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Germany builds economic ties with authoritarian regimes and North Korea provokes US

4-11-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 2 times a week.

The Guardian: Germany's chancellor can't do without China

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has arrived in Beijing for a series of meetings with Chinese top officials. The talks are expected to touch on Russia's war in Ukraine, climate change and the development of economic ties.

Scholz’s visit on Friday is the first by a leader of a G7 nation to China in three years, and will test the waters of relations between Beijing and the west after years of mounting tensions, analysts say.

During their first face-to-face meeting since Scholz took office, held in the Great Hall of the People, Xi said that as large nations with influence, China and Germany should work together all the more during “times of change and turmoil” for the sake of world peace, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Photo: Reuters

“As long as the principles of mutual respect, seeking common ground while reserving differences, exchanges and mutual learning, and win-win cooperation are upheld, the general direction of bilateral relations will not be deviated, and the pace of progress will be stable,” Xi was quoted as saying by CCTV.

“At present, the international situation is complex and changeable. As influential powers, China and Germany should work together in times of change and chaos to make more contributions to world peace and development.”

Scholz told Xi that it was good both leaders were meeting in person during tense times, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine creating problems for the rules-based global order, according to a Reuters reporter accompanying Scholz’s delegation.

The chancellor said the two would discuss Europe-China relations, climate change and global hunger, and how to develop China-Germany economic ties, as well as topics where both countries’ perspective is different.

Scholz and a delegation of German business leaders flying with him were tested for Covid-19 upon landing in Beijing on Friday morning, with Chinese medical staff in hazmat suits entering the plane to conduct the tests.

Following a red carpet and honour guard reception, the delegation was moved from the airport to the Diaoyutai state guesthouse to await the results of their Covid tests, which quickly came out as negative for Scholz, according to his press team.

China’s strict zero-Covid policy and growing tensions with the west have made it unfeasible for leaders of major western powers to visit China. Xi himself has only just resumed foreign trips.

Scholz’s visit is probably a welcome development for China’s leadership, which will be looking to shore up relations with the outside world after the conclusion of the 20th party congress, where Xi consolidated his status as the core of the ruling Communist party.

Amid historic inflation and a looming recession in Germany, Scholz will be looking to emphasise the need for continued cooperation with China.

Scholz was also to meet outgoing premier Li Keqiang, where he is also expected to raise controversial issues such as human rights, Taiwan and the difficulties German companies face accessing the Chinese market, according to government sources.

Li nominally has responsibility over China’s economy. In an article for the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Scholz said he was travelling to Beijing “precisely because business as usual is not an option in this situation”.

“It is clear that if China changes, the way we deal with China must also change,” Scholz wrote, adding that “we will reduce one-sided dependencies in the spirit of smart diversification.”

Scholz also said he would address “difficult issues” such as the rights of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

In the run-up to the visit, there had been criticism from within the EU and the German government coalition, mainly from the Green party and the Liberals.

China’s crucial role in key industries from shipbuilding to electric vehicles, along with the unprecedented economic headwinds facing Germany, meant Scholz needs cooperation with China more than his predecessor Angela Merkel ever did, said Wang Yiwei, Jean Monnet chair professor and director of the Centre for European studies at Renmin University.

“Merkel was also quite ideological [towards China] in the beginning but then she changed her tune. Scholz has changed his tune even faster, but he does not have as solid a domestic political standing as Merkel,” said Wang.

Politico: Russian troops in Kherson - escape or goodwill gesture?

Russia has prepared the groundwork for withdrawing its troops from Kherson, the largest Ukrainian city its forces have occupied since the February invasion, a Western official said.

In the last couple of weeks, the Ukrainian army has made “spectacular” advances in its campaign to regain territory occupied by the Russians, who have been forced to move to a more defensive position and are “critically short of munitions,” the official said Thursday.

Russia is now believed to have temporarily bolstered its forces near Kherson to cover a retreat to the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, and has also ordered civilians to evacuate from occupied areas on the western bank.

“We are confident in our previous warnings that the prospects of Russian military withdrawal from their Kherson bridgehead,” the official said. “Planning is almost certainly well advanced.”

Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of Kherson’s Moscow-installed administration, told Russian state television on Thursday that Russian troops could move across the Dnipro in the coming days.

“Most likely, our units, our troops will go to the left bank part of the Kherson region,” he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also struck an upbeat note on impending Ukrainian advances.

“On the issue of whether or not the Ukrainians can take the remaining territory on the west side of the Dnieper river in Kherson, I certainly believe that they have the capability to do that,” Austin told a press conference. “Most importantly, the Ukrainians believe they have the capability to do that. We have seen them engage in a very methodical but effective effort to take back their sovereign territory.”

Rumors about a potential Russian withdrawal from Kherson city swirled around Thursday after pictures were posted on social media platforms showing the Russian flag was missing from the main administrative building in the city. However, footage on the Telegram channel showed Russian flags flying from other official buildings.

There is some caution about those reports from Ukrainian authorities.

Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, said it could be a Russian “trick.”

“This may be a provocation in order to create the impression that settlements have been abandoned, that it is safe to enter them,” she told Ukrainian television. “Considering the fact that they have been preparing for street battles for a long time, the way they position their units, we are aware of the planned tactics and should not be in a hurry to rejoice.”

The Western official cautioned that any decision to retreat “is more about Russians making long-term strategic decisions about where is best to defend in order to be effective, maintain their own munitions supplies, maintain their troop levels and set themselves for the winter.

“I think in their judgement, they have decided that Kherson city is not worth fighting for, that that natural defensive barrier of the river is extremely valuable to them.”

