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At UN: US, Partners Call for North Korea Sanctions Enforcement 

The United States and several allies on Thursday issued a joint condemnation of North Korea’s most recent ballistic missile launches and urged the thorough implementation of U.N. sanctions. 

“It is extremely important that member states take the necessary steps to implement the sanctions in their jurisdictions or risk providing a blank check for the DPRK regime to advance a weapons program,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, using the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name. 

She spoke to reporters at the United Nations flanked by her counterparts from Albania, Brazil, Britain, France, Ireland, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. All but Japan are current security council members. 

This is the second time in 10 days that the council has met behind closed doors to discuss North Korea’s missile launches. 

Since the start of the year, North Korea has conducted two tests of what it described as a hypersonic missile, launched a pair of ballistic missiles from a train, and fired a pair of tactical guided missiles from an airport in Pyongyang. 

“We will continue to speak out against the DPRK’s destabilizing actions as affronts to regional and international peace and security,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “We call on the DPRK to cease these unlawful actions and return to dialogue.” 

North Korea has ignored repeated offers by the United States to restart negotiations, saying Washington must first drop its “hostile policy.” 

Thomas-Greenfield also called on the U.N. Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea to support sanctions designations on individuals and entities contributing to Pyongyang’s illicit weapons programs, including five individuals whom the U.S. proposed to be sanctioned last week. 

Diplomats said Thursday that China and Russia were holding up the designations. The committee must unanimously agree to new designations. 

US Travel Advisory Dismays Canadians Amid Omicron Wave

Canadians, quietly prideful about their relatively high rates of COVID-19 vaccination and face mask compliance, were taken aback last week when the United States declared the country unsafe and advised Americans not to travel across their northern border.

“That the U.S. government … has placed Canada at the top COVID threat level for Americans to travel is baffling to me,” said Grant Perry, who worked with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline on Canada’s H1N1 response.

“COVID is rampant across the continent, but Canada is not the worrying location,” Perry said in an interview.

The January 10 advisory on the U.S. State Department website, saying bluntly, “Do not travel to Canada due to COVID-19,” marked a sharp reversal of fortune after months in which Canada had fared much better than its southern neighbor against the virus.

With 78% of the population fully vaccinated compared with 63% in the U.S. and far less resistance to the use of face masks, a certain complacency — even smugness — had set in in some quarters before the arrival of omicron.

Even today, per capita caseloads and hospitalizations are lower than in the United States, but medical experts are no less alarmed by a surge of cases that is now straining the country’s government-run health care system.

‘Neck deep,’ but promising signs

“Canada is currently neck deep in omicron right now and our health care system is stretched,” said Isaac Bogoch, a medical expert with the University of Toronto department of medicine who is frequently interviewed by Canadian news outlets.

“There may be some very early signs that this wave is peaking in some regions,” Bogoch added. “All parts of the country have some form of mitigation effort, ranging from mask use indoors to vaccine certificate required for nonessential businesses.”

Canada’s seven-day average of new cases peaked at more than 46,000 on January 10, the day of the U.S. advisory, and currently stands at more than 26,000. Those figures compare with previous peaks of fewer than 9,000 daily new cases in January and April 2021, according to a Google database.

The same database shows hospitalizations at about 9,700 and rising, compared with a previous peak of fewer than 4,800.

The strain has led to calls for systemic reform of the health care system, which was struggling in some regions even before the pandemic.

In the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia, there has been a crushing doctor shortage for years. Provincial Premier Tim Houston led his Conservative Party to an upset victory last year, at least in part on promises to address the health care crisis, even though the province was experiencing few COVID-19 cases at the time.

Nigel Rawson, a senior fellow at the pro-market Fraser Institute think tank, told VOA: “The current COVID situation yet again demonstrates the fragility of the health system, which normally runs at full capacity because governments insist on paring the numbers of health care providers, hospital beds and most other services to the bone, while being overburdened with administrators.”

‘They are doing their best’

Taylor James, a recovering COVID-19 sufferer living in the western city of Calgary, has a more forgiving view of the government’s dilemma.

“As much as I am not a fan of any of our current elected leaders, I do think for the most part they are doing their best,” said James, a truck driver who gave up his previous job as a city transit driver to reduce his exposure to the coronavirus. “The problem comes in when they try and please both sides. You have anti-mask, anti-vax on one side and pro-mask, pro-vax on the other.

“They can’t win,” he said. “Go all out and shut everything down and you make one group rebel. Or do the opposite and have an overloaded health care system and cause the professionals running that to leave or worse.”

James believes, ironically, that he contracted the disease on a work trip to the United States.

“Can’t say 100% that I caught it in the USA. However, it is very likely, seeing as how everywhere I was in Canada still had mandatory mask and vaccination mandates to enter,” he said.

