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EU and Japan create world’s biggest free trade zone

Almost all tariffs on trade between the European Union and the world's third-biggest economy have been removed. European companies could save around a billion euros in duties each year. A free trade agreement between Japan and the EU entered into force on February 1, covering 635 million people and almost one-third of the world's economy. Dubbed the world's largest free trade agreement, the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement removes duties on almost all agricultural and industrial products and opens up the service sector and procurement. It also moves to eliminate non-tariff barriers to trade. The highlights of the deal Japan will have scrappped duties on 97 percent of goods imported from the EU once the agreement is fully implemented. Open access to the Japanese market will save EU companies from paying €1 billion ($1.14 billion) of duties annually. The EU will eliminate tariffs on 99 percent of imports from Japan. In the automotive sector, the EU will eliminate duties over a seven-year transition period. Both sides will eliminate duties on nearly all food and agricultural products. The service market will be opened, including financial services, e-commerce, telecommunications and transport. For the first time, the trade agreement includes countries' Paris climate deal commitments. The text also addresses sustainable development and sets standards for labor, safety, environmental and consumer protection. 'Protecting brand names' EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said: "This agreement has it all: it scraps tariffs and contributes to the global rulebook, whilst at the same time demonstrating to the world that we both remain convinced by the benefits of open trade." The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: "The new agreement will give consumers greater choice and cheaper prices; it will protect great European products in Japan and vice-versa, such as the Austrian Tiroler Speck or Kobe Beef; it will give small businesses on both sides the chance to branch out to a completely new market; it will save European companies 1 billion euro in duties every year and turbo-boost the trade we already do together." Trade groups also welcomed the move. "This agreement is the perfect example that building bridges is better than raising walls," said Pierre Gattaz, president of BusinessEurope. "When protectionism is on the rise, the EU and Japan show to the world they remain open to modern and rules-based trade." Hiroaki Nakanishi, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, said the agreement "will stimulate additional growth and create jobs for both sides." What is the status of EU-Japan trade? Japan is the EU’s second-largest trade partner in Asia after China. EU businesses export €58 billion in goods and €28 billion in services to Japan every year. The EU estimates exports to Japan will increase 13 percent, or €13 billion, as a result of the free trade zone. Japan exports €69 billion in goods and €18 billion in services to the EU annually. How did we get here and what’s next? The EU and Japan began negotiations for a free trade agreement in 2013. The European Parliament and Japan’s parliament approved the deal last year after both sides finalized negotiations in December 2017. EU and Japan are continuing investment protection negotiations and hope to reach an understanding as soon as possible.

Almost all tariffs on trade between the European Union and the world’s third-biggest economy have been removed. European companies could save around a billion euros in duties each year. A free trade agreement between Japan and the EU entered into force on February 1, covering 635 million people and almost one-third of the world’s economy. Dubbed the world’s largest free ... Read More »

APEC summit sees China and US at odds over trade war

The Asia-Pacific summit has become the latest stage for the trade dispute between the US and China. Beijing called for consultations as Washington threatened more tariffs. The main protagonists in the US-China trade war set out their positions at the start of an Asia-Pacific summit in Papua New Guinea on Saturday. Ahead of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping was first to speak and said there would be no winners from a trade war or a new Cold War. Protectionist actions were shortsighted and doomed to fail, Xi said. "We should say no to protectionism and unilateralism," Xi said, in evident reference to President Donald Trump's "America First" policies. "Attempts to erect barriers and cut close economic ties work against the laws of economics and the trends of history," Xi said. "This is a shortsighted approach and it is doomed to failure." The Chinese leader said the world should "uphold the WTO-centered multilateral trading system, make economic globalization more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial to all." Xi's comments follow months of a trade dispute between the US and China, with each imposing tariffs on the other's goods. "History has shown that confrontation — whether in the form of a cold war, hot war or trade war — will produce no winners," he said. He also called for a resolution to the dispute through consultation, in a spirit of equality and mutual understanding. US VP Mike Pence defiant But when US Vice President Mike Pence addressed the assembly, he said Washington would not back down in its trade dispute with China and could double its tariffs unless Beijing agreed to its demands. "We have taken decisive action to address our imbalance with China," Pence declared. "We put tariffs on $250 billion (€218 billion) in Chinese goods, and we could more than double that number." "The United States, though, will not change course until China changes its ways," Pence stated. Pence also attacked China's global infrastructure "Belt and Road" initiative, calling many of the projects low quality and saying it left developing countries with debt they were unable to afford. Xi had defended the initiative: "It is not designed to serve any hidden geopolitical agenda, it is not targeted against anyone and it does not exclude anyone ... nor is it a trap as some people have labeled it," he said. "Mankind has once again reached a crossroads," Xi remarked. "Which direction should we choose? Cooperation or confrontation? Openness or closing doors. Win-win progress or a zero-sum game?" The assembled leaders were from Pacific Rim countries, which account for 60 percent of the world's economy.

The Asia-Pacific summit has become the latest stage for the trade dispute between the US and China. Beijing called for consultations as Washington threatened more tariffs. The main protagonists in the US-China trade war set out their positions at the start of an Asia-Pacific summit in Papua New Guinea on Saturday. Ahead of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit ... Read More »

Thailand’s Muslim rebellion has army ‘living in fear’

A conflict between the Thai military and Muslim rebels has been simmering for nearly two decades in the country's south. After a drop in violence, there is now a sense that the situation could turn for the worse. At a border checkpoint crossing into southern Thailand's conflict zone, a police officer rushed quickly from his wooden guard post toward a reporter who had been snapping a few pictures. After the guard realized that the journalists were working on a report covering unrest in the region, he calmed down, adjusted his brown uniform, straightened his glasses and vented his frustration. "It's hard for me to find words that describe the permanent atrocities committed the rebels commit," he said, while pointing to pictures of wanted separatists that hang at every checkpoint. "For a short while after the death of the king [in October 2016] things quieted down," he said. "But now the entire tragedy is starting all over again." For the past few months, isolated explosions and shootouts have been occuring almost daily. Soldiers and security personnel are the primary targets of separatist rebels. The NGO "Deep South Watch," which observers the unrest in southern Thailand has measured an increase in victims over recent months. Locked in conflict Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, are three provinces in what locals refer to as Thailand's "deep south" on the border with Malaysia. The region is home to a Muslim, Malay majority in predominantly Buddhist Thailand. For nearly two decades, separatists have been demanding that Bangkok grant them local autonomy, and the Thai military has come down hard to eradicate separatist terror cells. In 2004, attacks began to occur regularly, and since then, conflict between separatists and the Thai government has claimed over 7,000 victims, with nearly double that number injured. Even though violence in the region has declined over recent years, a solution to end the conflict is not in sight. Don Pathan is an advisor for international organizations in Thailand who works with security and development issues. He has been watching the waves of conflict in southern Thailand for many years. He considers the latest upswing in violence to be a bloody backlash by the rebellion. "The Thai military claimed that the decreased attacks during the mourning period of King Bhumipol was a victory for them," Pathan told DW, adding that the Muslim separatists answered this provocation with a series of attacks. 'We live in constant fear' Thailand's deep south consists of lowlands that are dotted with military bases. Heavily armed military vehicles creep along the roadsides manned by masked soldiers from the Royal Thai Army. Hardly a kilometer goes by without a control checkpoint. Muslim civilians are under constant observation by the Thai military. A military officer showed DW's reporters his outpost, located not from the provincial capital Pattani. Birds chirped in ornately decorated cages hanging above the protective sandbag barricade. "We live here in constant fear," the officer said. "The worst is not knowing when and where the rebels will attack next. Unlike us, the insurgents don't wear any identifiable symbols and it is very difficult to filter them out of the civilian population." For years, the Thai army has been following a strategy of "de-escalation through strength." Former general Piyawat Nakwanich, who commanded armies in the south until he was ousted, tried to suppress unrest with a massive military presence. Shortly before he stepped down in August, Piyawat sent 1,000 soldiers to problem areas in Nong Chik district in Pattani province. During their deployment, two soldiers were killed by gunmen and four were injured. According to critics, this show of military power only served to widen the divide between the state and Muslims. "The ousted general and his heavy handed strategy only left a pile of ruins that his successor will have to clean up," said Pathan. New command takes a softer tone In October, General Pornsak Poonsawas took over command of Thai military operations in the south and has started a charm offensive. In one of his first actions as commander, he presented a fruit basket, a symbol of building a new and healthy relationship, to Muslim religious leader Aziz Phitakkumpon. Poonsawas also said that drugs rather than religion are the main contributor to tensions in southern Thailand. He told local reporters that drugs were being sold on the street, with the help of government officials. The general didn't offer any evidence for his claims. Pathan said that this "new strategy" is little more than window dressing by the military. "Drugs are a national problem in Thailand and this is in no way limited to the south," said Pathan. "But it is still a good chess move from him. By calling out problems that affect everyone, Poonsawas is trying to win over the Muslim population." No solution in sight However, a former hardline army commander, Udomchai Thammasarorat, was named as the chief negotiator for peace talks between the Thai government and Muslim rebels, with Malaysia playing a role as mediator. Up to now, these negotiations have not seen results. Udomchai has a reputation as an unscrupulous hunter of rebels. He was the regional chief of an army base that made international headlines for its deadly torture tactics. Despite evidence presented by local activists, he continues to deny the charges. As a long-time observer of the conflict, Don Pathan is pessimistic about the future. "The new leadership strategy in the deep south does nothing to promote peace, but rather serves to secure power for the ruling junta in Bangkok."

