US lawmakers arrive in Taiwan with China tensions simmering

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry Department of North American Affairs Director-General Douglas Hsu welcomes US Representative John Garamendi at Taipei Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on August 14, 2022. (REUTERS)
Taiwan's Foreign Ministry Department of North American Affairs Director-General Douglas Hsu welcomes US Representative John Garamendi at Taipei Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on August 14, 2022. (REUTERS)
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Updated 15 August 2022

US lawmakers arrive in Taiwan with China tensions simmering

US lawmakers arrive in Taiwan with China tensions simmering
  • The visit follows US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip that has led China to fire missiles around Taiwan in anger
  • A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said members of Congress have gone to Taiwan for decades and will continue to do so

TAIPEI/WASHINGTON: A delegation of US lawmakers arrived in Taiwan on Sunday for a two-day trip during which they will meet President Tsai Ing-wen, the second high-level group to visit while there are military tensions between the self-ruled island and China.
Beijing, which claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, has conducted military drills around the island after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in early August.
China has long claimed sovereignty over the island. Taiwan’s government rejects China’s claims and says the island’s people should decide its future.
The de facto US embassy in Taipei said the delegation is being led by Senator Ed Markey, who is being accompanied by four House lawmakers on what it described as part of a larger visit to the Indo-Pacific region.
Taiwan’s presidential office said the group would meet Tsai on Monday morning.
“Especially at a time when China is raising tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the region with military exercises, Markey leading a delegation to visit Taiwan once again demonstrates the United States Congress’ firm support for Taiwan,” it said in a statement.
Markey chairs the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia, Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Subcommittee. The co-leaders of the visit are Representative John Garamendi of the congressional Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group and Representative Don Beyer, a spokesperson for Markey said.
China’s embassy in Washington said on Sunday that “members of the US Congress should act in consistence with the US government’s one-China policy” and argued the latest congressional visit “once again proves that the US does not want to see stability across the Taiwan Straits and has spared no effort to stir up confrontation between the two sides and interfere in China’s internal affairs.”
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said members of Congress have gone to Taiwan for decades and will continue to do so, adding that such visits were in accordance with the United States’ long-standing one-China policy.
Under that policy, the United States has official diplomatic relations with Beijing, and not Taiwan. However, Washington does not take a position on whether Beijing has sovereignty over Taiwan, and is bound under US law to provide Taiwan with means to defend itself.
Markey’s office said the lawmakers in Taiwan “will reaffirm the United States’ support for Taiwan as guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, US-China Joint Communiques, and Six Assurances, and will encourage stability and peace across the Taiwan Strait.”

’SHARED INTERESTS’
The group will meet “with elected leaders and members of the private sector to discuss shared interests including reducing tensions in the Taiwan Strait and expanding economic cooperation, including investments in semiconductors,” Markey’s office said.
The delegation made a prior stop in South Korea, where Markey met South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.
Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry published pictures of four lawmakers being met at Taipei’s downtown Songshan airport having arrived on a US air force transport jet, while Markey arrived at the Taoyuan international airport.
“The delegation will meet with senior Taiwan leaders to discuss US-Taiwan relations, regional security, trade and investment, global supply chains, climate change, and other significant issues of mutual interest,” the de facto USembassy said.
While China’s drills around Taiwan have abated, it is still carrying out military activities.
Eleven Chinese military aircraft crossed the Taiwan Strait’s median line or entered Taiwan’s air defense zone on Sunday, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry said. Thirteen planes crossed the strait on Saturday, the ministry said.
US officials have said Beijing “overreacted” to Pelosi’s visit and used it as a pretext to try to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

 


N.Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of US VP Harris visit

N.Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of US VP Harris visit
Updated 5 sec ago

N.Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of US VP Harris visit

N.Korea fires ballistic missile ahead of US VP Harris visit
  • US Vice President Harris is set to visit the region next week and meet with leaders of Japan and South Korea

SEOUL: North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast on Sunday, ahead of planned military drills by South Korean and US forces involving an aircraft carrier and a visit to the region by US Vice President Kamala Harris.
South Korea’s military said it was a single, short-range ballistic missile fired from near the Taechon area of North Pyongyan Province just before 7 a.m.
Japan’s Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Japan estimated it reached maximum altitude at 50 km and may have flown on an irregular trajectory. Hamada said it fell outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and there were no reports of problems with shipping or air traffic.
Many of the short-range missiles tested by North Korea in recent years have been designed to evade missile defenses by maneuvering during flight and flying on a lower, “depressed” trajectory, experts have said.
“If you include launches of cruise missiles this is the nineteenth launch, which is an unprecedented pace. North Korea’s action represent a threat to the peace and security of our country, the region and the international community and to do this as the Ukraine invasion unfolds is unforgivable,” Hamada said, adding that Japan had delivered a protest through North Korea’s embassy in Beijing.
The US Indo-pacific Command said it was aware of the launch and consulting closely with allies, in a statement released after the launch, while reaffirming US commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan.
“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to our allies, the missile launch highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s unlawful Weapons of Mass Destruction and ballistic missile programs.”
The launch comes after the arrival of the nuclear-powered American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in South Korea to participate in joint drills with South Korean forces, and ahead of a planned visit to Seoul this week by Harris.
It was the first time the North carried out such a launch after firing eight short-range ballistic missiles in one day in early June, which led the United States to call for more sanctions for violating UN Security Council resolutions.
North Korea rejects UN resolutions as an infringement of its sovereign right to self defense and space exploration, and has criticized previous joint drills by the United States and South Korea as proof of their hostile policies.
The drills have also been criticized by Russia and China, which have called on all sides not to take steps that raise tensions in the region, and have called for an easing of sanctions.
After North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of missile tests earlier this year, including its intercontinental ballistic missiles for the first time since 2017, the United States and South Korea said they would boost joint drills and military displays of power to deter Pyongyang.
“Defense exercises are not going to prevent North Korean missile tests,” said Leif-Eric Easley, an international affairs professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
But US-South Korea security cooperation helps to deter a North Korean attack and counter Pyongyang’s coercion, and the allies should not let provocations stop them from conducting military training and exchanges needed to maintain the alliance, he added.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on Saturday North Korea may also be preparing to test a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), citing the South’s military. 


As Ukraine worries UN, some leaders rue what’s pushed aside

As Ukraine worries UN, some leaders rue what’s pushed aside
Updated 25 September 2022

As Ukraine worries UN, some leaders rue what’s pushed aside

As Ukraine worries UN, some leaders rue what’s pushed aside
  • The ongoing war in Ukraine is making it more difficult to tackle the perennial issues that feature each year in the deliberations of this assembly. President Muhammadu Buhari

NEW YORK: In speech after speech, world leaders dwelled on the topic consuming this year’s UN General Assembly meeting: Russia’s war in Ukraine.
A few, like Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, prodded the world not to forget everything else.
He, too, was quick to bring up the biggest military confrontation in Europe since World War II.
But he was not there to discuss the conflict itself, nor its disruption of food, fuel and fertilizer markets.
“The ongoing war in Ukraine is making it more difficult,” Buhari lamented, “to tackle the perennial issues that feature each year in the deliberations of this assembly.”

The ongoing war in Ukraine is making it more difficult to tackle the perennial issues that feature each year in the deliberations of this assembly.

