US: Sanctions on China’s New Defense Chief Not a Hurdle for Military Talks

U.S. officials said current sanctions on China’s new defense chief, Li Shangfu, will not prevent him from conducting official meetings with his American counterparts, nor is the U.S. government considering issuing an exemption for or waiving Li’s sanction designation.

The People’s Republic of China named General Li as its minister of national defense on March 12. The U.S. has not proposed a call between Li and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

In 2018, the U.S. sanctioned Li under the so-called Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) when he headed the Equipment Development Department of the Chinese military.

The sanctions were related to China’s purchase of ten SU-35 combat aircrafts in 2017 and S-400 surface-to-air missile system-related equipment in 2018, according to the State Department.

A State Department spokesperson told VOA that “CAATSA sanctions do not necessarily prohibit sanctioned persons from meeting with U.S. government officials.”

“Visa records are confidential under U.S. law. We therefore cannot discuss the details of individual visa cases,” said the spokesperson when asked if the existing sanctions would ban Li from traveling to the U.S. to conduct official meetings.

But to Beijing, seeing the United States lift the sanctions against Li as a goodwill gesture may be deemed a critical step to resuming military talks between the defense chiefs of the two nations.

Experts said sanctions should not be the reason against having deconfliction talks.

“Most of the meetings between our defense secretary and the Chinese defense minister recently have been conducted in third countries—for example, at the Shangri-La Dialogues in Singapore,” said Dennis Wilder, professor of Asian studies at Georgetown University, referring to Asia’s premier annual defense and security forum.

“In that case, there would be no reason not to have the meeting, even though [General Li] is under sanctions, because meeting in the third country makes those sanctions quite meaningless,” Wilder told VOA on Monday.

While General Li remains blocked from any U.S. property interests, financial transfers, payments or foreign exchange under U.S. jurisdiction due to current sanctions, President Joe Biden’s administration continues to seek open lines of communication with PRC military leaders to ensure competition does not spill into conflict, said a Pentagon spokesperson.

Secretary Austin “is able to engage in official United States government business” with General Li despite the sanctions, the spokesperson added.

The U.S. and Chinese militaries have had working level communications both in Washington and Beijing, but no leader-level military talks since November 2022 despite U.S. requests.

Source: Voice of America

IMF approves $2.9B bailout for cash-strapped Sri Lanka

The International Monetary Fund has approved Sri Lanka's request for a $2.9 billion bailout, the country's president said, raising hopes for an easing of the island nation's dire economic crisis.

The IMF's board also confirmed on Monday it has signed off on the loan, which clears the way for the release of funds and kicks off a four-year programme designed to shore up the country's economy.

But its managing director Kristalina Georgieva warned that Colombo must continue pursuing tax reform and greater social safety nets for the poor –– and rein in the corruption that has been partly blamed for the crisis.

"I express my gratitude to the IMF and our international partners for their support as we look to get the economy back on track for the long term through prudent fiscal management and our ambitious reform agenda," President Ranil Wickremesinghe said in a statement.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its foreign debt in April 2022 as the country plunged into its worst economic downturn since independence because of a major shortage of foreign currency reserves.

The Indian Ocean nation of around 22 million people ran out of cash to finance even the most essential imports, causing massive social unrest.

Nationwide protests

Widespread protests over economic mismanagement, acute shortages of food, fuel and medicines, and runaway inflation forced president Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and resign in July.

Rajapaksa was replaced by Wickremesinghe as president. He has implemented tough spending cuts and tax hikes in an attempt to secure the IMF assistance.

IMF staff had provisionally approved the bailout in September, but the final green light was held up until China, the island's biggest bilateral lender, agreed to restructure its loans to Colombo.

Beijing had said this year it was offering a two-year moratorium on its loans to Sri Lanka, but the concession fell short of IMF expectations for the sustainability of the island's debt.

Wickremesinghe had said after China agreed to restructure its loans that he expected the first tranche of the IMF package would be made available within the month.

Moratorium on foreign debt

Earlier Monday, Wickremesinghe's office said he was seeking a 10-year moratorium on Sri Lanka's foreign debt as the country was out of foreign reserves to service its loans.

