Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov collects his notes after addressing the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 25, 2021. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/Pool)
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov collects his notes after addressing the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 25, 2021. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/Pool)
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Updated 26 September 2021

Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference

Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference
  • Russian foreign minister criticizes Turkey over Crimea, Syria
  • Lavrov praises ‘wise’ Saudi approach to resolving Israel-Palestine conflict

NEW YORK: Russia’s foreign minister on Saturday accused Turkey of a “lack of diplomatic professionalism,” and announced that his government currently has no intention of recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.

At a press conference held at the UN and attended by Arab News, Sergei Lavrov also reiterated Russia’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and praised the Saudi-led approach to immediate Arab-Israeli reconciliation upon the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

Earlier this week, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said elections held by Russia in Crimea — which Moscow annexed in 2014 — have “no legal validity” in Ankara’s eyes.

Lavrov said the Turkish position exhibited “a lack of diplomatic professionalism, a lack of professionalism in foreign policy, because professionals understand full well that the Crimean issue has been put to rest once and for all.”

He also defended Russia’s recent assault on rebel-held territory in Syria’s Idlib province, saying there needs to be an “uncompromising assault on terrorism on Syrian soil.”

He added: “There was a special agreement on Idlib between the presidents of Russia and Turkey, and our Turkish colleagues took upon themselves the obligation to separate normal opposition forces from terrorists. This was to have been done a long time ago now, but it has not happened to date.”

Lavrov also said Russian recognition of the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan is “not currently on the table.”

He added: “The reality that is currently unfolding (in Afghanistan) is based on statements by the Taliban, who have proclaimed their intent to combat extremism, to combat terrorism, including the Islamic State (Daesh) and Al-Qaeda, (and) not to project instability on neighbors. What’s most important, probably, is for these promises to be honored.”

For Moscow, he added, the top priority is that the Taliban fight terrorism. “They (the Taliban) announced that they’re determined to fight ISIL (Daesh) and other terrorist groups, and we’ll do everything possible to support them to ensure that this be made a reality,” he said.

Lavrov reiterated Russia’s longstanding position that a two-state solution is the only viable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and supported US overtures in this regard.

“It’s very important that the Biden administration has reaffirmed its commitment to a two-state solution,” said Lavrov, adding that the conflict remains of paramount importance to regional stability. 

He endorsed the Saudi-led approach of the early 2000s toward resolving the conflict and its resulting regional tensions.

“At the initiative of the king of Saudi Arabia, an Arab Peace Initiative was adopted which stipulated that as soon as a viable Palestinian state is established, which meets all the criteria set out at the UN, then immediately the Arab states would normalize relations with Israel. I think this was a very wise approach,” said Lavrov.


More than half of Afghans face ‘acute’ food shortage: UN agencies

More than half of Afghans face ‘acute’ food shortage: UN agencies
Updated 8 sec ago

More than half of Afghans face ‘acute’ food shortage: UN agencies

More than half of Afghans face ‘acute’ food shortage: UN agencies
  • More than 22 million Afghans will suffer “acute food insecurity” this winter, UN agencies said Monday
KABUL: More than 22 million Afghans will suffer “acute food insecurity” this winter, UN agencies said Monday, warning the already unstable country faces one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
“This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation unless we can step up our life-saving assistance,” said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme.

Amnesty International to close Hong Kong offices this year

Amnesty International to close Hong Kong offices this year
Updated 3 min 51 sec ago

Amnesty International to close Hong Kong offices this year

Amnesty International to close Hong Kong offices this year
  • Hong Kong implemented a sweeping national security law in 2020 following months of massive anti-government protests
  • Critics in Hong Kong say the national security law is an erosion of freedoms, such as those of expression and assembly

