China, US agree to manage maritime risks through continued dialogue

China, US agree to manage maritime risks through continued dialogue
The USS Gabrielle Giffords, top, receives passing honors by Philippine Navy Officers aboard BRP Gregorio Del Pilar during the 3rd AFP-USINDOPACOM Maritime Cooperative Activity in the disputed South China Sea in February 2024. (AFP Western Command/AFP)
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Updated 28 May 2024
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China, US agree to manage maritime risks through continued dialogue

China, US agree to manage maritime risks through continued dialogue
  • Beijing expressed serious concern over the US’ infringement of and provocations in nearby waters
  • China has also urged the United States to not take sides in South China Sea

HONG KONG: China and the United States held consultations on maritime affairs in which both countries agreed to maintain dialogue and manage risks, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
China said both sides exchanged views last Friday on the maritime situation, agreed to maintain communication, and avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations.
The foreign ministry said China expressed serious concern over the United States’ infringement of and provocations in nearby waters, and urged the Washington to refrain from intervening in disputes between China and its neighbors, or “use the sea to control China.”
The United States should immediately stop supporting and condoning “Taiwan independence” forces, the ministry added.
The Unite States maintains direct interactions with Taiwan, including arms sales, which Beijing opposes. China claims democratically governed Taiwan as its own territory, but Taiwan’s government rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims.
China has also urged the United States to not take sides in South China Sea, after Washington in March extended a security deal with the Philippines to include attacks on the Southeast Asian nation’s coast guard.


Palestinian medical students in Cuba highlight pain of diaspora

Palestinian medical students in Cuba highlight pain of diaspora
Updated 7 sec ago
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Palestinian medical students in Cuba highlight pain of diaspora

Palestinian medical students in Cuba highlight pain of diaspora
HAVANA: Thousands of miles from Gaza, medical student Samar Alghoul is supposed to be living her dream in Cuba, where she and hundreds of other Palestinians have been given the opportunity to study for free.
But, like the Palestinian diaspora all around the world, she is ridden with anxiety watching the decimation of her home from afar.
The 21-year-old lives in a dorm with six other students at the University of Havana, but often dreams of returning to her family’s side, even if it means running toward war.
“It would be easier for me to be with them than to have all these thoughts,” of not knowing “what they drink, what they eat, where they sleep,” Alghoul said of her mother, two brothers and sister who live in the Gaza Strip.
She said her mother tells her: “We are proud of you, we are proud to have someone outside of Gaza who is studying medicine.”
Alghoul is one of 247 Palestinian students, 75 of them from Gaza, who have received a scholarship from the Cuban government, according to figures from Palestinian ambassador Akram Samhan.
Cuba has long handed out bursaries to foreign students. Some 1,500 Palestinians, many of them doctors, have studied for free on the island since 1974, said the ambassador.
Whether studying, living abroad, or staying in refugee camps in the Middle East, millions of Palestinians in the diaspora are watching the destruction wrought back home with horror.
The conflict began on October 7 when the Hamas militant group attacked Israel, leaving 1,194 people dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,396 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.
Alghoul says her family, who lived in the north of the Gaza Strip, has had to move multiple times to flee bombing and is currently in central Gaza’s Deir Al-Balah.
“They open WhatsApp, send me a message, ‘We’re fine,’ and we don’t know when we’ll have more news,” Alghoul said in Spanish. Like all foreign students, she took intensive language classes when she arrived in Cuba in 2022.
Motee Almashar, 24, from southern Rafah told AFP that he and his Palestinian friends are trying to get back to normal life “to relieve some stress.”
But it’s not easy.
“As soon as you pick up your phone, you see the news,” he said.
Almashar is also too far away to be of much comfort to his mother, devastated after bombing in Rafah last month led to the deaths of his cousins, three uncles, aunt and grandmother.
The conflict has also impacted the students’ ability to make ends meet in Cuba, as they are no longer able to receive money from relatives in Gaza.
Ambassador Samhan said he has launched a drive for donations among Palestinian groups in the United States and elsewhere to help support the students.
Mohammed Refat Almassri, 26, who has lost an uncle and eight cousins in the war, is in his final year of studies and torn over what to do next.
His father is an ambulance driver in the Gaza Strip and he knows there is “an urgent need for doctors,” but cannot afford a flight back home.

