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Shell to stop buying Russian crude oil, gas over Ukraine invasion | Russia-Ukraine war News



The energy giant joins a raft of other corporations, including BP, to exit from Russia over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Shell has apologised for buying Russian crude oil last week and said it would withdraw completely from any involvement in Russian hydrocarbons over the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We are acutely aware that our decision last week to purchase a cargo of Russian crude oil … was not the right one and we are sorry,” Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden said on Tuesday.

Shell bought a cargo of Russian crude oil from Swiss trader Trafigura in S&P Global Platts window loading from Baltic ports at a record low of dated Brent minus $28.50 a barrel, traders said on Friday.

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Shell last week said it would exit all its Russian operations, including the flagship Sakhalin 2 LNG plant in which it holds a 27.5 percent stake, and which is 50 percent owned and operated by Russian gas group Gazprom.

The energy giant joined a raft of companies, including BP, which said it was abandoning its 19.75 percent stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft.

But it was still one of the few Western companies to have continued buying crude oil from Russia since the conflict in Ukraine escalated.

The British energy major said it would change its crude oil supply chain to remove volumes from the sanctions-hit country “as fast as possible” and shut its service stations, and aviation fuels and lubricants operations in Russia.

The company said the supply chain change could take weeks to complete and will lead to reduced throughput at some of its refineries.

The withdrawal from Russian petroleum products, pipeline gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG) will be in a phased manner. The company also plans to end its involvement in the Nord Stream 2 Baltic gas pipeline linking Russia to Germany, which it helped finance as a part of a consortium.

Reuters reported on Monday that the United States was willing to move ahead with a ban on Russian oil imports without the participation of allies in Europe in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Oil prices have soared to their highest levels since 2008 due to delays in the potential return of Iranian crude to global markets and as the United States and European allies consider banning Russian imports.

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Israel ‘investigating soldier’ in journalist Abu Akleh’s killing | Israel-Palestine conflict News



The Israeli military is increasingly accepting the possibility that one of its soldiers killed veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, with reports emerging that Israel is investigating the likelihood that one of its soldiers shot her during a raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

The Palestinian-American Abu Akleh was in Jenin on Wednesday reporting on the raid when she was killed by Israeli forces, according to Al Jazeera, as well as multiple witnesses at the scene, who said that there was no confrontation with Palestinian fighters at the time of the shooting.

The admission that an Israeli soldier could be responsible is evidence that the Israelis are backtracking from their initial position that it was likely that Palestinian fighters in Jenin killed Abu Akleh.

A video widely disseminated by the Israeli government, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, which showed Palestinians firing in Jenin has now been proven to have not been filmed in Abu Akleh’s vicinity when she was killed.

Israel is conducting an investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing, Israeli army sources told the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post newspapers.

According to the Washington Post, a senior Israeli army official on Thursday said that the military was investigating three separate incidents involving its soldiers during the time of Abu Akleh’s killing.

“A soldier with a rifle and a very good aiming system was shooting towards a terrorist with an M16, in very good condition, very clear picture, that was shooting on our troops. What we are checking now is the location of Shireen,” the official told the Washington Post, adding that “this was the most probable [scenario] to be involved in the death of Shireen”.

The official also said that military investigators had taken rifles from Israeli soldiers involved in the fighting to make them available for ballistic testing.

Meanwhile, a senior Israeli military official also told the Wall Street Journal that the army was investigating one incident in which there was a possibility of an Israeli soldier’s bullet being responsible for Abu Akleh’s killing.

The official “acknowledged a bullet could have deflected off the ground or a wall and struck Ms. Abu Akleh”, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Family, friends and colleagues of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh carry her coffin to a hospital
Family, friends and colleagues of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh carry her coffin to a hospital in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah [Mahmoud Illean/AP Photo]

Journalists who were with Abu Akleh, including one who was shot and wounded, said Israeli forces fired upon them even though they were clearly identifiable as reporters.

Israel is also calling for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority (PA), which administers parts of the West Bank and cooperates with it on security.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas angrily rejected that proposal, saying “we hold the Israeli occupation authorities fully responsible for killing her”.

“They cannot hide the truth with this crime,” Abbas said in an address as her body lay in state with a Palestinian flag draped over it in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority has its headquarters.

“They are the ones who committed the crime, and because we do not trust them, we will immediately go to the International Criminal Court,” Abbas said.

