Italy’s election, Germany’s coalition highlight fragile EU

Thanks;Marcus Walker

Published: Mar 4, 2018 8:15 p.m. ET

German coalition deal reflect populists’ advances, wider dissatisfaction with establishment

MILAN, ITALY – MARCH 04: A ballot paper with the symbol of the 5-star Movement is displayed during the counting of ballot papers during the 2018 general election on March 4, 2018 in Milan, Italy.

A new bipartisan governing pact sealed Sunday in Germany could further fuel voter discontent with longtime incumbents in the European Union’s most important country, potentially sapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s authority in what is expected to be her final term.

Germany’s center-left Social Democrats said rank-and-file members had approved joining a coalition led by Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats. The country is expected to have a new government by mid-March, ending an unprecedented political paralysis since September’s national elections, when a fragmented vote exposed a decline in support for traditional parties.

Meanwhile antiestablishment, EU-skeptic parties won about half the vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Italy, leaving the shape of the next government murky. Backlashes against immigration, the euro’s fiscal constraints and politicians decried as corrupt boosted support for populists such as the antiestablishment 5 Star Movement and the right-wing Lega.


These ‘ultra-processed’ foods are linked with a higher risk of cancer

Thanks;Maria LaMagna

Published: Feb 15, 2018 3:19 p.m. ET

A new study shows foods including desserts and chicken nuggets create higher risk

Ultra-processed foods include packaged snacks and soda.

One of the ways to reduce your risk of cancer may be simply changing your diet.

Eating “ultra-processed” foods was associated with a higher cancer risk in a study published this week in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal. Epidemiologists studied more than 100,000 participants 18 years and older, starting in 2009. People who had a 10% higher intake of these ultra-processed foods had more than a 10% increase of risk for cancers including breast cancer, the study concluded.

The study’s subjects recorded everything they ate, amounting to more than 3,300 different food items. The researchers then classified those foods according to how processed they were. Foods considered ultra-processed often have higher fat, saturated fat and added sugar and sodium, plus lower amounts of fiber and vitamins. They also may contain contaminants with carcinogenic properties, meaning they could contribute to cancer risk.

The report is timely. World Health Organization has declared Feb. 15 International Childhood Cancer Day. And this week, McDonald’s MCD, +0.49%  announced changes to its children’s Happy Meals, in order to make them healthier. The restaurant chain will now only list hamburgers and chicken nuggets on its Happy Meal menu, and cheeseburgers will only be available by request (presumably to lower the amount of calories in the burger.)

But it’s not just what’s in the food. The latest study also looked at packaging. Ultra-processed foods might also be packaged with materials that also have carcinogenic properties, the researchers said. And they may contain food additives — including sodium nitrate, which is often used in processed meat, or titanium dioxide, which is a white food pigment — which have been found to have some carcinogenic properties.

Ultra-processed foods include:

• Mass-produced breads and buns

• Packaged snacks

• Industrially-produced desserts

• Sodas and sweetened drinks

• Packaged meatballs

• Packaged nuggets made from poultry or fish

• Meat products that contain preservatives other than salt

• Instant noodles or soups

• Frozen or shelf-stable instant meals

• Hydrogenated oils

McDonald’s, meanwhile, is also reducing the size of its French fries in Happy Meals, from a small size to a “kids” size. Kids’ fries are 1.3 ounces and have 110 calories, and small fries are 2.6 ounces and have 230 calories. And it’s working to reduce sugar in chocolate milk. Bottled water will become a drink option for kids’ meals later this year. McDonald’s has already removed artificial preservatives from its Chicken McNuggets and said it will remove artificial flavors, colors from artificial sources, and will reduce artificial preservatives “where feasible.”

It has partnered with a nonprofit called Alliance for Healthier Generation since 2013 to promote healthier eating.

From Palestine to Fiji, untold flu stories 100 years on


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Up to 40 million people died in the Spanish flu outbreak between 1918 to 1919 [AP]
"I had a little bird, its name was Enza. I opened the window and in-flu-enza."

