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China has quietly resumed its activities in Doklam: Top US official

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China has quietly resumed its activities in the Doklam area and neither Bhutan nor India has sought to dissuade it, a top US official has said while comparing Beijing’s actions in the Himalayan region with its manoeuvres in the disputed South China Sea.China claims sovereignty over all of South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims.

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 also vital to global trade.

“I would assess that India is vigorously defending its northern borders and this is a subject of concern to India,” Alice G Wells, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia told lawmakers during a Congressional hearing while responding to a question on China’s increased road building activities along the Indian border.

“As (India) ahead to its own strategic stability, it certainly helps drive and is a factor in driving closer partnership that we enjoy with India,” Wells said in response to a question from Congresswoman Ann Wagner.

India and China have clashed repeatedly over territories in the Himalayas. Most recently Chinese and Indian troops faced off on the disputed Doklam plateau between Bhutan and China after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army began building roads through the area, Wagner said.

“Although both countries backed down, China has quietly resumed its activities in Doklam and neither Bhutan nor India has sought to dissuade it. China’s activities in the Himalayas remind me of its south China Sea policies. How should our failure to respond to the militarization of the South China Sea inform the international response to these Himalayan border disputes?” Wagner asked.

As the US looks to the Indo-Pacific strategy put forward by the Trump administration, Wells said it has been taken in light of the ‘South China Sea’s Strategy’.

“How do we maintain the region to be open, to have maritime security, to not have militarisation that would imperil the 70 per cent of global trade?” she asked.

“We need to do that by giving authority to sovereign nations to have choices in how they develop, to have choices in their partnerships,” Wells said.
Congressman Ted Yoho, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Asia and the Pacific, raised the issue of China’s aggressive posture in South Asia.

“What are your thoughts on what is the best way to counter China in that region?” Yoho asked.

US should not be seeking to compete with China dollar for dollar, Wells responded, adding that instead of a state lending on terms that may not be to the benefit of countries or their citizens, the
US and its companies are providing USD 850 billion in foreign direct investment in the region, which is far more than what has been injected by China.

“We’re trying to gather likeminded countries who can bring resources to the table, who can coordinate assistance and an effort so as to provide countries with meaningful alternatives,” Wells said.

Troops of India and China were locked in a 73-day-long standoff in Doklam from June 16 last year after the Indian side stopped the building of a road in the disputed tri-junction by the Chinese Army.
Bhutan and China have a dispute over Doklam. The face-off ended on August 28.

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British PM faces defeat in historic Brexit deal vote

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Theresa May

London | British Prime Minister Theresa May faces crushing defeat in a historic vote in parliament on Tuesday over the Brexit deal she has struck with the European Union, leaving the world’s fifth biggest economy in limbo.

With just over two months to go until the scheduled Brexit date of March 29, Britain is still bitterly divided over what should happen next and the only suspense over the vote is the scale of May’s defeat.

The British leader’s last-minute appeals to MPs appear to have fallen on deaf ears and how much she loses by could determine whether she tries again, loses office, delays Brexit — or if Britain even leaves the EU at all.

“When the history books are written, people will look at the decision of this house… and ask: did we deliver on the country’s vote to leave the European Union,” May asked MPs on the eve of the vote, expected after 1900 GMT.

Opposition to the deal forced May to postpone the vote in December in the hope of winning concessions from Brussels.

EU leaders have offered only a series of clarifications but German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Strasbourg on Tuesday raised the possibility of further talks while ruling out a full re-negotiation of the text.

“Everything has been done in recent weeks and months to signal our interest in a positive decision,” Maas said.

“However, I am sceptical that the agreement can be fundamentally reopened once again,” he said.

The vote is the climax of over two years of intense national debate after the shock Brexit referendum of 2016 — a result mostly pro-Remain MPs have struggled with.

Hardline Brexiteers and Remainers oppose the agreement for different reasons and many fear it could lock Britain into an unfavourable trading relationship with the EU.

Pro- and anti-Brexit campaigners rallied outside parliament ahead of the vote. One placard read “EU Membership is the Best Deal”, another said: “No Deal? No Problem!” Uncertainty over Brexit has hit the British economy hard.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders lobby group warned MPs that Britain crashing out of the EU would be “catastrophic”.

Financial markets will also be watching the result closely, with several currency trading companies roping in extra staff for the vote and at least one putting a cap on trades to avoid excessive currency movements.

“Today’s vote is a foregone conclusion so sterling is unlikely to move significantly,” said Rebecca O’Keeffe, an analyst with online trader Interactive Investor.

“The fireworks will happen after today — when it is clear what happens next,” she said, predicting that a decision not to leave the EU would send sterling shooting up while a no-deal Brexit would send it down to record lows.

Rather than heal the divisions exposed by the Brexit referendum, the vote has reignited them. Pro-European MPs campaigning to force a second vote say they have faced death threats.

Brexit supporters have also voiced growing frustration with what they see as parliamentary blockage of their democratic vote.

Criticism of the deal is focused on an arrangement to keep open the border with Ireland by aligning Britain with some EU trade rules, if and until London and Brussels sign a new economic partnership which could take several years.

Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the Northern Irish party on whom May relies for her Commons majority, told the BBC his party would not be forced into backing the deal by fears over the border.

