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China Waits as President Trump Speaks with World Leaders

Since his January inauguration, U.S. President Donald Trump has spoken with more than a dozen world leaders. A list released recently by the White House listed 16 and included many of Washington’s traditional allies, even Russia. For some, one country was curiously absent: China.


And that has some China watchers wondering not only why, but when Trump will speak with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.


Since stepping into office, Trump’s focus has largely been on domestic issues and national security. And analysts say his pledge to put America first has meant he needs to focus on bringing jobs back to the United States, not a country he has accused of stealing those opportunities.


The U.S. president’s campaign pledge to bring jobs back to America is not only at odds with China’s interests, but his administration’s statements on what Beijing regards as “core interest” issues such as disputes in the South China Sea or a decision to speak with Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, have made China uneasy.


“From Mr. Trump’s perspective, he has to sort out his various policies; sometimes there are contradictions and so on, before he could have a coherent conversation with [China’s] President Xi,” says Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.


Still on radar


The delay does not mean that China is not on Trump’s radar, says Wong Ming-hsien, a professor at the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University in Taiwan.


Wong says that when dealing with China, it is not just one issue. When it comes to U.S.-China relations, there is a whole host of problems, including the Chinese currency, the trade deficit, cyber security and other issues.


“When dealing with one issue related to China, there are always many other complex issues that come up,” Wong says.

By contrast, Wong says many of the issues Trump has taken on are ones the United States can take the lead in addressing, such as Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ recent trip to South Korea and Japan or Trump’s recent phone conversations with leaders like Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.


“China is the other superpower and I think even with Mr. Trump, he will take some precautions in carrying out such a conversation,” Oh Ei Sun says. “I think that President Trump and President Xi will meet up in the very near future, be it at a bilateral summit or on the sidelines of an international conference.”


Wong, however, says it makes sense for Trump to try not to concentrate on China policy issues now because President Xi’s key focus this year too is on issues at home.


Later this year, China will hold a leadership reorganization, scheduled for every five years, during which Xi is expected to try to further solidify his power.


Hidden message

Wong says for the thornier issues, Trump may wait as long as six months before he tries to tackle any bigger issues with China.


Some analysts see the delay as a hidden message or tactic by Trump. They also say it highlights how the new administration may completely revamp the channels and mechanisms the two countries use to interact.


Shi Yinhong, a political scientist at Beijing’s Renmin University, says that much like he has done with other leaders, Trump appears to be trying to show his toughness.


“This absence of a phone call from Trump to Xi Jinping seems to indicate a deliberate approach on the part of President Trump to show that he is going to be more firm,” Shi says.


Given Trump’s negative remarks on the campaign trail and criticism of China in economic, financial and security fields, a call could help clear the air.


“A phone call cannot solve any major concrete issues, but what is required is an exchange of some good words or goodwill between the two presidents, which unfortunately has still not happened,” Shi said.

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India’s Modi Calls Currency Ban Right Move at Right Time

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has strongly defended his radical ban on high currency notes as the right step, at the right time, that will deliver a cleaner economy.

Critics lambasted the currency ban, questioning why Modi took the action at a time when the country had outpaced China to become the world’s fastest growing economy. According to various estimates, the ban will pull down growth by one percent, displacing India from the top position.

Speaking for the first time in parliament since the ban was imposed on high denomination notes in November, Modi said that having the economy in good shape meant that was the right time to take the tough step. Comparing it with surgery, he told lawmakers, “If you are ill and need an operation, the doctor asks you to control parameters such as diabetes until the body is healthy. This was the right time for demonetization because the economy was doing well.”

Economists remain divided as to whether there will be any long-term benefits from the decision, which created huge currency shortages, led to hardship for hundreds of thousands of poor people who scrambled to exchange old notes, and slowed down the informal sector that employs nearly 90 percent of the workforce.

Modi, however called it a “pro-poor move” that will deliver a “clean India.” Warning that the government will press ahead with more measures to curb corruption, he said, “It does not matter how big you are, you will have to give back what belongs to the poor. I will not turn back from this path.”

The currency ban was meant to flush out illicit cash on which taxes have not been paid – a widespread problem in India where tax compliance is extremely low.

Several economists, however, say the world’s most sweeping currency change move in decades has done little to dent corrupt practices that create what is known in India as “black money.” While the old stocks of black money may have been targeted, they point out that demonetization cannot stop the generation of illicit cash.

