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N. Korea: Bolton Call for Denuclearization Sign ‘Dim-Sighted’

North Korea has criticized U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton’s “nonsense” call for Pyongyang to show that it’s serious about giving up its nuclear weapons, the second time it has criticized a leading U.S. official in less than a week.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said he is open to a third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but Bolton told Bloomberg News on Wednesday there first needed to be “a real indication from North Korea that they’ve made the strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons.”

“Bolton, national security adviser of the White House, in an interview with Bloomberg, showed above himself by saying such a nonsense,” North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui told reporters when asked about his recent comments, the Korean Central News Agency said Saturday.

“Bolton’s remarks make me wonder whether they sprang out of incomprehension of the intentions of the top leaders of the DPRK and the U.S. or whether he was just trying to talk with a certain sense of humor for his part, with its own deviation,” she said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name. “All things considered, his word has no charm in it and he looks dim-sighted to me.”

The North Korean vice minister also warned that there would be no good if the United States continued “to throw away such remarks devoid of discretion and reason.”

North Korea said Thursday it no longer wanted to deal with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and that he should be replaced in talks by someone more mature, hours after it announced its first weapons test since nuclear talks broke down.

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China to Show New Warships as Beijing Flexes Military Muscle on Navy Anniversary

China will show off new warships including nuclear submarines and destroyers at a parade next week marking 70 years since its navy’s founding, a senior commander said on Saturday, as Beijing flexes its increasingly well-equipped military muscle.

President Xi Jinping is overseeing a sweeping plan to refurbish the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by developing everything from stealth jets to aircraft carriers as China ramps up its presence in the South China Sea and around self-ruled Taiwan.

The navy has been a key beneficiary of the modernization plan as China looks to project power far from the country’s shores and protect its trading routes and citizens overseas.

Last month, Beijing unveiled a target of 7.5 percent rise in defense spending for this year, a slower rate than last year but still outpacing China’s economic growth target.

Deputy naval commander Qiu Yanpeng told reporters in the eastern city of Qingdao that Tuesday’s naval parade – likely to be overseen by Xi himself, though China has not confirmed that – will feature 32 vessels and 39 aircraft. “The PLA Navy ship and aircraft to be revealed are the Liaoning aircraft carrier, new types of nuclear submarines, new types of destroyers, as well as fighter aircraft,” Qiu said, without giving details. “Some ships will be revealed for the first time.”

The Liaoning, the country’s first carrier, was bought second-hand from Ukraine in 1998 and refitted in China. It’s not clear if China’s second carrier, an as-yet unnamed ship developed and built purely in China, will also take part, but in the past few days state media has run stories praising recent sea trials.

Around a dozen foreign navies are also taking part. While Qiu did not give an exact number, China has announced the parade would include ships from Russia, Singapore, India, Thailand and Vietnam – which frequently complains of Chinese military activity in the disputed South China Sea.

China’s last naval battles were with the Vietnamese in the South China Sea, in 1974 and 1988, though these were relatively minor skirmishes. Chinese navy ships have also participated in international anti-piracy patrols off Somalia’s coast since late 2008.

Strong Navy ‘Essential’

Qiu reiterated China’s frequent stance that its armed forces

are not a threat to anyone and that no matter what happens it will never “pursue hegemony.”

“It is fair to say that the PLA Navy has not brought war or turbulence to any place,” Qiu said. 

But China has been scared by its past and needs good defenses at sea, h added.

“A strong navy is essential for building a strong maritime country,” Qiu said. “From 1840 to 1949, China was invaded by foreign powers from the sea more than 470 times, which caused untold suffering and deep wounds to the Chinese nation.”

China has frequently had to rebuff concerns about its military intentions, especially as military spending continues to scale new heights.

Beijing says it has nothing to hide, and has invited foreign media to cover next week’s naval parade and related activities, including a keynote speech by navy chief Shen Jinlong, who is close to Xi.

Zhang Junshe, a researcher at the PLA’s Naval Research Academy, told reporters after Qiu had spoken that inviting foreign navies to take part in the parade was a sign of China’s openness and self-confidence, noting China had also done this for the 60th anniversary in 2009.

“New nuclear submarines and new warships will be shown – this further goes to show that China’s navy is open and transparent,” said Zhang.