Putin says North Korea hosted children of soldiers killed in Ukraine

Putin says North Korea hosted children of soldiers killed in Ukraine
Updated 19 June 2024
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Putin says North Korea hosted children of soldiers killed in Ukraine

Putin says North Korea hosted children of soldiers killed in Ukraine
  • Putin thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the “act of care“
  • The Russian children, who were sent to the Songdowon International Children’s Camp on the Pacific coast, are rare outsiders in the country

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said North Korea had hosted children of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine at a summer camp in the reclusive country.
Putin thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the “act of care” during a state visit to Pyongyang to advance Russia’s relations with its closed neighbor as ties with Western countries are ruptured over Ukraine.
The Russian children, who were sent to the Songdowon International Children’s Camp on the Pacific coast, are rare outsiders in the country which shut itself off from the world even more after the Covid pandemic.
“I want to thank our Korean friends and personally comrade Kim Jong Un for organizing the holiday of the children of killed participants of the special military operation in the Korean camp Songdowon,” Putin said, using Moscow’s term for its offensive on Ukraine.
“We highly value this genuine act of care and friendship,” he added.
Moscow has not said how many of its troops have been killed in more than two years of fighting in Ukraine, but the number is believed to be at least in the tens of thousands.
Putin said that the countries were developing tourism ties.
“For the summer season, tours are being organized, focused on holidaying in Korean seaside resorts,” he said.
Russia and North Korea share a short land border, near the city of Vladivostok.
As Moscow touts relations with Pyongyang, regional authorities in the Russian Primorye region bordering North Korea have also upped cooperation.
Local governor Oleg Kozhemyako touted sending children from the region to North Korean camps during a visit by Kim to Russia’s Far East last year, causing some alarm from parents.
In an address to schoolchildren, Kozhemyako said: “When we were like you, we would go there, they had good camps in Korea. That’s why maybe we will agree and send some (children) to pioneer camps... There is the sea there and it is warm.”
In April, he said some 200 school children were ready to holiday in Songdowon.
At the time, the head of the Russian League for a Safe Internet, Yekaterina Mizulina, said she was flooded with complaints from concerned local parents.


India launches new campus at site of ancient Nalanda university

India launches new campus at site of ancient Nalanda university
Updated 19 June 2024
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India launches new campus at site of ancient Nalanda university

India launches new campus at site of ancient Nalanda university
  • Ancient Nalanda university was founded in 427 CE during Gupta empire
  • Present-day Nalanda University is a flagship project of India’s government

NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated on Monday a new campus of Nalanda University, an institution located at the site of a 5th-century learning center considered the world’s first residential university.

The ancient Nalanda university in the state of Bihar was founded in 427 CE during the Gupta empire and flourished for more than seven centuries. Its archaeological remains became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016.

The present-day Nalanda University was established in Nalanda district as a public research university by an act of the Indian Parliament in 2010. A flagship project of the Ministry of External Affairs of the government of India, it was proposed by India’s former president A.P. J. Abdul Kalam and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who served as its first chancellor.

Supported by 18 member countries of the East Asia Summit, Nalanda University’s first batch comprised a dozen students enrolled in graduate and postgraduate courses in 2014. The construction of its new campus started in 2017. It was announced as a “net zero green campus,” with solar panels and water treatment and recycling plants.

“It’s a very special day for our education sector,” Modi said during the inauguration ceremony attended by Bihar Governor Rajendra Arlekar, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, and foreign ambassadors.

“Nalanda has a strong connect with our glorious past. This university will surely go a long way in catering to the educational needs of the youth.”

