TIME Military

Chinese Military May Not Be the Juggernaut Some Assert It Is

Inside The China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition
Brent Lewin / Bloomberg via Getty Images A Chinese J-31 stealth fighter aircraft performs at a Chinese air show last November.

Pentagon may have to find another prospective foe

Washington can sometimes seem like a bunker, where assorted think tanks regularly lob hand grenades detailing what’s wrong with every nook and cranny of the U.S. military. This week, for a change, one got tossed outlining the fundamental weaknesses of the Chinese military.

This is a big deal. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the prospect of a rising Chinese military has been cited as the justification for all sorts of U.S. weaponry. Don’t look to this new 184-page report from the Rand Corp. to change the debate—but it should.

“We have found that the PLA suffers from potentially serious weaknesses,” Rand says, referring to China’s People’s Liberation Army. “These shortcomings could limit its ability to successfully conduct the information-centric, integrated joint operations Chinese military strategists see as required to fight and win future wars.”

That isn’t how the Pentagon sees it. “The dramatic rise of China’s military, the uncertainty about how it will use its growing capabilities and its provocative actions in the region represent our most enduring challenge,” Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told Congress in December.

Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, has said that Chinese investment in high-tech weapons could alter the strategic balance in the region. When it comes to “technological superiority, the Department of Defense is being challenged in ways that I have not seen for decades, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region,” he told Congress the same month.

The Rand study, requested by the independent, Congressionally-mandated U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, gives a level-headed assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the People’s Liberation Army. It stands in contrast to much of the U.S. debate over China’s military (the commission’s next hearing, for example, is on China’s “space and counterspace programs”). For years, the Pentagon has produced its own annual report assessing the Chinese military, a pale echo of the Reagan era’s Soviet Military Power series that hyped Moscow’s martial might beyond reality.

China’s lone aircraft carrier, its production of new jets, and its carrier-killing missile have all been cited as justification for U.S. programs needed to counter them. But using a weapon is just as challenging as building it, and that’s where the Chinese fall short, according to Rand (although it adds that “the PLA also suffers from shortfalls in terms of its combat capabilities”).

“Overall, the PLA has made impressive strides in its ability to perform its assigned missions, including advances in capabilities designed to counter U.S. military intervention in a crisis or conflict in the region, but it still faces a number of serious challenges,” the study concludes. Key weaknesses fall into two categories. The first is the Chinese military’s bureaucracy, which reduces its ability to marry its land, air and sea forces together to wage war. The second is its personnel, who lack the required education and technical know-how needed to operate and maintain a 21st century military, and whose ranks are plagued by “rampant corruption.”

The Chinese, according to Rand, are well aware of their shortcomings. “Chinese military media reports and PLA books and journal articles contain voluminous discussions of the PLA’s problems, which some Chinese writers refer to as the ‘two incompatibles/two gaps,’ a phrase that highlights perceived incongruencies between current PLA capabilities and the demands of winning a local war,” the study says.

There aren’t similar voluminous discussions in American circles assessing the actual threat posed by the Chinese military. Unfortunately, that’s what makes the Rand report so refreshing.

TIME Ukraine

How Putin Came Out on Top in Ukraine Cease-Fire Deal

Russia's President Vladimir Putin, France's President Francois Hollande, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko attend a meeting on resolving the Ukrainian crisis in Minsk, Belarus, Feb. 11, 2015.
Reuters Russia's President Vladimir Putin, France's President Francois Hollande, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko attend a meeting on resolving the Ukrainian crisis in Minsk, Belarus, Feb. 11, 2015.

The Russian president just dodged another round of Western sanctions

Despite his famous tendency to keep people waiting, Vladimir Putin arrived early on Wednesday at the latest round of negotiations to end the war in eastern Ukraine, and on Thursday he was also the first to emerge when they were over, looking pale and tired but, on the whole, rather satisfied with himself. “It was not the best night of my life,” the Russian president remarked with a smirk when he appeared before the news cameras in the capital of Belarus. “But the morning is good.”

For him it certainly was. Unlike his Ukrainian counterpart in these negotiations, Putin risked little going into these talks and even less coming out of them. The terms of the ceasefire agreement announced on Thursday were vague enough to seem meaningless on many of the key points of contention—even the central question of whether Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine or not was left undetermined—and as Putin was careful to stress while briefing the media afterward, he did not sign any kind of deal. That was left to Russia’s proxies in Ukraine, the separatist leaders that have been fighting for ten months against the Ukrainian military.

Meaningless or not, the terms of the deal appear to clearly favor the separatists. Under the agreement reached in Minsk, the rebel lines of supply from Russia will remain intact. Only at the end of this year would they even have to consider giving up control of the patches of border they control in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. As Putin was also careful to stress, the rebels would only have to relinquish control of that border when the government in Kiev grants the separatist territories sweeping autonomy, starts paying them pensions and other social benefits, plus the little matter of enshrining their “special status” of semi-independence in an amendment to the Ukrainian constitution. On top of all that, Thursday’s agreement grants legal immunity to anyone who joined the separatist militias, including the fighters responsible for killing Ukrainian soldiers and civilians.

