Blinken and Kerry headed to France in wake of Aussie sub deal friction

Blinken and Kerry headed to France in wake of Aussie sub deal friction

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives opening remarks as he meets with local labor leaders the IBEW Local #5 for a roundtable, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Rebecca Droke, Pool) **FILE** more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Friday, October 1, 2021

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will aim to ease the U.S.-France diplomatic rift with a trip to Paris next week, amid ongoing French outrage over President Biden‘s recent inking of a nuclear-powered submarine deal with Australia that undercut a previous $65 billion deal Canberra had signed with France.

The State Department did not mention the submarine deal fracas in announcing Mr. Blinken‘s visit, which is slated to occur Monday through Wednesday. A department statement Friday said a key focus of the trip will be discussions toward bolstering the bilateral relationship on a number of issues, “including security in the Indo-Pacific.”

Mr. Blinken will follow the France visit with a trip to Mexico next Thursday and Friday to lead a U.S. delegation participating in a high-level security dialogue there.

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The France visit will be watched closely for signs of friction with the government of President Emmanuel Macron, who has used anger over the submarine deal to push fellow European countries to assert their independence from the current security reliance on the United States.

The Biden administration has downplayed the diplomatic tension with Paris while signaling it will press forward with the new security alliance with Australia and Britain.

As part of the new alliance, the U.S. will provide Australia with nuclear-powered technology for eight new submarines in a bid to bolster the West’s military assets in China’s backyard. Australia canceled a previous deal to buy French-built diesel-electric submarines. France was kept out of talks on the new strategic alliance and was only alerted just before the submarine deal shift was announced.

The Macron government responded by briefly recalling France‘s ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia — the first-ever such recall by Paris of an ambassador to Washington.

Mr. Macron ordered the ambassador to return to Washington last week, following a phone call with President Biden, after which the two leaders issued a joint statement saying French and U.S. officials would work on trying to restore “confidence” to the longstanding U.S.-France alliance.

The State Department said Friday that Mr. Blinken, who spent time growing up in France and speaks French, will chair a “Ministerial Council Meeting” of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and commemorate the OECD’s 60th anniversary.

Mr. Kerry, a former secretary of state himself who is now Mr. Biden‘s special envoy on climate issues, is traveling to Paris just weeks before the opening of a global summit on climate change in Britain

The State Department said the U.S. delegation will engage in discussions with French officials on a range of topics, including “the climate crisis, economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the transatlantic relationship, and working with our allies and partners to address global challenges and opportunities.”

• Joseph Clark contributed to this story.

Australia to lift 18-month COVID-19 travel ban next month

Australia to lift 18-month COVID-19 travel ban next month

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison discusses travel restrictions during a press conference in Canberra, Friday, Oct. 1, 2021. Australia has outlined plans to lift its pandemic ban on its vaccinated citizens traveling overseas from November, but no date has yet … more >

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By Rod McGuirk

Associated Press

Friday, October 1, 2021

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia has outlined plans to lift a pandemic ban on its vaccinated citizens traveling overseas from November. But no date has yet been set for welcoming international tourists back.

Travel restrictions that have trapped most Australians and permanent residents at home over the past 18 months would be removed when 80% of the population aged 16 and older were fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.

Australia introduced some of the toughest travel restrictions of any democracy in the world on people entering and leaving the island nation on March 20 last year.

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Most Australians have had to argue for rare exemptions from the travel ban to leave the country. There are a few exceptions from the ban including government employees and essential workers. Tourism is never accepted as a reason to cross the border.

Hundreds of thousands have failed to reach relatives’ death beads, missed funerals or weddings and have yet to be introduced to grandchildren because of restrictions aimed at keeping COVID-19 out of Australia.

New South Wales would likely become the first state to reach the 80% vaccination benchmark and Sydney’s airport the first to open to international travel, Morrison said.

“We’ve saved lives. We’ve saved livelihoods, but we must work together to ensure that Australians can reclaim the lives that they once had in this country,” Morrison said.

Sydney-based Qantas Airways announced international flights would resume from Nov. 14 to London and Los Angeles.

Morrison offered no clue to when other nationalities would be welcome to visit Australia.

“We’ll be working towards complete quarantine-free travel for certain countries, such as New Zealand, when it is safe to do so,” he said.

Australia has its closest relationship with New Zealand, whose citizens are considered Australian permanent residents. The neighbors allowed quarantine-free travel across the Tasman Sea before the delta variant outbreak began in Sydney in June.

The Australian Tourism Export Council, which represents a sector that made 45 billion Australian dollars ($33 billion) a year from international tourists before the pandemic, said the end of the travel ban paved the way for visitors from around the world returning by March.

“It marks a shift in thinking within both the government and community sentiment to reengaging with the world,” the council’s managing director Peter Shelley said in a statement.

A cap on the number of Australian citizens and permanent residents allowed to return each week has left 45,000 people stranded overseas. It’s aimed at reducing pressure on hotel quarantine, which the more contagious delta variant had made more difficult to manage.

The cap would only apply to the unvaccinated under the new regime. Fully vaccinated Australians would be able to quarantine at home and for only a week instead of the current two weeks in a hotel.

Australia on Friday added China’s Sinovac and Indian-made AstraZeneca shots known as Covishield to a list of vaccines that Australians can take and be recognized as fully vaccinated.

Travel restrictions would not be lifted for Australians who chose not to be vaccinated. People who could not be vaccinated for medical reasons or children too young to get the jab would have the same privileges as those inoculated.

French envoy to return to D.C. as Biden, Macron speak

French ambassador returning to Washington after Biden, Macron phone call

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In this June 14, 2021, file photo, U.S. President Joe Biden, right, speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron during a plenary session during a NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Macron expects “clarifications and clear commitments” from Biden in … more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Updated: 5:15 p.m. on
Wednesday, September 22, 2021

France‘s ambassador to the U.S. will return to Washington after President Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday held their first phone conversation since Paris erupted in anger over Mr. Biden‘s deal that would supplant France in a massive submarine arms deal with Australia.

In a joint statement, the two nations also announced that Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron will meet in Europe at the end of October. Upon the French ambassador’s return to the U.S., he will engage in intensive diplomacy with senior U.S. officials, the statement said.

The two leaders agreed the submarine spat could have been avoided by engaging in open consultation with allies on the issue. The U.S. and Britain secretly negotiated the pact unveiled last week to supply a new generation of nuclear-powered subs to Canberra, which then canceled a previous order for diesel-powered subs that was one of the most lucrative ever for France‘s defense industry.

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki described the 30-minute call as friendly, but declined to say if the president apologized to Mr. Macron. She said Mr. Biden acknowledged there should have been “greater consultation” before the leaders of the U.S., Britain and Australia revealed the deal last week.

“Anyone who is concerned about our relationship with France can rest assured that they had a friendly phone call and a path forward,” Ms. Psaki said. 

Mr. Macron’s office, in its description of the call, said Mr. Biden had also promised to boost U.S. support for counterterrorism missions led by France and other European powers in Africa’s Sahel region.

Mr. Biden conveyed his ongoing commitment to maintaining a dialogue, the statement said.

It is unknown if the conversation was tense, but it was expected to be after the French lashed out at Mr. Biden over the deal, for which Mr. Macron was given virtually no notice. France, which counts itself as America’s oldest diplomatic ally, had never before recalled an ambassador for consultations to express its displeasure with U.S. policy.

In a statement announcing the call, Mr. Macron said scuttling France’s deal with Australia has created a “crisis of trust” between the two leaders.

Mr. Biden has avoided press questions on the issue, even as the crisis grew larger. Both leaders are expected to release a joint communique following the call, French officials told the press.

The White House has pushed since Monday to set up a call between the two leaders. A senior administration official, speaking with reporters this week, said the U.S. doesn’t share France’s view about the Australia deal but does understand why it was upset at how things had played out.

Mr. Biden last week announced a trilateral security pact with Australia that includes the United Kingdom. In an accord widely seen as seeking to counter China’s growing influence and military might, the U.S. will provide Australia with technology for nuclear-powered submarines, although not for nuclear weapons.

The loss of a previous $66 billion deal nixed hundreds of thousands of jobs, according to French media outlets.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was “angry and bitter” about the deal and had strong words for Australia and the United States last week.

Mr. Le Drian called the deal “a stab in the back,” saying it was not how longtime allies deal with one another. He also said the “brutal and unilateral decision” resembled some of the moves by former President Donald Trump, who often angered European allies with his “America first” agenda.

France has recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia. It also has canceled a gala last week in Washington to celebrate the ties between the two nations and has signaled it may delay or block altogether a planned trade deal between the European Union and Australia.

Biden, Australian prime minister dodge questions about submarine deal

Biden, Australian prime minister dodge questions about submarine deal

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President Joe Biden meets with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Intercontinental Barclay Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

President Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison sidestepped questions Tuesday about French anger over the submarine deal that the two nations struck last week.

The two world leaders met in New York City moments after Mr. Biden addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the first time as president. They exchanged kind words and highlighted the benefits of their trilateral security agreement, which also includes the United Kingdom.

Although neither leader mentioned China by name, the deal was struck in response to China’s military expansion in the region.

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“Mr. President, I want to thank you for your leadership and your focus on the Indo-Pacific region. There’s no doubt that you get it,” Mr. Morrison said.

The president responded that the partnership goes beyond the U.S., United Kingdom, and Australia.

“Our partnership is in line with all the other democracies in the world,” Mr. Biden said.

Both declined to answer reporters’ questions about France’s frustration over the deal, which neither man addressed in their remarks.

France has erupted in anger after Australia bailed on its $66 billion submarine deal. Instead, Australia chose to work with the U.S. and the United Kingdom in a deal that will provide it with nuclear submarine technology.

In response to the snub, France has lashed out at both countries with scathing remarks by French officials. It has also recalled its ambassadors to both nations and canceled a gala at its U.S. embassy to celebrate their close alliance.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Morrison chose to ignore the spat, instead focusing on the benefits of the deal. They say the pact will bolster all three countries’ security in the Indo-Pacific region.

Biden presses skeptical world leaders to work together in first U.N. speech

Biden presses skeptical world leaders to work together in first U.N. speech

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks to the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

President Biden pressed the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday to work together on challenges like COVID-19, climate change, and human rights abuses, even as U.S. allies question his leadership on the world stage.

