China halts military, climate dialogue with US over Pelosi Taiwan trip

The Ground Force under the Eastern Theatre Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducts a long-range live-fire drill into the Taiwan Strait, from an undisclosed location in this handout released on August 4, 2022. (REUTERS)
The Ground Force under the Eastern Theatre Command of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducts a long-range live-fire drill into the Taiwan Strait, from an undisclosed location in this handout released on August 4, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 06 August 2022

China halts military, climate dialogue with US over Pelosi Taiwan trip

China halts military, climate dialogue with US over Pelosi Taiwan trip
  • Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Friday it scrambled jets to warn away Chinese aircraft that it said entered the island’s air defense zone, some of which crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, an unofficial buffer separating the two sides

TAIPEI: China announced on Friday it was halting dialogue with the United States in a number of areas, including between theater-level military commanders and on climate change, in a furor over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
China’s foreign ministry said it was also suspending exchanges with Washington on countering cross-border crime and drug trafficking, all moves Washington called “irresponsible.”
Enraged when Pelosi became the highest-level US visitor in 25 years to the self-governed island that Beijing regards as its territory, China launched military drills in the seas and skies around Taiwan on Thursday. The live-fire drills, the largest ever conducted by China in the Taiwan Strait, are scheduled to continue until noon on Sunday.




In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese military H-6K bomber is seen conducting training exercises, as the People's Liberation Army (PLA) air force conducted a combat air patrol in the South China Sea on Nov. 23, 2017. (AP)

Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Friday it scrambled jets to warn away Chinese aircraft that it said entered the island’s air defense zone, some of which crossed the Taiwan Strait median line, an unofficial buffer separating the two sides.

HIGHLIGHTS

• China staging unprecedented military drills around Taiwan

• Pentagon says China no longer responding to its calls

• US calls China's moves irresponsible

A total of 68 Chinese military aircraft and 13 navy ships had conducted missions in the strait, the ministry said.
China’s Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said in a statement it conducted air and sea drills to the north, southwest and east of Taiwan on Friday “to test the troops’ joint combat capabilities.”




Three French-made Mirage 2000 fighter jets taxi on a runway in front of a hangar at the Hsinchu Air Base in Hsinchu on August 5, 2022. (AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington has repeatedly made clear to Beijing it does not seek a crisis over Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan earlier this week during a congressional tour of Asia.
“There is no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response,” he told a news conference on the sidelines of ASEAN regional meetings in Cambodia, adding, “Now, they’ve taken dangerous acts to a new level.”
Blinken emphasised that the United States would not take actions to provoke a crisis, but it would continue to support regional allies and conduct standard air and maritime transit through the Taiwan Strait.
“We will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” he said.
A US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Chinese officials had not responded to calls made by senior Pentagon officials this week, but the move was seen as China showing displeasure over the Pelosi trip rather than severing the channel between senior defense officials including US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told a media briefing after the ASEAN meetings: “I heard that US Secretary of State Blinken held his news conference and spread some misinformation and was not speaking truthfully.”
“We wish to issue a warning to the United States: Do not act rashly, do not create a greater crisis,” Wang said.
Jing Quan, a senior Chinese Embassy official in Washington, echoed that, telling a briefing: “The only way out of this crisis is that the US side must take measures immediately to rectify its mistakes and eliminate the grave impact of Pelosi’s visit.”
He said Washington should “avoid pushing China-US relations down the dangerous track of conflict and confrontation.”

DIPLOMATIC FRONT
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby countered that China’s move to suspend some communication channels was “fundamentally irresponsible.”
“There’s nothing here for the United States to rectify. The Chinese can go a long way to taking the tensions down simply by stopping these provocative military exercises and ending the rhetoric,” Kirby told reporters.
China has not mentioned a suspension of military talks at the senior-most levels, such as with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley. While those talks have been infrequent, officials have said they are important to have in the case of an emergency or accident.




A Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft flies over the 68-nautical-mile scenic spot, one of mainland China's closest points to the island of Taiwan, in Pingtan island, Fujian province, China August 5, 2022. (REUTERS)

Kirby said it was not atypical for China to shut down military talks at times of tension, but that “not all channels” between the two countries’ military leaders had been cut off.
The Pentagon said China was overreacting and that Washington was still open to building crisis communication mechanisms.
“Part of this overreaction has been strictly limiting its defense engagements when any responsible state would recognize that we need them now the most,” Acting Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale said.
Beijing separately announced that it would impose sanctions on Pelosi personally and her immediate family in response to her “vicious” and “provocative” actions.
Speaking at a news conference in Japan after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Pelosi said her trip to Asia was “not about changing the status quo in Taiwan or the region.”

