Hello, readers! This week, I will make things easier for myself by breaking up the news. As I did for last week’s news roundup, I will just share international news items today.
There are some national and Internet news I want to discuss, so I will get back to you on that as soon as I can. The Internet news is pressing enough, as there are two developing stories regarding YouTube I need to discuss.
Table of Contents
Here are the stories I have curated for this week:
- North Korea
- Mike Pence’s Visit to Asia
- Persecutions in Chechnya
- Turkish Referendum
- Ambush in Afghanistan
In International News …
This week, I will once again start in North Korea, where there may be another nuclear test in the coming days.
Tensions Are Still Rising Around North Korea.
Last week, the BBC’s John Sudworth interviewed North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol. Han said his country intended to continue with its missile tests on a “weekly, monthly, and yearly basis,” in defiance of the United States and international community. Han also said the United States was being the aggressor in this situation and North Korea is ready for an “all-out war” if the U.S. wants to push the issue.
The Scope of the Threat
The United States has confronted North Korea about its nuclear program from over 25 years.
North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006. In 2016, the DPRK launched a long-range missile and conducted two nuclear tests, along with tests of smaller rockets.
Additionally, some experts speculated that the U.S. was responsible for the failed missile launch. In the last years of his administration, President Barack Obama started a cyber-program aimed at remotely disabling North Korean rockets. The New York Times reported that more rockets from the DPRK exploded or veered off course last Sunday.
Other experts believe the rockets failed because of the DPRK military’s incompetence.
Regardless, North Korean experts were flabbergasted by what they saw during North Korea’s parade on Apr. 15. The DPRK showed off its missiles but two weapons in particular, the KN-08 and KN-14 rockets each have a longer range. The KN-08 rocket has at least a 7,000-km range, meaning it could reach targets in Los Angeles and New York.
According to a source, America is capable of destroying North Korea’s nuclear arsenal with conventional weapons.
But the leading option with dealing with North Korea is persuade China to contain the threat with China’s own economic and military pressure.
China has cautioned both the U.S. and North Korea to come to a peaceful solution. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang called the situation a “highly sensitive, complicated high risk” and he said all concerns nations should “avoid taking provocative actions that pour oil on the fire.”
Meanwhile, H.R. McCaster, the U.S. National Security advisor, made it clear the U.S. and China were working on a solution for the “North Korean problem.” He said both a “range of options” were being considered.
Last week, there were reports that Russia and China dispatched spy vessels in the Pacific to shadow the convoy Donald Trump dispatched near North Korea. Apparently, China communicated with Russia and asked for help to avert a developing crisis involving the reclusive North Korea and the United States, which is led by the unhinged 10-year-old in the form of septuagenarian Trump.
DT called the group of ships an “armada” and threatened to send submarines to join the ships. In Trump’s words, the subs are “far more powerful than the aircraft carrier.”
The news was first reported by Japanese newspaper The Yomiuri Shimbun. (The newspaper has an English-speaking sister publication called The Japan Today.)
Mike Pence said Trump hoped that China would use its “extraordinary levers” to pressure the North into discontinuing its nuclear program and refrain from antagonizing its neighbors and the U.S.
Trump also signaled that China could be in for “a better trade situation” if it cooperates with the United States on the issue of North Korea.
However, it would appear that China’s influence is waning, if it even had such influence to begin with. According to a report from Bloomberg, Pyongyang did not respond to any recent request from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi or Wu Dawai (China’s top diplomat for North Korean nuclear affairs) to schedule a meeting with their North Korean counterparts.
The snub might be due to the instability of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. And it might be in response to the recent “soft” sanctions being carried out by China.
A number of Chinese tour companies have stopped arranging tours to North Korea, a popular destination for Chinese tourists. Ctrip, China’s biggest tourist agency, stopped organizing tours to the DPRK at the end of 2016.
Air China, China’s national carrier, suspended flights from Beijing to Pyongyang. There was news of this earlier, but the given excuse was the lack of passengers to justify the flights.
Mike Pence Is on a Trip to 3 Countries in Asia and Australia.
On Sunday, Apr. 16, Mike Pence began his 10-day visit to Asia as he landed in Seoul, South Korea. The long-planned trip will take Pence from South Korea to the capitals of Japan, Indonesia, and Australia.
During this trip, Pence will of course talk about the precarious situation with North Korea. Pence will also talk about “free and fair” trade. He will meet with business leaders at each stop.
In Jakarta, trade talk will be general. Instead of talking about the disputes the Indonesian government has with American companies, “like mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Inc,” Pence intends to talk about the business environment in Indonesia.
Pence visited to South Korea and Japan last week.