Almost like the creepy theme tune to a horror film, the rhyme above became a common refrain for young girls as they played and jumped rope in 1918 - when the Spanish flu began its deadly global rampage.

The 1918 - 1919 Spanish flu - so called because the virus was first widely reported in the Spanish press - killed at least 20 to 40 million people worldwide, claiming more lives than the First World War.

One hundred years ago this year, the world was a weary and battered place: the First World War would not end until November 1918.

In some countries, boys wore bags of camphor around their necks in the hope of escaping the flu bug [Getty Images]

The H1N1 pandemic ran in three waves and was first recorded in Camp Funston, Kansas, in March 1918. It saw the young and fit perish at an astonishing rate due to their strong immune systems which, scientists say, went into overdrive and turned against them. Many died from pneumonia or septicaemia.

The contagion killed notable figures such as Mark Sykes – the British co-architect of the controversial 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, which carved up the Middle East into colonial spheres of influence.

The Spanish flu took around 250,000 lives in the UK and 500,000 to 675,000 lives in the US.

But what of other parts of the world and other peoples little mentioned in retrospective accounts of the deadliest pandemic in modern history?

Al Jazeera has spoken to four experts …

The Navajo experience

Benjamin Brady of The University of Arizona co-authored The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 – 1920 among the Navajos: Marginality, Mortality, and the Implications of Some Neglected Eyewitness Accounts:

“[Our paper] emerged as an offshoot of [a colleague’s] effort to edit and publish the history of four Franciscan monks who struggled for decades to establish a mission among the Navajo.

While living on the reservation and running a mission school, the missionaries corresponded with each other and unwittingly recorded in their letters previously unpublished details around the severity of the flu on the reservation.

The reservation death rate was about 12 percent, far exceeding the overall flu fatality in the US which remained less than one percent.


With this additional evidence, we made the argument that Navajo mortality from the Spanish flu had been undercounted and actually appeared to be around twice what was officially tallied.

We made the case that the reservation death rate was about 12 percent, far exceeding the overall flu fatality in the US which remained less than one percent.

The Navajo were a ‘perfect storm’ of vulnerability. This is not to say they were a deficient people, but that like many other indigenous and marginal peoples, they did not yet possess institutional knowledge and lacked important resources to prevent infection or treat symptoms in the same way as other groups.

Doctors and their medicines were largely ineffective against this flu – modern technology or Western medicine does not explain differential rates of survival, but more basic resources like the ability to rest and receive nursing and assistance in meeting basic needs like warmth, food and water.

Lower socioeconomic status, living in small and spread-out groups, and not having prior exposure or cultural knowledge to identify flu symptoms, for example, led to increased risk among the Navajo … When Navajo died, it was not uncommon to find multiple deaths among families, who lived in remote areas or ‘camps’, having died together.”

The South African experience

Howard Phillips, emeritus professor of the University of Cape Town, authored In a Time of Plague: Memories of the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 in South Africa:

“South Africa, by and large, was not affected by the first wave, so when the second wave hit, there was very, very little immunity. So the mortality was sky high. It was probably the third or fourth worst hit country or territory in the world with about four or five percent mortality.

The reasons for that include the fact that South Africa has a better rail network than anywhere else in Africa, which means that people move around in great numbers.

The second thing is that South Africa has an unusually large number of young men on the move, such as soldiers and migrant labourers, but particularly labourers working in the mines.

If you look at the 1911 census and project what the population ought to have been in 1921 – projecting forward at the same rate of population increase – there’s a shortfall of about 350,000 people


The moment the mines are hit [with the virus], particularly in Kimberley [in Northern Cape Province], the labourers are desperate to get out. And what they do is go back to their homes in rural areas – so they carry the flu into areas that otherwise would have been quite isolated.

The actual number of recorded deaths is only a fraction of the actual number of deaths. There was a census in 1911 and a census in 1921. If you look at the 1911 census and project what the population ought to have been in 1921 – projecting forward at the same rate of population increase – there’s a shortfall of about 350,000 people.”