’STAY CALM’
Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Friday the island’s military had dispatched aircraft and ships and deployed land-based missile systems to monitor ships and aircraft that briefly crossed the Taiwan Strait median line.
On Thursday, China fired multiple missiles into waters surrounding Taiwan.
Japan’s defense ministry, which is tracking the exercises, first reported that as many as four of the missiles flew over Taiwan’s capital, which is unprecedented. It also said that five of nine missiles fired toward its territory landed in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), also a first, prompting a diplomatic protest by Tokyo.
Later, Taiwan’s defense ministry said the missiles were high in the atmosphere and constituted no threat.
Some Taipei residents, including Mayor Ko Wen-je, criticized the government for not putting out a missile alert, but one security expert said that could have been done to avoid stoking panic and playing into China’s hands.
“It counteracted the effect of the Chinese Communist Party’s psychological warfare,” said Mei Fu-shin, a US-based analyst.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen urged residents not to panic, saying in a Facebook post: “Please rest assured, stay calm and live as normal.”
Bonnie Glaser, a Washington-based Asia security specialist at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said China may be rehearsing for a blockade, “demonstrating it can block Taiwan’s ports and airports and prevent shipping.”
Taiwan has been self-ruled since 1949, when Mao Zedong’s communists took power in Beijing after defeating Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) nationalists in a civil war, prompting the KMT-led government to retreat to the island.
Beijing has said its relations with Taiwan are an internal matter, and that it reserves the right to bring Taiwan under Chinese control, by force if necessary.


At least 6 people wounded in shooting at school in Oakland

At least 6 people wounded in shooting at school in Oakland
Updated 29 September 2022

At least 6 people wounded in shooting at school in Oakland

At least 6 people wounded in shooting at school in Oakland

OAKLAND, California: At least six people were wounded in a shooting at a school in Oakland on Wednesday, officials said.
The scene of the shooting was “no longer active,” according to Alameda County Sheriff spokesperson Lt. Ray Kelly. Paramedics had transported six patients to hospitals, all with gunshot wounds, according to Oakland Fire Department spokesperson Michael Hunt.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf tweeted that all of the wounded were adults and the shooting happened at Sojourner Truth Independent Study, an alternative K-12 school.
Officials didn’t say if any of the victims might be students age 18 or older.
Three of the wounded were in critical condition at Highland Hospital in Oakland, the other three were taken to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley and their conditions were not known, officials said.
John Sasaki, a spokesperson for Oakland Unified School District, said in a statement that district officials “do not have any information beyond what Oakland Police are reporting.” He said the Sojourner Truth Independent Study headquarters has no students and is located on the same block as three other schools.
Television footage showed dozens of police cars and yellow tape on the street outside the school and students leaving nearby campuses.
City Council Member Treva Reid said investigators told her the shooting may be tied to rising “group and gang violence.”
Oakland Police Capt. Casey Johnson confirmed in a brief news conference that six people were shot, and didn’t answer any questions.
City Council Member Loren Taylor, who was outside the school, declined to confirm any details about the incident, telling KTVU-TV, “Guns were on our school campuses where our babies were supposed to be protected.”


Hurricane Ian swamps southwest Florida, trapping people in homes

Hurricane Ian swamps southwest Florida, trapping people in homes
Updated 29 September 2022

