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Taiwan Calls for Quick Start to Trade Talks with EU

Taiwan’s government called on the European Union to quickly begin trade talks after the bloc pledged to seek a trade deal with the tech-heavyweight island, something Taipei has long angled for.

The EU included Taiwan on its list of trade partners for a potential bilateral investment agreement in 2015, the year before President Tsai Ing-wen first became Taiwan’s president but has not held talks with Taiwan on the issue since then.

Responding to the EU’s newly announced strategy to boost its presence in the Indo-Pacific, including seeking a trade deal with Taiwan, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday talks should start soon. The European Parliament has already given its backing to an EU trade deal with Taiwan.

“We call on the European Union to initiate the pre-negotiation work of impact assessment, public consultation and scope definition for a Bilateral Investment Agreement with Taiwan as soon as possible in accordance with the resolutions of the European Parliament,” it said.

“As a like-minded partner of the EU’s with core values such as democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law, Taiwan will continue to strengthen cooperation in the supply chain reorganization of semiconductors and other related strategic industries, digital economy, green energy, and post-epidemic economic recovery.”

EU member states and the EU itself have no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan due to objections from China, which considers the island one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of statehood, so any investment deal could be tricky politically for the EU.

But the EU’s relations with China have worsened.

In May, the European Parliament halted ratification of a new investment pact with China until Beijing lifts sanctions on EU politicians, deepening a dispute in Sino-European relations and denying EU companies greater access to the world’s second-largest economy.

The EU has also been looking to boost cooperation with Taiwan on semiconductors, as a chip shortage roils supply chains and shuts some auto production lines, including in Europe. 


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China Targets Canada Goose, Maker of Posh Parkas

