Chinese Crackdown On Dealmakers Reflects Xi Power Play
Lucy Hornby, THE FINANCIAL TIMES
For China’s ruling Communist party, its foreign exchange reserves are a symbol of national strength and are a crucial buffer against economic shocks. So the alarming announcement that forex reserves had fallen below $3 trillion ($27 billion) in January marked a shift in political faultlines that is only being felt this summer. As more than $1 trillion left the country over the previous 18 months amid a flurry of large overseas acquisitions, a sense of crisis grew within the party. Technocrats in Beijing had already prepared the ground to take action. In December, they had managed to link the phrase “national security” to the concept of financial risk at the annual agenda-setting economic work conference. Backed with the reserves figures, they were poised to strike against what they saw as the leading culprit—the new generation of highly acquisitive private Chinese companies. These tensions within the system have exploded into the open in the past two months with the humiliation of some of China’s best-known and most well-connected private companies, which in recent years have acquired high-profile foreign assets such as New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel and French leisure company Club Med.
In China, Surveillance Feed Becomes Reality TV
Josh Chin, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
They may be blocked from watching YouTube, but China’s 751 million internet users can binge on real-time video streams of yoga studios, swimming lessons, alpaca ranches and thousands of other scenes captured by surveillance cameras. Much of what’s available would be unthinkable in the West, according to legal experts, because people dining out, taking dance classes or shopping for lingerie would likely object to having their live images beamed publicly, and doing so without their permission could invite litigation. In China, however, surveillance is both pervasive and widely accepted. And that’s the subject of a new film by one of China’s best-known contemporary artists. Relaxed popular attitudes toward privacy are one reason China’s government has been able to push the boundaries of surveillance. Authorities are implementing a system that will assign each person a “social credit” score based on data about their behavior and have rolled out facial-recognition technology more broadly than any other country, without widespread complaint.
China Uses A Quantum Satellite To Transmit Potentially Unhackable Data
Arjun Kharpal, CNBC
China has demonstrated a world first by sending data over long distances using satellites which is potentially unhackable, laying the basis for next generation encryption based on so-called “quantum cryptography.” Last August, China launched a quantum satellite into space, a move which was called a “notable advance” by the Pentagon. Using this satellite, Chinese researchers at the Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) project, were able to transmit secret messages from space to Earth at a further distance than ever before. The technology is called quantum key distribution (QKD). Typical encryption relies on traditional mathematics and while for now it is more or less adequate and safe from hacking, the development of quantum computing threatens that. Quantum computing refers to a new era of faster and more powerful computers, and the theory goes that they would be able to break current levels of encryption. That’s why China is looking to use quantum cryptography for encryption. QKD works by using photons—the particles which transmit light—to transfer data.
Hearing Loss Of US Diplomats In Cuba Blamed On Covert Device
Matthew Lee and Michael Weissenstein, ASSOCIATED PRESS
The two-year-old U.S. diplomatic relationship with Cuba was roiled Wednesday by what US officials say was a string of bizarre incidents that left a group of American diplomats in Havana with severe hearing loss attributed to a covert sonic device. In the fall of 2016, a series of US diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case. Several of the diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of former President Barack Obama’s reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Some of the diplomats’ symptoms were so severe that they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said. After months of investigation, US officials concluded that the diplomats had been exposed to an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences. It was not immediately clear if the device was a weapon used in a deliberate attack, or had some other purpose.
North Korea Says Guam Strike Plan Ready Within Days
Euan McKirdy, Zachary Cohen, and Ivan Watson, CNN
A North Korean plan to fire four missiles near the US Pacific territory of Guam will be ready for Kim Jong Un’s consideration in days, state media has reported, as an unprecedented exchange of military threats between Washington and Pyongyang intensifies. The intermediate-range missiles would be fired east and over Japan before landing around 30 to 40 kilometers (18 to 25 miles) off the coast of the tiny island if the plan is implemented, according to state-run KCNA. Guam is more than 3,000 kilometers from North Korea. The plan is the latest provocation in a back-and-forth with Washington, which came to a boil on Tuesday when US President Donald Trump appeared to threaten nuclear war on the pariah state. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said. “They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.” The North Korean threat has been on the Trump administration’s foreign-policy agenda since the President took office in January, but it has taken center stage since Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month that it says are capable of hitting the US mainland.
