As the Chinese government accelerates its crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, the Trump administration has sharpened its view of the world’s most important bilateral relationship.
What’s happening: Senior officials tell me they are increasingly concerned about Beijing’s treatment of activists in Hong Kong and, increasingly, fear overreach that could also target Taiwan. This comes as any chance of an armistice in the trade war seems to be shrinking away.
Why it matters: Based on numerous conversations with Trump administration officials over the last few weeks, it is clear that many of the president’s top advisers view China first and foremost as a national security threat rather than as an economic partner.
- This is a new normal. And it’s poised to affect huge parts of American life, from the cost of many consumer goods — likely to go up under a punishing new round of tariffs — to the nature of this country’s relationship with the government of Taiwan.
- Trump himself still views China primarily through an economic prism. But the angrier he gets with Beijing, the more receptive he is to his advisers’ hawkish stances toward China that go well beyond trade.
- The big open question remains whether Trump’s anger with China — especially its flooding of the U.S. with deadly fentanyl and its backtracking on promises to make huge agricultural purchases — will ever grow to such a point that he wants to move in a tougher direction on national security and human rights. If he gets to that point, his advisers will have plenty of hawkish policy ideas waiting for his green light.
- John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, “got into a physical altercation” with a Chinese official during President Donald Trump’s visit to Beijing last year, The Wall Street Journal reported.
- Kelly reportedly told colleagues he would not accept an apology from the official unless it occurred under a US flag in Washington, DC.
- Relations between Washington and Beijing are tense as Trump spars with the Chinese government over trade and other issues.
John Haltiwanger reports: John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, “got into a physical altercation” with a Chinese official during President Donald Trump’s visit to Beijing last year and refused to accept an apology, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The official was reportedly attempting to access the nuclear football, a 45-pound aluminum briefcase that’s always by the president’s side, carried by a military aide. It contains information and instructions for the president on how to conduct a nuclear strike.
Kelly told colleagues he would not accept an apology from the official unless it occurred under a US flag in Washington, DC, according to the report.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider. Read the rest of this entry »
The number of informants executed in the debacle is higher than initially thought.
Zach Dorfman reports: It was considered one of the CIA’s worst failures in decades: Over a two-year period starting in late 2010, Chinese authorities systematically dismantled the agency’s network of agents across the country, executing dozens of suspected U.S. spies. But since then, a question has loomed over the entire debacle.
How were the Chinese able to roll up the network?
Now, nearly eight years later, it appears that the agency botched the communication system it used to interact with its sources, according to five current and former intelligence officials. The CIA had imported the system from its Middle East operations, where the online environment was considerably less hazardous, and apparently underestimated China’s ability to penetrate it.
“The attitude was that we’ve got this, we’re untouchable,” said one of the officials who, like the others, declined to be named discussing sensitive information. The former official described the attitude of those in the agency who worked on China at the time as “invincible.”
Other factors played a role as well, including China’s alleged recruitment of former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee around the same time. Federal prosecutors indicted Lee earlier this year in connection with the affair.
But the penetration of the communication system seems to account for the speed and accuracy with which Chinese authorities moved against the CIA’s China-based assets.
“You could tell the Chinese weren’t guessing. The Ministry of State Security [which handles both foreign intelligence and domestic security] were always pulling in the right people,” one of the officials said.
“When things started going bad, they went bad fast.” Read the rest of this entry »
Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh was on a tear on Wednesday over the media’s response to President Trump’s widely criticized summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Limbaugh dedicated one segment of the three-hour show to providing some uncomfortable flashblacks for Trump’s Democratic critics.
Limbaugh led into the discussion by quoting a June 2018 story by Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff titled, “Obama cyber chief confirms ‘stand down’ order against Russian cyberattacks in summer 2016“:
The Obama White House’s chief cyber official testified Wednesday that proposals he was developing to counter Russia’s attack on the U.S. presidential election were put on a ‘back burner’ after he was ordered to ‘stand down’ his efforts in the summer of 2016.
Here’s the video of Obama’s chief cyber official Michael Daniel revealing the “stand down” order in a Senate Intelligence Committee:
“This is the Obama administration,” said Limbaugh. “They knew the Russians were hacking. They knew Russians were engaging in cyber warfare, and the Obama White House chief cyber official testified that he was told to stand down. Read the rest of this entry »
MODERATOR: All right, thanks everybody. So we are glad to have with us today two folks to talk about the President’s decision today to withdraw from the JCPOA. This will be on background, embargoed until the end. Our two speakers with us today are [Senior State Department Official One], and next to him is [Senior State Department Official Two]. And so they’ll start with a few comments and then we’ll take some questions.
I think – you’d like to start?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Great, yeah. Hi.
MODERATOR: Senior State Department Official Number One.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Hi. So I thought we would just start with a little bit more substance, going one level deeper. You all heard the President’s remarks; you saw the Secretary’s statement. So we wanted to put a little bit more meat on the bones and then open it up for questions and use the time the way that you think is most useful for you all.
So the sanctions reimposition that the President talked about is going to come in two phases. There’s going to be one period for wind down that lasts about – that lasts 90 days, and one period of wind down that lasts six months. The six-month wind down – wind downs are, by the way, pretty standard across sanctions programs. So this is not Iran-specific, but oftentimes when we either impose sanctions or reimpose sanctions, we provide a wind down to allow both U.S. companies but foreign companies as well to end contracts, terminate business, get their money out of wherever the sanctions target is – in this case, Iran. Because what we want – we don’t want to do is we don’t want to impact or have unintended consequences on our allies and partners. We want to focus the costs and the pain on the target. And in this case, that’s the Iranian regime.
