China is becoming an election issue in Asia. And that's bad news for Beijing

Hong Kong Two years ago, Indonesian President Joko Widodo -- also known as Jokowi -- stood shoulder to shoulder with Xi Jinping for a group photo to celebrate the Chinese leader's Belt and Road project. 

Yet now, as Jokowi seeks re-election, he appears to be distancing himself from Beijing and downplaying the importance of Chinese-funded projects in Indonesia.
It's a pattern emerging across southeast Asia and beyond, and one that will be of great concern for Beijing as Chinese investment and ties become an awkward -- if not downright toxic -- election issue. 
The growing skepticism over Xi's signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) risks exacerbating existing tensions many countries in the region have with Beijing over territorial disputes, as both China and the US continue to jockey for power amid a drawn-out trade war.


Saudi Crown Prince arrives in India

India and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday exchanged memorandums of understanding (MoUs) after talks by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

MoUs on tourism, cooperation in the field of housing, International Solar Alliance among others were exchanged between the two countries.

On his first state visit to the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomed the Saudi Crown Prince saying that Saudi Arabia was India’s “close friend”.

India and Saudi Arabia have a longstanding relationship, PM Modi said adding that in the 21st century, Saudi Arabia was among India’s most important strategic partners.

The Prime Minister, in a joint press conference with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also welcomed Saudi investment in Indian infrastructure.

In a major development, Saudi Arabia also joined the International Solar Alliance, informed PM Modi adding that the two leaders also discussed how to further strengthen the defence cooperation between the two nations.

“We have agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the areas of renewable energy. We welcome Saudi Arabia to the International Solar Alliance. The peaceful use of nuclear energy, especially water desalination and health, will be another dimension of our cooperation,” PM Modi said.

Speaking on the Pulwama terror attack that killed at least 44 CRPF personnel, the Prime Minister said the two leaders agreed on the need to destroy the infrastructure of terror and clamp down on countries supporting terror.

“We have also vowed to increase pressure on any country that promotes terror activities,” the Prime Minister said.

This comes after Salman’s high-profile tour of Pakistan on January 17 where he said dialogue was the only way to resolve “outstanding issues” between India and Pakistan.

Addressing the joint press conference, Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said his country shares India’s concerns over terror.

“Terrorism is a common concern. We will cooperate with India in every way, like intelligence sharing. India has played a positive role,” he said.

He also thanked the people of India and the Government for the warm welcome.

“The relationship between India and Saudi Arabia is over thousands of years old. It is even older than history, and this relationship has grown stronger in the last 50 years. Our objectives are similar be it in energy, agriculture or technology,” he added.

Salman also called for common planning between the two nations to tackle various issues and said that “Saudi Arabia has invested $44 billion in India”.

Earlier in the day, PM Modi and Salman held delegation-level talks on key areas of mutual interest such as trade and investment, energy, defence and security, nuclear and space, civil aviation, renewables, counter-terrorism, community welfare and regional challenges.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj also met Salman and discussed ways to add further momentum to the strategic ties between the two nations besides deepening engagement in areas of trade and investment.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Saudi Crown Prince was accorded a ceremonial reception at the Rashtrapati Bhawan by President Ram Nath Kovind.

After meeting President Ram Nath Kovind, the Saudi Arabia Crown Prince said, “Today we want to be sure that this relation is maintained and improved for the sake of both countries. With the leadership of the President and the Prime Minister, I am sure we can create good things for Saudi Arabia and India”.

Earlier on Tuesday, in a special gesture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke the protocol to personally receive the Saudi prince and welcomed him with a warm hug at the Palam airport.

External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said that the first state visit of the Saudi Crown Prince marks a “new chapter in bilateral relations between the two countries”.

Salman’s visit comes in the backdrop of the escalating tension between India and Pakistan following the Pulwama terror attack carried out by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terror group in which at least 44 CRPF personnel were killed.

Saudi Arabia had on Friday said it stood with India’s fight against terrorism and extremism and denounced as “cowardly” the attack.

India’s bilateral trade with Saudi Arabia was USD 27.48 billion in 2017-18, making Saudi Arabia its fourth largest trading partner.

Saudi Arabia is also a key pillar of India’s energy security, being a source of 17 per cent or more of crude oil and 32 per cent of LPG requirements of India.

The Crown Prince is expected to travel to China from India.


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International












Jim Rogers, a renowned investor and chairman of Rogers Holdings, plans to visit North Korea next month at the invitation of Chairman Kim Jong-un, according to sources Tuesday.

The Singapore-based investor, who once said he would “put all of my money” in North Korea if he could, received the US government’s approval for the trip with his wife. The billionaire has touted the impoverished country with a gross domestic product per capita of $1,800 as an attractive investment destination for five years, even before the thawing of inter-Korean relations last year.

“Important opportunities are coming in the Korean Peninsula, and North Korea is going to be the most exciting country in the world for the next decade or two,” Rogers said on a South Korean TV show that aired Jan. 23.

Pyongyang’s invitation comes as the North Korean leader is due to meet US President Donald Trump for their second summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, from Feb. 27-28.

Analysts here have raised speculation that the move indicates Pyongyang’s demand for Washington to lift economic sanctions in return for its efforts toward removing the country’s nuclear program.

Following the North’s series of nuclear and missile tests in 2017, the Trump administration has led the drive at the United Nations to impose tough sanctions on the country.

