04/16/13: Reuters reports an international team of flu experts will go to China this week to help with investigations into the deadly H7N9 virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday. The new strain of avian flu has killed 14 among 63 people known to have been infected, but no human-to-human spread of the virus has been confirmed. The team includes four specialists in areas such as emerging viruses, human-to-animal flu viruses and epidemiology, as well as an unspecified number of WHO staff, Thomas said. Another WHO spokesman, Gregory Hartl, said it would be made up of eight people in all. One of the points the mission wants to investigate is how some people seem to fight off the infection. China confirmed on Saturday a seven-year-old child had been infected by the virus in the capital Beijing, the first case outside the Yangtze river delta region in eastern China where the new strain emerged last month. No exact date has been set yet for the arrival of the team which is expected to hold talks in Beijing and visit affected provinces, he said. The mission - made up of American, European, Australian and Chinese experts - will get underway by Saturday and is expected to carry out a week-long study, Thomas said. In a statement issued late on Monday, the WHO said more than 1,000 close contacts of the people confirmed as having H7N9 were being closely monitored for symptoms. "So far, there is no evidence of ongoing human-to-human transmission," it said.
04/15/13: The blog Space War reports Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday he would be prepared to reach out to North Korea urging it back to negotiations, but he vowed the US would protect Japan from Pyongyang’s threats. Following talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, where Patriot missiles have been deployed in anticipation of a missile launch by the North, Kerry pledged the US would backstop its ally. “The United States is fully committed to the defense of Japan,” Kerry said at a joint press conference with Kishida. “We’re prepared to reach out [to North Korea], but we need the appropriate moment, appropriate circumstances,” Kerry said later. “There are standards clearly that we want to achieve to enter into negotiations, but there are certain channels that we can reach out to.”
04/14/13: The Miami Herald reports the United States said Sunday that it is committed to defending Japan and opposes any coercive action by China to seize territory under Japanese control in the East China Sea. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington isn’t taking a position in the dispute over the islands, known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. Japan and China have sparred over the uninhabited islands in recent years. Kerry’s strong words of support for America’s ally come just a day after he promised new levels of US-Chinese cooperation on a host of problems, most notably North Korea’s nuclear program.
04/02/13: The New York Times reports the Japanese soldiers in camouflage face paint and full combat gear were dropped by American helicopters onto this treeless, hilly island, and moved quickly to recapture it from an imaginary invader. To secure their victory, they called on a nearby United States warship to pound the “enemy” with gunfire that exploded in deafening thunderclaps. Perhaps the most notable feature of the war games in February, called Iron Fist, was the baldness of their unspoken warning. There is only one country that Japan fears would stage an assault on one of its islands: China. Iron Fist is one of the latest signs that Japan’s anxiety about China’s insistent claims over disputed islands as well as North Korea's escalating nuclear threats are pushing Japanese leaders to shift further away from the nation’s postwar pacifism. The new assertiveness has been particularly apparent under the new prime minister, Sinzo Abe, a conservative who has increased military spending for the first time in 11 years. Until recently, a simulated battle against Chinese forces would have been unthinkably provocative for Japan, which renounced the right to wage war — or even to possess a military — after its march across Asia in World War II resulted in crushing defeat. The purely defensive forces created in 1954 are still constrained from acting in too offensive a manner: last year, a smaller mock assault by Japanese and American forces on an island near Okinawa was canceled because of local opposition. That recalculation — a large step in what analysts see as a creeping over the years toward a more robust Japanese military — could have broad implications for the power balance in the region, angering China and likely giving the United States a more involved partner in its pivot to Asia to offset China’s extended reach.
04/02/13: NPR reports the United States has sent two F-22 Raptor fighter jets to take part military drills in South Korea, a move that is meant to show US commitment to the defense of the region from its North Korean neighbor, a Pentagon spokesman told the Associated Press. Also on Monday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye appeared to give her country's military permission to strike back at any attack from the North. According to the New York Times, Park told the South's generals that she considers the threats from North Korea "very serious." Last week, B-52 and B-2 stealth bombers were sent to South Korea for the annual exercise.
04/02/13: The New York Times reports North Korea said on Tuesday that it would put all its nuclear facilities — including its operational uranium-enrichment program and its reactors mothballed or under construction — to use in expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal, sharply raising the stakes in the escalating standoff with the United States and its allies. The announcement by the North’s General Department of Atomic Energy came two days after the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said his nuclear weapons were not a bargaining chip and called for expanding his country’s nuclear arsenal in “quality and quantity” during a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. The decision will affect the role of the North’s uranium-enrichment plant in its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of the capital, Pyongyang, a spokesman for the nuclear department told the Korean Central News Agency. It was the first time North Korea had said it would use the plant to make nuclear weapons. Since first unveiling it to a visiting American scholar in 2010, North Korea had insisted that it was running the plant to make reactor fuel to generate electricity, though Washington suggested that its purpose was to make bombs.
04/01/13: The Onion reports that while performing his duties as Supreme Leader of North Korea Monday, Kim Jong-un reportedly heard a small voice in the back of his mind telling him that his actions over the last six months have been very strange and wrong. Sources confirmed that the tiny voice, which spoke to Kim at various points throughout the day, quietly suggested that the four-star military general and Worker Party’s secretary is a weird person with out-of-whack priorities who acts in a way that makes little sense to anyone. “You are a very odd man who does things that are bizarre and indicative of a mentally ill person,” the little voice reportedly said following a speech in which Kim issued apocalyptic threats to enemies in the West and predicted the destruction of America. “The things you say on a daily basis are not only extremely creepy and off-putting, but they are also very wrong. You should probably not be the leader of a country.”
UPDATE: April Fool.
04/01/13: The New York Times reports North Korea’s leader on Sunday announced a “new strategic line” that defied warnings from Washington, saying that his country was determined to rebuild its economy in the face of international sanctions while simultaneously expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal, which the ruling party called “the nation’s life.” North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un presided over a Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, the first such meeting since 1993. The party meeting took place against the backdrop of joint military exercises in South Korea involving American and South Korean forces. On Sunday, American F-22 stealth fighter jets were flown from a base in Japan to South Korea to join the exercises. In past weeks, B-52 and B-2 bombers offered a demonstration of American air power as part of the exercises.
03/31/13: The Hill reports the White House said Saturday it was taking threats of war from North Korea “seriously,” while acknowledging that Pyongyang has a history of bellicose rhetoric. “We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean Allies,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “But, we would also note that North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats and today’s announcement follows that familiar pattern.” North Korea Saturday declared that a “state of war” existed with the South and threatened to “dissolve” the United States in an “all-out war and nuclear war.” Pyongyang has cut the military hotline with Seoul and earlier this week said the armistice ending the Korean War in 1953 was void.