Colombo is also banking on the IMF deal to unfreeze billions of dollars in foreign aid for projects suspended since Sri Lanka defaulted on its loans last year.

The government has already doubled taxes, increased energy tariffs threefold and slashed subsidies in an effort to meet the preconditions of the IMF bailout.

Georgieva said Sri Lanka must stick with its controversial tax reforms, manage government expenditure and do away with energy subsidies.

Sri Lanka's economy shrank by a record 7.8 percent last year as it grappled with its worst foreign exchange shortage since independence from Britain in 1948.

Source: TRTworld.com

Hong Kong Falls in International Civic Rights Index

Hong Kong and its civil society environment have been downgraded by an international rights group nearly three years since China imposed a national security law on the city.

CIVICUS Monitor, a global research group that tracks and rates fundamental freedoms, released its People Power Under Attack 2022 report last Thursday.

After the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, Beijing imposed the security legislation in an effort to bring back stability. But the law has since been used by authorities to target dissidents, including lawmakers, journalists, and activists.

Hong Kong’s political crackdown in recent years has seen the monitoring group downgrade the territory’s status from “repressed” to “closed,” the worst rating possible.

CIVICUS Monitor says the atmosphere of fear prevails in the Hong Kong, and authorities have routinely imprisoned people for exercising their civil rights of association, free assembly, and expression.

Hong Kong now joins other “closed” civil societies in the Asia Pacific, including Afghanistan, China, Laos, Myanmar, North Korea, and Vietnam in the Civicus rankings.

Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia Pacific researcher, included his comments in the report.

“The repressive National Security Law has been systematically deployed to bring trumped-up, politically motivated charges against activists, journalists and other critics and has created a climate of fear in the territory. Further sedition charges have been increasingly used to silence peaceful expression while there has been a relentless campaign against press freedom. The continuous onslaught on civic freedoms by the Hong Kong authorities has prompted the downgrade.”

Michael Mo, a former campaigner for Amnesty Hong Kong - which no longer operates in the city - says the report sums up the situation in Hong Kong today.

“The annual CIVICUS account accurately reflects Hong Kong’s civil society on the ground - a closed one. Apart from dozens of civil society groups that were forced or decided to be disbanded after the draconian National Security Law was enacted in June 2020, international NGOs like Amnesty International and Friedrich Naumann Foundation also left Hong Kong as they could not navigate the vague and catch-all nature of “colluding with foreign forces,” a crime under the security measure.

Mo, a former district councilor in Hong Kong who now lives in Britain, added that the departure of so many civic groups has left those remaining feeling “scattered.”

“Those who remain in Hong Kong are still trying to advocate for non-sensitive issues such as LGBT rights, land and housing supply, and environmental protection. Even so, most of the groups are scattered as there is no umbrella organization or coalition which able to organize an annual march.”

Florence Wong, a spokesperson for Hong Kong’s Security Bureau, told VOA via email, following a request for comment, said the CIVICUS report could not be “further from the truth” and that the security law has “restored stability” to Hong Kong.

“The NSL clearly stipulates that human rights shall be respected and protected in safeguarding national security in the HKSAR; and the HKSAR shall protect the rights and freedoms enjoyed by residents under the Basic Law and the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as applied to Hong Kong in accordance with the law,” Wong said.

“All law enforcement actions taken by Hong Kong law enforcement agencies are based on evidence, strictly according to the law in respect of the acts of the people or entities concerned, and have nothing to do with their political stance, background or occupation,” Wong added.

Hong Kong's Basic Law is a mini constitution that guarantees that its civil freedoms and rights should remain unchanged for 50 years after Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, which happened in 1997.

Hong Kong has seen a variety of different civic societies and trade unions fold in recent years because of the risks they faced breaking the national security law.

In September, five people from the now-disbanded General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists were sentenced to 19 months in prison over their involvement in producing what were considered seditious publications. The judge who handed down the sentence implied that children reading the publications – a book series that revolves around sheep dealing with wolves from another village - would be told they are the sheep, and that the wolves trying to harm them are Chinese authorities.

