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India, Japan, US, Australia to hold Quad meet on Oct 6

NEW DELHI, Sept 29: Foreign ministers of the Quad, the informal security forum comprising India, the US, Japan and Australia, are expected to hold a much-awaited meeting in Tokyo on October 6 with the objective of tightening strategic cooperation and advance the goal of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region. The meeting is expected to be followed by consultations at senior officials’ level in November.

The meeting will discuss collaboration among Quad countries in counter-terrorism, cyber and maritime security, development finance, humanitarian assistance and disaster response, according to South Block officials. The ministers are also expected to discuss practical collaborations in developing advanced technologies including 5G and 5G-plus telecom standards as well as securing the sea lanes of communications in the Indo-Pacific.

While Beijing is expected to take aim at the four partners for seeking to target China at the meeting, there has been a sea change since the ministers met informally on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2019. Quad is expected to take steps towards an institutionalized dialogue at the meeting, where Chinese actions since the rise of global pandemic from Wuhan will come under a magnifying glass.

The Quad ministerial comes at a time when the Donald Trump administration has made a U-turn on US policy towards China, which was guided by the rapprochement policy tailored by Henry Kissinger 50 years ago under the Republican administration of Richard Nixon. The tough, new US policy towards Communist China was defined by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in his Nixon Library address on July 24.

The Indian relationship with China has taken a 180-degree turn since the Chennai summit on October 11-12, 2019, after the People’s Liberation Army’s aggression in eastern Ladakh in May. The armies of the two countries are still locked in a staring match in Ladakh with both sides losing soldiers in the June 15 Galwan Valley flare-up and firing in the air in the first week of September after the Indian Army pre-empted the PLA south of Pangong Tso. This is not all.

Australia’s relationship with China, its largest trading partner, has nosedived with Beijing imposing an 80% tariff on barley, launching an anti-dumping investigation of Australian wine, blocking Australian beef, arresting an Australian journalist and banning two academics from visiting China.

The situation with Japan is no different, with Chinese warmongering over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea forcing Tokyo to increase its defence budget to a record. Tokyo is also upset over new security laws in Hong Kong and pressure put on democratic Taiwan by Beijing.

In short, all the four Quad partners have their own reasons for being upset with China’s aggressive posture under paramount leader Xi Jinping under the mask of the deadly coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic. The Chinese posture in the Indo-Pacific and the threat it poses to the democratic world will be discussed at the Tokyo ministerial, with all Quadl partners sharing their experiences.

Given that all the Quad partners have a military supply and logistics sharing agreement with each other, the foreign ministers will also take a decision on a four-nation naval exercise under the rubric of Malabar in the Arabian Sea to signal their commitment for free and open navigation in the Indo-Pacific.

67 killed in Armenia-Azerbaijan war; UN calls for calm

YEREVAN, Sept 29: Nagorno-Karabakh`s defence ministry on Tuesday said that 27 of its fighters were killed in fighting with Azerbaijan forces, bringing their total military losses to 58.

The overall death toll rose to 67 including nine civilian deaths -- seven in Azerbaijan and two on the Armenian side, Al Jazeera reported.

Azerbaijan has not reported any military casualties, but Armenian separatist officials released footage showing burnt-out armoured vehicles and the bloodied and charred remains of soldiers in camouflage it said were Azerbaijani troops.

Yesterday, heavy fighting between the forces of Azerbaijan and Armenia broke out in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh region. The region lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since 1994.

The flare-up continued for the second day. Most of the international community, including the United States, Russia, Iran and European powers, have been calling for an end to hostilities and the start of talks.

As the clashes continued for Monday, UN chief Antonio Guterres spoke to the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Guterres stressed that "the need for an immediate stop to the fighting and resumption without the precondition of meaningful negotiations without delay under the umbrella of the Minsk Group co-chairs, and also for the immediate redeployment of [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] monitors to the region," according to Guterres` spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric.

Turkey Lira slides to new record lows on Caucasus clash fears

ISTANBUL, Sept 28: The Turkish lira skidded to record lows against the US dollar, euro and pound on Monday amid concerns Turkey could get more involved in a fast-escalating conflict in the Caucasus, despite last week’s surprise rate increase meant to support the currency.

The Turkish lira slid 2 percent against the dollar and was on track for its worst day since early August when the latest bout of selling began hitting the currency that has shed half its value in less than three years.

The selloff erased the gains made during a rally late last week after Turkey’s central bank unexpectedly raised interest rates by two percentage points to 10.25 percent – the first interest rate increase in two years – to stabilise the lira and address inflation.

But analysts who applauded the monetary policy pivot said the currency came under new pressure after heavy fire between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, marking their worst clashes since 2016.

Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan said during a speech in Istanbul on Monday Armenia must immediately withdraw from Azerbaijani lands it is occupying and that it is time to end the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region inside Azerbaijan run by ethnic Armenians.

“Fears are that Turkey gets dragged into another regional conflict,” said Timothy Ash at BlueBay Asset Management.

The currency weakened as far as 9.1416 against the euro and 10.0974 against the pound.

The lira was also hit by dollar strength, reaching a record low of 7.8325 by 12:31 GMT – a decline of some 24 percent from the end of last year.

The Turkish currency has been among the worst performers this year on worries about Turkey’s depleted foreign exchange reserves and sharply negative real interest rates.

Now it is being hit by growing geopolitical concerns.

At least 21 people were killed on Monday in the second day of heavy clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

A treasury specialist at a Turkish bank said the moves by both the central bank and banking watchdog could brighten the overall dim investor sentiment around the lira – but they were muted by the geopolitical tension.

“We think the currency would have hit 8 versus the dollar without these steps due to tensions in neighbouring Armenia and Azerbaijan,” the specialist said.

Until last Thursday’s rate hike, the central bank had relied on back-door methods to tighten the money supply, using liquidity measures and directing lenders to borrow at a higher rate.

On Monday, Turkey’s BDDK banking watchdog said it was lowering deposit banks’ required asset ratio to 90 percent from 95 percent, further easing a rule that effectively forced private banks to lend more and buy more government debt.

The BDDK on Friday raised the limits for banks’ foreign currency transactions with foreign entities, allowing increased access to the market.

16 killed as fighting erupts between Armenia, Azerbaijan

YEREVAN, Sept 27: Fighting erupted on Sunday between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the disputed separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh and a top territorial official said 16 people were killed and more than 100 wounded, while Azerbaijan’s president said his military has suffered losses.

Armenia also claimed that two Azerbaijani helicopters were shot down and three Azerbaijani tanks were hit by artillery, but Azerbaijan’s defense ministry rejected that claim.

Heavy fighting broke out in the morning in the region that lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since 1994 at the end of a separatist war. It was not immediately clear what sparked the fighting, the heaviest since clashes in July killed 16 people from both sides.

Nagorno-Karabakh authorities reported that shelling hit the region’s capital of Stepanakert and the towns of Martakert and Martuni. Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan also said Azerbaijani shelling hit within Armenian territory near the town of Vardenis.

Artur Sarkisian, deputy head of the Nagorno-Karabakh army, said that 16 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. It wasn’t immediately clear if the figure included both soldiers and civilians. Earlier, the Armenian human rights ombudsman said a woman and child had been killed in the shelling.

Another Armenian Defense Ministry spokeswoman, Shushan Stepanyan, said “the Armenian side” shot down two helicopters and hit three tanks.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev ordered martial law be imposed in some regions of the country and called for a curfew in major cities.

In a televised address to the nation, Aliyev said that “there are losses among the Azerbaijani forces and the civilian population as a result of the Armenian bombardment,” but didn’t give further details. He also claimed that “many units of the enemy’s military equipment have been destroyed”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov “is conducting intensive contacts in order to induce the parties to cease fire and start negotiations to stabilize the situation,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called on the sides to stop fighting. The long-unsuccessful negotiations for resolving the territory’s status has been conducted under OSCE auspices.

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian on Sunday said the country could reexamine whether to recognise Nagorno-Karabakh as independent. Such a move would likely obstruct further negotiations.

The news was harshly received in Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan.

Turkey’s ruling party spokesman Omer Celik tweeted: “We vehemently condemn Armenia’s attack on Azerbaijan. Armenia has once again committed a provocation, ignoring law.” He promised Turkey would stand by Azerbaijan and said, “Armenia is playing with fire and endangering regional peace.” Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin also condemned Armenia.

“Armenia has violated the cease-fire by attacking civilian settlements … the international community must immediately say stop to this dangerous provocation,” Kalin tweeted.

