Foreign Policy

Turkey’s relationship with the West crumbles amid new jail sentence for American journalist

A Wall Street Journal reporter’s sentencing by a Turkish court this week, to two years behind bars by “spreading terrorist propaganda,” marks the latest in the government’s escalating hostility not only with the press, but with any figure tied to the West. Ayla Albayrak — a dual Finnish-Turkish citizen — was tried in absentia, and thus won’t have to join the prison ranks unless she returns, but dozens of other western professionals aren’t so fortunate. Serkan Gölge, a 37-year-old NASA scientist of Turkish descent, who was vacationing with family in the quiet southern town of Hatay recently was arrested by the government, as was Turkey-based American pastor Andrew Brunson, who had been residing in Turkey without incident for more than 20 years. Furthermore, Ismail Kul, a chemistry professor at Widener University in Pennsylvania and his real estate agent brother, Mustafa Kul, were apprehended in August last year while on summer vacation in Bursa. Then last week, Turkish authorities arrested U.S. consulate employee Metin Topuz on terrorism charges and this week, they announced that they were seeking a second unnamed U.S. consulate worker. In February, fellow consulate employee Hamza Uluçay too was abruptly detained. These are just a few of the many western-linked — most of whom hold dual citizenship in Turkey — who have been swept up in President Tayyip Erdoğan’s ongoing purge in the wake of the July 2016 failed coup attempt to remove him from power. The common thread with all who are being incarcerated? Suspected ties — however indirect, vague or unproven — to Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric who Erdogan accuses of orchestrating the coup despite his vehement denials, or to The Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK. The Kurdish militant group is closely associated to The Women’s Protection Units or YPJ, who the U.S. is training and funding to fight ISIS in Syria. But any ties are considered terrorist ties and diplomatic tensions between Turkey and the United States seemingly have been escalating since the failed coup attempt and since the U.S. upped its support of People’s Protection Units or YPG in closing in on the ISIS-controlled Raqqa over a year ago. And those tensions hit a high this week, with governments in both countries precipitously suspending nonimmigrant visas for each other’s citizens. Some experts anticipate that things are likely to only get worse, and more westerners will be jailed or targeted inside the country as collateral damage, if the U.S. does not cave to pressure and agree to Gülen. “Bilateral relations with Turkey are deteriorating because President Erdoğan seeks to use the U.S. as a scapegoat to advance his political agenda and maximize his own political power,” Jim Phillips, senior research fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, said…

Agreed..   This story is developing..

North Korean workers prep seafood going to US stores, restaurants

The workers wake up each morning on metal bunk beds in fluorescent-lit Chinese dormitories, North Koreans outsourced by their government to process seafood that ends up in American stores and homes. Privacy is forbidden. They cannot leave their compounds without permission. They must take the few steps to the factories in pairs or groups, with North Korean minders ensuring no one strays. They have no access to telephones or email. And they are paid a fraction of their salaries, while the rest — as much as 70 percent — is taken by North Korea’s government. This means Americans buying salmon for dinner at Walmart or ALDI may inadvertently have subsidized the North Korean government as it builds its nuclear weapons program, an AP investigation has found. Their purchases may also have supported what the United States calls “modern day slavery” — even if the jobs are highly coveted by North Koreans. At a time when North Korea faces sanctions on many exports, the government is sending tens of thousands of workers worldwide, bringing in revenue estimated at anywhere from $200 million to $500 million a year. That could account for a sizable portion of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs, which South Korea says have cost more than $1 billion. While the presence of North Korean workers overseas has been documented, the AP investigation reveals for the first time that some products they make go to the United States, which is now a federal crime. AP also tracked the products made by North Korean workers to Canada, Germany and elsewhere in the European Union. Besides seafood, AP found North Korean laborers making wood flooring and sewing garments in factories in Hunchun. Those industries also export to the U.S. from Hunchun, but AP did not track specific shipments except for seafood. American companies are not allowed to import products made by North Korean workers anywhere in the world, under a law signed by President Donald Trump in early August. Importers or company officials could face criminal charges for using North Korean workers or materially benefiting from their work, according to the law. Every Western company involved that responded to AP’s requests for comment said forced labor and potential support for North Korea’s weapons program were unacceptable in their supply chains. Many said they were going to investigate, and some said they had already cut off ties with suppliers. John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute, the largest seafood trade association in the U.S., said his group was urging all of its companies to immediately re-examine their supply chains “to ensure that wages go to the workers, and are not siphoned off to support a dangerous dictator.” “While we understand that hiring North Korean workers may be legal in China,” said Connelly, “we are deeply concerned that any seafood companies could be inadvertently propping up the despotic regime.” In response to the investigation, Senate leaders said Wednesday that the U.S. needs to keep products made by North Koreans out of the United States and get China to refuse to hire North Korean workers.

