Tag Archives: South Korea

China: Daily Scan, July 22, 2022

Senior CPC official urges preventing, defusing risks in united front work: Xinhuanet
July 21, 2022

Senior Communist Party of China (CPC) official You Quan has urged efforts to prevent and defuse risks in the united front work and contribute to stable economic, social, and political environments. You, a member of the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee and head of the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee, made the remarks during his research tour in northeast China’s Liaoning Province from Wednesday to Thursday. Click here to read…

Former manager of China’s state grain group arrested for suspected bribery, dereliction of duty: Xinhuanet
July 21, 2022

Xu Baoyi, former deputy general manager of China Grain Reserves Group (Sinograin), has been arrested on suspicion of bribery and dereliction of duty by personnel of state-owned enterprises, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) said. Click here to read…

HSBC says Communist party branch in China units have ‘no influence’: Reuters
July 21, 2022

HSBC Holdings said employees who form branches of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) within private companies in China have ‘no influence’ on the running of the business, following media reports on Thursday that such a unit had been established at its China securities unit. Click here to read…

Shanghai bans job discrimination against recovered COVID patients: Global Times
July 21, 2022

The Shanghai Municipal People’s Congress passed a decision on Thursday, banning employers from terminating contracts, or refusing to hire those who have suffered from infectious diseases. The city also curtailed the time period to check a person’s nucleic acid test history record from two months to half a month, which is viewed as a “pragmatic and positive” change for people struggling to find a job. Click here to read…

China’s ride-hailing giant Didi fined $1.2b for 16 legal breaches; move ends year-long probe, highlighting data security: Global Times
July 21, 2022

China’s internet regulator fined ride-hailing giant Didi Global 8.026 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) for 16 legal violations, calling an end to a cybersecurity probe that lasted more than one year and sending a strong signal that will lay the ground for the healthy development of internet-based platform economy. Click here to read…

Chinese vice premier urges high-quality development of education: Xinhuanet
July 22, 2022

Chinese Vice Premier Sun Chunlan has stressed the need to promote high-quality development of education and the development of a strong education system with which the people are satisfied. Click here to read…

Chinese mainland reports 106 new local confirmed COVID-19 cases: Xinhuanet
July 22, 2022

The Chinese mainland Thursday reported 106 locally-transmitted confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 52 in Gansu and 21 in Guangxi, the National Health Commission said Friday. Altogether 774 local asymptomatic carriers were newly identified in 12 provincial-level regions on Thursday. Click here to read…

Chinese police intensify crackdown on pornography, prostitution, gambling-related crimes: Xinhuanet
July 22, 2022

Chinese police have intensified crackdown on pornography, prostitution and gambling-related crimes, dismantling over 960 such criminal rings in a special campaign. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) said in a statement on Thursday that police authorities have worked with a national office to fight against pornography and illegal publications, supervising the investigation of over 70 major cases. Police forces across the country have resolved more than 790 major criminal cases in this regard. Click here to read…

Anhui powers ahead in tech development: Quishi
July 22, 2022

Anhui province is on a fast track of development in China’s economy, having become a hub of multiple emerging industries, such as electric vehicles, over the last decade, provincial leaders said. Click here to read…

Indonesian president to visit China: China Military
July 22, 2022

At the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Joko Widodo of the Republic of Indonesia will visit China from July 25 to 26, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying announced Thursday. Click here to read…

China’s battery giant CATL, Ford announce cooperation on EVs: People’s Daily
July 22, 2022

China’s leading automotive lithium-ion battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., Ltd. (CATL) and Ford Motor Company announced Thursday a non-binding memorandum of understanding outlining global strategic cooperation, including supplying batteries in China, Europe and North America. Click here to read…

China to extend anti-dumping duties on steel product from Japan, South Korea, and EU: Reuters
July 22, 2022

China will extend anti-dumping duties on grain oriented flat-rolled electrical steel imported from Japan, South Korea, and the European Union, the country’s ministry of commerce said on Friday. The duties will be extended for five years beginning from July 23, it said in a statement. Click here to read…

China’s largest policy bank disbursed $27 bln loans for infrastructure stimulus: Reuters
July 22, 2022

China’s largest policy bank said on Friday that it had disbursed 181.5 billion yuan ($27 billion) in loans for urban development projects in the first half of the year, and pledged to maintain an accelerated pace of lending to fund infrastructure. Click here to read…

China’s propaganda put under scrutiny as netizen comments translated: Kyodo
July 22, 2022

When a strong earthquake struck off the coast of Fukushima in March, Chinese social media was flooded with comments reveling in the prospect of a disaster and telling Japanese “to die.” But almost immediately, translations of the comments in Japanese and English appeared, produced by a loose collection of people, most of them Chinese themselves, to open the world’s eyes to the kinds of opinions being voiced in China. Participants in the campaign, called the Great Translation Movement, say the ultimate aim is to expose the Chinese Communist Party’s manipulation of public opinion. Click here to read…

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 11 July – 17 July 2022

Economic
China faces difficult decisions with slide in economic growth

China’s economic growth teetered on the brink of contraction in the second quarter year on year, reflecting a two-month lockdown of the financial and industrial hub of Shanghai. This came on top of Covid-19 shutdowns and travel curbs that have hampered recovery in the world’s second-biggest economy. Following an increase in gross domestic product of 4.8 per cent in the first quarter, growth in the three months to June of just 0.4 per cent dragged expansion in the first half down to 2.5 per cent. This year’s growth target of “around 5.5 per cent” would require a bounce back to 7.5 per cent in the second half. But a return to stable growth will be the paramount goal of Beijing ahead of a landmark political meeting later this year, the 20th national party congress, which includes a leadership reshuffle. This can be expected to lead to increased pressure to fine-tune President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid strategy and for stimulatory measures, such as looser monetary policy and fiscal stimulus, without triggering a surge of inflation. This is in contrast to a tightening cycle to combat inflationary growth well under way among China’s trading partners. Recent statements by top leaders have shown a rising sense of urgency about the need to put the economy back on a stable track. However, if there is to be a new round of credit-driven investment it should not be at the cost of exacerbating local debt problems. Click here to read…

China and EU to hold high-level trade talks this week after months of delays

Just before the summer lull hits Brussels, the European Union will hold a high-level trade dialogue with China on July 19 – talks the 27-member bloc has been trying to organise for more than three months. Valdis Dombrovskis, the European commissioner for trade, and Chinese vice-premier Liu He will co-chair the virtual meeting, which will also include representatives from the trade and economic ministries of both sides. According to a European Commission representative, a number of global economic challenges will be discussed, including food security and energy prices, supply chains, financial services, and bilateral trade and investment concerns. “The dialogue is taking place against the background of war in Europe and increasing uncertainties in the global economic outlook,” the representative said. The last high-level meeting between the EU and China was a virtual summit in April; it ended unsuccessfully after the EU failed to gain any assurances from China that it would not support Russia’s war against Ukraine financially or militarily. But both sides agreed to talk again “to find concrete ways to progress on these issues before the summer”. While Brussels continued pushing Beijing to nail down a date, China took time in responding. Click here to read…

Europe Fears Widespread Economic Fallout if Russian Gas Outage Drags On

As a deadline approaches for Russia to resume supplying natural gas to Germany this week, European officials and executives are growing concerned about a cascading economic fallout that would spread across the continent should Moscow keep the tap shut. The Nord Stream pipeline that ferries gas from Siberia to Germany closed July 11 for annual maintenance that is expected to last 10 days. Many in the West fear that Moscow might prolong the closure, possibly permanently, and deprive Germany, Europe’s industrial powerhouse, of a key ingredient for its and its neighbors’ factories. European leaders blamed Moscow for using gas as a weapon when flows along the pipeline began to ebb last month. Moscow blamed that shortfall on technical issues related to Western sanctions. According to the annual maintenance schedule, Nord Stream goes back online July 21, meaning that gas flow should resume the following day. Complicating the calculus, officials and executives say it might not be easy to determine whether Russia is restoring gas flows fully. Under one scenario, Moscow could switch the pipeline back on but with lower volumes, as it already has, citing technical problems linked to the sanctions. Germany is highly dependent on Russian gas, and it also acts as a transit hub for gas headed to Austria, the Czech Republic and Ukraine. Click here to read…

China jobs: youth unemployment hits record high in June – nearly 1 in 5 young people out of work

The hits keep coming for China’s disillusioned youth who increasingly cannot seem to catch a break when it comes to landing work in a job market that – at least for their demographic – keeps going from really bad to even worse. Nearly one out of five young jobseekers were unemployed last month as China’s youth unemployment rate hit an all-time high of 19.3 per cent in June, official figures show. It was a sharp rise from 18.4 per cent in May, and marked a year-on-year increase of 25 per cent. The intensifying struggle among those aged 16-24 to carve out their own piece of China’s economic pie came in the midst of the nation’s economy growing by a mere 0.4 per cent in the second quarter of 2022, year on year. This was largely the result of Beijing’s zero-Covid strategy, which forced large-scale lockdowns in Shanghai and other major cities – far from ideal conditions in which China’s latest army of fresh college graduates were plunged into. China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has previously noted that new graduates generally push the unemployment rate upward come June and July each year, but the youth unemployment rate has seen a steady rise since October. Click here to read…