President Muhammadu Buhari

He went on to name a few: Inequality, nuclear disarmament, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the more than 1 million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar who have been living in limbo for years in Bangladesh.
In an environment where words are parsed, confrontations are calibrated and worry is acute that the war and its wider effects could worsen, no one dismissed the importance of the conflict.
But comments such as Buhari’s quietly spoke to a certain unease, sometimes bordering on frustration, about the international community’s absorption in Ukraine.
Those murmurs are audible enough that the United States’ UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, made a point of previewing Washington’s plans to address climate change, food insecurity, health and other issues during the diplomatic community’s premier annual gathering.
“Other countries have expressed a concern that as we focus on Ukraine, we are not paying attention to what is happening in other crises around the world,” she said, vowing that it wasn’t so.
Still, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken complained at a Security Council meeting days later that Russia’s invasion is distracting the UN from working on other important matters.
In many years at the assembly, there’s a hot spot or news development that takes up a lot of diplomatic oxygen. As former UN official Jan Egeland puts it, “the world manages to focus on one crisis at a time.”
“But I cannot, in these many years as a humanitarian worker or a diplomat, remember any time when the focus was so strongly on one conflict only while the world was falling apart elsewhere,” Egeland, now secretary-general of an international aid group called the Norwegian Refugee Council, said in a phone interview.
Certainly, no one was surprised by the attention devoted to a conflict with Cold War echoes. The urgency only intensified during the weeklong meeting as Russia mobilized some of its military reserves.
Ukraine is undeniably a dominant concern for the European Union. But foreign policy chief Josep Borrell insisted the bloc hasn’t lost sight of other problems.
“It’s not a question of choosing between Ukraine and the others. We can do all at the same time,” he said on the eve of the assembly.
Jordan’s King Abdullahbriefly mentioned the war’s effects on food supplies, then moved on to sustainable economic growth, Syrian refugees and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
President Andrzej Duda of Poland — on Ukraine’s doorstep — stressed in his speech that “we mustn’t show any ‘war fatigue’” regarding the conflict.
But he also noted that a recent trip to Africa left him pondering how the West has treated other conflicts.
Over seven months of war, there have been pointed observations from some quarters about how quickly and extensively wealthy and powerful nations mobilized money, military aid, General Assembly votes to support Ukraine and offer refuge to its residents, compared to the global response to some other conflicts.
South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor last month told reporters that while the war is awful, “we should be equally concerned at what is happening to the people of Palestine as we are with what is happening to the people of Ukraine.”
At the General Assembly, she added that, from South Africa’s vantage point, “our greatest global challenges are poverty, inequality, joblessness and a feeling of being entirely ignored and excluded.”
Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Kausea Natano, said in an interview on the assembly’s sidelines that the war shouldn’t “be an excuse” for countries to ignore their financial commitments to a top priority for his island nation: fighting climate change.
Part of Bolivian President Luis Arce’s speech compared the untold billions of dollars spent on fighting in Ukraine in a matter of months to the $11 billion committed to the UN-sponsored Green Climate Fund over more than a decade.
To be sure, most leaders made time for issues beyond Ukraine in their allotted, if not always enforced, 15 minutes at the mic. And some mentioned the war only in passing, or not at all.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro devoted his time to lambasting capitalism, consumerism and the US-led war on drugs, particularly its focus on coca plant eradication.

 


Pakistani women MPs, activists condemn ‘brutal killing’ of Iranian woman

Pakistani women MPs, activists condemn ‘brutal killing’ of Iranian woman
Updated 25 September 2022

Pakistani women MPs, activists condemn ‘brutal killing’ of Iranian woman

Pakistani women MPs, activists condemn ‘brutal killing’ of Iranian woman
  • Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody ignites rage against Tehran regime

KARACHI: Leading Pakistani women politicians and rights activists on Saturday joined the growing global outcry over the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after being detained by Iran’s so-called morality police for disobeying the country’s strict dress code.  

At least 35 people have been killed during widespread protests across Iran in the past week, according to Iranian state media, amid mounting anger over allegations that Amini, 22, was the victim of police brutality.  

Amini was arrested in Tehran on Sept. 13 for allegedly wearing a hijab in an “improper” manner. She was taken to a detention center where she collapsed shortly afterwards.

Her death three days later sparked large demonstrations and acts of defiance against the Tehran regime.

FASTFACT

In Iran, women are required to follow a strict dress code which includes wearing a headscarf over their heads and putting on long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures. The laws are based on Iran’s interpretation of Islamic law.

In several clips that have gone viral on social media, women can be seen cutting their hair publicly and burning headscarves, an open challenge to Iranian authorities.  

Protesters are demanding an end to what they say is police brutality, as well as moral policing, and say that women should have the right to dress as they please.

The Gasht-e Ershad (Guidance Patrols) is a special police unit in Iran tasked with enforcing the Islamic dress code in public.