У п’ятницю в Україні подекуди сніг і поривчастий вітер – синоптики

Погоду найближчої доби визначатимуть атмосферні фронти із заходу Європи

ОПЗЖ вважає санкції США проти Козака і Волошина результатом домовленостей Зеленського з Блінкеном і сенаторами

20 січня Міністерство фінансів США запровадило санкції проти чотирьох осіб, серед яких депутати Тарас Козак і Олег Волошин із ОПЗЖ

Росія не надає Україні інформацію про здоров’я кримського політв’язня Приходька – омбудсмен

Днями дочка Олега Приходька заявила про катування батька в Росії

Київ: у поліції перевірили інформацію про мінування будівлі на Банковій, вибухівки не знайшли

«Перевірка завершена, жодних вибухонебезпечних предметів не виявлено»

US Air Travel Safety Questions Linger Amid 5G Rollout

An unresolved disagreement between U.S. wireless communications carriers and commercial airlines over the rollout of new 5G networks continues to generate confusion about whether air travel is safe in the United States. 

On Wednesday, AT&T and Verizon, the two largest providers of mobile voice and internet service in the U.S., began turning on new wireless towers across the United States, making the ultra-fast 5G spectrum available to consumers, primarily in the more densely populated parts of the country.

Up until the last moment, there was a dispute between the carriers and major U.S. airlines over whether or not the new service would be deployed near airports. This caused a handful of international carriers, including British Airways, Lufthansa, All Nippon, Japan Airlines and Emirates, to announce that they would suspend some service to the United States until the issue was resolved.

Emirates President Tim Clark described the situation as “utterly irresponsible,” speaking earlier this week on CNN.

By Thursday morning, most of the concern about international flights had been resolved, but lingering questions remain for the United States’ vast system or regional air travel.

Interference with landing instruments possible

The 5G C-band spectrum signal used for mobile communications – for which mobile carriers paid more than $80 billion in an auction last year – is similar to the signal that commercial airlines use to measure the altitude of planes landing during inclement weather. Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration have expressed concern that some aircraft devices, called radar altimeters, could experience interference from the new 5G signals, creating dangerous conditions.

On Wednesday, in a deal brokered by the Biden administration, mobile carriers said they would delay activating 5G towers near airport runways, leaving about 10% of the planned rollout inactive. In addition, the FAA specifically cleared several kinds of radar altimeters, including those commonly used in the Boeing 777, saying the data shows that 5G signals do not interfere with their systems.

In a press release Wednesday, the FAA said its new approvals “allow an estimated 62 percent of the U.S. commercial fleet to perform low-visibility landings at airports where wireless companies deployed 5G C-band.”

Regional airports waiting for answers

While the FAA’s steps to clear large passenger planes for continued use following the 5G rollout have helped prevent problems at large airports, the new technology is causing concern about safety at regional airports across the country, which are served by a wide variety of passenger planes, typically smaller than those that fly into major hub airports.

As of Wednesday, the FAA had not updated guidance for many smaller planes. Because there were relatively few severe weather systems in the U.S. on Wednesday, that did not translate into major delays. However, industry representatives said that it was only a matter of time before challenging weather conditions would begin causing problems.

Faye Malarkey Black, the president and CEO of the regional Airline Association, used Twitter to air her concerns about the situation, saying, “Situational update: 0% of the regional airline fleet has been cleared to perform low visibility landings at #5G impacted airports if/when weather drops below minimums. Today’s fair weather is saving rural America from severe air service disruption.”

Not a new problem

The battle between the airlines and mobile carriers is particularly frustrating to many in the U.S., because it is a problem that has been successfully resolved in other countries around the world. China, the U.K., and France, for example, have managed to roll out 5G service without any significant impact on air travel. That was achieved by agreements between the parties that limited the number of cell towers near airports and the power levels at which they operate.

In a warning to its members, the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations noted that, in the U.S., “The power levels and proximities of the 5G signals are at higher power levels than any other deployment currently in use elsewhere in the world.”

The situation in the U.S. was complicated by the fact that the slice of spectrum being used for 5G services is slightly different here than it is in Europe. In the U.S., mobile carriers bought the rights to the band between 3.7 and 3.98 gigahertz, putting their signals somewhat closer to the 4.2 to 4.4 GHz being used by airlines than the European mobile carriers, which are limited to a range of 3.4 to 3.8 GHz.

The issue was raised during a press conference that U.S.President Joe Biden held at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. After being asked whether his administration bore part of the blame for confusion about flight safety, Biden characterized it as a fight between two private entities, over which the federal government exerts limited control.

“The fact is that you had two enterprises — two private enterprises — that had one promoting 5G and the other one are airlines,” Biden said. “They’re private enterprises. They have government regulation, admittedly.”

“And so, what I’ve done is pushed as hard as I can to have 5G folks hold up and abide by what was being requested by the airlines until they could more modernize over the years so that 5G would not interfere with the potential of the landing,” he said. “So, any tower — any 5G tower within a certain number of miles from the airport should not be operative.”

Bureaucratic dysfunction

The confusion resulting from the 5G rollout this week is at least partly attributable to dysfunction within the federal bureaucracy. Analysts say lines of authority between agencies responsible for auctioning off the rights to the wireless spectrum and those charged with managing conflicts are unclear. 

