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Police Hunting for Monk Increase Pressure on Thai Temple

Police in Thailand who spent three days in an orderly but unsuccessful search of a vast Buddhist temple for a prominent monk accused of financial wrongdoing kept up the pressure Sunday, sending fresh forces to confront devotees and monks at the compound’s gates.


Around 3,000 police had surrounded the Dhammakaya sect temple north of Bangkok from Thursday through Saturday, while smaller squads searched for its chief, Phra Dhammajayo, who is accused of accepting $40 million in embezzled money.


Both security forces and Dhammajayo’s followers gathered in growing numbers at the temple on Sunday after the Department of Special Investigation – Thailand’s FBI – ordered all people not residing there to leave. Numbers on both sides were difficult to estimate.


Sunday’s standoff ended peacefully, with the police forces withdrawing shortly after dark.


Dhammajayo has been charged with money-laundering and receiving stolen property. His defenders say he did not know the money was tainted.


Some devotees believe his legal troubles are politically motivated because the temple and its followers are seen as supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 military coup. Thailand had another coup in 2014 and currently has a military government.


The police are operating under an emergency order issued Thursday by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha allowing them to shortcut normal legal procedures with broad powers to search property and arrest people.


They have sought to block people from entering the temple, but many seemed to have gotten through on Sunday after senior monks issued statements suggesting the temple was under threat.


Police also issued summonses for more than a dozen senior monks, including Dhammajayo – who has not been seen in public for months – to present themselves at the local police station.


“Our hearts break because we love Buddhism. We can die, but Buddhism, never,” said Dhammakaya devotee Manoj Hemprommaraj. “We will protect our temple, (even) if we die.”

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Myanmar Forces Hurt in Border Clash with Militants

Two members of Myanmar’s security forces were injured in a clash with militants on the troubled Rakhine State border with Bangladesh, Myanmar state counselor’s office said, casting doubt on the government’s claim that the region had stabilized.

The government last week said the situation in northern Rakhine had stabilized and that it had ended a four-month security crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.

The security operation had been under way since nine policemen were killed in attacks on security posts near the Bangladesh border October 9. Almost 69,000 Rohingyas have since fled to Bangladesh, according to U.N. estimates.

The United Nations has said the security crackdown may amount to crimes against humanity and possibly ethnic cleansing.

Border clash

Two soldiers were wounded in a five-minute clash with an armed group on the border with Bangladesh Friday afternoon, the State Counselor’s said in a statement late Saturday.

“The forces providing security forces to workers preparing border fence between the Mile Post 56 and 57 in Buthidaung township were attacked by about 30 unidentified armed men in black uniforms positioned on hills in Bangladeshi side,” the statement said, adding the armed men withdrew after security forces returned fire.

The security forces were still gathering information to identify how many members from the armed group were injured or killed during the clash, the office said in the short statement.

Bangladesh border guards could not immediately be contacted. Myanmar State Counselor’s Office and military did not immediately respond to requests for comments.

October attacks

Myanmar’s government blamed Rohingyas supported by foreign militants for the October 9 attacks on police, but has issued scant information about the assailants it called “terrorists.”

A group of Rohingya Muslims involved in the October attacks is headed by people with links to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the International Crisis Group said in a report last year.

The government, led Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has denied almost all allegations of human rights abuses in Rakhine, including mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims, and said the operation was a lawful counterinsurgency campaign.

The violence has renewed international criticism that the Myanmar leader has done too little to help members of the Muslim minority, many of whom live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Myanmar.

Rohingya Muslims have faced discrimination in Myanmar for generations. They are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and many entitled only to limited rights. 

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Thai Police Order Thousands From Buddhist Temple

Thai police ordered thousands of worshippers to leave the country’s biggest Buddhist temple Sunday so it can intensify its search for its former abbot, who is wanted on money-laundering charges.

Thailand’s ruling junta used a special emergency law Thursday to let police explore the scandal-hit Dhammakaya Temple after months of failing to persuade it to hand over Phra Dhammachayo.

On Sunday, police said that all nonresidents must vacate the premises to expedite the search of the 400 hectare (1,000 acre) facility because temple activities were hindering police.

Monks who live within the temple grounds were ordered to congregate at an exit point and not interfere with the investigation.

“We are conducting these steps so that we can conduct the search process as quickly as possible so that we can return the temple grounds to the worshippers,” Woranan Srilam of the Department for Special Investigation told Reuters.

Rare defiance of military

The temple has been a rare institution in defying the military government. Opposition from political parties and activists has largely been silenced since a coup in 2014.

Phra Dhammachayo faces charges of conspiracy to launder money and receive stolen goods, as well as taking over land unlawfully to build meditation centers. His aides dismiss the accusations as politically motivated.

“This is an abuse of power by the junta who should not interfere on religious matters,” temple spokesman and senior monk Phra Pasura Dantamano told Reuters.

“We have always been willing to negotiate and accommodate the authorities but this is too much.”

13,000 inside temple

Around 13,000 people were inside the temple as of Sunday morning, according to Dantamano, who said that the temple would have to comply with the request to evacuate.

Although the temple has no overt political affiliation, the abbot is widely believed to have had links with populist former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was overthrown in 2006. A government led by Thaksin’s sister was toppled by the army in 2014.

The Dhammakaya Temple’s brasher approach to winning adherents jars on conservatives, who say it exploits its followers and uses religion to make money. The temple says it is as committed to Buddhist values as anyone else. 

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Malaysia Looking for 4 North Korean Suspects in Kim Death

Investigators are looking for four North Korean men who flew out of Malaysia the same day Kim Jong Nam, the North Korean ruler’s outcast half brother, was apparently poisoned at an airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian police said Sunday.


Since Kim’s death last week, authorities have been trying to piece together details of what appeared to be an assassination. Malaysian police have so far arrested four people carrying IDs from North Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. 

Four suspects at large 

On Sunday, the Deputy National Police Chief of Malaysia, Noor Rashid Ibrahim, said four other suspects were on the run. He said the men were North Korean and had flown out of the country last Monday, when Kim died.


“I am not going disclose where they are,” he told a room packed with journalists. Interpol was helping with the investigation, he said.


Noor Rashid showed photographs of the four North Korean men police were trying to track down. They were traveling on regular, not diplomatic, passports and are ages 33, 34, 55 and 57.


