S. Korean villagers protest plans for anti-missile system

SEOUL — After South Korea announced on Wednesday a rural southern county would be the site of an advanced American missile defence battery — the planned deployment of which has angered China and North Korea — thousands of local residents demonstrated against the plan.

Villagers rallied under a sweltering sun to condemn the choice of their county, Seongju, 217km southeast of Seoul, for the so-called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system, known as THAAD, The New York Times reported.

The residents fear it will threaten their health and ruin their agricultural economy, but South Korea and the US say the missile and radar system is needed to defend the country and American forces stationed here against North Korean missiles.

The Times, quoting the Yonhap news agency, said the protesters chanted “We oppose THAAD with our lives!” and held banners that bore the same slogan.

Local political leaders, wearing red headbands, wrote the same vow in blood after cutting their fingers, a form of protest that has a long history in South Korea. Some of the politicians and protest leaders also began a hunger strike, it said.

“If we lose our precious land to THAAD, we will be ashamed before our ancestors and posterity,” the report quoted Kim Hang-gon, who oversees the Seongju county government, as telling the crowd.

The protesters included aging melon farmers. The county, which has a population of about 50,000, provides 60 per cent of all melons sold in South Korea.

The Times said the opposition could bode ill for the American and South Korean militaries, which hope to install the THAAD battery by late next year. In the past, villagers have joined forces with environmental and political activists to initiate prolonged and often violent campaigns against new US military bases.

Most South Koreans support the country’s military alliance with the US, citing the need to deter the North, it said.

But many also fear that any expansion of the American military presence could worsen tensions with the North and with China, and in some cases could damage local ways of life.

After South Korea and the US announced the agreement to deploy THAAD last Friday, local news reports mentioned Seongju and several other towns as possible sites. Protests against THAAD have since been held in those communities. Some demonstrators expressed concern that hosting the system could make their towns high-priority targets for North Korea in the event of war.

AFP said the deployment, when completed by the end of next year, will be able to cover up to two-thirds of South Korea from North Korean missiles. It will also protect key industrial facilities, including nuclear power plants and oil depots.

Quoting Yonhap, it said although military bases in the South will also be protected by the missile system, Seoul and its surrounding areas will be left out. This could mean the military deploying more US Patriot anti-air and missile defence systems in these areas.

North Korea threatened on Monday to take “physical action” against the planned deployment of the powerful anti-missile system. The move has also angered Beijing and Moscow, which both see it as a US bid to boost military might in the region.

China said the move would “seriously damage” regional security in northeast Asia.

Chinese national jailed for hacking US defence firms

LOS ANGELES — A Chinese national was sentenced on Wednesday in Los Angeles to three years and 10 months in prison for hacking American defence contractors to steal trade secrets on Beijing’s behalf.

Su Bin, 51, who went by the names Stephen Su and Stephen Subin, was also ordered by a federal judge to pay a US$10,000 (RM39,000) fine.

Su in March had admitted in a plea agreement with US authorities to conspiring with two unnamed military officers in China to try to acquire plans for F-22 and F-35 fighter jets and Boeing’s C-17 military transport aircraft.

According to court documents, the trio managed to steal sensitive data by hacking into the computer networks of major defence contractors and sent the information to China

Su, who ran a China-based aviation and aerospace company from Canada, was arrested in July 2014 and after waiving extradition was transferred to the United States to face charges.

Washington and Beijing have repeatedly clashed over what the US describes as rampant cyberspying by the Chinese government on US industry.

The Chinese government is believed to have infiltrated computers belonging to a US banking regulator, which employees then tried to cover up, a Congressional report released on Wednesday said.

The computer system at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which guarantees US banking deposits, was “hacked by a foreign government, likely the Chinese” the document said.

According to the report, which was released by the Republican-led Science, Space and Technology Committee, the agency then tried to hide the attacks.

“The FDIC’s repeated unwillingness to be open and transparent with the committee’s investigation raises serious concerns about whether the agency is still attempting to shield information from production to Congress,” the report said.

According to the committee, the first hacking was detected in 2010, and the problem reared its head again in 2011 and 2013.

“In all, 12 workstations were compromised and 10 FDIC servers were penetrated and infected by a virus created by a hacker,” the committee said.

“Even the former chairwoman’s computer” had been compromised, it added.

National Security Agency chief Michael Rogers told Congress in April that Chinese hackers remain “engaged in activity directed against US companies.”

