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Pentagon Conducts Latest Successful Test of US-Japan Interceptor

The U.S. military on Tuesday successfully conducted a test of a new ballistic-missile interceptor system, which is being co-developed with Japan.

The launch marks the second successful test in less than two months for the SM-3 Block IIA missile and its associated technologies, which had previously experienced failures.

According to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), sailors at the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii, tracked and intercepted an intermediate-range missile with an SM-3.

The target in Tuesday’s test was an air-launched missile, fired from an Air Force C-17 plane over the ocean thousands of kilometers southwest of the Aegis Ashore system.

“The engagement leveraged a ground, air and space-based sensor/command and control architecture,” the MDA said in a statement.

In October, the U.S. military successfully shot down a medium-range ballistic missile with an SM-3.

That successful operation came after two failed intercept tests, in June 2017 and January 2018.

A test firing in February 2017 had been successful.

The MDA said this year that America had so far spent about $2.2 billion on the system and Japan had contributed about $1 billion.

The SM-3 Block IIA missile – made by arms giant Raytheon – is a key piece of NATO’s missile defense system and is due to be deployed in Poland in 2020.

“This system is designed to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends from a real and growing ballistic missile threat,” MDA Director Lieutenant General Sam Greaves said.

 

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China Detains Former Canadian Envoy

A former Canadian diplomat has been detained in China amid rising tensions between the two countries over Canada’s arrest, at the request of the United States of a Chinese technology executive.

A former Canadian envoy to Beijing, Hong Kong and elsewhere from 2003 to 2016, Michael Kovrig was apprehended earlier this week for undisclosed reasons.

Kovrig, a Mandarin speaker, is the North East Asia senior adviser for the International Crisis Group, which researches peaceful solutions to global conflicts.

Kovrig’s apprehension comes as a Canadian court is deciding whether to release Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies company, on bail pending a U.S. request to extradite her to stand trial on charges that she violated U.S. sanctions against trade with Iran.

An International Crisis Group statement said, “We are doing everything possible to secure additional information on Michael’s whereabouts as well as his prompt and safe release.”

Canada’s Global Affairs department had no immediate comment on Kovrig’s detention.

But former Canadian Liberal leader Bob Rae linked Kovrig’s detention to the arrest of Meng at the Vancouver airport on December 1.

“It’s called repression and retaliation,” he said on Twitter.

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Cambodian Court Gives Suspended Sentences to Labor Leaders

Six Cambodian union leaders on Tuesday each received suspended 2 1/2-year prison terms in connection with labor protests about five years ago in which four garment workers were killed and around 20 others hurt.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found the labor leaders guilty on four charges involving violence and property damage at protests on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The court also ordered the six to jointly pay in compensation of 35 million riels ($8,750) to two policemen said to have been victims of protest violence.

 

The relatively lenient sentences appeared to be part of an effort by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to soften its image as an authoritarian regime. It has faced sanctions from Western nations that accuse it of suppressing human and democratic rights, pointing especially to this year’s general election which they charged was neither free nor fair because the only credible opposition party had been dissolved and its candidates barred from politics.

 

The casualties in early January 2014 occurred when police opened fire on striking factory workers who were demanding the minimum wage be doubled. Police claimed they were defending themselves after several hundred workers blocking a road began burning tires and throwing objects at them.

 

Although the protests involved labor issues, they came at a time of political stress, as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party – now dissolved – was holding daily protests calling for Hun Sen to step down and call fresh elections. The opposition party claimed that Hun Sen had won the 2013 general election by rigging the vote.

 

Cambodia’s mainstream labor movement, representing a huge number of industrial workers, was a potent political force as well, loosely aligned with Hun Sen’s political opponents.

 

Hun Sen in recent months has been signaling his desire to improve his image with Western critics with a series of conciliatory gestures.

 

This Thursday, the National Assembly is expected to approve a measure that could rescind the five-year ban on political activity of at least some of the 118 top members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

 

Other recent measures included the freeing, either on bail or as a result of pardons, of political prisoners, including opposition party chief Kem Sokha, who was charged last year with treason on the basis of flimsy evidence. He remains under tight house arrest.

 

In October, Hun Sen said he had agreed to the resumption of U.S. military-led missions to search for the remains of Americans missing in action during the Vietnam War, following an appeal from two U.S. state lawmakers.

 

Hun Sen last month also called on the courts – which are widely seen to do his government’s bidding – to speed up proceedings against the six labor leaders or even get the charges dropped.

 

However, after Tuesday’s verdict was announced, one of the defendants – Ath Thorn, leader of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union – said he was completely unhappy with the outcome and would appeal, because despite receiving a suspended sentence, his conviction under law would bar him from carrying out his union leader’s duties for the sentence’s duration. He said he was not even present at the protest site at the time of the violence.

