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Russia ‘Perhaps’ Supplying Taliban in Afghanistan

Russia may be supplying the Taliban as they fight U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, a top U.S. military commander said Thursday.

” have seen the influence of Russia of late — an increased influence — in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban,” General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander and U.S. Army General, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Scaparrotti did not elaborate on what kinds of supplies might be provided or how direct Russia’s involvement could be.

His comments are built on suspicions raised last month by General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, who testified that Russia is giving the Taliban encouragement and diplomatic cover. Nicholson did not, however, address whether Russia was supplying the terrorist group.

“Russia has been legitimizing the Taliban and supporting the Taliban,” he told VOA’s Afghan service in an interview last month.

Russia, which had an ill-fated intervention in Afghanistan that started in 1979 and ended nearly a decade later, has been trying to exert influence  in the region again and has set up six-country peace talks next week that exclude the United States.

VOA Afghan contributed to this report

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Taliban Offensive Forces Retreat of US, Afghan Forces in Key District

U.S. and Afghan officials report that they have made a strategic retreat from a district headquarters that has been under heavy assault by Taliban forces, however, the governor of the embattled province says local forces remain in control of the area.

Sangin district in southern Helmand province has been one of the most contested parts of Afghanistan for years, with scores of Afghan, British and American forces dying to protect a key transit point that has played a crucial role in the illicit opium trade.

 

The Taliban announced Thursday that its fighters assaulted the administrative center of the Sangin district overnight, forcing Afghan forces to flee the area. A Taliban spokesman claimed the insurgents were in control of the town, outposts around it and the area police headquarters.

Provincial governor Hayatullah Hayat rejected those claims, telling VOA by phone late Thursday that Afghan forces merely withdrew from a two-kilometer long market in the district and a destroyed government building. He added that Afghan military and police personnel have only withdrawn from the marketplace at the request of besieged residents around it.

“At this stage when I am talking to you we have hundreds of the Afghan national forces in Sangin and they are in a better position to combat the enemy. This step [pulling back forces] was taken only to avoid civilian casualties and to facilitate the situation for the civilians to start their business and also to go back to their houses,” asserted Hayat.

He said that the situation in the Sangin district is currently “calm” with hundreds of Afghan National Army and police forces as well as operatives of the national intelligence agency present there “to prepare to combat the enemy.”

A spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan said the district’s headquarters had sustained heavy damage in recent fighting, rendering it unusable and inaccessible to the local residents. Captain William Salvin, a spokesman for U.S. forces and NATO’s Resolute Support mission, told VOA that U.S. forces helped airlift Afghan personnel and equipment to the new district center, some two kilometers away.

After the transfer was complete, Salvin said Afghan and U.S. aircraft bombed some buildings and destroyed some 30 inoperable vehicles “to reduce them completely so that they couldn’t be used or be a safety hazard to civilians.”

Captain Salvin said he is unaware of any immediate plans to retake the old district center.

 

Provincial military officials maintain that Afghan National Army personnel staged a “tactical retreat” from the town, and relocated to their nearby main army base.

 

A number of districts in Helmand, the largest Afghan province, are under the control or influence of the Taliban.

A group of 300 U.S. Marines is due to arrive in Afghanistan later this year for deployment in the troubled province to help local forces reverse insurgent gains.

 

Concerns over Russian involvement

 

The insurgent advances come as Russia prepares to host a meeting of regional nations next month to discuss trying to encourage peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The United States has reportedly also been invited and there are reports of outreach to try to persuade the insurgent group to attend.

 

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, has denied reports the group will respond “positively” if invited to Moscow talks on April 14.

“When an invitation is extended to us only then we can consider it and comment on it,” Mujahid told VOA.

 

The Taliban have long refused to hold direct talks with the Afghan government, calling it a “puppet” of the United States.

 

The Russia-initiated dialogue on Afghanistan, however, continues to cause concerns in Kabul and Washington.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Thursday, U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the Commander of the U.S. European Command, expressed concern over Russian involvement in Afghanistan.

“I’ve seen the influence of Russia, of late, an increased influence in terms of association, and perhaps even supply, to the Taliban,” he told American lawmakers.

Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani also expressed concerns over Russia’s ties with the Taliban during a visit to Washington this week.

 

“Establishing contacts with these terrorist groups will give them a wrong message and they will think that the international community is recognizing them,” Rabbani said in an interview to the New Atlanticist.

