Monday, December 22, 2014

China pledges to help Russia overcome economic hardships

China’s foreign minister has pledged support to Russia as it faces an economic downturn due to sanctions and a drop in oil prices. Boosting trade in yuan is a solution proposed by Beijing’s commerce minister.
Russia has the capability and the wisdom to overcome the existing hardship in the economic situation," Foreign Minister Wang Yi told journalists, China Daily reported Monday. “If the Russian side needs it, we will provide necessary assistance within our capacity."

The offer of help comes as Russians are still recovering from the shock of the ruble’s worst crash in years last Tuesday, when it lost over 20 percent against the US dollar and the euro. The Russian currency bounced back the next day, but it still has lost almost half of its value since March.

At his annual end-of-year press conference on Thursday, Vladimir Putin acknowledged the ruble has been tumbling along with the price of oil, and estimated that Western sanctions account for 25-30 percent of the Russian economic crisis. However, the president’s economic forecast is that the slump will not be a lasting one.
Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng proposed on Saturday to expand the use of the yuan in trade with Russia.
Reuters/Carlos Barria
Reuters/Carlos Barria

He said the use of the Chinese currency has been increasing for several years but western sanctions on Russia had made the trend more prominent, Reuters cited Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV as saying.
Gao said this year’s trade between China and Russia could reach $100 billion, approximately 10 percent growth compared to last year.

The minister said he did not expect cooperation on energy and manufacturing projects with Russia to be greatly affected by the current crisis.
Many Chinese people still view Russia as the big brother, and the two countries are strategically important to each other,” Jin Canrong, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, told Bloomberg. “For the sake of national interests, China should deepen cooperation with Russia when such cooperation is in need.
Gazprom’s Power of Siberia pipeline – to deliver 4 trillion cubic meters of gas to China over 30 years – construction commencing September 2014. (RIA Novosti/Aleksey Nikolskyi)
Gazprom’s Power of Siberia pipeline – to deliver 4 trillion cubic meters of gas to China over 30 years – construction commencing September 2014. (RIA Novosti/Aleksey Nikolskyi)

China has been increasingly seeking deals in its own currency to challenge the US dollar’s dominance on the international market.

And Beijing is not alone in attempts to counter the influence of Western-based lending institutions and the US currency.
BRICS, the group of emerging economies that comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, accounting for one-fifth of global economic output, has been pursuing the same goal. The five nationsagreed in July to increase mutual trade in local currencies, and also to create a BRICS Development Bank with investment equivalent to $100 billion as an alternative to the Western-controlled World Bank.

Video Report - Muslim scholar says veils not required

Video Report - UN: Children maimed, raped, tortured, killed in 2014

Video Report - Israel slams EU parliament as Palestine seeks UN resolution

Video Report - Oil price fall: 'Nobody a winner, world economy a loser'

Saudi Arabia Beheads Gays, but Marco Rubio Has No Problem With You Traveling There


