North Korea says it will reopen cross-border communications

North Korea says it will reopen cross-border communications

North Korea announced that it will reopen a cross-border communication channel with South Korea, officials in Seoul said, another sign of easing animosity between the rivals after a year that saw the North conduct nuclear bomb and missile tests and while the Koreas and Washington issue threats of war. The announcement, which came on a North Korean state radio address monitored by Seoul, follows South Korea offered high-level talks with North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month’s Winter Olympics in the South. North Korean leader Kim Jong suggested that the North might send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Games.

Although the development is a positive sign that the Koreas are working toward improved ties, there’s no guarantee that tensions will ease. There have been repeated attempts in recent years by the rivals to talk, and even when they do meet, the efforts often end in recriminations or stalemate.

Britain reportedly con-siders joining Pacific trade group post-Brexit

Britain is considering whether to try and join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as the country considers its trade future outside of the European Union.

The prospect of Britain joining the distant trade group could help revitalize TPP as well as bolster exports in the U.K. after Brexit, the report said. However, news of London reportedly entering negotiations with the group has been met with skepticism from trade experts.

“Nothing is excluded in all of this,” U.K. Trade Minister Greg Hands told the Financial Times in an interview. “With these kinds of plurilateral relationships, there doesn’t have to be any geographical restriction.” The TPP’s future appeared in tatters last year when President Donald Trump honored a campaign pledge and pulled out of the trade pact. However, the remaining 11 members — including Australia, Mexico and Japan — agreed in November to pursue a successor deal.

Concerns mount as Venezuela closes in on petro, an oil-backed cryptocurrency

A cryptocurrency backed by oil would be a big first, a cryptocurrency backed by a sovereign government would be even bigger.

But while Venezuela claims it is going to do both very soon with the petro, experts are doubtful the country has the capabilities or the characteristics to achieve its goal. The petro will be dogged by a major question, “Is it redeemable, in other words, can you take physical delivery?” notes finance Professor Stephen McKeon of the University of Oregon.

The strength of any currency backed by a commodity, regardless of whether it is physical or digital, is that holders must believe they can exchange it for the actual commodity. When the U.S. was on the gold standard, individuals could bring their dollars to a bank and exchange them for physical gold.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro says each petro will be worth the equivalent of one barrel of oil, and he has specifically designated the oil from field one of the Ayacucho block in the Orinoco region of Venezuela, which contains more than 5 billion barrels.

Macron’s China visit points to Beijing’s shifting relationship with Europe

As French President Emmanuel Macron wrapped up his first official visit to China, there are signs that Beijing’s relationship with Europe is shifting.

The French politician’s first official visit to China is notable for coming as other leaders of the Western world struggle domestically. In fact, Macron appeared as “perhaps the leader of Europe at this very moment” said Philippe le Corre, a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who herself has a China trip set for the end of January, continues to face questions about Brexit and her own leadership; Germany’s Angela Merkel is struggling to form a coalition; and the U.S. is facing political turmoil under Donald Trump’s administration.

For his part, Macron is “clearly eyeing” a “special strategic partnership” with China, said Alicia Garcia-Herrero, chief economist for Asia Pacific at French bank Natixis, pointing to China’s consumers grow hungrier for what France has to offer.

During his campaign, the French leader took a “slightly negative” approach to China by pushing for a European-level investment protection agency, but that development seems to have lost ground, Garcia-Herrero said.

Seoul announces free public transport to battle rising smog

Seoul officials waived public transport fees during commute hours as the dust remained above 50 micrograms per cubic meter — a level that’s widely considered harmful. Authorities have also limited car use for public employees, closed 360 parking lots and reduced construction work on government-funded projects.

Those policies were first introduced last year when Seoul’s air quality index exceeded 179 micrograms per cubic meter of fine dust, the highest level among global metropolitan cities after New Delhi in India. Experts say the country’s use of coal and diesel has resulted in increasing air pollution, exacerbated by smog from China.

WEF 2018 co-chaired entirely by women….

For the first time in the 48-year history of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the 2018 summit in Davos, Switzerland was chaired entirely by women. The move, is a response to previous criticism about the prominence of men in the running of the event, has seen seven women on 2018’s meeting. The co-chairs of the event included International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde, IBM Chief Executive Ginni Rometty and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

PM Abbasi hopeful of economic opportunities after World Economic Forum engagements

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said that the country has engaged business leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) and expressed his optimism that the engagements will help “generate billions of dollars worth business potential in Pakistan. Addressing a news conference in Davos, the prime minister said: “Pakistan has engaged business leaders, company leaders in telecom, automotive technology and healthcare sectors” at the event.

Earlier Abbasi met ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi, Trafigura CEO Jermy Weir, Puma Energy CEO Pierre Eladari, and Renault-Nissan Chairman Carlos Ghosn. Renault-Nissan Company had announced that the company will bring its latest products and technological know-how to Pakistan.

Angelina Jolie’s ‘heartbreaking’ visit to Syrian refugee camp in Jordan

Hospitality of host countries is “an example to the world” when solidarity with refugees is in short supply, says the star.

Angelina Jolie has described her visit to a camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan as “heartbreaking”.

The US actress was surrounded by children as she spoke in a patch of muddy space between hundreds of rows of caravans in the desert camp of Zaatari, less than an hour’s drive from the Syrian border. During what is her fifth visit to Jordan, Jolie said: “It is heartbreaking to return to Jordan and witness the levels of hardship and trauma among Syrian refugees as this war enters its eighth year.” Jolie met refugee families and teenage girls in a UN-run community programme. “I’m very proud. You’re very strong, all of you,” Jolie, a special envoy for the UN refugee agency, told them.