Mostly mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh –– a region around 4,400 square kilometers (1,700 square miles) or about the size of the U.S. state of Delaware –– lies 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the Armenian border. Local soldiers backed by Armenia also occupy some Azerbaijani territory outside the region.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis said Sunday that he was praying for peace between the two countries, urging them to them to “accomplish concrete deeds of goodwill and fraternity” to reach a peaceful solution through dialogue.

Kim Jong Un apologizes to Seoul after killing South Korean to curb Covid-19 spread

SEOUL, Sept 25: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un apologised on Friday for the shooting death of a South Korean man to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the South’s national security adviser said, as public and political outrage over the killing grew.

The apology came in a letter from the North’s United Front Department, which handles cross-border ties, to South Korean President Moon Jae-in a day after South Korean officials said the North’s soldiers killed the man, doused his body in fuel and set it on fire.

The rare conciliatory message from the North Korean leader came as Moon faced intense political fallout over the incident, which coincided with a renewed push by him for engagement with North Korea.

“Chairman Kim Jong Un asked to convey his feeling that he is greatly sorry that an unexpected unsavoury incident occurred in our waters which hugely disappointed President Moon Jae-in and compatriots in the South,” the adviser, Suh Hoon, told reporters.

Suh said the letter was a response to requests for an explanation for the incident and included a promise to prevent any recurrence.

North Korea expressed hope the incident would not undermine recent efforts to foster trust, Suh said, adding Moon and Kim had exchanged letters this month.

Moon praised Kim’s “strong resolve to save lives” and steer anti-virus and flood recovery work in his Sept. 8 letter, his office said.

In a Sept. 12 reply, Kim said Moon would win the battle against the coronavirus and “good things” would happen later.

The leaders have held three summits and signed pacts to ease tension since 2018, but relations have soured since the collapse last year of a second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump, at which Moon had offered to mediate.

The shooting of the man, a fisheries official who had gone missing this week, shocked South Koreans and sparked a barrage of criticism from the opposition and the public, prompting an unusually tough response from Moon, who called it “unpardonable”.

Critics accused Moon of failing to save a citizen’s life while being soft on North Korea, saying the military did not attempt to save him despite spotting him six hours before he was shot dead.

South Korean officials said the man has run up debt and likely sought to defect to the North. But his brother refuted that, saying he had just got a new boat and must have had some sort of accident.

“Not everyone who has debts wants to go to the North,” the brother, Lee Rae-jin, said on social media.

“What the military was doing when he was floating around our waters for almost a day?”

The North’s soldiers fired more than 10 shots at the man after he tried to flee without revealing his identity, Suh said, citing the letter.

But the North Korean side denied burning his body, saying the soldiers had burned a floatation device he was using in line with their anti-virus procedures, Suh said.

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the apology showed Kim did not want the incident to escalate but it remained highly contentious in the South.

“The letter showed Kim’s willingness to quickly resolve the situation but publicly it’s a very sensitive matter,” Yang said.

The shooting came a day after Moon proposed a new initiative including North Korea to the U.N. General Assembly and called for a formal termination of the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice, a long-standing North Korean demand.

But opposition politicians derided Moon’s olive branch.

“Now is not the time to speak of ending the war,” said Thae Young-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who is now an opposition lawmaker. He called for a formal investigation.

Cross-border terror among key challenges for Saarc: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, Sept 24: Cross-border terror, blocking connectivity and obstructing trade are the key challenges that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) must overcome to ensure lasting peace and security in the region, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday.

Jaishankar made the remarks while addressing an informal virtual meeting of foreign ministers of the eight-member grouping, whose functioning has stalled because of differences between India and Pakistan.

The meeting of the foreign ministers is an annual event held on the margins of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York that has been marked by testy exchanges between India and Pakistan in recent years.

“Cross-border terrorism, blocking connectivity and obstructing trade are three key challenges that SAARC must overcome,” Jaishankar said in a string of tweets highlighting the contents of his speech.

“Only then will we see enduring peace, prosperity and security in our South Asia region,” he added.

In his speech, he said: “Over the last 35 years, Saarc has made significant progress. But our efforts towards collective collaboration and prosperity have been hampered by acts of terrorism and threats to national security.

“Such an environment impedes our shared objective of realising the full potential of our collective endeavour. It is, therefore, crucial that we collectively resolve to defeat the scourge of terrorism, including the forces that nurture, support and encourage it.

“This will generate the much needed trust and confidence to collectively build a stronger and prosperous Saarc.”

Though he didn’t name any country, it was obvious he was referring to Pakistan.

India has accused Pakistan of backing cross-border terror, especially in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

After India created an emergency coronavirus disease (Covid-19) fund for Saarc states earlier this year, Pakistan asked for it to be placed under the grouping’s secretariat.

Jaishankar said he had also reaffirmed India’s commitment to its “neighbourhood first” policy and towards building a connected, integrated, secure and prosperous South Asia.

He also highlighted India’s Covid-19-related cooperation efforts, including a commitment of $10 million to the emergency fund for the region, the supply of essential drugs, medical consumables, and protection and test kits to the region, and a video conference of health professionals from the region to share information and best practices on the pandemic.

India had also launched a Covid-19 Information Exchange Platform (COINEX) to facilitate exchange of specialised information, helped the development of an innovative website by the Saarc Disaster Management Centre to provide reliable information and updates on the evolving situation, and activated the Saarc Food Bank mechanism to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, he said.

“And where we brought back our own people from afar, we had space both on the plane and in our hearts for our neighbours,” Jaishankar said.

He also pointed to India’s support for neighbours, such as the extension of $150 million (m), $200 m and $400 m foreign currency swap support for the Maldives, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, respectively.

In his address, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi spoke of his country’s “willingness to host the 19th SAARC Summit and for obstacles created in its way to be removed for SAARC to function as an effective instrument of regional cooperation”.

The summit was scheduled to be held in Islamabad in November 2016 but was called off after an attack on an Indian Army camp at Uri in Kashmir that was blamed on Pakistan-based terrorists.

Since then, Saarc has largely been dormant.

Qureshi said Pakistan attaches great importance to Saarc and its charter, which upholds the principle of sovereign equality as the basis for meaningful regional cooperation.

He also reiterated the need for a regional approach to stop the spread of Covid-19.

In March, the Pakistani representative at a video conference of Saarc leaders on the Covid-19 situation had triggered a controversy by raising the Kashmir issue. That event had been organised at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suggestion. At the time, Indian officials had said Pakistan’s move was unwarranted and an attempt to politicise a humanitarian issue.

‘Crying’ PLA troops on way to India border causes China-Taiwan media war

BEIJING, Sept 22: A bizarre war of words has broken out between mainland Chinese and Taiwanese media over a video of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recruits being sent to the Sino-India border, with some of them appearing to be in tears.

The video, published online last week by a local network in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, showed the young soldiers inside a bus and singing a well-known Chinese military song “Green Flowers in the Army”. Nearly all of them seemed emotional, with some crying.

Taiwanese media such as Liberty Times and Taiwan News, known for their pro-independence, anti-China stand, seemed to mock the soldiers for crying, interpreting it as a sign of fear against deployment at the border with India amid the ongoing tension in eastern Ladakh.

China considers Taiwan as a breakaway region to be reunified by force if necessary and currently – much like with India – military tension between the two is rapidly escalating.

The recruits in the video are from the Yingzhou district of Fuyang city in Anhui.

The video was shared across online platforms in China as well as on Twitter and on Facebook, interestingly by a Pakistani comedian Zaid Hamid.

“As tensions continue to simmer on the Sino-Indian border, a video surfaced on Sunday (September 20) showing PLA soldiers crying as they are allegedly deployed to the border,” the Taiwan News reported on Tuesday.

The new troops were “reportedly college students, and five of them had ‘proactively volunteered to serve in Tibet’, which borders the Ladakh region where the bloody Galwan Valley skirmish took place in June of this year,” it said.

“In the video, the soldiers can be seen sobbing hysterically as they struggle to sing the words to the PLA song ‘Green Flowers in the Army,’” the report added.

It said Hamid, the Pakistani comedian, seemed to be “poking fun” at the recruits despite him saying: “We Pakistani support you China. Stay Brave.”

The Chinese state-controlled media reacted strongly against its Taiwanese counterparts, saying they deliberately misinterpreted the emotional video involving the PLA soldiers.

“At that time, they were bidding farewell to their parents and sang the famous military song ‘Green Flowers in the Army’, and they sang ‘Go home when you celebrate your work’, completely contrary to the mood created by Taiwanese media,” the nationalist tabloid Global Times said in a report on Tuesday.