A fifth of Chinese developers face insolvency as investors grow tired of repeated bond extensions, S&P Global warns

At least a fifth of rated Chinese property developers will end up becoming insolvent, putting as much as US$88 billion of their distressed bonds at risk, according to S&P Global Ratings. While some developers have resorted to debt extensions and bond exchanges to buy time to avoid default, investors will soon lose patience and press their claims through the courts or debt restructuring if a recovery of the sector does not play out by the first quarter of 2023, the ratings agency said. Exchanges and debt extensions have been the two most common ways for Chinese developers to resolve their bond default risks. Guangzhou R&F Properties, for example, recently received approval to regroup all 10 tranches of its offshore bonds worth a total of US$4.94 billion due between now and 2024 into three amortisation notes that mature in 2025, 2027 and 2028, giving it three to four years of breathing room as it struggles to raise cash. But “this forbearance may not continue,” said S&P. “If a sales turnaround is not forthcoming, investors will reject repeated extensions. “The end of the beginning is at hand for China developer defaults.” Click here to read…

Russia has price cap-busting oil plan – media

Russia has ramped up efforts to create its own national oil pricing benchmark as part of its response to Western efforts to limit its oil revenues, Bloomberg reported on July 14, citing government and industry sources. According to the agency, the Western sanctions campaign, which was launched after Russia began its military operation in Ukraine, and the attempts to squeeze its oil export revenue with a proposed price cap, have reinvigorated the idea. US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen is attempting to set an upper limit on how much Moscow can charge for its crude exports. Some experts have warned that the scheme may backfire. The Russian government wants to have a pricing benchmark in action sometime between March and July of 2023, the business news outlet reported. Discussions about the plan are in the early stages, but were confirmed by an executive in the energy industry, the report said. The country has tried for years to launch a national benchmark based on crude trade at the St. Petersburg International Mercantile Exchange, but the volume of foreign deals made on the exchange has not been high enough for this purpose. The US and its allies are seeking to damage Russian crude trade with nations like China and India, which refused to join the sanctions drive, by leveraging their dominance in the areas of insurance and finance. Click here to read…

Saudi Arabia outlines what it will do for oil output

Saudi Arabia is ready to increase oil production to its maximum of 13 million barrels per day but does not have the capacity to pump out more, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said during his address at the US-Arab summit in Jeddah on July 16. “The kingdom has announced an increase in its production capacity level to 13 million barrels per day, after which the kingdom will not have any additional capacity to increase production,” he was quoted as saying by UAE’s newspaper The National. The crown prince also said that the global community should join forces to support the worldwide economy, but noted that unrealistic policies regarding energy sources would only worsen the situation. “Adopting unrealistic policies to reduce emissions by excluding main sources of energy will lead in coming years to unprecedented inflation and an increase in energy prices and rising unemployment, and a worsening of serious social and security problems,” he stated. Mohammed bin Salman’s words come a day after his talks with Joe Biden, who was in Saudi Arabia on his first visit as US president, and urged the kingdom to increase oil production in order to reduce global reliance on supplies from Russia. Commenting on his trip to the kingdom, Biden said Saudi Arabia’s “energy resources are vital for mitigating the impact on global supplies of Russia’s war in Ukraine.Click here to read…

Middle East Buyers Ramp Up Russian Fuel Imports

US and European sanctions have led to a significant shift in the direction of Russian energy flows. Bloomberg reports diesel and other fuel products shunned by many countries in the West are heading to the Middle East. Increasing flows began after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and reached 155,000 barrels a day in June, according to new data from Vortexa Ltd. Meanwhile, European imports have slumped 30% since the invasion on Feb. 24. Vortexa’s data shows most of the products arriving in the Middle East from Russian ports are fuel oil, diesel/gasoil, and more recently, jet fuel and kerosene. “Most of the Middle East’s imports from Russia are of fuel oil — a leftover from the refining process and often used in power generation and shipping,” Bloomberg noted. About a third of the inflows of fuel products went into the Fujairah Oil Terminal for storage in the United Arab Emirates. Imports of Russian fuel products are at a 2016 high and could increase further because of Western trade restrictions to punish President Putin for the invasion of Ukraine. However, Koen Wessels, senior oil products analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd, said Russian flows to the Middle East will be temporary and could eventually slow because of shipping insurance-related restrictions for vessels leaving Russian ports. Click here to read…

Afghan minister holds talks with Chinese mining firm, progress to be expected

An Afghan government official from the mining sector met with the representative of a Chinese mining company July 17, and they discussed issues ranging from technical to financial operations of the Aynak copper project, the second-largest copper ore body in the world. But an insider said that no substantive progress was made. A staffer of Chinese mining giant Metallurgical Group Corp (MCC), the company that owns the Aynak copper project, told the Global Times July 18 that the company has staff in Afghanistan at the moment, and they are keeping in close contact with the new Afghan government over the project. The remark came as the Acting Minister of Mines and Petroleum Sheikh Shahabuddin Delawar held a meeting Sunday with a vice president of MCC-JCL Aynak Minerals Co (MJAM), a Chinese-funded mining company registered in Afghanistan under MCC, according to the official website of the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. Discussions were held at the meeting on the latest developments, as well as technical, financial and land acquisition issues, and the transfer of ancient artifacts in the field of the Aynak project, said the ministry. While there have been frequent talks, no substantive progress has been made, the Global Times learned. “The only thing we needed to confirm with the Afghan government is the ownership of the mine, which has already been done with the new government,” a staffer with the MCC Group said. Click here to read…

Kishida: Up to 9 nuclear reactors to go online by winter

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the central government intends to bring up to nine nuclear reactors online this winter to prepare for possible power shortages during peak periods. Kishida told a July 14 news conference that he instructed economy minister Koichi Hagiuda to start preparations. “We are aiming to put as many nuclear reactors as possible online,” said Kishida. “We will have up to nine reactors operating this winter to secure enough sources of energy to cover about 10 percent of Japan’s overall power consumption.” The move comes as the government is asking the public to save electricity this summer amid a power shortage, which will likely become even more severe in the winter. According to government sources, five of the nine reactors are at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s nuclear power plants in Fukui Prefecture: the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Oi plant; the No. 3 reactor at the Mihama plant; and the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama plant. All nine reactors were brought online at least once after passing the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s screening for a restart. Four were in operation as of July 14. Kishida said he also instructed government officials to get 10 more units of thermal power plants ready for operations to ensure a stable power supply during peak periods. Click here to read…

China closes in on Japan’s hydrogen technology patent lead

Though Japan continues to lead the world in hydrogen-related technology, its edge is narrowing as new patent filings by the country’s companies and research institutions slow while Chinese players forge ahead with government backing. Hydrogen is considered the ultimate clean fuel since it emits no carbon dioxide when burned. Tokyo-based research company Astamuse, in which Nikkei has a stake, has compiled a ranking of countries, scored in terms of the competitiveness of their hydrogen technologies between 2011 and 2020, based on the number of times their patents were cited in similar patent applications, expiration dates and other data. The 2020 figures were based on preliminary data. Japan came out on top overall propelled by its strength in fuel-cell patents, which are key to harnessing hydrogen to power cars, homes and factories. Toyota Motor has been developing fuel-cell vehicles for the past three decades, and became the first automaker in the world to commercialize the vehicles in 2014. It had expanded their driving range about 30% by 2020. Japanese petroleum company ENEOS and Industrial gases company Iwatani operate more than 160 hydrogen stations, and are working to halve the cost of building a new station from the current range of 300 million yen to 400 million yen ($2.19 million to $2.91 million) currently. Click here to read…

China locks in record long-term LNG deals to bolster energy security

As global competition for liquefied natural gas intensifies in response to the Ukraine war, China is increasingly turning to long-term contracts of a decade or more to ensure the country’s growing needs will continue to be met years into the future. Chinese demand for natural gas grew at the fastest rate on record in 2021. LNG demand jumped 18% to 78.9 million tons, surpassing Japan as the largest importer. Spot contracts accounted for 39% of China’s LNG imports last year. But contracts lasting 10 to 20 years make up a rapidly growing portion of those with delivery dates in 2022 and beyond. Chinese players signed 23 long-term contracts for a total of 27 million tons of LNG in 2021, according to Mika Takehara at Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. Both figures were among the largest on record, she said. Most LNG was purchased by China’s three state-owned energy groups — China National Petroleum Corp., CNOOC and China Petrochemical, known as Sinopec. But energy companies owned by regional governments and private-sector utilities are also increasingly dealing directly with overseas suppliers. Three-quarters of the sellers were located in the U.S., Qatar and Russia. Between January 2021 and this April, Chinese companies had signed 10 contracts for 13.9 million tons to 14.8 million tons of LNG from American entities alone. Click here to read…

