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French prez Macron says he understands Muslim feelings on Prophet image

PARIS, Oct 31: French President Emmanuel Macron told Al-Jazeera Saturday he understood that cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed could shock people but that violence was unacceptable, days after a Tunisian migrant killed three people in an attack on a church in Nice.

Macron’s interview comes amid widespread protests in Muslim countries and calls to boycott French products over the cartoons that many Muslims find offensive. A row is also escalating with Turkey, whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the French leader needs to undergo a mental examination.

Macron, who had earlier said Islam faced a “crisis,” told broadcaster Al-Jazeera that his remarks have been distorted to make it appear as though he were supportive of the cartoons, which he said were published by independent media.

“I understand that one can be shocked by cartoons, but I will never accept that violence can be justified. Our freedoms, our rights, I consider it our vocation to protect them,” Macron told the broadcaster, according to an official at the presidency. Al-Jazeera will air the full interview later on Saturday.

Macron’s government has vowed to crack down on Islamist radicals after an assailant beheaded a teacher in Paris earlier this month who had showed the cartoons in a class discussion about freedom of expression.

Al-Jazeera reported that Macron said most victims of terrorism are Muslim, and the acts committed in the name of the religion were a blight on them.

Turkey earthquake toll 27

IZMIR (Turkey), Oct 31: Turkish rescue workers searched through rubble for survivors on Saturday, as the death toll from a powerful earthquake that hit the Aegean Sea the previous afternoon rose to 27.

Officials in the city of Izmir said 25 people were killed in coastal areas in Turkey’s west, while two teenagers - a boy and a girl - died on the Greek island of Samos after a wall collapsed on them.

At least 20 buildings in the city were destroyed, authorities said, and the rescue work was punctuated by frequent aftershocks.

Bulldozers were removing debris from collapsed buildings, and rescuers were dismantling walls to reach those stuck under the rubble, television images and videos showed.

Environment Minister Murat Kurum said some 100 people had been rescued so far.

More than 800 people were injured in Turkey, and the area had been hit by some 470 aftershocks, the country’s disaster agency said.

In central Izmir, rescuers were seeking to save a mother and her four children from the remains of a building. Relatives waited outside another collapsed building.

Search and rescue operations were complete in eight buildings, while operations continued in nine others, officials said.

The leaders of Turkey and Greece - caught up in a bitter dispute over exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean - spoke by phone late on Friday.

In a rare show of warmth between the two countries, Turkish and Greek leaders exchanged solidarity messages.

“I just called President (Tayyip Erdogan) to offer my condolences for the tragic loss of life from the earthquake that struck both our countries. Whatever our differences, these are times when our people need to stand together,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis tweeted.

Erdogan responded in a tweet:

“I offer my condolences to all of Greece on behalf of myself and the Turkish people. Turkey, too, is always ready to help Greece heal its wounds. That two neighbours show solidarity in difficult times is more valuable than many things in life.”

Turkey is crossed by fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. Cooperation between the two countries after a devastating earthquake in 1999 led to a period of warmer ties between them.

Turkey’s Erdogan Vows Action Over Charlie Hebdo Toon That Showed Him Looking up a Woman's Skirt

ANKARA, Oct 29: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vented his outrage Wednesday at a "disgusting" cartoon in the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo depicting him looking up a woman's skirt while drinking beer in his underpants.

Erdogan's office vowed to take "legal and diplomatic action" while Turkey's NTV television said Ankara had also summoned the second-most senior diplomat at the French embassy to express its "strong condemnation".

Under normal circumstances, France's ambassador would have been summoned, but he has been recalled to Paris for consultations in a further sign of the deteriorating diplomatic relations between the two NATO allies.

The front cover Charlie Hebdo cartoon came out just days after Erdogan called for a boycott of French products and questioned President Emmanuel Macron's sanity for promoting a drive against Islamic extremism.

Macron's defence of the media's right to mock religion -- as exemplified by Charlie Hebdo's blasphemous cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed -- has stirred angry protests across Turkey and swathes of the Muslim world.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday became the latest Islamic figure to criticise the French president, saying his defence of cartoons of the prophet was a "stupid act" and an "insult" to those who voted for him.

Erdogan said he had not personally seen the Charlie Hebdo caricature because he did not want to "give credit to such immoral publications."

"I don't need to say anything to those scoundrels who insult my beloved prophet on such a scale," Erdogan said in a speech to his party's lawmakers.

"I am sad and frustrated not because of this disgusting attack on me personally, but because of the impertinence taking aim at our prophet we love more than ourselves."

Turkey is a mostly Muslim but officially secular country that has taken a more conservative and nationalist course under Erdogan's rule.

Macron's defence of Charlie Hebdo's right to publish drawings of the prophet, which is forbidden under Islam, came after the brutal murder on October 16 of a French school teacher who had shown cartoons to pupils during a class discussion about freedom of speech.

The magazine was also targeted by jihadists in a 2015 massacre that killed 12 people, including some of its most famous cartoonists.

Turkish officials accuse Macron of unfairly targeting Muslims and cultivating a culture that encourages Charlie Hebdo to use its right to offend.

Over the last week, protests and rallies have taken place in many Muslim-majority countries to denounce Macron.

In Syria, protesters burned pictures of Macron and French flags, while others rallied across the Indian city of Mumbai and parts of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.

Meanwhile in Mali, a crowd of some 5,000 protesters gathered at Bamako's grand mosque Wednesday, demanding that Macron apologise for defending the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

"France and the French have gone too far, They have touched the untouchable, our prophet Mahomet. That is unforgivable," said Mohamed Traore vice-president of Mali's Islamic High Council.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday wrote to the leaders of Muslim countries calling on them to act together against Islamophobia, while a leading Kuwaiti supermarket chain said that most of its stores had stripped their shelves of French products.

But Macron has been staunchly defended by fellow European leaders and he drew support from India on Wednesday under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "We strongly deplore the personal attacks in unacceptable language on President Emmanuel Macron in violation of the most basic standards of international discourse," said a statement from the Indian foreign ministry.

Denmark, where cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that triggered a global backlash among Muslims were first published in 2005, said Wednesday it stood in solidarity with France over a new surge in outrage. "Freedom of expression is a fundamental value in a democracy," Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told TV2 television.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said his country "will never renounce its principles and values" in regard to media freedom and fight against Islamic extremism.

Erdogan's policies have put Turkey at growing odds with the European Union and Macron has become one of Turkish leader's most vocal critics.