 

This, in turn, would undercut a peace and reconciliation process because the Taliban “will not be encouraged to come to the negotiating table,” noted the Afghan minister.

 

Kunduz shooting

Meanwhile, Afghan officials say a police officer suspected of links to the Taliban shot dead nine police personnel in the northern Kunduz province late Wednesday and later fled to the insurgent group. Local officials said the incident occurred at a security outpost around the provincial capital and the shooter seized weapons and other equipment.

 

The Taliban claimed their fighters attacked the outpost and killed 10 Afghan personnel, capturing their weapons and equipment. Afghan troops and police forces have in recent months suffered several deadly, so-called insider attacks.

 

Last week, an Afghan soldier shot and wounded three U.S. military personnel during a training session at an army base in Helmand. The attacker was shot dead.

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Chinese Troops Participate in Pakistan’s Republic Day Parade

A grand annual military parade marking Pakistan’s Republic Day has for the first time involved Chinese troops, underscoring Beijing’s increasingly strong partnership with Islamabad.

The Pakistan military displayed its conventional and nuclear-capable weapons at Thursday’s parade in the capital, where security was extremely tight. Authorities blocked cellular phone networks to deter militants, who have often used mobile phone signals to trigger bombs.

Pakistan Day commemorates March 23, 1940, when a resolution was passed to demand the establishment of a separate homeland to protect Muslims in the then British colony of India.

Addressing the nationally televised event, President Mamnoon Hussain thanked China for sending a 90-member contingent of the People’s Liberation Army to the parade, saying the Chinese army has never participated in such an event in any other country.

Infrastructure projects

In addition to deep defense ties, Beijing is investing more than $50 billion to help build infrastructure projects in Pakistan with an aim to link China to the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea.

Hussain said the cooperation under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor underscored strong economic partnership between the two countries and opened doors of development not only for Pakistan, but for the whole region.

Military

Thursday’s parade showcased the Nasr missile, with a 60 kilometer range. It is capable of carrying Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons.

Also featured was the nuclear-capable ballistic Shaheen-III missile with a range of up to 2,750 kilometers that experts say can hit anywhere in rival India.

President Hussain, however, reiterated that Pakistan’s nuclear capacities are meant to ensure regional peace and stability. He said Islamabad is ready for talks with New Delhi on all issues, including Kashmir, but accused India of violating a cease-fire in the divided Himalayan region.

“India’s irresponsible attitude and consistent violations of Line of Control and Working Boundary have jeopardized peace of the region,” Hussain alleged, referring to the de facto Kashmir frontier.

A message to Hussain from Indian President Pranab Mukherjee congratulated Pakistan on its Republic Day, and said India would build “ties with Pakistan in an environment free from terror and violence.”

Relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, who have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947, have lately nosedived over Pakistan’s alleged support for anti-India militants.

A contingent of Saudi special forces and Turkish military band also participated in the Pakistan Day parade where fighter planes and sky-diving Pakistani troops demonstrated their skills.

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Duterte Wants Impeachment Bids Against Philippine VP Stopped

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told proponents Thursday to stop trying to impeach the vice president because she hasn’t committed any “overt acts” that could be grounds for her ouster.

Vice President Leni Robredo has criticized Duterte’s bloody anti-drug crackdown and other policies, but the president said she has the right to free speech and that removing her from office would damage the country.

Philippine presidents and vice presidents are elected separately and often come from rival political parties, like Duterte and Robredo, a former human rights lawyer.

“Guys, lay off. Let’s stop it. You can do other things but do not tinker with the structure of government. I will not countenance it,” Duterte said when asked at a news conference about an impeachment complaint filed this week against Robredo in the House of Representatives.

“She was elected so why do you have to … just because she keeps on harping on me? Let her, this is a democracy, freedom of speech … there are no overt acts committed,” said the president, a former government prosecutor. “Why will you destroy the country?”

Duterte also was the subject of an impeachment complaint filed last week over his anti-drug crackdown, which has left thousands of mostly poor drug suspects dead, and alleged corruption, although the bid faces an uphill battle with Duterte’s allies holding an overwhelming majority in Congress.

Duterte denies condoning extrajudicial killings but has repeatedly threatened drug lords and dealers with death in public speeches. The United States, European governments and U.N. rights officials have expressed alarm over the large number of killings in the crackdown.