China’s Secret Military Plan: Invade Taiwan by 2020

China has drawn up secret military plans to take over the island of Taiwan by 2020, an action that would likely lead to a larger U.S.-China conventional or nuclear war, according to newly-disclosed internal Chinese military documents. The secret war plan drawn up by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Chinese Communist Party’s armed forces, calls for massive missile attacks on the island, along with a naval and air blockade that is followed by amphibious beach landing assaults using up to 400,000 troops. The plans and operations are outlined in a new book published this week, The Chinese Invasion Threat by Ian Easton, a China affairs analyst with the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank. The danger of a Taiwan conflict has grown in recent years even as current tensions between Washington and Beijing are mainly the result of U.S. opposition to Chinese militarization in the South China Sea and China’s covert support of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. “Of all the powder kegs out there, the potential for a war over Taiwan is by far the largest and most explosive,” the 290-page book states, adding that the growing likelihood of a war over Taiwan will dominate worries within the Pentagon for years to come. “China has made clear that its primary external objective is attaining the ability to apply overwhelming force against Taiwan during a conflict, and if necessary destroy American-led coalition forces,” the books says. Democratic-ruled Taiwan poses an existential threat to China’s communist leaders because the island, located some 90 miles off the southeast coast “serves as a beacon of freedom for ethnically Chinese people everywhere,” the book states. “Consequently, the PLA considers the invasion of Taiwan to be its most critical mission, and it is this envisioned future war that drives China’s military buildup.” Parts of the PLA invasion scheme were first revealed publicly by the Taiwan Defense Ministry in late 2013. The plan calls for military operations against the island to be carried out by 2020. The invasion program was confirmed by Chinese leader Xi Jinping during the major Communist Party meeting five years ago when Xi committed to “continue the 2020 Plan, whereby we build and deploy a complete operational capability to use force against Taiwan by that year.” Other internal PLA writings that surfaced recently indicate China is ready to use force when it believes non-military means are not successful in forcing the capitulation to Beijing’s demands, and if the United States can be kept out of the battle. Current U.S. law under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act requires the United States to provide defensive weaponry to Taiwan to prevent the use of force against the island. China currently is using non-lethal means—psychological, diplomatic, propaganda, and informational warfare—against Taiwan. Once these are exhausted, the plan for large-scale amphibious assault will be carried out. Any attempt by the Chinese military to take the island will be difficult and costly, the book says. The island has rough, mountainous terrain that has created a wind tunnel effect in the strait that produces very difficult weather for carrying troop and weapons transports, both air and sea. Taiwan is around 230 miles long and 90 miles wide. Taiwanese military forces have been preparing for an invasion since Chinese nationalist forces first took refuge on the island at the end of the civil war with the communists in 1949. However, since the 1980s, China has been rapidly building up its military capabilities for a battle to forcibly unify the island with the mainland. Over 1,000 ballistic and cruise missiles currently are stationed within range of Taiwan. According to the book, China’s invasion plan is known as the Joint Island Attack Campaign.

Definitely something to keep an eye on..   Bestselling author, and veteran defense writer Bill Gertz is responsible for that excellent piece.  Bill is very well connected in the defense community, and is a very credible source of information.  To read more, click on the text above.