The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for spectrum auctions, but it is the Federal Aviation Administration, a part of the Department of Transportation, which makes decisions about airline safety. Further complicating matters is that the agency in charge of mediating spectrum disputes, which is located within the Commerce Department, was without a director for two-and-a-half-years, until President Biden’s nominee was confirmed last week.

That situation has led to multiple problems in the rollout of new communications technology over the years, including a recent battle during the Trump administration over whether new spectrum auctions would interfere with the satellite-based Global Positioning System

US Jobless Benefit Claims Increase Sharply

First-time claims for U.S. unemployment compensation increased sharply last week to their highest level since October 2021, suggesting that some employers may be laying off workers as the omicron variant of the coronavirus surges throughout the country and curtails business operations. 

The Labor Department said Thursday that 286,000 jobless workers filed for benefits, up 55,000 from the week before, surpassing the 256,000 figure recorded in mid-March, 2020, when the coronavirus first swept into the United States and businesses started laying off workers by the hundreds of thousands.

In recent weeks, the U.S. has been recording 750,000 or more new cases of the coronavirus every day, largely because of the highly transmissible omicron variant. In some instances, that has played havoc with sectors of the world’s biggest economy.

For the most part, employers have been retaining their workers and searching for more as the United States continues its rapid economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s unemployment rate dropped in December to 3.9%, not far above the five-decade low of 3.5% recorded before the pandemic took hold.  

Many employers are looking for more workers, despite about 6.9 million workers remaining unemployed in the United States.  

At the end of November, there were 10.4 million job openings in the U.S., but the skills of available workers often do not match what employers want, or the job openings are not where the unemployed live. In addition, many of the available jobs are low-wage service positions that the jobless are shunning.  

U.S. employers added only 199,000 new jobs in December, a lower-than-expected figure. But overall, 6.3 million jobs were created through 2021 in a much quicker recovery than many economists had originally forecast a year ago.  

The U.S. economic advance is occurring even as President Joe Biden and Washington policymakers, along with consumers, are expressing concerns about the biggest increase in consumer prices in four decades — 7% at an annualized rate in December. 

The surging inflation rate has pushed policymakers at the country’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, to move more quickly to end the asset purchases they had used to boost the country’s economic recovery, by March rather than in mid-2022 as originally planned.  

Minutes of the Fed board’s most recent meeting showed that policymakers are eyeing a faster pace for raising the benchmark interest rate that they have kept at near 0% since the pandemic started. 

The Federal Reserve has said it could raise the rate, which influences the borrowing costs of loans made to businesses and consumers, by a 0.25 percentage point three times this year to tamp down inflationary pressures. 

Meanwhile, government statistics show U.S. consumers are paying sharply higher prices for food, meals at restaurants, gasoline and for new and used vehicles.

Денісова повідомила про намір відвідати Саакашвілі у лютому

Напередодні Людмила Денісова заявила, що Саакашвілі потребує психологічної та фізичної реабілітації, і що його стан погіршується

Стрілкове родовище зможе забезпечувати Генічеськ газом ще 50 років – «Чорноморнафтогаз»

Генічеськ – райцентр Херсонської області, розташований біля адмінкордону з анексованим Росією Кримом

США запровадили санкції проти чотирьох українців, серед яких – соратник Медведчука

Вашингтон періодично запроваджує санкції або розширює список обмежень у відповідь на дестабілізаційні дії щодо США і їхніх союзників

Суддю, ексслідчого та експрокурора підозрюють у незаконному переслідуванні учасника Революції гідності – ДБР

За даними слідства, слідчий з прокурором повідомили протестувальнику про підозру, а суддя незаконно взяла його під домашній арешт

Заарештованого в Криму Джеляла тримають в «ізоляції від зовнішнього світу» – Полозов

Раніше Наріману Джелялу продовжили арешт до 23 лютого 2022 року

Explainer: What Are US Military Options to Help Ukraine?

President Joe Biden is not planning to answer a further Russian invasion of Ukraine by sending combat troops. But he could pursue a range of less dramatic yet still risky military options, including supporting a post-invasion Ukrainian resistance.

The rationale for not directly joining a Russia-Ukraine war is simple. The United States has no treaty obligation to Ukraine, and war with Russia would be an enormous gamble, given its potential for expanding in Europe, destabilizing the region, and escalating to the frightening point of risking a nuclear exchange.

Doing too little has its risks, too. It might suggest an acquiescence to future Russian moves against other countries in eastern Europe, such as the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, although as NATO members those three have security assurances from the United States and the rest of the alliance.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is in Europe this week to speak with officials in Ukraine, consult NATO allies and then meet Friday with his Russian counterpart, has asserted “an unshakable U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” But he has not publicly defined the limits of that commitment.

How far, then, might the United States and its allies go to help Ukraine defend itself if the buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s borders leads to an invasion?

 

WHY NOT CONTEST A RUSSIAN INVASION?

Going to war against Russia in Ukraine could tie up U.S. forces and resources for years and take a heavy toll in lives with an uncertain outcome at a time when the Biden administration is trying to focus on China as the chief security threat.