So wind downs are pretty natural. In this case, we’re providing a six-month wind down for energy-related sanctions. So that’s oil, petroleum, petrochemicals, and then all of the ancillary sanctions that are associated with that. So, for example, banking; sanctions on the CBI in particular, because the Central Bank of Iran is involved in Iran’s export of oil and the receipt of revenues. Shipping, shipbuilding, ports – all of those sanctions that are related to both the energy sector and then the banking and the shipping or transportation of that energy will all have a six-month wind down. Everything else is going to have a 90-day wind down. So that’s – the architecture of the Iranian sanctions program was quite complex, but everything else includes things like dealing in the rial, providing metal – precious metals and gold to the Iranian regime, providing U.S. banknotes.
So there’s a whole kind of swath of other sanctions that are all going to have a 90-day wind down. In addition, within the first 90 days, the Treasury Department is going to work to end – to terminate the specific licenses that were issued pursuant to the statement of licensing policy on civil aviation. So Treasury’s going to be reaching out to those private sector companies that have licenses and work to end – terminate those licenses in an orderly way that doesn’t lead to undue impact on the companies.
The other big action that has to be done is the re-designation of all of the individuals that were delisted pursuant to the JCPOA. There are over – I think 400 and some odd were specifically designated for conduct, and another 200 or so were identified as part of the Government of Iran. Treasury – that’s obviously a big – it’s a lot of work for Treasury. Their aim is to relist all of those individuals and entities by the end of the six-month wind down. They’re not going to relist entities and individuals overnight, and – both for practical reasons, but also for policy reasons. If some of those individuals and entities were relisted right away, it would impact the wind down, right? So if we’re allowing a six-month wind down for energy-related or petroleum-related business, and then you designate – you re-designate tomorrow an Iranian-related petroleum entity, it makes null and void the six-month wind down that you just provided. So that’s all going to be done in a coherent way to provide a real wind down period.
So that’s kind of the – putting a little bit of meat on the bones of what it means to reimpose the Iran architecture, sanctions architecture.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s great.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Do you want to open it up for questions?
QUESTION: I have a question. Lesley Wroughton from Reuters. You said it’s not meant to have unintended consequences, but it does. Nobody’s going to touch Iran or – and immediately I think the U.S. ambassador to Germany just said to – told all German companies to move out immediately, so it does have unintended consequences.
QUESTION: Do you have guarantees from the Europeans that they’re going to go along with this? Or like they have with the Cuba sanctions, are they going to fight it? Do you know?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So what we’re going to do and what we’ve already – since last December, when we started working with our European allies on both the nuclear file but then also the broader array of Iranian threats, we’re going to continue to work closely with them. We’re going to broaden that engagement. And like both the President said and I think the Secretary said in his statement, he’s going to lead an effort to build a global effort to constrain and to prevent, both on the nuclear front but then also on the ballistic missile front, support to terrorism and the – kind of the six or seven areas that the President has outlined as kind of the broad array of Iranian threats. We’re going to build a global coalition to put pressure on Iran to stop that behavior. That’s —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And let me just —
QUESTION: What was the —
QUESTION: We’ve heard from the Brits –
QUESTION: Sorry, could you just respond to her?
QUESTION: I was going to say, I mean – go on, Matt.
QUESTION: We’ve heard from others that they not only are not going to —
QUESTION: Would you mind? I had the first question.
QUESTION: Oh, sorry. Okay. Yep, I apologize.
QUESTION: And they haven’t even answered it.
QUESTION: If you don’t mind.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So I just wanted to say that those are actually intended consequences. We do think that, given the IRGC’s penetration of the Iranian economy and Iran’s behavior in the region, as well as its other nefarious activities, that companies should not do business in Iran. That’s an intended consequence. And we thank our ambassador out there for reaffirming that message.
QUESTION: So all those companies that have gone in are moving out?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We’re certainly going to encourage them to.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Why —
QUESTION: And what if they don’t?
QUESTION: If they don’t, are you prepared to sanction German companies, French companies?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Those are discussions we’re going to have with the Europeans.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, you’ve been having discussions —
QUESTION: Sorry, just a point of clarification on that. That would begin after the 180-day period is over, correct?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: If it’s energy-related or banking-related. If it’s related to the provision of precious metals or gold or any of the sanctions that are being re-imposed after 90 days, then that would be —
QUESTION: So you are planning to sanction European companies, or you will have those discussions? Like —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ve already started the discussions this afternoon, right. The discussions are ongoing and the effort is ongoing. Hopefully we will build – and this is the Secretary and the President’s desire and focus, is to build this global effort to put renewed and strengthened pressure on Iran. And that will include trying to isolate Iran economically.
QUESTION: Well, why not keep the structure of the deal and address these concerns on the side, as has been discussed for the last few months?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Well, I think as the President laid out, that the problem with the deal was that it reduced our ability to pressure Iran, right. It essentially cordoned off this huge area of the Iranian economy and said, “Hey, we know about the IRGC’s penetration of the economy. We know Iran’s doing all this nefarious, malign activities in the region. But because of this nuclear angle, which is only one aspect of Iran’s behavior – a critical one, but just one – you essentially can’t sanction these entities that are involved in all this other stuff.”
QUESTION: So wait, just – so the United States has basically no economic relationships right now with the Iranians, right? So there is no power of U.S. sanctions to prevent – in preventing U.S. economic activity. The only power that U.S. sanctions have is in preventing European and other economic activity, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Secondary sanctions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The secondary sanctions, correct.
