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North and South Korea Restore Cross-border Communications

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In a surprise announcement, North and South Korea said Tuesday that they had restored previously severed cross-border communications, a move that could bolster prospects for stalled nuclear diplomacy.

The development comes more than a year after Pyongyang blew up ties — and an inter-Korean building that had been symbolic of the relationship.

The two Koreas, which remain technically in a state of war, said that the decision to restore links had come after a series of personal letters were exchanged by their leaders, starting in April, in an attempt to shore up ties.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a statement that the two sides had reopened all inter-Korean communication lines as of 10 a.m. Tuesday.

“The top leaders of the north and the south agreed to make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by restoring the cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines through the recent several exchanges of personal letters,” the agency said.

“The restoration of the communication liaison lines will have positive effects on the improvement and development of the north-south relations,” it added.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office also noted that the two sides had exchanged personal letters, and characterized the moves as a first step toward improving ties.

Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have held three summits, though inter-Korean relations were essentially cut off in June last year after the North unilaterally ended all official military and political communication links with the South.

The North Korean regime had cited Seoul’s alleged failure to crack down on activists who had used balloons to float anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

Wire

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Asia

UAE Reduces Working Week To 4 Days

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United Arab Emirates has slashed the official working week to only 4.5days and has also moved its weekend to Saturday and Sunday.

According to government officials, the new changes are aimed at improving competitiveness and “better align the UAE with global markets.”

The “national working week” is mandatory for government bodies from January 1 and bucks the regional norm of a full day off on Friday for Muslim prayers.

Under the new timetable, the public-sector weekend starts at noon on Fridays and ends on Sunday. Friday prayers at mosques will be held after 1.15 pm all year round.

It will ensure smooth financial, trade and economic transactions with countries that follow a Saturday/Sunday weekend, facilitating stronger international business links and opportunities for thousands of UAE-based and multinational companies.

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Chinese Ambassador Shares Seven Buzzwords To Showcase Fast-changing China

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Chinese Ambassador to the United States Qin Gang on Wednesday shared with Americans seven buzzwords that are currently popular in China to illustrate what is going on in his country.

“The buzzwords I shared with you today reflect the changing and unchanging elements in our values when China experiences rapid economic growth and profound social transformation,” said Qin in his keynote speech at the online Forum on Tourism, Hospitality and Cultural Exchange co-hosted by the U.S.-Asia Institute and Las Vegas Sands Corp.

The first buzzword Qin mentioned was “People First, Life First,” which was widespread during China’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and reflects a deep concern for humanity.

Likewise, “Heroes in Harm’s Way” has also gone viral in China, which refers to the everyday heroes who put their mission before their lives and made fearless sacrifices to fight the pandemic, Qin said.

To “Lie Flat” is a term to describe the youngsters who give up ambitions and do the bare minimum to get by, Qin said, adding “lie-flatters” are either people from well-off families or those who believe in whatever comes their way.

“Versailles,” originally from the “Palace of Versailles” in French, was borrowed to describe the self-claimed aristocratic spirit. On social media, it is used to label humble-braggers, he said.

“Involution,” one of the latest buzzwords in China, indicates irrational or involuntary competitions, while “Double Reduction” is a recent policy formulated by the government to address involution in education, which aims to restore the original purpose of education by restricting capital in the sector, Qin said.

The last buzzword, “Celebrity Fan Clubs,” refers to the phenomenon that some celebrities use internet to hype up themselves and cause their fans to admire them in an irrational manner, while such abnormalities stem from a chain of interests dominated by online platforms and the capital that supports them, he said.

In his speech, Qin said that socialism with Chinese characteristics requires material progress and cultural-ethical advancement, adding, “We need to keep fine traditional values, uphold fairness and justice, and not get lost in a market economy.”

“(Being) rooted in traditional Chinese values is a concern for the common good of humanity,” he added.

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Singapore Parliament Approves Law To Tackle Foreign Interference

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Singapore’s parliament has approved a law that gives broad powers to the government to deal with foreign interference that has sparked concern from the opposition and experts about its wide scope and limits on judicial review.

The small and open city-state, which says it is vulnerable to foreign meddling, targeted fake news with a far-reaching law in 2019, and joins nations such as Australia and Russia that have passed laws in recent years to deter foreign interference.

The bill, formally known as the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act (FICA), was passed late on Monday with 75 members voting in favour, 11 opposition members objecting and two abstaining, local media reported.

Among the measures, FICA allows authorities to compel internet, social media service providers and website operators to provide user information, block content and remove applications.

Those deemed or designated as “politically significant persons” under the law will have to comply with strict rules relating to donations and declare their links to foreign entities.

Instead of court, an independent tribunal, chaired by a judge, will hear appeals against the minister’s decisions, a move the government says is necessary to protect national security.

The tribunal’s decisions will be final.

The government said FICA does not cover the building of overseas partnerships, soliciting overseas businesses, networking with foreigners, sourcing for donations or those discussing policies or political matters that affect their businesses with foreign colleagues or business partners, or supporting charities.

“As long as they are done in an open and transparent manner, and not part of an attempt to manipulate our political discourse or undermine public interest such as security,” K Shanmugam, minister for home affairs, said in parliament.

It will also not affect Singaporeans expressing their own views or engaging in advocacy.

The home affairs ministry has also previously said it would not apply to foreign individuals or publications “reporting or commenting on Singapore politics, in an open, transparent and attributable way.”

But some critics say its broad language risks capturing even legitimate activities, while rights group Reporters Without Borders said the law could ensnare independent media outlets.

Experts and Singapore’s opposition parties have called for narrowing the scope of executive powers and more oversight through the judiciary.

The bill was passed without strengthening “the circumscribed checks and balances, particularly judicial review,” said Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University.

“While assurances were given, they could have been given unequivocal expression through legislative codification.”

However, Shanmugam said the bill represented the “best balance…between dealing with the risks and providing checks against abuse.”

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