In his first speech as president to the U.N., Mr. Biden defended his widely panned military withdrawal from Afghanistan and assured leaders around the globe that the U.S. will take the lead in international diplomacy.

“We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan and as we close this era of endless war, we are opening an era of endless diplomacy,” Mr. Biden said.

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During the nearly 40-minute speech, Mr. Biden ticked off a list of crises that nations must work together to solve, including trade, cyber threats, and terrorism.

He argued that the world is entering a “decisive decade” for determining the global community’s success, saying that each nation’s welfare is dependent upon its allies. The president said the U.S. does not seek another Cold War, without mentioning adversaries China and Russia by name.

“As a global community, we’re challenged by urgent and looming crises wherein lie enormous opportunities if — if — we can summon the will and resolve to seize these opportunities,” the president said.

The president laid out his case for cooperation before a skeptical audience whose members have been disappointed in some of his foreign policy missteps.

Mr. Biden frustrated allies following the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and angered France after announcing a security pact with the United Kingdom and Australia.

The move undercut France’s own multibillion-dollar nuclear submarine deal with Australia. French officials claimed they were blindsided by the deal and recalled ambassadors to both nations.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Tuesday that Mr. Biden “has damaged longstanding alliances, emboldened enemies, and failed to stand for freedom.”

“The first eight months of the Biden presidency have been riddled with crises he has created and failed to address – from a humanitarian disaster at the border, to a catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan, to folding to totalitarian governments in China and Cuba,” she said in a statement. “Americans and the world know Biden has lost all credibility at home and abroad.”

Still, Mr. Biden pledged to work with world leaders, asserting that the U.S. will resume its traditional leadership role in international diplomacy.

“As the United States seeks to rally the world to action, we will lead not just with the example of our power, but God willing, with the power of our example,” he said.

He declared the U.S. is “back at the table” by re-engaging the World Health Organization and rejoining the Paris climate agreement, adding that America will also take a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Former President Trump had pulled the U.S. out of both the WHO and the Paris Climate agreement as part of his “America First” agenda.

Mr. Biden highlighted the moves as part of his effort to mend fences among world leaders who view him as having the same go-it-alone approach as Mr. Trump.

Several NATO allies had urged Mr. Biden to push back his self-imposed Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan, but the president rebuffed their calls. Others griped that the chaotic scenes at the Kabul airport left them scrambling to get their own citizens out of the country ahead of a Taliban takeover.

Mr. Biden used his speech in an effort to turn on the page on the bungled withdrawal.

While insisting that the U.S. will continue to defend itself and its allies, Mr. Biden said “bombs and bullets” cannot defend against COVID-19 or climate change.

“Instead of continuing to fight the wars of the past, we are fixing our eyes on devoting our resources into the challenges that hold the keys to our collective future,” he said.

Mr. Biden pledged to battle terrorism by working with local partners, not through large overseas military deployments. He noted that the world has changed in the 20 years since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

He also stressed the need to combat climate change, noting that his administration pledged to double international financing to assist developing nations with tools to tackle the issue. Mr. Biden said he would work with Congress to double the funds again to make the United States the leader in financing climate change efforts.

Biden plans to reach out to France’s Macron after submarine snub

Biden plans to reach out to France’s Macron after submarine snub

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French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a meeting in memory of the Algerians who fought alongside French colonial forces in Algeria’s war, known as Harkis, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2021. Macron’s speech is … more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Monday, September 20, 2021

President Biden is seeking to speak over the phone with French President Emmanuel Macron in the next few days, a senior administration official confirmed Monday.

The two leaders have not spoken since Mr. Biden struck a nuclear submarine deal with Australia and the United Kingdom. That deal cost France a $66 billion deal to provide Australia with conventional, diesel-powered submarines.

Speaking with reporters on a conference call, the official said Mr. Biden wants to communicate his desire to work closely with France in the Indo-Pacific region where China’s military expansion poses a threat.

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The official said the U.S. doesn’t share Paris’ view about how the deal with Australia and the United Kingdom developed, but does understand its position.

Mr. Biden is headed to New York where he will address the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. However, Mr. Macron is not traveling to New York and will attend virtually, the White House said.

The canceled deal with France has left French government officials furious.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves LeDrian said he was “angry and bitter” about the deal and had strong words for both Australia and the United States.

Mr. Le Drian called the deal “a stab in the back,” saying it isn’t done between allies. He also said the “brutal and unilateral decision” resembled some of the moves by former President Trump, who often angered U.S. allies with his “America First” agenda.

France has recalled its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia. It has also canceled a gala in Washington to celebrate the ties between the two nations. 

Biden tasked with repairing relationships with allies at U.N. this week

Biden tasked with repairing relationships with allies at U.N. this week

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FILE – In this Sept. 16, 2021, file photo President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the economy in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Biden will address the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 21, hold … more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Sunday, September 19, 2021

When President Biden steps up to the podium Tuesday to deliver his first speech as president to the United Nations, he’ll be under tremendous pressure to repair relationships he’s fractured with some of America’s closest allies.

The speech comes at a time of shaky U.S. credibility on the world stage. After a series of foreign policy blunders, including the botched military withdrawal from Afghanistan, allies are questioning whether America remains a reliable partner.

Mr. Biden’s judgment suffered another blow last week when the Pentagon acknowledged that a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan killed 10 civilians, including 7 children, not terrorist militants as the administration originally claimed.

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“With all of the recent events there is a certain fear in Europe that all this talk about the importance of allies is merely window dressing,” said Carisa Nietsche, who specializes in European security at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.

“President Biden will mention the importance of multilateralism, but Europe wants the U.S. not to talk the talk, but walk the walk on this issue.”

Mr. Biden’s mingling at the U.N. General Assembly will be cut short due to coronavirus concerns, according to the White House. He will meet with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday and address the assembly on Tuesday. The rest of the week’s diplomacy will be relegated to virtual and Washington settings.

Mr. Biden’s speech is expected to outline steps for increasing COVID-19 vaccinations around the globe and push other leaders to take stronger action against climate change.

He will also hammer the same message he’s been proclaiming to world leaders since taking office: “America is back.” He has pitched himself as a team player to draw a contrast with former President Donald Trump’s America first policies.

Behind the scenes at the U.N., however, Mr. Biden will have his work cut out for him trying to convince his counterparts that he means what he says.

Last week, Mr. Biden’s frustrated France, a long-standing partner, by cutting a multi-billion nuclear submarine deal with Australia. The move angered France, which lost its $90 billion submarine pact with Australia.

In response, France took the shocking step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia. France, which is America’s oldest ally, also canceled a gala at its Washington embassy to celebrate its close ties with the U.S.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the submarine deal “a stab in the back,” and compared Mr. Biden to Mr. Trump.

“This brutal, unilateral, and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do,” Mr. Le Drian told a French radio station. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”

Ms. Nietsche, the European security scholar, said she expects the French to give the president a hostile reception at the U.N. on Tuesday.

“[Europeans’] chief complaint against President Trump was that he was unpredictable and I think they feel that way again,” she said. “It’s a massive blow to President Biden’s credibility in Europe if they are comparing him to President Trump and claiming he’s just as unpredictable and unreliable.”

The Afghan pullout and Australian submarine deal are not the only foreign policy decisions that have chafed allies abroad.

Mr. Biden angered Israel by restoring $235 million of aid to Palestinians that had been cut under Mr. Trump.

He lifted Trump-era sanctions on a company building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, a project pushed by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The move drew sharp criticism from Ukraine, with Kyiv accusing Mr. Biden of handing Russia “a dangerous geopolitical weapon.”

Even Democrats in Congress blasted the decision. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, said the pipeline advances Russian aggression in Europe.

Mr. Biden’s policy shifts left U.S. allies grumbling that they’ve been cut out of decisions that put their national security at risk. They are now questioning whether they can rely on Mr. Biden and the U.S. to keep its promises.

Several of Washington’s closest European allies have complained bitterly about the administration’s handling of the Afghanistan military pullout.

The chaotic withdrawal left the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, creating a potential safe haven for terrorists and triggered a massive humanitarian crisis.

European allies had pressured Mr. Biden to extend his self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline for leaving Afghanistan, but the president refused to bend.

By turning his back on them, Mr. Biden left many of America’s long-standing partners reeling as the U.S. walked away from a crisis it created and which reverberates around the world.

It has raised questions about America’s once unflappable commitment to NATO. Some in Europe are considering a defense force less dominated by the U.S.

Mr. Biden will have additional opportunities for a reset after the U.N. speech. Later this month, Mr. Biden will host the first-ever in-person summit of the so-called Quad countries — the U.S. India, Japan, and Australia — to counter China’s military aggression.

Also in September, U.S. and E.U. leaders will convene in Pittsburgh at the inaugural Trade and Technology Council meeting. The initiative will focus on boosting trade, fighting climate change, and protecting worker rights.

And there are plenty of areas of agreement between the U.S. and its partners, especially on climate change and human rights.

Still, the Afghan pullout has opened a wound with America’s European allies that may take decades to heal, according to analysts.

Britain, America’s closest ally, has voiced some of the harshest criticism of the Afghanistan pullout. British politicians torched Mr. Biden during sessions of Parliament.

Keir Starmer, a member of the British Labour Party, ripped Mr. Biden for “catastrophic error of judgment.

Tom Tugendhat, a conservative British lawmaker who served in Afghanistan, expressed outrage over Mr. Biden blaming the Afghan military for surrendering to the Taliban.

“To see [Mr. Biden] call into question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran, is shameful,” he said.

Germany, which has spent billions funding Afghanistan’s reconstruction, also reacted with outrage.

Norbert Roettgen, the chairman of the German parliament’s foreign relations committee, called the pullout a “serious and far-reaching miscalculation by the [Biden] administration.

The falling out is recoverable, however. It will require Mr. Biden to listen to European nations about their priorities, Ms. Nietsche said.

“If the U.S. goes in to set the agenda and is not interested in hearing from allies, it’s not going to work. It will be seen as hollow rhetoric.”

