MOLINE, ILLINOIS, (KANE FARABAUGH-VOANEWS).- It’s been almost two decades since Illinois farmer Scott Halpin drove a newer tractor through the fields of Grundy County.

Thankfully, as he helps pour soybean seeds into the planter that eventually will place them in the soil, the equipment his family is using is well-serviced and —so far — reliable.

Hopefully, that doesn’t change anytime soon, because Halpin says he can’t afford it.

“Not under this farm economy,” he told VOA, peering at the fields and the iconic green and yellow tractors his family owns, made in America by John Deere, headquartered in Moline, Illinois.

​New equipment more expensive

John Deere saw a surge in sales and profits in the early part of 2018, but that was before aluminum and steel tariffs were imposed by the United States on China.

Now Deere, which uses steel in its equipment, plans to increase prices for 2019 models to protect profits.

That means it isn’t getting cheaper for Halpin to make a new purchase.

“The increased cost of equipment with the declining farm economy right now doesn’t make it real smart for us, or doesn’t make it what we want to do for our farming operation here,” he said.

As tensions ease somewhat over a potential trade war while negotiations continue between the U.S. and China, uncertainty remains about tariffs and the eventual impact on the U.S. agricultural industry. It’s taking a toll on U.S. farmers like Halpin, heading to the fields to plant this year’s crop. It’s also a growing concern for companies that supply the U.S. agricultural industry.

Hit from both sides

“For companies like John Deere and Caterpillar, they really get hit on both sides of the trade dispute spectrum,” said Mark Grywacheski, an investment adviser with the Quad Cities Investment Group. He explained that the cost for farmers and their suppliers to do business expands beyond the additional tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum imposed by the U.S.

“So, if John Deere makes a routine purchase of $10 million of imported steel, they now have to cut another check for $2.5 million to the federal government, and that increases their operating costs,” Grywacheski told VOA. “On the other side, you have China threatening the U.S. with $150 billion of their own tariffs, primarily targeting the U.S. agricultural industry. Not only does that impact farmers, but it impacts those companies with ties to the farming industry.”

A daily effect

Increased cost for farm equipment and concerns about competitive access to a big market like China, which has depressed prices for corn and soybeans, is creating the perfect economic storm for farmers like the Halpins.

“The decline in the market has a daily effect on every farm in this country.” Halpin said the relentless news about renegotiating trade deals and tariffs also has a “daily effect” and what he wants most, almost as much as favorable weather this year for his crops, is some sense of stability.

“With the negotiations the way they’re happening, it can hurt when things happen on a daily basis. It’s just kind of uncertain times here in farming,” he noted.

It’s a time when, even before new tariffs, the U.S. Agriculture Department projected net farm income in 2018 to reach a 12-year low.

Kane Farabaugh
Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

WASHINGTON, (SETAREH DERAKHSHESH-MICHAEL LIPIN-VOANEWS).- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says if Iranian leaders accept U.S. demands to behave like a normal nation, Americans will visit Iran and treat it as a friend.

In an exclusive interview with VOA's Persian service broadcast Friday, Pompeo said the goal of the new Iran strategy that he revealed earlier this week is to set conditions for Iran's Islamist rulers to behave like "normal leaders." Speaking to VOA at the State Department on Thursday, he said "normal" leaders do not loot from their people or waste their money on "adventures" in Syria and Yemen, as he put it.

"If we can create conditions where [Iran's leaders] will stop that [behavior], the Iranian people will have great success, and we will have Americans visiting there, and we will have all the great things that we do when there are friends and allies," Pompeo said.

The top U.S. diplomat elaborated on one of the 12 conditions from his strategy speech by saying Iran should allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect military sites and research laboratories. In the May 21 speech, he had called for the IAEA to have unqualified access to "all sites throughout the entire country."

In his VOA Persian interview, Pompeo also expanded on the U.S. demand for Iran to end threats to destroy Israel and end other threatening behaviors toward neighboring states. He said Iranian leaders should not only stop encouraging public chants of "Death to Israel," but also "Death to America."

"When you have senior leaders [and] others fomenting these sort of fake gatherings to do nothing but … chant, 'Death to America' or 'Death to Israel,' the Iranian leadership ought to stop … because it is not the right thing for their people," he said.

Pompeo reiterated that the U.S. does not seek regime change in Iran and advised exiled Iranian opposition groups not to do so, either. "We do not want them advocating for regime change," he said. Pompeo said that as long as such groups are working toward the same goals as the U.S., he welcomes their efforts.

But, Pompeo said some "smaller" opposition groups have not always aligned themselves with U.S. goals, without naming which groups he was referring to. "We want them working on behalf of the Iranian people, ordinary Iranian citizens who want nothing more than to live their lives, to be able to take their hijab off, to be able to go to work and raise their families and worship in the way they want to worship."

Pompeo said the Trump administration will support congressional efforts to pass legislation that would try to expose the hidden wealth of top Iranian leaders, whose many critics inside Iran view as corrupt.

"The Iranian people deserve the truth. You have senior leaders that are pocketing money, using businesses that are nominally fronts, and frankly, just stealing. To the extent we can prove that and demonstrate that, I would welcome the chance to expose it so the Iranian people can judge for themselves whether these are the individuals they want to lead their country," he said.

The Iranian Leadership Asset Transparency Act would require the U.S. Treasury Secretary to publish reports about the estimated financial assets of senior Iranian leaders suspected of corruption. The bill passed the House in December and has been taken up by a Senate committee.

Pompeo also said the State Department is working "every day" to try to bring home Robert Levinson, an American who disappeared March 9, 2007, while visiting Iran's Kish Island as a private investigator.

"As for other Americans [detained in Iran], we hope that the Iranian leadership [President Hassan] Rouhani, [Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif, [Supreme Leader] Ayatollah [Ali Khamenei] all would see that it is in their best interests — and for nothing more than basic humanity — to allow these innocent Americans to return to their families."

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Persian Service.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- As the House of Representatives prepares for expected votes on major reforms to U.S. immigration law this week, the Trump administration defends the separation of some undocumented immigrant children from their parents,

Once a rare practice, federal agents now routinely separate families seeking asylum or attempting to enter the United States illegally. Roughly 2,000 minors had been separated from their families over a six-week period ending in May, administration officials said last week.

Video released by the U.S. government shows what appears to be humane conditions at a shelter site for children. But furor over the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy for unauthorized border arrivals is growing.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Monday that seeking to deter parents by inflicting abuse on children is "unconscionable."

"Mr. President, people do not lose their human rights by virtue of crossing a border without a visa," Zeid said. "I deplore the adoption by many countries of policies intended to make themselves as inhospitable as possible by increasing the suffering of many already vulnerable people."

Defend policy

Trump continues to view America's immigration debate through the lens of public safety, often pointing to foreign-born members of a vicious Central American gang as he seeks stricter policies.

The president has also repeatedly blamed Democrats for the separations, falsely claiming they are responsible for the situation. Trump's administration put in place the policy to arrest all migrants who illegally cross the U.S. border, including those seeking asylum, and because children cannot be sent to the same detention facilities as their parents, they are separated.

"The Democrats should get together with their Republican counterparts and work something out on Border Security & Safety," Trump tweeted late Sunday. "Don't wait until after the election because you are going to lose!"

Trump's Republican party holds a majority in both houses of Congress.

He is scheduled to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss two competing Republican immigration reform bills.

Both bills would provide legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, make sweeping changes to legal immigration, and boost U.S. border security. It is unclear if either will attract enough votes to pass.

"We said from the beginning we want the House to debate immigration reform in a serious, meaningful way. And it looks like that is happening for the first time in nearly a decade," Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo said.

Trump's advisers, both past and present, also continue to defend the separation policy.