The average citizen of Ukraine will likely find the terms of this deal humiliating, and blame will no doubt fall on President Petro Poroshenko, who sat opposite Putin in Minsk, when the time comes to implement it. Since taking office in June with a promise to make peace with Russia, Poroshenko has already faced attacks from political rivals and allies alike, as well as from protesters in the streets of Kiev, for ceding too much ground to the separatists. Now trying to change the constitution in order to appease more Russian demands will require a level of support in parliament that Poroshenko simply may not be able to muster. Pile onto that the requirement of welfare payments to the breakaway regions, and Poroshenko risks facing a popular revolt much like the one that vaulted him to power a year ago.

Poroshenko did not, however, come away with nothing on Thursday. The news of the deal, perhaps regardless of its substance, allowed the International Monetary Fund to move ahead with an additional aid package to Ukraine, which was announced right after the negotiations ended. “My sense is that someone was telling the Ukrainians that an IMF deal was contingent on a Minsk ceasefire deal,” said Timothy Ash, an economist at Standard Bank in London. “No ceasefire – no IMF deal.” Over the next four years, Ukraine now stands to get an additional $17.5 billion in Western financial support, which should be just enough to rescue its economy.

But even with that bright side to consider, Poroshenko wore a rather more dour expression than his Russian counterpart when he met the press. In his remarks, Poroshenko chose to emphasize the more immediate effects of the ceasefire agreement. All guns must go silent under the deal as of midnight on Sunday, Feb. 15, and all heavy artillery must be pulled back away from the front lines. All prisoners of war must be released or traded to the other side. All “illegal groups” must be disarmed, and all foreign fighters and mercenaries must leave Ukraine.

So what exactly counts as an illegal group in this context? And what is a mercenary or a foreign fighter? According to the Ukrainian authorities and their Western allies, Russia has illegally sent thousands of its soldiers to help the separatists fight the Ukrainian army. But Russia, for its part, denies that any of its soldiers are fighting in Ukraine, and Putin recently claimed that the Ukrainian military is in fact a “foreign legion” of Western personnel. So don’t expect the warring sides to agree any time soon on the definition of a foreign legionnaire or a mercenary in this conflict.

For Putin, though, that’s just as well. What matters to him is maintaining the perception that he is willing and able to compromise, and on that score the peace deal is already paying dividends. Hours after it was signed, the European Union was due to debate whether to impose another round of sanctions against Russia. But the E.U. foreign policy chief, Frederica Mogherini, announced beforehand that the sanctions issue had been taken off the agenda. Instead, the bloc would discuss how to use “all means at the E.U.’s disposal to facilitate the implementation of the agreements” reached in Minsk, she said.

Other European leaders seemed equally eager to take what they could get from Putin in Minsk. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the agreement a “ray of hope,” while her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier admitted that it was “certainly no breakthrough.”

But Merkel did not leave Minsk empty-handed. The talks, as well as her week of shuttle diplomacy to prepare for them, helped her to silence the chorus of Western diplomats and military officials who only a week ago were calling for the U.S. and Europe to arm Ukraine in its war against the separatists. While the new peace initiative gets a chance to run its course, the debate over arming Ukraine is sure to subside. That’s another reason for Putin to rest easy.

Read next: Here Are 7 of the Weirdest North Korean State Slogans

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Yemen

U.N. Chief Warns Yemen ‘Collapsing’ as al-Qaeda Group Makes Gains

APTOPIX Mideast Yemen
Anees Mahyoub—AP Protesters in Taiz, Yemen, on Feb. 11, 2015, shout slogans against Houthi Shi‘ite who have seized power in the country's capital, Sana‘a

Secretary general Ban Ki-moon issued the warning after rebel faction effectively ousted the Yemeni government

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that Yemen was “collapsing before our eyes,” as a powerful al-Qaeda affiliate took advantage of the power vacuum in the country’s capital to seize a Yemeni army facility.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, has been rocked by sectarian and political violence that came to a head last week, when the Houthi rebels that recently toppled the country’s President dissolved parliament.

On Wednesday, thousands of people in Sana‘a, the capital, protested the effective coup by the predominantly Shi‘ite group, and the U.S., Britain and France all closed their embassies amid security concerns.

As if to highlight the potential for turmoil, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the powerful al-Qaeda branch that controls large swaths of territory in the southeast, said Thursday that they had seized the headquarters of a Yemeni army brigade, the New York Times reports. While the Houthis are strongly opposed to the Sunni extremist group, the rudderless government in Sana‘a has risked empowering AQAP.

“Let me be clear,” Ban said. “Yemen is collapsing before our eyes. We cannot stand by and watch.”

The Houthi movement, which overran Sana‘a in September, had been overseeing talks among various factions to form a new government since the group’s aggression prompted President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi to resign last month. But the group disbanded the government on Feb. 6.

Ban called for Security Council members to de-escalate tensions and return the factions to the negotiating table. “We must do everything possible to help Yemen step back from the brink and get the political process back on track,” he said.

TIME Sudan

Sudan’s Foreign Minister Denies War Crimes As UN Moves Toward New Sanctions

A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.
Abd Raouf—AP A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.

The United Nations Security Council threatened new sanctions Thursday against Sudan’s government, and United States Ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, accused the country of “obstruction, harassment and direct attacks that have impeded efforts to deliver humanitarian aid in Darfur.”