The report added that though the Taiwanese media report “tried to use all kinds of explicit hints to shape the image of the PLA fighters being ‘afraid of war’, when describing all the key information, the author used vague terms such as ‘reported’ and ‘probable’, which seemed very guilty.”

The Global Times report added that many who re-posted the content mocking the PLA were Twitter users from India.

Second Quad meeting slated to be held in Tokyo in Oct

NEW DELHI, Sept 20: The second ministerial meeting of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad is expected to be held in Tokyo early next month, people familiar with developments said, with the meet coming against the backdrop of China’s aggressive actions across the Indo-Pacific.

The meet will be held at a time when all four members of the Quad have serious differences with China – India is engaged in a border standoff in Ladakh, the Australian government has pledged to halt projects under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Japan is worried about Chinese intrusions near the Senkaku Islands, and the US is engaged in a trade war.

There has been no official word on the Quad meeting, with the external affairs ministry only saying the four sides were in talks to decide the venue and timing. The people cited above said the meeting is expected to be held in the Japanese capital in early October.

The members of the Quad, especially India, Japan and Australia, have also stepped up work on forging partnerships with like-minded countries in the region, or those with interests in the Indian Ocean, with an eye on China’s increasing assertiveness and aggressiveness.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar said last week India and Japan were looking at cooperating on projects in Bangladesh and Myanmar as part of their efforts to work together in third countries.

India, Australia and France held their inaugural senior officials’ trilateral dialogue, with the focus on building convergences in the Indo-Pacific, on September 9, the same day that India and Japan signed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), a pact for reciprocal provision of supplies and services between their defence forces.

China has eyed the Quad, which was revived in 2017, with suspicion, especially after the grouping was upgraded to the ministerial level in September last year.

The upcoming Quad meeting will also be the first such high-level meet to be held in Tokyo since March, when the Covid-19 pandemic stopped virtually all travel by top government functionaries. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had played a key role in the revival of the Quad and the holding of the meeting in Tokyo is expected to signal that his successor Yoshihide Suga is expected to continue with similar security and diplomatic policies, the people cited above said.

Senior officials of the Quad countries have held several virtual meetings during the pandemic to share experiences and coordinate on efforts to counter the Coronavirus.

China sends more warplanes as Taiwan honours Lee Teng-hui

TAIPEI, Sept 19: Multiple Chinese military aircraft approached Taiwan for a second consecutive day on Saturday as the island's leader, government officials and a senior United States envoy bid farewell to the late Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui, dubbed "Mr Democracy" for ending autocratic rule in Taipei in favour of free elections.

The Taiwanese defence ministry said 19 Chinese aircraft were involved in Saturday's exercises, one more than the previous day, with some crossing the sensitive Taiwan Strait midline and others flying into Taiwan's air defence identification zone off its southwest coast.

It said China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, sent 12 J-16 fighters, two J-10 fighters, two J-11 fighters, two H-6 bombers and one Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft.

According to a map the ministry provided, none got close to mainland Taiwan itself or flew over it.

"ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defence missile system to monitor the activities," the ministry said in a tweet, referring to the Republic of China Air Force, the formal name of Taiwan's air force.

Taiwan's defence ministry, in a separate statement, said China was carrying out provocative activities, seriously damaging peace and stability.

"The Defence Ministry sternly condemns this, and calls on the mainland authorities to control themselves and pull back from the edge."

China had on Friday announced combat drills near the Taiwan Strait and denounced what it called collusion between the island and the US.

The US under secretary for economic affairs, Keith Krach, arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit, the most senior State Department official to visit Taiwan in four decades.

China has condemned Krach's visit multiple times.

"Every time a high-ranking US official visits Taiwan, the fighter jets of the PLA should be one step closer to the island," said an editorial in the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times on Friday.

"The US and Taiwan must not misjudge the situation, or believe the exercise is a bluff. Should they continue to make provocations, a war will inevitably break out."

Krach is the second high-level official to visit Taiwan in two months, following the US health secretary, Alex Azar, in August. Washington's increased outreach to Taiwan under US President Donald Trump has become yet another flashpoint with China as the countries clash over a range of trade and security issues, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

Unlike Azar, Krach held most of his meetings behind closed doors and kept a low profile at the service for Lee, who died in July at the age of 97. Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori also attended.

Speaking at the memorial service in a chapel at a Taipei university, President Tsai Ing-wen said he had shaped the Taiwan of today.

"Confronted with daunting international challenges, he skilfully led the people of Taiwan by promoting pragmatic diplomacy. Taiwan became synonymous with democracy and was catapulted onto the world stage. Because of this, President Lee came to be lauded as Mr Democracy," Tsai said.

"Thanks to his efforts, Taiwan now shines as a beacon of democracy.

"We have a responsibility to continue his endeavours, allowing the will of the people to reshape Taiwan, further defining Taiwan's identity and deepening and bolstering democracy and freedom," she added.

Lee became Taiwan's first democratically elected president in March 1996 after eight months of intimidating war games and missile tests by China in waters around the island. Those events brought China and Taiwan to the verge of conflict, prompting the US to send an aircraft carrier task force to the area in a warning to Beijing's government.

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing also reviles as a separatist, sent a recorded video message for his "close friend" Lee.

"Now he is no longer here, but we Buddhists believe in life after life, so most probably he will be reborn in Taiwan," he said.

Lee's remains will be interred at a military cemetery next month.

India, Japan looking at working together in Bangladesh and Myanmar: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, Sept 18: India and Japan are looking at the possibility of cooperating on projects in Bangladesh and Myanmar as part of their efforts to work together in third countries, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Friday.

The India-Japan Act East Forum, which focuses on specific projects to modernise India’s northeastern region, also has a larger significance for connectivity with Bangladesh and Myanmar, Jaishankar said during a virtual event to mark the release of a report on the theme “India-Japan: Time to seize the opportunities”.

The recent signing of the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA), which covers the reciprocal provision of supplies and services by the defence forces of India and Japan, will enhance stability and security across Asia, he said.

The minister’s remarks assume significance against the backdrop of efforts by several countries, including India, Australia and Japan, to forge new partnerships with countries across the Indo-Pacific in the face of China’s growing aggressive and assertive activities.

India and Japan, Jaishankar noted, had moved from discussions to practically working together in third countries. “We’ve done a little bit of that in Sri Lanka and I think we’re today trying to see whether we can cooperate and coordinate more closely in Bangladesh and Myanmar,” he said.

While noting that India and Japan were already working closely within the framework of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Asia Summit and the Quadrilateral dialogue, he suggested that they could also cooperate in Russia’s Far East and the Pacific Island countries.

Jaishankar described ACSA, which was signed last week, as “a very practical manifestation of our ability and intent of working together”. He added, “I’m very confident that it would both be a big plus for the evolution of the Indo-Pacific vision of both countries [and add] to the stability and security of Asia.”

Both countries are trying to shape the Indo-Pacific narrative to reflect the rebalancing of the world and Asia and bilateral defence and security cooperation has “progressed remarkably fast”, he remarked, adding that Japan is the only country with which India has both an annual summit and a 2+2 dialogue between the defence and foreign ministers.

The Covid-19 pandemic has expanded national security to include health security along with economic and supply chain security, as well as the concept of strategic autonomy in terms of supply chains, and this could be a new area of cooperation with Japan, he suggested.

While replying to a question at the event organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Jaishankar said, without naming China, that it is important for all players to work together to ensure Asia’s rise.

“If we are to give to Asia a more prominent place in world politics, then it’s important for all the nations of Asia, especially the large and important nations,...to get along together because if they spend their energies not in a positive manner but kind of contesting each other, they’re not going to advance the interests of Asia,” he said.

Toshihide Ando, the deputy chief of the Japanese mission, told the event that Japan is a steadfast partner for both the “Make in India” and “Make for the world” initiatives. He added, “India will become stronger by playing a pivotal role in global supply chains through enhanced trade and investment.”

Japanese businesses are keen to play a bigger role in India’s new quest to be the hub of global supply chains, and the number of Japanese firms operating in India increased to 1,454 last year, he noted.

However, Ando also listed challenges faced by Japanese businesses in India, including complicated legal and tax systems, late payments, difficult labour issues, inadequate infrastructure, and problems linked to enforcement of contracts.

“In an increasingly uncertain world, Japan and India can bring about an assurance of peace, stability and prosperity by working with other like-minded countries,” Ando said.

Chinese fighter jets in Taiwanese airspace as US official visits Taiwan

BEIJING, Sept 18: China on Friday launched “real-combat” drills near the Taiwan Strait as a top US official visits Taiwan, which Beijing claims as a breakaway region.