A conflict between the Thai military and Muslim rebels has been simmering for nearly two decades in the country’s south. After a drop in violence, there is now a sense that the situation could turn for the worse. At a border checkpoint crossing into southern Thailand’s conflict zone, a police officer rushed quickly from his wooden guard post toward a ... Read More »

Bangladesh: Beware of what you say on talk shows

Famous talk show hosts like Zillur Rahman and Nobonita Chowdhury, along with their guests, may have to speak more carefully when on television, as they could be jailed for giving "false" or "misleading" information. If there's one thing that has turned global attention to Bangladesh over the past several years, it's the repeated attacks by extremists on secular bloggers, activists and public intellectuals in the country. These assaults have put an unacceptably high price on free speech in Bangladesh, which is the world's eighth most populous country and third-largest Muslim-majority nation. he Bangladeshi government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, hasn't helped matters either by cracking down on voices deemed critical of the ruling party and authorities. Journalists and activists have often found themselves in the firing line, sometimes for criticizing the government in international media, as the case of distinguished photojournalist Shahidul Alam demonstrates. Alam was pulled from his home by plain-clothes officers in August and detained for criticizing the government's handling of mass protests by students demanding better road safety. Other prominent cases include the recent arrest of the publisher of the English-language New Nation daily, Mainul Hosein. Police said his arrest was linked to a television talk show appearance where he called a journalist "characterless" for asking him if he represented the political opposition. Strict control over speech To strictly monitor cyberspace and control public discourse, Hasina's government came up with the Digital Security Act (DSA). It contains provisions mandating long prison sentences of up to 14 years or harsh fines for any statement posted online that might disrupt law and order, hurt religious feelings or damage communal harmony. Individuals, including journalists, could be convicted of espionage for entering a government building and gathering information secretly using any electronic device. The act also allows police to search and detain individuals without a warrant. Many inside and outside Bangladesh have lambasted the government for enacting the DSA. They say it's just going to be another instrument for the Hasina administration to silence critics. "This law will not only deal with cybercrimes but also gag the independent media," said Mahfuz Anam, a prominent editor. Even before the dust settles on the digital security act, the government is attempting to put a new broadcast law in place. If it comes into effect, the measure will allow authorities to send someone to jail for giving "false and misleading" information while appearing on television talk shows. It also foresees harsh punishment for fabricating information regarding the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 and for spreading rumors in broadcast and online media. The bill envisages a Broadcast Commission ,which could act if it finds any advertisement, story, song, or other content going against Bangladeshi "sovereignty" or provoking "militancy, violence, destructive activities" or law and order concerns. "It is very difficult to define what is 'misleading' and what is 'false.' A talk show is an opinion-based show not a news item, and the invited guest's comments generally come from his or her subjective outlook," Fahmidul Haq, a journalism professor at Dhaka University, told DW. "So the idea of expecting 'sincere' and 'absolute truth' in an opinion-based show is wrong in itself," he said. 'Making mass media stronger' Officials and government supporters, however, say the proposed law was aimed at "making broadcasting and online mass media stronger and dynamic." Some point to the recent controversy involving an internationally acclaimed Bangladeshi doctor as justification for the broadcast law. Appearing on a talk show, Zafrullah Chowdhury, the founder of the rural healthcare organization Gonoshasthaya Kendra, claimed that Bangladesh's army chief General Aziz Ahmed was "court-martialed after arms and ammunition had been stolen from Chattogram when the army chief was the general officer commanding there." The statement incensed Bangladesh's military establishment, which lashed out at Chowdhury for making "untrue and irresponsible comments." The doctor later had to recant his remarks and apologize for his "improper statement and wrong choice of words." Bangladesh's cabinet approved the draft of the broadcast law days after Chowdhury apologized to the army chief. But a big concern for critics is that the government will use it to suppress dissent and muzzle the already feeble freedom of expression in Bangladesh. "There is little hope to build safeguards to make sure the proposed law will not be used to muzzle press freedom," said professor Haq. "It is always good to face 'misleading' information by presenting accurate information," he argued, stressing that enacting legislation like the broadcast law that have ample scope for misuse is not the right way to tackle the issue. Bangladesh is expected to hold general elections at the end of December and many fear the proposed law may unduly favor the ruling party by forcing opponents and activists to exercise self-censorship.

