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China’s shadow looms large over second Trump-Kim summit | China News





Beijing, China – All eyes were on Singapore in June last year as a jumbo jet carrying Kim Jong-un landed on the tarmac of the city-state’s Changi airport, days before the North Korean leader’s landmark summit with US President Donald Trump.

As Kim took his first steps onto Singaporean soil, having completed his longest trip abroad as head of state, those present saw it wasn’t a North Korean airline from which he had just disembarked – but a Chinese one.

Beijing’s loan of the Air China 747 carrier made logistical sense, providing Kim with a much more reliable mode of transport to make the 4,800km trip to Singapore than using his own, decades-old, official aircraft. 

The move, however, was not only practical but also symbolic. Though China – North Korea‘s main ally – was not physically present at the Singapore meeting aimed at reviving stalled nuclear talks, it had an undeniable a role to play in it.

“China’s blessing is important for North Korea,” Tong Zhao, a nuclear-policy fellow at the Beijing-based Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, told Al Jazeera. Without Chinese support, he added, Pyongyang may fear being “strong-armed into an unfair deal”.

Kim waves from a train in Beijing on January 10, 2019 [KCNA via Reuters]

And now, with another summit between the United States and North Korea set to take place at the end of this month in Vietnam, Beijing’s influence is once again palpable.

China does not want to be pushed aside by the Trump-Kim summit; it wants to have a role in shaping it,” Carlyle Thayer, a security consultant and Emeritus Professor at The University of New South Wales in Australia, said.

Indeed, it was only last month when Kim arrived in Beijing on a bulletproof train at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, just as speculation over an upcoming second meeting with Trump mounted.

The trip marked the once-reclusive North Korean leader’s fourth summit with Xi over the past year, including his first known diplomatic foray overseas with a visit to the Chinese capital in March 2018, all coming before and after talks with either Trump or South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“The four visits seem an effort to get them both on the same sheet of music,” Thayer told Al Jazeera. “It indicates some kind of coordination.”

Xi Jinping and Kim Jong Un have held four meetings over the past year [KCNA via Reuters]

A strategic partnership

China is North Korea’s largest economic partner, accounting for the vast majority of its trade. Beijing’s support for Pyongyang dates back to the Korean War (1950–1953), when Chinese troops were sent to the Korean Peninsula to aid the North’s forces. Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong once described the relationship between the two countries as “close as lips and teeth”.

But these brotherly ties began to deteriorate when North Korea began missile testing in 2006, before hitting further lows in 2017 after Pyongyang began ramping up its nuclear tests.

“China was very irritated when Kim was firing his ballistic missiles and setting off explosions,” Thayer said. “It brought threats from Trump as trade issues were rising,” he added, referring to a major tariff dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

“It complicated the situation enormously.”

According to Zhao, China’s renewed closeness with North Korea does not stem from “mutual trust” but from “mutual benefit”. He said China’s ultimate goal was denuclearisation on the Korean Peninsula whilst maintaining influence over the region.

“As long as North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, it will be an excuse for South Korea and Japan to continue enhancing their own military capabilities, and for the US to strengthen its alliances in the region and to continue deploying missile defence and other advanced military assets near China’s doorstep,” Zhao added. “That is a major cause for concern in China.”

Cheng Xiaohe, a professor of Korean studies at China’s Renmin University, said Beijing supported the Trump-Kim summit because it saw it as a crucial step towards stability in the region.

“Nuclear issues have been bothering the whole of Northeast Asia,” Cheng told Al Jazeera, adding that China believed a positive outcome would help transform North Korea from “a country that used to be the origin of tensions and wars, to one that’s stable and peaceful”.

101 EAST: North Korea’s Secret Money (25:00)

Economic push

Pyongyang, in turn, sees close ties with Beijing as crucial for its economic development. Chinese support also gives Kim a certain amount of leverage while negotiating for the lifting of international sanctions.

“Putting a stop to the sanctions will be very important,” Cheng said. “If that doesn’t happen, North Korea can never have a real reform and opening up.”

Though China began imposing United Nations sanctions on North Korea in 2017, it hs been careful to maintain its role as an economic lifeline for North Korea – Beijing remains the country’s main source of food and energy.

“China wants to push Kim in the direction of denuclearisation,” said Thayer. “But not squeeze him so badly so that the regime collapses and affects China.”

But for Zhao, there is a deeper reason behind Beijing’s continued assistance: increasing economic interaction with Pyongyang is the only way for China to address the root cause of its nuclear ambition. “North Korea’s nuclear weapons are simply the symptom of the disease,” Zhao said. “The disease itself is actually deep paranoia; its serious threat perception towards the outside world, especially the US.”

Therefore, he added, promoting dialogue with the US and interaction with other countries was, “in the long run, good news for China”.

