China lands Chang’e 4 probe on ‘dark’ side of moon; The Chinese probe Chang’e 4 has become the first spacecraft ever to make a successful landing on the far side of the moon. The probe includes a rover to study geology and how the moon formed. China’s Chang’e 4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Thursday morning. The successful “soft landing” marks a groundbreaking development in space exploration, being the first time that a spacecraft to land on the side of the moon that faces away from Earth. Chang’e 4, which is named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, entered its planned orbit to allow the landing on Sunday. It landed in the Von Karman crater, which is in the lunar South Pole’s Aitken Basin, at about 0226 UTC.
Malta opens waters to German NGO rescue boats beset by seasickness closer to shore; Berlin-based Sea-Watch said conditions on the boats had become dangerous, with migrants suffering from severe sea-sickness and post-traumatic stress disorder. The vessels were denied access to ports in Malta and Italy.German migrant rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 sent a desperate plea on Wednesday for a harbor to dock. Conditions aboard the ship have worsened, after 12 days at sea and bad weather conditions on the Mediterranean, Sea-Watch said in a statement posted on Twitter. The Berlin-based NGO vessel rescued 32 migrants on December 22, including four women, three children and four unaccompanied minors, and has not been allowed to reach ports in Malta or Italy. Their extended stay on Mediterranean waters is slowly depleting the ship’s resources and endangering everyone on board, Sea-Watch said.
Taiwan rejects China’s ‘reunification’ proposal; Chinese President Xi says he will “leave no room” for separatist activities, and that Beijing “reserves the option of taking all necessary means,” including the use of force, for the Taiwan “reunification.”Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday that the island’s “unification” with China was not possible under the “one country, two systems” model. She, however, agreed to start a dialogue with Beijing as an exchange between two sovereign states. In a televised speech, Tsai reiterated her government’s stance that Taiwan would not accept Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proposal as Taiwan’s public opinion was opposed. “We have never accepted the 92 consensus because, even as per China’s definition, Taiwan is part of the ‘one country, two systems’ model,” Tsai said. “President Xi’s speech shows that our concerns about his intention to unify Taiwan with China are true.” Speaking at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Wednesday, Xi pledged efforts for the peaceful reunification of Taiwan with China, but did not rule out using military force. Xi described reunification under a “one country, two systems” approach that would ensure “the interests and well-being of Taiwanese compatriots.” All people in Taiwan must “clearly recognize that Taiwan independence would only bring profound disaster to Taiwan,” Xi said in his address. “We are willing to create broad space for peaceful reunification, but will leave no room for any form of separatist activities,” he said. “We make no promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means.”
DR Congo blocks RFI transmissions, withdraws journalist’s accreditation; After curbing access to social media and text messaging services, Congolese authorities on Tuesday withdrew the accreditation of RFI’s correspondent in Kinshasa, Florence Morice, and blocked the radio’s transmissions. Government spokesman Lambert Mende accused Morice of violating electoral law and “the code of good conduct for foreign journalists” covering the December 30 elections. Mende said RFI’s broadcasts had been cut off “in all of Congo’s cities”, accusing the radio of spreading rumours about the election results, which are due on Sunday. “We are not going to let a radio station throw petrol on the flames at a time when we are waiting for the compilation of the provisional results,” Mende added. The elections will determine who succeeds President Joseph Kabila, who has been at the helm of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country for nearly 18 years. Legislative and municipal elections took place alongside the presidential ballot.
Madagascar police fire tear gas to break up post-election protest; In the run-off vote on December 19, Ravalomanana won 44 percent against the winner Andry Rajoelina on 55 percent, according to provisional results. Thousands of Ravalomanana’s supporters gathered in the centre of the capital Antananarivo but were quickly dispersed by police using tear gas, said an AFP reporter at the scene. “We came to erect a giant screen projecting anomalies in the second-round election but we were fired at with tear gas,” Hanitra Razafimanantsoa, a lawmaker from Ravalomanana’s party, told the media. “Respect our choice, we don’t reserve a fraudulent election,” read protest banners held by Ravalomanana’s supporters, who have vowed to hold daily protests. The country’s Constitutional Court is reviewing a petition filed by Ravalomanana challenging Rajoelina’s victory. It is due to hand down its ruling next week. Ravalomanana has denounced what he called “massive fraud” and urged supporters to “defend” their votes.