QUESTION: Why get out of the deal until you know for sure that Europe is going to go along with that secondary sanction activity or whether you’re – they’ll fight you? Because if they fight you, you’re going to be in a worse situation vis-a-vis Iran than you are now and than you are previously, right? So you don’t actually know – you’re saying that the President’s going to start this global coalition, but you don’t actually know whether even your closest allies are going to be part of that coalition, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The President made clear on January 12th that he was giving a certain number of months to try to – for – try to get a supplemental agreement with the E3. We didn’t get there. We got close. We made a – we had movement, a ton of good progress, which will not be wasted, but we didn’t get there. So he was clear January 12th that if we don’t get this supplemental, he’s withdrawing the United States from the JCPOA, and that’s what he did. That being said, you could even see that President Macron tweeted only a few minutes after the President finished his statement that France is eager to be part of an effort – I forget the exact words, but part of an effort on a broader deal that addresses the nuclear file but also —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Syria, Yemen.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: — Syria, Yemen, and others. So you already see – you already see from President Macron a willingness to work on a broader deal; you see from the Saudis have also issued a statement supporting our withdrawal; the Israelis did as well. No one is saying this is going to be easy, right, but the President made clear his intention on January 12th. He made good on that – on that promise.
QUESTION: You don’t know right now whether you’re going to be in a better place or in a worse place; is that what you’re saying?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No, we think we’re going to be in a better place.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: No, we know we’re —
QUESTION: But you don’t know.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We know we’re going to be in a better place because we don’t think that the current JCP – the JCPOA, as it is now, adequately protects U.S. national security. So —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Because it allowed Iran to enrich after sunsets, after those restrictions melted away —
QUESTION: In seven years.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yes.
QUESTION: And even then, not enriching to a level where they could build a nuclear weapon.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Listen, after – after the Israelis revealed what they were able to find —
QUESTION: All old stuff, all old – before.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Listen, it was – we have acknowledged for quite some time that the Iranians had a nuclear weapons program, but nobody knew until the Israelis found it, this well curated archive, the level of detail, right. And the – I think it reinforced in a very meaningful way that all of the Iranian statements throughout the negotiations and after were lies.
QUESTION: So the President said that we would impose sanctions on countries who helped with Iran’s nuclear program, but actually, you will reimpose sanctions on companies and countries that do any – roughly any economic activity, no matter if it has anything to do with nuclear or anything, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: In the buildup – in the buildup to the negotiations that led first to the JPOA and the JCPOA, we had an extensive architecture of secondary sanctions that started more or less with CISADA in 2010. We had to use those secondary sanctions very, very rarely. In fact, we only ever sanctioned two banks with secondary sanctions, Kunlun and Elaf in Iraq. The leverage that we gained from the secondary sanctions is what we used throughout the world with engagement to get countries to partner with us to build the economic isolation of Iran. That’s what we want to do again. It’s not about sanctioning foreign companies; it’s about using the leverage and engaging the way we did before.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: That’s right.
QUESTION: When you say that the – when you —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: This is a long-established practice, I mean, since ILSA in the late ‘90s, this is something the U.S. has been doing. Sorry.
QUESTION: When you say that the effort that you had in the negotiations with the E3 will not be wasted, will you be implementing any of that? Because I mean, it was the supposition that the U.S. would stay in the deal if these areas were addressed by the E3. The U.S. isn’t staying in the deal, so —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So we made a ton of progress on ICBMs, on access, on missiles writ large, on regional issues, and then we got stuck on sunsets, right? We didn’t quite make it. That work – we’re not sure. We have to – we’re starting those conversations with the E3 today, tomorrow, so I can’t – we can’t tell you exactly how it’s going to be used, but I can tell you it will be used. That work is not going to be wasted.
QUESTION: So you think they’ll go forward.
QUESTION: But if a ton of progress was made, then why not give it more time? Why take such a dramatic action that’s going to have you basically starting over from square one?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The President made very clear on January 12th his intention. If we got a supplemental agreement before May 12th, he would consider it. We didn’t get there. He said this – on January 12th, he said that was his last time waiving sanctions. He followed through on that promise.
QUESTION: And what was the sticking point? Can you just sort of tell us what didn’t work?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It was the one-year breakout.
QUESTION: The sunset program.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, after driving the United States into a foreign-policy wreck, it’s time for former members of the Obama administration to ask themselves the same question.
According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has recovered documents that demonstrate Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. These clandestine plans for five 10-kiloton nuclear warheads were hidden and stored by Iran while it was developing a ballistic-missile program that would be able to carry them to Tel Aviv.
So not only did the United States end up saving the Islamic Republic from economic ruin with the Iran deal, it allowed the nation to solidify its foothold in Syria and strengthen its terrorist proxy Hezbollah. And not only did the Obama administration allow a humanitarian disaster to unfold in Syria while it was placating Russia to save the deal, it destroyed a sanctions program that was working.
On top of that, we also now know that the Iran deal was sold to the American public in bad faith. Yet, even after these revelations came to light, the former Obama aides who established a media echo chamber meant to silence critics and mislead citizens were still taunting and whining from sidelines, offering one bizarre justification after the next to continue the charade.
Tommy Vietor, former spokesman for Obama’s National Security Council, defended the Iran deal by making the bewildering accusation that President Trump was “cooking up intel with the Israelis” to start a war. Read the rest of this entry »
Kurt Schlichter: The Liberal Media’s Slobbering Over The Norks Reminds Us Why We Have The Second AmendmentPosted: February 14, 2018
Besides having bad taste, our mainstream media is revealing our ruling class once again.
Kurt Schlichter writes: America’s most effective advocate of the principle of an armed populace is now officially the liberal media that usually seeks to do the ruling class’s bidding and strip us Normal Americans of that sacred right. But after the media’s bizarre display of eager tongue-bathing of the semi-human savages who run North Korea, any patriot has got to be thinking, “I best load up, because it’s pretty clear what the establishment’s desired end state is.”
The New York Times quivered: “Kim Jong-un’s Sister Turns on the Charm, Taking Pence’s Spotlight.”
Reuters tingled: “North Korea judged winner of diplomatic gold at Olympics.”
And CNN harassed airport travelers with: “Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics.”