Famous talk show hosts like Zillur Rahman and Nobonita Chowdhury, along with their guests, may have to speak more carefully when on television, as they could be jailed for giving “false” or “misleading” information. If there’s one thing that has turned global attention to Bangladesh over the past several years, it’s the repeated attacks by extremists on secular bloggers, activists ... Read More »

Asia stocks fall sharply after Wall Street losses

Wall Street's dismal performance has had profound knock-on effects on global markets. Analysts have warned that the downward spiral is likely due to tariff-related effects on US companies, citing rising basic costs. Asian stock markets opened in the red on Thursday, a day after technology stocks hit Wall Street with the largest daily decline since 2011 and wiped out all of this year's gains. Japan's Nikkei index was down 3.3 percent at opening, shedding more than 700 points, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng index dropped by nearly 2 percent. Australia's leading benchmark, ASX 200, also fell sharply during morning trading, shedding more than 2 percent. "Concerns that earnings growth may be peaking against an unsettled global backdrop and that fiscal stimulus will wane continued to weight on sentiment," said analysts at the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ). On Wednesday, key Wall Street indexes sank by more than 2 percent, further extending losses seen just the day before. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more 2.4 percent, losing more than 600 points to end at 24,583.42. The Nasdaq Composite Index, known for its plethora of tech stocks, lost 4.4 percent to end at 7,108.40, its worst day in seven years. The indexes were pulled down by Amazon, Facebook and Netflix, all of which lost more than 5 percentage points in value, while Google-parent Alphabet plummeted 4.8 percent. 'Take a beating' In a blog post by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, economists predicted that US firms could be facing a bleak situation due to the Trump administration's tariffs on steel, aluminum and Chinese goods. The economists said the tariffs would raise the cost of "producing goods for export … and make US exports less competitive on the world market." As such, "the end result is likely to be lower imports and lower exports, with little or no improvement in the trade deficit." As that assessment becomes more of a reality, some analysts have warned that investors are unwilling to stomach the risk exposure. "Costs are increasing and it's often tariff-related. We also reached a potential peak for earnings," said Nate Thooft, senior managing director at Manulife Mutual Funds, told AFP news agency, "Companies that show marginal weakness take a beating."

Wall Street’s dismal performance has had profound knock-on effects on global markets. Analysts have warned that the downward spiral is likely due to tariff-related effects on US companies, citing rising basic costs. Asian stock markets opened in the red on Thursday, a day after technology stocks hit Wall Street with the largest daily decline since 2011 and wiped out all ... Read More »

Taiwan’s independence rally draws thousands, irks China

The first large-scale pro-independence rally in a generation has brought thousands of people onto the streets of Taipei. China has recently strengthened its determination to bring the self-ruled island under its control. Several thousand pro-independence activists have rallied in Taiwan's capital, Taipei, to push the Taiwanese government to hold a referendum on whether to declare independence from China. Organizers claimed more than 100,000 people turned out for the march against Beijing's increasing hostility toward the self-ruled island. Some carried placards bearing the message: “No more bullying; no more annexation." The demonstration was organized by a new political outfit, the Formosa Alliance, which is backed by two pro-independence former Taiwanese presidents, Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian, as well as leaders of several other smaller political parties. Read more: Will China-Vatican deal have a diplomatic domino effect for Taiwan? Independence activist George Kuo founded the alliance in February 2018 to pressure the government to amend the island's Referendum Act and initiate the process for organizing a public referendum on independence from China. "In order to help Taiwan be recognized as a sovereign state internationally, our government needs to amend the Referendum Act to allow the Taiwanese people to express their desire to achieve Taiwanese independence through votes," Kuo told DW, ahead of the rally. Maintaining the status quo China sees self-ruling democratic Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949. Taiwan views itself as a sovereign state, with its own currency, political and judicial systems, but has never declared formal independence from the mainland. Beijing has warned it would respond with force if Taiwan tried an official split. China also demands its international allies forfeit diplomatic recognition of the island. Furthermore, China's growing international political and economic clout in recent years have allowed Beijing to curtail Taiwanese presence on the international stage, by blocking it from global forums and poaching its dwindling number of diplomatic partners. Taiwan's currently ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is traditionally independence-leaning, but President Tsai Ing-wen has said she wants to maintain the status quo with China. Tsai's measured approach has alienated some pro-independence supporters of her party. This hasn't prevented relations between Beijing and Taipei from further deteriorating since Tsai took office in 2016, as she has refused to adhere to Beijing's line that Taiwan is part of "one China." Read more: US to sell Taiwan military gear worth $330 million Kuo argued that the pro-independence rally gave the Taiwanese people the opportunity to come out and show to China that they disapprove of Beijing's "barbaric way of intimidating Taiwan and its people." Chinese authorities, meanwhile, have said the Formosa Alliance should not go down what they called a "dangerous path." Electoral considerations? Saturday's protest took place at a sensitive time in Taiwan, ahead of local elections in November. Even though the Formosa Alliance denied that its decision to organize the demonstration was influenced by electoral considerations, some analysts believe otherwise. Kharis Templeman, an expert on Taiwanese democracy and security at Stanford University, pointed out that Tsai and the DPP are struggling domestically, and, therefore, it's understandable that these pro-independence activists are now coming to their rescue. "It makes sense for independence activists to hold events now to rally support for their cause, as the DPP is in danger of getting trounced in the local elections," Templeman told DW. Read more: Is Taiwan's tourism industry too reliant on China? A high-risk gambit A vote on independence in Taiwan would require an amendment to current laws, which bar referendums on changing the constitution or sovereign territory. Many believe Tsai would be unlikely to allow such an amendment due to fears that it would enrage Beijing. "Acknowledgement of Taiwan's existing de facto independence is high, but because of the risks involved in pursuing de jure independence, the mainstream position in Taiwan is to support the status quo," Jonathan Sullivan, director of China programs at Nottingham University, told DW. According to local media reports, the DPP prohibited its officials and candidates from attending Saturday's protest, which was held outside the party headquarters. But some independence activists say this is the right time to press forward, given the DPP holds the presidency as well a parliamentary majority for the first time. Yi-Chih Chen, the chairperson of the pro-independence Taiwan Radical Wings, argues that the key for Taiwan to achieve independence is for the government to turn the Taiwanese people's collective will into a parameter that Western allies have to take into account when dealing with China. "President Tsai's government should tell the US that there is a consensus among the Taiwanese people that Taiwan should become independent, and it is not purely DPP's political agenda," Chen told DW.