Chinese fighter jets appeared in Taiwanese airspace from four directions, media reports from Taipei said as Beijing launched maritime and airspace drills near the self-ruled island on Friday, leading Taiwan to scramble its own warplanes.

The drills come as Keith Krach, US Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, arrived in Taiwan late Thursday, and will attend the memorial service for former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui on Saturday.

Krach’s visit comes within a month of US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar’s trip to Taiwan as Washington and Taipei warm up ties, much to the anger of Beijing.

Krach and Azar are two of the highest-level US officials to visit Taiwan in decades.

In Beijing, defence ministry spokesperson, Ren Guoqiang said “those who play with fire will get burnt” as he announced the drills on Friday, adding that the exercises were a “necessary move aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

He accused the US and Taiwan of “stepping up collusion, frequently causing disturbances” without directly referring to Krach’s ongoing visit.

Reiterating that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, Ren was quoted as saying by Chinese media that the Taiwan question is purely China’s internal affair and allows no outside interference.

Commenting on Krach’s visit, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Friday that China has the firm will to thwart external interference and secessionist acts in Taiwan.

During his visit, Krach will attend the memorial service of former Taiwanese leader Lee, who is known as the “godfather of Taiwan secessionism” on the mainland.

The US official is scheduled to meet Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen for dinner at her official residence later on Friday.

Also Read:‘Encouraging separatist forces’: China strongly opposes US envoy’s visit to Taiwan

Beijing has ramped-up military activity near Taiwan in recent months and have conducted several exercises in the region.

In June, Taipei scrambled jets in response to warn off the aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force, which had deployed fighter aircraft across the Taiwan Strait hours after an US transport plane flew over the island.

In August, Beijing conducted exercises near the island, which coincided with health secretary’s Azar’s visit.

The US is also preparing to sell seven tranches of weapons systems to Taiwan, the CNN reported on Thursday, quoting a US official.

The US, like India and the majority of countries, does not have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan though the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 allows Washington to sell arms to the island.

US Energy Secretary Krach accorded warm welcome in Taiwan

TAIPEI, Sept 17: The visit to Taiwan by Keith Krach, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, and the accompanying U.S. delegation is warmly welcomed by the government and people, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Sept. 17.

In country until Sept. 19, the group also includes Robert A. Destro, assistant secretary of the Department of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Krach is the highest-level official from the U.S. Department of State to visit Taiwan since 1979.

During Krasch’s three-day visit, he will meet with President Tsai Ing-wen and get up to speed on the latest economic and political developments in Taiwan. He is to be joined by Destro in attending the memorial service for late President Lee Teng-hui, the country’s first democratically elected head of state.

Starting at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 19, the event will be staged primarily at the chapel of Aletheia University in New Taipei City. Among the 800 expected attendees are Tsai, Vice President Lai Ching-te, officials, foreign envoys, representatives of political parties, and Lee’s family members and friends.

The MOFA said Krach and Destro will pay tribute on behalf of the U.S. to Lee’s contribution to the development of the country’s democracy. This was echoed by Morgan Ortagus, spokesperson of the U.S. Department of State, who said in a statement Sept. 16 that the U.S. honors Lee’s legacy by continuing strong bonds with Taiwan and its vibrant democracy through shared political and economic values.

Krasch’s trip follows the announcement Aug. 31 by David Stilwell, assistant secretary of state for Asia and the Pacific, that like-minded partners Taiwan and the U.S. are establishing a “new bilateral economic dialogue” centered on energy, health care, semiconductors and technology. It also maintains the momentum of the historic Taiwan visit earlier the same month by Alex Azar, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—the highest ranking U.S. Cabinet member to visit Taiwan since 1979.

According to the MOFA, increased interaction between officials from Taiwan and the U.S. reflects the closeness of two-way ties and augurs well for the future. It is anticipated the trip will further deepen friendship and expand exchanges based on shared values between the two sides, the ministry said.

Belarusian Venus: Bruised female nude takes aim at police violence

MOSCOW, Sept 17: Imagine a painting of a female nude but with the bare flesh of her legs and body blotched with purple, green and yellow bruises as she lies on the floor and embraces an outline of her country Belarus.

The striking protest image, an oil painting by Belarusian artist Yana Chernova, takes aim at what rights groups says is systematic violence and torture used by police to try and quell mass anti-government protests. Tens of thousands of Belarusians have taken part in nationwide protests against veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko for more than five weeks. Women have taken a particularly prominent role in the movement.

“Everything happening with us here is injustified cruelty against people, against girls - it is a mockery of everything that is wonderful, everything that is soft and warm. It is not just against women, but against Belarus,” Chernova said.

The Interior Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment about torture by police on Wednesday. The government has previously denied accusations of abuses.

Chernova’s painting shows a female figure lying with her arms around the red shape of Belarus against a white backdrop, colours she said she chose to match the red and white flag that protesters have made a symbol of their struggle.

Chernova, 24, an artist in her final year of art academy in Moscow, said by telephone from Belarus that she has long been critical of the Belarusian government. “I was born in this regime, I grew up (in it), I saw and listened to stories of what has happened and continues to happen. It’s not news in Belarus that people disappear, are killed and kidnapped,” she said. “This has always happened and I don’t know how you can support authorities like that.”

UAE, Bahrain sign US-brokered diplomatic pacts with Israel

WASHINGTON, Sept 15: Declaring “the dawn of a new Middle East”, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday presided over the signing of historic diplomatic pacts between Israel and the Arab states of UAE and Bahrain, which he hopes will lead to a new order in the Middle East and cast him as a peacemaker ahead of the November 3 election.

The deals, denounced by the Palestinians, make UAE and Bahrain the third and fourth Arab states to take such steps to normalise ties since Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.

As the ceremony was underway at the White House lawn, two rockets were fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip into Israel, the Israeli army said.

The signing of the deals, called the Abraham Accords, capped a dramatic sequence of events when the UAE and Bahrain agreed to reverse decades of ill will towards Israel without a resolution of its decades-old dispute with the Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined Emirati foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah Al Nahyan and Bahrain’s foreign minister Abdullatif Al Zayani for the signing ceremony.

Meeting Netanyahu in the Oval Office earlier, Trump said, “We’ll have at least five or six countries coming along very quickly” to forge their own accords with Israel. But Trump did not name any of the nations involved in such talks.

The agreements were signed in three languages: English, Arabic and Hebrew.

Trump is expected to use the signing of the pacts to bolster his image at home to seek a second term, fending off a stiff challenge from Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

“Together these agreements will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive peace across the entire region, something which nobody thought was possible, certainly not in this day and age, may be in many decades from now,” Trump said before the signing of the agreements.

He added: “For generations, the people of the Middle East have been held back by old conflicts hostilities lies treacheries so many things held them back… These agreements prove that the nations of the region are breaking free from the failed approaches of the past.”

India responds to UN human rights chief’s criticism of situation in Kashmir

NEW DELHI, Sept 15: India on Tuesday responded to the UN human rights chief’s criticism of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir by saying it had revived grassroots democracy and pushed economic development in the region despite Pakistan’s efforts to derail this process.

In her global human rights update on Monday, UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet had said that both “incidents of military and police violence against civilians” and incidents related to militancy were continuing in Kashmir, while legal changes to the Constitution and domicile rules were “generating deep anxiety”.

Giving India’s response during the debate on Bachelet’s update on Tuesday, India’s permanent representative Indra Mani Pandey said since changes were made in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir in August last year, people in the region have been “enjoying the same fundamental rights as people in other parts of India”.

“We have been able to revive grass root democracy and provide a new momentum to social and economic development, despite the challenge posed by [the] Covid-19 pandemic and persistent attempts by one country to infiltrate terrorists to derail this process by all possible means,” Pandey said.

Though the envoy didn’t name the country, it was obvious he was referring to Pakistan, which India has blamed for supporting cross-border terrorism, especially in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pandey also said the government’s efforts aimed at socio-economic development and ensuring better governance in Kashmir over the past year have “yielded unprecedented results”.

He added, “By extending coverage of positive and affirmative federal legislations and repealing discriminatory or outdated local laws, the government has reaffirmed its commitment to delivering socio-economic justice to disadvantaged people in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, including women, children, minorities and refugees.”

Bachelet had also said in her update that the “space for political debate and public participation continues to be severely restricted” in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly since new media rules prohibited vaguely defined “anti-national” reporting.

She welcomed the release of some political and community leaders, but noted that “hundreds of people remain in arbitrary detention, with many habeas corpus petitions still pending – including those of many of Jammu and Kashmir’s political leaders”.

She also welcome initiatives to extend services to remote areas and the conditional restoration of full internet connectivity in two districts, and said these measures “should be applied promptly to the rest of Jammu and Kashmir”.

