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From VOA Learning English, welcome to AS IT IS. I'm your host Mario Ritter.

Japan and the United States have deep economic and security ties. The two sides held meetings in Washington in late February. VOA spoke with Japan's foreign minister. Also, human rights activists have called on Taiwan to end its use of the death penalty. They say continued use of capital punishment hurts Taiwan's human rights standing. And March eighth is International Women's Day. We look at conditions for women in South Sudan, the world's newest country.

Recently, VOA reporter Steve Herman spoke with Japan's Foreign Minister, Fumio Kishida. They talked about a number of issues, including North Korea and Japanese relations with China. Steve Ember tells us about some of the issues.

North Korea is Japan's neighbor. Nuclear and missile tests in North Korea continue to raise security concerns for the Japanese.

Foreign Minister Kishida says his country is expecting stronger international action against North Korea for its most recent tests. But he noted the importance of diplomacy with the North Koreans.

Mr. Kishida says Japan "needs to deal with North Korea in a balance between dialogue and pressure." He noted an agreement the two sides signed 11 years ago as the basis for this. In his words, Japan must "firmly and strongly continue to ask North Korea for a comprehensive resolution" of the issues of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development.

International concerns over North Korea's activities have led to warnings and sanctions from the United Nations Security Council. Recently, a North Korean-controlled website in China claimed that North Korea is now secure from foreign attack. The website said this is because the United States is now within range of, what it called, "strategic rockets and nuclear weapons."

Japan and other many countries say China has the most influence over North Korea. But Japan and China are involved in territorial disputes. Their competing claims have led to conflicts at sea and even in the air. Most recently, Japan and China traded accusations over an incident in the East China Sea. It took place at the end of January near islands known as Senkaku by the Japanese and Diaoyu in China.

Fumio Kishida said he was satisfied with United States support of Japan's territorial claims. But some Japanese have been hoping for more openly supportive statements from American officials.

I'm Steve Ember.

For many people, executing someone as punishment for a crime is a human rights issue. There have been international appeals to end such executions on the island of Taiwan. But the government there says it will continue to enforce the death penalty. Kelly Jean Kelly has more.

Taiwan ended a five-year informal ban on the death penalty in 2010. Six people were put to death in the latest series of executions last December.

The executions have been denounced by European Union members and rights groups.

Taiwan's Deputy Justice Minister, Chen Shou-huang, tells VOA only murderers who kill more than one person or use brutality face the death penalty. He says Taiwanese officials have spoken with officials in European countries and diplomatic offices around the world.

Opinion studies show there is strong support for the measure in Taiwan. Seventy-seven percent of those questioned approve of capital punishment. Taiwan has executed 15 people since 2010. Amnesty International says 676 people were executed worldwide in 2011. But that number does not include China, which is believed to execute thousands of people every year.

Since Ma Ying-jeou took office in 2008, he has attempted to use "soft power" to bring attention to Taiwan's cultural and humanitarian record. Lin Hsin-yi heads a group called the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty.

She says international criticism hurts Taiwan. She says human rights are the best way for Taiwan to build soft power.

I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.

South Sudan fought for years to win independence from Sudan. South Sudanese women are facing a similar struggle for their rights. As we hear from June Simms, fighting may have ended in the new nation, but violence and sexual abuse are still problems.

Domestic or family violence is hard to discuss in a nation where many people consider it normal for a woman to be beaten and strange for a wife to leave her husband.

Rape is also a problem. The International Rescue Committee operates a clinic for sex based violence in Lakes state. Abendego Mabior Nyinde is a medical worker. He says knowledge about diseases such as AIDS has led more women to report rape. But he says many do not speak out for fear that admitting such an attack will lower their value as a future wife.

In South Sudan, a woman's family can request a large number of cattle for her to be given in marriage. But Mary Ayei Yai, a mother of eight children, says the deal often leaves women trapped and open to abuse.

Jenny Becker works for the International Rescue Committee. She says getting women out of abusive situations is a duty that officials have trouble dealing with.

"They're really actually putting their life on the line if they want to step in and stop anything-actually using the law is very dangerous for them."

Officials say there are laws in South Sudan to protect the rights of women. But many say the reality is that traditional law and a male-dominated culture most often win out. I'm June Simms.

Thank you for joining us today. We want to know what you think about our show. Email us at special@voanews.com. And join us at the beginning of the hour Universal Time for the latest news.

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