The first large-scale pro-independence rally in a generation has brought thousands of people onto the streets of Taipei. China has recently strengthened its determination to bring the self-ruled island under its control. Several thousand pro-independence activists have rallied in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, to push the Taiwanese government to hold a referendum on whether to declare independence from China. Organizers claimed ... Read More »

Majority of South Koreans favor North Korea ‘friendship’

More than 60 percent of South Koreans believe President Moon should sit down with Kim Jong Un at a summit designed to improve bilateral relations and ease the military tensions that have dogged the region for many years. A poll conducted on February 15 showed that 61.5 percent of South Korean adults nationwide were in favor of Moon travelling to Pyongyang for face-to-face talks with Kim, while 31.2 percent disagreed and expressed the belief that additional pressure – such as international sanctions - is the best way to force North Korea to moderate its behavior. The poll was conducted half-way through the Winter Olympic Games, which are being held in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang, and the results underline the surge in friendly feelings that ordinary South Koreans have felt towards their neighbors on the other side of the Demilitarized Zone. Read more: Olympics chief Thomas Bach set to visit North Korea And that is a direct result of a combination of sense of fear and feeling of hope among many in the South. 'Bloody nose' attack The fear for them is that US President Donald Trump intends to carry out a "bloody nose" military strike against targets in the North in an attempt to demonstrate Washington's capabilities and its willingness to use force. And the other element of the equation is hope that North Korea is genuinely interested in building a more collaborative relationship with the South and that peace is finally possible, 65 years after the end of the Korean War. "Those numbers in this poll, and others, come as no surprise to me at all," said Ahn Yin-hay, a professor of international relations at Korea University in Seoul. "There have been lots of reports of Washington planning a 'bloody nose' attack on a missile site or a nuclear facility in the North, and that makes people very worried because Pyongyang can be expected to retaliate and it is likely to target South Korea," she told DW. "South Koreans believe that a strategy of talking to the North is better than a violent approach that threatens our safety," she said. "Talking has a far better likelihood of achieving peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula." Moon is widely seen as having worked extremely hard since he took over the government in Seoul in May last year to build bridges with the North. Those approaches – including offers of talks to reduce the military threat levels, a front-line military hotline and reunions for families separated since the end of the Korean War in 1953 - were initially ignored or rebuffed by Pyongyang. The gradual ratcheting up of international sanctions in the closing months of 2017, however, appear to have convinced Kim Jong Un to be more amenable to discussions, while the timing and location of the Winter Olympic Games have provided the perfect opportunity for détente to flourish. Yet Moon is clearly in a difficult position. He may want to push ahead with a summit that may turn out to be a turning point in the bilateral relationship. It may, however, equally be a ploy by the North Korean regime to drive a wedge between Seoul and its most important security partner, Washington, as part of Pyongyang's broader long-term aim of a united Korean Peninsula controlled by the government that presently occupies the North. Read more: North Korea leader Kim Jong Un invites South Korean president to summit Historic handshake marks Korean unity at Olympic Opening Ceremony Alienating the US Moon must be careful not to alienate the US – and its present unpredictable leader – as he still needs Washington's security guarantees. Underlining the tightrope that he is walking, Moon said on Saturday that a decision on a summit with Kim is too early. "There are many expectations, but I believe they might be a little too anxious," Moon told reporters when asked about the possibility of a summit. He reiterated that there needs to be progress on the question of North Korea getting rid of its nuclear weapons before real progress can be made. There are, however, a number of areas in which progress can take place and would arguably serve as confidence-building measures for the two sides, believes Ahn. These include discussions between military leaders at the border on easing tensions and reunions of families divided by the DMZ. "If progress can be made in these areas, then I am optimistic that we could see a summit in the late summer months," she said, suggesting a meeting that would coincide with the anniversary of the June 2000 summit between Kim Jong Il and Kim Dae-jung, the then South Korean leader. Another symbolic date that could appeal to both sides might be August 15, the Liberation Day national holiday marking the end of Imperial Japan's colonial rule over the peninsula. Yet others are less positive about the outlook on the peninsula. "Of course South Koreans are saying they want the summit to happen; they do not want a war and the North Korean 'charm offensive' during the Olympics has been a huge success," said Jun Okumura, a political analyst at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs. Read more: US wants North Korea to give up nuclear weapons as pre-condition of talks Kim Jong Un: North Korea has completed nuclear program, US will never attack Difficult situation "But Moon is in a very difficult position, stuck between the US, North Korea and even China as a major player in this situation," he said. "I do not see how Moon can square the South's relationship with the US with this meeting," he said. "And I believe that the issue of the joint US-South Korean military exercises could be the flash point." At the request of Pyongyang, the