Bachelet noted that people in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir have “limited internet access, creating difficulties in accessing education and other vital services”. She said she was also concerned about restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and association on the Pakistani side.

“My office is committed to continuing its engagement with both India and Pakistan, to uphold the rights of the Kashmiri people – which is the best way to prevent further tensions and conflict,” she said.

Bachelet had also criticised the situation in Kashmir in her global update in 2019, when she had also spoken out against the National Register of Citizens verification process in Assam, saying it had caused “great uncertainty and anxiety”.

Pandey also said in his intervention that India remains committed to upholding all human rights and is of the view that the human rights agenda and discourse “must be pursued in a transparent and impartial manner with respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs of states”.

India also exercised its right of reply to respond to statements by Pakistan, Turkey and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) during the debate on the UN high commissioner’s update.

It said it has become “habitual” for Pakistan to malign India with false and fabricated narratives for “self-serving malicious purposes”, and that India and other countries don’t deserve an “unsolicited lecture on human rights from a country that has consistently persecuted its ethnic and religious minorities, is an epicentre of terrorism, has the distinction of providing pensions to individuals on UN sanctions list and has a prime minister who proudly admits training tens of thousands of terrorists to fight in Jammu and Kashmir”.

“It’s not surprising that other relevant multilateral institutions have been raising serious concerns on its failure to stop terror financing and lack of effective actions against all terror entities in Pakistan,” the Indian representative said in the reply.

Pakistan’s “nefarious designs” also continue in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and its “zeal to reassert its theocratic ideology” has ensured that “ethnic and religious minorities have no future through systematic persecution, blasphemy laws, forced conversions, targeted killings, sectarian violence and faith-based discrimination”, The Indian representative said.

India also pointed out that “thousands of Sikh, Hindu and Christian minority women and girls have been subjected to abductions, forced marriages and conversions in Pakistan”.

India also noted that Pakistan has been “abusing” various UN human rights mechanisms and platforms to raise issues that are “extraneous to the mandate” of the Human Rights Council and relate to the internal affairs of India.

New Delhi also rejected the OIC’s reference to Jammu and Kashmir and said the organisation has no locus standi to comment on India’s internal affairs. The OIC has also allowed itself to be “misused by Pakistan”, India said in its reply. India also advised Turkey to “refrain from commenting on the internal affairs of India”.

US Economic, Energy Secretary to Visit Taiwan

TAIPEI, sept 15: China warned the United States on Monday of potential “serious damage” to their relations if it does not withdraw from an upcoming economic meeting with Taiwan that is expected to be attended by a senior American official.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin urged the US at a daily briefing to “stop all forms of official exchanges with Taiwan, so as to avoid serious damage to China-US relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.”

Taiwanese media reported that US Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach is planning to visit the island later this week for an economic and commercial dialogue with Taiwan’s government.

The visit would follow one by US Health Secretary Alex Azar last month. Azar was the highest-level US Cabinet official to visit since a break in formal ties between the US and Taiwanese government in 1979, when the US accepted a “one-China policy” with Beijing as its government.

A visit by Krach is likely to inspire further anger from China. China considers self-ruled Taiwan part of its own territory, and strongly opposes any official contacts between other nations and the island.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed last week that it was in negotiations with the US on such talks, but did not comment on a specific date or who might attend from Washington.

Tensions are high between the US and China over issues including trade, cybersecurity, technology and Hong Kong’s new national security law.

Relations have deteriorated further since the coronavirus outbreak. Trump blames China for the pandemic, and he and his administration have repeatedly accused the country of hiding crucial information about the virus from the global community.

Germany break ranks with China, shifts to adopting India-Pacific strategy

BERLIN, Sept 14: In a major diplomatic jolt to China, Germany has decided to focus on maintaining stronger partnerships with democratic countries in the India-Pacific region in order to promote the rule of law.

Berlin’s drift towards the India-Pacific strategy comes as Europe has expressed concerns over China’s track record on human rights and its economic dependence on the Asian country, Nikkei Asian Review reported.

“We want to help shape (the future global order) so that it is based on rules and international cooperation, not on the law of the strong. That is why we have intensified cooperation with those countries that share our democratic and liberal values,” German foreign minister Heiko Maas said on September 2.

That day, Germany adopted the new guidelines pertaining to the India-Pacific approach, stressing the importance of promoting the rule of law and open markets in the region. The India-Pacific strategy has been endorsed by other countries including India, Japan, Australia and ASEAN members.

According to Nikkei Asian Review, China had been Germany’s diplomatic focal point in Asia, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel visiting the country almost yearly. It also must be noted that China also accounts for 50 per cent of Germany’s trade with the India-Pacific region.

However, as per expectations, economic growth has not opened the Chinese market. German companies operating in China have been forced to hand over technology by the Chinese government. Also, talks between the European Union (EU) and China regarding an investment treaty to resolve such issues have stalled, giving rise to concerns about Berlin’s increasing economic dependence on Beijing.

This came amid growing criticism of China’s draconian national security law in Hong Kong and its concentration camps for the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, which has fuelled increasing resistance to Merkel’s pro-China policies.

Germany’s new India-Pacific approach takes a tough stand on China, including criticism of the huge debt burden of countries participating in Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

German firms have also expressed concerns about doing business and protecting their intellectual property in China, especially after Chinese appliance maker Midea Group bought German robot maker Kuka in late 2016.

Europe is appearing to re-evaluate its diplomatic relations with China. Last year, the EU termed China a “strategic competitor”, focussing its trade and technological rivalry with Beijing.

“A shift toward a more sober strategy on Beijing has occurred,” Patrick Koellner, at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, was quoted by Nikkei Asian Review as saying.

Germany now plans to work with France regarding EU-wide strategy on India-Pacific. Berlin will be looking to strengthen its influence on this issue by having the bloc on its side.

France and the United Kingdom have begun freezing Chinese telecom giant Huawei out of their 5G networks. Recently, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had undertaken a five-nation official tour in Europe, but the visit did not gain traction and instead led to a growing rift between the two sides.

Over 60 Chinese soldiers killed in Galwan Valley clash claims US newspaper

NEW YORK, Sept 14: An American newspaper has claimed that over 60 Chinese soldiers were killed in the Galwan Valley clash with India.

News Week said in an article that in the June 15 clash 60 soldiers of the Chinese PLA had been killed. This comes weeks after another report said that 30 soldiers were killed in the clash, while attributing the same to US intelligence reports.

The report also says that the failure of the PLA on the Indian border would have far reaching effects. The Chinese military had initially told the Chinese president, Xi Jinping that the focus should be on driving out opponents and recruiting loyalists.

The article says that the number of Chinese killed could exceed 60, but Beijing will not admit to the extent of the debacle.

US committed to protect Afghan people’s interests in Doha talks: Zalmay Khalilzad

KABUL, Sept 13: The United States is committed to ensure that personal interests do not take precedence over the national interests during the crucial negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban in Doha, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said.

In an interview with TOLOnews in Doha, Khalilzad said a solution should be found to end the Afghan crisis, which will lead to long-lasting peace.

Asked if the intra-Afghan talks would see a breakdown, the US envoy remarked that such a development will not be acceptable for Washington.

“It is not acceptable and there is a solution to every problem, and a solution must be found. We are ready to help if the country’s interests come first and personal interests do not come first. I am confident that a solution will be found and we will not allow personal interests to take precedence. This is the promise of the US to the people of Afghanistan,” Khalilzad said.

He said there are some people in Afghanistan who prefer the current situation to peace with the Taliban while some are attempting to keep Washington engaged in war so that it could pay the price, according to TOLOnews.

“Some prefer the current situation rather than peace with the Taliban. For instance, within Afghanistan there are some who are trying to keep the US engaged in the war,” Khalilzad said.

Earlier on Friday, Khalilzad said he is hopeful that talks between the Afghan government and Taliban will pave the way for a peace process and withdrawal of foreign troops after decades of war and insurgency.

The intra-Afghan talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban which opened in Qatar’s Doha on Saturday is aimed at establishing peace and stability in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government’s 21-member negotiating team was led by Masoom Stanekzai, a former intelligence chief. On the other hand, the Taliban was led by Mawlavi Abdul Hakim, the terror group’s chief justice and a close aide of the group’s chief Haibatullah Akhunzada, Al Jazeera reported.

Calling the beginning of intra-Afghan peace talks a “truly momentous occasion,” US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo urged the Taliban and the Afghan government to “seize the opportunity”, adding that Washington is ready to support the negotiations.

