PARIS, August 24 -- Donald Trump landed in France with First Lady Melania for the G7 summit Saturday, after taking a swipe at fellow leaders, calling them "friends of mine, for the most part" but not in "100 percent of the cases".
The president threw shade at some of America's closest partners on Friday evening, mere hours before he'd see them in Biarritz at the Group of Seven summit. He threatened to tax French 'like they've never seen before' and characterized world leaders attending the event as 'friends for the most part' in front of Marine One. 'We're going to France. We'll have a good few days. I think it will be very productive, seeing a lot of leaders who are friends of mine, for the most part,' he said of his trip, smirking as he added, "Wouldn't say in 100 percent of the cases, but for the most part." He did not say which leaders were getting under his skin, but Trump offered several hints in the comments he delivered outside the White House before he left for Europe with first lady Melania. She arrived into Biarritz wearing a yellow dress with pink stiletto heels and sunglasses. The first lady had departed Washington wearing a Chanel jacket, white pants and a black top. Trump harped on France's digital tax, which he said U.S. tech companies don't deserve. He noted that he's 'not the biggest fan of the tech companies,' which he again accused them of interfering in his election.
Yet, he said, their regulation should be up to the United States, and not foreign countries like France. "I don't like what France did. They put a digital tax on our tech companies," he said. "Those are great American companies, and frankly, I don't want France going out and taxing our companies, very unfair." He cautioned French President Emmanuel Macron against moving ahead with the action that could spark a protracted trade war with the United States. It is understood the two world leaders will have an unscheduled lunch together Saturday. "If they do that, we'll be taxing their wine, or doing something else. We'll be taxing their wine, like they've never seen before," Trump promised. Whether he meant for the earlier jab about his 'friends' in the global community to land on Macron or another leader he'll be seeing like German Chancellor Angela Merkel was unclear.
TAIPEI, August 24 -- A US Navy ship passed through the Taiwan Strait on Friday, only three days after the US government approved an US$8 billion arms sale to the island’s military.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said in a statement that the transport landing ship sailed through the Taiwan Strait in a south-to-north direction, adding that the military has been keeping close watch on the situation so the Taiwanese public should rest assured. The passage of a US Navy vessel through the strait was the seventh of this year, and the first since the US government officially notified Congress on Tuesday of the proposed sale of the F16 fighter jets to Taiwan. That move added to already tense relations between Beijing and Washington and Beijing threatened to take “all necessary measures” to safeguard its interests, including sanctioning the US companies involved in the arms sale. Taiwan’s air force hopes to receive the 66 advanced variants of the F-16 Fighting Falcon multi role fighter by 2026. It is expected to use them to replace its ageing fleet of F-5E fighters at a base in Taitung county, eastern Taiwan. The F-16 is one of the mainstay fighters of the air force, the others being the Indigenous Defence Fighter, or IDF, and the Mirage 2000. Taiwan already has a fleet of F-16s, which are undergoing upgrades. The air force took possession of its first four upgraded F-16s in April. The Taichung-based Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation hopes to complete the retrofit programme by 2023.
Since 2008, US administrations have notified Congress of more than US$24 billion in foreign military sales to Taiwan, including the sale of M1A2 tanks and Stinger missiles valued at US$2.2 billion in the past two months. To date, the Trump administration alone has notified Congress of US$4.4 billion in arms sales to Taiwan. Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since the end of the civil war in 1949. Beijing, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province, insists the self-rule island must eventually be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary.
HONG KONG, August 24 -- Hong Kong kicks off its 12th straight weekend of anti-government protests with an approved march in Kwun Tong.
It is taking a tense turn as demonstrators again resort to blocking roads, while earlier, residents engaged MTR staff in a stand-off over suspended train services. More than a thousand people showed up in the industrial district, calling for the full withdrawal of the now-shelved extradition bill and demanding an explanation over a plan to set up "smart lamp posts" along roads. The devices measure traffic conditions, weather and other data, but critics say they infringe upon privacy. The march follows a plan in the morning to cripple transport links to the airport, but that protest action failed to take off because of low numbers. The Kwun Tong procession will head from Tsun Yip Street to Zero Carbon Building in Kowloon Bay, and marks the latest in nearly three months of demonstrations that have rocked the city. The political crisis was sparked by the hated extradition bill, which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no such agreement, including mainland China.