Last week on February 4, Sudan Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti sat down with TIME while he was in Washington as guest of the National Prayer Breakfast. In a tense, 40-minute exchange, Karti, a devout Muslim, spoke of everything from his love of Jesus to his categorical denial of mass rape, which Human Rights Watch and other have reported that Sudanese armed forces perpetrated in Darfur.

When TIME showed Karti photos on an iPhone of burned children and legless women, who reported their injuries came from Sudanese government forces, Karti insisted that the government targets only combatants. “Nothing of that is happening,” he said, averting his eyes from the images. “Nobody is targeting his own people.”

His presence at the Breakfast was controversial, especially as he is lobbying the U.S. to lift sanctions and remove Sudan from its list of states that sponsor terror. Senator Bob Casey Jr., a congressional co-chair of the Breakfast, objected to Karti’s invitation to a meeting the Fellowship had scheduled with Secretary of State John Kerry and other diplomats during his visit.

Over the past three decades, Sudan’s government has been implicated in what Congress has termed two genocides, one in the nation’s south that cost as many of 2 million lives, in part from famine, and one in the nation’s western province of Darfur, where an additional 300,000 people died, according to the United Nations. Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Karti oversaw the popular Defense Force militias for a time during the first genocide, and according to State Department cables released by WikiLeaks, Karti is also credited with organizing the janjaweed militia, the brutal forces that terrorized Darfur. Now, after South Sudan’s independence, the fighting is intensifying in South Kordofan, a border region in Sudan. Aerial bombardments by the government are routine. On January 20, a Medecins Sans Frontières hospital–one of the only sources of humanitarian aid in the region–was bombed for the second time, and the facility was forced to close.

Below is a transcript of TIME’s interview with Karti, edited only lightly for grammar clarity, published in full because Karti so rarely speaks on the record with reporters. The full story, “Sudan: The Forgotten War,” is in this week’s magazine and online here.

TIME: What kind of bridges do you want to build?

ALI AHMED KARTI: To me it begins from the faith, from bringing people together, from trying to build relations between nations, maybe they are different in their faith, and they may be for sure they are different in ethnicities, what is huge between south and west is this very big divide. So I’ve been educated and trained in a country whereby people, they do not know about the west. Still they think they can outreach. But what had been in the history was tremendously injuring the relationship between south, and between and west and east. To begin with the colonial period, when people were subjected to so many atrocities, and the history of that is still injuring their vision about how can they be together again with some people from the west.

I am a foreign minister of my country, and I have been following this not like any other Sudanese, normal Sudanese. Maybe a normal Sudanese, he would just remark that there is a problem. But to me the problem is projected in so many ways. I am a politician, I can see how damaging having bad relations with a great country like U.S. and also having media, negative media talking about my country and about my people. So this is one of the ways that I deemed very good, and it is fruitful, it proved to be fruitful through time. Yes, I am talking formally with the government, and I am talking formally with the ambassador there in Khartoum, but still there are so many ways of trying to get to the hearts of people other than this formal way, because in the formal relations, government to government, you have limits, but when it goes to the hearts of people, you don’t have limits.

It will be easy for me to invite others to see the country to see the situation, and to assess by themselves, even media, everybody who is interested in that. We have been open for so many years before, and I have been on this track for more than eight years now. And to me it will be the only way that I can go through, and the only way that will also help in projecting my country, and my people and the lifestyle of life there in the country and the moderate way of people used to live and the coexistence that have been through our life in the country since it has been a country called Sudan. We used to have different faiths, whether Islam, Christianity, nonbeliever also are still there in the country, in some parts of the eastern, south eastern parts of our country, and we used to lived together. We did not witness in our life or the life of our predecessors a kind of conflict based on religion. If you go there to Khartoum you will find people living together. You will find mosques and churches almost some meters between them, and we have never had in our history of fights just because somebody is a Muslim or a Christian. Not only this, but we are Muslims, we have also our schools in the Muslim sphere, also there are schools in the church, we have different church, we have the Sudan Council of church, we have also evangelicals, we have Coptics in the country, and themselves, they are also making a very good example of coexistence between themselves and between them all and the Muslim community. And some friends who visit Sudan from this country, they are seeing how people are living together, how people are receptive to them, some of them were church leaders, some of them were writers, and some of the activists who have been there in the country, they have seen something different, some of them came here to speak to friends and to others that things are not like what is going on in the media. Things are totally different.

In this respect, I would hope to see you there, to go freely, we would not make any program for you, not only you but other friends who are working on this. You will be there, we will help you to go wherever you want to go, and it is up to you, you write your heart, and you write your visit, this is the only way to put down the walls and to build bridges and to bring people together.

What does spiritual diplomacy mean for you, and what will you be doing here, with friends, toward that end?

I told you I am not here on a formal visit, and I am not representing anybody here, but I am Sudanese, and I am somebody who can also have some effect on my country, and my relationship with people here on this side of faith can benefit both our countries and both our nations. I can see it could be the easiest and the swiftest way in getting to the hearts of people, if you speak the same language that Jesus could be our guidance, both of us, Muslims and followers of Jesus from this country,

I deem myself a follower of Jesus. According to our beliefs in Islam, if you are not a believer of Jesus, you are not a believer of Mohammed, and if you are not a believer of Mohammed, that means you are out of Islam. So it is part and parcel of our belief in God and Islam that Jesus is also our prophet, and we deem ourselves followers of Jesus, so in that respect we feel we are together. Yes, there are so many differences, as even in Christianity there are so many differences, we have some differences, but what we really share is very big, and we can base on that, and we can bring people on this way of believing in Jesus and believing that his directions and his directives are suitable for Muslims and for Christians. So if that is so, that means we can get closer to each other without remembering that we are different in nations or that we have different political setup. I have seen it.

