China, Japan reaffirm strategic relations in rare leader talks

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping prior to their bilateral talk in San Francisco, California on Nov. 16, 2023. (Kyodo News via AP)
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Updated 17 November 2023
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China, Japan reaffirm strategic relations in rare leader talks

  • Sign that Asia’s two largest economies are looking to patch up strained ties

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida committed to pursuing mutually-beneficial relations in their first face-to-face talks in a year, a sign that Asia’s two largest economies are looking to patch up strained ties.
The two leaders also discussed China’s ban on Japanese seafood and the high-profile case of a Japanese businessman detained in China during their hour-long talks on the sidelines of the APEC summit in San Francisco on Thursday evening.
The countries should “focus on common interests” and reaffirm their “strategic relationship of mutual benefit and give it new meaning,” Xi told Kishida as they sat across from one another at a table flanked by their delegations.
In a joint statement in 2008, Japan and China agreed to pursue a “mutually beneficial relationship based on common strategic interests” designed to ensure frequent leadership exchanges on issues such as security.
But the phrasing has been used less frequently in recent years as the historic rivals have clashed over a series of issues such as territorial disputes, trade tensions and Taiwan, the democratic island that Beijing claims as its own.
Kishida confirmed the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to the relationship in comments to press after the talks.
“We shared the common view that we will continue to communicate closely on various levels including at the leadership level,” Kishida said.
Most recently, ties have been tested by China’s ban on Japanese seafood following Tokyo’s decision to release treated water from its crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea in August.
Kishida said he had strongly urged Xi to drop the ban and also sought the swift release of the businessman, which has dealt an outsized blow to their close economic ties.
Their meeting followed a highly-anticipated summit between US President Joe Biden and Xi in which the two superpowers agreed to open a presidential hotline and resume military-to-military communications, among other matters.
Kishida also met Biden at the summit where they discussed issues including “common challenges” that they share with China.
China’s push to reaffirm relations with Japan could be partly driven by Tokyo’s close ties with its arch-rival Washington, said Rumi Aoyama, an expert on Japan-China relations.
“I think there is a desire to drive a wedge between Japan and the United States by establishing a so-called strategic relationship with Japan amid the US-China confrontation,” said Aoyama, director of Waseda Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies.
On the sidelines of the APEC summit, Kishida has also met South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in their seventh meeting this year. The pair promised to push for deeper cooperation and discussed shared concerns like North Korea’s missile tests.
Yoon, Kishida and Biden also held a brief trilateral meeting on Thursday.
Leaders from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum are in San Francisco for the 30th summit from Nov. 15-17.


70 killed as Afghanistan hit by heavy rains

Updated 5 sec ago
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70 killed as Afghanistan hit by heavy rains

  • Rains between Saturday and Wednesday triggered flash floods in most Afghanistan provinces
  • Fifty-six people injured, over 2,600 houses have been damaged or destroyed, says Afghan official 

KABUL: Around 70 people have been killed by heavy rains lashing Afghanistan over the past five days, the government’s disaster management department said Wednesday.
Afghanistan was parched by an unusually dry winter which desiccated the earth, exacerbating flash-flooding caused by spring downpours in most provinces.
Disaster management spokesman Janan Sayeq said “approximately 70 people lost their lives” as a result of rains between Saturday and Wednesday.
Fifty-six others have been injured, he said, while more than 2,600 houses have been damaged or destroyed and 95,000 acres of farmland wiped away.
Giving a smaller death toll last week, Sayeq said most fatalities at that point had been caused by roof collapses resulting from the deluges. 
Neighbouring Pakistan has also been hammered by spring downpours, with 65 people killed in storm-related incidents as rain falls at nearly twice the historical average rate.
The United Nations last year warned that “Afghanistan is experiencing major swings in extreme weather conditions.”
After four decades of war the country ranks among the nations least prepared to face extreme weather events, which scientists say are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change.
At least 25 people were killed in a landslide after massive snowfall in eastern Afghanistan in February, while around 60 were killed in a three-week spate of precipitation ending in March.


Security Council to vote Thursday on Palestinian state UN membership

Updated 17 April 2024
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Security Council to vote Thursday on Palestinian state UN membership

  • According to the Palestinian side, 137 of the 193 UN member states already recognize a Palestinian state
  • Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan has strongly opposed the Palestinian membership bid