HONG KONG: Amnesty International said Monday it would close its two offices in Hong Kong this year, becoming the latest non-governmental organization to cease its operations amid a crackdown on political dissent in the city.
The human rights group said its local office in Hong Kong would close this month while its regional office will close by the end of the year, with regional operations moved to other offices in the Asia-Pacific region.
“This decision, made with a heavy heart, has been driven by Hong Kong’s national security law, which has made it effectively impossible for human rights organizations in Hong Kong to work freely and without fear of serious reprisals from the government,” Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, chair of Amnesty’s board, said in a statement.
Hong Kong implemented a sweeping national security law in 2020 following months of massive anti-government protests. The law outlaws secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city’s affairs. More than 120 people, many of them supporters of the city’s democracy movement, have been arrested under the law.
The majority of the city’s prominent pro-democracy activists are behind bars for taking part in unauthorized assemblies, and dozens of political organizations and trade unions have ceased operations out of concern for their members’ personal safety under the security law.
Bais said the recent targeting of local human rights and trade union groups signaled authorities were intensifying their campaign to rid the city of dissenting voices. “It is increasingly difficult for us to keep operating in such an unstable environment,” she said.
Critics in Hong Kong say the national security law is an erosion of freedoms, such as those of expression and assembly, that were promised the city for 50 years when the former British colony was handed over to China in 1997.


Indonesia’s Widodo calls for ASEAN travel corridor to bolster recovery

Indonesia’s Widodo calls for ASEAN travel corridor to bolster recovery
Updated 42 min 42 sec ago

Indonesia’s Widodo calls for ASEAN travel corridor to bolster recovery

Indonesia’s Widodo calls for ASEAN travel corridor to bolster recovery
  • Level of coronavirus restrictions in Southeast Asia is the highest in the world
  • Intra-ASEAN travel typically accounts for around 40 percent of travel in the region and is key to reviving tourism in the region

KUALA LUMPUR: Indonesian President Joko Widodo has urged Southeast Asian countries to speed up plans to create a regional travel corridor to help revive tourism and speed up a recovery from the economic damage of the pandemic.
Citing UN and World Trade Organization data, Widodo said Monday that the level of restrictions in Southeast Asia was the highest in the world. With coronavirus cases in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations now declining, those limits should be eased to allow people to travel more freely, he said.
Speaking at a regional business forum Widodo urged immediate adoption of a regional travel corridor, a concept initiated by Indonesia in 2020, that would include faster immigration lanes, recognition of vaccine certificates and standardized health measures for departure and arrival, among other things.
“After 20 months of facing the daunting COVID-19 pandemic, we now see a light of hope. In the past week, COVID-19 cases in ASEAN fell by 14 percent, far exceeding the global average, which fell by 1 percent.,” he told the forum organized ahead of a three-day ASEAN leaders summit, which starts Tuesday.
“With the COVID-19 situation getting more under control, these restrictions could be eased, mobility could be relaxed, while also ensuring that it’s safe from the risk of the pandemic,” he said.
“If all ASEAN countries immediately facilitate the safe mobility of people, the wheels of economy shall soon run again,” he said.
Intra-ASEAN travel typically accounts for around 40 percent of travel in the region and is key to reviving tourism in the region.
Some countries, including Thailand, are cautiously moving to reopen to international tourism.
Indonesia re-opened its holiday resort island of Bali to foreign tourists this month after more than 80 percent of its population was fully vaccinated. Widodo said the government will gradually open up other areas in the country where vaccination rate exceeds 70 percent. Indonesia so far has fully vaccinated about a quarter of its people.
Widodo called for more equal distribution of vaccines to ensure that at least 70 percent of ASEAN’s more than 600 million people are inoculated. Vaccination is uneven in the region, with Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia moving the fastest with over 70 percent of their population inoculated and Myanmar at the bottom with less than 10 percent vaccinated.
Widodo said ASEAN, as the region with the fastest growth in Internet use in the world, should also expand its digital economy for future growth. The value of Indonesia’s digital economy value is expected to reach $124 billion in 2025 or equivalent to 40 percent of the total value of Southeast Asia’s digital economy, he said.
“Our rapid steps together in handling health challenges, reactivation of safe travels, as well as acceleration of a fair digital economy, will become our common gateway to recover and advance together,” he added.
ASEAN leaders will hold a three-day annual summit from Tuesday. Myanmar’s top general, whose forces seized power in February, was not invited after failing to take steps to end the deadly violence that followed the military takeover.


