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Xi tells US to handle Taiwan ‘properly’ to avoid damaging ties | Politics News

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Chinese president made comments in call with US counterpart Joe Biden, just hours after a Chinese aircraft carrier sailed through Taiwan Strait.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told US President Joe Biden on Friday that the Taiwan issue needs to be “handled properly” to avoid having a negative effect on relations between the two countries, according to Chinese state media.

China claims self-ruled Taiwan as part of its territory and has not ruled out the use of force to take control of the island.

Washington, which is seeking Beijing’s help in restoring peace in Ukraine after Russia’s February 24 invasion, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taipei but is Taiwan’s most important international backer and arms supplier.

“Some individuals in the United States are sending the wrong signals to pro-independence forces in Taiwan, and that’s very dangerous,” Xi told Biden during a video call between the two men on Friday.

“If the Taiwan issue is not handled properly, it will have a subversive impact on the relationship between the two countries.”

In a reminder of Beijing’s threat to assert its claim by force, the Chinese aircraft carrier Shandong sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Friday, just hours before Biden and Xi spoke. The carrier was shadowed by a US destroyer.

A White House statement said Biden reiterated in the call with Xi that US policy on Taiwan had not changed and emphasised that Washington “continues to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo”.

Crowds of people march in support of Ukraine waving the country's blue and yellow flag during a rally in Taipei on March 13
Taiwan, which is claimed by China, has thrown its support behind Ukraine [File: Chiang Ying-ying/AP Photo]

China has, over the past two years, stepped up its military activity near the island to assert its claims.

“[We] hope the US side will pay adequate attention” to the issue, Xi told Biden.

The US-China relationship, long fraught, has only become more strained since the start of Biden’s presidency. Biden has repeatedly criticised China not just over its provocations against Taiwan, but also over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the crackdown in Hong Kong.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry expressed thanks to Biden for his “emphasis on maintaining the status quo of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, as well as his firm support for Taiwan’s security”.

It called on China to take concrete actions and condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Taiwan, which rejects China’s sovereignty claims, has joined in Western-led sanctions against Russia and sent humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees.

Xi also told Biden that the war in Ukraine must end as soon as possible, according to Chinese state media.

All parties should jointly support the Russia-Ukraine dialogue while the United States and NATO should also conduct talks with Russia to solve the “crux” of the Ukraine crisis, Xi said



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Sweden, Finland to send delegations to Turkey over NATO bids | NATO News

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NATO membership hopefuls seek to clear up differences with Ankara which opposes their application to join the alliance.

Sweden and Finland are sending delegations to Turkey, hoping to clear up Ankara’s opposition to their applications to join NATO, according to Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto.

“When we see the problems coming, of course, we take this diplomatically. We are sending our delegations to visit Ankara from both Sweden and Finland. This will happen tomorrow,” Haavisto told attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday.

Sweden and Finland applied to join the transatlantic alliance in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“We think that NATO is a group of 30 democratic countries with common values and very strong transatlantic cooperation, and this is what we are looking for at this moment,” Haavisto added.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin and deputy foreign minister Sedat Onal will meet the Finnish and Swedish officials on Wednesday.

According to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, the Finnish delegation will be headed by the Finnish Permanent State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Jukka Salovaara and the Swedish officials will be led by Swedish State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Oscar Stenstrom.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by private broadcaster NTV that Ankara has prepared a “draft agreement” that will be the basis of the discussions.

Turkey, he said, wants “guarantees” that can be made in an official, signed agreement, not “wishes”.

NATO member Turkey has long accused Nordic countries, in particular Sweden which has a strong Turkish immigrant community, of harbouring outlawed Kurdish fighters as well as supporters of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based Muslim scholar accused of involvement in a failed 2016 coup.

Significant obstacle

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Saturday that Turkey would oppose membership for the two applicants unless its concerns were addressed – potentially a significant obstacle as a consensus is required in NATO decisions.

“We understand that Turkey has some of their own security concerns, such as terrorism,” Haavisto said.

“We think that we have good answers for those because we are also part of the fight against the terrorists. So, we think that this issue can be settled,” he added.

Analysts say Ankara may also be making a show of opposition to secure concessions from other NATO members, such as deliveries of fighter planes from the United States.

Haavisto said: “There might be also some issues that are not linked directly to Finland or Sweden, more to other NATO members or so forth, but I’m sure that in a good spirit, NATO can solve this issue.”



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Jailed Kashmir rights activist Khurram Parvez in Time’s 100 list | Human Rights News

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Kashmiri rights activist Khurram Parvez, jailed by India since November last year on “terrorism” charges, has been named as one of the 100 most influential people of 2022 by the United States-based Time magazine.

Parvez, 44, is chairman of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) and coordinator of the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), a prominent rights group in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan who govern over parts of it but claim it in its entirety. Most residents on the Indian side either want an independent state or a merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan.

An armed rebellion against New Delhi’s rule began in Indian-administered Kashmir in the late 1980s. To suppress the revolt, India deployed nearly half a million troops in the valley, making it one of the most militarised conflict zones in the world.

Global rights groups have accused the Indian forces of large-scale human rights abuses in the region, including killings, rapes, arbitrary arrests, and the suppression of media and other fundamental rights.

For the last two decades, Parvez had been highlighting such abuses by the Indian forces and seeking accountability from the government.

One of the major disclosures made by the JKCCS, led by Parvez, was the presence of more than 2,000 unmarked graves in the northern part of Indian-administered Kashmir in 2008. The report shook the region.

