Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia

Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia
Above, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, center, attends the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders summit. (Australian Prime Minister’s Office via AFP)
Short Url
Updated 27 October 2021

Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia

Southeast Asian states announces new strategic pact with Australia
  • Pact would further strengthen Australia’s diplomatic and security ties in the fast-growing region
  • China has also sought an agreement on the same strategic level with ASEAN

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN: Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed at a summit on Wednesday to establish a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” a sign of Canberra’s ambition to play a bigger role in the region.
The pact would further strengthen Australia’s diplomatic and security ties in a fast-growing region that has become a strategic battleground between the United States and China.
While concrete strategic objectives of the partnership were not immediately announced, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised Australia would “back it with substance.”
“This milestone underscores Australia’s commitment to ASEAN’s central role in the Indo-Pacific and positions our partnership for the future,” he said in a joint statement with Foreign Minister Marise Payne. “Australia supports a peaceful, stable, resilient, and prosperous region, with ASEAN at its heart.”
Brunei, serving as chair of ASEAN, said the agreement “marked a new chapter in relations” and would be “meaningful, substantive and mutually beneficial.”
After the announcement, Australia said it would invest $154 million in projects in Southeast Asia on health and energy security, counter-terrorism, fighting and transnational crime, plus hundreds of scholarships.
China has also sought an agreement on the same strategic level with ASEAN. Premier Li Keqiang met ASEAN leaders on Tuesday, and the bloc’s leaders will meet China’s President Xi Jinping in November at a special summit, to be held virtually, two diplomatic sources told Reuters.
Australia already has bilateral strategic partnerships of various levels with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam.
STABILITY AND SECURITY
Morrison also sought to reassure ASEAN that a trilateral security pact agreed last month between the United States, Britain and Australia, under which Australia will get access to nuclear-powered submarines, would be no threat to the region.
One ambassador to ASEAN, who asked not to be identified, said Australia clinching the comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN was “quite something” in the wake of regional reservations over its new AUKUS pact with Washington and London.
“Kudos to Australia,” the ambassador said.
AUKUS has raised some concerns in Southeast Asia that China could see it as a move by the West to challenge its growing influence in the region, particularly in the South China Sea.
The United States and allies have increased patrols to challenge Beijing’s vast maritime fleet which it deploys to buttress its claims to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea.
“AUKUS adds to our network of partnerships that support regional stability and security,” Morrison said.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday said he was concerned AUKUS “could spark rivalry in the region,” according to his foreign minister, Retno Marsudi.
US ally the Philippines has backed AUKUS but its president, Rodrigo Duterte, on Wednesday said it “must complement and not complicate our working methods for cooperation.”
Military analysts have said the nuclear submarines Australia will purchase from the United States have unmatched stealth and underwater longevity. China has opposed the pact and said it could be damaging and intensify an arms race.
US President Joe Biden was due to join the virtual East Asia Summit later on Wednesday, with leaders of China, India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and South Korea, Japan and ASEAN members.
In an earlier meeting, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stressed to Southeast Asian leaders his country’s strong opposition to challenges to a free and open maritime order, underscoring regional concerns about China’s growing military clout.


Ethiopia’s Abiy at the battlefront vows to ‘bury the enemy’, UN sounds alarm on hunger

In this image made from undated released by the PM of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed is seen dressed in military uniform speaking to a television camera at an unidentified location in Ethiopia. (AP)
In this image made from undated released by the PM of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed is seen dressed in military uniform speaking to a television camera at an unidentified location in Ethiopia. (AP)
Updated 6 sec ago

Ethiopia’s Abiy at the battlefront vows to ‘bury the enemy’, UN sounds alarm on hunger

In this image made from undated released by the PM of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed is seen dressed in military uniform speaking to a television camera at an unidentified location in Ethiopia. (AP)
  • The war has exacted a huge humanitarian toll, with the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) saying Friday that the number of people requiring food aid in the country’s north had surged to more than nine million