"Nobody likes'' breaking up families and "seeing babies ripped from their mothers' arms,'' said Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president. But she, too, placed the blame on the Democrats.

Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, also defended the policy saying, "We ran on a policy, very simply, stop mass illegal immigration and limit legal immigration, get our sovereignty back, and to help our workers, OK? And so he went to a zero-tolerance policy.''

Immigration experts and many legal scholars, however, said the administration is interpreting U.S. immigration law as no other administration has. Democrats have condemned both the policy and Trump's rationale for pursuing it.

"In the world, there is a recognition that people can seek asylum, except, apparently not in the United States," House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Texas protest

Over the weekend, several protests were held across the country as lawmakers, religious leaders and American citizens decried the family separation policy.

Democratic Texas state Congressman Beto O'Rourke led hundreds of people on a march Sunday in Tornillo, Texas, where the government is holding some of the children. The purpose of the march, he said, was to "help this country to make the right decision, and part of that is knowing what's going on in the first place."

O'Rourke, who is seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, was joined by U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, also a Democrat.

Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump, also spoke out against the policy.

"It's disgraceful, and it's terrible to see families ripped apart and I don't support that one bit," he said on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Miami (Florida) Archbishop Thomas Wenski said, “The policy is designed to frighten the parents by taking away their kids, traumatizing the kids. And they [federal agents] think that will serve as a deterrent for people exercising a basic human right, which is to ask for asylum.”

First lady Melania Trump released a statement that appeared to oppose her husband's policy.

"Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform," her office Sunday said. "She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart."

Former first lady Laura Bush wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the policy is cruel and immoral."

"Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso," she said. "These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese interment camps of World War 2, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history."

Also Sunday, officials say at least five people died after an SUV fleeing Border Patrol agents crashed in southern Texas.

Texas public safety officials said many people in the vehicle might have been living in the U.S. without legal permission. The driver and at least one other person, believed to be U.S. citizens, are in custody, the state officials said.

VOA's Michael Bowman contributed to this report.

WASHINGTON.- North Korea’s continued development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs poses a grave threat to international peace and security. We remain committed to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and dismantlement of North Korea’s WMD and ballistic missile programs, but North Korea must match its words with concrete actions.

To support this goal, we will continue to take action to impose maximum economic pressure on North Korea, in keeping with relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs).

We are concerned by North Korea’s evasion of international sanctions and its continued ability to access the international financial system.

North Korea does little business in its own true name and uses a network of agents, front and shell companies, and complex ownership structures to access the international financial system.

As the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) noted in its March 2018 report, in 2017, more than 30 representatives of North Korean banks have been operating outside of North Korea, in contravention of UNSCRs.

The PoE also noted that DPRK trade representatives continue to play a role in the country’s prohibited programs, including by acting as fronts for designated entities and individuals, as well as engaging in commercial activities that violate the UNSCRs.

We call on all countries to fully and effectively implement their UNSCR obligations with respect to North Korea and, in this regard, to expeditiously expel these bank and trade representatives in accordance with their UN obligations.

Financial institutions in G7 countries also play an important role in the fight against North Korea’s illicit global financial activity, and we will engage and share information with them, as appropriate, to expose North Korea’s deceptive financial practices and thereby protect the integrity of the international financial system.

We call on countries to similarly engage their financial institutions so they will be on alert and take steps to implement necessary additional scrutiny to ensure that they are not processing transactions on behalf of sanctioned North Korean entities.

U.S. Department of the Treasury

WHITE HOUSE, (PEGGY CHANG-VOANES).- U.S. President Donald Trump will host French President Emmanuel Macron for a state visit next week as the Iran nuclear agreement hangs in the balance, and the expiration of EU’s exemptions from steel and aluminum tariffs nears.

Macron’s visit will be the first state visit of the Trump administration. Over the past year, Macron and Trump have forged an unlikely partnership. U.S. media dubbed the relationship a “bromance” and “one of history’s oddest diplomatic couples.”

“The Trump-Macron relationship is perhaps one of the most unexpected partnerships of the Trump era,” observed Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at Heritage Foundation in an interview with VOA. “Clearly, Emmanuel Macron is very different to Trump in many respects ideologically, but the two leaders have formed a very pragmatic working relationship.”

Iran deal​

A senior administration official said the themes of the visit include celebrating the close ties between France and the United States, trade and investment issues, and security concerns, such as combating terrorism and the way forward in Syria.

It is expected that the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will be front and center of the bilateral discussions. Analysts see Macron’s visit, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House later in the week, as last-minute efforts to save the deal ahead of Trump’s May 12 deadline for the U.S. to pull out of the agreement if the terms are not changed.

A senior administration official told reporters it’s difficult to say the degree of detail the two leaders will go into regarding the Iran accord. He noted the discussions between European allies and the United States are “not quite done yet,” so the timeframe for the president make a decision on the deal will be “mid-May.”

“The president’s three priorities with respect to JCPOA are the sunset clause, the ballistic missile program, and more broadly, Iran’s malign activities throughout the region and throughout the world,” the official said.

Trump has demanded these flaws be fixed in the 2015 deal Iran made with six major powers — the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China — to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions that hobbled its economy.

Trump has called the agreement crafted under the Obama administration “the worst deal ever negotiated.” Trump contends Iran would quickly achieve nuclear capability at the end of the 10-year agreement and often assails its current military adventures in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

Heritage Foundation expert Gardiner said it will be very interesting to see what Macron has to offer.

“Unless measures are taken to strengthen the deal, the deal should be dropped by the United States. I expect actually that’s what the president is going to do, unless there is a convincing case made by European leaders that Europe is committed to fundamentally strengthen the agreement. We haven’t seen that commitment yet,” he said.

Eric Jones, director of European and Eurasian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, also doesn’t see Trump changing his mind about Iran after meeting with Macron, and he believes the Europeans see that as well.

“They’re hoping to convince the president they are going to introduce their own sanctions outside of the agreement in order to punish Iran for its behavior in Syria and other places, and that will be adequate reasons for the president to continue to waive U.S. sanctions under the deal where it stands. That’s what they want, a short-term achievement, not a long-term change in the president’s perspective,” Jones told VOA.

​US-European trade

Regarding trade, for Macron, extending the steel and aluminum exemption for the EU will be the first priority. A senior administration official said it’s hard to say if there will be any trade announcement following the state visit.

Jones said there are a lot of differences on trade, the most important of which is that Trump’s team hasn’t wrapped its collective mind around the idea that the European Union is a single trading entity.

“President Trump’s team has repeatedly approached not just France, but Germany and other European countries with the eye of making bilateral deals with these countries. Unfortunately, that’s a category error. These countries can’t make bilateral deals with the United States, so I think part of what President Macron is going to try to do, is better to push the conversation forward as a way of suggesting the United States should imagine the European Union as a single trading entity and a bilateral arrangement between the US and EU is what the White House should aspire to achieve,” he noted.

Macron’s state visit will start Monday with a tour of Mount Vernon and a private couples’ dinner hosted by Trump. Macron and Trump will meet at the White House Tuesday morning for a one-on-one session in the Oval Office, followed by a joint press conference. That evening, Trump will host Macron for a state dinner at the White House. On Wednesday, Macron will address a joint session of Congress.

STATE DEPARTMENT, (CINDI SAINE-VOANES).- With the opening Monday of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the region is bracing for both celebrations and unrest.

The United States plans to host about 800 guests at an opening ceremony of its embassy. U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will be on hand, while Trump addresses the ceremony via video, reaffirming his December 2017 decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv.

"I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Trump said at the White House late last year. "While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering."

National Security Advisor John Bolton points out that other presidents also said they would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but Trump is the only one to do it.