Peace talks were expected to take place in March but were delayed repeatedly due to a prisoner exchange agreement made as part of the deal signed between the US and Taliban in February.

Peace process must ensure Afghanistan’s soil isn’t used for anti-India activities: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, Sept 12: New Delhi on Saturday made it clear that any new dispensation that emerges from the intra-Afghan dialogue process must ensure that the soil of Afghanistan is never used for anti-India activities.

External affairs minister S Jaishankar, who joined the inaugural session of the intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha, Qatar, via video conference, reiterated India’s support for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process and sought an immediate ceasefire in the war-torn country.

Teams comprising representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban will come face-to-face for the first time on Monday for peace talks in Qatar’s capital for a negotiated settlement after nearly two decades of war. The talks were to have begun in March but were delayed by differences over the release of prisoners.

Jaishankar, who joined the event at the invitation of Qatar’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister Mohammad bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, said: “Our friendship with Afghanistan is strong and unshaken, we have always been good neighbours and will always be so. Our expectation is that the soil of Afghanistan should never be used for any anti-India activities.”

The peace process, he said, has to address the violence in Afghanistan and the neighbourhood and also protect the interests of minorities and women.

Jaishankar said, “It [the peace process] has to respect national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan. It should promote the values of human rights and democracy that can foster development. The interests of the minorities, women and vulnerable must be ensured.

“And most important, the issue of violence across the country and its neighbourhood has to be effectively addressed. The rising levels of violence cannot be allowed to continue and, like others, we support an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire.”

India, which is the region’s largest provider of development aid to Afghanistan, has watched a recent spike in violence and attacks on minorities such as Sikhs with growing concern. Since 2001, India has undertaken projects worth $3 billion in Afghanistan, including $1 billion pledged in 2016 under the “new development partnership” scheme for a period of five years.

Jaishankar referred to India’s role in development aid and talked about the infrastructure created by the Indian partnership that spreads across all 34 provinces, “be it the Parliament house for the nation, transmission lines and hospitals in Kabul, the friendship dam in Herat, the Afghanistan national agricultural science and technology university in Kandahar”.

“Equally impactful have been capacity building projects, scholarships and training of youth,” he said, adding that India has supplied more than a million tonnes of food grains in recent years. To address the challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, India provided more than 15 tonnes of life-saving drugs and medical equipment and facilitated the travel of Afghan citizens to India for medical treatment.

He added, “These are but examples of our deep commitment to the welfare, prosperity and stability of the Afghan nation, and today, these are the very objectives that bring us here to discuss peace and reconciliation. Our approach in that regard has always remained consistent – any peace process must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled.”

A senior official delegation led by JP Singh, joint secretary (Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran) in the external affairs ministry, also participated in the inaugural ceremony in Doha.

India, China reach five-point consensus on easing tensions

MOSCOW, Sept 11: Sharp divergences remained between India and China on the standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) even after the two sides framed a five-point roadmap for easing tensions on the disputed border and speeding up the disengagement of troops.

The two sides reached an agreement on the five points during talks between external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on the margins of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Moscow on Thursday night.

The points include dialogue aimed at quick disengagement, maintaining proper distance between troops of the two sides and easing tensions, abiding by all agreements and protocols on border management, and working on new confidence-building measures once the situation eases.

Wang was quoted by a Chinese foreign ministry statement as acknowledging that it is normal for two major neighbours such as India and China to have differences and that bilateral ties have come “to a crossroads”, though there is no challenge that can’t be overcome if both sides keep moving in the right direction.

These remarks marked a slight shift from China’s stance in recent weeks, including during defence minister Rajnath Singh’s meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wei Fenghe on September 4, of holding the Indian side entirely responsible for the standoff.

In other areas, however, sharp differences persisted between the two sides, and experts noted that both countries hadn’t made any mention of the restoration of the status quo on the LAC as it existed in April or set any timeframe for completing the disengagement and de-escalation.

The Chinese foreign ministry’s statement also said that the Indian side “does not consider the development of India-China relations to be dependent on the settlement of the boundary question”, but this was dismissed by people familiar with developments.

The people, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted that Jaishankar had emphasised even before the meeting that “the state of the border cannot be delinked from the state of the relationship”, and that he had repeated this at the talks with Wang.

During the meeting, Jaishankar made it clear recent incidents in eastern Ladakh had “inevitably impacted the development of the bilateral relationship”, said one of the people cited above. “While the Indian side recognised that a solution to the boundary question required time and effort, it was clear the maintenance of peace and tranquillity in the border areas is essential to the forward development of ties,” the person added.

The people also challenged the Chinese statement’s assertion that the “Indian side believes that China’s policy toward India has not changed”, saying the Chinese side is yet to provide a satisfactory explanation for the massing of troops and equipment in violation of all existing border agreements, which has created new flashpoints along the LAC.

The Chinese statement cited Wang as outlining China’s “stern position” on the situation and emphasising the need to “immediately stop provocations such as firing and other dangerous actions” and to “move back all personnel and equipment that have trespassed”.

The people cited above reiterated that Indian troops hadn’t crossed the LAC and it was the Chinese troops that had fired in the air during the latest face-off on September 7 on the south bank of Pangong Lake. “We are committed to a resolution though peaceful dialogue but it is the Chinese side that has repeatedly resorted to aggressive military actions and posturing,” a second person said.

Jaishankar, Wang Yi meet in Moscow amid border tensions in Ladakh

MOSCOW, Sept 10: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met in Moscow on Thursday amid hopes of a possible breakthrough in reducing tensions along the Line of Actual Control(LAC) in eastern Ladakh.

The talks between the two foreign ministers are taking place in the backdrop of a massive spike in border tensions in eastern Ladakh triggered by fresh face-offs between Indian and Chinese troops along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.

Following fresh confrontation around the southern bank of Pangong lake, India has further strengthened its military presence in the region by sending additional troops, battle tanks and other weaponry. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army(PLA) has also beefed up its presence in the area where the situation remained very tense.

“The external affairs minister will be meeting the Chinese foreign minister shortly where he will be discussing this issue,” Ministry of External Affairs(MEA) Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said at a virtual media briefing in the evening when asked whether the four-month-long border faceoff will be raised by Jaishankar at the talks.

Jaishankar and Wang are in Moscow to attend a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting.

Srivastava reiterated India’s position that it is committed to resolve the current situation through peaceful negotiations.

“Both India and China are in regular touch through diplomatic and military channels to resolve the situation. This was the consensus when the two defence ministers met,” he said.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held talks with his Chinese counterpart Gen. Wei Fenghe on the margins of another SCO meet in Moscow last Friday, but apparently the meeting did not yield any tangible outcome.

The Indian Army on Tuesday said Chinese troops attempted to close in on an Indian position near the southern bank of Pangong lake the previous evening and fired shots in the air, a first such instance of bullets being used along the LAC after a gap of 45 years.

The Army said this in a statement after the PLA late on Monday night alleged that Indian troops crossed the LAC and “outrageously fired” warning shots near the Pangong lake.

Strategic Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis gets off to a flying start amid China tension

NEW DELHI, Sept 9: India, France and Australia on Wednesday jump started a new strategic alliance proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron two years ago with the first meeting of top foreign ministry officials of the three countries. Maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region got the top billing at Wednesday’s meeting held over video conference.

The officials spoke about “enhancing maritime security cooperation” including maritime domain awareness, mutual logistics support and capacity building of other friendly countries in the Indo-Pacific region, people familiar with the matter said.

There was broad agreement among the three partners that they should look at a multi-polar world where countries join hands for mutual benefit and support rather than a unipolar or multipolar world.

China did figure in the discussions but the meeting wasn’t focussed on one country. It took an overarching view, according to an Indian official.

The virtual meeting was co-chaired by foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, secretary-general in French ministry for Europe and foreign affairs François Delattre and secretary in Australian department of foreign affairs Frances Adamson.

French President Macron was among the first to call for building a strategic alliance between the three countries that could respond to challenges in the Asia-Pacific region and the growing assertiveness of China.

On a visit to Australia before he flew down to India back in May 2018, President Macron had spoken about the need for the partners to ‘organise’ themselves. “We’re not naive: if we want to be seen and respected by China as an equal partner, we must organize ourselves,” President Macron said in a speech at an Australian naval base.

“This new Paris-Delhi-Canberra axis is absolutely key for the region and our joint objectives in the Indian-Pacific region,” he said, according to a 2018 report.

On the India leg of his trip, President Macron and Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a blueprint to step up cooperation in the Indian Ocean to counter China’s growing influence in the region.

