TAOYUAN: Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou departed for a 12-day tour of China Monday, a day after Taiwan lost another of its 14 diplomatic partners to China.
The ex-president is visiting in a private capacity, bringing a delegation of academics and college students for exchanges, as well as members of his family, but the trip is loaded with political meaning.
Ma’s policies brought Taiwan and Beijing to their closest relationship ever, but his exit from office was overshadowed by massive protests against a trade deal with the mainland and his successor has focused on defending the autonomy of the democratically-governed island that China claims as part of its own territory.
Ma’s visit comes amid rising tensions. Beijing has exerted a long-standing campaign of pressure against Taiwan, poaching its diplomatic allies while also sending military fighter jets flying toward the island on a near daily basis. On Sunday, Honduras established diplomatic relations with China, leaving Taiwan with only 13 countries that recognize it as a sovereign state.
Ma, a member of the opposition Nationalist Party (Kuomingtang), will land in Shanghai before starting his visit in nearby Nanjing. He is expected to tour the mainland from March 27 to April 7, stopping in Wuhan and Changsha, as well as other cities. He is bringing college students from Taiwan to meet with fellow students from Shanghai’s Fudan University and Changsha’s Hunan University.
Ma has framed the visit as a bid to lower the tensions in cross-strait relations through people to people exchange. “I hope through the enthusiasm of the youth and their interactions to improve the cross-strait mood, so bring peace faster, and earlier,” he said to reporters ahead of his departure on Monday afternoon. He also said it would be his first time visiting China.
His trip has not drawn much controversy in Taiwan, where the public is used to seeing Kuomingtang politicians visit China. However, it has been criticized by some political opponents and activists.
A former mainland student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen square protests called on Ma to cancel his trip. “If you have even a strand of affection for Taiwan ... you should announce the cancelation of your trip,” said Wang Dan, a Chinese dissident who previously lived in Taiwan, on his Facebook page.
A handful of protesters from a pro-independence group held a demonstration at the departures area at Taoyuan airport before Ma’s departure. “Ma Ying-jeou is humiliating our nation and forfeiting its sovereignty,” they shouted before police carried them out. “You are a stinky beggar.”
On the other side, a small group of people from the pro-unification camp also came to the airport to show their support. “Cross-strait relations are like flowers blossoming in spring and both sides are a family,” they shouted.
The trip is also a chance for him to honor his ancestors, ahead of Tomb Sweeping Day on April 5. During the festival, which is celebrated in Taiwan and China among other countries, families visit ancestral graves to maintain the burial grounds and remember the dead.
Ma will not go to Beijing, but may meet with Chinese officials.
Ma met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Singapore in 2015, while he was still in office. The meeting was the first between the leaders of the two sides since Taiwan split from mainland China in 1949 during the Chinese civil war, but was considered more symbolic than substantive.
In 2016, the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party won national elections and Beijing cut off contact with Taiwan’s government, citing President Tsai Ing-wen’s refusal to endorse the idea that Taiwan and China are one country.
Taiwan’s former leader Ma begins China visit
Taiwan’s former leader Ma begins China visit
- The ex-president is visiting in a private capacity
TAOYUAN: Former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou departed for a 12-day tour of China Monday, a day after Taiwan lost another of its 14 diplomatic partners to China.
Militants kill Pakistani soldier guarding polio team
- Attempts to eradicate polio in Pakistan have been hit by attacks targeting inoculation teams that have claimed hundreds of lives
- Extremist opposition to all forms of inoculation grew after the CIA organized a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al-Qaeda’s former leader Osama Bin Laden
ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani soldier was killed on Wednesday when militants opened fire on a polio vaccination team, the country’s military said, in the latest attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.
Attempts to eradicate polio in Pakistan have been hit by attacks targeting inoculation teams that have claimed hundreds of lives in over a decade.
“Terrorists attempted to disrupt the ongoing polio campaign by firing on the members of the polio team,” the military said in a statement about the assault in the former tribal areas that border Afghanistan.
A soldier deployed to protect the vaccination team was killed during an exchange of fire, it added.
Extremist opposition to all forms of inoculation grew after the US Central Intelligence Agency organized a fake vaccination drive to help track down Al-Qaeda’s former leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which is waging a campaign against security forces, claimed the attack in a statement to media.