"That’s not simply something that has an effect on the conditions in Israel, but it says to world leader all around the world, when he says he’s going to do something, he does," Bolton told VOA on Friday.

Most of the 850 U.S. Embassy workers will remain in Tel Aviv until a new embassy building is constructed in Jerusalem. Fifty of them will make up the initial staff at the new embassy, including U.S. Ambassador David Friedman.

Experts say the move is largely symbolic. But with Palestinians wanting to name East Jerusalem as a capital of their future state, this symbolism matters.

'Contentious' issue

Khaled Elgindy of the Brookings Institution notes both Republican and Democratic administrations have resisted moving the U.S. Embassy for the past 70 years.

"The United States, like most countries in the world, have maintained an embassy in Tel Aviv, rather than in Jerusalem, precisely because of the highly contentious nature of the issue of Jerusalem for Palestinians, for Israelis, for the Arab world, for the Muslim world, for Christians around the world, and of course for Jews as well," he said.

Elgindy said the move was centered on U.S. domestic politics, namely a campaign pledge Trump made to his core supporters.

"There is no national security interest that is gained by moving the embassy — to the contrary," he said. "I think it destabilizes the region. It adds a level of instability and it also makes it much harder to negotiate peace between Israelis and Palestinians."

Palestinians have protested Trump's decision and are calling for more demonstrations next week. They want East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as the capital of their future Palestinian state and feel that Trump gave away the "crown jewel" of peace negotiations.

Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said Trump shattered any hope for the peace process.

"What [Trump] has done is blow out the possibility of a peace process that was really never completed," Shaath said.

Palestinian officials are no longer accepting the U.S. as a mediator, while Israeli leaders see the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem as a long-held dream come true.

'Great moment' for Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move would have long-term, positive ramifications.

"This is a great moment for the citizens of Israel and this is a historic moment for the state of Israel," Netanyahu said during an Israeli Cabinet meeting in February.

Asked what concessions the United States had won from Israel in exchange for the move, a senior administration official said that was not what the decision was about. It was about doing what is best for America's interests, the official said.

"There was no give-and-take with Israel with regard to this decision," the official said during a background briefing with reporters.

The official said the Jerusalem embassy would be opening just five months after the president announced the decision, adding, as the president likes to say, "ahead of schedule and under budget."

EL PASO, (RSF).- Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the US authorities to admit Mexican journalist Martin Méndez Pineda into the United States.

The target of death threats in the southwestern state of Guerrero, Méndez has been awaiting a reponse to his political asylum request since 5 February.

RSF is extremly concerned about the plight of Martin Méndez Pineda, a former reporter for the Guerrero-based Novedades Acapulco newspaper who has been held by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at a detention centre in El Paso, Texas, for the past 60 days.

Méndez requested political asylum at the US border on 5 February in order to escape repeated death threats in Guerrero. On 1 March, he passed the “credible fear interview” which the US authorities use to decide whether there are prima facie grounds for accepting that a real threat exists.

Normally, ICE would have then approved his conditional release and allowed him to enter the United States officially.

But Méndez has yet to receive an answer and is being held in the detention centre in “deplorable conditions,” according to his lawyer, Carlos Spector, who is his only contact with the outside world and has been helping him at every step. RSF’s assistance desk is in regular contact with Spector.

In a February 2017 report entitled “Discretion to Deny,” the Borderland Immigration Council accused US government agencies of using a “broad and unaccountable mechanism of ‘discretion’ to (...) remove asylum seekers and keep people in a situation of prolonged detention.”

“We call on ICE to release Martin Méndez Pineda without delay,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America burea. “This journalist, who has been persecuted and threatened with death in his country, must be allowed to present his case for political asylum freely and with dignity before an immigration judge.”

After providing Novedades Acapulco with coverage of the arrests that federal police officers carried out in a violent manner at the scene of a road accident on 22 February 2016, Méndez was insulted and attacked by the same police officers.

A few weeks later, armed individuals threated to kill him outside his home. Fearing for his safety, he resigned from Novedades Acapulcoand filed a complaint with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. After the acts of intimidation continued, above all in the form of death threats in anonymous phone calls to his home, he finally decided in early 2017 to flee to the United States and not go back.

The environment for journalists in Guerrero is extremely dangerous. According to RSF’s tally, 11 journalists have been murded in Guerrero since 2003 and one has disappeared. The most recent victim was Cecilio Pineda Birto, a crime reporter who was gunned down in Guerrero last month.

Ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Mexico is the western hemisphere’s deadliest country for the media. A record number of 11 journalists were killed in connection with their work in Mexico in 2016.

In addition to Pineda Birto in Guerrero, two other journalists were murdered last month in Mexico: Miroslava Breach and Ricardo Monlui. There were also two attempted murders of journalists.

In a report published in February, entitled “Veracruz: journalists and the state of fear,” RSF examined the difficulties of working as a journalist in Mexico and proposed a series of recommendations to the federal and local authorities for ending the spiral of violence.

BEIJING, (RT NEWS).- In early April, reports began emerging that China was seeking to build a military base in the Pacific. Are these reports “fake news,” or are we witnessing the early stages of a regional showdown between Western powers and China?

The unsubstantiated rumor of a Chinese military base in the Pacific was first reported on by Fairfax media this month, which cited unnamed sources while affirming that no formal proposal had yet been made. However, the report stated that the prospect of a Chinese military post close to Australia had been discussed at the “highest levels in Canberra and Washington.”

According to the report, a “base less than 2000 kilometres from the Australian coast would allow China to project military power into the Pacific Ocean and upend the long-standing strategic balance in the region, potentially increasing the risk of confrontation between China and the United States.”

The prospective Pacific island nation in question is Vanuatu, a country with a noticeably close relationship with China. While the Western powers, especially Australia, have become increasingly concerned by China’s growing military capacity in the South China Sea through its reclaimed reefs and artificial islands, Vanuatu has been one of the very few countries who have openly supported Beijing’s island-building program. China has also donated military vehicles to Vanuatu, invested millions of dollars in infrastructure, and reportedly accounts for nearly half of Vanuatu’s $440 million foreign debt.

The Allies’ Response
As one can imagine, the report of a looming Chinese military base was not welcomed at all by US allies in the region, particularly New Zealand and Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at the time that he viewed “with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbours of ours.”

“The maintenance of peace and stability in the Pacific is of utmost importance to us, to Australia — it’s one of the key priorities of the foreign policy white paper,” the prime minister also reportedly said.

In other words, Australia may seek to use this threat to justify a renewed militaristic foreign policy strategy of its own. After all, Australia has been sending warships to the South China Sea for military exercises even as recently as last year, and even felt it necessary to openly consider sending more vessels to confront China’s expanding influence just a few months ago. Australia also facilitated the proposal for a British warship, the HMS Sutherland, to depart Australia and voyage to the South China Sea to assert its so-called “freedom of navigation rights.” The US, for its part, sent warships to the South China Sea just this past month, as well as in January of this year, saber-rattling China in the process. Not to mention that Trump’s nominee for the US ambassador to Australia is a known anti-Chinese war hawk.

In solidarity with Australia, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, also voiced her opposition to what she termed the “militarization” of the Pacific, even though she hadn’t even been formally briefed on the issue at the time.

According to a prominent New Zealand outlet, the country’s government was seeking further information on the report and considering ways to respond. Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, a notorious anti-Chinese politician who just about rattles Chinese people any chance he gets, also said there are a “number of players doing certain things in the Pacific that are not good for the peace and security” of the Pacific. He also believed that it was time for New Zealand to “step up” and “do a whole lot more in the Pacific.”