North Korea Munitions Factories Turn To Fishing To Generate Foreign Currency
RADIO FREE ASIA
Authorities in North Korea have tasked munitions factories with operating fishing vessels to generate hundreds of thousands of US dollars for the isolated cash-strapped regime of leader Kim Jong-Un, sources inside the country said. Though authorities have already assigned other general factories and firms to engage in activities that can earn hard-to-get foreign currency, they have allowed munitions factories continue to focus mainly on producing arms for North Korea until earlier this year, sources said. The munitions factories are exporting the fish that they catch or selling them in local markets where they receive payment in Chinese renminbi or US dollars. Some munitions factories in Chongjin, capital of North Korea’s North Hamgyong province and the country’s third-largest city, are operating fishing vessels in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, sources said. “The waters of Chongjin are full of munitions factories’ fishing vessels,” said a source from the province who requested anonymity. “Many fishing vessels from Base 317 of Department No. 6 under the Second Economic Committee are making an effort to earn foreign currency by catching squid.” North Korean residents are perplexed as to why the Second Economic Committee has assigned munition factories to undertake activities that generate foreign currency, sources said. They have speculated that the country is slowing down its weapons production or experiencing a shortage of foreign currency, sources said.
Chinese Spy Plane Spotted Prowling Near Taiwan
Keoni Everington, TAIWAN NEWS
A Chinese military spy plane was spotted prowling over international waters to the east of Taiwan yesterday, according to Japan’s Ministry of Defense. The ministry posted a map on its website showing the route a Shaanxi Y-8, a Chinese military surveillance aircraft, took as it flew over the East China Sea. The map shows that it was first detected just to the east of Taiwan, before it made its way over the Miyako Strait, which lies between the Japanese islands of Miyako and Okinawa and northeast of Taiwan. As the Chinese spy plane appeared over the Miyako Strait, the Japanese Air Self-Defense force scrambled a fighter jet in response. The presence of the Chinese spy plane is the yet another example of a series of provocative flybys on the part of Chinese military aircraft near Taiwan’s waters in recent months.
US Sanctions Eight More Venezuelan Officials, Including Chávez Brother
Matt Spetalnick, REUTERS
The Trump administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on eight more Venezuelan officials, including the brother of late socialist leader Hugo Chávez, to punish them for helping President Maduro to create a new legislative superbody, US officials said. The United States targeted individual politicians and security figures but stopped short of placing broader financial or “sectoral” sanctions on its vital oil industry—though such actions, the officials told Reuters, are still under consideration. The new measures announced by the Treasury Department will freeze their US assets, ban them from travel to the United States and prohibit Americans from doing business with them. Washington slapped sanctions on Maduro himself last week following similar action against 13 Venezuelan figures on July 26. It marked a further escalation of the US response to Maduro’s crackdown on the opposition and the establishment last week of the new constituent assembly, an all-powerful body run by his Socialist Party loyalists and which has drawn international condemnation.
Sen. Marco Rubio In Twitter War With High-Ranking Venezuelan Official
The crisis in Venezuela has led to a Twitter war between Sen. Marco Rubio and a high-ranking Venezuelan official. Rubio is no fan of Maduro and his government. He recorded a message to the Venezuelan people, which aired on the country’s independent TV stations. “If the Maduro regime is so confident in the support of its people, then why not schedule the free and fair election called for in your constitution?” he said in the video. Rubio also told the Miami Herald that Maduro should sleep with one eye open. But he saves his most blistering attacks for the country’s former vice president and current socialist party deputy, Diosdado Cabello. Rubio calls Cabello Venezuela’s Pablo Escobar, the notorious drug trafficker. Rubio has emerged as the face of US opposition to Maduro and has successfully steered the president into taking a tough stand on Venezuela. Rubio is essentially determining US policy toward Venezuela and Maduro and Cabello know it.
Trump’s Threat To North Korea Was Improvised
Peter Baker and Glenn Thrush, THE NEW YORK TIMES
President Trump delivered his “fire and fury” threat to North Korea on Tuesday with arms folded, jaw set and eyes flitting on what appeared to be a single page of talking points set before him on the conference table at his New Jersey golf resort. The piece of paper, as it turned out, was a fact sheet on the opioid crisis he had come to talk about, and his ominous warning to Pyongyang was entirely improvised, according to several people with direct knowledge of what unfolded. In discussions with advisers beforehand, he had not run the specific language by them, though he had talked over possible responses in a general way. The inflammatory words quickly escalated the confrontation with North Korea to a new, alarming level and were followed shortly by a new threat from North Korea to obliterate an American air base on Guam. In the hours since, the president’s advisers have sought to calm the situation, with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson assuring Americans that they “should sleep at night” without worrying about an imminent war.