Rogers’ optimism toward the communist state stems from his investment experience in China. “North Korea today is where China was in 1981. North Korea is a copy. He has been opening up the country just as Deng Xiaoping did,” he said on the show.

 

After significant rainfall at the end of January, Lahoris are breathing, quite literally, a sigh of relief having braved the worst of the smog season.

The smog season is now a routine affair in the provincial metropolis, when a thick layer of pollutant envelopes the city from October to January. The episodes of smog in 2016, 2017 and 2018 have come and gone with little being done to fight it.

The general understanding appears to be that unless visibility is low, your eyes are inflamed, you can smell diesel fumes and everyone you know has a cough, you can conclude that the air is clean.

That is, of course not how air quality works, but it appears to be what the government believes, with claims from the Minister of State for Climate Change Zartaj Gul that smog is now under control. The minister has also claimed that smog is a weapon of “unconventional warfare” being employed by India.

Air quality is a relatively new dimension to Pakistan’s deteriorating environment, and the lack of understanding among the public and within the government departments has become a hindrance to any major policy interventions to be successfully implemented.

An example of this is the Pakistan Clean Air Action Plan (PCAP) launched in 2005, incidentally when the current Adviser to the Prime Minister and Federal Minister for Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam was the incumbent Minister of State for Environment. The PCAP never came to fruition, with medium- and long-term objectives incomplete.

The Smog Commission’s recommendations, released in May 2018, appear to be headed for the same fate as Punjab’s Environment Protection Department (EPD) has failed to procurethe required number of air-quality monitors (AQMS) even after two years.


Investor Jim Rogers to visit North Korea next month

The US arrests 'birth tourism' operators linked to China for the first time

Three people were arrested on charges of running "birth tourism" companies that catered to Chinese clients in Southern California Thursday. It is the first time that criminal charges have been filed in a US federal court over the practice, according to Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the US Attorney's Office.

"Birth tourists" travel to foreign countries to give birth, so that their children acquire the citizenship of that country. In the US, the legal principle of jus soli automatically confers citizenship upon babies born on US soil. Other countries, including Switzerland and Japan, do not grant citizenship automatically unless one or more parents are also citizens.
The three people in custody had not given comment at time of publishing. All were charged "conspiracy to commit immigration fraud, international money laundering and identity theft," according to the DOJ statement.

Bangkok schools closed over 'unhealthy' pollution levels

Toxic smog in Bangkok has forced more than 400 schools to close for the rest of the week, to protect children from its harmful effects.

Thailand's capital city is experiencing some of its worst-ever air pollution levels, caused by ultra-fine dust particles known as PM2.5.

Traffic exhaust, construction works, burning crops and pollution from factories are blamed for the haze.

Authorities' efforts to clear the air have so far failed. 

The government has tried seeding rain clouds, reducing traffic, and hosing down streets, with little impact.

Those celebrating the Lunar New Year holidays next week have been asked not to burn incense or light fireworks.

According to The World Air Quality Index project (AQICN), Bangkok's Air Quality Index (AQI) is currently at around 170, making it "unhealthy".

But that still doesn't match New Delhi, which is currently hovering around 390, a "hazardous" level of pollution.


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Taiwan holds military drills to halt invasion amid rising China tensions

Taiwan's military held large-scale drills on its west coast Thursday amid growing tensions between the self-governed island and an increasingly belligerent Beijing.


Aimed at thwarting an amphibious invasion, Taiwan's armed forces dispatched tanks, rocket launchers and combat helicopters to beaches near Taichung for the island's first live-fire drills of the year.
"Our military stands ready to counter any threats ... including those from Communist China," Maj. Gen. Chen Chung-chi, a spokesman for Taiwan's defense ministry, told CNN.


    A political game: Why Thailand's election will be a win for the military

    Bangkok, Thailand  When Thailand officials hinted that scheduled elections to end military rule would be postponed for the fifth time in almost as many years, anger and frustration rippled through the country.

    The hashtag #delaymyass has trended on Thai Twitter in recent weeks, with a series of small but significant protests also taking place -- a poignant show of opposition during a period in which free speech advocates have been prosecuted and face years in prison.
    A small demonstration took place again Saturday.
      Elections slated for February 24 could now be postponed until March 24, according to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who claims the February date would interfere with the new king's coronation ceremony plans.
      The monarchy is revered in Thailand, but activists have accused the ruling military junta of manufacturing the delay.
      "The junta are playing a game," Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, a 21-year-old student activist told CNN. "If the election is a trick on the people, Thais will march and not accept it."
      While public outrage has not reached levels seen before the coup in 2014, violent street protestsbetween rival political factions have been common in recent years. Mass violent confrontations in 2010 paralyzed the capital Bangkok and an ensuing military crackdown killed 90 people and injured more than 2,000.

      Major Japanese convenience store chains to stop selling pornography ahead of Rugby World Cup

      Two of Japan's major convenience store chains will take sexually explicit material off their shelves by the summer, ahead of major sporting events that will see a huge influx of foreign tourists to the country.


      Both 7-Eleven Japan, which operates 20,700 stores across Japan, and Lawson Inc., the third-largest chain in the country with 14,574 outlets, will stop selling pornographic magazines in their stores by August 2019, just a month before the country expects to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors for the Rugby World Cup.
      The tournament kicks off in Tokyo on September 20th. The city will also see a the arrival of a similar number of sport-mad tourists the following year, when it hosts the Olympics for the first time in over half a decade.



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