BEIJING, August 24 -- China said Friday that it will impose further tariffs on U.S. imports worth around $75 billion, in retaliation for planned tariff hikes on Chinese products by Washington.
The Commerce Ministry said it will impose additional tariffs of 5 percent or 10 percent on a total of 5,078 products of U.S. goods, some of which would take effect on Sept. 1 and the rest on Dec. 15. China will also resume imposing additional tariffs of 25 percent and 5 percent on U.S.-made vehicles and auto parts starting from Dec. 15, the Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council announced. The announcement comes as U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged that Washington will impose 10 percent tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, effective on those two dates, in a move that would see nearly all imports from Asia's biggest economy taxed. The U.S. decision "has greatly hurt interests" of China, the United States and other countries and "has seriously threatened the multilateral trade system and the free trade system," Beijing said, adding, "China is forced to take reciprocal measures." "We hope China and the United States will resolve differences in a manner acceptable to both sides on the premise of mutual respect, equality, good faith, and consistency of words and deeds," the Customs Tariff Commission said in a statement.
The Trump administration has so far imposed 25 percent levies on a total of $250 billion of Chinese imports in an effort to reduce the chronic U.S. trade deficit with China, as well as to address alleged intellectual property and technology theft by Chinese companies. On Aug. 13, it delayed imposing a 10 percent tariff on laptop computers, cellphones, video game consoles and other "certain articles" imported from China to Dec. 15 from Sept. 1 as planned. The announcement drew some relief from retailers and other businesses concerned that the new levies, which in combination with current ones would have meant tariffs on nearly all Chinese imports, could have dampened consumption especially around the holiday shopping season.
SEOUL, August 24 -- North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on Saturday morning, the Japanese government said, with the launch coming a day after Seoul informed Tokyo of its decision to scrap a bilateral military intelligence-sharing pact.
South Korea's military said North Korea fired what were believed to be short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its eastern coast from Sondok in South Hamgyong Province in Pyongyang's seventh round of such launches since July 25. The missiles, fired at 6:45 a.m. and 7:02 a.m., flew about 380 kilometers at a top speed of Mach 6.5 and reached a maximum altitude of about 97 km, Yonhap News Agency quoted the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying. The missiles were unlikely to have landed in Japan's territory or exclusive economic zone, according to the Japanese government. The country's Defense Ministry said the two missiles flew some 350 km and 400 km, respectively. Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya criticized the launches as "a clear violation" of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from testing such missiles. Tokyo has already lodged a stern protest against North Korea over the missile firings, Japan's parliamentary vice foreign minister Kiyoto Tsuji told ruling party lawmakers Saturday. However, U.S. President Donald Trump downplayed the latest launches, saying Washington and Pyongyang have a really good relationship and that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been "pretty straight with me."
BANGKOK, August 23 -- It was an encouraging talk with the Prime Minister of Thailand about the case of the Dutch coffee shop owner Johan van Laarhoven.
Minister of Justice Ferd Grapperhaus said after the consultation. "Thailand is open to a solution in the case," said the minister. Grapperhaus spoke for 45 minutes with the Prime Minister of Thailand about the Van Laarhoven case. In Thailand, he was sentenced to decades in prison for money laundering. The minister says that the justice ministries of both countries are going to work on a solution. "That solution must fit within the framework of the Thai legal system," says Grapperhaus. "A solution will not last for years and hopefully not even a matter of months." Next Tuesday there will be the final decision in the appeal case.
One hundred imprisonment
Dutch prosecution department asked Thailand in 2014 for help with a criminal investigation into the coffee shop owner, which he had established in the Netherlands. The Thai public prosecutor then prosecuted Van Laarhoven and his wife Mingkwan Kaenin. Van Laarhoven was sentenced for hundred year imprisonment and his wife for twelve years. In April, the House of Representatives urged Grapperhaus to work to get Van Laarhoven back to the Netherlands, following a firm judgment from the National Dutch Ombudsman.
HONG KONG, August 23 -- Hong Kong’s protest movement began as opposition to a now-suspended extradition bill but evolved into a direct challenge to the city’s government and calls for full democracy.