In about a minute you can book a flight to locales that are home to the most brutal anti-gay regimes in the world, where homosexuality is punishable by flogging, imprisonment (sometimes for life) or execution. I don't just mean Uganda or Brunei, where Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah recently decreed Sharia law shall commence and where you might have no interest in ever visiting. I'm also talking about major vacation destinations of millions of Americans, like Jamaica, where homosexuality is outlawed and punishable with a prison sentence, and where LGBT people are attacked and killed in waves of violence while the police often have little concern for this brutality.
But U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) wants to keep you from traveling to Cuba and believes that American companies shouldn't be allowed to do business there because Cuba isn't a democracy, violates human rights and is run by a "tyrant." He's been lashing out ever since President Obama announced the normalization of relations with Cuba. But if human rights abuses really were the metric by which we decided on trade and travel, the U.S. should be banning Americans from visiting our staunchest allies and our most popular vacation spots (including much of the Caribbean, where homosexuality is illegal, though it's not illegal in Cuba). It would literally be much of the globe.
Everyone's been using China and Vietnam as the examples to point to Rubio's hypocrisy, but let's put aside countries where we "normalized" relations. There are dozens of countries we were never estranged from, some of which we consider major business and military allies, and which engage in brutality against their citizens each and every day. Rubio attacked the president for his overtures to Iran as well, but he seems to have no problem with our relationship with Saudi Arabia. Both are closed societies, Muslim fundamentalist theocracies that have terrorized gay citizens and many others. Both punish homosexuality with floggings, lashings and death, including by hanging and beheading. But one of them has long been a cash cow for American oil companies, so Rubio doesn't seem to see its human rights abuses, which include treating women as if they're property, and arresting them for driving.
The United States gives financial aid to countries across Africa whose leaders are fetedat the White House -- and whose laws punish homosexuality with imprisonment, from Uganda to Nigeria. President Obama is hellbent on signing a trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would include Brunei, as well as Malaysia, which criminalizes homosexuality too, and with which American companies are doing much more business. I've heard nothing from Marco Rubio about our close relationship with these human rights abusers.
Even The Washington Post's editorial board, in a myopic piece, criticized the president for his actions, as if we don't do business with human rights violators all around the world (far beyond China and Vietnam). That's because, even in this day of so much more supposed acceptance and support for LGBT rights, many people still see a difference between "human rights abuses" and oppression of LGBT people. They think about issues such as press freedom, crackdowns on protest or jailing of dissidents -- all horrendous realities about which we should be concerned -- as "human rights abuses" (though, again, on even this they look the other way in places like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and among our other so-called allies). But they don't think about the criminalization of LGBT people, and violence against them, in the same way -- almost as if anti-LGBT laws should be expected and tolerated even if they're unsavory.
I'm not one of those who believes that engagement -- and capitalism -- necessarily brings democracy, and we've certainly not seen that with China. But it's completely bogus for Marco Rubio and other Republicans still in the bosom of rich, older Cuban-American political donors in Florida to use human rights to make their argument. Rubio, who is opposed to giving LGBT people in this country basic civil rights -- like job protections and marriage equality -- doesn't seem to care about human rights in the U.S. or in much of the rest of the world where people are facing a far more horrific reality every day.

Turkey - Did Erdogan reverse secularism in schools in 2014?

By Dina al-Shibeeb 

The news on Saturday that hundreds of Turkish demonstrators were dispersed and about a hundred arrested in the capital Ankara following a protest in defense of the country’s secular education system, underline the strength of feeling in Turkey regarding reforms of the country's secular educational system, widely considered as one of the policy pillars of the republic’s founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The protest , organized by Turkish labor unions , comes after activists expressed furor over the so called education reforms by the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), alleging that it undermines the Turkish education system by making it more religious as opposed to the secular policies of Ataturk.
For these activists and critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, AKP’s is acting in line with its Islamic agenda when almost three years ago, its leader promised: “We will raise a religious generation.”
For some people, they see AKP -- which has the lion's share of 312 seats in Turkey’s 550-seat parliament since its landslide victory in the 2002 election -- as reaching its peak in defying Ataturk’s secular legacy in Turkish education, while for others, the party is merely enacting laws needed in a country where its glaring secularism alienated its population, which is mostly Muslim.
“There was a trend on the rise and hence what happened now is the peak of the trend. We are not talking about something that suddenly became a turning point,” Ahmet Kasim Han, associate professor of International Relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul, told Al Arabiya News.

What happened in 2014?

