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India, Pakistan join China and Russia-led security bloc
by Staff Writers
Astana, Kazakhstan (AFP) June 9, 2017


N. Korea coal export sinks to zero after China import ban: UN data
Seoul (AFP) June 9, 2017 - North Korea's global coal exports sunk to zero in April, UN data showed, as China choked off imports from Pyongyang to ramp up pressure on its nuclear-armed neighbour.

China -- the North's sole major ally and economic lifeline -- announced in February a suspension of coal imports from the North, choking-off a key source of hard currency for Pyongyang, which has rattled the region with an increasingly aggressive weapons programme.

Data recently updated on the United Nations Security Council website showed a sharp fall in coal shipped from the North to one unnamed country, plunging from 1.4 million tonnes, worth $126 million, in January to zero in April.

The data, based on member states' voluntary reports, did not explicitly name China.

But it may assuage the administration of US President Donald Trump, which has leant heavily on Beijing to help rein in Pyongyang.

Tension is high on the Korean peninsula as the North has staged two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since the beginning of last year, showing gradual upgrade in its missile capabilities.

The UN Security Council last Friday unanimously adopted a US-drafted resolution imposing new targeted sanctions on a handful of North Korean officials and entities, a move Pyongyang said was "mean".

China supported that decision but has made it clear that a push for talks -- and not more sanctions -- is its priority, calling for a resumption of six-party negotiations that have been dormant since 2009.

Washington says it is willing to enter into talks with Pyongyang, but only if it halts its missile and nuclear tests.

Under UN resolutions North Korea is barred from using nuclear and ballistic missile technology. The North is already under layers of sanctions for past violations of the resolutions.

China's overall once-vibrant trade with the North, rich with coal and other mining resources, fell in April to a near three-year low after the coal import ban took effect.

Asian rivals India and Pakistan on Friday formally joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a security bloc spearheaded by China and Russia, despite bilateral tensions bubbling over Kashmir.

Leaders of the largely symbolic body -- including Russia's Vladimir Putin and China's Xi Jinping -- formally signed off on the sub-continent duo's accession at the annual SCO summit in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Indian counterpart Narendra Modi reportedly shook hands and exchanged greetings late Thursday at the opening of the SCO meeting, although New Delhi said that no formal bilateral meeting between the two was planned.

Modi on Friday hailed India's accession as a "landmark moment in the journey of the SCO" and pledged India would play a "constructive and active role" in the organisation that also includes ex-Soviet states Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Sharif thanked the founding members for their "staunch support" for his country's entry into the organisation, which he hailed as "an anchor of stability in the region".

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Both claim the territory in its entirety.

India regularly accuses Pakistan of arming militants, while Islamabad denies the allegation, saying it only provides diplomatic support to Kashmiris seeking self-determination.

But both Moscow and Beijing expressed optimism that the two neighbours' entry into the SCO could strengthen prospects for peace across the region.

Founded in 1996, the SCO is viewed as a vehicle for managing competing Chinese and Russia political, economic and military interests in the strategic region.

China is championing ambitious infrastructure projects, including land and sea links touted as a revival of the ancient Silk Road trade route.

Russia, in turn, has focused on broadening its Eurasian Economic Union integration project involving former Soviet allies.

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Qatar crisis has 'no impact' on US military operations: Pentagon
Washington (AFP) June 6, 2017
A Saudi-led move to isolate Qatar has had "no impact" on US military operations in the emirate, nor is any expected, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday. The US has a regional command center at Al-Udeid air base near Doha from which it runs air operations throughout the region. "There has been no impact on our operations either in Qatar or with regards to airspace permission around it and ... read more

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