Maldives president courts investors in China as ties with India sag

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu speaks during a plenary session at the COP28 U.N. Climate Summit, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on December 1, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 09 January 2024
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Maldives president courts investors in China as ties with India sag

  • Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu won elections on his “India Out” campaign in November 
  • China has already built a presence for itself in the Maldives. Under Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative

BEIJING: At an “Invest Maldives” forum in a southern Chinese port city, the Maldivian president shook hands and exchanged words with smiling local officials on a China visit set to deepen bilateral ties as the archipelagic nation pirouettes away from India.

After the forum in Fuzhou on Tuesday, Mohamed Muizzu and his delegation will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang in Beijing during his week-long visit, where pacts from infrastructure to tourism are expected to be signed.

Muizzu became president in November after winning on his “India Out” campaign platform under which he called New Delhi’s huge influence a threat to sovereignty. His government has since asked dozens of locally based Indian military personnel to leave. And in an apparent snub to India, Muizzu is in China this week, before any visit to his country’s giant neighbor.

In Fuzhou, the Chinese city designated as the start of China’s maritime “Silk Road,” Muizzu said China remained one of his country’s “closest allies and developmental partners,” according to a statement released by his office.

Increasing export of fish products to China under the two countries’ free trade agreement will be a key priority, Muizzu added.

Fishing is the largest source of employment in the Maldives, where 99 percent of its territory comprises the sea. Aquatic products account for over 98 percent of exports by volume and value.

China has already built a presence for itself in the Maldives. Under Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative aimed at building a global trade and infrastructure network, China has helped expand the Velana International Airport in Male and built the cross-sea China-Maldives Friendship Bridge.

Muizzu said his government was keen to explore partnerships under Belt and Road, including the expansion of the country’s central airport and commercial port.

Chinese firms have invested $1.37 billion in the Maldives since its decision to join the Belt and Road Initiative in 2014, data from the American Enterprise Institute think tank shows.

Last year, China National Machinery Industry Corporation invested $140 million in the Maldives’ tourism sector, which accounts for over a quarter of the country’s national income.

In 2019, Chinese tourists represented 19.7 percent of foreign visitors, making them the biggest tourist group, although they slipped to third position by 2022 during the pandemic.

'NERVOUSNESS'

The Maldives is also a popular destination among Indian nationals, whose presence has grown more prominent in the three years when China’s austere pandemic restrictions kept Chinese visitors away.

In the latest sign of sagging ties between the two neighbors, #ExploreIndianIslands has become a trending hashtag in India on X instead as some Indians share screenshots of canceled bookings of Maldivian holidays.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself last week was snorkelling in Lakshadweep, an archipelago of atolls and reefs off the coast of Kerala, a visit that some viewed as an attempt to draw tourists away from nearby Maldivian islands.

“India’s strained relations with certain countries in South Asia can be attributed to its perception of being the regional boss,” China’s Global Times reported on Monday, citing analysts.

And, the newspaper added, quoting a Chinese academic, India’s current “nervousness” about Muizzu’s visit to China showed its “lack of confidence.”


US rushing delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine to counter increased Russian attacks

Updated 5 sec ago
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US rushing delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine to counter increased Russian attacks

  • White House says it can do this by redirecting orders made by other allies for air defense systems
  • Russia has resumed its aerial pounding of Ukraine’s power grid while Kyiv’s forces are again targeting Russian oil facilities with drone strikes

WASHINGTON: The White House announced Thursday that it will rush delivery of air defense interceptor missiles to Ukraine by redirecting planned shipments to other allied nations, as Washington scrambles to counter increased Russian attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
National security spokesman John Kirby said the US had taken the “difficult but necessary decision to reprioritize near-term planned deliveries of foreign military sales to other countries,” though he wouldn’t say which nations would be affected or how many.
“Right now, we know that Ukraine urgently needs these additional capabilities,” Kirby said on a call with reporters, adding, “Obviously more is needed, and it’s needed now.”
The announcement comes after President Joe Biden, during last week’s Group of Seven meeting in Italy, suggested such action might be necessary, saying, “We’ve let it be known for those countries that are expecting, from us, air defense systems in the future, that they’re going to have to wait.”
“Everything we have is going to go to Ukraine until their needs are met,” Biden said. “And then we will make good on the commitments we made to other countries.”
The US was already sending Ukraine a consistent stream of interceptors for its air defense systems, including for the Patriot missile batteries and the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS. But Kirby said that more was urgently needed as Russia’s military has accelerated missile and drone attacks against cities and infrastructure centers “trying to destroy Ukraine’s energy system ahead of this winter.”