So many people with whom if I speak politics, we will fall apart. So when we come together on this basis, I think it will be easy for us to get through and open hearts. And by opening hearts we can go through the difficulties also and we can resolve so many issues and outstanding problems.

So the United States plans to take Cuba off of its list of states that sponsor terrorism, which leaves Sudan, Iran, and Syria the only ones left. How would you argue that Sudan, like Cuba, should be taken off of the list?

This is my mission also to your people here, whether on the basis of faith or on the basis of politics, that we really need to focus on the situation of Sudan, and to verify if Sudan is sponsoring terror or not. According to the reports that are issued here in this country and according to those who are interested in this issue and those who are following this issue, I can’t find any report that is accusing Sudan of sponsoring terror, but you know politics.

It is not easy to get through a decision like this, because so many through history have been in this business of putting Sudan in that cage. So it needs time for them to understand, it needs time for them also, there are some NGOs who have been through time benefitting from putting Sudan in that situation. So it will only be possible if we are able to let people understand really the situation of Sudan, and that putting Sudan under that opposition, that means that we are putting Sudan in sanctions, and sanctions are cutting the throats of the needy people in the country. Maybe the government is mainly intended to crack down or to be weakened, but what is now weakened is the population, especially those who are in the peripheries, and especially those who are deemed to be, who need the assistance. So instead of looking to the country and a country under these sanctions should not be helped, I think it is better for those who really adopt the idea of helping others is to look at the matter from this perspective.

Yes it needs time, yes it needs talking to so many, there are so many institutions here in this country, they need to understand and they need also to know the situation better, some of them they know, but you know politics is something that is, nobody can expect how things should go forward and maybe through time, we’ll be able also to go through the same line of Cuba.

So one of the things we’ve been hearing from the UN is that 10% of the Rapid Support Forces’ operations are against the armed opposition, but 90% are against civilians. I’m wondering if you could respond to that.

No, nobody could think of something like that. Why should the government put that heavyweight on the civilians? Why? The government is a government for the people, and if you know the political setup in the country, you will see by yourself how people are represented, from the level of a village to the level of some town and to the level of districts and to the central level of the assemblies and the level of government.

If you have representatives everywhere, then nobody can do anything without those representatives, having idea of that or talking about that. If you go through the media in Sudan, you will find opposition, maybe the majority of papers that are issued in the country to now, they have every right to go anywhere and talk about anything that may be causing atrocities to their home land and people, so if nothing is coming out of that, that means that is only portraying the country in a way that will not at all help somebody like me to convince those who are in charge of a decision like removing Sudan from the list of terror, they want to keep the country there.

But I will bet if anybody is ready to go to the country, we will give him the opportunity to go by himself and assess what is going on there, look for an inquisition that they claim that there are so many rapes in a village in Darfur, you know what was behind that, what was behind that was a message to those people who had been driven from their village to go to the camps, those days they were ready to go back to their village. Why? Because that was one of the villages that was rebuilt again, in a very modern way, with schools, with health care center, with police center, with so many services and water resources, and the message was to them, don’t go back to Tabit, because Tabit is under mass rape, and when it was verified by the UNAMID when they went there, they found nothing of that, because nobody can expect a village like Tabit which had been a home for some hundreds of the soldiers there, they have their homes there, they have their wives there, and they are living in a camp near that place, no one will expect those soldiers will come and rape by hundreds in that village.

So you know messages like this come out of the expectation that the government is trying to normalize the situation, so instead of leaving the government normalize the situation, we just flare up something like this for people not to go back, not only for Tabit people but also for other people who are requesting to go back to their homes. If you are fleeing this place because there is no security, then the police is there, and not only the police is there, but the army is there, and it will protect you against anyone who will infringe your security. And not only that you will have new homes, you will have health services, you will have water resources, and you will have whatever you wish in a village that had been destroyed before 7 or 8 years, so the message was not to us or to you, its to those who should go back to their homes, because they wanted to keep them in the camps, they wanted to keep, the nature of the strife there in the country, that it is still not safe to go back, why for also? There are also some NGOs that are living on collecting money that they want to go to the camps and keep these people there. This is cutting throats of so many, and the line is there, tell the donors here, they should be kept seeing the situation unstable and for them also to pay money also for those who are living on this money.

There’s a report out today about some of the carnage in the Nuba Mountains. There are some really horrible photographs that I wanted to show you, it’s children–I know you’ve seen probably worse, but I know it is all very scarring. This is in a report out of the Nuba Mountains today with lots of children who have allegedly been burned, you can scroll here

Did they tell you who burned them?

My question is, Is it true that this is happening now, with your government planes and artillery, in your country?

Nothing of that is happening. Nobody can make his policy like that. Nobody is targeting his own people. What happens is that, those rebels they get in the villages sometimes, they do it themselves and they send it to you to here, to the media, and for verification I really commend some journalists to go there to verify who is doing this. So many reports are there like this have been sent about Darfur, through five or six years we have been under this kind of media. When people went there from the west and from other countries, they found that these are untrue narratives. You may find somebody who has been, yes, targeted, but who targeted him? This is a story from one side. This is a story from one side.

