LONDON, (HENRY RIDGWELL-VOANEWS).- Russia is holding its largest military exercises since the Cold War in the far eastern part of the country, and for the first time it has invited contingents from China and Mongolia.

About 36,000 tanks and 300,000 Russian troops, a third of the country’s military personnel, are on maneuvers in the vast expanses of eastern Siberia. China has sent more than 3,000 troops.

The skies are patrolled by 1,000, aircraft, including strategic long-range bombers. In the Arctic and Pacific oceans, 80 Russian warships are conducting mock battles and landing drills.

Russian President Vladimir Putin took a front-row seat to observe the exercises Thursday and praised the relationship with the country’s eastern neighbors.

“I would like to say a special thank you to the armed forces of the People’s Republic of China and Mongolia. Our fraternity in arms has long and firm traditions,” Putin said.

Huge Russian War Games Seek to Cement Ties With China, Send Message to West

The war games, known as Vostok ’18, come as relations between Moscow and the West continue to worsen following the poisoning of a former double agent on British soil. Meanwhile the trade war between Beijing and Washington continues to deepen.

The exercises may be taking place in a remote corner of the world, but they have global resonance, said analyst Emily Ferris of London’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

“As well as demonstrating to the West that it has this alliance with China, it’s also an opportunity for Russia to show what it’s learned from its military interventions, for example in Syria, for example in eastern Ukraine,” Ferris told VOA in an interview.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the United States and its allies to impose sanctions on Moscow.

“The Western sanctions have damaged Russia’s ability to get, for example, military components that it used to get from its Western partners. And so, Russia’s military in the meantime is undergoing a 10-year-long renovation and upgrade. And so, to pay for those parts, Russia is going to need to find alternative partners,” Ferris said.

The exercises coincide with the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, attended by several heads of state. With China engaged in a spiraling trade war with the United States, analysts say Moscow sees an opportunity to deepen relations with Beijing.

“They are politically becoming very close. Economically, the Russian-Chinese trade is booming, when other kinds of trade, especially in Russia, is not booming at all. And also, of course, now militarily, they are acting together as brothers-in-arms in military games that are basically aimed at the United States and its allies,” said Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst based in Moscow.

Sources of tension

Ferris said there are also sources of tension in the relationship.

“Particularly the belt-and-road initiative of China’s that sort of bypasses Russia, especially because China is quite interested in countries like Ukraine and Belarus, and using its infrastructure as a gateway to Europe. I think Russia is quite suspicious of what China is planning,” she said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters Tuesday that he sees “little in the long term that aligns Russia and China.” The military exercises come amid threats from Washington of more sanctions against Russia if it conducts an assault on Idlib, the last rebel-held area in Syria. The United Nations has warned of a potential massacre of civilians.

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Tags: Russia The United States Europe War Games

N. Carolina Braces for Florence Storm Surge


WASHINGTON / WILMINGTON NC, (WAYNE LEE-VOANEWS).- The National Hurricane Center said Thursday that "a life-threatening storm surge" was likely along the North and South Carolina coasts as Hurricane Florence approached the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

Late Thursday, Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane. The storm's eye was 80 kilometers south of Morehead City, North Carolina, and 95 kilometers east-southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, and was moving northwest toward land at a scant 9 kilometers per hour, with top sustained winds of 150 kph. The center of the storm was expected to hit North Carolina's southern coast by Friday.

The storm's slow pace was giving it more time to churn and suck up water. Heavy bands of rain and tropical storm force winds were already sweeping across the barrier islands off North Carolina and along the southeastern coast of the state.

By the time the storm leaves the region, forecasters expect that it will have dumped 50 to 70 centimeters of rain in coastal areas, with some parts possibly being inundated with up to 100 centimeters. Further inland, rain totals could reach 30 centimeters in the Carolinas and up to 24 centimeters in the rest of the Carolinas and in southwestern Virginia. Tornadoes were also possible.

