Beijing, Jan 17 (AP/UNB) — A senior North Korean official has arrived in Beijing, reportedly en route to the United States for talks ahead of a possible second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Thursday that Kim Yong Chol had arrived at Beijing airport and was expected to leave for Washington later in the day.
A motorcade that included the North Korean ambassador's car and a Chinese car with a sign reading "state guest" could be seen departing from a VIP area at the airport.
Kim Yong Chol is a former North Korean spy chief who has been holding talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on North Korea's nuclear weapons program and related issues.
Putrajaya, Jan 16 (AP/UNB) — Malaysia's foreign minister said Wednesday that the government will not budge over a ban on Israeli athletes in a para swimming competition and has decided that the country will not host any events in the future involving Israel.
Malaysia, a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, is among the predominantly Muslim countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. The government has said Israeli swimmers cannot join the competition in eastern Sarawak state in July, which serves as a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the Cabinet affirmed last week that no Israeli delegates can enter Malaysia for sporting or other events in solidarity with the Palestinians.
"The Cabinet has also decided that Malaysia will not host any more events involving Israel or its representatives. This is to me, a decision to reflect the government's firm stance over the Israeli issue," Saifuddin said after meeting a coalition of Muslim groups. The groups submitted a memorandum urging the government to stick to the ban and not to repeat mistakes in the past of allowing Israel delegates into the country.
Saifuddin said the Palestinian cause was not just a religious issue but also a human right violation.
"It's about fighting on behalf of the oppressed," he said.
Israel's Paralympic Committee did not immediately reply to an email requesting comment on Malaysia's move.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said the International Paralympic Committee can withdraw Malaysia's right to host the July 29-Aug 4 championship involving athletes from some 70 countries if they wish to do so. The committee has said it was disappointed with Mahathir's comments but hopes to find a solution to the issue.
This isn't the first time Malaysia has stopped Israeli athletes from competing in a sports event. In 2015, two Israeli windsurfers had to withdraw from a competition on the resort island of Langkawi after they were refused visas to enter. The following year, Malaysia decided not to host a 2017 conference of the world football governing body FIFA because an Israeli delegation was scheduled to participate.
But earlier this year, the government allowed a high-level Israeli delegation to attend a U.N. conference in Kuala Lumpur, sparking widespread anger among Muslim groups.
Some 60 percent of Malaysia's 32 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims. Many have taken to the streets in the past to support the Palestinian cause.
Washington, Jan 16 (AP/UNB) — Amid increasing tensions with Beijing, the Pentagon on Tuesday released a new report that lays out U.S. concerns about China's growing military might, underscoring worries about a possible attack against Taiwan.
Speaking to reporters, a senior defense intelligence official said the key concern is that as China upgrades its military equipment and technology and reforms how it trains and develops troops, it becomes more confident in its ability to wage a regional conflict. And Beijing's leaders have made it clear that reasserting sovereignty over Taiwan is their top priority.
The official added, however, that although China could easily fire missiles at Taiwan, it doesn't yet have the military capability to successfully invade the self-governing island, which split from mainland China amid civil war in 1949. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to provide more detail on intelligence findings in the report, which was written by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Its release comes just a week after Chinese President Xi Jinping called on his People's Liberation Army to better prepare for combat. China has warned the U.S. against further upgrading military ties with Taiwan and has threatened to use force against the island to assert its claim of sovereignty. Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. has taken incremental moves to bolster ties with the island, including renewed arms sales and upgraded contacts between officials.
U.S.-China tensions have become increasingly frayed on the military and economic fronts over the past year. Trump imposed tariff increases of up to 25 percent on $250 billion of Chinese imports over complaints Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology. Xi responded by imposing penalties on $110 billion of American goods.
And last year the Pentagon disinvited China to a major, multinational Pacific exercise, citing Beijing's militarization of man-made islands in the South China Sea.
The ongoing rise of China, in fact, has triggered greater U.S. military attention on the Indo-Pacific region over the last several years. And last year's release of the U.S. National Defense Strategy emphasized the importance of great power competition with Russia and China. And it asserted that China's rapidly expanding military and Russia's increasing aggression are threatening America's military advantage around the world.
Just after taking over as the acting defense secretary, Pat Shanahan told his military service leaders on Jan. 2 that their focus should be "China, China, China."
The DIA report talks broadly about the steps China is taking to modernize its military and expand its operations around the globe. The worry, said the defense intelligence official, is that China will reach the point where leaders will decide that using military force for a regional conflict such as Taiwan is more imminent.
"Beijing's longstanding interest to eventually compel Taiwan's reunification with the mainland and deter any attempt by Taiwan to declare independence has served as the primary driver for China's military modernization," the report says. "Beijing's anticipation that foreign forces would intervene in a Taiwan scenario led the PLA to develop a range of systems to deter and deny foreign regional force projection."