“He had to be silenced, for his was a voice that resounded around the globe for his fierce fight against human-rights violations and injustices in the Kashmir region,” Time magazine said, calling Parvez a “modern-day David who gave a voice to families that lost their children to enforced disappearances, allegedly by the Indian state”.

“The attacks against him speak volumes of the truth he represents at a time when the world’s largest democracy is being called out for its persecution of the more than 200 million Indian Muslims,” said the citation, written by leading Indian journalist Rana Ayyub.

“Khurram is the story and the storyteller of the insurgency and the betrayal of the people of Kashmir.”

By “betrayal”, the magazine meant Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government stripping Indian-administered Kashmir of its special status guaranteed by the Indian constitution in a controversial move in 2019.

Parvez was arrested in November last year under a stringent terrorism law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), for “criminal conspiracy and waging war against the government”.

The UAPA is vaguely worded legislation that effectively allows people to be held without trial indefinitely. Convictions under the law are rare.

The United Nations has issued multiple statements since Parvez’s arrest, demanding his release and amendments to the UAPA to bring it in line with the international human rights law and standards.

Parvez’s family said his appearance in the Time list “is a moment of pride for them” and “means a lot” to them.

“We are really proud of him. It shows his contribution in the two decades and the body of work that he created. These are the platforms that are acknowledging his work and offering us solidarity in such hard times,” one of Parvez’s family members told Al Jazeera, requesting anonymity over fears of reprisal by the Indian government.

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera “it is extremely unfortunate that Indian authorities are jailing human rights defenders or peaceful protesters”.

“Parvez has worked to draw attention to human rights violations in Kashmir, and instead of addressing those allegations, the government is punishing him,” she said.

The Time 2022 list also includes Indian lawyer Karuna Nundy, business tycoon Gautam Adani, and Chief Justice of Pakistan, Umar Ata Bandial.



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Sri Lanka hikes fuel prices, hires financial and legal advisers | Business and Economy News

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Sri Lanka has increased fuel and transport prices, a long-flagged move to combat its debilitating economic crisis, but the hikes are bound to exacerbate galloping inflation, at least in the short term.

Power and energy minister Kanchana Wijesekera said in a message on Twitter on Tuesday that petrol prices would increase by 20-24 percent while diesel prices would rise by 35-38 percent with immediate effect.

“Cabinet also approved the revision of transportation and other service charges accordingly,” he said.

Wijesekera said also that people would be encouraged to work from home “to minimize the use of fuel and to manage the energy crisis” and that public sector officials would work from office only when instructed by the head of the institution.

Food and transport price increases will flow through to food and other goods, economists said.

Annual inflation in the island nation rose to a record 33.8 percent in April compared with 21.5 percent in March, according to government data released on Monday.

Sri Lanka is in the throes of its worst economic crisis since independence, as a dire shortage of foreign exchange has stalled imports and left the country short of fuel, medicines and hit by rolling power cuts.

The financial trouble has come from the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic battering the tourism-reliant economy, rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Mahinda, who resigned as prime minister this month.

Economists have said fuel and power price hikes will be necessary to plug a massive gap in government revenues, but agree that it will lead to short-term pain.

Dhananath Fernando, an analyst for Colombo based think-tank Advocata Institute, said prices of petrol have soared 259 percent since October last year and diesel by 231 percent. Prices of food and other essential goods have surged, he said.

“Poor people will be the most affected by this. The solution is to establish a cash transfer system to support the poor and increase efficiency as much as possible.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointed in place of Mahinda Rajapaksa earlier this month after violence broke out between government supporters and protesters, said last week: “In the short term we will have to face an even more difficult time period. There is a possibility that inflation will increase further.”

INTERACTIVE_SRILANKA_ECONOMY_INFLATION

Renegotiate debt

The price hike comes at a time when Sri Lanka has hired heavyweight financial and legal advisers Lazard and Clifford Chance as it prepares for the difficult task of renegotiating its debts, Reuters reported, citing three unnamed sources as the talks are still private.

Spokespeople from Sri Lanka’s cabinet and Lazard, which has handled debt talks for dozens of crisis-strained countries in recent years, did not immediately reply to requests for comment while law firm Clifford Chance declined to comment.

Experts and economists have been waiting for the appointment as the country looks to restructure more than $12bn of overseas debt that had been building up for years but become unsustainable when COVID-19 hammered the economy.

INTERACTIVE_SRI_LANKA_FOREIGN DEBT

“By far the most important thing is to what extent the government will have the political will, and the ability, to deliver on the pre-conditions for the IMF programme,” said Gramercy’s co-head of sovereign research & strategy, Petar Atanasov.

“Governments are often willing to do the things that are required when their backs are completely against the wall.”

While there are hopes a deal can be struck to ease the economic crisis, it is unlikely to be straightforward.

A mix of loans from China, India and Japan, as well as all the bonds held by private investment funds mean long-resisted but now embraced talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) could be complex, especially if social unrest worsens.

A group of Sri Lanka’s largest sovereign dollar bondholders has hired Rothschild as its financial adviser and another legal firm, White & Case, as its legal adviser.

“I think the new cabinet would really have to show quick solutions to really pressing problems such as electricity and importation of goods to pacify the people,” said Carlos de Sousa, an emerging market strategist at Vontobel Asset Management which holds Sri Lanka’s bonds.

“They will try, but it is not clear to me whether they will be sufficiently successful. We will see.”





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