The two statesmen have sparred over the eastern Mediterranean as well as Turkey's policies across the Middle East and -- most recently -- in the war between Azerbaijani and Armenian separatist forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

France's European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said that Paris would "push for strong European responses, which include sanctions" over Erdogan's series of "provocations."

Attacker kills 3 people in Church in South of France

PARIS, Oct 29: An attacker armed with a knife killed three people at a church in the city of Nice on Thursday.

The man suspected of killing three people at a church in the southern French city of Nice on Thursday is a 21-year-old Tunisian who arrived in Europe just a few weeks ago, sources close to the inquiry said.

The suspect, identified as Brahim Aoussaoui, landed in late September on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where he was placed in virus quarantine by authorities before being released with an order to quit Italian territory.

He arrived in France in early October, the sources said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly condemned on Thursday the recent terrorist attacks in France, including the heinous attack inside a church in Nice, and asserted that India stands with the country in the fight against terrorism.

“I strongly condemn the recent terrorist attacks in France, including today’s heinous attack in Nice inside a church,” Modi said in a tweet.

“Our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the people of France. India stands with France in the fight against terrorism,” he said.

India on Wednesday had strongly deplored the personal attacks against French President Emmanuel Macron following his tough stance on radical Islam, calling it a violation of the most basic standards of international discourse.

Border talks with China have no link with issues such as 2+2 dialogue: India

NEW DELHI, Oct 29: India on Thursday said its ongoing dialogue with China to resolve the border standoff in Ladakh has “no connection” with extraneous issues such as the recent 2+2 ministerial dialogue with the US.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava offered the clarification against the backdrop of reports that China is dragging its feet on finalising a date for the next round of talks of senior military commanders of the two sides as it was irked by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s stinging criticism of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) actions across the region.

“As regards the next round of talks, we will let you know when we have further information to share. Let me make it clear that there is no connection between this and any extraneous issue,” Srivastava said when he was asked about the matter at the weekly news briefing.

Following the 2+2 talks between the foreign and defence ministers of India and the US on Tuesday, Pompeo told the media that Washington will stand by New Delhi in confronting threats to India’s sovereignty. He also described the CCP as “no friend to democracy [and] the rule of law”.

China reacted sharply to Pompeo’s remarks on Wednesday, saying the Sino-India boundary dispute is a bilateral matter. Beijing also said Pompeo’s comments had “instigated China’s relations with other countries in the region”.

Srivastava said external affairs minister S Jaishankar had made it clear that the Indo-Pacific region was a “particular focus” of the 2+2 talks, and India had reiterated the importance of peace, stability and prosperity for all countries in this region.

“This is possible only by upholding the rules-based international order, ensuring the freedom of navigation in the international seas, promoting open connectivity and respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states,” he added.

The disengagement and de-escalation process in the Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) remains stalled despite several rounds of diplomatic and military talks between India and China. The tens of thousands of troops mobilised by the two sides since the standoff began in May are now preparing to remain deployed along the LAC through the harsh winter.

Srivastava said the last meeting between the senior military commanders on October 12 had “enabled in-depth discussions between the two sides, resulting in enhanced understanding of each other’s positions”.

“The two sides had agreed to maintain dialogue through military and diplomatic channels, and arrive at a mutually acceptable solution for disengagement as early as possible. They had also agreed to implement the understandings reached by the leaders of the two countries, not to turn differences into disputes, and jointly safeguard peace and tranquillity in the border areas,” he said.

In line with these decisions, India has maintained communications with the Chinese side to “arrive at a mutually acceptable solution to the situation along the LAC in eastern Ladakh and restore full peace and tranquillity,” he said.

140 migrants drown off Senegal in deadliest shipwreck in 2020: UN

GENEVA, Oct 29: At least 140 migrants have drowned off the coast of Senegal in the deadliest shipwreck recorded this year, the UN migration agency said on Thursday.

Some 60 people were rescued by the Senegalese and Spanish navies, and fisherman, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said. The boat caught fire and capsized hours after leaving the town of Mbour for the Canary Islands on Saturday, it said.

“At least 140 people have drowned after a vessel carrying around 200 migrants sank off the Senegalese coast, the deadliest shipwreck recorded in 2020,” the IOM said in a statement.

India considering trade talks with Taiwan

NEW DELHI, Oct 20: Support is growing within India’s government to formally start talks on a trade deal with Taiwan as both democracies see relations with China deteriorate.

Taiwan has sought trade talks with India for several years, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been reluctant to move ahead because it would involve a messy fight with China once any pact is registered at the World Trade Organization, according to a senior Indian government official who asked not be named, citing rules for speaking with the media.

Yet over the past few months the hawks in India who want to start trade talks are getting the upper hand, the official said. A trade deal with Taiwan would help India’s goal of seeking greater investments in technology and electronics, the official said, adding that it’s unclear when a final decision would be made on whether to start talks.

Earlier this month, Modi’s government gave approval to firms including Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group, Wistron Corp. and Pegatron Corp. as he looks to attract investment worth more than 10.5 trillion rupees ($143 billion) for smartphone production over five years.

Indian Commerce Ministry spokesman Yogesh Baweja didn’t immediately respond to a request seeking comment. Taiwan’s top trade negotiator, John Deng, didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Any formal talks with India would amount to a big win for Taiwan, which has struggled to begin trade negotiations with most major economies due to pressure from China. Like most countries, India doesn’t formally recognize Taiwan, with the two governments maintaining unofficial diplomatic missions in the form of “representative offices."

India and Taiwan in 2018 signed an updated bilateral investment agreement in a bid to further expand economic ties. Trade between them grew 18% to $7.2 billion in 2019, according to India’s Department of Commerce.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration has raised its profile in India in recent weeks after China issued a statement telling Indian media outlets not to refer to Taiwan as a country when reporting on its Oct. 10 National Day celebrations. Twitter users in India lambasted China and its ambassador to New Delhi, Sun Weidong, while heaping praise on Taiwan and making the hashtag #TaiwanNationalDay go viral.

Indian public sentiment toward China has fallen in the wake of deadly border clashes between the two neighbors starting in May. Modi’s government has since banned dozens of Chinese apps including TikTok, while also speaking with Japan, Australia and the U.S. about creating alternative supply chains to diversify away from China in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. India has seen more than 7.5 million infections and 115,000 deaths from Covid-19.

That displeasure with China, as well as Taiwan’s successful handling of the pandemic, is translating into a soft power opportunity for Tsai. Taiwan’s 24 million have seen fewer than 600 infections and only seven deaths.

