Blinken warns China’s Wang Yi against aiding Russia in Ukraine

Top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi described the US’s behavior in downing a balloon with a missile as ‘unbelievable, almost hysterical.’ (AFP)
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Updated 19 February 2023
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Blinken warns China’s Wang Yi against aiding Russia in Ukraine

  • Top diplomats meet at an undisclosed location on the sidelines of a global security conference in Munich
  • United States very concerned that China is considering providing lethal support to Russia

MUNICH: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday warned top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi of consequences should China provide material support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying in an interview after the two met that Washington was concerned Beijing was considering supplying weapons to Moscow.
The top diplomats of the two superpowers met at an undisclosed location on the sidelines of a global security conference in Munich, just hours after Wang scolded Washington as “hysterical” in a running dispute over the US downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon.
Relations between the two countries have been fraught since Washington said China flew a spy balloon over the continental US before American fighter jets shot it down on President Joe Biden’s orders. The dispute also came at a time when the West is closely watching Beijing’s response to the Ukraine war.
In an interview to be aired on Sunday morning on NBC News’ “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd,” Blinken said the United States was very concerned that China is considering providing lethal support to Russia and that he made clear to Wang that “would have serious consequences in our relationship.”
“There are various kinds of lethal assistance that they are at least contemplating providing, to include weapons,” Blinken said, adding that Washington would soon release more details.
Wang told Blinken the United States must “face up to and resolve the damage” to bilateral relations “caused by the indiscriminate use of force,” according to a brief statement on Sunday by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Wang was referring to the recent shootdown of what the United States called a spy balloon but Beijing said was a weather-monitoring craft.
Speaking to reporters in a briefing call, a senior State Department official said China was trying to “have it both ways” by claiming it wants to contribute to peace and stability but at the same time taking “concerning” steps to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Blinken “was quite blunt in warning about the implications and consequences of China providing material support to Russia or assisting Russia with systematic sanctions evasion,” the senior official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Russia and China signed a “no limits” partnership last February shortly before Russian forces invaded Ukraine, and their economic links have boomed as Moscow’s connections with the West have shrivelled.
The West has been wary of China’s response to the Ukraine war, with some warning that a Russian victory would color China’s actions toward Taiwan. China has refrained from condemning the war or calling it an “invasion.”
Earlier, speaking at a panel at the conference, Wang reiterated a call for dialogue and suggested European countries “think calmly” about how to end the war.
He also said there were “some forces that seemingly don’t want negotiations to succeed, or for the war to end soon,” without specifying to whom he was referring.
NO APOLOGY
Blinken and Wang’s meeting came hours after the top Chinese diplomat took a swipe at the United States, accusing it of violating international norms with “hysterical” behavior by shooting down the balloon.
The balloon’s flight this month over US territory triggered an uproar in Washington and prompted Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing. That Feb. 5-6 trip would have been the first by a US secretary of state to China in five years and was seen by both sides as an opportunity to stabilize increasingly fraught ties.
“To have dispatched an advanced fighter jet to shoot down a balloon with a missile, such behavior is unbelievable, almost hysterical,” Wang said.
“There are so many balloons all over the world, and various countries have them. So, is the United States going to shoot all of them down?” he said.
China reacted angrily when the US military downed the 200-foot (60-meter) balloon on Feb. 4, saying it was for monitoring weather conditions and had blown off course. Washington said it was clearly a surveillance balloon with a massive undercarriage holding electronics.
Questions had swirled as to whether Blinken and Wang would use the conference in Munich as a chance to reengage in-person, and the State Department only confirmed the hour-long meeting after it had ended.
In the interview with NBC, Blinken said Wang did not apologize for the balloon’s flight.
“I told him quite simply that that was unacceptable and can never happen again,” Blinken said, referring to the balloon’s violation of US air space.
“There was no apology,” he said, adding that he had not discussed with Wang rescheduling his trip to China.
Washington had been hoping to put a “floor” under relations that hit a dangerous low in August with China’s reaction to a Taiwan visit by then-US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
But Craig Singleton, a China expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, said while Wang’s comments at the conference were likely aimed at deflecting embarrassment over the balloon incident, the lack of a strong response from Washington “increases China’s appetite for risk in future disputes.”
“Blinken and Wang’s meeting will not change the downward trajectory in the US-China relationship. It’s clear there is almost no trust between the two sides,” Singleton said.


Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

Updated 4 sec ago
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Deaths from Indian toxic alcohol rise to more than 50

  • Locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol
  • Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally
BENGALURU, India: The death toll from a batch of toxic illegal alcohol in India has risen to 53, media reported Sunday, as more victims in hospital succumbed to the poisonous brew.
Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister M.K. Stalin has said the locally brewed arrack drink was laced with poisonous methanol, killing 37 within hours after they drank the illegal alcohol on Tuesday.
More than 100 people were rushed to hospital, but some were too sick for medics to save.
Hundreds of people die every year in India from cheap alcohol made in backstreet distilleries, but this poisoning is one of the worst in recent years.
To increase its potency, the liquor is often spiked with methanol which can cause blindness, liver damage and death.
The Indian Express newspaper on Sunday quoted a local councilor, Palraj, describing how poor laborers in Kallakurichi district regularly bought the liquor in plastic bags costing 60 rupees ($0.70), which they would drink before work.
Some went blind and were rushed to hospital.
Others died rapidly, collapsing in the street.
“The men work just to drink, and the women run the family,” motorized rickshaw driver Shankar, who lives on a street where 23 people died, told the Indian Express.
M.S. Prasanth, the top government official in the state’s Kallakurichi district, said “53 people have passed away,” according to the latest figures on Saturday, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Other Indian media on Sunday put the toll as high as 55, but there was no immediate official confirmation.
Prasanth said that seven people had been arrested in connection with the “spurious liquor tragedy,” PTI added.
Tamil Nadu is not a dry state, but liquor traded on the black market comes at a lower price than alcohol sold legally.
The Indian Express also spoke to Kolanji, a domestic helper whose husband died on Thursday after drinking a packet of the tainted brew.
She said people drank the moonshine “because they cannot afford” alcohol from the government-run shops.
“They start buying packets early in the morning,” she said.
Selling and consuming liquor is prohibited in several other parts of India, further driving the thriving black market for potent and sometimes lethal backstreet moonshine.
Last year, poisonous alcohol killed at least 27 people in one sitting in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, while in 2022, at least 42 people died in Gujarat.

Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

Updated 37 min 32 sec ago
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Russian lawmaker warns Moscow may change timing for use of nuclear weapons

  • Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon

Moscow may change the timing for use of its nuclear weapons if threats against Russia increase, the RIA state news agency cited Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Russian lower house’s defense committee, as saying on Sunday.
The former general’s comments follow recent warnings by President Vladimir Putin that Moscow may change its nuclear doctrine, which lays out the conditions in which such weapons could be used.
“If we see that the challenges and threats increase, it means that we can correct something in (the doctrine) regarding the timing of the use of nuclear weapons and the decision to make this use,” the agency quoted Kartapolov as saying.
“But of course, it’s too early to talk about specifics now.”
Russia’s 2020 nuclear doctrine sets out when its president would consider using a nuclear weapon: broadly as a response to an attack using nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, or conventional weapons “when the very existence of the state is put under threat.”
Putin has also said Russia could test a nuclear weapon, if necessary, though he saw no need to do so at the present time.
The heightened rhetoric on nuclear weapons comes as both Russian and US diplomats say that Russia’s war in Ukraine, launched against its smaller neighbor in 2022, is in the most dangerous phase yet.


Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

Updated 23 June 2024
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Philippines not in business of instigating wars, says President Marcos

  • Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway
  • China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce

MANILA: Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Sunday his country is not in the business of instigating wars and will always aim to settle disputes peacefully, amid escalating maritime confrontations with China.
“In defending the nation, we stay true to our Filipino nature that we would like to settle all these issues peacefully,” Marcos said in a speech to troops of the Western Command unit in charge of overseeing the South China Sea.
Philippine navy personnel and the Chinese coast guard had their latest clash last week in the disputed waterway, where the Philippine military said a Filipino sailor was severely injured and its vessels damaged.
“In the performance of our duties, we will not resort to the use of force or intimidation, or deliberately inflict injury or harm to anyone,” Marcos said.
He did not name China in his speech.
Beijing’s actions during a routine Philippine resupply mission have been condemned by the United States, Britain and Canada.
China’s foreign ministry disputed the Philippine account, with a spokesperson saying on Thursday that the necessary measures taken were lawful, professional and beyond reproach.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, a conduit for more than $3 trillion of annual shipborne commerce, including parts claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said China’s claims had no legal basis, a decision Beijing has rejected.


Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

Updated 23 June 2024
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Four members of Indian-origin billionaire family get prison in Switzerland for exploiting domestic workers

  • Swiss court dismissed charges of human trafficking against tycoon Prakash Hinduja, wife, son and daughter-in-law 
  • Forbes magazine has put Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion, family set up residence in Switzerland in 1980s

GENEVA: An Indian-born billionaire and three family members were sentenced to prison on Friday for exploiting domestic workers at their lakeside villa in Switzerland by seizing their passports, barring them from going out and making them work up to 18 hours a day.
A Swiss court dismissed more serious charges of human trafficking against 79-year-old tycoon Prakash Hinduja; his wife, Kamal; son Ajay and daughter-in-law Namrata on the grounds that the workers understood what they were getting into, at least in part. The four received between four and 4 1/2 years in prison.
The workers were mostly illiterate Indians who were paid not in Swiss francs but in Indian rupees, deposited in banks back home that they couldn’t access.
Lawyers representing the defendants said they would appeal.
Robert Assael, a lawyer for Kamal Hinduja, said he was “relieved” that the court threw out the trafficking charges but called the sentence excessive.
“The health of our clients is very poor, they are elderly people,” he said, explaining why the family was not in court. He said Hinduja’s 75-year-old wife was in intensive care and the family was with her.
A fifth defendant — Najib Ziazi, the family’s business manager — received an 18-month suspended sentence.
Last week, it emerged in court that the family had reached an undisclosed settlement with the plaintiffs. Swiss authorities have seized diamonds, rubies, a platinum necklace and other jewelry and assets in anticipation that they could be used to pay for legal fees and possible penalties.
Along with three brothers, Prakash Hinduja leads an industrial conglomerate in sectors including information technology, media, power, real estate and health care. Forbes magazine has put the Hinduja family’s net worth at some $20 billion.
The family set up residence in Switzerland in the 1980s, and Hinduja was convicted in 2007 on similar charges. A separate tax case brought by Swiss authorities is pending against Hinduja, who obtained Swiss citizenship in 2000.
In this case, the court said the four were guilty of exploiting the workers and providing unauthorized employment, giving meager if any health benefits and paying wages that were less than one-tenth the pay for such jobs in Switzerland.
Prosecutors said workers described a “climate of fear” instituted by Kamal Hinduja. They were forced to work with little or no vacation time, and worked even later hours for receptions. They slept in the basement, sometimes on a mattress on the floor.


Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

Updated 23 June 2024
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Death toll rises to 54 in Indian tainted liquor tragedy

  • Those who died has consumed liquor spiked with methanol in Indian state of Tamil Nadu
  • Nearly 200 people treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches, diarrhea

NEW DELHI: The death toll has climbed to 54 from consumption of tainted liquor in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, with more than 100 people still in hospital, a government official said on Saturday.
Nearly 200 people have been treated since Wednesday for vomiting, stomach aches and diarrhea, after drinking liquor spiked with methanol in the district of Kallakurichi, about 250 km (150 miles) from Chennai, the state capital.
Law enforcement officials investigating the incident have arrested seven people, said M.S. Prasanth, a senior district official, adding that follow-up action was being taken against liquor sellers and brewers in the district.
Deaths from illegally produced alcohol, often called country liquor, are a regular occurrence in India, where few can afford branded spirits, despite public demands for a crackdown on the vendors.
The state government said it was taking steps to identify those involved in production of methanol, a toxic chemical normally used for industrial purposes.