Myanmar revokes foreign company exemption from currency rules

The Central Bank of Myanmar on July 13 reversed its position on exempting foreign companies from forced exchanges of currency to the local kyat, several sources at the bank said. The central bank in April had instructed financial institutions to convert foreign currency earned by its customers into kyat within one business day. Existing foreign-currency deposits were also to be converted into the kyat in stages. In mid-June, the bank issued a notice exempting companies that are 10% or more owned by overseas entities, which applied to the majority of foreign companies doing business in Myanmar. It has now rescinded this exception in a new notice, sources said. Companies making investments approved by the Myanmar Investment Commission, as well those operating in special economic zones, are expected to remain exempt. The currency exchange rule comes as Myanmar suffers a serious shortage of foreign currency following its military takeover in February 2021. The government established the Foreign Exchange Supervisory Committee in April, which now must approve any conversions from kyat to a foreign currency, or money transfers abroad. Foreign currency from the forced conversions will be used to repay foreign debt flagged as a priority by the FESC. Click here to read…

Why China can’t let Laos default

Laos faces intensifying economic and financial crises and there is likely no way out without some form of a Chinese bailout or debt forgiveness. Various warning signs are blinking red in the small Southeast Asian country. The national currency, the kip, has lost around a third of its value against the US dollar compared to this time last year. Inflation hit 23% in June, its highest level in decades. Meanwhile, much of the landlocked country faces fuel shortages. The communist-run government has huffed and bluffed but finally undertook a cabinet reshuffle in late June, bringing in a new commerce minister and central bank governor. Some emergency measures have stemmed certain economic problems from worsening. But those haven’t alleviated the nation’s underlying financial woes, which are now more precarious than ever. “The chances that Laos will default on its debt obligations are extremely high,” says Carl Thayer, an emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia. Indeed, the country’s foreign debts have swelled to over US$14 billion, or 88% of gross domestic product (GDP). Around half that amount is owed to China, including the Lao state’s one-third stake in the $5.9 billion China-Laos railway, a megaproject that opened in December amid concerns about the line’s commercial viability. Vientiane barely scraped through making its annual debt repayments last year. Click here to read…

Super-strong dollar imperils world economy

The US dollar has been on a major surge against major global currencies in the past year, recently hitting levels not seen in 20 years. It has gained 15% against the British pound, 16% against the euro and 23% against the Japanese yen. The dollar is the world’s reserve currency, which means it is used in most international transactions. As a result, changes in its value have implications for the entire global economy. Below are five of the main ones. 1. Even more inflation. Petrol and most commodities such as metals or timber are usually traded in US dollars (though with exceptions). So when the dollar gets stronger, these items cost more in local currency. For example in British pounds, the cost of US$100-worth of petrol has risen over the past year from £72 to £84. And since the price per liter of petrol in US dollars has risen steeply as well, it is creating a double whammy. When energy and raw materials cost more, the prices of many products go up for consumers and businesses, causing inflation around the world. The only exception is the US, where a stronger dollar makes it cheaper to import consumer products and therefore could help to tame inflation. Click here to read…

Strategic
‘Judgment Day’ warning as Russia hunts Ukraine’s US-made HIMARS

Nearly five months since President Vladimir Putin ordered the February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces are grinding through the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine and now occupy around a fifth of the country. Shoigu, one of Putin’s closest allies, inspected the Vostok group which is fighting in Ukraine, the defence ministry said. Shoigu “instructed the commander to give priority to the enemy’s long-range missile and artillery weapons,” the defence ministry said. The ministry said the weapons were being used to shell residential areas of Russian-controlled Donbas and to deliberately set fire to wheat fields and grain storage silos. Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said a depot in the Black Sea port of Odesa that stored Harpoon anti-ship missiles was hit, while a US-supplied HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system was struck in the eastern Donetsk region. There are concerns in Moscow that Ukraine’s longer-range missiles could be used to target Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Crimea is of particular strategic importance to Russia as it includes the headquarters of its Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol. Another prized target would be the 18km (11-mile) bridge that links the Black Sea peninsula with mainland Russia. That prospect of an attack on Crimea prompted a warning from Russia’s former president Dmitry Medvedev, who said such an attack would trigger devastating consequences for the Ukrainian leadership. Click here to read…

Chinese military upgrades near disputed Himalayan border viewed as provocative in India

The upgrading of China’s military projection and logistics capabilities along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayas, designed to prepare for contingencies, is being viewed by the Indian side as offensive and provocative. Citing Indian intelligence sources, The Hindu said the People’s Liberation Army had expanded its troop accommodation capacity within 100km (60 miles) of the LAC from 20,000 to 120,000 in the past two years. The Indian newspaper’s report, published late last month, said the PLA had deployed four divisions, or 48,000 troops, from its Xinjiang military district, with the soldiers being rotated on the disputed border facing eastern Ladakh, where the worst fighting in over four decades saw at least 20 Indian soldiers and four from the PLA killed in the Galwan Valley two years ago. Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology think tank in Beijing, confirmed the PLA had renovated and expanded barracks along the LAC since that clash, including permanent buildings and temporary ones. “Many of the permanent buildings are warehouses for fuel storage, while other accommodation and portable facilities will be used for housing troops,” Zhou said, adding that the PLA was capable of deploying up to 120,000 troops to the LAC in a week if necessary. “China doesn’t need to station so many troops in border areas because of its powerful military projection capacity and infrastructure and logistics supply network.” Click here to read…

South Korea’s Yoon faces becoming a ‘lame duck’ as nepotism claims, wife’s gaffes hit ratings

Barely two months after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office, his support base has quickly dwindled as a lack of experience, accusations of a poor attitude, gaffes and various political and personal issues weigh on his approval ratings. This could complicate his political agenda, especially in a parliament where the liberal opposition Democratic Party dominates his conservative People Power Party. His approval rating plunged to 32 per cent from a high of 53 per cent five weeks earlier, according to an opinion poll last week by Gallup Korea. Disapproval stood at 53 per cent, up 19 percentage points in the same five-week period. Yoon’s approval rating could extend its decline, as he had barely two months to rally his base before his ratings began to tank. Approval ratings of South Korea’s presidents typically stand at 70-80 per cent during their early months in office, fuelled by high expectations for their new governments. Resentment among conservatives against former president Moon Jae-in’s political missteps such as skyrocketing real estate prices and his associates’ alleged nepotism had helped Yoon to the presidency. Yoon was initially lauded for delivering on his election promise to make himself more accessible than his predecessors, allowing journalists to question him on his way to work every morning, a first for a South Korean president. But he came under fire for his curt responses and poor attitude. Click here to read…

China’s Communist Party finds it easier to win hearts and minds at home than overseas

When Xi Jinping became China’s president in 2013, he showed he was determined to maintain the Communist Party’s mandate to rule by winning the people’s hearts and minds. At the start of his first term he ordered bureaucrats across the country to confess any loss of touch with the grass roots to the party. The campaign ended up lasting for more than a year. He also kicked off a far-reaching anti-corruption campaign, with graft busters setting up a website and a social media account that enabled people to report corruption via their phones. Xi also famously warned the party in 2013 of the risk of losing the people’s trust, using the term Tacitus Trap, which describes a lack of trust in a government regardless of its actions. Yet just months before Xi is set to begin his third term as the party’s leader at this year’s 20th party congress, crises have emerged that point at the heart of trust in the government, including a banking fiasco in which thousands of people risk losing all their savings in local banks. The Tacitus Trap, named after the Roman historian, describes the dire situation facing a government when no matter what it says or does, people assume it is a lie or a bad deed. It was one of three traps, along with the middle-income trap and the Thucydides Trap, that Xi warned publicly in 2013 could undermine China’s rise. Click here to read…

Three more countries set to join BRICS – official

Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt plan to join BRICS, and their potential membership bids could be discussed and answered at next year’s summit in South Africa, Purnima Anand, the president of the organization, told Russian media on July 14. “All these countries have shown their interest in joining [BRICS] and are preparing to apply for membership. I believe this is a good step, because expansion is always looked upon favorably; it will definitely bolster BRICS’ global influence,” she told Russian newspaper Izvestia. The BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) account for over 40% of the global population and nearly a quarter of the world’s GDP. Anand said the issue of expansion was raised during this year’s BRICS summit, which took place in late June in Beijing. The BRICS Forum president said she hopes the accession of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt will not take much time, given that they “are already engaged in the process,” though doubts that all three will join the alliance at the same time. The news of the three nations’ plans to join BRICS comes after Iran and Argentina officially applied for membership in late June, with Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh touting the bloc as a “very creative mechanism with broad aspects.” Click here to read…

