North Korea Launches 23 Missiles, Crossing Maritime Border with the South

According to the South Korean military, North Korea launched at least 23 missiles to the east and west of the Korean peninsula on Wednesday. It is the highest number of short-range missiles fired by the North in a day, with one missile landing in waters farthest south than ever before.

Many kinds of missiles were fired, including surface-to-air missiles that landed in surrounding waters. A short-range ballistic missile landed near South Korean territorial waters for the first time since the division of Korea in 1948. According to CNN, this is North Korea’s 29th launch this year.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said one missile landed in international waters 104 miles (167 kilometers) northwest of South Korea’s Ulleung island, which is also around 16 miles (26 kilometers) south of the Northern Limit Line. The NLL is a de facto maritime boundary between the two countries, which North Korea does not recognize.

An air raid warning on Ulleung island was sounded, and citizens evacuated to raid shelters. The sirens eventually lifted at 2 p.m. local time on Wednesday. 

The launches came shortly after North Korea’s threats to utilize nuclear weapons and have the U.S. and South Korea “pay the most horrible price in history” if they were to take any action against Pyongyang. The hostile rhetoric is in response to ongoing large-scale South Korean and U. S. military drills.

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South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said North Korea’s missile test was an “effective territorial encroachment” and ordered that “a stern response be swiftly taken so that North Korea’s provocation pays a clear price.”

As a direct response, South Korea launched three air-to-surface missiles from fighter jets into waters north of the NLL at an equal distance to that which the North Korean missile had earlier landed south of the line, according to JCS.

“Our military’s precise strike showed our will to firmly respond to any North Korean provocations including short-range ballistic missiles, and our capability and readiness to precisely target the enemy.”

Japan’s Defense Ministry shared that North Korea also conducted another launch later on Wednesday, including a ballistic missile that fell into waters outside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). 

“North Korea has rapidly escalated its provocations, launching more than a dozen missiles today alone and reportedly firing more than 100 artillery shells into the Japan sea since announcing an extremely provocative statement earlier in the day.”

According to CNN, no damage to aircraft or vessels has been confirmed as of right now.

The international response was swift. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that North Korea is launching missiles at an “unprecedentedly high frequency” and called for a National Security Council meeting to be held. 

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Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong tweeted about the rising tensions in the region.

“North Korea’s unprecedented launch of multiple ballistic missiles is recklessly threatening the security of the Republic of Korea. North Korea’s actions continue to undermine Indo-Pacific stability and violate multiple UNSC resolutions. Pyongyang must cease this action.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield condemned North Korea’s overnight missile launch.

“It’s unprecedented in the sense that there were so many this day, but they have been continuously launching missiles over the past year. And we have continued to condemn them because they break multiple Security Council resolutions.”

The UN’s nuclear watchdog also warned that North Korea could be gearing up for a nuclear test, breaking its five-year hiatus. Satellite imagery showed heightened activity at North Korea’s underground nuclear test site. 

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the agency has acknowledged North Korea’s preparation for a test.

“Everybody is holding its breath about this, because another nuclear test would be yet another confirmation of a program which is moving full steam ahead, in a way that is incredibly, incredibly concerning. Further tests, of course, means that they are refining the preparations and the construction of their arsenal. So we are following this very, very closely. We hope it doesn’t happen, but indications unfortunately go in another direction.”


Brittney Griner’s Nine Year Sentence Upheld by Russian Court

Brittney Griner, an American basketball player currently serving a nine-year sentence in Russia for drug charges, has had her appeal against the sentence dismissed by a Russian court.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist was arrested on Feb. 17 at a Moscow airport when cannabis oil vape cartridges carrying less than a gram of hashish oil were discovered in her luggage. She was convicted in August for “drug smuggling” and was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Officials believe that the lengthy sentence was politically motivated by the collapse of U.S. and Russian relations after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The White House called the legal proceedings a “sham.” Elizabeth Rood, a high-ranking U.S. diplomat who was present at the hearing, also called the penalty “excessive and disproportionate.”

Her case has been referred to the State Department’s office under the label of hostage affairs.

Griner was legally prescribed the oil for pain management by her doctor in the U.S. She apologized for possessing it in her appeal, admitting she had packed the cartridges by accident while rushing to pack her luggage. During the U.S. basketball offseason, she had wanted to travel to Russia to play club basketball.

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In July, shortly before pleading guilty, Griner had written to President Joe Biden expressing her distress and calling for help from the government.

“I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments. I’m terrified I might be here forever. I realize you are dealing with so much, but please don’t forget about me and the other American detainees. Please do all you can to bring us home.”