We have been also noticing, through the last years, heavy attacks put on civilians in South Kordofan and also in North Kordofan, and that had been reported to you here and everywhere. But nobody took it serious. It was those same rebels who attacked the villages and killed so many hundreds at one day and also burned so many houses at the same day and destroyed everything and they looted everything, and they went back to the border of South Sudan and in such a situation, you cannot verify who is doing this. I’m not saying that government is not using artillery, it is using artillery against combatants, it is not using artillery against civilians. There is no reason, why should the government target its own civilians? Nothing of that could happen. Because we have leaders from those leaders, they know what is going on there, they know who is targeting their own civilians there.

What do you do about this?

We just try to verify, and you see a new story again, and for you to verify which is right of these stories, and you know the media, every day you see things, and when you stay for some hours you will find something different. You will find another story. It is better for somebody who is working on this issue to have time to verify, it is easy just to have this story and report it and say this is the government. But why should the government target its own people? And if there is only one bomb that is maybe on an area where rebels are taking that area, something like this could happen.

We are seeing so many causalities happening from bombings some areas in Afghanistan, with really modern technologies, but nevertheless there casualties. I’m not saying that we do not have this in our country. But if it happens then that matter will be under investigation and they will know what had been wrong. But I assure you the government will not at all target its own civilians. So if you have causalities like what is happening in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or even in Iraq, at some point of time, something like this could happen. I’m not in a position now to tell you who did this, but you are a reporter, somebody who is interested in this, you should verify these narratives.

So, we are in a setting right now where there are a lot of international aid groups, especially groups of different faith backgrounds, groups that want to do international aid in Sudan, or have been doing aid work in different regions in Sudan for some time, and I’m wondering, how do you counsel them about how they can help, when there are situations like even this week, Médecins Sans Frontières, their hospital was bombed for the second time, and they say it was the government. In South Kordofan. They’ve been pushed out, they had to leave, and they say this government bombing. So when you are in a setting like this, how do you work with international–

Look we cannot open our doors for an NGO, or anybody, and receive him, give him facilities, and then we bomb him. Can you think, for yourself now, can that be possible if there is no other story which has not been told to you?

The reason I ask these questions is–you can respond and then we can share your voice about that.

When somebody applies to come to Sudan and work, for those needy people the government will make its own assessment and it will open doors for whoever is ready to go there. And there are instructions about how you do your work, and which place, and how you do it, and the custody of whom, so if somebody is coming through the government and he is trying to outlean and deal with the rebels, than he is doing wrong. You will not be told that he is doing something wrong, and for this reason, he had been there at the territory of the rebels. So you need to verify, why should the government target somebody who has been allowed formally and legally to come to the country and work with those people who are in need.

So nothing of that could happen. There should be a missing story, and what is really meant to be missing for you just to portray that the government is bombing this or that. So I would hope if you have time, and even if it is not you, your people, who are in charge of this, would allot somebody or some two or three of you, to go and investigate on that. If they are really interested to know the fact, they will know the facts.

What is the missing story?

I don’t know if this is the missing story. But I would think that there is something wrong that happened that took them from the place where they were authorized to work to another place where they were not authorized to work. Because if you are coming through my doors, and you are going to work with the rebels, that means you are doing something different. And if you are crossing South Sudan borders just to work with the rebels, then you don’t have any security. That means you are working in an area that is targeted. So if you are coming from south Sudan without the authority knowing that you are there and without any permission, that means that you are putting yourself in that jeopardized way.

Could you tell me how your government is getting gold, and are there any areas that consumers should be concerned about where the gold is coming from?

The gold is coming from the country and it is authorized by the government and there are so many companies they come there, they apply for permission, they apply for concessions, and they have agreements on that. And this is one side of it. The other side is, there are some, maybe thousands of Sudanese who used to have the local way of collecting gold from the surface of the ground. So most of them, they have agreement with the government and through that the government is using this gold as Sudanese export, and all of it is legal, nothing is illegal. Nothing is illegal. Nothing is falsified from anybody. Nobody is forced to even sell to the government if he doesn’t want to sell to the government. Nobody is forced to give his land to the government and to do something that is illegal.

So instead of listening to stories like this, it is also good to go there. We have a mining ministry, and you can see the concessions, you can see the companies, you can visit areas where the companies, even the normal citizens in a very traditional way collecting gold from the surface of the ground. They are living their life, nobody is forcing them to do anything. So it is also good to go there and see by yourself.

Earlier this week, there was some news about a tentative peace agreement with South Sudan president Salva Kiir and the rebel leader Riek Machar. I’m wondering, do you pledge to support that peace agreement, and would Khartoum back a power-sharing agreement in South Sudan?

We have been behind that. We have been trying our best to bring them together, but unfortunately, agreements, this may be the fifth agreement that has been signed, but nobody is abiding by the agreement. The agreements did not hold. You know they have their differences. They still think it is best to go to the jungle and fight. Unfortunately. This is what I see everyday. So people are working from everywhere especially the region, and we are very active in that, and unfortunately we were not able to get to an agreement through the last five days when we were there in Addis Ababa.