Italian president rejects PM Draghi’s resignation

Italian President Sergio Mattarella on July 14 rejected Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s attempt to resign. Draghi announced his intent to step down after he survived a confidence vote but lost the backing of his largest coalition partner. Draghi met with Mattarella following a confidence vote in the Italian Senate earlier in the afternoon. While the PM comfortably survived the vote by 172-39, the ballot was boycotted by the Five Star Movement, the largest partner in Draghi’s broad coalition government. Having earlier stated that he would not remain in power without the support of the Five Star populists, Draghi said that he would step down as the conditions to govern “no longer exist.” However, Mattarella has the power to accept or reject the prime minister’s resignation, and he chose the latter option. The move sends Draghi back to Parliament where a fresh confidence vote will likely be held. Should Draghi win the support of lawmakers, snap elections could be avoided. Mattarella appointed Draghi, who formerly led the European Central Bank, in 2021, in a bid to stave off an economic downturn as Italy recovered from the coronavirus pandemic. However, Draghi has faced persistent criticism from the Five Star Movement’s leader, Giuseppe Conte, over rising inflation and energy costs, as well as his support for EU sanctions on Russia and weapons shipments to Ukraine. Click here to read…

Russia-Ukraine grain talks outcome revealed

Russia and Ukraine have agreed to establish a joint coordination center on grain exports in Istanbul that will include representatives from all parties, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told local media following the four-way talks that also involved Turkey and the UN. On July 13, negotiators from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN met in the Turkish city to discuss the situation regarding the held-up Ukrainian exports. Ahead of the meeting, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said that Kiev and Moscow had been close to breaking the impasse on the issue. “An agreement has been reached on technical issues such as joint controls at the destination points and … the safety of navigation on the transfer routes,” Akar told journalists. Russian and Ukrainian delegations “should meet again in Turkey next week,” he said, adding that the parties would “review all the details once again” during that meeting. Ukraine is one of the world’s leading grain exporters. Yet, it has been unable to export its grain by sea due to the ongoing conflict with Russia. Kiev and Western nations have accused Moscow of preventing Ukrainian grain shipments from leaving the nation’s Black Sea ports. Click here to read…

South Korea seeks to kickstart talks to resolve historical feuds with Japan

South Korea hopes a high-level visit to Tokyo next week will kickstart talks aimed at a breakthrough in historical disputes despite concerns the death of former Japanese premier Shinzo Abe could disrupt efforts to mend ties, Seoul officials said. Relations between the two North Asian U.S. allies have been strained over disputes dating to Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea. Washington has been pressing Tokyo and Seoul to mend fences in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat and the rising influence of China. Officials in the administration of new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May vowing to improve ties with Japan, told Reuters they feel emboldened by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s recent election victory which could give him more scope to advance his policy agenda for another three years. Foreign Minister Park Jin will visit Tokyo as early as next week, a trip which a senior official handling Japan policy said is aimed at “turning on the tap” for serious negotiations on issues relating to wartime laborers, which stalled under Yoon’s predecessor. Park will visit Tokyo on July 18, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK reported on July 14. South Korea did not immediately confirm the report. Yoon would also likely use his Aug. 15 Liberation Day speech marking Korea’s independence from Japan as a chance to send a reconciliatory message to Tokyo, the official added. Click here to read…

China’s Xi visits Xinjiang for first time in 8 years

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Xinjiang this week for the first time since 2014, seeking to demonstrate his success in subduing the country’s restive northwestern region. The trip, reported by state broadcaster China Central TV and other news outlets, comes as Xi works to solidify a rare third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party at its twice-a-decade congress this fall. Xi observed freight trains on the China-Europe Railway Express in the regional capital of Urumqi on July 12. “With the Belt and Road Initiative progressing, Xinjiang is no longer an outlying area,” he said. “It has become a pivotal region with historical significance.” The following day, Xi visited a residential community in Urumqi and watched a traditional dance performance by Uyghur Muslims. “We need to bring even more happiness to the lives of different ethnic groups,” he said. The state-run Xinhua News Agency published a photo of a maskless Xi walking the streets, surrounded by Uyghur children. During Xi’s last visit to the Xinjiang region in September 2014, suicide bombers attacked a train station in Urumqi. He warned of a protracted struggle with “terrorist separatists” in the region and ordered a crackdown against “terrorist elements.” The Xi administration has pushed for the “sinicization” of Islam in Xinjiang. Click here to read…

China, Russia military activity near Japan up 2.5 times since Ukraine

Chinese and Russian military activity around Japan increased 2.5 times in the four months following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, sparking alarm here over a potential escalation. Releases by Japan’s Ministry of Defense show 90 instances of activity by Chinese and Russian military vessels and aircraft near Japan in the four months after the invasion began. There had been 35 in the four months before. A Chinese vessel and Russian vessel entered Japan’s contiguous zone near the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands on July 4. The Russian vessel then sailed north through the Senkakus on July 5 before entering the contiguous zone near Japan’s southernmost Okinotori islets the following day. The type of activity recorded has also shifted since the Ukraine invasion began. On June 7, four aircraft believed to be part of the Russian military flew straight toward Japan from west of Hokkaido. They shifted course just before entering Japanese airspace after the Japan Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighter jets in response. Before turning away, the four planes were on a trajectory toward Hokkaido’s largest city of Sapporo, a Japanese defense official said. Concern is growing that such activity may be part of planned military operations in the area. Click here to read…

Abe’s house of cards: Death leaves largest party faction in limbo

Nearly a week after an assassin took the life of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the ruling party faction he led has yet to zero in on a possible successor. The largest faction in the Liberal Democratic Party, known as Seiwa-kai, is scrambling to maintain unity. But Abe’s murder left the group with little time to select and groom a suitable successor, putting it in a precarious position. The group boasts 93 conservative-leaning upper and lower house LDP lawmakers, with many calling for bigger military spending and revising the nation’s pacifist charter. After producing the longest-serving prime minister, the group yields enormous clout in the party. Senior members met July 11 at a Tokyo hotel to discuss the next step but could only muster a vague pledge to maintain solidarity. In 2017, Abe floated the idea of having four core leaders in the faction, modeled after a similar setup his father, Shintaro Abe, had when he led the faction decades ago. Given the lack of a clear leader, the faction could opt for this option. Right now, Hakubun Shimomura and Ryu Shionoya, both former education ministers, are serving as acting chairs of the faction. They have supported Abe’s family through the ordeal by meeting with mourners at his private residence. “There are proposals to have two acting chairs or to set up a seven-person structure,” said a senior member of Abe’s faction. Click here to read…

Sri Lanka’s acting president declares state of emergency

Sri Lanka’s acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe has declared a state of emergency, according to a government notice released late on July 17, as his administration seeks to quell social unrest and tackle an economic crisis gripping the island nation. “It is expedient, so to do, in the interests of public security, the protection of public order and the maintenance of supplies and services essential to the life of the community,” the notification stated. Sri Lanka’s ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled overseas this week to escape a popular uprising against his government, has said he took “all possible steps” to avert the economic crisis that has engulfed the island nation. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation was accepted by parliament on July 15. He flew to the Maldives and then Singapore after hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters came out onto the streets of Colombo a week ago and occupied his official residence and offices. Sri Lanka’s parliament met on July 16 to begin the process of electing a new president, and a shipment of fuel arrived to provide some relief to the crisis-hit nation. Wickremesinghe, an ally of Rajapaksa, is one of the top contenders to take on the presidency full-time but protesters also want him gone, leading to the prospect of further unrest should he be elected. Click here to read…

Biden Lays Out a U.S. Middle East Vision Heavy on Diplomacy

President Biden laid out his vision for the U.S. role in the Middle East July 16, pledging to stay engaged in the region and strengthen relationships with Arab nations to counter the influence of China, Russia and Iran. “The United States is going to remain an active engaged partner in the Middle East as the world grows more competitive, and the challenges we face more complex,” Mr. Biden said in a 10-minute speech in this seaside town during a summit of Arab leaders. “It’s only becoming clear to me how closely interwoven America’s interests are with the successes of the Middle East.” “We will not walk away and leave a vacuum to be filled by China, Russia or Iran,” he added. He also repeated a pledge that the U.S. is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Mr. Biden said the U.S. would chart a new approach to the Middle East focused on diplomacy over aggression. “Today, I’m proud to be able to say that the era of land wars in the region, wars involving huge numbers of American forces, is not underway,” he said. Mr. Biden’s speech comes amid mounting concern about Washington’s commitment to the region, which was galvanized by the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan last summer. Click here to read…