Let’s clarify something – this Kim Yo Jong woman, a key leader in a giant death cult that is torturing and killing people at this moment, is not cute, not figuratively and not literally. She’s not even a Pyongyang 6. Maybe at closing time. After a lot of soju.
But besides having bad taste, our mainstream media is revealing our ruling class once again. You watch the non-stop squee over these monsters and the only conclusion you can reasonably draw is that, for our worthless establishment, the North Korea murderocracy is not a cautionary example. It’s an objective.
Just think of it! The ability to simply make all those Normals who disagree with you go away – either for good or by exiling them to rural fun camps. No fuss, no muss, no more tiresome dissent by those banjo-jockies between the coasts!
“What? That’s crazy talk! How could you draw the conclusion from our giddy, giggling media lovefest that we approve of those adorable, wonderful North Koreans?”
Well, that’s fair. Maybe our elite doesn’t really dig the Great Big Leader’s vibe. Maybe our elite is just composed of morons. If the explanation for the media serfs’ tender fondling of these blood-drenched sadists is not a result of our morally illiterate elite’s desire to emulate the insane wickedness of the Juche Idea, then that leaves gross stupidity as the only other option.
Either they want us Normals dead or enslaved, or they are just idiots.
Spoiler: Neither option supports us giving up our guns. Read the rest of this entry »
The people haven’t closed ranks behind the regime.
“After years of cynicism, sneering or simply tuning out all things political,” wrote Erdbrink, “Iran’s urban middle classes have been swept up in a wave of nationalist fervor.” He went on: “Mr. Trump and the Saudis have helped the government achieve what years of repression could never accomplish: widespread public support for the hard-line view that the United States and Riyadh cannot be trusted.”
Erdbrink’s argument echoed rhetoric from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Responding to October’s announcement of new U.S. sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Zarif tweeted: “Today, Iranians–boys, girls, men, women–are ALL IRGC.”
Tom DiChristopher reports: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Wednesday appeared to threaten to disrupt Chinese crude oil shipments to North Korea following the hermit kingdom’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday.
China’s refusal to completely cut off energy exports to North Korea have been a sticking point as the United States leads the charge to rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
Haley revealed during a speech at the United Nations headquarters in New York City that President Donald Trump called Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday morning to tell him the time has come for China to cut off crude oil supplies to North Korea.
“We now turn to President Xi to also take that stand. We believe he has an opportunity to do the right thing for the benefit of all countries. China must show leadership and follow through. China can do this on its own, or we can take the oil situation into our own hands,” she said.
Authoritarian regimes like Russia and China are outspending the United States in the realm of soft power, Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told the National Democratic Institute’s annual Democracy Dinner at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, D.C. last night.
“Our budget is $650 million—a fraction of what our adversaries spend,” he said “Today, Russia is spending over a billion dollars on covert propaganda operations,” he added. “Russian TV, radio, and internet bots continue to push misinformation without almost no pushback from the US.”
The authoritarian threat required greater investment in non-kinetic resources for exerting influence abroad, Murphy added.
“We have more people working at military grocery stores than diplomats deployed abroad,” he said.
Facebook estimates that 10 million people saw the [Kremlin’s] paid ads and up to 150 million people saw other content from the fake accounts, which Facebook has traced to the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed troll farm, WIRED reports:
Psychologists and students of advertising say the ads were cleverly designed to look like other internet memes, and to appeal to readers’ emotions. Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology at NYU, says he was surprised at the sophistication of the campaign. “It wasn’t transparent lies. It was just pushing our buttons,” says Van Bavel. “To me, this is more pernicious. It’s not a matter of fiction that we can root out with fact-checking. It’s more about turning Americans against each other.”
“The IRA are not amateurs, they’re clearly familiarizing themselves with the kind of content that resonates with the target audiences,” says Renee DiResta, researcher with Data for Democracy, a nonprofit group that has been digging into the data on Russian-linked accounts.
The threat of disinformation and other active measures employed by the Kremlin requires adaptation and innovation from the advanced democracies, according to NATO’s Secretary General.
“Defense is no longer about just looking at a map and deciding where to place armies,” Jens Stoltenberg said this week. “It’s also about countering misinformation. Protecting infrastructure. Making our societies resilient to attack.”
“The geography of danger has shifted,” he added.
The NDI dinner honored three civil society groups on the front lines of confronting disinformation and false news – . Rappler from the Philippines, the Ukraine-based StopFake and the Oxford Internet Institute.
“When a lie is repeated 1 million times it becomes truth, especially when it’s state-sponsored hate,” said Rapplerdotcom‘s Maria Ressa. “A sock puppet network of 26 fake accounts can reach 3 million.”
Disinformation “exploits the fracture lines of society,” she said, adding that she received an average of 90 hate messages per hour.” Read the rest of this entry »
Caroline B. Glick writes: The nuclear confrontation between the US and North Korea entered a critical phase Sunday with North Korea’s conduct of an underground test of a thermonuclear bomb.
If the previous round of this confrontation earlier this summer revolved around Pyongyang’s threat to attack the US territory of Guam, Sunday’s test, together with North Korea’s recent tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the continental US, was a direct threat to US cities.
In other words, the current confrontation isn’t about US superpower status in Asia, and the credibility of US deterrence or the capabilities of US military forces in the Pacific. The confrontation is now about the US’s ability to protect the lives of its citizens.
The distinction tells us a number of important things. All of them are alarming.
First, because this is about the lives of Americans, rather than allied populations like Japan and South Korea, the US cannot be diffident in its response to North Korea’s provocation. While attenuated during the Obama administration, the US’s position has always been that US military forces alone are responsible for guaranteeing the collective security of the American people.
Pyongyang is now directly threatening that security with hydrogen bombs. So if the Trump administration punts North Korea’s direct threat to attack US population centers with nuclear weapons to the UN Security Council, it will communicate profound weakness to its allies and adversaries alike.
