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China's incredibly aggressive action in Ladakh: Mike Pompeo

WASHINGTON, July 8: China’s “incredibly aggressive action” along the border with India should not be seen in isolation but in a larger context where Xi Jinping’s Chinese communist party is engaging in an increasing revisionist effort with its neighbours, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.

Pompeo added he was confident that the world will come to understand the threat that is presented by Xi Jinping’s party and will come together to respond in a way that is “powerful and important”.

“I have spoken with (foreign) minister S Jaishankar a number of times about this. The Chinese took incredibly aggressive action and the Indians have done their best to respond to that,” Pompeo said in response to the question on the Chinese efforts to expand its territory that led to the two-month-long stand-off between soldiers of India and China.

China’s People’s Liberation Army has started scaling down its presence along the Line of Actual Control as part of a de-escalation process agreed between the two countries but insisted that it was India that had crossed the line.

“There aren’t many neighbours that can satisfactorily say that they know where their sovereignty ends and the Chinese community party will respect that sovereignty. That is certainly true now for the people of Bhutan as well”

“I put this in the context of general secretary Xi Jinping and his behaviour throughout the region and indeed, throughout the world. I don’t think it is possible to look at that particular instance, Chinese Communist Party’s aggression in isolation. I think you need to put it in the larger context,” Pompeo said.

The US secretary of state referred to the large number of boundary and maritime disputes that China had opened with its neighbours. “I think it is unequaled any place in the world,” he said.

“There aren’t many neighbours that can satisfactorily say that they know where their sovereignty ends and the Chinese community party will respect that sovereignty. That is certainly true now for the people of Bhutan as well,” he said.

China stunned Thimphu last month when it objected to a grant request for the 650-sq km Sakteng wildlife sanctuary in eastern Bhutan’s Trashigang district at a meeting of the Washington-based Global Environment Facility. Beijing reasoned that the sanctuary, which Bhutan always considered as its easternmost part, was Chinese territory.

Beijing has said the China-Bhutan boundary had never been delimited and there were disputes “over the eastern, central and western sections for a long time”.

US military to stand with India in conflict with China: White House

WASHINGTON, July 7: The US military “will continue to stand strong” in relationship to a conflict between India and China or anywhere else, a top White House official has said, after the Navy deployed two aircraft carriers to the strategic South China Sea to boost its presence in the region.

“The message is clear. We’re not going to stand by and let China or anyone else take the reins in terms of being the most powerful, dominant force, whether it’s in that region or over here,” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Fox News on Monday.

“And the message is clear. Our military might stands strong and will continue to stand strong, whether it’s in relationship to a conflict between India and China or anywhere else,” Meadows said in response to a question.

He was told that India banned Chinese apps because Indian soldiers were killed by Chinese troops last month and asked what’s mission of the two aircraft carriers - the Ronald Reagan and the Nimitz - and what’s America’s mission.

The troops of India and China are locked in an eight-week standoff in several areas in eastern Ladakh including Pangong Tso, Galwan Valley and Gogra Hot Spring. The situation deteriorated last month following the Galwan Valley clashes that left 20 Indian Army personnel dead as the two sides significantly bolstered their deployments in most areas along the LAC.

The Chinese military on Monday began withdrawing troops from the Galwan Valley and Gogra Hot Spring after National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held lengthy talks on Sunday. Doval and Wang are also the special representatives on the India-China boundary talks. The United States has sent two of its aircraft carriers to the South China Sea. “Our mission is to make sure that the world knows that we still have the preeminent fighting force on the face of the globe,” Meadows said.

President Donald Trump has invested more in the US military, more in not only the hardware, but the men and women who serve so sacrificially each and every day, he said. “He (Trump) continues to do so,” he added.

China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. Beijing has built up and militarised many of the islands and reefs it controls in the region. Both areas are stated to be rich in minerals, oil and other natural resources and are vital to global trade.

China claims almost all of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the area.

Meadows also hinted that President Trump might sign an executive order that relates to China, among other issues.

“I’ll give you a couple of hints, all right. So, a sneak preview here. We’re going to be looking at how we make sure that China is addressed, how we bring manufacturing back from overseas to make sure the American worker is supported,” he said.