“The Indian Ocean, like the Pacific Ocean, cannot become a place of hegemony,” President Macron said as the two countries signed pacts that gave Indian warships access to French naval bases in the Indian Ocean.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Indian foreign secretary Shringla underscored PM Modi’s vision for the Indo-Pacific that he had articulated at the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2018 to promote the concept of Security and Growth for All in the Region or SAGAR.

The three countries also discussed cooperation on marine global commons – blue economy, marine biodiversity and environmental challenges such as marine pollution. Shringla spoke about India’s interest in collaborating on sustainable fisheries in the Indian Ocean, technologies for harvesting of Deep Ocean Resources and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion.

Greece to bolster defence sector as tensions with NATO ally Turkey rise

ATHENS, Sept 8: Greece plans to acquire arms, boost its armed forces and revamp its defence industry, the government’s spokesman said on Monday, as tensions with NATO ally Turkey over energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean grow.

Greece, which emerged from its third international bailout in 2018 and has been struggling with the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, wants to spend part of its multi-billion euro cash reserves on its defence sector.

“We are in talks with allies to boost our armed forces,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters, adding that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will outline his plans during an annual economic policy speech on Saturday.

A Greek government official told Reuters last week that Greece is in talks with France and other countries over the acquisition of fighter jets. Greece has also been trying for more than a decade to consolidate and privatise its loss-making defence companies.

Mitsotakis will meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Corsica on Thursday, before a Southern European leaders summit (MED7) on the French island of Corsica. The two leaders are expected to discuss the European Union’s strained relationship with Turkey, Macron’s office said.

Petas said that cooperation in the defence sector between the two countries will also be on the agenda.

Turkey and Greece have long disagreed over the extent of their continental shelves. Tensions rose last month after Ankara sent an exploration vessel into disputed waters, accompanied by warships, days after Greece signed a maritime deal with Egypt.

Ankara has since been extending the vessel’s work in the wider region, issuing advisories which Athens calls illegal.

The Greek conservative leader discussed the latest twists in the row with European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs summits of EU leaders, during a phone call on Monday.

Michel will visit Athens on September 15, Petsas said.

Jaishankar on India-China standoff in Ladakh: ‘Serious situation… need deep conversations at political level’

NEW DELHI, Sept 7: Two days ahead of his trip to Moscow where he is likely to hold discussions on the border stand-off with China’s Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar Monday laid down the broad contours of the upcoming bilateral conversation by underlining that “the state of the border cannot be delinked from the state of the relationship.”

Acknowledging that the current situation along the Line of Actual Control was “very serious,” Jaishankar said that it called for “very, very deep conversations” between the two sides at a “political level”.

He was speaking at Express Adda moderated by C Raja Mohan, The Indian Express Contributing Editor and Director, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore; and Associate Editor and Diplomatic Correspondent Shubhajit Roy.

Jaishankar is going to Moscow to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation foreign ministers’ meeting between September 9 to 11, where he is likely to have his first in-person meeting with his Chinese counterpart since the standoff began early May.

He said that “if peace and tranquillity on the border is not a given, then it cannot be that the rest of the relationship continues on the same basis”.

“If you look at the last 30 years, because there was peace and tranquillity on the border — there were problems also…I am not disregarding that — that allowed the rest of the relationship to progress. As a result, China became (India’s) second largest trading partner…Clearly peace and tranquillity is the basis for the relationship.”

There are several understandings with China on border management which go back to 1993, he said, and these “fairly clearly stipulate” that both countries will keep forces at the minimum level at the border.

“And the subsequent agreements we had, they shape the behaviour of troops, and what are the restrains which should be on them. If these are not observed, then it raises very, very important questions. At this moment, I note that this very serious situation has been going on since the beginning of May. This calls for very, very deep conversations between the two sides at a political level.”

Asked how he saw the future of the India-China relationship, Jaishankar said that “this is one area my crystal ball is a little clouded”.

He said he would leave it “open-ended” and both countries “must try to find mutual accommodation, because their ability to do that will determine (if there’s) an Asian century or not”.

Jaishankar’s much-awaited new book, The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World (Harper Collins India), was released last weekend.

Regarding India’s relationship with the United States, the foreign minister, who has served as India’s ambassador to both China and to the US called the “suspicion of America a very Lutyens’ Delhi problem” and added that “the Indian street actually realised the value of the American relationship much earlier than Lutyens’ Delhi did”.

India, he said, has “engaged successive American Presidents who had different worldviews, different priorities, with a focus on how to take the relationship and our national interests forward”.

“We have to look at what was happening in United States from the perspective of our interests… If there is the administration of the day, I have engaged that administration, I have engaged that administration much better than most of the world did. I have advanced Indian national interests.”

On not engaging with Pakistan, or using “zero diplomacy” as a tool, the Foreign Minister said that it is “not a question of zero-diplomacy”. He explained, that “I have a core interest, I have a problem and therefore I am not engaging”.

The issue, he said, is about “who is setting the terms of the engagement, what are the terms of engagement, what is the framework of engagement” and “what is the kind of conversation, who will determine who is making a move to shape the agenda, determine the agenda in a way.”

“For any country, and that too a country like India, to forego that option… I don’t think that’s the foreign policy we should have.”

Talking specifically about Pakistan, Jaishankar said that India cannot continue to engage because of their “attachment to cross border-terrorism all these years” and it cannot be accepted as a “normal and engage with them on the terms they have set”.

On Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who recently stepped down due to health reasons, Jaishankar referred to his stint as an “era” and said that it had “extraordinary” significance for Japan’s relationship with India. Jaishankar said that not only did Abe change the relationship for India but even how the Japanese think about the relationship with India.

Among those who attended the Adda and interacted with Jaishankar were Russian Ambassador Nikolay Kudasev, acting British High Commissioner Jan Thompson; European Union Ambassador Ugo Astuto, Italian Ambassador Vincenzo de Luca; economist and former Minister Y K Alagh and Manjeet Kripalani of Gateway House.

Jaishankar is likely to visit Tehran during the transit to Moscow. This would be the second visit by a top Indian leader to Tehran within a span of a week. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh stopped over in Iran while coming back from Moscow, and met his Iranian counterpart on Sunday.

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny out of coma, is responsive: Hospital

BERLIN, Sept 7: Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been removed from a medically induced coma and is responding to speech, Berlin’s Charite hospital said on Monday.

The hospital, which has been treating Navalny since he was airlifted to Germany after falling ill on a Russian domestic flight last month, said his condition has improved and he is being weaned off mechanical ventilation.

“It remains too early to gauge the potential long-term effects of his severe poisoning,” Charite said in a statement.

Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, was airlifted to Germany last month after collapsing on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow. It made an emergency landing in Omsk so that Navalny could be stretchered off.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said her government has concluded Navalny, 44, was poisoned with Novichok, the same substance that Britain said was used against a Russian double agent and his daughter in an attack in England in 2018.

Moscow says it has seen no evidence he was poisoned.

The incident has put the future of Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline with Russia in doubt as a growing number of politicians call for support for the project to be withdrawn unless Russia helps to clear up the circumstances around Navalny’s poisoning.

Merkel’s spokesman said on Monday she does not rule out imposing sanctions on the pipeline in response to the suspected poisoning.

Novichok is a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.

Britain says Russia used Novichok to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the city of Salisbury two years ago. Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack, in which the Skripals survived. A member of the public was killed.

Crisis along LAC unprecedented, can’t be business as usual with China: Foreign secretary Shringla

NEW DELHI, Sept 4: The situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is “unprecedented” and it “cannot be business as usual” in the relationship with China until the status quo is restored on the disputed border, foreign secretary Harsh Shringla said on Friday.

The standoff on the LAC is one of the most serious challenges India has faced in several decades and the current “magnitude of amassing of forces” on the border hasn’t been witnessed in recent years, Shringla said while speaking on the theme of Indian diplomacy amid the Covid-19 pandemic during a lecture organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA).

“We have had an unprecedented situation on the India-China border, we have never had this sort of situation since 1962. We have lost the lives of soldiers which has not happened in the last 40 years,” he said, referring to the brief but bitter border war fought almost six decades ago.

“We have also seen that there has been an attempt to take unilateral action that seems to be an effort to change facts on the ground. We will be firm and resolute in resisting this, and as far as we are concerned, there will be no compromise on our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Shringla said hours ahead of a planned meeting between the Indian and Chinese defence ministers on the margins of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet in Moscow.

Though India remains willing to talk with China and has kept the lines of communication open amid the pandemic, Shringla warned that it “cannot be business as usual unless there is peace and tranquillity in our border areas”.

He added, “The normal bilateral relationship will be affected. There is a linkage between what is happening on the border and our larger relationship and that fact is very, very evident.”