While in 2013 Turkey witnessed the passing of legislation banning any forms of advertising of alcohol, and had its first female lawmaker entering the country’s Parliament wearing an Islamic head scarf was in 1999, 2014 is this year when education became AKP’s focus.
In late September, the Turkish government allowed girls as young as ten years old to cover their hair by donning the Islamic head piece called hijab while attending school.
This became permissible after secular laws, which considered hijab to be a public expression of faith and was staunchly prohibited, were amended.
In November 2014, Rennan Pekunlu, a former professor of astrophysics at Ege University, became Turkey’s first individual to be jailed for violating the “constitutional right to education” of a headscarf-wearing student by barring her from entering the faculty because of her hijab in a 2012 incident.
And in one of its latest changes, the 19th National Education Council of Turkey’s Ministry of Education enforced on 15 December basic religious knowledge courses to first graders and implemented Ottoman language classes as electives.
However, Ottoman classes were obligatory for students attending the imam-hatip schools. These schools focus on a curriculum with religious lessons.
Ottoman, an older version of the language spoken in Turkey, contains more Arabic and Persian words, and was written using the Arabic alphabet, but got dropped by Ataturk in his quest to give Turkey a modernist and more European outlook.
After witnessing an increase of the imam-hatip schools of Turkey, the ministry of national education announced a week ago that it plans to open these schools for Turkish expatriates in other countries.
Erdogan, who is an imam hatip graduate himself, celebrated the fact that enrollment in the imam-hatips schools jumped to almost a million from just 63,000 during his 12 years in power. According to the local Daily Sabah newspaper, the number of imam-hatip high schools rose to 1,008 from 876 in 2013.
“It is clearly because of Erdogan’s promotions of such schools that they were on the rise,” Han said. “He has repeatedly praised these schools for educating the perfect model of citizens as he see sit, this did not happen on one instance but on several occasions.”
Asked if the increase of imam-hatips is representative of what the Turkish people want, Han said “there are people for sure, who would like to send their children to such schools, but I don’t think there was ever a big demand for it.”
Han added, “with the help of some grassroot organizations, who are like minded with him [Erdogan],” these schools saw an increase. It is about the AKP majority in the parliament and nothing else. It reflects the election system rather than the will of the people.”
Fadi Hakura, Turkey expert and associate fellow at Chatham House, told Al Arabiya News that the “education policy is under the firm control of the central government and therefore, it has a major say on the development of the education system in the country.”
“I think the AKP is sufficiently powerful to undertake some major transformational reforms in the education system, including the policies that were introduced by Ataturk,” Hakura added.
However, some of these reforms are also seen as a way for Turkey to reconnect with its past, especially when introducing Ottoman language as elective.
“Erdogan has said quite clearly that he sees the introduction of Ottoman classes as an elective course in public schools but an obligatory one in imam-hatips as a way for Turkey to reconnect with its Ottoman past and its pre-republican history,” Hakura said.

Are Turks conservative or secular?

Observers also mull these development as a comeback by the conservatives to have their freedom to practice religion, especially after the 1997 coup when the military, which has long seen itself as the “guardian of Turkish democracy” and Ataturk’s secular legacy, intervened after Islamists won elections. The military issued a series of “recommendations,” which the government had no choice but to accept.
The government at the time agreed to a compulsory eight-year education program to prevent students from enrolling in religious schools, a headscarf ban at universities, and other measures.
“Surveys show that the Turkish population has been consistently conservative over the last 20 years, and what has changed is that there is a greater openness and space for religious expression in public life,” Hakura said.
He added: “In Turkey's case, the ruling party has won three decisive general elections, and secured the largest segment of the Turkish voters.”
In 2011, Turkey’s general elections witnessed the highest turnout since 1987. Even the 2007 elections saw a voter participation rate of 84.5 percent.
“Turkish voters with their high turnout voted in favor of a conservative party,” Hakura concluded.
However, like so many other observers Hakura believes “the key determinant of the longevity and durability of the ruling party will be the state of national economy.”
Asked whether Turkey’s national sentiment is conservative or secular, Han said “it is irrelevant,” adding “This is a parliamentarian system here, people go out and vote for a package.”
However, different polls have revealed that the Turkish people see themselves as Muslim, with at least half of those surveyed describing themselves as religious. So while protests against educational reforms have started and may well continue in 2015, it seems that these reforms are here to stay for the near future.

