China’s Xi courts Malaysia in regional charm offensive

China’s Xi courts Malaysia in regional charm offensive
Updated 05 October 2013

China’s Xi courts Malaysia in regional charm offensive

China’s Xi courts Malaysia in regional charm offensive

KUALA LUMPUR: Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with Malaysia’s leader Friday as part of a Southeast Asian charm offensive, with analysts saying he had the floor to himself after Barack Obama scrapped his own Asia tour.
Xi’s visits to Indonesia and Malaysia and his scheduled attendance at a regional summit next week have taken on added significance with the US president’s decision to stay put due to the budget impasse in Washington.
Some Southeast Asian countries have accused Beijing of increasingly aggressive behaviour in asserting its claims to waters and islands in the South China Sea.
But Xi, addressing reporters after meeting Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, said China was committed to closer cooperation with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“China will continue to provide firm support to the central role of ASEAN in East Asian cooperation and we will be happy to see a greater role played by Malaysia in this region,” Xi said in a joint press appearance with his host.
With Beijing and Washington vying for influence in the strategic region, Obama had planned to get face time with Asian leaders and rub shoulders with Xi at an international summit in Bali next week.
Obama had also planned to visit Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines.
Instead, US Secretary of State John Kerry will take his place so that Obama can focus on the budget gridlock that triggered the first government shutdown in 17 years.
Analysts said the developments deal a potential blow to the Obama administration’s “pivot” policy, the refocusing of its economic and strategic attention on Asia.
Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Obama’s decision “could signal the start of the unravelling of the US pivot to Asia.”
Charles Morrison, president of the Honolulu-based East-West Center, told AFP the episode raised questions over whether the US “can sustain a leadership position.”
“Obama’s trip cancellation reduces the visibility of the American role in Asia,” he said.
A Brunei foreign ministry official said Friday the move was “disappointing.”
“Not just for those in diplomatic circles, but for a small country to host the president of the United States is a source of excitement, particularly someone of Obama’s celebrity,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.


Pakistan allows AstraZeneca shot for under 40s to help its expatriates

Pakistan allows AstraZeneca shot for under 40s to help its expatriates
Updated 15 June 2021

Pakistan allows AstraZeneca shot for under 40s to help its expatriates

Pakistan allows AstraZeneca shot for under 40s to help its expatriates
  • Pakistan, which relies heavily on remittances from its expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia, has primarily used Chinese vaccines

KARACHI, Pakistan: Pakistan has lifted a rule barring the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for people below 40 years old, in a bid to help inoculate people who need to travel for education or jobs abroad, particularly Saudi Arabia, a health official said.
Pakistan, which relies heavily on remittances from its expatriate workers in Saudi Arabia, has primarily used Chinese vaccines — Sinopharm, CanSinoBio and Sinovac — in its inoculation drive and, till now, only used AstraZeneca for those above 40.
The Saudi authorities have not approved the Chinese shots, so people with only those vaccinations still need to quarantine, which is unaffordable for many, Faisal Sultan, a health adviser to the prime minister, said.
“From today, we have lifted the restriction for use of AstraZeneca for below 40 years,” Sultan told private news channel Geo television on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia has approved four COVID-19 vaccines for arrivals wanting to avoid quarantine, namely AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson.
Pakistan has received 1.2 million doses of AstraZeneca under the COVAX facility.
Sultan said the government was using diplomatic channels to see if Saudi Arabia would approve Chinese vaccines in future.
As of June 11, 1.3 percent of Pakistan’s 220 million people had been fully vaccinated and 3.8 percent had received at least one dose, mostly Sinopharm or Sinovac, official figures show.
Saudi Arabia is the largest source of foreign remittances to Pakistan, which depends on these funds to support its current account given the country’s yawning trade deficit.
In the current financial year, Pakistan received $7 billion in remittances from Saudi Arabia, making up more than a quarter of overall remittances.


Alarm rises in India over COVID-19 risks as crowds return to malls and rail stations

Alarm rises in India over COVID-19 risks as crowds return to malls and rail stations
Updated 15 June 2021

Alarm rises in India over COVID-19 risks as crowds return to malls and rail stations

Alarm rises in India over COVID-19 risks as crowds return to malls and rail stations
  • After a strict five-week lockdown, authorities in Delhi have fully re-opened shops and malls, and allowed restaurants to have 50% seating
  • Suburban rail networks can run at 50 percent capacity, and offices have been partially reopened