On Wednesday, Biden said it was his “guess” that Russian President Vladimir Putin will end up sending forces into Ukraine, although he also said he doesn’t think Putin wants all-out war. Biden did not address the possibility of putting U.S. ground troops in Ukraine to stop an invasion, but he previously had ruled that out.

Biden said he is uncertain how Putin will use the forces he has assembled near Ukraine’s border, but the United States and NATO have rejected what Moscow calls its main demand — a guarantee that the Western alliance will not expand further eastward. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and also intervened in eastern Ukraine that year to support a separatist insurgency. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting there.

The stakes in Ukraine are high — militarily and politically. Lawmakers have intensified their criticism of Biden’s approach to Putin. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, accused Biden of “handwringing and appeasement,” but he has not urged sending combat troops. Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, called for an urgent “nonstop airlift” of military equipment and trainers into Ukraine.

Philip Breedlove, a retired Air Force general who served as the top NATO commander in Europe from 2013 to 2016, said in an interview he does not expect or recommend that the United States send combat troops into Ukraine. Instead, Washington and its allies should be looking for ways to help Ukraine defend its own airspace and territorial waters, where it faces overwhelming Russian superiority, he said.

“Those are things we should be considering as an alliance and as a nation,” he said. “If Mr. Putin is allowed to invade Ukraine and there were to be little or no consequence, we will see more of the same.”

 

WHAT ARE BIDEN’S OTHER OPTIONS?

Given its clear military inferiority, Ukraine could not prevent Russian forces from invading. But with help from the United States and others, Ukraine might deter Putin from acting if he were convinced that the costs would be too high.

“The key to thwarting Russian ambitions is to prevent Moscow from having a quick victory and to raise the economic, political, and military costs by imposing economic sanctions, ensuring political isolation from the West, and raising the prospect of a prolonged insurgency that grinds away the Russian military,” Seth Jones, a political scientist, and Philip Wasielewski, a former CIA paramilitary officer, wrote in a Jan. 13 analysis for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Biden administration has suggested it is thinking along similar lines.

 

HOW IS THE U.S. SUPPORTING UKRAINE’S MILITARY NOW?

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby says there are about 200 National Guard soldiers in Ukraine to train and advise local forces, and on Tuesday he said there are no plans to augment their number. There also are an undisclosed number of U.S. special operations troops providing training in Ukraine. Kirby wouldn’t say whether the U.S. soldiers would pull out in the event of a Russian invasion, but he said the Pentagon would “make all the appropriate and proper decisions to make sure our people are safe in any event.”

The administration said Wednesday it is providing a further $200 million in defensive military aid to Ukraine. Since 2014 the United States has provided Ukraine with about $2.5 billion in defense assistance, including anti-tank missiles and radars.

 

HOW MIGHT THE U.S. HELP UKRAINE AFTER AN INVASION?

It’s not clear. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that the U.S. would “dramatically ramp up” support for Ukraine’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty.” But he did not spell out how that might be done.

The administration says it also is open to sending military reinforcements to NATO allies on the eastern front who want American reassurance.

Jones and Wasielewski say that in addition to implementing severe sanctions against Russia in the event of an invasion, the United States should provide Ukraine with a broad range of military assistance at no cost. This would include air defense, anti-tank and anti-ship systems; electronic warfare and cyber defense systems; small arms and artillery ammunition, and other items.

“The United States and NATO should be prepared to offer long-term support to Ukraine’s resistance no matter what form it ends up taking,” they wrote. This aid could be delivered overtly with the help of U.S. troops, including special operations forces, or it could be a CIA-led covert action authorized by President Biden, they added.

That would carry the risk of putting U.S. personnel in the line of fire — and drawing the United States into the very combat it’s determined to avoid.

Мільйони людей помирають через стійкість інфекцій до антибіотиків – дослідження

Cтійкість до антибіотиків є «медичною проблемою, масштаби якої щонайменше такі ж великі, як у ВІЛ та малярії, і потенційно набагато більші»

British Police Arrest 2 in Texas Synagogue Attack Investigation

British police on Thursday arrested two men as part of an investigation into a hostage taking at a synagogue in Texas.

“Two men have been arrested this morning in Birmingham and Manchester,” counter terrorism police said.

The daylong siege at the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, about 16 miles northeast of Fort Worth, Texas, ended in gunfire on Saturday night with all four hostages released unharmed and the death of the suspect.

 

 

Security Scanners Across Europe Tied to China Government, Military

At some of the world’s most sensitive spots, authorities have installed security screening devices made by a single Chinese company with deep ties to China’s military and the highest levels of the ruling Communist Party.

The World Economic Forum in Davos. Europe’s largest ports. Airports from Amsterdam to Athens. NATO’s borders with Russia. All depend on equipment manufactured by Nuctech, which has quickly become the world’s leading company, by revenue, for cargo and vehicle scanners.

Nuctech has been frozen out of the U.S. for years due to national security concerns, but it has made deep inroads across Europe, installing its devices in 26 of 27 EU member states, according to public procurement, government and corporate records reviewed by The Associated Press.