If this latest agreement though, would you support an international arms embargo on all parties?

No. I don’t think it is wise now. Because we know the situation in South Sudan. If you have such forces, they may fight everywhere and they will not know who is their enemy. In the region, we do not support something like this. We are part of the region and we know how this will spoil the situation.

In know you have been alluding to this, and we have been talking about this some in previous questions, but as you said one of the main conversation points here about what is happening in Sudan is, is it an insurgency or are there war crimes happening? Which is it? What is the Sudanese government doing? Where do you draw those lines?

Good, it is good that you asked me that. You know what the government is doing in Sudan, but you did not ask me about anything positive in the country. You only asked me about the media, what is projecting into you here in the west. You did not ask me about how we opened our door for South Sudan to secede by an agreement. And that was fully backed up by the whole nation, that if the South Sudanese want to secede, they are free do to that. And by an agreement we did that. You did not ask me about the 450,000 who fled South Sudan again to come again to Sudan. We opened our doors, our hearts, and everything for them. We fed them, we gave them lodging, we gave them health care, and we opened our schools and even universities for them to go there, for free. You did not ask me about the endeavors of the government is doing to transform the lives of the people there, although they are under sanctions. You did not ask me about the elections, we are about to hold during two or three months. You did not ask me about anything that is positive in the country. Shall I have another time to talk about this?

Minister, with these questions, I am giving you the opportunity to tell that side of the story.

I am more than ready to go on that another time if you have time. Maybe the ambassador will also arrange for something for you to come, or for me also, to come to you again and speak on that.

I have time, but if you do not want to do it now that is your choice.

No, it is not that I don’t want to do it. The problem is that we have another appointment.

TIME Education

China Hit by Another SAT Cheating Scandal

Testing sheet
Getty Images

Another round of tests, another set of allegations of organized cheating in China

Here we go again.

The test scores of an unknown number of international students who took the SAT in January are being withheld and reviewed, officials from the College Board and its global test administration and security provider, Educational Testing Service (ETS), tell TIME.

Citing concern for “current and future investigations,” ETS declined to disclose details about the breach. “Individual test-takers whose scores are being held have been impacted by the delay have been informed,” writes ETS spokesman Thomas Ewing in an email. “This review process may take up to five weeks.”

Ewing emphasized that the College Board and ETS remain “committed to ensuring all students have access to a fair testing environment and to fulfilling our responsibility to deliver test scores with integrity to colleges and universities.” A key part of that, Ewing says, is “identifying, stopping and mitigating security breaches.”

This is the latest in a series of apparent security breaches involving the international administration of the SAT. In October 2014, TIME broke the news that ETS was reviewing the scores of all students from China and South Korea—and right in the run-up to early admission, or early action, deadlines. Students in Asia also complained about delays in scores from the November and December tests.

Though ETS will not comment on the nature of the alleged cheating, their email to students in October pointed a finger at “organizations that seek to illegally obtain test materials for their own profit.” Multiple sources in the test prep industry say unscrupulous agents in China and South Korea have been selling test questions ahead of the SAT.

That may well have been the case in January. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) on Jan. 22 published a statement saying they were emailed a copy of one of the Jan. 24 tests. FairTest said the questions appeared to come from an international SAT administered in June 2014. The organization had initially said incorrectly that the test had been used in the U.S.

Fair Test and others are calling on the College Board and ETS to stop re-using test questions. “Recycling test forms that were previously administered in the U.S. is the root cause of this ongoing scandal,” says Robert Schaeffer, FairTest’s public education director, in the statement.

But the exact cause of the January test score suspension is still unknown. Thousands of students are waiting for an answer—and their scores.

Update: The original story was updated to include clarification about the exam obtained by FairTest. It was the international exam from June 2014.

TIME isis

ISIS Magazine Claims to Interview Paris Gunman’s Wife

Suspect's Wanted In Connection With Paris Terrorist Attacks
Getty Images Hayat Boumeddiene pictured in this handout provided by the Direction Centrale de la Police Judiciaire on January 9.

A magazine run by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) says the widow of the gunman who attacked a Jewish kosher grocery in Paris last month is now living in territory under its control.

The magazine put out by ISIS in both French and English includes a purported interview with Hayat Boumeddiene, the widow of Amedy Coulibaly, who was killed in the attack that left four others dead.

The interview marks the first time the group has officially said that Boumeddiene is in its territory, though neither the claim or the veracity of the interview has been independently confirmed.

After the Jan. 9 attack, France launched a search for Boumeddiene and described her as armed and dangerous, before Turkish officials said she had entered Turkey days earlier and crossed into Syria on Jan. 8.

In the interview, which identifies the interviewee as Coulibaly’s wife without giving her name, she praises life under ISIS, saying, “It is good to live in the land that is governed by the laws of God.”

She also gives advice for Muslim women and says that Coulibaly was intent on joining ISIS when it proclaimed a Caliphate.

The magazine, Dar al-Islam, says it is the second edition and began circulating online on Wednesday. Its cover features an image of the Eiffel Tower and the words, “May Allah Curse France.”

TIME North Korea

Here Are 7 of the Weirdest North Korean State Slogans

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) appl
ED JONES—AFP/Getty Images North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (L) applauds during a military parade in honour of the 100th birthday of the late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung in Pyongyang on April 15, 2012.

"Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms!"

The North Korean leadership published a list of more than 300 slogans in state media on Thursday ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the country’s Workers’ Party this year.

The lengthy list, comprising some 6,000 words in English translation, provides an often comical sense of some of the priorities of the government. Some of the statements are typical of the bellicose rhetoric North Korean directs toward South Korea and the United States, while others are more general declarations for improving different aspects of life, ranging from food production to the style of school uniforms.

An English translation was posted by the KCNA Watch, a website that monitors the North Korean official news agency. Here’s seven of the more bizarre slogans on the list:

  • “Let us build a fairyland for the people by dint of science!”
  • “More stylish school uniforms and quality school things for our dear children!”
  • “Should the enemy dare to invade our country, annihilate them to the last man so that none of them will survive to sign the instrument of surrender!”
  • “Let the wives of officers become dependable assistants to their husbands!”
  • “Let us turn ours into a country of mushrooms by making mushroom cultivation scientific, intensive and industrialized!”
  • “Launch more cutting-edge sci-tech satellites and applications satellites of our style!”
  • “Make fruits cascade down and their sweet aroma fill the air on the sea of apple trees at the foot of Chol Pass!”

See the full list here

 

TIME Lebanon

Lebanon’s Hash Farmers Join the Fight Against ISIS

Hash dealer Ali Nasri Shamas holds up a machete he promises to use on jihadis.
Rebecca Collard Hash dealer Ali Nasri Shamas holds up a machete he promises to use on jihadis.

The military once battled hash farmers, now they face the same threat

Inside his hash factory in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, Ali Nasri Shamas pulls out a two-foot long machete.

“This is for ISIS and the Nusra Front and anyone who supports them,” says Shamas, referring to the jihadi groups encroaching on Lebanon’s border. He smiles, running the blade of his knife gently along the sleeve of his leather jacket before cutting the air with it. “We have the machetes ready for them, just like they do.”

Shamas’s factory is just 30 minutes from the Syrian border and he says he and his fellow hash growers are ready to take on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front who have taken over swathes of Syria and Iraq are threatening to invade Lebanon.

Three tons of cannabis sits on the floor inside his processing plant. Workers sift through the ten-foot high heaps, separating stalks and stems amid a cloud of cannabis dust.

Lebanese Red and Blonde hash varieties are world-renowned, and Lebanon’s hash farmers have long been well-armed to defend their crops from government destruction.

Each year security forces come to this village, and others in the Bekaa Valley, to try to destroy the lucrative fields of marijuana. These raids often end in gun fights, leaving members of both sides dead and injured.

“The last time they came here was 2012,” says Shamas. He’s has been a fugitive for 35 years, but now he is not scared to be photographed with the illicit drugs.

Since the start of Syria’s uprising in 2011, Lebanon has worried about the conflict spilling across its borders. Both ISIS and the Nursa Front have kidnapped and executed Lebanese soldiers and police. The militants have infiltrated fighters and explosives through the shared border with Syria and into Lebanon.

While drugs were once a priority for the Lebanese government, defending the border against incursions from Syria is now paramount.

“I don’t want to say the government is afraid of the [drug dealers], but now they have other priorities…it’s not a suitable time to make a problem with the people in the Bekaa Valley,” says General Ghassan Chamseddine, head of Lebanon’s drug enforcement unit.

Hash factory worker in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, shakes cannabis dust from a bag.
Rebecca CollardHash factory worker in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, shakes cannabis dust from a bag.

There are around 9,000 acres of Lebanese agricultural land used to grow cannabis, producing thousands of tons of hash annually, about half of which is exported. Chamseddine says his police require the support of 2,000-3,000 army troops to eradicate the crops each year. Right now, those soldiers can’t be spared. “Our army is working hard now to defend our border.”

That means that Lebanese security forces who once confronted Bekaa Valley drug cultivators now have a shared interest with them in defending border regions from attacks from Syria.

“We are ready to support all the factions in Lebanon against ISIS and the Nusra Front,” says Shamas.

When jihadis attacked the village of Brital in October of last year, a band of cannabis farmers headed to the area to help defend it. Abbas, who asked not to use his real name, was among them.

“When we heard they were attacking Brital, we grabbed our weapons and jumped in the trucks,” says Abbas, who spent seven years in prison on drug trafficking charges. “To us, ISIS is nothing. Their strategy is to scare people. But we were not afraid.”

Abbas, Shamas and most of the men involved in Lebanon’s hash trade are experienced fighters, having been militiamen in Lebanon’s 15-year civil war. Abbas once fought with Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful militia, and Shamas with Amal, another large Shiite group.

There is a Hezbollah base just a few hundred meters from the hash factory, but these men say unlike Lebanon’s many well-armed militias, they aren’t aligned with any sect or political party.

General Chamseddine is irritated by the suggestion that these men are defenders of the country.

“When they say they have these arms to defend their country against ISIS, they are making a camouflage to get support from the people,” says Chamseddine. “These drug dealers are only interested in their drugs.”

In part, it’s still about defending their crops. ISIS has posted videos online of their fighters destroying marijuana fields in Syria, saying the consumption of the plant is un-Islamic. But even more importantly, say the farmers here, this is about defending their land and their country against the expansionist ISIS militants.