He said that the “jury is still out” on whether China then passes the intel to the business world.

FDIC chairman Martin Gruenberg will be grilled before the committee on Thursday. Interim inspector general Fred Gibson will also testify. — AFP

Lessons in love: Chinese university teaches seduction

TIANJIN — Chinese university tutor Xie Shu’s core subject is Communist ideology, but he has diversified from the dry annals of political doctrine for a more hands-on subject: Seduction.

His “Theory and Practice of Romantic Relations” course at Tianjin University includes lectures on pick-up techniques, self-presentation and how to entice the opposite sex.

“How should you react when you’ve been rejected?” Xie asked his young charges at one lecture, in a cafe on the campus in the northern port city. “Clearly, don’t throw the roses you bought the girl at her — keep calm.”

Tianjin is China’s first university to integrate such a course into its curriculum, giving students credit towards their degrees for attending — an indication of slowly loosening social norms in China after decades of more straight-laced traditionalism.

It also demonstrates officials’ increasing concern over the social acumen of the country’s youth — many of whom grew up as pampered “Little Emperors” without brothers or sisters as a result of China’s one-child policy.

“The generation of only children lack relationships with people their own age,” China’s most prominent sexologist Li Yinhe said, adding: “A boy who has a sister might have a better understanding of how to interact with a girl.”

At the cafe Xie flipped through Powerpoint slides, showing the boys how to “upgrade their look” by avoiding “tank tops and long shorts”, and urging them not to “ask girls questions like it’s a police investigation”.

“Be courteous. Serve the girl before yourself. But don’t go overboard, either,” he advised.

His female charges, he suggested, should run their hands through their hair and “look the boy in the eye even if they feel intimidated”.

Sitting towards the back of the pack, Zijun Qian, 23, who has never had a relationship, diligently typed up the teacher’s advice on her laptop.

Xie occupies a particularly Chinese academic role as a fudaoyuan, who instructs students in Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought as well as social counselling, but his authority on the issue of relationships is open to question.

He is single, he admitted sheepishly. “I don’t have a wife or a girlfriend,” he laughed, “which is a bit embarrassing”.

Many young Chinese entering university have little practical experience in matters of the heart.

Conservative attitudes are widespread and most simply have not had time to date in high school, due to the intensive study necessary to pass the dreaded “gaokao” exam, which determines college placement and is seen as a key to one’s future.

Parents generally frown upon relationships that might distract their children from their all-important studies.

As soon as students graduate from university, however, the opposite becomes true: Families often push for them to marry quite quickly — preferably before 27 for girls and before 30 for boys — prolonged singledom can prompt taunts, concerns, and unrelenting pressure.

Even as China’s economy boomed between 2000 and 2015, transforming material wealth, the average age for first time sexual intercourse declined only fractionally, from 22.7 years to 22 years, according to a study from the Renmin University Institute of Sexology.

“The Chinese are reserved. This is why when students begin a relationship, they’re certainly enthusiastic, but they’re especially clueless,” said Cang Jingnuan, an author who writes on gender relations.

For many parents, the ideal son-in-law is one capable of providing material comfort to their daughter, particularly in the form of an apartment.

“Thanks to its high-speed development of the past 30 years, China is not only in a state of economic transition, but also a romantic one,” said Pan Xingzhi, a high-profile Chinese relationship counsellor.

The Tianjin programme is the brainchild of Wang Rui, 23, the co-founder of a student social club at the university.

“Some students are desperate to have an experience while in university, at any cost, no matter with whom,” she said. “But we teach a correct take on love.” — AFP

Japan palace denies emperor’s wish to abdicate

TOKYO — Emperor Akihito has no plans to step down, the imperial household insisted, denying reports the 82-year-old wants to abdicate, in what would be an extraordinary move for a more-than 2,600-year-old royal line.

The country’s establishment was thrown into tumult after respected public broadcaster NHK — citing palace sources — said Akihito wanted to pass the throne to his son.

Any such abdication — the first in 200 years — would be a huge shock to a country where the revered royal family symbolises stability and continuity.

Observers say NHK and Kyodo News, which separately carried a similar report, would be careful before committing on such an explosive story, and would certainly have strong sourcing.

But the Imperial Household Agency, the government body that runs royal affairs, offered a categorical denial.

“It is absolutely not true,” Vice Grand Steward Shinichiro Yamamoto told reporters on Wednesday.