The Australian Army and Egyptian Expeditionary Force – EEF experiences in Palestine

Dennis Shanks authored the academic paper, Simultaneous epidemics of influenza and malaria in the Australian Army in Palestine in 1918, at the Australian Defence Force:

“Military operations favour the spread of infectious diseases due to crowding, stress and movement through hostile environments. Palestine in 1918 was a conjunction of adverse events, [including] two simultaneous infectious disease epidemics that struck roughly at the same time.

No one could have planned for the epidemics but they struck just as the great Egyptian Expeditionary Force cavalry offensive started from mid-September 1918.

Malaria incapacitated the soldiers starting 10 days after the start of the offensive which is the incubation period for malaria. It is likely that influenza was already in the civilian population which then spread to or from the troops.

Both diseases together were synergistically lethal for unclear reasons.

There would be no way to distinguish between the two diseases symptomatically except that influenza would have also caused respiratory symptoms such as coughing and increased secretions. The [EEF] – which actually had more Indian soldiers than Australians or New Zealanders – ground to a halt at the same time they cut off and defeated the Turkish armies.

At one point it was stated that there were barely enough well men to water the horses in one cavalry division. All military operations stopped and all forces did their best to deal with a combined epidemic that had not been previously observed.

Death rates were particularly high in soldiers who were already incapacitated such as Turkish POWs. Even with post-mortem examinations it was very difficult to say which infection caused any particular death – it was a synergistic product of two lethal diseases.”

The Fijian, Samoan and Tongan experience

Phyllis Herda, lecturer at the University of Auckland, authored an academic paper – Disease and the Colonial Narrative: The 1918 influenza pandemic in Western Polynesia.

“With the arrival of the virus on the steamship Talune [in November 1918] the flu spread quickly through each of the archipelagoes. Steamship day was a big event in all three places so people would come down to the wharf.

In Western Samoa [now Samoa] and Tonga, people would come from the villages to meet the ship. The virus was, thus, easily spread across each of the islands. In addition, in Fiji, several indigenous Fijians who worked on the Talune as stevedores, who were ill, were allowed to return to their villages.

In both Fiji and Western Samoa, the colonial administrations blamed the habits of the indigenous people for the high death rates and described the pandemic in a manner which re-inscribed the superiority of the food, medicine and lifestyles of the West thereby indirectly legitimising their rule in each archipelago.


As elsewhere, once among the population the virus spread very quickly with fatal results. Unfortunately, the colonial medical administration in [the Fijian capital] Suva believed it was the normal annual flu rather than the deadly Spanish flu, which they knew was abroad.

In the end, 8,145 deaths were recorded for Fiji – amounting to five percent of the population of the British colony. In Western Samoa, approximately 8,500 people died, nearly 22 percent of the population, as a result of contracting the flu.

By contrast, American Samoa suffered no deaths due to a complete maritime quarantine imposed by the governor there. In Tonga, almost 2,000 people died which amounted to approximately eight percent of the population.

In both Fiji and Western Samoa, the colonial administrations blamed the habits of the indigenous people for the high death rates and described the pandemic in a manner which re-inscribed the superiority of the food, medicine and lifestyles of the West thereby indirectly legitimising their rule in each archipelago.”

The St Louis Red Cross Motor Corps on duty with mask-wearing women holding stretchers at the backs of ambulances during the Influenza epidemic, St Louis, Missouri, October 1918 [Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images]


The 1918 Influenza pandemic killed a total of 50-100 million people [Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images]

SoftBank Group to take majority stake in Line’s mobile unit

Thanks;Sam Nussey

Published;JANUARY 30, 2018 / 7:05 PM / UPDATED 20 HOURS AGO


TOKYO (Reuters) – Line Corp said on Wednesday that it had entered an agreement with SoftBank Group Corp to give the telecoms and technology firm a majority stake in Line’s mobile unit.

Line said SoftBank would hold a 51 percent stake in the mobile business after the issuance of new shares, with Line holding the remaining 49 percent.