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How the Smallest Bears ‘Talk’ to Each Other

One of the key components of empathy is what scientists call facial mimicry. It seems complicated, but is as simple as smiling when someone smiles at you, and that conveys a lot of information. Scientists have always thought that animals who do it, humans included, are a small group, but maybe not. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.

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China’s Political System Helps Advance Its Artificial Intelligence

Recent technological advances demonstrated by China have started an intense debate on whether it is set to take a lead in the field of artificial intelligence, or AI, which has extensive business and military applications.

U.S. concerns about China’s AI advances have also influenced, in part, the ongoing trade negotiations between Washington and Beijing. Both the United States and European Union are taking measures to stop information leaks that are reportedly helping Chinese companies at the expense of Western business.

But many analysts are saying that Chinese corporate and defense-related research in areas like AI and 5G wireless technologies can thrive on their own even if information from the Western world is shut off. China is already reportedly leading in several segments of businesses like autonomous vehicles, facial recognition and certain kinds of drones.

The U.S.-based Allen Institute of Artificial Intelligence recently captured attention when it reported that China is a close second after the United States when it comes to producing frequently-cited research papers on artificial intelligence. The U.S. contribution is 29%, and China accounts for 26% of such papers.

“The U.S. still is ahead in AI development capabilities, but the gap between the U.S. and China is closing rapidly because of the significant new AI investments in China,” Bart Selman, president-elect of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, a professional organization, told VOA.

Political advantage

Chinese President Xi Jinping has in recent months encouraged Communist leaders to “ensure that our country marches in the front ranks when it comes to theoretical research in this important area of AI, and occupies the high ground in critical and AI core technologies.” He also asked them to “ensure that critical and core AI technologies are firmly grasped in our own hands.”

Analysts said China’s political system and its government’s eagerness to support the technological advancement were key reasons it could build infrastructure such as cloud computing and a software engineering workforce, and become a big player in artificial intelligence.

Chinese companies enjoy special advantages in deploying new technology like facial recognition, which is often difficult in democratic countries like the U.S., said William Carter, deputy director and fellow in the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“China does have strengths in terms of application development and deployment, and has the potential to take the lead in the deployment of some technologies like autonomous vehicles and facial recognition where ethical, social and policy hurdles may impede deployment in the U.S. and other parts of the world,” Carter said.

China’s capabilities in image and facial recognition are possibly the best in the world, partly because government controls have made it easier to generate data from a wide range of sources like banks, mobile phone companies and social media.

“These capabilities arise out of the use of deep learning on very large data sets. In general, China has the advantage of having more real world data to train AI systems on … than any other country,” Selman said.

Other areas where China has shown significant advances are natural language processing (in Chinese only) and drone (unmanned aerial vehicle) swarming.

“China also has unique capabilities that are not found in the U.S. or Europe. I’m thinking of electronic payment platforms [e.g. AliPay] and the super app WeChat that provide an advanced platform for the rapid introduction of further AI technologies,” Selman said.

U.S. role

Last February, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order asking government agencies to do more with AI.

“Continued American leadership in artificial intelligence is of paramount importance to maintaining the economic and national security of the United States,” Trump was quoted as saying in an official press release accompanying the order.

Critics have said that Trump’s order does not suggest enhanced government investment and plans for attracting fresh talent in AI research and development, which is essential for growth and industry competition.

Gregory Allen is an adjunct senior fellow with the research group Center for a New American Security. He was recently quoted as saying that the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is spending the most on research and development at $2 billion over five years. In contrast, the Chinese province of Shanghai, which is a city government, is planning to spend $15 billion on AI over 10 years.

“So literally, we have the U.S. federal government at present at risk of being outspent by a provincial government of China,” Allen said.

China’s AI capabilities have limits. They suffer from major weaknesses in areas like advanced semiconductors to support machine learning applications.

“At the end of the day, when it comes to most major AI fields, China is not the technological leader and is not the source of most foundational innovations,” Carter said. 

The U.S. still dominates in the overall market for self-driving car technology, machine translation, natural language understanding, and web search. China has gained a strong presence in a few segments of these businesses, largely because of its vast domestic market.

Despite the competition, collaboration and exchange of ideas occur between the two countries in the AI field, although this aspect is less discussed, Carter added.

“Politically, the dynamic is more competitive; economically and scientifically, it is more collaborative,” he said.