Kherson Oblast is one of four Ukrainian regions illegally annexed last month by Russia following sham referendums.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to present any withdrawal as an evacuation rather than a retreat, because any retreat would be likely to trigger another uptick in criticism of Putin’s leadership from Russian nationalists and could affect his credibility.

Russian special forces might continue to operate on the western bank of the river even after a withdrawal, the official warned.

In Kherson, “it’s likely that most echelons of [Russian] command have now withdrawn across the river, leaving demoralized and leaderless men to face Ukrainian assaults,” the official added.

A Russian withdrawal from Kherson would bolster moral in Kyiv and across Ukraine. However Ukrainian forces are unlikely to be able this winter to retake the Crimean Peninsula, occupied by Russian troops since 2014 and also illegally annexed.

AP: Provocation as policy - DPRK shows off its missiles to the world

For days North Korean officials have raged over U.S.-South Korean military drills, promising a violent response. That response came this week, when the North fired nearly 30 missiles in the span of two days, including a short-range weapon that splashed down near the South Korean sea border and an intercontinental ballistic missile that forced Japan to issue an evacuation alert and halt trains.

It was a significant escalation in a year that has already seen the most North Korean missile test launches ever, and it raises an important question: How much further will they go?

Photo: Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

North Korea’s playbook has traditionally been to continually ratchet up provocations until it gets U.S. attention — and can then negotiate for sanctions relief or other concessions from what it sees as a position of power.

The bar for getting attention these days may be higher, with the United States focused on upcoming elections and Russia and the West consumed by the war in Ukraine. That could mean the North has to do more to get the reaction it wants — but it also increases the possibility that Pyongyang could end up pushing South Korea too far. Already there is growing discussion in Seoul about creating an indigenous nuclear program.

North Korea observers have long sketched out the various levels Pyongyang uses to express its anger. At the bottom of the list is fiery rhetoric in state-controlled media. That may then progress into shorter-range missile launches of the type seen Wednesday.

After that would come longer-range tests, including ICBMs, like the one fired from the capital area of Pyongyang on Thursday, or intermediate-range missiles like the ones that the North has sent hurtling over the Japanese archipelago in the past, deep into the Pacific. At the top of the list is a test detonation of one of their nuclear devices.

Each new level cranks up already soaring tensions on the Korean Peninsula, where hundreds of thousands of troops from both sides and the United States square off along the world’s most heavily armed border.

And while bloodshed these days is fairly rare (2010, by contrast, saw 50 South Koreans killed in attacks), this many troops operating with these types of powerful weapons in a relatively confined geographic area increases the chances that a miscalculation could lead to a clash.

One of the 23 missiles fired Wednesday landed close enough to a South Korean island for air raid sirens to sound and residents there to evacuate to underground shelters. Another landed 26 kilometers from the Koreas’ shared border.

For months, South Korean and U.S. officials have been expecting North Korea to test a nuclear bomb. It would be the seventh such test, and be met with a push at the United Nations for even stronger sanctions. Whether Russia and China, nations that have traditionally protected the North, will allow further U.N. punishment is unclear.

It’s important to note that each North Korean weapons test — whether of the shortest range missile or a nuclear bomb — inches Pyongyang’s scientists closer to their ultimate goal of a fully functional nuclear arsenal capable of targeting every city on the U.S. mainland.

But another North Korean nuclear test could also be a risk for the North itself, Jeffery Robertson, an associate professor of diplomatic studies at Yonsei University, wrote recently.

“Over the last thirty years, a rough balance has been established between South Korea’s vastly superior conventional capacity (and its alliance with the U.S.) and North Korea’s nascent nuclear weapons capacity,” he said.

But should South Korea pursue its own independent nuclear weapons capacity, “this balance ceases to exist.”

Don’t expect that to stop North Korea in the short term, though, as Pyongyang looks to use its full array of weapons to get what it wants.

Reuters: Musk launches massive layoffs at Twitter

Twitter Inc will tell employees by email on Friday about whether they have been laid off, temporarily closing its offices and preventing staff access, following a week of uncertainty about the company's future under new owner Elon Musk.

The social media company said in an email to staff it would alert employees by 9 a.m. Pacific time on Friday about staff cuts.

"In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global workforce on Friday," said the email sent on Thursday, seen by Reuters.


Musk, the world's richest person, is looking to cut around 3,700 Twitter staff, or about half the workforce, as he seeks to slash costs and impose a demanding new work ethic, according to internal plans reviewed by Reuters this week.

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twitter said in the email that its offices would be temporarily closed and all badge access suspended in order "to help ensure the safety of each employee as well as Twitter systems and customer data."

The company said employees who were not affected by the layoffs would be notified via their work email addresses. Staff who had been laid off would be notified with next steps to their personal email addresses, the memo said.

Some employees tweeted their access to the company's IT system had been blocked and feared whether that suggested they had been laid off.

A class action lawsuit was filed on Thursday against Twitter by its employees, who argued the company was conducting mass layoffs without providing the required 60-day advance notice, in violation of federal and California law.

The lawsuit also asked the San Francisco federal court to issue an order to restrict Twitter from soliciting employees being laid off to sign documents without informing them of the pendency of the case.

Musk has directed Twitter's teams to find up to $1 billion in annual infrastructure cost savings, according to two sources familiar with the matter and an internal Slack message reviewed by Reuters.

He had already cleared out the company's senior ranks, firing its chief executive and top finance and legal executives. Others, including those sitting atop the company's advertising, marketing and human resources divisions, departed throughout the past week.

Musk's first week as Twitter's owner has been marked by chaos and uncertainty. Two company-wide meetings were scheduled, only to be canceled hours later. Employees told Reuters they were left to piece together information through media reports, private messaging groups and anonymous forums.

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva