Comic Con Draws Fans From Around the Globe

Comic-Con, which bills itself as one of the world’s largest comic book conventions of its kind, kicks off this week in San Diego. The four-day event has grown to become an entertainment destination that features not only comics, but also film, television and video games. The sold-out event draws thousands of fans from around the world. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports on the sights and sounds of a cultural event that has global influence.

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Comic Con Draws Fans From Around the Globe

Comic-Con, which bills itself as one of the world’s largest comic book conventions of its kind, kicks off this week in San Diego. The four-day event has grown to become an entertainment destination that features not only comics, but also film, television and video games. The sold-out event draws thousands of fans from around the world. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee reports on the sights and sounds of a cultural event that has global influence.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Report: North Korea Economy Shrank Sharply in 2017

North Korea’s economy contracted at the sharpest rate in two decades in 2017, South Korea’s central bank estimated Friday, in a sign international sanctions imposed to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs have hit growth hard.

Gross domestic product (GDP) in North Korea last year contracted 3.5 percent from the previous year, marking the biggest contraction since a 6.5 percent drop in 1997 when the isolated nation was hit by a devastating famine, the Bank of Korea said.

Industrial production, which accounts for about a third of the nation’s total output, dropped by 8.5 percent and also marked the steepest decline since 1997 as factory production collapsed on restrictions of flows of oil and other energy resources into the country. Output from agriculture, construction industries also fell by 1.3 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively.

“The sanctions were stronger in 2017 than they were in 2016,” Shin Seung-cheol, head of the BOK’s National Accounts Coordination Team said.

“External trade volume fell significantly with the exports ban on coal, steel, fisheries and textile products. It’s difficult to put exact numbers on those but it (export bans) crashed industrial production,” Shin said.

The steep economic downturn comes as analysts highlight the need for the isolated country to shift toward economic development.

Switch to economic construction

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in April vowed to switch the country’s strategic focus from the development of its nuclear arsenal to emulating China’s “socialist economic construction.”

“As long as exports of minerals are part of the sanctions, by far the most profitable item of its exports, Pyongyang will have no choice but to continue with its current negotiations with the U.S. (to remove the sanctions),” said Kim Byeong-yeon, an economics professor at the Seoul National University with expertise in the North Korean economy.

North Korea’s coal-intensive industries and manufacturing sectors have suffered as the U.N. Security Council ratcheted up the sanctions in response to years of nuclear tests by Pyongyang.

China, its biggest trading partner, enforced sanctions strictly in the second half of 2017, hurting North Korea’s manufacturing sector.

Beijing’s suspended coal purchases last year cut North Korea’s main export revenue source while its suspended fuel sales to the reclusive state sparked a surge in gasoline and diesel prices, data reviewed by Reuters showed earlier.

2018 to be ‘a lot worse’

“This year will be a lot worse. Shrinking trade first hits the Kim regime and top officials, and then later affects unofficial markets,” said Kim at Seoul National University, adding that a reduction in tradable goods would eventually decrease household income and private consumption.

North Korea’s black market, or Jangmadang, has grown to account for about 60 percent of the economy, and is where individuals and wholesalers buy and sell Chinese-made consumer goods or agricultural products, according to the Institute for Korean Integration of Society.

China’s total trade with North Korea dropped 59.2 percent in the first half of 2018 from a year earlier, China’s customs data showed last week.

The BOK uses figures compiled by the government and spy agencies to make its economic estimates. The bank’s survey includes monitoring of the size of rice paddy crops in border areas, traffic surveillance, and interviews with defectors.

North Korea does not publish economic data.

North Korea’s Gross National Income per capita stands at 1.46 million won ($1,283.52), making it about 4.4 percent the size of South Korea’s, the BOK said.

Overall exports from North Korea dropped 37.2 percent in 2017, marking the biggest fall since a 38.5 percent decline in 1998, the BOK said Friday, citing data from the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.

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Report: North Korea Economy Shrank Sharply in 2017

North Korea’s economy contracted at the sharpest rate in two decades in 2017, South Korea’s central bank estimated Friday, in a sign international sanctions imposed to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs have hit growth hard.