He also said there was a fifth North Korean man whom authorities wanted to question. 

Autopsy results in days  

Kim Jong Nam was waiting for his flight home to Macau when, authorities say, he was set upon by two women. He sought help at a customer service desk and said “two unidentified women had swabbed or had wiped his face with a liquid and that he felt dizzy,” Noor Rashid said Sunday.


Kim died en route to a hospital after suffering a seizure, officials say. 


Noor Rashid said Sunday that he expected autopsy results to be released within days.

“We have to send a sample to the chemistry department, we have to send a sample for toxicology tests,” he said.


Investigators also want to speak to Kim Jong Nam’s next of kin to identify the body. He is believed to have two sons and a daughter with two women living in Beijing and Macau. 


“We haven’t met the next of kin,” Noor Rashid said. “We are working, we are trying very hard to get the next of kin to come and to assist us in the investigation.”


The case has raised tensions between Malaysia and North Korea. Pyongyang officials have demanded custody of Kim’s body and strongly objected to an autopsy, saying they will reject any results. The Malaysians went ahead with the autopsy anyway, saying they were simply following procedure. 

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IMF Approves Terms for $5 Billion Loan to Mongolia

The International Monetary Fund said Sunday that it and other partners have agreed on terms for a more than $5 billion loan package to the Mongolian government to help get the north Asian country’s economy back on track. 


The deal is subject to approval by the IMF’s executive board, which is expected to consider Mongolia’s request in March.


According to the terms agreed by the Mongolian government and IMF envoys, the IMF would provide $440 million over three years. The Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Japan and South Korea are together expected to provide up to $3 billion, and the People’s Bank of China is expected to extend its 15 billion RMB ($2 billion) swap line with the Bank of Mongolia for at least another three years, the IMF statement said. 


The economy of mineral-rich Mongolia has been hit hard in recent years by a sharp decline in commodity prices and a collapse in foreign direct investment. 

Adding to Mongolia’s woes is an exceptionally cold winter for the second successive year, which the Red Cross warned last week was putting the livelihoods of more than 150,000 nomadic herders and family members at risk. 

Mongolia’s national debt now stands around $23 billion, or twice the annual economic output, and a $580 million payment to foreign bondholders is due March 21.


The IMF statement said the loan agreement would mean Mongolia has to strengthen its banking system and adopt fiscal reforms to ensure that budget discipline is maintained. 


Generally, terms required by the IMF as a condition for such lending often prompt complaints in borrower countries that the conditions hurt the poor or undercut economic growth by reducing social spending or investment in public facilities. 

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US Navy: Carrier Group Begins Patrols in South China Sea

A United States aircraft carrier strike group has begun patrols in the South China Sea, the U.S. navy said on Saturday, amid renewed tension over the disputed waterway.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty, responding to reports the United States was planning fresh naval patrols in the South China Sea.

The navy said the force, including Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, began routine operations in the South China Sea on Saturday. The announcement was posted on the Vinson’s Facebook page.

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Executive Order That Incarcerated Japanese Americans Signed 75 Years Ago

Satsuki Ina was born behind barbed wire in a prison camp during World War Two, the daughter of U.S. citizens forced from their home without due process and locked up for years following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Roughly 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-Americans were sent to desolate camps that dotted the West because the government claimed they might plot against the U.S. Thousands were elderly, disabled, children or infants too young to know the meaning of treason. Two-thirds were citizens.

And now, as survivors commemorate the 75th anniversary of the executive order that authorized their incarceration, they’re also speaking out to make sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to Muslims, Latinos or other groups.

Executive orders

They’re alarmed by recent executive orders from President Donald Trump that limit travel and single out immigrants.

In January, Trump banned travelers from seven majority Muslim nations from entering the U.S., saying he wanted to thwart potential attackers from slipping into the country. A federal court halted the ban. Trump said at a news conference Thursday that he would issue a replacement order next week.

“We know what it sounds like. We know what the mood of the country can be. We know a president who is going to see people in a way that could victimize us,” said Ina, a 72-year-old psychotherapist who lives in Oakland, California.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, to protect against espionage and sabotage. Notices appeared ordering people of Japanese descent to report to civil stations for transport.

Desperate families sold off belongings for cheap and packed what they could. The luckier ones had white friends who agreed to care for houses, farms and businesses in their absence.

“Others who couldn’t pay their mortgage, couldn’t pay their bills, they lost everything. So they had to pretty much start from scratch,” said Rosalyn Tonai, 56, executive director of the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco.

Tonai was shocked to learn in middle school that the U.S. government had incarcerated her mother, aunts and grandparents. Her family hadn’t talked about it. Her mother, a teenager at the time, said she didn’t remember details.


Her organization, the Japanese American Citizens League and others oppose the use of the word “internment.” They say the government used euphemisms such as “internment,” “evacuation,” and “non-alien” to hide the fact that U.S. citizens were incarcerated and the Constitution violated.

The groups say this White House has what they see as the same dangerous and flippant attitude toward the Constitution. Japanese-American lawmakers expressed horror when a Donald Trump supporter cited the camps as precedent for a Muslim registry.

The Japanese American Citizens League “vehemently” objected to executive orders signed by Trump last month, to build a wall along the Mexican border, punish “sanctuary” cities that protect people living in the country illegally, and limit refugees and immigrants from entering the country.

“Although the threat of terrorism is real, we must learn from our history and not allow our fears to overwhelm our values,” the statement read in part.

Hiroshi Kashiwagi was 19 when his family was ordered from their home in Northern California’s Placer County and to a temporary detention center.

He remembers slaughtering his prized chickens — New Hampshire Reds — for his mother to cook with soy sauce and sugar. She stored the bottled birds in sturdy sacks to take on the trip. The family ate the chickens at night to supplement meals. The birds didn’t last long.

Today, Kashiwagi, 94, is a poet and writer in San Francisco who speaks to the public about life at Tule Lake, a maximum security camp near the Oregon border. Winters were cold, the summers hot. They were helpless against dust storms that seeped inside.

“I feel obligated to speak out, although it’s not a favorite subject,” he said. “Who knows what can happen? The way this president is, he does not go by the rules. I’m hoping that he would be impeached.”

Orders against Japanese-Americans were revoked after the war ended in 1945. They returned to hostility and discrimination in finding work or places to live.

