South Korea’s Yoon Suk-yeol faces early test as it braces for Pyongyang nuclear test

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol takes an oath during his inauguration in Seoul on May 10, 2022. (AP)
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Updated 11 May 2022

South Korea’s Yoon Suk-yeol faces early test as it braces for Pyongyang nuclear test

  • Analysts say such a test, the North’s first in five years, would be a reality check for Yoon Suk-yeol’s plans to incentivize denuclearization with ‘audacious’ economic benefits

SEOUL: South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s plans to offer economic aid in return for denuclearization could face an early challenge amid signs of an imminent North Korean nuclear test — and such proposals have been rebuffed before, analysts say.
Yoon has warned of a “tense” security environment, citing the possible nuclear test, which US and South Korean officials have said could occur as early as this month after Pyongyang broke a 2017 moratorium on long-range missile testing in March.
Analysts say such a test, the North’s first in five years, would be a reality check for Yoon’s plans to incentivize denuclearization with “audacious” economic benefits, unveiled in his inauguration speech on Tuesday.
Yoon and his team have given few details on how they would bring back Pyongyang to the negotiating table. But some analysts said North Korea is unlikely to accept any aid-for-denuclearization deal, as its nuclear and missile programs are mature and still advancing.
“It was a somewhat conciliatory message, but North Korea would never accept this line of reasoning that the South would help develop its own economy if it denuclearizes,” said Park Won-gon, a North Korea expert at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “To them, that formula means to deny their regime.”
Pyongyang has said several times in the past decade that it would not abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for economic rewards, Park added.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, noted a similar offer by former conservative President Lee Myung-bak.
Lee, under his “Vision 3000” initiative, had promised economic assistance to help the North achieve a $3,000 per capita income within 10 years if it abandoned its nuclear and missile programs and opened up to the outside world.
Pyongyang called it a plot to overthrow its regime, and inter-Korean ties remained icy throughout Lee’s five years. Many of Yoon’s senior aides, including his national security adviser and his deputy, served in the Lee administration.
“The new government’s offer could induce backlash from the North,” Yang said. “He does leave open the door for dialogue but did not actually propose talks, and the idea would have slim chances of succeeding as it’s passive and unrealistic.”
Yoon on Wednesday nominated Kim Kyou-hyun, a former veteran diplomat with expertise in North Korea and US relations, to be director of the National Intelligence Service, overseeing oversee inter-Korean affairs and denuclearization talks.
Yoon’s new defense minister, Lee Jong-sup, held his first meeting online with key commanding officers after taking office on Tuesday, calling for airtight readiness posture against “omnidirectional security threats.”
“The security situation on the Korean peninsula is extremely grave due to North Korea’s advancing missile threats and possibility of a nuclear test,” he told the meeting.
Lee ordered the military to respond “sternly and immediately” if the North presses ahead with a “direct provocation,” the ministry said in a statement.


Philippines’ Marcos Jr. open to buying Russian fuel, proposes new Myanmar approach

Updated 20 sec ago

Philippines’ Marcos Jr. open to buying Russian fuel, proposes new Myanmar approach

  • The Philippines, a US defense ally, has not imposed any sanctions on Russia
  • Myanmar’s ruling junta has been barred from regional summits
MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday said his nation may need to turn to Russia to fulfil its fuel needs amid rising global energy prices, bucking pressure from Western allies for countries to shun Moscow.
Speaking to the Manila Overseas Press Club, Marcos, who is also agriculture minister, said the Philippines may also deal with Russia for supply of fertilizer.
“We take we take a very balanced view because the truth of the matter is, we may have to deal with Russia for fuel, for fertilizer,” said Marcos.
The Philippines like many countries is grappling with soaring inflation, due to supply woes fanned by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Philippines, a US defense ally, has not imposed any sanctions on Russia.
Marcos, the son and namesake of the ousted late strongman who ruled the Philippines for two decades, also said he wanted his country to play a key role in promoting regional peace, amid challenges posed by North Korea and China-Taiwan tensions.
“We hope to be part of leading, the ones that are leading the effort for peace,” he said.
He said he would propose a new approach to the crisis in Myanmar at an upcoming meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in November, which could involved engaging the military government directly.
Myanmar’s ruling junta has been barred from regional summits over its failure to implement a five-point peace plan it agreed with ASEAN in April last year, after violent turmoil erupted in the country following a military coup.
The generals have been outraged by ASEAN’s unusually tough stand and have said they intend to comply with its plan, but will not agree to its call to hold dialogue with a pro-democracy resistance movement they call “terrorists.” “It’s time to put together, to put forward some concrete proposals on what we can do to at the very least to bring at least representatives of the military government to the table so we can begin to talk about these things,” Marcos said.
On Wednesday, Cambodia, the current ASEAN chair, confirmed that a request had been sent to the State Administrative Council, as the junta is known, that it nominate a non-political figure to represent Myanmar at the upcoming leaders’ summits. “Again, the SAC has refused to send anyone to the summits,” Cambodia Foreign spokesperson Chum Sounry said.