Early this week, a lawyer and a losing senatorial candidate filed a draft impeachment complaint against Robredo in the House, alleging she violated the constitution and betrayed the public trust with her actions, including a videotaped message to a U.N.-linked human rights forum in which “she betrayed the people by shaming the nation with her dishonest message to the United Nations.”

In her message, Robredo raised concerns about the mounting number of killings of drug suspects in raids she described as “summary executions,” and about a lack of transparency and accountability in Duterte’s crackdown. The drug problem, she said, can’t be solved “with bullets alone,” adding that Filipinos should “defy brazen incursions on their rights.”

The remarks were one of Robredo’s sharpest criticisms of the president’s campaign and drew criticism from Duterte’s allies, including House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who said he also would study the possibility of filing an impeachment bid against Robredo, who he said undermined the Duterte administration before the international community.

Another group of lawyers said at a news conference Thursday that they plan to file another impeachment complaint against Robredo in the House, which is on a summer break.

Robredo, who belongs to the opposition Liberal Party, resigned from a Cabinet post in December after being prevented from attending Cabinet meetings, citing “major differences in principles and values” with Duterte.

 

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India Doubles Maternity Leave, But Many Won’t Benefit

Neda Saiyyada was among a handful of women in India whose company gave her six months of maternity leave last year instead of the mandatory three months. The extended leave helped the young mother enormously.

“When I was pregnant, my biggest worry was that I will not be able to leave my child,” she said. “In three months the child is nothing, can’t even hold the neck straight, and my child was eating and sitting up straight when I joined back, so it was a blessing in disguise.”

About 1.8 million women working in India’s formal sector will soon be legally entitled to get the extended maternity leave that Saiyyada was so grateful for after parliament passed a landmark bill earlier this month doubling maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks.

India is joining a handful of countries, such as Canada and Norway, that give women generous paid leave of six months or more.

Besides boosting maternal and child health, experts hope the longer maternity leave will encourage more women to return to work and help close a growing gender gap in a country where women account for about one-quarter of the workforce.

Women in workforce

Shachi Irde, executive director of the nonprofit Catalyst India Women’s Research Center, worried that the number of women in the workforce is not only small, it has been declining. 

“In 2004 to 2005 there were about 37 percent women in the workforce, now it has dropped to 29 percent,” she said.

Pointing out that India is the only country facing this downward trend, she said “there are many reasons, but one of them is child care.”

According to a study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, 25 percent of new mothers in India quit their jobs after having their first child. And research by Catalyst shows that family responsibilities make it tougher for women to climb the career ladder: About half of working women do not go beyond junior or midlevel positions.

India has few quality child care facilities and most women fall back on the family to take care of children.

The new law tries to address that problem by making it compulsory for workplaces employing more than 50 people to set up day care facilities.

The extended leave itself also will be a huge help, said Neda Saiyyada, who added, “It will encourage women to stay connected with the workplace.”

Will hiring drop?

However some human resource professionals fear the new bill could discourage employers from hiring women, particularly small companies that would see the extended maternity leave as an additional burden.

“For businesses, it is just not easy to not have an employee for six months,” said Sairee Chahal, founder of SHEROES, a portal for women job seekers. “Instead of saying we will hire you as an employee, they will hire you for noncore roles or for more modular roles so this does not fall on them.”

She pointed out that maternity leave has been doubled at a time when the organized sector is facing multiple challenges and shorter business cycles. 

“It (companies) is also under churn of a different kind, under churn of automation, under churn of globalization. So all those trends are overpowering it at this stage,” she said.

Others say the government should also have looked at involving both parents in the extended leave period instead of only making the provision for the mother.

Caveats

But in a country that is coping with a huge population of 1.3 billion people, the 26 weeks of leave will only be given for the first two children, and women would only be entitled to 12 weeks for a third child.

The bill also brings no benefits to women working in the informal sector, which employs as much as 90 percent of the female workforce. That includes housemaids, laborers or workers in small workshops, who do not get entitlements such as paid leave.

But for the time being, those who stand to get six months off are celebrating.

Traptika Chauhan who is expecting a baby in August was “extremely, extremely relieved” when she heard about the passage of the bill. She pointed out that with more and more people staying in nuclear families, child care is a challenge for working couples.

“I don’t have my parents who stay here or my in-laws who stay here. Then it is really difficult to leave such a small baby all by himself or herself and leave for work,” she said. “Plus your own body is trying to cope up so extremely, extremely great news and perfect for me.”