Also late Thursday, far out in the Atlantic, Joyce strengthened into a tropical storm, joining Tropical Storm Helene near the Azores and Tropical Storm Isaac, moving west across the eastern Caribbean.

Earlier Thursday, even though Florence had weakened to then a Category 2 system, forecasters said it remained a destructive force.

"Just because the wind speeds came down and the intensity of this storm came down to a Category 2, please do not let your guard down," Brock Long, the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, told reporters Thursday in Washington.

Forecasters said the storm surge — or wall of water — that the hurricane's winds and forward movement push ashore could cause normally dry areas to be flooded.

Surges of up to 4 meters could inundate the area from Cape Fear to Cape Lookout, North Carolina, with surges ranging from half a meter to 3 meters in coastal areas from Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to coastal areas extending north into North Carolina.

Long said the surges "are going to be a major problem way up into the streams and tributaries that come out of sound areas." He asked citizens in danger zones to heed warnings because "your time is running out."

​Ignoring evacuation order

But some people were refusing to heed evacuation warnings.

"Leaving is such a problem with the traffic going out," a woman named Jennie told VOA Thursday afternoon as she strolled along the shore of Carolina Beach near Wilmington. "But even worse than that is coming back in because you don’t know what you’re coming back to."

Her friend Kate was refusing to evacuate as well because of "the idea of having to leave with my two cats and go somewhere for a week or more. Once you leave, you don’t know how many days it will be before you can return."

The police chief of Wrightsville Beach suggested that those who decided to stay should give him their next-of-kin contact.

About 10 million people live in areas that have been under either hurricane or tropical storm warnings and watches. Leaders of the states in the path of the storm warned people all week to evacuate the most susceptible areas. The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia declared emergencies to help speed up government aid efforts.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that protecting lives was his "absolute highest priority."

"We'll handle it. We're ready. We're able," he said. "We're fully prepared. Food, medical, everything you can imagine, we are ready."

The Pentagon dispatched two ships and a Marine unit off the coast to provide help if needed. It also moved most ships, submarines and planes out of their base at Hampton Roads, Virginia, to safety far at sea or to distant airbases.

Rescue helicopters and trucks that can navigate floodwaters were also standing by.

Trouble for days

Florence was forecast to significantly weaken as it crawls across central South Carolina on Saturday. But residents inland were warned to expect life-threatening floods and to plan to be without power for days.

Parts of the mid-Atlantic can also expect heavy rains from what is left of Florence well into next week.

VOA Spanish reporters Jorge Agobian and Iacopo Luzi contributed to this report from Wilimington, N.C. VOA's Ken Schwartz contributed from Washington.

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Tags: North Carolina Storm

Survey: US Tariffs Hurting American Businesses in China


BEIJING, (BILL IDE-VOANEWS).-Even before U.S.-China trade tensions began escalating dramatically, foreign businesses who operate in China were warning about the impact tariffs could have. And now, according to a newly released joint survey from the American Chamber of Commerce in China and AmCham Shanghai, many are already feeling the pinch.

More than 60 percent say the initial $50 billion in tariffs rolled out by the United States and China are having a negative impact on business, increasing the demand of manufacturing and slowing demand for products.

That number is expected to rise to nearly 75 percent if a second round of tariffs, an additional $200 billion in tariffs from Washington and another $60 billion from Beijing, goes ahead.

The administration of President Donald Trump has threatened it could go ahead with $200 billion in tariffs and, if needed, $267 billion more after that.

Unexpected consequences

William Zarit, chairman of AmCham China said while there are expectations in Washington that an additional onslaught of tariffs could force Beijing to wave the white flag, it risks underestimating China’s capability to continue to meet fire with fire, he said.

“It seems that American companies will be more harmed by the American tariffs than they will by the Chinese tariffs. I don’t think that this necessarily is a result that was expected,” Zarit said.