South Korea’s leader vows final push for talks with North

South Korea’s leader vows final push for talks with North
Updated 25 October 2021

South Korea’s leader vows final push for talks with North

South Korea’s leader vows final push for talks with North
  • Moon praised himself for paving the way for a peace process on the Korean Peninsula by holding three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
SEOUL, South Korea: South Korea’s president said Monday he’ll keep striving to promote peace with North Korea through dialogue until the end of his term next May, after Pyongyang raised animosities with a resumption of provocative weapons tests.
While launching a spate of newly developed weapons in recent weeks, North Korea has also slammed Washington and Seoul over what it calls hostility toward the North. Its actions indicate North Korea wants its rivals to ease economic sanctions against it and accept it as a legitimate nuclear state, experts say.
In his final policy speech at parliament, President Moon Jae-in said he’ll “make efforts to the end to help a new order for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula be established through dialogue and diplomacy.”
Moon, a champion of greater reconciliation with North Korea, once shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to help facilitate now-stalled nuclear diplomacy between the two countries. Pyongyang turned a cold shoulder on Moon after its diplomacy with Washington broke down in early 2019 amid bickering over the sanctions.
Moon praised himself for paving the way for a peace process on the Korean Peninsula by holding three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and helping arrange the first-ever North Korea-US summit between Kim and then-President Donald Trump in 2018.
But Moon acknowledged his push for peace through dialogue remains “incomplete.”
Moon’s single five-year term ends next May, and he’s barred by law from seeking reelection. The presidential candidate of Moon’s ruling liberal party has unveiled a similar North Korea policy as Moon’s. Surveys indicate a neck-and-neck race with a potential conservative candidate, who will likely take a harder line on the North.
Moon’s appeasement policy on North Korea has been divisive, with his supporters call him a peace-making mediator while his opponents accused him of helping North Korea find ways to weaken international pressure and perfect its weapons systems.
The North Korean weapons systems tested recently are mostly short- and medium-range weapons that place South Korea and Japan within their striking ranges. Last Tuesday, North Korea fired a ballistic missile from a submarine in its most significant weapons test since President Joe Biden took office in January.
Some experts say North Korea may test a longer-range missile that could pose a direct threat to the American homeland to increase its pressure on Washington in coming weeks.
In part of his efforts to ease tensions, Moon has recently been pushing for a symbolic declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. When Moon meets Pope Francis at the Vatican this week during his European tour, they’ll discuss a possible North Korea trip by Francis as the pope has repeatedly expressed hopes to visit the North, according to Moon’s office.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Monday the government will make efforts to help realize Francis’ trip to North Korea if related talks have progress. Spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said a North Korea visit by the pope would make a big contribution to peace on the Korean Peninsula.

China warns of further spread in latest COVID-19 outbreak

China warns of further spread in latest COVID-19 outbreak
Updated 25 October 2021

China warns of further spread in latest COVID-19 outbreak

China warns of further spread in latest COVID-19 outbreak
  • China is giving booster shots to adults whose last dose was at least six months earlier, with priority groups including essential workers, older people and those with weaker immune systems

BEIJING: China’s latest COVID-19 outbreak is increasingly likely to spread further, a health official said on Sunday, as authorities urged all regions to step up monitoring and called for a reduction in travel across provinces.

China has largely contained the virus but it is determined to stamp out any sporadic local outbreaks, particularly in the run-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics in February.

More than 100 locally transmitted cases have been confirmed over the last week across 11 provincial areas, with most linked to 13 different tour groups.

There is increasing risk that the outbreak might spread further, helped by “seasonal factors,” said Mi Feng, spokesman at the National Health Commission.

The Delta variant causing the outbreak is also highly transmissible, said commission deputy director Wu Liangyou, adding that sequencing showed it to be different from the source of an earlier outbreak, and suggesting that the new cases came from a new source from abroad.

Authorities have banned travel agencies from arranging cross-provincial tours that involve regions deemed of higher virus risk, and has imposed nationwide suspension on some travel services linking multiple tourist attractions.

The capital Beijing has said it will impose strict restriction on travels to the city by people who have been to counties with at least one infection.

Health authorities also said on Sunday that about 75.6 percent of China’s population had received complete vaccine doses as of Oct. 23, or some 1.068 billion people.

China is giving booster shots to adults whose last dose was at least six months earlier, with priority groups including essential workers, older people and those with weaker immune systems.

Data showed antibodies elicited by vaccines, including the most-used shots from Sinovac and Sinopharm, declined within months.

Wang Huaqing, chief expert for the immunization program at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said China would not keep giving people booster shots indefinitely.

“Even if it needs to be strengthened later, the number of boosters is limited,” Wang told the briefing.

“We hope in the future there will be better vaccines and better vaccination procedures to achieve solid protection among the public.”