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North Korea: Trump Too Much Like Obama

North Korea has a criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump he probably wasn’t expecting: He’s too much like Barack Obama.

North Korea’s state media, which regularly vilified Obama in the strongest terms, had been slow to do the same with the Trump administration, possibly so that officials in Pyongyang could figure out what direction Trump will likely take and what new policies he may pursue.

But his top diplomat’s recent trip to Asia, which featured some pretty tough talk, appears to have loosened their lips.

In North Korea’s first official comments since new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s swing through the region, a Foreign Ministry spokesman seized on the former oil executive’s blunt assessment that Obama’s strategy needs to be replaced and U.S. efforts to get North Korea to denuclearize over the past 20 years have been a failure.

The spokesman then slammed Trump for adopting the same policies, particularly regarding tougher economic sanctions, nevertheless.

“Tillerson admitted the failure of the U.S. efforts to denuclearize the DPRK for 20 years and end of Obama’s policy of ‘strategic patience during his recent tour,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in the dispatch that ran late Monday, quoting the unnamed Foreign Ministry official. “Now Tillerson is repeating what Obama touted … until he left the White House.”

Busy North Korea

North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK, hasn’t exactly been sitting quietly by as Trump gets settled in.

Just before Tillerson arrived in Tokyo, the North launched several ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. While he was still in China, it conducted a test of what it called a “revolutionary” new type of engine for its rockets. On Wednesday, it appears to have conducted more missile tests from the eastern port city of Wonsan, though they reportedly failed.

To be fair, Trump doesn’t really have a North Korea policy yet.

Tillerson stressed repeatedly that a comprehensive policy review is underway and that the purpose of his trip to Asia was to hear out the North’s neighbors. How much he was able to do that is questionable. South Korea has only an interim government these days, since its president was forced out of office because of a scandal. China, North Korea’s economic lifeline, has a longstanding dialogue-based agenda that Washington is familiar with but has never shown much interest in.

On the other hand, Tillerson did raise some eyebrows with a few tough-sounding warnings.

While in Seoul, he said “everything was on the table,” including military intervention or even a pre-emptive strike if tougher sanctions or other diplomatic measures fail to achieve Washington’s goals.

Tone matters

Some policy experts in the U.S. say that is really more smoke than fire.

“If you look at Tillerson’s full statements, they were much more of a continuation of current policy than has been portrayed in the press, with an emphasis on expanding sanctions,” said David Wright, co-director and senior scientist of the Global Security Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “You can try to squeeze North Korea with more sanctions and maybe slow its program, but it’s hard to see how to stop it from moving ahead without diplomacy.”

Tillerson’s remarks are completely in line with longstanding U.S. policy, including Obama’s, but just stated more threateningly. President Bill Clinton, for example, is known to have seriously considered a pre-emptive strike over the nuclear issue in 1994.

Even so, tone is important in diplomacy, and Tillerson does seem to have reassured some in Seoul and Tokyo that the United States hasn’t forgotten them.

Pyongyang, however, seems to have hit the familiar bravado button.

“The nuclear force of the DPRK is the treasured sword of justice and the most reliable war deterrence to defend the socialist motherland and the life of its people,” the official reportedly said. “If the businessmen-turned-U.S. authorities thought that they would frighten the DPRK, they would soon know that their method would not work.”

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What is Wat Dhammakaya, the Conflict Behind It

For nearly a month, the temple was under siege by more than 3,000 troops and police officers

It’s more than eight times bigger than Vatican City and twice the size of Cambodia’s ancient Angkor Wat, making it quite possibly the world’s biggest religious complex. Yet few non-Buddhists have heard of Wat Dhammakaya, a sprawling, extravagant temple compound north of Bangkok that has been at the center of a high-profile power struggle between monks and Thailand’s ruling military.

A gilded golden dome glimmers at the compound’s center, appearing to hover UFO-like over meditation grounds large enough to accommodate a million Dhammakaya devotees hailing from more than 30 countries. Its 15-story globe-shaped office, called the “U.N. of Buddhism” by followers, features an assembly hall to convene thousands of Buddhists.

For nearly a month, the temple was under siege by more than 3,000 troops and police officers. Police had sought to arrest the temple’s abbot, Luang Por Dhammajayo, who’s wanted on money-laundering charges. It’s a complicated case involving money and politics, and observers say its outcome could shape the future of Thailand.