In March of this year, Peters spoke about the Pacific becoming a “contested strategic space” which was “creating a degree of strategic anxiety.” He also vowed to pour more money and resources in the Pacific region, further indicating that New Zealand would back away from supporting China’s monumental Silk Road project even after New Zealand’s former government had already signed a memorandum of understanding in support of the project.

All this being said, both Vanuatu and China have already heavily denied the veracity of the report, rejecting the claim that China will be building a military base in Vanuatu.

“No one in the Vanuatu government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort,” Vanuatu’s foreign minister, Ralph Regenvanu, told Australian media. “We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarisation.”

By way of confirmation, China also referred to the statements from the Vanuatu Foreign Ministry, which China believed had “cleared the record.” China even referred to the report as “fake news.”

Washington irked by China’s purported ambitions

Some of you may be wondering, if both Vanuatu and China have openly denied the story, then so what? Case closed, right?

As of now, China maintains only one foreign military base in the world, being in the Horn of Africa’s Djibouti. Allegedly, the establishment of this base represents the “first pearl of a necklace” unfolding along a sea route that will connect China to the Middle East.

According to the Diplomat, there are also “credible reports” of further plans to establish naval or military facilities in locations such as Timor-Leste, the Azores islands (Portugal) in the middle of the North Atlantic, Walvis Bay (Namibia) in the South Atlantic, and Gwadar (Pakistan), with other initiatives that may not have come to light as yet (including, for example, Sri Lanka).

Regarding Pakistan, unnamed Chinese military officials first told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that Beijing was looking to build a naval base in Gwadar Port in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Almost immediately, both Pakistan and China rejected these reports, even though the speculation initially came from Chinese military officials and not from the Western media. Sound familiar?

Back to the issue at hand, Fairfax’s report clearly indicated that Beijing’s military ambition in Vanuatu “would likely be realized incrementally,” perhaps taking shape with an “access agreement that would allow Chinese naval ships to dock routinely and be serviced, refueled and restocked.”

The report also makes note of the fact that China has invested heavily in a major new wharf on the north island of Espiritu Santo, which allegedly “raised eyebrows in defence, intelligence and diplomatic circles” in Australia because it has the potential to service naval vessels as well as commercial ones (Vanuatu already hosted Chinese warships throughout last year).

And here is where it gets interesting. Luganville, on the island of Espiritu Santo, actually housed one of the largest military bases in the entire Pacific battle theatre during World War II. Its geostrategic significance cannot be understated. Whoever controls Vanuatu controls the air and sea route between the United States and Australia. This is a deal-breaker not just for the United States, but for its local lackey-states Australia and New Zealand, who act as regional care-takers for Washington’s foreign policy interests.

Double standards, hypocrisy and the road to war
Nonetheless, it is the United States that currently boasts approximately 1,000 military bases worldwide, including military research bases located in the Pacific region. The US also maintains a military budget so astronomical it far exceeds that of China. Despite this, one would be hard-pressed to find any instances of a New Zealand or Australian government criticizing the American military presence in the Pacific (or its presence on the wider global chessboard in general).

A report last year by Commander Thomas Shugart and Commander Javier Gonzalez at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) suggested that these US bases were becoming deeply vulnerable to attack by China’s ballistic missile capabilities, which could cripple US military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region while using only a fraction of its arsenal should a confrontation emerge.

Though little regard is paid to it by the media, there’s a reason Australia and the US continue to send warships to the South China Sea. It’s the same reason China has responded with live-fire military exercises that began in the Taiwan Strait this week, as China sets out to prove that it is a force to be reckoned with in the region.

Despite New Zealand and Australia’s fear-based position on this issue, it should be borne in mind that there are alternative options to the dispute which could prove far more beneficial for regional security than our current trajectory. As The Diplomat’s David Brewster explained:

“Whether or not this reported proposal in Vanuatu comes to pass (and it seems less likely than more), Australia needs to better understand – and deal with – China’s growing interests in the South Pacific. If Australia sees itself as a regional leader, then it needs to show leadership in avoiding militarization of South Pacific. Rather than hoping to lock China out, Australia should be exploring ways of working with China that address some of its concerns in a manner that does not adversely affect Australia’s clear strategic interests. These issues are not going to go away.”

If only the West will heed Brewster’s much needed advice, the region might avert a heavily anticipated catastrophe.

Darius Shahtahmasebi for RT

Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand based legal and political analyst. Follow him on Twitter @TVsLeaking

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CoreadelNorte11SEOUL, (BRIAN PADDEN-VOANEWS).- North Korea’s sudden threat to pull out of the upcoming summit with the U.S. raises new doubts of whether a denuclearization deal is possible.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to meet with U.S President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12 to work out an agreement to end the North’s nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and an end to punishing international sanctions.

But on Wednesday North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Kwan released a statement through the state-run KCNA news agency that criticized “unbridled remarks” made specifically by the U.S. president’s National Security Adviser John Bolton demanding that Pyongyang completely decommission its entire nuclear arsenal, along with its ballistic missile program and chemical weapons stockpile, before receiving any compensation or concessions.

He expressed “indignation” at the U.S uncompromising position and said North Korea might pull out of the Trump-Kim summit, unless the Trump administration acts with “sincerity” to improve relations through dialogue.

“If the United States is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the North Korea-U.S. summit,” the statement said.

The vice foreign minister also said it was “absolutely absurd” that Bolton would compare Libya’s experience dismantling its relatively rudimentary nuclear program as a model for dealing with the North’s more advanced and expansive capabilities.

He also denounced the Trump administration for “miscalculating the magnanimity” of Kim Jong Un’s decision to suspend further nuclear and missile tests, and his willingness to engage in nuclear talks, as “signs of weakness,” that were the result of what the U.S. administration has dubbed its “maximum pressure” campaign that led international efforts to impose punishing sanctions banning 90% of North Korean trade.

​The vice minister’s remarks came shortly after the North abruptly canceled inter-Korean talks planned for Wednesday, citing ongoing joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S.

Last week American and South Korea forces began their two-week Max Thunder exercise that involves 100 aircraft, including eight F-22 radar-evading jets, as well as F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. The North derided the drills as a rehearsal for invasion that undermines improving inter-Korean ties.

Cautious reactions

The U.S. and South Korea reacted with caution to North Korea’s more confrontational posture.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conferred with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Wednesday and said the U.S. would continue planning for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit but continue to monitor the situation.

Pompeo, who recently met with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang to prepare for the summit, said on Sunday that the U.S. would lift sanctions on North Korea if it agreed to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

However, Kim Kye Gwan's statement appeared to reject such an arrangement, saying North Korea would never give up its nuclear program in exchange for economic trade with the United States.

Wednesday’s denouncement of the joint drills also seemed to contradict what the North Korean leader reportedly said earlier this year. A South Korean diplomatic envoy that met with Kim in Pyongyang this year, said the North Korean leader had dropped his objection to U.S., South Korea military exercises as a barrier to developing a peace agreement.

The South Korean Unification Ministry said it was “regrettable” that the North unilaterally postponed ministerial-level inter-Korean talks, and the North’s cancelation of talks was not in line with the “spirit of the recent Panmunjom Declaration” calling for increased cross border cooperation that was signed by Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the inter-Korean summit.

"The South Korean government has a firm willingness to faithfully implement the Panmunjom Declaration and is urging the North to respond quickly to the talks for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula," said Baik Tae-Hyun, South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesperson.

Bargaining positions

It is unclear if the North’s threat to pull out of the summit with the U.S. reflects a change in policy or a negotiating tactic to exploit Trump’s repeated claims that he may achieve a historic diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea that has eluded past presidents.

“If you signal you are desperate for some kind of deal, then your counterpart can sense that you are willing to make concessions, and they can drive a hard bargain, and this could be a reflection of that,” said Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea analyst with Troy University in Seoul.