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US Sanctions Three N. Korean Officials for Suspected Rights Abuses

The United States on Monday sanctioned three North Korean officials, including a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, citing “ongoing and serious human rights abuses and censorship,” the U.S. Treasury Department said.

The sanctions “shine a spotlight on North Korea’s reprehensible treatment of those in North Korea, and serve as a reminder of North Korea’s brutal treatment of U.S. citizen Otto Warmbier,” the department said in a statement.

Warmbier was an American student who died in June 2017 after 17 months of detention in North Korea, which contributed to already tense exchanges between Pyongyang and Washington, primarily over North Korea’s nuclear development program.

It was not clear whether the decision to sanction the three men was related to U.S.-North Korean nuclear diplomacy, which has made little obvious progress since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim met in Singapore in June.

The Treasury identified the three as Ryong Hae Choe, an aide close to Kim who heads the Workers’ Party of Korea Organization and Guidance Department; State Security Minister Kyong Thaek Jong; and the director of North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, Kwang Ho Pak.

The sanctions freeze any assets the officials may have under U.S. jurisdiction and generally prohibits them from engaging in any transactions with anyone in the United States.

In the lead up to the Trump-Kim summit, North Korea released three American prisoners, although talks between the two countries have since stalled. Last month, North Korea said it would deport another detained U.S. citizen.

Talks that had been planned for Nov. 8 between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol and that aimed to pave the way for a second summit were canceled with 24 hours’ notice.

At the time, the U.S. State Department said the meeting had been postponed, but gave no reason, raising concerns that talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear arms could break down. The State Department said the talks would be rescheduled “when our respective schedules permit.”

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Tibetan Youth Self-Immolates Over China’s Tibet Policies

A young Tibetan man set himself on fire outside a district security office in China’s Sichuan province earlier this month, chanting, “Long Live His Holiness the Dalai Lama! Free Tibet!” 

Tibetan sources say the man, Drugkho, is about 22 years old, and is believed to still be alive, but his whereabouts and his condition remain unclear. He is the latest Tibetan to attempt to self-immolate over repressive Chinese policies in Tibet. Local sources said the incident occurred last Saturday near the Ngaba District security office, but details were scarce.

Whenever there is a self-immolation protest, China typically beefs up its security to try to prevent the news from spreading. 

“There has been an immediate lockdown in the area, with internet communications blocked. A Tibetan youth self-immolated on December 8 in the afternoon in Ngaba county, and it is true that it happened, but after the incident any discussion of this is very inconvenient,” RFA Tibetan service and The Tibet Post International reported, quoting sources in Tibet.

Dharamsala-based Kirti Monastery’s spokesman Lobsang Yeshi says no further details were known because of strict restrictions on information flow in the area and dangers to the Tibetans speaking to the outside world.

The protester was a former monk at Kirti Monastery. He was formerly known as Chokyi Gyaltsen, but after he disrobed in 2017, he took the name of Drugkho, according to Tibetan sources.

Ngaba’s main town and nearby Kirti Monastery have been the scene of repeated self-immolations and other protests in recent years by monks, former monks, and other Tibetans calling for Tibetan freedom and the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet. Drugkho’s self-immolation protest is the 42nd such confirmed incident in Ngaba.

Drugkho’s protest brings the total number of self-immolations to roughly 155 in Tibet since February 2009. The majority of those self-immolators have died.   

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Huawei Executive Asks Canadian Court to Grant Bail

A Canadian court is considering whether to grant bail to the chief financial officer for Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies while she awaits possible extradition to the United States to face fraud charges.

The court in Vancouver heard a second day of testimony Monday in the bail hearing for Meng Wanzhou.

 

Lawyers for Meng argued that she should be granted bail, saying that a combination of high-tech devices and a multi-million dollar bond could ensure she does not flee. They also said that if Meng fled the country she would embarrass China, calling that option “inconceivable.”

 

The lawyers said Meng would be willing to hire a surveillance company that would arrest her if she breaches her bail conditions and would wear a GPS bracelet at all times. They said Meng’s husband would put up both of their Vancouver homes plus $750,000 for a total value of over $11 million as collateral.

 

Prosecutors have argued that Meng should be denied bail, saying she has vast resources and a strong incentive to flee.

The judge overseeing the case said the hearing would resume Tuesday morning.

An editorial Monday in the Communist Party newspaper Global Times called Canada’s treatment of Meng “inhumane.”

China summoned the U.S. ambassador in Beijing on Sunday to lodge a “strong protest” over Meng’s arrest, calling it “extremely bad” and demanding the U.S. cancel its extradition request linked to allegations that she broke U.S. laws prohibiting trade with Iran.

Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad a day after calling in Canadian envoy John McCallum to protest Meng’s arrest, at the U.S.’s behest, at the Vancouver airport on Dec. 1.