Shamas pulls one of two AK-47s from his truck, admiring the assault rifle. This is just part of his arsenal that includes mounted machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

“We are here to defend all of Lebanon,” says Shamas.

TIME South Africa

South Africa’s State of Nation Address Has Become a Carnival that Avoids Country’s Real Problems

The red carpet is laid out at Parliament before the start of the official opening session in Cape Town, South Africa, Feb. 12, 2015.
Schalk van Zuydam—AP The red carpet is laid out at Parliament before the start of the official opening session in Cape Town, South Africa, Feb. 12, 2015.

Red carpets, paparazzi, fistfights and $382,000 gala dinners? Welcome to Jacob Zuma's 6th annual address to South Africans

Social Media can be an effective tool for a president wanting to stay in touch with his citizens. It can also be a potent, and public, amplifier of criticism, as South African President Jacob Zuma learned to his dismay this week. In advance of his annual State of the Nation address Zuma invited the public to suggest themes using the hashtag ‪#‎SONA2015. The most tweeted topic? His resignation:

“Pay Back the Money” is likely to echo through the chambers of Parliament as well, when Zuma takes the stage on the evening of Feb. 12. For the past three years his office has been embroiled in the so-called “Nkandlagate” scandal, in which he has been charged with using $21 million in public funds to remodel his homestead in the rural town of Nkandla. The renovations were billed as “security upgrades” but included a private military hospital, a helicopter landing pad and the installation of a swimming pool. Zuma says that he was unaware of the improvements being made at his residence.

Zuma has avoided Parliament since August, when a rabble-rousing minority party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, heckled him from the stage with questions about when he would repay the money. The speaker of the house was forced to close down the question and answer period and eventually called in the police to subdue the wayward parliamentarians.

The EFF has vowed to repeat their performance at the State of the Nation address, raising fears that security will be called in once again, this time broadcast primetime on national television. South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper reported that parliamentary security staff had been sent to self-defense classes in preparation for the address. (Parliamentary officials stated that the training was routine.) Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Alliance has pitched a snit of its own, refusing to attend the traditional post-speech gala cocktail party on the grounds that at a cost of $382,000 it is a waste of taxpayer money. The deputy speaker of the National Assembly responded that he would bill the DA for empty seats, because it was too late to recoup the catering costs.

What would be a yawn-worthy event in any other circumstance has riveted the nation, says Frans Cronje, head of the Institute of Race Relations, South Africa’s oldest think-tank. “For the first time South Africans will watch the state of the nation address. This will beat anything else on TV.” One newspaper has even published rules for a drinking game to go with the speech. The pomp and pageantry of the annual address easily lends itself to ridicule. Complete with a red carpet, paparazzi and parliamentarians dressed to the nines (last year one minister showed up in a pilot’s uniform, even though he didn’t have a license), it is “the closest thing South Africa has to the Academy Awards,” says John Endres, CEO of the Johannesburg-based Good Governance Africa policy group.

But the circus-like atmosphere of this years’ address obscures some of the country’s deeper realities, few of which are likely to be covered in depth during the president’s speech. South Africa’s crippled power utility is struggling to meet demand after 20 years of neglect, resulting in rolling blackouts that are likely to last for several months. The power shortage has hobbled investment and curtailed growth in Africa’s most industrialized economy. On Tuesday the Rand fell to its weakest level in 13 years. While the overall unemployment rate decreased slightly last year, the country’s youth unemployment rate shot up to 52.6 percent, the highest in the continent, according to a new report by Good Governance Africa. “South Africa’s youth remain trapped, dependent on hand-outs and unable to improve their lives,” said Karen Hasse, a GGA researcher. “Without better education and business-friendly policies to encourage economic growth and employment, the country’s youth face a hopeless future.”

Zuma may touch on the power crisis and unemployment — it would be hard not to — but there is little he can do without fundamental policy changes, none of which appear forthcoming, says Cronje. “The government is running out of money to run the country. They can’t borrow any more because the debt to GDP ratio has doubled in five years, and they can’t reduce expenditures,” for fear of inciting unrest. Violent protests have become a near daily occurrence, over jobs, schooling, medical care and illegal immigrants. “For the first time since 1994 (the end of apartheid) we are seeing a real pick up in the hiring of riot control police officers.” The EFF spectacle in parliament is nothing compared to what South Africa has in store, he warns. “I wonder to what extent Zuma understands this or is interested in it. We are not seeing in his policies the types of moves that will draw investment to drive growth.”

Of course, state of the nation addresses are not where policy is made. In the case of South Africa, the occasion has become a platform for a populist party on the rise. “The EFF has nothing to lose,” says Enders, of Good Governance Africa. “They have been very smart at generating attention, and highlighting the weaknesses of the current system.” But what is good for the EFF, may not be so good for South Africa. “It’s a bit of a crisis, actually,” says Enders, speaking of the possibility that security forces may have to be called in if heckling gets out of hand. “Using the police to stop people from speaking in parliament is infringing on freedom of speech. But freedom of speech comes with rules that are meant to keep discourse civilized and allow the proper exchange of ideas. So what should be done if the EFF doesn’t follow those rules?” South Africa’s 2015 State of the Nation Address may be billed as spectacle, but it could turn into something much more serious.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the number of State of the Nation speeches Zuma has given. It is the 6th.

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