Canada Goose, the Canadian maker of parkas it claims are designed to keep wearers toasty warm in the “the coldest places on Earth,” is the latest foreign brand targeted by Chinese regulators.China’s state-controlled CCTV revealed that authorities fined the company’s affiliated operation in Shanghai about $70,000 (450,000 RMB) for “falsely advertising goods or services, deceiving and misleading consumers.”The Shanghai Huangpu District Market Supervision and Administration Department acted against the local outlet of Canada Goose Holdings Inc. of Toronto in June, a move CCTV made public on Sept. 2.The National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System (Shanghai) announced that Shanghai district regulators found that Canada Goose, which was marketing its products as filled with goose down, was using mostly duck to stuff its garments.The regulators said the company advertised that it uses “Hutterite down,” claiming it is the warmest down available. The Hutterites, a religious group in Canada similar to the Amish and Mennonites in the United States, enjoy a reputation for raising high-quality geese and ducks.And while the Canada Goose marketing stresses the warming quality of the down it uses, Shanghai regulators said the place of origin has nothing to do with down’s warmth.On Sept. 8, other state-affiliated media outlets in China began criticizing the expensive parkas that as The New Yorker suggested, broadcast, “I earned the money, and then I spent the money. And now, here I am, warmer than you are.”The Economic Daily published a commentary titled Catching the Lying Canada Goose on Sept. 8, suggesting that Canada Goose had violated China’s law regarding advertising standards. It continued to accuse the company of failing to credit Chinese buyers as savvy consumers who are capable of market research.Calling on Chinese consumers to purchase goods from Chinese brands, the Economic Daily urged Chinese companies to seize the opportunity to expand market share.The newspaper also said Xiji (Shanghai) Trading Co., operator of the Canada Goose Official Flagship Store on China’s online retailer Tmall, had sales of $25.9 million (167 million yuan) in 2020. On the company’s U.S. website, the most expensive Canada Goose parka, the Polar Bear International, costs $1,545. The same coat on the company’s Chinese website costs $1,616 (10,400 yuan).Canada Goose told Canada’s CBC News on Sept. 8 that a technical error on a partner website caused confusion about the down.”Earlier this year, a misalignment of text was found on a partner site, Tmall, in our (Asia-Pacific) region. The error was corrected immediately,” the email to CBC said.The company told CBC that it uses both goose and duck down, depending on the garment. Although Canada Goose is best known for its parkas, it makes other down and non-down products.VOA Mandarin contacted Canada Goose but did not receive a response.Consumer nationalismCanada Goose is not the only company targeted by China’s regulators. Earlier this month, Chinese regulators fined H&M, the Swedish multinational retailer, $51,000, claiming the company misrepresented that some of its products were sold exclusively in China.This came after Chinese netizens attacked H&M in April for a statement expressing concern about allegations of Uyghur forced labor in cotton production in Xinjiang, a stronghold of the Muslim minority.Major e-commerce websites removed H&M products, and dozens of Chinese celebrities ended their endorsement contracts with the company. Brands such as Nike and Adidas, which had expressed similar concerns about the situation in Xinjiang, saw China sales plummet.Experts say that the surge in China’s nationalist sentiment since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with Beijing’s official policy of supporting domestic brands, could lead to consumer nationalism.According to its official website, Canada Goose currently has 21 stores in China, making it one of the fastest expanding brands in the Chinese market. The company has nine stores in Canada.”The campaign fits in with ‘equality’ themes recently emphasized by President Xi. Foreign brands are something like private schools — patronized by higher income Chinese households,” Gary Hufbauer, an economist at Peterson Institute for International Economics, told VOA in an email. ”Domestic brands are seen as the preference of ordinary people.”Analysts believe that as tensions increase between China and the West, Chinese nationalists are equating the purchase of Western brands to approval of Western values. To reject foreign brands is to resist foreign influence, according to the nationalists.Amid the nationalists’ push, Beijing is actively promoting domestic brands and promoting patriotism in the shopping decisions among Chinese consumers.In July, Chinese sports brand Erke became famous overnight after donating about $7.6 million (50 million RMB) to the flood-stricken central Henan province. Chinese netizens heralded the move, and Erke experienced its biggest single-day sales jump.”Foreign companies are facing a less receptive environment in China,” Hufbauer added. ”Official statements are often hostile to the United States, with the result that buying foreign brands, especially U.S. brands, seems unpatriotic to ordinary Chinese.”Caught in the middleCanada Goose entered the Chinese market in 2018 when the relationship between Ottawa and Beijing began to fray. Canada detained Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition request for fraud in December 2018, and China subsequently took custody of two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — over espionage charges. Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison last month.The Chinese Consulate General in Montreal said Sept. 11 that the current Canada Goose action is related only to market regulations and disputed any “political interpretation of the case.”Wang Qing, a professor of marketing and innovation at Warwick Business School in London, told VOA via email that the Chinese government has emphasized the importance of building strong Chinese brands for several years. “We have seen real improvement of domestic brands in terms of quality and brand image,” she said.Yet she argued that currently, the competitive edge between Chinese and Western brands are different.”In the short term, there is no real threat to high-end foreign brands, as most Chinese brands are value for money. They do not compete directly with foreign brands,” she added.Reuters contributed additional reporting. 

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Why North Korea Launched Its Latest Missiles from a Train