Turkey - [Democracy Pulpit] Threat to media

To save himself, after police operations into corruption that were revealed on Dec. 17 and 25 of last year President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided to target the Gülen movement. In other words, he relied on the same methods and tactics seen in the days of Ergenekon and Balyoz.
By suppressing the media, Erdoğan tried to prevent the spread of reports that his government was corrupt. Some media outlets were intimidated by these threats; some papers and television channels did not publish or broadcast the views of police officers and lawyers who were involved. On the other hand, the pro-government journalists are talking all the time and their views are published; they are holding the Gülen movement responsible for what has gone wrong. Samanyolu Broadcasting Group and the Zaman daily are rare exceptions in not submitting to this suppression, and this makes Erdoğan particularly uncomfortable. For this reason, he uses various methods to silence them. The government even took measures against Bank Asya. Erdoğan curses and insults [the movement] on a daily basis. But these media outlets do not stop speaking up and instead, focus on realities. I believe the reason for the Dec. 14 operation is as follows: to intimidate and silence and to cover up the Dec. 17 and 25 corruption allegations and charges.
The president is determined to do anything to cover up the corruption. The EU is struggling with Erdoğan's illegal methods; the president tells them that he does not care about what they have to say. But of course, he does not have the authority to support these statements. Turkey has a strong and established EU policy, which was in place before the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power. Obviously, Erdoğan is uncomfortable with the EU's stance on freedoms and the need to implement the law. Sadly, Turkey is in a difficult position.

Erdoğan says Turkey was target of ‘treasonous’ birth control campaign

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated his call on married couples to help the economy by having more than one child, calling birth control an act of “treason” aimed at weakening Turkey.
“We need a qualified population. We will never ignore this. If we want this nation to go beyond the level of contemporary civilization, this nation needs to be strong. In economy, there is a rule: young means dynamic,” Erdoğan said at a wedding ceremony on Sunday evening. “They carried out a treasonous act that is birth control, and they attempted to render us extinct.”
Erdoğan has long called on married couples to have at least three children, saying this is necessary to maintain economic growth.