What makes Dhammakaya different

Dhammakaya’s proselytizing, executed with private-sector efficiency, is unusual for a Buddhist sect. It runs meditation centers from Belgium to Bahrain, Singapore to the Solomon Islands, and broadcasted its own 24-hour TV channel (with an in-house animation studio) until authorities shut it down in December.

Critics say Dhammakaya interprets Buddhism in unorthodox ways. Instead of focusing on detachment from worldly suffering, Dhammakaya teachings are infused with talk of a cosmic battle between light and dark, urging supporters to bring others into the fold to bring about world peace.

One gated 120-acre compound is reserved for up to 400 “advanced meditators,” complete with exercise machines, golf carts from Japan and round-the-clock CCTV security. Only senior monks are allowed into another walled area.

Dhammakaya sees worldly activity as crucial for its divine mission, and has drawn a strong following among middle-class people who had trouble connecting with traditional Buddhism.

“When I go, it’s preaching, preaching, preaching — I feel bored,” said Dhammakaya devotee Manoj Hemprommaraj. At Dhammakaya, he said, “I’m only a normal person, (but) I feel I have a target, I can help, I can teach. I feel that life is 200 percent.”

For the temple, donations equal merit. Temple donation boxes feature signs that read “Entrance to Heaven.” Dhammakaya says that over the years it has received hundreds of millions of dollars from a million people.

Critics allege the temple scams ordinary people to build plush pads for corrupt monks. Stories abound in Thailand of friends and relatives asked to donate their life savings to cement their ties to the temple. During the raid, pictures of exercise and massage rooms, golf carts and minimalist glass-and-steel condos were splashed across Thai media. Local papers claim the temple cost 350 billion baht ($10 billion) to construct, a figure that Dhammakaya disputes.

“It’s big, but it’s plain and functional,” said Dhammakaya spokesperson Phra Pasura Dantamano. “It looks exorbitant because of the number of people who are coming.”

Why Dhammakaya is involved in a political struggle

Thailand’s ruling military junta says it’s targeting the temple for a simple reason: fraud. 

One of Dhammajayo’s followers, the head of a credit union, was sentenced to 16 years in prison for embezzling money, 1.4 billion baht (about $40 million) of which was donated to the temple, police said. Dhammajayo was charged with money-laundering and receiving stolen property.

The sect says Dhammajayo did not know the money was tainted. Instead, some devotees believe Thailand’s ruling military junta is trying to consolidate power. Though the temple says it’s politically neutral, some view it as supportive of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup engineered by conservative forces. Thaksin lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a prison sentence but remains a political force.

Buddhism is one of three pillars of Thai society, along with monarchy and nationhood, and its institutions have political heft. Monks are granted many concessions, including not paying taxes and being exempt from arrest until they are defrocked.

Dhammakaya stands apart from Thailand’s Buddhist establishment and maintains its own hierarchy. It is run by a board of about 20 senior monks appointed by Dhammajayo.

The sect’s insularity has led to establishment suspicions that it’s plotting to upend Thailand’s political order. One critic, former Dhammakaya monk Mano Laohavanich, even compares the temple’s globalist ambitions to Nazi dreams of world conquest.

What’s next

Police sent thousands of officers to the temple during the weeks-long raid, and about 10,000 temple supporters lived in tents to deter officers from entering the grounds. Both sides agreed to end the standoff March 10. Dhammajayo’s whereabouts are unknown.

The battle isn’t over. The government, keen to avoid any bloodshed, is shifting the fight to courtrooms and the Sangha Supreme Council of Thailand, the nation’s Buddhist authority. King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun has stripped Dhammajayo of his titles. The government has slapped criminal charges on senior monks and continues financial investigations.

“The Dhammakaya movement is now in a process of decay,” Mano said. “No more can they conduct their activity in the same way they did before. No big ceremonies.”

The government wants Dhammajayo defrocked, but only the Sangha Council can do that. Even if it does so, resolving the case could take years if it is appealed. Some observers predict the junta will confiscate Dhammakaya assets by pursuing legal charges against the temple’s foundation, which holds much of its property.

Elections are scheduled in 2018, and some believe the junta is racing to cement its allies in key positions before it must hand the reins to a civilian party. The extent to which they succeed could determine Thailand’s delicate balance of power in upcoming years.

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Trump Urged to Send Clear Message to China on THAAD

Amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and China over deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea, experts suggest the United States should again send a clear message during an expected summit next month that the U.S. action is not intended as aggressive.