Japan’s Line to launch cryptocurrency exchange amid hacking fears/THANKS..Thomas Wilson

Line said in a statement on Wednesday that it has applied to Japan’s financial regulator to operate an exchange, with the application under review.

Japan’s Financial Services Agency, which oversees registrations of new exchanges, said on Monday it would investigate all cryptocurrency exchanges in Japan for security gaps after the hack at the Coincheck exchange.

The theft on Friday of 58 billion yen ($532.84 million) of NEM coins from Coincheck has highlighted the security vulnerabilities in trading an asset that global policymakers are struggling to regulate.

It has also drawn into focus Japan’s approach to regulating cryptocurrency exchanges. Last year, it became the first country to regulate exchanges at the national level – a move that, at the time, won praise from cryptocurrency traders and exchange operators for boosting innovation while protecting consumers.

“We should be aware of the need to balance between communicating, to beginners or inexperienced users, the value of these financial products and the risks they entail,” a Line spokeswoman said.

The FSA has registered 16 cryptocurrency exchanges so far, with another 16 awaiting clearance as they continue to operate.

Cryptocurrency trading in Japan has spiked in the last year, with the country’s army of retail investors emerging as a major force in bitcoin’s spectacular rally.

The country’s global share of the bitcoin market has jumped after clampdowns by authorities in China and South Korea, presenting the prospect of lucrative business for cryptocurrency exchanges.

Shares of Line, which is controlled by South Korea’s Naver Corp, jumped 4 percent by early afternoon, against a 0.25 percent gain for the benchmark Nikkei average.

Line said it will start trading cryptocurrencies through “Line Financial”, a new company that will also provide loans and insurance via its Line messaging app. Line currently provides money transfer and payment services to 40 million users through its app.

The app, known for electronic stickers of a brown bear and his rabbit girlfriend, is ubiquitous in Japan, Line also has a strong presence in Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia.

Line went public in the largest tech initial public offering of 2016. After initially struggling to maintain investor enthusiasm, strong sales of advertising space on its messaging app have seen its stock gain almost 60 percent from its IPO price.

($1 = 108.8500 yen)


American banks continue to phase out free checking accounts

Thanks;Maria LaMagna

Published;Jan 23, 2018 12:55 a.m. ET

Bank of America has shut down one of its checking accounts, used by some low-income consumers

Bank of America has eliminated one of its checking accounts.

Bad news for low-income consumers: There’s now one fewer place where you can store your cash for free.

Bank of America BAC, +0.69%has gotten rid of a free checking account called eBanking, The Wall Street Journal reported. More than 45,000 people have signed an online petition protesting its elimination, on

Instead, the account holders will be charged a $12 monthly fee if they don’t have at least a $250 direct deposit that month, or a daily account balance of $1,500 or more. The eBanking accounts debuted in 2010 and offered an affordable alternative to consumers without a lot of cash.

Bank of America, the second-largest U.S. bank by assets behind J.P. Morgan Chase JPM, +1.17% has not allowed customers to open that account since 2013, a bank spokeswoman said. And it was free only if consumers used online services exclusively. Since 2014, it’s offered “SafeBalance,” which costs a flat fee of $4.95 per month and does not allow overdrafts.

Many low-income Americans were already having trouble finding places to keep their money. Approximately 10 million U.S. families don’t use a bank at all. One reason: Monthly maintenance fees triggered by low bank balances, a fear of overdraft fees and a general distrust in banks.

When consumers don’t use a bank, they often end up paying more for individual services that banks provide for free, such as check cashing, said Thaddeus King, an officer of the consumer finance division at Pew Charitable Trusts, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit.

Free checking accounts are rare in areas where low-income consumers need them the most, according to a 2017 analysis by Moebs Services, a firm that researches financial services companies.

Consumers should shop around for low-cost banking options that work for them, said Kimberly Palmer, a credit card and banking expert at the personal finance company NerdWallet.