Biden beset by leadership woes at home, abroad after eight months in office

Biden beset by leadership woes at home, abroad after eight months in office

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President Joe Biden boards Air Force One, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) more >

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By Dave Boyer and S.A. Miller

The Washington Times

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Self-inflicted crises are piling up for President Biden.

His leadership suffered serious blows on multiple fronts in rapid succession Friday. From the acknowledgment of a misguided and deadly U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan to mounting chaos on America’s southern border, Mr. Biden tangled with emergencies foreign and domestic as he heads into his ninth month as commander in chief.

“Joe Biden has completely lost control only 8 months in,” tweeted Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican.

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The Pentagon admitted that a drone strike in Afghanistan accidentally killed 10 civilians instead of terrorist militants, as originally claimed by the administration.

The FDA rejected plans for widespread COVID-19 booster shots, though days early Mr. Biden announced plans for “every adult to get a booster shot” starting Monday.

The FDA said it needs more data before approving a third shot. The vote against the plan was 16-2.

France announced an unprecedented withdrawal of its ambassador to the U.S., deepening an embarrassing feud with America’s oldest ally over Mr. Biden’s foreign policy dealmaking.

The row erupted over Mr. Biden inking a deal to build nuclear-powered submarines for Australia as part of an effort to counter China in the Indo-Pacific. It also undercut France’s $100 billion submarine deal with Australia.

“We understand their position and will continue to be engaged in the coming days to resolve our differences, as we have done at other points over the course of our long alliance,” said Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the president’s National Security Council. “France is our oldest ally and one of our strongest partners, and we share a long history of shared democratic values and a commitment to working together to address global challenges.”

At the southern border, an out-of-control migrant crisis grew exponentially with a massive migrant camp — about 10,000 mostly Haitian migrants — established underneath the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

Homeland Security announced late Friday that it was shutting down the border crossing in Del Rio, which was another black eye for the Biden administration that just a day earlier disputed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s claim that Customs and Border Protection was considering closing the entry point.

The administration on Saturday was working on plans to start flying the migrants back to Haiti, possibly with eight flights per day that would begin Sunday, an official with knowledge of the plan told The Associated Press.

Most of the alarming developments came on Friday afternoon after Mr. Biden had left the White House for a weekend at his home in Delaware.

Mr. Biden had no public events scheduled for Saturday or Sunday.

As the emergencies piled up at Mr. Biden’s feet, his job-approval rating continued to slide. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Friday showed Mr. Biden with the lowest numbers of his presidency amid growing criticism of his handling of the pandemic and the botched Afghanistan withdrawal.

The poll showed that 44% of adults approve of Mr. Biden’s performance in office. That reflected a nine-point drop in just a few weeks.

The Pentagon’s admitted that the U.S. drone strike on Aug. 29, which Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley originally called a “righteous” attack, instead had killed seven innocent children among its victims.

“The Biden Afghanistan catastrophe keeps getting worse,” Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, tweeted.

“Did the Taliban provide the faulty ‘intel’ that led to the Biden admin killing 10 innocent civilians, including 7 children? If so, why did Biden trust the Taliban?”

Tensions also mounted over the migrants congregating in Del Rio, Texas. Critics charge the administration was either unable or unwilling to handle the surge of illegal immigration.

Del Rio’s Democratic mayor warned the president that the number of illegal migrants in the crowd was nearing one-third of Del Rio’s population.

Republican lawmakers called the steady flow of migrants across the Rio Grande an “invasion.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, tweeted: “The Biden Administration .. Won’t let reporters in border facilities. Won’t answer questions about the crisis. And now, won’t let news drones fly over the border. What are they hiding?”

What’s more, the escalating crises came as Mr. Biden’s centerpiece $3.5 trillion safety-net spending plan appeared to be on the ropes. Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key Democratic vote needed for the plan, reportedly told the president to his face in a private meeting Thursday that he won’t support the huge price tag.

Former President Donald Trump said of the drone strike in Afghanistan, “How disgraceful that so many people have been killed because of our incompetent generals.”

“The Biden administration wanted to show that they were tough guys after they surrendered to the Taliban, which left many soldiers injured or dead, and left Americans and the best military equipment in the world behind,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “Our country has never been so embarrassed or humiliated.”

• Stephen Dinan and Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.

France recalls ambassadors to US, Australia over sub deal

France recalls ambassadors to US, Australia over sub deal

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FILE – In this Friday, Sept. 10, 2021 file photo, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks in Weimar, Germany. France said late Friday, Sept. 17 it was immediately recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after Australia scrapped … more >

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By Sylvie Corbet

Associated Press

Friday, September 17, 2021

PARIS (AP) — France said late Friday it was immediately recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after Australia scrapped a big French conventional submarine purchase in favor of nuclear subs built with U.S. technology.

It was the first time ever France has recalled its ambassador to the U.S., according to the French foreign ministry.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a written statement that the French decision, on request from President Emmanuel Macron, “is justified by the exceptional seriousness of the announcements” made by Australia and the United States.

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He said Wednesday’s announcement of Australia’s submarine deal with the U.S. is “unacceptable behavior between allies and partners.”

A recall of ambassadors is highly unusual between allied countries. In 2019, Paris recalled its envoy to neighboring Italy after the country’s leaders made critical public comments about the French government. Last year, France recalled its ambassador to Turkey after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Macron needed mental health treatment. 

Earlier Friday, a top French diplomat spoke of a “crisis” in relations with the U.S.

The diplomat, who spoke anonymously in line with customary government practice, said that for Paris “this is a strategic question concerning the very nature of the relationship between Europe and the United States about the Indo-Pacific strategy.”

He would not speculate on the effects the situation would have on France’s relationship with the U.S. “There’s a crisis,” he stressed. 

Macron has not commented on the issue since President Joe Biden’s announcement of a strategic Indo-Pacific alliance with Australia and Britain, leading France to lose a nearly $100 billion deal to build diesel-electric submarines.

France has pushed for several years for a European strategy for boosting economic, political and defense ties in the region stretching from India and China to Japan and New Zealand. The EU unveiled this week its plan for the Indo-Pacific.

The French diplomat said Friday that Macron received a letter from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday morning announcing the decision to cancel the submarine deal. 

French officials then decided to reach out to the U.S. administration “to ask what was going on,” he said. He added that discussions with Washington took place just two to three hours before Biden’s public announcement.

Le Drian on Thursday expressed “total incomprehension” at the move and criticized both Australia and the U.S.

“It was really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” he said. “This is not done between allies.”

He also compared Biden’s move to those of his predecessor, Donald Trump, under Trump’s “America First” doctrine. 

Paris had raised the issue of the Indo-Pacific strategy during the June 25 visit to Paris of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, expressing the importance of its submarine program with Australia, the diplomat said.

“We said that is was for us a very important and critical component in our Indo-Pacific strategy,” he said. Blinken met with Macron during the visit.

The French diplomat said Australia never mentioned to France before its will to shift to nuclear-powered submarines, including during a meeting between Macron and Morrison in Paris on June 15.

Beijing calls new U.S.-U.K.-Australian alliance ‘irresponsible’

Beijing calls new U.S.-U.K.-Australian alliance ‘irresponsible’

French angered at loss of sub deal to U.S. offer

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In this Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, file photo, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian speaks during a daily briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Beijing. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File) more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Thursday, September 16, 2021

China’s communist government served up relatively mild criticism Thursday of the announced tripartite security pact between the United States, Australia and Britain.

President Biden unveiled the new alliance, dubbed “AUKUS,” for Australia, the United Kingdom and the U.S., Wednesday at the White House. It includes joint development of eight nuclear-powered attack submarines for the Australian navy, which currently has none.

A Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman denounced the new alliance while Chinese state media suggested Canberra could become the target of a Chinese nuclear strike for joining with the United States and Britain in deploying nuclear-powered submarines.

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The proposed alliance “has seriously undermined regional peace and stability, intensified the arms race and undermined international non-proliferation efforts,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing. Exporting sensitive nuclear submarine technology is part of a “geopolitical game” and “is extremely irresponsible,” Mr. Zhao said.

The Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated newspaper, said the new arrangement “will potentially make Australia a target of a nuclear strike if a nuclear war breaks out.”

The newspaper quoted a Chinese military expert as saying nuclear-powered submarines are used to “launch a second-round nuclear strike in a nuclear war.”

The new security pact does not include nuclear arms for Australia. Instead, it involves creating an infrastructure and fuel for creating the nuclear power plants for submarines. Nuclear submarines are much more powerful than their diesel or electric counterparts. Nuclear propulsion allows for quieter operations — a key advantage in undersea warfare — and extended travel without having to come to the surface.

Nuclear submarines are also engaged in extensive intelligence-gathering and can be used to deploy special operations commandos.

No details of the type of submarines Australia will build although analysts say they likely will be variants of modern U.S. and British nuclear-powered fast attack submarines and could be deployed by the year 2040.

The Navy’s Virginia-class submarine fires both torpedoes and Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles. Britain’s Astute-class nuclear attack submarines also fire both torpedoes and cruise missiles. Virginia-class submarines also will be equipped with more advanced weapons in the future, such as lasers, and will be capable of launching undersea mines.

The security cooperation comes amid increasing regional clashes over China’s assertive military and sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea, along with growing military tensions with Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory and has vowed to retake by force if necessary someday.

Miles Yu, a former China policymaker at the State Department, said the new security arrangement is a significant step in confronting the China challenge in the region.

“The Chinese Communist Party is beginning to realize the real magnitude of its strategic miscalculations as the AUKUS deal is the first concrete action jointly taken by two NATO countries and two Asia-Pacific countries,” Mr. Yu said. “It’s the jointness of this act, and the nature of this deal that could obviate the PLA’s march beyond the First Island Chain that makes Beijing shiver.”

China has been expanding its influence and power in the western Pacific and is seeking to dominate the strategic waterways stretching from the South China Sea north to the Sea of Japan, an area China calls the “First Island Chain.”

Fury in France    

The AUKUS grouping has also managed to anger other traditional U.S. allies, including European Union officials who said they were given no advance notice the pact was in the works.

The fury was particularly acute in Paris, where France will now lose out on a massive conventional, diesel-powered sub deal it had struck with Australia just five years ago.