“We’re also going to look at a number of issues as it relates to immigration. We’re going to look at a number of issues as it relates to prescription drug prices and we’re going to get them done when Congress couldn’t get them done,” Meadows said.

Appearing on the same Fox News on Monday talk show with host Brian Kilmeade, influential Republican Senator Tom Cotton said that the US aircraft carriers are headed to the South China Sea to thwart off any Chinese misadventure against Taiwan or other countries in the region.

“That’s one of the reasons why we have those aircraft carrier groups in the South China Sea. I mean, look what China did in the southwest. It’s essentially invaded India over the last few weeks and killed Indian soldiers,” Cotton said.

“No country on China’s periphery, right now, is safe from Chinese aggression. All those countries want a close relationship with the United States. We ought to have one,” Cotton said.

China must be held accountable for Covid-19: Trump

WASHINGTON, July 5: As the United States celebrated its 244th birthday in an unusually somber manner reflecting the mood of a country in the throes of deadly coronavirus disease outbreak, President Donald Trump once again blamed China for it and held out hopes of a vaccine by the end of the year.

“China must be held fully accountable”, the president said, blaming China once again for misreporting the disease outbreak, and misleading the world about its dangers early enough.

The president, who held the July 4 celebrations against the advice of public health officials and experts warning that the virus is also spreading through these large gatherings, did not mention the fatalities in his speech. Currently the worst-hit country, death toll in US  neared 130,000 Sunday, or the 2.8 million cases, with more than 45,000 new infections over the past 24 hours.

Without citing evidence, Trump said that 99 per cent of coronavirus cases in the United States were “totally harmless”, contrary to the mounting cases running into millions show. This month, many states have marked a record number of new Covid-19 cases. In Texas alone, 7,890 patients were hospitalized after 238 new admissions over the past 24 hours.

Health experts have blamed large gatherings such as the one that Trump addressed Friday in front of the Mt Rushmore monument in South Dakota on Friday the Independence Day celebrations — called “Salute to America” on Saturday partly for the surge in infections being reported from souther states currently. Memorial Day celebrations on May 31, for instance, has been blamed by officials of many of these 16 states for their spikes — called the Memorial Day “bump” by some of them.

“China must be held fully accountable”, the president said, blaming China once again for misreporting the disease outbreak, and misleading the world about its dangers early enough.

Trump’s frequent blaming of China has been seen by critics as an attempt to shift blame from his own shoddy handling of the crisis.

As before he also pushed a misleading narrative that the the high number of cases in the United States was due to more testing. While more testing will lead to the detection of more cases, which is the way to tackle the virus, public health officials of his own task force have repeatedly said rising proportion of positive results point to a genuine spoke in infections.

“Now we have tested, almost 40 million people,” he said.

The president also plugged hopes of a breakthrough in the hunt of a vaccine, saying, “We’ll likely have a therapeutic and/or a vaccine solution long before the end of the year.”

US aircraft carriers in S China Sea not intimidated by Chinese missile threat

WASHINGTON, July 5: After the US Navy deployed its two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers – USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan – to conduct exercises in the South China Sea, Chinese propaganda outlet Global Times went into overdrive threatening the US carriers with DF-21D and DF-26 'aircraft carrier killer' missiles.

In an op-ed, a Chinese analyst said that China has a wide selection of anti-aircraft carrier weapons like DF-21D and DF-26 ‘aircraft carrier killer’ missiles adding that South China Sea is fully within grasp of the PLA; and that US aircraft carrier movement in the region is at the pleasure of PLA.

Responding to this futile threat, the US Navy’s Chief of Information (CHINFO) shared a post taking a dig at the mouthpiece saying, “And yet, there they are” adding that the two US Navy aircraft carriers – USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan – operating in the international waters of the South China Sea are not intimidated.

The recent decision by the United States to deploy its two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers comes after China's People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) conducted military drills in the disputed waters provoking a sharp reaction from Vietnam, Philippines and the US.

The US navy in a statement had said that its operations in the South China Sea are on to "support free and open Indo-Pacific".

China claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea and the region is important for the global trade as about USD 3 trillion worth of trade passes through this route.

Beijing has been ramping up the infrastructure on the disputed territory by building man-made islands and setting up military installations including airfields in several key areas.

