Asia-Pacific leaders tackle trade, sustainability in Bangkok

Leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will meet formally in closed-door sessions Friday and Saturday. (File/AP)
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Updated 17 November 2022
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Asia-Pacific leaders tackle trade, sustainability in Bangkok

  • APEC’s official mission is to promote regional economic integration
  • A small but noisy group of protesters scuffled briefly with police demanding to deliver a letter to leaders attending the summit

BANGKOK: The war in Ukraine, great power rivalry Asia, inflation and food and energy shortages are on the agenda as leaders prepare for the third back-to-back gathering this week, a Pacific-Rim summit taking place in a heavily guarded venue in Thailand’s capital.
Leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will meet formally in closed-door sessions Friday and Saturday. For some, it will be at least the third such opportunity for face-to-face talks in the past two weeks. However, US Vice President Kamala Harris is attending instead of President Joe Biden, who will be hosting his granddaughter’s wedding at the White House.
APEC’s official mission is to promote regional economic integration. Most of the business conducted happens on the summit’s sidelines in meetings such as a planned meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
The two Asian powers have a history of tense relations, a legacy of Japan’s World War II aggression compounded by territorial disputes and China’s growing military might. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mao Ning, said the encounter would “carry great importance.”
Xi, Harris and French President Emmanuel Macron will also speak at a business conference held just ahead of the summit meetings that is mostly closed to media apart from outlets sponsoring the event.
The APEC meetings are being held in downtown Bangkok’s main convention center, which is cordoned off with some streets in the area completely closed to all traffic. Rows of riot police stood guard behind barbed wired barricades at a major intersection nearby, underscoring host Thailand’s determination to ensure the summit suffers no disruptions.
A small but noisy group of protesters scuffled briefly with police demanding to deliver a letter to leaders attending the summit. The demonstrators back various causes including demanding the removal of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and abolition of Thailand’s strict royal defamation laws.
In recent years, Bangkok has seen a wave of large-scale protests aimed both at the government and at the powerful monarchy, though they have faded under the pressures of the pandemic and targeted arrests of key figures.
Before the summit, Thai officials said they were hoping to steer APEC toward long-term solutions in various areas, including climate change, economic disruptions and faltering recoveries from the pandemic.
“The APEC meeting this year takes place amidst a dual jeopardy. We need not be reminded of the severe security conflicts that know not what victory looks like. Meanwhile, the world is staring at the hyper inflation married to recession, a broken supply chain and scarcity and climate calamities,” Don Pramudwinai, Thailand’s foreign minister said in opening a meeting of foreign ministers and commerce ministers who were working on draft statements due to be issued after the summit.
Apparently alluding to Russia and recent condemnation of its war on Ukraine, he also said there was a growing “cancel mentality” that makes “any compromise appear impossible.”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a tweet after the morning meeting that the ministers had “reaffirmed the need to work together to promote balanced, inclusive, and sustainable growth in the Asia Pacific region.”
APEC members account for nearly four of every 10 people and almost half of world trade.
“What we are going to do is to have all economies agree on a set of targets ... climate change mitigation, sustainable trade and investment, environmental resource conservation and, of course, waste management,” said Cherdchai Chaivaivid, director-general of Thailand’s Department of International Economic Affairs.
APEC’s official mission is to promote regional economic integration, which means setting guidelines for long-term development of a free trade area. Most of its work is technical and incremental, carried out by senior officials and ministers, covering areas such as trade, tourism, forestry, health, food, security, small and medium-size enterprises and women’s empowerment.
Leaders from the 21 economies on both sides of the Pacific Ocean often take the opportunity to conduct bilateral talks and discuss side deals. The Latin American contingent comes from Chile, Mexico and Peru. Other members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has been avoiding international forums where he would be showered with criticism over the invasion of Ukraine and will not attend.
That leaves Chinese leader Xi as the star attendee in Bangkok, where he also is making an official visit to Thailand just after obtaining a rare third term as top leader at a once-in-five years Communist Party congress.
Biden is giving ground to China in the competition for friends and influence in Southeast Asia by skipping the APEC meetings. But US officials say Washington has demonstrated its seriousness in relations with the region through frequent visits by Cabinet members including Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and other key senior officials.
As host, Thailand invited three special guests to the meeting: the French president Macron; Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the prime minister of Saudi Arabia, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was to represent the Association of Southeast Asian Nations but will not attend after getting COVID-19.
For Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the most welcome visitor may well be the Saudi leader, whose visit may help restore friendly relations they soured due to a theft of Saudi royal jewelry in 1989 and unsolved murders of Saudi diplomats in Bangkok.
The war in Ukraine is a challenge for APEC’s consensus-oriented efforts. None of the earlier APEC meetings this year issued statements due to disagreements over whether to mention the conflict.
Like Indonesia, which hosted the Group of 20 summit in Bali this week, and Cambodia, which hosted the ASEAN meetings, Thai officials have put the best possible face on the situation, contending that agreement on other points will allow APEC to move forward regardless.
Skeptics doubt the meeting will accomplish much.
“This APEC is only a photo opportunity for leaders. Its agenda has drawn much less attention than the ASEAN summit and G-20,” Virot Ali, a political scientist at Thailand’s Thammasat University, told The Associated Press.
“I don’t think we will see any progress from APEC. The current geopolitics, trade war, COVID-19, and Russia-Ukraine war are the issues that people are paying more attention to and feeling more impact from,” he said.