Beyond their immediate demands, many young protesters, express fears for the future - anxiety that reflects broader uncertainty over China’s promise to Britain to maintain the freewheeling city’s way of life for 50 years. That 50-year period runs out in 2047.
WHY THE FEAR?
The fears are twofold. Firstly, many Hong Kong people have watched what they see as Beijing’s tightening grip on their city, from the detention of booksellers by mainland security agents to the expulsion of a foreign journalist, the jailing of young activists, sweeping legal interpretations by Beijing on city matters, and curbs on electoral freedom. Many say the extradition bill - which would have put Hong Kong people at the mercy of China’s Communist Party-controlled courts - was merely the latest in a string of erosion's. But their fears also reflect uncertainty over Hong Kong’s future that is written into the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that has guided Hong Kong’s relations with Beijing since the handover from British rule in 1997. The document enshrines rights and freedoms - including freedom of speech, assembly and an independent judiciary - inherent in the “one country, two systems” formula that underpinned agreement between Beijing and London. Those freedoms remain far greater than those that exist on the mainland, where the Communist Party ultimately controls many aspects of society, including the media and the courts.
Article 5 of the Basic Law states that China’s “socialist system and policies” shall not be practised in Hong Kong and “the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years”. Just as British colonial Hong Kong was famously described by the Eurasian writer Han Suyin as existing on “borrowed time in a borrowed place”, the clock to 2047 is ticking.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER 2047?
No one knows. Talking to officials, scholars, business people and protesters, there is uncertainty about the broad principles and the impact on specifics, such as property leases and the judiciary. Some believe much will depend on how Beijing views the city at the time, and what political changes unfold across China over the next 28 years. “Of course, it’s vague but it is clear that after 50 years mainland policy can change. They don’t have to change but they can change,” said Simon Young, a professor at the University of Hong Kong Law School. “They would no longer be beholden by Article 5 and the Joint Declaration,” he said, referring to another agreement with Britain. The city’s government has said little on Hong Kong after 2047. Its constitutional affairs bureau said in 2016 the Basic Law had no expiry date. “The country’s sovereignty over Hong Kong will not change 50 years after Hong Kong’s return to the Motherland, nor will the country change its basic policies towards Hong Kong after 50 years,” then bureau undersecretary Ronald Chan said at the time. A bureau spokeswoman affirmed that reply to Reuters this week. “There is no question of the expiry of the Basic Law in 2047 as the PRC (People’s Republic of China) will not change its basic policies to Hong Kong, i.e. one country, two systems.” Despite the protests, Ip Kwok-him, a veteran pro-establishment politician who sits on Hong Kong’s Executive Council, its top policy advisory body, said he believed Beijing still wanted to extend the formula beyond 2047. “In my interactions with China’s leaders, I could sense this position,” said Ip, who is also a delegate to China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress. The central government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office did not respond to questions from Reuters on the issue. Many in Hong Kong remain far more skeptical, fearing that Hong Kong will be absorbed into China’s system and its freedoms, already under threat, will evaporate.
WHAT IMPACT ON THE PROTESTS?
As protests enter their 12th week, it is clear the question of 2047 is becoming more pertinent. Young protesters’ increasing focus on issues like democratic reform - promised in the Basic Law - highlights a desire to protect Hong Kong’s freedoms in the years ahead. As thousands of activists shut down Hong Kong’s airport last week, a sign hung above them in the arrivals’ hall: “Let the future be created”.
HANOI, August 23 -- New allies Vietnam and Australia expressed concern on Friday about China’s activities in the South China Sea, where Vietnamese and Chinese vessels are locked in a tense stand-off in Vietnamese-controlled waters.
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc discussed the rising tensions with his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, during the first visit by an Australian prime minister to Hanoi since the countries formalised their “strategic partnership” earlier this year. New allies Vietnam and Australia expressed concern on Friday about China’s activities in the South China Sea, where Vietnamese and Chinese vessels are locked in a tense stand-off in Vietnamese-controlled waters. “We are deeply concerned about the recent complicated developments in the East Sea and agree to cooperate in maintaining peace, stability, security, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight,” said Phuc alongside Morrison at a joint press conference, using the Vietnamese name for the South China Sea. The comments were Phuc’s first on the stand-off. A Chinese vessel, the Haiyang Dizhi 8, continued to survey Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on Friday under escort from at least seven Chinese vessels, according to data from Marine Traffic, a website that tracks vessel movements. At least two Vietnamese navy ships, including the Russian-built Quang Trung frigate, have been closely shadowing the Chinese vessels, according to the data.