Gross domestic product (GDP) in North Korea last year contracted 3.5 percent from the previous year, marking the biggest contraction since a 6.5 percent drop in 1997 when the isolated nation was hit by a devastating famine, the Bank of Korea said.

Industrial production, which accounts for about a third of the nation’s total output, dropped by 8.5 percent and also marked the steepest decline since 1997 as factory production collapsed on restrictions of flows of oil and other energy resources into the country. Output from agriculture, construction industries also fell by 1.3 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively.

“The sanctions were stronger in 2017 than they were in 2016,” Shin Seung-cheol, head of the BOK’s National Accounts Coordination Team said.

“External trade volume fell significantly with the exports ban on coal, steel, fisheries and textile products. It’s difficult to put exact numbers on those but it (export bans) crashed industrial production,” Shin said.

The steep economic downturn comes as analysts highlight the need for the isolated country to shift toward economic development.

Switch to economic construction

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in April vowed to switch the country’s strategic focus from the development of its nuclear arsenal to emulating China’s “socialist economic construction.”

“As long as exports of minerals are part of the sanctions, by far the most profitable item of its exports, Pyongyang will have no choice but to continue with its current negotiations with the U.S. (to remove the sanctions),” said Kim Byeong-yeon, an economics professor at the Seoul National University with expertise in the North Korean economy.

North Korea’s coal-intensive industries and manufacturing sectors have suffered as the U.N. Security Council ratcheted up the sanctions in response to years of nuclear tests by Pyongyang.

China, its biggest trading partner, enforced sanctions strictly in the second half of 2017, hurting North Korea’s manufacturing sector.

Beijing’s suspended coal purchases last year cut North Korea’s main export revenue source while its suspended fuel sales to the reclusive state sparked a surge in gasoline and diesel prices, data reviewed by Reuters showed earlier.

2018 to be ‘a lot worse’

“This year will be a lot worse. Shrinking trade first hits the Kim regime and top officials, and then later affects unofficial markets,” said Kim at Seoul National University, adding that a reduction in tradable goods would eventually decrease household income and private consumption.

North Korea’s black market, or Jangmadang, has grown to account for about 60 percent of the economy, and is where individuals and wholesalers buy and sell Chinese-made consumer goods or agricultural products, according to the Institute for Korean Integration of Society.

China’s total trade with North Korea dropped 59.2 percent in the first half of 2018 from a year earlier, China’s customs data showed last week.

The BOK uses figures compiled by the government and spy agencies to make its economic estimates. The bank’s survey includes monitoring of the size of rice paddy crops in border areas, traffic surveillance, and interviews with defectors.

North Korea does not publish economic data.

North Korea’s Gross National Income per capita stands at 1.46 million won ($1,283.52), making it about 4.4 percent the size of South Korea’s, the BOK said.

Overall exports from North Korea dropped 37.2 percent in 2017, marking the biggest fall since a 38.5 percent decline in 1998, the BOK said Friday, citing data from the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency.

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China Boosts Liquidity as Trade War Threatens Economy

Chinese policymakers are pumping more liquidity into the financial system and channeling credit to small- and medium-sized firms, and Beijing looks set to further loosen monetary conditions to mitigate threats to growth from a heated Sino-U.S. trade war.

The world’s second-biggest economy has started to lose momentum this year as a government campaign to reduce a dangerous build-up of debt has lifted borrowing costs, hitting factory output, business investment and the property sector.

As an intensifying trade conflict raises risks to exporters and overall growth, many economists expect the central bank to further reduce reserve requirements in the coming months, on top of the three reductions made so far this year.

Benchmark rate unchanged

However, few see a cut in the benchmark policy rate this year, as authorities walk a fine line between keeping liquidity conditions supportive and preventing any destabilizing capital outflows that could put the skids on a fragile yuan currency.

On Wednesday, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) plans to introduce incentives that will boost the liquidity of commercial banks.