Over time, the report said, the PLA is "likely to grow even more technologically advanced, with equipment comparable to that of other modern militaries." That would include advanced fighter aircraft, ships, missile systems and space and cyberspace capabilities.
Cyberthreats from China have long been a major U.S. concern, stretching from massive data breaches and the theft of trade secrets to Beijing's campaign to improve its ability to conduct cyberattacks. The U.S. official said China has been working very hard on developing ways to combine cyberattack capabilities with other kinetic weapons that can be used in combat.
Still, the official said Beijing will face a significant challenge as it tries to bring generational change to its military.
Until now, China has mainly done tightly controlled regional operations and some counterpiracy missions. It will be more difficult, the official said, to create a joint force capable of conducting large, complex combat operations far abroad.
Hajin, Jan 16 (AP/UNB) — On a hot day in August, members of a Kashmiri youth soccer team watched their 16-year-old captain, Saqib Bilal Sheikh, and goalkeeper Mudassir Rashid Parray, two years his junior, walk off the field toward a man on a motorcycle. The two teenagers were not seen again until months later, when they were returned to their hometown in body bags.
Dying with his teammate in an 18-hour firefight in December, Mudassir became the youngest militant slain fighting Indian troops in a three-decade insurgency in Kashmir. The rebellion is drawing greater numbers of teenage boys and young men as New Delhi has increased its suppression of protest against Indian rule in the Himalayan region.
Anti-India unrest has been on the rise since a charismatic rebel leader was killed in a 2016 gunbattle with Indian troops in southern Kashmir. Police say since then, hundreds of young Kashmiris have joined rebel groups, leading to a surge in attacks on government troops and pro-India Kashmiri politicians in the region, which is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both in its entirety.
Indian authorities have responded by stepping up anti-rebel operations and cracking down on civilian protests, often responding to stone-pelting with live bullets.
"Young people feel frustrated and pushed to the wall," said Khurram Parvez, a program coordinator for the Jammu-Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. "They feel the only way by which the government of India is going to listen to them is by coming out and joining militancy."
Saqib and Mudassir came from different economic backgrounds, united by their passion for soccer and their hometown, Hajin, which since the 1990s has seen brutal fighting between anti-India rebels and pro-India counterinsurgent groups armed and funded by the Indian military.
The two boys watched as the peaceful summertime street marches that began in Kashmir in 2008 turned into battlegrounds.
Their parents had generally distanced themselves from the civilian uprising against India. But both families described their sons as martyrs, speaking to a common resentment of India in Kashmir as a violent occupying force.
Saqib, who was famous among his friends for appearing as an extra in the Bollywood film "Haider," an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" set in Kashmir, grew up in a wealthy farming family, excelled at school and aspired to become an engineer.
From their two-story home in Hajin, Saqib's elder brother, Aqib Bilal, played a video on his phone of his brother using an iron to straighten his thick, black hair. He flipped through one of his brother's notebooks: mathematics exercises, physics notes and poetry.
One couplet, written in Urdu, read, "Everyone should participate in the freedom struggle; everyone's dream is freedom but no one wants to fight and die for it!"
Unlike Saqib, Mudassir was skinny, soft-spoken and shy, and struggled with his studies.
He sometimes took menial jobs to help his sickly parents, younger sister and mentally disabled elder brother, his parents said from their modest home, some 500 meters (yards) away from the Bilals.
"At such a tender age, he was already our family's backbone," Mudassir's father, Abdul Rashid Parray, said as he shuffled kangri, a traditional earthenware firepot filled with embers used in Kashmir to keep warm in the harsh winter months.
"Police snatched my son from us," Mudassir's mother, Fareeda Begum, shouted in tears, surrounded by consoling women.
"He was fated to die on that day," Parray said in response. "Thank God he died as a martyr."
Mudassir's cousin Ahmed, who gave only his middle name, fearing reprisal from the authorities, said police had detained and tortured Mudassir for over two weeks in 2017, listing him as an "over-ground worker," a term Indian government forces use to describe people who actively support rebels.
Police denied detaining Mudassir, saying they only brought him into the station to counsel him as part of what police call a de-radicalization campaign.
"We called Mudassir to dissuade him from participating in protests and stone-pelting," said the area's police chief, Sheikh Zulfkar Azad. "We counseled his father as well. But Mudassir had already been too radicalized."
Conflict observers say that last year's death toll in the insurgency was the highest since 2009, including at least 260 militants, 160 civilians and 150 government forces.
The United Nations has called for an independent international investigation into reports of rape, torture and extrajudicial killings in Kashmir. In a June report, the U.N. particularly criticized Indian troops for firing shotgun pellets at protesters, blinding and injuring hundreds of people, including children.
