China eyes security pact in Pacific Island summit

This handout photo taken by the Pacific Islands Forum on May 29, 2022 shows Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Henry Puna (R) holding a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (2nd L) in Fiji's capital city of Suva. (AFP)
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Updated 30 May 2022
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China eyes security pact in Pacific Island summit

  • The virtual summit is expected to discuss leaked proposals for China to radically increase its involvement in the security, economy and politics of the South Pacific

SUVA, Fiji: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi holds talks with leaders and top officials from ten Pacific Island states Monday, part of a regional diplomatic blitz that has stirred deep Western concern.
The virtual summit is expected to discuss leaked proposals for China to radically increase its involvement in the security, economy and politics of the South Pacific.
Wang is in the Fijian capital Suva, where he will co-host a virtual meeting with regional foreign ministers — many of whom are also leaders of the small island states.
On the table is a secret deal — obtained by AFP — that would see China train local police, become involved in cybersecurity, expand political ties, conduct sensitive marine mapping and gain greater access to natural resources on land and in the water.
As an enticement, Beijing is offering millions of dollars in financial assistance, the prospect of a China-Pacific Islands free trade agreement and access to China’s vast market of 1.4 billion people.
Only Pacific nations that recognize China over Taiwan will attend today’s summit, including those Wang has already visited on his regional whistle-stop — Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji.
The proposal comes as Beijing jostles with Washington and its allies over influence in the strategically vital Pacific.
Analysts say the deal is unlikely to be unanimously approved by Pacific Island leaders today.
A recent security deal between the Solomon Islands and China caused deep unease in a region that is usually more concerned by climate change than superpower politics.
“The Solomons came off as an outlier, there wasn’t a rush of interest,” said Richard Herr, an academic at the University of Tasmania who has decades of experience working in the Pacific Islands.
The region will be hesitant about “being dragged into geostrategic competition,” he said.
There has already been some pushback to Beijing’s latest proposal, including from the President of the Federated States of Micronesia, David Panuelo, who warned other Pacific leaders it could cause “the fracturing of regional peace, security, and stability.”
The president of Palau, a Pacific nation that maintains diplomatic ties with Taiwan, told the ABC Monday that the region “should be concerned” about the proposed deals.
Western powers have bristled against the deals, with the US State Department warning the Pacific to be wary of “shadowy, vague deals with little transparency” with China.
Australia joined the United States in urging South Pacific nations to spurn China’s attempts to expand its security reach deep into the region, with the country’s new foreign minister warning of the “consequences” of such deals.
But many Pacific nations are also keen to maintain amicable ties with China, balancing relations between Beijing and Washington or playing each off against the other.
So it is far from clear what Pacific Island leaders will tell Wang Monday or in a series of closed-door meetings around the South Pacific.
“It’s hard to believe that the Chinese foreign minister will come to the region and be told to go home,” said Herr.
“It could be an embarrassment. Every Chinese diplomat in the region will be working on that.”
Wang said Sunday that Beijing was willing to work with other major powers in the Pacific region to help island nations develop.
“China is willing to carry out more tripartite cooperation with other countries, especially countries with traditional influence in the region,” he said when he met with Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna.
He described his Pacific tour as “a trip of peace, friendship and cooperation,” according to a statement by the Chinese foreign ministry.
Wang is expected to remain in Fiji’s capital until at least Tuesday, meeting with the country’s leaders and hosting the second China-Pacific Island Countries Foreign Ministers’ meeting.
The Chinese foreign minister will visit Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Tonga — just months after the island nation was devastated by a deadly earthquake and tsunami — to round out his tour.


India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

Updated 7 sec ago
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India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

NEW DELHI: India’s top court ruled on Monday that restaurants cannot be forced to display the names of their owners, suspending police orders in two northern states that critics had said could foment discrimination against Muslims.
Police in the two states, both ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party, gave oral orders in at least two districts requiring restaurants to put the names of their owners on display boards.
Police said this would help avoid disputes for thousands of Hindu pilgrims who travel on foot to sacred sites during a holy month, many of whom follow dietary restrictions, such as eating no meat during their journey.
But a Supreme Court bench ruled on Monday that while restaurants could be expected to state the type of food they serve, including whether it is vegetarian, they “must not be forced” to display the name and identities of owners.
The court suspended orders by police in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states and issued a notice to them seeking their response on petitions challenging the move.
More than a third of India’s 1.4 billion people are estimated to be vegetarian — the world’s largest percentage of people who don’t eat meat or eggs — as they follow diets promoted by groups within Hinduism and other religions.
Some vegetarians choose not to eat in restaurants that also serve meat and don’t rent out houses to meat-eating tenants.
A few allies of Modi and leaders of opposition parties had criticized the police orders, saying they feared they would deepen the communal divide and lead to Hindus avoiding restaurants employing Muslims.
Political foes accuse Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of targeting India’s roughly 200 million minority Muslims for electoral gains, which Modi and the BJP both deny.
“Such orders are social crimes, which want to spoil the peaceful atmosphere of harmony,” opposition Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav had said in a post on X, criticizing the police moves.