Economist N. Bhanumurthy, with New Delhi’s National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, is among those who believe that the cash ban was a step in the right direction. “It is not going to completely remove the black money generation in future, but at least it would have some kind of impact.” He says significant public policy measures to curb the flow of illegal cash are in the works.

While economists will continue to debate the benefits of the measure for a long time, for the Indian prime minister the key test lies in how much ordinary people back his decision. That will be reflected in how Indians cast votes in four states where elections are currently being held. A good showing for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party will mean that his move has paid political dividends, while a poor showing will be interpreted as a rebuff by people who suffered due to the cash crunch.  

Modi said he was aware of the risks he had taken. “I am not concerned about the elections,” he said. “I am concerned about my country.”

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Deadly Suicide Blast Hits Near Kabul Supreme Court

Afghan officials say a suicide bomb attack near the Supreme Court building in the capital, Kabul, has killed at least  20 people and wounded about 40 others.

Most of the victims are said to be court employees.

There were at least two women and a child among the dead.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the deadly bombing as an “inhuman and an “unforgivable” act.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer also condemned the attack Tuesday, calling it a “cowardly act” and re-affirming U.S. support for the Afghan government.

WATCH: Spicer on Kabul attack

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The attack came a day after the United Nations said in its annual report that conflict-related violence in Afghanistan caused more than 11,400 civilian casualties, including around 3,500 deaths in 2016, making it the deadliest year since 2009.




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Rohingya, Rights Groups Resist Bangladesh Refugee Relocation Plan

Since the Bangladesh government announced it has begun a process to relocate the country’s Rohingya refugees to a remote island in Bay of Bengal, a new tension has gripped refugee Mohammad Eliyas. 

Eliyas, who fled violence in Myanmar and took refuge in Bangladesh, says that he is scared at the thought of being forced to relocate to the island of Thengar Char, which surfaced only 10 years ago and is flooded during high tide.  

“To save our lives we crossed over to Bangladesh and we believed we would get better protection in this Muslim majority country. But now we are being told that we have to move to a remote island,” said Eliyas, 50, a day worker who lives with his wife and two children in a shanty-colony in Cox’s Bazar district. 

Rights groups have voiced strong concerns about  the government’s controversial plan to send the refugees to the island, saying it could trigger a total human rights catastrophe and a humanitarian disaster.   

Long history 

The Rohingya religious minority has frequently fled to neighboring Bangladesh and other countries since the 1970s to escape economic hardship and what they say is persecution by Myanmar’s military. Myanmar has consistently denied the allegations of persecution and abuse of the Rohingya.  Currently, there are up to half a million Rohingyas in Bangladesh, with over 90 percent living as illegal or unregistered refugees across southeastern coastal areas. 

Bangladesh first proposed to relocate the Rohingya refugees to Thengar Char in 2015. But the idea faded from the news until late last month, when the government announced it had already set up a committee to push ahead with the plan. 

But one land department official in Noakhali district, where Thengar Char is located, has told VOA that during the high tide the whole 30,000-hectare island goes under several meters of water, the land there is extremely unstable and uninhabitable. 

Another local forest department official, who also did not want to be named for fear of reprisals from authorities, said mangrove trees have been planted on about 2,000 hectares of the island, but it would take at least 20 years for a small part of the island to be suitable for farming.  

Blame and consultation 

A government order said the refugees, registered and unregistered, would be relocated to the island to prevent them from “intermingling” with the Bangladeshi citizens. 

Bangladesh says the Rohingya refugees are responsible for a deteriorating law and order situation in south eastern Bangladesh where they are located, blaming them for the depletion of forest resources and triggering “other social and economic problems,” in addition to spreading infectious diseases.  

But Chowdhury Rafiqul Abrar, who directs the Dhaka-based Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit (RMMRU), said linking the entire refugee community to those problems is not justified. 

“We have not seen any compelling evidence in support of the charges against the Rohingya community. We must bear in mind that undocumented Rohingya community members live without any protection and have to fend for themselves,” said Abrar, who also teaches international relations at University of Dhaka.  

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, said the Bangladesh government should to understand that the protection of the refugees requires real consultation with them about their needs. 

“These Rohingya refugees need protection, not a punitive transfer to an island where they will have no way to make a livelihood and must struggle to survive. Thengar Char is also vulnerable to devastation by typhoons, which often hit Bangladesh,” Robertson told VOA. 