Last week two people were arrested for possessing the children’s books.

Christopher Siu-tat Mung is the former chief executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, which disbanded in 2021. He says that civil societies in Hong Kong are being dismantled.

“You can see the Chinese government is using some similar patterns to dismantle the main organizations, the pillars of civil society. We have seen a big wave of the union organizations disbanding, and the Hong Kong government is weaponizing the National Security Law and [sedition] colonial law to impose their political control and flatten the existence of our independent trade union movement,” Mung told VOA.

Today Mung lives in Britain and is the executive director of the NGO Hong Kong Labor Rights Monitor. Mung says he feels the civil society space in Hong Kong is changing.

“We have seen the case of the [employees strike at] FoodPanda. They organized themselves through social media without the leading of a trade union organization. There are some newly established small-scale news agencies based on social media. Some of the people are organizing and learning the ropes on discussion forums on a small scale. There are some that left but under are control. They are struggling to survive and keep their voice."

More than 200 people have been arrested under the security law and around 3,000 protesters prosecuted for their participation in peaceful gatherings and protests, according to the CIVICUS report.

Source: Voice of America

China wants to work with Russia for a ‘multi-polar world’: Xi

China's President Xi Jinping has said that Beijing will work with Russia to "promote a multi-polar world."

On his ninth trip to Russia since being first elected as president in 2013, Xi on Monday said: "China will work with Russia to uphold true multilateralism, promote a multi-polar world and greater democracy in international relations, and help make global governance more just and equitable."

Xi, 69, landed at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport for a three-day official trip to Russia, his first since Russia launched a war on Ukraine last year.

He has, however, spoken to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin several times last year.

"The growth of China-Russia relations has not only brought tangible benefits to the two peoples, but also made important contributions to the development and progress of the world," the Chinese president said, according to Chinese daily Global Times, just as the bilateral trade between China and Russia rose to around $190 billion last year.

"I am confident that the visit will produce fruitful results, and inject fresh impetus into the sound and steady growth of China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for the new era," said Xi.

'Friendly neighbour'

Calling Russia, a "friendly neighbour," Xi said: "It gives me great pleasure to once again set foot on the soil of Russia (to) pay a state visit to the Russian Federation at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin."

All eyes are on Xi's meetings with Putin as Moscow's war on Kiev has stretched beyond a year.

Last month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement listing Beijing's position on a political settlement to the war in Ukraine, where 12 points were listed, including respecting the sovereignty of all countries, ceasing hostilities, resuming peace talks and resolving the humanitarian crisis in the region.

The plan also calls for keeping nuclear power plants safe, facilitating grain exports and stopping unilateral sanctions, noting that "dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis."

Ahead of his trip, Xi described his Moscow visit "a journey of friendship, cooperation and peace."

"I look forward to working with President Putin to jointly adopt a new vision, a new blueprint and new measures for the growth of China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination," he said in an article published in Russian media.

Source: TRTworld.com

China’s Xi Visits Russia’s Putin in Rare Show of Support

Chinese President Xi Jinping begins a three-day visit to Moscow Monday seen as a rare show of support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, increasingly isolated over his war on Ukraine. The visit also comes at a time when Russia and China are eager to cooperate as each of them faces its own challenges with the West. Marcus Harton narrates this report from the VOA Moscow Bureau.

Source: Voice of America

Australian ex-soldier arrested over alleged Afghanistan war crime

An Australian former soldier has been arrested over allegations that he murdered a man while deployed in Afghanistan.

The arrest on Monday comes more than two years after a damning internal investigation found 39 civilians and prisoners had been "unlawfully killed" by Australian elite special forces.

A 41-year-old veteran was expected to be charged with a war crime and could face life in prison if found guilty, Australian Federal Police said.

The man is expected to appear before a local court in the state of New South Wales on Monday.

Footage of killing

According to ABC News, the charge “relates to the shooting death of Afghan man Dad Mohammad during an ADF raid in May 2012 in Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan".