AmazonAMZN, +2.53%   and Wal-MartWMT, +0.82%   have also created their own financial services programs to cater to customers who don’t use banks. U.S. Bank USB, +1.42%   offers a low-cost checking account. Like Bank of America, it requires a $1,500 minimum balance or monthly direct deposits of $1,000 or more. It also charges $2.50 for out-of-network ATM fees.

Consumers should make sure the institution they choose is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Palmer said. They should also be sure they know in advance how to access their money, whether that’s through an ATM fee reimbursement program, or with a debit card, she said.

Chinese FM calls for further cooperation between China, Latin American and Caribbean states

Thanks;  Pengying/Xinhua

Published;2018-01-23 13:31:36

SANTIAGO, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday hailed the achievements made in the cooperation between China and Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) countries in the past three years and called on relevant countries to keep the momentum.

Wang was attending the second ministerial meeting under the framework of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Forum. The inaugural meeting of the mechanism was convened in Beijing in January 2015.

In his speech, Wang read a congratulatory letter from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who spoke highly of the development of the China-CELAC Forum in the three years following its inception and proposed that the China-LAC partnership be led by joint efforts to implement the Belt and Road Initiative.

Wang said Xi’s letter reflected China’s sincere willingness to advance cooperation with countries in the region to realize common development.

Cooperation under the China-CELAC Forum, Wang noted, has achieved fruitful results thanks to both sides sticking to the principles of mutual respect and equal treatment, as well as their consistent commitment to jointly seeking cooperation and development.

Wang said the mechanism achieved early harvests in 13 key projects in the past three years covering such areas as trade, finance and energy, adding that China has been steadfastly implementing a package of financing arrangements for its partners.

In addition, Wang said the social foundation for the China-LAC partnership has been further consolidated, with China delivering its promises by granting government-sponsored scholarships to students from LAC countries, organizing personnel training and promoting exchanges among political parties.

Exchange programs between the two sides have also benefited young scientists and people in the media industry, according to the foreign minister, who further pointed out that the ministerial-level dialogues, the national coordinators’ meetings, as well as the 17 rounds of forums covering a broad spectrum of areas have built the mechanism into an institutialized one.

As the partnership sails toward the next phase, the foreign minister suggested that China and the LAC countries seize the opportunity of jointly building the Belt and Road, promote cooperation under what is known as the “1+3+6” framework, and strive for an upgrading and innovative development of China-LAC cooperation.

In July 2014, Xi laid out the “1+3+6” cooperation framework in his keynote speech at a China-LAC summit held in Brasilia, Brazil.

The “1” refers to the China-LAC Countries Cooperation Plan 2015-2019 by which specific cooperation projects should be guided. The “3” identifies three driving forces for cooperation, namely trade, investment and finance. The “6” prioritizes six fields of cooperation, including energy and resources, infrastructure construction, agriculture, manufacturing, scientific and technological innovation, as well as information technology.

Specifically, Wang made a four-point suggestion, saying China and the LAC countries should jointly build “grand connectivity” covering both sea and land, cultivate “grand markets” that are open and reciprocal, create “grand industries” featuring advanced and independent technologies, and launch “grand communication” based on equality and mutual trust.

The foreign minister called on the two sides to make Monday’s meeting a fresh starting point for a new phase of China-LAC partnership characterized by expanded cooperation, more favorable structures, a stronger driving force and better qualities.

Officials representing LAC countries at the meeting lauded the cooperation outcomes in the past three years and the active role the China-CELAC Forum played during the process.

They unanimously agreed that the Belt and Road Initiative has provided their countries with ample development opportunities. They expressed the hope that by learning from China’s experience and joining the Belt and Road Initiative, the LAC countries will achieve common development with China.

Pope Francis arrives in crisis-hit Peru




*Pope Francis was greeted by thousands of people on the streets of Lima

Pope Francis has arrived in Peru on the final leg of a two-nation trip to South America.

He was met at Lima airport by Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who appealed to the pontiff to help resolve a continuing political crisis.

Peruvians have been protesting against the authorities’ decision to pardon former President Alberto Fujimori.