Taliban report mosque blast at government ministry in Kabul

Updated 37 min 28 sec ago

Taliban report mosque blast at government ministry in Kabul

KABUL: The Taliban say a blast went off Wednesday in a government ministry mosque in Kabul as officials and visitors were praying.
The Wednesday afternoon blast was inside the mosque of the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for security and law enforcement in Afghanistan.


Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

Updated 05 October 2022

Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

  • Truss: Conservatives must unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain

BIRMINGHAM: British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Wednesday urged her fractious party to stick together and help transform the economy and the country, fighting to restore her dwindling authority after a chaotic first month in office.
Addressing Conservative lawmakers and members at an annual conference overshadowed by internal bickering and confusion over policy, Truss said the party needed to unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain.
So far, however, her misfiring attempt to cut $51 billion (£45 billion) of taxes and hike government borrowing has sent turmoil through markets and her party, with opinion polls pointing to electoral collapse rather than a honeymoon period for the new leader.
“We gather at a vital time for the United Kingdom. These are stormy days,” she said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and the death of Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth.
“In these tough times, we need to step up. I’m determined to get Britain moving, to get us through the tempest and to put us on a stronger footing.”
As she started to speak, two protesters held up a sign asking “Who voted for this?” before they were escorted away by security personnel as the crowd chanted “out, out, out.”
Truss, elected by party members and not the broader electorate, was addressing the party faithful after she was forced to reverse plans to scrap the top rate of tax. She acknowledged that change brings “disruption.”
That U-turn has emboldened sections of her party who are now likely to resist spending cuts as the government seeks ways to fund the overall fiscal program.
That risks not only the dilution of her “radical” agenda but also raising the prospect of an early election.
Having entered the conference hall to a standing ovation and the sound of M People’s “Moving On UP,” Truss told party members and lawmakers that she wanted to build a “new Britain for the new era.”
“For too long, the political debate has been dominated by how we distribute a limited economic pie. Instead, we need to grow the pie so that everyone gets a bigger slice,” she said in the central English city of Birmingham.
“That is why I am determined to take a new approach and break us out of this high-tax, low-growth cycle.”
The conference, once expected to be her crowning glory after being appointed prime minister on Sept. 6, has turned into a personal nightmare, and a battle for the country’s political future.
As the debate moved on from tax cuts to how the government would fund them, lawmakers and ministers openly clashed, in stark contrast to the sense of discipline on display at the opposition Labour Party conference last week.
Some lawmakers fear Truss will break a commitment to increase benefit payments in line with inflation, something they argue would be inappropriate at a time when millions of families are struggling with the cost of soaring prices.
Ministers say they are yet to take a decision and are obliged to look at economic data later this month.
While markets have largely stabilized after the Bank of England stepped in to shore up the bond market — albeit after the cost of borrowing surged — opinion polls now point to an electoral collapse for the Conservatives.
John Curtice, Britain’s best-known pollster, said before the speech that Labour now held an average lead of 25 percentage points and the Conservatives needed to accept they were “in deep, deep electoral trouble.”

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Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

Updated 05 October 2022

Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

  • Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts

MOSCOW: Moscow said Wednesday it should be part of the probe into leaks on the Nord Stream gas pipelines, after Sweden blocked off the area around the pipelines pending an investigation.
“There should really be an investigation. Naturally, with the participation of Russia,” Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Vershinin said, as quoted by Russian news agencies.
Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany, raising political tensions already sky high since the Kremlin sent troop to Ukraine in February.
On Friday, the UN Security Council held a meeting on the issue.
Vershinin told the assembly that “the general opinion was that this was sabotage and that it should be investigated” but that “no decision had been made” on an international probe.
Last Wednesday, Russia launched an “international terrorism” investigation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such a probe “required the cooperation of several countries.”
He denounced an “acute shortage of communications and unwillingness of many countries to contact” Russia.
On Monday, Sweden blocked off the area around the pipeline leaks in the Baltic Sea while the suspected sabotage was being investigated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts.
Russia’s Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev said Wednesday that “it is clear that the United States is the beneficiary, primarily economic” of the leaks.
Both Moscow and Washington have denied involvement.


Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth

Updated 05 October 2022

Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth

  • 20-year-old Jaswant Singh Chail is accused of making a threat to kill the late 96-year-old monarch

LONDON: A man accused of making a threat to kill the late Queen Elizabeth after being arrested at her Windsor Castle home on Christmas Day last year will go on trial next year, London’s Old Bailey Court heard on Wednesday.
Jaswant Singh Chail, 20, who has been charged under Britain’s Treason Act, is accused of making a threat to kill the 96-year-old monarch, possessing a loaded crossbow with intent to use it to injure the queen, and possession of an offensive weapon.
Elizabeth, who died last month, was at the castle on the day of the intrusion with her son and now King Charles and other close family members
Chail, who appeared at Wednesday’s hearing via videolink wearing a black hoodie, spoke only to confirm his name and his date of birth.
He was told the trial date was set to March 20 next and would last two to three weeks.
He did not enter a plea, the case was adjourned for further evidence to be obtained and Chail was detained in custody. The next hearing will take place at a date yet to be confirmed in December.