‘Race prejudice’

A congressional commission formed in 1980 blamed the incarceration on “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill to compensate every survivor with a tax-free check for $20,000 and a formal apology from the U.S. government.

Ina said that only then did her mother, Shizuko, feel she got her face back, her dignity returned. By then her father, Itaru, had died.

“This is a burden we’ve been carrying, and if we can make that burden into something meaningful that could help and protect other people, then it becomes not so much an obligation but more as a responsibility,” Ina said.

After Trump’s election, Ina vowed to reach out to the Muslim community and protest and tell everyone about what happened to her family. She brought her message to a gathering of camp survivors in the Los Angeles area.

“And this old woman, she had a cane, she said, ‘OK. I’m going to tell everybody about what happened. This is very bad. It’s happening again,’ ” she said. “It’s that kind of spirit.”

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Latest Terror Attack Deepens Divide Between Pakistan, Afghanistan

Pakistan has closed its border with Afghanistan, fired a barrage of artillery into its neighbor’s territory and staged a major domestic crackdown on militant groups, reportedly killing more than 100 suspects, in response to the deadliest terror attack in the country in years.

It was the latest in a series of deadly attacks in both nations that have been claimed by Islamic State. That could provide grounds for a united fight against terrorism but instead seems to be pushing the two countries apart in a flurry of accusations that each side is harboring groups responsible for cross-border attacks.

Thursday’s suicide bombings hit one of Pakistan’s most revered Sufi shrines, killing at least 72 people and injuring scores more.

Scenes of the carnage in Sindh province sent shock waves up through the Pakistani government. It blamed the Jama-ul-Ahrar group, operating out of Afghanistan, for being “behind these barbaric acts of terrorism,” according to a statement from the office of Sartaj Aziz, adviser to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on foreign affairs. Pakistan said it lodged a strong protest with Afghanistan.

The two countries have swapped accusations that not enough has been done to root out extremists launching cross-border attacks from both sides.

According to the statement from his office, Aziz spoke by phone with Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar, saying the fight against terrorism requires close cooperation, particularly in policing the border.

Aziz expressed “serious concern” that Afghanistan had not paid heed to Pakistan’s repeated calls for action against Jama-ul-Ahrar.

‘Effective strategies’ needed

Atmar’s office said he condemned such “abhorrent” attacks on civilians, and pointed out that Islamic State has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in Afghanistan.

“Both countries must maintain strong and transparent commitments to preventing such groups from operating on their soil,” Atmar’s office said in a statement. “We must find and execute effective strategies to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries wherever they exist.”

But Pakistan was clearly in no mood to talk cooperation on this day and only wanted immediate results.

In an unusual move, Afghan embassy officials were summoned to the army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi – not to the Foreign Office in Islamabad – and given a list of 76 “most wanted” terrorists that Pakistan wants apprehended immediately and handed over.

Security forces have been given special orders to maintain strict vigilance all along the border, according to a statement by the Pakistani military’s media wing.

“The border has been closed since last night due to security reasons. No cross-border or unauthorized entry will be allowed into Pakistan from Afghanistan,” the statement said.

Shah Hussain Murtazawi, spokesman for Afghanistan’s deputy president, lamented the decision, telling VOA: “Closing borders does not solve the problems.”

Major border crossings at Spin Boldak in the south and Torkham in the north were closed, with troops standing guard. U.S.-led NATO forces heavily depend on both for their logistics supply in Afghanistan. Long lines of trucks and cars were backed up on both sides, hoping the closure would be short.

False sense of security blamed

Tasneem Noorani, a former Pakistani interior secretary and analyst, said the government was under pressure to take action.

“I think in the present situation, government’s reaction is in the right direction,” he said. “At least [people] would see that authorities are doing something.”

Noorani said the government may have been lulled into a false sense of security by a relative calm over the last few months following an aggressive stance toward terrorists over the previous two years.

“The government and military might have thought that [terrorists] gave up [their activities],” Noorani said. “In fact, that was not the case.”

The U.S. State Department strongly condemned the attack and offered Pakistan support in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

“Today’s attack is only the latest in a series of violent acts this past week in Lahore, Balochistan, Peshawar and Mohmand Agency,” it said in a statement. “We stand with the people of Pakistan in their fight against terrorism and remain committed to the security of the South Asia region.”

The military statement said the army chief had ordered security operations against terrorists across the country that already had killed more than 100 suspected militants. In addition, retaliatory strikes were carried out in Afghan villages across the border.

“The intelligence agencies are making progress to unearth networks behind the recent terrorism incidents,” the statement said.

However, politicians, defense analysts and columnists expressed reservations over the military actions, calling it an “emotional” response.

Syed Iftikhar ul Hassan, a member of the National Assembly from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N), suggested that the terror attacks have a bigger purpose as part of a “conspiracy against the government” to halt army operations against militants and to derail a planned “Economic Corridor with China.”

“There was a huge network that is being fixed and soon things will be all right,” he said.

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Activists Urge Australia to Dump Controversial US Refugee Deal

Protesters have rallied in the Australian city of Melbourne to oppose a deal to send refugees held in offshore migrant camps to the United States.  The agreement was struck last November with the Obama administration.  Its future is unclear after President Trump called it a “dumb deal.”

Under the agreement, about 1,250 refugees from Australian-sponsored offshore detention centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru would be resettled in the United States.  Most are from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq.  The government in Canberra has refused to allow their entry under strict border security measures, which prevent asylum seekers who arrive by boat from being resettled in Australia.  The agreement with Washington is to be overseen by the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR.

Hundreds of demonstrators have gathered in Melbourne to voice their opposition to the deal.  They argue that hundreds of refugees would be left out of the plan, which has no specific time-frame.

‘Australia’s responsibility’

Chris Breen from the Refugee Action Collective in Melbourne is urging Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to allow the refugees to resettle in Australia.

“Ultimately these refugees are Australia’s responsibility.  They came seeking asylum in Australia, so we are today calling on the Turnbull government to bring those refugees here.  We are saying the United States deal is not a solution,” Breen said.

The future of the refugee deal is, however, uncertain.  Earlier this month, President Donald Trump tweeted that he would “study this dumb deal.”  At the time, The Washington Post reported that in a phone call Trump accused the Australian prime minister of trying to export what he called the “next Boston bombers” to America.