Suitable for living 

However, Bangladesh’s State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shahriar Alam said last week that the army has been tasked to make the island suitable for living. 

“They will do whatever is needed to make the island livable. Then the refugees from Cox’s Bazar and other areas will be moved to Thengar Char. And the process for this relocation has already begun,” Alam said. 

He added that the cost of relocating the refugees will be basically borne by the Bangladesh government. 

“[For this relocation process], we may seek some international support from some friendly countries … The refugees will live in the island on temporary basis and we hope, the Myanmar government will take them back soon,” the minister added.    

However, Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson said that he does not believe that the island would be livable for the refugees that soon.    

“UN agencies and government donors should not believe Dhaka’s claims that they can make such a place hospitable for these refugees, and they should tell Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in no uncertain terms that they will strongly and consistently oppose this move,” he said. 

If the plan does go forward, some Rohingya seem likely to take to the seas again in search of better conditions.  

“If we go back to Myanmar, the military and the (local Rakhine Buddhists) will torture and kill us. We will be better taking a boat, and in the name of Allah, taking big risks, we will sail out for Malaysia,” said Mohammad Eliyas.

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Faced with Blackouts, Pakistan’s Largest Public Park Goes Solar

Mushtaq Khan, a 48-year-old bank manager, used to enjoy his nightly jog in Islamabad’s huge Fatima Jinnah Park – until worsening power cuts two years ago began plunging him into darkness mid-stride, forcing him to run in the morning instead.

Now, however, new large-scale solar lighting for the Pakistani capital’s largest public park has let Khan return to his old schedule – and he no longer worries about running into porcupines or wild boar in the dark.

“After learning that a new solar system now provides uninterrupted power to the entire electric system round-the-clock, I have swapped back the jogging schedule from morning to evening,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during a brief pause in his evening run.

In December, city authorities installed 3,400 solar panels on a 2.5-hectare parcel of the 300-hectare (750-acre) park, at a cost of $4.8 million.

The system aims to provide a constant power supply to one of the city’s key recreational attractions at a time when power cuts remain a major problem due to shortfalls on the grid.

The solar installation, which produces 870 kilowatts of electricity – enough to power the equivalent of 450 homes – runs water pumps and sprinkler systems for the park, and provides power for the offices of the Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation (IMC) and Capital Development Authority (CDA), both located within the park.

The initiative, financed with a grant from China, uses batteries to store solar energy to meet lighting and other electricity needs 24 hours a day, said IMC chairman Anser Aziz Sheikh.

Less work, more visitors

As solar energy extends the hours the park can be used – and powers irrigation to keep its flowers and other plants in top condition, as well as rides in the children’s playground – officials say visitors who had abandoned it are returning.

“We are seeing more and more visitors coming back to the park for recreational and physical fitness activities,” Sheikh said, noting that solar power “has restored life to the park.”

Around 50,000 people come to the open space weekly for exercise, sports, flower exhibitions and the panoramic view of the lush green Margalla hills nearby, CDA officials said.

Park gardener Karam Ali said solar power has made his job much easier, particularly now that the water pumps and sprinklers are no longer shut down by persistent power cuts.

“The new solar energy system is really marvelous and no less than a good friend,” he said. Power outages used to force employees to stay after hours to get their work done, without payment, he said, but that problem is now solved.

Similar solar installations could potentially play a wider role in Pakistan, which struggles with severe power shortages, particularly in the hot summer and cold winter months when air conditioning or heating are in demand and power cuts can last up to 20 hours a day, researchers say.

Only about two-thirds of the country’s nearly 200 million people have access to electricity, according to the World Bank.

To expand access and keep pace with economic and population growth, Pakistan needs to invest between 3.7 percent and 5.5 percent of its GDP each year in electricity generation, the bank says.

Putting money into renewable energy could reduce blackouts, improve health, boost the economy and help the country meet its goals to cut poverty and climate-changing emissions, energy researchers say.

Pakistan could produce as much as 2.9 million megawatts of power from solar, 340,000 megawatts from wind and 100,000 megawatts from hydropower if funds were available to build the infrastructure, according to Pakistan’s Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB) and World Bank studies.

With the costs of renewable energy falling fast, Pakistan’s Planning, Development and Reforms Ministry late last year announced plans to boost wind and solar power generation by the end of 2018.