These are aimed at encouraging banks to expand lending and increase their investment in bonds issued by corporations and other entities, such as local government financing vehicles (LGFVs).

The PBOC has also been ensuring ample liquidity by allowing commercial banks to tap its Medium-Term Loan Facility (MLF), especially lenders that have invested in bonds rated AA+ and below, the source said.

The improved cash conditions have been reflected in reduced short-term borrowing costs for banks, with the country’s key seven-day money rate at 2.6409 percent Thursday, 37 basis points lower than recent highs at the end of June.

Economy expansion slows

The combination of lower interbank rates and the push to boost bank support should help to ease financing pressures for weaker firms, analysts said.

“This should spell good news for lower-grade bond markets which have been suffering from a flight to quality-grade bonds, and some firms have subsequently found access to liquidity difficult,” analysts at Everbright Sun Hung Kai said in a note.

China’s economy expanded a slower-than-expected 6.7 percent in the second quarter, and June factory output growth weakened to a two-year low as the trade dispute with the United States intensified.

To be sure, markets don’t expect aggressive policy loosening, given Beijing’s broad deleveraging pledge and fears that doing so could hit the yuan and trigger a spike in capital outflows.

Trade war worries have already weighed on the yuan, which hit a one-year low on Thursday.

Focus on small, medium businesses

A key focus is on small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which account for 80 percent of all jobs in China, and have suffered from rising borrowing costs and a shrinking credit pool amid Beijing’s three-year-long crackdown on off-balance sheet financing and a corporate debt build-up.

A trader at a state-run copper smelter in southern China told Reuters his firm has resorted to selling inventory to raise cash in light of the tougher financing conditions.

“Banks give, but the cost has gone up,” said the trader, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to comment on his firm’s finances.

While the PBOC did not respond to faxed questions about its plans, a Shanghai-based trader at an Asian bank said the bond market had seen a notable pick-up in the volume of trade of LGFV debt.

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China Boosts Liquidity as Trade War Threatens Economy

Chinese policymakers are pumping more liquidity into the financial system and channeling credit to small- and medium-sized firms, and Beijing looks set to further loosen monetary conditions to mitigate threats to growth from a heated Sino-U.S. trade war.

The world’s second-biggest economy has started to lose momentum this year as a government campaign to reduce a dangerous build-up of debt has lifted borrowing costs, hitting factory output, business investment and the property sector.

As an intensifying trade conflict raises risks to exporters and overall growth, many economists expect the central bank to further reduce reserve requirements in the coming months, on top of the three reductions made so far this year.

Benchmark rate unchanged

However, few see a cut in the benchmark policy rate this year, as authorities walk a fine line between keeping liquidity conditions supportive and preventing any destabilizing capital outflows that could put the skids on a fragile yuan currency.

On Wednesday, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) plans to introduce incentives that will boost the liquidity of commercial banks.

These are aimed at encouraging banks to expand lending and increase their investment in bonds issued by corporations and other entities, such as local government financing vehicles (LGFVs).

The PBOC has also been ensuring ample liquidity by allowing commercial banks to tap its Medium-Term Loan Facility (MLF), especially lenders that have invested in bonds rated AA+ and below, the source said.

The improved cash conditions have been reflected in reduced short-term borrowing costs for banks, with the country’s key seven-day money rate at 2.6409 percent Thursday, 37 basis points lower than recent highs at the end of June.

Economy expansion slows

The combination of lower interbank rates and the push to boost bank support should help to ease financing pressures for weaker firms, analysts said.

“This should spell good news for lower-grade bond markets which have been suffering from a flight to quality-grade bonds, and some firms have subsequently found access to liquidity difficult,” analysts at Everbright Sun Hung Kai said in a note.

China’s economy expanded a slower-than-expected 6.7 percent in the second quarter, and June factory output growth weakened to a two-year low as the trade dispute with the United States intensified.

To be sure, markets don’t expect aggressive policy loosening, given Beijing’s broad deleveraging pledge and fears that doing so could hit the yuan and trigger a spike in capital outflows.

Trade war worries have already weighed on the yuan, which hit a one-year low on Thursday.

