The World Today for August 08, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

NORTH KOREA

Yes, No, Maybe

Over the past six months, North Korea has tested a series of long-range ballistic missiles.

In fact, the Hermit Kingdom is now inching ever closer to developing sophisticated intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of striking the United States – a threshold that could be passed in a year, the Washington Post reported, citing confidential government assessments.

That is much sooner than anyone ever thought.

“There has been alarming progress,” Joseph DeTrani, a former special envoy for negotiations with Pyongyang, told the newspaper. “In the last year, they have gained capabilities that they didn’t have, including ones that we thought they would not have been able to obtain for years.”

And that has caught the leader of the Western world – the United States – flatfooted. In fact, it’s a man without a plan, says the New York Times.

How about talks? The secretary of state says ‘possibly.’ The vice president says absolutely ‘not.’

The same mixed messages go for the goal of regime change, which by the way, is likely to be a very bad idea, says an opinion piece in 38north.org.

Those in the crossfire are already fretting: The new administration in South Korea, in the line of fire, is frantically reviving its efforts to make peace.

It should.

Because as Marine General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told attendants at an intelligence and national security event last month, war with North Korea is “not unimaginable,” adding that such a conflict would garner “a loss of life unlike any we have experienced in our lifetimes.”

Analysts in Asia say it’s time to prepare for a worst-case-scenario, not least because North Korea on Monday promised “ultimate measures” over recently imposed sanctions.

“I’m very pessimistic about the prospects in the peninsula,” Zhang Tuosheng, director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies, told the South China Morning Post.  “China needs to have an emergency plan to deal with the influx of refugees and possible nuclear contamination.”

So far, Washington has relied on sanctions and travel bans, prohibiting US citizens from traveling to North Korea by way of China – a popular route for those hoping to experience the Hermit Kingdom firsthand.

But it needs a real plan, period, say analysts.

“Perhaps this ambivalence and confusion reflects a healthy debate on North Korea policy within the administration. We hope so,” said 38north.org.

That’s the glass half full view.

A darker one is that this pussy-footing around has led to a stalemate, “set by years of broken promises and mistrust,” wrote the New York Times.

“(And) mixed messages from the (…) administration will only make it more difficult to move beyond it.”

[siteshare]Yes, No, Maybe[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

SOUTH AFRICA

Keeping Secrets

South African President Jacob Zuma has overcome no-confidence votes before. But on Tuesday parliament will be allowed to vote in a secret poll for the first time, increasing the possibility of his removal, Bloomberg reported.

No matter what the outcome – analysts expect the 75-year-old Zuma to survive again since he is due to step down as party leader of the African National Congress in December and as president in 2019 – the vote is widely seen as a victory for democracy.

When the opposition filed its no-confidence motion, it argued that parliament should be allowed to vote in secret to remove the president since it does so to elect him. The court agreed, giving the opposition assembly speaker the choice.

Despite the freedom to vote without fear of losing their jobs, an analyst told Bloomberg that most anti-Zuma members of the ANC “think it is better to keep Zuma in place until the end of the year than to tear the party apart.”

The ANC has governed since apartheid ended in 1994 and has a 62 percent majority in the National Assembly. But Zuma’s entanglement in scandals and his recent decision to fire the country’s finance minister – which hurt the country’s debt rating – have weakened his popularity.

[siteshare]Keeping Secrets[/siteshare]

TURKEY

Clashing Priorities

On Monday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan promised military action against US-supported Kurdish fighters in Syria who are fighting the Islamic State, further complicating Turkey’s relationship with the West, Reuters reported.

Kurdish YPG fighters are leading the assault against the extremists in Raqqa, its Syrian stronghold. But Ankara regards the YPG as allied to the Kurdish PKK, deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU, which it has been battling within its borders for decades, the news agency said.

Erdogan’s statements come after recent changes in senior ranks within Turkey’s military. The new appointments reflect “a more active struggle” against the PKK and Islamic State, the news agency wrote, quoting a Turkish government source.

The YPG denies allegations of ties with Kurdish militants inside Turkey, saying it is only interested in self-rule inside Syria.  Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has left open the possibility of continued assistance to the YPG after the recapture of Raqqa, Reuters added, a move that would clearly antagonize Ankara.

[siteshare]Clashing Priorities[/siteshare]

SOUTH KOREA

Bad Heir Day

Prosecutors in the trial against the billionaire heir of South Korean conglomerate Samsung wrapped up their case on Monday, calling for 12 years in prison on charges of bribery and other crimes, the Associated Press reported.

The 49-year-old Lee Jae-yong, who held back tears and denied seeking favors during his final remarks, will receive the judges’ verdict on Aug. 25. If the court finds him guilty of all charges, which include embezzlement and perjury, he will face the longest prison term on record for a South Korean conglomerate executive, the New York Post noted.

The sensational case involved offering bribes to the former president of South Korea, who was subsequently forced to step down last March to face corruption charges of her own. The bribes were designed to secure a merger that would have strengthened Lee’s takeover as company chairman, the news agency wrote.

The case, said prosecutors, underscores the corrupt and cozy ties between the South Korea’s government and big businesses. Such dealings once helped fuel the country’s rapid industrialization, but are now increasingly viewed as illegal and unfair.

In fact, the sentence sought by prosecutors is a sign of changing public perceptions of white-collar crime in South Korea, which in the past had been dealt with more leniently in the courts.

[siteshare]Bad Heir Day[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Stork Census

Armenians are counting storks these days.

Between March and August, around 650 pairs of storks roost in villages near wetlands in the ex-Soviet republic on the far eastern edge of Europe, according to Smithsonian magazine.

Folklore holds that storks deliver babies, of course. That many storks would bring a lot of new mouths to feed.

But rather than let superstition dominate them, more than 1,000 Armenians grab pen and paper and start documenting every white crane they see as part of a nationwide science project called Nest Neighbors.

They note which storks are on utility poles, local municipal buildings and rooftops, whether they have nestlings and whether they suffer incidents like falls or sickness.

The project has helped environmentalists set aside land for conservation and identify areas where industrial poisons might have been curtailing the birds’ reproduction – moves that could improve the health of Armenian babies, too.

[siteshare]Stork Census[/siteshare]

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