Philippines’ president-elect Marcos says China ties ‘set to shift to higher gear’ under his term

Philippines’ president-elect Marcos says China ties ‘set to shift to higher gear’ under his term
President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr secured over 56 percent of the vote and more than double the tally of his nearest rival, incumbent vice president Leni Robredo. (AFP)
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Updated 18 May 2022

Philippines’ president-elect Marcos says China ties ‘set to shift to higher gear’ under his term

Philippines’ president-elect Marcos says China ties ‘set to shift to higher gear’ under his term
  • China President Xi Jinping agrees to hold more comprehensive discussions of issues

MANILA: Incoming Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos Jr on Wednesday said his country’s relations with China will be expanded and shift to a higher gear under his administration, and Beijing had given assurances it would support his independent foreign policy.
Marcos in a statement said China President Xi Jinping had agreed to hold more comprehensive discussions of issues and also recognized his late father’s role in opening diplomatic relations between the two countries.


NATO invites Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, Madrid summit statement says

NATO invites Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, Madrid summit statement says
Updated 10 sec ago

NATO invites Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, Madrid summit statement says

NATO invites Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, Madrid summit statement says
MADRID: NATO has invited Sweden and Finland to become members of the military alliance, a commununique published by the NATO summit in Madrid on Wednesday said.
“The accession of Finland and Sweden will make them (the allies) safer, NATO stronger and the Euro-Atlantic area more secure,” the communique said, adding that the alliance also agreed a new strategic concept.
The communique described Russia as the “most significant and direct threat to the allies’ security,” a reaction to the massively deteriorated relationship to Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.
The alliance pledged further help to Kyiv and agreed a package of support aimed at modernizing the country’s defense sector.
At the same time, NATO decided to significantly strengthen its own deterrence and defense.
“Allies have committed to deploy additional robust in-place combat-ready forces on our eastern flank, to be scaled up from the existing battlegroups to brigade-size units, where and when required underpinned by credible available reinforcements, prepositioned equipment, and enhanced command and control,” the communique said.
In the communique, the alliance described China as a challenge to NATO’s interests, security and values, and as a country that is seeking to undermine the rules-based international order.

EU proposes ban on flavored heated tobacco products

EU proposes ban on flavored heated tobacco products
Updated 34 min 40 sec ago

EU proposes ban on flavored heated tobacco products

EU proposes ban on flavored heated tobacco products
  • A recent commission study showed a 10% increase in sales of heated tobacco products in more than five member nations
  • The ban would cover devices using heated tobacco to produce emissions containing nicotine inhaled by users

BRUSSELS: The European Union’s executive branch on Wednesday proposed a ban on the sale of flavored heated tobacco products as part of its plan to fight cancer.
The European Commission said its proposal comes in response to a significant increase in the volume of such products sold across the 27-nation bloc.
A recent commission study showed a 10 percent increase in sales of heated tobacco products in more than five member nations, while heated tobacco products exceeded 2.5 percent of total sales of tobacco products overall across the region.
The ban would cover devices using heated tobacco to produce emissions containing nicotine inhaled by users. E-cigarettes may contain nicotine, but not tobacco. With traditional cigarettes, users inhale smoke from burning tobacco.
“With nine out of 10 lung cancers caused by tobacco, we want to make smoking as unattractive as possible to protect the health of our citizens and save lives,” said Stella Kyriakides, the commissioner for health and food safety.
According to EU figures, cancer is the second cause of death in the bloc of 450 million residents. There are about 1.3 million cancer deaths and 3.5 million new cases annually in the EU.
An estimated 40 percent of EU citizens will face cancer at some point in their lives, with the annual economic impact estimated at around 100 billion euros ($120 billion).
The European Commission previously said it wanted to ensure that less than 5 percent of the EU population uses tobacco by 2040.
The proposed ban now goes to member nations and European Parliament lawmakers for review.


Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts

Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts
Updated 29 June 2022

Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts

Taliban and US officials to meet amid quake relief efforts
  • Last week’s devastating earthquake in southeastern Afghanistan killed around 770 people
  • Even before the Taliban takeover last year, Afghanistan’s economy had been deeply reliant on foreign aid

ISLAMABAD: Afghan finance and central bank officials from the Taliban-led government departed for Qatar on Wednesday to meet with a US Treasury department official, after last week’s deadly earthquake highlighted how critical relief efforts have stumbled under the weight of the country’s spiraling economic woes.
Last week’s devastating earthquake in southeastern Afghanistan killed around 770 people, according to UN figures, though the Taliban put the death toll at closer to 1,150, with thousands injured. The UN says 155 children are among those killed in what was the deadliest earthquake to hit the impoverished country in two decades.
The quake struck a remote, deeply impoverished region of small towns and villages tucked among rough mountains near the Pakistani border, collapsing stone and mud-brick homes and in some cases killing entire families. Nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Paktika and Khost provinces.
News of a meeting between Taliban government officials and US officials was confirmed by Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman Hafiz Zia Ahmad, who said the Afghan delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Maulvi Amir Khan Muttaqi. He said the officials will meet in Doha, Qatar with the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and officials from the US Treasury Department to discuss Afghanistan’s economic and banking sectors.
The Washington Post first reported Tuesday that senior Biden administration officials are working with Taliban leadership on a mechanism to allow Afghanistan’s government to use its central bank reserves to deal with the country’s severe hunger and poverty crises while erecting safeguards to ensure the funds are not misused.
The Biden administration froze some $9 billion in foreign Afghan central reserves after the Taliban seized power last August, prompting a chaotic and deadly withdrawal of US and NATO allied forces, as well as more than 100,00 Afghans and others.
The international sanctions that followed choked off bank transfers for months into the country, even for many aid groups still operating there. Afghans have since struggled to withdraw money from local banks and tens of thousands of public sector employees continue to see their salaries delayed as the Taliban leadership seeks ways to collect taxes and other fees to keep the government running.
No government has yet recognized the Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan. The former insurgents have resisted international pressure to maintain the previous rights gained by Afghan women, instead imposing restrictions on women’s dress and limiting access to schools for teenage girls.
Even before the Taliban takeover last year, Afghanistan’s economy had been deeply reliant on foreign aid. The UN and an array of overstretched aid agencies in the country have tried to keep Afghanistan from the brink of collapse, including the International Committee of the Red Cross which is paying the salaries of health care staff and the operational costs of more than 30 hospitals across the country.
Overstretched aid agencies said the earthquake underscored the need for the international community to rethink its financial cut-off of Afghanistan since Taliban insurgents seized the country. That policy, halting billions in development aid and freezing vital foreign reserves, has helped push the economy into collapse and plunge Afghanistan deeper into humanitarian crises and near famine.
Authorities and charities are struggling to access the far-flung region where the quake struck, and appear overwhelmed by the scale of the damage and the daunting task of debris removal, let alone reconstruction.
Survivors have had to dig through debris with their bare hands to search for missing loved ones as the ground continues to rumble with more aftershocks.