India’s PM Narendra Modi, top officials and foreign diplomats participate in the inauguration of Nalanda University’s new campus in Bihar, June 19, 2024. (PM’s Office)

The ancient Nalanda, whose complex spread over an area of 23 hectares, attracted thousands of students arriving from China, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka and Tibet to learn medicine, logic, mathematics and Buddhist teachings. It also sent some its best professors to propagate Buddhist philosophy in learning centers across Asia.

“Ancient Nalanda had come up in the 5th century CE and this used to be one of the prime institutions of not only Asia but of the world, because it was the first residential university of the world,” Nalanda University Vice-Chancellor Prof. Abhay Kumar Singh told Arab News.

“The new university is situated at the same place where you have the ancient campus ... Lots of authentic literature on philosophy was produced. Not only philosophy. Sanskrit, grammar, Ayurveda, metallurgic arts, cosmology, astrology and astronomy — all these things were studied here.”

There are conflicting reports on who destroyed the ancient campus. Some Indian historians believe that it was the Turko-Afghan military general Bakhtiyar Khilji during his conquest of northern India, while many Buddhist sources blame local Hindu Brahmins who they say were jealous of Buddhist dominance at that time.

What is undisputed is that when Nalanda was burnt down in the 12th century, most of its scholars fled to Tibet, and exchanges with other Asian learning centers stopped.

“They lost their source of knowledge. These interactions ended 800 years ago ... In 2006, former president Abdul Kalam suggested that we should have ancient Nalanda rejuvenated again. At the same time there was an East Asia Summit. Member countries also suggested that we want the same Nalanda to be revived and we would support the Indian government to establish the center,” Singh said.

“The university was established and 2014 was the first batch of students, just 10 or 12 ... Now we have students from 26 countries. Although the number is not high, the representation of all these countries is here. It’s truly an international university.”

In the past semester, the university had 170 foreign and 50 Indian students enrolled in world peace, Buddhism, comparative religion, philosophy, literature and management courses.

Soon it will be ready to receive more students at the new complex, which has two academic blocks with 40 classrooms and total seating for about 1,900.

“Earlier we were functioning from temporary facilities. This campus has the capacity to accommodate about 7,000 to 8,000 people — both teaching and non-teaching staff combined,” Singh said.

“We initially planned to have more than 2,000 students and for this we need more courses. Right now, we have six master’s degrees and every course takes 40 students. We are now adding more master courses and more students will join.”


Academic blasts Swedish PM after missing out on prisoner swap

Academic blasts Swedish PM after missing out on prisoner swap
Updated 19 June 2024
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Academic blasts Swedish PM after missing out on prisoner swap

Academic blasts Swedish PM after missing out on prisoner swap
  • “Mr. Prime Minister, you decided to leave me behind under huge risk of being executed” Djalali said in an audio recording
  • “I talk to you from Evin prison, inside a horrible cave where I have spent eight years, two months, almost 3,000 days of my life“

STOCKHOLM: Iranian-Swedish Ahmadreza Djalali, an academic who has been on death row in Iran for eight years, attacked Sweden’s prime minister after being excluded from a prisoner swap, in an audio recording obtained by AFP Wednesday.
Two Swedes were released on Saturday in exchange for Hamid Noury, a 63-year-old Iranian former prisons official handed a life sentence in Sweden in 2022 for his role in mass killings in Iranian jails in 1988.
The two Swedes were EU diplomat Johan Floderus, held in Iran since April 2022 accused of espionage, and Iranian-Swede Saeed Azizi, arrested in November.
But Djalali, on death row in Iran since 2017 after having been convicted of espionage, missed out on the swap.
“Mr. Prime Minister, you decided to leave me behind under huge risk of being executed” Jalali said in an audio recording shared with AFP by his wife Vida Mehrannia.
“I talk to you from Evin prison, inside a horrible cave where I have spent eight years, two months, almost 3,000 days of my life,” Djalali said.
Directing his message to Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Djalali asked: “Why not me?“
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom has stressed that Stockholm tried to secure his release, but Tehran refused to discuss his case as it does not recognize dual nationality.
He was granted Swedish citizenship while in jail in Iran.
“It’s just excuses,” Mehrannia told AFP. Her husband’s release “wasn’t important to them, they didn’t want to challenge Iran,” she added.
“I’m so angry, I’m at a loss for words.”
In his message, Djalali dared Kristersson to meet his son and family in front of tv cameras and tell him “why you left his father behind.
“My son was four when I was detained and he is now 12 and a half years old. He spent two thirds of his life without a father,” Djalali said, noting his son had been born in Sweden and grown up among Swedish children.
As a result of the publishing of the recording, Djalali had been denied making calls to Sweden, Mehrannia told AFP.
“But I think it was worth it,” she said. “It was important.”
Amnesty International has called on Sweden’s government to “do everything” to ensure Djalali can return.