US and South Korea agreed to postpone military annual exercises that were due to be held during the Winter Olympics. North Korea is now demanding that the manoeuvers be cancelled entirely, warning that failure to do so would reverse all the positive developments in the bilateral relationship of recent weeks. Moon has a choice; one option is to bow to the North Korean demand and risk alienating the US entirely – and possibly encouraging Washington to take a unilateral approach to dealing with North Korea, which could involve the much-feared "bloody nose" approach. Alternatively, he can reschedule the exercises and face the wrath of Pyongyang. "I would say that everything hinges on these exercises and the situation is extremely dangerous at the moment," Okumura said. "A decision must be made in the next few weeks and, whatever that decision is, the ramifications will be felt this spring." Read more: Dialogue with North Korea must continue, says German President Steinmeier

More than 60 percent of South Koreans believe President Moon should sit down with Kim Jong Un at a summit designed to improve bilateral relations and ease the military tensions that have dogged the region for many years. A poll conducted on February 15 showed that 61.5 percent of South Korean adults nationwide were in favor of Moon travelling to ... Read More »

Do Korea talks put initiative back with Seoul and Pyongyang?

North and South Korea have held talks for the first time in over two years. DW spoke with Patrick Köllner from the GIGA Institute for Asia Studies about the outcome of the discussions and if any changes can be expected. DW: The fact that representatives from North and South Korea have sat together at a table and held talks could already be considered a successful step in relations. Now that the meeting is over, what outcomes did it bring? Patrick Köllner: First off, it was agreed at Tuesday's talks that North Korea will participate in the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. This also guarantees that the games will be peaceful and quiet. This is of the utmost importance for the South Korean government. It is also expected that family reunions between the North and South will resume after being suspended for several years. Trust-building measures could also emerge in the form of talks between the two countries' militaries. Read more: North, South Korea agree to discuss military following Olympics talks Those are the tangible results - but what in your opinion is the most important message that can be read between the lines after the meeting in Panmunjom? One important message is that North and South Korea, the most important actors in the middle of this conflict, have actually managed to begin talking again. The initiative is once again with Seoul and Pyongyang. The last year was characterized overall by North Korea's armament efforts and the resulting reaction from the United States and the international community. It is crucial that the two Korean governments communicate because this conflict primarily affects 50 million Koreans. Do you think anything surprising happened during the meeting, or did the talks go as expected? The talks went positively in the sense that North Korea, after everything that we know, did not insist that planned military exercises between the US and South Korea be called off. The exercises, which were planned directly after the games, were postponed, but not cancelled. Requiring they be called off would most likely have led to the talks collapsing. Read more: What to expect from North and South Korea meeting ahead of Winter Olympics US wants North Korea to give up nuclear weapons as pre-condition of talks What were the goals and background agenda for each side during the talks? North Korea, of course, continues to follow the strategic aim of putting a wedge in the alliance between Washington and Seoul. But South Korea certainly knows this, and this alone doesn't exclude the possibility of reintroducing increased economic cooperation between the two Koreas. The drive to increase economic cooperation has been put on ice for the past few years because of North Korea's nuclear weapons testing. Even deliveries of humanitarian aid from South Korea were reduced. North Korea has an interest in once again promoting economic cooperation. South Korea has an interest in not letting important discussions about developments on the Korean Peninsula bypass Seoul. The positions of both sides seem incompatible. The North wants to keep its nuclear program and the South wants a nuclear weapon-free peninsula. How much maneuvering room do negotiators on each side have? Negotiations are complicated by the fact that possibilities for compromise are limited by the international sanctions regime hung on North Korea. Of course, South Korea cannot come out with its own measures that violate these sanctions. US interests in the background also complicate matters, and there is always the need to coordinate with Washington in addition to Seoul and Pyongyang. But trust-building measures could be possible, especially with the military. South Korean humanitarian aid could also be increased. These small steps could be the basis of talks on larger issues, which could also include the US and the question of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. Read more: North Korea reopens hotline to South to talk Olympics Interceptions cut off another source of North Korean fuel After today's talks, is it too early to hope for an overall relaxation of tensions? We need to keep in mind that the discussions did not change the fundamental constellation of issues. North Korea's weapons program continues and Kim Jong Un promised in his New Year's address to increase weapons production. Big challenges remain. But there are also positive takeaways – especially the fact that diplomacy is once again playing a role. We have spent the past year considering the possibility of military action. It is really a positive development to see examples of diplomacy. Professor Patrick Köllner is director of the GIGA Institute of Asian Studies in Hamburg. The interview was conducted by Esther Felden.