UK minister accused of ‘witch hunt’ against pro-Palestine movement

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UK minister accused of ‘witch hunt’ against pro-Palestine movement

  • Michael Gove: University encampments represent ‘antisemitism repurposed for Instagram age’
  • Palestine Solidarity Campaign: Britain ‘complicit’ in ‘genocide in Gaza’

LONDON: The UK’s secretary of state for leveling up, housing and communities has been accused of conducting a “witch hunt” after accusing pro-Palestinian demonstrators of antisemitism.
Political parties and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign condemned Michael Gove, with the Revolutionary Communist Party calling his accusations an attempt to distract from the Conservatives’ “support for genocide” in Gaza.
The Socialist Workers Party said he is conducting a “witch hunt (against) the Palestine solidarity movement.”
Gove announced plans to make protest organizers foot the cost of policing at pro-Palestinian demonstrations, saying they are not doing enough to stop some attendees spreading anti-Jewish messages.
“Many of those on these marches are thoughtful, gentle, compassionate people — driven by a desire for peace and an end to suffering. But they are side by side with those who are promoting hate,” he added.
“The organizers of these marches could do everything in their power to stop that. They don’t.”
Gove also said pro-Palestinian university encampments across the UK represent “antisemitism repurposed for the Instagram age,” and their presence has facilitated hostility against Jewish students on campuses.
Ben Jamal, PSC director, said in a statement: “Apologists for Israel’s genocidal violence and system of apartheid have lost the democratic and legal arguments, but continue to attempt to delegitimize Palestinian solidarity. They will not succeed.
“At a moment when Israel is on trial in the world’s highest court for the crime of genocide and the day after its Prime Minister has been threatened with ICC (International Criminal Court) arrest warrants for war crimes, it is grotesque that these smears continue.
“The real issues are that the UK government continues to arm Israel, refuses to resume funding to UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees), and is attempting to protect Israel from legal accountability.
“Far from stopping the genocide in Gaza as required under international law, the UK is complicit.”


NGOs seek climate trial of French oil giant TotalEnergies

Updated 21 May 2024
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NGOs seek climate trial of French oil giant TotalEnergies

  • The complaint was filed at Paris judicial court days before TotalEnergies holds annual shareholders meeting
  • The offenses carry prison sentences ranging between one year to five years and fines of as much as $163,000

PARIS: NGOs filed a criminal complaint against French oil giant TotalEnergies and its top shareholders in Paris on Tuesday, seeking a trial for involuntary manslaughter and other consequences of climate change “chaos.”
The case targets the company’s board, including chief executive Patrick Pouyanne, and major shareholders that backed its climate strategy, including US investment firm BlackRock and Norway’s central bank, Norges Bank.
In a statement, the three NGOs and eight individuals said they accused the group of “deliberately endangering the lives of others, involuntary manslaughter, neglecting to address a disaster, and damaging biodiversity.”
The complaint was filed at the Paris judicial court, which has environmental and health departments, three days before TotalEnergies holds its annual shareholders meeting.
The prosecutor now has three months to decide whether to open a judicial investigation, the NGOs said. If it does not go ahead, the plaintiffs can take their case directly before an investigative judge.
The offenses carry prison sentences ranging between one year to five years and fines of as much as 150,000 euros ($163,000).
“This legal action could set a precedent in the history of climate litigation as it opens the way to holding fossil fuel producers and shareholders responsible before criminal courts for the chaos caused by climate change,” the NGOs said.
The plaintiffs include “victims or survivors of climate-related disasters” in Australia, Belgium, France, Greece, Pakistan, the Philippines and Zimbabwe.
TotalEnergies did not immediately return a request for comment.
Oil and gas companies, other corporations and governments are facing a growing number of legal cases related to the climate crisis worldwide.
TotalEnergies is facing other legal cases in France related to climate change.
Outside the Paris judicial court, the NGOs held a banner reading “climate change kills” and “let’s put shareholders behind bars” — with the “share” in shareholders crossed out and replaced by the “death.”
The latest complaint aims to “recognize the deadly consequences of their decisions, their stubbornness in voting for fossil projects which threaten the stability of the climate and therefore of all living things,” Claire Nouvian, founding director of conservation group Bloom, said at a news conference.
Fossil fuels — oil, gas and coal — are the biggest contributors to heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the plaintiffs in the Paris case is Benjamin Van Bunderen Robberechts, a 17-year-old Belgian whose friend Rosa died in flash floods in Belgium at the age of 15 in 2021.
In Paris to file the complaint, he said he had come to “demand justice” against those “who choose profit over human lives and climate.”
In their statement, the plaintiffs said “TotalEnergies has known the direct link between its activities and climate change” since at least 1971.
“TotalEnergies followed a climate skeptic line in order to waste time, delay decision-making and protect its increasing investments in fossil fuels,” they added.
They said they hope to set a legal precedent “whereby opening new fossil fuel projects would be considered criminal.”
While the case was filed on Tuesday, TotalEnergies announced a deepwater project off the coast of Angola, with production set to start in 2028 to extract 70,000 barrels per day.