China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

Updated 19 min 51 sec ago
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China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

  • Crucial deal reached after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila
  • Beijing has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea

MANILA: China and the Philippines reached a deal they hope will end confrontations at the most fiercely disputed shoal in the South China Sea, the Philippine government said Sunday.
The Philippines occupies Second Thomas Shoal but China also claims it, and increasingly hostile clashes at sea have sparked fears of larger conflicts that could involve the United States.
The crucial deal was reached Sunday, after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila and exchanges of diplomatic notes that aimed to establish a mutually acceptable arrangement at the shoal, which Filipinos call Ayungin and the Chinese call Ren’ai Jiao, without conceding either side’s territorial claims.
Two Philippine officials, who had knowledge of the negotiations, confirmed the deal to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity and the government later issued a brief statement announcing the deal without providing details.
“Both sides continue to recognize the need to deescalate the situation in the South China Sea and manage differences through dialogue and consultation and agree that the agreement will not prejudice each other’s positions in the South China Sea,” the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced shortly after midnight Sunday that they discussed with the Philippines “managing the situation at Ren’ai Jiao and reached provisional arrangement with the Philippines on humanitarian resupply of living necessities.”
Neither side released the text of the agreement.
China has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea. The rare deal with the Philippines could spark hope that similar arrangements could be forged by Beijing with other countries to avoid clashes while thorny territorial issues remain unresolved. It remains to be seen, however, if the deal could be implemented successfully and how long it will last.
Chinese coast guard and other forces have used powerful water cannons and dangerous blocking maneuvers to prevent food and other supplies from reaching Filipino navy personnel at Manila’s outpost at the shoal, on a long-grounded and rusting warship, the BRP Sierra Madre.
The yearslong territorial standoff has flared repeatedly since last year.
In the worst confrontation, Chinese forces on motorboats repeatedly rammed and then boarded two Philippine navy boats on June 17 to prevent Filipino personnel from transferring food and other supplies including firearms to the ship outpost in the shallows of the shoal, according to the Philippine government.
The Chinese seized the Philippine navy boats and damaged them with machetes and improvised spears. They also seized seven M4 rifles, which were packed in cases, and other supplies. The violent faceoff wounded several Filipino navy personnel, including one who lost his thumb, in a chaotic skirmish that was captured in video and photos that were later made public by Philippine officials.
China and the Philippines blamed each other for the confrontation and each asserted their own sovereign rights over the shoal.
The United States and its key Asian and Western allies, including Japan and Australia, condemned the Chinese acts at the shoal and called for the rule of law and freedom of navigation to be upheld in the South China Sea, a key global trade route with rich fishing areas and undersea gas deposits.
In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have been locked in separate but increasingly tense territorial disputes in the waterway, which is regarded as a potential flashpoint and a delicate fault line in the US-China regional rivalry. The US military has deployed Navy ships and fighter jets for decades in what it calls freedom of navigation and overflight patrols, which China has opposed and regards as a threat to regional stability.
Washington has no territorial claims in the disputed waters but has repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.
One of the two Philippine officials said the June 17 confrontation prompted Beijing and Manila to hasten on-and-off talks on an arrangement that would prevent confrontations at Second Thomas Shoal.
During final meetings in the last four days, two Chinese demands that had been key sticking points were removed from the draft deal.
China had previously said it would allow food, water and other basic supplies to be transported by the Philippines to its forces at the shoal if Manila agreed not to bring construction materials to fortify the crumbling ship and to give China advance notice and the right to inspect the ships for those materials, the officials said.
The Philippines rejected those conditions, and the final deal did not include them, according to the Philippine officials.