The emperor “has long refrained from discussing systematic issues out of consideration for his majesty’s constitutional position,” he said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declined to comment, hinting at the sensitivity of the matter, as did Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman.

Akihito’s role is strictly limited to one of “symbol of the state” under a constitution imposed by the United States in the aftermath of Japan’s defeat in World War II.

A court official told AFP the agency has not been discussing a possible abdication by the emperor.

However, Japan’s top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun daily reported that the government has been secretly reviewing such a possibility.

There is no provision in the Japanese constitution for an abdication, apparantly a mechanism to prevent the arbitrary replacement of emperors.

Akihito’s father Hirohito, in whose name Japan’s military campaigns of the 20th century were prosecuted, was treated as a living god until defeat in 1945.

The throne, which Japan claims to be one of the world’s oldest, is held in deep respect by much of the public, despite being largely stripped of its mystique and quasi-divine status in the aftermath of the war.

The much admired Akihito, who suffered from numerous health issues, including prostate cancer and heart problems, publicly hinted late last year at his growing limitations in the performance of his ceremonial duties. — AFP

China threatens ‘decisive response’ to provocations

BEIJING — China yesterday threatened a “decisive response” to any provocations in the South China Sea, following an international tribunal ruling against its extensive claims in the disputed area.

“If anyone wants to take any provocative action against China’s security interests based on the award, China will make a decisive response,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.

Earlier, the Philippines urged Beijing to respect the ruling on Tuesday by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that rejected Chinese claims to most of the South China Sea, and said it would raise the issue at a regional summit.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay will attend the two-day Asia-Europe summit, known as ASEM, starting today in Mongolia along with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

“Secretary Yasay will discuss within the context of ASEM’s agenda the Philippines’ peaceful and rules-based approach on the South China Sea and the need for parties to respect the recent decision,” the foreign affairs department said in a statement.

The statement was the strongest response from the Philippines to Tuesday’s verdict declaring that China’s claims to the resource-rich and strategically vital South China Sea had no legal basis.

China vowed to ignore the ruling, saying the UN-backed tribunal had no jurisdiction over the case and accused it of bias.

China on Wednesday also raised the prospect of confrontation in the sea, and threatened to introduce an air defence zone over the sea that would give its military authority over foreign aircraft.

It said the maritime dispute should not be included on the ASEM agenda, with assistant foreign minister Kong Xuanyou insisting the meeting was “not an appropriate venue” to discuss the issue.

In his first comments immediately after the ruling, Yasay said the Philippines welcomed the decision but he did not urge China to respect or abide by it.

Yasay will at ASEM represent President Rodrigo Duterte, who has signalled he wants to avoid a major diplomatic falling-out with China over the issue.

In his first cabinet meeting after being sworn into office on June 30, Duterte said he would not “taunt or flaunt” a favourable ruling and aim for a “soft landing”.

The Philippines filed the legal challenge against China in 2013 under Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino.

Relations between China and the Philippines plummeted over the row.

China claims nearly all of the sea, even waters approaching the coasts of the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.

It justifies its claims by saying it was the first to have discovered, named and exploited the sea, and outlines its claims for most of the waterway using a vague map made up of nine dashes that emerged in the 1940s. — AFP

US launches quiet diplomacy to ease tensions

WASHINGTON — The United States is using quiet diplomacy to persuade the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other Asian nations not to move aggressively to capitalise on an international court ruling that denied China’s claims to the South China Sea, several US administration officials said.

“What we want is to quiet things down so these issues can be addressed rationally instead of emotionally,” said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private diplomatic messages.

Some were sent through US embassies abroad and foreign missions in Washington, while others were conveyed directly to top officials by Defence Secretary Ash Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior officials, the sources said.

“This is a blanket call for quiet, not some attempt to rally the region against China, which would play into a false narrative that the US is leading a coalition to contain China,” the official added.

The effort to calm the waters following the court ruling in The Hague on Tuesday suffered a setback when Taiwan dispatched a warship to the area, with President Tsai Ing-wen telling sailors that their mission was to defend Taiwan’s maritime territory.

The court ruled that while China has no historic rights to the area within its self-declared nine-dash line, Taiwan has no right to Itu Aba, also called Taiping, the largest island in the Spratlys. Taipei administers Itu Aba but the tribunal called it a “rock”, according to the legal definition.

