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US VP Pence in Indonesia to boost trade, ease tensions

US Vice President Mike Pence is visiting Indonesia as part of his 10-day Asia tour aimed at reassuring allies of Washington's commitment to the region amid worries about the future direction of US policy under President Donald Trump. 

After arriving in Indonesia's capital Jakarta, Pence on Thursday held talks with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla on a range of bilateral issues.

According to the Indonesian foreign ministry, the topics included strengthening economic and investment cooperation, maritime cooperation, counterterrorism, boosting mutual understanding of religious tolerance and the moderate values of Islam and the sustainability of US involvement in the Asia-Pacific region, specifically in Southeast Asia.

Pence, flanked by his family, also toured the biggest mosque in Indonesia, which can accommodate up to 200,000 people, was designed by a protestant and sits near a Catholic cathedral in central Jakarta.

The US leader then held an interfaith dialogue behind closed doors with representatives of the Christian, Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu and Muslim faiths.

Reaching out

Pence also praised Indonesia's democratic and religious values. "Indonesia's tradition of moderate Islam is frankly an inspiration to the world and we commend you and your people," he said. "In your nation as in mine, religion unifies, it doesn't divide."

The comments come a day after Jakarta witnessed the culmination of a vicious election campaign for governor that polarized the public along religious lines.

The city's incumbent Christian governor, who is also of Chinese origin, was defeated by a Muslim candidate with the backing of Islamic conservatives. The outcome is interpreted by some as a setback for the country's pluralistic values and a sign of Islamic groups' encroachment on politics.

Nevertheless, Pence's mosque visit and remarks are being seen as the most high-profile outreach to Muslims by the Trump administration, which has so far grabbed global headlines for its moves widely perceived as discriminatory vis-à-vis the community.

US VP Pence in Indonesia to boost trade, ease tensions

'The perception that President Trump and his team are anti-Islam is widespread in Indonesia, as it is most places in the Muslim world'

"The perception that President Trump and his team are anti-Islam is widespread in Indonesia, as it is most places in the Muslim world," Gregory Poling, a Southeast Asia expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies, told DW.

"That is tragic given how hard the Obama administration worked over the last eight years to boost US soft power in Indonesia," he added referring to the previous US administration under President Barack Obama.

At the government level, though, President Jokowi's administration, like in capitals all over the world, is still trying to figure out how US policy would evolve under the Trump presidency. "But Jakarta remains cautiously optimistic," said Poling.

Trade discord

An array of tensions on the trade and investment front sap enthusiasm for closer economic ties.

A major irritation for Jakarta is the inclusion of Indonesia in the list of 16 countries against which the Trump administration launched an investigation for possible trade abuses.

Indonesia last year boasted a surplus with the US


In China, EU's Mogherini talks North Korea, 'New Silk Road'

Wrapping up a three-day visit to Beijing, the EU's top diplomat,  Federica Mogherini, on Thursday said the EU and China shared responsibility for tackling disorder within the international community and building a rules-based order.

Speaking at China's prestigious Tsinghua University, Mogherini told students that rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula have worldwide implications, warning that a crisis with North Korea "will have a global fallout."

China and the EU have a "common responsibility and an interest to avoid a military escalation in the Korean Peninsula, to push for North Korea to abide by its international obligations and re-engage with the international community," Mogherini said.

Tensions have flared in the Korean Peninsula since US President Donald Trump ordered the deployment of a naval attack group off the Korean Peninsula, prompting threats of "all-out war" from Pyongyang.

Mogherini on Wednesday addressed the need for China and the EU to work together "in times of growing tensions and geopolitical unpredictability."

"China and the European Union are global powers: we have a joint responsibility to work together towards a more cooperative, rules-based global order," Mogherini said.


Pakistani women: Between glory and misery

The World Economic Forum's latest Global Gender Gap Report  ranked Pakistan 143rd out of 144 countries in the gender inequality index. The country ranks far below its neighbors Bangladesh and India. Yemen is at the bottom.

Pakistani society presents amazing contrasts of social development. People in urban areas have access to the full range of facilities and opportunities in education, health, and other fields. Towns have lesser access to such facilities, rural areas have only minimal facilities, and the tribal areas have yet to come out of the medieval time capsule.

These broad divisions have an umbrella of male chauvinism and defined social roles where women are not perceived as individuals but as mothers, wives, daughters and sisters. This leads to male domination.