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Pompeo Dismisses N. Korea’s Rejection of Him as US Negotiator

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday rejected a North Korean demand that he be replaced as President Donald Trump’s top negotiator, as the United States and Japan vowed to continue to enforce tough sanctions on North Korea until it dismantles its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Pompeo’s refusal to step down and the joint U.S.-Japanese pledge made at a meeting of their foreign and defense ministers at the State Department threw more uncertainty over the possible resumption of stalled denuclearization talks. The talks have been at an impasse over sanctions since Trump’s second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended without any agreement in late February, and the North has warned it may not return to the table without immediate sanctions relief.

“Nothing changed, we’re continuing to work. I’m still in charge of the team,” Pompeo told reporters, insisting that he and his special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun would remain on the job.

“President Trump is obviously in charge of the overall effort, but it will be my team and special representative Biegun who will continue to lead the U.S. efforts to achieve what Chairman Kim committed to do,”he said. “He’s made that commitment to President Trump multiple times, he’s made it to me personally half a dozen times and I am convinced we still have a real opportunity to achieve that outcome and our diplomatic team will continue to remain in the lead.”

Pompeo’s comments — at a news conference with acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya — were his first response to the North Korean demand, which followed an announcement by Pyongyang on Thursday that it had tested a new tactical weapon.

The test, along with the North’s criticism of Pompeo for “talking nonsense” and misrepresenting Kim’s positions, signaled a hardening stance and cast doubt on a quick resumption of negotiations.

Pompeo, Shanahan, Kono and Iwaya all said that they would not bow to North Korea’s sanctions relief demands.

“We will continue to press North Korea to abandon all of its weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles and related programs and facilities,” Pompeo said, speaking on behalf of the group. “We will continue to enforce all sanctions against North Korea and encourage every country to do so.”

Kono said Friday’s meeting came at “a critical time to align the response to the North Korean situation,” noting that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will travel to the U.S. to meet Trump next week and that Trump will soon visit Japan.”

Japan and the United States will continue to cooperate on full implementation of all U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he said in reference to international sanctions the world body has imposed on the North.

The U.S. is refusing to ease major sanctions until North Korea completely and verifiably dismantles its nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles while the North wants significant sanctions to be lifted before the process is completed.

Japan has also advocated a tough approach to the North in contrast to South Korea, which has pushed for a step-by-step approach that would lift some international sanctions as incentives. Pompeo has said some minor relief, including the possible easing of travel restrictions, could be considered in the short- to medium-term but that the crippling sanctions the North most wants removed will not be lifted until it fulfills what he says have been Kim’s repeated pledges to Trump to completely denuclearize.

On Thursday, North Korea said it had test-fired a new type of “tactical guided weapon,” its first such test in nearly half a year, and demanded that Pompeo be excluded from future negotiations.

Although the test didn’t appear to be of a banned mid- or long-range ballistic missile that could scuttle chances of resuming the negotiations, it allowed North Korea to show its people it is pushing ahead with weapons development and reassuring hardline military officials worried that diplomacy with Washington is a sign of weakness.

North Korea’s foreign ministry accused Pompeo of playing down the significance of comments by Kim, who said last week that Washington has until the end of the year to offer mutually acceptable terms for an agreement to salvage the high-stakes nuclear diplomacy. In a statement, the director general of the American Affairs Department Kwon Jong Gun said that Pompeo was “talking nonsense” and misrepresenting Kim’s comments.

During a speech at Texas A&M University on Monday, Pompeo said Kim promised to denuclearize during his first summit with President Donald Trump and that U.S. officials were working with the North Koreans to “chart a path forward so we can get there.”

“He [Kim] said he wanted it done by the end of the year,” Pompeo said. “I’d love to see that done sooner.”

The North Korean statement said Pompeo was “misrepresenting the meaning of our requirement” for the negotiations to be finalized by the year’s end, and referred to his “talented skill of fabricating stories.”

It said Pompeo’s continued participation in the negotiations would ensure that the talks become “entangled” and called for a different counterpart who is “more careful and mature in communicating with us.”

In a speech before his rubber-stamp parliament last week, Kim said he is open to a third summit with Trump, but only if the United States changes its stance on sanctions enforcement and pressure by the end of the year.

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Sandiaga Emerges From Defeat in Indonesian Election as Presidential Material

As Indonesia’s presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto stood on stage claiming a victory in this year’s general elections that few could believe, Sandiaga “Sandi” Uno, his running mate, watched on from behind, ashen faced and dour.

