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Wednesday, August 30


Wednesday, August 30

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il surveys military drills


South Korean military chief visits US after North Korean missiles fly over Japan

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il surveys military drills
Photo: KCNA

South Korean Defence Minister Song Young-moo will be welcomed to the Pentagon today—one day after North Korea fired a ballistic missile over northern Japan in its most provocative test to date.

Mr Song and US counterpart Jim Mattis are expected to discuss plans to accelerate the deployment of the THAAD missile defence system. THAAD is designed to intercept short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles on re-entry, including outside the Earth’s atmosphere—a unique characteristic. The batteries, of which about five are believed to exist, would have monitored yesterday’s launch closely. Whether the lack of an interception was deliberate or the result of system limitations is unknown.

Missing from today’s talks is Japan—it finds itself in the firing line and lacks the THAAD system or a credible offensive military. A 40-minute phone call between Shinzo Abe and Donald Trump yesterday produced messages of defiance; a UN Security Council meeting late on Tuesday night is expected to echo this.

As tensions reach crisis point, one country has the power to de-escalate them: China. While a foreign ministry spokesperson admitted the situation is at “tipping point”, she also signalled an opportunity “to reopen peace talks”. Between bombastic rhetoric and errant missiles, such prospects seem dim.


Grand Islamic pilgrimage begins but Qataris left out

Pilgrims flock to Mecca each year for Hajj
Photo: Amel Pain/EPA

1.4 million pilgrims will converge on Mecca today for the official beginning of Hajj, but noticeably few of them will be Qatari.

Qatari access to the Islamic pilgrimage has been a point of contention with Saudi Arabia for months. The issue seemed resolved two weeks ago when Saudi King Salman temporarily reopened the border and ordered seven planes to pick up pilgrims in Doha. Although 400 Qataris successfully entered the Kingdom, disputes over flight permits and security arrangements left 800 remaining pilgrims stranded in Doha.

With the exception of previous Iranian boycotts, impeded access to the Hajj is virtually unprecedented in modern Islamic history. The complications with Qatar mark an especially sharp reversal for a region that only months ago considered implementing a common currency.

The increasingly heated falling out between Qatar and the countries blockading it means that even if the current crisis is resolved, a return to the status quo ante is likely out of reach.

The widening divide between traditionalist states like Saudi Arabia and backers of political Islam in Turkey and Qatar threatens to break apart America’s traditional security coalition and create a new axis of conflict in an already tumultuous region.

Delve deeper: Qatar’s Islamist ties targeted by Saudi-led demands


British prime minister pushes trade interests in Japan

British Prime Minister Theresa May poses for a picture with Japan’s Shinzo Abe
Photo: Kyodo

Theresa May is in Japan today. Accompanied by a delegation of business executives, Britain’s leader is determined to show her hosts that trading with Britain will remain worthwhile after Brexit.

Japanese companies have investments in Britain to protect, such as $52 billion worth in Nissan and Hitachi. Unsurprisingly, Japanese businesses would prefer the UK to remain in the customs union, as trade barriers would increase the cost of exporting goods to the continent.

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To ease these concerns, Ms May is plugging a future free trade deal between the two countries. But Japanese firms will watch the London-Brussels talks closely, as they will  partly determine how much the costs to British business—and those based in the UK—will increase in the years to come.

In spite of remaining uncertainties, May’s visit is an opportunity — before any official trade talks can begin in 2019 — to lay the foundations for creating an investment climate advantageous for foreign businesses. If she can emerge successful, this could later facilitate trade negotiations with other countries.


UN chief in Gaza, Lebanon’s peacekeepers, protests in Puerto Rico

UN Chief Antonio Guterres will travel to Gaza
Photo: Doron Horowitz/Flash90

UN chief Antonio Guterres will visit Gaza today, although he is not expected to meet with Hamas officials. Guterres has called for Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority to ease a blockade on Gaza. The PA, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, has restricted the supply of electricity to the coastal enclave as part of a struggle for power.

The UN Security Council will vote on renewing the 10,500-strong peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, which has been stationed in the country’s south since 1978. The US has called on the Council to strengthen the force’s mandate in a bid to combat arms smuggling operations by Hezbollah—which is involved in the Syrian civil war. Permanent members France and Russia have resisted such calls. It’s expected the mission will be extended by a year.

Trade union members in Puerto Rico are expected to take to the streets in protest of a plan to reduce the pensions of retirees. The US territory owes $70 billion to creditors.

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