India's Foreign Ministry dismissed the report as "fallacious."
Kashmir has known little other than conflict since 1947, when India and Pakistan gained independence but were unable to resolve their rival claims on the mountain territory. Since then, the archrivals have fought two wars over those claims.
The Indian side of the territory has seen several uprisings, including the ongoing bloody armed rebellion launched in 1989 to demand independence or a merger with Pakistan. Since then, about 70,000 people — mainly civilians but also soldiers and rebels — have been killed.
India has long treated the Kashmiri struggle for self-determination as Islamabad's proxy war against New Delhi, responding to public protest with disproportionate force, critics say.
The conflict has intensified since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014 amid rising attacks by Hindu hard-liners against minorities in the country, further deepening frustration with New Delhi's rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir.
Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharitya Janata Party-led government has toughened its stance against both Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists with policies that experts say are intended to project the BJP as strong and uncompromising.
"This all becomes perversely useful for the BJP in the run-up to elections" due this year, said Paul Staniland, a political science professor focused on South Asia at the University of Chicago.
Amid mounting public defiance against Indian rule in Kashmir — including publicly mourning dead rebels as martyrs, disobeying curfews, producing resistance art and engaging in social media activism — some former federal ministers and Hindu nationalists have questioned Modi's Kashmir policy.
India is holding Kashmir "only by dint of the fact that we have our armed forces there," India's former finance and foreign minister Yashwant Sinha said during a recent panel discussion in New Delhi.
"Unfortunately, Kashmiri body bags and anti-Pakistan rhetoric sells well in India for gaining votes," said Parvez, the human rights activist. "That's exactly what Modi's party is doing."
Modi's policies have also had the unintended consequence of strengthening the resolve of those fighting for an end to India's rule in Kashmir.
"How can any Kashmiri ever back India?" said Ali Mohammed, one of the Parrays' neighbors. "Supporting India is like supporting soldiers killing and blinding children and destroying our homes. Supporting India is just inhumane."
During armed confrontations, Indian soldiers are often engaged on two fronts. Increasingly, when soldiers approach suspected rebel hideouts, civilians barrage troops with stones while shouting anti-India slogans and sheltering the militants, even at the expense of their own lives. In the last two years alone, more than 120 civilians were killed and hundreds wounded during such confrontations.
"We're not just fighting militants, we're fighting masses as well," said Azad, the police officer.
Such was the case for the two teens from Hajin.
On the evening of Dec. 8, Indian troops surrounded a neighborhood on the outskirts of Srinagar, Kashmir's main city, and cornered Mudassir, Saqib and a militant commander, leading to a fierce gunfight. As the battle raged, residents tried to march to the site, hurling stones at the troops to try to help the rebels escape the security cordon.
Troops destroyed at least seven homes in the fighting, blasting them with explosives and shells. By the end of the night-long clash, the boys and the commander were dead.
One bitterly cold December day, Saqib's maternal Uncle Asim Aijaz visited a cemetery in Hajin reserved for martyrs, where over three dozen militants and civilians killed in the armed conflict in the area are buried, to pray and light incense at the two boys' common grave.
"This occupation must die, not our young kids," he said.
Tokyo, Jan 16 (AP/UNB) — Grand champion Kisenosato, the only Japanese wrestler at sumo's highest rank, has decided to retire after three straight losses at the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament.
Kisenosato needed a strong start to the New Year tourney to salvage his career but wasn't able to win in the first three days and decided to retire, his stablemaster said on Wednesday.
"I spoke to him for about 30 minutes yesterday," stablemaster Tagonoura said. "It was his decision. He told me he could no longer perform at the level he wanted to."
The 32-year-old Kisenosato was the first Japanese-born wrestler in 19 years to gain promotion to sumo's highest rank in March 2017. He won his second straight championship in his yokozuna debut at the following tournament.
But injuries prevented Kisenosato from completing a record eight straight grand sumo tournaments and he has not been able to live up to the high standards required of a grand champion.
Sumo has been dominated by foreign-born wrestlers in the past decade with Mongolian grand champions Asashoryu and Hakuho winning a majority of tournaments. The lack of Japanese wrestlers has been a cause for concern among sumo officials and some observers suggested Kisenosato was promoted prematurely to give the sport a Japanese yokozuna.
In addition to the lack of Japanese wrestlers at the top, the sport has been rocked by a series of scandals in recent years including bullying of younger wrestlers and wrestlers gambling on professional baseball games.
Last year, the Japan Sumo Association came under fire when it ordered female first responders to leave the ring as they attempted to revive a male official who collapsed at an event in northern Kyoto.
The sumo ring, or dohyo, is considered sacred in the male-only sport. Women are banned from entering it because they are seen as "ritually unclean."
Kisenosato made his professional sumo debut in March 2002 and joined the top division in 2004.