Joe Biden announces US military reinforcements in Europe

Joe Biden announces US military reinforcements in Europe
Updated 15 min ago

Joe Biden announces US military reinforcements in Europe

Joe Biden announces US military reinforcements in Europe
  • NATO will be ‘strengthened in all directions across every domain — land, air and sea’

MADRID: President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced US reinforcements of NATO forces in Europe, saying the alliance is needed more today “than it ever has been.”
NATO will be “strengthened in all directions across every domain — land, air and sea,” he told a summit of the transatlantic alliance being held in Madrid.
Biden, who was meeting NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, said the extra forces included: Boosting the fleet of US naval destroyers from four to six in Rota, Spain, a permanent headquarters in Poland of the 5th Army Corps, and an “additional rotational brigade” in Romania, consisting of “3,000 fighters and another 2,000-personnel combat team.”
Other forces vowed were enhanced rotational deployments in the Baltic countries, two additional squadrons of the F-35 stealth plane to Britain, as well as “additional air defense and other capabilities in Germany and in Italy."
“Together with our allies we’re going to make sure that NATO is ready to meet the threats from all directions across every domain,” Biden said.
“In a moment where (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has shattered peace in Europe and attacked the very, very tenets of rule-based order, the United States and our allies, we’re going to step up,” he said.
“We’re stepping up, proving that NATO is more needed now than it ever has been and it’s important as it ever has been.”
Referring to NATO unity on accepting the applications of previously neutral Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, Biden said Putin’s strategy in invading Ukraine had backfired.
“That’s exactly what he didn’t want but exactly what needs to be done to guarantee security for Europe,” Biden said.
Stoltenberg commented that the expansion of NATO was “the opposite” of what Putin hoped for.
A White House statement detailing the reinforcements said that in the Baltics, “we will maintain persistent, heel-to-toe presence in the region and will intensify training.”
This will include “armored, aviation, air defense, and special operations forces, building further interoperability and intensified training with these allies, and enhancing our ability to quickly reinforce and provide combat-credible defenses.”
The additions to the US presence are part of a much wider expansion of NATO capabilities being announced in Madrid, as well as a new strategic blueprint which will highlight the threat from Russia but for the first time also name China as a challenge.
White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the US military expansion in Europe comes on top of reinforcements already sent in the wake of Russia’s Ukraine invasion.
“Since the invasion itself, (Biden) ordered the deployment or extension of over 20,000 additional forces to Europe in response to the crisis, all across the domains... which brought our total to over 100,000 service members across Europe,” Kirby said.


Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills

Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills
Updated 29 June 2022

Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills

Taiwan rebuffs Philippines complaint about South China Sea live fire drills
  • Itu Aba is the biggest feature in the Spratly Islands, a grouping of islets and other features

TAIPEI: Taiwan on Wednesday rebuffed a complaint from the Philippines about live fire drills around a Taiwan-controlled island deep in the South China Sea, saying it had the right to do so and always gives issues a warning of its exercises.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, in a message on Twitter late on Tuesday, lodged a “strong objection over the unlawful live fire drills” to be carried out by Taiwan this week around the island, known internationally as Itu Aba.
Taiwan calls the island Taiping and the Philippines calls it Ligaw Island.
The department said the island belonged to the Philippines.
“This illegal activity raises tensions and complicates the situation in the South China Sea,” it said.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement the island was part of the territory of the Republic of China — Taiwan’s formal name — and that it enjoyed all relevant rights accorded by international law.
“Our country has the right to conduct routine exercises on Taiping Island and related maritime areas. In order to ensure the safety of maritime traffic and fishing boats operating in adjacent maritime areas, we notify the relevant regional countries in advance before each live-fire drill,” it said.
Itu Aba is the biggest feature in the Spratly Islands, a grouping of islets and other features also claimed, entirely or in part, by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
The Philippines normally complains most vociferously about China’s activities in the South China Sea, including what Manila says is illegal fishing.
The Philippines, like most counties, has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan but there are close cultural and economic links and Taiwan is home to about 160,000 Filipinos, most of them migrant workers.
The maps China bases its South China Sea claims on date to when Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China government ruled China before it fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communists.
Taiwan also controls the Pratas Islands at the very northern end of the South China Sea.