Focus on small, medium businesses

A key focus is on small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which account for 80 percent of all jobs in China, and have suffered from rising borrowing costs and a shrinking credit pool amid Beijing’s three-year-long crackdown on off-balance sheet financing and a corporate debt build-up.

A trader at a state-run copper smelter in southern China told Reuters his firm has resorted to selling inventory to raise cash in light of the tougher financing conditions.

“Banks give, but the cost has gone up,” said the trader, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to comment on his firm’s finances.

While the PBOC did not respond to faxed questions about its plans, a Shanghai-based trader at an Asian bank said the bond market had seen a notable pick-up in the volume of trade of LGFV debt.

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Trump Administration Wants to Scrap Some Species Protection

The Trump administration wants to scrap automatic federal protection for threatened plants and animals, a move that would anger environmentalists but please industry.

A proposal unveiled Thursday would no longer grant threatened species the same instant protection given to endangered species. It would also limit what can be declared a critical habitat for such plants and animals.

Officials with the Interior Department and Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that they wanted to streamline regulations. They said current rules under the Endangered Species Act were inconsistent and confusing.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the new rules would still be very protective of endangered animals.

“At the same time, we hope that they ameliorate some of the unnecessary burden, conflict and uncertainty that is within our current regulatory structure,” he told reporters.

But conservationists called the changes a “wrecking ball” and a gift to big businesses.

“They could decide that building in a species habitat or logging in trees where birds nest doesn’t constitute harm,” the Center for Biological Diversity’s Noah Greenwald said.

Industries such as logging, mining and oil drilling have long complained that the Endangered Special Act has stopped them from gaining access to new sources of energy and has stifled economic development.

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Pompeo to VOA: US Won’t Allow Russian Questioning of Former US Ambassador

The U.S. has no intention of allowing Russia to question Michael McFaul, Washington’s former ambassador to Moscow and a fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told VOA on Thursday.

“It’s not going to happen,” the top U.S. diplomat said in an interview at the State Department.

Pompeo said Putin “made a proposal about a number of things during the course of the conversation” he had Monday at his Helsinki summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

“There were suggestions, comments, thoughts by President Putin with respect to that inquiry,” Pompeo told VOA. “President Trump was very clear – we’re not gonna force Americans to go to Russia to be interrogated by the Russians.”

The Russian leader proposed to let U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators fly to Moscow to interview 12 military intelligence officials indicted in connection with hacking into computers of Democrats working to defeat Trump in the 2016 election in exchange for Russian interviews of McFaul; an American-born British businessman, Bill Browder, who worked to get legislation passed in the U.S. and elsewhere to sanction Russia for human rights violations, and other Americans.

Browder was convicted in absentia for tax fraud in Russia and Putin claimed, without any evidence, that Browder laundered $400 million out of Russia and gave it to Trump’s 2016 opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. No such political donation occurred.

McFaul, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Moscow from 2012 to 2014 during the administration of former President Barack Obama, said on Twitter, “I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin. Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy U.S. indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin.”

On Wednesday, there was a high-level disconnect within the Trump administration over a possible Russian interview with McFaul.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called the unspecified Russian crimes against the Americans “absurd,” suggesting that no questioning would be permitted. But White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the idea of each country’s investigators questioning people it wanted to in the United States and Russia was being weighed.

“The president’s going to meet with his team, and we’ll let you know when we have an announcement on that,” Sanders said, adding that no one had made any commitment to accept Putin’s offer.

By Thursday, Sanders said, “It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it. Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

Russia and the U.S. do not have an extradition treaty and the 12 accused intelligence officials are not expected to be turned over to the U.S. for trial.

The reason for the confusion about questioning officials from the two countries came because Trump said Putin had made “an incredible offer” to him.

During Thursday’s interview with VOA, Secretary of State Pompeo sought to clarify the U.S. stance on the issue, repeating such questioning would not be permitted.

“There’s been a lot of noise about that, I don’t know why,” Pompeo said. “Just the American people should rest assured.”

Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report

 

 

 

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