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed vowed Friday to “bury the enemy” in his first message from the battlefront according to state media, as the UN warned the year-long conflict has left millions short of food.
As Tigrayan rebels report major territorial gains, claiming this week to have seized a town just 220 kilometers (135 miles) from Addis Ababa, international alarm over the escalating conflict has deepened, with foreign countries urging their citizens to leave.
State media reported Wednesday that Abiy, a former lieutenant-colonel in the military, had arrived at the front line to lead a counter-offensive against the rebels, handing regular duties to his deputy.
In an interview shown Friday on the state-affiliated Oromia Broadcasting Corporation channel, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner said he was certain of achieving victory against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group.
“Until we bury the enemy... until Ethiopia’s independence is confirmed, we won’t reverse course. What we want is to see an Ethiopia that stands while we die,” he said.
He added that the military had secured control of Kassagita and planned to recapture Chifra district and Burka town in Afar region, which neighbors Tigray, the TPLF’s stronghold.
“The enemy doesn’t have the standing to compete with us, we will win,” he said.
The interview was broadcast hours after the government announced new rules Thursday against sharing information on battlefield outcomes that was not published by official channels, a move that could bring sanctions against journalists.

The war has exacted a huge humanitarian toll, with the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) saying Friday that the number of people requiring food aid in the country’s north had surged to more than nine million.
Hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine as aid workers struggle to deliver urgently-needed supplies to desperate populations in Tigray, Amhara and Afar.
The WFP said the situation had sharply deteriorated in recent months, with an estimated 9.4 million people facing hunger “as a direct result of ongoing conflict,” compared with around seven million in September.
“Amhara region — the frontlines of the conflict in Ethiopia — has seen the largest jump in numbers with 3.7 million people now in urgent need of humanitarian aid,” WFP said.
“Of the people across northern Ethiopia in need of assistance, more than 80 percent (7.8 million) of them are behind battle lines.”
This week, aid workers were able to distribute food in the Amhara towns of Dessie and Kombolcha for the first time since they were captured by the TPLF nearly a month ago, the WFP said, adding that it was only granted access to its warehouses last week.
The risk of malnutrition has also increased across the three regions, with screening data showing rates between 16 and 28 percent for children, it said.
“Even more alarmingly, up to 50 percent of pregnant and breastfeeding women screened in Amhara and Tigray were also found to be malnourished.”
Fighting has also damaged more than 500 health facilities in Amhara, the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA said late Thursday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “expressed grave concern about worrying signs of military escalation” in Ethiopia during a telephone conversation with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday.
He also “emphasised the need to urgently move to negotiations” on the conflict, according to a statement from the State Department.

As the war has dragged on, the government has stepped up its use of air power against the TPLF — one of the areas where it enjoys a military advantage.
On Friday the TPLF and a hospital official reported two air strikes in Tigray’s capital Mekele.
Dr. Hayelom Kebede, research director at Mekele’s Ayder Referral Hospital, told AFP the bombings occurred at 9 am (0600 GMT) and 12:30 pm, with the first one destroying two homes.
“Still waiting for the casualty report,” he said.
Sources told AFP the first strike hit close to the house of a rebel commander and near a hill with an anti-aircraft machine gun.
Much of the conflict-affected zone is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to verify.
Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said she had “no information” about any drone strikes in Mekele, which was recaptured by the rebels in June before they expanded into Amhara and Afar.
The war erupted in early November 2020 when Abiy deployed troops into Tigray, bringing to a head a long-simmering row with the TPLF, the region’s ruling party.


