Lui Xiaobo: China’s Most Prominent Dissident Dies
Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was China’s most prominent human rights and democracy advocate, has died aged 61. The activist had been serving an 11-year prison term for “subversion” and was recently moved to a hospital for treatment for terminal liver cancer. A university professor turned tireless rights campaigner, Mr. Liu was branded a criminal by authorities. The Nobel Committee said the “Chinese government bore a heavy responsibility for his premature death.” The campaigner was repeatedly jailed throughout his life. When not in prison, he was subject to severe restrictions while his wife, Liu Xia, was placed under house arrest. The dissident won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China”, but he was not permitted to travel to Norway to accept it. He was the second person to receive the award while in prison—the other was the German pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who won in 1935 while incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp.
Xi Tells His Troops: “Call Me Chairman”
Katsuji Nakazawa, NIKKEI ASIAN REVIEW
In a surprise gambit, Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping has broken with a long-standing military tradition in a bid to strengthen his political position ahead of the Communist Party’s leadership reshuffle later this year. It happened when Xi, who doubles as the party’s general secretary, paid a high-profile visit to Hong Kong for a ceremony to mark the 20th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule. On the eve of the July 1st handover anniversary ceremony, he attended a military parade to review the 3,100 Chinese troops stationed in Hong Kong. Although the military event drew little attention, a significant thing happened there. Apparently at Xi’s behest, the troops referred to him as “zhuxi” instead of “shouzhang,” the title usually used during such inspections. Shouzhang is a generic Chinese term used to refer to a leader or commander, but zhuxi—or chairman—is a term usually used specifically to refer to the top leader of the state and the country’s powerful Central Military Commission.
Hong Kong Broadcaster Under Fire For “Anti-China” Sentiment On Handover Anniversary
RADIO FREE ASIA
A flagship political discussion show run for decades by government broadcaster RTHK has been accused of peddling an anti-Beijing agenda in Hong Kong amid reports the city’s government is planning a political campaign against “hostile overseas forces” feared by Beijing. The round-table format Sunday politics show, featuring newsmakers, politicians and questions from the audience, has been broadcasting live to the people of Hong Kong from Victoria Park since its inception in 1980. But the edition of RTHK’s City Forum that marked the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule was slated by pro-Beijing voices for its title: “One country, two systems: a 20-year sham?” The “one country, two systems” approach was offered by Beijing as part of its formal handover treaty with the UK, promising the maintenance of Hong Kong’s existing freedoms and a “high degree of autonomy” on the internal running of the city. But repeated interventions by China’s parliament in sensitive political cases, including the appointment of lawmakers and the conduct of elections, as well as the cross-border detention of five Hong Kong booksellers over the sale of “banned” books in China, have left many feeling that those promises were empty. Meanwhile, the Beijing-backed Wen Wei Po newspaper quoted a pro-Beijing journalists’ association as calling for the “malicious” producers of the show to be disciplined for damaging anti-handover sentiment.
In Cuba, A Chinatown With No Chinese
Yesenia Vargas, THE DIPLOMAT
“The barrio chino? Not even the Chinese go there.” In Havana’s barrio chino, or Chinatown district, this is not an uncommon phrase. One of Latin America’s oldest Chinatowns is a shadow of its former self: the stone Paifang gate and a few waitresses in red cheongsam (or qipao) are all that distinguish it from the rest of the city. Yet Cuba itself is awash in Chinese tourists and, increasingly, investors. China has become the main export destination for Cuban goods, as well as the main importer on the island. Yutong buses carry tourists and locals alike, and Huawei is set to be the main provider for the country’s growing internet ventures. Yet the capitol’s barrio chino is noticeably lacking in Chinese diaspora, most of whom fled the island soon after Fidel Castro nationalized businesses in 1959. Those that remain have long since scattered into other districts or left Havana altogether. It all makes for a rather weak Chinese presence outside of government circles, and complicates what should be a prime case for diaspora diplomacy. Though the history of Sino-Cuban relations is known and respected throughout Havana from aid in the war for independence to their shared identity as communist nations, contemporary China is a different matter altogether. Despite the enthusiasm from Cuban elites for further engagement with China, the general public looks cautiously at Beijing’s growing global influence, wary that the imbalance of power will place the island in a client state position, akin to its past relationship with the United States.