The European Union has urged an “independent” probe while the United States demanded the killing be “transparently investigated”, calls echoed by United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

In a statement, Al Jazeera said that Abu Akleh had been “assassinated in cold blood” and called on the international community to hold Israeli forces responsible.

Aside from Abu Akleh, another Al Jazeera journalist, Ali al-Samoudi, was also wounded by a bullet to the back at the scene. He is now in a stable condition.

Abu Akleh is to be laid to rest on Friday in her hometown of Jerusalem, after her body was carried in a procession from Jenin to Jerusalem, via Nablus and Ramallah, over the three days since Wednesday.

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China’s tech workers face layoff bloodbath amid crackdown, losses | Technology



Beijing, China – Rather than a pink slip from his boss, Zhang Wei found out he was about to lose his job at Chinese video streamer iQiyi via a work group chat.

Zhang’s supervisor only confirmed the news after the cuts at the Beijing-headquartered company last December leaked to the media.

“Although I knew in advance, I still couldn’t believe it,” Zhang, who asked to use a pseudonym, told Al Jazeera.

Zhang is just one of tens of thousands of workers in China’s tech scene who have been laid off following Beijing’s stock price-hammering regulatory crackdown on private enterprise and years of aggressive expansion within the sector that analysts say left some firms overstretched.

Nearly 73,000 workers were let go between July and mid-April alone, according to research by TechNode, a media outlet that covers China’s technology and startup scene. Later in April, lifestyle app Xiaohongshu, often described as China’s version of Instagram, fired about 10 percent of its workforce.

“The causes of not only these layoffs, but also the frozen headcount in many divisions, terminated current hiring and paused internships, are a combination of poor macroeconomic outlook, pressure to focus on profits and cut out unprofitable businesses, and greater regulatory oversight in the sector,” Rui Ma, an angel investor and the founder of the Tech Buzz China podcast, told Al Jazeera.

Worse may be yet to come.

Alibaba and Tencent, the two titans of the Chinese internet, are making plans to let go of tens of thousands of employees combined this year, according to a report published in March by Reuters, which cited anonymous sources close to the firms.

Alibaba headquarters
Alibaba and Tencent are reportedly preparing to let go of tens of thousands of employees [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

Gao “Noah” Zihao,  co-founder of Beta, a headhunting firm that has worked with China’s major tech players, said many tech companies had overstretched themselves by attempting to “duplicate their business models” in new industries, pointing to food delivery platform Meituan’s retail push and e-commerce platform Jindong’s foray into groceries as examples.

“These moves were too aggressive to make money, leaving companies with few options other than to cut the departments not making money,” Gao told Al Jazeera.

Gao added that qualified tech candidates are finding it increasingly difficult to get job interviews as companies advertise fewer and fewer openings.

iQiyi, Jindong and Meituan did not respond to requests for comment.

Yuwan Hu, associate director at Daxue Consulting, said China’s tech sector is now undergoing a period of transition after confronting the limits of one-time growth engines such as e-commerce.

“Previously, China’s biggest technology companies were focused on gaming, e-commerce and other traditional ‘big internet’ businesses that had a huge increase in users three to five years ago,” Hu told Al Jazeera, adding that the rapid growth led to a lopsided focus that neglected infrastructure.

‘Market maturations’

Workers “can see the ceiling, due to market maturations,” Hu said. “And government policies are now not that favourable to big internet. It’s just not very stable … Now, government policy is more favourable to what we call ‘hard-core’ emerging technical industries like AI, cloud computing, biotech and other infrastructure.”

The importance of one such nascent industry, big data, is evident in the Chinese government’s “14th Five-Year Plan for the development of the big data industry”, published in November, which describes the field as a “new driving force for economic transformation and development”.

With workers suffering the consequences of ill-judged business expansions, authorities have sought to push the “big internet” industry towards areas that Beijing considers more sustainable.

“Officials now seem to be saying: ‘We have a different strategy. We care about actual employment, and internet companies can’t produce that,’” Gao said. “Those internet companies tried very hard and poured a lot of money into the US stock market. The pandemic showed everyone that the virtual economy is not, and cannot, be the only growth driver.”

Such growth is impossible without growing pains, according to Ashley Dudarenok, coauthor of New Retail: Born in China Going Global.

“The industry is young and ever-changing at China speed, hence we are just entering a teenager stage, where there will inevitably be crises created by management and overconfident expansion,” Dudarenok told Al Jazeera.