Obviously, this limits the options that the Trump administration has. But it also clarifies the challenge it faces.
The second implication of North Korea’s test of their plutonium-based bomb is that the US’s security guarantees, which form the basis of its global power and its alliance system are on the verge of becoming completely discredited. Read the rest of this entry »
Ayaan Hirsi Ali joins me to discuss her new book, The Challenge of Dawa: Political Islam as Ideology and Movement and How to Contain It and her views on the challenges facing Western civilization in regards to political Islam. She argues that Islam needs to be separated into two different parts, one part of religion and the other part, political philosophy. She concedes that many aspects of the religious part of Islam are peaceful but argues that the political side is much more concerning due to its focus on Dawa, which means “to plead or to call non-Muslims to Islam.” This call to convert people to Islam is what she argues was a driving force behind the spread of Islam throughout history.
Earlier this year Ayaan Hirsi Ali was called before Congress to testify on her book. She discusses her testimony and that although she was invited by a Democrat senator to speak “about the ideology of radical Islam,” the Democrats present didn’t ask her a single question because they were likely uncomfortable with what she had to say about Islam. She argues … (read more)
Source: National Review
Former Obama Aide Ben Rhodes Now a Person of Interest in House Intelligence Committee Unmasking InvestigationPosted: August 1, 2017
Sara A. Carter reports: Former Obama White House National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes is now an emerging as a person of interest in the House Intelligence Committee’s unmasking investigation, according to a letter sent Tuesday by the committee to the National Security Agency (NSA). This adds Rhodes to the growing list of top Obama government officials who may have improperly unmasked Americans in communications intercepted overseas by the NSA, Circa has confirmed.
The House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-CA, sent the letter to the National Security Agency requesting the number of unmaskings made by Rhodes from Jan. 1, 2016 to Jan. 20, 2017, according to congressional sources who spoke with Circa. Rhodes, who worked closely with former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and was a former deputy national security adviser for strategic communications for President Obama, became a focus of the committee during its review of classified information to assess whether laws were broken regarding NSA intercepted communications of President Trump, members of his administration and other Americans before and after the election, according to congressional officials. The committee is requesting that the NSA deliver the information on Rhodes by August, 21.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, Rice and former CIA Director John Brennan have all been named in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the unmasking of Americans. A letter sent last week from Nunes to Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, suggested that top Obama aides made hundreds of unmasking requests during the 2016 presidential elections. The story, which was first reported by The Hill last week, stated that the requests were made without specific justifications as to why the unmasking was necessary. Rice and Brennan have confirmed they sought the unredacted names of Americans in NSA-sourced intelligence reports but insisted their requests were routine parts of their work and had no nefarious intentions. Power also has legal authority to unmask officials, though the practice has not reportedly been common for someone in her position. Rhodes also had legal authority to unmask Americans in NSA-source intelligence reports. But intelligence and congressional sources question the extent of the unmasking.
Nunes told Coats in a letter last week that the committee has “found evidence that current and former government officials had easy access to U.S. person information and that it is possible that they used this information to achieve partisan political purposes, including the selective, anonymous leaking of such information.”
Multiple federal law enforcement and intelligence officials told Circa, that requesting an unmasking for intelligence and analytical purposes is something that is done only when the information is absolutely necessary to analyze a specific threat or for other national security purposes. An intelligence source, with direct knowledge of the type of requests made by the Obama aides, said “it’s like hell and high water to fill out and gain approval for these types of unmaskings. It’s something analysts take seriously and could entail filling out 80 pages of paperwork to prove there is a need to unmask. If top officials were unmasking without oversight it’s something everyone should be concerned about and it puts our intelligence community in a very bad place.” Read the rest of this entry »
OH HELL YEAH: U.S. Urges All Nationals In North Korea To ‘Depart Immediately’, Bans Tourists From VisitingPosted: July 21, 2017
YA THINK? The U.S. is to ban its citizens from travelling to North Korea.
US officials linked the move to the death of jailed American student Otto Warmbier.
Once the ban is in effect, US citizens will need special validation to travel to or within North Korea.
Mr Warmbier travelled to North Korea with Young Pioneer Tours. He was arrested in 2016 for trying to steal a propaganda sign and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was returned to the US in a coma in June and died a week later.
How did the news come to light?
Koryo Tours and Young Pioneer Tours, who both operate in North Korea, revealed on Friday that they had been told of the upcoming ban by the Swedish embassy, which acts for the US as Washington has no diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.
Rowan Beard, of Young Pioneer Tours, told the BBC the embassy was urging all US nationals to depart immediately.
He said the embassy was trying to check on the number of US tourists left in the country.
What form will the ban take?
Ms Nauert’s statement said: “Due to mounting concerns over the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement, the Secretary has authorised a Geographical Travel Restriction on all US nationals’ use of a passport to travelling through, or to North Korea.
“Once in effect, US passports will be invalid for travel to, through, and in North Korea, and individuals will be required to obtain a passport with a special validation in order to travel to or within North Korea.
“We intend to publish a notice in the Federal Register next week.
“The restriction will be implemented 30 days after publication.”
Rowan Beard said that the 30-day grace period would “give leeway for any [Americans] currently in the country as tourists or on humanitarian work”.
How have the travel agencies reacted?
Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours told the BBC the agency would still conduct tours and take Americans until the ban came into effect.
“If their country allows them to go, we will take them,” he said.
Mr Cockerell added: “It’s unfortunate for the industry but also for North Koreans who want to know what Americans are really like.”
After the death of Mr Warmbier, the China-based Young Pioneer Tours announced it would no longer take visitors from the US to the country. Read the rest of this entry »
Everyone in frame is smiling and laughing in the North Korean cold. Otto Warmbier, like the other tourists, launches a snowball, captured in slow motion on what appears to be a camera phone.