This handout photograph taken on June 18, 2024 and released by the Press service of the 24th mechanized brigade shows Ukrainian servicemen repairing military equipment at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. (AFP)

Russia has resumed its aerial pounding of Ukraine’s power grid while Kyiv’s forces are again targeting Russian oil facilities with drone strikes, as each side seeks to hinder the other’s ability to continue fighting.
The number of interceptors to be sent isn’t clear but Kirby said it could involve “hundreds” of Patriot interceptor missiles.
Kirby said Ukraine will get prioritized shipments as soon as systems roll off assembly lines for the next about 16 months, and those will provide the country with “enough capability” during that period.
After that, he said, “Countries that have been asked to delay will start to get” deliveries of systems they had already ordered.
Kirby said the move means “a range of countries” will face delays in receiving missile systems that are being diverted to Ukraine but that the shift would not affect Taiwan or what it “continues to need and receive for self-defense” in the face of potential threats from China.
Asked to describe how other countries reacted to the shift, Kirby said they were “broadly understanding of it.”
“They know how serious the need is in Ukraine,” he said.


Le Pen’s National Rally seen leading vote in French snap elections — polls

Updated 58 min 59 sec ago
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Le Pen’s National Rally seen leading vote in French snap elections — polls

  • The simulation of the national popular vote does not allow for a direct forecast of the balance of power in France’s next National Assembly, as the election on June 30 and July 7 is held as a two-round majority vote in each district

PARIS: Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally is seen leading the race ahead of France’s parliamentary elections, three polls showed on Thursday, ahead of the leftwing Popular Front and President Emmanuel Macron’s centrists.
Pollster IFOP in a survey for broadcasting group TF1 and Le Figaro said the National Rally (RN) would secure 34 percent of the vote, while the Popular Front would reach 29 percent and Macron’s Together bloc would get 22 percent.
Another poll by Harris Interactive — conducted for RTL radio, M6 TV and Challenges Magazine — put the RN at 33 percent, while the left was seen at 26 percent and Macron’s camp at 21 percent.
A third poll published on Thursday, by OpinionWay on behalf of CNews TV, Europe 1 radio and the Journal du Dimanche paper, also put the RN in the lead with 35 percent of the votes, ahead of the Popular Front which had 27 percent and Macron’s camp which had 20 percent.
The simulation of the national popular vote does not allow for a direct forecast of the balance of power in France’s next National Assembly, as the election on June 30 and July 7 is held as a two-round majority vote in each district.
The Harris poll, however, made rough seat projections and forecast 235 to 280 seats for RN and its allies, which would fall short of the 289 needed for an absolute majority but make it by far the largest bloc.


New York moves to limit ‘addictive’ social media feeds for kids

Updated 21 June 2024
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New York moves to limit ‘addictive’ social media feeds for kids

  • The bill marks the latest attempt by a state to regulate social media as part of concerns over how children interact with the platforms

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday signed a bill that would allow parents to block their children from getting social media posts suggested by a platform’s algorithm, a move to limit feeds critics argue are addictive.
Under the legislation, feeds on apps like TikTok and Instagram would be limited for people under age 18 to posts from accounts they follow, rather than content suggested by an automated algorithm. It would also block platforms from sending minors notifications on suggested posts between midnight and 6 a.m.
Both provisions could be turned off if a minor gets what the bill defines as “verifiable parental consent.”
The law does not take effect immediately. State Attorney General Letitia James is now tasked with crafting rules to determine mechanisms for verifying a user’s age and parental consent. After the rules are finalized, social media companies will have 180 days to implement the regulations.
“We can protect our kids. We can tell the companies that you are not allowed to do this, you don’t have a right to do this, that parents should have say over their children’s lives and their health, not you,” Hochul, a Democrat, said at a bill signing ceremony in Manhattan.
The signing is the first step in what is expected to be a drawn out process of rule making, and a probable lawsuit from social media companies to block the law.
NetChoice, a tech industry trade group that includes X and Meta, has criticized the legislation as unconstitutional.
“This is an assault on free speech and the open Internet by the State of New York,” Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, said in a statement. “New York has created a way for the government to track what sites people visit and their online activity by forcing websites to censor all content unless visitors provide an ID to verify their age.”
Most of the biggest social media platforms send users a steady stream of suggested videos, photographs and other content, using a computer to try and predict what will keep users entertained and engaged for as long as possible. The algorithms use a variety of factors to curate that content, including what a user has clicked on before and interests of other people with similar preferences.
The bill marks the latest attempt by a state to regulate social media as part of concerns over how children interact with the platforms.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week announced plans to work with the Legislature on a bill to restrict smartphone usage for students during the school day, though he didn’t provide exact details on what the proposal would include. Newsom in 2019 signed a bill allowing school districts to limit or ban smartphones while at school.
There hasn’t been broad legislation on the subject at the federal level but it is a common point of discussion in Washington. This week the US surgeon general called on Congress to put warning labels on social media platforms similar to those on cigarettes, citing mental health dangers for children using the sites.
Some tech companies, with pressure mounting, have decided to set up parental controls on their platforms. Last year, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, created tools that allowed parents to set time limits on the apps for children.
The New York legislation, debuted last October, had faced major pushback in the Legislature from the tech industry.
“Social media platforms manipulate what our children see online to keep them on the platforms as long as possible,” said James, a Democrat who pushed for the bill. “The more time young people spend on social media, the more they are at risk of developing serious mental health concerns.”