The more aggressive stance taken by the North may also reflect growing pressure from conservative elements within the military or Communist Party that are worried the U.S. seems to be unilaterally dictating the terms for a nuclear deal.

“It is true that North Korea is anxious about the situation where it needs to back down on everything to the U.S.,” said Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and analyst with the World Institute of North Korea Studies in Seoul.

John Delury, a North Korea analyst with Yonsei University in Seoul suggested on Twitter that the U.S. and South Korea address the North’s sudden threat to withdraw from talks by making a small but meaningful good-will gesture, given that the Kim government has already made a number of concessions, including releasing three American prisoners, and suspending missile and nuclear tests.

However North Korea skeptics say the Kim government should not be rewarded for merely meeting its minimum obligations by suspending nuclear and missile tests that violate U.N. restrictions or for releasing prisoners that were unjustly apprehended by the repressive state.

Lee Yoon-jee contributed to this report.

MOSCOW, (VOANEWS).- Russia said Monday it will not interfere with the work of a fact-finding mission investigating an alleged chemical attack last week near Syria's capital.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has sent a team to Syria to probe what happened in Douma, and the watchdog held an emergency meeting Monday in The Hague to discuss the situation.

Britain, France and the United States all say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces were responsible for using chemical weapons in Douma, which Syria and Russia deny. The three Western allies launched coordinated airstrikes Saturday that hit several sites linked to Syria's chemical program.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Monday the strikes were "entirely the right thing to do."

"I'm afraid the Syrian war in many ways will go on in its horrible, miserable way. But it was the world saying that we've had enough of the use of chemical weapons," Johnson said.

He spoke as European foreign ministers gathered to discuss the situation in Syria. The EU reiterated its condemnation of the use of chemical weapons on Syria, including the most recent reported attack, and said it supports the work of international chemical weapons investigators.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also said there is a clear need to push for relaunching a U.N.-led peace process. She called on Russia and Iran to use their influence as allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "start serious and meaningful discussions under U.N. auspices in Geneva."

Also Monday, the United States is expected to unveil new sanctions against Russia. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told CBS News the measures would "go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use."

In a separate interview with Fox News, Haley warned Assad that the U.S. would launch new missile strikes against his government if he carries out another chemical weapons attack.

Haley said, "If Assad doesn't get it" after Saturday's barrage of 105 missiles fired by the U.S., Britain and France at three Syrian chemical weapons facilities, "it's going to hurt. There will be more. We can't allow even the smallest use of chemical weapons."

She said that it is "entirely up to Assad" whether the missile attack on Syria was a one-time response to the suspected chemical attack by Syrian forces a week ago that killed more than 40 people or part of a continuing allied military effort.

"We'll see how smart he is," Haley said. "We'll watch his actions. Hopefully he's gotten the message."

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, (MICHELLE QUINN-VOANEWS).- While the Trump administration is putting tariffs on Chinese imports, another battle has been brewing about whether the United States should block Chinese investments in some U.S. companies that work in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other key technology.

Some of these technologies have U.S. national security implications, argues the Department of Defense in a report on growing Chinese ties to U.S. firms. Lawmakers in Washington are considering expanding a Treasury Department review process that looks at investments from foreign entities.

“I assure you that the threat China poses is real and that the dangers we worry about are already taking effect,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texan Republican, who is sponsoring the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, the bill that would strengthen the review. “Our inaction can only have negative consequences, and we need to aim to prevent any future negative consequences to our country.”

Limiting Chinese investments has to be done thoughtfully, said Jeff Moon, an international trade and government affairs consultant and a former assistant U.S. trade representative.

“The biggest problem I see is just vagueness when we talk about Chinese investment,” Moon said. “Are we talking about any Chinese national that's dropping a penny into the American economy?”

View from Silicon Valley

In Silicon Valley, there is some relief the Trump administration appears to have backed away from a plan to block investment into AI or other technologies in the United States by a company with more than 25 percent Chinese ownership.

While the national security concerns are legitimate, tech firms and investors don't want to see “policies that take some kind of a sledgehammer approach to investment, which by and large from China here has been beneficial," said Sean Randolph, senior director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

“How concerned should we be about these different sources of leakage, if that's the term,” Randolph said. “What is an appropriate way to address that as opposed to ways that would try to address it, but that actually end up having a very negative effect on the economy here and in the U.S. economy, and the Chinese economy, too?”

Collaboration valued

Recently, Silicon Valley held its first U.S.-China summit on AI technologies with a focus on how to better collaborate between the two nations.

“The technology is shared and collaborative and better for humankind. I don’t think it’s one country against another country,” said Tao Wang of SAIC Capital.

Helen Liang, managing partner of FoundersX, a venture capital firm, said entrepreneurs and companies in AI are focused on how to tackle big issues, such as health care, transportation and work.

“Regardless of the geopolitical pressure or differences, from a technology perspective we are looking to solve society’s problems,” said Liang, whose firm helps startups it invests in with business relationships in China.

'Disruption' from both countries

Nicolas Miailhe, president of The Future Society, a nonprofit research group, said any limits on investment from China to the United States could also slow down U.S. innovation.

“We have been used to disruptive business models emerging from the Silicon Valley here. This is changing,” Miailhe said. “We are now in FinTech for example seeing new and disruptive business models emerging from China.”

“Disruption” is a favorite term in Silicon Valley, describing how new technologies can lead to dramatic and unpredictable results on an industry.

That potential is what excites these entrepreneurs – and worries some lawmakers back in Washington.

TAIPEI, (RALPH JENNINGS-VOANEWS).-Taiwan expects a slow absorption of U.S. military submarine technology due to technical barriers and opposition from its chief rival China, despite Washington’s agreement this month to let American contractors pass on the sensitive information.

In early April, the U.S. Department of State agreed to grant marketing licenses to American defense contractors that offer Taiwan the technology, military officials in Taipei say. Taiwan plans to develop its own conventional submarine.

Washington had prohibited those transfers before because of the information’s sensitivity, military scholars in Taiwan say.

“This is the very first step. Contractors can openly discuss these issues with their contractors in Taiwan,” said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan. “However, we still don't know how much can be approached.”

Obstacles in China

China protested to the United States April 11 over its agreeing to licensing of submarine technology, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying any U.S. effort to “play the Taiwan card” would fail.

American contractors keen to sell technology to Taiwan would risk getting cut off by China if they do business there, too, said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

“There is a long way to go before that any shape of submarine can be contemplated,” Huang said.

Taiwan and China have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when the Nationalists lost and fled to the island. Beijing insists that the two eventually unify, though opinion polls in Taiwan indicate most Taiwanese oppose unification.

China has a more powerful military than Taiwan's and has not renounced threats to use force if Taiwan declares formal independence. Beijing resents the United States, which has the world’s most powerful armed forces, for helping in Taiwan’s defense.

Last week’s announcement in Beijing of live-fire naval drills in the strait west of Taiwan on April 18 was meant to warn Washington and Taipei, said Yun Sun, East Asia Program senior associate at the Stimson Center think tank in the United States.

China would particularly oppose a senior official’s visit to the island under the Taiwan Travel Act approved in March, Sun said.

U.S. officials could tone down their support for Taiwan’s submarines or ramp it up after those drills, said Huang Kwei-bo, international affairs college vice dean at National Chengchi University in Taipei. Washington values its economic ties with China but backs Taipei as part of a loose alliance of Asian Pacific democracies.

“The drills in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, what’s the impact?” the vice dean asked. “Whether it will make the U.S. think twice or accelerate its help for Taiwan, I don't know, but it will definitely have an impact, whether positive or negative.”

If anyone involved in the submarine technology copies it to China as a spy, he added, Washington might reconsider its level of military aid to Taiwan.