Sri Lanka focuses on economic diplomacy after the pandemic

Sri Lanka focuses on economic diplomacy after the pandemic
Updated 27 November 2021

Sri Lanka focuses on economic diplomacy after the pandemic

Sri Lanka focuses on economic diplomacy after the pandemic
  • The country’s economy has suffered the worst contraction in its post-independence history in the last two years

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is focusing on economic diplomacy, the new foreign minister has said in an interview with Arab News, as the country’s economy needs to rebound after two years of losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 caused the worst contraction in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history, as annual growth slid from 3.1 percent in 2018–19 to -3.6 percent in 2020. Revenue from tourism — one of the country’s main economic sectors — dropped by $3 billion over the first eight months of 2021, compared with the same period in 2018.
While the Sri Lankan economy is slowly picking up, economic diplomacy is going to be a key factor in its foreign policy.
“The country is returning to normalcy after the pandemic, we are reopening schools and foreign tourists have started coming to Sri Lanka. We are asking our foreign missions to focus on economic diplomacy to dwell on investments, trade and tourism,” Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris said in the interview earlier this week.
The minister, who took office three months ago, said Colombo does not have “exclusive relations with any particular country,” but expressed gratitude to Saudi Arabia for investing $1 billion in its infrastructure.
“We are thankful to Saudi Arabia for being a regular contributor to various infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka,” he said. “The projects included construction of the Epilepsy Hospital, National Trauma Center, Kinniya bridge — the longest bridge in the island — and the construction of roads, tanks and highways.”
Saudi Arabia has also been one of the key sources of remittance inflows from Sri Lankan expats.
“The Middle East is the home for 1.5 million migrant workers, which includes the largest concentration in the Kingdom,” Peiris said.
The UK Foreign Office said this week that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has deteriorated in the first half of 2021, with an increased use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the minister said it was indeed time to amend the 42-year-old law.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act allows the detention of suspects for up to 18 months without charges. It also gives the Minister of Defense the power to restrict freedom of association and expression without the possibility of appeal.
“Since there is no provision to repeal this act, the parliament will consider amending some clauses to keep abreast of changes that have taken place in the recent times,” Peiris said. He said that if there have been rights violations, citizens are free to file their cases with the Supreme Court.
“We have fundamental rights jurisdiction in our Supreme Court,” he said. “Rule of law is well exercised and people go to courts whenever they feel that their rights are infringed.”


Italy, France deepen strategic ties as Merkel’s exit tests Europe

Italy, France deepen strategic ties as Merkel’s exit tests Europe
Updated 26 November 2021

Italy, France deepen strategic ties as Merkel’s exit tests Europe

Italy, France deepen strategic ties as Merkel’s exit tests Europe
  • Draghi: France and Italy are further consolidating our diplomatic, commercial, political and cultural ties
  • The new Berlin administration is expected to be more inward looking

ROME: Italy and France signed a treaty on Friday to strengthen bilateral ties and reinforce their coordination within Europe, at a time when EU diplomacy is being tested by the departure of Germany’s Angela Merkel.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron put their names to the new pact in Rome’s Quirinale Palace. Afterwards, twin formations of planes trailing smoke in the colors of the two nations, sped through a stormy sky.
“The treaty ... marks an historic moment in relations between our two countries. France and Italy are further consolidating our diplomatic, commercial, political and cultural ties,” Draghi told reporters.
The signing ceremony came days after a new coalition pact was agreed in Germany, ending 16 years of rule by Merkel, who was the undisputed leader of Europe and forged especially close ties with successive
French leaders.
The new Berlin administration is expected to be more inward looking, especially at the start of its mandate, and both Paris and Rome are keen to deepen relations in a period clouded by economic uncertainty, the pandemic, a more assertive Russia, a rising China and a more disengaged US.
Macron said the Quirinale Treaty, named for the Roman residence of the Italian president, did not challenge French relations with Germany, but was complementary and aimed at boosting all of Europe.
Among the goals laid out in the 15-page document was a pledge to reinforce military connections, even at an industrial level, and work in tandem to enhance Europe’s defense capabilities.
“The objective we are following ... is to have a stronger and more sovereign Europe ... A Europe that knows how to protect its borders and defend itself,” Macron said.
The treaty was originally envisaged in 2017, but negotiations ground to a halt in 2018 when a populist government took office in Rome and clashed repeatedly with Macron over immigration.
There has been a renaissance this year following the appointment of Draghi to lead an Italian unity government, and the two men have met repeatedly in recent months, working closely on areas that were previous flashpoints, such as efforts to end years of conflict in Libya.
The Quirinale Treaty, loosely modelled on a 1963 Franco-German pact, will lead to Paris and Rome seeking common ground ahead of EU summits, just as France already coordinates key European policy moves with Germany.
Draghi said the two nations would launch “new forms of cooperation” in energy, technology, research and innovation. He added that at least once every quarter, an Italian minister would attend a French Cabinet meeting, and vice versa.
France and Italy also committed to working together in the space sector, and would facilitate “reciprocal investment” and define “common strategies in international markets.”
French companies have invested heavily in Italy in recent years, but Italian politicians have accused Paris of being less forthcoming when Italian businesses seek cross-border deals. Earlier this year, state-owned shipmaker Fincantieri’s bid to take over its French peer Chantiers de l’Atlantique collapsed, thwarted by EU competition issues.
Italian officials suspected Paris actively sought to undermine the deal behind the scenes.