Biden disputes Saudi minister’s account of meeting with MBS

President Joe Biden hints the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia was not being truthful in his account of the US leader’s meeting with the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Biden was referring to comments made by Adel al-Jubeir, who told Fox News he did not “hear” the US president tell MBS that he directly blamed him for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi during their discussion in Jeddah on July 15. “I didn’t hear that particular phrase,” al-Jubeir told Fox News correspondent Alex Hogan in an interview on July 16. “The president mentioned that the US is committed to human rights because since the founding fathers wrote the constitution and he also made the point that American presidents – this is part of the agenda of every American president.” Upon returning to the White House early on July 17 after his four-day Middle East trip, Biden was asked by reporters if al-Jubeir was telling the truth in recounting his exchange with MBS. Biden pointedly replied: “No.” Biden, who visited Saudi Arabia, Israel and the occupied West Bank in his first trip to the region as US president, previously told reporters he brought up Khashoggi’s killing at the top of his initial meeting with the Saudi crown prince. He said he “indicated” to MBS that he held him “personally responsible” for the 2018 killing. He added that MBS repeatedly denied responsibility during their meeting. Click here to read…

Amid Russia-Ukraine war, Putin to visit Iran for Syria talks

As Russia’s war on Ukraine grinds on, President Vladimir Putin will travel to Iran next week for a Syria summit with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Kremlin has announced. “The president’s visit to Tehran is being planned for July 19,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on July 12. He added the trio would meet for peace talks on Syria. Russia, Turkey and Iran have in recent years been holding talks as part of the so-called “Astana peace process” to end more than 11 years of conflict in the Middle Eastern country. Russia and Iran are the key military and political backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey has provided military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups still fighting against al-Assad’s forces in the northwest. The foreign trip marks the Kremlin chief’s second since he sent troops into Ukraine in late February; he visited Tajikistan in late June. Russia and Iran hold close ties, while Turkey has attempted to act as a mediator during the Ukraine conflict. July 12’s announcement comes after the White House said on July 11 that it believed Moscow was turning to Iran to provide it with “hundreds” of drones, including those capable of carrying weapons, for use in Ukraine. Click here to read…

Health
WHO declares Marburg outbreak in Ghana, after first two cases of deadly Ebola-like virus reported

Two cases of the deadly Marburg virus have been identified in Ghana, the first time the Ebola-like disease has been found in the West African nation, health authorities announced on Sunday. Earlier in the month, blood samples taken from two people in the southern Ashanti region suggested the Marburg virus. The samples were sent to the Pasteur Institute in Senegal which confirmed the diagnosis, the Ghana Health Service (GHS) said. “This is the first time Ghana has confirmed Marburg Virus Disease,” said GHS head Patrick Kuma-Aboagye said in a statement. No treatment or vaccine exists for Marburg, which is almost as deadly as Ebola. Its symptoms include high fever as well as internal and external bleeding. A total of 98 people identified as contact cases are currently under quarantine, the GHS statement said, noting that no other cases of Marburg had yet been detected in Ghana. The World Health Organization (WHO) said Guinea had confirmed a single case in an outbreak declared over in September 2021. Previous outbreaks and sporadic cases of Marburg in Africa have been reported in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda, according to the World Health Organization. Click here to read…

China makes tweaks, but tough COVID policy still drags on economy

China has been tweaking its stringent COVID curbs but shows no sign of backing off from its “dynamic zero” policy and has lagged in vaccination efforts that would enable it to do so, casting a heavy shadow over the world’s second-largest economy. The absence of a roadmap out of zero-COVID and expectations that it will persist well into 2023 leaves residents and businesses facing a prolonged period of uncertainty. Recent scattered COVID flare-ups, the imposition of lockdowns in some cities and the arrival of the highly contagious BA.5 variant have added to those worries. On July 15, China is expected to report that gross domestic product (GDP) grew just 1 percent in the second quarter, with full year growth forecast at 4 percent, according to a Reuters poll – far short of Beijing’s official target of around 5.5 percent for 2022. In addition to a sharp lockdown-induced slowdown, growth has been weighed down by a sputtering property market and an uncertain global outlook. This week, Shanghai’s 25 million people were subject to more mandatory city-wide testing, and fear of tougher measures or getting caught up in China’s zero-COVID bureaucracy continues to exact an economic toll, including on consumption and jobs. Nomura estimated 31 cities were implementing full or partial lockdowns as of July 11, affecting nearly 250 million people in regions accounting for a quarter of China’s GDP. As the rest of the world tries to coexist with COVID, China points to the lives saved by its tough measures. Click here to read…

Global Developments and Analysis: Weekly Monitor, 15 November – 21 November 2021

Economic
U.S. asks Japan, China, others to consider tapping oil reserves -sources

The Biden administration has asked some of the world’s largest oil consuming nations – including China, India and Japan – to consider releasing crude stockpiles in a coordinated effort to lower global energy prices, according to several people familiar with the matter. The unusual request comes as U.S. President Joe Biden fends off political pressure over rising pump prices and other consumer costs driven by a rebound in economic activity from lows plumbed early in the coronavirus pandemic. It also reflects U.S. frustration with members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies who have rebuffed repeated requests from Washington to speed up their production increases. In Asia, where China said it is working on a crude release, oil prices extended declines prompted by the U.S. request, after settling on Nov 17 further below seven-year highs struck in early October. Biden and top aides have discussed the possibility of a coordinated release of stockpiled oil with close allies including Japan, South Korea and India, as well as with China, over the past several weeks, the sources said. The US and allies have coordinated strategic petroleum reserve releases before, for example in 2011 during a war in OPEC member Libya. Click here to read…

China overtakes US in global wealth race

China has overtaken the US as the nation which has amassed the biggest net worth as global wealth surges, a fresh report by McKinsey & Co suggests. China’s wealth skyrocketed over the past two decades, the consulting company said according to Bloomberg, explaining that its net worth increased by a whopping 17 times from $7 trillion in 2000 to $120 trillion in 2020. The nation accounted for about one third of the global net worth increase over that period. The US saw its wealth double over the same time period. Washington had to give way to Beijing on the list of top 10 wealthiest nations since its net worth only amounted to $90 trillion in 2020, McKinsey says. In both countries, more than two thirds of the amassed wealth sits in the pockets of the richest 10% of households, the report said, adding that this share has been increasing. In total, global wealth reached $514 trillion in 2020, up from $156 trillion in 2000. Some 68% of this wealth is stored in real estate, McKinsey said, adding that its fast growth surpassed the increase of the world’s GDP over the same period. The global wealth increase has been prompted by ballooning property prices, the company said. Click here to read…

US-China phase-one trade deal gets a reality check after nearly two years

As the two-year deadline for the phase-one trade deal between the world’s two largest economies is approaching, all eyes are on the next step. Signed in January 2020, the deal was considered a ceasefire agreement between China and the United States following a two-year trade war that originated from a Section 301 investigation by the US in 2018. A direct result of the phase-one trade deal has been the suspension of more tariffs on both sides. The US suspended a planned increase in tariffs on about US$162 billion on Chinese goods and lowered an existing duty on imports worth US$110 billion. China has also announced rounds of tariff exclusions that exempt American products such as pork, soybeans, liquefied natural gas and medical disinfectants. But not long after the agreement was signed, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and reshaped the momentum of the global economy. China has fallen behind in some of the commitments it made in the agreement, sparking speculation on fresh trade tensions between the world’s largest two economies. US Trade Representative Katherine Tai told reporters earlier this month that the Biden administration is “getting traction” with China and intends to hold China accountable to the two-year phase-one trade deal while exploring all weaknesses in China’s performance, according to Reuters. Click here to read…

Taiwanese giant slapped with fines over mainland regulatory violations, Xinhua says

Mainland subsidiaries of a major Taiwanese industrial group have been punished for a range of regulatory and legal violations, including environmental protection rules, state media reported. The action against Far Eastern Group comes amid rising cross-strait tensions, as Beijing vows to resolutely crack down on the pro-independence camp in Taiwan while the self-ruled island fosters closer ties with the US and European Union. The Taipei-based conglomerate is a major donor to the island’s election campaigns, according to Taiwanese media reports. Far Eastern-invested polyester and textile, and cement companies in Shanghai and the provinces of Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Hubei and Sichuan were penalised over violations related to environmental protection, land use, employee occupational health, production safety and fire protection, taxation and product quality, Xinhua reported on Nov 22. The punishments ranged from fines, orders to pay tax arrears or rectify the issues concerned within a set time frame, to warnings that idle construction land would be taken back by the state. The companies involved had admitted the charges, and investigations were still in progress, Xinhua said. This comes about two weeks after Beijing threatened to slap criminal charges on and ban those seen to be part of the “diehard” Taiwanese pro-independence force. Click here to read…

U.S. won’t join CPTPP but will seek new framework: Raimondo

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Nov 16 that her country looks to form an economic framework that goes beyond the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. America envisions an economic framework that “could be even more robust in some ways than the traditional free trade agreement,” Raimondo said in a television interview during her trip to Tokyo. While reiterating the Biden administration’s position that the original Pacific trade agreement “is not something that America would be part of at this time,” she said the U.S. is open to a cooperative framework with Japan and other friendly nations that oversees a wide range of areas, including digital technology and supply chains. President Joe Biden unveiled plans for an Indo-Pacific economic framework at the East Asia Summit, held virtually in late October. “We look forward to signing an agreement with the economies in the region which is a robust economic framework,” Raimondo said. During the interview, which aired on TV Tokyo’s “World Business Satellite” show, Raimondo said Japan and the U.S. share many areas of mutual interest and advantage. The two sides agreed during her trip to establish the Japan-U. S. Commercial and Industrial Partnership. Click here to read…