President Trump argues that China is stealing jobs from the United States and not doing enough to address the huge trade deficit between the two economies. The tariffs are seen by proponents as a way of pressuring China to move away from its state-led economy and policies that force technology transfers.

Zaritt said it remains to be seen whether some of the Trump administration’s tactics and tariffs will address big problems, such as Chinese protectionism, state capitalism and other things such as preferential loans and subsidies. He said one key approach that could go a long way to help ease tensions is for the focus to shift toward equal and reciprocal treatment.

“The Chinese have acknowledged that as their economy is evolving away from an export driven/investment driven to a more consumption/domestic demand driven economy, that they really need to open their market. And so, the big question is why would you not do that if it is in your interest?” Zarit said.

Private vs public economy

In Beijing, some have framed the trade tensions as an attempt by the United States to thwart China’s rise. Others, however, have suggested that instead of opening up markets and giving private enterprises more space, the opposite should happen. An article written by Wu Xiaoping, a veteran financier and columnist argues it is time for private enterprises to think about exiting the market.

In the article, he argued China should move toward a large scale centralized private-public mixed economy. He also said the private economy shouldn’t expand blindly.

“The private economy has accomplished its mission to help the public economy develop and it should gradually step aside,” he wrote in the article.

The article has sparked a backlash online and even state media reports have criticized Wu’s views. The fact that the idea was able to circulate so widely before being heavily censored on Thursday is a signal that the government might be sending out a trial balloon.

Others analysts argue the publication of the article could have been motivated by a fear for some that Beijing was preparing to make major concessions.

Zhang Yifan, an associate economics’ professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said despite the widespread criticism, the idea was worrisome.

“President Xi’s government, they believe [in a] strong government,” Zhang said. “So, there is a trend that they strengthen the power of the government and I am worried that market forces will play a smaller and smaller role.”

More trade talks

On Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that both Washington and Beijing are preparing for another possible round of talks and trade negotiations.

A spokesman from the Foreign Ministry welcomed the invitation from Washington and the two were discussing details about the proposed talks. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin invited his counterparts in China along with Vice Premier Liu He to attend the talks, which could happen in the coming weeks.

The fact that higher ranking officials would attend the talks is being seen as a positive sign. The last round of talks were carried by lower-ranking officials.

Joyce Huang contributed to this report

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Tags: The United Sates,

MAC warns against China's residence permits for Taiwanese


TAIPEI, (CNA).-  The Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) on Wednesday accused Beijing of trying to weaken Taiwan's state sovereignty by issuing new residence permits for Taiwanese living, working and studying in China.

In a statement, the MAC said the initiative is aimed at undermining Taiwan's state sovereignty and altering cross-strait relations, and it urged Taiwanese who have applied for the cards not to enable Chinese authorities in their united-front tactics against Taiwan.

The council also warned Taiwanese of other downsides to China's new residence permits, such as increased taxes and social insurance and compromised privacy protection.

The MAC issued the statement in response to remarks earlier in the day by An Fengshan (安峰山), spokesman for China's Taiwan Affairs Office, who said that more than 22,000 Taiwanese had applied for the Chinese residency permits since it was launched on Sept. 1.

The MAC, however, disputed the figure, saying it has been collecting relevant information via different channels, which will serve as reference for drafting future policies.

The new residence permits for Taiwanese are different from China's resident identity cards, according to An.

He said the permits will serve as "identity cards" to allow greater convenience for Taiwanese living, working and studying in China and are not linked to any political agenda.

(By Miao Zong-han and Romulo Huang)


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Tags: Taiwán


WASHINGTON, (OEA).- The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (SRESCER) and the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) have received information of recurring threats and possible violations of social rights as a result of monitoring the serious human rights crisis that have occurred in Nicaragua since April 18th.

In particular, during the last weeks there have been reports of arbitrary dismissals and acts of harassment against students and staff in the health and education sectors, as well as negative effects on the health of patients who are not being treated due to a lack of medical specialists.