Gunmen kill around 40 people in attack in northcentral Nigeria: official

Updated 21 May 2024
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Gunmen kill around 40 people in attack in northcentral Nigeria: official

  • Armed men invaded Zurak community, shooting sporadically and torching houses
  • Local youth leader Shafi’i Sambo also said at least 42 people had been killed in the raid

LAGOS: Gunmen riding motorbikes killed around 40 people in a raid on a mining community in northcentral Nigeria, opening fire on residents and torching homes, the local government said on Tuesday.
The attack late on Monday on Wase district in Plateau state was the latest violence in an area which has long been a flashpoint for disputes over resources and for outbreaks of intercommunal clashes.
Armed men invaded Zurak community, shooting sporadically and torching houses, Plateau state commissioner for information Musa Ibrahim Ashoms told AFP by telephone.
“As we speak, about 40 people have been confirmed dead. Zurak is a popular mining community,” he said.
Local youth leader Shafi’i Sambo also said at least 42 people had been killed in the raid.
Wase has deposits of zinc and lead, while Plateau as a whole is known for its tin mining industry.
Sitting on the dividing line between Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north and predominantly Christian south, Plateau often sees outbreaks of violence sparked by disputes between nomadic herders and pastoral farmers.
Climate change has also helped escalate tensions over grazing land, water access and other resources such as the state’s metal reserves.
Parts of northwest and northcentral Nigeria have also been terrorized by heavily armed criminal gangs, who raid villages to loot and carry out mass kidnappings for ransom.
In January, intercommunal clashes erupted in Plateau’s Mangu town that left churches and mosques burned, more than 50 people dead and thousands displaced.


Over 3,000 Ukrainian inmates seek to join military

Updated 21 May 2024
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Over 3,000 Ukrainian inmates seek to join military

  • Ukraine is suffering critical ammunition and manpower shortages on the battlefield
  • “We predicted this before the adoption of this law,” Deputy Minister of Justice Olena Vysotska said

KYIV: Thousands of Ukrainian inmates are seeking to join the military, Kyiv said Tuesday, following a decision by lawmakers enabling some categories of prisoners to join the armed forces.
The move echoes a policy in Russia, where tens of thousands of prisoners have been sent to Ukraine with the promise of amnesty and were killed in gruelling battles that produced few gains.
Ukraine is suffering critical ammunition and manpower shortages on the battlefield that have allowed Russian forces to advance on the eastern and northern front lines.
“This is more than 3,000 people. We predicted this before the adoption of this law,” Deputy Minister of Justice Olena Vysotska said, referring to the number of prisoners who have submitted applications to join the military.
She said authorities had identified 20,000 eligible prisoners and that of them, 4,500 had “expressed interest” in joining. She added that the figure was likely to fluctuate.
Only prisoners with fewer than three years left on their sentence can apply. Mobilized prisoners are granted parole rather than a pardon.
Among those not eligible to serve include those found guilty of sexual violence, killing two or more people, serious corruption and former high-ranking officials.
Russia has recruited prisoners to serve on the front lines since the first days of its invasion, initially offering presidential pardons for six months’ service.


EU states push for June start to Ukraine membership talks

Updated 21 May 2024
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EU states push for June start to Ukraine membership talks

  • To actually begin the negotiations the bloc’s member states still have to sign off on a formal framework for the process
  • At a meeting in Brussels, France’s EU affairs minister Jean-Noel Barrot called for “the effective opening of negotiations“

BRUSSELS: Several EU countries on Tuesday called for the bloc to start membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova in June, but Hungary threatened to throw a spanner in the works.
The 27-nation EU took the landmark step in December of agreeing to open talks on its war-torn neighbor — and fellow ex-Soviet state Moldova — joining the club.
But to actually begin the negotiations the bloc’s member states still have to sign off on a formal framework for the process, proposed in March by Brussels.
At a meeting in Brussels, France’s EU affairs minister Jean-Noel Barrot called for “the effective opening of negotiations” before Belgium’s rotating presidency concludes at the end of June.
That statement was echoed by other ministers — including from Ireland and Sweden.
The push to move Ukraine onto the next step in its quest for EU membership comes amid fears that Hungary, the friendliest country with Moscow in the bloc, could stall progress when it takes over the presidency after Belgium.
Budapest has been hostile to Kyiv’s bid to join, arguing that Ukraine is getting pushed ahead in the queue without meeting the required criteria.
“There can be no exception on the basis of political or ideological considerations,” Hungarian minister Zoltan Kovacs said.
“There is very little, if any, progress. Again, I can repeat to you that membership, approval should be a merit based process. No exceptions.”
Another possible hurdle could come from a new right-wing government being formed in The Netherlands opposed to any new enlargement of the bloc.
Ukraine applied to join the EU shortly after Russia launched all-out invasion in February 2022.
Starting the negotiations would put Ukraine still only at the start of what is likely to be a years-long process of reforms before it can finally become a member.