Commenting on this phenomenon, sociologist Naima Saeed from Karachi University says women are given very little choice about their jobs and careers.

"Their families determine what course their lives will take and there is very little chance that they can or will carve out economically independent lives for themselves. Their economic rights are defined and interpreted by their male family members."

Feudal mindset controls economic activities

In addition to their family obligations, Pakistani women work in factories, brick kilns, agricultural fields and cattle rearing.

If they work in fields belonging to their families, they don't receive any remuneration. But even when they work for someone else, either their wages become part of the family savings or, in some cases, are collected by their male relatives.

Pakistani women: Between glory and misery

Malala Yousafzai is one of Pakistan's most famous women

In some rural and tribal areas of Pakistan, women are treated like slaves, only to be fed and clothed. In urban areas, working women are confronted with a host of problems including sexual harassment, salary discrimination, social taboos and exploitation. Furthermore, even there they have no control over their earnings.

Political scientist Rehana Hashmi from Punjab University in Lahore told DW the power to manage financial affairs rests in the hands of men.

"Those women who are allowed to work by their male members of the family - because even in the middle class of Pakistani society the same pattern of male dominance is observed - bring home handsome salaries but remain disempowered, because they do not have the decision making authority. They are bound to follow the commands of either husbands or fathers. The women are trained in this way to protect their family life."

Fawzia Naqvi, an activist for the US-based Open Society Foundation who runs Pakistan's Institute for Development and Economic Alternatives (IDEAS) clarified that much of the work Pakistani women do is unrecognized.

Pakistan Benazir Bhutto (dapd)

Benazir Bhutto was the first woman to head a Muslim-majority nation

"It is not quantified nor is it compensated. Women are in what we call the 'care economy.' Millions are employed in the care economy, but we don't call this 'work' or don't quantify it as economic value. Let us first recognize where women are employed and value that work. Meet women in their economic realities. If


US 'not trying to pick a fight' with North Korea

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Wednesday that the US would not seek to escalate tensions with North Korea and wanted to foster a peaceful solution.

"We're not trying to pick a fight so don't try and give us one," Haley said. "The ball is in their court. They shouldn't try and play at this point."

US 'not trying to pick a fight' with North Korea

Chronology of North Korea's missile launches (click to enlarge)

Haley, the current head of the UN Security Council, also said the council was drafting a statement denouncing North Korea's recent failed missile test launch.

Diplomatic sources said the US-drafted statement would express the council's "utmost concern" at North Korea's "highly destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance" of council resolutions. It also threatens to impose further sanctions should the North refuse to denuclearize.

Sources speaking on conditions of anonymity told the Associated Press news agency that China, the reclusive state's closest ally , had signed off on the draft statement but Russia had objected because of a sentence expressing the council's commitment "to a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution to the situation" had excluded the words "through dialogue" - a remark that has commonly appeared in previous statements.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters that the United Nations fully backs efforts of all states trying to ensure "that North Korea doesn't acquire the capacities that would become a threat, not only for the region but in a wider area of the world."

'Reviewing all options' on North Korea

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said the US is considering whether to recall North Korea to its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Tillerson's statement comes as the US looks at new ways to pressure the reclusive regime over its nuclear program and increasingly active military activities. North Korea is believed to have failed in its latest ballistic missile launch on Saturday, an attempted show of might that was supposed to cap a day of celebrations marking the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung.

"We're reviewing all the status of North Korea, both in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism as well as the other ways in which we can bring pressure on the regime in Pyongyang to re-engage with us, but re-engage with us on a different footing than past talks have been held," Tillerson told reporters at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday.

"We are evaluating all of those options," he added.

Tensions rising

North Korea was removed from the US' terror list in 2008, after Pyongyang agreed to disclose information on its nuclear weapons inventory. Then-president George W. Bush expected the decision to lead toward disarmament negotiations, although those talks collapsed soon afterward and have failed to resume.

However, having North Korea recalled to the list of terror sponsors would require the secretary of state to determine that the country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. Currently, the US considers only three states as terrorism sponsors: Iran, Syria and Sudan.

Tensions have been rising on the Korean peninsula in recent days after it


Danish court backs extradition of woman linked to South Korean scandal

A Danish court in the city of Aalborg ruled on Wednesday that 20-year-old Chung Yoo-ra is to be extradited to South Korea, upholding a decision by the public prosecutor in Copenhagen.