NEW DELHI: Having barely got over a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, India was gripped with alarm on Tuesday over risks of a resurgence as crowds thronged railway stations and shopping malls a day after major cities relaxed curbs on movement. The capital New Delhi, in the north, and tech hub Bengaluru, in the south, were among the cities that have begun lifting strict lockdowns as the nationwide tally of new infections dropped to its lowest level in more than two months.
After a strict five-week lockdown, authorities in Delhi have fully re-opened shops and malls, and allowed restaurants to have 50 percent seating. Suburban rail networks can run at 50 percent capacity, and offices have been partially reopened.
“Delhi’s top #mall saw a footfall of 19,000 people last weekend- as soon as it reopened. Have we gone totally mad?” Ambrish Mithal, a doctor with a Max HealthCare hospital in New Delhi said on Twitter. “Wait for #COVID19 to explode again- and blame the government, hospitals, country.”
Disease experts have cautioned that a race toward resuming business as usual would compromise vaccination efforts as only about 5 percent of all 950 million eligible adults have been inoculated.
Doctors say Delhi’s near-complete re-opening is concerning. The city’s authorities have said they would reimpose strict curbs if needed.
Thousands died in the capital in May, as oxygen supplies all but vanished and families pleaded on social media over scarce hospital beds. Many died in parking lots, and morgues ran out of space.
Yet, the city government said inoculation centers for people aged between 18 and 44 would start shutting down on Tuesday, as doses were scarce.
Challenge of inoculations, testing
India has been administering an average of 2.4 million shots a day. Health officials say vaccinations need to be at least four times higher to avoid a third wave of infections.
At the height of the second wave in April and May as many as 170,000 people died.
The Delta variant, first identified in India, has accelerated infections. And worryingly, the virus has spread to India’s vast hinterland where two-thirds of the population lives and vaccinations have been even slower.
As restrictions are lifted in big cities, migrant workers have begun returning from the countryside.
In the southern state of Karnataka’s capital Bengaluru, media reported large crowds of workers at railway stations.
“Unfortunately, citizens equate the government’s response to reopening, as a victory,” Dr. Vishal Rao, a member of the expert committee on Karnataka’s COVID task force, told Reuters.
Nationwide, India reported 60,471 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, the lowest since March 31, data from the health ministry showed.
India added 2,726 deaths overnight, taking the overall tally to 377,031.
Both the death toll and the case-load of infections, at 29.57 million, were the second highest after the United States, but experts say the official numbers are a gross underestimate. Only people who have tested positive are counted, and in India testing has been woefully inadequate.
The Times of India on Tuesday reported a staggering 100,000 people were issued fake ‘negative’ reports for COVID-19 infections in the northern city of Haridwar when tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathered on the banks of the Ganges river for the ‘Kumbh Mela’, or pitcher festival, in April.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was widely criticized for failing to call off the Kumbh — he only belatedly urged religious leaders to celebrate symbolically — and for addressing large rallies during state elections also in April.
“One in every 4 tests during Kumbh was found fake. That is from just 1 sample collection agency. 8 more to go.” Rijo M John, a professor at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in the southern city of Kochi, said on Twitter.
“Basically, just the tip of the iceberg.”


Ex-Daesh wife Shamima Begum pleads to return to UK

Ex-Daesh wife Shamima Begum pleads to return to UK
Updated 15 June 2021

Ex-Daesh wife Shamima Begum pleads to return to UK

Ex-Daesh wife Shamima Begum pleads to return to UK
  • Shamima Begum: ‘I don’t think I was a terrorist. I think I was just a dumb kid who made one mistake’
  • Intelligence expert tells Arab News: ‘She says she has changed, but she would, wouldn’t she?’

LONDON: Shamima Begum, the London teenager who traveled to Syria to join Daesh, has told a documentary about her hopes of returning to Britain, saying she would “love” to help rehabilitate extremists.

Begum, 21, said she was “just a dumb kid” and not a terrorist when she left London to join the terror outfit when she was 15.

She has been at the Al-Roj prison camp in Syria since being stripped of her British citizenship.

“I don’t think I was a terrorist. I think I was just a dumb kid who made one mistake,” Begum said. “I personally don’t think that I need to be rehabilitated, but I would want to help other people be rehabilitated. I would love to help.”

The former Daesh wife gave her comments to a British filmmaker for a documentary called “Danger Zone.”

She said: “Anything in this camp that makes me happy is like a lifesaver.” Dressed in Western clothes — having shed her traditional Islamic dress for interviews with British media outlets — Begum added that she listens to rapper Kanye West’s music.

Portraying herself as an ordinary Briton, she said she was following updates on West’s divorce from reality TV star Kim Kardashian, and watched reruns of US sitcom “Friends.”

Asked what she would say to those in Britain who think she should not be permitted to return, Begum said: “Can I come home please, pretty please?”

But her chances look slim, especially after the Supreme Court in February refused her permission to return to Britain to fight the government’s decision to remove her citizenship.

Andrew Drury, the filmmaker, said he had changed his mind about Begum after interviewing her, arguing that she should be permitted to return to the UK and be punished for her crimes.

Philip Ingram, a former senior British military intelligence officer, told Arab News: “There will be no evidence that could hope to meet the standards of beyond reasonable doubt in a British court, so it’s unlikely she could ever be brought to trial. She says she has changed, but she would, wouldn’t she?”

He added: “If she were allowed to return to Britain, she’d have to be monitored 24/7, costing millions and taking vital resources. She made her bed and should lie in it, and that’s the only way to continue to send a deterrent message to others who in the future may consider following in her footsteps.”


Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported

Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported
Updated 15 June 2021

Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported

Hong Kong watching Chinese nuclear plant after leak reported
  • Experts say that gas might be leaking from fuel rods inside a reactor in Taishan, 135 kilometers west of Hong Kong
  • In Hong Kong, radiation levels Tuesday were normal, according to the Hong Kong Observatory

HONG KONG: China’s government said Tuesday no abnormal radiation was detected outside a nuclear power plant near Hong Kong following a news report of a leak, while Hong Kong’s leader said her administration was closely watching the facility.
The operators released few details, but nuclear experts say based on their brief statement, gas might be leaking from fuel rods inside a reactor in Taishan, 135 kilometers (85 miles) west of Hong Kong.
A foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing, Zhao Lijian, gave no confirmation of a leak or other details. He responded to reporters’ questions by saying, “there is nothing abnormal detected in the radiation level surrounding the plant.”
In Hong Kong, radiation levels Tuesday were normal, according to the Hong Kong Observatory.
Framatome, a French company that helps manage the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Guangdong province, said Monday it was dealing with a “performance issue.” It said the facility was operating within safe limits.
That followed a report by CNN that Framatome told US authorities about a possible leak.
“With regards to foreign media reports about a nuclear plant in Taishan, Guangzhou, the Hong Kong government attaches a high degree of importance to this,” said Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Lam said her government would ask authorities in Guangdong for information and tell the public about any developments.
China is one of the biggest users of nuclear power and is building more reactors at a time when few other governments have plans for new facilities because the cost of solar, wind and other alternatives is plunging.
Chinese leaders see nuclear as a way to reduce air pollution and demand for imports of oil and gas, which they deem a security risk. Government plans call for Hong Kong to use more mainland nuclear power to allow the closure of coal-fired power plants.
The Taishan plant, which began commercial operation in December 2018, is owned by China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group and Electricite de France, the majority owner of Framatome. A second reactor began operating in September 2019.
They are the first of a new type called European Pressurized Reactors. Two more are being built in Finland and France.
CNN reported Framatome wrote to the US Department of Energy warning of an “imminent radiological threat” and accusing Chinese authorities of raising acceptable limits for radiation outside the plant to avoid having to shut it down.
US officials believed there was no severe safety threat, CNN said.
The Department of Energy did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN body, told The Associated Press it was aware of the issue and awaiting information from China.
Electricite de France said Monday it was informed of the increase in concentration of “certain rare gases” in Taishan reactor No. 1.
That suggests fuel rods are leaking noble gases, a byproduct of nuclear fission, according to Luk Bing-lam, an expert on nuclear engineering at the City University of Hong Kong.
“If the leakage is more severe, then you will start seeing more radioactive material like cesium, rather than gas,” said Luk, who is chairman of the Hong Kong Nuclear Society.
Such leaks “happen every so often” in China and plants “usually can handle it themselves,” Luk said. But he said this incident might be complicated if the Taishan plant uses US technology that is covered by export restrictions.
China’s state-owned nuclear power companies are on Washington’s “entity list” that bars them from obtaining US technology without government approval.
The French partner might ask for permission because Framatome previously licensed technology from Westinghouse, Luk said.
“With the situation now, that becomes difficult,” he said. “For even a small problem, they need US government approval.”
China has 50 operable reactors and is building 18 more, according to the World Nuclear Association, an industry group. It is largely self-sufficient in reactor design and construction but is “making full use of Western technology while adapting and improving it,” the association says on its website.
China has constructed reactors based on French, US, Russian and Canadian technology and has developed its own Hualong One reactor, based on Westinghouse technology, marketing it abroad since 2015.
Hong Kong gets as much as one-third of its power from the Daya Bay nuclear power plant east of the territory in Guangdong.
Luk, who has worked with Chinese nuclear power plant operators, said he asked the company for information about the leak but managers won’t talk about it.
“I suspect the leakage is far more widespread than just a single assembly,” he said. “Because of that, they probably need some special technology to resolve this leakage problem.”
Previously, the Taishan facility leaked a “small amount” of radioactive gas on April 9, the National Nuclear Safety Administration said on its website. It said the event was “Level 0,” or “without safety significance.”
Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesman, defended China’s nuclear safety record and said the nuclear agency works with regulators in other countries and the IAEA.
“China’s nuclear power plants have maintained a good record in operation and no incidents affecting the environment or public health have occurred,” Zhao said.


At least 15 dead in suicide bombing at Somalia army camp

At least 15 dead in suicide bombing at Somalia army camp
Updated 15 June 2021

At least 15 dead in suicide bombing at Somalia army camp

At least 15 dead in suicide bombing at Somalia army camp
  • The officer said the bomber was disguised among recruits queueing up outside the General Dhegobadan Military Camp
MOGADISHU: At least 15 army recruits died Tuesday when a suicide bomber attacked a military training camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, an officer said.
“I have counted about 15 new recruits who have been killed in the blast,” said army officer Mohamed Adan, adding the toll could be higher.
Adan said the bomber was disguised among recruits queueing up outside the General Dhegobadan Military Camp when the explosion occurred.