Almost 5.5 million displaced Syrians are hosted by Jordan, Lebanon and other neighbouring countries as the long-running civil war continues. Jolie praised the hospitality of the host countries and hailed it “an example to the world at a time when solidarity with refugees is in short supply”. The UN refugee agency received only half the requested funding for the Syrian crisis last year and only 7% so far this year, the actress said. She added: “Humanitarian aid is not a long-term solution. No one wants to get off aid more than a Syrian family.

“A viable political settlement is the only way to create the conditions for Syrians to be able to return to their homes, to end the human suffering and the strain on host countries.” Currently Jordan hosts more than 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, according to the UN refugee agency, and more than 78,000 live in Zaatari.

Switzerland chosen as ‘best country in the world’: report

Switzerland was chosen for a second year in a row as the “best country in the world” by the 2018 Best Countries report

Switzerland isn’t making headlines this week solely because it’s hosting the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos.

The Alpine country was selected as “the best country in the world” by the 2018 Best Countries report, which is based on a survey of more than 21,000 “informed elites”, business leaders, and the general public.

The report takes 80 countries and ranks them based on attributes deemed relevant “to the success of a modern nation” such as economic openness, quality of life, and influence.

The report was carried out by the digital news service US News & World Report, marketing company Y&R and the Wharton Business School at University of Pennsylvania.

Switzerland made it to the top for the second year in a row for its low unemployment rate, skilled labour force, and stable and prosperous economy. The country is among the top for establishing a business, good “global citizenship”, entrepreneurship, and quality of life.

Six out of the 10 top countries ranked by the report are European. Below are the runner-ups to Switzerland:

#2: Canada

The North American country was again chosen as the second “best country in the world”.

Canada is regarded as a high-tech industrial society with a high standard of living. The home of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ranks among the best in the world at caring for its citizens because of its generous social safety nets and affordable healthcare and education.

#3: Germany

Germany jumped to position number three from number four this year for its economic prowess, increasing influence in the international community and affluent workforce.

Europe’s most populous country ranked as the most entrepreneurial country and was ranked the fifth most powerful country for its large economy and contributions to international aid.

#4: United Kingdom

The UK took the number four spot this year despite concerns about the country’s global influence post-Brexit. The birthplace of Shakespeare ranked high in the areas of cultural influence, entrepreneurship, and global power.

#5: Japan

The Asian nation remains the fifth best country according to the report. This year, Japan took the second place in entrepreneurship for the resources it gives its citizens to start new businesses.

#6: Sweden

Sweden stayed at spot number six this year. The Scandinavian country is best known in the world sphere for its commitment to human rights, public service, and sustainability.

The Nordic country ranks among the best for quality of life, global citizenship, and open for business.

#7: Australia

Australia jumped up one spot from number eight to number seven this year. The wealthy Pacific nation has a high gross domestic product and per capita income. Australian cities usually rank high in global livability survey. The country ranked fifth for its quality of life.

#8: United States

Despite its drop from the seventh spot this year, the United States remains the most powerful nation in the world in terms of military spending and foreign policy influence.

The North American nation also ranks high in cultural influence and entrepreneur-ship.

#9: France

France stayed put at number nine as well from its rank in 2017. The western European country ranked second in cultural influence and fourth in heritage.

#10: Netherlands

The tenth spot was taken by the Netherlands this year. The country boasts a high quality of life, a stable economy with a trade surplus, and a highly-mechanised agricultural industry.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny ‘released without charge’

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was arrested during anti-government protests, has been released without charge, his lawyer said.

Mr Navalny was arrested after a brief appearance at rally in Moscow demonstrating against Vladimir Putin and calling for a boycott of the March presidential election that he said would be rigged.

His lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, told Reuters that her client had been released without charge but would have to face court at a later date.

If charged with violating laws on holding demonstrations, Mr Navalny could face up to 30 days in jail.

Mr Navalny,41, who has been barred from running in the election and whose office was raided by police, urged his backers to continue to demonstrate despite being detained.

Mr Navalny’s YouTube channel broadcast footage of police arriving in his office on Sunday morning, which authorities said was in response to a “bomb threat”.

The opposition leader claims support for 65-year-old Mr Putin is exaggerated and artificially maintained by state media.

Mr Navalny has little chance of influencing the election which Mr Putin is expected to win comfortably but his ability to mobile crowds of mostly young people using social media has infuriated the Kremlin.

The numbers attending Sunday’s protests across Russia appeared lower than previous demonstrations staged by Mr Navalny.

Video footage posted on social media showed Mr Navalny appear on Moscow’s main thoroughfare, Tverskaya Street, a few hundred yards from the Kremlin where he joined several hundred supporters taking part in the protest, which the authorities had said was illegal.

He had only walked a short distance when he was surrounded by police officers wearing helmets who grabbed him to the ground on the pavement and then dragged him feet first into the patrol vehicle.

 

China urges Trump to drop ‘Cold War mentality’

Beijing criticised the “outdated Cold War mentality” of the United States after President Donald Trump named China among threats to American values in his State of the Union address.

In recent weeks, US officials have laid the groundwork for a strategic pivot that envisions a world of renewed great power competition with the likes of Russia and China.In his State of the Union address to Congress and the nation, Trump described Moscow and Beijing as challenging “our interests, our economy, and our values”.

In Beijing, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said the common interests of the US and China “far outweigh our differences and disagreements”. A steady relationship with the United States is “also in the interest of the whole world,” Li said after meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

“China hopes that the United States will work with us and continue to view this relationship in a positive overall perspective,” he said. But Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying had more critical words.

“We hope the US side can abandon the outdated Cold War mentality to work for the shared goal with China of properly managing our differences and upholding the steady development of China-US relations,” she told a regular press briefing.

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