The complexity of Nuctech’s ownership structure and its expanding global footprint have raised alarms on both sides of the Atlantic.

A growing number of Western security officials and policymakers fear that China could exploit Nuctech equipment to sabotage key transit points or get illicit access to government, industrial or personal data from the items that pass through its devices.

Nuctech’s critics allege the Chinese government has effectively subsidized the company so it can undercut competitors and give Beijing potential sway over critical infrastructure in the West as China seeks to establish itself as a global technology superpower.

“The data being processed by these devices is very sensitive. It’s personal data, military data, cargo data. It might be trade secrets at stake. You want to make sure it’s in right hands,” said Bart Groothuis, director of cybersecurity at the Dutch Ministry of Defense before becoming a member of the European Parliament. “You’re dependent on a foreign actor which is a geopolitical adversary and strategic rival.”

He and others say Europe doesn’t have tools in place to monitor and resist such potential encroachment. Different member states have taken opposing views on Nuctech’s security risks. No one has even been able to make a comprehensive public tally of where and how many Nuctech devices have been installed across the continent.

Nuctech dismisses those concerns, countering that Nuctech’s European operations comply with local laws, including strict security checks and data privacy rules.

“It’s our equipment, but it’s your data. Our customer decides what happens with the data,” said Robert Bos, deputy general manager of Nuctech in the Netherlands, where the company has a research and development center.

He said Nuctech is a victim of unfounded allegations that have cut its market share in Europe nearly in half since 2019.

“It’s quite frustrating to be honest,” Bos told AP. “In the 20 years we delivered this equipment we never had issues of breaches or data leaks. Till today we never had any proof of it.”

‘It’s not really a company’

As security screening becomes increasingly interconnected and data-driven, Nuctech has found itself on the front lines of the U.S.-China battle for technology dominance now playing out across Europe.

In addition to scanning systems for people, baggage and cargo, the company makes explosives detectors and interconnected devices capable of facial recognition, body temperature measurement and ID card or ticket identification.

On its website, Nuctech’s parent company explains that Nuctech does more than just provide hardware, integrating “cloud computing, big data and Internet of Things with safety inspection technologies and products to supply the clients with hi-tech safety inspection solution.”

Critics fear that under China’s national intelligence laws, which require Chinese companies to surrender data requested by state security agencies, Nuctech would be unable to resist calls from Beijing to hand over sensitive data about the cargo, people and devices that pass through its scanners. They say there is a risk Beijing could use Nuctech’s presence across Europe to gather big data about cross-border trade flows, pull information from local networks, like shipping manifests or passenger information, or sabotage trade flows in a conflict.

A July 2020 Canadian government security review of Nuctech found that X-ray security scanners could potentially be used to covertly collect and transmit information, compromise portable electronic devices as they pass through the scanner or alter results to allow transit of “nefarious” devices.

The European Union put measures in place in late 2020 that can be used to vet Chinese foreign direct investment. But policymakers in Brussels say there are currently no EU-wide systems in place to evaluate Chinese procurement, despite growing concerns about unfair state subsidies, lack of reciprocity, national security and human rights.

“This is becoming more and more dangerous. I wouldn’t mind if one or two airports had Nuctech systems, but with dumping prices a lot of regions are taking it,” said Axel Voss, a German member of the European Parliament who works on data protection. “This is becoming more and more a security question. You might think it’s a strategic investment of the Chinese government.”

The U.S. — home to OSI Systems, one of Nuctech’s most important commercial rivals — has come down hard against Nuctech. The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the U.S. National Security Council, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, and the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security all have raised concerns about Nuctech.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration told AP in an email that Nuctech was found ineligible to receive sensitive security information. Nuctech products, TSA said, “are not authorized to be used for the screening of passengers, baggage, accessible property or air cargo in the United States.”

In December 2020, the U.S. added Nuctech to the Bureau of Industry and Security Entity List, restricting exports to them on national security grounds.

“It’s not just commercial,” said a U.S. government official who was not authorized to speak on the record. “It’s using state-backed companies, with state subsidies, low-ball bids to get into European critical infrastructure, which is civil airports, passenger screening, seaport and cargo screening.”

 

In Europe, Nuctech’s bids can be 30-50% below their rivals’, according to the company’s competitors, U.S. and European officials and researchers who study China. Sometimes they include other sweeteners like extended maintenance contracts and favorable loans.

In 2009, Nuctech’s main European competitor, Smiths Detection, complained that it was being squeezed out of the market by such practices, and the EU imposed an anti-dumping duty of 36.6% on Nuctech cargo scanners.

“Nuctech comes in with below market bids no one can match. It’s not a normal price, it’s an economic statecraft price,” said Didi Kirsten Tatlow, and co-editor of the book, China’s Quest for Foreign Technology. “It’s not really a company. They are more like a wing of a state development drive.”

Nuctech’s Bos said the company keeps prices low by manufacturing in Europe. “We don’t have to import goods from the U.S. or other countries,” he said. “Our supply chain is very efficient with local suppliers, that’s the main reason we can be very competitive.”