It’s the kind of innocent fun you expect to be captured on a tour group holiday. Otto turns to his right, mouth wide open, laughing.
“This is the Otto I know and love. This is my brother,” wrote Austin Warmbier, who released the video, which was shot during a three-night North Korea tour at the end of 2015.
Two months later, Otto would again appear on video, but in very different circumstances.
Head bowed and clutching a prepared “confession”, the 21-year-old student walked out in front of North Korean TV cameras to speak, explaining why he had been arrested at the end of that tour, when everyone else had been allowed to leave.
He wore a cream-coloured jacket and tie. Before speaking, he got up an offered a low bow.
Otto thanked the North Korean government for the “opportunity to apologise for my crime, to beg for forgiveness and to beg for any assistance to save my life”.
He said he tried to steal a propaganda sign from a hotel as a “trophy” for a US church with the “connivance of the US administration” in order to “harm the work ethic and motivation of the Korean people”.
Later, he would break down in tears: “I have made the single worst decision of my life, but I am only human.”
Otto is now back in the US after 15 months of captivity in North Korea. But he is in a coma, cannot understand language and has severe brain damage.
In the year-and-a-half since he threw that snowball, the life of a young man full of promise has been permanently altered.
Much remains unknown about how Otto’s health deteriorated. Doctors at Cincinnati Medical Center say they have seen no sign he was physically abused but they and his family also don’t buy North Korea’s story that he contracted botulism and fell into a coma after taking a sleeping pill.
But how did a brilliant student from an Ohio suburb with hopes of becoming an investment banker end up imprisoned in a pariah state? And why was he released in a coma?
The Warmbiers hail from a small suburb called Wyoming in Cincinnati, Ohio, where father Fred owns a small company.
Otto attended the best high school in the state, and was prom and homecoming king. Read the rest of this entry »
President Donald Trump is growing his brand in China.
David Francis reports: According to a report from the Associated Press, the Chinese government has approved nine Trump trademarks it had earlier rejected, in whole or in part. The latest development is likely to add to the growing controversy over Trump’s potential conflicts of interest, and especially charges that he could be in violation of the emolument clause of the U.S. Constitution, which is supposed to prevent a sitting president from gaining a financial benefit from foreign nations.
There are now three lawsuits alleging the president is violating the Constitution by refusing to put his assets into a blind trust; Trump has put his son in charge of managing his many business dealings. Trump’s new Washington hotel is a particular sore spot, since many visiting delegations stay there. One was filed by nearly 200 Congressional Democrats Wednesday; a joint one was filed by the attorney generals of Washington, D.C. and Maryland; and a similar suit was filed by the watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
Benefitting from foreign governments, whether through hotel bills or the granting of trademarks, lie at the center of all these cases. In the case of the China trademarks, records don’t show why these requests were initially rejected or why they were reconsidered. Read the rest of this entry »
The latest screed from Pyongyang’s unnamed prince of prose (or princes — it’s unclear how many write these gems) was delivered Monday in response to Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., asserting Kim Jong Un was a “whack job.”
Like previous statements, it bucked all norms for engaging in international repartee:
“It is a serious provocation that Gardner, like a psychopath, dare to bear the evil that dares our highest dignity,” the statement said, according to a translation. “It is America’s misfortune that a man mixed in with human dirt like Gardner, who has lost basic judgment and body hair, could only spell misfortune for the United States.”
The real-world reference point behind some of the putdowns, most of which are disseminated by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, is unclear. Gardner, for instance, has a full head of hair.
But KCNA has been dealing out hits against U.S. and international politicians for years, perfecting a style that’s veered from jaw-dropping to shockingly racist.
Among the worst insults directed at former President Barack Obama, North Korea in 2014 branded him a “juvenile delinquent,” “clown” and a “dirty fellow.” Obama, the KCNA statement said, was somebody who “does not even have the basic appearances of a human being.” Read the rest of this entry »
Protesters Torch Free Speech At Berkeley In Latest Example of Mob Rule On America’s College CampusesPosted: April 20, 2017
We recently discussed the courageous stand of the University of Chicago in favor of free speech (a position followed by schools like Purdue). Free speech is being rapidly diminished on our campuses as an ever-widening scope of speech has been declared hate speech or part of the ill-defined “microaggression.” Now Berkeley has shown the world exactly what this intolerance looks like as protesters attacked people, burned property, and rioted to stop other people from hearing the views of a conservative speaker. As on so many campuses, they succeeded. The speech by Milo Yiannopoulos was cancelled. A triumph of anti-speech protesters. Berkeley now must face a defining moment. The only appropriate response for the school is to immediately reschedule the speaker and stand in defiance of those who want to deny the right to speak (and to hear and associate) to others. Moreover, it is liberals who should be on…
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Vice President Mike Pence broke from his schedule Monday morning and took an unannounced trip to the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
Though other top ranking U.S. officials have visited the DMZ in the past, Pence actually ventured outside and stared down North Korean troops.
Mike Pence (CNN)
“Yeah, you better keep walking.”
In addition to his visit to the DMZ, Pence sent North Korea a warning statement Monday morning … (read more)
Source: The Daily Caller
Hugh Dugan writes: With his surprise, 180-degree decision to avenge innocents in Syria, President Donald Trump entered the particle accelerator that is foreign affairs.
The barrage of urgencies—inhumanity, chemical weapons, Syrian civil war, North Korean missiles, Russian warships, truck bombings, ISIS—has streamed his focus into a statesmanship that impresses even his detractors. This reminds us of Trump’s speech to Congress in February where he grew visibly into his presidential shoes.
