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US, Japan to work together to handle 'challenges' posed by China: Biden

WASHINGTON, April 17: Affirming his "ironclad" support for the US-Japanese alliance, President Joe Biden on Friday said that both the countries are committed to work together to take on the challenges posed by China to ensure the future of free and open Indo-Pacific.

"Today, Prime Minister Suga and I affirmed our iron-clad support for the US-Japanese alliance and for our shared security. We committed to working together to take on the challenges from China and on issues like the East China Sea, the South China Sea as well as North Korea to ensure the future of our free and open Indo-Pacific," Biden said after a meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

"Our commitment to meet in person is indicative of the importance and value we place on this relationship between Japan and the United States," he added.

This statement comes amid growing aggression from China in East China Sea and the South China Sea.

Biden said that Japan and the United States are two strong democracies in the region and we are committed to defending and advancing our shared values and including human rights and rule of law.

"Today, we are announcing a new competitive and reliance partnership (CORE) between Japan and the United States that will enhance our ability to meet the pressing challenges of time. Together meet those challenges," he added.

The United States and Japan will increase cooperation on 5G telecommunications, supply chains for semiconductors, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence, Biden said.

"We're going to work together across a range of fields, from promoting secure and reliable 5G networks, to increasing our cooperation on supply chains for critical sectors like semiconductors, to driving joint research in areas like AI, genomics, quantum computing and much more," Biden added.

This meeting is their first face-to-face meeting since Biden took office in January.

4 Sikhs Among 8 Killed In FedEx Shooting In US

NEW DELHI, April 17: India will render "all possible assistance" to local authorities and community leaders in Indianapolis, US, where at least eight people, including four Sikhs, have died after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx facility on Thursday night, a "deeply shocked" Foreign Minister S Jaishankar said today.

About 90 per cent of the workers at this delivery service facility are said to be Indian-Americans, mostly from the Sikh community. This was at least the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis alone.

Late on Friday night, the Marion County Coroner's Office and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department released the names of the victims: Amarjeet Johal (66), Jasvinder Kaur (64), Amarjit Sikhon (48) and Jaswinder Singh (68). The first three who died are women.

The shooter has been identified as 19-year-old Brandon Hole. The police could not yet say why he opened fire as he shot himself before being apprehended.

"Deeply shocked by shooting at FedEx facility in Indianapolis. Victims include persons of Indian American Sikh community. Our Consulate General in Chicago in touch with Mayor & local authorities in Indianapolis as well as community leaders. Will render all possible assistance," Jaishankar said in a tweet today.

One person injured in the incident has been identified as Harpreet Gill, an American citizen of Indian heritage, from Amritsar's Jagdev Kalan. He was hit in the head.

"Harpreet was the first to realize there was firing at FedEx. He rushed outdoors that's when a bullet came and hit his skull. He is being operated as we speak. The bullet is 2 and 1/2 inch close to the eye. The bullet is not yet out," said Gill's brother-in-law Khushwant Bajwa. "He has three children, wife and mother."

Reacting to the shooting incident, Dr Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, expressed grief over this latest killing in Indianapolis, the report said.

The Indian embassy in Washington DC conveyed its heartfelt condolences to the families of those who died and said it is praying "for the speedy recovery of those injured".

"Our Consulate in Chicago is in touch with local authorities in Indianapolis, community leaders, and will render all assistance, as required," it said in a statement. "The Consul General has spoken to the Mayor of Indianapolis, who has assured full support. We are closely monitoring the situation and remain ready to provide all possible assistance."

US President Joe Biden, yesterday, termed the incident a "national embarrassment". All US flags will be flown at half-staff until April 20 out of respect for the victims, the White House said in a statement. This applies to embassies, military bases, and other US facilities around the world.

US Imposes Sanctions On Russia, Expels 10 Diplomats

WASHINGTON, April 15: The United States announced economic sanctions against Russia on Thursday and the expulsion of 10 diplomats in retaliation for what Washington says is the Kremlin's US election interference, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity.

US President Joe Biden ordered a widening of restrictions on US banks trading in Russian government debt, expelled 10 diplomats who include alleged spies, and sanctioned 32 individuals alleged to have tried to meddle in the 2020 presidential election, the White House said.

Biden's executive order "sends a signal that the United States will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia if it continues or escalates its destabilizing international action," the White House said in a statement.

The statement listed in first place Moscow's "efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners."

This referred to allegations that Russian intelligence agencies mounted persistent disinformation and dirty tricks campaigns during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, in part to help Donald Trump's candidacy.

The White House said the sanctions also respond to "malicious cyber activities against the United States and its allies and partners," referring to the massive so-called SolarWinds hack of US government computer systems last year.

The statement also called out Russia's extraterritorial "targeting" of dissidents and journalists and undermining of security in countries important to US national security.

In addition, the Department of Treasury, together with the European Union, Australia, Britain and Canada, sanctioned eight individuals and entities associated with Russia's occupation of Crimea in Ukraine.