The state prosecutor arguing against her case called the continuing sentence “fair.” Alexander Boykov, the athlete’s lawyer, stated that “no judge, hand on heart, will honestly say that Griner’s nine-year sentence is in line with Russian criminal law.”

“Brittney is [a] very strong person and has a champion’s character. However, she of course has her highs and lows as she is severely stressed being separated from her loved ones for over eight months.”

Russia and the U.S. have discussed the possibility of a prisoner exchange between the two countries. There is speculation that the White House may offer up Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, also known as the “merchant of death.”

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan issued a statement saying Griner was being “wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances” and reaffirmed that President Biden had demanded her immediate release.

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“President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately. In recent weeks, the Biden-Harris Administration has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring home Brittney as well as to support and advocate for other Americans detained in Russia, including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan. The President has demonstrated that he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home, as his Administration has done successfully from countries around the world. The Administration remains in regular touch with representatives of the families, and we continue to admire their courage in the face of these unimaginable circumstances.”

The sports star spoke to the appeals court remotely from a detention center located in a town near Moscow.

“I really hope that the court will adjust this sentence because it has been very very stressful and very traumatic…I’ve been here almost eight months and people with more severe crimes have been given less than what I was given.”

Though she is still imprisoned, she is grateful for the people working toward her release.

“Thank you everyone for fighting so hard to get me home. All the support and love are definitely helping me.”

US China Trade War

What Will The New Decade Bring For The US – China Trade War?

One of the key issues of 2019 was the conflict between America and China, which seems likely to continue throughout 2020. While President Trump’s “war” against many of the top Chinese technology firms – including Huawei – has made headlines for most of the year, the stories that China has banned a majority of America’s consumer content-based technologies, or that there has been political pressure placed on many western technology giants could easily have been missed. However the new decade looks like there will be further restrictions placed on technology between countries.

One of the major factors has been the “splinternet” that has seen some governments decide which content its citizens can find online. Countries including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia are continuing to filter what is being shown in their countries, however, there are many other countries around the world who appear to be having smaller restrictions on certain areas of content – including specific websites such as news sites, content sharing, communication platforms and the majority of social media.

While content censorship is increasing throughout the world, technology companies have continued their hold over many other countries. For instance, a majority of countries now use a desktop and mobile operating system that is favored by American companies. With travel rates also increasing, this has become a necessity with travelers expecting to step off an airplane in any given country and be able to connect to the internet from their device.

Back in December there was talk that Huawei – frustrated at America’s continuing ban resulting in them being unable to access American technology – is about to start creating their own Android software and services. As the world’s largest manufacturer of telecoms equipment – Huawei already has 42% of the Chinese market as well as over 25% of the Russian market – the likelihood of success seems increased. While other companies have tried to compete against Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android over the last decade, it seems the 20s could be the year of new operating systems.

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Also in December, the Chinese state media confirmed they would be launching an alternative to the United States’ GPS satellite navigation system. ‘Beidou’ has been seen as a major disconnection from the standard US technology with China stating that Beidou’s 35 satellites will be a higher standard than the current global gold standard GPS network.

With 70% of smartphones in China ready to utilize the new network it seems that the market is already there for Beidou – Chinese for “Big Dipper” – with the service working towards promoting 5G services and adoption.

However Beidou will not be restricted to China as there will be a major campaign to convert South East Asian, Eastern European and African markets to the new network. Working along the same vein as their new Belt and Road initiative, the GPS system will also provide higher accuracy levels that are usually kept for military or security specialists.

At the Council on Foreign Relations in November Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced that “you don’t have to look hard to find evidence that the Chinese government is willing and able to use its growing influence over global commerce to advance its own interests.”

Pai’s words appear to be centered on the way China is utilizing its influence to reduce the recent criticism of its domestic policies as well as Huawei’s role in the investment of 5g networks worldwide.

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The beginning of 2020 is in stark contrast to the beginning of 2010. A decade ago there were many theoretical divides whereas now they’re becoming a reality. Due to the trade war many countries are finding themselves in a position where they have to decide between Chinese commerce and investment or America’s security and political engagement, with Russia’s President Putin referring to the issue as “the first technological war of the coming digital era,” highlighting the fact that this trade war could lead into something that could be much more powerful in the upcoming years.

So what will be happening in 2020? Canada is currently looking at the request from America to extradite Meng Wanzhou – Huawei’s CFO – while both Germany and the United Kingdom are still looking into whether they will allow Huawei into their networks.

Huawei are also launching their P40 device, which could lead to a competitor to Google’s software as well as their services throughout the worldwide markets.