Pakistan is grappling with an uptick in militancy since the Afghan Taliban returned to power in neighboring Afghanistan.
North Waziristan has historically been a hive of militancy and was the target of a long-running Pakistani military offensive and US drone strikes during the post-9/11 occupation of Afghanistan.
Iraqi killed fighting for Russia’s Wagner in Ukraine, says group founder
- Abbas Abuthar Witwit died on April 7, a day after arriving at a Wagner hospital in the Russian-controlled, eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk
- Prigozhin confirmed he had recruited Witwit from prison, saying he was not the first native of an Arab country to have joined from jail
LUHANSK, Ukraine: An Iraqi citizen fighting with Russia’s Wagner mercenary force was killed in Ukraine in early April, the first confirmed case of a Middle East native dying in the conflict, Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin told Reuters on Wednesday.
Abbas Abuthar Witwit died on April 7, a day after arriving at a Wagner hospital in the Russian-controlled, eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, the RIA FAN news site earlier reported.
Much of the fighting for Bakhmut was done by convict fighters, recruited by Wagner from prisons on the promise of a pardon if they survived six months at the front in Ukraine.
In response to a Reuters request for comment, Prigozhin confirmed he had recruited Witwit from prison, saying he was not the first native of an Arab country to have joined from jail.
Witwit, he said, had fought well and “died heroically.”
RIA FAN said Witwit had been wounded in Bakhmut, the city in Donetsk province that Prigozhin said Wagner had taken in mid-May, after a battle that had raged since last year.
Prigozhin previously said the whole conflict had cost 20,000 of his men’s lives.
In video published by RIA FAN, a man identified as Witwit’s father is shown receiving awards posthumously given to his son, and that he had supported his decision to enlist in Wagner as a “volunteer.”
“Abbas always pursued his freedom and wanted to be a man who defends his freedom and himself, and he told me he found his freedom in Russia,” he is shown saying.
According to court papers seen by Reuters, Witwit was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on drug charges in July 2021 by a court in the Russian city of Kazan. The documents said Witwit was a first year student at a technical university.
Where are the jobs? India's world-beating growth falls short
- Fewer full-time jobs remain in India since unemployment soared to 20.9% in April-June 2020
- Without jobs, tens of millions of young people are becoming a drag on the economy, say experts
MUMBAI: On a hot summer afternoon, 23-year old Nizamudin Abdul Rahim Khan is playing cricket on a muddy, unpaved road in the Rafiq Nagar slum in India's financial capital, Mumbai.
Here, there is scant evidence of India's fast-growing economy. Bordering what was once Asia largest garbage dumping ground, Rafiq Nagar and surrounding areas are home to an estimated 800,000 people, most living in tiny rooms across narrow, dark alleys.
The young men and women in the area struggle to find jobs or work, and they mostly dawdle the day away, said Naseem Jafar Ali, who works with an NGO in the area.
India's urban unemployment soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching a high of 20.9% in the April-June 2020 quarter, while wages fell. While the unemployment rate has fallen since, fewer full-time jobs are available.
Economists say more and more job-seekers, especially the young, are looking for low-paid casual work or falling back on unreliable self-employment, even though the broader Indian economy is seen growing at a world-beating 6.5% in the financial year ending in March 2024.
In 2022/23, the Indian economy grew a stronger-than-expected 7.2%, boosted by the government's capital investments. But private consumption, which forms 60% of India's GDP, grew between 2-3% in the second half of the year, as pent-up spending and base effects faded.
TIP OF THE ICEBERG
India is overtaking China to become the world's most populous nation with more than 1.4 billion people. Nearly 53% are under 30, its much-touted demographic dividend, but without jobs, tens of millions of young people are becoming a drag on the economy.
"Unemployment is only the tip of the iceberg. What remains hidden beneath is the serious crisis of underemployment and disguised unemployment," said Radhicka Kapoor, fellow at economic research agency ICRIER.
Khan, for instance, offers himself as casual labour for home repairs or construction, earning just about 10,000 Indian rupees ($122) a month to help support his father and his four sisters. "If I get a permanent job, then there will be no problem," he says.
The risk for India is a vicious cycle for the economy. Falling employment and earnings undermine India’s chances to fuel the economic growth needed to create jobs for its young and growing population.
Economist Jayati Ghosh calls the country's demographic dividend "a ticking time-bomb."