In Brussels, the NATO military alliance said US allies "support and stand in solidarity with the United States, following its 15 April announcement of actions to respond to Russia's destabilizing activities."

Blinken warns of China's 'increasingly aggressive actions' against Taiwan

WASHINGTON, April 11: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday the United States is concerned about China's aggressive actions against Taiwan and warned it would be a "serious mistake" for anyone to try to change the status quo in the Western Pacific by force.

"What we've seen, and what is of real concern to us, is increasingly aggressive actions by the government in Beijing directed at Taiwan, raising tensions in the Straits," Blinken said in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press."

Beijing on Thursday blamed the United States for tensions after a U.S. warship sailed close to Taiwan.

The United States has a longstanding commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to ensure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself and to sustain peace and security in the Western Pacific, Blinken said.

Asked if the United States would respond militarily to a Chinese action in Taiwan, Blinken declined to comment on a hypothetical.

"All I can tell you is we have a serious commitment to Taiwan being able to defend itself. We have a serious commitment to peace and security in the Western Pacific.

"We stand behind those commitments. And in that context, it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change that status quo by force."

Taiwan has complained over the last few months of repeated missions by China's air force near the island, which China claims as its own.

The White House on Friday said it was keeping a close watch on increased Chinese military activities in the Taiwan Strait, and called Beijing's actions potentially destabilizing.

Also on Friday, the U.S. State Department issued new guidelines that will enable U.S. officials to meet more freely with officials from Taiwan, a move that deepens relations with Taipei amid stepped-up Chinese military activity around the island.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the new guidelines had followed a congressionally mandated review and would "provide clarity throughout the Executive Branch on effective implementation of our 'one China' policy" - a reference to the longstanding U.S. policy under which Washington officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei.

US Navy Sends Warship Close to Lakshadweep Without India's Consent

NEW DELHI, April 9: The 7th Fleet of the US Navy says it has sent a warship 130 nautical miles (about 224 kilometres) west of India’s Lakshadweep islands to assert “navigational rights and freedoms”, a move experts describe as “unnecessary” at a time when ties between Washington and New Delhi are on the upswing.

An unusual press note by the 7th Fleet Public Affairs — datelined Philippine Sea, April 7 — admitted that “India’s prior consent” was not requested, but went on to say the move by guided missile destroyer USS John Paul Jones was in line with “international law”.

While Indian laws require prior notice for such a passage or manoeuvers through its “exclusive economic zone of continental shelf”, the 7th Fleet maintains that it conducts “routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs)”, which are “not about one country, nor are they about making political statements”.

Navy sources said it was a strong statement. “If this was an innocent passage, there is no violation of law. But going by the statement that the 7th Fleet has put out, this sounds like a passage exercise,” a source said.

In a passage exercise, if a foreign ship passes through the waters of a country, the latter usually accompanies it in the process — which did not happen in this case.

To be sure, this was not the first time that a US warship passed through India’s exclusive economic zone without permission; in fact, it happens regularly. But what is unusual is the aggressive press note.

“India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law. This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims,” the 7th Fleet note said.

The development caught geo-political watchers by surprise because it came at a time when the two countries had signalled close cooperation to tackle the China threat in the Indo-Pacific.

Leaders of India, the US, Japan and Australia — a bloc known as Quad — held a virtual meeting on March 12 that observers termed “historic”. The leaders discussed vaccines, climate change, emerging technologies, and promoting a secure, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. Recently, the Quad members also joined France in a war game in the Indian Ocean, in an apparent message to Beijing.

The development also came close on the heels of high-profile visits by Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, and John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, to India.

The 7th Fleet’s aggression in such a backdrop was unexpected. “U.S. Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” its note said.

Former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash said it was an “unnecessary move by a friendly country”. Incidentally, he said, the US was one of the few countries that did not sign “the international law the US quotes”.

He added that the move was probably a “message aimed at China”, but it “doesn’t make sense to send that message” from the Indian Ocean Region.

The 7th Fleet has a history with India. It is infamous for sailing into the waters of the Bay of Bengal in 1971, when the war for Bangladesh’s liberation was underway.

In September 2019, the Indian Navy chased away a Chinese research vessel from the Indian waters in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Back then, Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh said: “Our stand is that if you have to do anything in our EEZ (exclusive economic zone), you have to notify us and take permission.”

Biden ‘heartbroken’ over deadly attack at Capitol, slain cop hailed as ‘martyr’

WASHINGTON, April 2: US President Joe Biden has said that he and First Lady Jill Biden were “heartbroken” about the attack at the US Capitol on Friday that left one police officer dead and another wounded.

"Jill and I were heartbroken to learn of the violent attack at a security checkpoint on the US Capitol grounds, which killed Officer William Evans of the US Capitol Police, and left a fellow officer fighting for his life," President Biden said in a statement.

"We send our heartfelt condolences to Officer Evans' family, and everyone grieving his loss."

Biden said that he knows what a difficult time it's been for the Capitol and all who work there and protect it. Friday's incident came about three months after the January 6 insurrection that killed a Capitol police officer and four other people.