Taking decisive action in Syria indeed was in the U.S. national interest, not only an understandable human response to a human atrocity. How is it in the national interest? Chemical weapons cannot be tolerated a bit. No excuse exists. Any shadow of their acceptability would quickly become a black cloud over a world cowed into suspicion and fear. Our national interest depends upon a world open to itself and to the future. Read the rest of this entry »
“The worrisome thing here is the outside partner. This is not just a three sided game, North Korea, South Korea, and the U.S. — it’s the Chinese reaction. The Chinese are watching the United States after eight years of withdrawal, accommodation, and essentially no response to Chinese expansion — they’re seeing the United States now asserting itself. The U.S.S. Carl Vinson an aircraft carrier is now in the South China Sea. Trump has just sent B-52’s into South Korea as a way to threaten the North Koreans, and everyone knows what they carry, they carry nuclear weapons. But the worst thing from the Chinese point of view is the THAAD: This is the antimissile system. The Chinese react to that the way the Russians did to the anti-missile system we wanted to put in Eastern Europe. They get very upset because it can be applied against them. Yes, our reason for doing it is to defend the South Koreans against the North. But the overall effect is to put up a missile shield that could degrade and weaken the Chinese arsenal. They know that. They are very worried about that. And they’re getting semi-hysterical. Global Times which is a government-friendly publication just this week said that the government of China will no longer rule out a first nuclear strike. That’s a big deal. That’s not an official statement, but it tells you how much the Chinese are upset, which is why we are now rushing to install the THAAD by the end of April before the election so at least it’s a fait accompli — but this is a tinderbox.”
Source: National Review
Mimi Whitfield and Nora Gámez Torres report: A year from now — on Feb. 24 — something is expected to occur in Cuba that hasn’t happened in more than 40 years: a non-Castro will occupy the presidency.
The coming year will be one of definitions in Cuba. But right now there is only uncertainty — not only about how the transition will proceed but also about the future of Cuba’s relationship with the United States with President Donald Trump at the helm.
In 2013, Raúl Castro told Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power, the parliament, that he planned to retire from the presidency of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers on Feb. 24, 2018. His heir apparent became Miguel Díaz-Canel, a party stalwart who at the time was promoted to first vice president of both councils.
When Castro retires as president, the Cuban Constitution also calls for him to relinquish his post of commander in chief of Cuba’s armed forces. A Cuba without a khaki-clad Castro commanding the Revolutionary Armed Forces is something many younger Cubans have never experienced.
Díaz-Canel’s ascension next Feb. 24 — a date that has long had resonance in Cuba history — is not assured, but most observers believe that a new National Assembly that will be seated then will rubber stamp him as Cuba’s next president and he will replace the 85-year-old Castro.
Even with a successor, Castro is still expected to retain consider clout. He has said nothing about stepping down as chief of Cuba’s powerful Communist Party and Cuba’s military leaders are solid Raúlistas. Read the rest of this entry »
From China Digital Times: In recent cartoons for CDT, Badiucao puts a Valentine twist on President Trump’s emerging relationship with President Xi Jinping, which took a step forward in a recent phone call:
Valentines, by Badiucao:
A second drawing focuses on Trump’s effort to patch up relations with Beijing by acknowledging the “one China” policy, which declares that Taiwan is part of China. Trump had earlier stated that he was “not committed” to the longstanding policy.
One China, by Badiucao
Since his inauguration in January, President Trump’s policy toward China has been elusive and unpredictable. He ignited a firestorm of controversy soon after taking office by accepting a phone call from President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan and later saying that he may choose not to adhere to the “one China” policy, which has defined the U.S.-China-Taiwan trilateral relationship for decades. These actions seemed to indicate that he would live up to campaign rhetoric to take a tougher line on China than his predecessors. Yet after two weeks of silence between the two leaders, Trump switched tacks by promising to uphold the one China status quo in a phone call with President Xi Jinping. From Simon Denyer and Philip Rucker of the Washington Post:
In a statement issued late Thursday, the White House said the two men had held a lengthy and “extremely cordial” conversation.
“The two leaders discussed numerous topics and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our one-China policy,” the White House statement said.
In return, Xi said he “appreciated his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, for stressing that the U.S. government adheres to the one-China policy,” which he called the “political basis” of relations between the two nations, state news agency Xinhua reported. [Source]
The call has been taken by many as a sign of acquiescence by Trump to Xi, as he acknowledged that his mention of the “one China” policy was at Xi’s request. From Jane Perlez of The New York Times:
But in doing so, he handed China a victory and sullied his reputation with its leader, Xi Jinping, as a tough negotiator who ought to be feared, analysts said. Read the rest of this entry »
Boston Herald Columnist, Adriana Cohen, former Bush senior campaign advisor, Mark Serrano, and Club for Growth president, David McIntosh on President Trump’s trade policies and his desire to put America first.
Note: the above image is from Japanese social media. Original source unknown. But very typical of popular ‘kawaii’ image editing apps. See more of our Japan coverage here.
WASHINGTON — Yujiro Okabe reports: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Friday afternoon (early Saturday JST) before they held a press conference together.
Regarding the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, Abe said during the press conference, “We have affirmed that they are within the scope of Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty,” which obliges U.S. forces to defend Japan.
Trump stressed, “We are committed to the security of Japan.”
Abe also revealed that they have agreed to start holding a dialogue headed by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso and Vice President Mike Pence, aiming to expand trade and investment between the two countries. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ben Blanchard and Steve Holland | BEIJING/WASHINGTON Fri Feb 10, 2017
President Donald Trump agreed to honor the longstanding “One China” policy during a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, taking steps to improve ties after angering Beijing by talking to the leader of Taiwan. Trump further unnerved Beijing […]
Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) is having none of President Trump’s false moral equivalence. On ABC’s This Week Sunday, Sasse expressed his distaste at the comparison of the United States and Vladimir Putin’s regime.
