen as a diplomatic coup for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has won praise for his efforts to focus on ties with South-east Asia, amid concerns that Australia’s foreign policy is overly focused on handling relations with China.

Mr Turnbull will play host to nine of the 10 Asean leaders. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte decided not to attend the summit, citing more pressing developments at home.

The meeting presents some tricky diplomatic issues for both Mr Turnbull and the attending Asean leaders.

Analysts have urged the summit to adopt a position in support of free trade, following the recent decision by United States President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium.

Former Indonesian trade minister Mari Pangestu, now professor of international economics at the University of Indonesia, and Professor Peter Drysdale from the Australian National University, said on Thursday that Asean’s response to the rising threat to free trade is its greatest challenge.

They called on the Australian and Asean leaders to issue a declaration that commits to “avoiding retaliation to US protectionism” and to promoting the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The RCEP is a multilateral free trade pact involving Asean, China, Australia, New Zealand, India, Japan and South Korea.

“As China and the US stare each other down with a potentially devastating trade war on the horizon, it may seem strange to turn to Asean, but it has a central role in the collective response to Asia’s present predicament,” they wrote in The Australian Financial Review.

The summit is also set to tackle potentially thorny issues such as North Korea’s nuclear missile program, the regional terror threat, and China’s territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea.

There have also been calls for Asean to address human rights concerns, particularly the treatment of the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

“Myanmar’s regional neighbours – including Australia and Asean – must send a signal that crimes against humanity are unacceptable and will not go unpunished,” said Mr James Gomez, Amnesty International’s regional director for South-east Asia and the Pacific.

Australia has longstanding ties with Asean and became a dialogue partner in 1974, the first country to do so.

Its overall trade with Asean is worth A$93 billion (S$96 billion), more than with the US or Japan. Investment from Asean was worth some A$44 billion in 2016, more than that from China.

In Australia, commentators and officials have welcomed the summit as an opportunity to boost ties with countries in South-east Asia.

“Asean is in our region… it is absolutely vital that we have stability, whether it be economic prosperity or national security, in the region,” an unnamed Australian government official told The Australian yesterday.

But some commentators are cautious about overemphasising the potential for greater ties between Australia and the region.

They said Australia’s economic ties with South-east Asia, for instance, are dominated by relations with Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

These nations account for two-thirds of Australia’s trade with South-east Asia. And Singapore accounts for about 70 per cent of investment from Asean.

Nonetheless, the summit will be an opportunity for both sides to present a united front – particularly on trade – that could deliver a timely message to the world.

South Korea gears up for summit, report shows North Korea testing reactor

March 16, 2018


SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean officials began preparations on Friday for a summit next month with North Korea aimed at reducing tensions on the peninsula, as a report showed the North had probably begun testing a nuclear reactor as recently as late February.

The report by intelligence analysts at Jane’s by IHS Markit said satellite imagery from Feb. 25 showed emissions of non-condensable gases from a stack at the North’s experimental light water reactor (ELWR) at the Yongbyon Atomic Energy Research Center, suggesting preliminary testing had likely begun.

Image result for Yongbyon Atomic Energy Research Center, photos

The reactor could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, but North Korea is believed to already have enough fissile material for multiple nuclear bombs, according to Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

Meantime, South Korean officials were set to convene their first meeting at the presidential Blue House to prepare for a summit between President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un late next month.

Headed by Moon’s chief of staff Im Jong-seok, former prominent democracy activist, the team will hammer out plans for the summit, including when to contact the North and what will be discussed between Kim and Moon.

U.S. President Donald Trump also accepted a summit invitation from Kim Jong Un, after a South Korean envoy told him earlier this month that the North’s leader was prepared to discuss denuclearization. Trump and Kim are expected to meet sometime in May although a location has not been set yet.

Although North Korea’s state media has yet to comment on the pending summits with Moon and Trump, its foreign minister Ri Yong Ho is visiting Sweden for talks with his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallstrom. Ri’s trip prompted speculation it could lay the groundwork for the summit in Sweden between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

South Korea's new President Moon Jae-In (R) with his chief of staff Im Jong-seok (L) in his office at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on May 10, 2017. Photo: AFP/ Yonhap

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In (R) with his chief of staff Im Jong-seok (L) in his office at the presidential Blue House in Seoul last year. Photo: AFP/ Yonhap

The push for these summits came after the North Korean leader said in a New Year’s address that he wanted to improve relations with the South following a year of heightened tensions brought on by the North’s nuclear and missile tests.


North Korea completed construction of the Yongbyon ELWR in 2013. It was optimized for civilian electricity production, and although it is not yet operational, it could start running with “little warning” later in 2018 or 2019, the Jane’s report said.

The experimental reactor is likely too small to provide much in the way of electricity, but is part of a “long-running effort” to develop a light-water reactor after a deal by an international consortium, including the United States, to provide two such nuclear power reactors in the 1990s fell apart, Pollack said.

“It’s their way of saying, ‘see, since you won’t give us what you promised, we’ll do it ourselves’,” Pollack said. “They haven’t made any agreements lately with the U.S., so the work goes on.”

An official at the South’s defense ministry said authorities were aware of the Jane’s report, which follows a similar one released on the 38 North website earlier this month that said a nearby reactor had also continued to show signs of operation.

The isolated state has maintained it will continue developing its nuclear program but later added it was open to abandoning the program if the security of its regime was guaranteed, according to South Korea.

Reporting by Christine Kim; Additional reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

Goldman-Backed Circle Is Hiring 100 for Global Crypto Expansion — “The long-term view is that every form of value on the planet will become a crypto token.”

March 15, 2018


By Justina Lee and  Benjamin Robertson


  • Company to add staff as it expands newly acquired Poloniex
  • Co-founder sees every form of value becoming crypto token

Circle Internet Financial Ltd., the consumer finance startup backed by investors including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Baidu Inc., will hire 100 people as it expands a newly acquired cryptocurrency exchange.

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The Dublin-registered company, which began as a mobile-payments platform, is focused on improving operations, customer support and technology at Poloniex, the exchange it acquired last month. Circle will hire 25 to 35 people to grow its Asia operations, adding to a staff of about 10 in Hong Kong and mainland China, and set up teams in South Korea and Japan, co-founder Jeremy Allaire said in an interview.

The expansion adds to signs that cryptocurrency entrepreneurs are undaunted by increased regulatory scrutiny and a selloff in digital assets that cut Bitcoin’s value in half since mid-December. Allaire, who has lofty visions for the future of digital tokens, said that Circle will cooperate with authorities as the company expands globally.

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“The long-term view is that every form of value on the planet will become a crypto token,” Allaire said in Hong Kong. “We want to offer more markets, more assets, we want to localize it, and launch it in more international markets and, critically, we need to work with the most important regulators,” he said, referring to Poloniex.

 Image result for bitcoins, photos

Circle is backed by $140 million in venture capital from investors such as Goldman, Baidu, and investment bank China International Capital Corp., according to its website. The company has no plans to raise additional funds for now and expects to be profitable for a second year, Allaire said.

Circle’s products include Circle Pay, a payment app; Circle Invest, a platform for investing in digital assets; and Circle Trade, which provides market-making services. The latter handles about $4 billion a month and plans to start supporting crypto trades in Asian currencies such as the Hong Kong and Singapore dollars, said Jack C. Liu, who joined Circle as managing director in January.