Biden released the statement from the Camp David presidential retreat, where he is spending the weekend. He expressed gratitude to the Capitol Police and the National Guard troops for responding quickly to the attack.

President Joe Biden also ordered that US Flags at the White House be lowered to half-staff until April 6 in honour of a US Capitol Police officer who was killed in the attack.

Meanwhile, the Law enforcement officials said that “terrorism is not suspected in a deadly confrontation outside the US Capitol that began when a man rammed his car into two officers outside the Capitol and then emerged wielding a knife.”

The Capitol Police officer, who was killed in the attack, was identified as an 18-year veteran of the force.

William Billy Evans joined the department in 2003 and was a member of its first responders unit. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed Evans as a ‘martyr for our democracy’, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was ‘heartbroken.’

The death is the latest moment of sorrow for a department after the loss of Brian Sicknick, who clashed with rioters during the January 6 insurrection and died a day later, and Howard Liebengood, who committed suicide weeks after that.

Video shows the driver of the crashed car emerging with a knife in his hand and starting to run at the pair of officers, Capitol Police acting Chief Yogananda Pittman told reporters.

Authorities shot the suspect, identified by law enforcement officials as 25-year-old Noah Green.

Investigators were digging into his background and examining whether he had any history of mental health problems as they tried to discern a motive. They were working to obtain warrants to access his online accounts.

The crash and shooting happened at a security checkpoint near the Capitol typically used by senators and staff on weekdays, though most are away from the building during the current recess.

The attack occurred about 100 yards (91 meters) from the entrance of the building on the Senate side of the Capitol. One witness, the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, said he was finishing a Good Friday service nearby when he suddenly heard three shots ring out.

It comes as the Washington region remains on edge nearly three months after a mob of armed insurrectionists loyal to former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol as Congress was voting to certify Joe Biden's presidential win.

Five people died in the January 6 riot, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was among a badly outnumbered force trying to fight off insurrectionists seeking to overturn the election.

Authorities installed a tall perimeter fence around the Capitol and for months restricted traffic along the roads closest to the building, but they had begun pulling back some of the emergency measures in recent weeks. Fencing that prevented vehicular traffic near that area was recently removed.

Fully vaccinated can travel again, says new CDC guidance

WASHINGTON, April 2: Add travel to the activities vaccinated Americans can enjoy again, according to new U.S. guidance issued Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S. without getting tested for the coronavirus or going into quarantine afterward.

Previously, the agency had cautioned against unnecessary travel even for vaccinated people, but noted that it would update its guidance as more people got vaccinated and evidence mounted about the protection the shots provide.

Every day you get more data, and you change your guidance based on the existing data," said Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska's College of Public Health.

Khan said the update reinforces the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, and is another incentive for people to get vaccinated.

Unvaccinated people are still advised to avoid unnecessary travel.

The new guidance says:

Fully vaccinated people can travel within the U.S., without getting tested for the coronavirus or quarantining. People should still wear a mask, socially distance and avoid crowds, the agency says.

For international travel, the agency says vaccinated people do not need to get a COVID-19 test before leaving, though some destinations may require it.

Vaccinated people should still get a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight to the U.S., and be tested 3 to 5 days after returning. They do not need to quarantine. The agency noted the potential introduction of virus variants and differences in vaccine coverage around the world for the cautious guidance on overseas travel.

The CDC cited recent research on the real-world effects of the vaccines for its updated guidance. Already, the agency had said fully vaccinated people could visit with each other indoors without wearing masks or social distancing. It also said vaccinated people could visit with unvaccinated people from a single household under similar conditions, as long as the unvaccinated individuals were at low-risk for severe illness if infected.

The U.S. began its vaccine rollout in mid-December with the first vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses taken a few weeks apart. A one-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson was given the green light by regulators at the end of February.

US climate envoy heads to India to push ‘climate ambition’

WASHINGTON, April 1: United States climate envoy John Kerry will hold talks with Indian leaders during an Asian tour starting on Thursday in an effort to narrow differences on climate change goals to slow global warming.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is facing calls from the US and the United Kingdom to commit India, the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter, to a net-zero emissions target by 2050.

India, whose per capita emissions are way lower than that of the US, European countries and China, is concerned that binding itself to such a target could constrain the energy needs of its people.

Kerry on Thursday kicks off a trip that will also take him to the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh, which experts say is especially vulnerable to climate change as it has large numbers of people living in areas barely above sea level, and lacks infrastructure to protect them.

“Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry will travel to Abu Dhabi, New Delhi, and Dhaka  April 1-9, 2021, for consultations on increasing climate ambition …” the US Department of State said.

Kerry will take part in a climate dialogue for the Middle East and North Africa hosted by Abu Dhabi on April 4, the UAE state news agency WAM said on Thursday.

It said the regional climate dialogue would provide a platform for countries to “unite around progressive, practical solutions” to help reach global climate goals.

Kerry is leading efforts to get countries to commit themselves to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by about the middle of the century.

US President Joe Biden has called a summit of 40 leaders including India and China for April 22-23.

 

 

 

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