Legal and technical barriers

In early 2016, the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense found local manufacturers to develop a $3.3 billion submarine within eight years. That hardware would join Taiwan’s slow-growing effort to build its own military technology rather than relying on sales from abroad. Today the military operates two aging submarines bought from the Netherlands in the 1980s.

Taiwan is starting from scratch to build its submarine, pointing to a long discussion process with any willing American contractors, Yang said. To get a deal from an American contractor may take more U.S. government support, he said.

The U.S. government periodically sells Taiwan billion-dollar-plus arms packages that include military expertise. It never before included anything as far-reaching or sensitive as submarine technology, they say.

The defense ministry must develop a budget for any technology if negotiations reach that point, ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said. He said it had set no timeline for getting the U.S. submarine technology.

It would take time to negotiate with contractors, arrange a budget and wait for possible legislative discussions, he said.

Because the U.S. navy no longer uses the type of diesel-electric submarines that Taiwan hopes to build, a willing American contractor may also need to “find spare parts” for Taiwan, Alexander Huang said. “We still are in the beginning of it, at square one,” he said.

But the ministry spokesman called the U.S. nod to submarine licenses a “breakthrough” with “major significance” that he hopes will inspire more military technology transfers.


WHITE HOUSE, (STEVE HERMAN-VOANEWS).- U.S. President Donald Trump said his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might not take place next month.

"If it doesn't happen, maybe it will happen later," Trump said. "It may not work out for June 12."

Trump added, however, "There's a good chance we'll have the meeting," terming the preliminary discussions between his administration and North Korean officials, so far, "a good experience."

Trump also said of Kim that "I think he's absolutely serious" about the planned talks.

Trump, speaking in the Oval Office alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in, explained, "There are certain conditions that we want. I think we will get those conditions."

Asked about the conditions, Trump replied, "I'd rather not say." But he stated that the denuclearization of North Korea "must take place."

"After talking about the summit with unbridled enthusiasm, President Trump is now playing it cool, hinting that he could just as easily walk away," said Jean Lee, director of Korean history and public policy at the Wilson Center. "We know he wants it — and so does Kim Jong Un — but it's a complicated courtship between these leaders of two countries that remain in a technical state of war."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters at a State Department briefing Tuesday, said the U.S. is still working toward the June 12 summit date, but wouldn't predict whether the summit would take place. But he said he was "confident we'll get there" in the end.

Might call off meeting

North Korea has indicated it might call off the meeting due to disagreements on conditions by the United States for unilateral denuclearization.

“All in one [denuclearization] would be a lot better," Trump stated but acknowledged that for "physical reasons" that might not be immediately possible, Kim would have to agree to abandon his nuclear arsenal "over a very short period of time."

Trump, during a 35-minute exchange with reporters in the Oval Office, said if Kim agrees to that, "I will guarantee his safety," which would make Kim happy and "his country will be rich."

South Korea, China and Japan, according to Trump, are ready to invest "very, very large sums of money into helping to make North Korea great" if there's a deal made to get rid of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.

"If it doesn't work out, he can't be happy," said Trump, who recently warned that North Korea would be "decimated" if it does not agree to give up its atomic arsenal.

"North Korea will chafe at this approach," Lee at the Wilson Center told VOA News. "Kim Jong Un doesn't want to be treated, publicly, like a pauper. He wants to come to the table as an equal, and from a position of perceived strength, not as a supplicant."

Moon, who flew to Washington from Seoul to try to persuade Trump not to call off next month's meeting in Singapore with the North's leader, said he has "every confidence [Trump] will be able to achieve a historic feat" by getting North Korea to denuclearize, ending the Korean War, establishing relations between Washington and Pyongyang and thus bringing "peace and prosperity" to the northern half of the peninsula.

"I will spare no effort to provide all necessary support," Moon said. "The fate and the future of Korea hinge on this."

The two-hour talks Tuesday between Trump and Moon marked their sixth meeting, although they have spoken on the telephone numerous other times.

Trump in charge

Moon, in the Oval Office discussion, credited Trump with bringing about the recent positive change of tone from North Korea, saying, "The person who is in charge is President Trump. President Trump has been able to achieve this dramatic change."

Trump, in response to a question from a South Korean reporter, said, "I have tremendous confidence in President Moon, and I think South Korea is very lucky to have him."

After a historic inter-Korean meeting between Moon and Kim last month, a followup round of high-level North-South talks was abruptly canceled by Pyongyang, which expressed anger about continuing military exercises between the United States and South Korea.

Trump said the two Koreas have been separated for decades by "an artificial border" and predicted "maybe someday in the future they'll get together and you'll go back to one Korea."

Also under discussion between Seoul and Washington is the size and cost of U.S. forces in South Korea to defend it against the North.

The Trump administration is reportedly considering reducing the number of American military personnel from the current level of 28,500. A South Korean official said Seoul and Washington "remain far apart on the cost-sharing issue."

Asked by VOA News at Tuesday's White House briefing about the outcome of the discussion concerning the U.S. troops, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders replied she had no immediate information.

"At least in the meeting that I was in that did not come up," Sanders added.

Steve Herman

Steve Herman is VOA's White House Bureau Chief.

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- The Trump administration told lawmakers Friday that it had reached a deal that would keep the Chinese telecom firm ZTE alive, possibly clearing the way for the United States to make progress in its high-stakes trade talks with China next month.

Under the agreement, ZTE would oust its management team, hire American compliance officers to be placed at the firm and pay a fine. The fine would come on top of the roughly $1 billion ZTE has paid for selling equipment to North Korea and Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, according to news reports.

In return, the Commerce Department would lift a seven-year ban on ZTE’s purchase of components from U.S. companies. The Chinese company depends on these components to make its products, and the ban, imposed earlier this month, threatened to put ZTE out of business.

On Friday evening, President Donald Trump lashed out at Democratic lawmakers and confirmed the news of the deal on Twitter.

Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department ruled that the company had failed to live up to the terms of an agreement over ZTE’s evasion of sanctions.

News of the ZTE agreement came nearly a week after the U.S. and China suspended plans to impose tariffs on as much as $200 billion of each other’s goods, putting them on the brink of a trade war.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is scheduled to travel to Beijing on June 2 for further discussions about China’s aggressive push to challenge U.S. technological dominance.

BEIJING, (JOYCE HUANG-VOANEWS).- Trade negotiations between China and the United States continue early next week in Washington D.C., but analysts say after the first round, the differences between the two sides are huge. Some believe the differences are so fundamental and big that an escalation of tariffs is unavoidable.

According to a widely circulated copy of Washington’s demands, President Donald Trump’s delegation not only asked Beijing to cut its trade deficit with the United States by $200 billion by 2020, but to also sharply lower tariffs and government subsidies of advanced technologies.

Beijing wants the United States to no longer oppose granting China market economy status at the World Trade Organization, amend an export ban against Chinese tech company ZTE Corp and open American government procurement to Chinese technology and services among other demands.

View to escalation

Scott Kennedy, a China scholar at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the first round made it clear just how far apart the U.S. and China are in their views of what's fair, what they want and expect the other side to do.

“I think we're still headed toward escalation with both sides adopting tariffs in the next few weeks, but at least now we know what the fight is about,” Kennedy said. “It's about whether or not China should be a market economy, or what you know whether it should be able to maintain its state capitalist system without any constraints.”

China joined the WTO in December of 2001 as a non-market economy and after 15 years it was expected the granting of the status as a market economy would naturally follow — along with its opening up.

But that is not what has happened, and the United States and European Union have refused to grant China market economy status.

Beijing insists it should be regarded as a market economy regardless of whether other countries believe it fits the definition. Under Xi Jinping, the Communist Party has moved to assert greater control over business and the economy.