Australia sponsors two offshore processing camps in the South Pacific as part of its policy of trying to stop asylum seekers reaching its territorial waters by boat.  Ministers have insisted it is a deterrent and dissuades migrants from risking their lives in hostile seas.  Campaigners, though, have described conditions in the camps as “hellish” and want them closed down.

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UN Rights Chief Urges Myanmar Leader to Ease Plight of Rohingya

The U.N.’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, is urging Myanmar’s leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to use her moral authority to ease the plight of the country’s disenfranchised Rohingya community.

Aung San Suu Kyi has come under mounting criticism from the international community for her failure to speak out on behalf of the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.  

But there are signs this may be changing, says  Ravina Shamdasani is spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.  

She told VOA the High Commissioner spoke personally to Aung San Suu Kyi by phone earlier this month.  This call took place after the release of an investigative report that documents alleged atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya.

“She [Aung San Suu Kyi] was quite shocked to hear the details of these findings and she said that she would have to initiate an investigation. They would need more evidence. The High Commissioner asked her to use all her moral standing to bring this counterinsurgency operation to an end.”


About 69,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since October 9, following an oppressive military operation in Rakhine State.  U.N. investigators interviewed 220 of these people who described acts of unbearable cruelty, including mass gang-rapes, killings and disappearances.

Shamdasani says the High Commissioner understands the new government has a difficult balancing act in this period of transition.  But, she added he believes the violence and suffering of the Rohingya has reached unprecedented levels.

“It is very important that people here signal from the very top that this kind of behavior is not acceptable and that there will be accountability…. It may be too soon to say whether this will be the ultimate breakthrough for the Rohingya in Myanmar, but we believe it is heading in that direction.  There is a momentum towards a breakthrough on this issue,” Shamdasani said.  

In what could be a harbinger of better things to come for the Rohingya, Myanmar has ended its military operation in Rakhine State this week.

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Chinese Industry’s Rapid Robotization

Most experts agree that we are past the dawn of robotic age, and one of the countries strongly pushing to the forefront is China. As the cost of human labor in China is rising, factories are increasingly replacing production line workers with robots. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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Wave of Terrorist Attacks Leaves Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan has seen a wave of terrorist attacks in the past week. The biggest one, an attack on a Sufi shrine Thursday left at least 80 people dead. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem looks at the significance of the timing and what these attacks mean for Pakistan’s efforts to eliminate terrorism.

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Second Autopsy Done, Fourth Person Arrested in Malaysia 

Malaysia performed a second autopsy on the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader because the first procedure was inconclusive, piling on the intrigue surrounding what appeared to be a well-executed assassination at an airport in Kuala Lumpur, an official said Saturday. Police arrested a fourth suspect, identified as a North Korean man. 


The second autopsy clearly enraged North Korea, which has vowed to reject the results of any post-mortem and demanded that Malaysia turn over the body immediately. 

Speaking to reporters outside the morgue late Friday, Pyongyang’s ambassador said Malaysian officials may be “trying to conceal something” and “colluding with hostile forces.” 

Inconclusive autopsy 

A Malaysian official with knowledge of the investigation confirmed the second autopsy started Friday night and said that the results of the first one were inconclusive. He asked that his name not be used because he is not authorized to speak to the media. 


The inconclusive autopsy results raise questions about the mysterious death of Kim Jong Nam, but a lack of closure and a lingering sense of the unknown aren’t unusual when it comes to North Korea. While South Korea has blamed North Korea for a slew of notable assassinations or attempted killings in past decades, the North often denies involvement or simply doesn’t comment. 


Malaysia has arrested four people so far, the lastest a man carrying an ID that identified him as 46-year-old Ri Jong Chol. He was picked up Friday night. 


Authorities were still trying to piece together details of the case. 


Kim Jong Nam, who was 45 or 46 and had lived in exile for years, suddenly fell ill at the Kuala Lumpur airport Monday as he waited for a flight home to Macau. Dizzy and in pain, he told medical workers at the airport he had been sprayed with a chemical. He died while being taken to a hospital. 


South Korea has accused its enemies in North Korea of dispatching a hit squad to kill Kim Jong Nam, saying two female assassins poisoned him and then fled in a taxi. 

One suspect duped, police say 

On Friday, Indonesia’s police chief said an Indonesian woman arrested for suspected involvement in the killing was duped into thinking she was part of a comedy show prank. 


Indonesian police chief Tito Karnavian, citing information received from Malaysian authorities, told reporters in Indonesia’s Aceh province that Siti Aisyah, 25, was paid to be involved in “Just For Laughs” style pranks, a reference to a popular hidden camera show. He said she and another woman performed stunts that involved convincing men to close their eyes and then spraying them with water. 


“Such an action was done three or four times and they were given a few dollars for it, and with the last target, Kim Jong Nam, allegedly there were dangerous materials in the sprayer,” Karnavian said. “She was not aware that it was an assassination attempt by alleged foreign agents.” 


Malaysian police were questioning four suspects: Aisyah, another woman who carried a Vietnamese passport; a man they said is Aisyah’s boyfriend; and the North Korean man.

North breaks silence 

North Korea broke its silence on the case Friday night. Speaking to reporters gathered outside the morgue in Kuala Lumpur on Friday, North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol said Malaysia conducted the autopsy on Kim Jong Nam “unilaterally and excluding our attendance.” 


“We will categorically reject the result of the post-mortem,” Kang said, adding that the move disregarded “elementary international laws and consular laws.” 


Kang said the fact that Malaysia has yet to hand over the body “strongly suggests that the Malaysian side is trying to conceal something which needs more time and deceive us, and that they are colluding with the hostile forces towards us who are desperate to harm us.” 


Malaysia is one of just a handful of countries to have full diplomatic ties with North Korea, with each country having an embassy in the other’s capital. Malaysia has also been a key place for quiet, semi-official “track 2” diplomatic talks between North Korea and with the United States. 


Malaysia said Friday it wants DNA samples from Kim Jong Nam’s family as part of the post-mortem procedure and that officials were not yet willing to hand the body over to the North Koreans. Although Kim Jong Nam is believed to have two sons and a daughter with two women living in Beijing and Macau, police in Malaysia say none has come forward to claim the body or provide DNA samples. 


“If there is no claim by next-of-kin and upon exhausting all avenues (to obtain DNA), we will finally then hand over the body to the (North Korean) embassy,” said Abdul Samah Mat, a senior Malaysian police official. He would not say how long that process might take. 