Pakistani women politicians reacted angrily to Amini’s death, calling for an impartial investigation into the case and demanding more freedom for women in Iran.  

“It’s really sad and if what is being reported is true, it’s a shocking and blatant violation of fundamental rights,” Shazia Marri, Pakistan’s federal minister for poverty alleviation, told Arab News on Saturday.  

“It’s a complete travesty of justice and highly condemnable. Everyone must have a right to choose,” she added.

Iranian police said that Amini’s death was caused by a heart attack, and denied reports that officers had struck her with a baton and banged her head against one of their vehicles.  

Sharmila Sahibah Faruqui, a lawmaker of Pakistan’s provincial Sindh Assembly, told Arab News that it is “heartbreaking to see how Mahsa Amini was brutally killed by law enforcement authorities for not wearing a hijab.”  

She added: “The voices of women must not be oppressed by the state. Women must be empowered, not silenced.”

Sehar Kamran, a former Pakistani senator, said that “Iran must ensure that a few individuals do not smear the name of law and Islam, and should bring the culprits to justice.”

She added: “The onus lies on Iranian authorities to ensure justice so that such events do not occur in the future.”  

Anis Haroon, a member of the Women’s Action Forum in Pakistan, said that women’s rights have suffered in Iran due to compulsory dress codes, segregation and torture by the morality police.  

“The role of the morality police should end,” she said. “The state has no right to intervene in the private lives of people. Women of Iran should be allowed to live like free human beings under the rights granted by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” she said.  

Nighat Dad, a leading lawyer who runs the Digital Rights Foundation — a think tank tackling digital rights through a gender lens — said that Amini’s death has sparked resistance, “which the regime won’t be able to stop now.”

She told Arab News that men supporting these protests is a “testament to what the people of Iran basically want from the regime now.”

Women were now deciding for themselves whether to wear the hijab or not, Dad said.

“And it is actually their own choice. When we say ‘my body, my choice’ in Pakistan, that is exactly what we mean — that we should have control over our body, not other people controlling it,” she added.   

Dancer and activist Sheema Kermani accused Iran’s morality police of having committed grave human rights violations for decades.

She said that the Iranian state’s warnings to citizens and an Internet blackout are “ominous signs that reflect the intention of the totalitarian regime to use more brutal force against the protesters.”

She said: “We are proud of Iranian women for offering strong resistance despite being the most vulnerable group.”   

Nayab Gohar Jan, a Pakistan People’s Party activist, told Arab News that it is time for Iran to have serious conversations about women’s rights.

“Given the scale of protests across the country, it may also be time for Iranian authorities to open up dialogue on these issues,” she said.  

 


Philippines, US on track to deepen alliance as Marcos concludes American trip

President Joe Biden meets with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in New York. (AP)
President Joe Biden meets with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in New York. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2022

Philippines, US on track to deepen alliance as Marcos concludes American trip

President Joe Biden meets with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in New York. (AP)
  • Leader’s approach breaks from predecessor, who embraced Beijing-friendly direction
  • Deepening relations with Manila appears to be ‘high priority’ for Biden administration, expert says

MANILA: The Philippines is on track to deepen its alliance with the US, experts said this week, as the first meeting between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his US counterpart Joe Biden showed mutual intention to revive long-standing ties that were undermined during the previous Philippine presidency.

Marcos and Biden held their inaugural face-to-face talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York City, a few months after the son of the late dictator took office following a landslide victory in the Philippine elections.

Since becoming president, Marcos has held meetings with a number of top US officials, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in a foreign policy shift from the days of former president Rodrigo Duterte, who oversaw a strategy to distance Manila from Washington and embrace a Beijing-friendly direction.

We are your partners, we are your allies, we are your friends. And in like fashion, we have always considered the US our partner, our ally and our friend.

Marcos Jr., Phillipine president

“We are your partners, we are your allies, we are your friends. And in like fashion, we have always considered the US our partner, our ally and our friend,” Marcos told Biden during their meeting.

Marcos, who is set to return to the Philippines on Saturday, said that he cannot envision his country without the US as a partner during an economic forum earlier in the week.