The US Commerce Department is also due to make a decision on whether they will loosen supplier restrictions on companies based in the United States, which could affect the election during the second half of the year.

If there is a massive change in the way technology is used across the world there could be significant implications to travelers as well as consumers. While China would see an increase on its influence over the rest of the world, America could see a loss on their material market share.


Iran, China and Russia Join Forces To ‘Send A Message To The World’

In a move that will “send a message to the world” Iran, China and Russia are set to carry out their first ever-joint military exercises in the “near future.”

Rear, Iran’s commander of its navy, made the announcement amongst the continuing tensions between Arab Gulf countries and the United States.

In his press conference reporters were informed of the joint exercises that would take place in the southern waters of the Indian Ocean, with the Iranian navy working beside the Russian and Chinese navies. Although the planning and design for these activities were completed in October, he also confirmed the troops were getting ready for the action, which may happen during December.

Semi-official Mehr news agency has also quoted Khanzadi as stating the joint operation would “send a message to the world.”

“A joint war-game between several countries, whether on land, at sea or in the air, indicates a remarkable expansion of cooperation. [The drills] carry the same message to the world, that these three countries have reached a meaningful strategic point in their relations. We do not condone the kind of security that only caters to the benefits of one specific country at a specific time and which disregards the security of others.”

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The move will ensure there is “collective security” at sea following months of unsure tensions throughout the Middle East. Many see the fact that the announcement was made on Navy Day, a day that celebrates the success of the Iranian Navy throughout the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, as highly significant.

It is claimed these exercises have been arranged in keeping with Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) recommendations and are aimed at improving security in the area. Established in 2008, IONS holds meetings every other year to discuss maritime issues and promote friendships between the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. The last meeting was held in 2018 in Tehran.

When asked if Iran was prepared for counter attacks Khanzadi confirmed “the Iranian Armed Forces enjoy very high capabilities, and the United States does not have the courage for a direct confrontation with Iran, and that is why it uses proxy agents, such as terrorist groups, to advance its goals.”

This summer has seen several attacks on oil facilities belonging to Saudi Arabia as well as Gulf tankers with America laying the blame on Iran. A British-flagged vessel was seized by Tehran in ‘retaliation’ for an Iranian tanker being captured off the coast of Gibraltar.

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In a further act of retaliation America – and Britain – increased their military presence in the region, causing tensions in the Middle East to increase dramatically, causing experts to issue a warning that any further action – in particular in the Strait of Hormuz – could have severe consequences on the world’s oil supply.

Following the shooting down of a US drone by Islamic Republic in June, Trump threatened air strikes against Iran, however these were subsequently cancelled. There has also been the issue of Iran distancing itself from their nuclear pact with the West, thanks to President Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement.

Further sanctions against Iran, that were suspended under the deal and therefore causing severe damage to Iran’s economy, were officially reinstated by Washington in November 2018. This has led to Iran asking Europe to help them avoid the sanctions, yet despite efforts by Germany, Britain and France, these pleas have so far been unsuccessful, leaving Tehran feeling they had no choice but to take drastic steps to abolish the nuclear deal and hopefully forcing assistance from Europe.

Protests have erupted in Iran after the sanctions led to a significant increase in petrol prices with Amnesty International believing around 143 people have been killed in an attempt to stop the protests. This is something Iran disputes as they say there is no evidence to support this statement.

However on a recent visit to London, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – recently charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery – has claimed the protests are a ‘dangerous conspiracy’ against the government that are backed by both Israel and America.

It was announced by the head of Iran’s nuclear programme that they had increased the number of banned IR-6 centrifuges they were running with President Hassan Rouhani announcing they would be injecting uranium gas into over 1,000 centrifudges at a secret location – another encroachment on the agreement.

Although experts fear such technology could theoretically mean nuclear weapons would be produced in the next 12 months, Iran has always insisted its atomic programme was purely to for peaceful reasons and has denied making nuclear weapons.

USA China Trade War 2

Promising Progress Made In US-China Trade War Negotiations

A new easing of trade tariffs between the US and China has sparked fresh hope that an end to the trade war between the countries could now be in sight.

Since Donald Trump was elected President, discussions with China’s Xi Jinping have remained tense. However, new revelations that some tariffs are to be rolled back has led analysts to predict real potential for growth in the coming months.

The stock market has also responded enthusiastically, and there has also been unprecedented steps by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to increase their global growth forecasts, should a deal to ease trade tensions come to fruition.

Although the details are yet to be finalised, it has been revealed that the deal will reintroduce the movement of US agricultural goods to China alongside a reduction in tariffs on Chinese imports entering the US. There are also suggestions that US poultry imports could also start flowing back into China.