Competition vs. compensation

It has also become increasingly clear that China’s definition of reform and that of the West are strikingly different.

In an interview with VOA earlier this year, William Zarit, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce, said that while many used to assume China would continue to carry out Western style economic reforms initiated in the early 2000s, that is no longer the case.

“In the last four or five years, we’ve seen that reform has taken a different direction, that the Chinese economy is on a different trajectory and that is more support for state-owned enterprises,” Zarit said. “And when I hear reforms now, it is more about making state-owned enterprises more efficient and not necessarily competitive in a fully market-based economy.”

But Song Hong, an economist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, argues that China has fulfilled its WTO obligations and it is the United States and European Union that have broken their promises to grant the country market economy status.

He said Washington’s demands to slash the trade deficit by $100 billion a year does not make economic sense. He also said the demand for China to lower tariffs and put the two countries on equal footing is impossible.

“The market in China is of course not as open as the U.S. market because China remains a developing country, which is no match to the U.S.,” Song Hong said. “The per capita income level in China around $10,000 vs. the U.S.'s some $50,000. How can both countries be equal?”

Talks as clock ticks

Some Chinese state media reports have tried to sound upbeat about the meetings focusing on the two sides agreed to keep talking, despite their differences.

On Monday, the White House announced a Chinese delegation led by Liu He, China’s vice premier and a top aide to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, will visit the United States early next week.

At the same time, however, the clock is ticking on U.S. threats to implement up to $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods. A day after Liu arrives in Washington, there will be a public hearing to discuss tariffs and the Trump administration’s investigation into China’s trade policies and practices.

If no agreement is reached by May 23, Washington would be well within its right to go ahead with the tariffs, analysts note. To which, China has promised to promptly reply.

Kennedy said that while the United States has used unilateral penalties in the past, this time around the chances of escalation are a lot higher.

“Not only are the disagreements deeply fundamental, China is much more powerful and ambitious than it used to be. And so it's not likely to cave easily,” he said.

Brian Kopczynski contributed to this report.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA, (BRIAN PADDEN-VOANEWS).- The North Korea denuclearization progress has stalled as pressure from economic sanctions appears to be easing, and after U.S. President Donald Trump declared that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that reaching a denuclearization deal with North Korea “may take some time.” He spoke during a Cabinet meeting with the president and high-ranking members of his administration.

Trump had also said Tuesday that there is “no time limit” to the negotiations, but added Wednesday in a tweet that sanctions would remain in place and there would be big benefits for North Korea at the end of the process.

North Korea analyst Cheong Seong-chang, with the Sejong Institute in South Korea, says the new patient approach by the Trump administration may indicate a growing recognition that its prior demands for rapid and unilateral denuclearization before granting any concessions are unrealistic.

“The United States has started to recognize clearly that it will take a considerable amount of time for North Korea’s complete denuclearization. In this situation, it is very unrealistic to expect North Korea to move forward with the denuclearization process without any compensation for years to come,” Cheong said.

North Korea has called for a more reciprocal approach with economic and diplomatic incentives tied to each phase of the process.

​Easing pressure

At the Singapore summit in June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Trump and reiterated a broad commitment to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Following the summit Trump tweeted, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” but many analysts said the president’s inflated claims of his achievements had eased pressure on the Kim government to take concrete action.

Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!

“The fact that the president has come back and said North Korea is no longer a nuclear problem, without any substantial evidence for that, is going to create a problem now because North Korea will say, ‘we don’t need to do anything,’” said Paul French a commentator on politics in Asia and author of the book North Korea: State of Paranoia.

Subsequent negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have so far not produced any significant progress. After Pompeo’s last visit to Pyongyang in July, North Korea accused his delegation of making “gangsterlike” demands in calling for compete denuclearization.

Go Myong-Hyun, a North Korea research fellow at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, says the Kim government is still striving to preserve all or parts of its nuclear arsenal, while at the same time pushing to end international sanctions that block 90 percent of the country’s trade, and pursue increased economic development.

“This is the dilemma not just for us but for the North Koreans, how to come up with this balance between nuclear capabilities clearly opposed by all of North Korea’s neighbors whereas at the same time achieve a modicum of economic development,” Go said.

Sanctions evasion

Since the summit, there have been reports of China and Russia informally easing sanctions enforcement on North Korea, along with calls by Beijing and Moscow to reduce the United Nations Security Council imposed ban on the North’s exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products. However, the U.S. has indicated it would veto any such measure.

The South Korean government said Thursday that it is investigating reports that Chinese companies illicitly shipped 9,000 tons of North Korean coal through South Korea last year.

“If necessary, penalties will be imposed. This will become a moment to remind the importance of implementing the U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea,” said South Korean Foreign Ministry Spokesman Noh Kyu-duk.

The United States also accused North Korea on Thursday of making illicit transfers of oil between ships at sea and demanded an immediate end to all sales of the fuel.

Sanctions evasions may help Pyongyang endure in the short term, but the continued reduction in overall trade and dwindling foreign reserves will likely increase the prospects for either denuclearization progress or renewed provocation in the months to come.

“The economic sanctions are being played out slowly but for sure. This is something that North Korea is not very happy with,” Go said.

​Americans’ remains

There also seemed to be a misunderstanding over North Korea’s ability to rapidly return to the United States the remains of some of the American service members killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, which was also agreed to in Singapore. A week after the summit, President Trump claimed the repatriation had already happened, even though it had not.

Part of the reason for the delay is logistics related. Many of the more than 55 sets of remains are in different locations and it will take time for authorities in Pyongyang to collect and verify them.

“It is inevitable that it will take some time, but I think there was a misunderstanding with the United States that North Korea is ready and prepared to return the remains at any time,” said Cheong with the Sejong Institute.

Secretary of State Pompeo said Wednesday that the remains will be returned in the coming weeks.

Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul and Sarah Williams in Washington contributed to this report.

BEIJING, (VOANEWS).- The U.S. State Department issued a health alert Wednesday for its citizens in China in response to what it said was a recent report of a U.S. government employee in Guangzhou experiencing "subtle and vague, but abnormal sensations of sound and pressure."

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said the employee was sent back to the United States for evaluation and diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury.

Wednesday's alert said the U.S. government does not know the cause of the reported symptoms and has not received similar reports in other parts of China, but that it is taking the report seriously.

It advised anyone who experiences "unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises" to not seek out the source, but instead to move to a location where they are not present.

The State Department "is working to determine the cause and impact of the incident," spokesperson Heather Nauert said. "The State Department will be sending a medical team to Guangzhou early next week to conduct baseline medical evaluations of all Consulate Guangzhou employees who request it."

Last year in Cuba, the United States reported that some of its personnel and family members experience a range of symptoms, often after hearing an unusual sound, but the cause is still unknown.

"We are working to figure out what took place, both in Havana, now in China as well. We've asked the Chinese for their assistance in doing that, and they have committed to honoring their commitments under the Vienna convention to keep American Foreign Service officers safe," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in remarks to the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday.

STATE DEPARTMENT, (NIKE CHING-VOANEWS).- U.S. officials are pushing back at reports that America's ties with European allies are frayed over the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

"We agree on more than we disagree," said State Department Policy Planning Director Brian Hook during a telephone briefing Friday with reporters. "People are overstating the disagreement between the U.S. and Europe."

"We believe that our shared values and commitment to confront the common security challenges will transcend any disagreements over the JCPOA," said Hook, referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear accord with major powers.

His remarks come after President of the European Council Donald Tusk lashed out at Washington over a trade dispute and the United States pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.

