Vietnam

Vietnam: 'free trade' advances; free speech retreats

The European Council announced June 19 that it has approved the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the EU-Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement (EVIPA), both to be formally signed this week in Hanoi. EVFTA and EVIPA are hailed as the most ambitious agreements concluded between the EU and a developing country. Under EVFTA, upwards of 99% of tariffs on goods from both sides will be lifted. (Asia News Network, June 26) The deals were approved just two weeks after a Vietnamese environmental activist was sentenced to six years in prison for "anti-state" Facebook posts. Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a shrimp farming engineer, is accused of writing posts that urged people to take part in peaceful protests in June over corporate pollution. The posts especially noted the Formosa Plastics disaster in 2016, in which a Taiwanese-owned steel plant dumped toxic waste into the ocean off the coast of central Vietnam, killing millions of fish. Vietnam's government has accused Facebook of violating a draconian new cybersecurity law that came into effect in January by allowing the posts. (The Guardian, June 7)

Did John McCain meet with jihadists in Syria?

Upon his death, many are reviving the discredited claim that John McCain met with ISIS on his Syria trip in 2013. But some are settling for the less ambitious, and perhaps plausible, claim that he met with jihadists who were implicated in atrocities. E.g. the always annoying Ben Norton tweets: "John McCain was a staunch supporter of the CIA-backed, al-Qaeda-linked Salafi extremist opposition in Syria. In fact the late senator posed in a photo with a rebel who was involved in kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shia civilians." He links to a May 10, 2013 Reuters story which cites an undated article in Lebanon's Daily Star (apparently not translated into English) claiming that McCain was photographed in Syria with a rebel "implicated in" the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims the previous year. The man in question was apparently one  Mohammad Nour—"identified by two freed hostages as the chief spokesman and photographer for the Northern Storm brigade that kidnapped them."

North Korea political prisoners betrayed at summit

In the prelude to the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, Robert Park, himself a survivor of Kim Jong-un's prisons, called in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post for an amnesty for North Korea's tens of thousands of political prisoners to be a condition of any peace deal. He recalled a 2014 UN report (PDF) finding that up to 120,000 were being held in camps in North Korea, and subjected to "unspeakable atrocities and hardships." Most are held in life-imprisonment slave labor complexes called "absolute control zones" (wanjeontongjekyooyeok or kwanliso). The report found that these prisoners "have no prospect of securing release [and] are subject to gradual extermination through starvation and slave labour…with the apparent intent to extract a maximum of economic benefit at a minimum of cost." Park quoted Thomas Buergenthal, a survivor of both Auschwitz and Sachsenhausen who served as a judge at the International Court of Justice, who said: "I believe that the conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps..."

Brink looms closer in East Asia maritime theaters

A new report published by the US-based Project 2049 Institute says that it is "a matter of time" before the People’s Republic of China launches a "short, sharp war" to take the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea—claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands, but currently controlled by Japan. The report is entitled "White Warships and Little Blue Men" (PDF)—a reference to China's Coast Guard and Maritime Militia, both of which have seen a dramatic build-up in the past decade, along with the rapid modernization and expansion of the naval forces of the People's Liberation Army. We are not sure we share the assessment that the conflict will be "limited yet decisive," in the paraphrase of Epoch Times...

Trump admin sued over termination of TPS

The ACLU of Southern California on March 12 filed a lawsuit (PDF) in federal court on behalf of several immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and citizens whose parents have TPS, challenging the Trump administration's revocation of the status for over 200,000 people. The Trump administration has terminated TPS for all people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan. The suit contends that the Trump administration's interpretation of the TPS statute is unconstitutional as it interferes with the right of school-aged citizen children of TPS beneficiaries to reside in the country. The young citizens would have to choose whether to leave the country or to remain without their parents.

Chileans protest signing of rebooted TPP

Chilean activists protested in Santiago March 7 against the signing of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, now rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or TPP-11. Protesters outside La Moneda Palace, headquarters of the Chilean government, held banners reading "No to modern slavery, no to the TPP-11" and "The TPP and TPP-11 are the same!" Lucía Sepúlveda, leader of the organization Chile Mejor Sin TPP, said the agreement would "deliver full guarantees to foreign investors" at the expense of "rights and national interests."

Peru and Australia sign free trade pact

Peru and Australia signed a free trade pact Nov. 10 that does away with 99% of tariffs on imported goods from Australia, while securing Peruvian exports greater access to Australian markets. The Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement (PAFTA) was signed in Danang, Vietnam, at the 25th summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) announced the deal on Twitter, boasting that the agreement will boost employment and attract investment. Speaking at the APEC summit, PPK reiterated his support for free trade and warned about the dangers of protectionism.

Hague tribunal rules in flashpoint South China Sea

The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague ruled (PDF) in favor of the Philippines on July 12 in its dispute with China over most of the South China Sea. Manila brought the case in 2013 disputing Beijing's territorial claims, a move China decried as "unilateral." The PCA concluded that China does not have the right to resources within its "nine-dash line," an area covering nearly the entire 3.5 million square-kilometer Sea—believed to be rich in oil and minerals. The tribunal found that none of the disputed Spratly Islands are "capable of generating extended maritime zones." Therefore, the tribunal wrote that it could "declare that certain sea areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China."  China entirely denies the PCA's jurisdiction in the matter, and rejected the ruling.

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