Top US officials arrive in Seoul with China, North Korea on agenda

Top US officials arrive in Seoul with China, North Korea on agenda
US Secretary of State Blinken has accused Beijing of acting more repressively at home and ‘more aggressively abroad.’ (AFP)
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Updated 17 March 2021

Top US officials arrive in Seoul with China, North Korea on agenda

Top US officials arrive in Seoul with China, North Korea on agenda
  • Biden administration focused on rallying alliances with its key Asian partners to counter a rising China

SEOUL: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin arrived in Seoul on Wednesday with top US diplomat Antony Blinken following for talks with South Korean officials to bolster a united front against an increasingly assertive China and the nuclear-armed North.
The South is the second leg of their inaugural overseas trip, and like their first stop, Japan, a leading security ally of the United States.
The Biden administration is focused on rallying alliances with its key Asian partners to counter a rising China.
Before leaving Tokyo, Secretary of State Blinken accused Beijing of acting more repressively at home and “more aggressively abroad,” citing its activities in the East and South China Seas and toward Taiwan.
“It’s important for us to make clear together that China cannot expect to act with impunity,” Blinken said.
North Korea is likely to move up the agenda in the South, where the US stations 28,500 troops to defend it against its neighbor.
The allies kicked off joint military exercises last week and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s influential sister warned Washington this week against “causing a stink at its first step” if it wants to “sleep in peace for coming four years.”
The statement by Kim Yo Jong, a key adviser to her brother, was the reclusive state’s first explicit reference to the new leadership in Washington, more than four months after Joe Biden was elected to replace Donald Trump – although it still did not mention the 78-year-old Democrat by name.
The US envoys will meet on Thursday with President Moon Jae-in, who brokered the talks process between Kim and Trump in 2018.
Trump’s unorthodox approach to foreign policy saw him trade insults and threats of war with Kim Jong Un before an extraordinary diplomatic bromance that saw a series of headline-grabbing meetings.
But ultimately no progress was made toward Washington’s declared aim of denuclearizing North Korea, with a second summit in Hanoi in early 2019 breaking up without an agreement and Pyongyang still under multiple international sanctions for its banned weapons programs.
Blinken and Austin will consult on a review of Washington’s policy toward the North being carried out by the new administration.
But they have already called during their trip for “the complete denuclearization of North Korea.”
The phrase is anathema to Pyongyang, which prefers the broader and more ambiguous “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” which could be taken to include the US nuclear umbrella over the South.
Since Hanoi, Moon’s administration has repeatedly tried to reach out to Pyongyang but has been regularly rebuffed.


Hong Kong court grants bail to activist charged under security law

Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
Updated 48 min 53 sec ago

Hong Kong court grants bail to activist charged under security law

Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial. (File/AFP)
  • Hong Kong court approves bail for 24 year-old pro-democracy activist who has been jailed for four months.

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s High Court on Tuesday approved bail for a pro-democracy activist who is among 47 charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on its freest city last year, the city’s public broadcaster RTHK reported.
Owen Chow, 24, who has been in jail for nearly four months, was ordered to pay HK$50,000 and follow a list of bail conditions, including not threatening national security, reporting to police every day and surrendering all travel documents, according to RTHK.
Chow was the 12th activist in the case who was given bail while awaiting trial.
Foreign diplomats and rights groups are closely watching proceedings as concerns rise over the vanishing space for dissent in the former British colony, which has taken a rapid authoritarian turn since the law was imposed in June 2020.
The case offers insight into how the security law drafted by Beijing clashes with Hong Kong’s common-law traditions and could see activists held in custody for months until their trial begins.
In contrast with past practice, the new law puts onus on defendants in the global financial hub to prove they will not pose a security threat if released on bail.
Wong and the other charged activists are accused of organizing and participating in an unofficial, non-binding primary poll in July 2020 that authorities said was part of a “vicious plot” to “overthrow” the government.


Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination
Updated 22 June 2021

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination

Philippine president threatens to arrest Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination
  • President Rodrigo Duterte is known for his public outbursts and brash rhetoric
  • The Philippines is a COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases

MANILA: The Philippine president has threatened to order the arrest of Filipinos who refuse COVID-19 vaccination and told them to leave the country if they would not cooperate with the efforts to contain the pandemic.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who is known for his public outbursts and brash rhetoric, said in televised remarks Monday night that he has become exasperated with people who refuse to get immunized then help spread the coronavirus.
“Don’t get me wrong. There is a crisis being faced in this country. There is a national emergency. If you don’t want to get vaccinated, I’ll have you arrested and I’ll inject the vaccine in your butt,” Duterte said.
“If you will not agree to be vaccinated, leave the Philippines. Go to India if you want or somewhere, to America,” he said, adding he would order village leaders to compile a list of defiant residents.
A human rights lawyer, Edre Olalia, raised concerns over Duterte’s threat, saying the president could not order the arrest of anybody who has not clearly committed any crime.
Duterte and his administration have faced criticism over a vaccination campaign saddled with supply problems and public hesitancy. After repeated delays, vaccinations started in March.
Duterte blamed the problems on wealthy Western countries cornering vaccines for their own citizens, leaving poorer countries like the Philippines behind.
The Philippines is a COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, with more than 1.3 million cases and at least 23,749 deaths.


Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid

Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid
Updated 22 June 2021

Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid

Singaporean woman jailed 30 years for torturing, killing maid
  • Abuse inflicted on Myanmar national Piang Ngaih Don was particularly awful and captured on CCTV installed in the family’s home

SINGAPORE: A Singaporean woman who starved, assaulted and ultimately killed her domestic worker was sentenced to 30 years in prison Tuesday, with the judge describing the case as “among the worst types of culpable homicide.”
The affluent city-state is home to about 250,000 domestic workers who mostly come from poorer Asian countries, and stories of mistreatment are common.
But the abuse inflicted on Myanmar national Piang Ngaih Don, 24, was particularly awful and captured on CCTV installed in the family’s home. The domestic worker was stamped on, strangled, choked, battered with brooms and burnt with an iron, according to court documents.
The domestic worker died in July 2016, after her employer, Gaiyathiri Murugayan, repeatedly assaulted her over several hours.
Gaiyathiri, 41, pleaded guilty in February to 28 charges including culpable homicide. Another 87 charges were taken into account in sentencing.
She appeared in court on Tuesday wearing glasses and a black mask, and sat silently with her eyes closed and head bowed as the judge read his decision.
After hearing an additional plea of mitigation submitted by Gaiyathiri in a bid to avoid the life sentence sought by the prosecution, Justice See Kee Oon sentenced her to 30 years in prison starting from the date of her arrest in 2016.
See cited the “abject cruelty of the accused’s appalling conduct” in his sentencing, which he added must signal “societal outrage and abhorrence” at the crime.
But taking into account the defendant’s obsessive compulsive disorder and the depression she developed around the time she gave birth, See said he did not think that life imprisonment was “fair and appropriate.”
The prosecution had sought a reduced charge of culpable homicide rather than murder — punishable with the death penalty in Singapore — after taking into account her mental health.
The maid was employed by Gaiyathiri and her husband, a police officer, in 2015 to help take care of their four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son.
But Gaiyathiri physically assaulted the victim almost daily, often several times a day, with her 61-year-old mother sometimes joining in, according to court documents.
The domestic worker, who had been employed by the family for over a year at the time of her death, was only allowed to sleep for five hours a night, and was forced to shower and relieve herself with the door open.
Provided very little food, she lost about 38 percent of her body weight during her employment, and only weighed 24 kilograms at the time of her death.
Gaiyathiri’s lawyer Joseph Chen had asked for a sentence of eight to nine years, arguing that a “combination of stresses” had turned the struggling mother into an abuser.
He argued that a harsh sentence would deter mothers in a similar situation from asking for help — an argument that the prosecution called “disingenuous.”


Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses

Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses
Updated 22 June 2021

Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses

Hong Kong leader says US ‘beautifying’ security offenses
  • Carrie Lam took particular aim at comments made by US State Department spokesman Ned Price

HONG KONG: Foreign governments are “beautifying” acts that endanger national security in Hong Kong when they criticize the recent crackdown on a pro-democracy newspaper, the leader of the semiautonomous Chinese territory said Tuesday.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s comments come as some countries including the US condemn the arrest of editors and executives at Apple Daily and the freezing of its assets as the latest examples of eroding freedoms in the former British colony.
Those arrested at the newspaper have been accused of breaching sweeping security legislation imposed by Beijing last year by colluding with foreign countries to endanger national security.
“Don’t try to underplay the significance of breaching the National Security Law, and don’t try to beautify these acts of endangering national security, which the foreign governments have taken so much to their heart,” Lam said.
Lam took particular aim at comments made by US State Department spokesman Ned Price saying Hong Kong authorities were using the law to suppress the media and silence dissent. Price said that “exchanging views with foreigners in journalism should never be a crime.”
“What we are talking about is not exchanging views between foreigners and journalists,” Lam said. “It is violating the law as defined in the National Security Law and based on very clear evidence which will bring the case to court.”
In a police operation last week, authorities arrested five Apple Daily editors and executives and froze $2.3 million worth of assets of three companies linked to the paper. Apple Daily has said that if some of its funds are not released by Friday, the paper may cease operations this weekend.
The newspaper and its executives were vocal supporters of the pro-democracy protests that roiled Hong Kong for months in 2019. The protests were sparked by concerns that Hong Kong was losing the freedoms that Beijing promised it could maintain when it was handed from British to Chinese control in 1997.


Japan’s Motegi considers visit to Palestinian territories and Israel in August

Japan’s Motegi considers visit to Palestinian territories and Israel in August
Updated 22 June 2021

Japan’s Motegi considers visit to Palestinian territories and Israel in August

Japan’s Motegi considers visit to Palestinian territories and Israel in August
  • Motegi will meet with Palestinian Authority leaders in the West Bank, but he is not planning to visit Gaza

TOKYO: Japan’s Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu is considering visiting the Palestinian territories and Israel in August to help cement the ceasefire agreement in the region and encourage parties there to engage in fruitful talks. 

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported that Motegi will urge both sides in the conflict – Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli government – to abide by the ceasefire agreement and work to ease tension. Motegi is also expected to offer reconstruction assistance to the Palestinians affected by the Israeli air strikes.

Diplomatic sources in Tokyo told Arab News Japan the tour might also include Egypt, Qatar and Jordan. They said Motegi will meet with Palestinian Authority leaders in the West Bank, but he is not planning to visit Gaza. Motegi visited Saudi Arabia and Kuwait last year.

Former Japanese foreign minister Kono Taro visited Israel and Palestine in December 2017.