Hurricane Ian swamps southwest Florida, trapping people in homes

Hurricane Ian swamps southwest Florida, trapping people in homes

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida: Hurricane Ian, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the US, swamped southwest Florida on Wednesday, flooding streets and buildings, knocking out power to over 1 million people and threatening catastrophic damage further inland.
A coastal sheriff’s office reported that it was getting many calls from people trapped in homes. The hurricane’s center struck near Cayo Costa, a protected barrier island just west of heavily populated Fort Myers.
Mark Pritchett stepped outside his home in Venice around the time the hurricane churned ashore from the Gulf of Mexico, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) to the south. He called it “terrifying.”
“I literally couldn’t stand against the wind,” Pritchett wrote in a text message. “Rain shooting like needles. My street is a river. Limbs and trees down. And the worst is yet to come.”
The Category 4 storm slammed the coast with 150 mph (241 kph) winds and pushed a wall of storm surge accumulated during its slow march over the Gulf. More than 1.1 million Florida homes and businesses were without electricity. The storm previously tore into Cuba, killing two people and bringing down the country’s electrical grid.
About 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate southwest Florida before Ian hit, but by law no one could be forced to flee.
News anchors at Fort Myers television station WINK had to abandon their usual desk and continue storm coverage from another location in their newsroom because water was pushing into their building near the Caloosahatchee River.
Though expected to weaken to a tropical storm as it marched inland at about 9 mph (14 kph), Ian’s hurricane force winds were likely to be felt well into central Florida. Hours after landfall, top sustained winds had dropped to 130 mph (210 kph). Still, storm surges as high as 6 feet (2 meters) were expected on the opposite side of the state, in northeast Florida.
“This is going to be a nasty nasty day, two days,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said, urging people in Ian’s path along the Atlantic coast to rush to the safest possible shelter and stay there.
Jackson Boone left his home near the Gulf coast and hunkered down at his law office in Venice with employees and their pets. Boone at one point opened a door to howling wind and rain flying sideways.
“We’re seeing tree damage, horizontal rain, very high wind,” Boone said by phone. “We have a 50-plus-year-old oak tree that has toppled over.”
In Naples, the first floor of a fire station was inundated with about 3 feet (1 meter) of water and firefighters worked to salvage gear from a firetruck stuck outside the garage in even deeper water, a video posted by the Naples Fire Department showed. Naples is in Collier County, where the sheriff’s department reported on Facebook that it was getting “a significant number of calls of people trapped by water in their homes” and that it would prioritize reaching people “reporting life threatening medical emergencies in deep water.”

Gusts from Hurricane Ian hit in Punta Gorda, Florida on September 28, 2022. (AFP)


Ian’s strength at landfall tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane when measured by wind speed to strike the US Among the other storms was Hurricane Charley, which hit nearly the same spot on Florida’s coast in August 2004, killing 10 people and inflicting $14 billion in damage.
Ian had strengthened rapidly overnight, prompting Fort Myers handyman Tom Hawver to abandon his plan to weather the hurricane at home. He headed across the state to Fort Lauderdale.
“We were going to stay and then just decided when we got up, and they said 155 mph winds,” Hawver said. “We don’t have a generator. I just don’t see the advantage of sitting there in the dark, in a hot house, watching water come in.”
Florida residents rushed ahead of landfall to board up homes, stash precious belongings on upper floors and join long lines of cars leaving the shore.
Some decided to try and ride out the storm. Jared Lewis, a Tampa delivery driver, said his home has withstood hurricanes in the past, though not as powerful as Ian.
“It is kind of scary, makes you a bit anxious,” Lewis said. “After the last year of not having any, now you go to a Category 4 or 5. We are more used to the 2s and 3s.”
Ian made landfall more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Tampa and St. Petersburg, sparing the densely populated Tampa Bay area from its first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.
Flash floods were possible all across Florida. Hazards include the polluted leftovers of Florida’s phosphate fertilizer mining industry, more than 1 billion tons of slightly radioactive waste contained in enormous ponds that could overflow in heavy rains.
The federal government sent 300 ambulances with medical teams and was ready to truck in 3.7 million meals and 3.5 million liters of water once the storm passes.
“We’ll be there to help you clean up and rebuild, to help Florida get moving again,” President Joe Biden said Wednesday. “And we’ll be there every step of the way. That’s my absolute commitment to the people of the state of Florida.”
DeSantis has requested Biden grant a Major Disaster Declaration for all 67 of the state’s counties, which would open a range of federal assistance for residents and funding for public infrastructure repairs. DeSantis has also requested Biden allow FEMA to provide a 100 percent federal cost share for debris removal and emergency protective measures for 60 days.
The governors of Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina all preemptively declared states of emergency. Forecasters predicted Ian will turn toward those states as a tropical storm, likely dumping more flooding rains into the weekend, after crossing Florida.


Is it the end of Japan’s neutrality?

Is it the end of Japan’s neutrality?
Updated 29 September 2022

Is it the end of Japan’s neutrality?

Is it the end of Japan’s neutrality?
  • Detention of consul by Russia for alleged spying comes hard on the heels of defense deals with Israel
  • Twin developments have called into question Japan’s neutrality, exposed its diplomatic vulnerabilities

DUBAI: As the security environment surrounding Japan becomes more severe, maintaining a favorable balance of power has become an increasingly delicate task for Tokyo, which faces challenges on three major strategic fronts: China, North Korea and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Yet, two developments in the space of just two months have called Japan’s neutrality into question and exposed its diplomatic vulnerabilities.

