Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says
Above, a Ukrainian soldier fires a mortar at Russian positions in Bakhmut of the Donetsk region. (AP)
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Updated 03 December 2022

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says

Russia likely planning to encircle Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut, Britain says
  • Capture of the town would have limited operational value
  • But it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk

Russia is likely planning to encircle the Donetsk Oblast town of Bakhmut with tactical advances to the north and south, Britain’s defense ministry said on Saturday.
The capture of the town would have limited operational value but it can potentially allow Russia to threaten Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the ministry added in a daily intelligence update.
“There is a realistic possibility that Bakhmut’s capture has become primarily a symbolic, political objective for Russia,” the ministry said in the update posted on Twitter.


Qatar Deputy Prime Minister discusses bilateral cooperation with Japan’s Kishida

Qatar Deputy Prime Minister discusses bilateral cooperation with Japan’s Kishida
Updated 8 sec ago

Qatar Deputy Prime Minister discusses bilateral cooperation with Japan’s Kishida

Qatar Deputy Prime Minister discusses bilateral cooperation with Japan’s Kishida
  • Qatar and Japan are working on a new visa waiver measure based on the Passport Registration System
  • Sheikh Mohammed stated that Qatar also attaches great importance to its historic friendship with Japan

TOKYO: Qatar Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani paid a courtesy call on Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio on Tuesday ahead of the 2nd Japan-Qatar Foreign Ministers’ Strategic Dialogue.
The two sides reaffirmed their desire to further strengthen bilateral relations in various areas, such as politics, economy and security, as well as in the energy sector, including clean energy.
Qatar and Japan are working on a new visa waiver measure based on the Passport Registration System for ordinary passport holders of Qatar who wish to enter Japan, according to the foreign ministry in Tokyo. This, it is hoped, will further promote exchanges between Japan and Qatar.
Prime Minister Kishida welcomed Sheikh Mohammed and stated that Japan attaches great importance to the comprehensive partnership with Qatar.
Kishida noted that he held two telephone talks with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, last year and confirmed their close cooperation.
Sheikh Mohammed stated that Qatar also attaches great importance to its historic friendship with Japan, and that he is pleased to see steady progress in cooperation between Japan and Qatar in a wide range of areas.
Among other topics, the two sides discussed regional affairs, including the situation in Ukraine.
The Strategic Dialogue will take place in Tokyo with Sheikh Mohammed attending and it is seen as an important framework in realizing cooperative relations between Japan and Qatar.


Japan condemns attacks in Palestine and Israel

Japan condemns attacks in Palestine and Israel
Updated 16 min 26 sec ago

Japan condemns attacks in Palestine and Israel

Japan condemns attacks in Palestine and Israel

TOKYO: Japan has expressed “serious concern” about what it calls “the growing tensions surrounding Israel and Palestine,” where a number of civilians have been killed in recent days in areas that include East Jerusalem and Jenin.

A statement by the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo stated: “Japan strongly condemns any terror attacks, including the one at a Jerusalem synagogue.”

The statement said Japan extends its sincere condolences to the bereaved families.

Japan urged all parties concerned to exert self-restraint and avoid any unilateral action in order to avert further escalation of the situation and to restore calm to the area.

This story was originally published on Arab News Japan


Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement

Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement
Updated 31 January 2023

Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement

Japan and NATO to further strengthen cooperation — joint statement
  • Security environment is most tense since World War Two -leaders
  • Concern voiced over Russia’s nuclear threats, drills with China

TOKYO: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and Japanese premier Fumio Kishida pledged on Tuesday to strengthen ties, saying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its growing military co-operation with China had created the most tense security environment since World War Two.
The comments came in a statement issued during Stoltenberg’s trip to Japan following a visit to South Korea on which he urged Seoul to increase military support to Ukraine and gave similar warnings about rising tension with China.
“The world is at a historical inflection point in the most severe and complex security environment since the end of World War II,” the two leaders said in the statement.
It also raised concerns about Russia’s nuclear threats, joint military drills between Russia and China near Japan, and North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons.
Stoltenberg told reporters a Russian victory in Ukraine would embolden China at a time when it is building up its military, “bullying its neighbors and threatening Taiwan.”
He added, “This war is not just a European crisis, but the challenge to the world order.
“Beijing is watching closely, and learning lessons that may influence its future decisions. What is happening in Europe today could happen in East Asia tomorrow.”
While the North Atlantic Treaty Organization groups 30 countries in Europe and North America, Stoltenberg has said its members are affected by global threats.
Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol became the first leaders from their countries to attend a NATO summit last year, joining as observers.
China has previously criticized NATO’s efforts to expand its alliances in Asia. Russia, which calls its invasion of Ukraine a “special operation,” has repeatedly cast NATO’s expansion as a threat to its security.
Late last year, Japan unveiled sweeping plans to beef up its defense capabilities, changes once unthinkable for a pacifist country that will make it the third-biggest military spender after the United States and China.
Bolstering its co-operation with NATO in areas from maritime security and arms control to cyberspace and disinformation will further help to respond to the changing strategic environment, the statement added.
The meeting comes as Japan prepares to host the annual Group of Seven (G7) summit in May, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expected to be a major topic of discussion.
Kishida is considering visiting Kyiv in February to reinforce his support for Ukraine in the conflict, domestic media have said.


Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury
Updated 31 January 2023

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury

Eye-watering onion prices make Philippine staple a luxury
  • Onion prices have soared in recent months, reaching as high as 800 pesos (nearly $15) a kilogram in Manila supermarkets, making them more expensive than chicken or pork

BONGABON, Philippines: Even before his onions are fully grown, Philippine farmer Luis Angeles races to harvest the crop and cash in on eye-watering prices for a vegetable that has become a luxury item in the country.
Onion prices have soared in recent months, reaching as high as 800 pesos (nearly $15) a kilogram in Manila supermarkets, making them more expensive than chicken or pork.
Some restaurants have stripped the staple ingredient from dishes, while many families already grappling with the highest inflation in 14 years have stopped eating them.
To meet demand and push retail prices back below 200 pesos, the government has approved the importation of 21,000 tons of onions and faces calls to crack down on traders suspected of hoarding.
But prices remain stubbornly high and onion farmers like Angeles have been harvesting earlier than usual to reap the windfall.
“What is happening is historic,” said Angeles, 37, as his workers pulled undersized red and white bulbs out of the soil near the northern town of Bongabon, the country’s self-proclaimed “onion capital.”
“This is the first time that prices have reached this level.”
When he began harvesting last month, Angeles received as much as 250 pesos per kilogram for his crop.
By the time his onions reached Manila supermarket shelves, the price had more than doubled, exceeding the daily minimum wage.

Customers shop for onions at a market in Manila. (Jam Sta. Rosa / AFP) 

“I told my family, ‘Let’s just smell the onion instead of eating it’,” Candy Roasa, 56, said as she walked through a market in the capital where she has seen vendors selling bulbs the size of a small child’s fist for as much as 80 pesos each.
As onion memes spread on social media, the humble vegetable has become a symbol of wealth in the poverty-afflicted country.
At least one bride used pricey bulbs instead of flowers for her wedding bouquet.
Philippine Airlines crew members on a recent flight from the Middle East were busted trying to smuggle a few bags of the pungent commodity through Manila’s airport.

It is not the first time the Philippines has experienced a shortage of a basic food staple that caused prices to spike — sugar, salt and rice have all been hit in the past.
Poor yields, high costs, insufficient investment in irrigation and machinery, lack of access to cold storage facilities and farm-to-market roads, and crop-destroying typhoons have long impacted the sector.
Pest outbreaks as well as soaring oil and fertilizer prices since Russia invaded Ukraine last year have only added to farmers’ woes.

A farmer harvests onions at a farm in Bongabon, Nueva Ecija province in the northern Philippines. (Jam Sta. Rosa / AFP) 

Despite government pledges to boost domestic food production, the country relies heavily on imports to feed its growing population — but tariffs fuel inflation.
President Ferdinand Marcos appointed himself agriculture secretary to overhaul the near-moribund industry, which accounts for about a quarter of the country’s employment but only makes up 10 percent of gross domestic product.
“Our agriculture sector is significantly challenged,” said Geny Lapina, agricultural economics and management professor at the University of the Philippines.
Every Filipino eats an average of 2.34 kilograms of onions per year and theoretically the country produces enough to meet the demand, official data shows.
But since the tropical climate only allows one planting per year of the rain-averse crop, stocks are consumed or spoil well before the next harvest.
The recent lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, which allowed the resumption of food-focused festivals and family gatherings for Christmas, triggered soaring demand for onions.
William Dar, who was agriculture secretary in former president Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, said the shortage could have been avoided if the current government had allowed imports back in August.
“This is the net result of the poor planning,” Dar told local broadcaster ABS-CBN.
There are growing concerns about future food security in the Philippines, which is ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change and is plagued by poor nutrition.
The median age of farmers is 57 and the average farm plot has shrunk to around 1.3 hectares from nearly three hectares in the 1960s.
Many farmers are sharecroppers who do not own the land they till and cannot afford to make much-needed investments to improve productivity without government help.
Salvador Catelo, an agricultural economist at the University of the Philippines, said there were “lots of daunting challenges to be immediately solved.”
“We have rich natural resource endowments which are absent in many countries that are performing (better) than us in terms of productivity and self-sufficiency,” Catelo said.
As imported onions flow into the country, Angeles fears farm-gate prices could plummet to as low as 30 pesos per kilogram before he finishes his harvest.
“We are just trying to make our investment survive,” he said.


Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region
Updated 31 January 2023

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region

Earthquake rocks China’s northwestern Xinjiang region
  • The China Earthquake Networks Center registered the quake at a preliminary magnitude of 6.1, while the US Geological Survey reported it as 5.7

BEIJING: Residents and travelers sought shelter after a strong earthquake rocked a remote part of northwestern China on Monday morning.
No injuries or major damage have been reported following the temblor that struck the Xinjiang region at 7:49 a.m., according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
State broadcaster CCTV showed footage of people evacuating an airport departure hall and ceiling fixtures swaying as the ground rocked. Ground crews were seen inspecting the airport’s exterior as the sun began to rise over the region’s Shahe county.
The China Earthquake Networks Center registered the quake at a preliminary magnitude of 6.1, while the US Geological Survey reported it as 5.7.
A vast, resource-rich region of mountains and deserts, Xinjiang is one of China’s most seismically volatile regions, though most quakes strike in sparsely inhabited areas outside major cities.
Investigators were checking on the epicenter but no disruptions had been reported to the local power grid, oil and gas production or petrochemical industries, Xinhua said.
China’s deadliest recent earthquake was magnitude 7.9 that struck Sichuan province, south of Xinjiang, in 2008, killing nearly 90,000 people.