All-Turkic corridor heralds rise of new Eurasian political bloc

When the leaders of six Turkic states convened in Istanbul last week for a summit of the Turkic Council, they were adamant to seize the golden opportunity in front of them. Azerbaijan’s decisive victory in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war had created a new reality on the ground. Through a transit corridor awarded to Azerbaijan as part of the ceasefire settlement, regional powerhouse Turkey would potentially regain direct access to its fellow Turkic states in Central Asia. It hinted at the possibility of elevating an ethnic bloc into a political force, one that could even disrupt the regional power balance between heavyweights Russia and China. The leaders were keen to leverage their advantageous geography to carve out a new role for the Turkic world. .Since the 1990s, Ankara’s access to the rest of the Turkic world was blocked by Armenia, prompting Turkey and Azerbaijan to use a route through Georgia to bypass Armenia in the South Caucasus. A new corridor via Nakhichevan will be 300 km shorter and run through lowland topography compared with the Georgia route. Turkey intends for its “Middle Corridor,” the Trans-Caspian East-West corridor that spans from China to Europe, to be the artery that binds the Turkic world. Click here to read…

In major shift, Japan looking to accept more foreigners indefinitely

In a major shift for a country long closed to immigrants, Japan is looking to allow foreigners in certain blue-collar jobs to stay indefinitely starting as early as the 2022 fiscal year, a justice ministry official said on Nov 18. Under a law that took effect in 2019, a category of “specified skilled workers” in 14 sectors such as farming, construction and sanitation have been allowed to stay for up to five years, but without their family members. The government had been looking to ease those restrictions, which had been cited by companies as among reasons that they were hesitant to hire such help. If the revision takes effect, such workers–many from Vietnam and China–would be allowed to renew their visas indefinitely and bring their families with them, as the other category of more skilled foreigners are allowed to do now. Immigration has long been taboo in Japan as many prize ethnic homogeneity, but pressure has mounted to open up its borders due to an acute labor shortage given its dwindling and aging population. The 2019 law was meant to attract some 345,000 “specified skilled workers” over five years, but the intake has hovered at around 3,000 per month before the COVID-19 pandemic sealed the borders, according to government data. Click here to read…

Japan to subsidize company-backed university courses

Japan next year will start subsidizing companies and schools working together to set up educational programs, Nikkei has learned. Japan lags behind the U.S. and Europe in research and education programs backed by private sector funding, which often helps in growth areas such as decarbonization. Tokyo is now focusing on batteries, materials and semiconductors — fields that lead to corporate research and development and improvement of competitiveness. Companies cover the costs of research and professor salaries and share research and course themes with educational institutions. The Japanese government will pay up to 30 million yen, or up to half the cost for a course that is jointly developed by companies and universities or technical colleges. Companies may set up a joint course, or a course that would help with human resources development for the company. The expense is expected to be included in the fiscal 2021 supplementary budget. The total amount is to be discussed later. The government would initially support over 10 new courses, calling for proposals as early as the beginning of 2022. Japan’s trade ministry this year will work with the education ministry to set up a team on human resource development to discuss further plans.Click here to read…

Satellite Industry Grows as Investors Bet Billions on Space-Derived Data

Dozens of companies are dotting the skies with satellites, part of a growing bet that buyers on Earth will pay billions of dollars for a more granular view of the planet. Not all of the companies are likely to make it, according to industry observers. Space-data companies, which use satellites to snap photos of Earth, track radio signals and use radar to peer through clouds, raised $5.2 billion last year, up from $1.4 billion in 2015, according to data from PitchBook. Through Nov. 10, companies had raised another $4.5 billion. Buyers of the companies’ products have included defense and other government agencies that tap the information to track troop movements and military projects. Remote-sensing companies are increasingly targeting commercial clients: Agriculture firm Corteva Inc. sells satellite-data applications that allow farmers to boost crop yields and ranchers to manage pastureland, executives said. Space-data companies also have said they see opportunities to sell information to buyers such as insurers, which could use it to assess disaster risks for properties, and energy companies, which could use the data to monitor pipelines. Other clients could include governments and businesses looking to monitor pollution and track environmental commitments. Click here to read…

Strategic
U.S. needs allies to host missiles to deter China: panel

With China building up its military, the U.S. should engage with Japan and other Indo-Pacific partners on deploying intermediate-range missiles in the region to deter a crisis in the Taiwan Strait, an influential bipartisan advisory body said in a report published Nov 17. In its 2021 report to Congress, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission expressed strong concern over a potential invasion of Taiwan by the mainland. The commission, comprised of former senior government officials, compiles an annual report with input from U.S.-China experts that is watched closely by the government and Congress. People’s Liberation Army “leaders now likely assess they have, or will soon have, the initial capability needed to conduct a high-risk invasion of Taiwan if ordered to do so by Chinese Communist Party leaders,” the report said. The report also discussed the possibility of a preemptive Chinese attack on American forces in Japan to delay the U.S. response to a Taiwan Strait crisis. The Chinese military “has demonstrated the precision strike capability and missile inventory it would need to strike nearly every U.S. ship in port; more than 200 grounded U.S. aircraft; and all major fixed headquarters, logistics facilities, and runways in U.S. airbases” in Japan, the commission said. Click here to read…

Chinese hypersonic test included pathbreaking 2nd missile launch: Reports

China’s test of a globe-circling hypersonic weapon in July included the unprecedented launch of a separate missile from the ultra-high-speed vehicle, according to the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. The test showed China’s development of its strategic, nuclear-capable weapons as more advanced than any had thought, surprising Pentagon officials, the two newspapers said. Neither the United States nor Russia has demonstrated the same ability, which requires launching a missile from a parent vehicle travelling five times the speed of sound. The Jul 27 Chinese hypersonic test alone had already stunned Western officials. In it, a launch vehicle, a long-range missile, carried the guided hypersonic warhead around the world and then released it toward a test target inside China. The hypersonic, which unlike ballistic missiles can be steered, missed the target by more than 32 kilometres, which the number two general in the Pentagon, General John Hyten, said last week was “close enough” for an initial test. But more surprising was that the hypersonic, while flying from the south toward China, released a separate missile which rocketed away, falling harmlessly into the South China Sea.Click here to read…

Plans for Putin-Biden meeting revealed in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin could meet his American counterpart Joe Biden before the end of this year, a top official in Moscow has revealed. It would be a second face-to-face encounter between the two leaders in 2021. Work is already underway on organising the event, Moscow’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told national TV on Nov 21. The senior diplomat said Washington had recently made some assertions relevant to Russia, including those related to the situation in Ukraine and Moscow feels the need to “explain in detail what is really happening and how,” he added. “Thorough preparation is needed for this meeting to take place, and that is what we’re doing,” the deputy minister said. Earlier this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also referred to the possibility of Putin meeting Biden in the near future. However, he said that no specific timelines had been agreed yet. Washington has not mentioned any timeline for the meeting in its recent comments. On Nov 18, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Biden talking to Putin “at a certain moment in future,” but said she had no announcement to make about contact between the two leaders. Click here to read…

Kremlin says it is alarmed by U.S.-backed armament push for Ukraine

The Kremlin said on Nov 22 it was alarmed by a U.S.-backed push to supply Ukraine with sophisticated weapons but said U.S. media outlets that have suggested Russia is poised to attack Ukraine are being used in a disinformation campaign. The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence told the Military Times outlet this weekend that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February. Kyrylo Budanov said such an attack would probably involve air strikes, artillery and armoured attacks followed by airborne assaults in the east, amphibious assaults in Odessa and Mariupol, and a smaller incursion through Belarus. Similar warnings, often sourced to unnamed people familiar with the matter, have appeared in some U.S. media and the United States, NATO and Ukraine have raised concerns about Russian troops movements near Ukraine in recent weeks. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the idea of a possible Russian attack and said that Moscow itself was being targeted in a disinformation campaign. Click here to read…

China’s Communist Party targets big risks in countdown to congress

The Communist Party pledged to double down on controlling risks across the board in the countdown to a major party meeting next year that is set to mark the start of President Xi Jinping’s third term as party leader. “[We] must insist on making political security the top priority and coordinate to step up security work in key disciplines including political security, economic security, social security [and] technology security,” the Politburo said in a statement after a meeting on Nov 18. “[We] must firmly uphold regime security, institutional security and ideological security, and strictly defend ourselves against all sorts of infiltration and subversive acts.” The 25 members of the party’s inner circle – led by Xi – also pledged to be on guard for systemic financial risks and to ensure industry was more resilient. The Politburo, which meets about once a month, also passed the “National Security Strategy (2021-2025)” but offered no details on the document. An apparently similar document called the National Security Strategic Outline was passed during a Politburo meeting in 2015. Selection for the 2,300 members to attend the congress started on Nov 18 and will continue until June. Nov 18’s meeting generated a long list of risks that officials should pay close attention to, including food security, infrastructure and social stability. Click here to read…