INSIDE STORY: Is North Korea’s timeline to denuclearise for real? (25:25)

Concrete outcomes

Last time Kim and Trump met on June 12, 2018, in what was the first encounter between a North Korean leader and a sitting US president, millions of people around the world stopped to watch the two leaders’ historic handshake. Only months before, such a moment seemed unthinkable – North Korea had intensified its nuclear testing, prompting threats from the US president to rain down “fire and fury”.

But though the Singapore meeting was high on spectacle, it was low on details, resulting in little tangible progress on denuclearisation.

This time, Cheng said, China would want more concrete results and both countries to reach “a real consensus” in the February 27-28 summit in Hanoi.

“For example, for North Korea to agree to international monitors checking and reporting on its nuclear weapons and facilities; and for the US to agree to partially lift sanctions,” said Cheng.

Failing that, he said Beijing would welcome “lower” or “medium-level” goals, such the halting of weapon development and the dismantling of the Yongbyon nuclear facility, increased economic cooperation with South Korea and an official end to the Korean War.

China does not expect denuclearisation to happen overnight, said Zhao. “North Korea’s leaders still have a very strong incentive to keep their independent nuclear deterrent capability.

“It really requires time for trust to be built between Washington and Pyongyang. Any progress to be made at the second summit is likely to be incremental and limited.”


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Health Canada looking into pot firms’ sponsorship of charity event





TORONTO — Health Canada is looking into whether two cannabis companies’ sponsorship of a children’s charity event last October is in violation of promotion restrictions within the Cannabis Act.

Cannabis sector companies Canopy Growth Corp. and Halo Labs were among the sponsors of an Oct. 23 event in support of Kids, Cops & Computers for the Merry Go Round Children’s Foundation, whose honorary chairman is federal Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair.

During the annual event called Inspiration Night, held in Toronto, the cannabis companies’ logos were used in a poster of sponsors and other materials, according to pictures posted by the non-profit online.

A Health Canada spokesman says the Cannabis Act does not prohibit the sponsorship of a person, entity, activity or facility but that sponsorship cannot be used to promote cannabis and it is prohibited to display a brand element of cannabis.

“We are gathering facts and information about the situation to determine whether there may be an instance of non-compliance with the promotion prohibitions in the Cannabis Act,” said Health Canada spokesman Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge in an email.

He added that Health Canada has followed up with the company to ensure it is aware of the promotions prohibitions, and it understands that the Foundation has removed the names of the cannabis companies from the list of sponsors on its website.

Under the Cannabis Act, that came into effect when Canada legalized pot for recreational use on Oct. 17 last year, there are strict guidelines on promotion and marketing. Those include a ban on promotion that is appealing to youth, and sponsorship of people, events or buildings. However, approaches between licensed producers in the months since legalization have varied and some industry players have said that reflects uncertainty on how to interpret murky portions of the act.

The act stipulates that it is prohibited to display, refer to or otherwise use a brand element of cannabis directly, or indirectly, in a promotion that is used in the sponsorship of a person, entity, event, activity or facility. As well, it is prohibited to display the name of a person that produces, sells, or distributes cannabis, sells or distributes a cannabis accessory or provides a service related to cannabis.

Merry Go Round’s president Mark Zwicker said at the time of the event, the Cannabis Act was so new it wasn’t clear whether brand elements could be used. The charity has since removed the logos from its website, he said.

“It’s a grey area and we don’t want to do anything that would materially affect the charity… I can assure you that no one that was involved with the charity would have knowingly taken any action that would contravene the act,” Zwicker said.

Canopy Growth said it is not prohibited from sponsoring an event as long as cannabis is not promoted.

“There was no promotion of Canopy’s donation,” stated spokeswoman Caitlin O’Hara. “The only public mention of Canopy Growth’s corporate donation was the company’s logo on the charity’s donation page and logo placement at the event itself, which was a private event.”

Halo Labs and Bill Blair did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The sponsorship portion of the Cannabis Act does have some “grey areas,” such as whether a holding company would be subject to the sponsorship restrictions, said Ottawa-based lawyer Trina Fraser.

“In and of itself, it is not a producer or distributor of cannabis, its subsidiaries are… I think there is still some greyness around that,” she said.

However, the act says it is prohibited to use a trademark or brand name slogan that evokes or is reasonably associated with cannabis, said Toronto-based lawyer Matt Maurer.

“Even if Canopy is the parent company, using their name is a brand element because it is associated with cannabis, that’s what they do…. There’s an argument to be made on both sides.”

When reviewing regulated activities under the act, Health Canada considers each situation on a “case by case-basis,” said Legault-Thivierge.

“A range of factors including, but not limited to, the purpose of any promotion, its content, its context, and its intended audience would be assessed when enforcing the prohibitions on promotion in the Cannabis Act,” he said.

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When it makes sense to pay your taxes with a credit card – and when it doesn’t





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  • You can pay taxes with a credit card through third-party providers – not through the IRS website.
  • If you cannot pay off your credit-card balance immediately, you are better off setting up a payment plan with the IRS than using your credit card to pay your taxes.
  • Paying taxes with a credit card to earn a big sign-up bonus or reward points makes sense if the value exceeds the credit-card fee you will be charged.