Turkey - Media freedom is a victim of Erdogan's struggle against Gülen

Samira Shackle 

The Turkish government does not have a great record on media freedom. Earlier this year, leaked phone recordings revealed the president (he was prime minister at the time), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, giving directions to a board member of a national media network about its television and newspaper coverage. Several well-known journalists were fired after Erdogan criticised them publicly.
It was in this context that on 14 December, Turkish police raided the offices of media outlets linked to a US-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gülen. The country's best-selling newspaper, Zaman, was raided, as was the Samanylou television network. According to the semi-official Anatolia news agency, 31 warrants for arrest were issued and 23 people were ultimately detained. These included senior police officers, as well as the editor of Zaman and the head of Samanylou, and several leading screenwriters.
The arrests mark a stepping up of Erdogan's battle against Gülen and his supporters. A former ally of the president, Gülen is now a vocal critic of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). He lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. The current high tensions go back to a corruption investigation last December that targeted Erdogan's inner circle. This was the most extensive and sensational investigation of its type in Turkey's recent history, and it led to dozens of detentions, including well-known business people, ministers' families and top bureaucrats. Four cabinet ministers were forced to resign.
Gülen is a mainstream Sunni preacher, with millions of followers in Turkey and abroad. Erdogan accuses his movement, commonly known in Turkey as Hizmet, of orchestrating a plot to bring down his government and of running a "parallel structure" via supporters in the judiciary, police, media and other state institutions. He alleges that the cleric's followers were behind the corruption allegations, a charge that Gülen denies, and has sought to extradite the preacher from the US to Turkey. Critics of Gülen allege that his movement controls Zaman, Samanyolu, the private Bank Asya and the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists. Gülen and his supporters maintain that the movement is civic in nature and does not have any political aspirations.
The arrests of journalists follows the arrests of police officers involved in the corruption allegations, and the passing of a new bill in February that gives the justice ministry greater sway over the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, an independent body that appoints members of the judiciary. It is not immediately clear what the journalists are actually accused of, but Istanbul's police chief said that the charges involve "forgery and slander".
Erdogan's move has drawn widespread international condemnation. Human Rights Watch said that the arrests would harm media freedom, while the International Federation of Journalists called it a "brazen assault on press freedom and Turkish democracy". The Committee to Protect Journalists called the move "heavy-handed" and the International Press Institute said that the arrests were "part of a trend by Turkey's government in recent years to use terrorism accusations to bring its critics to heel". The European Union, which Turkey has long sought to join, was also critical, with top officials releasing a statement saying that the raids and arrests "are incompatible with the freedom of media, which is a core principle of democracy." The statement added that moving towards membership required "full respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights." Erdogan responded defiantly: "The EU should mind its own business and keep its own opinions to itself. We have no concern about what the EU might say, whether the EU accepts us as members or not."
Ever since the Gezi Park protests in June 2013, Erdogan has been judged to be increasingly paranoid. During the protests, he said that a "global interest-rate lobby" of western bankers, foreign spies and media wanted to oust his party. In December 2013, when he declared his intention to go after the Gülen movement, it was reported that he believed a "Gülen-Israel axis" wanted to unseat him. The arrests of journalists show that the Turkish president will use whatever powers are available to him to go after his critics, and that he has no qualms about alienating his international allies in the process.

Video - U.S. - Will bad weather mess up holiday travel?

Video - Did the Obamas experience racial bias?

U.S - Conservatives use New York shooting to bash Obama

By Paul Waldman

The horrifying shooting of two police officers in Brooklyn on Saturday has brought out the worst in some people. But it also gives us an opportunity to consider how we talk about the way we talk and whether we might do it in a more enlightening fashion. We regularly argue over not just the substance of issues but the way those issues are being discussed; both liberals and conservatives are convinced that their side presents its arguments in reasonable and logical ways, while the other side is prone to inflammatory, dishonest and demagogic rhetoric. When something like this shooting happens, the accusation that it occurred because of the words someone else spoke is almost inevitable. But it’s also almost always wrong.
Over the weekend, the conclusion from some on the right was immediate: The killing of officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos could be laid at the feet of national leaders who have been critical of police practices, including President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The venom directed at de Blasio from police union leaders was particularly vivid. “There’s blood on many hands tonight,” said Patrick Lynch, the head of the New York police union. “Those that incited violence on the street in the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it shouldn’t be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts at the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.” Here’s a tweet from former New York governor George Pataki:

Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of & .
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) seemed to want to say that public officials were not responsible for the murders, but yeah, they’re kind of responsible: “the tone they’re setting around the rhetoric regarding the cops incites crazy people, but I blame the shooter.” And then there’s Rudy Giuliani, who was much more explicit: “We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police,” he said in an appearance on Fox News.
It’s hard to find words to describe what a despicable lie this is. But here’s the truth: Every single time Barack Obama has spoken about these issues, he has stressed that violence of any kind, even when people are protesting over legitimate grievances, is utterly wrong and unacceptable. He makes sure, in all his public statements, to include praise of police officers. If he had ever said anything like “everybody should hate the police,” it would have been rather dramatic, to say the least. But he never said anything even remotely resembling that. For instance, here’s what Obama said after the grand jury’s decision was announced in the Ferguson case:
“I also appeal to the law enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur. Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day.  They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law. As they do their jobs in the coming days, they need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence – distinguish them from the vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and law enforcement interact.”
Wow, that is some horrifying anti-cop rhetoric. And what about de Blasio? Here’s part of the explanation for why some in the NYPD seem to hate him so much:
There have been a number flash points between de Blasio and police, including one earlier this month, when the mayor spoke to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News about his fears for his biracial son.
“It’s different for a white child. That’s just the reality in this country,” de Blasio said. “And with Dante, very early on with my son, we said, look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do, don’t move suddenly, don’t reach for your cellphone, because we knew, sadly, there’s a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.”
I get that police officers might not like to hear that, but is there a single sane human being who can say it’s bad advice to give to a black teenager? Or that anyone could take it as encouragement to commit murder?
It’s perfectly fine to call people out on their rhetoric. Everyone fortunate enough to have a prominent voice in public debate should be accountable for the things he or she says. But when someone tosses off the accusation that an act of violence committed by one deranged person was a consequence of words someone else spoke, he or she should immediately be met with a couple of questions, the most important of which is: What,exactly, are you referring to?
So when Rudy Giuliani accuses Barack Obama of saying “everybody should hate the police,” the response should be, “Mr. Giuliani, can you tell us what quote you’re referring to? When did President Obama actually say ‘everybody should hate the police’?” And when Giuliani has no answer, then he ought to be asked whether he’d like to retract the accusation. When Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) says, “it’s really time for our national leaders, the president, it’s time for the mayor of New York, and really for many in the media to stop the cop bashing, to stop this anti-police rhetoric,” he should be asked what exactly the president said that constitutes “cop-bashing.”
To be clear, this isn’t about shutting down anyone’s right to say what they want, even to toss off unsupported accusations. People regularly react to criticism of the things they say with cries of “censorship,” as though the First Amendment not only gives you a right to speak but also removes anyone else’s right to tell you that you’re being a jerk. But if you’re going to say that someone else’s words led to violence, you’d better have a case to make, and that case has to include the specific words that supposedly pushed the violent person over the edge.
Liberals like me certainly spend our fair share of time examining and criticizing the rhetoric of conservative politicians. But when any of us do it, we should follow a simple rule: The more serious the accusation you’re making, the more responsibility you have to support it with clear, specific evidence. If we all followed that rule, we could have a debate about events like this shooting that actually brought some greater understanding.
Or we could just see how angry we could make people, and whether we could use the tragedy to stir up hatred at our political opponents.

Killing of New York Police Officers Tests Promise of ‘One City’

First, the grieving. The horrifying killings of two police officers in Brooklyn on Saturday shock the soul of the city and require us all to stop to honor the dead, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. Police Commissioner William Bratton, looking stricken at a news conference at Woodhull Hospital, reminded us that behind each blue uniform is a family. Officer Liu was newly married. Officer Ramos had a wife and 13-year-old son. Mayor Bill de Blasio called the officers’ deaths “an attack on everything we hold dear.”
Next, the reckoning: The attacker, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, apparently said he was driven to assassination as retaliation for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. There is no evidence that Mr. Brinsley, holder of a long criminal record who also shot a former girlfriend and killed himself, had any connection to the recent months of peaceful protests for police reform. But he linked those earlier tragedies to his hateful words and unspeakable act, fatally coloring how others will perceive it. There is no more important job ahead for Mr. de Blasio than to lead and unite the city. He cannot allow it to fracture into opposing camps of those who support outraged protesters and those who stand with aggrieved cops. Never has his “one city” promise been so urgently and so sorely tested.
The city’s divisions are already keenly felt, and on Saturday night found expression in open contempt for the mayor. Many officers silently turned their backs on Mr. de Blasio as he walked down a corridor at the hospital. Their union leaders were more explicit. “There’s blood on many hands tonight,” said Patrick Lynch, president of the officers’ union. “That blood on the hands starts on the steps of City Hall, in the office of the mayor.”
The best response to those inflammatory words is to take them as expressions of grief and shock, and to ignore Mr. Lynch’s calls for deeper hostility and suspicion. Mr. de Blasio and other city officials, along with responsible police leaders and protesters, should now summon the city to stand on common ground. No one wants to fall deeper into a grotesque cycle of grievance and vengeance, where all that grows is blindness and hate. The answer to violence is love, as reflected in a statement from the grass-roots group #BlackLivesMatter deploring the officers’ killings and calling for “a complete transformation of the ways we see and relate to one another.” 
Officers Ramos and Liu were patrolling in Brooklyn not to oppress but to serve and protect. Those who live and work in New York should unite in gratitude for their service and sacrifice, and commit themselves to a city where all feel safe. That is a movement everyone should join.

