After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government
Social Democratic Party (SPD) top candidate for chancellor Olaf Scholz holds a news conference, one day after the German general elections, in Berlin, Germany, September 27, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 September 2021

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government

After close vote, Germany on tricky path to form government
  • Olaf Scholz and others were keen to dispel concerns that lengthy haggling and a new, multiparty government would mean unstable leadership in Europe’s biggest economy

BERLIN: The party that narrowly beat outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s bloc pushed Monday for a quick agreement on a coalition government amid concerns that Europe’s biggest economy could be in for weeks of uncertainty after an election that failed to set a clear direction.

Olaf Scholz, the candidate of the center-left Social Democrats, called for Merkel’s center-right Union bloc to go into opposition after it saw its worst-ever result in a national election. Both finished with well under 30 percent  of the vote, and that appeared to put the keys to power in the hands of two opposition parties — raising questions over the stability of a future government.

During her 16 years in office, Merkel was seen abroad not just as Germany’s leader but in many ways as the leader of Europe, helping steer the European Union through a series of financial and political crises.

The unclear result combined with an upcoming French presidential election in April creates uncertainty — at least for now — in the two economic and political powers at the center of the EU, just as the bloc faces a resurgent Russia and increasing questions about its future from populist leaders in eastern countries.

Both outgoing finance minister and Vice Chancellor Scholz and Armin Laschet, the Union’s candidate and governor of North Rhine-Westphalia state, staked a claim to leading the new government on Sunday night. Scholz, who pulled his party out of a long poll slump, sounded confident on Monday.

But the kingmakers are likely to be two prospective junior partners in any coalition, the environmentalist Greens and the business-friendly Free Democrats. The Greens traditionally lean toward the Social Democrats and the Free Democrats toward the Union, but neither ruled out going the other way on Sunday night.

“Voters have spoken very clearly,” Scholz said Monday. “They strengthened three parties — the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats — so this is the visible mandate the citizens of this country have given: These three parties should lead the next government.”

The only other option that would have a parliamentary majority is a repeat of the outgoing “grand coalition” of the Union and Social Democrats. That is the combination that has run Germany for 12 years of Merkel’s 16-year tenure, though this time it would be under Scholz’s leadership with Merkel’s bloc as junior partner. But that coalition has often been marred by squabbling, and there is little appetite for it.

Scholz and others were keen to dispel concerns that lengthy haggling and a new, multiparty government would mean unstable leadership in Europe’s biggest economy.

“My idea is that we will be very fast in getting a result for this government, and it should be before Christmas if possible,” Scholz told reporters in Berlin. “Germany always has coalition governments and it was always stable.”

Scholz, an experienced and pragmatic politician whose calm, no-frills style is in some ways reminiscent of Merkel’s, pointed to continuity in foreign policy. He said a priority will be “to form a stronger and more sovereign European Union.”

“But doing so means also to work very hard on the good relationship between ... the European Union and the United States,” he added. “The trans-Atlantic partnership is of (the) essence for us in Germany ... and so you can rely on continuity in this question.”

The Greens made significant gains in the election to finish third but fell far short of their original aim of taking the chancellery, while the Free Democrats improved slightly on a good result from 2017.

Merkel’s outgoing government will remain in office until a successor is sworn in, a process that can take weeks or even months. Merkel announced in 2018 that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term.

Scholz was clear that her party should bow out of government. He said the Union “received the message from citizens that they should no longer be in government, but go into opposition.”

Amid concern about rising nationalism and populism, the Europeans will be reassured that mainstream parties will form the next government. Sunday’s election saw weaker results for the far-right Alternative for Germany and, at the other end of the spectrum, the Left Party. The strong showing by the Greens could also help ease passage of the EU’s landmark “Fit for 55” climate change package aimed at making the 27-nation bloc carbon neutral within 30 years.


Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target

Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target
Updated 19 October 2021

Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target

Australia PM: Technology best way to achieve climate target
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week agreed to attend next month’s climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland

CANBERRA, Australia: A net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 would be a “great positive” for Australia if it can be achieved through technology and not a carbon price, the prime minister said on Tuesday as he pressures government colleagues to commit to more ambitious action ahead of a climate summit.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week agreed to attend next month’s climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, but his government colleagues have yet to approve the commitment he wants to net zero.
“If you have a credible plan ... with the proper transparencies Australia’s well known for, then it can be a great positive for Australia,” Morrison told Parliament, referring to the net zero target.
“If you have the right plan, ... if you have technology, not taxes,” Morrison added.
Morrison was a minister in the conservative coalition government that in 2014 repealed a carbon tax introduced by a center-left Labour Party government. The coalition continues to oppose any measures that would penalize polluters through a carbon price or tax.
The rural-based junior coalition partner, the Nationals party, are the major obstacle to Australia adopting net zero.
Nationals lawmakers have debated Cabinet’s draft climate policy for the past three days but remained bitterly divided by Tuesday.
They were shown government modeling on Tuesday that predicted the economic impacts of more ambitious climate targets.
Nationals Sen. Matt Canavan was among the lawmakers who did not believe the modeling.
“The party room here is being gaslighted and that’s kind of ironic given it’s being gaslighted by people who want to end the use of fossil fuels,” Canavan said.
The government rejected opposition calls to make the modeling public.
Morrison said the world’s responses would have “significant impacts on rural and regional Australia, but they also present significant opportunities.”
“The plans that the government are considering will ensure that we can deal with both the costs and the benefits, because we understand there are impacts, that this is not a road that is only ... where you’ll find opportunities,” Morrison said.
Morrison said he would make his government’s plans public before the next election, which is due by May.
Australia has not budged from its 2015 pledge at the Paris climate conference to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, despite many countries adopting far more ambitious targets.
Morrison is unlikely to persuade his colleagues to agree to a new 2030 target before he goes to Glasgow.
Reducing emissions is a politically fraught issue in Australia, which is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and liquified natural gas. The nation is also one of the world’s worst greenhouse gas emitters per capita because of its heavy reliance on coal-fired power.
The conservative government’s lack of ambition on climate change is regarded as a reason behind the government’s surprise reelection in 2019 and strong voter support in coal-rich Queensland state.
Morrison had argued that the Labor opposition’s pledge to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and achieve zero emissions by 2050 would wreck the economy.


Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers

Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers
Updated 19 October 2021

Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers

Singapore expands quarantine-free travel for vaccinated passengers
  • Air travel lanes now open to passengers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands

SINGAPORE: Singapore on Tuesday began quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated passengers from eight countries, part of a plan to ease restrictions as the business hub gears up to live with the coronavirus.
The latest easing expanded a program that began with vaccinated air travel lanes with Germany and Brunei last month, and is now open to passengers from the United States, Canada, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.
Singapore Airlines said flights from Amsterdam, London, Los Angeles and New York were scheduled to arrive Tuesday under the program.
“We have seen very strong demand for our Vaccinated Travel Lane flights,” the carrier said.
“This is across all cabin classes, as well as various travel segments including leisure, families, and business travel.”
Passengers arriving as part of this scheme — which will include South Korea from November 15 — will not have to quarantine if they have been fully vaccinated and test negative for the virus before they depart and when they arrive.
To enable families to travel, Singapore has allowed entry to unvaccinated children aged 12 years and under if they are accompanied by someone flying under the scheme.
The city-state initially fought the COVID-19 pandemic by shutting borders, imposing lockdowns of varying intensity and aggressive contact tracing. But with more than 80 percent of the population fully vaccinated, authorities are keen to revive the economy.
“Singapore cannot stay locked down and closed off indefinitely,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said October 9, when he announced a raft of measures under the “Living with Covid-19” strategy.
The city-state is home to the regional offices of thousands of multi-national corporations, which rely on Singapore’s status as a business and aviation hub for their operations.
Singapore’s vaccinated travel lanes may also provide a shot in the arm for the pandemic-hammered airline and tourism industries, analysts said.
Before the pandemic, tourism accounted for about five percent of Singapore’s GDP, said Song Seng Wun, a regional economist with CIMB Private Banking.
“We used to get 1.6 million tourists every month, our airport used to handle over a thousand flights a day pre-pandemic. Now it is just over 300 flights a day,” he said.
Statistics from the Singapore tourism board showed international visitor arrivals plunging to less than 2.8 million last year from a record 19.1 million in 2019.