If Americans Can Find North Korea On A Map, They’re More Likely To Prefer Diplomacy
Kevin Quealy, THE NEW YORK TIMES
When asked in April which policies the United States should pursue regarding North Korea, Americans diverged on their views depending in part on whether they knew where it was. An experiment led by Kyle Dropp of Morning Consult from April 27-29, conducted at the request of The New York Times, shows that respondents who could correctly identify North Korea tended to view diplomatic and nonmilitary strategies more favorably than those who could not. These strategies included imposing further economic sanctions, increasing pressure on China to influence North Korea and conducting cyberattacks against military targets in North Korea. They also viewed direct military engagement—in particular, sending ground troops—much less favorably than those who failed to locate North Korea.
Regional Top Diplomats Reject Venezuela Assembly
Foreign ministers from 17 Western Hemisphere nations are condemning Venezuela’s new constitutional assembly, saying their governments will refuse to recognize the all-powerful body. The statement came Tuesday evening after the Venezuelan assembly declared itself superior to all other branches of government. The top diplomats met in Peru’s capital to discuss Venezuela’s political upheaval. They expressed support for renewed negotiations between the government and opposition, though previous talks have failed. The ministers represented Mexico, Canada, Argentina and other regional nations. But while many Latin American nations have denouncing embattled Venezuelan President Maduro’s recent moves to consolidate power, the region has found it tricky to formulate a collective response.
Venezuela Opposition Will Register Candidates For December Gubernatorial Vote
Venezuela’s opposition coalition said on Wednesday it would register candidates to run in December’s gubernatorial elections despite allegations of fraud in a controversial July election of a new all-powerful legislative body.
“Totally Divided.” How Venezuela’s Crisis Split The Latin American Left
Dom Phillips, Sibylla Brodzinsky, David Agren, Dan Collyns, and Uki Goni, THE GUARDIAN
In her first international speech as the president of Brazil’s powerful Workers’ party, Gleisi Hoffmann waded immediately into controversy when she voiced uncompromising support for Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro. In a continent whose recent history is littered with rightwing coups, military dictatorships and US interference, such reflexive support made sense to many on the left. For them, Venezuela remains a symbol of anti-imperialist resistance—much as Cuba once did. But to others, Hoffmann’s speech was an indefensible endorsement of a government accused of growing authoritarianism and violence against its own people. This week the United Nations said 5,000 people have been arbitrarily detained in Venezuela since April and outlined “credible reports of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” by security forces. The country’s economy is in freefall, while shortages of food and medicine have triggered a humanitarian crisis. And after four months of political turmoil in Venezuela, the steady erosion of human rights has left Latin American leftists—once broadly united behind its charismatic late leader Hugo Chávez—in disarray. “The left is totally divided,” said Leonardo Valente, a professor of international relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Vietnam Wins US Defense Pledges As Tension With China Grows
Vietnam has won the promise of a visit from a US aircraft carrier and deeper defense cooperation from the United States as strains show with China over the disputed South China Sea. Within Southeast Asia, Vietnam has become an increasingly lonely voice in challenging Chinese claims to the vast majority of the waterway and was forced to suspend some offshore oil drilling last month after pressure from Beijing. The agreement was consistent with Vietnam’s diplomatic strategy of being open to all countries, said Ha Hoang Hop, a Vietnamese political analyst who has advised the government. “Vietnam is not willing to compromise on issues of sovereignty and also makes its own preparations,” he said.
Berlin Threatens Action In Vietnam Kidnap Case As Demand Not Met
Germany said on Wednesday it was considering what steps to take after Vietnam failed to respond to its demand to return a former oil executive believed by Berlin to have been kidnapped by Vietnamese agents. Last week, Germany’s foreign ministry accused Vietnam of abducting Trinh Xuan Thanh, who was seeking asylum in Germany but is wanted in the Southeast Asian country on charges of financial mismanagement that caused losses of around $150 million. In scenes reminiscent of Cold War disappearances in the then-divided German capital, Thanh’s German lawyer said he believed his client had been bundled into a car and forcefully spirited back to Vietnam as he would never have gone willingly. A foreign ministry spokesman said on Wednesday he regretted that Germany’s demand for Hanoi to return Thanh to Germany had gone unanswered. “We had hoped there would be a possibility to … mend things after this serious breach of German and international law,” the spokesman told reporters. “Unfortunately this is not the case, so we are looking at what can be done to make clear to our Vietnamese partners that we cannot accept it,” he said.