“We have to think about the way for democracies, for like-minded countries, to work further together," Taiwan foreign minister Joseph Wu said during an interview last week on the television network India Today. “We have traditional good relations with the United States, with Japan, and we want to develop closer ties with India as well."

Tsai, who was voted into a second term in a January landslide, has sought to capitalize on the wave of interest in Taiwan among Indians online. On October 11, she thanked Indian Twitter users who had sent national day greetings. Two days later she went viral again, posting photos of her visiting the Taj Mahal.

On October 15, Tsai tweeted a photo of Indian food accompanied by a cup of masala chai, which some Twitter users saw as a possible reference to the so-called Milk Tea Alliance that has united activists from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and elsewhere against Chinese nationalism. All three tweets received more than 40,000 likes each and thousands of friendly messages from Indian accounts.

Chinese soldier apprehended in Ladakh’s Demchok sector

NEW DELHI, Oct 19: A Chinese soldier has been apprehended by security forces in the Chumar-Demchok area of Ladakh and taken into custody by the Indian Army, officials said on Monday.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldier, identified as Corporal Wang Ya Long, was apprehended in the Demchok sector of eastern Ladakh on Monday after he had strayed across the Line of Control (LAC), the Indian Army said in a statement. They said he might have entered Indian territory inadvertently and will be returned to the Chinese army as per established protocol after following due procedure.

According to the Indian Army, the Chinese soldier has been provided medical assistance including oxygen, food and warm clothes “to protect him from the vagaries of extreme altitude and harsh climatic conditions.”

The Indian Army added that it has received a request from PLA about the whereabouts of the missing soldier. “As per established protocols, he will be returned back to Chinese officials at the Chushul-Moldo meeting point after completion of formalities,” the statement said.

India and China have been involved in a border standoff at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh since May. Tension escalated on June 19 when 20 Indian soldiers were killed during a clash with Chinese troops at Galwan Valley. There have been seven rounds of military and diplomatic talks between the two countries to resolve the standoff so far.

India and China are expected to hold the eighth round of military-diplomatic talks next week on disengagement in the Ladakh theatre. Senior officials said have said that both the sides have decided to keep the dialogue channels open at both the military commander level and diplomatic levels. The talks are also aimed at preventing any vertical escalation at the friction points in case of an accident or the aggressiveness of an individual commander.

India sends Australia a Malabar invite that will give Quad a huge upgrade

NEW DELHI, Oct 19: Indian Government has invited Australia for the annual Malabar naval exercises next month with the United States and Japan already confirming their participation. The move is expected to further lay the foundations for the eventual formalisation of the QUAD grouping.

According to people directly familiar with the matter, the Malabar exercises will take place in two stages on India’s eastern and western seaboard; the 2019 exercise took place from September 26 to October 4 off the coast of Japan. The naval exercise featuring the QUAD partners will be held on November 3-6 and November 17-20. The shared objective of all four countries is free and open navigation in Indo-Pacific.

The decision to invite Australia was announced by the Modi government on Monday.

“As India seeks to increase cooperation with other countries in the maritime security domain and in the light of increased defence cooperation with Australia, Malabar 2020 will see the participation of the Australian Navy,” the defence ministry announced in a statement.

The Malabar 2020 exercises will take place in two parts; one would be in the Bay of Bengal, north of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the other, in the Arabian Sea.

The exercise comes after the QUAD Foreign Ministers meeting in Tokyo on October 6 and will follow shortly after the India-US two plus two dialogue on October 26-27 during which the geo-spatial agreement called BECA is expected to be signed by the two countries.

The last time Australia was invited as a non-permanent partner by India for Malabar in 2007, Beijing issued a demarche to India, US, Japan and Australia (Singapore was the other partner) seeking details of the exercise in the context of QUAD initiative, which at that time existed only on paper. Both India and Australia were defensive back then.

In the context of the emerging contours of QUAD, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had no hesitation in speaking his mind about the grouping at a Question and Answer session after his meeting with Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein in Kuala Lumpur on October 13. He termed the US Indo-Pacific strategy a “ big underlying risk” designed to stir up confrontation among different groups, and stoke geo-political competition with the Cold War mentality. The same minister called QUAD a “sea foam” in 2018 in Beijing. While Wang visited Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand and Singapore to secure Beijing’s interests in ASEAN from October 11 to 15, high ranking diplomat Yang Jiechi has been touring Myanmar and Sri Lanka to push the Chinese narrative on the Indo-Pacific and coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the four QUAD members have signaled their intent to move away from the trope of blocs to describe their shared values. Their objective, the countries maintain, is to secure sea lanes for open trade and not be constrained by an expansionist Chinese Navy. “QUAD is a security architecture between democratic countries, which have military logistics as well as communication agreement. It is not an emotion or a Cold War-type alliance,” said a senior diplomat.

Chinese forces prepare for possible military invasion of Taiwan

BEIJING, Oct 18: The presence of the People’s Liberation Army is increasing in China’s southeast coast as it prepares for a possible military invasion of Taiwan, according to the defense observers cited by the South China Morning Post.

According to the sources, Beijing is replacing its old DF-11s and DF-15s and deploying its most advanced hypersonic missile DF-17 in the region.

“The DF-17 hypersonic missile will gradually replace the old DF-11s and DF-15s that were deployed in the southeast region for decades,” the source was quoted by SCMP.

“The new missile has a longer range and is able to hit targets more accurately.”

Even though Taiwan has never been controlled by China’s ruling party, Chinese authorities insist that the self-governing island is an integral part of their territory, with president Xi Jinping refusing to rule out a military force to capture it if necessary.

According to the Canada-based Kanwa Defence Review, satellite images show that both the Marine Corps and Rocket Force bases in Fujian and Guangdong have expanded.

“Every rocket force brigade in Fujian and Guangdong is now fully equipped,” the report said.

“The size of some of the missile bases in the Eastern and Southern theatre commands have even doubled in recent years, showing the PLA is stepping up preparations for a war targeting Taiwan,” the further stated.

The information regarding the possible deployment of hypersonic missile comes amid heightened tensions between China and the US, with issues pertaining to disagreements over Taiwan and the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, the Chinese President during a visit to a military base in the southern province of Guangdong had instructed troops to “put their minds and energy on preparing for war”, according to news agency Xinhua.

During an inspection of the PLA’s Marine Corps in Chaozhou City, Xinhua said Xi told the soldiers to “maintain a state of high alert” and called on them to be “absolutely loyal, absolutely pure, and absolutely reliable”.