“That killing was revealed in March 2020 by the ABC's Four Corners program, which broadcast footage showing Mr Schulz shooting Mr Mohammad while the Afghan man lay on the ground."

According to UN estimates, at least 100,000 Afghan civilians have died since former US President George W. Bush authorised the offensive in Afghanistan in October 2001.

A report commissioned by the inspector-general of the Australian Defense Force found “credible information” that Australian soldiers murdered civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan.

According to the report, 25 current or former personnel were involved in serious crimes, either carrying out the offenses themselves or being “accessories".

https://twitter.com/amnestyOz/status/1637690666393436163?s=20

The findings were a watershed moment for Australia, which holds its military in high esteem and had attempted to suppress whistleblower reports of the alleged wrongdoing.

Australian police even investigated reporters involved in bringing the allegations to light.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, more than 26,000 Australian uniformed personnel were sent to Afghanistan to fight alongside US and allied forces against the Taliban, al Qaeda and other armed groups.

Source: TRTworld.com

Economic Watch: China moves to bolster economic recovery with RRR cut

China has announced its first cut in the amount of cash that banks must hold as reserves this year to bolster the economic growth momentum after investment stabilized and consumption rebounded in the first two months.

The People's Bank of China, the central bank, said Friday it would cut the reserve requirement ratio (RRR) by 0.25 percentage points for financial institutions from March 27 to keep liquidity reasonably ample and serve the real economy.

After the reduction, the weighted average RRR for lenders, except those already implementing a 5-percent ratio, will drop to around 7.6 percent.

The central bank said the move aims to serve the real economy and keep liquidity reasonably ample in the banking system.

With 268.2 trillion yuan (about 39 trillion U.S. dollars) of deposits in Chinese banks at the end of February, the cut will unleash around 600 billion yuan of medium and long-term liquidity, Bruce Pang, the Greater China chief economist of real estate and investment management services firm JLL, said.

With more cash reserves unlocked, banks will be able to enhance their ability to expand credit, analysts said.

As some lenders face tightening liquidity after strong credit expansion in the first two months, the stable long-term funds provided by the RRR cut will ease banks' liquidity pressures and allow them to more actively support weak areas of the real economy and major emerging industries, said Zhou Maohua, an analyst with the China Everbright Bank.

New yuan loans hit a monthly record in January at 4.9 trillion yuan. It retreated to a lower but still vibrant 1.81 trillion yuan in February, up 592.8 billion yuan from the same period last year.

China has adopted several policy tools to strengthen financial support for the economy. In 2022, the central bank lowered the RRR twice to bring more than 1 trillion yuan of liquidity and also cut the prime loan rate, a market-based benchmark lending rate, three times.

The latest RRR cut would lend significant support to sustaining the economic recovery that has become increasingly palpable since the beginning of the year.

The country's retail sales reversed a three-month losing streak in January and February combined, and its industrial output also picked up pace from December. Other economic indicators, including fixed-asset investment and the services production index, also posted year-on-year growth.

The capital demand has increased markedly due to a warming economy, and will grow much bigger in the second quarter and beyond in consumption, real estate, technology and innovation, and infrastructure construction, said Wang Yunjin, a researcher with the Zhixin Investment Research Institute.

Wang believes that with the liquidity injection, banks will be better prepared for the next phase of demand expansion.

Moreover, as recent U.S. and European banking turmoil exposed the global financial fragility, analysts believe the RRR cut sent a positive signal of China's stable financial market and built up confidence in the world's second-largest economy.

China aims to achieve faster growth of around 5 percent with better development quality in 2023, according to this year's government work report. The country's gross domestic product registered a 3-percent increase last year.

Source: Xinhua Finance Agency

Xi calls for ‘severe’ punishment after Chinese nationals killed in CAR

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for Central African Republic authorities to "severely punish" the killers of nine Chinese nationals.

Xi "has given important instructions, demanding an all-out effort to treat the wounded, handle the aftermath in a timely manner, severely punish perpetrators in accordance with the law, and ensure the safety of Chinese citizens", an unnamed China foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.

