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North Korea launches missile salvo at area where US aircraft carrier fleet had sailed

Missiles land in part of Sea of Japan where USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan had been conducting manoeuvres this week

North Korea has fired a volley of what appeared to be land-to-ship missiles, hours after a senior US official said the regimes recent advances in missile technology were causing great concern in Washington.

South Koreas joint chiefs of staff said several missiles which are not thought to be ballistic were launched from the North Korean eastern coastal town of Wonsan on Wednesday morning.

They flew an estimated 200km and were intended to demonstrate the Norths ability to target a large enemy warship, the South Korean military said.

The salvo was aimed at an area in the Sea of Japan recently visited by two US aircraft carriers, the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan. The vessels left the area earlier this week after conducting joint manoeuvres with South Korean and Japanese forces.

North Korea likely wanted to show off its ability to precisely target a large warship, in relation to the joint military drills involving US aircraft carriers, Roh Jae-cheon, South Koreas joint chiefs of staff spokesman, told reporters. By testing different types of missiles, North Korea also appears to be aiming to secure the upper hand in relations with South Korea and the United States.

At the end of last month, the North fired a short-range scud missile that landed in Japans maritime economic zone, drawing strong protests from Tokyo. The regime claimed that the rocket was equipped with a precision control guidance system and had landed within seven metres of its target.

In mid-May, it tested a powerful new midrange missile that it said could carry a nuclear warhead. That rocket flew higher and for a longer period than any other missile previously tested by North Korea.

Thursdays multiple missile launches present an early diplomatic test for South Koreas new president, Moon Jae-in, a left-leaning liberal who supports engagement with Pyongyang as way of reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea has conducted four missiles launches in just over four weeks, in defiance of warnings from Donald Trump that the US would not rule out military action to prevent the regime from developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of striking the US mainland.

Pyongyang is believed to be at least three years away from building an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with sufficient range, but it already has conventional missiles capable of striking US military bases in South Korea and Japan.

The head of the US missile defence agency, vice admiral James Syring, warned that officials should assume that the US would one day be within reach of a North Korean nuclear missile.

I would not say we are comfortably ahead of the threat; I would say we are addressing the threat that we know today, Syring told a hearing of the house armed services committee on Wednesday. The advancements in the last six months have caused great concern to me and others, in the advancement of and demonstration of technology of ballistic missiles from North Korea.

It is incumbent on us to assume that North Korea today can range the United States with an ICBM carrying a nuclear warhead.

Experts said Thursdays launches were designed to show North Korea would not be pressured into abandoning its nuclear and missile programmes, a week after the UN security council adopted sanctions targeting North Korean officials and companies.

North Korea has been stepping up missile tests … to project an image to the world that international sanctions can never bring it to its knees, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

Yang said the regime was also responding to the arrival earlier this week of a US nuclear submarine, the USS Cheyenne, in the South Korea port of Busan.

North Korea insists it has the right to develop nuclear weapons in response to US aggression, citing the recent presence of the US aircraft carriers in waters off the peninsula.

The foreign ministry in Pyongyang said in a recent statement that Washingtons opposition to missile tests was the height of shameless arrogance, self-righteousness and double standards given that the US was engaged in its own military buildup.

In response to the higher frequency of North Korean missile tests in recent months, the US and South Korea accelerated the deployment of a controversial missile defence system earlier this year.

But on Wednesday, South Korea said it would suspend further deployments of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence known as Thaad system until it has completed an environmental impact assessment, amid concern from local residents that its powerful radar could affect their health and livelihoods.

The review, ordered by Moons office, will not affect two launchers already in operation in the south-eastern region of Seongju, but it could delay the introduction of a remaining four launchers by more than a year, according to officials at the presidential Blue House in Seoul.

The review was ordered after Moons office complained that it had not been told about the arrival of the additional launchers which have not been installed last week.

It doesnt make sense to withdraw the two initial launchers which had already been deployed and installed, but additional installation will be decided after the environmental impact assessment is over, a South Korean administration official told reporters.

The Pentagon said it would work with Seoul to ensure transparency, but added that it did not think the review would threaten Thaads future. The US trusts the [South Korean governments] official stance that the Thaad deployment was an alliance decision and it will not be reversed, a Pentagon spokesman said.

