Biden-Xi talks on sidelines of APEC summit agreed, but details still being worked out: US official

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This photo taken on November 14, 2022, shows US President Joe Biden (R) and China's President Xi Jinping meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia. Arrangements are being made for another face-to-face meeting between the two leaders next month. (AFP/File photo)
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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, listens during a bilateral meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington on Oct. 27, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 28 October 2023
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Biden-Xi talks on sidelines of APEC summit agreed, but details still being worked out: US official

  • Agreement in principle reached Friday during Chinese FM's meeting with Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken
  • The next leaders summit of APEC, a forum of 21 Pacific countries, will be held in San Francisco next month

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to meet on the sidelines of next month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, according to a US official familiar with the planning.

The two sides worked out an agreement in principle to hold a meeting during the summit as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met Friday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, according to the official, who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The official added that the two sides have still not worked out details on the exact day of the meeting, venue and other logistics.
The White House said in a statement following Friday’s meetings that the two sides were “working toward” a Biden-Xi face-to-face on the sidelines of APEC, a forum of 21 Pacific countries.
Earlier Friday, Biden met with Wang, holding an hourlong talk with the senior Chinese official in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. The meeting, with Blinken and Sullivan present, was the latest in a series of high-level contacts between the two countries as they explore the possibility of stabilizing an increasingly tense relationship at a time of conflict in Ukraine and Israel.

HIGHLIGHTS

Wang is in the midst of a three-day visit to Washington, where he’s been meeting with top US officials.

Wang came to Washington at a time when tensions between the two countries remain high, including over US export controls on advanced technology and China’s more assertive actions in the East and South China seas.

US officials had said they would press Wang on the importance of China stepping up its role on the world stage if it wants to be considered a responsible major international player.

The White House said Biden “emphasized that both the United States and China need to manage competition in the relationship responsibly and maintain open lines of communication,” and he “underscored that the United States and China must work together to address global challenges.”
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Biden viewed his meeting with Wang as “a positive development, and a good opportunity to keep the conversation going.”
Biden had been widely expected to talk with Wang, a reciprocal action after Xi met with Blinken in June.
Beijing has yet to confirm if Xi will travel to San Francisco for the annual APEC summit, which runs from Nov. 11 to Nov. 17.
Wang is in the midst of a three-day visit to Washington, where he’s been meeting with top US officials. He sat down with Blinken on Friday morning for the second time during his trip.
On Thursday, after their initial meeting, the Chinese side said “the two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on China-US relations and issues of common concern in a constructive atmosphere.”
In its readout, the US State Department said the two men addressed “areas of difference” and “areas of cooperation,” while Blinken “reiterated that the United States will continue to stand up for our interests and values and those of our allies and partners.”
Wang said before Thursday’s meeting that China’s goal was to “push the relationship as soon as possible back to the track of healthy, stable and sustainable development.”
US officials had said they would press Wang on the importance of China stepping up its role on the world stage if it wants to be considered a responsible major international player. The US has been disappointed with China over its support for Russia in the war against Ukraine and its relative silence on the war between Israel and Hamas.
“China should use whatever ability it has as an influential power to urge calm” in the Middle East, said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “We know China has relationships with a number of countries in the region, and we would urge them to use those relationships, the lines of communication they have, to urge calm and stability.”
US officials believe the Chinese have considerable leverage with Iran, which is a major backer of Hamas.
Wang came to Washington at a time when tensions between the two countries remain high, including over US export controls on advanced technology and China’s more assertive actions in the East and South China seas.
On Thursday, the US military released a video of a Chinese fighter jet flying within 10 feet (three meters) of an American B-52 bomber over the South China Sea, nearly causing an accident. Earlier this month, the Pentagon released footage of some of the more than 180 intercepts of US warplanes by Chinese aircraft that occurred in the last two years, part of a trend US military officials call concerning.
The US also has renewed a warning that it would defend the Philippines in case of an armed attack under a security pact, after Chinese ships blocked and collided with two Philippine vessels off a contested shoal in the South China Sea.
Beijing has released its own video of close encounters in the region, including what it described as footage of the USS Ralph Johnson making a sharp turn and crossing in front of the bow of a Chinese navy ship. The US destroyer also was captured sailing between two Chinese ships.
Senior Col. Wu Qian, the spokesman of the Chinese defense ministry, said the videos showed that “the US is the real provocateur, risk taker and spoiler.”
The Pentagon rejected China’s characterization of the USS Ralph Johnson’s movements, saying the video includes only “cropped segments of a 90-minute interaction.” The ship “complied with international law” and “operated in a lawful, safe and resolute manner,” the Pentagon said.
During his visit to Washington, Wang was also expected to discuss Taiwan, a self-governed island that Beijing considers to be part of Chinese territory. Beijing vows to seize it by force if necessary, but Washington, which has a security pact with Taiwan, opposes the use of force.
The Chinese president last came to the US in 2017, when former President Donald Trump hosted him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Biden, who took office in 2021, has yet to host Xi on US soil. The two men last met in Bali, Indonesia, in November 2022, on the sidelines of the Group of 20 meeting of leading rich and developing nations.
The US-China relationship began to sour in 2018 when the Trump administration slapped hefty tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. It deteriorated further over a range of issues, including rights abuses, the South China Sea, Taiwan, technology and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Biden-Xi meeting would bring much-needed stability to relations between the two countries, said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Washington-based think tank Stimson Center.
“The keyword here is ‘stabilization’ of bilateral ties — not really improvement, but stabilization,” Sun said. “The world needs the US and China to take on a rational path and stabilize their relationship, offering the region and the world more certainty.”


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.