TAIPEI, TAIWAN, (RALPH JENNINGS-VOANEWS).- China’s opening of its southernmost province to visa-free foreign tourism next month could make features in a nearby, widely disputed sea more accessible to curious travelers.

Hainan province will waive Chinese visas for citizens of 59 countries starting May 1, state-run media say. On their 30-day visa-free stays, some may be able to set foot on Chinese claims among the reefs and atolls southeast of Hainan as part of the province’s free-trade port ambitions, said Zhao Xijun, deputy School of Finance dean at Renmin University of China.

Some of those features belong to the Paracel Islands, an archipelago that China controls but that Taiwan and Vietnam also call their own.

“This is something for the future. It’s not just for outside visitors, but domestic travelers also will try hard in this direction,” Zhao said.

Sending a message through tourism

Opening the Paracels to foreign travelers would help China politically, some analysts say.

Beijing could show people from many countries it has “effective administration” over the contested sea, said Collin Koh, maritime security research fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Other countries would be unlikely to hassle China if they knew foreign tourists were at sea, he added.

“It allows China to assert its sovereignty claim and, not just that, it’s also to highlight that it does have effective administration over the area,” Koh said. “It actually gives you additional security, because if you have foreigners from different countries all over the world in that place, it decreases the chance of any other people taking rash actions against you.”

Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines claim parts of the South China Sea, which is valued for fisheries and undersea energy reserves. China and Taiwan call the whole 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea their own.

​Military expansion

The other countries resent China’s expansion of islets in the Paracel and Spratly chains for military use. China, which has Asia’s strongest armed forces, is building on at least three Paracel islands, an American think tank project said last year.

Woody Island, the most developed Paracel feature, has a resident population of about 1,000 people. Facilities include an airstrip and missile batteries as well as a hospital and a supermarket.

It’s unclear whether foreign tourists are now allowed to visit the Paracels, a spokesperson with the Chinese travel booking service said.

A publicist with the city of Sanya, a southern Hainan resort city and the one closest to the Paracels, said Friday the municipal government website would eventually post information on who can visit the South China Sea.

Tourist expectations

Paracel tourists would expect China to keep the marine environment clean so they can see pristine scenery, said Lin Qi, assistant researcher with the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Hainan province.

“From the openness to tourism perspective, you definitely need a place with a good natural environment to give it value,” Lin said. “The corresponding impact is that other industries such as fishing will decline. If tourism opens then commercial fishing would be cut back a lot.”

Rugged but feasible travel

China is already trying to open tourism to the disputed sea, with a long-term goal of letting people surf and dive in the tropical waters.

China’s first cruise ship set out for the Paracel chain in 2013, and in 2016 a Chinese airline opened charter flights from the Hainan provincial capital Haikou to Woody Island. In March 2017, a cruise ship from China took 300 people to the Paracels, and Vietnam protested on grounds that it has sovereignty.

Amphibious private aircraft can reach the tiny islets with no airports, said Michael Shih, vice president for strategy and business development with Textron Aviation in Shanghai. Aerial tourism is already being done in Hainan province, he added.

“I believe the 208 could get to some of them or most of them,” Shih said, referring to the Cessna 208 Caravan turboprop aircraft. “Obviously, some of those that are further out, they may have to stop somewhere for fuel. If it’s a sea-based operation, you don’t really need a landing strip or a runway.”

The islands under China’s control lack tourist-caliber infrastructure, such as hotels and potable water. Those shortcomings could limit arrivals, Zhao said.

“Maritime leisure is a developing industry in China. Infrastructure and overall levels development are still in a low state,” he said.

Malaysia and Vietnam are also opening tiny islets in the disputed sea to tourists as a way of proving claims. Countries that promote tourism may hope to advance their political claims, said Christian de Guzman, vice president and senior credit officer with Moody’s in Singapore.

Tags: Hainan

No elevation of combat readiness for Chinese drill: MND

TAIPEI, (CNA).-  The Ministry of National Defense (MND) has not elevated its combat readiness, despite an ongoing live-fire military exercise conducted by the China's People's Liberation Army, the Ministry of National Defense said Wednesday.

MND spokesman Chen Chung-chi (陳中吉) called the live-fire exercise a routine drill, maintaining that claims that it is the first such exercise in the Taiwan Strait since 2015 are overplaying its scope.

The drill is scheduled to run from 8 a.m. to midnight in waters off Quanzhou in China's southeastern Fujian Province. It is contained within China's territory, and according to the MND's previous reports from a few days ago, it is not large or long, and has been labeled a routine drill based on precedent.

Taiwan has therefore maintained its current level of combat preparedness, which will not be dictated by any slight action by China, and is confident that its military can defend the country, Chen continued.

A video was posted on the MND spokesman's official Facebook page later that same day, stressing that Taiwan's military is always prepared to protect its people and will continue to train and stay vigilant.