Nuctech’s successes abound. The company, which is opening offices in Brussels, Madrid and Rome, says it has supplied customers in more than 170 countries and regions. Nuctech said in 2019 that it had installed more than 1,000 security check devices in Europe for customs, civil aviation, ports and government organizations.

In November 2020, Norwegian Customs put out a call to buy a new cargo scanner for the Svinesund checkpoint, a complex of squat, grey buildings at the Swedish border. An American rival and two other companies complained that the terms as written gave Nuctech a leg up.

The specifications were rewritten, but Nuctech won the deal anyway. The Chinese company beat its rivals on both price and quality, said Jostein Engen, the customs agency’s director of procurement, and none of Norway’s government ministries raised red flags that would have disqualified Nuctech.

“We in Norwegian Customs must treat Nuctech like everybody else in our competition,” Engen said. “We can’t do anything else following EU rules on public tenders.”

Four of five NATO member states that border Russia — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland — have purchased Nuctech equipment for their border crossings with Russia. So has Finland.

Europe’s two largest ports — Rotterdam and Antwerp, which together handled more than a third of goods, by weight, entering and leaving the EU’s main ports in 2020 — use Nuctech devices, according to parliamentary testimony.

Other key states at the edges of the EU, including the U.K., Turkey, Ukraine, Albania, Belarus and Serbia have also purchased Nuctech scanners, some of which were donated or financed with low-interest loans from Chinese state banks, according to public procurement documents and government announcements.

Airports in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Athens, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Zurich, Geneva and more than a dozen across Spain have all signed deals for Nuctech equipment, procurement and government documents, and corporate announcements show.

Nuctech says it provided security equipment for the Olympics in Brazil in 2016, then President Donald Trump’s visit to China in 2017 and the World Economic Forum in 2020. It has also provided equipment to some U.N. organizations, procurement records show.

Rising concerns

As Nuctech’s market share has grown, so too has skepticism about the company.

Canadian authorities dropped a standing offer from Nuctech to provide X-ray scanning equipment at more than 170 Canadian diplomatic missions around the world after a government assessment found an “elevated threat” of espionage.

Lithuania, which is involved in a diplomatic feud with China over Taiwan, blocked Nuctech from providing airport scanners earlier this year after a national security review found that it wasn’t possible for the equipment to operate in isolation and there was a risk information could leak back to China, according to Margiris Abukevicius, vice minister for international cooperation and cybersecurity at Lithuania’s Ministry of National Defense.

Then, in August, Lithuania approved a deal for a Nuctech scanner on its border with Belarus. There were only two bidders, Nuctech and a Russian company — both of which presented national security concerns — and there wasn’t time to reissue the tender, two Lithuanian officials told AP.

“It’s just an ad hoc decision choosing between bad and worse options,” Abukevicius said. He added that the government is developing a road map to replace all Nuctech scanners currently in use in Lithuania as well as a legal framework to ban purchases of untrusted equipment by government institutions and in critical sectors.

Human rights concerns are also generating headwinds for Nuctech. The company does business with police and other authorities in Western China’s Xinjiang region, where Beijing stands accused of genocide for mass incarceration and abuse of minority Uyghur Muslims.

Despite pressure from U.S. and European policymakers on companies to stop doing business in Xinjiang, European governments have continued to award tens of millions of dollars in contracts — sometimes backed by European Union funds — to Nuctech.

Nuctech says on its Chinese website that China’s western regions, including Xinjiang, are “are important business areas” for the company. It has signed multiple contracts to provide X-ray equipment to Xinjiang’s Department of Transportation and Public Security Department.

It has provided license plate recognition devices for a police checkpoint in Xinjiang, Chinese government records show, and an integrated security system for the subway in Urumqi, the region’s capital city. It regularly showcases its security equipment at trade fairs in Xinjiang.

“Companies like Nuctech directly enable Xinjiang’s high-tech police state and its intrusive ways of suppressing ethnic minorities. This should be taken into account when Western governments and corporations interface with Nuctech,” said Adrian Zenz, a researcher who has documented abuses in Xinjiang and compiled evidence of the company’s activities in the region.

Nuctech’s Bos said he can understand those views, but that the company tries to steer clear of politics. “Our daily goal is to have equipment to secure the world more and better,” he said. “We don’t interfere with politics.”

Complex web of ownership

Nuctech opened a factory in Poland in 2018 with the tagline “Designed in China and manufactured in Europe.” But ultimate responsibility for the company lies far from Warsaw, with the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council in Beijing, China’s top governing body.

Nuctech’s ownership structure is so complex that it can be difficult for outsiders to understand the true lines of influence and accountability.

Scott Kennedy, a Chinese economic policy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that the ambiguous boundaries between the Communist Party, state companies and financial institutions in China — which have only grown murkier under China’s leader, Xi Jinping — can make it difficult to grasp how companies like Nuctech are structured and operate.