Kim Jong Nam was estranged from his younger half brother, the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. He reportedly fell out of favor with their father, the late Kim Jong Il, in 2001, when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport to visit Tokyo Disneyland. 

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US Hesitates in Confirming Whether Sanctioned Iranian General Visited Russia

The Trump administration says it cannot confirm that an Iranian general barred from foreign travel by the U.N. Security Council visited Russia this week, despite a prominent U.S. congressman and news outlet saying he had made the trip.

In an emailed response to a VOA Persian query Friday, a U.S. State Department official who requested anonymity said the administration is aware of media reports about recent travel to Russia by General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the special operations Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

“We’re not in a position to confirm the travel ourselves at this time,” the official said. “As with previous reports of similar travel, the U.N. travel ban on Soleimani remains in effect, so such travel, if confirmed, would be a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and, thus, a serious matter of concern to the United States and members of the U.N. Security Council.”

Congressman doesn’t hesitate

Republican Congressman Ed Royce, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed no such hesitation when speaking about Soleimani on Thursday to U.S. television network Fox News. He said the Iranian general “was just caught in Moscow violating existing sanctions on his travel.”

A day earlier, a Fox News online report cited “multiple Western intelligence officials with direct knowledge of (Soleimani’s) visit” as saying that the Iranian general “arrived in Terminal A of Vnukovo airport outside Moscow on February 14 on Mahan Air WD084 at 12:13 p.m. local time and was scheduled to remain in Russia for a few days for meetings.”

Royce said “it is the third time” that Soleimani has visited Russia since the U.N. Security Council approved resolution 2231 endorsing Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers July 20, 2015.

A spokesman for Royce did not respond to a VOA email asking for the source of the lawmaker’s information about the Iranian general, whom the lawmaker accused of being responsible for the deaths of about 500 U.S. military personnel in Iraq by leading a Quds Force effort to supply weapons to anti-American Iraqi Shi’ite militants.

The UN resolution

Section 6 (e) of resolution 2231’s Annex B calls on all states to “take the necessary measures to prevent the entry into or transit through their territories of individuals” designated by the council as having engaged in illicit activities — a designation it had given to Soleimani in the past.

Western media have quoted sources as saying Soleimani visited Russia July 24, 2015, days after resolution 2231’s adoption, and made a second trip April 14, 2016. 

Jeffrey Feltman, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, notified the Security Council last July of “possible foreign travel” by Soleimani “contrary to the provisions” of resolution 2231.

Congressman calls for sanctions

Royce said he had obtained photographs of Soleimani’s previously reported visits to Moscow and criticized the Obama administration as being weak for not confirming that the trips had happened and that the U.N.’s travel ban had been violated.

He called on the Trump administration to respond to Soleimni’s latest reported Russia trip by imposing new sanctions barring companies from doing business in Iran.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced its first sanctions against Iran since taking office in January. It froze any property or funds held by 13 Iranian individuals and 12 companies under U.S. jurisdiction, in retaliation for Iran’s January 29 ballistic missile test that Washington criticized as undermining regional security and putting American lives at risk.

There has been no word from the White House of any additional Iran sanctions under consideration.

Fox News reported that Soleimani was in Moscow this week to express displeasure with Russia’s recent military and economic overtures to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states that Iran sees as rivals for regional influence.

But former U.S. intelligence officer Paul Pillar, now a security studies analyst at Georgetown University, told VOA Persian it is incorrect to presume that Soleimani was in Moscow to communicate Iran’s resentment about Russian relations with Arab nations.

“The focus (of the trip) obviously would be on events in Syria, where both Russia and Iran, especially the IRGC headed by General Soleimani, are heavily involved in the effort to shore up the position of the Assad regime,” Pillar said.

The Iranian defense ministry’s news agency published photos of Soleimani attending a ceremony in Tehran on Thursday, two days after his reported arrival in Moscow. The website’s homepage initially said it had posted the photos “in response to U.S. claims” about the general, but it later removed that language.

The Russian embassy in Washington did not respond to a VOA request to confirm or deny that Soleimani was in Moscow this week. Russia and Iran both have denied the previous reports of Soleimani traveling to Moscow.

Additional reporting by Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Steve Herman, Hooman Bakhtiar of VOA’s Persian Service and Mehdi Jedinia of VOA’s Extremism Watch Desk.


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US Readout of Top Diplomats’ First Meeting Signals Priorities Set by President

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday raised the need to “create a level playing field for trade and investment” in his first meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, according to the State Department.

In the readout by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both had agreed to “strengthen cooperation in the fields of economy, finance and security,” seen by some as much diluted wording.

Both met for about an hour on the sidelines of a meeting of foreign ministers of the G-20 top economies in Bonn, Germany.

“So nice to see you,” Tillerson said as he shook Wang’s hand, while apologizing for keeping Wang waiting. The top diplomat for the U.S. was late because of another sideline meeting about Syria.

China criticized as a ‘cheater’

While in many ways this seems typical of prior meetings of foreign ministers between Washington and Beijing, it is “unusual” for a secretary of state to advocate the need for a fair playing field in commerce, according to Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“That signals the priority this set of issues is accorded by President Trump,” Glaser told VOA on Friday.  

President Donald Trump has bluntly criticized China as a “cheater” and a currency manipulator, accusing it of unfair practices that have blocked many U.S. exports, and producing a trade imbalance that has killed American jobs.  

Trump also has threatened to impose a comprehensive tax on Chinese imports.

‘One-China policy’

In the Chinese readout, Beijing said, “The U.S. side made it clear that it would continue to adhere to the one-China policy,” which is absent in the State Department’s readout.  

“There is the classic testing of intentions on big issues, to get a quick read where the other stands,” said Center for the National Interest Director of Defense Studies Harry Kazianis.

“They set the foundation for the future and are critically important,” Kazianis added.

China pressed over North Korea

Notably, North Korea’s threats are both highlighted by Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart. Washington pressed Beijing to help assert more control over North Korea after a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday in Bonn that Tillerson “urged China to use all available tools to moderate North Korea’s destabilizing behavior.”

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on February 12, followed by strong international condemnation, including that of the U.N. Security Council.  

Wang told Tillerson the U.S. and China have joint responsibilities to maintain global stability, adding common interests between the two countries far outweigh their differences.

