Senior Chinese envoy in N. Korea amid chill in ties

Chinese envoy Song Tao, left, is greeted by North Korean high official, Ri Chang Gun, after arriving with his delegation, Friday in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2017
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Senior Chinese envoy in N. Korea amid chill in ties

PYONGYANG: The highest-level Chinese envoy to North Korea in two years arrived in the country’s capital on Friday to try to improve relations that have soured over Beijing’s tightening of sanctions and expressions of support for US President Donald Trump’s calls for more pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Song Tao’s official mission is to brief North Korean officials on the outcome of China’s ruling Communist Party congress held last month. He is visiting as President Xi Jinping’s special envoy, according to Chinese and North Korean state media, but no other details about his itinerary or whether he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have been announced.
After arriving, Song met with Choe Ryong Hae, a vice chairman of the ruling party and one of the most senior leaders after Kim.
The visit is seen as an effort by Xi to explore a new approach in relations and likely also reflects Xi’s desire to head off further pressure from Washington.
China’s relations with North Korea have deteriorated under Kim, who has ignored Beijing’s calls to end the North’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests and return to disarmament talks.
North Korea staged its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3, detonating what it said was a hydrogen bomb, and most recently launched a ballistic missile on Sept. 15, firing it over the Japanese island of Hokkaido into the Pacific Ocean.
China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, says its influence with Kim’s government is often exaggerated by the US and others. Beijing is opposed to measures that could bring down Kim’s regime and lead to a refugee crisis along its border, and while enforcing harsh new UN sanctions targeting North Korea’s sources of foreign currency it has called for steps to renew dialogue.
The visit comes as Joseph Yun, the US envoy for North Korea, met Friday with his South Korean counterpart, Lee Do-hoon, on the resort island of Jeju in South Korea.
“China, of course, has a big role to play on Northeast Asia security issues,” Yun was quoted by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency as saying, adding that he hopes China “regards the denuclearization as a critical goal. We do hope that special envoy will forward that goal.”
Song’s visit to North Korea also comes as China and South Korea are repairing their relations that soured over Seoul’s deployment of a US anti-missile system.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is to visit China next month for talks with Xi.
Song is the first ministerial-level Chinese official to visit North Korea since October 2015, when Politburo Standing Committee member Liu Yunshan delivered a letter to Kim from Xi expressing hopes for a strong relationship, although the respite in frosty ties proved short-lived. Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin visited Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, in October last year.
Song heads the Communist Party’s International Department.


North Korea, Eritrea have world’s highest rates of modern slavery — report

More than 40 million people were enslaved around the world as of 2016. (Shutterstock)
Updated 38 min 24 sec ago
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North Korea, Eritrea have world’s highest rates of modern slavery — report

  • China, Pakistan, North Korea and Nigeria rounded out the top five nations with the largest number of slaves
  • Two years ago, the index showed 18.3 million people living in modern slavery in India

NEW YORK: North Korea and Eritrea have the world’s highest rates of modern slavery, said a global survey on Thursday that highlighted how conflict and government repression are the main drivers of a crime estimated to affect more than 40 million people worldwide.
The Central African nation of Burundi also has a high prevalence of slavery, according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index published by the human rights group Walk Free Foundation.
“Each of these three countries has state-sponsored forced labor, where their government puts its own people to work for its own benefit,” said Fiona David, research chair of Minderoo Foundation, which led the data collection.
More than 40 million people were enslaved around the world as of 2016, according to an estimate by the Walk Free Foundation and the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO).
India was home to the largest total number with an estimated 8 million slaves among its 1.3 billion population, according to Walk Free’s 2018 calculation.
Two years ago, the index showed 18.3 million people living in modern slavery in India. The difference is due to changes in methodology, Walk Free said, reflecting ways of counting people enslaved on any given day or over a longer time period.
China, Pakistan, North Korea and Nigeria rounded out the top five nations with the largest number of slaves, accounting for about 60 percent of victims globally, according to Walk Free.
But North Korea had the highest percentage of its population enslaved, with one in 10 people are in modern slavery and “the clear majority forced to work by the state,” the index said.
Researchers interviewed 50 North Korean defectors who spoke of long hours and inhumane conditions in forced unpaid labor for adults and children in farming, construction and roadbuilding.
“This index makes us visible,” said Yeon-Mi Park, a defector who spoke at a news conference at United Nations headquarters.
“These people simply were born in the wrong place, and that’s what they are being punished for,” she said, describing being trafficked into China where she was sold as a child bride.
Another defector Jang Jin-Sung said North Koreans do not consider themselves slaves.
“They’ve been indoctrinated all their lives to think that whatever they do for the state is a good thing,” he said.
In Eritrea, the report said the government is “a repressive regime that abuses its conscription system to hold its citizens in forced labor for decades.”
Burundi’s government also imposes forced labor, Walk Free said, while rights groups including Human Rights Watch have implicated its security forces in murders and disappearances.
Other countries with the highest rates of slavery were the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Pakistan.
“Most of these countries are marked by conflict, with breakdowns in rule of law, displacement and a lack of physical security,” the report said.
With more than nine million people living in slavery — nearly eight in every 1,000 people — Africa had the highest rate of enslavement of any region, according to the report.
The researchers also warned that consumers in affluent countries may be purchasing billions of dollars worth of products manufactured with slave labor, including computers, mobile phones and clothing.
“Modern slavery is a first-world problem,” said Andrew Forrest, a co-founder of Australia-based Walk Free. “We are the consumers. We can fix it,” he added.
Slavery is likely more widespread than the research suggests, activists and experts say. The report noted gaps in data from Arab states, as well as a lack of information on organ trafficking and the recruitment of children by armed groups.