From Political Star To “A Sacrificial Object” In China
Chris Buckley, THE NEW YORK TIMES
All the political stars seemed aligned for Sun Zhengcai to be promoted to a top national post in China at the Communist Party’s congress this fall. His most recent high-profile post was party secretary for Chongqing, a vast city of 30 million where he was sent to clean up a government in the aftermath of a corruption and murder scandal. Last year, Communist Party leader Xi Jinping publicly shook his hand and praised his city. Then, on July 15, he abruptly vanished. Within five days of publicly vowing absolute loyalty to Mr. Xi and extolling his “superlative political wisdom,” Mr. Sun was dismissed and put under investigation and has since disappeared, his career terminated by the man he had praised. The sudden fall from grace was taken as a warning that Mr. Xi will play succession politics by his own ruthless rules. “Sun Zhengcai was a sacrificial object to send a message across the party,” said Wu Qiang, a current affairs writer and former political science lecturer at Tsinghua University in Beijing. “Xi Jinping has signaled that he doesn’t feel bound by the order of promotion set by the previous generation of leaders.”
Pyramid Investigation Has Investors Protesting Near Heart Of Beijing
Chris Buckley & Austin Ramzy, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Many hundreds of Chinese investors who paid into what the police have called a pyramid investment scheme took to the streets of Beijing on Monday, not to denounce the business in which some had placed their life savings, but to oppose the government investigation that threatened their earnings. While demonstrations over losses in investment programs are not uncommon in China, the size and timing of Monday’s protest was just miles from Tiananmen Square and months before an important Communist Party congress, the protest seemed aimed at embarrassing the government. Many of the protesters waved Chinese flags, and some held banners appealing to the Communist Party leader, Xi Jinping, to overturn the crackdown on their investment scheme, called Shanxinhui, and the recent arrest of its founder, Zhang Tianming.
Why Is China Reinforcing Its Border With North Korea?
James Griffiths and Serenitie Wang, CNN
China is further fortifying its border with North Korea, new reports show, amid continued tensions on the peninsula and concerns over potential US military action against Pyongyang. The North Korean-Chinese border stretches 880 miles (1,415 kilometers) across China’s Liaoning province, an industrial and mining heartland prone to heavy smog and painfully cold winters. In more hospitable months, the border city of Dandong plays host to hundreds of tourists coming to gawp at North Korea—from boats on the Yalu River which separates the two countries, or through binoculars on a section of the Great Wall overlooking the international boundary. Cross-border interaction has remained largely consistent even as relations between North Korea and its one major ally have fluctuated amid increasing nuclear and missile testing by Pyongyang and angry denunciations from Beijing. But recent reports published on Chinese military and government websites, first highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, show Beijing is moving to reinforce the border as tensions on the Korean Peninsula rise and some in the US call for regime change in Pyongyang.
North Korea 2016 Economic Growth At 17-Year High Despite Sanctions
Christine Kim & Jane Chung, THE WASHINGTON FREE BEACON
North Korea’s economy grew at its fastest pace in 17 years in 2016, South Korea’s central bank said on Friday, despite the isolated country facing international sanctions aimed at curbing its defiant pursuit of nuclear weapons. Gross domestic product (GDP) in North Korea last year rose 3.9 percent from the previous year when the economy contracted due to a drought and low commodity prices, the Bank of Korea said. The expansion, driven by mining and energy, marked the biggest rise since a 6.1 percent gain in 1999. North Korea, which counts China as its biggest trading partner, also boosted exports by 4.6 percent, the most since an 11.8 percent jump in 2013. Still, the isolated state’s per capita gross national income in 2016 was just 1.5 million won ($1,342), less than 5 percent of the comparable number in South Korea.
Dozens Of American Faculty Members At North Korea University Face Diplomatic Limbo
Ben Gittleson, ABC NEWS
As the last foreign faculty members remaining at North Korea’s only private university leave the country this week, it remained unclear whether they will be able to return this fall—thanks to the Trump administration’s plans to bar Americans from traveling to the reclusive country. The Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, whose faculty includes 60 to 80 foreigners throughout the academic year—half of whom are Americans—would likely have to suspend operations if it did not receive an exemption from the forthcoming restriction, according to Colin McCulloch, the institution’s director of external relations. “If we didn’t get an exception, we would basically have to stop our work,” McCulloch, who has taught business, economics and English at the school since it first opened to North Korean students in 2010, told ABC News. “That’s how serious it would be. Because we would not be able to provide enough personnel.” The US State Department said Friday it would soon bar Americans from using their passports to travel to, through or in North Korea, and would issue waivers for citizens only for “certain limited humanitarian or other purposes.” The move comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Pyongyang and following the death last month of an American college student days after North Korea released him from detention.
Not So Isolated: North Korea’s Elite Use Gmail, Facebook, and iTunes
Craig Timberg and Ellen Nakashima, THE WASHINGTON POST
Western researchers recently began sifting through troves of North Korean Internet data, looking for activity related to missile launches or malicious cyber activity within the famously isolated country. What they found instead surprised them. North Korea’s tiny circle of elite families—among the few people in the country with unfettered access to the Internet—turned out to be strikingly like the rest of the world in their digital habits. They use their smartphones to check Gmail, call up their Facebook accounts and browse for goods at Amazon and Alibaba, a China e-commerce company, according to a report to be released Tuesday and provided in advance to The Washington Post. “These leaders are doing many of the same things that we do when we wake up in the morning,” said Priscilla Moriuchi of Recorded Future, a threat intelligence firm that wrote the report. “They’re not isolated.”