One of the channels to manage U.S.-China relations is the bilateral Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), an annual high-level gathering for two countries to discuss a wide range of regional and global issues.

It started under the George W. Bush administration as the Strategic Economic Dialogue and was later upgraded by former President Barack Obama after he took office.

A different approach

Some regional scholars expect the Trump administration to veer from the long-standing U.S. approach, though, and downsize such a mechanism, or even end it.

“I would be somewhat surprised if the S&ED has any future,” Atlantic Council resident senior fellow Robert Manning told VOA.

“It has become a somewhat hollow bureaucratic ritual, a checklist for the vast sweep of U.S.-China bilateral issues,” said Manning, adding the “structure and content” of relations between Washington and Beijing is “at a tipping point.”

Manning said the key is to identify a few core issues that can define the character of the relationship. “Finding a formula for reciprocity is key to a sustainable economic relationship,” he said.  

A change in S&ED

Proponents of continuing the S&ED said it mobilizes bureaucracies on both sides, promotes interagency coordination, and helps to increase cooperation in areas where the U.S. and China have shared interests.  

“My guess is that it will continue in some form, but will be much smaller and policy-focused,” said Glaser.  

“This administration wants to see progress on a much more fair trade relationship,” said Kazianis, adding “if Beijing is willing to work toward a more equitable and fair trade relationship, I would assume this would continue. If not, it could very well be downsized or disregarded all together.”

The first year will be rocky and it may be until June before there is a functioning policy process, given the chaos in the White House and State Department, according to Manning.  

Tillerson’s deputy and many senior positions at the State Department have yet to be filled.

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Chinese Billionaire’s Disappearance Continues to Raise Questions       

The mystery surrounding a politically-connected Chinese billionaire’s sudden removal from a hotel in Hong Kong — and China’s silence about the case — is perpetuating a state of fear among investors and businesses, analysts say.

It is still very difficult to say with any certainty why Xiao Jianhua was suddenly seized from the Four Seasons Hotel late last month and taken to China. But his case highlights both the necessity of having political connections when doing business in China and the risks that go hand in hand with such ties.

Political ties

Xiao is the head of a holding company called Tomorrow Group, which has stakes in real-estate, insurance, coal and cement firms. His rise to a position of influence began early on when he was admitted to China’s prestigious Peking University at the age of 14. During China’s pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989, he was loyal to the party where he served as head of an official student organization.

After his graduation in 1990, Xiao gradually rose to prominence and in more recent years has served as a banker for China’s politically connected and wealthy families. In 2014, Xiao told The New York Times that he helped the family of Chinese President Xi Jinping dispose of their assets.

Xiao’s company, however, in that same year denied that political connections were the key to his company’s success, instead arguing that they merely followed Warren Buffet’s value-investing strategy. That statement was made in a rebuttal to The New York Times story on the billionaire.

Crucial time

His rendition from Hong Kong, as some reports have described, comes at a crucial time. His disappearance occurred just months ahead of a once in five-year power reshuffle in China that is seen as crucial for President Xi to solidify his power. Because of that, some have seen his removal from Hong Kong as a political move.

“He’s a rich guy, he stays in Hong Kong. He’s very well-connected, very mysterious and people always want to understand him more because they know he is well connected with Chinese government officials,” said one venture capitalist who did not want to be identified because of the sensitive nature of this story. 

The source added that while many things are unclear, it is clear the move was politically motivated.

In China, “money and politics are always linked with each other. They interfere and influence each other,” the source said.

Chinese authorities have yet to clearly state where Xiao is or why he was scurried away from his de facto headquarters in Hong Kong (his company is based in Beijing), and that is feeding speculation about his disappearance.

Some have said he was previously free to speak with family and friends and was in Beijing, but in recent days, even that connection has been cut off. Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that members of his company have been barred from leaving the country.

Given the upcoming Communist Party power reshuffle, some have speculated that factions opposing President Xi were behind the move, while others suggest Xi himself stepped in to minimize any possible damage.

But, without any official comment on the matter, it has been difficult to draw any clear conclusions.

“No matter which [political] faction is trying to use him to weaken the other rival faction, there will be a slew of many others who will be involved or implicated. His arrest won’t be the end of the story,” says one political scientist based in Hong Kong. “The more people involved, the more developments and possibilities there will be.”

Environmental risks

Xiao is not alone, nor are his circumstances entirely new. Unlike most, however, he has amassed a large amount of wealth. According to the Hunrun Report, which tracks the wealth of Chinese billionaires, Xiao has an estimated worth of about $6 billion. 

Economists note it is difficult for businessmen operating in China to expect to make profits without maintaining close connections with politicians. And with political situations always changing, those businessmen are always at risk.

“No matter which side you bet on, you will be put in an awkward position when the table is turned among different [political] forces,” one Chinese economist tells VOA. “That means your business may be affected by the role you play.”

One country, two systems?

In Hong Kong, Xiao’s disappearance has created a climate of fear, and some are already reportedly looking to move their assets elsewhere. One big question for many is why Xiao decided to remain in Hong Kong instead of moving elsewhere given the increasingly tight political environment in China under Xi Jinping.

Hong Kong, a special administrative region, was long seen as a safe haven from China. After its return to China from Britain in 1997, the port city was guaranteed basic rights that are not commonplace on the mainland in a formula called “one country, two systems.” But, over the past few years, concerns that those rights are beginning to erode have blossomed.

Just last year, five men linked to a Hong Kong book publisher that focused on gossip about China’s leaders were abducted; three of them in China, but two others were taken against their will to the mainland. One of the abducted booksellers was seized in Thailand and another in Hong Kong.

Without any clarity about the incident, even those who may think it is a positive move will begin to raise questions about the rule of law in China, how the Chinese government treats dissidents and even the “one country, two systems” model.

“As long as there is no solid evidence available to clear up any doubts (about the case), the incident’s spillover effect will only get worse and exaggerated since many tend to let their imagination run wild,” one analyst in Hong Kong said.

Get physical

What is clear, the venture capitalist told VOA, is that Xiao’s disappearance is likely to further fuel an ongoing exodus of capital from the county. 

“I think it is going to trigger some global asset allocation,” the venture capitalist said. “More money will be going toward these globally well regulated, liquid and transparent places.”