North Korea said the ballistic missiles it launched Wednesday were fired from a train, the first time the nuclear-armed country has tested a railway-based launch system.Wednesday’s launch is North Korea’s second in less than a week, as it increases pressure on the United States over stalled nuclear talks.Pictures posted in state media Thursday showed a dark green missile emerging from a railcar parked near a tunnel in a mountainous area, which was filled with orange plumes of smoke and fire from the launch.The drill, which involved North Korea’s Railway Mobile Missile Regiment, is part of a wider effort to enable the country to strike an “intensive blow to the menacing forces in many places at the same time,” according to the Korean Central News Agency.The train-based launch gives North Korea yet another option for launching and protecting its rapidly expanding missile arsenal.North Korea has been pushing hard to develop more ways to launch missiles, whether from the sea, roads, or, now, railways. Analysts say the multipronged strategy is meant to make it more difficult for U.S. and other intelligence agencies to monitor, predict, and detect North Korean launches.“They’re trying everything they can think of,” Joshua Pollack, a researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told VOA.“It’s just one more set of problems for the enemy,” he said.North Korea has long test-fired missiles using a variety of road-mobile launch vehicles, which provide more of an element of surprise than do firings from its formal launch facilities.The North has also unveiled a series of submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Although it does not currently have a submarine capable of deploying such missiles, Pyongyang in 2019 offered its first glimpse of what appeared to be such a vessel under construction.North Korea’s strategyWith its latest train-based launch system, North Korea appears to be pursuing a relatively cheap and reliable way to rapidly transport a small number of missiles in ways that are difficult to detect, said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists.“Russia did it. The U.S. considered it. It makes a ton of sense for North Korea,” Mount said on Twitter.There are drawbacks to such a strategy. North Korea’s rail system is relatively small, old, and in bad shape.“In a crisis, U.S. intelligence will be capable of monitoring this rail network closely to determine its status, chart the movement of trains, and try to distinguish between decoy trains and ones that are nuclear armed,” Mount said.There are similar limitations with North Korea’s other launch systems.Many of North Korea’s road-mobile launchers are massive, featuring as many as 22 wheels. That makes them difficult to maneuver, especially on North Korean roads, many of which are in poor condition.While submarine-launched ballistic missiles would provide North Korea with an unpredictable new capability, some analysts say the threat is exaggerated. That is in part because North Korea apparently has yet to finish building, much less deploy, a single submarine capable of firing the missiles. The vessel being built, some analysts say, appears outdated.Although each launch system has its own vulnerabilities, analysts say the North’s approach looks more dangerous when considered as a whole.By diversifying its launch systems, North Korea is “compounding the demands on a finite number of U.S. sensors,” Mount said.It is not clear whether or when North Korea will deploy its new launch systems, such as the ballistic missile submarine or the train-based launch system. However, it may feel more motivation to do so, as South Korea continues to unveil new weapons.On Wednesday — the same day as the North’s ballistic missile launch — South Korea announced it conducted its first underwater test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. The test makes South Korea only the seventh country with a homegrown one.South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who observed the launch, said his country’s upgraded missile capabilities can be a “sure-fire deterrent to North Korea’s provocation.”Kim Yo Jong, the politically powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, blasted Moon’s remarks. North Korea’s launches, she insisted, were not a “provocation,” but “part of a normal and self-defensive action.”North Korea has repeatedly cited the South Korean military buildup, as well as the presence of U.S. troops, as justification for its own weapons advancement. 

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Hong Kong Security Chief Demands List of Press Group Members

Hong Kong’s security chief called on Wednesday for the city’s main press association to disclose to the public who its members work for and how many of them are students, a day after he accused the group of infiltrating schools. 
The comments by Secretary for Security Chris Tang are likely to deepen concern over a crackdown on civil society in the Asian financial hub after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the former British colony last year. 
Tang, in an interview with the pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao published on Tuesday, said the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association (HKJA), was infiltrating schools to recruit students as journalists. 
The HKJA, responding to Tang, did not specifically mention the infiltration accusation but said that as of Wednesday it had 486 members and 56 of them were students. It does not disclose who its members work for. 
Tang defended his comments on Wednesday saying he was conveying “doubts held by many in society” about the press association. 
“I believe if they openly let the public know the information, it will clear their name,” Tang told reporters outside the city’s Legislative Council, referring to details about who the HKJA members work for. 
The media industry has seen profound changes since Beijing imposed the security law last year. 
Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a staunch critic of Beijing, is in jail and awaiting trial on national security charges. His pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily closed following police raids and the arrest of executives including its chief editor. 
Scores of civic groups and opposition parties have disbanded or scaled back operations over the past year, while some of their members have been arrested and jailed. 
The Professional Teachers’ Union, Hong Kong’s largest, disbanded this month after it was criticized by Chinese state media for “politicizing” education. 
The security law, imposed after months of at times violent pro-democracy protests, punishes what Beijing broadly refers to as subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in jail. 
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly said the law is only aimed at a tiny group of “troublemakers” and all law enforcement actions against individuals or groups “have nothing to do with their political stance or background.” 
Hong Kong’s once-thriving media sector and vibrant civil society have long been features of the city that returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a promise of wide-ranging freedoms not guaranteed on the mainland.  