Apart from China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim over different parts of the South China Sea with 21 disputes in total.

The repositioning of these aircraft carriers is also due to the Chinese threat to India and Southeast Asia. Recently, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said that the United States is reducing its troop presence in Europe due to Beijing’s growing aggression in Asia.

US sends supercarriers to South China Sea

WASHINGTON, July 4: The US Navy is deploying its two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers - USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan - to conduct exercises in the South China Sea, piling pressure on an ambitious Beijing that has opened multiple fronts including one with India along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.

The US supercarriers are reported to be crossing Luzon Strait, the strait between Taiwan and Luzon island of the Philippines that connects Philippine Sea to the South China Sea

The US deployment comes after Beijing’s People’s Liberation Army Navy conducted military drills in the contested waters, provoking a sharp reaction from neighbouring states and Washington. The US navy has said its operations in the South China Sea were designed to “support free and open Indo-Pacific”.

“The purpose is to show an unambiguous signal to our partners and allies that we are committed to regional security and stability,” Rear Admiral George M Wikoff commander of the strike group led by USS Ronald Reagan told Wall Street Journal, which first reported the exercises.

China claims 90% of the South China Sea through which about $3 trillion of trade passes each year. Over the last decade, Beijing has gone ahead to build man-made islands and set up military installations including military-grade airfields in several areas.

Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also lay claim to parts of the South China Sea, setting up many of the 21 disputes that an aggressive Beijing is embroiled in.

For now, the most serious crisis is on the India-China border where armies of the two countries are locked in standoffs at multiple points in Ladakh. India has deployed its soldiers along with 1,597 km-long LAC along the entire stretch of the border in East Ladakh, prepared for any eventuality.

But the LAC isn’t the only part of China’s border where it has been attempting to bulldoze its way through to expand its territory.

China’s military drills in the disputed waters have been sharply criticised by its neighbours. Philippines and Vietnam had last week spoken of growing insecurity in southeast Asia at an ASEAN event last Friday amid concerns that China is using the cover of the coronavirus pandemic to step up its presence in the disputed waters.

China’s PLA Navy had started the five-day military drills on July 1, prompting Vietnam to file its formal protest to the Chinese foreign ministry. China’s drills are being held near the Paracel Islands claimed by Vietnam and Philippines.

In its strongest statement yet, the Philippines has said the exercises are being held in waters claimed by Vietnam.

“Should the exercises spill over to Philippine territory, then China is forewarned that it will be met with the severest response, diplomatic and whatever else is appropriate,” Philippines foregn ministry said in a statement. The Philippines has a defence cooperation pact with the US.

The US naval exercises come a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed solidarity with China’s neighbours. “The PRC’s (People’s Republic of China) military exercise in disputed waters of the South China Sea is highly provocative. We oppose Beijing’s unlawful claims. Period,” Pompeo tweeted on Friday.

Pompeo has been outspoken in his criticism of China’s expansionist approach, describing Beijing as a “rogue actor” for escalating tensions with India and other countries. Last month, he had underlined the degree to which the US is deploying its considerable military might with an almost single-minded determination to contain China.

Shinzo Abe’s Japan, which had been looking at improving ties with China till some months back, is set to cancel a state visit by Xi Jinping that had been deferred from April this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Japan, which has raised its deployment around its Senkaku Islands that China eyes, has been upset with Beijing over its practice of sending its ships to the Senkaku Islands. Since April this year, Japan has spotted 67 Chinese Coast Guard ships near the islands in the East China Sea.

The 8 uninhabited islands and rocks in the East China Sea controlled by Japan have a total area of about 7 sq km and lie north-east of Taiwan and east of the Chinese mainland but are important because they are close to important shipping lanes and lie near potential oil and gas reserves.

Joe Biden vows to accord ‘high priority’ to ties with India if elected

WASHINGTON, July 2: Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, has said the United States and India were “natural partners” and if elected the relationship will be a “high priority” for his administration.

The former vice-president also said he will end the temporary suspension of H-1B visas ordered by President Donald Trump last week ostensibly to ensure American had the first crack at jobs becoming available as the US reopens from Covid-19 lockdown. But the visa programme, of which Indians are the largest beneficiaries, has been in the crosshairs of immigration hawks in his administration.