The deal is “contrary to the letter and the spirit of the cooperation which prevailed between France and Australia, based on a relationship of political trust as on the development of an industrial and technological base of defense of very high level in Australia,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The new security cooperation is a major step in efforts by the Australian government to delink from China, which is Canberra’s biggest foreign market by far. In recent months, China has taken a series of retaliatory steps after the Australian government called for an international investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic that began in Wuhan.,

Extensive Chinese influence operations also were exposed in Australia over the past several years that led to new restrictions on Chinese investment and the resignation of an Australian member of parliament was covertly linked to the Chinese military.

China also has tried to punish Australia economically by blocking sales of Australian products in China like wine and seafood.

Senior Biden administration officials who briefed reporters on the new partnership said in addition to undersea warfare capabilities, the three militaries will work together on military-related artificial intelligence, quantum computing and cyber capabilities.

“This will be a sustained effort over many years to see how we can marry and merge some of our independent and individual capabilities into greater trilateral engagement as we go forward,” one of the officials said.

The only other time the United States has shared nuclear submarine technology took place with transfers of know-how to Britain nearly 70 years ago.

“This technology is extremely sensitive. This is, frankly, an exception to our policy in many respects,” the official said.

The three-way security partnership also appears to be aimed at counterbalancing Beijing’s bid to foster anti-U.S. alliances.

China has conducted military exercises with Russia and is a leader of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a China-led grouping of Central Asian nations that was holding its own 20th anniversary summit this week.

Mr. Zhao, the Chinese spokesman, said relevant states should “abandon the outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical perception, respect the will of the people of regional countries and do more to contribute to regional peace, stability and development.”

“Otherwise, they will only end up shooting themselves in the foot,” he said.

China uses the phrase Cold War mentality as code for anti-communism.

Biden prepares to host historic ‘Quad’ summit at White House

Biden prepares to host historic ‘Quad’ summit at White House

Concerns over Chinese 'bullying' loom as Pacific democracies gather

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In this file photo, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, right, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, left, participate in the inaugural Quad leaders meeting with the President of the United States Joe Biden, the Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Thursday, September 16, 2021

President Biden is preparing to host the first-ever in-person summit of leaders from the so-called Quad countries — the U.S., India, Japan and Australia — in a sign of growing momentum behind what began as a Trump-era push to rally Asia’s most powerful democracies into a more formal grouping to confront and contain communist China.

The Sept. 24 White House summit dovetails with this week’s announcement of a U.S.-Australian-U.K. security pact that many see as a parallel effort to counter China. The administration’s embrace of the pact and promotion of the Quad underscores what analysts say is an accelerating U.S. shift in focus toward the Indo-Pacific region after decades of war and focus on terrorist groups in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Mr. Biden has essentially picked up where Trump administration officials left off by embracing the Quad as a central vehicle for the strategic shift, triggering increasingly heated responses from Beijing. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said this week that the Quad is “doomed to fail” because its members are united by little more than the challenge they face from Beijing.

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Regional experts, however, say the U.S., Japanese, Indian and Australian strategic alignment is openly and rapidly expanding in response to years of Chinese aggression against democracy in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as Beijing‘s growing economic and military clout.

“This kind of cooperation among the Quad leaders, with a meeting at the White House, broadcasts clearly to China that it has a major challenge on its hands,” said Patrick M. Cronin, the Asia-Pacific security chair at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

Mr. Cronin said in an interview that he believes Chinese President Xi Jinping has encouraged pushback by embracing an offensive foreign policy.

“On top of all of Xi’s other problems, including those he’s facing at home with the COVID-19 pandemic, he has now galvanized four leading maritime democracies to spearhead a political, economic and military alignment that can stand up to China‘s provocations and coercion,” Mr. Cronin said.

“The fear that Taiwan could get whipsawed by China and that other regional actors, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, could be bullied by China has the Quad leaders wanting to help,” he said. “They want to do something about it to help insulate Southeast Asia from China’s bullying and coercion.

“The point here,” he said, “is that perception of the ‘China threat’ has dramatically risen in the eyes of New Delhi, Tokyo, Canberra and Washington in recent years.”

China has responded with increasingly heated rhetoric since August 2020 when Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E. Biegun floated the idea that an informal U.S., Japanese, Australian and Indian defense alignment could be the core of a NATO-style alliance in Asia.

Chinese Foreign Ministry officials have downplayed the notion, saying the Quad has no momentum. They also have accused the U.S. of trying to militarize the region and foment a confrontation with Beijing.

Chinese analysts say the Quad countries have different agendas and challenges regarding China. One analyst compared the Quad grouping to “four patients with different illnesses but stay in the same hospital ward.” Skeptics also note that China is the single biggest import and export market for Australia and Japan and the biggest importer for U.S. and Indian markets.

Gaining momentum

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be coming to the U.S. for the U.N. General Assembly session next week, but the Quad meeting is likely to generate its own wave of international attention.

The grouping was initiated in 2007 by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, although it struggled to gain major momentum as the U.S. and other powers still sought to engage with a rising China. Regional strategists say the landscape has been far more promising since the Trump administration put its weight behind the idea.

The Biden administration hosted the first virtual meeting of the Quad leaders in March. After a round of joint military exercises among the Quad nations, the meeting produced a joint statement in which the leaders vowed to coordinate closely on COVID-19 vaccine and climate initiatives.

They also pledged greater collaboration on “maritime security, to meet challenges to the rules-based maritime order in the East and South China Seas.” The language references frustration among many Asian nations that view China‘s aggressive sovereignty claims and construction of military bases on artificial islands in disputed areas of the South China Sea as violations of international law.

Because most countries in the region depend heavily on China for trade, few have been willing to fully break with Beijing.

The March meeting spurred speculation that Washington may seek to establish an informal “Quad-plus” to include smaller nations on China’s periphery, including South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and perhaps Vietnam.

A senior administration official told The Times that “there are currently no plans to expand the Quad by adding additional countries,” but Mr. Biden’s top Asia policy adviser has openly sought to encourage others to “engage” with the grouping.

“This is not a fancy club,” Kurt Campbell, National Security Council coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, told an online event hosted by Stanford University in May. “If there are other countries that believe that they’d like to engage and work with us, the door will be open as we go forward.”

Chinese officials appear to be fuming at the notion. “China can retaliate economically if red line crossed,” a headline in the Chinese Communist Party-aligned Global Times warned ahead of the March meeting.

This time, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said any anti-China grouping in the region is “doomed to fail.”

“Forming closed and exclusive ‘cliques’ targeting other countries runs counter to the trend of the times and deviates from the expectation of regional countries,” Mr. Zhao told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday when asked about the upcoming summit at the White House.

“It thus wins no support and is doomed to fail,” he said, and “relevant countries should discard the outdated zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical perception.”

China is not only a major engine of economic growth in the Asia-Pacific but also a staunch defender of regional peace and stability,” Mr. Zhao said.

Despite promoting the Quad, Biden administration officials have sought to avoid provocative rhetoric in public over the initiative. A White House statement announcing the summit of Quad leaders made no mention of China.

“Hosting the leaders of the Quad demonstrates the Biden-Harris Administration’s priority of engaging in the Indo-Pacific, including through new multilateral configurations to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” the statement said. “The Quad leaders will be focused on deepening our ties and advancing practical cooperation on areas such as combatting COVID-19, addressing the climate crisis, partnering on emerging technologies and cyberspace, and promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Mr. Cronin, meanwhile, said he believes China‘s expanding military activity near Taiwan — the island democracy where the communist government in Beijing has long claimed sovereignty — is likely also to be on the agenda.

“I think we’re going to see this dimension about peace and security in the Taiwan Strait, maritime security and defense technology cooperation, both through joint exercises and through research and development projects,” he said. “It’s just further augmentation of the defense dimension of the relationship.”

France cancels Washington gala over U.S.-Australia submarine deal

France cancels Washington gala over U.S.-Australia submarine deal

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In this file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during a meeting of the ‘U2P’, French local businesses union, in Paris, Thursday, Sept. 16 2021. (Christophe Petit Tesson, Pool Photo via AP) **FILE** more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Thursday, September 16, 2021

French diplomats on Thursday canceled a gala at their Washington embassy to celebrate its close ties with the U.S., the latest snub over President Biden’s decision to cut a $90 billion nuclear submarine deal with Australia.

The U.S. deal prompted Australia to cancel a $66 billion deal to buy French-built submarines.

The embassy event was supposed to commemorate the 240th anniversary of the Battle of the Capes when the French Navy fought the British Navy during the Revolutionary War.

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The gala now has been scrapped, The New York Times first reported, as French anger mounts over the trilateral security partnership among the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom.

The new deal includes the U.S. sharing nuclear submarine technology with Australia. France had a $90 billion deal with Australia to replace its submarine fleet, which was scuttled because of the new U.S. pact.

France also recalled its top naval officer, who had traveled to Washington for the event, and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called the move “a stab in the back.”

“This brutal, unilateral, and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr. Trump used to do,” Mr. Le Drian told a French radio station. “I am angry and bitter. This isn’t done between allies.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. has a good relationship with France and they have partnered on a variety of issues.

She also said the Biden administration officials spoke with French officials ahead of the announcement.

Mr. Biden would speak with French President Emmanuel Macron “soon” but nothing is scheduled, she said.

Asked about the French foreign minister comparing Mr. Biden to former President Trump, Ms. Psaki said he “doesn’t think about it much.” She added that Mr. Biden is focused on maintaining the U.S. relationship with France, the U.K. and Australia.

The French deal with Australia had caused friction between the two nations. Australia was frustrated with cost overruns, design changes and delays, according to reports.

French officials also said the Biden administration kept the deal with the U.K and Australia shrouded in secrecy despite their efforts to learn more about the agreement.

France fumes over Aussie sub deal with U.S.

France fumes over Aussie sub deal with U.S.

Australia had inked contracts with the French

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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, leaves the Presidential Palace after his meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla) ** FILE ** more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, September 16, 2021

France lashed out Thursday at Australia for abandoning a submarine deal and striking a strategic pact with British and American allies that includes U.S.-made nuclear subs.

“It’s a stab in the back. We had established a trusting relationship with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Franceinfo radio.

President Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the deal late Wednesday as part of an alliance that will be known as AUKUS and will emphasize defense of Australia’s neighborhood in the face of an aggressive China.