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The first phase of the deal relies on the US rolling back tariffs on over $350bn of Chinese imports. If this is achieved, Xi Jinping will make the historic journey to the US to sign a partial trade deal with Donald Trump. Such progress is unprecedented and there has been excitement from investors, leading to a surge in stock markets and an all-time weekly high for the S&P 500.

Less than six months ago, further tensions were added as China announced new tariffs on $60bn of US imports, after warnings from Donald Trump against adding further fuel to the fire were ignored. Currently, China’s tariffs affect US imports of soybeans, beef, pork seafood, vegetables, liquefied natural gas, whiskey and ethanol. They range between 5% to 25%. The US currently levies a 15% duty on a range of Chinese imports, from meat through to musical instruments. According to Wikipedia, in 2018, over 1,300 categories of Chinese imports were listed for tariffs, including aircraft parts, batteries, flat-panel televisions, medical devices, satellites, and various weapons. In September, it was announced that China has implemented a 5% levy on US crude oil, the first time fuel had been affected by the ongoing trade battle.

Trump has long believed that China has been operating unfair trade practices which have significantly disadvantaged the US economy. He also accused them of intellectual property theft. The objective of the tariffs was to help boost sales to US companies by making imports more expensive. As overseas imports can often be much cheaper to produce, consumers have increasingly shifted towards the cheaper options, even if it takes a little longer for them to arrive. By focusing on making US products and companies more attractive to consumers, he hoped to give the economy a much needed boost.

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Unfortunately, this objective has not been easy to achieve, nor has it been supported by a wide range of industry experts. The reality is that the ongoing trade war is continuing to not only impact politics but wider businesses and consumers too. And whilst the intention may have been to encourage more sales towards American businesses, the tariffs could in fact have the opposite effect and prevent those same businesses from expanding their operations overseas to lucrative international markets.

With Singles Day fast approaching, this is likely to be the next major event impacted by the ongoing trade war. Similar to Black Friday in the US, Singles Day is a huge sale event which takes place on the Alibaba shopping platform. Most popular with young Chinese people, the event takes place on November 11th, chosen because the number 1 is thought to closely resemble a single person alone. Also known as ‘Guanggun Jie’, analysts have suggested that the ongoing trade tensions between the US and China could affect sales of US products on Singles Day, mainly driven by the loyalty of Chinese consumers, who could actively avoid purchasing products from US companies in retaliation for the way China has been treated.

This viewpoint is reflected in the findings of a recent survey by AlixPartners has revealed that 70% of respondents felt the trade war was influencing their purchasing decisions. Interestingly, over 50% stated that their national loyalty was preventing them from purchasing American brands, suggesting that these brands could see sales adversely affected on Singles Day due to the trade war struggles.

Although the future is still somewhat uncertain, the potential olive branches which are being presented by both parties are being taken as a positive sign that we could be entering a new phase of arrangements between China and the US. Any positive steps towards a renewed deal could not only help to reignite the flow of products between the two countries, but help to stabilize the stock market and provide an optimism across the wider global economy too.

USA China Trade War 2

U.S. and China Discuss Rolling Back Tariffs

President Trump has invoked a trade war between the U.S. and China, resulting in potential economic damage to both countries. After Trump imposed tariffs on goods imported from China, China retaliated in kind, driving up the prices of consumer goods. Now, the two countries have agreed in an initial trade deal to roll back some of the tariffs each country has opposed on the other, pending finalization of their agreement. This development represents a reversal of the Trump administration’s position on tariffs, which they instituted in the first place, forcing China to retaliate. If the deal goes through, the price of consumer goods could decrease, boosting an economy which by traditional measures is already quite healthy.

Though Trump has canceled a planned tariff increase, he has continued to threaten Beijing with additional tariffs if they don’t comply with America’s terms. The battle between Trump and Xi Jinping has lasted for 19 months so far, and has caused pain for businesses, consumers, and investors in both countries. Following this news, stocks soared, as investors anticipate an end to the protracted and arguably unnecessary trade dispute. According to Gao Feng, a spokesman for China’s Commerce Ministry, the two countries have discussed resolving their differences over the past two sides, and have agreed to cancel tariffs by stages. However, a timeline has not yet been publicly established.

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As the reality of a deal between the two countries becomes increasingly likely, markets have reacted with optimism, as the S&P 500 rose to more than 3,090, approaching a record closing high. The companies most positively affected by the news are ones that have close ties to Chinese manufacturers and retailers. Despite the positive reaction in the markets, however, other sectors of the economy continue to struggle. In particular, the trade war with China has negatively impacted farm belt states like Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska, where economic growth has slowed considerably. Though the Trump administration claims that Americans do not experience the effects of tariffs, businesses and farmers disagree.