North and South Korea have held talks for the first time in over two years. DW spoke with Patrick Köllner from the GIGA Institute for Asia Studies about the outcome of the discussions and if any changes can be expected. DW: The fact that representatives from North and South Korea have sat together at a table and held talks could ... Read More »

Russia ‘increasing oil exports’ to North Korea

At a time when the United States is calling for more restrictions on fuel exports to North Korea, Russia may be attempting to avoid the total collapse of the regime in Pyongyang. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo. The price of diesel oil and gasoline in North Korea has dropped sharply in the last month, according to reports from within the isolated republic, with Russia apparently stepping up supplies in spite of international efforts to isolate the regime of Kim Jong Un and force Pyongyang to abandon its development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. According to "citizen journalists" who report on events inside North Korea for the Osaka-based Asia Press International (API) news agency, fuel prices began to fall in November after several months of fluctuations. Reports put the price of one kilogram of diesel oil at US$0.82 (0.7 euros) now, down 60 percent from early November, while gasoline is being sold for around $2 (1.68 euros) per one kilogram, down 25 percent. The sharp declines come despite increasingly stiff sanctions imposed on Pyongyang, including measures designed specifically to limit the amount of fuel that North Korea can obtain. Resolution 2375, adopted by the United Nations Security Council shortly after the North's sixth underground nuclear test on September 3, singled out fuel supplies for sanctions, and the US government has since stepped up its calls for China to halt the flow of oil over the border. Oil over the border One of API's correspondents claims, however, that "massive amounts" of fuel are coming into the border province of Yanggang from Russia. "It is difficult to know exactly how much fuel is getting into North Korea, but it does appear that Russia has recently been supplying Pyongyang with fuel," said James Brown, an associate professor of international relations and an expert on Russia-North Korean trade at the Tokyo campus of Temple University. "It appears that Russia, in particular, but also China, are losing patience with the US," he told DW. "They feel that they have done their part in putting new pressure on North Korea but that Washington should be doing more." While Beijing and Moscow supported sanctions in the autumn, North Korea went for more than two months without launching any missiles, Brown points out. Yet Washington made it clear that it was going ahead with joint US-South Korea air exercises, which began in South Korean air space on Monday. When the US confirmed that the largest ever joint air exercises - 230 aircraft practicing attacks on North Korea's nuclear facilities and missiles bases - would proceed as planned, Pyongyang resumed missile launches. The intercontinental ballistic missile launched on November 29 is understood to have a range of around 13,000 km, putting anywhere in the US within range. Read more: North Korea: UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman visits Pyongyang Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump discuss Syria, Ukraine, North Korea in hour-plus call Hurting the North "Russia may very well feel that the US provoked the most recent missile test by the North and it is not at all clear that Beijing and Moscow will help cut off all fuel supplies because that that represents the 'nuclear option' that would really hurt the North," Brown said. "And while that is exactly what the US wants, Russia is extremely wary of the consequences of the North collapsing," he added. Moscow's concerns include conflict breaking out on its Far East border, a sudden influx of vast numbers of refugees or a civil war in the North in which numerous players are vying to win control of the country's nuclear weapons. Daniel Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, agrees that there are indications that Moscow is trying to "stabilize" the situation in North Korea in order to avoid a collapse, while some point out that restricting deliveries of fuel oil during the North's notoriously harsh winters would inevitably have a humanitarian cost on ordinary people. "There is also the argument that if the North Korean leadership feels that the screws are being tightened too much and that their situation is deteriorating and there are no prospects of it improving, then they might take some kind of coercive, kinetic action to change that situation," he said. Read more: US military base in South Korea mired in corruption scandal Escalate a way out "Even if they accept that they are in a relatively weakened position and have no chance of winning an all-out war, it is possible that they might try to escalate their way out of a deteriorating situation with the threat of some kind of action in return for concessions." There are also suggestions that Russian policy in the Far East is being shaped by President Vladimir Putin's hostility towards the West over the conflict in the Ukraine, while relations between Moscow and Washington are uncomfortable due to allegations of Russia meddling in the US elections. In addition, Brown points out that if Russia is able to obtain some kind of economic leverage over North Korea, it might give Moscow leverage that could be used to encourage the US to drop its hostility. "Similarly, that leverage might be used to encourage Pyongyang to dial back the aggression, making Moscow appear as the "responsible stakeholder in the region," he added.