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Mr. Le Drian said it raised new questions about American commitments to Europe after Mr. Biden planned to turn the page on policies adopted by former President Donald Trump.

“This brutal, unilateral, unpredictable decision looks very much like what Mr. Trump used to do,” he told the radio station.

Mr. Biden tried to highlight France’s contributions in the region during his video conference with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Morrison.

France, in particular, already has a substantial Indo-Pacific presence and is a key partner and ally in strengthening the security and prosperity of the region,” he said. “The United States looks forward to working closely with France and other key countries as we go forward.”

Reuters said Australia inked the deal with French shipbuilder Naval Group in 2016 to the submarine fleet at a cost of $40 billion.

“We have contracts,” Mr. Le Drian said. “The Australians need to tell us how they’re getting out of it. We’re going to need an explanation.”

Philippe Etienne, the French ambassador to the U.S., threw shade at the Americans.

“Interestingly, exactly 240 years ago the French Navy defeated the British Navy in Chesapeake Bay, paving the way for the victory at Yorktown and the independence of the United States,” Mr. Etienne tweeted.

China is fuming, too. It said strategic partnerships shouldn’t single out third nations and this deal could spark an arms race in the region.

Joe Biden to announce deal with U.K., Australia on defense technology

Biden to announce deal with U.K., Australia on defense technology

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President Joe Biden speaks with members of the press on the South Lawn of the White House after stepping off Marine One, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, in Washington. Biden is returning to Washington after traveling to Idaho, California and Colorado. … more >

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By Jeff Mordock

The Washington Times

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

President Biden will announce Wednesday a partnership with the United Kingdom and Australia to share defense technology in a bid to contain China, Australian newspapers reported.

The three nations will operate under the acronym AUUKUS and share information and technology, including long-range strike capabilities and artificial intelligence, according to the reports.

There will also be a nuclear component, with the U.S. and U.K. sharing their knowledge of a nuclear defense infrastructure, the reports said.

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A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Biden is scheduled to address the nation at 5 p.m. on a “national security initiative.” The White House offered no other details.

Kanye West’s ‘Donda’ Now Spotify’s 2nd Biggest Album Debut Behind Drake’s ‘Scorpion’

Kanye West’s Donda album is the second biggest album to debut on Spotify ever behind Drake’s Scorpion.

Following the surprise release of Donda on Sunday (Aug. 29), the album is already making history on the charts. According to Chart Data, the rapper’s tenth studio album clocked close to 100 million streams on Spotify in 24 hours, making it the second-biggest album debut in the history of the platform.

Ye replaces Post Malone for the No. 2 spot after the artist previously held on with 79 million streams in 24 hours for his album Beerbongs & Bentleys. Interestingly enough, Kanye West has only been bettered by his current rival Drake’s Scorpion from June 2018, which amassed 132 million streams in a day when it was released.

Kanye and Drake are reportedly beefing at the moment, and it was said that they would both release their albums on the same day (Sept. 3). However, Kanye West says Universal released his album prematurely and without his consent on Sunday (Aug. 29). Regardless of that hiccup, the album is already thriving as it has not only found instant success on Spotify but other streaming platforms as well.

Donda broke the record for going No. 1 in most countries on Apple Music. The album has nabbed the coveted top spot on the chart in 130 countries thus far, including the United States, Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, and Brazil.

Featuring appearances from the likes of Jay-Z, The Weeknd, Lil Baby, Pop Smoke, DaBaby, Kid Cudi, Travis Scott, and more, Donda boasts 27 tracks. The most popular of which already appears to be the Hov feature “Jail,” which is also assisted by Francis and the Lights. The title debuted at No. 1 on the US Spotify chart with 4.277 million streams and is currently No. 1 on the US singles chart on Apple Music. Kanye claims the label also blocked “Jail pt 2,” which should have been a collaboration with DaBaby.

Donda’s immense first-day success has fans looking forward to what is to come.

.@kanyewest’s 'DONDA' earned almost 100 million first day streams on the global Spotify chart, the second biggest album debut of all-time.

— chart data (@chartdata) August 30, 2021

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Lockdowns or vaccines? 3 Pacific nations try diverging paths

Lockdowns or vaccines? 3 Pacific nations try diverging paths

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A commercial business is closed in Sydney on Aug. 13, 2021, as greater Sydney continues a weeks-long COVID-19 lockdown. Japan, Australia and New Zealand all got through the first year of the coronavirus pandemic in relatively good shape, but now … more >

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By Nick Perry, Mari Yamaguchi and Rod McGuirk

Associated Press

Sunday, August 22, 2021

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Cheryl Simpson was supposed to be celebrating her 60th birthday over lunch with friends but instead found herself confined to her Auckland home.

The discovery of a single local COVID-19 case in New Zealand was enough for the government to put the entire country into strict lockdown this past week. While others might see that as draconian, New Zealanders generally support such measures because they worked so well in the past.

“I’m happy to go into lockdown, even though I don’t like it,” said Simpson, owner of a daycare center for dogs that is now closed because of the precautions. She said she wants the country to crush the latest outbreak: “I’d like to knock the bloody thing on the head.”

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Elsewhere around the Pacific, though, Japan is resisting such measures in the face of a record-breaking surge, instead emphasizing its accelerating vaccine program. And Australia has fallen somewhere in the middle.

All three countries got through the first year of the pandemic in relatively good shape but are now taking diverging paths in dealing with outbreaks of the delta variant, the highly contagious form that has contributed to a growing sense that the coronavirus cannot be stamped out, just managed.

Professor Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at New Zealand’s University of Otago, said countries around the world are struggling to adapt to the latest threat: “With the delta variant, the old rules just don’t work.”

The differing emphasis on lockdowns versus vaccines – and how effective such strategies prove to be in beating back the delta variant – could have far-reaching consequences for the three countries’ economies and the health of their citizens.

Japan has never imposed lockdowns against the coronavirus. The public is wary of government overreach after the country’s fascist period before and during World War II, and Japan’s postwar constitution lays out strict protections for civil liberties.

Before the delta variant, the country managed to keep a lid on coronavirus outbreaks in part because many people in Japan were already used to wearing surgical masks for protection from spring allergies or when they caught colds.

Now, almost everyone on public transportation wears a mask during commuting hours. But late at night, people tend to uncover in restaurants and bars, which has allowed the variant to spread. Hosting the Tokyo Olympic Games didn’t help either.

While strict protocols kept infections inside the games to a minimum, experts such as Dr. Shigeru Omi, a key medical adviser to the government, say the Olympics created a festive air that led people in Japan to lower their guard.

New cases in Japan have this month leaped to 25,000 each day, more than triple the highest previous peak. Omi considers that a disaster.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday expanded and extended a state of emergency covering Tokyo and other areas until at least mid-September, though most of the restrictions aren’t legally enforceable.

Many governors are urging the prime minister to consider much tougher restrictions. But Suga said lockdowns have been flouted around the world, and vaccines are “the way to go.”

Daily vaccinations in Japan increased tenfold from May to June as thousands of worksites and colleges began offering shots, but a slow start has left the nation playing catch-up. Only about 40% of people are fully vaccinated.

In Australia, a delta outbreak hit Sydney in June, after an unvaccinated limousine driver became infected while transporting a U.S. cargo air crew from the Sydney Airport. State authorities hesitated for 10 days before imposing lockdown measures across Sydney that have now dragged on for two months.

Early in the pandemic, Australia’s federal government imposed just one nationwide lockdown. Now, amid the delta outbreak, it is pursuing a strategy it calls aggressive suppression – including strict controls on Australians leaving the country and foreigners entering – but is essentially letting state leaders call the shots.

New infections in Sydney have climbed from just a few each week before the latest outbreak to more than 800 a day.

“It’s not possible to eliminate it completely. We have to learn to live with it,” Gladys Berejiklian, premier of Sydney’s New South Wales state, said in what many interpreted as a significant retreat from the determination state leaders have previously shown to crush outbreaks entirely.

“That is why we have a dual strategy in New South Wales,” Berejiklian said. “Get those case numbers down, vaccination rates up. We have to achieve both in order for us to live freely into the future.”

The outbreak in Sydney has spilled over into the capital, Canberra, which has also gone into lockdown. Government worker Matina Carbone wore a mask while shopping on Friday.

“I don’t know that anyone’s ever going to really beat delta,” she said. “I think we just have to try and increase our rates of vaccinations and slowly open things up when we think it’s safe to do so.”

But Australia lags far behind even Japan in getting people inoculated, with just 23% of people fully vaccinated.

Last year, soon after the pandemic first hit, neighboring New Zealand imposed a strict, nationwide lockdown and closed its border to non-residents. That wiped out the virus completely. The country of 5 million has been able to vanquish each outbreak since, recording just 26 virus deaths.

It went six months without a single locally spread case, allowing people to go about their daily lives much as they had before the pandemic.

But this month, the Sydney outbreak spread to New Zealand, carried by a returning traveler.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promptly imposed the strictest form of lockdown.

By Sunday, the number of locally spread cases in New Zealand had grown to 72, and the virus had reached the capital, Wellington. Officials raced to track 10,000 more people who might have been exposed.

Ardern has been steadfast.

“We have been here before. We know the elimination strategy works. Cases rise, and then they fall, until we have none,” she said. “It’s tried and true. We just need to stick it out.”

Baker, the epidemiologist, said he believes it is still possible for New Zealand to wipe out the virus again by pursuing the “burning ember” approach of taking drastic measures to stamp out the first sign of an outbreak.

That remains to be seen.

New Zealand doesn’t have much of a Plan B. A recent report by expert advisers to the government noted the nation has comparatively few intensive care hospital beds and said an outbreak could quickly overwhelm the health system.

And New Zealand has been the slowest developed nation to put shots in arms, with just 20% of people fully vaccinated.

Malaysian king picks ex-deputy PM as nation’s new leader

Malaysian king picks ex-deputy PM as nation’s new leader

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Former Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob waves to media as he leave after meeting with the King at national palace in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. Yaakob appeared to have won majority support to be Malaysia’s new … more >

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By Associated Press –

Friday, August 20, 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia’s longest-governing political party reclaimed the premiership it lost in a shock 2018 election defeat, after the king on Friday named its candidate, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, as the country’s new leader.

