Biden, Xi clash on Taiwan but try to ‘manage’ differences

Biden, Xi clash on Taiwan but try to ‘manage’ differences
It is Joe Biden and Xi Jinping’s first in-person talks since the US leader became president. (AFP)
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Updated 14 November 2022

Biden, Xi clash on Taiwan but try to ‘manage’ differences

Biden, Xi clash on Taiwan but try to ‘manage’ differences
  • Both leaders stress the need to manage differences and avoid conflict

NUSA DUA, Indonesia: President Joe Biden objected directly to China’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions” toward Taiwan during the first in-person meeting of his presidency with Xi Jinping, as the two superpower leaders aimed on Monday to “manage” their differences in the competition for global influence.
The nearly three-hour meeting was the highlight of Biden’s weeklong, round-the-world trip to the Middle East and Asia, and came at a critical juncture for the two countries amid increasing economic and security tensions. Speaking at a news conference afterward, Biden said that when it comes to China, the US would “compete vigorously, but I’m not looking for conflict.”
He added: “I absolutely believe there need not be a new Cold War” between America and the rising Asian power.
Biden reiterated US support for its longstanding “One China” policy, which recognizes the government in Beijing — while allowing for informal American relations and defense ties with Taipei, and “strategic ambiguity” over whether the US would respond militarily if the island were attacked. He also said that despite China’s recent saber rattling, he does not believe “there’s any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan.”
Xi, according to the Chinese government’s account of the meeting, “stressed that the Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China-US relations, and the first red line that must not be crossed in China-US relations.”
Biden said he and Xi also discussed Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and “reaffirmed our shared belief” that the use or even the threat of nuclear weapons is “totally unacceptable.” That was a reference to Moscow’s thinly veiled threats to use atomic weapons as its nearly nine-month invasion of Ukraine has faltered.
Chinese officials have largely refrained from public criticism of Russia’s war, although Beijing has avoided direct support of the Russians, such as supplying arms.
While there were no watershed breakthroughs, the Biden-Xi meeting brought each side long-sought, if modest, gains. In addition to the shared condemnation of Russian nuclear threats, Biden appeared to secure from Xi the resumption of lower-level cooperation from China on a range of shared global challenges. Meanwhile, Xi, who has aimed to establish China as a geopolitical peer of the US, got symbolic home turf for the meeting as well as Biden’s forceful One China policy commitment.
The White House said Biden and Xi agreed to “empower key senior officials” to work on areas of potential cooperation, including tackling climate change and maintaining global financial, health and food stability. Beijing had cut off such contacts with the US in protest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan in August.
China and the US are the world’s worst climate polluters, and their one-on-one climate contacts are seen as vital to staving off some of the most dire scenarios of climate change. Biden’s first stop on his long overseas trip was in Egypt for a major climate conference.
The two leaders agreed to have US Secretary of State Antony Blinken travel to Beijing to continue discussions.
Xi and Biden warmly greeted each other with a handshake at a luxury resort hotel in Indonesia, where they are attending the Group of 20 summit of large economies.
“As the leaders of our two nations, we share responsibility, in my view, to show that China and the United States can manage our differences, prevent competition from becoming anything ever near conflict, and to find ways to work together on urgent global issues that require our mutual cooperation,” Biden said to open the meeting.
Xi called on Biden to “chart the right course” and “elevate the relationship” between China and the US He said he wanted a “candid and in-depth exchange of views.”
Both men entered the highly anticipated meeting with bolstered political standing at home. Democrats triumphantly held onto control of the US Senate, with a chance to boost their ranks by one in a runoff election in Georgia next month, while Xi was awarded a third five-year term in October by the Communist Party’s national congress, a break with tradition.
But relations between the two powers have grown more strained under successive American administrations, with economic, trade, human rights and security differences at the fore.
As president, Biden has repeatedly taken China to task for human rights abuses against the Uyghur people and other ethnic minorities, crackdowns on democracy activists in Hong Kong, coercive trade practices, military provocations against self-ruled Taiwan and differences over Russia and Ukraine.
The White House said Biden specifically mentioned US concerns about China’s actions in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and the plight of Americans it considers “wrongfully detained” or subject to exit bans in China.
Taiwan has emerged as one of the most contentious issues. Multiple times in his presidency, Biden has said the US would defend the island — which China has eyed for eventual unification — in case of a Beijing-led invasion. But administration officials have stressed each time that the US China policy has not changed.
Pelosi’s trip prompted China, officially the People’s Republic of China, to retaliate with military drills and the firing of ballistic missiles into nearby waters.
The White House said Biden “raised US objections to the PRC’s coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan, which undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader region, and jeopardize global prosperity.”
In the meeting, Biden said China’s economic practices “harm American workers and families, and workers and families around the world,” the White House said.
The meeting came just weeks after the Biden administration blocked exports of advanced computer chips to China — a national security move that bolsters US competition against Beijing.
Xi’s government said he condemned such moves, saying, “Starting a trade war or a technology war, building walls and barriers, and pushing for decoupling and severing supply chains run counter to the principles of market economy and undermine international trade rules.”
Although the two men have held five phone or video calls during Biden’s presidency, White House officials said those encounters were no substitute for an in-person meeting. They said sitting down with Xi was all the more important after the Chinese leader strengthened his grip on power with a third term and because lower-level Chinese officials have been unable or unwilling to speak for their leader.
White House officials and their Chinese counterparts spent weeks negotiating details of the meeting, which was held at Xi’s hotel with translators providing simultaneous interpretation through headsets. Each leader was flanked by nine N-95 mask-wearing aides, and in the case of Xi, at least one official newly elevated in the recent Congress to its top leadership.
US officials were eager to see how Xi approached the meeting after consolidating his position as the unquestioned leader of the state — whether that made him more or less likely to seek out areas of cooperation.
Biden said Xi was as he’s always been.
“I didn’t find him more confrontational or more conciliatory,” Biden said. “I found him the way he’s always been, direct and straightforward.”


Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital

Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital
Updated 58 min 19 sec ago

Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital

Moscow says 14 killed in Ukraine strike on eastern hospital
  • "The Ukrainian armed forces deliberately attacked the building of a district hospital”, said Russia’s defense ministry in a statement

MOSCOW: Russia’s defense ministry on Saturday accused the Ukrainian army of striking a hospital in the eastern Lugansk region, leaving 14 dead and injuring 24 others.
On Saturday morning in the town of Novoaidar, “the Ukrainian armed forces deliberately attacked the building of a district hospital” with a US-made HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system, the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry added that 14 were killed and 24 wounded among the “hospital patients and medical staff.”
It said that the hospital has been providing “necessary medical assistance to the local population and military personnel for many months.”
“A deliberate missile strike on a known active civilian medical facility is, without doubt, a grave war crime by the Kyiv regime,” the ministry said.


Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police
Updated 28 January 2023

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

Two Indian military jets crash, one injured pilot found: police

NEW DELHI: Two Indian Air Force fighter jets crashed Saturday in an apparent mid-air collision while on exercises around 300 kilometers (185 miles) south of the capital New Delhi, police at the crash site told AFP.
Both aircraft had taken off in the morning from the Gwailor air base, around 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of where they came down.
“We have located the wreckage of one of the planes and found an injured pilot in the Pahadgarh forests,” officer Dharmender Gaur told AFP from the scene of the crash.
“The other plane has likely fallen further away from the site and we have sent teams to locate it.”
The air force was investigating whether the planes had collided in mid-air, local broadsheet the Hindustan Times reported.
The Su-30 was carrying two pilots and the Mirage jet had one on takeoff, according to the report.
“I have instructed the local administration to cooperate with the air force in quick rescue and relief work,” Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tweeted.
“I pray to god that the pilots of the planes are safe.”
The crash is the latest in a string of aviation accidents involving India’s military air fleet.
Five army soldiers were killed last October when their helicopter crashed in Arunachal Pradesh state, near the country’s militarised and disputed border with China.
It was the second military chopper crash in the state that month, coming weeks after a Cheetah helicopter came down near the town of Tawang, killing its pilot.
India’s defense chief, General Bipin Rawat, was among 13 people killed when his Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter crashed while transporting him to an air force base in December 2021.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is grappling with the urgent task of overhauling India’s outdated armed forces.
Its military establishment is fretting over a growing assertiveness by China along its vast Himalayan frontier, which in 2019 sparked a lingering diplomatic freeze after a deadly high-altitude confrontation between troops of both countries.
India unveiled its first locally built aircraft carrier last year as part of government efforts to build an indigenous defense industry and reduce reliance on Russia, historically its most important arms supplier.
An effort to reform military recruitment to trim down India’s bloated defense payroll stalled last year after a backlash from aspiring soldiers, who burned train carriages and clashed with police in fierce protests.