“Consider if the roles were reversed. If the Chinese were acquiring this equipment for their airports they’d want a whole variety of assurances,” Kennedy said. “China has launched a high-tech self-sufficiency drive because they don’t feel safe with foreign technology in their supply chain.”

What is clear is that Nuctech, from its very origins, has been tied to Chinese government, academic and military interests.

Nuctech was founded as an offshoot of Tsinghua University, an elite public research university in Beijing. It grew with backing from the Chinese government and for years was run by the son of China’s former leader, Hu Jintao.

Datenna, a Dutch economic intelligence company focused on China, mapped the ownership structure of Nuctech and found a dozen major entities across four layers of shareholding, including four state-owned enterprises and three government entities.

Today the majority shareholder in Nuctech is Tongfang Co., which has a 71% stake. The largest shareholder in Tongfang, in turn, is the investment arm of the China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC), a state-run energy and defense conglomerate controlled by China’s State Council. The U.S. Defense Department classifies CNNC as a Chinese military company because it shares advanced technologies and expertise with the People’s Liberation Army.

Xi has further blurred the lines between China’s civilian and military activities and deepened the power of the ruling Communist Party within private enterprises. One way: the creation of dozens of government-backed financing vehicles designed to speed the development of technologies that have both military and commercial applications.

In fact, one of those vehicles, the National Military-Civil Fusion Industry Investment Fund, announced in June 2020 that it wanted to take a 4.4% stake in Nuctech’s majority shareholder, along with the right to appoint a director to the Tongfang board. It never happened — “changes in the market environment,” Tongfeng explained in a Chinese stock exchange filing.

But there are other links between Nuctech’s ownership structure and the fusion fund.

CNNC, which has a 21% interest in Nuctech, holds a stake of more than 7% in the fund, according to Qichacha, a Chinese corporate information platform. They also share personnel: Chen Shutang, a member of CNNC’s Party Leadership Group and the company’s chief accountant serves as a director of the fund, records show.

“The question here is whether or not we want to allow Nuctech, which is controlled by the Chinese state and linked to the Chinese military, to be involved in crucial parts of our border security and infrastructure,” said Jaap van Etten, a former Dutch diplomat and CEO of Datenna.

Nuctech maintains that its operations are shaped by market forces, not politics, and says CNNC doesn’t control its corporate management or decision-making.

“We are a normal commercial operator here in Europe which has to obey the laws,” said Nuctech’s Bos. “We work here with local staff members, we pay tax, contribute to the social community and have local suppliers.”

But experts say these touchpoints are further evidence of the government and military interests encircling the company and show its strategic interest to Beijing.

“Under Xi Jinping, the national security elements of the state are being fused with the technological and innovation dimensions of the state,” said Tai Ming Cheung, a professor at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

“Military-civil fusion is one of the key battlegrounds between the U.S. and China. The Europeans will have to figure out where they stand.” 

 

 

Головне на ранок: звернення Зеленського, запобіжний захід Порошенку, COVID-19

Про ці та інші новини – в огляді Радіо Свобода

США дозволили країнам Балтії передати Україні американську зброю

Естонія зможе передати Україні протитанкові ракетні комплекси Javelin, а Литва – переносні зенітно-ракетні комплекси Stinger

Republican Filibuster Blocks US Voting Bill

Voting legislation that Democrats and civil rights groups argued is vital for protecting democracy was blocked Wednesday by a Republican filibuster, a setback for President Joe Biden and his party after a raw, emotional debate.

Democrats were poised to immediately pivot to voting on a Senate rules change as a way to overcome the filibuster and approve the bill with a simple majority. But the rules change was also headed toward defeat, as Biden has been unable to persuade two holdout senators in his own party, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, to change the Senate procedures for this one bill.

“This is not just another routine day in the Senate, this is a moral moment,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.

The initial vote was 49-51, short of the 60 votes needed to advance over the filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., voted no for procedural reasons so Democrats can revisit the legislation.

The nighttime voting capped a day of piercing debate that carried echoes of an earlier era when the Senate filibuster was deployed in lengthy speeches by opponents of civil rights legislation.

Voting rights advocates are warning that Republican-led states nationwide are passing laws to make it more difficult for Black Americans and others to vote by consolidating polling locations, requiring certain types of identification and ordering other changes.

Vice President Kamala Harris presided, able to cast a potentially tie-breaking vote in the 50-50 Senate.

Democrats decided to press ahead despite the potential for defeat at a tumultuous time for Biden and his party. Biden is marking his first year in office with his priorities stalling in the face of solid Republican opposition and the Democrats’ inability to unite around their own goals. But the Democrats wanted to force senators on the record — even their own party’s holdouts — to show voters where they stand.

“I haven’t given up,” Biden said earlier at a White House news conference.

Sinema and Manchin have withstood an onslaught of criticism from Black leaders and civil rights organizations, and they risk further political fallout as other groups and even their own colleagues threaten to withdraw campaign support.

Schumer contended the fight is not over and he ridiculed Republican claims that the new election laws in the states will not end up hurting voter access and turnout, comparing it to Donald Trump’s “big lie” about the 2020 presidential election.