In the latest incident, the principal security agency of Russia on Monday detained a Japanese consul in Vladivostok, in the country’s far east, on suspicion that he was obtaining information illegally in exchange for money.

The diplomat, Tatsunori Motoki, was subsequently ordered by the Russian Foreign Ministry to leave the country within 48 hours and an announcement made to the effect that a senior Japanese Embassy official in Moscow had been summoned to protest against his alleged improper acquisition of information.

Japanese diplomat Tatsunori Motoki was ordered out of Russia over spying claims. (AFP)

“A Japanese diplomat was detained red-handed while receiving classified information, in exchange for money, about Russia’s cooperation with another country in the Asia-Pacific region,” the FSB security service said in a statement quoted by Russian news media.

On Tuesday, a Japanese government official said the consul had been released.

Nevertheless, on the same day, Takeo Mori, Japan’s vice foreign minister, summoned Mikhail Galuzin, the Russian ambassador, to the foreign ministry’s office in Tokyo to lodge a formal a protest over the Japanese consul’s detention.

Separately, Hayashi Yoshimasa, the foreign minister, said that detaining and interrogating a consul is a “clear violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” as well as of a consular treaty between Japan and Russia.

IN NUMBER

$40 billion - Amount sought by Japan’s defense ministry for budget as country faces its ‘toughest challenges’ since the Second World War.

Hayashi said Russia’s action was “totally unacceptable,” and claimed that Motoki was taken away blindfolded and restrained before being subjected to high-handed questioning.

He denied the Russian allegation that Motoki had engaged in illegal activities.

Russia’s Federal Security Service said the Japanese consul obtained nonpublic information on Russia’s cooperative ties with an unnamed Asia-Pacific country and also on the effects of Western sanctions on the economic situation in Russia’s Far East by offering money.

The Russian agency also released secretly shot images of a person who appears to be the consul receiving documents at a restaurant.

Russia recently designated Japan as an unfriendly country in response to Tokyo’s cooperation with US and European countries on imposing sanctions on Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada (R) signing the Japan-Israel Defense exchange memorandum of understanding in Tokyo on August 30, 2022. (AFP)

The first diplomatic development that cast doubt on Japan’s neutrality was its decision sign a defense agreement with Israel in August.

The deal was part of an effort to boost defense cooperation between the two countries, particularly in the area of military hardware and technology. But it potentially diminishes Tokyo’s ability to remain even-handed when it come to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Japan has long been hailed as an impartial broker of a future deal between Israel and the Palestinians. In 2019, a joint Arab News Japan-YouGov survey found that 56 percent of Arabs view Japan as the most credible potential candidate to act as a Middle East peace mediator.

On his trip to Tokyo, Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister, met with Hayashi, who took pains to reiterate his government’s support for a two-state solution to solve the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Japanese analyst Koichiro Tanaka, a professor at Tokyo’s Keio University, believes the expansion of the Abraham Accords, the normalization agreements signed between Israel and several Arab states in 2020, has relieved Japan of this mediator role.

“Japan feels relieved from the pressure that existed in trying to balance its Middle East policy with its energy security,” Tanaka told Arab News Japan.

Mindful of the need to maintain allies in its own standoff with China, Japan’s primary foreign-policy goal has been to “appease Washington,” he said. With that comes the expectation of “making friends” with Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada (R) during their bilateral defense meeting in Tokyo on August 30, 2022. (AFP)

“Japan’s role to mediate has never materialized because of US reluctance and rejection by Israel of such a role,” Tanaka said.

The Abraham Accords were the first public expressions of normalization between Arab states and Israel since 1994. When the agreements were announced, Tomoyuki Yoshida, Japan’s former foreign press secretary, called it a “positive development” that could “ease tensions and stabilize the region.”

He reiterated that Japan supported a “two-state solution” whereby Israel and a future independent Palestinian state “live side by side in peace and security.”

In this December 25, 2017 photo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP file)

However, with Japan’s increasingly tense relationship with China and North Korea, the country has been expanding its military cooperation beyond its traditional ally, the US, to other nations in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

It is particularly concerned about Beijing’s military actions in the East and South China Seas. Israel has previously traded weapons with China and is the second-largest foreign supplier of arms after Russia.