Ismail was the deputy prime minister under the government of Muhyiddin Yassin, who resigned Monday after less than 18 months in office as infighting in his coalition cost him majority support.

Ismail‘s appointment essentially restores Muhyiddin’s alliance. It also brings back the rule of the United Malays National Organization, which had led Malaysia since independence from Britain in 1957 but was ousted in 2018 elections over a multibillion-dollar financial scandal.

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King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah said Ismail had secured the backing of 114 lawmakers for a slender majority. He said Ismail, 61, will be sworn in as Malaysia‘s ninth prime minister on Saturday.

The announcement came after the monarch met state Malay rulers who advised him on the appointment. The king’s role is largely ceremonial in Malaysia, but he appoints the person he believes has majority support in Parliament as prime minister.

Sultan Abdullah said in a statement that he hopes Ismail‘s appointment will bring an end to the country’s political turmoil. He urged lawmakers to set aside their political differences and unite to tackle the country’s worsening pandemic.

Ismail‘s appointment was not unexpected. With this, UMNO is now back in the driver’s seat,” said James Chin, an Asian expert at Australia’s University of Tasmania.

Ismail‘s 114 votes exceed the 111 needed for a simple majority but is close to the backing Muhyiddin had and was unable to keep. Ismail is from UMNO, the larger party in the alliance, leaving him on firmer ground, but he still needs Muhyiddin’s party for enough support to lead.

Angry Malaysians had launched an online petition to protest Ismail‘s candidacy, with more than 340,000 signatures collected so far. Many believe Ismail‘s choice will restore the status quo, with its perceived failed response to a worsening pandemic.

Malaysia has one of the world’s highest infection rates and deaths per capita, despite a seven-month state of emergency and a lockdown since June. Daily new infections have more than doubled since June to hit a new record of 23,564 on Friday, bringing the country’s total to over 1.5 million cases. Deaths have surged to above 13,000.

Twitter allowing users to report tweets that ‘seem misleading’

Twitter allowing users to report tweets that ‘seem misleading’

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This April 26, 2017, file photo shows the Twitter app icon on a mobile phone in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File) more >

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By Andrew Blake

The Washington Times

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Twitter has begun experimenting with a new feature that allows users of its popular social media service to flag misleading posts or tweets made on the platform for potential moderation or removal.

As of Tuesday, Twitter said that some of its users in the U.S., South Korea and Australia can report tweets posted on the platform that “seem misleading,” its latest effort to combat online misinformation.

“We’re assessing if this is an effective approach so we’re starting small,” Twitter said in a tweet announcing the new feature.

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“We may not take action on and cannot respond to each report in the experiment, but your input will help us identify trends so that we can improve the speed and scale of our broader misinformation work,” Twitter added.

Twitter users have long been able to report tweets for potential violations of the platform’s rules, such as posts that seem like spam, are suspicious, abusive, harmful or expresses intent to self-harm.

With the new feature, where available, Twitter users now have the additional option when reporting a tweet: “It’s misleading”

Twitter users who flag a tweet for being misleading are further asked if the post is misleading about politics, health or something else before submitting their report.

A number of Republicans with popular, verified Twitter accounts were quick to criticize the feature by predicting it will be used to silence conservative voices.

“Liberals now have a new tool to try and censor conservatives. What could go wrong?” said Jane Timken, the former chair of the Ohio Republican Party.

“Fantastic. Liberals have a new tool to mass report conservatives to the Ministry Of Truth,” said Carmine Sabia, a self-described conservative with a Twitter account followed by more than 60,000 users.

Social media companies have previously faced criticism for allowing misinformation and disinformation about political elections, candidates and the novel coronavirus pandemic to spread on their services.

President Biden said last month that social media platforms are “killing people” by letting bogus claims circulate about COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and the vaccines that prevent it.

Twitter prohibits users sharing false or misleading information about COVID-19 “which may lead to harm.” Its rules also prohibit users from misleading others about “when, where or how” to particulate in an election, among other conduct.

Chinese pressure sparks debate on Taiwan’s resilience

Chinese pressure sparks debate on Taiwan’s resilience

Some see island's allies rallying in face of Beijing bullying

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FILE – In this Aug. 1, 2019, file photo, a TV screen showing the U.S. Navy fleet sail in formation near the models of Liaoning aircraft carrier with navy frigates and submarines on display at the military museum in Beijing. … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Sunday, August 8, 2021

China’s expanding military provocations toward Taiwan have elevated concern among the United States and its allies that Beijing could be on the verge of using force against the island democracy, which China considers to be an integral part of its sovereign territory.

The pressure on Taiwan and other aggressive actions by the authoritarian communist government in China have also triggered debate over the extent to which the aggression might backfire by boosting Taiwan‘s strong pro-independence forces and prompting the U.S. and others to deliver more robust support for Taipei.

The Biden administration has made rhetorical overtures of support for Taiwan, but analysts say the U.S. is as wedded as ever to “One China.” Under the policy, Washington refuses to formally recognize Taiwanese independence but helps the island defend itself and leaves ambiguous what the U.S. military would do in a shooting war.

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Some say Beijing‘s actions over the past year, most notably stepped-up drills and missile testing by the People’s Liberation Army in the Taiwan Strait, have backfired, producing unprecedented support for Taiwan by the United States and its Indo-Pacific allies.

Beijing‘s pressure against Taiwan has triggered counteractions by Washington and the international community, perhaps more than China has anticipated,” said Zoe Leung, the director of Track 2 Diplomacy Programs at the Houston-based George H.W. Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations.

“Since the beginning of 2021, U.S. Navy [ships] transited the Taiwan Strait seven times in response to PLA show of force,” Ms. Leung told The Washington Times. The increase in visits to Taiwan by current and former U.S. officials over the past two years should also is a sign of expanding American support, driven by Washington’s desire to counter China’s aggressive moves.

She said the Biden administration has been working behind the scenes to expand diplomatic support for Taiwan on the international stage.

“Australia, Japan, South Korea, [the Group of Seven] and [the] EU have all identified Taiwan security as increasingly important, as Beijing stepped up efforts to isolate Taiwan in the international arena,” Ms. Leung said. “Japan has signaled it may be forced to intervene in a cross-strait crisis. These developments were unprecedented.”

Ms. Leung and Cameron Waltz, a junior fellow with the Bush Foundation, pushed their argument in a recent commentary published by Foreign Policy under the headline “Beijing’s Attempts to Intimidate Taiwan Have Backfired; Chinese coercion has strengthened democratic resolve.”

“The United States is now at its closest with Taiwan since it de-recognized the Republic of China in 1979,” the authors said. The Biden administration has responded to China’s increased military activity in the Taiwan Strait by “normalizing U.S. warship transits near Taiwan, coupled with sales of advanced weapons to Taipei to boost its ability to asymmetrically deny a Chinese invasion.”

Not everyone agrees. Some say China‘s increasingly overt threats to Taiwan‘s independence are deeply worrying.

“This idea that Beijing’s tactics have helped Taiwan gain more support than it has seen in decades — that’s just false,” said Michael Pillsbury, a longtime adviser on China to successive White House administrations and currently the head of Chinese strategy at the Hudson Institute in Washington.

“There’s certainly increased concern for Taiwan, but the main concern is that China’s going to invade Taiwan,” Mr. Pillsbury said. “Still, I don’t think China’s aggressiveness is having any effect on tangible steps to defend Taiwan or increase deterrence, even if international concern over the prospect of China possibly using force against Taiwan is at the highest level it’s been in decades.

“Have any other countries started selling arms to Taiwan? No. We’re the only country since 1980 that dares to sell arms to Taiwan. Let’s see Australia try to sell arms to Taiwan. They won’t do it,” Mr. Pillsbury said. Many key U.S. allies, including Australia and Japan, are far  more dependent on China as an import and export market than is the United States.”

On the weapons front, the United States has long been the lone exception in selling arms to Taipei. The State Department last week formally approved the first Taiwan arms sale of the Biden era. The $750 million deal includes some 40 self-propelled howitzer armored field artillery vehicles. China‘s nationalist, state-controlled Global Times denounced the sale as a “vicious provocation.”

Mr. Pillsbury said delivery on such deals often gets delayed indefinitely, and he called it a gross overstatement to say the U.S. sells Taiwan “advanced weaponry.” He said Washington often does not meet specific Taiwanese weapons requests.

He stressed that the U.S. maintains its adherence to the 1979 One China policy.

Formal international support for Taiwan remains low, he said. Just 15 countries, mainly tiny nations that trade more with Taipei than Beijing, recognize Taiwanese independence. The list does not include the U.S., Japan, Australia, India, South Korea or any other major democracy in Asia.

“The meat here is that nothing has changed on specific steps for Taiwan‘s defense. Nothing has changed,” Mr. Pillsbury said. “I’m tired of virtue signaling and false hope and wishful thinking on this issue. [The Taiwanese] can’t even fly their flag inside the United States. Taiwanese air force pilots have the Taiwan insignia ripped off their uniforms when they start training [in the U.S.]. Do you have any idea of the level of humiliation the Taiwanese go through?”

Increasingly wary

Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, a former CIA official who also has decades of experience analyzing China, said the international community, in general, has grown increasingly wary of Beijing’s actions on a range of fronts, including Taiwan, trade, the South China Sea and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. DeTrani pointed to frustration over the Chinese government’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong by imposing an aggressive “national security law.” He noted regional unease from aggressive moves in disputed areas of the South China Sea where Beijing has been constructing military bases on artificial islands.

Other areas of concern, he said, are Beijing’s human rights abuses of Uyghur and other Muslim minorities in China’s Xinjiang region and its “wolf warrior” international diplomacy. Inspired by the Rambo-style Chinese-action movie “Wolf Warrior,” officials sharply denounce officials and institutions in Australia, India and Japan that criticize China.

“There’s a multitude of issues out there where China’s behavior is turning a lot of countries and people off,” Mr. DeTrani said. “I believe China’s actions — whether it’s the national security law in Hong Kong, the wolf warrior diplomacy mentality, the assertiveness in the South China Sea, the actions in Xinjiang — have backfired and are affecting not only the international view of China and [President Xi Jinping], but also the situation with Taiwan and engendering more concern for the well-being of the people of Taiwan.”