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Report Points to Success in Global Campaign Against Cluster Bombs

Authors of theCluster Munition Monitor 2021report say great progress toward the elimination of these lethal weapons has been made since the Cluster Ban Treaty came into force in 2010.The Monitor finds there has been no new use of cluster munitions by any of the 110 states that has joined the treaty, nor by the 13 states that have signed but not yet ratified it.  The report says the remaining problems lie with countries that remain outside the convention.The most notable use of cluster munitions last year was by non-member states Armenia and Azerbaijan during their war over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Monitor records 107 casualties from cluster munition attacks in Azerbaijan, the most in any country last year.  Syria has continuously used cluster munitions since 2012.  Human Rights Watch arms advocacy director Mary Wareham says use of the weapons in 2020 was greatly reduced compared to previous years.She says another visible example of the treaty’s success is in the destruction of stockpiles.”We know that at least 1.5 million cluster munitions and more than 178 million submunitions have been destroyed from stocks today,” said Wareham. “That goes to show that this convention is truly lifesaving because every single one of those explosive submunitions could take a life or a limb.”   Globally, the monitor has recorded at least 360 new cluster munition casualties in 2020, caused either from attacks or explosive remnants. The editor of the Monitor, Loren Persi, says children are the main victims of these weapons, which kill and maim civilians indiscriminately.”Almost half of all casualties, 44 percent are children. About a quarter of casualties were women and girls,” said Persi. “But what we found in 2020 was that women and girls were far less likely to survive their incident with cluster munitions. This is something of concern that we will have to look into as more data becomes available.”   The report says many of the 16 countries outside the convention reserve the right to keep making cluster munitions, even though they currently are not doing so.Authors of the report say they are concerned that China and Russia are actively researching, testing, and developing new types of cluster munitions.  China, Russia and the United States have not joined the convention. The three countries are among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

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Nine Hong Kong Activists Sentenced for Taking Part in Banned Vigil

Nine Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were sentenced to several months in jail for taking part in an unauthorized candlelight vigil in observance of the brutal 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on student protesters. The nine defendants include such figures as Albert Ho and Figo Chan, who were sentenced earlier this month to lengthy sentences for taking part in an unauthorized demonstration in October 2019 at the height of anti-government protests triggered by a controversial extradition bill that evolved into a greater demand for greater freedoms for the financial hub.  The nine defendants pleaded guilty earlier this month for attending the 2020 candlelight vigil which authorities banned, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. The vigil had traditionally been held every year to commemorate the June 4,1989 crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests staged in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, where they called for an end to official corruption, political reforms and a more fair and open society. Human rights groups believe as many as several thousand people were killed when tanks rolled through Tiananmen Square to squelch the demonstrations. The nine activists were handed sentences ranging between six and 10 months in jail. Three other defendants who also pleaded guilty for taking part in last year’s vigil received suspended sentences.   The 2019 demonstrations prompted Beijing to approve a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong last year under which anyone believed to be carrying out terrorism, separatism, subversion of state power or collusion with foreign forces could be tried and face life in prison if convicted.  Hong Kong authorities have increasingly clamped down on the city’s pro-democracy forces since the law took effect last year. Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.  