Fast track for solar

“These energy plans are being implemented on a fast-track basis in Sindh, Punjab and Baluchistan provinces, which account for 80 percent of the total solar and wind energy generation potential,” said Amjad Ali Awan, chief executive of the AEDB.

The longer-term aim is to boost renewable energy from 5 percent to 25 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2030, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ahsan Iqbal, federal minister for planning, development and reforms, said the government hoped to replicate solar projects like that in Fatima Jinnah Park.

The project “is convincing us to work with provincial governments to provide solar power to similar public parks, to lessen the load on the national grid and save the budget spent on hefty electricity bills in these public parks,” he said.

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China’s First Large Homemade Passenger Jet to Fly in 2017

After years of delays, China’s first large homemade passenger jetliner will take to the air for its maiden flight in the first half of this year, state media reported Monday.

State-owned aircraft maker Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China Ltd., or Comac, based in Shanghai, has nearly completed work on the 175-passenger C919, the ruling Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily reported.

The C919 was originally due to fly in 2015, but has been beset by delays blamed on manufacturing problems. It is now scheduled to enter service in 2019, aimed at competing with the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737, along with the Russian Irkut MC-21.

Airbus and Boeing say the market for new aircraft will be worth more than $5 trillion over the next 20 years. Industry experts say China faces a tough slog capturing a significant share of that market, even with government support. Comac has 517 orders for the C919.

Company officials couldn’t immediately be reached.

The C919 is part of China’s efforts to develop a homegrown aviation industry in one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing air travel markets. China currently relies heavily on foreign-made aircraft.

Last June, the ARJ21-700, China’s first homemade regional jet, made its debut flight carrying 70 passengers. The jet is one of a series of initiatives launched by the party to transform China from the world’s low-cost factory into a creator of profitable technology in aviation, clean energy and other fields.

The ARJ21, also made by Comac, is a rival to aircraft made by Bombardier Inc. of Canada and Brazil’s Embraer SA.


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China Ex-Deputy Intelligence Chief Graft Probe Proceeding

The corruption investigation into a former Chinese deputy intelligence chief is proceeding, prosecutors said Monday, signaling President Xi Jinping’s determination to continue targeting high-level officials as part of his sweeping anti-graft campaign.

The supreme state prosecutor’s office said that Ma Jian, a former vice minister of state security, has been placed under “compulsory measures.”

The term can refer to arrest, detention, bail pending trial or house arrest. The proceedings in such investigations are shrouded in secrecy and Ma is believed to have already been under initial investigation for about two years.

Prosecutors say Ma, who was in charge of counterespionage, is suspected of having taken bribes in return for favors and abusing his position to help his relatives’ businesses. He’s also accused of interfering with law enforcement and judicial activities, secreting away money and property relating to his case, and arranging for exit permits for his family members.

Reports in the widely respected Chinese magazine Caixin, which were later reprinted by state media, said investigators found that Ma had been keeping six mistresses with whom he’d had a pair of sons, and owned a half-dozen mansions in Beijing.

Ma, who had worked in the Ministry of State Security for three decades, was expelled from the ruling Communist Party in December, placing him in line for prosecution and almost certain conviction.

High-level officials such as former Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang have received sentences of up to life in prison as President Xi seeks to purge the ruling party of corrupt officials seen as diminishing its standing among the public and weakening its mandate to rule.

Though broadly popular among the public, the campaign is seen by some as a tool for Xi to eliminate political rivals and strengthen his hold on power.


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World’s Longest Flight Touches Down in New Zealand

A Qatar Airways jet touched down in Auckland, New Zealand Monday,  shattering the record for the world’s longest flight by distance.

The Boeing 777 took off from Doha, Qatar and was in the sky for 14,535 kilometers before landing in New Zealand.

The old record was set by an Emirates Airlines Dubai to Auckland flight, a 14,200 kilometer journey.

Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker called his company’s flight “an important milestone.”

The jet was in the sky for 16 hours, 23 minutes. It carried four pilots and 15 cabin crew members who served the passengers 1,100 cups of tea and coffee, 2,000 cold drinks and 1,036 meals.

As is the custom with inaugural flights, the plane was greeted in Auckland with water cannons.

The Qatar Airways record may be short-lived. Singapore Airlines has said it plans to institute non-stop service between Singapore and New York — a distance of 15,323 kilometers.