Nine Chinese nationals were killed by Armed men in an attack on a mine run by the Gold Coast Group, 25 km (15 miles) from the town of Bambari, its mayor said on Sunday, according to a report from AFP.

"We have counted nine bodies and two wounded," the mayor of Bambari, Abel Matchipata, told AFP. The attack happened around 5 a.m. (0300 GMT), he added.

The embassy said in a statement on Sunday there had been many "vicious" security incidents against workers of foreign mining enterprises in the area, and Chinese citizens still outside Bangui were requested to evacuate immediately.

The ministry said it would work with governments and guide Chinese embassies and consulates to take further effective measures to fully safeguard Chinese citizens and enterprises in Africa.

There have been several attacks on Chinese nationals abroad in recent months, prompting embassies to issue warnings and safety alerts and conduct evacuations.

Source: TRTworld.com

Lawyers for Former US Marine Pilot Investigating Possible Entrapment by US and Australia

Daniel Duggan is wanted in the United States on charges including conspiracy to unlawfully export defense services to China and money laundering. Lawyers for the former U.S. marine, accused of helping to train Chinese military pilots, have said they are investigating whether he was ‘trapped’ by American authorities who are seeking his extradition from Australia.

Duggan had applied for an Australian government job in aviation that needed security clearance. That was initially granted but was revoked soon after he returned to Australia.

The former U.S. marine pilot’s lawyer, Dennis Miralis, believes the extradition request is politically motivated and says that his client could well have been entrapped.

“It is striking to us that a sequence of events like that could occur,” Miralis told reporters Monday outside the court in Sydney. “We are exploring at this stage whether or not he was lured back to Australia by the U.S., where the U.S. knew that he would be in a jurisdiction where he would be capable of being extradited back to the U.S.”

“That is a matter of grave significance,” Miralis said. “At this stage these are matters under investigation.”

Authorities in Washington have accused Duggan of training Chinese fighter pilots and believe he’s violated the arms export control act.

He was arrested last October in the Australian state of New South Wales and has recently been moved from a remand center in Sydney to a maximum-security prison.

His legal team has filed a submission to the U.N. Human Rights Commission claiming that his incarceration breaches the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Australian government approved a request for his extradition almost three months ago.

The former marine airman is an Australian citizen who’s renounced his U.S. citizenship. He denies breaking any law and has said he was training civilian not military pilots.

Australia, the United States and Britain in recent months have launched a crackdown on former military pilots being recruited by China.

A magistrate in Sydney will decide if Duggan is eligible for extradition to the United States to face criminal charges. The case has been adjourned until May 1.

Source: Voice of America

ChiNext Index opens lower Monday

The ChiNext Index, tracking China's Nasdaq-style board of growth enterprises, was down 0.10 percent to open at 2,291.39 points Monday.

The ChiNext Index, together with the Shenzhen Component Index and other indices, reflects the performance of stocks listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

Source: Xinhua Finance Agency

Major stock market indices worldwide

The following are the indices of major stock markets worldwide on Monday.

IN ASIA

The Shanghai Composite Index opened at 3,253.93 points, up 3.38 points, or 0.10 percent.

The Shenzhen Component Index opened at 11,289.96 points, up 11.91 points, or 0.11 percent.

The Hang Seng Index opened at 19,352.90 points, down 165.69 points, or 0.85 percent.

The SandP/ASX 200 index opened at 6,949.90 points, down 44.90 points, or 0.64 percent.

The 225-issue Nikkei Stock Average opened at 27,253.73 points, down 80.06 points, or 0.29 percent.

The Straits Times Index opened at 3,179.05 points, down 4.23 points, or 0.13 percent.

The Korea Composite Stock Price Index opened at 2,391.87 points, down 3.82 points, or 0.16 percent.

IN THE UNITED STATES

The SandP 500 Index had no trading.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average had no trading.

The Nasdaq Composite Index had no trading.

IN EUROPE

The DAX Index had no trading.

The FTSE 100 Index had no trading.

The Paris CAC 40 had no trading.

Source: Xinhua Finance Agency