Trump’s financial strategy persuades China to put screws to North Korea

President Trump persuaded China to freeze all financial transactions with North Korea and ordered a new round of U.S. sanctions Thursday, closing out his first U.N. General Assembly with a major diplomatic victory in his efforts to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programs short of war. In a carefully choreographed strategy deployed from the shadow of the United Nations headquarters in New York, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin called the head of China’s central bank very early Thursday to alert him that Mr. Trump was preparing an executive order to sanction any financial institutions doing business with North Korea. He asked for the cooperation of China, the main source of North Korea’s cash. Hours later, the People’s Bank of China announced it was directing all other banks in China to halt financial transactions with North Korea. Soon afterward, Mr. Trump signed an executive order in a meeting with the presidents of South Korea and Japan, expanding the Treasury Department’s ability to freeze the assets of banks or individuals doing business with Pyongyang. Mr. Trump praised China’s action, saying with uncharacteristic understatement that it was “somewhat unexpected.” “For much too long, North Korea has been allowed to abuse the international financial system to facilitate funding for its nuclear weapons and missile programs,” Mr. Trump said. “Tolerance for this disgraceful practice must end now.” Mr. Trump’s tightening of the screws culminated his weeklong effort to marshal more international pressure on North Korea. The expanded and coordinated sanctions were announced two days after Mr. Trump alarmed many at the General Assembly by warning that the U.S. was prepared to “totally destroy” North Korea if it attacked the U.S. or its allies. South Korean President Moon Jae-in praised Mr. Trump’s handling of the crisis, saying through a translator, “North Korea has continued to make provocations, and this is extremely deplorable and this has angered both me and our people, but the U.S. has responded firmly and in a very good way.” White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said Mr. Trump is taking the steps to try to resolve the crisis “short of war.” A senior administration official said the White House wants China and North Korea to understand that “this is different than anything in the last quarter century.” “We’re not negotiating for the right to negotiate, which is all the ‘strategic patience’ was all about,” the official said. “We’re going to try and have discussions so that we’ll reach a point where we agree to have negotiations. And we’ve made it clear that they need to step forward and be prepared to abandon the ballistic missile program and dismantle the nuclear weapons program. That’s where negotiations and discussions begin.” The official added, “We think China’s going to need to walk with them on that because of the outsized role that China plays in their economy, their long historic relationship, dating all the way back to the Korean War.” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un described Mr. Trump early Friday in Asia as “mentally deranged,” according to Reuters. He said North Korea would consider the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” against the U.S. in response to Mr. Trump’s threat to “totally destroy” the North. Some analysts said Mr. Trump’s thinly veiled threat of sanctions against Chinese banks, his lobbying of Chinese President Xi Jinping and even perhaps his threat of nuclear war appear to be working, at least for now. “U.S. pressure is having an effect,” said Bill Bishop, a China analyst and publisher of the Sinocism newsletter. “If the U.S. decides to ratchet up secondary sanctions another notch, expect sanctions and/or penalties against a large [People’s Republic of China] bank like China Merchants, but not one of the big four.” Michael C. Desch, director of the International Security Center at Notre Dame University, said China was likely responding to the threat of war as much as any other incentive. “My sense is that it is not sanctions and the U.N. but rather China’s fear that the North Korea situation is spiraling out of control that is leading Beijing to take these steps,” he said. “The last thing China wants is a war on its border that, at a minimum, could remove a key buffer between it and an American ally and at a maximum could result in a thermonuclear war right next door.” Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican and a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, said the administration’s sanctions “are aimed squarely at North Korea’s despot but also remind China that it has a strong interest in preventing a nuclear arms race in Asia.”

Those are but a few of the things that China is worried about.  They don’t want to see a reunified Korea….under southern rule.  They don’t want an American ally that border’s China.  They also don’t don’t want to deal with the thousands and thousands of North Korean refugees flooding their border if a military (even conventional) war breaks out.  China like order; not chaos.  That would be more chaos than they’d care to deal with.  Those are just a few of the incentives they have to work with Trump.  And it wasn’t that hard, really.  It just took a little leadership from someone who isn’t afraid to upset the apple cart.  Trump isn’t a natural politician.  He is just someone who wants to see result; to see progress.  And, he doesn’t take no for an answer.  Nor does he care whose tender feelings he hurts.  In other words, he’s a business-man, and a leader.  Imagine that!

VP Pence calls on U.N. Security Council to end bias against Israel

Vice President Mike Pence called on the United Nations to end its “forum for anti-Semitism” against Israel and to boot repressive countries off the U.N. Human Rights Council. In a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Mr. Pence noted that former President John F. Kennedy had warned the world body 50 years ago not to become a “forum for invective.” “Yet today, its Human Rights Council has become exactly that — a forum for anti-Semitism and invective against Israel,” Mr. Pence said. “We call on the Security Council and this entire body to immediately reform the membership and practices of the Human Rights Council — and end the Human Rights Council’s blatant bias against our cherished ally, Israel.” Mr. Pence said the Human Rights Council, which includes countries such as Cuba and Venezuela, has approved more than 70 resolutions condemning Israel “while largely ignoring the world’s worst human rights abusers.” “Cuba sits on the Human Rights Council — an oppressive regime that has repressed its people and jailed political opponents for more than half a century,” Mr. Pence said. “Venezuela sits on the Human Rights Council, a dictatorship that undermines democracy at every turn, imprisons its political opponents.” He said the U.N. “must reform the Council’s membership and its operation.” On Tuesday, President Trump called the Human Rights Council “a massive source of embarrassment.” “The truth is, the Human Rights Council doesn’t deserve its name,” Mr. Pence said.

Exactly!!  And, well said Mr. Vice President!!  It’s refreshing to see the U.S. really stick it to the UN, and call it on it’s brazen antisemitism.  To read the rest of this article, click on the text above.