Indonesians top global intake of microplastics, new study shows

A man looks through plastic and other debris washed ashore at Kedonganan Beach near Denpasar on Bali.
A man looks through plastic and other debris washed ashore at Kedonganan Beach near Denpasar on Bali.
Updated 19 June 2024
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Indonesians top global intake of microplastics, new study shows

A man looks through plastic and other debris washed ashore at Kedonganan Beach near Denpasar on Bali.
  • Southeast Asia’s largest economy is second-largest ocean plastic polluter after China
  • No report on illnesses related to microplastics so far, Health Ministry says

JAKARTA: Indonesians are the top global consumers of microplastics, a recent Cornell University study shows, estimating that they ingest about 15 grams of plastic particles per month.

The study, published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, mapped microplastic uptake in 109 countries and found that people in Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, are the top consumers of microplastics worldwide.

Indonesians topped the list as they consume the equivalent of three credit cards in microplastics every month, the majority from fish and seafood. Using existing data models, Cornell researchers said that Indonesians’ daily consumption of plastic particles increased by 59 times from 1990 to 2018.

“This latest finding adds to the long list of the alarming dangers of plastic pollution in Indonesia … the existence of microplastics cannot be separated from the massive production of plastics,” Afifah Rahmi Andini, plastic lead researcher at Greenpeace Indonesia, told Arab News.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is the second-largest ocean plastic polluter, just behind China, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Science.

Despite being a major producer and consumer of plastics, Southeast Asia’s largest economy still lags behind when it comes to waste management.

“Our waste management capacity is still far from ideal. Our recycling capacity alone is less than 10 percent of the total plastic waste we produce. So, it’s not that surprising if right now we have to face the bitter truth that Indonesians are at the highest risk of being exposed to microplastics,” Andini said.

Over the years, the Indonesian government has designed various regulations to address the issue of plastic pollution, including a national action plan that aims to reduce marine plastic debris by 70 percent by 2025, which covers strategies for waste reduction, improving waste management infrastructure and public education campaigns.

Major regions, including the capital Jakarta and the popular holiday destination Bali, have also introduced bans on single-use plastics.

“But the existing regulations are not ideal enough to address the issue of microplastic contamination … we must adapt, because it’s now a fact that microplastics are part of our environment and our bodies that we can no longer avoid,” Andini said.

The Cornell study also built on earlier research exploring the presence of plastic particles in fish in Jakarta, crabs in Central Java and chicken eggs in East Java.

“Unfortunately, up to now, Indonesia has yet to include microplastics as a parameter into our food and environmental quality standards.”

The Indonesian Ministry of Health has yet to receive a report on clinical illnesses related to microplastics, but the Cornell study serves as “useful information,” its environmental health director, Dr. Anas Ma’ruf, told Arab News.

“Though it needs to be studied further, it can still serve as information on how health risks caused by microplastics require attention,” he said.

“As Indonesia is the largest maritime country and a main producer of microplastics in the world … public education campaigns must be increased.”