After Spate Of Chinese Patrols, Taiwan Says It’s Prepared to Defend Itself
Taiwan is prepared to defend itself against China if necessary, the self-ruled island’s defense ministry said on Tuesday, in a strongly worded response to recent flybys by Chinese warplanes near the island China claims as a wayward province. China’s military has flown several fighter and reconnaissance aircraft near Taiwan for training exercises in the past few days, according to the ministry. “The People’s Liberation Army has never given up on the idea of resolving problems through the use of military force,” ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi told a news briefing. “We believe in peace. We will not take the initiative that could lead to war. But we will not back down in the face of threats.” Taiwan was strategically prepared to ensure Taiwan’s security in both the air and sea, Chen added, without elaborating. China has yet to offer an account of the recent drills near Taiwan.
Chinese Authorities Have Released Detained US Student
Julia Manchester, THE HILL
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) announced Sunday that Chinese authorities have released a 25-year-old American college student detained a week ago. “I am thrilled to report we just received an email from Guthrie McLean’s mother that ‘prayers answered, Guthrie is home,’” Daines said in a statement. McLean was taken into custody by Chinese authorities after allegedly injuring a taxi driver who had gotten into an argument with his mother a week ago, according to The Associated Press. “After days of working the phones with top Chinese and American officials to secure Guthrie’s freedom from a Chinese detention facility, he has been safely reunited with his mother,” he continued. McLean’s mother claimed that the police demanded $7,400 in compensation and said they would imprison her son for three years if she did not pay up.
As Chaos Envelops Venezuela, Caracas Spends Millions on Lobbyists In Washington
Alex Daugherty and Franco Ordonez, MIAMI HERALD
Venezuela’s currency is essentially worthless. Its people are starving. Rampant inflation has rendered the bolívar less useful than toilet paper. And since Donald Trump’s election, the Venezuelan government has spent at least $1.3 million on Washington lobbyists through its subsidiary Citgo, a Houston-based oil company. Three Washington-based firms currently represent Venezuela in Washington, pushing Capitol Hill, the White House and Cabinet agencies on issues like “fuel refining” and the “potential impact of US energy policies on CITGO’s operation impacting US consumers,” according to Senate lobbying records. Caracas sees its investment in lobbyists as a way to fight possible sweeping sanctions targeting Venezuelan oil. Pushed by lawmakers like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the White House said last week “all options are on the table” and promised “strong and swift economic actions” ahead of a vote on July 30 that could alter the country’s constitution in favor of President Nicolás Maduro.
Gov. Scott’s Tough Talk On Venezuela May Not Turn Into Economic Action
Marianna Parraga and Alexandra Ulmer, TAMPA BAY TIMES
To show his solidarity with Venezuelans, Gov. Rick Scott held a rally in South Florida and repeatedly promised to punish companies that do business with the Nicolás Maduro regime. But Scott has offered no details as to how that will work and, although the governor and two other members of the Cabinet oversee the Florida Retirement System and its $150 billion in assets, their options are limited. Additionally, a 16-year-old US Supreme Court ruling may bar him from telling state agencies to boycott companies that do business in Venezuela. “Next month, at my next Cabinet meeting, I will be proposing a resolution that will say any organization that does business with the Maduro regime cannot do business with the state of Florida,” Scott proclaimed at a July 10 rally at El Arepazo restaurant in Doral. The crowd cheered. The governor, attorney general and state chief financial officer act as the state Board of Administration but, because they have a fiduciary responsibility to keep the state pension fund healthy, they may not sell off large amounts of assets if that could affect the profitability of the fund—unless they are ordered to by law.
Venezuela Opposition Congress Names Alternative Supreme Court Judges
Alexandra Ulmer & Diego Oré, REUTERS
Venezuela’s opposition-led congress on Friday appointed alternative judges to the country’s Supreme Court, whose current pro-government members have been a bedrock of support for leftist President Nicolás Maduro. While widely seen as symbolic, the move raises the specter of the development of a parallel state. The top court has warned that the naming of the alternate judges is illegal, and they could be jailed. Undeterred, opposition lawmakers swore in the 13 new judges and 20 substitute judges in a public plaza to combat what they say is oil-rich Venezuela’s slide into a dictatorship under Maduro. “We’re not backing down, Venezuela will have a Supreme Court of Justice and institutions at the service of the people and not at the service of whatever government is in power,” said opposition legislator Carlos Berrizbeitia during the ceremony, where the appointed justices were applauded and cheered on with shouts of “Bravo!” Critics hold that the current Supreme Court justices were named illegally by the ruling Socialist Party and rushed in before the opposition took over the legislature in January 2016.
Venezuelans Sell Sex In Colombia To Survive
Some 4,500 Venezuelan prostitutes are thought to be working in Colombia; the trade is legal in both countries. But until recently they were often rounded up by police and deported back to Venezuela by the busload. That changed in April, when Colombia’s constitutional court ruled that Venezuelan sex workers are entitled to work visas. Mass deportations violate international human-rights law, it said. “One should weigh up the reasons they decided to come to Colombia…and the specific situation they would face in Venezuela were they to be returned,” said the ruling. The ruling is likely to encourage Venezuelans who ply other trades. Colombians along the border are accustomed to Venezuelans streaming across, but the area’s sex workers do not relish the competition. While the law is becoming more welcoming to desperate Venezuelans, Colombians are growing increasingly nervous about the influx.