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Donald Trump thanks Kim for taking ‘first bold step’ toward North Korea’s bright future

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Washington | US President Donald Trump today thanked Kim Jong-un for taking the “first bold step” towards a bright new future for his people and said the North Korean leader holds the opportunity to be remembered as one who ushered in a glorious new era of security and prosperity for his citizens.

Kim yesterday pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearisation” in return for security guarantees from the US as Trump wrapped up his historic summit with outcomes that could ease tensions and reshape the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific region.

“I want to thank Chairman Kim for taking the first bold step toward a bright new future for his people. Our unprecedented meeting the first between an American President and a leader of North Korea proves that real change is possible!” Trump said in a tweet aboard Air Force One on his way back to Washington DC.

In Singapore yesterday, Trump held an epoch-making summit with Kim, the first-ever between the leaders of the two countries. After the meeting, North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear weapons and achieve a denuclearised Korean peninsula.

“There is no limit to what NoKo (North Korea) can achieve when it gives up its nuclear weapons and embraces commerce & engagement with the world. Chairman Kim has before him the opportunity to be remembered as the leader who ushered in a glorious new era of security & prosperity for his citizens!” Trump said in another tweet.

Trump described his Singapore trip as a “truly amazing” visit.

“Great progress was made on the denuclearization of North Korea. Hostages are back home, will be getting the remains of our great heroes back to their families, no missiles shot, no research happening, sites closing…,” he said.

“Got along great with Kim Jong-un who wants to see wonderful things for his country. As I said earlier today: Anyone can make war, but only the most courageous can make peace!” Trump said in another tweet to his more than 52.7 million followers.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headed for Seoul and then to Beijing to brief S Korean and Chinese counterparts on the just concluded summit meeting between Trump and Kim. Soon after the Singapore meeting concluded, he called his counterparts in South Korea and Japan to provide a brief readout of the talks.

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Kamala Harris’ 2020 US presidential bid excites Indian-Americans

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Washington | Kamala Harris’ plunge in the 2020 US presidential race has thrilled the Indian-American community which considers the first Indian-origin Senator’s “groundbreaking” announcement a “proud moment” and a reflection that Indian-Americans have finally arrived at the centre stage of US politics.

Harris, 54, officially launched her campaign for the US presidential election in 2020 to take on President Donald Trump on Monday, saying she was “honoured” to announce her bid on a day when Americans celebrated Martin Luther King Jr who sought inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi.

A rising party star and vocal critic of President Trump, Harris, who is quite often described as the female Barack Obama in the Democratic party is the fourth Democrat to join the battle for the party’s nomination in the next year’s election.

While it’s too early to say on the results of the grilling presidential primary that would conclude with the Democratic National Convention in July 2020, the Indian-American community leaders said Harris who is of mixed parental heritage from India and the Caribbean has a fair and clear shot at the White House.

“It’s a proud moment for the Indian-American community to see one of our own announce to run for the president,” eminent philanthropist and venture capitalist M R Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora, told PTI.

Indian-American Impact Fund, a political action committee that supports Indian-Americans candidates, said it was “thrilled” by Senator Harris’ “groundbreaking” announcement.

“As the first viable Indian-American candidate for President of the United States, she is a trailblazer for our community and a champion for our values. We applaud her decision and look forward to supporting her enthusiastically in the days and months ahead,” it said.

Harris would create history by becoming the first woman to be elected as the US President if she wins the 2020 presidential race against Trump.

The community members cautioned that the politicians cannot take the Indian-Americans for granted and need to earn the support of the community.

“Any politician shouldn’t look at the Indian-American community as a monolith at all. They cannot take us for granted because we also have a Hindu American running for president Tulsi Gabbard and she has been also reaching out and getting supporters,” Silicon Valley-based Rangaswami said.

Gabbard, the first Hindu elected to the House of Representatives has also announced her bid for the 2020 presidential election.

“Nobody can take us for granted and they have to come talk to us, earn our vote, earn our support. The community is just ready to go behind any one person and, and also it shows that the community has gained a lot more influence…They have to come to us, talk to us, earn our vote and earn our support,” he said.

After becoming the high-profile Senator from California, Harris whose mother Shyamala Gopalan migrated from Tamil Nadu to the US as a young student for higher studies has maintained a distance from the Indian-American community, which has felt proud of her accomplishments.

It is only in the last six months, that she has started attending some of the Indian-American events.

“It’s not like that the community is ready to go behind any one person,” Rangaswami noted.

“Is she a viable candidate? The answer’s yes,” Virginia-based Shekar Narasimhan, chairman and founder of the AAPI Victory Fund, told PTI.

“She has at least the same credentials as (former president) Barack Obama did,” he said.

However, it’s too early to say on the Democratic party’s presidential race, the winner of which in all probability would have to face incumbent Donald Trump, he observed.

In at least four of the early primary States Nevada, North Carolina, California and Virginia, Harris would need the support of Asian Americans where they are in significant numbers, he said.

“We do not know today if she can win or not. But she has a chance (to win the presidency),” Narasimhan said, adding that it was never the case with Republican Bobby Jindal, the first Indian-American to run for the White House in 2016.

“It’s amazing! Isn’t it that we have a viable candidate, who is at least half Indian-American running for president of the United States? I don’t know if anyone of us thought that this was going to happen anytime soon,” said the long-time Democratic political activist from Virginia.

“My first reaction and the reaction of everybody I talked to from the next generation was: We have arrived,” he said.

Eminent Indian-American Frank Islam, who was closely associated with the Clinton campaign in 2016, said Harris will be a formidable challenger.

“But she needs to define herself and she needs to differentiate herself from other challengers in the crowded Democratic presidential field,” he said.