"The fact that we have so many people who have been educated, have spent a lot of their own or family's money but are not being able to find the jobs they need, that's horrifying," she said.
"It's not just the question of potential loss to the economy ... it is a lost generation."
SMALL BUSINESSES COLLAPSE
Unemployment is far more acute in India's cities, where the cost of living is high and there is no back-up in the form of a jobs guarantee programme which the government offers in rural areas. Still, many in the army of rural unemployed flock to the cities to find jobs.
While urban unemployment was at 6.8% in the January-March quarter, the share of urban workers with full-time jobs has declined to 48.9% as of December 2022 from an already low 50.5% just before the start of the pandemic, government data show.
This means that of the estimated urban workforce of about 150 million, only 73 million have full-time jobs.
For people in urban areas with full-time jobs, average monthly wages, adjusted for inflation, stood at 17,507 rupees ($212) in the April-June 2022 quarter - the latest period for which government data is available.
This was a modest 1.2% higher than the October-December 2019 period, before the start of the pandemic.
But for the self-employed, incomes fell to 14,762 ($178.67) rupees in the April-June 2022 quarter, according to research by Ghosh and C.P. Chandrashekhar, both at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The figure was at 15,247 rupees in the October-December 2019 quarter.
"The big thing that has happened is the collapse of small businesses, which were the backbone of employment," said Ghosh.
Since the Indian government's decision to demonetise 86% of the country's currency in circulation in 2016, there have seen continuous attacks on the viability of small business, with the pandemic being the latest, she said.
Over 10,000 micro, small and medium enterprises shut in 2022-23 (April-March) alone, the government said in parliament in February. In the previous year, more than 6,000 such units had shut. The government did not specify whether any new enterprises were set up in those periods.
Many families in Khan's neighbourhood, typical of the urban sprawl in the city of 21 million, have been hit by job losses and lower incomes in recent years. Young workers are particularly vulnerable.
Arshad Ali Ansari, a 22-year-old student, said he saw his brother and sister lose their jobs soon after the start of the pandemic.
Sitting in a single room with a kitchen attached, where his family of eight lives, Ansari said they survive on his 60-year old father's earnings of about 20,000 rupees a month.
His brother, who was a graduate and had worked in a bank, lost his job during the pandemic and had to join their father in painting houses.
"My brother had education, he had experience," Ansari said.
His sister, once a social worker, also lost her job and has given up hope of finding another.
India will need to create 70 million new jobs over the next 10 years, wrote Pranjul Bhandari, chief India economist at HSBC, in a note earlier this month. But only 24 million will likely be created, leaving behind "46 million missing jobs."
"From that lens, a growth rate of 6.5% will solve a third of India’s jobs problem," Bhandari wrote.
India's economy gains pace amid global slowdown
- India's economic growth accelerates to 6.1 percent in March, government data shows
- Indian government expects growth could remain around 6.5% in current fiscal year
NEW DELHI: India's economic growth accelerated to 6.1% in the March quarter, government data showed on Wednesday, boosted by government and private capital spending even as private consumption remained sluggish.
Wednesday's reading showed India remains one of the fastest growing emerging economies, especially with China's recovery stumbling.
The government expects growth could remain around 6.5% in the current fiscal year, despite risks emerging from a global slowdown.
"The risks are evenly balanced between the downside and the upside," V. Anantha Nageswaran, chief economic adviser at the finance ministry, told reporters after the data release.
He said indicators such as auto, steel, and power consumption for April showed a pick-up in activity and sustained growth momentum.
Asia's third-largest economy expanded faster than the forecast of 5.0% by economists in a Reuters poll in the last quarter of the 2022/23 fiscal year through March, up from a revised 4.5% in the previous quarter.
The full-year growth estimate was revised to 7.2% from an earlier estimate of 7%. India's economy grew 9.1% in 2021/22.
Economists, however, warned that the global slowdown and volatility in financial markets pose a risk to exports and the growth outlook in coming quarters.
"The growth outlook is (not) without risks - particularly in regards to the monsoon progress and recession risks globally," said Sakshi Gupta, economist at HDFC bank.
She added growth numbers, however, reflected optimism for the Indian economy despite global headwinds.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has raised its benchmark repo rate by 250 basis points (bps) since May last year and economists expect it to leave the rate unchanged for the rest of 2023 as it waits to see the impact of earlier hikes.