This is not the first time that the United States and China seemed close to reaching a deal to end the trade war.

As a result of Trump’s presidency, American tariffs now apply to more than two-thirds of imports from China, whereas Chinese tariffs affect 58 percent of their imported goods from America. Tariffs are paid by consumers in the countries imposing the tariffs, making the trade war destructive on both sides, leading economists to issue warnings about the long-term impacts of ongoing tariffs. The imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports has long been considered a bad idea by experts, who are now vindicated by the Trump administration’s reversal of policy under significant public pressure.

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Issues unrelated to tariffs factor into the negotiations. American officials want China to take more aggressive action on protecting American intellectual property rights, for instance and contend that the ultimate decision is up to Trump. Additionally, the United States wants China to encourage more foreign investment and purchase more goods and services from abroad. This preliminary agreement suggests that China will be willing to make these concessions, but the final details have yet to be ironed out.

This is not the first time that the United States and China seemed close to reaching a deal to end the trade war. In May, the two countries agreed upon a resolution to end the trade war, which included concessions from China to change some of their business and legal practices. President Jinping even gave a speech celebrating the achievement. However, when a draft agreement was sense to the United States, significant changes had been made to the plan, leading Trump to accuse Beijing of reneging on its commitments. The changes to the draft agreement, which included the removal of promises to change domestic laws, were thought to have been personally made by Jinping himself. Only time will tell whether this new agreement suffers the same fate. 

USA China Trade War 2

Amidst Ongoing Trade War, China Ignores Trump’s Investigation Request

Ever since President Trump began his controversial trade war with China, Chinese-run state media has been openly critical of the American president, as the economies of both countries are harmed by the ongoing dispute. However, after the president’s recent and highly contentious public request that China open an investigation into the business affairs of his political opponent and his family in that country, their media has been mostly quiet, signalling a lack of willingness to cooperate with the White House in election interference. On Thursday, while standing on the White House’s front lawn before boarding Air Force One, Trump told reporters that China should “start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.” The president’s efforts to solicit foreign aid in discrediting his political opponents in the next presidential election is the subject of an ongoing impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.

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Although China is a country with heavily enforced restrictions on speech, news of the president’s request has seeped onto their version of the internet. However, official media in the country has had nothing to say about the request, and mentions of Trump’s solicitation on Chinese social media are few and far between, suggesting the country’s highly sophisticated censorship apparatus is at work preventing the population from engaging in conversation on the subject. According to several experts interviewed by the New York Times, China’s lack of response is indicative of the country’s struggles in navigating its awkward relationship with the United States. The country is attempting to stand tough in its relationship with the U.S., but also wants to avoid worsening tensions with an unpredictable and chaotic president. Relations are particularly sensitive in advance of the election, where the country is likely to be a primary subject of discussion.

According to Susan Shirk, a deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for China during the Clinton administration, the country’s silence on the subject is itself a political message to the U.S. indicating both a lack of willingness to cooperate with the president and an effort not to provoke the president, whose erratic behavior is feared to worsen the global economy. Additionally, China is still in the midst of its National Day holiday, during which state media are usually slow to respond to international affairs. After Sunday, the country’s top trade negotiator, Liu He, is expected to travel to Washington to discuss trade, and it’s unclear as of yet how the president’s request will shape these talks. 

However, China has already declared a position of being unwilling to meddle in other countries’ internal affairs, and as such, if the country expresses a willingness to work with the administration to discredit Biden, this change in policy position would be difficult to explain. But the United States is a uniquely powerful country on the world stage, and as such the country may find benefit in making an exception to this rule. That being said, Professor Zhang, of Peking University, suggested that even if China opens up an investigation into Hunter Biden, they’d likely keep the findings of that investigation to themselves, as they are a notoriously secretive country.

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On the Chinese internet, Trump has been given the nickname “Te-mei-pu,” a pun which roughly translates to “totally unpredictable.” The president’s trade war, which he started by imposing tariffs on imports of Chinese goods and which China retaliated to by imposing similar tariffs on American imports, has been unpopular in both countries, as it’s widely viewed as unnecessary and has led to an increase in prices paid for by consumers. The country has widely reported on Trump’s request of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens just a few days prior, making their silence on this issue all the more jarring. The closest the country has come to commenting on the matter is a statement from China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who said “China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the US, and we trust that the American people will be able to sort out their own problems.” China is widely unpopular in the US, and Democratic presidential candidates, including frontrunners Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, have criticized both Trump’s trade war and the country’s policies.