China in recent years has also increased military drills around Taiwan, with almost 40 Chinese warplanes crossing the median line between the mainland and Taiwan on September 18-19 -- one of several sorties the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen called a “threat of force.”

Peace, Tranquillity Along LAC 'Deeply Disturbed', Impacting Indo-China Ties: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, Oct 17: External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Saturday said peace and tranquillity along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is "deeply disturbed" and this is obviously impacting the overall relationship between India and China.

S Jaishankar made the comments against the backdrop of the over five-month-long border stand-off between India and China in eastern Ladakh where each side has deployed over 50,000 troops.

The Sino-India boundary question is a very "complicated" and difficult issue, he said at a webinar on his book "The India Way", giving a historical perspective to development of the relationship between the two neighbouring countries in the last three decades.

The External Affairs minister said the relationship between India and China, which was "very difficult", was normalised since late 1980s through a plethora of initiatives like trade, travel, tourism, and societal activities on the premise of peace and tranquillity along the border.

"It is not our position that we should solve the boundary question. We understand that it is a very complicated and difficult issue. There have been many negotiations at different levels... That is a very high bar for a relationship," S Jaishankar said.

"I am talking about a much more basic bar which is that there must be peace and tranquillity along the LAC in the border areas and that has been the case since the late 1980s," he added.

"Now, if peace and tranquillity is deeply disturbed, then obviously there will be an impact on the relationship and that is what we are seeing," he said referring to the border situation in eastern Ladakh.

S Jaishankar said both China and India are rising and assuming "bigger" role in the world, but the "big question" is how the two countries find an "equilibrium".

"That is the basic case I addressed in my book," the minister said, adding that he completed the manuscript of the book in April, before the border row erupted in eastern Ladakh.

French authorities confirm 9 people detained in probe into killing of teacher

PARIS, Oct 17: France’s anti-terrorism state prosecutor, Jean-Francois Ricard, confirmed on Saturday media reports that nine people had been detained as part of the investigation into the beheading of a teacher near Paris.

“As of now, nine people have been detained and taken into custody,” Ricard said.

He explained that four detainees were close relatives of the suspect. Two others showed up independently at a local precinct and reported being in contact with the suspect.

The other detainees include the family -- father and his wife -- of a student who complained about the teacher, Ricard said. According to the prosecutor, the father was known to authorities because his half-sister joined the Islamic State terrorist group (IS, banned in Russia) in 2014.

Reports emerged on Friday night of a French teacher getting beheaded in the outskirts of Paris. Police chased down and shot to death the main suspect, a Moscow-born Chechen teenager. The victim reportedly taught freedom of speech and showed caricatures depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad to his students.

Jacinda Ardern wins New Zealand election in landmark victory

AUCKLAND, Oct 17: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern swept to an emphatic victory in New Zealand’s general election and said she would use her mandate to rebuild an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic and tackle social inequality.

“Over the next three years there is much work to do,” she told supporters Saturday night in Auckland. “We will build back better from the Covid crisis. We have the mandate to accelerate our response and our recovery.”

With 87% of the vote counted, Ardern’s Labour Party had 49% support -- heading to its biggest share of the vote since the 1930s -- after a huge swing to the left in many urban and provincial electorates. The opposition National Party slumped to 27%, its worst showing since 2002.

Ardern, 40, has captured the hallowed center ground in New Zealand politics with a blend of empathetic leadership and skilled crisis management that has also won her fame abroad. Her successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated those strengths, drowning out criticism that she hasn’t delivered on some key promises during her first term in office.

Ardern said she would govern for all New Zealanders and declined to say whether she would invite the Green Party into her government until final results were in. The Greens had 7.6% of the vote.

The landslide victory will give Ardern more scope to deliver the transformational government she promised when she came to power three years ago, particularly if the Greens push her to be more progressive on issues such as poverty and climate change. Still, she will be wary of alienating centrist voters with increased social spending at a time when debt is spiraling due to the government’s pandemic response.

Voters are rewarding Ardern for crushing community transmission of Covid-19 while countries like the U.K., U.S. and even neighboring Australia are still battling to contain the virus.

Main opposition National Party leader Judith Collins conceded defeat in a speech earlier, saying she had spoken to Ardern to congratulate her.

Collins, who struggled to gain traction against the wildly popular Ardern during the campaign, pointed to the economic challenges facing the nation as it recovers from the pandemic.

“New Zealand is in for a tough economic ride and it is going to need better fiscal policy than we have so far seen,” she said.

National has been in disarray, changing its leader twice this year and suffering a string of scandals that eroded its claim to be a stronger team than Labour and a better economic manager.

By contrast, Ardern has been mobbed by crowds on the campaign trail in a repeat of the “Jacinda-mania” first seen in 2017.

In the battle against Covid, Ardern was alone among her western peers in pursuing an explicit elimination strategy and imposed one of the strictest nationwide lockdowns in the world.

The economy suffered its most severe contraction since the Great Depression, slumping 12.2% in the second quarter, but the lockdown wiped out community spread of the virus and restrictions were removed sooner than in many other countries. After more than 100 days without community transmission, an outbreak flared in largest city Auckland, but that was also quickly stamped out.

New Zealand has now gone three weeks without any cases in the community, with all new infections limited to returned overseas travelers undergoing mandatory quarantine. The nation has recorded just 25 coronavirus deaths.

The challenges ahead are enormous. The border remains closed to foreigners, crippling the key tourism industry, and unemployment is forecast to rise.

Labour is pledging massive spending on infrastructure to boost the economy and has pledged to impose a higher tax rate on income over NZ$180,000 ($120,000) a year to raise more revenue. Ardern has ruled out implementing the wealth tax proposed by the Greens.

Chinese troops at LAC critical security challenge: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, Oct 16: The presence of a large number of Chinese troops in the Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) presents a critical security challenge to India and has disturbed the relationship built by the two sides over 30 years, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Friday.

Participating in a discussion on global challenges confronting India along with former Australian premier Kevin Rudd for Asia Society, Jaishankar expressed surprise at the nearly six-month border standoff, especially since it followed the efforts by India and China to improve their ties through two informal summits.

“It has obviously had a very deep public impact and a very major political impact and it has left the relationship profoundly disturbed,” he said, referring to the large numbers of Chinese forces deployed at friction points on the LAC and the “tragic” clash in Galwan Valley on June 15 that killed 20 Indian soldiers.

“I haven’t got a reasonable explanation...from them [Chinese] on this matter,” he said, adding that the concentration of Chinese troops at the disputed border represented a “critical security challenge”.