United Nations, United States: The United Nations Security Council will vote Thursday on the Palestinians’ application to become a full UN member state, several diplomatic sources have told AFP.
Amid Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, the Palestinians in early April revived a membership application first made to the world body in 2011, though the veto-wielding United States has repeatedly expressed opposition to the proposal.
The General Assembly can admit a new member state with a two-thirds majority vote, but only after the Security Council gives its recommendation.
Regional bloc the Arab Group issued a statement Tuesday affirming its “unwavering support” for the Palestinians’ application.
“Membership in the United Nations is a crucial step in the right direction toward a just and lasting resolution of the Palestinian question in line with international law and relevant UN resolutions,” the statement said.
Algeria, a non-permanent Security Council member, has drafted the resolution that “recommends” to the General Assembly “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations.”
The vote on Thursday will coincide with a Security Council meeting scheduled several weeks ago to discuss the situation in Gaza, which ministers from several Arab countries are expected to attend.
The Palestinians — who have had observer status at the United Nations since 2012 — have lobbied for years to gain full membership.
“We are seeking admission. That is our natural and legal right,” Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, said in April.
According to the Palestinian side, 137 of the 193 UN member states already recognize a Palestinian state, raising hope that their request would be supported in the General Assembly.
But the Palestinian push for UN membership faces a major hurdle, as the United States — Israel’s closest ally — could use its veto power to block the Security Council recommendation.
“We call on all members of the Security Council to vote in favor of the draft resolution... At the very least, we implore Council members not to obstruct this critical initiative,” the Arab Group said Tuesday.
The United States has voiced its opposition to full Palestinian membership, saying it backed statehood but only after negotiations with Israel, while pointing to US laws that would require cuts to UN funding if such a move took place without a bilateral agreement.
“That is something that should be done through direct negotiations through the parties, something we are pursuing at this time, and not at the United Nations,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in April.
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan has strongly opposed the Palestinian membership bid, saying in mid-April the considerations were “already a victory for genocidal terror.”
“The Security Council is deliberating granting the perpetrators and supporters of October 7 full membership status in the UN,” Erdan said.
Hamas launched an unprecedented attack against Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of 1,170 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed over 33,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


President Widodo urges Apple CEO to open manufacturing facility in Indonesia

Updated 17 April 2024
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President Widodo urges Apple CEO to open manufacturing facility in Indonesia

  • Country has ‘endless’ investment ability, Tim Cook says on visit to Jakarta
  • Tech giant announces opening of new Apple Developer Academy in Bali

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Wednesday met the head of tech giant Apple and urged him to open a manufacturing facility in the country.

CEO Tim Cook was in Jakarta following a trip to Hanoi, where the company announced plans to increase spending on suppliers in Vietnam, its most important manufacturing hub outside China.

Before the meeting between Widodo and Cook, Apple announced plans to boost its investment in Indonesia and said it would open a new Apple Developer Academy — facilities designed to nurture local talent in the tech sector — in Bali, its fourth in the country.

“The meeting with Tim Cook focused on exploring strategic plans, including the opportunity of Apple expanding to Indonesia and further integration into the global supply chain,” Widodo said in a statement.

“I invited Apple to establish an innovation hub with potential universities in Indonesia for human resources development. I also urged Apple to develop a manufacturing facility in the country.”

Apple currently does not have a manufacturing facility in Indonesia but opened its first developer academy there in 2018.

The new facility takes the company’s total investment in Indonesia to 1.6 trillion rupiah ($98.4 million), according to Industry Minister Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita.

“After this, the Ministry of Industry will conduct a business-matching program. We already have a list of the components (that Apple needs) and mobile components that are already produced in Indonesia, so perhaps there can be a partnership,” he said.

Apple has based much of its key manufacturing of iPads, Airpods and Apple Watches in Vietnam, and more recently India, as it explores ways to diversify its supply chains away from China.

Home to more than 270 million people, Indonesia has a young, tech-savvy population with more than 100 million people aged under 30.

According to figures from Statista, as of January, Apple had an 11.5 percent share of Indonesia’s mobile phone market, behind Oppo (18 percent) and Samsung (17 percent).

“We talked about the president’s desire to see manufacturing in the country and it’s something that we will look at,” Cook told reporters after meeting Widodo.

“I thought we had a great conversation and I really appreciated the time with him. It was a dialogue about how much potential there is in the country and our commitment to the country.”

Cook later met president-elect, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who will take over from Widodo in October.

“I think the investment ability in Indonesia is endless, I think that there’s a lot of great places to invest and we’re investing,” Cook said. “We believe in the country.”


Hundreds of Myanmar troops flee to Bangladesh amid clashes with anti-junta rebels

Updated 17 April 2024
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Hundreds of Myanmar troops flee to Bangladesh amid clashes with anti-junta rebels

  • Insurgents in Rakhine and Chin states launched offensive against Myanmar junta forces in October 2023
  • Bangladesh has already repatriated 300 Myanmar soldiers who crossed the border since February