Over the past few years, China has seen a dramatic rise in capital outflows. The venture capitalist said that despite the rhetoric about U.S. President Donald Trump, there are likely to be more investments in places such as the United States and Britain.

In the past, the rich may have viewed countries such as Switzerland or Luxembourg as safe places to park their money, but now increasingly they are seeing that it is better to invest in physical assets, be it infrastructure in Britain, companies in the United States or real estate in Australia.

“Xiao Jianhua case shows that even if you are sitting in a Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong, you are still not that safe,” the venture capitalist said.

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Will North Korea Stop its Weapons Program?

After two nuclear tests and multiple missile launches in 2016, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un tested a new intermediate-range missile Sunday. The rocket flew about 500 kilometers before splashing down in international waters between South Korea and Japan. The missile is believed to have used solid fuel, a type that would make future launches more difficult to detect.


The United Nations Security Council met Monday at the request of South Korea, Japan and the United States. The 15-member council unanimously condemned the launch.

North Korea rejected the U.N.’s statement, saying the test was defensive in nature. So will the Security Council’s latest rebuke make a difference in how North Korea behaves?

“The North Koreans are very afraid of imposed regime change by the United States or [an] outside power,” says Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest. 

“They are extremely afraid that the United States someday will make the determination, [as in] the case in Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya, that it is time to impose some sort of regime change. So this is why you could have all the U.N. Security Council resolutions that you want, you can have toughest language that you want. … Quite frankly, it’s not going to work,” Kazianis said.

Jonathan Miller, senior fellow for the China, East Asia and United States program at the EastWest Institute, agreed. “Within the past six years or so, the North has conducted so many missile tests and nuclear tests with little to no change to their strategic calculus,” he noted, that “this kind of statement from the U.N. Security Council, while welcomed, I don’t think it will fundamentally change the course for Pyongyang.”

Is international pressure sufficient?

A goal of the international community has been to create an environment where North Korea decides to denuclearize, but is there adequate international pressure for Kim Jong Un to abandon his goal of building a nuclear arsenal?

Kazianis does not see a “scenario where North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons program.” While countries like the United States, South Korea, and Japan outman and outgun North Korea, he says, “the only thing that brings sort of an equalizer to the situation is North Korea’s, quite frankly, crude nuclear weapons program.”

Miller says while North Korea may not abandon its goals in the foreseeable future, there are other unknowns.

“I think the wild card here is how the Trump administration will approach the North. I really don’t believe they really have that figured out yet. You can kind of clearly see that the U.S. fully articulated its thoughts on how it will approach North Korea, having [Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe speak first and the president in the background just echoing those thoughts,” Miller said, referring to an impromptu news conference by the two leaders in Florida after news broke about Pyongyang’s missile launch. 


What’s price of abandoning nuclear work? 


“I don’t know that the North is in a position where they feel they can barter their program for almost anything,” Miller said. “It’s become that ingrained into the policy and to the legitimacy of that regime. … It becomes very difficult to move toward that road of denuclearization.”

If North Korea won’t abandon its programs, how should the international community respond?

Kazianis says there are two things the international community should do. First, he says, is to further isolate and limit North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities. This can be accomplished with the United States’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system (THAAD), but also with additional defenses in Japan. 

The second item Kazianis suggests is talking to North Korea. “We don’t want to get into a situation where we have these endless cycles of North Korean missile testing … because eventually one of these tests could go wrong, and it could cost people’s lives, and that’s how wars start,” the analyst added. 


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Cambodians Facing Stark Choice at Commune Elections

Kem Sokha is expected to deliver a very different type of political approach after assuming the leadership of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) following Sam Rainsy’s resignation and a raft of threats from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Mild mannered with a focus on village economics and social issues, Kem Sokha has eschewed the extravagant lifestyles of Cambodia’s political elites, commonly referred to as Khmer Riche, preferring more modest values that have endeared him to rural voters.

Whether that’s enough to unseat Hun Sen in general elections next year will be tested in four months when thousands of local village posts are contested at commune elections, primarily between the CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Communes are clusters of villages, and in a country with no formal public opinion polls, these local elections offer the best indicators as to how the two main political parties are performing.

Elections pending

Hun Sen and the CPP maintained control in controversial 2013 elections that the opposition disputed with allegations of cheating. The CPP stayed in power with a substantially reduced margin, and the opposition needs to lift its tally by just seven seats in the 123-seat National Assembly during next year’s general election if it is to form a government.

That prospect has rattled Hun Sen, and Sam Rainsy subsequently faced a barrage of defamation suits backed by the prime minister, resulting in convictions and two jail sentences.

Those cases were widely criticized by civil society groups for being politically motivated and backed by a judicial system often criticized for a lack of impartiality and transparency.

Sam Rainsy’s decision to step down was made after Hun Sen announced he would introduce legislation banning people with criminal convictions from leading political parties and, according to Sam Rainsy, that would have resulted in the dissolution of the CNRP.

The government has denied allegations of election cheating and insists its courts are impartial and convictions are the result of an independent judiciary. When contacted for comment, a government spokesman was unavailable.

Ren Chanrith, a political coordinator at the Youth Resource Development Program, said legal posturing was aimed at preventing Sam Rainsy from contesting the June 4 commune and general elections, but his resignation would only inspire Kem Sokha and the CNRP faithful.

“So the resignation of Mr. Sam Rainsy (will) just make the opposition party become stronger and their activists and supporters will do more to get a successful (result) in the upcoming election. So you know, they will do more,” he said.

The prime minister insists it is his ability to ensure security that led to an unprecedented era of economic growth since three decades of war ended in 1998. It’s an argument that still wins votes.

He has also persistently warned of a return to civil conflict if he fails to win the election, but such threats carry far less weight among the nation’s youth and don’t resonate among older voters like it used to.

City versus the country

Importantly, analysts say, Sam Rainsy has secured the urban and youth vote for the CNRP, thanks in part to changing demographics and a postwar baby boom. More than 65 percent of the population is younger than 35 and many have grown tired of Hun Sen’s autocratic-style.

CNRP advocate Van Thorn said Sam Rainsy’s resignation was disappointing but was necessary to save the party and position the opposition ahead of the commune elections, where he expects Kem Sokha to do well.

“If we can look to the state of the new commune elections, I am kind of sure the CNRP will win a lot of seats and this will help the CNRP move ahead towards the national elections because generally in the countryside, almost everywhere in Cambodia, people are now more interested in the politics,” he said.