The informal summits between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at Wuhan in 2018 and at Mamallapuram in 2019 provided an opportunity to the two leaders to spend time and directly talk to each other “about their concerns” without any bureaucratic filters, Jaishankar said.

At the second summit held a year ago, a lot of the discussions centred round “the future, our prospects [and] issues between us” and “how do we work out our own relationship”, he added.

“What happened this year was a very sharp departure...over the course of a relationship over 30 years,” he said, noting that the two sides “painstakingly” built their ties since former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing in 1988 despite India’s concerns on trade issues and China’s relationship with Pakistan.

The basis for building this relationship “has been peace and tranquillity along the LAC” and multiple agreements created the framework for this by limiting military forces in border areas and setting the stage for border management, he said. The events of this year marked a “departure from these agreements”, he added.

In response to a question from Rudd, Jaishankar made it clear that India’s approach towards Pakistan hinged on Islamabad stopping the use of terrorism as a policy.

“[India is] still dealing with the perennial issues – terrorism from Pakistan continues, and terrorism remains publicly acknowledged by their government as a policy that they are justifying,” he said. “It makes it very hard to conduct normal relations with them.”

Pakistan doesn’t “do normal trade with India”, didn’t give the country Most Favoured Nation (MFN)-status and has blocked connectivity with Afghanistan, he said, adding: “Until we address that problem, this challenge of how do you have a normal relationship with this very unique neighbour is a very troubling issue for our foreign policy.”

India, China engaged in ‘confidential’ talks to resolve border standoff: Jaishankar

NEW DELHI, Oct 15: India and China are engaged in talks to resolve the border standoff and what is going on is “something confidential” between the two sides, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said on Thursday.

“Discussions are on; what is going on is something confidential between us and the Chinese,” the minister said as he was speaking at Bloomberg India Economic Forum.

“There is not very much that I am in a position to say in public. I certainly do not want to prejudge it,” he added.

India and China have finished the seventh round of talks between senior military commanders on October 12. Both sides have agreed to continue with the dialogue process to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution for early disengagement in eastern Ladakh, the two sides said in a joint press statement.

“The two sides had a sincere, in-depth and constructive exchange of views on disengagement along the Line of Actual Control in the western Sector of India-China border areas. They were of the view that these discussions were positive, constructive and had enhanced understanding of each other’s positions,” said the statement.

On the situation in Tibet as well as developments along the LAC, Jaishankar said, “I do not think we should get into other issues which frankly has nothing to do with the situation currently in Ladakh.” He said relations between India and China improved following signing of a series of agreements since 1993 on maintaining peace and tranquillity along the border.

“For the last 30 years, we have built a relationship predicated on peace and tranquillity along the border,” he said.

Jaishankar said if peace and tranquillity is not ensured and the agreements signed are not honoured, then that is the “primary cause of disruption”.

Thailand declares emergency due to unprecedented student uprising

BANGKOK, Oct 15: Thailand’s government declared a strict new state of emergency for the capital on Thursday, a day after a student-led protest against the country’s traditional establishment saw an extraordinary moment in which demonstrators heckled a royal motorcade.

After the pre-dawn declaration, riot police moved in to clear out demonstrators who after a day of rallies and confrontation had gathered outside Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s office to push their demands, which include the former general’s stepping down, constitutional changes and reform of the monarchy.

Several top leaders of the protest movement were taken into custody, with one later declaring on his Facebook page that he had been denied access to a lawyer and was being forced onto a helicopter and taken to a city in the country’s north. Police said they had made 22 arrests.

Despite a new ban against large public gatherings, several thousand people answered calls to rally again in another area of the city later Thursday.

The text of the emergency declaration said it was needed because “certain groups of perpetrators intended to instigate an untoward incident and movement in the Bangkok area by way of various methods and via different channels, including causing obstruction to the royal motorcade.”

The protest on Wednesday in Bangkok’s historic district, not far from glittering temples and royal palaces, was the third major gathering by student-led activists who have been pushing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable — and legal — language by publicly questioning the role of Thailand’s monarchy in the nation’s power structure.

Thailand’s royal family has long been considered sacrosanct and a pillar of Thai identity. King Maha Vajiralongkorn and other key member of the royal family are protected by a lese majeste law that has regularly been used to silence critics who risk up to 15 years in prison if deemed to have insulted the institution.

The protest — held on the anniversary of a 1973 student-led uprising against a military dictatorship — was complicated by the presence of royalist counter protesters who had gathered both to show support for the government and to greet the royal family as they travelled to and from a religious ceremony in the area.

That led to a moment captured in photos and video that circulated widely on social media in which what appeared to be protesters gestured and shouted just meters (feet) from the royal motorcade. Such actions are unprecedented in Thailand, where those waiting for a royal motorcade regularly sit on the ground or prostrate themselves.

Some experts say a line may have been crossed.

“What seemed to be a low-boil stalemate that the Prayuth government was managing with reasonable success has now, following the incident involving the procession of the queen’s motorcade down a street in which an active protest was under way and the arrests of protest leaders, become a full-blown crisis,” said Michael Montesano, coordinator of the Thailand Studies Program at the ISEAS-Yusof Isak Institute in Singapore. “Unlike even 48 hours ago, the country is in dangerous territory now.”

Government spokesman Anucha Buraphachaisri announced Thursday morning that the prime minister had ordered police to take strict action against those who obstruct a royal procession or otherwise insult the monarchy.

One change is that police said they will install checkpoints around Bangkok for security purposes.

Keeping order will be facilitated by the new emergency decree for Bangkok, which bans unauthorized gatherings of more than five people and gives authorities other powers they deem needed to prevent unrest, including detaining people temporarily without charge. It also outlaws news that distorts information or could cause a “misunderstanding.”

Thailand is already under a national state of emergency as part of its efforts to fight the coronavirus, and it was not immediately clear how the new decree was different.

Protesters gathered again in a Bangkok shopping district Thursday afternoon and into the evening. The crowd grew big enough to block a major intersection flanked by upmarket malls and a famous shrine, where they were addressed by a series of speakers denouncing the government.

Police stood by while the crowd chanted rude slogans calling for the prime minister to step down. They also chanted “Free our friends,” in reference to the arrested leaders.

“I want to fight for my future. I want to fight for my friends. I want to fight for my democracy. My country must be democracy,” said 24-year-old NGO worker Aitarnik Chitwiset.

