China Says Its Trade With North Korea has Increased
Jane Perlez and Yufan Huang, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Amid sharply rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear arms program, China said on Thursday that its trade with the country had expanded, even though it had complied with United Nations sanctions and stopped buying North Korean coal, which is a major source of hard currency for Pyongyang. The data showed that China’s trade with North Korea grew 37.4 percent in the first quarter of this year from the period in 2016. Chinese exports surged 54.5 percent, and imports increased 18.4 percent, the General Administration of Customs said at a news conference in Beijing. China buys iron ore, zinc and other minerals from North Korea, as well as growing amounts of seafood and garments manufactured in the North’s well-equipped textile factories.
Beijing’s Rewards for Unmasking Foreign “Spies” Leaves NGOS, Journalists at Risk
RADIO FREE ASIA
An attempt by police in Beijing to encourage ordinary citizens to tip them off about foreign spies with bigger rewards means that foreign journalists and nongovernmental organization (NGO) workers are at risk of detention at any time, commentators told RFA. Beijing police recently boosted the reward for blowing the whistle on foreigners engaged in “espionage” from US $1,500 to US $73,000. Hu Ping, the New York-based editor of the Chinese-language monthly Beijing Spring, said the tip-off system is likely aimed at creating a more hostile environment for foreign NGOs and foreign journalists, who are particularly vulnerable to accusations of “endangering state security.”
China Jails Social Media User for Two Years for Satire About Xi, Mao
RADIO FREE ASIA
A court in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong has jailed a social media user for two years on public order charges after he called Communist Party Leader Xi Jinping by a forbidden nickname in an online chat session, his wife told RFA. Wang Jiangfeng, who reportedly referred to the head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party as “Steamed Bun Xi” in a group message to the smartphone apps WeChat and QQ was sentenced by the Zhaoyuan People’s Court last week after being found guilty of “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” Wang’s wife Sun Wenjuan said she was shocked by the sentence, which also referred to his characterization of the late supreme leader Mao Zedong as “Bandit Mao.”
North Korea May be Able to Arm Missiles with Sarin, Japan PM Says
Yoko Wakatsuki and James Griffiths, CNN
North Korea may already have the capability to deliver missiles equipped with sarin nerve agent, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday. His warning came as analysts said North Korea may be preparing for a sixth nuclear test ahead of a key anniversary in the country and following the deployment of a US naval strike group to the region. North Korea is one of only six countries not to have signed or acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention and is believed to have large stockpiles of chemical agents, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative. According to South Korea’s 2016 Defense White Paper, North Korea has been developing chemical weapons since 1980. The paper estimated that North Korea had 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons, including anthrax, smallpox and plague.
Kim Jong-un’s Rockets are Getting an Important Boost—From China
Joby Warrick, WASHINGTON POST
When North Korea launched its Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite into space last February, officials heralded the event as a birthday gift for their dead leader Kim Jong Il. But the day also brought an unexpected prize for the country’s adversaries: priceless intelligence in the form of rocket parts that fell into the Yellow Sea. Entire sections of booster rocket were snagged by South Korea’s Navy and then scrutinized by international weapons experts for clues about the state of North Korea’s missile program. Along with motor parts and wiring, investigators discerned a pattern. Many key components were foreign-made, acquired from businesses based in China. The trove “demonstrates the continuing critical importance of high-end, foreign-sourced components” in building the missiles North Korea uses to threaten its neighbors, a UN expert team concluded in a report released last month. When UN officials contacted the implicated Chinese firms to ask about the parts, they received only silence.
Trump Shows Signs He Will Rekindle US-Vietnam Relations
Ralph Jennings, VOA
Vietnam is eyeing a chance to restart prized trade and security ties with the United States, while checking the persuasive influence of China following a new overture from the Trump administration. A letter from US President Donald Trump to his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang suggesting more two-way cooperation should ease concerns in Hanoi that Washington has paused support for the Southeast Asian country. There has been no official US comment on the matter. The letter from Trump follows a December telephone call between Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Trump before he took office. At that time Trump said he wanted to advance relations, and the two sides discussed ways they might build on their trade and investment ties.
Trump’s Former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort to Register as Foreign Agent
Paul Blumenthal, THE HUFFINGTON POST
President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort will register with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent. Manafort reportedly led lobbying efforts on behalf of the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, a front group for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, in the United States from 2010 to 2014. The AP verified on Wednesday that Manafort received at least $1.2 million of a suspected $12.7 million in off-the-books payments from Yanukovych’s political party while the Russia-allied leader was still in power. Manafort will be the second top Trump aide to retroactively register as a foreign agent.
Venezuela Opposition Plans Nationwide Protests to Strain Security Forces
Alexandra Ulmer, REUTERS
Venezuela’s opposition was planning protests in each of the country’s 335 municipalities on Thursday, in a bid to strain the capabilities of security forces as unrest mounted in the volatile nation. In a worrying sign for Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, people in usually pro-government slums and low-income areas have blocked streets and lit fires during scattered protests this week. A crowd also broke through a security cordon at his rally on Tuesday, heckling at him and throwing stones while bodyguards scrambled. With momentum on their side, the main opposition coalition was urging Venezuelans to take to the streets across the country on Thursday in an effort to leave security forces too thinly spread to break up rallies. They accuse police and the National Guard of indiscriminate use of tear gas, including gassing clinics and dropping canisters from a helicopter, and of arbitrarily detaining people for simply being within the vicinity of protests.
Venezuela Staves Off Default, but Low Oil Prices Pose a Threat
Clifford Krauss, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Venezuela has put off a reckoning on its tens of billions of dollars in debt, but its ability to avoid a disastrous default will probably require much higher oil prices than appear likely in the next year or two, financial experts say. With its oil production and international reserves falling at an accelerating rate, the government is juggling as fast as it can to pay for imported food and medicines while meeting its short-term bond payments. Even as the country has slashed imports, its reserves have declined by half over the last two years, to $10.4 billion. Most of that sum is in gold and is pledged as security for many of the government’s creditors, which include international institutional investors and everyday Venezuelans.