Biden had reaffirmed the US’ “ironclad commitment” to the defense of the Philippines during the occasion, the White House said in a statement, as they discussed various other issues, including tensions in the South China Sea and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The relationship between the US and the Philippines, to state the obvious, has very deep roots. We’ve had some rocky times but the fact is it’s a critical, critical relationship from our perspective,” Biden said.

Their meeting conveyed eagerness on both sides to strengthen ties, Southeast Asia expert Gregory Poling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., told Arab News.

“The meeting certainly shows both sides are eager to deepen the relationship, and that doing so is a high priority for the Biden administration,” Poling said.

As the White House “doesn’t organize a ton of meetings like this” on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Poling said that “prioritizing this one sends its own message.

“The US-Philippines alliance is undergoing a process of modernization that started last year and is moving rather quickly,” he added.

Victor Andres Manhit, president of the Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies in Manila, said the meeting showed how Manila is “strengthening and believes” in its partnership with Washington.

“Hopefully, this could be a fresh start in how to strengthen this alliance and turn this alliance beyond defense and security but really a consistent support from the US with regard to trade, investments that can generate jobs, that can then generate more growth for the Philippines,” Manhit told Arab News.

He added that strong relations between the two countries have “always been what the Filipinos want.”

Marcos said that the Philippines will be “a friend to all, and an enemy to none” during his first address to the nation in July, with his administration’s approach toward the US showing a marked contrast to his predecessor, who went to China in the early days of his presidency and announced a “separation” from Washington, its former colonial master.

 


Saudi ambassador in India pledges to boost Riyadh’s ties with New Delhi

Saudi ambassador in India pledges to boost Riyadh’s ties with New Delhi
Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi ambassador in India pledges to boost Riyadh’s ties with New Delhi

Saudi ambassador in India pledges to boost Riyadh’s ties with New Delhi
  • The Kingdom is India’s fourth largest trade partner
  • New Saudi envoy to presented his credentials in early September

NEW DELHI: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to India Saleh bin Eid Al-Hussaini has vowed to boost and strengthen relations between Riyadh and New Delhi during his tenure in the South Asian country, as officials and peoples of the two countries celebrated the 92nd Saudi National Day in the Indian capital.

Saudi Arabia celebrated its National Day on Sept. 23 to commemorate the renaming of the Kingdom of Nejd and Hejaz to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by royal decree of King Abdulaziz Al-Saud in 1932.

The Saudi embassy in India hosted a National Day event in New Delhi on Friday, the first such festivity held since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Indian Health Minister Mansukh Mandavia was the chief guest during the occasion, which also saw other Indian officials in attendance.

FASTFACT

India has been seeking to enhance its strategic partnership with the Kingdom since, as well as cooperation on international platforms, with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visiting Saudi Arabia earlier in September.

Al-Hussaini, who presented his credentials to Indian President Droupadi Murmu earlier this month, has vowed to deepen Saudi-Indian ties during his tenure.

“This would be my endeavor to consolidate and accelerate the growth of our mutual and beneficial partnership and strengthen the friendly bond between the people of our countries,” Al-Hussaini said during his speech at the Saudi National Day event in New Delhi.

Saudi-Indian ties reached new highs when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited New Delhi in February 2019. In October that year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Riyadh at the invitation of King Salman, which saw the two nations establishing the Strategic Partnership Council.

Al-Hussaini, who described the crown prince’s New Delhi trip as a “landmark visit,” said that high-level engagements that year had “marked a new chapter in bilateral relations.”

India has been seeking to enhance its strategic partnership with the Kingdom since, as well as cooperation on international platforms, with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visiting Saudi Arabia earlier in September.

The India-Saudi strategic partnership is focused on four areas: Political issues, security, socio-cultural relations and defense cooperation.

Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trade partner, after the US, China and the UAE, with bilateral trade worth $42.8 billion in the 2021-22 fiscal year. Energy also plays an important role in their ties, with New Delhi importing about 18 and 22 percent of its crude oil and LPG demands, respectively, from the Kingdom.