Deputy police spokesman Col. Kissana Phathanacharoen warned earlier that calling for such a protest or attending one was against the law.

Human rights group Amnesty International criticized the crackdown as “unjustified.”

“These moves are clearly designed to stamp out dissent, and sow fear in anyone who sympathizes with the protesters’ views,” the group said in a statement.

The protest movement was launched in March by university students, but quickly put on hold as Thailand was gripped by the coronavirus pandemic. It came back in July, when the threat from the virus eased, and has since grown in size.

The movement’s original core demands were new elections, changes in the constitution to make it more democratic, and an end to intimidation of activists.

The protesters charge that Prayuth, who as army commander led a 2014 coup that toppled an elected government, was returned to power unfairly in last year’s general election because laws had been changed to favor a pro-military party. The protesters say a constitution promulgated under military rule and passed in a referendum in which campaigning against it was illegal is undemocratic.

The movement took another stunning turn in August, when students at a rally aired unprecedented criticism of the monarchy and issued calls for its reform. Using direct language normally expressed in whispers if at all, the speakers criticized the king’s wealth, his influence and that he spends much of his time in Germany, not Thailand.

Conservative royalist Thais accuse the protest movement of seeking to end the monarchy, an allegation its leaders deny.

Nevertheless, analysts say the incident with the royal motorcade may harden positions.

It “is not just unprecedented but will be shocking for many,” said Kevin Hewison, professor emeritus from the University of North Carolina and veteran Thai studies scholar. “Yet it is reflective of how a new generation of protesters sees the monarchy and military-backed regime as intertwined and that political reform demands reform of the monarchy as well.”

Chinese Prez Xi asks PLA troops to prepare for war amid border row with India: Reports

BEIJING, Oct 14: In a controversial move, Chinese President Xi Jinping has asked the People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops to prepare for war amid border row with India, according to reports on Wednesday.

Jinping has called on Chinese troops to "put all (their) minds and energy on preparing for war" in a visit to a military base in Guangdong province on October 13 (Tuesday), CNN reported quoting Chinese news agency Xinhua.

The remarks were made when he was inspecting the Marine Corps of PLA in Chaozhou City, added CNN citing Xinhua. As per Xinhua, Xi ordered the troops to "maintain a state of high alert" and called on them to be "absolutely loyal, absolutely pure, and absolutely reliable".

Xi's visit to Guangdong was to deliver a speech on Wednesday commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. It was established in 1980 and played an important role in helping China's economy become the second-largest in the world.

The development comes amid the tension between India and China at Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh. On Tuesday both the nations agreed to focus on a mutually acceptable solution for disengagement as early as possible after holding talks for around 11 hours. The 7th Corps Commander level meeting between India and China to address the situation at LAC ended at around 11:30 pm on October 12 (Monday).

"Both sides agreed to maintain dialogue and communication through military and diplomatic channels, and arrive at a mutually acceptable solution for disengagement as early as possible," also added the statement. "Both sides agreed to earnestly implement the important understandings reached by the leaders of the two countries, not to turn differences into disputes, and jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border areas," it further said.

"On 12 October, the 7th round of Senior Commanders meeting of India and China was held in Chushul. The two sides had a sincere, in-depth and constructive exchange of views on disengagement along the Line of Actual Control in the Western Sector of India-China border areas. They were of the view that these discussions were positive, constructive and had enhanced understanding of each other’s positions," it added.

Meanwhile, a day after Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated bridges in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, China on October 13 (Tuesday) took offence and targetted India. China had said that India has been ramping up infrastructure development "along the border and stepping up military deployment". It further accused India of causing tension between the two nations.

Heralding in a new era in the connectivity of roads and bridges in sensitive areas close to western, northern and northeastern borders, Singh on October 12 (Monday) dedicated 44 major permanent bridges to the nation. The bridges are located in J&K (10), Ladakh (08), Himachal Pradesh (02), Punjab (04), Uttarakhand (08), Arunachal Pradesh (08) and Sikkim (04).

However, China that refuses to recognise Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh raked up an issue over the bridges that India has built within its territory. China had said, "Indian side has been ramping up infrastructure development along the border and stepping up military deployment, that is the root cause of the tension between the two sides."

Replying to a question China had said, "First, I want to make it clear, China doesn’t recognize Ladakh Union Territory, illegally established by India and also Arunachal Pradesh. China stands against the development of infrastructure facilities aimed at military contention along the border area. Based on the two sides’ consensus, neither should take action that might escalate the situation. That could also undermine efforts to ease the situation."

It had added, "For some time, the Indian side has been ramping up infrastructure development along the border and stepping up military deployment, that is the root cause of the tension between the two sides. China asks the Indian side to earnestly implement the consensus between the two sides and refrain from taking actions that might escalate the situation and take concrete measures to safeguard peace and tranquillity along the border."

Kim Jong Un wipes away tears during rare apology to North Koreans

PYONGYANG, Oct 12: In a first for Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader apologised for his failure to stand by his people during the pandemic, the Guardian reported on Monday.

Speaking at the 75th birth anniversary of his ruling party, a visibly emotional Kim acknowledged that he did not live up to the trust that North Koreans placed in him, and for that he was “really sorry.” Kim removed his glasses and wiped away tears during the speech, according to the report.

Highlighting the legacy of the “great work” done by his ancestors, Kim was quoted as saying, “Although I am entrusted with the important responsibility to lead this country upholding the cause of the great comrades Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il thanks to the trust of all the people, my efforts and sincerity have not been sufficient enough to rid our people of the difficulties in their lives.”

In his emotive speech, Kim reflected on the challenging times that people around the world are experiencing due to the coronavirus pandemic and expressed his desire to improve relations with South Korea. He avoided any direct criticisms at Washington D.C.

On Saturday, North Korea showcased its latest missile, that was larger than any of North Korea’s known intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICMBs), at a huge military parade.

Korea Times quoted director of the North Korea division at Korean Institute for National Unification Hong Min as saying that it was important to understand why Kim had come to tears on the occasion. "Underneath his message, one can sense that Kim is feeling a lot of pressure on his leadership," he was quoted as saying.

Amid the show of troops, missiles and tanks, the leader offered support to people from around the world suffering due to Covid-19, and also expressed that ties with South Korea would improve. He also warned that he would fully mobilise the nuclear force if the country is under threat, but never directly criticised the US.