Eyeing China, US to hold missile drill in Japan’s Okinawa: report; The US military will this year conduct its first ever missile drill around the Japanese island of Okinawa, according to a report Thursday, as Washington seeks to counter an increasingly assertive China. The US military has told its Japanese counterpart it plans to deploy surface-to-ship missiles in the strategically important Okinawa this year for the first such drill by Japan’s key ally, the Sankei Shimbun reported, without citing sources. The drill would involve a mobile rocket launcher seen as a counter-measure to potential attacks from Chinese surface-to-sea ballistic missiles, the paper said. In recent years, Chinese warships have frequently sailed through waters near Okinawa, where the majority of US troops in Japan are based. Experts say China’s increasingly active maritime activities are part of a plan to establish control of waters within the so-called “first island chain” that links Okinawa, Taiwan and the Philippines. Some analysts believe Beijing seeks to end US military dominance in the western Pacific by exerting control of the second island chain that links Japan’s southern Ogasawara island chain, the US territory of Guam, and Indonesia. China’s rapid military build-up has unnerved Asian neighbours, with Japan’s defence chief last year saying China had been “unilaterally escalating” its military activities in the previous year. Beijing insists the activities are for self defence.
Trump receives letter from Kim Jong Un; US President Donald trump says he has received a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and will be setting up a meeting with him “in the not-too-distant future.” Trump revealed this at the year’s first cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Trump said that but for the actions of his administration, there would be a “nice, big fat war” now in Asia. He stressed the results of his efforts that realized the first-ever US-North summit last year and created a “good relationship” with the North leader. He said he is looking forward to meeting again with Kim. In a New Year’s address on state-run TV on Tuesday, Kim said he is ready to meet with Trump again at any time. But he also said that Pyongyang would have no other choice but to seek a “new path” if the US maintains sanctions on North Korea.
Shanahan: US military to focus on China; New acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan says China will remain the US military’s top priority. Shanahan officially took office on Tuesday, replacing James Mattis. US media say he held a meeting with Pentagon officials the following day, in which he said he would stick with current defense strategies focusing on China and Russia. They say Shanahan also told the officials to focus on “China, China, China,” even as the US fights militants in Syria and Afghanistan. Trump has suggested Shanahan could be acting defense secretary for an extended period of time. Shanahan had worked in the private sector and had no military or diplomatic experience when Trump appointed him deputy defense secretary in 2017.
His new role will see him dealing with China and the planned withdrawal of US troops from Syria.
China admits survey activities near Okinotori; China says one of its survey ships recently conducted research activities in waters Japan claims are within its Exclusive Economic Zone. Tokyo lodged a protest, saying the vessel researched waters near the Okinotori Islands without its permission. Japan claims them as its southernmost islands. At a news conference on Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang sought to justify the research around the Okinotori Islands in response to a question from a Japanese reporter. Lu said that according to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, “Okinotori reef does not meet the basic requirements to be recognized as island.” He added “the Japanese side unilaterally calls it an island and claims the so-called EEZ and continental shelf, but the Chinese side has never acknowledged that.” The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea requires its signatory nations to obtain a permit before carrying out marine research activities in the EEZs of other countries. The Japanese Embassy in Beijing says it lodged a protest with China after it learned in mid-December that the Chinese ship’s research activities near the islands lacked Japan’s permission.
Xi stresses reunification with Taiwan is the goal; Chinese President Xi Jinping has reiterated that he intends to bring about the “reunification” of China and Taiwan. He indicated Beijing will not rule out the use of force to counter external interference and the island’s moves toward independence. Xi gave a speech in Beijing on Wednesday to commemorate the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan,” which was issued by China 40 years ago, on New Year’s Day in 1979. The Message was a document that urged Taiwan to attain peaceful reunification with mainland China. Xi said it’s a historical and legal fact that Taiwan is part of China and that both sides of the strait belong to one China. He said this cannot be changed “by anyone or any force.” Xi proposed dialogue with political parties and other groups in Taiwan based on the “one China” principle. Xi noted the “one country, two systems” framework, as seen in Hong Kong and elsewhere, is the best approach for reunification with Taiwan. He expressed his willingness to explore how the two sides should be reunified. Xi said China reserves the option to use all necessary measures against Taiwan’s moves toward independence, and against outside forces that interfere with the reunification. The remark is an apparent attempt to counter the current administrations in Taiwan and the United States. Beijing regards Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration as one that leans toward independence.
S.Koreans apply to seize Japanese firm’s assets; Lawyers for South Korean plaintiffs who won damages in a suit against a Japanese steelmaker have applied to seize some of the company’s assets in South Korea. The lawyers said in a statement issued Wednesday that they had filed an application with a court on Monday to seize the assets of Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal. South Korea’s top court in October ordered the company to pay damages to four South Korean men who say the firm forced them to work during World War Two. Their lawyers have since urged the steelmaker to accept negotiations to compensate the plaintiffs. But such talks have not taken place. In the statement, the lawyers express strong regret over what they call the company’s insincerity and inhumane attitude. The lawyers say they seek to seize Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal’s shares in a joint venture with South Korea’s largest steelmaker Posco. That’s some 2.34 million shares, or 30 percent stake, in the joint venture. South Korean media report that the shares are worth about 11 billion won, or 9.8 million dollars. A court judgment on the case is expected soon. Japan-South Korea relations are likely to be further strained.