The only way to take things forward will be “revert to the status quo that existed before such aggressive actions took place” and to de-escalate and disengage frontline troops, he said.

India have held several rounds of talks at the military and diplomatic level and even contacts between the two foreign ministers and Special Representatives on border issues haven’t led to a breakthrough since the standoff emerged in the open in May. Following a fresh faceoff on the south bank of Pangong Lake, there have been four rounds on inconclusive talks between brigade commanders on the ground.

Shringla described the standoff as “one of the most serious challenges we have faced in many decades” but India remains committed to preserving its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

He also focused on how India’s foreign policy is coping with the challenges brought on by the pandemic, which he described as “perhaps the greatest shock to the international system since World War 2”. The Covid-19 crisis has made India take a close look at the fundamental drivers of globalisation and the deficiencies and limitations of the existing global system, he added.

At a time when every country is looking at its own interests, there is a need for some sort of balance and to broaden the agenda of the international system and institutions, he said. The world order also has to focus on ensuring that a Covid-19 vaccine is accessible and affordable, and that there is “some level of equitable distribution” for it, he added.

India also has been at the forefront of digital diplomacy because its “global spread of interests and stakes makes us vulnerable on many fronts”, Shringla said. The government is now working to make the country the nerve centre of global supply chains and promoting it as an alternative manufacturing hub and innovation destination, he said.

The government remains committed to its “neighbourhood first” policy, Shringla said. However, he acknowledged that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) had taken a back seat to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) because “one of our neighbours has been consistently involved in blocking Saarc in all of its constructive activities”.

Though Shringla didn’t name any country, it was obvious he was referring to Pakistan. Bimstec, he said, had emerged as an alternative mechanism because it was a vital link between South and Southeast Asia.

Imperative for India, China to reach an accommodation: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, Sept 3: India's External affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday it is imperative for Indian and China to “reach an accommodation” as the solution to the standoff along the Line of Actual Control has to be found in the “domain of diplomacy”.

Jaishankar made the remarks during an online event organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) to mark the release of his book ‘The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World’, during which the relationship with China and the standoff figured prominently.

Besides questions on the impact of the standoff on bilateral ties, Jaishankar was asked what he would say when he meets his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a meeting of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers in Moscow on September 10.

“As to what I will be talking with my Chinese colleague when I meet him – I mean, we have known each other a long time, so you can have a reasonable guess,” Jaishankar replied, without giving details.

The external affairs ministry confirmed on Thursday that the minister will join the September 10 meeting but there has been no official word of a bilateral meeting with Wang.

This is the first time the two ministers will come face to face since the standoff emerged in public, though they have participated in virtual meetings of various groupings and also spoken in the aftermath of the June 15 clash that left 20 Indian soldiers dead. They will also join a virtual meeting of BRICS foreign ministers on September 4.

Responding to another question on whether China is in India’s way, Jaishankar said this wasn’t the “easiest of times” in the bilateral relationship, but added that it was “imperative and vital for both countries to reach an accommodation, and not just for themselves”.

Emphasising that he wasn’t underplaying the challenges of the boundary question, the minister said, “I’m totally convinced that the solution to the situation has to be found in the domain of diplomacy.”

India and China have a long history, which is “very good in many parts, very indifferent in some parts, and very difficult in some parts”, he said, adding the “more difficult parts are more recent”.

Jaishankar said he had taken a long view of ties in his book, which was written before the standoff began, and there are agreements and understandings on the border issue that must be scrupulously observed by both sides. “Neither party should attempt to change the status quo unilaterally, and the reality is what happens on the border will impact the relationship. You cannot separate that,” he said.

He ducked a question about his recent remarks that he didn’t understand why China has thousands of troops on the LAC, saying it was for Beijing to provide an answer on this issue.

Jaishankar also said he wasn’t comfortable with terms such as “Himalayan cold war” or “hot peace”, and that the two sides have to “work our way through this”. He added, “ I am convinced that the way out is through diplomacy. That will happen if both sides see it is in their own interests that we don’t see what we have seen this summer.”

Jaishankar also listed the rise of China and the changed approach of the US to world affairs as two of the most impactful shifts in recent times. While the US has pulled back from its “global project” and shifted from alliances, the velocity and impact of the rise of China has exceeded everything else, he said.

India says China resorting to provocative actions

NEW DELHI, Sept 1: India said on Tuesday China resorted to provocative action a day earlier when it attempted to change the status quo in the Pangong Lake area even as military-level talks were underway. China’s actions this year have been in clear violation of agreements, the spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs said.

The Chinese side, India said, has “engaged in provocative military manoeuvres in the late night of 29th and on 30th August in an attempt to change the status quo in the South Bank area of Pangong Lake”.

The Indian Army said on Monday they responded to these provocative actions and took appropriate defensive measures along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in order to safeguard the country’s interests and defend its territorial integrity.

The officials said due to timely defensive action by troops, the Indian side was able to prevent these attempts to unilaterally alter status quo.

Without citing clash in the Galwan Valley in June, India said China’s actions and behaviour since earlier this year along the LAC clearly violate bilateral agreements and protocols concluded between the two countries to ensure peace and tranquillity on the border.

India indicated that the issue of China’s recent provocative and aggressive actions was taken up in both diplomatic and military channels. China, India said, was “urged to discipline and control their frontline troops from undertaking such provocative actions”.

MEA officials said that Indian side is firmly committed to resolving all outstanding issues along the LAC in the Western Sector through peaceful dialogue and expects China to sincerely abide by the understanding established by both the countries to restore peace and tranquillity along the border areas.

India, Australia and Japan to launch resilient supply chains for Indo-Pacific

NEW DELHI, Sept 1: India, Australia and Japan on Tuesday agreed to launch an initiative to ensure the resilience of supply chains in the Indo-Pacific, with the move coming against the backdrop of tensions created by China’s aggressive actions across the region.

The creation of the “Supply Chain Resilience Initiative” was mooted by Japan amid the Covid-19 crisis, which has played havoc with supply and manufacturing chains, and the three countries held preliminary discussions on the issue over the past few weeks, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.

During their first virtual meeting on the issue, commerce minister Piyush Goyal and his Australian and Japanese counterparts, Simon Birmingham and Kajiyama Hiroshi, outlined their intention to work for the launch of the new initiative because of the “pressing need for regional cooperation on supply chain resilience in the Indo-Pacific”, a joint statement said.

They signalled their determination to “take a lead in delivering a free, fair, inclusive, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment and in keeping their markets open”, it added.

The ministers instructed their officials to promptly work out details of the new initiative for its launch later this year, and called on other countries in the region with similar views to join the initiative, the statement said.

The people cited above said the supply chain initiative was a natural follow on to the security cooperation between the three countries, both bilaterally and through platforms such as the Quadrilateral Dialogue Mechanism or Quad, which also includes the US.

The three countries will now work with regional partners, including members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean), to build stronger supply and manufacturing chains that are protected from external shocks and influences, the people said. The three nations see countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and New Zealand among the players who can have a key role in the initiative, the people added.

The issue of supply chains found mention in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address on Independence Day, when he said: “Many businesses around the world see India as a supply chain hub today. Now we have to move forward with ‘make in world’ as well as ‘make for world’.”

Addressing the trilateral meeting, Goyal said the initiative couldn’t have come at a more opportune time in the post-Covid-19 scenario, when there is a likelihood of churning of supply chains in the Indo-Pacific region and it was incumbent on the three countries to take the initiative.

“The diversification of supply chain is critical for managing the risks associated with supply of inputs including disciplining price volatility. We could provide the core pathway for linking value chains in the region by creating a network of reliable long-term supplies and appropriate capacities,” he said.

In order to improve competitiveness of sectors, the three countries may need to identify manufacturing and services sectors that contribute the most to domestic value addition in the region. “We support the need for specific activities listed for enhancing the resilience of the supply chains, which include those related to [promoting] and facilitating trade and investment as well as diversification of production base,” he said.

Goyal noted that the cumulative GDP of Australia, India and Japan during 2019 was $ 9.3 trillion and their cumulative merchandise goods and services trade were $ 2.7 trillion and $0.9 trillion respectively. “With such a strong baseline, it is important that we use this opportunity to work towards enhancing the share of our trade and investment in the region,” he said.

However, he pointed out that Japan’s procurement of many specific products from India was limited despite Japanese global imports being high. This includes sectors such as steel, marine products, processed agriculture, agro-chemicals, plastics, carpets, clothing and footwear. He expressed hope the proposed initiative would try to bridge this and work towards enhancing mutual trade.

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