Biden and Xi agree to begin discussion on strategic stability

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed at a virtual meeting to look into the possibility of arms control talks, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Nov 16. Biden and Xi agreed to “look to begin to carry forward discussion on strategic stability,” Sullivan said in a reference to U.S. concerns about China’s nuclear and missile buildup. “You will see at multiple levels an intensification of the engagement to ensure that there are guardrails around this competition so that it doesn’t veer off into conflict,” Sullivan said in a Brookings Institution webinar. Sullivan did not elaborate on what form the discussions on strategic stability could take, but went on to say: “That is not the same as what we have in the Russian context with the formal strategic stability dialogue. That is far more mature, has a much deeper history to it. There’s less maturity to that in the U.S.-China relationship, but the two leaders did discuss these issues and it is now incumbent on us to think about the most productive way to carry it forward.” Washington has repeatedly urged China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty. Click here to read…

Xi says China ready to sign ASEAN’s nuclear arms-free zone treaty

Chinese leader Xi Jinping said Nov 22 that Beijing was ready to sign a Southeast Asia nuclear weapon-free treaty, in an apparent response to the new AUKUS defense pact between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. A protocol for the Bangkok Treaty was issued for five nations that had nuclear weapons at the time — China, Russia, France, the U.K. and the U.S., according to the United Nations. China would be the first of the five parties to sign if it follows through on Xi’s words. Even so, a Pentagon report earlier this month said that China is on track to quintuple its nuclear arsenal by 2030 to at least 1,000 warheads. Beijing’s decision was likely made with AUKUS in mind, as the trilateral agreement allows Australia to receive nuclear propulsion technology to power a new fleet of submarines. Xi’s comments will ratchet up the pressure on Australia, a nation with which China has an increasing antagonistic relationship. Nuclear submarines do not fall under the definition of a nuclear weapon as set out in the Bangkok Treaty — “nuclear weapon” means any explosive device capable of releasing nuclear energy in an uncontrolled manner, according to the treaty. Click here to read…

China coast guard uses water cannons against Philippine boats

Chinese coast guard ships blocked and used water cannons on two Philippine supply boats heading to a disputed shoal occupied by Filipino marines in the South China Sea, provoking an angry protest to China and a warning from the Philippine government that its vessels are covered under a mutual defense treaty with the United States, Manila’s top diplomat said Nov 18. Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said no one was hurt in the incident in the disputed waters on Nov 16, but the two supply ships had to abort their mission to provide food supplies to Filipino forces occupying the Second Thomas Shoal, which lies off western Palawan province in the Philippines’ internationally recognized exclusive economic zone. Locsin said in a tweet that the three Chinese coast guard ships’ actions were illegal and he urged them ”to take heed and back off.” The Philippine government has conveyed to China ”our outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident,” Locsin said, adding that ”this failure to exercise self-restraint threatens the special relationship between the Philippines and China” that President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, have worked hard to nurture. There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials in Manila or Beijing. Click here to read…

Hayashi invited to visit China, says nothing decided yet

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, asked him to visit China, a country increasingly under global scrutiny over its human rights record. “Nothing has been decided at this point,” Hayashi said about the invitation on a TV program aired by Fuji Television Network Inc. on Nov. 21. Hayashi said Wang extended the invitation during their Nov. 18 phone talks, in which Hayashi expressed Japan’s concerns over China’s maritime advances. Although Hayashi declined to comment on whether he will accept the invitation, he said that he and Wang confirmed that the two countries will work together to build “constructive and stable Japan-China relations” since next year will mark the 50th anniversary of normalized bilateral ties. U.S. President Joe Biden recently said he is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February over China’s human rights violations. Hayashi said Japan will decide its course of action over the matter on its own. Click here to read…

China warned Japan may intervene militarily if it invades Taiwan

China has been warned to stay alert to the possibility Japan will intervene militarily in the event of an attack on Taiwan. A research paper said recent gestures of support for the island indicate that Japan and the United States have been discussing the scenario and are making plans to deter Beijing from using force to take the island. “Japan has not only released signals through official and individual levels, but also tried to carry out practical response actions through the Japan-US alliance or partially acted alone under the existing legal framework,” said the paper published last week in the journal Asia-Pacific Security and Maritime Affairs. Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and has never renounced the use of force to reunite it with the mainland, but Japan would regard this as a significant threat to its national security and the regional political order. The paper, written by Wu Huaizhong, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that in recent years the Japanese government had hardened its stance. “It is hard to imagine that in the short and mid-term future Japan will actively seek to be involved in an uncontrollable disastrous war regardless of the cost,” the article said, adding that it is more likely to consider providing logistical support to allies rather than becoming directly involved in combat. “The question is not ‘whether’ Japan would intervene, but just ‘how’ to intervene,” it added. Click here to read…

ISIS-K’s Afghan play worries Kabul, Beijing and Islamabad

The growing strength of ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s regional affiliate in Afghanistan, has unsettled both the new Taliban regime in Kabul and neighboring countries, including China, Pakistan and Iran. Leveraging the U.S. withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, ISIS-K has positioned itself as Afghanistan’s last jihadi movement. It has been recruiting from within the Taliban as well as among transnational and ethnic separatist movements in the region. It has also drawn from Afghanistan’s former military ranks. “So far, the ISIS-K leadership is satisfied with its multipronged strategy and progress in Afghanistan,” an ISIS-K leader in Nangarhar Province told Nikkei Asia. “ISIS-K’s local successes in Afghanistan have helped attract rebels of various ethnicities in the region and gain international attention,” the leader said in a rare comment to the press. The militant group generally bans members from speaking to news organizations. ISIS-K’s expanded area of operations in Afghanistan has increased the risk of infiltration. Hibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s supreme leader, issued a letter on Nov. 4 ordering his provincial commanders to check into the backgrounds of all their fighters. “Akhundzada has also asked Taliban commanders to socialize with the fighters on the streets as part of the Taliban’s counter strategy to stop defections,” said Jan, a Taliban commander in Kabul, who asked not to be fully identified. Click here to read…

Afghan Evacuees, Scattered Around the World, Could Wait Years for Chance to Reach U.S.

Thousands of Afghans who were evacuated from Kabul after the Taliban seized power in August could be stranded in other countries for years because of backlogs in the U.S. refugee system, according to officials and the groups that helped them escape. From interpreters to policewomen to judges, many say they were promised—in recruitment pitches for the military and other venues—a chance to come to the U.S. in return for promoting American goals during the 20-year war. As the U.S. ramped up evacuation efforts from Kabul in August, American overseas military bases quickly became overcrowded as some 70,000 Afghans entered the pipeline to U.S. military installations either abroad or in the U.S. To ease crowding, the Biden administration called on other countries to let Afghans travel through their nations while waiting for visas. Many governments across Africa, Europe and South America agreed to open their doors on a temporary basis to Afghans evacuated by private groups, such as those composed of veterans or nonprofit organizations. One of the largest groups of evacuees outside of the U.S. military system is spread across Albania, Georgia and North Macedonia. Click here to read…

Yemen’s Battleground Shifts in Favor of Iran-Backed Houthis

Houthi fighters allied with Iran have gained important new ground in the yearslong war in Yemen, as Saudi Arabia is struggling to defend a strategic, oil-rich city and U.S. efforts to broker peace stagnate. Without coordinating with United Nations peacekeepers in the area, Yemeni forces supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates abruptly withdrew last week from key positions near the western port city of Hodeidah. At the same time, Saudi Arabia vowed to send more forces to defend Marib, the center of an energy hub near the Saudi border where the Houthis have been methodically gaining new ground for months. The surprising shifts in the front lines of a seven-year war have allowed the Houthis to reopen the road from Hodeidah to the capital, Sana’a, where the group recently stormed a largely abandoned U.S. Embassy complex and took Yemeni employees captive. The battleground realignment is another strategic twist for the Saudis, who initially believed in 2015 that, with American backing, they would need just a few weeks to defeat the Houthi movement, a Shiite offshoot group in Yemen aligned with Iran that had taken over Yemen’s capital. People familiar with the matter said Saudi Arabia has launched an internal reassessment of its strategy in Yemen that should be completed later this month. Click here to read…

Blinken Says U.S. Will Treat African Nations as Equal Partners

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. would treat African countries as equals rather than “subjects of geopolitics” in a speech meant to set out the Biden administration’s policy toward the continent. Mr. Blinken told an audience of young Africans and dignitaries at the Economic Community of West African States that the continent was critical to solving many of today’s key global challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, economic recovery and democratic and human rights. He called on African governments, regional and continental organizations, and the public to play a greater role in addressing those challenges. “Too many times, the countries of Africa have been treated as junior partners—or worse—rather than equal ones,” Mr. Blinken said. “Too often, we ask our partners to help uphold and defend an international system that they don’t feel fully reflects their needs and aspirations. And we’re sensitive to centuries of colonialism, slavery, and exploitation have left painful legacies that endure today.” While avoiding any direct mention of China or Russia, Mr. Blinken’s speech sought to differentiate the administration’s approach to Africa from that of its rivals, which the U.S. has accused of using investments on the continent to further their own political aims. Click here to read…