North Koreans Hit Hard By Sanctions, Report Says
Elizabeth Shim, UPI
North Korea’s Workers’ Party may be pushing “optimistic propaganda” inside the country and among compatriots in China because sanctions are taking a toll on the lives of ordinary people. Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbunreported Wednesday that the party has been maintaining that economic prospects will improve in two years despite heavy sanctions. Multiple sources at the China-North Korea border said North Koreans in China and North Korea have been “hit” by sanctions. But North Korean authorities are saying that “after two years, the international situation will become more favorable for North Korea,” the sources said. There are expectations in North Korea that with the development of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile program, future negotiations with the United States will culminate in the easing of sanctions, according to the report. Washington has said talks of easing sanctions would take place only if North Korea agrees to cease weapons proliferation. China, North Korea’s most important economic partner, has been increasing restrictions against North Korean activity in the country. According to sources who spoke to the Mainichi, North Koreans face growing limits to financial activity in China.
Kim Jong-un And His Wife Host Banquet For ICBM Developers
Ben Gittleson, ABC
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hosted a banquet honoring the developers of an intercontinental ballistic missile his country recently tested, with a special guest making a rare appearance: his wife. Footage of the meal appeared Tuesday on North Korean state broadcaster KRT, which showed Kim and his wife, RiSol-ju, sitting at a table replete with fruit, beverages and large floral arrangements—as well as what appeared to be a miniature model of a missile launcher. It was the first time Ri had made a public appearance since March, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap. The inner workings of the North Korean regime and Kim’s family remain largely opaque to foreign observers, who study appearances by officials and the leader’s relatives for any clues into developments in the secretive nation. North Korea first confirmed in 2012 confirmed that Ri had married Kim, according to the Associated Press. She has rarely appeared in public since then. The video of the banquet showed attendees sitting around circular tables, standing and applauding as Kim and others at his table appeared to share a toast. A screen on stage showed a photograph of Kim signing an order to test-fire the ICBM. North Korea tested the missile on July 4. The move was met with international condemnation. North Korea has launched a number of missiles in recent months but has celebrated the ICBM test more than others. State television last week aired footage of a rally in Pyongyang marking the occasion, and this week showed video of Kim attending a concert lauding the launch.
Paraguay President’s Visit Throws Taiwan Diplomatic Lifeline
Christopher Bodeen and Johnson Lai, THE WASHINGTON POST
The visit by Paraguay’s president to Taiwan this week offers a diplomatic lifeline to the self-governing island democracy whose international breathing space is being steadily chipped away at by Beijing. Horacio Cartes and his delegation were scheduled to attend events Wednesday commemorating 60 years of ties between Taiwan and the landlocked nation, the island’s only diplomatic ally in South America. Cartes’s three-day visit comes almost a month after Panama switched relations from Taipei to Beijing, leaving Taiwan with just 20 diplomatic allies, mainly small developing nations in Central America, the Caribbean, the South Pacific and Africa. That development set off alarm bells in Taipei. “As far as the (Taiwanese) government is concerned, there is a growing sense of unfairness and unreasonableness by Beijing,” said Alan Romberg, director of the East Asia program at The Stimson Center, a Washington think tank. “It is hard to see a way out.”