The image went viral on social media, highlighting a split between Prabowo and Sandiaga, who seemed at odds. According to all counts, apart from their own, they were defeated by the incumbent Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who has claimed victory with 54 percent of the vote.

It’s a result Prabowo refuses to accept.

“Sandi didn’t look very happy at being beside him last night. That was a facial expression we have not seen on Sandi for the entire campaign,” said Greg Barton, Chair of Global Islamic Politics at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization.

“Normally he’s full of energy and smiling, that’s his trademark. He looked like he was attending a funeral,” he said.

What followed was an uneasy night amid speculation that Prabowo would instigate mass rallies following Friday prayers, prompting an appeal from Police Chief General Tito Karnavian who told all parties to end the mobilization of supporters.

Troops were seen being deployed in Jakarta.

Instead of rallying on the streets, about 1,000 supporters gathered outside Prabowo’s home in central Jakarta, where he again refused to concede defeat, citing his own “quick poll result” – which has been widely discredited – and vowed to challenge the result through the courts.

“Well he certainly wants to get attention, of course he’s got a few weeks before the official results come out in which he can save face by these sort of stunts, but it looks increasingly silly,” Barton said.

Former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also warned the post-election situation looked tense and could potentially could harm the country’s security and political life while urging his supporters “not to get involved in any act of violating Indonesia’s Constitution.”

In a letter to his Democratic Party, Yudhoyono said the real results were determine by the General Elections Commission, where counting supports Jokowi’s claim to the presidency.

But through it all Sandiaga, a successful businessman, emerged as a crowd favorite with his honesty and moderate views on Islam, acting as a counter-balance to Prabowo who has a long history of courting conservative Muslims.

“An Indonesian friend of mine said ‘Sandiaga is the son-in-law that every Indonesian mother wants’,” said Don Greenlees, a senior fellow with the Australian National University. “The big thing is can he find a coalition of parties or a party with sufficient support in its own right to back him.”

“He shapes up as a very good candidate for 2024, there’s no question that he has the ambition.”

As the voting continued, Jokowi was a substantial eight percentage points ahead of Prabowo but this was still below expectations when compared with the double-digit lead he held in the opinion polls during the campaign.

“Prabowo performed better than expected. He seems to have done best in the provinces that have the most pronounced Muslim identity. So the identity politics aspect of the election did bear out,” Kevin O’Rourke, an analyst with PT Reformasi Info Sastra, said.

He also said Sandiaga had emerged as a future political force.

“He has the asset base to finance another run. He has established a national profile and name recognition. But there’s also a few other considerations,” O’Rourke said.

“There’s going to be a few contenders for the presidency next time around, including perhaps Prabowo himself. The result yesterday may embolden him to make a third try, health permitting, and if so then questions arise about which parties might be able to nominate Sandi for a run.”

Despite protests from Prabowo, which mimicked his response to defeat by Jokowi at elections in 2014, Indonesia was widely praised for its handling of this election.

For the first time the polls encompassed presidential, legislative and provincial ballots, included about 193 million registered voters and were dubbed “the most complex elections in the world.”

Fears that large numbers of voters among the 60 million-strong youth vote, known as “golput”, would abstain or deliberately spoil their ballots due to dissatisfaction with both candidates, proved unfounded with turnout at a record high 80 percent.

“We have a pretty mature system, as far as polling is concerned,” Barton added.

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Thailand: US Man’s Seasteading Home Violates Sovereignty

Thai authorities have raided a floating home in the Andaman Sea belonging to an American man and his Thai partner who sought to be pioneers in the “seasteading” movement, which promotes living in international waters to be free of any nation’s laws.

Thailand’s navy said Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet endangered national sovereignty, an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death.

It filed a complaint against them with police on the southern resort island of Phuket. Thai authorities said they have revoked Elwartowski’s visa.

Elwartowski said in an email Thursday that he believes he and Supranee, also known as Nadia Summergirl, did nothing wrong.

“This is ridiculous,” he said in an earlier statement posted online. “We lived on a floating house boat for a few weeks and now Thailand wants us killed.”

Seasteading pioneers in hiding

The couple, who have gone into hiding, had been living part-time on a small structure they said was anchored outside Thailand’s territorial waters, just more than 12 nautical miles from shore. They were not there when the navy carried out their raid Saturday.

The Thai deputy naval commander responsible for the area said the project was a challenge to the country’s authorities.