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Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
Updated 28 January 2023

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China

Senior US general warns of possible looming war with China
  • “I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” says US Air Mobility Command chief
  • Says Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer China an excuse for military aggression

WASHINGTON: A four-star US Air Force general has warned of a conflict with China as early as 2025 — most likely over Taiwan — and urged his commanders to push their units to achieve maximum operational battle readiness this year.
In an internal memorandum that first emerged on social media on Friday, and was later confirmed as genuine by the Pentagon, the head of the Air Mobility Command, General Mike Minihan, said the main goal should be to deter “and, if required, defeat” China.
“I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025,” Minihan said.
Laying out his reasoning, Minihan said Taiwan’s presidential elections next year would offer Chinese President Xi Jinping an excuse for military aggression, while the United States would be distracted by its own contest for the White House.
“Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025,” he added.
The memorandum also calls on all Mobile Command personnel to go to the firing range, “fire a clip” into a target and “aim for the head.”
A Pentagon spokesperson responded to an AFP email query about the memo saying, “Yes, it’s factual that he sent that out.”
Senior US officials have said in recent months that China appears to be speeding up its timeframe to seize control of Taiwan, a self-governing democracy claimed by Beijing.
China staged major military exercises in August last year, seen as a trial run for an invasion after a defiant visit of solidarity to Taipei by then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who at the time was second in line to the White House.
The United States switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but sells weapons to Taiwan for its self-defense.
A growing number of US lawmakers have called for ramping up assistance, including sending direct military aid to Taiwan, saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underscores the need for early preparation.
 


Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
Updated 28 January 2023

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff

Biden names former Covid aide as new White House chief of staff
  • Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden on Friday named his former top Covid-19 aide Jeff Zients to White House chief of staff — one of the most crucial positions in an administration gearing up for a likely re-election campaign.
Zients replaces Ron Klain, who saw Biden through the first two years of his term in the post, arguably the most powerful behind-the-scenes job in any US administration. The swap will take place on February 8, a day after Biden delivers his State of the Union address to Congress.
The departure of Klain, who has worked with Biden throughout his decades-long Washington career — from senator to vice president, then victor over Donald Trump in 2020 — will deprive the 80-year-old president of an especially close, trusted aide.
Chiefs of staff do everything from managing access to the president, setting his agenda, communicating with political power brokers and acting as a constant crisis manager and sounding board for ideas.
“During the last 36 years, Ron and I have been through some real battles together. And when you’re in the trenches with somebody for as long as I have been with Ron, you really get to know the person. You see what they’re made of,” Biden said in a statement.
Klain is credited with masterminding the intricate, behind-the-scenes negotiations between the White House and lawmakers in Congress that has seen Biden get a string of landmark bills passed, often against expectations in the last two years.
Until November’s midterm elections, Democrats held a razor-thin majority in both houses of Congress and Klain was instrumental in preventing the various party factions from splitting at key moments.
On Twitter, Biden described Klain as a “once in a generation talent with fierce intellect and heart.”