UK bans Hamas in its entirety as ‘terrorist group’

Palestinian students supporting the Hamas movement take part in an election campaign near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP/File Photo)
Palestinian students supporting the Hamas movement take part in an election campaign near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 26 November 2021

UK bans Hamas in its entirety as ‘terrorist group’

Palestinian students supporting the Hamas movement take part in an election campaign near the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP/File Photo)

LONDON: Britain on Friday designated all of Hamas an “Islamist terrorist group,” warning that its members and those who support the group could face stiff jail terms.

The Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the group that rules the Gaza Strip, has been banned in Britain since 2001 but the interior ministry extended the ban to its political entities.

London said last week it was no longer possible to make a distinction, assessing that Hamas “commits, participates in, prepares for and promotes and encourages terrorism.”

“The Islamist terrorist group Hamas has today become a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK in its entirety following parliament's approval,” the Home Office said.

“This means that members of Hamas or those who invite support for the group could be jailed for up to 14 years.”

Israel has welcomed the move, which follows similar action by the United States and the European Union.

But Hamas itself has called the UK move “a crime against our Palestinian people and all their history of struggle.”


Cyprus arrests man in connection with alleged kidnap of Israeli boy -police

Cyprus arrests man in connection with alleged kidnap of Israeli boy -police
Updated 26 November 2021

Cyprus arrests man in connection with alleged kidnap of Israeli boy -police

Cyprus arrests man in connection with alleged kidnap of Israeli boy -police
  • Italian prosecutors believe Gabriel Abutbul Alon helped the grandfather of six-year-old Eitan Biran to take the boy back to Israel
  • Alon and Eitan's grandfather Shmuel Peleg are accused of having driven the boy from Italy to Switzerland

NICOSIA: A man has been arrested in Cyprus in connection with the alleged kidnapping of an Israeli boy who was the only survivor of a cable car disaster in Italy in May, police said, after Italian authorities issued an international warrant for him.
Italian prosecutors believe Gabriel Abutbul Alon helped the grandfather of six-year-old Eitan Biran to take the boy back to Israel in September without the consent of the paternal aunt he was living with.
The boy’s parents, younger brother and 11 other people died in the cable car crash in northern Italy.
Alon and Eitan’s grandfather Shmuel Peleg are accused of having driven the boy from Italy to Switzerland, where they chartered a private jet onward to Israel.
“The arrest occurred yesterday in Limassol ... on an Interpol warrant,” a Cyprus police source said.
Alon was taken on Friday to a district court, which said it would decide on Monday whether he should remain in custody. A lawyer for Alon could not be immediately reached for comment.
Shmuel Peleg’s decision to take the boy to Israel triggered a cross-border custody battle between him and the paternal aunt.
An Israeli tribunal upheld a petition to send him back to Italy, but its top court has halted procedures as it reviews a request to appeal against the decision.
The prosecutor’s office in the Italian city of Pavia was not immediately available to comment.