“This affects our national security and cannot be allowed,” Rear Adm. Wintharat Kotchaseni told Thai media Tuesday. He said the floating house also posed a safety threat to navigation if it broke loose because the area is considered a shipping lane.

​Revival of seasteading

Seasteading has had a revival in recent years as libertarian ideas of living free from state interference, such as by using crypto-currency including Bitcoin, have become more popular, including among influential Silicon Valley figures such as entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Elwartowski, an IT specialist, has been involved in Bitcoin since 2010.

Several larger-scale projects are under development, but some in the seasteading community have credited the Andaman Sea house with being the first modern implementation of seasteading.

“The first thing to do is whatever I can to help Chad & Nadia, because living on a weird self-built structure and dreaming of future sovereignty should be considered harmless eccentricities, not major crimes,” Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who heads The Seasteading Institute, said on his Facebook page.

Pilot project

The floating two-story octagonal house at the center of the controversy had been profiled and promoted online by a group called Ocean Builders, which touted it as a pilot project and sought to sell additional units.

The group describes itself as “a team of engineering focused entrepreneurs who have a passion for seasteading and are willing to put the hard work and effort forward to see that it happens.”

In online statements, both Elwartowski and Ocean Builders said the couple merely promoted and lived on the structure, and did not fund, design, build or set the location for it.

“I was volunteering for the project, promoting it with the desire to be able to be the first seasteader and continue promoting it while living on the platform,” Elwartowski told The Associated Press.

“Being a foreigner in a foreign land, seeing the news that they want to give me the death penalty for just living on a floating house had me quite scared,” Elwartowski said. “We are still quite scared for our lives. We seriously did not think we were doing anything wrong and thought this would be a huge benefit for Thailand in so many ways.”

Asked his next step, he was more optimistic.

“I believe my lawyer can come to an amicable agreement with the Thai government,” he said.

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Authoritarian Leaders Fuel Hatred Toward Journalists Worldwide, Study Finds

A report released Thursday concludes disdain for journalists throughout the world has increased during the past year, due primarily to the behavior of authoritarian leaders.

The 2019 World Press Freedom Index report, conducted by Reporters Without Borders, said “authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media,” resulting in a “hatred of journalists” that has “degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear.”

The United States’ ranking in the annual index of press freedom declined for the third time in three years, a result of U.S. President Donald Trump’s regular threats to reporters and his inflammatory remarks about the media, the report said.

The U.S. ranked 48th among the 180 nations and territories that were surveyed, maintaining a descent that started in 2016.  For the first time since the report started in 2002, the United States was included in a category of countries where the treatment of journalists is described as “problematic.”

The report said while a deterioration of the press freedom climate in the U.S. predated Trump’s presidency, the first year of his time in office “has fostered further decline in journalists’ right to report.”  The report cited Trump’s repeated declarations of the news media as an “enemy of the American people,” attempts to deny White House access to “multiple media outlets,” regular use of the term “fake news” in retaliation to critical reporting, and calls to revoke the broadcasting licenses of “certain media outlets.”

It noted that hatred toward reporters prompted a gunman to murder four journalists and another employee last June at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland just east of Washington.  The gunman had mental health issues and was angry with the newspaper for reporting about his pleading guilty to criminal harassment in 2011.   “Amid one of the American journalism community’s darkest moments, President Trump continued to spout his notorious anti-press rhetoric, disparaging and attacking the media at a national level,” the report said.

European countries once again occupied most of the spots at the top of the index.  Norway topped the list for the third consecutive year, followed by Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark.  The United Kingdom ranked 33rd, rising seven spots since last year.  But the report said the U.K. “remained one of the worst-performing countries in Western Europe,” noting its more favorable ranking was due to the sharp deterioration of press freedom in other countries.

The countries at the bottom of the list were dominated by Asian countries.  Turkmenistan ranked 180, topped by North Korea, Eritrea, China and Vietnam in ascending order.

The Americas experienced the most pronounced regional deterioration worldwide, primarily due to the decline of the U.S., Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The European Union and the Balkans registered the second largest regional deterioration, followed by the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific.

The findings are based on responses to an 87-question survey that assesses pluralism, media independence and censorship in each country. Government policy was not evaluated. Responses were provided by media representatives, sociologists and attorneys around the world.  Their feedback was integrated into a database of reported abuses and violent acts against journalists.

To access the report in its entirety, visit https://rsf.org/en/ranking_table.