The US officials said they hoped the US diplomatic initiative would be more successful in Indonesia, which wants to send hundreds of fishermen to the Natuna Islands to assert its sovereignty over nearby areas of the South China Sea to which China says it also has claims, and in the Philippines, whose fishermen have been harassed by Chinese coast guard and naval vessels.

One official said new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte remains “somewhat of an unknown quantity” who has been alternately bellicose and accommodating toward China.

Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that ahead of the ruling he had spoken to Carter, who he said told him China had assured the United States it would exercise restraint, and that the US government made the same assurance.

Carter had sought and been given the same assurance from the Philippines, Lorenzana added.

China, for its part, repeated pleas for talks between Beijing and Manila, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying it is time to get things back on the “right track” after the “farce” of the case.

Yesterday, the official newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party said China had shown it can fix territorial issues via talks, pointing to agreement reached with Vietnam over their maritime boundary in the Gulf of Tonkin and ongoing talks with South Korea.

“China is a faithful defender of the principle that countries large and small are equal and has consistently upheld using consultations to resolve border issues on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual respect,” the People’s Daily said in a commentary.

Meanwhile, two Chinese civilian aircraft landed on Wednesday at two new airports on reefs controlled by China in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, a move the State Department said would increase tensions rather than lower them.

“We don’t have a dog in this fight other than our belief … in freedom of navigation,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a briefing on Wednesday.

“What we want to see in this very tense part of Asia, of the Pacific, rather, is a de-escalation of tensions and we want to see all claimants take a moment to look at how we can find a peaceful way forward.”

However, if that effort fails, and competition escalates into confrontation, US air and naval forces are prepared to uphold freedom of maritime and air navigation in the disputed area, a defence official said. — AFP

Steeped in history

an 11-hour plane ride from Kuala Lumpur, sits Istanbul — Turkey’s economic, cultural and historic centre.

Turkey is known for its culture, with deep Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman influences, and a confluence of Christian and Islamic civilisations, most obviously seen in Istanbul.

The beautiful coastal city is split by the deep blue Bosphorus Strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, housing more than 14 million residents.

I arrived at the Ataturk International Airport, brimming with excitement as I only had three days to see the best of Istanbul. As I expected, traffic was heavy.

Istanbul is enjoying spring this time of the year, the best season for travellers as temperatures in the day are between 14ºC and 18ºC with a little sunshine.

With much ground to cover on foot, put on a pair of comfortable shoes and bring along a jacket and shawl to protect yourself from the biting chilly wind. Also to keep warm, just sip tiny cups of hot Turkish black tea or coffee.

Although 99 per cent of the population are Muslims, the common greeting is merhaba, which is “hello” in Turkish, and not assalamualaikum commonly heard in the Arab world.

English-speaking locals are hard to find, except in major shopping areas.

My sightseeing plans kicked-off at the Sultanahmet district, better known as Old City. You can get here via taxi or tram. Here you get to experience most of the colourful historical buildings while navigating stalls along its narrow lanes.

While walking, I caught a worker hand-weaving carpets, a masterpiece that would take years
to complete.

The must-visit sites in the Old City are the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), Topkapi Palace and Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia), located around the
Sultanahmet Square.

The Blue Mosque, the only one in Turkey with six minarets, got its name from the unique blue interior. Built in the early 17th Century under the instructions of Sultan Ahmet I, its interior ceramic carvings and overall architecture remain well-preserved.

It fuses elements of the Byzantine Christian period with classic Islamic architecture. Since this is still a working mosque, I was given blue cotton overalls to wear with a headscarf before entering. Admission is free.

Just a short walk away is the Hagia Sophia museum. This was my favourite spot and I wished I had more time here.

Built in the sixth century, it was once a church, then a mosque before it became a museum. It had influences from the Roman, Ottoman and Byzantium empires that ruled the city in the past, with a mix of Muslim and Christian art.

Its huge dome is 30m in diameter and for more than 1,000 years, was the largest enclosed space in the world. The beautiful mosaics, frescoes and structure was painstakingly restored, having survived wars, fires and an earthquake.

When I was there, certain sections were closed for restoration.

Meanwhile, to experience the height of Ottoman opulence, head to Topkapi Palace. Meticulously decorated, its four courts feature Islamic and Christian relics, rugs and porcelain with some belongings of Prophet Mohammad.

Viewing the entire palace would take a day but sadly I didn’t have the time. Each court has an admission fee.

Once done with the Old City, an interesting thing to do is to get on a Bosphorus cruise from the Golden Horn/Galata Bridge dock to the Black Sea harbour.