“We fought (against) a terrorist campaign (in order) to stay part of the United Kingdom,” he said, evoking Northern Ireland’s past conflict.

“We are not going to allow bureaucrats in Brussels to separate us from the rest of the United Kingdom.” His boss Arlene Foster stressed “we cannot accept the backstop…it does violence to the union.” Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said May must call an election if she loses on Tuesday and has threatened to hold a confidence vote in her government if she does not.

In the event of a defeat, the government must set out what happens next by Monday at the latest.

Speculation is growing on both sides of the Channel that whatever the outcome May could ask to delay Brexit.

But a diplomatic source told AFP any extension would not be possible beyond June 30, when the new European Parliament will be formed.

The withdrawal agreement includes plans for a post-Brexit transition period to provide continuity until a new relationship is drawn up, in return for continued budget contributions from London.

Without it, and if there is no delay, Britain will sever 46 years of ties with its nearest neighbours with no agreement to ease the blow. (AFP) KUN

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Trade negotiations with China going well: Trump

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China

Washington | The United States is doing very well in trade negotiations with China, President Donald Trump said on Friday.

We have a massive trade negotiation going on with China. President Xi is very much involved; so am I. We’re dealing at the highest levels and we’re doing very well. We’re doing very well, Trump told reporters during a Rose Garden news conference.

“In the meantime, we’ve taken in billions and billions of dollars in tariffs from China, and from others. Our steel industry has come roaring back, and that makes me very happy, he said.

Top officials from United States and China are currently involved in trade negotiations. In November, Trump and Xi met in Buenos Aires on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Argentina.

We are doing very well. China is paying us tremendous tariffs. We’re getting billions and billions of dollars of money pouring into the Treasury of the United States, which, in history, we’ve never gotten from China. As you know, it’s been very unfair, he said.

Trump said he had a fantastic meeting with President Xi and they both like and respect each other.

One of the things that came out of that meeting was fentanyl. As you know, almost all of it comes from China. And he’s going to now criminalise the making of fentanyl, he said.

I think that could have a tremendous — and I thanked President Xi very much, he added.

Trump said his meeting with Xi in Argentina was supposed to last for about 45 minutes, but it ended up being almost four hours.

It was a great meeting. We’ll see what happens. You never know with a deal, he said.

China, he told reporters is not doing well now in economy. We are doing very well. But we’re taking in billions and billions of dollars, and I hope we’re going to make a deal with China. If we don’t, they’re paying us tens of billions of dollars’ worth of tariffs. It’s not the worst thing in the world, he said.

I think we will make a deal with China. I really think they want to. I think they sort of have to. I think we’re going to have a great relationship. I think that President Xi and myself have a great relationship. Also, North Korea. We’re doing very well with North Korea, and that’s based on relationship also, he said.

Responding to a question on Apple’s recent announcement, Trump said that the American phone manufacturer would be fine.

Don’t forget this: Apple makes their product in China. I told Tim Cook, who’s a friend of mine, who I like a lot: Make your product in the United States. Build those big, beautiful plants that go on for miles, it seems. Build those plants in the United States.”

“I like that even better, he said.

“Apple makes its product in China. China is the biggest beneficiary of Apple, more than us, because they build their product mostly in China. But now he’s investing USD 350 billion because of what we did with taxes and the incentives that we created. In the United States, he’s going to build a campus, and lots of other places, Trump said.

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International News

Poll-bound Bangladesh shuts down high speed internet services, restores it 10 hrs later

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Bangladesh; Internet

Dhaka | The high-speed internet services were suspended for several hours in Bangladesh after mobile operators shut down their 3G and 4G services late Thursday following orders from the country’s telecom regulator ahead of Sunday’s general election.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) issued order around 10 pm on Thursday asking the country’s four mobile operators to slow down the internet by shutting down 3G and 4G services, two days ahead of the 11th national election, mobile operators were quoted as saying by the bdnews24.com.

The high-speed 3G and 4G internet services were restored on Friday morning, after a 10-hour blackout.

The BTRC through an e-mail asked the four mobile operators to restore the 3G and 4G services around 7:30 am (on Friday) without mentioning details, the Daily Star reported quoting unnamed officials of the mobile operators.

Bangladesh is going to polls on Sunday. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the 71-year-old daughter of the country’s founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is seeking re-election for a record fourth term, while her rival Khalida Zia, the 73-year-old widow of military dictator Ziaur Rahman, who is reportedly partially paralysed, faces an uncertain future in a Dhaka jail.

Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has alleged that thousands of its activists have been arrested in a nationwide crackdown during the campaign.

As of November, over 6 crore people are using the 3G and 4G mobile internet services in Bangladesh.

Only 2G internet would be available now, according to an e-mail sent to mobile operators by the BTRC’s engineering and operations department on Thursday.

The decision must be in effect until further notice, it said.

On Wednesday, the BTRC in a meeting with the International Internet Gateway representatives said social media sites, especially Facebook, would be blocked (to prevent the spread of fake news and propaganda messages from spreading on social media and video-sharing sites) if needed, the report said.

Earlier, Bangladesh’s Election Commission Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed had said that they would consider completely blocking mobile internet during the polls.

On Monday, the EC asked the BTRC to prepare to block 3G and 4G services and social media sites for three days, including December 30, the report said.

During the demonstrations for safe roads in August, the BTRC slowed down internet speed for almost 24 hours, it added.

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