At a time when the United States is calling for more restrictions on fuel exports to North Korea, Russia may be attempting to avoid the total collapse of the regime in Pyongyang. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo. The price of diesel oil and gasoline in North Korea has dropped sharply in the last month, according to reports from within the ... Read More »

North Korea: US, Japan agree that ‘all options’ are on the table

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has welcomed US President Donald Trump's North Korea policy. The two leaders agreed the "era of strategic patience" with North Korea was over and that "all options" were on the table. At a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, US President Donald Trump called North Korea a "menace" and said that Japan and said US had to work together to counter the "dangerous aggressions" of the North. The North's nuclear program was "a threat to the civilized world and international peace and stability," he told reporters. He added that "some say my rhetoric is strong, but look what's happened with weak rhetoric over the last 25 years." Read more: Trump's Japan trip a 'symbolic show of solidarity' He reiterated his bullish stance that the "era of strategic patience" was over and that "all options are on the table." A similarly hawkish Abe welcomed the US's policy, saying that the two countries agreed "100 percent" on North Korea and that it was now crucial to exert maximum pressure on the repressive regime. Trump: Japan 'winning' in trade relationship Earlier on Monday, President Trump told American and Japanese business leaders that Japan had been "winning" the trade relationship with the US "for the last many decades." "The US has suffered massive trade deficits with Japan," he said, adding that current trade arrangements were "not fair and not open." Trump praised Japan for buying US military hardware but lamented that while "many millions of cars are sold by Japan into the United States ... virtually no cars go from the United States into Japan." Trump also said he expects Japan to purchase "massive amounts" of military equipment from the United States. Japan will be able to shoot missiles from North Korea "out of the sky" with that equipment. Abe replied that Japan would only shoot down missiles if absolutely necessary. New economic ties - without TPP The US leader said he wanted to reshape the two nations' economic ties, and despite abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — which the US had negotiated with several Asian and North and South American countries — Trump said he wanted "more trade than anyone ever thought under TPP." "We'll have to negotiate that out and it'll be a very friendly negotiation," one that would be done "quickly and easily," Trump said on the second day of his trip to Japan, one of America's biggest trade partners. Trump's remarks tally with his election promises to US voters to negotiate better trade terms for the US and to bring back millions of jobs that have moved overseas over the past two decades. His strategy has been criticized as being protectionist. Trump is in Tokyo as part of a 12-day Asian tour that will be dominated by trade talks and the North Korean standoff. Read more: North Korean defector pushes for diplomacy in US testimony 'Open' to talks on North Korea In an interview with the US TV show "Full Measure," Trump said he would "certainly be open" to meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "I would sit down with anybody. I don't think it's a strength or weakness, I think sitting down with people is not a bad thing," he said in remarks made before he left for Asia. But he added that talks may still be some way off. The president has previously vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if it threatened the US, after Pyongyang stepped up its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. Trump's five-nation tour of Asia will also take in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. He's expected to pressure Chinese leaders to do more to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. The North Korea issue is also expected to dominate talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will also fly to Asia this week for summits in Vietnam and the Philippines.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has welcomed US President Donald Trump’s North Korea policy. The two leaders agreed the “era of strategic patience” with North Korea was over and that “all options” were on the table. At a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, US President Donald Trump called North Korea a “menace” and said that ... Read More »

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