“Tech ecosystems will continue developing, figuring out even better what’s their superpower and how to both best compete and collaborate with each other.”

After a difficult few years for the sector, there are nonetheless some hopeful signs on the horizon.

Chinese state media has in recent weeks signalled it will offer greater support to the beleaguered tech firms, raising expectations of a winding down or relaxation of the regulatory blitz that began in 2020.

Food delivery platform Meituan is among the Chinese startups that have attempted to branch out into other business areas [File: Aly Song/File Photo

Ma said she remains optimistic that tech jobs will remain attractive to workers, though perhaps less so than in the past.

“So far it [the tech sector] is still giving out some of the highest salaries in China … Stock packages have taken a big hit of course, but that is also a global phenomenon,” Ma said. “Most of these jobs are going to be good jobs, but not necessarily a ticket to financial freedom like they were at the beginning of the last decade.”

Despite the recent pain, big tech’s maturation is likely to benefit skilled workers in the long term, Gao said.

“People who can code, or the key account managers who actually have clients, will always be able to find a good job,” he said, expressing less optimism about the prospects of “fancy project managers, who tell stories with Powerpoint presentations”.

Hu expressed similar hopes for the future.

“The short term will be hard,” she said. “But within a year or so, there will be two types of personnel: those without the right tech backgrounds, who might need to focus on other industries. And then, there’ll be people who have relevant digital skills … They could develop newer skills to have upgraded jobs within tech.”

For tech workers like Zhang, the sector’s tumult has come as a wake-up call.

“The updating of technology is very fast. We need to keep learning so that we will not be eliminated,” he said. “Not only the technology industry but also any industry. I think we need to keep learning all the time.”

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Biden pledges $150m to ASEAN with eye on China | International Trade News



US president kicks off summit with Southeast Asian leaders with commitment to fund infrastructure, security and health.

US President Joe Biden opened a summit of Southeast Asian leaders with a pledge to spend $150m on infrastructure, security and the anti-pandemic efforts, as Washington seeks to counter China’s rising influence in the region.

Biden on Thursday kicked off a two-day summit with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Washington with a dinner at the White House ahead of talks at the State Department on Friday.

While Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is on the agenda, Biden’s administration hopes to demonstrate that Washington remains focused on the Asia-Pacific as Beijing becomes an increasingly powerful player in the region.

China in November pledged $1.5bn in development assistance to the ASEAN countries – Brunei, Indonesia, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines – over three years to fight COVID and support economic recovery.

“We are not asking countries to make a choice between the United States and China,” a senior US administration official told reporters.

“We want to make clear, though, that the United States seeks stronger relationships.”

Washington’s financial commitment includes a $40m investment to reduce the carbon footprint of the region’s power supply, $60m in maritime security, and $15m in health funding to tackle COVID-19 and future pandemics, an official said. Other funding will be aimed at helping countries develop the digital economy and legal frameworks for artificial intelligence.

The US Coast Guard will also deploy a ship to the region to help local fleets counter what Washington and countries in the region have described as China’s illegal fishing.

Biden is working on more initiatives, including “Build Back Better World” infrastructure investment and an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), although neither has been finalised.

Friction with China

The summit marks the first time that ASEAN’s leaders have gathered as a group at the White House and their first meeting hosted by a US president since 2016.

Eight ASEAN leaders are expected to take part in the talks. Myanmar’s leader was excluded over a coup last year and the Philippines is in transition after an election, though Biden spoke to the country’s president-elect, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, on Wednesday. The country was represented by its foreign affairs secretary at the White House.

ASEAN leaders also visited Capitol Hill on Thursday for a lunch with congressional leaders.

Southeast Asian countries share many of Washington’s concerns about China.

China’s claim to more than 90 percent of the South China Sea, one of the world’s most important shipping passageways, has stoked tensions with many of its regional neighbours, especially Vietnam and the Philippines.

Countries in the region, however, have also been frustrated by Washington’s level of economic engagement since former President Donald Trump quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact in 2017.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on Thursday said the US should adopt “a more active trade and investment agenda with ASEAN, which will benefit the U.S. economically and strategically”.

The IPEF will be launched on Biden’s trip to Japan and South Korea next week, although the initiative does not currently offer the expanded market access Asian countries seek, due to the US president’s concerns about American jobs.

Analysts say that even though ASEAN countries share US concerns about China, they remain cautious about siding more firmly with Washington, given their predominant economic ties with Beijing and limited US economic incentives.

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