Pence in South Korea
While Mike Pence was in South Korea, he held a joint press conference with acting president Hwang Kyu-ahn in the capital of Seoul. Pence made it clear that he and Trump were on the same page regarding the administration’s stances on North Korea.
Pence had a message for North Korea: The “era of strategic patience” was over and the North should not test Trump’s resolve. Pence mentioned the recent strikes in Syria and Afghanistan as examples.
On Monday, Pence also took an unannounced detour to the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. There, he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to protecting its allies in the region, including South Korea. Pence said that North Korea had long tried the U.S.’s patience and the failed missile launch on Sunday was a “provocation.”
While still at the DMZ, Pence said “all option are on the table” when it comes to dealing with the DPRK. He said Trump was “confident” China would be part of the solution. In the event China does not help, the U.S. is willing to work on a solution by itself.
Pence then took a helicopter ride to Camp Bonifas, about 2 km from the southern boundary of the DMZ. He visited the Freedom House observation post after being briefed by General Vincent Brooks, the Commander of U.S. Forces in Korea.
Pence in Japan
In Japan, Pence met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.
Talk of North Korea’s nuclear program and missile tests dominated early discussion but trade was also up for discussion in Japan. However, that is not an easy task since the United States stepped away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Japan is still supporting the TPP and might not be receptive to bilateral trade talks.
Hundreds of Gay Men May Have Been Swept up in Chechnya.
Last week, I shared a developing story in Chechnya about the roundup of gay men. Now more stories are coming out about a wave of anti-gay persecution in the Russian republic.
The story was first reported by Russia newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Journalists there could confirm the deaths of at least three gay men, but many more deaths and disappearances were suspected.
The Guardian shared two stories from two men who agreed to talk with the news outlet. Their names were changed, but The Guardian left out particular details and the locations of the men so as to protect their identities.
From what I gleaned from the stories, at least one hundred men — and perhaps several hundred men — have been rounded up in a sweep. Many men have been put in makeshift detention centers and tortured for much of the day every day. Some men might be tortured by other, non-gay prisoners. Some were later released to their families, who were expected to kill the men.
As I said before, Chechnya is a conservative republic. Most residents are Muslim and many shun their homosexual relatives. Having a gay relative is seen as a strain on the family and relatives of gay people are seen as tainted.
Before this round of persecution, many men were blackmailed by the Chechen authorities.
Now, the authorities are monitoring people’s phones and going through the contacts of men they suspect of being gay.
Statements from the Leadership
The local leader of Chechnya is Ramzan Kadyrov, who has the backing of the Kremlin. In turn for Kadyrov’s loyalty to Putin, the Kremlin turns a blind eye to Kadyrov’s human rights abuses.
Kadyrov spokesman Alvi Karimov dismissed the reports as “absolute lies and disinformation.” He said the following to Interfax news agency:
You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic. If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.
Russia President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, referred all questions about the allegations to Chechen authorities.
Last week, Kadyrov said that the recent reports of an anti-gay purge were attempts to smear him and “black our society, lifestyle, traditions and customs.” He said he had reached out to Chechnya’s human rights council to improve rights in the republic.
Human Rights Crisis
There are currently networks by which human rights activists are working to get gay men out of Chechnya.
Igor Kochetkov is a gay rights activist from St. Petersburg. He helped to organize an emergency contact center for gays in Chechnya. Men who call the center can reach out to be safely evacuated from the republic. Kotchkov called the sweep “unprecedented not only in Russia but in recent world history.”
Additionally, it’s not quite easy for men to seek asylum in Europe.
European embassies will only grant asylum if a person has already arrived in the country, and will not give any kind of visa to those planning to seek asylum on arrival.
The Effects on Journalists
By the middle of this month, it was reported that journalists at Novaya Gazeta were facing possible reprisals for reporting on the anti-gay operations in Chechnya. The Newspaper is one of the last independent news outlets in Russia and two of its journalists, Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova, were famously murdered for their reporting.
On Thursday, April 12, Chechen television reported on the gathering of up to 15,000 people at Grozny’s central mosque to pass a resolution against the “lies and libel” in Novaya Gazeta’s reporting. The resolution read:
The centuries-old traditions of Chechen society, the dignity of Chechen men, and our faith have all been insulted, and we promise that those behind it will face reprisals, whoever they are and wherever they are.
Elana Milashina, who first reported on the story about the anti-gay operations, has published numerous stories on Chechnya and said the recent resolution has little to do with religion. She said the mosque was used as cover “for professional killers.”
Milashina recognizes the danger in covering she does. She worked closely with Politskovskaya before the latter’s death. Milashina said she may leave Russia for a while and take extra security procautions. But she and her editor-in-chief, Dmitry Muratov, are undeterred in their mission.