“She has a personal story – a child of mixed race that will resonate well with the Americans. She is not well known but her work as a prosecutor will demonstrate her toughness but her record will be under scrutiny,” Islam said.

Indian-Americans constitute 1 per cent of the American population and are one of the fastest growing minorities in the country.

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China reduces army by half but increases size of navy, air force

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Beijing | China’s military, the world’s largest force, has cut the size of its land-based army by about 50 per cent and significantly boosted its navy and air force as part of an “unprecedented” strategic shift designed to transform the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into a comprehensive modern force.

The 2 million-strong Chinese military has significantly boosted its navy, air force and new strategic units and downsized its land-based army, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported quoting a state-run Xinhua report.

In a feature report highlighting the “transformational changes” made by the PLA, Xinhua on Sunday said “this new data is unprecedented in the history of the PLA the army now accounts for less than 50 per cent of the total number of PLA troops; almost half of our non-combatant units have been made redundant, and the number of officers in the PLA has been reduced by 30 per cent.”

In the last few years, the PLA has downsized its military by retrenching three lakh troops under the military reforms initiated by President Xi Jinping. But it still remained the world’s largest military with two million personnel in the ranks.

The statement indicated that the four other branches of the PLA: the navy, air force, rocket force and strategic support force, which is responsible for areas such as cyberwarfare – now together make up more than half of the Chinese military, overtaking the army, which has traditionally been the dominant unit of the PLA.

The expansion of the navy in the past few years was massive as China now has one aircraft carrier, another undergoing trial and third in making. Official media reports said China plans to have about five to six aircraft carriers.

The rocket force and strategic support force mainly focus on missile warfare.

Shanghai-based military analyst Ni Lexiong said the overhaul marked a significant strategic shift from having a homeland-based defensive force to one with the capacity to allow Beijing to flex its muscles beyond its national borders and to protect its interests overseas.

Ni told the Post that it also means that branches such as the navy, air force and missile units can now play a bigger role in the event of conflict by fighting enemy forces beyond China’s borders.

He explained that modern warfare puts a greater emphasis on superiority in areas such as the air, space and cyberspace further reducing the importance of the ground force.

“The Chinese military used to… operate following the model established in the second world war.

“It had to be reformed and optimised to meet the pressing needs of the changing times and this is the purpose of the overhaul,” Ni said.

“In the old set-up, the PLA had too many officers. In this overhaul, all these officers must find new positions and adapt or they will be made redundant,” he added.

The Chinese military currently has five independent branches, including the army, navy, air force, rocket force the strategic and tactical missile operator and strategic support force, which is in charge of cyber, space, and electronic warfare.

The last two were established three years ago as President Xi stepped up efforts to modernise the military.

The PLA Army, founded in 1927 as the Red Army of China, was the key to the Chinese Communist Party’s victory in the civil war in 1949 and maintained its dominance within the military throughout 10 major overhauls between 1950 and 2005.

The PLA had no navy or air force until 1949 and the PLA Rocket Force, first known as ‘the Second Artillery Corps’, was founded in 1966.

In 2013, the PLA had a total of 2.3-million servicemen, with only 235,000 in the navy and 398,000 in the air force, according to a 2013 defence white paper.

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China warns US, Canada against extradition of Huawei CFO to America

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Beijing | China on Tuesday warned the US and Canada that it will “take action” against them if they went ahead with the extradition of the CFO of Chinese telecom giant Huawei to America and accused both the countries of “abusing” their extradition treaty.

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s global chief financial officer, was arrested in Canada on December 1 and faces extradition to the US, which alleges that she covered up her company’s links to a firm that tried to sell equipment to Iran despite sanctions linked to its nuclear programme.

If found guilty Meng, the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, could be jailed for up to 30 years.

In November, the US reimposed punitive measures targeting the Iranian oil and financial sectors in what was termed as “the toughest sanctions ever placed” against Iran. The measures are the most concrete result yet of US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision in May to abandon the multi-nation nuclear deal with Tehran.

“China will take action in response to measures taken by the US,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying warned.

“Everyone has to be held responsible for their own actions. Both the US and Canada should be aware of the seriousness of the case and take steps to rectify the mistake,” Hua said.

Hua said the case was an abuse of extradition convention and called on the US to withdraw the request.

Canada’s daily paper Globe and Mail reported on Tuesday that the US will file an extradition request on allegations of banking fraud related to the violations of the US sanctions against Iran.

The report said Canada’s ambassador to the US David Mac Naughton, has met with senior White House and the US State Department officials about Meng’s case several times.

The ambassador was quoted as saying that he has expressed Canada’s anger and resentment to Washington about the dispute that resulted from Meng’s arrest in December.

Beijing has since detained two Canadians and imposed a death penalty on a third Canadian convicted of drugs smuggling charges.

“We do not like that it is our citizens who are being punished,” Naughton was quoted as saying.

“(The Americans) are the ones seeking to have the full force of American law brought against (Meng) and yet we are the ones who are paying the price,” the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.

Meng’s arrest was on the same day that Trump met in Argentina with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to look for ways to resolve an escalating trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

The standoff over Meng between the US and China persists ahead of the scheduled talks in Washington from January 30-31 between the top trade officials of both the countries to end the current trade war.

Asked if Meng’s extradition, will affect the trade talks, Hua said what the US did is indeed wrong.

“We urge the US to correct its wrongdoing immediately”.

Hua also dismissed an open letter signed by 140 scholars and former diplomats calling on the Chinese government to release detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig saying that they cannot represent the whole international community.

“We have 1.4 billion people. We are on the side of justice. We hope these former diplomats and academics can be reasonable and respect the basic spirit of rule of law,” she said.

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