State Department: We Expect’ China “To Do A Whole Lot More” To Stop North Korea
Joel Gehrke, WASHINGTON EXAMINER
Chinese denials of “responsibility” to curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons program met with a curt dismissal from the State Department. “Hm, okay,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert replied when informed that a Chinese government spokesman had pushed back against US pressure. “We continue to have conversations with Chinese government officials at all levels, at the highest levels, and we continue to say, ‘Thanks for what you’ve done, but we expect and we want you to do a whole lot more.'” President Trump’s team regards North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as one of the most pressing national security issues. The regime tested a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile last week, a first-of-its-kind display that suggests North Korea has acquired the ability to hit the United States with a missile strike. China has resisted pressure from Trump to help deprive the pariah state of revenue by propping up some North Korean industries even as they implement international sanctions on others.
Venezuela-Russia Deal Threatens US Energy Security
Jeff Duncan and James Conway, THE HILL
Recent news that Venezuela may soon default on a $1.5 billion loan from Russian state oil company Rosneft has once again shed light on the dangers of US oil dependence. In 2016, Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA, secured this loan from Russia by using 49.9 percent of its shares in Texas-based subsidiary Citgo as collateral. This move has attracted very little mainstream media attention even though Citgo owns substantial energy assets in the US, including three oil refineries, 48 terminal facilities and multiple pipelines across 24 US states. Moreover, Venezuela is the third-largest source of US imports of oil, and it has some of the largest proven oil reserves in the world. In the event that Venezuela defaults on its loan to Rosneft, the Russians would assume control of critical US energy infrastructure. Russia would also become the second-largest foreign owner of US refining capacity—posing a very serious risk to US energy security. The subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing a few years ago to examine the growing Russian engagement in the Western Hemisphere and its threat to US interests. Russian activity in our neighborhood, especially in its potential acquisition of Citgo, presents a very real threat to US interests.
He Ran North Korea’s Secret Money Making Operation. Now He Lives In Virginia.
Anna Fifield, THE WASHINGTON POST
American and multilateral efforts to sanction North Korea into submission won’t work because there are too many ways around them, Ri Jong-ho says. He should know. For about three decades, Ri was a top moneymaker for the Kim regime, sending millions of dollars a year back to Pyongyang even as round after round of sanctions was imposed to try to punish North Korea for its nuclear defiance. “We were never in pain or hurting in our trade business because of the sanctions. Instead, we conducted our first nuclear test in 2006,” Ri said in an interview near Tysons Corner. The 59-year-old, whose job had been to raise money for the North Korean regime, and his family now live in Northern Virginia, having defected to South Korea at the end of 2014 and moved to the United States last year. “I used to be sanctioned, as a North Korean who led trade at the front line, but I never felt any pain from the sanctions. The sanctions were perfunctory,” Ri said. He described being able to send millions of US dollars to North Korea simply by handing a bag of cash to the captain of a ship leaving from the Chinese port city of Dalian, where he was based, to the North Korean port of Nampo, or by giving it to someone to take on the train across the border. In first the nine months of 2014—he defected in October that year—Ri said he sent about $10 million to Pyongyang this way.
Venezuela: Luisa Ortega, Once Loyal Prosecutor, Is Now Hero To Opposition
Opponents of President Maduro who have taken to the streets day after day in Venezuela now find themselves rallying in support of an unexpected hero: the chief prosecutor who helped throw many of them into jail. Until recently, Luisa Ortega was seen as a hardline loyalist of the socialist administration, responsible for dozens of arrests on trumped-up charges against anti-government protesters. But now she is being lionized by the opposition and disaffected supporters of the late Hugo Chavez alike for her decision to break with Maduro, the hand-picked successor to “El Comandante.” Roberto Marrero, a lawyer for the nation’s most emblematic political prisoner, Leopoldo Lopez, found himself among thousands at a recent street demonstration in support of Ortega, whose office prosecuted Lopez. “Every Mandela needs a De Klerk,” he said, referring to the white president who oversaw the end of apartheid in South Africa. The Venezuelan opposition’s embrace of Ortega, however tactical and awkward, underscores a stark truth after three months of paralyzing but so far unsuccessful protests: Removing Maduro will require winning over some of his backers.