I got to rest my tired feet and enjoyed breathtaking views of Istanbul. For a better view, go to the upper deck, but be prepared for wind chills.

No trip is complete without a visit to the Grand Bazaar. Located just across the ferry terminal, the covered marketplace has 4,000 shops selling souvenirs, clothes, rugs, metal ware, pottery, silver jewellery as well as local food and drinks.

Almost every souvenir and decorative pieces sold have the Turkish eye, considered an amulet to ward off evil. That is a good souvenir to bring home.

Istanbul is also popular for spices and you can get them at the Spice/Egyptian Market. Remember to bargain when you shop at these places.

Lastly, I went to Taksim Square, a major tourist and leisure district, famed for its restaurants, shops and hotels.

Known as the heart of modern Istanbul, it is easily accessible by the Istanbul Metro train. I sampled
delicious kebabs, breads and pretzels there.

Turkish people are generally dessert lovers, it is evident as sweet delicacies along with assorted nuts are sold everywhere in the city. I brought home some extra rich Turkish delights and enjoyed them at home while reliving my Istanbul trip.

Calling all singers

SHOW off your vocal talents at Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa’s first singing competition.

Held at its Fun, Interactive and Play outlet, heats begin on Sunday, with a its second round on July 31 and the final heats on Aug 14.

After each heat, singers will be picked to compete in the grand finals on Aug 28.

“The hotel has joined forces with Maverick Media Productions to discover and celebrate the best local talents on the island,” said director of food and beverage M. Kalai.

“The contest is open to solo and duo acts. Entries are free and deadline for submissions is today.

“‘FIP’s Got Talent’ was created as a platform for singers to showcase their talents.”

Each performer is required to prepare two songs — an upbeat and a slow number — in English, Malay
or Mandarin.

At least one of the songs must be sung in English. The aggregate scores from both performances will determine the results.

Competitors will be judged on vocal quality, pitch and tone, as well as stage presence and costume.

The winner will receive RM2,000, a trophy and a three-day, two-night stay at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa in Penang. The winner will also perform at a selected event at the resort.

The runner-up will receive RM1,500, a trophy and a two-day, one-night stay at the resort while third place prize is RM1,000, a trophy and a buffet dinner for two at Spice Market Café.

Other finalists will receive a buffet dinner for two at Spice Market Café.

For details, call 04-888 8650.


Unlimited, a seven-piece band from Indonesia, made their debut in Penang at the Hard Rock Hotel in Batu Ferringhi recently.

The band will be at the cafe until end of next month.

Established in 2011, Unlimited has travelled to Singapore and Thailand to showcase their talents.

Their rendition of songs are mostly classic rock and a touch of retro to bring back the good old days.

“Our forte is a wide range of new and old hits, popular among guests,” said band leader and bassist, Oniel.

“All of us just want to play music and enjoy ourselves in the process. When we play familiar numbers, we can see patrons tapping their feet and singing along.”

Anif is on lead vocals with Mala and Vinar providing female vocals. Hendra is on keyboard, Noky on lead guitar and Anju plays the drums.

“My favourite drummer is Phil Collins, who is also a versatile singer,” said Anju.

Catch Unlimited from 10.15pm daily except on Tuesdays.

Whirlwind Penang trip

Some 40 employees from Singaporean firm TTG Asia Media Pte Ltd had a fun-filled team building programme at the Sunway Georgetown Hotel in Penang recently.

The company is known for publishing travel guides and maps as well as organising travel programmes tailored for leisure, luxury and corporate.

It also organises international trade events, and has offices in major Asian cities.

For many participants, it was their first trip to the island and they had their fill of delicious hawker fare the state is
famous for.

Activities in their team-building programme included following the heritage trail, hitting popular food spots and a visit to Penang Hill.

They also participated in a treasure hunt, visited places with street art and joined in local cultural activities.

Heading the team was managing director Darren Ng.

“Since my last visit here in 1993, it was a pleasant surprise to see how much infrastructure and development has taken place.”

Meanwhile, hotel general manager Ben Ho Chang Peng and his team helped ensure their guests had a
memorable outing.

“We are glad to host our guests from across the causeway.”

Participants were feted to a Hawaiian themed buffet dinner at the hotel, which included a karaoke session and lucky draw.

Also present was state Tourism Development and Culture chairman Danny Law Heng Kiang who belted out several Mandarin songs.

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