When asked about Tusk's tweet, U.S. President Donald Trump hit back, saying the European Union has been "terrible" with the U.S. on trade.

"We lost $151 billion last year dealing with the European Union," Trump told reporters Thursday, referring to the U.S. trade deficit with the 28-nation bloc. "So they can call me all sorts of names. And if I were them, I'd call me names also, because it's not going to happen any longer."

Iran deal fallout

Intense diplomacy followed Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran deal, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo making phone calls to his counterparts in Britain, France and Germany. U.S. officials said those conversations were focused on agreeing to a new "security architecture" for Iran.

At the same time, the European Commission is working to prohibit European companies from adhering to U.S. sanctions against Iran, a move to help keep the Iran nuclear agreement intact and to defend European corporate interests.

"We have the duty to protect European companies," Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said following a meeting of European Union leaders Thursday in Sofia, Bulgaria. "We now need to act and this is why we are launching the process."

Juncker said the commission will begin the process of activating a so-called blocking statute, which bans EU companies from observing the sanctions and any court rulings that enforce U.S. penalties.

The way forward

On Monday, Pompeo will deliver his first major foreign policy remarks on Iran and the path forward after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

U.S. officials say Washington seeks a diplomatic outcome with Iran that addresses "the totality of Iran's threats," including its nuclear programs and "destabilizing" activities.

"This involves a range of things around its [Iran's] nuclear program — missiles, proliferating missiles, and missile technology, its support for terrorists, and its aggressive and violent activities that fuel civil wars in Syria and Yemen," Hook said Friday.

"We see this, the coming months, as an opportunity to expand our efforts and to work with a lot of countries who share the same concerns about nonproliferation, about terrorism, about stoking civil wars around the region, and so we're very, very hopeful about the diplomacy ahead," he added.

SEOUL, (BRIAN PADDEN-VOANEWS).- The recent U.S. missile strikes against Syria could increase pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, or reinforce in Pyongyang the need for nuclear deterrence.

The United States, France and Britain fired 105 missiles at three Syrian chemical weapons facilities on Saturday, in response to an alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack in the city of Douma that killed at least 40 people and wounded or sickened hundreds of others. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.

The combined military strike on Syria comes as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are preparing for an expected summit in late May or early June to discuss dismantling the North’s nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees.

Maximum pressure

Trump’s willingness to use force against Syria can be seen to reinforce his “maximum pressure” campaign message, that in addition to imposing tough sanctions banning most North Korean exports, the U.S. would take military action, if necessary, to force Kim to terminate his nuclear program and end the continued development of a nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the U.S. mainland.

Calling the U.S. attack on Syria “a warning for Pyongyang,” the South Korean newspaper the Korea Joongang Daily, in an editorial on Monday said, “If Kim wants to be free from the fear of a potential raid, then he must be willing to denuclearize.”

From this perspective the U.S. show of force in Syria will increase pressure on the leadership in North Korea to offer meaningful nuclear concessions at the Trump-Kim summit.

“Unless it abandons at least part of its nuclear and missile capabilities then the Trump administration will not be satisfied,” said Bong Young-shik, a political analyst with the Yonsei University Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul

Nuclear deterrence

However the U.S. military strike on Syria could also reinforce concerns in North Korea that giving up its nuclear deterrent would make the country more vulnerable to a similar attack.

“If it thinks that its regime is not guaranteed, it will keep the nuclear program,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor of American studies at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.

North Korea has long justified the need for its nuclear program by pointing to the fate of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, who was overthrown and killed by U.S. and NATO backed rebel forces, just a few years after he agreed to give up his country’s nuclear weapons.

The U.S. and its allies justified their military action in Libya as a “humanitarian intervention” to prevent government forces from slaughtering the civilian opposition. Without a nuclear deterrent, leaders in Pyongyang worry the U.S. could use a similar humanitarian justification to intervene in North Korea.

“The U.S. can view North Korea as a autocratic state or human rights violator, and then it can always overthrow the Kim Jong Un regime that does not have nuclear program,” said Professor Kim.

From this perspective, the Kim government could use the strike against Syria to emphasize its step-by-step approach to denuclearization to maintain stability, which would include the reduction or removal of U.S. forces in Korea over time as part of the required security guarantees.

Asia reaction

Major U.S. Asian allies Japan, South Korea and Australia voiced strong support for combined military action to punish Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons and to deter other countries as well.

China, however, objected to the U.S. and its allies taking “unilateral military action” prior to an impartial investigation and without the consent of the U.N. Security Council, where Russia, a close ally of Syria, holds veto power.

Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul contributed to this report.

BEIJING, (VOANEWS).- China said Friday it was "forced to take a necessary counterattack" and responded in kind to the United States after Washington placed tariffs on 800 Chinese import products valued at $34 billion.

China said it applied retaliatory tariffs on 545 U.S. items, also worth $34 billion, "including agricultural products, vehicles and aquatic products," China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China is "completely justified" in its response to the U.S. tariffs, which he said "will disturb the global trade order, cause turbulence on the global market, and hamper world economic recovery," according to Chinese broadcaster CCTV.

Lu warned that consumers and small businesses would be adversely affected, noting that, "Enterprises and people in the U.S. are also increasingly realizing the great harm ahead."

The new tariffs went into effect one minute after midnight (0401GMT) Friday, Washington time.

China's Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng told reporters Thursday that about $20 billion of the U.S. goods China targeted are backed by foreign investors, including a significant portion from the U.S.

Hours before the U.S. tariffs were imposed, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to further escalate the trade dispute by ultimately targeting more than $500 billion worth of Chinese goods, roughly equal to the value of U.S. imports from China last year.

"We can probably say that the trade war has officially started," said Shanghai Jiaotong University economics professor Chen Feixiang. "If this ends at $34 billion, it will have a marginal effect on both economies. But if it escalates to $500 billion like Trump said, then it's going to have a big impact for both countries."

The volley of trade tariffs has fueled concern that a prolonged trade dispute would hinder global economic growth, while inflicting damaging blows to U.S. farmers who stand to lose revenue.

Growing trade friction worries some top officials of the U.S. central bank, who say it discourages investment that helps economic growth. The concerns were made public Wednesday in notes from the most recent policy discussion by leaders of the U.S. Federal Reserve, who set interest rates and other economic policies.

Travel warnings

Just days before Friday's tariffs took effect, the Chinese embassy in Washington issued a warning to its citizens traveling to the U.S. Chinese tourists were warned of things such as costly medical bills, the possibility of gun violence and robberies, seizures by customs agents and natural disasters.

"Public security in the United States is not good," said an embassy statement published last week. "Cases of shootings, robberies, and theft are frequent."

When asked Tuesday if the timing of China's travel warning was politically motivated, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu said the embassy was obligated to issue the alert because the summer is the height of the travel season for Chinese tourists visiting the U.S.

"I think this is absolutely a matter that is in the scope of our duty," Kang said.

China often issues warnings for Chinese travelers, usually in war-afflicted regions. But some foreign governments have accused China of using tactics such as curtailing outbound tourism to settle political or trade disputes, accusations that China typically denies.

The United Nations reported last year that China has led the world since 2012 in the number of tourists who travel abroad. The U.N. said Chinese tourists spent $261 billion in foreign countries in 2016, more than double the amount travelers from the U.S. spent.

More Chinese tourists are visiting the U.S., according to the U.S. Commerce Department. It said nearly 3 million visited the U.S. in 2016, a nearly six-fold increase since 2009. Chinese tourist visits to the U.S. rank fifth behind Canada, Mexico, Britain and Japan.

A 2017 survey of Chinese and other tourists by the marketing firm Nielsen found that half of the Chinese respondents said the safety of a destination would impact their decision on where to travel.

VOA's Joyce Huang contributed to this report.