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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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Lankan MPs seek suspension of state funds allocated to Rajapaksa

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The Parliament, which was convened Monday for a third-floor test against Rajapaksa, was adjourned just 10 minutes after its opening.

 

Colombo| Sri Lankan lawmakers have submitted a motion to Parliament seeking the suspension of state funds allocated to disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has lost two no-confidence motions.

The Ousted prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe‘s United National Party Parliamentarian Navin Dissanayake said that six United National Front MPs handed over the motion to be debated in Parliament, the Colombo Gazette reported Monday.

They are of the opinion that state funds of the “illegitimate Prime Minister” should be suspended forthwith, the paper said.

The motion is to be placed in the order paper and debated and a vote taken on the November 29, it added.

The Parliament, which was convened Monday for a third-floor test against Rajapaksa, was adjourned just 10 minutes after its opening.

The public and VIP galleries were shut for diplomats on a request by Rajapaksa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance. The security was also tightened to prevent any incident, officials said.

Sri Lanka is witnessing a political crisis since President Maithripapala Sirisena abruptly sacked prime minister Wickremesinghe and installed ex-strongman Rajapaksa in his place on October 26.

Sirisena later dissolved Parliament, almost 20 months before its term was to end, and ordered a snap election. The Supreme Court on Tuesday overturned President Sirisena’s decision to dissolve Parliament and halted the preparations for snap polls on January 5.

Monday’s session was conducted peacefully. The House was adjourned till November 23 ten minutes after its opening.

Last week, Sri Lanka’s parliament witnessed unprecedented violence as lawmakers threw furniture and chilli powder at each other.

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Trump to visit California fire scene as death toll rises

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The California fire blaze that started Nov 8 razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow. 

 

Paradise| President Donald Trump heads to Northern California on Saturday to see firsthand the grief and devastation from the deadliest US wildfire in a century, as confusion continued over how many people remain unaccounted for.

Authorities confirmed a new death toll of 71 and say they are trying to locate 1,011 people even as they stressed that not all are believed missing.

California’s outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats and vocal critics of Trump, planned to join the president Saturday.

Gov Jerry Brown and Gov-elect Gavin Newsom welcomed Trump‘s visit, declaring it’s time “to pull together for the people of California.”

The blaze that started Nov 8 all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow.

It destroyed more than 9,800 homes and at its height displaced 52,000 people. Details of Trump’s itinerary had not been released late Friday.

This patch of California, a former Gold Rush region in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is to some extent Trump country, with Trump beating Hillary Clinton in Butte County by 4 percentage points in 2016.

But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors over comments he made two days after the disaster on Twitter, then reiterated on the eve of his visit.

In an interview taped Friday and scheduled for broadcast on “Fox News Sunday,” Trump said he was surprised to see images of firefighters removing dried brush near a fire, adding, “This should have been all raked out.”

Asked if he thought climate change contributed to the fires, he said: “Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management.”

Those comments echoed his initial reaction to the fires Nov 10 when he blamed the wildfires on poor forest management and threatened then to withhold federal payments. Trump subsequently approved a federal disaster declaration.

“If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you’re going to be accepted? You’re not going to have a parade,” Maggie Crowder of Magalia said this week outside an informal shelter at a Walmart store in Chico.

But Stacy Lazzarino, who voted for Trump, said it would be good for the president to see the devastation up close: “I think by maybe seeing it he’s going to be like ‘Oh, my goodness,’ and it might start opening people’s eyes.”

Firefighters returning to a command center in the neighboring city of Chico after a 24-hour shift Friday were reluctant to weigh in on Trump’s visit, but some shared their thoughts.

Nick Shawkey, a CalFire captain from rural Northern California, said Trump’s visit was the mark of a good leader.

But to imply the state was to blame for mismanaging the forests was based on a misunderstanding because much of the forest land in California is controlled by the US Forest Service, he said.

“The thing he’s tweeting about is his property,” Shawkey said. Paul Briones, a firefighter from Bakersfield, predicted Trump’s visit would be a huge boost to the community, showing “that this on a national level is a priority.”

More than 5,500 fire personnel were battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles (590 square kilometers) and was 50 percent contained officials said.

Firefighters were racing against time with a red flag warning issued for Saturday night into Sunday, including winds up to 50 mph and low humidity. The rain was forecast for mid-week, which could help firefighters but also complicate the challenging search for remains.

“It’s a disheartening situation,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told a news conference Friday.  “As much as I wish we could get through this before the rains come, I don’t know if that’s possible.”

The number of people unaccounted for grew to more than 1,000 on Friday. But Honea acknowledged the list was “dynamic” and could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings of names. The roster probably includes some who fled the blaze and do not realize they’ve been reported missing, he said. “We are still receiving calls. We’re still reviewing emails,” Honea said. “This is a massive undertaking. We have hundreds and hundreds of people working on this.”

Families searching for loved ones have scoured shelters and social media and say they understand the chaos of the situation, But the wait for information is agonizing. For one family, good news arrived by telephone.

Monica Whipple said Friday she was boarding a plane back to North Carolina from Northern California when she got a call two days ago that her mother, Donna Price, had been found alive. Price had been presumed missing but was tracked down at a shelter.

“It was so crazy, I started crying in front of everybody,” Whipple said. “She’s doing OK.” For too many others, the wait to learn a loved one’s fate has ended with bad news.

Sol Bechtold searched for his 75-year-old mother, Caddy, posting flyers of her on bulletin boards and searching for her in shelters. On Thursday, Bechtold went to the Butte County Sheriff to provide DNA samples.

As he was driving back to his home in Pleasanton, California, he got a call from an officer with the coroner’s unit of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office and was told his mother’s remains were found in her home in the community of Magalia.

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Pence slams China’s ‘opaque’ chequebook diplomacy, trade practices

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Comments from Pence came after Chinese President Xi Jinping said that protectionist actions were short-sighted stressing that there would be no winners from a trade war or a new cold war.

 

Port Moresby| US Vice President Mike Pence pilloried China’s “opaque” cheque book diplomacy in a combative speech Saturday, taking aim at Beijing’s business practices and warning trade tariffs would remain in place.

US-China trade tensions are likely to take center stage at the APEC regional summit, with experts warning the spat could be catastrophic for the global economy, as the world’s top two powers go head to head.

In a wide-ranging swipe at Beijing that covered everything from China’s massive “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative to allegations of unfair trade practices, Pence encouraged Pacific nations to embrace the United States.

Washington’s diplomacy wouldn’t involve a “constricting belt or a one-way road”, he pointedly told CEOs from around the region.

He also put China on notice that it would need to make concessions in the confrontation over trade. “We’ve put tariffs on USD 250 billion in Chinese goods and that number could more than double,” he said. “We hope for better, but the United States will not change course until China changes its ways”.

Pence’s comments came after Chinese President Xi Jinping told the same forum that protectionist actions were short-sighted and doomed to fail, stressing that there would be no winners from a trade war or a new cold war.

“Attempts to erect barriers and cut close economic ties work against the laws of economics and the trends of history. This is a short-sighted approach and it is doomed to failure,” Xi told business leaders on the sidelines of the summit.

“We should say no to protectionism and unilateralism,” Xi said, in a veiled attack on the “America First” policies of Donald Trump’s administration.

APEC members the US and China have imposed tariffs worth billions of dollars of each other’s goods and there is little sign of an immediate easing in tensions, with both sides threatening to step up action if necessary.

With concerns growing that rivalry between the US and China could escalate, Xi warned against going down that road.

“History has shown that confrontation — whether in the form of a cold war, hot war or trade war — will produce no winners,” he said.

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