France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

Updated 25 min 47 sec ago
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France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

PARIS: Israeli athletes are welcome at the Paris Olympics, French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Monday, after a hard-left member of the French parliament sparked outrage by urging them to stay away.
“The Israeli delegation is welcome in France,” Sejourne said in Brussels ahead of talks with his Israeli counterpart, adding that the call by France Unbowed (LFI) lawmaker Thomas Portes for the country’s exclusion had been “irresponsible and dangerous.”
“We will ensure the security of the delegation,” Sejourne added.
Portes drew ire from French Jewish groups and both political opponents and allies for saying Israeli athletes were “not welcome” and calling for “mobilization” around the Olympics, during a demonstration in support of Palestinians.
He later told the Parisien newspaper that “France’s diplomats should pressure the International Olympic Committee to bar the Israeli flag and anthem, as is done for Russia” over its invasion of Ukraine.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the comments had “hints of anti-Semitism” while the head of the Crif Jewish organization Yonathan Arfi said he was “putting a target on the backs” of Israeli athletes.
Portes’ remarks were condemned at the weekend by some allies from the more moderate Socialists, but backed by others in LFI.


Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat

Updated 36 min 24 sec ago
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Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat

  • The five-day war games will be happening in conjunction with the Wan’an civil defense drills
  • China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control
TAMSUI/TAOYUAN, Taiwan: Taiwan carried out anti-landing drills on a strategic river on Monday at the start of the annual Han Kuang war games, which this year aim to be as close as possible to actual combat with no script and simulating how to repel a Chinese attack.
China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its territory, has been staging regular exercises around the island for four years to pressure Taipei to accept Beijing’s claim of sovereignty, despite Taiwan’s strong objections.
Taiwan’s drills this year have canceled elements that were mostly for show, like scripted firepower displays, while there will be intensified nighttime exercises and practicing how to operate with severed command lines.
Kicking off the first day of exercises in Tamsui at the mouth of a major river leading to Taipei, soldiers practiced laying mines and nets to stymie the landing of enemy forces, part of a series of drills designed to prevent the capital being seized.
“We are trying our best to slow them down as much as possible,” military office Chang Chih-pin told reporters, referring to a scenario where the enemy was trying to make landfall by sending rubber boats into the Tamsui River.
“The slower they move, the better for us,” he added.
Earlier on Monday in nearby Taoyuan, outside of Taipei and home to Taiwan’s main international airport, reservists gathered to get their orders as they would during a war, and civilian vans were pressed into service to carry supplies.
On Thursday, Taoyuan airport will close for an hour in the morning for the drills, though a typhoon is expected to be impacting the island that day meaning that the exercise could be delayed.
Taiwan’s defense ministry also published video of air force fighter jets at the Hualien air base on the island’s east coast, which has hangars cut out of the side of a mountain to protect aircraft from aerial attack.
Live fire drills will only take place on Taiwan’s outlying islands, including Kinmen and Matsu which sit nestled next to the Chinese coast and were the scene of on-off clashes during the height of the Cold War.
The five-day war games will be happening in conjunction with the Wan’an civil defense drills, where the streets of major cities are evacuated for half an hour during a simulated Chinese missile attack, and test warning alarms will sound on mobile phones.
The drill scenarios this week include setting up contingency command lines after existing hubs are destroyed and dispersing Chinese forces trying to land on Taiwan’s western coastline facing China, a defense official involved in the planning said.
China held two days of its own war games around the island shortly after President Lai Ching-te took office in May, saying it was “punishment” for his inauguration speech, which Beijing denounced as being full of separatist content.
But China has also been using grey zone warfare against Taiwan, wielding irregular tactics to exhaust a foe by keeping them continually on alert without resorting to open combat. This includes almost daily air force missions into the skies near Taiwan.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. Lai, who says only the Taiwanese people can decide their future, has repeatedly offered talks but been rebuffed.

Headquarters of Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan’s party raided

Updated 22 July 2024
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Headquarters of Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan’s party raided

KARACHI: Pakistan police raided the headquarters of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s party on Monday, a week after the military-backed government vowed to ban the political movement.
An AFP journalist at the scene saw the headquarters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) sealed off by police, who led a number of party workers into waiting vans.
Pakistani media initially reported party chairman Gohar Ali Khan, a barrister, was among those taken away.
However, an official at Islamabad Police, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told AFP that they had not arrested him.
The official confirmed the arrest of Raoof Hassan, a founding member of the party and head of its press department.
“Raoof Hasan was arrested but the police did not arrest Gohar Ali Khan,” the police official said.
The government’s information minister said last week it would ban Khan’s PTI, just days after the Supreme Court made a crucial ruling in the party’s favor that dealt a huge blow to the government.
Candidates loyal to Khan won the most seats in February elections but were kept from power by an alliance of usually feuding parties, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, with the key backing of the powerful military.