Post the parade, South Korea Sunday expressed concerns and once again urged N. Korea to abide by its previous disarmament pledges. “North Korea unveiled weapons including what was suspected to be a new long-range ballistic missile,” South Korean Defence Ministry said in a statement. The statement also reminded N. Korea to stick to its 2018 inter-Korean deals aimed at lowering animosities.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry in a separate statement urged its neighbour to return to talks aimed at achieving denuclearization and peace in the Korean peninsula.

Key FATF affiliate finds Pakistan has complied with only 2 of 40 steps to fight terror funding

NEW DELHI, Oct 12: A little more than a week ahead of a crucial meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a key regional affiliate of the multilateral watchdog has concluded that Pakistan has complied with only two out of 40 recommendations to counter terror financing and money laundering.

The Australia-based Asia-Pacific Group (APG) retained Pakistan in its “enhanced follow-up” category in a report adopted last month. Pakistan was fully compliant with only one of the 40 recommendations exactly a year ago, and the number was increased to two after an assessment by APG this year.

FATF began holding a series of virtual meetings from Monday and they will continue till October 19 to discuss matters such as international cooperation, policy development, and risks and trends. FATF will hold its virtual plenary meeting during October 21-23, which will make an assessment of Pakistan’s steps to fight terror financing.

People familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity that Pakistan is widely expected to be retained in FATF’s “grey list”, in which it was included in 2018, largely because of backing from China, Turkey and Malaysia. Opposition from only three FATF members is enough to stop a country being moved to the “black list”, which would entail harsher financial sanctions.

The latest follow-up report by APG on Pakistan’s case showed the country was “non-compliant” on four of the 40 recommendations, “partially compliant” on 25 and “largely compliant” on nine. The findings were virtually similar to the conclusions drawn a year ago, except for Pakistan being found fully compliant with two recommendations.

“In keeping with APG...procedures, Pakistan will remain in enhanced (expedited) follow-up, and will continue to report back to the APG on progress to strengthen its implementation of AML/CFT [anti-money laundering/counter financing of terrorism] measures,” the report said.

Being included in the “enhanced follow-up” category means Pakistan has to submit quarterly progress reports, instead of biannual, to APG.

The APG’s 40 recommendations are separate from the 27-point action set for Pakistan by FATF. Even in the case of that action plan, FATF concluded earlier this year that Pakistan had complied with only 14 of the 27 points.

The recommendations cover issues such as freezing assets of UN-designated terrorists, use of non-profit organisations (NPOs) by terror groups to raise funds, and even state-run Pakistan Post not being subject to counter-terror financing requirements.

The APG report said a risk assessment done in 2019 “confirmed that abuse of NPOs for TF [terror financing] purposes continues to pose a significant threat, both domestically and externally; that charities and fund raising is a source of funds for almost all EOCs [entities of concern]; and that terrorist organisations are known to use frontal NPOs, including registered charities (e.g. FIF [Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation], which was a registered NPO established by associates of LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba])”.

Pakistan has identified a total of 1,307 NPOs “as high risk” and these “will be subject to enhanced inspection”, the report added.

Taiwan urges China to ‘never seek hegemony’ and ease tensions

TAIPEI, Oct 10: Taiwan’s leader on Saturday appealed to her Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to de-escalate military tensions and live up to his promise to “never seek hegemony” after months of Beijing ramping up fighter jet incursions.

In a speech on Taiwan’s national day, President Tsai Ing-wen said the international community was becoming concerned about the “expanding hegemony” of China.

Beijing views democratic, self-ruling Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it back into fold.

But Tsai referenced a recent speech by Xi to the United Nations that she said gave the Taiwanese some hope.

“I am also aware that the leader across the Strait (Xi) has publicly stated in a video message to the United Nations General Assembly that China will never seek hegemony, expansion, or a sphere of influence ... we hope this is the beginning of genuine change.”

“We are committed to upholding cross-strait stability, but this is not something Taiwan can shoulder alone -- it is the joint responsibility of both sides,” she added,

Beijing’s bellicose stance towards Taiwan has increased dramatically under Xi, who has described the island’s unification with the mainland as “inevitable”.

It is also a response to the election of Tsai in 2016 and again earlier this year. Tsai, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), views Taiwan as a sovereign country and rejects the idea that the island is part of “one China”.

Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) accused Tsai of “extending confrontational thinking and antagonism to promote independence” in her speech, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

“We urge the DPP authority to stop any provocative word and action promoting independence and not to go further down the wrong road,” Xinhua quoted TAO spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian as saying.

The DPP would “only swallow its own evil fruits to collude with Western countries,” Zhu warned.

Washington’s increased outreach to Taipei under President Donald Trump has become yet another flashpoint with Beijing as US-China relations plunge to historic lows.

China’s military has piled on pressure even more than usual this year, sending its warplanes into Taiwan’s air defence zone at unprecedented frequency and sometimes also crossing the so-called “median line” of the Taiwan Strait.

It conducted exercises near the Taiwan Strait when a senior American diplomat was visiting the island last month, shortly after health chief Alex Azar made the highest-level US visit to Taipei since 1979 when Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing.

A Chinese foreign ministry official has even said there was no such thing as the median line as “Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory”, sparking condemnations from Taipei.

On Saturday, Chinese jets entered Taiwan’s air defence zone for the eighth time this month and the fifth straight day this week, according to Taipei’s defence ministry.

Tsai pledged that Taiwan “will not act rashly” and will work to lower the risk of military conflict.

“As long as the Beijing authorities are willing to resolve antagonisms and improve cross-strait relations... we are willing to work together to facilitate meaningful dialogue,” she said.

4-nation Quad gets cemented at Tokyo meet, sends stern message to China

TOKYO, Oct 6: Hours before heading into the Quad security dialogue in Tokyo, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Tuesday backed formalising the informal grouping to build a “true security framework” that could counter the challenge posed by an aggressive China. Other countries, Pompeo told Nikkei Asia in an interview, could become part of this framework at “the appropriate time.”

Tuesday’s meeting was the first face-to-face interaction between the foreign ministers of the four Indo-Pacific countries - the US, India, Japan and Australia - since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in China’s Wuhan in December last.

The foreign ministers had taken the first step to revive the security dialogue and upgrade it to a ministerial level in September last year when they met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. In his initial comments at the Quad meet, foreign minister S Jaishankar underlined that the world had “profoundly transformed” since then.

India, which had been preparing to host Chinese President Xi Jinping, has spent the last 150 days engaged in a bitter standoff with China’s People’s Liberation Army that has led to deaths on both sides.

China’s relations with the three other Quad members have also nosedived over the last one year after Beijing, blamed for the spread of coronavirus disease that has infected 35 million and killed more than 1 million, adopted a hawkish approach elsewhere too.