“Let’s be clear: Has the U.S. ever made any mistakes? Of course. Is the U.S. at all like Putin’s regime? Not at all. The U.S. affirms freedom of speech; Putin is no friend of freedom of speech. Putin is an enemy of freedom of religion, the U.S. celebrates freedom of religion. Putin is an enemy of free press; the U.S. celebrates free press. Putin is an enemy of political dissent; the U.S. celebrates political dissent and the right for people to argue free from violence about places where ideas are in conflict. There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America, the greatest freedom-loving nation in the history of the world, and the murderous thugs that are in Putin’s defense of his cronyism. There’s no moral equivalency there.”
David French writes:
…Trump said, “There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Well, you think our country is so innocent?” I’d like to focus on the follow-up, when O’Reilly gave him an opportunity to amend his statement:
O’REILLY: I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers.
TRUMP: Well — take a look at what we’ve done, too. We made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.
O’REILLY: Yes, mistakes are different than –
TRUMP: We made a lot of mistakes, OK, but a lot of people were killed. So, a lot of killers around, believe me.
In response, I’m reminded of a quote from our founder, William F. Buckley, Jr.:
[T]o say that the CIA and the KGB engage in similar practices is the equivalent of saying that the man who pushes an old lady into the path of a hurtling bus is not to be distinguished from the man who pushes an old lady out of the path of a hurtling bus: on the grounds that, after all, in both cases someone is pushing old ladies around. Read the rest of this entry »
Visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis clearly said during talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday afternoon that the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture are within the scope of Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which obliges the United States to defend Japan, according to a senior government official who attended the meeting.
At the opening of the meeting, Abe said he hopes and is certain the two countries “can demonstrate in our country and abroad that the Japan-U.S. alliance is unshakable.” In response, Mattis said that he intended to make clear during the meeting that Article 5 of the security treaty will be important five years or 10 years from now, just as it was a year ago or five years ago.
Mattis arrived in Tokyo on the day to hold talks with the prime minister, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada and other members of Abe’s Cabinet to exchange views on the security environment in East Asia and to address mutual security concerns. The new U.S. defense chief’s visit to Japan marks the first by a U.S. Cabinet member under the administration of President Donald Trump. The ministerial meeting with Inada is scheduled for Saturday, after which they will hold a joint press conference.
During these talks, the two sides are also expected to confirm that the United States will firmly uphold the “nuclear umbrella” (see below) over Japan in its defense.
During his presidential election campaign last year, Trump was ambiguous about defending the Senkakus and also suggested that if Japan doesn’t contribute its due share to shouldering the burden of stationing U.S. forces in Japan, it would be acceptable for Japan to possess its own nuclear weapons to confront North Korea’s nuclear threat. These remarks caused apprehension on the Japanese side.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intends to propose during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on Feb. 10 a bilateral economic cooperation plan, including the creation of a $450 billion (¥51 trillion) market through railways and other infrastructure investments in the United States to generate 700,000 jobs, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
Trump has recently been stepping up criticism against the Japanese car market and the depreciation of the yen. Given the circumstances, Abe plans to emphasize during the upcoming talks that the bilateral cooperation will be of great advantage to the U.S. economy.
A draft for the Japan-U.S. economic cooperation plan sets forth bilateral cooperation in five fields as the “Japan-U.S. growth and employment initiative.” The five fields are: development of the world’s most advanced infrastructure in the United States; drawing on demand for infrastructure around the world; research and development of robots and artificial intelligence; collaboration in new areas such as cyber and space; and cooperation in employment and defense.
The envisioned infrastructure development in the United States includes high-speed railway projects in the northeastern part of the country, and in Texas and California, to which Japan would provide technical cooperation and extend low-interest loans. Japan would also help replace as many as 3,000 train cars currently in use on railways and subways with new models over the next 10 years.
Japan would further cooperate in highly efficient gas-fired power generation and the latest compact nuclear power generation systems.
In the research and development field, the draft calls for cooperation between Japan, which has the edge in robot technology, and the United States, which leads the world in AI technology.
Japan and the United States will jointly develop robots to be used for inspecting aging infrastructure, decommissioning nuclear power plants, and carrying out medical diagnosis and surgery.
The government is rushing to compile details of its financial burden to host U.S. forces in Japan in preparation for a meeting of the defense chiefs of the two countries on Saturday, as well as for a separate meeting of the leaders scheduled for Feb. 10.
The U.S. side has intimated that it has no intention of demanding an increase in Japan’s share of the costs of stationing U.S. forces during the defense chiefs’ talks. However, the unpredictability of the U.S. administration under President Donald Trump is spurring the Japanese government to maintain a vigilant stance.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada spoke at a press conference on Tuesday about her upcoming meeting with new U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis. Although she declined to reveal whether the costs of hosting U.S. forces are on the agenda, Inada did say, “I intend to convey Japan’s position firmly and I hope the meeting will allow us to exchange opinions candidly.”
Pentagon spokesperson Jeff Davis had said the aim of Mattis’ visit to Japan was to strengthen ties and not to submit a list of demands. This has led some to believe that the state of Japan’s financial burden with regard to U.S. bases will not come up at the ministerial meeting.
Trump, however, did refer to increasing Japan’s burden during the U.S. presidential campaign. “We’re preparing to be ready to explain that Japan already has a heavy load, in case there is a demand,” a source inside the Defense Ministry said.
Costs of stationing U.S. forces in Japan include land prices and other costs relevant to providing facilities and sites. These are paid for by the Japanese side in keeping with the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, while all other costs, in principle, are covered by the United States.
However, since fiscal 1978, the Japanese side has been expanding the range of its expenses based on demands from the United States. Currently, personnel costs for base employees as well as lighting, heating and water costs are also funded by the Japanese side. Read the rest of this entry »