China has urged South Korea to abandon Thaad, whose deployment was agreed by Moons conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye.

Beijing claims that the system could be used to track its own missile programme and represents a threat to Chinas security.

Chinas position is very clear. No matter what happens, we are firmly opposed to the deployment of the Thaad system by the US in the Republic of Korea, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Wednesday.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/08/north-korea-launches-salvo-missiles-tests

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China’s ‘war on law’: victims’ wives tell US Congress of torture and trauma

Women whose husbands were targets of Communist party crackdown on human rights lawyers call for US sanctions

The wives of some of the most prominent victims of Xi Jinpings crackdown on civil society have stepped up their campaign for justice, backing calls for US sanctions against Chinese officials involved in allegedly barbaric cases of torture and abuse.

Addressing a congressional hearing in Washington on Thursday, the women, whose husbands were among the key targets of a Communist party offensive against human rights lawyers, detailed the physical and psychological trauma inflicted by Chinas so-called war on law.

Chen Guiqiu, who fled to the United States in March, told of how her husband, the attorney Xie Yang, had been imprisoned and brutally tortured because of his work defending victims of land grabs, religious persecution and dissidents.

She described her husbands ordeal as an example of Chinas lawlessness and claimed that at his recent trial Xie had been forced to refute detailed claims that he had been the victim of sustained and brutal campaign of torture.

Wang Yanfeng, the wife of Tang Jingling, a lawyer and democracy activist who was jailed in 2016 in what campaigners described as a gross injustice, said her husband had suffered repeated spells of abuse, threats and torture. Today other [lawyers and political prisoners] are still suffering from such torture, Wang said, calling on US president Donald Trump to challenge China over such abuses.

In a video message, Li Wenzu, the wife of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, said she had heard nothing from him since he was seized by police at the start of the campaign against lawyers in July 2015. I am deeply concerned about my husbands safety. I dont know how his health is. I dont know whether he has been left disabled by the torture. I dont even know whether he is alive.

Wang Qiaoling, whose husband, Li Heping, recently emerged from a 22-month stint in custody, said he returned home looking 20 years older and had told of being forced to sit for hours in stress positions and being shackled with chains. He suffered from very cruel and sick torture, Wang added.

Also giving testimony was Lee Chin-yu, whose husband, the Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che, vanished into Chinese custody in March after travelling to the mainland. I stand alone before you today to plead for your help for my husband, Lee said, calling on Washington to pressure China to end her husbands illegitimate detention.

Since Chinas crackdown on lawyers began almost two years ago, its victims wives have emerged as a relentless and forceful voice of opposition, often using humorous online videos and public performances to champion their cause. They say they have done so in defiance of a campaign of state-sponsored intimidation that has seen them trailed by undercover agents, struggle to enrol their children into schools or be evicted from their homes.

Terry Halliday, the author of a book about Chinas human rights lawyers, said the lawyers wives had opened up a new line of struggle that we have not seen before in China.

These women have become a very powerful and visible public presence both of criticism of the government, of appeals for the release of their loved-ones but also impugning China in the eyes of the world. It is remarkable.

Its a whole new front, Halliday added. It is not so easy for the government to silence wives and daughters.

Thursdays hearing was part of a push by human rights groups to convince the Trump administration to use a law called the Magnitsky Act to bring sanctions such as travel bans or property seizures against Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses.

We should be seeking to hold accountable any Chinese officials complicit in torture, human rights abuses and illegal detentions, said Chris Smith, the Republican congressman who chaired the session and said he was compiling a list of potential targets.

Smith said he hoped such action could help end the shocking, offensive, immoral, barbaric and inhumane treatment of Chinese activists that has accelerated since Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

While President Xi Jinping feels feted at Davos and lauded in national capitals for his public commitments to openness, his government is torturing and abusing those seeking rights guaranteed by Chinas own constitution, Smith said.