Concern about the fate of Taiwan has also been coursing through the halls of the Pentagon.

The Associated Press reported in April that the U.S. military assessed that China was accelerating its timetable for capturing control of Taiwan. Such a move could trigger a direct U.S.-Chinese war. Gen. John E. Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S. had “failed miserably” in a war game simulation of a Chinese attempt to overrun Taiwan.

“An aggressive Red Team that had been studying the United States for the last 20 years just ran rings around us,” Gen. Hyten told an audience at a defense industry event on July 26. “They knew exactly what we’re going to do before we did it.”

The Defense Department has revealed few details about that war game, but officials said it delivered a jolt to the U.S. military’s assessment of the balance of power in the Pacific.

Adm. John C. Aquilino, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, downplayed the war game exercise in remarks to the Aspen Security Forum last week but acknowledged that Beijing’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea and elsewhere sparked a “sense of urgency” inside the Pentagon.

“Those games have helped us to identify where we have gaps and seams, how we make requests for capabilities and requirements to ensure our competitive advantage is maintained,” Adm. Aquilino said. “I’m confident we still have the finest and strongest military on the earth and that the U.S. is ready for any contingency, should it occur.”

• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.

Air Force report: China ‘weaponizing’ economic clout to coerce U.S. allies

Air Force report: China ‘weaponizing’ economic clout to coerce U.S. allies

South Korea, Australia, the Philippines all pressed by Beijing

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In this file photo, late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping is displayed on screen during a gala show ahead of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing on Monday, June 28, 2021. The communists have … more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Thursday, July 29, 2021

China’s communist government is engaged in a strategy of economic coercion that threatens to undermine the rules-based international order, according to a U.S. Air Force analysis.

The report, “The War of the Yuan: Weaponizing the World’s Second Largest Economy,” outlines what the authors say is a Chinese economic pressure campaign targeting South Korea, Philippines and Australia, designed “to send a message to U.S. partners refusing to fold to its demands.”

“Now established as a major player in the global economy, the [People’s Republic of China] has weaponized its market share through economic statecraft designed to coerce and punish nations that stand up to malign Chinese influence,” states a report by the Pacific Air Force’s Strategic Competition Team.

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“As the PRC continues to employ its economic might in harmful ways, it is vitally important that the United States maintain a unified front with its allies and partners, provide a viable alternative to the PRC’s debt-trap diplomacy, and continue to champion adherence to established and agreed-upon international rules and norms,” the report concludes

China boasts a $14 trillion gross domestic product (GDP) after its economy was first opened in 1978 and is the only major world economy to grow during the pandemic in 2020, the report said.

Against South Korea in 2016, the report said Beijing launched a campaign of economic intimidation that cost Seoul an estimated $7.5 billion – a loss of .05% of the country’s GDP. The economic attack came in response to South Korea’s decision to host the Pentagon’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system.

In retaliation, the Chinese government stopped group tours to South Korea, refused to give licenses for Korean video games in China, halted K-pop concerts and shut down Chinese locations of the South Korea Lotte supermarket chain.

China’s government also used its economic clout against the Philippines in 2012, in the midst of a standoff over Beijing’s claims to Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Chinese authorities refused to permit Filipino produce to be sold in Chinese markets, leaving produce to be destroyed or left to rot, severely impacting Manila’s agriculture industry.

China again used its economic power to punish Australia for its call for an international investigation into the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic that began in Wuhan, China.

“The PRC is angered by this quest for truth, as well as the banning of controversial Chinese telecom giant Huawei from building the Australian 5G network,” the report said. “The PRC once again employed its economic weapons, taking advantage of its place as Australia’s biggest trading partner to sanction goods such as wine and beef, and causing Chinese investment in Australia to plummet by 61% in 2020.”

The report warned that “China’s reach continues to grow in an increasingly globalized economy, weakened by a global pandemic. Even countries outside the Indo-Pacific region, like Germany and Norway, are feeling the effects of the PRC’s predatory economic statecraft.”
The report is included in the May edition of the monthly “State of the Game” newsletter and published by the Air Force’s China Aerospace Studies Institute, a think tank at the Air University at Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

Brisbane picked to host 2032 Olympics without a rival bid

Brisbane picked to host 2032 Olympics without a rival bid

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People celebrate in Brisbane, Australia, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, following an announcement by the International Olympic Committee that Brisbane was picked to host the 2032 Olympics. The Australian city was the inevitable winner of a one-candidate race steered by the … more >

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By Graham Dunbar

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

TOKYO (AP) — Brisbane was picked Wednesday to host the 2032 Olympics, the inevitable winner of a one-city race steered by the IOC to avoid rival bids.

The Games will go back to Australia 32 years after the popular 2000 Sydney Olympics. Melbourne hosted in 1956.

“We know what it takes to deliver a successful Games in Australia,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told International Olympic Committee voters in an 11-minute live video link from his office.

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When the award was later confirmed, winning the vote 72-5, Morrison raised both arms in the air and gave two thumbs up.

The victory led to a fireworks display in Brisbane that was broadcast to IOC members in their five-star hotel in Tokyo.

Brisbane follows 2028 host Los Angeles in getting 11 years to prepare for hosting the Games. Paris will host in 2024.

The 2032 deal looked done months before the formal decision at the IOC meeting, which was held ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games.

The IOC gave Brisbane exclusive negotiating rights in February. That decision left Olympic officials in Qatar, Hungary and Germany looking blindsided with their own stalled bidding plans.

Though the result was expected, a high-level Australian delegation went to Tokyo amid the COVID-19 pandemic to present speeches, films and promises on stage.

The city of Brisbane sent Mayor Adrian Schrinner, the state of Queensland sent Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Australia’s federal government sent sports minister Richard Colbeck to woo Olympic voters.

They were joined by long-time Australian Olympic official John Coates, now an IOC vice president who shaped the fast-track selection process two years ago.

The first-time format, designed to cut campaign costs, gives the IOC more control and removes the risk of vote-buying.

The project will see events staged across Queensland, including in Gold Coast, which hosted the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Brisbane’s renowned cricket stadium, known as the Gabba, will be upgraded and may host the sport at the Games. Cricket was played once at the Olympics, at the 1900 Paris Games.

The next three Summer Games hosts – starting with Paris in 2024 – are now secured in wealthy and traditional Olympic host nations without any of the trio facing a contested vote.

The IOC and its hands-on president, Thomas Bach, have torn up the template of traditional bidding campaigns and hosting votes to lock down preferred cities with the minimum risk.

Paris and LA were competing for 2024 until Bach and Coates oversaw including the 2028 rights in an unprecedented double award four years ago.

The future hosts offer stability for the IOC which was stung by the two previous Summer Games contests being tainted by allegations of vote-buying when multiple cities were on the ballot.

The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics and the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics are still under investigation by French prosecutors. They have implicated officials who then lost their place in the IOC family as active or honorary members.

A low-risk future beckons for the IOC following the often-troubled Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games in February, which will throw scrutiny on China’s human rights record.

Key partners have also been secured through 2032. The IOC’s signature broadcasting deal with NBC and top-tier sponsors Coca-Cola, Visa and Omega are tied down for the decade ahead.

In ‘historic’ test, U.S. Patriot missiles shoot down drones in Australia

In ‘historic’ test, U.S. Patriot missiles shoot down drones in Australia

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In this Nov. 8, 2017, photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, German soldiers assigned to Surface Air and Missile Defense Wing 1, fire the Patriot weapons system at the NATO Missile Firing Installation, in Chania, Greece. The Pentagon … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Sunday, July 18, 2021

U.S. Army missile defense units have carried out the first ever firing of Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Australia as part of joint exercises with U.S. allies there that are likely to agitate China, which is engaged in its own increasingly aggressive military moves in the region.

Patriot missiles “successfully engaged drone targets” on Friday in what a U.S. military statement described as a “historic first” test of the system in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland, Australia, during “Talisman Sabre 21” exercises that run through mid-August.

U.S. officials say the exercises, which include participation of forces from Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and South Korea, aim to demonstrate the ability of the allied forces to move easily around the region in response to threats that may arise from any adversaries.

Stars and Stripes, which first reported on the Patriot firing, emphasized the threat of Chinese and North Korean missiles as an ever-present concern for U.S. and other commanders in the region — noting that as recently as 2017, the North Koreans fired a ballistic missile over northern Japan.

In addition to the North Korean threat, the Pentagon has spent recent years warning of expanding great power competition with China, which has come to feature the establishment by the Chinese military of bases on man-made reefs in disputed island chains in the region.

China’s military recently deployed electronic warning and surveillance aircraft and helicopters on two disputed islands in the South China Sea in what analysts say is a sign that the People’s Liberation Army has begun routine air operations from the bases.

Satellite images obtained by The Washington Times show deployments in May and June of PLA KJ-500 airborne warning and control aircraft to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. Other satellite photos showed the stationing of a Y-9 transport aircraft and Z-8 helicopter to Subi Reef in June and this month.

The Biden administration has sought to pick up where the former Trump administration left off with by carrying out U.S. military exercises in the region, while also rallying unity among major democracies of the Indo-Pacific to confront the moves by China’s communist government — most notably through the so-called “Quad” nations that include the U.S., Japan, Australia and India.

The current “Talisman Sabre 21” military exercises in Australia are independent from the Quad push.

A U.S. military press release said the drills involve more than 17,000 participants from seven nations, including Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom, with India, Indonesia, France, and Germany also sending delegations to observe.

Stars and Stripes quoted U.S. Army Col. Matt Dalton, of Portland, Conn., who oversees air and missile defense units in Japan, including Okinawa, and on Guam, as saying during a conference call that American officials are “trying to demonstrate our ability to quickly move our units around the Indo-Pacific to be able to counter any threat that is out there.”

Col. Dalton emphasized the “ability to move to different locations quickly, set up and establish defense of a particular asset.”

The movement and firing of the Patriot system is likely to draw the most attention.

A U.S. military press release said soldiers “based in Japan and Guam from 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, successfully engaged drone targets with Patriot missiles as part of TS 21, Australia’s largest military exercise with the U.S.”

“Australian and U.S. Forces combine biannually for Talisman Sabre — a key exercise supporting the Indo-Pacific Pathways initiative to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific by strengthening relationships, building trust and interoperability among allies and partners,” the press release stated.