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Central Vietnam Faces Strictest Lockdown to Date

As the delta variant of COVID-19 has surged through Vietnam over the past two months, the country’s central provinces have endured the strictest lockdown measures to date.  As of Tuesday, the country had recorded 624,547 confirmed cases and 15,660 deaths, according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Both foreigners and locals have been complaining that food and water supplies have been mishandled because of restrictions on motorbike delivery people known locally as “shippers.” When the full lockdown was announced three days in advance it caused people to rush to stock up at local markets. ‘Directive 16’On July 22, the government issued “Directive 16,” an official notice to follow stay-at-home orders, for the coastal city of Da Nang.Under the new directive, residents couldn’t leave their homes. Non-essential businesses were shut, food shipping stopped and residents were banned from exiting Da Nang without official written permission.  Ward leaders were mobilized to the various neighborhoods,enforcing curfews and issuing order forms to residents for food and water deliveries.If residents were in green zones,they were allowed out during a two-hour period but only in close proximity to their homes.Some ward bosses provided free groceries consisting of a few different vegetables and instant noodles. Supermarket aisles emptied, and anxiety about a Wuhan-style lockdown was starting to collectively set in. Expatriates and locals have been panicking and venting their frustrations in online forums.  “Why wasn’t there a concrete plan for food supply chains if outbreaks were to get this bad, that’s what I am most angry about,” said Brian Edwards, a British national whose name has been changed for privacy. Because of an existing respiratory problem, Edwards was afraid to go out into crowded spaces such as supermarkets and is relying on local contacts to help him receive food.Shelves at a local minimart are nearly empty after authorities announce a lockdown in Da Nang, Vietnam. August 2021.In August, People line up to get tested for COVID-19 in a Da Nang neighborhood in September, 2021.As of Tuesday, leaving the central provinces of Vietnam requires flight tickets, a COVID-19 test, and a written letter of permission to leave from an embassy or city police authorization. Those leaving need to hire a private car to drive them to Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh, depending on the departing city. The cost is roughly 7.5 million dong ($330) per person if ride-shared, and the journey itself can take up to 24 hours depending on traffic and the time required to pass through provincial checkpoints.  In Facebook groups, people have been lamenting that visa agents are overcharging them for extending their visas or local immigration officials making them pay excessive overstay fines at the airport. Expatriates’ main gripes include lack of communication or miscommunication between the government and foreigners residing in Vietnam and the ever-changing rules. “They (immigration officials) are so corrupt, they will try to make money from you in any way possible,” wrote one foreigner on Facebook about his recent exit experience.  “There is no reliable information, nobody knows what’s going on and they are making it impossible to leave,” said Mark Warth, an Australian national who is desperate to leave Vietnam with his wife. His name has been changed to protect his privacy.  The dearth of reliable information has likely prompted Vietnamese authorities to implement a new hotline for foreigners in Da Nang; however, responses have been either slow or nonexistent. Most expatriates in Da Nang are English teachers. Due to the closure of many local schools and the recent worldwide termination of most foreign teaching contracts with online Chinese schools, many foreign teachers are struggling financially. And the situation for the poorest locals has worsened as the Vietnamese economy slows. “Many local people are starving and haven’t had paid work for a long time,” said Nga Hanh, a local woman working as a consultant in Da Nang whose name has been changed to protect her privacy. Hanh has a brother who works for the government. His salary has been slashed in half since last year, but he says he is one of the lucky ones to still have a job.  “Some of my friends in the tourism industry haven’t worked for over a year,” Hanh said. Her sister, a nurse, has been forced to stay in the hospital and work 24-hour shifts since the latest lockdown began, and she isn’t being paid for overtime. “It must be so terrible for the really poor people here in my country right now. Nobody takes care of the poor people adequately,” said Hanh.  

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N.Korea Fired Possible Ballistic Missile Amid Deadlocked Nuclear Talks

North Korea fired an unidentified projectile from its east coast, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Wednesday, days after testing a long-range cruise missile. Japan’s Coast Guard also said an object that could be a ballistic missile was fired from North Korea. Both the South Korean military and Japanese Coast Guard gave no details. The launch came after North Korea said it successfully  tested a new long-range cruise missile last weekend, calling it “a strategic weapon of great significance.” Analysts say the missile could be the country’s first such weapon with a nuclear capability. Pyongyang has been steadily developing its weapons program amid a standoff over talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in return for U.S. sanctions relief. The negotiations have stalled since 2019. 

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