Meng, if convicted in the United States, faces up to 30 years’ imprisonment, with Canadian prosecutors alleging that she committed fraud in 2013 by telling financial institutions that China’s Huawei was not tied to a Hong Kong-based company, Skycom, which was allegedly selling U.S. goods to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions against Tehran.

 

U.S. officials say Meng misled multinational banks about Huawei’s control of Skycom in order to move money out of Iran.

“Skycom was Huawei,” a Canadian prosecutor alleged on Friday.  Meng’s lawyers denied the fraud allegation, saying Huawei had divested its interests in Skycom.

News of the arrest of the 46-year-old Meng, along with the uncertain state of trade negotiations between China and the United States, the world’s two biggest economies, roiled international stock markets last week, with investors facing substantial losses across the globe.

Meng’s arrest occurred on the same day U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were meeting in Buenos Aires over dinner to reach a 90-day truce on tit-for-tat tariffs the two countries have been imposing on exports of $300 billion of goods to each other.

But White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News on Sunday that Trump did not know about the arrest as he met with Xi.

“He didn’t know,” Kudlow said.  “I’ll just state that unequivocally.  He learned way later.”

The economic adviser said he could not guarantee that Meng won’t be released as part of ongoing U.S. trade talks with Beijing.  He described the case against Meng as a “law enforcement issue.”

“I don’t know how it’s going to turn out … It seems to me there’s a trade lane … and there’s a law enforcement lane,” Kudlow said.  “They’re different channels, and I think they will be viewed that way for quite some time.”

While Meng was arrested the same day at the Trump-Xi meeting, the warrant for her arrest was issued in the United States on Aug. 22, with the Canadian prosecutor saying a Canadian judge issued a warrant when Meng’s travel plans became known.

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Report: North Korea’s Kim Unlikely to Visit Seoul This Year

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is unlikely to visit Seoul in the final three weeks of this year, South Korean TV channel YTN said on Monday, citing an unidentified official in the South Korean presidential office.

There had been speculation about whether Kim would visit Seoul before the end of the year after Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to the trip during their September summit in Pyongyang.

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China Summons US Envoy to Protest Tech Executive’s Arrest in Canada

China summoned the U.S. ambassador in Beijing on Sunday to lodge a “strong protest” over the arrest of a Chinese technology executive in Canada and Washington’s demand that she be extradited to the United States to stand trial on fraud charges.

China called the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, telecom giant Huawei Technologies’s chief financial officer, “extremely bad” and demanded that the U.S. cancel its extradition request linked to allegations that she broke U.S. laws prohibiting trade with Iran.

Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned U.S. ambassador Terry Branstad a day after calling in Canadian envoy John McCallum to protest Meng’s arrest, at the U.S.’s behest, at the Vancouver airport on Dec. 1.

The Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement that Le told Branstad, “The actions of the U.S. seriously violated the lawful and legitimate rights of the Chinese citizen, and by their nature were extremely nasty.”

Beijing urged the United States to “take immediate measures to correct wrong practices, and revoke the arrest warrant against the Chinese citizen.”

Meng, if convicted in the U.S., faces up to 30 years’ imprisonment, with a Canadian prosecutor alleging at a court hearing Friday in Vancouver that she committed fraud in 2013 by telling financial institutions that China’s Huawei was not tied to a Hong Kong-based company, Skycom, which was allegedly selling U.S. goods to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions against Tehran.

“Skycom was Huawei,” the prosecutor alleged. Meng’s lawyers denied the fraud allegation, saying Huawei had divested its interests in Skycom. Her bail hearing is resuming Monday.

News of the arrest of the 46-year-old Meng, along with the uncertain state of trade negotiations between China and the U.S., the world’s two biggest economies, roiled international stock markets last week, with investors facing substantial losses across the globe.

Meng’s arrest occurred on the same day U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were meeting in Buenos Aires over dinner to reach a 90-day truce on tit-for-tat tariffs the two countries have been imposing on exports of $300 billion of goods to each other.

But White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News on Sunday that Trump did not know about the arrest as he met with Xi.

“He didn’t know,” Kudlow said. “I’ll just state that unequivocally. He learned way later.”

The economic adviser said he could not guarantee that Meng won’t be released as part of ongoing U.S. trade talks with Beijing. He described the case against Meng as a “law enforcement issue.”

“I don’t know how it’s going to turn out…It seems to me there’s a trade lane… and there’s a law enforcement lane,” Kudlow said. “They’re different channels, and I think they will be viewed that way for quite some time.”

While Meng was arrested the same day at the Trump-Xi meeting, a warrant for her arrest was issued in the U.S. on Aug. 22, with the Canadian prosecutor saying that a Canadian justice issued a warrant when Meng’s travel plans became known.