The United States said on Thursday it was deeply concerned about China’s interference in oil and gas activities in waters claimed by Vietnam, and that the deployment of the vessels was “an escalation by Beijing in its efforts to intimidate other claimants out of developing resources in the South China Sea.” Australian Prime Minister Morrison said the principles of international law should be upheld in the region. “Principles like freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, to ensure nations can pursue the development opportunities which exist within their EEZ and sea boundaries, and can go about that business in a way which is uninhibited,” said Morrison, who began a three-day visit to Hanoi on Thursday.
WASHINGTON, August 23 -- President of Eurasia Group Ian Bremmer said that this is not the first time US President Donald Trump has brought up the idea of reinstating the G8 format with Russia's participation.
There is no possibility of the G8 with Russia's participation being reinstated, president and founder of Eurasia Group Ian Bremmer said on Thursday. He was commenting on recent statements by US President Donald Trump on the need to reinstate the G8 format with Russia's participation. "It's not the first time that [US President Donald] Trump has brought this up actually. He mentioned it during the Canada-hosted G7 as well," Bremmer said. "But the reason for Russia's removal wasn't [former US President Barack] Obama being 'outsmarted' by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, but the response to the annexation of Crimea, which the G7 countries considered, and still consider, illegal. There is no possibility of the G8 being reinstated," he added. "As you may have heard, French President Emmanuel Macron has decided not to even attempt a communique at the end of the summit that will be held on August 24-26 in France's Biarritz - the first time that's happened since the meetings started in 1975. It's a G-zero world," Bremmer noted.
The Group of Seven (G7) is an association of industrialized countries that brings together the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Canada, the United States, France and Japan. In 1997, it was renamed the Group of Eight (G8) after Russia joined the association. In 2014, Western countries decided to return to the G7 format after the developments in Ukraine and deterioration of relations with Russia.
BEIJING, August 21 -- Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday asked Japan and South Korea to seek a solution to resolve their differences "through dialogue," amid concern that worsening relations between Tokyo and Seoul may threaten regional economic stability down the road.
Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono also called on Beijing and Seoul to bolster trilateral cooperation even when respective bilateral ties sour, but his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung Wha lambasted Tokyo's moves to tighten export controls against her country.
"While maintaining a constructive attitude, it is important (for Japan and South Korea) to find out an appropriate solution through dialogue," Wang said at the outset of a foreign ministerial gathering of the three nations in Beijing.
Kono said, "Two countries sometimes face various difficulties respectively, but even under such circumstances, Japan, China and South Korea should work together trilaterally." A Japanese government official briefing reporters later in the day quoted Kono as telling Wang and Kang that the foreign ministers "should refrain" from raising issues related to bilateral relations during the trilateral meeting.
Kang, however, told Kono and Wang that South Korea hopes that the three nations will stick to "free and fair" trade for prosperity in the region in an apparent jab at Japan, underscoring that strains between Tokyo and Seoul are unlikely to wane soon.
She also said at a joint press appearance following the talks, "It is important to eliminate unilateral and arbitrary trade retaliatory steps and remove uncertainties" in East Asia. Kang did not single out Japan.
The Japanese official said Wang did not make comments aimed at mediating in the row between Tokyo and Seoul.
Recently, Japan-South Korea ties have plunged to the lowest point since normalization in 1965 over Japanese imposition of export control measures in the wake of a string of South Korean court rulings last year ordering compensation for wartime labor.
At a three-way meeting in Bangkok earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged his Japanese and South Korean counterparts to make efforts to ease their confrontation, but no resolution has been in sight.
Although Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul agreed Wednesday to accelerate negotiations to reach regional free trade agreements, Japan-South Korea trade spats would make it more difficult for them to be realized, foreign affairs experts say.