Celebrities and Leaders with Influence
U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson went to Twitter to express that he was disgusted by the anti-gay crackdown. But he was soon called out for Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron.
Mr. Farron criticized Johnson for cancelling a planned meeting with Putin in Moscow. In comments emailed to the Guardian by a spokesman, Farron said:
The UK government must strongly condemn this disgusting violence, and use every possible opportunity to raise this with the Russian government.
It is disappointing that Boris Johnson has failed to stand up for these people by not visiting Russia after Trump told him to stay at home.
Human rights activists, including Peter Tatchell, called on celebrities who made paid appearances with Kadyrov to call out the Chechen leader.
The Results of the Turkish Referendum Are Being Disputed.
On Sunday night, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory as preliminary results of the referendum showed 51.2% of the votes counted were “Yes” votes. However, these results are being disputed by opposition leaders and the results showed breaks in Erdogan’s base of support.
Opposition leaders maintain that 1.3 million ballots were not certified before they were counted. That number would more than make up the margin between the “Yes” and “No” votes.
In areas like Istanbul, where Erdogan grew up and once served as mayor, and the capital of Ankara, there were more “No” votes. Some supporters of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) expressed they were uncomfortable with the president have so much power.
The referendum is ultimately the culmination of Erdogan consolidating his power after the failed July 2016 coup, which resulted in over 200 deaths. Immediately after the incident, Erdogan dismissed civil servants, teachers, and justices. He had political opponents jailed, including those from the People’s Democratic Party, whom he tied to Kurdish militants in the country.
Sunday Was a Day of Mourning in Afghanistan.
On Friday, more than 100 Afghan soldiers reportedly died after they were ambushed by Taliban fighters. The militants were able to access the Mazar-e Sharif base in the northern Afghan province of Balkh after disguising themselves in army uniforms, driving through checkpoints, and using suicide bombers to break through defenses. Most of the soldiers who died were targeted after Friday prayers at the base’s mosque.
Early estimates put the number of soldiers killed at 134. The number might be near 140 now.
At least 10 Taliban fighters were killed. One was detained.
Relatives of the murdered soldiers criticized authorities for the security procedures. At least four of the Taliban fighters were former Afghan soldiers who knew their way around the base.
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3 thoughts on “International News Roundup (Week of Apr. 16-22, 2017)”
Once again, I’m very impressed by the sheer detail and accuracy. I particularly enjoyed your piece on NK. Having lived in SK for 10 years (1996 – 2007) and been a keen observer while I was there, I feel like the threat from the North is overblown. If you consider that SK’s population is over twice that of the North’s and their economy is vastly larger, then you realize that the military the South can field would be able to defeat the North’s. It is simply numbers. Add to this how short-supplied the North is in terms of fuel, spare parts, even soldiers, you begin to realize that the North isn’t as much of a threat. Recognizing this, the North has developed a strategy of the blitzkrieg: overwhelm the South at the opening of the war so that it doesn’t become a protracted battle which they would inevitably lose. So, the US and the UN supports the South by stationing troops and nuclear weapons there as a deterrent.
In response, the North is developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. However, again, it is not much of a threat. If they were ever to use these weapons on anyone much less the US, the US would absolutely destroy them. It would be suicide on their part. The North is rational. They know this and don’t want to commit suicide.
Most of their weapons development is intended for domestic consumption. They need to keep the general population oppressed and the generals fat and happy.
Knowing all of this, the South’s biggest fear is a collapse in the North. If the North were to collapse, then they might be willing to go out by suicide and launch the unwinnable attack against the South or the US or Japan or all three. The other fear is that the North will collapse and in the unification, the drag on the economy of the South would be so great so as to impoverish them for a generation. They were very interested in Germany’s re-unification experience. Thus, the warming of economic ties between them… at least until recently.
The problem is that the North has no incentive to stop its nuclear program and every incentive to continue. International aide is nice, but they will go without it. One of the big Korean values is endurance. They will endure. And, North Korea is particularly big on self-sufficiency. This all makes it a particularly difficult situation to resolve if it can be resolved at all.
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Thank you for these insights.
Yeah, part of me already suspected that much of what the North was doing was bluster. I think I shared this in an earlier post, but Kim Jong-Un especially wants to use nuclear weapons as a scare tactic and to look good in front of other North Koreans.
Where the South is concerned: The fear is real, but many civilians have decided to live their lives because the have to.
I don’t like how Trump is going about things. With Clinton, Obama, and even Bush, you did not see this level of bold talk. What Trump is doing is dangerous, although I agree any false move by the DPRK would amount to suicide.
It’s a difficult situation indeed.
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