New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out

New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out
Updated 19 October 2021

New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out

New Zealand hits coronavirus high, pushes vaccination as way out
  • Health officials found 94 new local infections, eclipsing the 89 that were reported twice during the early days of the pandemic 18 months ago

WELLINGTON: New Zealand counted its most new coronavirus cases of the pandemic Tuesday as an outbreak in its largest city grew and officials urged vaccinations as a way out of Auckland’s two-month lockdown.
Health officials found 94 new local infections, eclipsing the 89 that were reported twice during the early days of the pandemic 18 months ago. Most of the new cases were in Auckland, but seven were found in the nearby Waikato district.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said lockdown rule-breakers were contributing to the spread of infections and noted that many of the new cases had been detected among younger people.
“I know the highs and lows of cases is incredibly hard on people, particularly those in Tamaki Makaurau,” Ardern said, using the Indigenous Maori name for Auckland. “I just wanted to reinforce again that we’re not powerless. We do have the ability to keep cases as low as we can.”
New Zealand had successfully eliminated earlier outbreaks by imposing tough border controls and strict lockdowns, as well as aggressive contact-tracing and isolating those who were infectious. But the approach failed against the more transmissible delta variant. The government has since eased some of Auckland’s lockdown rules, allowing more people to return to work.
Ardern has also embarked on an all-out effort to get people vaccinated. That’s included a televised “Vaxathon” festival on Saturday which saw a record 130,000 people getting shots, more than 2 percent of the New Zealand’s population of 5 million.
Ardern has promised to outline a path out of lockdown for Auckland based on vaccination numbers.
The government has previously talked about the importance of getting 90 percent of people aged 12 and over fully vaccinated, including a high proportion of Maori, who have been particularly hard hit by the outbreak.
But that goal remains some distance away, with 85 percent of eligible people having had at least one dose and 67 percent fully vaccinated. The numbers are lower among Maori.
Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago, said he was concerned that contact tracers in Auckland would soon become overwhelmed. He said lawmakers needed to consider temporarily reimposing stricter lockdown rules as a circuit breaker.
“There are burning embers all over the city,” Baker said. “They have lifted the wet blanket of the strong lockdown, and people are getting lockdown fatigue.”
Baker said he thought it was possible for the government to continue eliminating the outbreak outside of Auckland, provided it kept in place strict border controls around the city.
He said the most important goal in any reopening would be to ensure the health system was not overrun.
Health officials on Tuesday also said they had authorized people with weakened immune systems to get a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine and were recommending they do so.


North Korea missile launch disrupts start of Japanese election campaign

North Korea missile launch disrupts start of Japanese election campaign
Updated 19 October 2021

North Korea missile launch disrupts start of Japanese election campaign

North Korea missile launch disrupts start of Japanese election campaign
  • The launch, reported by officials in South Korea and Japan, came after US and South Korean envoys met in Washington
  • The North Korean launch would be the latest weapons test by the country
SEOUL: North Korea fired at least one ballistic missile off its east coast on Tuesday, pulling Japan’s new prime minister off the campaign trail.
The launch, reported by officials in South Korea and Japan, came after US and South Korean envoys met in Washington to discuss the nuclear standoff with North Korea on Monday. Spy chiefs from the United States, South Korea, and Japan were reported to be meeting in Seoul on Tuesday as well.
The North Korean launch would be the latest weapons test by the country, which has pressed ahead with military development in the face of international sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
One ballistic missile was launched about 10:17 a.m. local time from the vicinity of Sinpo, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, where North Korea keeps submarines as well as equipment for test firing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo cited an unnamed military source as saying the government was “assuming that it was an SLBM test,” without elaborating.
North Korea has also launched other types of missiles from that area.
“Our military is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, to prepare for possible additional launches,” JCS said in a statement.
South Korea’s national security council held an emergency meeting and expressed “deep regret” over the test, urging the North to resume talks.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that two ballistic missiles had been detected, and that it was “regrettable” that North Korea had conducted a string of missile tests in recent weeks.
There was no immediate explanation from South Korea’s JCS for the conflicting number of missiles detected.
Kishida canceled scheduled campaign appearances https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-kicks-off-election-campaign-support-ruling-ldp-dips-2021-10-19 in northern Japan, and the deputy chief cabinet secretary told reporters that Kishida was planning to return to Tokyo to deal with the missile situation.
South Korea’s unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations, said daily routine liaison calls with the North were conducted normally on Tuesday.

Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korea Navy officer who is a professor at Kyungnam University’s Far East Institute in Seoul, said the latest test involved one of the recently unveiled SLBMs.
The North displayed new Pukguksong-4 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-southkorea-military-analys-idAFKBN2H40KJ and Pukguksong-5 SLBMs https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-politics-idUSKBN29J2YG during its military parades in October and January, respectively, and a previously unseen, smaller missile https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-southkorea-military-analys-idAFKBN2H40KJ was spotted at last week’s defense fair in Pyongyang.
The series of recent launches as well as the opening of the unusual military show https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-threatens-upstage-skorea-defense-expo-with-duelling-military-show-2021-10-14 in Pyongyang suggest that North Korea may be resuming military and international affairs after nearly two years of focusing inward amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group.
“North Korea’s renewed testing of ballistic missiles suggests the worst of domestic hardship between summer 2020-2021 could be over,” he said on Twitter.
“Pyongyang tends to focus on one big strategic issue at a time, so the renewed testing could suggest military – later foreign policy – now priority.”
The launch came as the intelligence chiefs of the United States, South Korea, and Japan were due to meet in Seoul to discuss the standoff with North Korea, amid other issues, Yonhap news agency reported, citing a government source.
The US special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, said that he would visit Seoul for talks this week.
“The US continues to reach out to Pyongyang to restart dialogue,” Kim said after meeting with his South Korean counterpart in Washington on Monday. “We harbor no hostile intent toward (North Korea), and we are open to meeting with them without preconditions.”
The missiles tested recently by North Korea appear aimed at matching or surpassing https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-southkorea-analys-idCAKBN2BM0G8 South Korea’s quietly expanding arsenal, analysts have said.
Last month South Korea successfully tested an SLBM https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/skorea-successfully-tests-submarine-launched-ballistic-missile-blue-house-2021-09-15, becoming the first country without nuclear weapons to develop such a system. North Korea test fired a missile launched from a train on the same day.
This month the two Koreas held duelling defense exhibitions aimed at showcasing their latest weaponry amid a spiralling arms race.
As news of Tuesday’s missile launch broke, representatives of hundreds of international companies and foreign militaries were gathered in Seoul for the opening ceremonies of the International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX).
It is set to be South Korea’s largest defense expo ever, organizers said, with displays of next-generation fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, drones, and other advanced weapons, as well as space rockets and civilian aerospace designs.
South Korea is also preparing to test fire its first homegrown space launch vehicle https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/spy-satellites-mobile-networks-skorea-hopes-new-rocket-gets-space-program-off-2021-10-15 on Thursday.
Though analysts say the South Korean rocket has few potential applications as a weapon, such tests are unlikely to be welcomed in North Korea, which has complained of a double standard in which its own space program is criticized overseas as a front for military missile development.

China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology

China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology
Updated 19 October 2021

China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology

China calls missile launch ‘routine test’ of new technology
  • China’s expansion into hypersonic missile technology and other advanced fields has raised concerns
  • Japan said it would boost its defenses against what it interpreted as a new offensive Chinese weapon

BEIJING: China said Monday its launch of a new spacecraft was merely a test to see whether the vehicle could be reused.
The launch involved a spacecraft rather than a missile and was of “great significance for reducing the use-cost of spacecraft and could provide a convenient and affordable way to make a round trip for mankind’s peaceful use of space,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
China’s space program is run by its military and is closely tied to its agenda of building hypersonic missiles and other technologies that could alter the balance of power with the United States.
“China will work together with other countries in the world for the peaceful use of space and the benefit of mankind,” Zhao said.
Zhao’s comments on the test conducted in August came days after China launched a second crew to its space station. Their six-month mission, when completed, will be China’s longest crewed space mission and the three-person crew will set a record for the most time spent in space by Chinese astronauts.
Alongside its space program, China’s expansion into hypersonic missile technology and other advanced fields has raised concerns as Beijing becomes increasingly assertive over its claims to seas and islands in the South China and East China Seas and to large chunks of territory along its disputed high-mountain border with India.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price would not comment on intelligence about the August test but noted the US remained concerned about China’s expansion of its nuclear capabilities, including delivery systems for nuclear devices.
These developments underscore that (China), as we said before, is deviating from its decades-long nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence,” Price told reporters Monday in Washington.
He said the US was engaging with China about its nuclear capabilities and would continue to maintain the US’s deterrent capabilities against threats to the United States and its allies.
US ally Japan, one of China’s chief regional rivals, said it would boost its defenses against what it interpreted as a new offensive Chinese weapon.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno on Monday called it a “new threat” that conventional equipment would have difficulty dealing with. He said Japan will step up its detection, tracking and shooting-down capability of “any aerial threat.”
China appears to be rapidly pushing development of hypersonic nuclear weapons to gain strike capability that can break through missile defenses, Matsuno said.
He criticized China for increasing its defense spending, particularly for nuclear and missile capabilities, without explaining its intentions.
“China’s rapidly expanding and increased military activity at sea and airspace has become a strong security concern for the region including Japan and the international society,” Matsuno said.