Sam Rainsy’s resignation took many by surprise, including Billy Chia-Lung Tai, an independent human rights consultant at CL Consulting who suggested there might have been some discontent with his performance within CNRP ranks.

A former investment banker and finance minister, Sam Rainsy is known for his skiing holidays and taste for the good life. He spends most of his time in self-imposed exile in Europe.

That stands in stark contrast to most Cambodians, particularly in the countryside, where issues such as illegal logging, land grabbing, corruption and a yawning wealth gap will dominate electioneering.

Forty percent of this country’s population lives below the poverty line.

Focus on Kem Sokha

To win control of the government, Kem Sokha and the CNRP must improve in the countryside where Hun Sen is at his strongest with 20 years of peace and an older generation of war veterans behind him.

“Strategically I feel, the CNRP would feel they’ve got the urban vote kind of locked down,” Chia-Lung Tai said. “They’ve probably reached all the people that they could convert and they’re really trying to go for the rural sector and I would agree that Sokha, Kem Sokha, is a much better candidate for that.”

Surveys conducted by the CPP, according to government sources and diplomats, suggest the ruling party could suffer at least a 10 percent swing against it at the commune election. Some have suggested the swing against the ruling party could be as high as 30 percent.

“That’s going to be quite significant, and I have a nagging feeling that they will do everything above or below board to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Chia-Lung Tai said.

Molyny Pann contributed to this report.

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Lockheed Martin: India and US Talk on Proposal to Build F-16s in India

U.S. defense company Lockheed Martin says talks are being held between the American and Indian governments on its proposal to manufacture F-16 fighter jets in India.

The comment by Lockheed’s head of F-16 business development, Randall Howard, came at an air show in the Indian city of Bengaluru amid questions whether the company’s proposal to produce fighter jets in India will run counter to U.S. President Donald Trump’s opposition to American companies moving jobs and manufacturing overseas. 

Lockheed Martin’s F-16 and Saab’s Gripen fighter plane from Sweden are regarded as the front-runners in getting a lucrative, multi-billion dollar contract for 200 to 250 jets for the Indian air force that New Delhi is expected to finalize sometime this year.

India has insisted that any foreign firm awarded the deal will have to collaborate and manufacture in the country with a local partner to boost its drive to build a domestic air production base. It is part of an initiative by the world’s biggest arms importer to link its defense purchases, which could top $200 billion over a decade, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” pitch.

Lockheed Martin last year offered to set up a manufacturing base for F-16s in India provided it is awarded a contract for the fighter jets that India wants to buy – a proposal supported by the former Obama administration. In fact, the company had proposed to make India the sole producer of the single-engine combat aircraft, which is being phased out in the United States, but for which it is seeking markets in other countries. 

Amid uncertainty about the new U.S. government’s policy, Lockheed Martin has said in Washington that the Trump administration will want to take a “fresh look at some of these programs” and that it is “prepared to support that effort to ensure that any deal of this importance is properly aligned with U.S. policy priorities.”

Inaugurating the air show earlier this week, Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said no exceptions will be granted to setting up a facility to produce planes in India, and it is up to companies making proposals to get clearance with their governments. “That is my requirement,” he said.

India, once heavily dependent on arms purchases from Russia, has diversified its purchases in recent years and defense imports from the United States have grown quickly in recent years.

India’s huge appetite for defense purchases to modernize its armed forces attracted the world’s top defense companies to the air show.

Among them was Sweden’s Saab, which showcased its fighter jet at the air show, and which reiterated its commitment to establishing what it called a world class aviation facility in India to manufacture the Gripen both for India and the global market.

Pitching for its Gripen aircraft, sales director Kent-Ake Molin told reporters ahead of the air show that “what we are offering is a futuristic, new generation plane and not one that is reaching the end of its life.”  

Besides manufacturing, India has insisted on transfer of technology as part of its efforts to build a domestic production base and end its dependence on costly defense imports.

That was not expected to be a roadblock with the F-16 as American and Indian defense ties have grown in recent years.

Anit Mukherjee, assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore said the deal “will be an important topic of conversation between senior defense officials in both countries in the next few months.” He points out that although “there is a general element of unpredictability around President Trump,” it is widely believed that U.S.-India defense ties will be marked more by “continuity than disruptive change.”   

While that may be the case, defense analysts in India believe uncertainty clouds the future of the proposal to make F-16s in India. “This is going to be in direct conflict with (Trump’s) America First,” says Amit Cowshish with the New Delhi-based Indian Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, who was a former financial adviser to India’s Defense Ministry.  

From India’s standpoint, he says any deal for fighter aircraft will have to be contingent on local manufacturing. “For this government to go back on it and say that we are just going to buy it off the shelf, or go with some screwdriver technology, it is not going to go down well either with their own philosophy or with the services.”

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Chinese Warships End Week of South China Sea Exercises

Three Chinese warships Friday wrapped up a week of scheduled training exercises in the South China Sea, state media said, shortly after China’s sole aircraft carrier tested its weapons in the disputed region.

The flotilla of warships, including a destroyer that can launch guided missiles, had been conducting drills since February 10 and were now sailing to the eastern India Ocean and the Western Pacific, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Exercises by the Chinese ships, in particular the aircraft carrier Liaoning, in recent months have unnerved its neighbors, especially given long-running territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The training included sudden attack drills and had been carried out successfully in poor sea conditions, Xinhua said.

The drills were “without an arranged script” and “as close as possible to real combat,” military affairs expert Yin Zhuo told the state broadcaster China Central Television.

Regular exercises by the Chinese navy in the high seas were an “unchangeable trend,” Yin said, though he added that China’s long-range naval capabilities were not sufficient to secure its interests in open waters. He did not elaborate.

China on Wednesday warned the United States against challenging its sovereignty in the South China Sea after reports that the United States was planning fresh naval patrols in the region.

The United States has criticized China’s construction of man-made islands and its build-up of military facilities in the sea, and expressed concern they could be used to restrict free movement. The U.S. navy has conducted several “freedom of navigation” patrols through the waters.

China claims most of the South China Sea, while Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei claim a portion of the waters that command strategic sea lanes and have rich fishing grounds as well as oil and gas deposits.

China says it is committed to freedom of navigation through the waters.