US defence chief pledges to counter Iran during Bahrain visit

The United States’s top defence official has pledged to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, as negotiations remain stalled over Tehran’s tattered atomic deal with world powers, in comments that appeared aimed at reassuring the US’s Gulf Arab allies. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s comments in Bahrain at the annual Manama Dialogue on Nov 20 come as the Biden administration tries to revive the nuclear deal, which limited Iran’s enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. His remarks also come after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, raising concerns among Gulf countries about Washington’s commitment to the region as US defence officials say they want to pivot forces to counter perceived challenges from China and Russia. “The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. And we remain committed to a diplomatic outcome of the nuclear issue,” Austin told an event put on by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “But if Iran isn’t willing to engage seriously, then we will look at all of the options necessary to keep the United States secure.” The Pentagon chief said that the US would be coming to the indirect negotiations on reviving the deal on November 29 in good faith. Click here to read…

1 out of 3 young people undecided about South Korea presidential candidates

With less than four months left ahead of the next presidential election in March, young voters in their 20s and 30s have risen as swing voters who could play a decisive role in selecting the winner. In recent opinion polls, many in this age group have said they support neither of the candidates of the country’s two major parties ― Yoon Seok-youl of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) and Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK). According to a survey of 1,004 adults conducted together by four local pollsters ― Embrain Public, Kstat Research, Korea Research International and Hankook Research ― from Nov. 15 to 17, support for both Yoon and Lee were notably lower among the younger voters than among those in other age groups. 37 percent of the youngest age group and 27 percent of people in their 30s either said they have no favored candidate or didn’t answer. Political watchers say the lower support rates of the candidates from the two major parties among voters in their 20s and 30s show the young generation’s disappointment with established politicians and their so-called “vested rights,” especially as both Lee and Yoon are involved in corruption scandals. Click here to read…

Sudan’s reinstated PM Hamdok promises a path to democracy

Newly reinstated Sudanese Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok has pledged to introduce a “technocratic government” made up of qualified professionals who will lead the country on a path to democracy nearly a month after a military coup. In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, Hamdok – who was deposed by the military on October 25 but reinstated as interim premier after signing a deal on Nov 21 with Sudan’s top general to restore the transition to civilian rule – said the new government will be independent. Hamdok had been under house arrest by the military for weeks. The military also dissolved his cabinet and arrested a number of civilians who had held top positions under a power-sharing deal agreed after the popular overthrow of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The 14-point deal between Hamdok and the military, signed in the presidential palace in Khartoum on Sunday, also provides for the release of all political prisoners detained during the coup and stipulates that a 2019 constitutional declaration be the basis for a political transition, according to details read out on state television. The coup has drawn international criticism. Sudanese people have been taking to the streets en masse since the military takeover, which upended the country’s fragile transition to democracy. Click here to read…

US issues religious freedom ‘concern’ list, removes Nigeria

The United States has removed Nigeria from a list of “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom, a day before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives there as part of an African tour, while issuing designations for 10 other countries. Blinken announced the designations as part of the US State Department’s annual review of religious freedom rights violations in countries worldwide, which is based on assessments made by the independent US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). “Each year the Secretary of State has the responsibility to identify governments and non-state actors, who, because of their religious freedom violations, merit designation under the International Religious Freedom Act,” Blinken said in a statement on Nov 17. “I am designating Burma [Myanmar], the People’s Republic of China, Eritrea, Iran, the DPRK [North Korea], Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern [CPC] for having engaged in or tolerated ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom’.” The designations do not necessarily come with specific or binding sanctions or other US actions, although US law states that the government must “take targeted responses to violations of religious freedom”. Click here to read…

Thousands protest in Iran’s Isfahan to demand revival of river

Thousands of protesters have gathered in Isfahan in central Iran to demand the revival of a major river that has dried up. Footage broadcast by state television and dozens of videos circulating on social media on Nov 19 showed a sea of farmers and other people standing on a huge barren strip of dirt where the major Zayandeh Rud River used to flow, near the iconic Khaju Bridge in Isfahan province. The river’s dryness is thought to directly affect the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers in the province, state TV said, in addition to adversely affecting the environment. The key river has faced water shortages and droughts for years, and farmers have intermittently protested the lack of attention given to the issue. But officials have yet to find a sustainable solution to the problem. Former administrations had promised to come up with solutions, and the country’s Supreme Council of Water approved a nine-point plan involving reviving a major wetland that it said was a sustainable solution eight years ago, but it was never fully implemented. Farmers have been protesting at the site for more than a week, but Nov 19’s demonstration attracted the largest number of people and drew the attention of the government. Droughts have dogged Iran for decades but have intensified over the past decade. Most Iranian provinces currently face some level of drought. Click here to read…

Poland says Belarus border crisis may be prelude to “something worse”

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki warned on Nov 21 that the migrant crisis on the Belarus border may be a prelude to “something much worse”, and Poland’s border guard said Belarusian forces were still ferrying migrants to the frontier. The European Union accuses Belarus of flying in thousands of people from the Middle East and pushing them to cross into EU and NATO members Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, in response to European sanctions. Minsk, which denies fomenting the crisis, cleared a migrant camp near the border on Nov 18 and started to repatriate some people to Iraq, while Poland and Lithuania reported lower numbers of attempts to cross their borders in recent days. But Morawiecki warned the crisis was far from over as he toured Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia on Sunday to discuss the situation. A poll published by Poland’s Rzeczpospolita daily on Nov 21 said 55% of Poles are worried the crisis on the border could escalate into an armed conflict. Click here to read…

Medical
Coronavirus: former heads of pandemic review panel warn ‘the world is losing time’

Governments are not moving fast enough to end the pandemic or to prevent another one, warned the former heads of an independent body tasked with grading the world on its response to Covid-19. “Waves of disease and death continue – as people in the northern hemisphere move indoors, fatigue with restrictions sets in, vaccine coverage and other countermeasures remain uneven, and people in the poorest countries have almost no access to vaccines,” wrote former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a report released on Nov 22. “The world is losing time,” they said. Their warning comes ahead of a special session of the World Health Organization’s governing body next week where health ministers from around the globe will discuss whether to develop a new treaty or other reforms on how the world prepares for and responds to pandemics. It also comes six months after the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response – a body set up by the WHO director general and chaired by Clark and Sirleaf – outlined urgent reforms and findings based on nine months of research into how the Covid-19 outbreak first identified in China became a crippling pandemic. Click here to read…

Pfizer co-developer says Covid vaccination will be annual

People around the world will need to get a jab against Covid-19 once a year, at least when it comes to the Pfizer vaccine, BioNTech’s CEO Ugur Sahin said in an interview on Nov 21, as he praised the quality of its booster shot. In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper on Nov 21, Sahin said he considers the vaccine, co-developed by his company, to be “very effective.” A “very high” level of protection against severe illness lasts for up to nine months, the BioNTech CEO maintained. He said this level starts decreasing “from the fourth month,” however. To maintain the protection, Sahin strongly pushed for booster shots, arguing that they would not just restore levels of antibodies but would potentially help “to break … chains of infection.” He also encouraged doctors to be “as pragmatic as possible” when it comes to greenlighting vaccination and “not to send people home unvaccinated even though they could be vaccinated without any problems.” In the future, people might need to get booster shots once a year, the BioNTech CEO believes. He said that he expects protection from a booster shot to “last longer” than the initial immunity one acquires after getting two doses of the vaccine. Sahin’s interview comes days after it was revealed that Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna are making a combined profit of $65,000 every minute – all thanks to their Covid-19 jabs. Click here to read…

South Korean schools resume full in-person classes

For the first time since South Korea began battling its coronavirus outbreak in early 2020, all schools across the country resumed full-time in-person classes on Nov 22. As the first country outside China to face a major outbreak of the virus, South Korea’s schools have seen various stages of shutdowns, remote learning, and hybrid arrangements. Widespread testing, intensive contact tracing and tracking apps have enabled South Korea to limit the spread of the virus without the extensive lockdowns seen in other countries, but previous efforts at fully opening schools have been hampered by new waves of infections. The fully reopened schools come as part of South Korea’s “living with COVID-19” plan, adopted after it reached its vaccination goals last month. Overall 78.8 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, though that number drops to 12.8 per cent for those ages 12 to 17. “It is true that many concerns remain,” South Korean education minister Yoo Eun-hye said during a visit to an elementary school in Seoul on Monday. Even as it eased social distancing amid high vaccination rates, the country has battled some of the highest daily case numbers yet, including a record number of severe cases. Click here to read…