China condemns cyberattacks, but says no proof North Korea hacked Sony

 China said on Monday it opposed all forms of cyberattacks but there was no proof that North Korea was responsible for the hacking of Sony Pictures, as the United States has said.
North Korea has denied it was to blame and has vowed to hit back against any U.S. retaliation, threatening the White House and the Pentagon. The hackers said they were incensed by a Sony comedy about a fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which the studio has pulled.
China made no reference to calls by the United States for joint action with it and other countries to counter any similar cyberattacks.
"Before making any conclusions there has to be a full (accounting of) the facts and foundation," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. "China will handle it in accordance with relevant international and Chinese laws according to the facts."
She said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi "reaffirmed China's relevant position, emphasizing China opposes all forms of cyberattacks and cyber terrorism" in a conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday.
China is North Korea's only major ally, and would be central to any U.S. efforts to crack down on the isolated state. But the United States has also accused China of cyber spying in the past and a U.S. official has said the attack on Sony could have used Chinese servers to mask its origin.
South Korea, which is still technically at war with North Korea, said computer systems at its nuclear plant operator had been hacked and non-critical data stolen, but there was no risk to nuclear installations or reactors.
"It's our judgment that the control system itself is designed in such a way and there is no risk whatsoever," Chung Yang-ho, deputy energy minister, told Reuters by telephone.
He made no mention of North Korea and could not verify messages posted by a Twitter user claiming responsibility for the attacks and demanding the shutdown of three aging nuclear reactors by Thursday.
U.S. President Barack Obama and his advisers are weighing how to punish North Koreaafter the FBI concluded on Friday it was responsible for the attack on Sony.
It was the first time the United States had directly accused another country of a cyberattack of such magnitude on American soil and set up the possibility of a new confrontation between Washington and Pyongyang.
North Korea's state news agency said it did not know who had hacked Sony Pictures.
"We do not know who or where they are but we can surely say that they are supporters and sympathizers with the DPRK," the KCNA news agency said. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the North's official name.
"Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland, the cesspool of terrorism, by far surpassing the 'symmetric counteraction' declared by Obama," it said in a typically aggressive commentary.
Japan, one of Washington's closest Asian allies, said it strongly condemned the attack on Sony, but also stopped short of blaming North Korea.
"Japan is maintaining close contact with the United States and supporting their handling of this case," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
He did not answer when asked if Japan was convinced North Korea was behind the cyber attack, but repeated that he saw no effect on talks with North Korea over the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by Pyongyang agents decades ago.
Obama put the hack in the context of a crime.
"No, I don't think it was an act of war," he told CNN's "State of the Union" show that aired on Sunday. "I think it was an act of cyber vandalism that was very costly, very expensive. We take it very seriously. We will respond proportionately."
The hack attack and subsequent threats of violence against theaters prompted Sony to withdraw the comedy, "The Interview," which had been due for release during the holiday season.
Republican Senator John McCain disagreed with Obama, telling CNN the attack was the manifestation of a new kind of warfare.
Republican Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, would not call the hacking an act of war. But he did criticize Obama for embarking on a two-week vacation in Hawaii on Friday without responding to the attack.
"You've just limited your ability to do something," Rogers said.
"I would argue you're going to have to ramp up sanctions. It needs to be very serious. Remember - a nation-state was threatening violence."