The Democrats’ bill, the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, would make Election Day a national holiday, ensure access to early voting and mail-in ballots — which have become especially popular during the COVID-19 pandemic — and enable the Justice Department to intervene in states with a history of voter interference, among other changes. It has passed the House.

Both Manchin and Sinema say they support the legislation but are unwilling to change Senate rules. With a 50-50 split, Democrats have a narrow Senate majority — Harris can break a tie — but they lack the 60 votes needed to overcome the GOP filibuster.

Instead, Schumer put forward a more specific rules change for a “talking filibuster” on this one bill. It would require senators to stand at their desks and exhaust the debate before holding a simple majority vote, rather than the current practice that simply allows senators to privately signal their objections.

But even that is expected to fail because Manchin and Sinema have said they are unwilling to change the rules on a party-line vote by Democrats alone. 

Europe, US Aim to Ensure Mali Doesn’t Become First of Many Dominoes

Frustrations are growing in and around Mali, where regional and international efforts to speed up the interim government’s transition to democratic elections appear to be at a dead end. Still, key players from Europe and the United States are refusing to give up, warning what is at stake goes much beyond Mali itself. More from VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin.

Biden Confirms Harris Would Be Running Mate in 2024 

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that Vice President Kamala Harris would be his running mate in the 2024 presidential election if he stood for office again.

“She’s going to be my running mate,” Biden said of Harris during a press conference held to mark the first year of his presidency.

In mid-December, Harris said she and Biden had not yet discussed the 2024 election, amid speculation she might not be in the running for the White House if Biden chose not to stand again.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, when asked about the possibility of Biden, 79, running again, Harris said: “I don’t think about it, nor have we talked about it.”

Harris, the first woman and first Black and Asian American person ever sworn in as vice president, initially seemed to be the heir apparent.

But her halo has slipped amid negative press alleging dysfunction among her staff, doubt on her standing within the administration and her frustrations over thorny assignments, such as minority voting access and the migration crisis at the southern border.

Biden defended Harris’ record on tackling voting rights, saying, “I did put her in charge. I think she’s doing a good job.” 

Biden is pressing Congress to pass two major bills broadening access to the ballot box, placing more onerous conditions on states attempting to change voting laws and protecting election officials from undue influence.

Democrats and voting rights activists have championed the measures as a necessary response to Republican efforts to restrict voting, especially among Black and Latino Americans.

State Department Recap: January 13-19, 2022

Here’s a look at what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top diplomats have been doing this week:

US, Russia, Ukraine

The United States will continue relentless diplomatic efforts to prevent Russia from further military aggression against Ukraine while providing defensive security assistance to Kyiv, Blinken said Wednesday.

“We’ve offered Russia a clear choice, a choice between pursuing dialogue and diplomacy on the one hand or confrontation and consequences on the other hand,” Blinken told VOA in an interview.

Standing with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at a press conference, Blinken added that U.S. security assistance deliveries to Ukraine were ongoing and that more were scheduled “in the coming weeks.”  

VOA Interview: Blinken Warns Russia of Action Should Moscow Invade Ukraine

After Ukraine, Blinken heads to Berlin on Thursday and then to Geneva, where he will hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday. Blinken will urge Russia to “take immediate steps to de-escalate” tensions along its border with Ukraine. The hastily arranged trip for the top U.S. diplomat comes one week after U.S.-Russia talks in Geneva reached an impasse.

Blinken, Lavrov to Meet in Geneva Friday to Continue Diplomacy Over Ukraine

US-North Korea

In response to North Korea’s recent missile launches, the United States called on Pyongyang to “cease its unlawful and destabilizing activities.”

In a call with South Korean and Japanese officials, Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, “expressed concern” about the missile launches and urged Pyongyang to return to dialogue “without preconditions.”

North Korea’s launch on Monday, which South Korea said involved short-range ballistic missiles, marked North Korea’s fourth weapons test this month as Pyongyang flexes its military muscle while ignoring the United States’ offers of talks. 

North Korea Confirms Latest Missile Test

US-Iran 

U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley will meet with Barry Rosen, an American who was taken hostage in Iran in 1979, while giving “full attention” to and seeking the release of all wrongfully detained American citizens in Iran, a State Department spokesperson told VOA.

Rosen began a hunger strike in Vienna on Wednesday to press U.S. and Iranian officials to come to an agreement about the release of Americans and other Westerners of Iranian origin jailed by Tehran. He hopes the move will help to break a monthslong stalemate in indirect talks between the two sides.

Former US Hostage in Iran to Begin Hunger Strike to Press for Prisoner Deal

Humanitarian assistance to Afghans 

The United States said it would continue to support the people of Afghanistan, as Washington delivers more doses of COVID-19 vaccine and provides humanitarian funds.

He highlighted the United States’ latest contribution of more than $308 million toward humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people during a virtual meeting with U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths. The U.N. said it is “in a race against time” to prevent millions of Afghans from falling deeper into a severe economic and humanitarian crisis.

UN Chief: ‘Race Against Time’ to Save Afghan Economy