The Pope arrived from Chile, where he met victims of sexual abuse by priests in the country.

The 81-year-old Argentine pontiff said he felt “pain and shame” over the scandal, asking the victims for forgiveness.

He has been criticised in Chile for a decision to ordain a bishop accused of covering up sexual abuse by a priest.

Pope Francis landed in the Peruvian capital on Thursday.

Before his arrival, President Kuczynski called the pontiff a “messenger of peace and hope”.

He said he hoped the Pope’s visit would help to heal the nation.

The protests in Peru began after Mr Kuczynski pardoned the former president on health grounds on Christmas Eve.

Mr Kuczynski later acknowledged the anger at his decision but said he could not “allow Alberto Fujimori to die in prison”.

Fujimori, who was serving 25 years for human rights abuses and corruption, has low blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat.

In Peru, Pope Francis will visit the cities of Puerto Maldonado and Trujillo, before holding a Mass in Lima on Sunday.

80 Percent of the Total Bitcoin Supply Have Now Been Mined

Thanks; Jamie Redman

Published; January,15

This weekend marks a milestone for bitcoin as 80 percent of the currency has now been mined into circulation, this means there’s only 20 percent left to mine. Satoshi Nakamoto’s protocol was one of the first to introduce digital scarcity and soon enough the digital asset will become even harder to obtain.

This weekend marks a milestone for bitcoin as 80 percent of the currency has now been mined into circulation, this means there’s only 20 percent left to mine. Satoshi Nakamoto’s protocol was one of the first to introduce digital scarcity and soon enough the digital asset will become even harder to obtain.

Solving the General’s Problem

This has given individuals reason to believe that Satoshi solved one of the hardest computational equations, the Byzantine General’s problem, a security flaw that had plagued computer scientists for decades. Essentially the problem exists with distributed networks as the issue brings certain faults or security flaws making it easy to attack. This, in turn, makes it hard for protocols to prove something because there is an unsolvability proof within the network.

With Satoshi’s Proof-of-Work in the original bitcoin protocol, the economic measure makes it difficult to attack by making threats to the network costly, and time-consuming. For the first time ever in the world of digital computing, Satoshi introduced an asset that couldn’t be copied or double spent. And at the same time, he limited the supply which also introduced digital scarcity like no other technology before it.

Digital Scarcity and the Next Halving

Because there are only 21 million bitcoins the cryptocurrency’s limited availability make the asset harder to acquire the more scarce it becomes. In most cases when an asset is limited and resources are harder to come by, the supply causes demand for the market. The supply of bitcoin shows a significant gap between how many there are and those who want to obtain some. A great majority of bitcoiners believe digital scarcity will make bitcoin more valuable over time, and with 16.8Mn mined so far it will get harder.

In addition to the difficulty in accessibility miners themselves are going to have to up their processing power constantly. In two years or less depending on hashrate speed, the next miner reward halving is approaching. This means instead of miners getting 12.5 BTC for every block they mine they will get 6.25 BTC in two years time. This network consensus agreement of a halving every four years will make bitcoins more difficult to obtain even for the large warehouses all over the world filled with data processors. Every one of them and ASIC technology itself will have to progress for mining operations to continue profiting. Of course, the price per bitcoin should also be higher than the cost to mine the currency as well.

Unlike Ripple’s 100 Billion There Will Only Be 21 Million Bitcoins

Another thing to consider while observing the vast blockchain environment is that Satoshi’s creation unlike the 1,300 other cryptocurrencies in existence has only 21 million. Other digital currencies have billions already in circulation and billions more to come using other less tested consensus mechanisms like Proof-of-Stake. So in essence bitcoin’s inventor created something unique and different than the digital goods we all swap today. Unlike your MP3s or digital movies, bitcoins cannot be copied, and this weekend 16.8 million of them have been mined, hoarded and a large number of them have been lost. To many cryptocurrency investors, this makes Satoshi’s invention a very valuable digital asset, unlike anything the world has ever seen.