Zients, who oversaw the vast Covid-19 pandemic response when Biden took office, is considered a skilled technocrat, who does not have the deep political connections of Klain but will aim to make sure that the earlier legislative victories are followed through.
“A big task ahead is now implementing the laws we’ve gotten passed efficiently and fairly,” Biden said.
“When I ran for office, I promised to make government work for the American people. That’s what Jeff does,” Biden said. “I’m confident that Jeff will continue Ron’s example of smart, steady leadership.”
Biden has not yet declared he is running again but is widely expected to do so, potentially pitting him again against Trump in 2024.
Zients will also be taking over just as Republicans flex their muscles in the House of Representatives, where they won their own tiny majority in November. With the hard-right of the party in the ascendant, Biden is due to face a series of aggressive investigations into his policies and the business activities of his son Hunter.
Biden is also currently embroiled in a Justice Department probe after the discovery of a small number of classified documents in his house and at a former office. The White House says the documents were accidentally mislaid after Biden’s time as vice president to Barack Obama.
Trump is also under investigation for handling secret documents, although in his case they number in the hundreds and the Republican repeatedly refused to cooperate with authorities on the matter.

 


Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
Updated 28 January 2023

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines

Murder of Filipina worker in Kuwait sends shockwave through Philippines
  • Jullebee Ranara’s charred remains were discovered in a desert in Kuwait on Sunday
  • In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases

MANILA: The murder of a Filipina worker whose body was found in a desert in Kuwait has sent a shockwave through the Philippines, where a two-week vigil will begin after her remains return to the country on Friday.

Jullebee Ranara, 35, was one of more than 268,000 overseas Filipino workers — mostly women employed as domestic helpers — living in Kuwait.

Her charred remains were discovered in a desert on Sunday. Kuwaiti media reported that she was pregnant and had been subjected to blunt-force trauma. The 17-year-old son of her employer has been arrested by Kuwaiti police on murder charges.

Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople declined to comment on the causes of Ranara’s death until after the National Bureau of Investigation has conducted an autopsy.  

“There are many speculations as to the cause of death and motives behind it. The family has requested for an autopsy,” she said in a media briefing on Friday.

“What is important is the police acted quickly. The primary suspect is under the custody of the Kuwaiti police, and we are closely monitoring the case.”

A vigil for Ranara is going to begin after her remains are repatriated on Friday evening.

“We are hopeful that her wake will start by Sunday,” Ople told reporters.

“According to the husband, they would like the wake scheduled for two weeks to give time for relatives and friends who are in the province to pay their respect.”

The news of her death was “dreadful” for former OFWs like Maria Nida Dizon.

“What they did to her is inhuman. She went to Kuwait to work, carrying in her suitcase every hope for a better life, only to meet a gruesome death,” she told Arab News.     

FASTFACT

In 2018 and 2020, the Philippines banned worker deployment to Kuwait after murder cases.

“Based on my own experience, protection for OFWs, especially when it comes to our rights, is hardly felt by migrant workers. There is no guarantee that justice will be given to them when they get abused.”

Dizon, who used to work in the UAE, did not think that Ranara’s case would deter Philippine workers from seeking employment abroad, where they can earn much more than at home.

“Many cases of abuse have been reported, but our countrymen still want to try (to work abroad), especially women, mothers mostly,” she said.

“They think that they can help the family more if they work outside.”

While the migrant workers secretary said Philippine authorities would work with Kuwait to introduce better screening and accreditation mechanisms for employers, Rick Hernandez, a local administration worker in Manila, was now sure he would prevent his family members from working as domestic helpers abroad.

“A lot of Filipinos, especially our women, are willing to brave harsh climes and abusive employers just to provide for their loved ones,” he said.

“As a father and husband, I would rather starve here rather than send my daughter or wife to toil as menials in a faraway country.”   

Kuwait’s Ambassador to the Philippines Musaed Saleh Al-Thwaikh said on Friday that Kuwaiti society was also “shocked and saddened” by the incident.

“Our justice system will not lose sight in ensuring justice for Mrs. Ranara,” he wrote in a letter addressed to Ople.

“We assure you that such an incident is an isolated case.”

Ranara’s murder, however, was not the first such incident in Kuwait that shook the Philippines, which in 2018 imposed a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country after the killing of Filipina domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer at an abandoned apartment.     

The ban was partially lifted the same year, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers.   

In May 2019, Filipina maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another one, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured by her employer to death.   

The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in January 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to hanging.