China has rejected claims of torture against the human rights lawyers it has imprisoned, dismissing such allegations as fake news.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/19/chinas-war-on-law-victims-wives-tell-us-congress-of-torture-and-trauma

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‘I know he is alive’: wife of Taiwan activist seized by China pleads for release

Lee Ming-che has been detained by Beijing authorities amid a targeting of activists, dissidents and scholars based abroad

The wife of a Taiwanese human rights activist detained in China for over a month without charge has vowed to take her fight for justice to the US and European Union, urging them to pressure Beijing to release him.

It has now been 40 days since Lee Ching-yus partner, best friend and confidante suddenly disappeared while travelling to visit friends in Guangzhou, southern China.

Beijing, which views democratic Taiwan as a renegade province, admitted only after 10 days that Lee Ming-che, 42, a community college worker known for supporting human rights, had been detained for allegedly threatening national security.

He is feared to be the latest victim of an escalation in Chinas repression of rights and free speech.

It is only through international support that we can force a country that encroaches on human rights to stop this action, Lee Ching-yu told The Guardian in her first interview with the British press. She intends to seek help in Washington DC and Brussels next month.

Under standard Chinese criminal law, Lees husband should have been charged or released on Monday, after 37 days in custody.

Instead, her hopes of a speedy resolution were shattered on Wednesday when Chinas Taiwan affairs office announced that Lee was still under investigation, that his health was good, and that he has clearly explained the relevant situation to his family in a letter.

The letter, which contained scant information, was delivered in early April by an unofficial middleman Lee Ching-yu did not know whether to trust.

It was my husbands handwriting but he made no connection with me, she said. He did not write that letter voluntarily.

Lee, also 42, has struggled largely alone, with the support of a few local activists, to uncover the truth.

With little government support, she has fended off unidentified brokers offering help through unofficial channels.

One suggested her silence and inaction might buy her husbands freedom, or at least spare him the humiliation of a video confession. But Lee has refused to strike a backroom deal.

She is defiant but the strain of her ordeal has made her visibly more gaunt and she frequently fights back tears. I have to keep a strong face in front of the media, but when I see my husbands photo I get very emotional, she said.

The couple met at college 20 years ago and were drawn to each other through a shared passion for human rights.

Lee Ching-yu became a researcher at the Shin Ming-te foundation, studying the history of Taiwans own dark period of martial law, when thousands were disappeared. Her work both gives her strength and haunts her. I can imagine what my husband might have gone through, she said.

Lee Ming-che kept his human rights work low key. Supporters believe he may have been targeted after speaking openly on Chinese messaging service WeChat about Taiwanese democracy.

The values and beliefs that my husband holds and spreads would not be charged in any democratic or civilised country, said Lee.

She broke down describing how he had tried to help the poverty-stricken families of Chinese activists, imprisoned for their beliefs.

At least I know my husband is alive, she said. Others who disappear dont receive the same media attention and they might be in more danger. When I realise how severe the situation in China is, its hard to stay calm.

Lee has approached the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances for help.

Her husbands case has been complicated by Taiwans lack of international clout and by frozen diplomatic ties between Taipei and Beijing over Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wens refusal to endorse Chinas view that the self-governed island and mainland are part of a single Chinese nation.

Taiwans government maintains it is working behind the scenes to resolve Lees case, but local NGOs argue they could do more.

Mrs Lee is already standing so strongwe need support from the government, not only to just keep it low key, said E-Ling Chiu, head of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

Many fear Lee may have fallen foul of a harsh new Chinese law to monitor and control foreign-funded NGOs, enforced earlier this year as part of a crackdown on civil society.

The environment for foreign and domestic human rights NGOs had become treacherous, said Maya Wang an Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch.

The case of Mr Lee fits within the greater pattern of a new trend of the Chinese government targeting activists, dissidents, or even scholars based abroad, she said. All of these cases deserve equal press and attention.

However, Lee may also have become a pawn in internal Chinese politics by factions opposed to President Xi Jinpings perceived mild approach to Taiwan, ventured Michael Cole, a Taipei-based political analyst.

It would be difficult for Xi to back down while demonstrating strength over Taiwan, he said. Equally, Tsai had to tread cautiously.

It would not serve Mr Lees interests if she came out guns blazing. Ultimately his case is part of something thats much bigger.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/28/wife-of-taiwan-activist-seized-china-pleads-for-release-lee-ming-che