Obama Admin Hid Intel on Iranian Militants in Syria to Push Nuclear Deal

The Obama administration likely hid information about Iran illicitly ferrying militants into Syria on commercial aircraft in order to promote the landmark nuclear deal and foster multi-billion dollar business deals with Tehran’s state-controlled airline sector, according to lawmakers and other sources familiar with the matter. The Washington Free Beacon first disclosed last week that congressional leaders are calling for an investigation into Iran for using its state-controlled air carrier, Iran Air, to ferry militant fighters into Syria, where they are taking up arms in defense of embattled President Bashar al-Assad. Photographs provided to Congress show Iran using Iran Air to ferry these soldiers between 2016 and 2017, in part when the Obama administration removed sanctions on Iran Air and promoted multi-billion dollars sales between the carrier and aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which is seeking to provide Iran Air with a fleet of new planes that many suspect will be used to carry terrorist fighters and weapons into regional hotspots. This behavior violates international laws governing the nuclear deal and has now led lawmakers and others to accuse the Obama administration of downplaying Iran’s illicit activity in order to promote the nuclear deal and ensure Tehran receives a new commercial fleet. Multiple senior Obama administration officials, including former secretary of state John Kerry, traveled the globe to promote trade with Iranian companies, including Iran Air, at the same time Iran was found to be ferrying militants into Syria. Lawmakers and others suspect the Obama administration either hid or downplayed this information in order to preserve the nuclear deal. “The Obama administration lifted sanctions against Iran Air as a political concession during nuclear negotiations with Iran, not because of any change in its activity,” Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), one of the lawmakers calling for an investigation into Iran’s use of commercial aircraft for military purposes, told the Free Beacon. “Using social media and public flight tracking websites, any person with a computer can document Iranian military transports to Syria on commercial jets,” Roskam said. “The Obama administration undoubtedly knew Iranian airliners were being used to fuel Assad’s atrocities in Syria, but the administration officials who were globetrotting as Tehran’s chamber of commerce trying to shore up the nuclear deal didn’t care.” “Iran Air continues to support the Iran-Assad war machine to this day, and the Trump administration must hold the airline accountable and work to stop them,” the lawmaker said. Roskam and a delegation of other Republican congressmen petitioned the Trump Treasury Department last week to investigate photographic evidence showing Iran using Iran Air to ferry militants into Syria. “Iran’s use of commercial aircraft for military purposes violates international agreements as well as Iranian commitments under the JCPOA,” or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the lawmakers wrote..

This is one of those stories you won’t see anywhere in the dominantly liberal mainstream media.  And, with what’s going on in Texas, this is getting buried “below the fold.”

Trump to China President Xi: N Korea nuclear threat will end ‘one way or another’

President Trump, at the start of his meeting Saturday in Germany with Chinese President Xi Jinping, called the Asian nation a “great trading partner” and said the increasing North Korea nuclear threat will eventually be resolved “one way or the other.” The much-anticipated meeting was one of several Trump and top administration officials had Saturday with world leaders at the close of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. But it was considered perhaps the most critical. China is North Korea’s largest trading partner, which gives the country considerable influence over Pyongyang and its growing threat, which includes developing a nuclear warhead and launching long-range missiles to transport them. Trump told Xi that putting an end to North Korea’s nuclear missile testing “may take longer than I’d like, it may take longer that you’d like. But there will be success in the end one way or the other.” “Something has to be done,” the president also said. Xi also spoke briefly, but his comments in Chinese were not immediately translated and available. Saturday’s meeting also focused on trade between the two nations. Trump said “many things have happened” that have created trade imbalances between the United States and China but “we’re going to turn that around.” The president was flanked in the meeting room by about a dozen top administration officials including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and adviser Jared Kushner. The meeting followed a long-range missile test launch by North Korea on Tuesday, which a Pentagon spokesman said was a type not previously seen by U.S. analysts. Following the missile launch, Trump expressed frustration with China over its expanding trade with North Korea. Trump had expressed optimism after his first meeting with China’s president that the two would work together to curb North Korea’s nuclear pursuits. The president tweeted Wednesday, “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!” China has long resisted intensifying economic pressure on neighboring North Korea, in part out of fear of the instability that could mount on its doorstep, including the possibility of millions of North Koreans fleeing into China. China has also been concerned that a reunited, democratic Korea — dominated by South Korea — would put a U.S. ally, and possibly U.S. forces, on its border. Tillerson on Tuesday vowed “stronger measures” to hold North Korea accountable. “Global action is required to stop a global threat,” he said. Tillerson also said any country helping North Korea militarily or economically, taking in its guest workers or falling short on Security Council resolutions “is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime.” However, his statement did not specifically mention China.

..of course not.  That would not be well received by China.  But, we’re quickly approaching the point at which we really shouldn’t care whether we cause Xi some embarrassment.  This whole catering to the Asian saving face cultural nonsense is…well..nonsense.  We’ve been playing footsie with them for DECADES now.  Clearly it’s not working.  Their trade with the DPRK is up 40% in the last quarter, for crying out loud!  That’s hardly putting pressure on that regime.  If China won’t help us with N. Korea, then we need to take serious and substantive action, regardless.  If N. Korea really does have an ICBM that can reach Alaska, then mere “economic sanctions” and so on is hardly sufficient.  It’s time to end this decades-long chess game, and remove the Kim dynasty once and for all.