According to public information, as of July 27, layoffs of health professionals were carried out in different hospitals throughout the country, including the Oscar Danilo Rosales Argüello Hospital in León, the Santiago Regional Hospital in Jinotepe, the Humberto Alvarado Hospital in Masaya, the Monimbó Health Center and the San Juan de Dios Hospital in Estelí.

According to reports received, these dismissals were allegedly carried out in retaliation for having treated injured people who were protesting against the government or for having manifested a critical position in that regards, considering the crisis that has been occurring in the country.

In this context, on August 15th, a letter was sent to the Nicaraguan State, in accordance with article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights, by which it requested information about these complaints presented. Mainly, the State was asked to submit, within 10 days, a detailed list of all the dismissed personnel, the length of their employment and the positions which they held.

The letter also requested specific and individualized information about the reasons for the dismissals and the guarantees granted to protect their labor rights, if similar situations have been registered in other hospitals or health centers in the country since the beginning of the protests as well as information on the guarantee of the right to health of the population in the absence of the dismissed medical personnel.

The IACHR and its SRESCER regret that, to date, the Nicaraguan State has not given any response to this request, which weakens compliance with the principles of transparency and good faith that must guide the behaviour of the State in regards to its human rights obligations.

Access to such information is not only an indispensable conventional guarantee for the monitoring work of the IACHR and its Special Rapporteurs, it also serves to assist the respective authorities in identifying abuses of public officials, promoting accountability and preventing the abuse of power. Hence, the importance of the State providing timely and complete answers and accessible information.

According to public information, the dismissals have reached 300 health professionals. Such dismissals, allegedly, have already negative consequences on the protection of the rights to health, personal integrity and life of the population due to a lack of health specialists to provide care and treatment, as well as the cancellation of initially planned medical procedures.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur also views with concern the continuing harassment, threats, stigmatization and, in some cases, arbitrary detentions of medical personnel and people who provided humanitarian assistance in the context of the protests.

In this regard, Soledad García Muñoz, Special Rapporteur on ESCER of the IACHR, highlighted the fundamental role of persons providing emergency health services to those who are injured in the context of protests, as well as the obligation of the State to protect them and guarantee the work that they do. Additionally, she indicated that "the State cannot interfere through any mechanism in the protection of health and life that health professionals are in charge of.

That is, no action by the State should be aimed at dissuading or punishing health personnel for fulfilling their duties, either through threats, arbitrary sanctions or inducing them to make distinctions contrary to the principles of equality and non-discrimination of the people they serve. The right to health and labor rights should in no case be used to neutralize those who protest or are considered political opposition".

This Office of the Special Rapporteur of the IACHR has also been following up on the situation of the university community that declared itself in "student disobedience" and is not willing to resume classes because of a lack of guarantees for the exercise of university autonomy and security conditions.

There are complaints of arbitrary dismissals against university professors and administrative workers of the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN) in Managua, as well as the expulsion of more than 80 students for having occupied the facilities of the university in the context of the social protests.

Allegations of arbitrary detentions, persecution of student leaders and pressure from university authorities were also presented. In this regard, the SRESCER recalls that the IACHR has indicated that in higher education, the academic freedom of teachers and students, as well as the university autonomy are fundamental pillars which strengthen democratic structures and which avoid pressure or interventions of a political nature in such spaces.

The IACHR has also stressed that the State should facilitate and guarantee, as soon as possible, an environment for recuperating classes, which prioritizes the safety and protection of students.
Finally, the IACHR and its SRESCEC urge the Nicaraguan authorities to protect students and medical or educational workers against any undue intervention and to provide, as soon as possible, complete information regarding the guarantee of these rights, requested in its letter of August 15th.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights is an office created by the IACHR to guide, develop and deepen its work to promote and protect economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in the Americas, taking into account the interdependent and indivisible nature of all human rights.



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Tags: Nicaragua, CIDH OEA