What do you think about 80 percent of the bitcoins being mined into existence this weekend? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

North Korea Hit One of Its Own Cities With a Missile

Thanks;Daily Deast


A North Korean ballistic-missile test that failed in flight crashed and caused considerable damage to a complex in the city of Tokchon in April of last year, according to the online magazine The Diplomat. Though the failure of the launch was reported at the time, it wasn’t clear until Wednesday’s report that the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile came down in the populated area, about two hours outside Pyongyang. Using Google Earth and satellite images, The Diplomat said it found the errant missile struck a complex of facilities—either agricultural or industrial—that are adjacent to a residential area. The news site was not able to determine if there were any casualties caused by the explosion.

North Korea set to reach out for talks: Seoul

Thanks;ANN Desk

Published;26 Dec 2017 12:54

SEOUL (Korea Herald/ANN Desk) – Official forecast says Pyongyang will change tack in 2018, emboldened by nuclear advances

North Korea is likely to explore the possibility of dialogue with the United States in 2018 as the communist state seeks recognition as a nuclear-armed country, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said on Tuesday.

“North Korea may continue to advance its nuclear and missile capabilities while searching for an outlet externally,” the ministry said in its predictions for North Korea in 2018. “In searching for the recognition of its status as a de facto nuclear-possessing state, [the North] would explore the possibility of negotiations with the US.”

At the same time, the North is also likely to attempt to engage with South Korea in order to restore inter-Korean relations next year, it said. The ministry will monitor North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year address on January 1 to see if it alludes to such possibilities.

In 2017, Pyongyang has distanced itself from dialogue and engagement with Seoul as it prioritised dealing with the US, according to the ministry.

Next year, North Korea is expected to start to feel the pinch of international and bilateral sanctions on the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, the ministry said.

“North Korea is forecast to maximise efforts to endure [the impact of sanctions] by tightening social control and mobilising its people for building the economy,” the ministry said. It predicted the sanctions’ economic impacts may start to show in 2018, with effects including cuts in trade volume and foreign currency inflow, as well as reduced production in various economy sectors.

North Korea’s economy is already suffering the affects of sanctions, with foreign countries taking fewer North Korean workers as well as cutting humanitarian assistance to the North, according to the Unification Ministry.

North Korea’s exports to China, its largest trading partner, tumbled 31.7 per cent to US$1.6 billion in the January-November period, compared to a year earlier. The overall North Korea-China trade volume in the January-November period dropped 10.2 per cent on-year to $4.67 billion, according to the ministry data.

Rice prices and the US dollar-North Korean won exchange rate remain relatively stable with one kilo of rice fetching around 5,000 won and one US dollar exchanged for some 8,000 won recently. But they are currently showing signs of rapid price changes, the ministry noted.

Gas prices in North Korea have risen about two to three times this year, it also said, indicating United Nations Security Council sanctions’ tightening grip on North Korea’s oil procurement.

‘Satellite launch imminent’

Pyongyang is preparing to launch a satellite, a Seoul newspaper said on Tuesday, as outside observers warn that the nuclear-armed regime’s space programme is a fig leaf for weapons tests.

“Through various channels, we’ve recently learned that the North has completed a new satellite and named it Kwangmyongsong-5”, the Joongang Ilbo daily reported, quoting a South Korean government source.

“Their plan is to put a satellite equipped with cameras and telecommunication devices into orbit”, he said.

Independent observers warn that Pyongyang’s fledgling space programme is a cover for its weapons tests.

The North launched its Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite in February 2016, which most in the international community condemned as a disguised ballistic missile test, AFP reports.

The North’s latest missile test, on November 29, showed the capability of reaching mainland United States and prompted another round of international sanctions. The latest UN resolution bans the supply of nearly 75 per cent of refined oil products to the North, caps crude deliveries at current levels and orders all North Koreans working abroad to be sent back by the end of 2019.

It also bans sales of all industrial machinery, trucks, iron, steel and other metals to the North and added 15 Pyongyang officials to the UN sanctions blacklist for global visa ban and assets freeze.