Trump proposes green cards for foreign grads of US colleges, departing from anti-immigrant rhetoric

Updated 19 min 11 sec ago
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Trump proposes green cards for foreign grads of US colleges, departing from anti-immigrant rhetoric

  • A green card, also known as a permanent resident card, allows individuals to live and work permanently in the United States and is a path to citizenship

MIAMI: Former President Donald Trump said in an interview posted on Thursday he wants to give automatic green cards to foreign students who graduate from US colleges, a sharp departure from the anti-immigrant rhetoric he typically uses on the campaign trail.
Trump was asked about plans for companies to be able to import the “best and brightest” in a podcast taped Wednesday with venture capitalists and tech investors called the “All-In.”
“What I want to do and what I will do is you graduate from a college, I think you should get automatically as part of your diploma a green card to be able to stay in this country. And that includes junior colleges too, anybody graduates from a college. You go there for two years or four years,” he said, vowing to address this concern on day one.
Immigration has been Trump’s signature issue during his 2024 bid to return to the White House. His suggestion that he would offer green cards — documents that confer a pathway to US citizenship — to potentially hundreds of thousands of foreign graduates would represent a sweeping expansion of America’s immigration system that sharply diverges from his most common messages on foreigners.
Trump has blamed immigrants who are in the country illegally for committing crimes, stealing jobs and government resources, and suggested that they are “poisoning the blood of our country.” He has promised to carry out the largest deportation operation in US history if elected.
Trump and his allies often say they distinguish between people entering illegally versus legally. But during his administration, Trump also proposed curbs on legal immigration such as family-based visas and the visa lottery program.
Right after taking office in 2017, he issued his “Buy American and Hire American” executive order, directing Cabinet members to suggest reforms to ensure that business visas were only awarded to the highest-paid or most-skilled applicants to protect American workers.
He has previously said the H1-B program commonly used by companies to hire foreign workers temporarily — a program he has used in the past — was “very bad” and used by tech companies to get foreign workers for lower pay.
During the conversation with “All-In,” Trump blamed the coronavirus pandemic for being unable to implement these measures while he was president. He said he knows of stories of people who graduate from top colleges and want to stay in the US but can’t secure visas to do so, forcing them to return to their native countries, specifically naming India and China. He said they go on and become multibillionaires, employing thousands of workers.
“You need a pool of people to work for your company,” Trump said. “And they have to be smart people. Not everybody can be less than smart. You need brilliant people.”

 


Hundreds in Paris protest ‘anti-Semitic’ gang rape

Updated 21 June 2024
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Hundreds in Paris protest ‘anti-Semitic’ gang rape

  • The rape was filmed by one boy and another threatened to kill the girl if she told authorities about her ordeal, police sources said

PARIS: Several hundred people protested against anti-Semitism and “rape culture” in Paris on Thursday after the gang rape of a 12-year-old Jewish girl at the weekend sparked nationwide outrage.
Various anti-racist, rights and feminist groups had called for the demonstration following Saturday’s gang rape.
Dominique Sopo, president of anti-racist group SOS Racisme, said it was “an anti-Semitic crime that chills our blood.”
Anne-Cecile Mailfert, the president of the Women’s Foundation, said the incident reflected a rise in anti-Semitism since the start of the Gaza war.
But it also highlighted “a rape culture to which young people are more likely to subscribe,” having been “bottle-fed pornography,” she added.
Ner Sfez, a 24-year-old Jewish woman, said she had come to protest a crime “at the intersection of sexism and anti-Semitism.”
Hundreds had already protested on Wednesday in Paris and Lyon in central-eastern France after the incident was reported in the news.
The Jewish girl told police three boys aged between 12 and 13 approached her in a park near her home in the northwestern Paris suburb of Courbevoie on Saturday evening, police sources said.
She was dragged into a shed where the suspects beat her and “forced” her to have sex “while uttering death threats and anti-Semitic remarks,” one police source told AFP.
The rape was filmed by one boy and another threatened to kill the girl if she told authorities about her ordeal, police sources said.
Two boys, both aged 13, were charged on Tuesday with gang rape, anti-Semitic insults and violence, and issuing death threats. They have been taken into custody.
A third boy, 12, was charged with anti-Semitic insults and violence and issuing death threats, but not with rape. He was allowed to return home.
France has the largest Jewish community of any country outside Israel and the United States.
At Thursday’s protest, Arie Alimi, a lawyer known for tackling police brutality and the vice president of the French Human Rights League, said anti-Semitism, racism and sexism were “everywhere.”
In the run-up to snap parliamentary polls on June 30 and July 7, he urged voters to prevent the far right from seizing power and “installing a racist, anti-Semitic and sexist policy.”
But he also said he was sad to hear “anti-Semitic remarks from a part of those who say they are on the left.”
President Emmanuel Macron called the parliamentary elections after the far right thrashed his centrist alliance in European polls.
His surprise move has seen part of the right ally itself with the far right and the left form a new alliance, with both sides accusing the other of being anti-Semitic.