The U.S.-South Korean decision to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system on the Korean Peninsula came in July, following Pyongyang’s missile tests last year. China has repeatedly condemned the move, insisting the system’s radar would peer into its territory and survey its military, and now that components of the missile interceptor system are being installed, Beijing is said to be planning economic retaliation against Seoul.

Washington is stepping up diplomacy to try to bridge differences with China over the THAAD issue, but the two sides appear far from an agreement.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated disapproval of THAAD during a meeting last weekend in Beijing with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Wednesday. And Joseph Yun, the State Department’s special representative for North Korea policy, told his South Korean counterpart, Kim Hong-kyun, that Tillerson spoke “very strongly” to the Chinese side to emphasize that THAAD is a defensive measure against potential North Korean missile launches.

“The secretary said in private meetings that retaliating against the defensive system, which the Chinese had done, was something that was uncalled for, and something of growing concern for us,” the U.S. diplomat said Wednesday.

Clear signal needed

President Donald Trump is planning to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a two-day summit next month, the first meeting between the two world leaders. Neither Washington nor Beijing has confirmed the summit at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, but news reports indicate the plans call for meetings April 6-7.

Despite concerns that the THAAD deployment could widen the rift in Washington-Beijing relations, Trump needs to send a clear signal to Xi that THAAD is “not an issue that is up for debate,” said J. Berkshire Miller, a Tokyo-based international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations.

“THAAD is a crucial deployment, and I don’t see the U.S. walking back from that one inch,” Miller told VOA. “The U.S. should at least have a dialogue [with the Chinese], but at the same time, I think the Trump administration should be quite firm that this is not an issue that is up for debate.”

Seeing THAAD as a “natural consequence” of an evolving threat from North Korea, Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told VOA that Washington should continue to tell Beijing “this system is not aimed at China … and [China] will just have to live with this decision.”

Douglas Paal, director of the Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he would advise Trump to repeat former President Barack Obama’s reassurances to China that THAAD is not an offensive weapon, but rather a defensive system designed to counter North Korea’s missile launches.

The Trump administration “should offer what was offered … during the Obama administration without success, which is briefings on the capabilities of THAAD, so as to give China some reassurance that the worst fears they have about it are misplaced,” Paal told VOA.

‘Nothing to discuss’

Some experts, like Walter Lohman, think there is “nothing to discuss” with China on THAAD, and that Beijing is overstepping its bounds, infringing on Seoul’s sovereignty and national security.

Lohman, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, said Trump should stress to Xi that Beijing needs to be more assertive vis-a-vis its North Korean ally, if China does not want to see any more missile defense systems deployed in the region.

“There’s a problem on the Chinese side with enforcement [of U.N. Security Council resolutions], and President Donald Trump can make that point,” Lohman told VOA. “He can also make the point that if they’re not more compliant, then Chinese companies are going to come under sanctions.”

Some experts argue there are other reasons for China’s opposition to THAAD than its claimed fear that the missile shield puts the nation’s security at risk.

China’s attempt to reverse the decision based on “unfounded” claims is due to its “political desires to dominate their region,” Thomas Countryman told VOA this week. Countryman served as the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation during the Obama administration.

“There’s no technical basis for it, and in conversations with Chinese diplomats, they’ve come very close to admitting that it is, for China, a political issue instead,” Countryman said. “It’s just patently unfair and hypocritical for China to say that it is the only country that has the right to a defensive system.”

Lohman suggested that “the Chinese see some value to themselves — strategically — for North Korea to have this missile capability, and to have some sort of deterrent effect on the United States.

“So that’s why they don’t want the THAAD in there, because it dilutes that deterrent that their allies in North Korea have,” he said.

Development proceeding

North Korea appears to be accelerating its nuclear and missile development. Most recently, it fired a missile from its east coast Wednesday, but that apparent weapons test was a failure.

The missile launch came a few days after Kim Jong Un’s military tested a new high-thrust rocket engine that it claimed was a “great leap forward” in its rocket development.

The U.S. State Department responded to the latest rocket launch with a rebuke, saying that “further provocations are unacceptable” and that the U.S. was “prepared to use the full range of capabilities” at its disposal to defend itself and its allies from North Korean attacks.

“We call on the DPRK to refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric that threaten international peace and stability, and to make the strategic choice to fulfill its international obligations and commitments and return to serious talks,” a spokesperson for the State Department told VOA on Monday.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Korean service.