DHAKA: Hundreds of Myanmar troops have abandoned their posts and crossed to Bangladesh since February amid intensifying clashes between the junta and an ethnic minority army, Bangladeshi border agency officials said on Wednesday.
Fighting between Myanmar’s military-controlled government forces and insurgents in Rakhine and Chin states began in late October 2023, with a multi-pronged offensive against the junta, which took over the country in early 2021.
Since then, the ethnic Rakhine Arakan Army has been locked in fierce battles against the Myanmar Armed Forces and border police in the two states bordering Bangladesh.
“Between last night and Wednesday morning, 46 members of Border Guard Police of Myanmar took shelter in Bangladesh through different borders of Jamchari, Rejupara and Baishfari under Bandarban district,” Shariful Islam, spokesperson of the Border Guard Bangladesh, told Arab News.
“With these, a total of 260 BGP members are currently in Bangladesh.”
The latest intrusion into Bangladeshi territory took place as authorities observed heavy gunfire on the Myanmar side of the border.
“Our border guard members are on high alert ... The battle situation is continuing between the Myanmar army, Arakan Army, RSO (Rohingya Solidarity Organization), and other separatist groups on the other side of the border in Myanmar,” said Lt. Col. Mohiuddin Ahmed, commanding officer of the BGB on Teknaf border, in Cox’s Bazar district.
“Since last February, Myanmar border guard members started fleeing into Bangladesh. When they take refuge in Bangladesh, first we disarm them and then shelter them in a safe place arranged by the district administration.”
Bangladeshi officials then repatriate the troops.
“Our top officials, home ministry, and foreign ministry contact Myanmar for the return of their border guard members,” Ahmed said. “Earlier, more than 300 Myanmar BGP members were handed over to Myanmar.”
The insurgents, who are in an alliance with Maynmar’s exiled National Unity Government, have captured a significant chunk of the territory neighboring Bangladesh, but are still far from controlling it, according to Maj. Gen. (rtd) Shahidul Haque, a security analyst who served as military attache at the Bangladeshi Embassy in Myanmar.
“The Arakan Army still hasn’t started their activities in some strategic cities of Rakhine like Sittwe, which is the capital of Arakan. There is another city named Kyaukphyu, where there are huge Chinese investments. If the Arakan Army takes over the control of Sittwe, then control of northern Rakhine will be under the Arakan Army,” he told Arab News.
While Sittwe is currently under curfew imposed by Myanmar junta forces, the escalation of fighting in Rakhine State has curtailed Bangladesh’s trade with Myanmar.
“Our official trade with Myanmar has fallen drastically as the Myanmar government officials who were in charge of different port operations have fled from those areas,” Haque said.
“It’s a huge loss for Bangladesh as we imported a significant amount of agricultural produce from Myanmar.”
The intensifying fighting was also likely to unleash a new wave of Rohingya seeking shelter in Bangladesh, which was already facing a refugee crisis.
More than a million Rohingya Muslims, most of whom fled Rakhine after a brutal military crackdown in 2017, have been staying in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, turning the coastal district into the world’s largest refugee settlement.
“Bangladesh may face another influx of Rohingya,” Haque said.
“Myanmar military has started massive bombings in some areas. Recently, more than a dozen Rohingya lost their lives in such attacks. This will cause a dangerous situation for us.”
ENDS


Ex-Qaddafi minister in UK private prosecution over policewoman’s death

Updated 17 April 2024
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Ex-Qaddafi minister in UK private prosecution over policewoman’s death

  • Yvonne Fletcher was shot dead outside Libyan Embassy in London 40 years ago
  • Her colleague is ‘keeping promise’ to get justice after years of court battles

LONDON: A police officer in the UK is launching a private prosecution of a Libyan over the killing of his colleague 40 years ago, the BBC reported on Wednesday.

Policewoman Yvonne Fletcher, 25, was shot dead outside the Libyan Embassy in London in 1984 when gunmen in the building opened fire on a rally outside.

On the 40th anniversary of Fletcher’s death, John Murray, who “cradled her as she lay down” on the day of the shooting, is demanding that the remaining key suspect in the case is tried for murder.

The first court hearing in the case concerning Saleh Ibrahim Mabrouk is expected in the coming weeks.

On the day of the shooting in 1984, crowds had assembled outside the embassy to protest against Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Shots were fired at the demonstration from inside the building, hitting Fletcher on the street outside.

Following a 10-day siege, then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher permitted the Libyans in the embassy to return home due to diplomatic immunity.

Forty years since the incident, nobody has been charged in relation to Fletcher’s death. The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service in 2017 dropped a potential case against Mabrouk, a former minister in the Qaddafi government, in order to prevent national security secrets from being heard in court.

But Murray, who is now retired, said his legal team is launching a private prosecution for murder against Mabrouk, who was found “jointly liable” for the shootings in 2019 despite not carrying a weapon during the incident.

The former minister denied wrongdoing in a response sent to the High Court from Libya in 2019, in a case filed by Murray.

In the private prosecution, the retired police officer’s legal team must overcome a series of hurdles to demand the court bring Mabrouk to the UK.

Murray told the BBC that Fletcher is “sorely missed” ahead of a memorial ceremony on Wednesday, held near the site of the shooting.

“The last few words that Yvonne heard before she died was my voice telling her that I would find out who and why this had happened to her,” he said.

“I also said to her that I would get justice. That was a promise I made. That is a promise I will certainly keep, and the fight goes on.”

Sir Mark Rowley, Metropolitan Police commissioner, said: “WPC Yvonne Fletcher was just 25 when she was callously murdered. She was simply doing her job, policing protest, not unlike what many officers do so often today.”