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What next for North Korea-US ties after Kim’s China trip? | News

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Riding on a bullet-proof train, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un arrived this week in Beijing just in time to spend his 35th birthday alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The surprise trip to the Chinese capital served as a reminder to Washington that nuclear-armed Pyongyang has other strategic allies, underscoring the importance of the Sino-North Korean relationship ahead of Kim’s possible second summit with US President Donald Trump.

“It’s no secret China has always wanted to be a part of this talk,” said James Kim, director at the the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in South Korea’s capital, Seoul.

He added that the two-day trip shows that Kim is “sensitive” to the demands of China, North Korea’s primary trade and aid source.

But it may also have sent a message to Trump that Pyongyang has other options if rapprochement with Washington fails.

Focus on sanctions

At their high-profile summit in Singapore last year, Kim and Trump signed a vaguely-worded pledge on denuclearisation but progress between the two sides has since stalled amid disagreements over the interpretation of their agreement.

In his annual New Year’s speech last week, Kim renewed his commitment to denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula but warned the United States of taking a “new path” if it doesn’t ease sanctions.

His trip to Beijing offers a glimpse as to where that path could lead.

Pyongyang could be using the visit to show the US that it has an “alternative power to gravitate towards”, according to Tai Wei Lim, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore.

The North Korean leader is keen to achieve sanctions relief, but he seems to know Xi may be better able to grant that wish than Trump. 

The US president’s strategy of maximum pressure depends largely on cooperation from Xi. With over 90 percent of North Korea’s trade volume flowing through China’s borders, Xi can control the faucet of North Korea’s economy better than Trump by choosing to enforce those sanctions or take a more relaxed approach.

Recently, China may be doing more of the latter, says James Kim, pointing to ongoing rumours of “de facto loosening of sanctions implementation in China”. And while Beijing hasn’t formally claimed to be ignoring enforcement, reports about “pockets of sanctions violations” are growing, he added.






Historic year of inter-Korea relations sees drop in tensions

‘Have his cake and eat it too’

North Korea has a well-honed talent for playing the world’s major players against one another, leading analysts to believe that Kim at this point may be using that skill for leverage to get what he wants from a second summit with Trump: both striking a deal with the US and keeping his nuclear weapons.

“He wants to have his cake and eat it too,” argues James Kim.

North Korea has been under international sanctions fairly consistently since 2006, curtailing its resource-based economy by capping exports on coal and banning exports of copper and nickel. China has also banned imports of textiles from the North, while several countries have an embargo on selling them luxury goods.

The campaign on sanctions may be losing steam though, with North Korea importing $640m in luxury goods from China in 2017. Rumours of thinly disguised coal shipments to South Korea have added to US frustrations in getting Kim’s neighbours to maintain pressure.

If Beijing is willing to loosen its grip on sanctions, Kim could indeed emerge as a winner. But China, perhaps hesitant to sour relations with Washington amid a bruising trade war between the world’s two biggest economies, may also be hoping to extract something from Kim’s visit.

Xi seeks an end to the ongoing trade dispute, which is hurting the Chinese economy. Experts agree that while neither the US nor China is “winning” in the trade war, China may be at a disadvantage.

By inviting Kim to meet him in China before a summit with Trump, Xi may be sending a message to Washington that “Beijing still has leverage over Pyongyang”, according to Lim.

The fact that Kim’s visit came at the same time US negotiators were in China to discuss an end to the trade war is also unlikely to be a coincidence, said Sangsoo Lee, head of the Stockhold-based Korea Center at the Institute for Security and Development Policy, adding that there could “political intention” behind it

If Trump believes Xi holds the key to Kim’s cooperation, the Chinese president will have another card to play in trade talks. The two sides are wrangling to draft a deal before March 2, when US tariffs on Chinese goods are expected to intensify if no agreement is reached.





 

Vagueness as strength?

Kim has said openly that his goal remains modernising the North Korean economy, which he underlined by visiting a traditional Chinese medicine factory in Beijing on Wednesday.

In his address to the nation last week, Kim outlined goals to upgrade North Korea’s industrial capabilities, especially in pharmaceuticals. The country is a major producer of ginseng, a common ingredient in Chinese medicines, highlighting a potential export opportunity for Pyongyang.

But so far Kim’s strength has been in what he doesn’t say.

Like his father – Kim Jong-il, who ruled North Korea from 1994 to 2011, Kim’s strength has always been his “vagueness” about what he’ll do next, and an ability to “keep everybody guessing until they do it”, said James Kim.

While Trump is happy to broadcast his plans and successes on Twitter, Kim’s skill as a negotiator lies in not showing his cards “until the very last moment”, added Kim.

Instead, it may be more fruitful to look at what Pyongyang has actually done so far in the wake of the Singapore summit.

“Pyongyang has taken no meaningful steps toward denuclearisation,” said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Center in Washington, DC.

In fact, according to Klingner, any steps North Korea is taking appear to be in the wrong direction. Satellite images and intelligence reports show North Korea “has continued nuclear and missile production”, even expanding their operations, upgrading equipment such as reentry vehicles and mobile missile launchers, Klingner added.

What those actions could show, and what Kim communicated in his New Year’s address, is that North Korea is “not really serious about denuclearisation,” said James Kim, or at least not in the way the US would like to see it.

“That seems to be fairly clear and out in the open now.”

Until now, Kim appears to have been able to get a lot by giving very little. He’s had a summit with a US leader, developed a nuclear programme and is now eyeing greater economic expansion through China. And after rallying support for sanctions relief in Beijing, Kim will be hoping to use that leverage to continue his success at a second meeting with Trump.

The question now is how far the US is willing to concede from their original goal of complete denuclearisation, and what its response will be if North Korea chooses a better offer.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed

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On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon

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When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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