(By Liu Lee-jung and Kuan-lin Liu)

G7 Finance Ministers Joint Statement on North Korea


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

Tags: The United Sates, North Korea

TOKYO.-ITOCHU Corporation (headquartered in Minato-ku, Tokyo; Yoshihisa Suzuki, President & COO; hereinafter “ITOCHU”) announced today that it has taken effective control of Ricardo Pérez S.A. (hereinafter “RPSA”), which is an exclusive distributor for the Toyota and Lexus in Panama and currently a wholly owned subsidiary of Grupo Corporativo Pérez S.A. (headquartered in Panama City, the Republic of Panama; Rolando Pérez Martinis, Chairman; hereinafter “GCP”), by acquiring 70% of the shares owned by GCP.

Since becoming a distributor for Toyota cars in 1956, RPSA has been steadily building trust among customers and maintaining the top position for more than 20 years in the Panamanian market for new cars.

ITOCHU has been operating automobile distributors and dealerships in many countries around the world since the 1970s. By leveraging this experience, it will seek to further popularize the Toyota and Lexus brand and enhance its value in Panama, while at the same time gaining support from Toyota Motor Corporation. RPSA expects that it will be able to create synergies and expand into new business areas by working with ITOCHU, a new shareholder that conducts a wide range of businesses, globally.

In addition, with the automobile industry on the verge of undergoing a significant structural change, ITOCHU will seek to promote businesses pertaining to areas covered by the CASE concept (Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric) and build new businesses that contribute to the environment and society, not to mention the operation and expansion of the ongoing dealer business.

Many industries are in the midst of a major revolution, also referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, attributable to rapid progress in new technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. ITOCHU will continue to respond to these changes in an agile fashion, and build business models based on the application of next-generation technologies, such as the establishment of traffic congestion mitigation systems and reuse schemes for used batteries of hybrid vehicles. Through these initiatives, it will facilitate further evolutions in the automobile industry, thereby contributing to the development of Panama as well.

Company name | Ricardo Perez, S.A.

Representative | Tomio Katano

Location of head office | Panama City, Republic of Panama

Establishment | September 18, 1956

Ownership | ITOCHU 70%, GCP 30%

Number of employees | 1,172 (as of March 31, 2018)

Tags: Japón, Itochu Toyota Lexus Ricardo Pérez Panamá


SPLC.- The SPLC is seeking the release of Manuel Duran, a journalist who was unlawfully arrested by Memphis police and detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in retaliation for reporting on controversial issues related to law enforcement in Tennessee.

The petition for Duran’s release argues that his arrest and detention were an effort to suppress his reporting, and that they violate his First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and the press, his Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful arrest and detention, and his due process rights.

The filing was announced on Monday at a press conference in Memphis, Tennessee, where local community groups gathered to show support.

“Manuel Duran is a journalist who was simply doing his job – reporting on the Memphis Police and ICE – when he was unlawfully arrested and summarily sent to a remote ICE detention center in retaliation for him exposing the truth,” said Michelle Lapointe, acting deputy legal director for the SPLC. “We are seeking Mr. Duran’s immediate release from detention. His unlawful arrest and unconstitutional detention only serve to silence free speech and press, and create more fear and mistrust of law enforcement in immigrant communities.”

The SPLC represents Duran through the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI), a project of the SPLC that enlists and trains volunteer lawyers to provide free legal representation to detained immigrants facing deportation proceedings in the Southeast.

At Monday’s press conference, Duran’s girlfriend, Melisa Valdez, read a statementDuran wrote from behind bars.

“No one should be deprived of their freedoms just for wanting a better future for their children,” the statement said. “This is a cruel system that criminalizes people who pose no danger to this country. My greatest challenge will be to continue working for my people, no matter where I’m at.”

Duran, who was a TV reporter in El Salvador, is now a well-known and respected reporter in Memphis for the Spanish-language publication Memphis Noticias. He also posts his reports on social media. He was arrested on April 3, while reporting on a Memphis event related to the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The demonstration included a protest of local law enforcement’s practice of detaining suspected immigrants and handing them over to ICE custody.

In his previous reports, Duran had exposed the ties between local police and ICE in immigration enforcement and has written articles critical of the immigration detention system. On April 3, he was reporting on the events of the demonstration when Memphis police arrested him, the petition states.

Two days after he was arrested and while still in jail on charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway or passageway, the charges against him were dropped, and a judge dismissed the case. But he was not released from the Shelby County jail and instead was turned over to ICE.

He was transferred to ICE custody and was transported to LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana. On the bus, he was shackled by his wrists, ankles and waist, and was forced to endure the eight-hour ride without access to a bathroom, the petition states.

Duran remains unlawfully detained by ICE as a direct result of his retaliatory arrest and detention, the SPLC petition states.

“The Memphis Police Department made an unjustified arrest and the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office unjustly held Manuel,” said Mauricio Calvo, executive director of Latino Memphis. “These actions were done at the expense of local taxpayers and at a time when trust is needed more than ever within the community. Working with federal agencies that use our local tax dollars to house immigrants for non-criminal violations for longer than necessary undermines our city and county's autonomy to make decisions that make sense for us.”

Duran’s arrest recalled the case last year of Daniela Vargas, a woman who was arrested and detained by ICE after speaking at a press conference in Jackson, Mississippi about immigration enforcement.

The SPLC filed a petition arguing that Vargas’ First Amendment right to free speech had been violated. Shortly afterwards, Vargas was released from ICE detention.

Photo by Andrea Morales

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