How long, I wonder, before this particular house of cards collapses:
North Korea has agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, as well as nuclear and long-range missile tests, US and North Korean officials say.
The US State Department said the North had also agreed to allow UN inspectors to monitor its reactor in Yongbyon to verify compliance with the measures.
In return, Washington is set to provide Pyongyang with some 240,000 tonnes of food aid.
The move follows talks between US and North Korea in Beijing last week.
My guess: it'll be sometime after the food aid's been provided, but before the UN inspectors turn up.
Presumably there'll be no monitoring when it comes to handing over the food aid. As usual, it'll go to the military.
Predictably enough the Chinese are unimpressed with South Korean efforts to shame them into honouring their obligations under the UN Refugee Convention to treat defectors from North Korea as refugees rather than economic migrants:
Beijing is increasingly irked by South Korean efforts on behalf of a group of North Koreans who were arrested in China and face repatriation. In a press briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reiterated the North Koreans "illegally crossed the border for economic reasons. There are no sufficient grounds to consider them refugees."
Hong was replying to a question whether China intends to help defectors given that they face persecution if they are sent back to the North.
"Some defectors were sent back because they frequently crossed the border illegally. Some of them had crossed the border a dozen times," Hong said. "No country would tolerate illegal border crossing or criminal activities assisting such people."
"I'd like to say once again that the dignity of the Chinese laws should be duly respected and protected," he added. "China will deal with the issue on the basis of domestic and international laws and humanitarian principles."
Hong complained that South Korean media reports "are taking an emotional and political approach to the defector issue. This neither accords with the facts nor helps in finding a solution."
Hong's reference to "humanitarian principles" is more than a little nauseating given what we know about the likely fate of returnees.
“No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture."
A brief read about the North Korean rehabilitation camps should give substantial grounds enough on that score.
Rather than being out-competed or even out-bullied into extinction, Neanderthals may already have been on the way out prior to the arrival of modern humans, according to a new study:
DNA analysis suggests most Neanderthals in western Europe died out as early as 50,000 years ago - thousands of years before our own species appeared.
A small group of Neanderthals then recolonised parts of Europe, surviving for 10,000 years before vanishing....
An international team of researchers studied the variation, or diversity, in mitochondrial DNA extracted from the bones of 13 Neanderthals....
The fossil specimens came from Europe and Asia and span a time period ranging from 100,000 years ago to about 35,000 years ago.
The scientists found that west European fossils with ages older than 48,000 years, along with Neanderthal specimens from Asia, showed considerable genetic variation.
But specimens from western Europe younger than 48,000 years showed much less genetic diversity (a six-fold reduction in variation compared to the older remains and the Asian Neanderthals).
In their scientific paper, the scientists propose that some event - possibly changes in the climate - caused Neanderthal populations in the West to crash around 50,000 years ago. But populations may have survived in warmer southern refuges, allowing the later re-expansion.
Low genetic variation can make a species less resilient to changes in its environment, and place it at increased risk of extinction.
"The fact that Neanderthals in Europe were nearly extinct, but then recovered, and that all this took place long before they came into contact with modern humans, came as a complete surprise," said lead author Love Dalen, from the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm.
"This indicates that the Neanderthals may have been more sensitive to the dramatic climate changes that took place in the last Ice Age than was previously thought."
A sample size of only 13 seems a little on the small side to support such generalisations. But then, what do I know?
The original paper's here.
The richest 70 members of China’s legislature added more to their wealth last year than the combined net worth of all 535 members of the U.S. Congress, the president and his Cabinet, and the nine Supreme Court justices.
The net worth of the 70 richest delegates in China’s National People’s Congress, which opens its annual session on March 5, rose to 565.8 billion yuan ($89.8 billion) in 2011, a gain of $11.5 billion from 2010, according to figures from the Hurun Report, which tracks the country’s wealthy. That compares to the $7.5 billion net worth of all 660 top officials in the three branches of the U.S. government.
The income gain by NPC members reflects the imbalances in economic growth in China, where per capita annual income in 2010 was $2,425, less than in Belarus and a fraction of the $37,527 in the U.S. The disparity points to the challenges that China’s new generation of leaders, to be named this year, faces in countering a rise in social unrest fueled by illegal land grabs and corruption. [...]
The wealthiest member of the U.S. Congress is Representative Darrell Issa, the California Republican who had a maximum wealth of $700.9 million in 2010, according to the center. If he were in China’s NPC, he would be ranked 40th. Per capita income in China is about one-sixth the U.S. level when adjusted for differences in purchasing power.
South Korean legislators on Friday condemned China's repatriation of fugitives from North Korea after Beijing reportedly sent nine back despite pleas from Seoul.
A resolution passed by the committee on foreign affairs and unification urges China to follow international rules in handling North Koreans who flee their impoverished homeland, and seeks outside help to halt the returns.
The resolution, adopted at a meeting attended by Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan, followed reports by Yonhap news agency and newspapers that nine North Koreans were sent back last weekend.
Activists who have been demonstrating in Seoul say the fugitives face severe punishment, even a possible death sentence, if forced to return home.
President Lee Myung-Bak said Wednesday the North Koreans should be treated in line with international rules.
The South's foreign ministry has urged China to change its policy of treating North Koreans as economic migrants, and to give them refugee status.
According to this report, there are hundreds more detainees currently in China awaiting repatriation, out of an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 North Koreans currently roaming China, including women sold to Chinese men, those in search of food, and those trying to make it to the South:
Those who are looking for food often find work at factories or lumber camps in China as undocumented immigrant workers. But those who wish to defect to the South move to designated gathering points, from where they are taken to safe houses provided by Christian missions and cross the border through the southwestern province of Yunnan into Laos or Burma. They then make their way to Thailand, where they spend three or four weeks in immigration detention centers before they are deported to South Korea.
Some 2,500 to 3,000 defectors have reached South Korea annually over the past five years, 2,737 last year.
The fate of defectors who are arrested in China and repatriated depends on what motivated them to flee in the first place. Those who fled hunger are normally categorized as ordinary criminals and held in prisons or labor camps managed by the Ministry of People's Security. They suffer forced labor and beatings but are released after a certain period.
But those who are found to have attempted to escape to South Korea, contacted South Koreans or foreigners, or visited churches, are treated as political criminals and held in political concentration camps supervised by the State Security Department. Some are executed, depending on the extent of their crimes or the prevailing mood in the regime.
Meanwhile, as part of the general tightening of security in border areas since the accession of Kim Jong Un, fifty or so agents from the National Security Agency are reported to have entered China to hunt out North Korean defectors. Although there's no specific information either way, it's highly unlikely that this would be done without some kind of nod from Beijing.