You can pay your taxes with a credit card, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea. The IRS allows you to pay with a credit card through third-party partners or when you e-file your taxes through online tax services like TurboTax or H&R Block.

Paying taxes with a credit card isn’t free, but sometimes it could make sense. Here’s how to figure out what’s best for you.

What taxes you can pay with a credit card

You can pay your annual tax return, due when you file your taxes sometime between the beginning of the year and April 15. You can also use a credit card to pay quarterly estimated tax payments, which are most common for people who are self-employed or who have freelance income. Some states, cities, and counties allow you to pay income and property taxes with a credit card as well.

Read more: The IRS says the busiest day of tax season is right around the corner, and there’s a simple way to beat the rush

What it costs to pay your taxes with a credit card or debit card

The IRS works with three payment processors to handle tax payments made via debit or credit card. There are also options for paying your tax bill with a credit card when you e-file.

Debit card payments require a small flat fee, but you can just as easily pay your taxes with a bank account transfer for free. In most cases, that will be the better option. For paying your taxes with a credit card through a third-party processor, you’ll pay the following convenience fees:

If you pay your taxes with your credit card when you file online through tax software like TurboTax or H&R Block, the fees typically start at 2.49%, but could be even higher.

When not to pay taxes with a credit card

Deciding whether it makes sense to pay an extra fee when filing your taxes depends on your card’s rewards and your ability to pay it off before the next statement due date.

If you can’t pay off your balance in full every month, you should avoid paying your taxes with your credit card. With average credit-card-interest rates around 17%, it is better to set up a payment plan with the IRS than pay huge interest charges from your credit card (not to mention the convenience fee). Interest rates associated with an IRS payment plan will be around 5% or so.

When to pay taxes with a credit card

If you do pay your balance off in full every month, you could be a good candidate to pay your taxes with a credit card – but only if the rewards are bigger than the fee.

If you use the Citi Double Cash Card, for example, you’ll get the equivalent of 2% cash back. That’s more than the fee. If you use points from Chase Freedom Unlimited, at 1.5% cash back (or 1.5x points per dollar spent), as travel rewards paired up with a premium Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, it could also make sense – when you hold the Sapphire Preferred, you get a bonus when you redeem points for travel through Chase, and you can get a higher value by transferring points to airline frequent flyer partners. Consequently, the value of each point can be well over 2¢.

Alternatively, if you’re using your taxes to hit the minimum spend requirement on a credit card’s sign-up bonus, you might end up getting way more than 1.87% back.

But if you don’t get rewards or the value is less than 1.87%, you should only use a card if it will get you over the hurdle for a bonus. Otherwise, you will spend more than you get back in rewards!

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More people put off home buying, due to student debt: Survey





If you graduated from college years ago and are still reeling from the costs, you’re not alone.

A new survey from Bankrate shows that 73 percent of respondents have delayed at least one major life milestone because of their student loan debt. Participants said they’ve put off buying a house (23 percent), saving for retirement (29 percent), saving for emergencies (34 percent) or paying off other debt (27 percent).

“For prospective students and their families, many of who will help them to pay for their secondary education, we’d urge them to investigate all possible options for financial aid including scholarships to limit their borrowing, ” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate, in an email.

Bankrate surveyed 3,885 adults in the U.S. this February. The average student loan debt in 2019 is $33,310, according to financial-service marketplace Credible.

“There’s a huge toll being taken on individuals and the U.S. economy from the growing burden of student loan debt,” Hamrick said. “For the huge slice of the American population with debt, it is necessary to juggle competing goals including saving for emergencies and retirement, as well as major life decisions.”

Looking back, 77 percent of millennials with student debt said they would have made different financial decisions in college, according to the survey.

Among those regrets? Thirty percent of respondents said they would apply for more scholarships, 19 percent said they would have gone to a community college and 18 percent reported they would attend a different university.

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If you’re applying for colleges now, there’s options when it comes to footing the bill.

Melissa Ridolfi, vice president for retirement and college leadership at Fidelity Investments, told CNBC that Fidelity is seeing parents become more educated when it comes to their children’s college funds.

When it comes to funding your child’s education, Ridolfi had these tips: Start saving as early as possible, have a dedicated savings account (such as a 529 plan) and save regularly.

“We see 37 percent of parents starting to save before their child is even 2 years old,” she said.

Financing a college education? You should:
• Start saving early;
• Establish a routine and save regularly; and
• Put funds in a separate account.

Fidelity also has a gifting platform (similar to GoFundMe), in which people can send out a link and family members and friends can donate money to someone’s 529 plan.

“We’re also seeing that parents are more realistic about the cost of coverage and how much of that they can cover themselves,” Ridolfi said.

“They definitely understand the importance of saving and saving early.”

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