China has accumulated a large arsenal of advanced military equipment and technology. The US has strongly opposed Israel’s arms trade with China. However, Israel has largely ignored Washington’s objections.

Some observers suspect Israel and China’s close trade relationship is the reason Japan has chosen to boost defense cooperation with Israel.

Japanese military strategists have been looking for ways to ease their defensive reliance on the US, potentially viewing Israel as a source of weapons and technology to strengthen Tokyo’s military power in the region.

But with the signing of the new defense deal with Israel, is Tokyo still in a position to mediate between Israel and Palestine?

Waleed Siam, the Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Tokyo, told Arab News Japan that the Japanese government is “mostly supportive” of the two sides.

“Japan has a long history with Israel, but I believe Japan could still be part of the neutrality in helping both sides achieve settlements,” he said.

Siam said Palestinians, and the Arab world in general, have great respect for Japan, noting that Tokyo “always has supported the Palestinians to the highest degree, through many UN organizations.

“Japan is committed to helping the state of Palestine and has also always stuck to the UN resolution, refusing to recognize East Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and never recognized Israel’s illegal settlements.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (2nd-L) and Japanese PM Fumio Kishida talk during their bilateral meeting at Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo on September 28, 2022. (AFP)

Asked whether Japan should have first reassured the Palestinian side of its continued neutrality before striking its security deal with Israel, Siam said Tokyo has the “right to do what it wants.”

He added: “Japan does not have to guarantee anything, because it stands very firm on its conviction with the international community and the UN resolution. It supports a two-state solution and the Palestinians’ right to independence.

“Even during the Trump period, when the former US president was pressuring everyone to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Japan stood strong in the UN and voted against it.”

Opinion

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However, Siam believes any country that signs an agreement with Israel should also place an emphasis on compliance with international law and human rights.

“I call on Japan to use this kind of deep friendship with Israel to put pressure on the Israelis to comply with international law,” said Siam. “If the international community does not stand together and pressure Israel into a two-state solution, there will never be peace.”

Israel has been the “largest obstacle” to finalizing a large agro-industrial park and logistics initiative in Jericho, proposed by Japan, called the “Corridor for Peace,” said Siam.

Japan, he argues, could utilize its deepening relations with Israel to help finalize the project.

During the 11-day war in Gaza in May 2021, Japan was adamant that all UN resolutions and international laws should be followed, reiterating its “clear, respecting and supporting” position in the conflict, said Siam.

Japan has long framed itself as the country most capable of negotiating a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

In the final analysis, few can argue that strengthening its military capabilities and investing in defense technology is a step in the right direction by Japan. But it clearly needs to be more diplomatic in pulling them off.

 


Three Armenians killed in fresh clashes with Azerbaijan

Three Armenians killed in fresh clashes with Azerbaijan
Updated 28 September 2022

Three Armenians killed in fresh clashes with Azerbaijan

Three Armenians killed in fresh clashes with Azerbaijan
  • At least 286 people were killed from both sides during the two-day fighting earlier this month
  • Armenia's defence ministry said "Azerbaijani forces opened fire from mortars and large-calibre firearms at the eastern direction of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border"

YEREVAN: Three Armenians died Wednesday in fresh border clashes with Azerbaijan, officials said, two weeks after the arch foes’ worst fighting since their 2020 war jeopardized nascent peace talks.
At least 286 people were killed from both sides during the two-day fighting earlier this month, before the United States brokered a truce.
The ex-Soviet Caucasus neighbors fought two wars — in 2020 and in the 1990s — over the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian-populated enclave of Azerbaijan.
On Wednesday, Armenia’s defense ministry said “Azerbaijani forces opened fire from mortars and large-calibre firearms at the eastern direction of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border.”
“As a result, there are three dead from the Armenian side,” the ministry said in a statement.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan tweeted that three of his troops had been killed “an attack against Armenian independence, sovereignty and democracy.”
“Withdrawal of Azerbaijani troops and deployment of an international observer mission on the Armenian territories affected by Azerbaijani occupation and bordering areas is an absolute necessity,” he wrote.
A six-week war in 2020 claimed the lives of more than 6,500 troops from both sides and ended with a Russian-brokered cease-fire.
Under the deal, Armenia ceded swathes of territory it had controlled for decades, and Moscow deployed about 2,000 Russian peacekeepers to oversee the fragile truce.
With Moscow increasingly isolated on the world stage following its February invasion of Ukraine, the United States and the European Union had taken a leading role in mediating the Armenia-Azerbaijan normalization process.
Last week, the two countries’ foreign ministers met in New York for talks mediated by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
During EU-led negotiations in Brussels in April and May, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Pashinyan agreed to “advance discussions” on a future peace treaty.
They last met in Brussels on August 31, for talks mediated by European Council President Charles Michel.
The talks also focus on border delimitation and the reopening of transport links.
The issue of ensuring a land transport link between Turkic-speaking Azerbaijan and its ally Ankara via Armenian territory has emerged as the primary sticking point.
Azerbaijan insists on Yerevan renouncing its jurisdiction over the land corridor that should pass along Armenia’s border with Iran — a demand the Armenian government rejects as an affront to the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The ensuing conflict claimed around 30,000 lives.


Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom

Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom
Updated 29 September 2022

Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom

Pakistan braces for harsh winter as gas shortages loom
  • Domestic shortfall predicted as surging LNG prices push Pakistan out of short-term market
  • South Asian nation relies on imports through long-term contracts with Qatar and ENI

KARACHI: Pakistan is bracing for a harsh winter this year amid skyrocketing prices of liquefied natural gas on the global market and record currency depreciation at home.

Analysts are warning of increasing gas outages during peak winter hours as the south Asian country struggles to meet domestic demand.

Pakistan needs 4.1 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) of gas, with winter demand peaking to around 4.5 bcfd against local production of 3.22 bcfd. The shortfall is bridged through LNG imports.

Pakistan began importing LNG seven years ago. However, the price of the commodity on the international spot, or short-term, market has risen from lows of $2 per million British thermal units (mmBtu) in 2020 to highs of $57 in August this year after demand in Europe surged, pushing Islamabad out of the market.

At present, the country relies on imported LNG cargoes through long-term contracts with Qatar and Italian multinational ENI. The agreements allow the country to import about eight cargoes per month, four short of the required 12 to meet the shortfall.

An official from Pakistan LNG Limited, a state-owned entity mandated to import LNG, told Arab News on Tuesday that the country is currently importing long-term cargoes from Qatar and ENI.

With the spot LNG market out of reach, many Pakistani analysts predict shortages will make the coming winter tough for domestic gas consumers.

Pakistan imported its last LNG cargo from Qatar at $17 per mmBtu under a long-term supply agreement.

“Normally the demand in winter increases by around 1 bcfd,” Farhan Mahmood, head of research at Sherman Securities, told Arab News. “As this year Pakistan is unlikely to secure cargoes from the spot market, it is expected that shortfall and load shedding of gas will be higher than last year.”

He added: “With LNG prices currently hovering around $38 per mmBtu and the Pakistani rupee trading at historic lows amid depleting forex reserves, the government may not venture to import costly gas, rather it would prefer to save dollars.”

PLL did not receive any bid in response to a tender floated in July 2022 to import 10 cargoes of LNG.

Pakistan’s woes were compounded after Russia invaded Ukraine early this year, and European countries rushed to secure gas supplies from LNG-producing countries as Moscow slowed gas flows westwards.

The Kremlin has accused the West of triggering the energy crisis by imposing the most severe sanctions in modern history, a step Russian President Vladimir Putin said is akin to a declaration of economic war.

“The Russia-Ukraine war has also disrupted the international market and European countries have rushed to secure cargoes for winter as demand has increased substantially there,” Mahmood added.

However, some experts believe gas outages will be comparatively low this winter, with additional electricity generation compensating for the high demand.

“By December this year, some 1320MW of electricity will be added to the national grid with the commissioning of three coal-fired power plants in Thar, Sindh, that will compensate the gas demand,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, a Karachi-based brokerage firm, told Arab News.

“There will definitely be a shortfall of gas, but it will not be as severe as last year, keeping in view the additional electricity generation.”

Pakistan’s winter policy of diverting gas supplies from the power sector to domestic consumers also affects industrial production.

This year, the government is expected to encourage consumers to switch to electricity by offering incentives to save gas for industrial and heating purposes.

In another bid to secure long-term supplies of gas, PLL has invited bids for 72 LNG cargoes from international suppliers across a six-year period. The results of the tender will be decided on Oct. 3 when the bids are opened.

Pakistan’s LNG imports fell by 3.37 percent to $629.4 million during July and August compared with the same period last year.

Energy imports increased by 105.3 percent to $23.3 billion during the last fiscal year, including LNG imports, which rose by 90.6 percent to $4.98 billion, according to official data.
 

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