India and the US are “natural partners”, Biden said at a virtual fundraiser Wednesday, using a phrase for describing the relationship that has evolved from “natural allies”, as first used by late Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Former US president George W Bush switched in “partners” for “allies”.

“That partnership, a strategic partnership, is necessary and important in our security,” Biden said and proceeded to give a more expansive account of his role in promoting the relationship, such as securing the civil nuclear deal that ended India’s isolation from the community of nuclear states.

“I was proud to play a role more than a decade ago in securing congressional approval for the US India Civil Nuclear Agreement,” he said, adding, “which is a big deal.” It was indeed, and has remained so, setting a high bar for everything that has followed in the relationship.

“Helping open the door to great progress in our relationship and strengthening our strategic partnership with India was a high priority in the Obama-Biden administration and will be a high priority if I’m elected president,” the former vice-president said, and added, “India needs to be a partner in the region for our safety(’s) sake and quite frankly for theirs.”

Biden visited India as vice-president in July 2013, with his wife Jill Biden.

At a virtual town-hall with Asian American and Pacific Islanders, the former vice-president came out clearly agains Trump’s suspension of H-1Bs. “He (Trump) just ended H-1B visas the rest of this year. That will not be in my administration,” he said in response to a questions.

People on this visa “have built this country”, Biden said.

This will come as a huge relief for the Indians hoping to work in the United States and US and Indian companies that hire them on H-1B. The United States issues 85,000 of these temporary non-immigrant visas for high-skill jobs every year, and more than 70% go to Indians.

Critics of the programme have argued H-1B visas are being used to bring cheaper labor from abroad and displace Americans. The Trump administration stepped up scrutiny of the programme soon after Trump came into offie in January 2017 and issued an executive order titled “Buy American, Hire American”.

A larger reform of the programme was announced along with the suspension last week. It would include doing away with the electronic lottery system to pick successful H-1B petitions from among the hundred and thousands that are filed. Selection will be based on those getting the highest salary. Other changes are also in the offing, but there is no timeline for it yet.

The vice-president went on to speak of other immigration issues as the plight of undocumented immigrants brought as children, called Dreamers. Many of them are of Indian origin.

“On day one (of his presidency), I’m going to send a legislative immigration reform bill to congress to provide a roadmap to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants who contribute so much to this country,” he said.

47,000 Covid-19 cases in US in a day

WASHINGTON, July 1: The US saw a new single-day record of more than 47,000 Covid-19 cases, as President Donald Trump said he was growing “more and more angry at China”, where the pandemic started.

California, Texas and Arizona have emerged as the new US hot spots. Cases in California rose by 8,441 on Tuesday, the highest one-day rise in the state.

“As I watch the pandemic spread its ugly face all across the world, including the tremendous damage it has done to the USA, I become more and more angry at China,” Trump tweeted.

His administration is facing criticism for “hoarding” nearly the entire global supply of remdesivir, the only drug licensed so far to treat Covid-19. The department of health and human services said Trump has secured 500,000 treatments of the drug through September, representing 100% of Gilead’s July production capacity and 90% of its capacity in August and September.

Red Cross decried on Wednesday the politicisation of the pandemic in many countries, warning that the “divisive” response by leaders in places like Brazil and the US was taking a heavy toll. In Brazil, a judge dismissed an earlier order asking President Jair Bolsonaro to wear a face mask in public or face a fine.

Alphabet Inc’s Google said late on Tuesday it was delaying the reopening of its US offices. All of Google’s US offices will now remain closed at least until September 7, it said.

Canada will keep its borders sealed till at least the end of July as the government extended its ban on travellers.

In Switzerland, wearing a facemask on public transport will become compulsory.

In Australia, residents in suburbs north of Melbourne went into a month-long lockdown on Wednesday night after new cases emerged in the second largest city.

Thailand, meanwhile, began a fifth phase of relaxations, allowing the reopening of schools and high-risk entertainment venues such as pubs and massage parlours. Hit by the twin shocks of Covid-19 and low oil prices, Saudi Arabia implemented the tripling of value added tax from Wednesday.

 

 

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