“This is the Chinese using coercive power. This isn’t how great nations operate. So our mission is to reduce that,” Pompeo told Nikkei Asia.

Pompeo was particularly unsparing of China in his public comments ahead of the Quad meeting as well.

“As partners in this Quad, it is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the CCP’s (Chinese communist party) exploitation, corruption and coercion,” Pompeo said.

“We see it in the South and East China Seas, the Mekong, the Himalayas, the Taiwan Strait.”

Stephen Biegun, the US deputy secretary of state, had hinted what a formalised Quad could look like last month when he noted at an online seminar that the Indo-Pacific region didn’t have “strong multilateral structures”.

“They don’t have anything of the fortitude of NATO, or the European Union… There is certainly an invitation there at some point to formalise a structure like this,” he said.

In a statement issued after Tuesday’s Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, a statement by the Indian external affairs ministry said the foreign ministers would hold the consultations “regularly”.

“The Foreign Ministers exchanged views about regional issues of mutual interest, and issues related to connectivity; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; maritime safety and security; health security, and counter terrorism. They reaffirmed their collective vision of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. They reiterated their firm support to ASEAN centrality and highlighted their readiness to work towards realizing a common vision for the Indo-Pacific. Appreciating the value of these consultations, they agreed to hold them regularly,” the statement said.

Pompeo, Jaishankar review bilateral ties

TOKYO, Oct 6: External affairs minister S Jaishankar and his US counterpart Mike Pompeo reviewed bilateral relations, including efforts to counter the Covid-19 pandemic, and planning for the upcoming 2+2 ministerial dialogue during their meeting in Tokyo.

This was the first face-to-face meeting between Jaishankar and Pompeo since the Covid-19 outbreak snapped foreign travel by world leaders, though they have spoken on several occasions and participated in virtual multilateral meetings in the past few months.

During their meeting on the margins of the consultations of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, Pompeo and Jaishankar discussed ongoing bilateral and multilateral cooperation on topics of international concern, said US state department spokesperson Cale Brown.

“They reaffirmed the strength of the US-India relationship, reviewed our efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, and asserted the need to work together to advance peace, prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific and around the globe,” Brown said.

Jaishankar and Pompeo also agreed to continue close cooperation on a range of regional and international issues and looked forward to the 2+2 dialogue of the foreign and defence ministers of the two sides later this year, he added.

“Began my Tokyo visit with a bilateral meeting with @SecPompeo. Pleased to see the progress of our partnership in so many fields. Will work together for stability and prosperity in the Indo- Pacific,” Jaishankar tweeted after the meeting.

Jaishankar is also set to hold bilateral meetings with his Australian counterpart Marise Payne and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi.

Pompeo, Payne and Jaishankar also met Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga before the Quad consultations.

Suga outlined the challenges facing the world community following the Covid-19 outbreak and said it was “all the more necessary to further deepen ties with many more countries which share the vision of a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ and build concrete cooperation with them, according to Japan’s foreign ministry.

The visiting foreign ministers agreed on the importance of “reinforcing a rules-based, free and open international order through cooperation among Japan, Australia, India and the US”. They also confirmed further collaboration among the four countries for the peace and stability of the region.

China highly unpopular in many countries: Pew Research poll

WASHINGTON, Oct 6: Unfavorable views of China have soared to historic highs in many countries in a new global poll by Pew Research Center, with the highest in Australia.

A majority of those polled in each of the 14 advanced economies had negative views of China. But in nine of them, China’s unpopularity was at the highest Pew had recorded since it started tracking this subject more than a decade ago-- in Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Sweden and South Korea.

A median of 73% of those polled in 14 countries (Belgium, Japan, Italy, Denmark and France in addition to the nine named above) had unfavorable views of China.

Australians had soured the most, with 81%, going up by 24 points over 2019; the last year has seen a sharp deterioration in ties between the two countries. Negatives views of China went up by double digits in the last one year in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the US, South Korea and Spain.

And China’s handling of the Coronavirus epidemic appeared to be central to its record unpopularity. A median of 61% of the respondents across all 14 countries polled said China had done a bad job dealing with the epidemic, worse in every case than their own country and global bodies such as WHO.

China’s Covid-19 failure reflected in the way people in these countries perceived President Xi Jinping. A median of 78% had no confidence in Xi’s ability to do the right thing in world affairs’ seven-in-10 in every country.

But Xi’s unpopularity was overtaken by President Donald Trump in some countries. While 78% of the Germans, for instance, had no faith in Xi, 80% said the same for Trump, who was more distrusted than Xi, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Boris Johnson.

Canada formulates new Indo-Pacific policy

TORONTO, Oct 4: Canada is formulating a fresh Indo-Pacific policy that will not only reflect its recent rift with China but may be more in consonance with the objectives of India in the region.

The indication of this potential switch came as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to his newly-appointed Japanese counterpart Suga Yoshihide. A readout of the conversation used language that has become central to that applied by the Quad nations- India, Japan, Australia and the United States - as it said they wanted the two nations to “promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”

That free-and-open formulation, known as FOIP, has been used as shorthand for containment of an increasingly aggressive China in the region. That symbolic phrasing comes as Canada is looking at issuing a new Indo-Pacific policy in the weeks ahead. According to a report in the Toronto Star recently, Global Affairs Canada has been working on the revised policy since November last year. The daily, National Post, stated Canada is “getting set to launch a new tougher approach to dealing with Beijing” and has been in the making since the appointment of François-Philippe Champagne as Foreign Minister in 2019.

Indian officials did not comment on this matter but pointed to an increase in official communication between New Delhi and Ottawa in recent times, including discussions between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Trudeau.

The Trudeau administration may also be acting to reflect public mood in Canada, which has turned largely against China. According to a poll in late June from the Angus Reid Institute (ARI), 81% of respondents “feel that they should boycott goods made in China to send a message”, while 91% considered the state of affairs between the two nations “serious”. Similarly, 93% felt that “China cannot be trusted to uphold human rights.”

Significantly, a Canadian warship sailed from the South China Sea into the Taiwan Strait this week in a move that could rile Beijing as China has become more belligerent in the area.

Relations between Ottawa and Beijing have nosedived since the arrest of a senior executive of the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei in Vancouver in late 2018. Meng Wanzhou continues to face trial that could lead to her extradition to the US. In retaliation, China arrested two Canadians, including a former diplomat, actions the Canadian government described as “hostage diplomacy.”


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