The manufacturing sector, which for the past decade has accounted for just 17% of the economy, expanded 4.5% year-on-year in the March quarter, compared with a revised 1.4% contraction in the previous three months.
Forecasts for normal monsoon season rains in the next four months could support the farm sector, which grew 5.5% year-on-year in the March quarter compared with an upwardly revised 4.7% in the previous quarter.
Private consumption, which accounts for nearly 60% of the economy, grew 2.8% year-on-year compared with a revised 2.2% in the previous quarter, while capital formation, an indicator of investment, rose 8.9% from a downwardly revised 8%.
Federal government spending, constituting about 10% of GDP, rose 2.3% year-on-year in the latest quarter, compared with a revised 0.6% contraction in the previous quarter.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who remains popular after nine years in power, has stepped up capital spending in the past few years to build roads, railways, and new airports to revive the economy after the pandemic.
Economists said the world's most populous country needs to grow by between 7% and 8% a year and build a strong manufacturing base to create jobs for millions of workers. Currently, 45% of India's workforce is employed in the farm sector, which contributes just 15% to the economy.
The lack of well-paying jobs remains a major issue among the youth, as reflected in the unemployment rate rising to 8.1% in April, as more people joined the workforce, according to the Mumbai-based think tank Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.
Wildfire on Canada’s Atlantic coast forces evacuation of 16,000 people
- “It’s extensive. It’s heartbreaking,” said Premier Tim Houston, who announced a ban on woodland activity after visiting the disaster area to get a sense of the damage
- The forest protection manager in the province's wildfire management group said it is safe to say that all of these fires were “very likely human-caused”
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia’s leader begged people to stay out of the woods and avoid any activity that could start more fires after a wildfire on Canada’s Atlantic coast damaged about 200 houses and other structures and prompted the evacuation of 16,000 people.
“It’s extensive. It’s heartbreaking,” said Premier Tim Houston, who announced a ban on woodland activity after visiting the disaster area to get a sense of the damage.
Many residents were eager to return Tuesday to see whether homes and pets had survived, while fire officials expressed concern that dry, windy conditions could cause a “reburn” in the evacuated subdivisions. The extended forecast is calling for hotter weather on Wednesday and no rain until Friday at the earliest.
Houston said the ban extends to all travel and activity in all wooded areas. That includes all forestry, mining, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, off-road vehicle driving and all commercial activity on government lands, he said.
“Don’t be burning right now. No burning in Nova Scotia. Conservation officers reported six illegal burns last night. This is absolutely ridiculous with what’s happeniung in this province — three out-of-control fires, eight fires yesterday, 12 on Sunday. Do Not Burn!” Houston said Tuesday. “We have to do what we can to make sure we don’t have new fires popping up.”
Scott Tingley, the forest protection manager in the province’s wildfire management group, said it is safe to say that all of these fires were “very likely human-caused.”
“Much of it probably is preventable. Accidents do happen and so that’s why we certainly appreciate the premier’s message,” Tingley said.
Firefighters have been working to extinguish hotspots in the fire that started in the Halifax area on Sunday, Halifax Deputy Fire Chief David Meldrum said. He said Tuesday that it was too early to give an exact count of homes damaged or destroyed, but the municipal government put the toll at about 200 buildings.
Dan Cavanaugh was among two dozen people waiting Tuesday in a Halifax-area parking lot to learn if their suburban homes had been consumed.
“We’re like everyone else in this lot,” said the 48-year-old insurance adjuster. “We’re not sure if we have a house to go back to.”
Police officers wrote down names of residents and were calling people to be escorted to see what had become of their properties.
Sarah Lyon of the Nova Scotia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said an eight-member team was going into the evacuation zone to retrieve animals left behind.
In all, about 16,000 people were ordered to leave their homes northwest of Halifax, most of which are within a 30-minute drive of the port city’s downtown. The area under mandatory evacuation orders covers about 100 square kilometers (38 miles).
Sonya Higgins, who runs a cat rescue operation in Halifax, said she and more than 40 others waited in a nearby supermarket parking lot to be led into the evacuation area. They hoped to retrieve seven cats from two homes. She said the pet owners contacting her have been “frantic” to find their animals and get them to safety.