• Bill Gertz contributed to this article.

Biden not seeking to add countries to Quad to counter China

Biden not seeking to add countries to Quad to counter China

Officials say pro-democracy alignment 'central' to future U.S. policy in Asia

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Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, right, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne, left, participate in the inaugural Quad leaders meeting with the President of the United States Joe Biden, the Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide Suga and the Prime … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Biden administration officials say they are not pushing to add other countries to the strategic U.S.-IndiaJapanAustralia “Quad” group but stress that the future of American policy in the Indo-Pacific region hinges on the deepening alignment among the four powerful democracies to counter authoritarian China’s increasingly aggressive rise on the world stage.

“The Quad is definitely going to be a central focus of overall U.S. policy in the Indo-Pacific moving forward,” one senior administration official involved in the initiative told The Washington Times. The official said the White House is laying the groundwork for a first-of-its-kind, in-person “leader level” summit of Quad countries this year.

The comments coincide with mounting Chinese condemnation of the Quad amid speculation that the U.S. is seeking to establish an informal “Quad-plus” paradigm to generate strategic buy-in from smaller nations on China’s periphery, including South Korea, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and perhaps Vietnam.

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Analysts say those and other nations are “in play” in the growing power competition between the U.S. and China. Several are already beholden to Beijing because of their dependence on Chinese trade. They must acquiesce when China orders them to stay silent about human rights abuses and military muscle-flexing.

Discussion about what a Quad-plus might look like has gained steam since the Biden administration signaled its intent to build on what began as a major strategic push by the Trump administration to link up with the Indo-Pacific’s most powerful democracies to counter China.

Hawkish foreign policy experts described the Trump-era initiative as the beginning of an “Asian NATO.”

Chinese officials have bristled at the notion. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the Trump administration of using the Quad “to trumpet the Cold War mentality and to stir up confrontation” aimed at maintaining the “dominance and hegemonic system of the United States,” the South China Morning Post reported.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said upon Mr. Biden’s arrival at the White House in January that U.S. efforts to rally the world against China risk a “new cold war.” Many in Washington believe such a conflict is already underway.

In interviews with The Times, two senior Biden administration officials steered clear of such terminology.

The officials were less than eager to be quoted on the record as framing the Quad as an initiative aimed specifically at containing China. However, they made clear on the condition of anonymity that establishing a pro-democracy security and legal bedrock for Indo-Pacific nations to lean on, even while they engage in heavy trade with China, is precisely what Mr. Biden hopes to achieve.

Sources close to the administration say the consensus inside the White House, even among the socialist-leaning left flank of Mr. Biden’s advisers, is that communist China must be countered. The advisers say engaging the Quad is the best way to give nations in the region somewhere to turn in the face of Beijing’s mounting economic and geopolitical power.

“The Biden administration has worked very hard to continue forward with and even deepen the momentum that was created for the Quad grouping during the Trump administration,” said Jacob Stokes, who served as a special adviser to Mr. Biden for Asia policy when Mr. Biden was vice president in the Obama administration.

“The Biden administration is so far being very intentional about trying to generate a situation in which future Quad activities and initiatives, involving the core nations — the U.S., Japan, Australia and India — can be plugged into by other countries in the region and around the world,” said Mr. Stokes, now at the Center for a New American Security. “The goal of this approach would be to provide a space for other countries to plug into given initiatives pretty seamlessly, whether it’s an initiative on vaccines, technology standards, quality infrastructure or even freedom of navigation and security issues.”

Andrew Scobell at the U.S. Institute of Peace agrees.

“The ball is now in the Biden administration’s court with regard to the Quad,” he said. “If the Biden administration is able to effectively build on what the Trump administration was beginning to do with this forum, then the Quad could become a more significant vehicle for a wide range of initiatives, including coordination among like-minded nations on efforts to counter China.”

Still, Mr. Scobell cautioned against “getting ahead of ourselves.”

“It’s fine to have other countries engage, but why not solidify and strengthen the basics of the Quad first before talking about Quad enlargement?” he said. “If the Quad is going to be sustained, it should be seen to have some successes or some accomplishments, whether agreements on economic cooperation or security cooperation. Such successes would underscore the value of the organization or the dialogue.

“Speaking of modest but notable successes, the optics of having an in-person meeting later this year would be a win for all involved,” Mr. Scobell said.

One senior administration official told The Times that “there are currently no plans to expand the Quad by adding additional countries.” Still, Mr. Biden’s top Asia policy adviser has openly sought to encourage other nations to “engage” with the Quad.

“This is not a fancy club,” Kurt Campbell, National Security Council coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs, told an online event hosted by Stanford University last month. “If there are other countries that believe that they’d like to engage and work with us, the door will be open as we go forward.”

At a virtual leader-level Quad summit in March, Mr. Biden and his counterparts pledged to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region in the face of increasingly brazen challenges from China. They also vowed to coordinate closely on COVID-19 vaccine and climate initiatives.

The upcoming in-person summit is slated to focus on pro-transparency infrastructure initiatives that could counter the billions of dollars China is pumping into economies worldwide through its Belt and Road system. U.S. officials describe Belt and Road as an opaque system with predatory loans.

Chinese resistance is likely to be fierce. Ahead of the March summit, Beijing signaled that it wouldn’t hesitate to exert economic pressure on core Quad members if they appeared to be eagerly rallying against China.

India, Australia and Japan all rely heavily on China for trade. China is ranked as the No. 1 trading partner for Australia and Japan and No. 2, behind the U.S., for India. In reference to the Quad’s expanding activities, China’s Communist Party-aligned Global Times ran a headline in February warning that “China can retaliate economically if red line crossed.”

It remains to be seen what that “red line” might be. The Quad countries have engaged in increasingly sophisticated joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean. China has not responded directly but has ramped up its military aggression in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

Replacing ASEAN?

The Quad could be integrated with existing regional security and economic institutions such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Still, China has heavy economic influence over a widening slate of regional institutions, including ASEAN, which is notorious for being hampered by bureaucracy.

Some argue that Quad-ASEAN integration would only enhance Beijing’s ability to undermine the Quad as a democracy-based counterweight to China’s expanding regional power.

Mr. Stokes told The Times that the Biden administration believes ASEAN and other regional institutions will continue to be important but that the Quad has a chance to emerge unencumbered by bureaucratic and geopolitical constraints.

Of particular concern is that China uses economic pressure and leverage to persuade groups such as ASEAN to steer clear of collective policies that do not align with Beijing’s strategic initiatives. A goal of the Quad, he said, should be to create a platform less vulnerable to such pressure.

At the same time, Mr. Stokes said, the Biden administration knows “potential candidates for any ‘Quad-plus’ arrangement are all going to have political, strategic or economic obstacles to joining.”

“The administration does not want to be seen as pressuring these countries,” he said, “[but] does want to provide the foundation for a democracy and transparency-focused platform that can be relied upon in the future for dialogue among like-minded nations on a range of pressing issues.

“[The] Quad is not intended to be an Asian NATO, and it won’t be,” Mr. Stokes added. “But that doesn’t mean it won’t strengthen political and security deterrence toward China by inviting additional, like-minded countries to participate in a range of initiatives, even if they are not formal members.”

Mr. Scobell, meanwhile, said Beijing is eager to promote a narrative that the U.S. and other democracies are messy and divisive to the point of being unreliable as world leaders. He told The Times that the Quad counters that narrative because it “undergirds the idea that the world’s democracies could actually be aligned around strategic initiatives that transcend whatever domestic political fights those democracies may be going through at a particular moment.”

Mr. Scobell also said the Quad is about more than U.S.-Chinese competition.

“Having climate change as a high-profile issue that the Quad is a way to signal to China that this is not all about you,” he said. “That is an important message to send in order to make it clear to Beijing that the Quad and a future ‘Quad-plus’ is not only about countering China; it’s also about larger issues that democracies care about and are willing to work together to address.”

Former White House adviser disputes ‘myth’ of strained Asian ties

Contrary to ‘myth,’ U.S. partnerships with Asian allies are strong, former White House adviser says

Japan agrees Taiwan defense a major security problem, Pottinger says

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A soldier holds a Taiwan national flag during a military exercise in Hsinchu County, northern Taiwan, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying) **FILE** more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Japan’s military views the defense of Taiwan as a major national security priority, says Matt Pottinger, a deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration.

“There’s a saying in the Japanese military that Taiwan‘s defense is Japan‘s defense,” Mr. Pottinger said during a conference. “And I think that Japan will act accordingly.”

Mr. Pottinger, appearing at a conference on Japan hosted by the California-based Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, also disclosed that China’s air force uses a training manual that explains the Communist Party’s view of why China must annex Taiwan.

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For the Chinese, “it’s all about Japan,” said the retired Marine Corps intelligence officer who rose to the senior ranks of the Trump administration.

“If you read the excerpt of that manual, it basically says that China is going to take Taiwan in order to render Japan unable to wage war, unable to even defend itself, unable to even supply itself, and that if Taiwan were taken, basically China would be able to dominate the region and render Japan irrelevant.”

Japan’s post-World War II constitution restricts its offensive military capabilities. The U.S.-Japanese security alliance includes U.S. promises to defend Japan from attack.

The United States also is committed to helping Taiwan, a self-governing island that broke with the mainland in 1949, to defend itself.

Relations between Tokyo and Beijing have soured in recent years as China seeks to encroach on Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. In response, the Japanese military has taken a more assertive posture toward China.

Mr. Pottinger also took issue with Biden foreign policy officials who said a key priority of the administration is restoring U.S. alliances that they say suffered under President Trump.

“It was really this myth in the press coverage as we were going into the election last year that somehow the Trump administration had badly strained our alliances in the Indo-Pacific region. It’s nonsense,” Mr. Pottinger said. “I’ve never seen an empirical fact produced to suggest that our alliances did anything other than strengthen over the course of the Trump administration.”

Mr. Pottinger said the U.S. relationship with India has never been stronger and reinvigorating the four-nation “Quad” of the U.S., Japan, India and Australia was a major achievement. The United States also bolstered ties with Vietnam while working toward a regional coalition of nations to repel Chinese regional hegemonism.

“Vietnamese officials told me regularly that the relationship had never been better,” Mr. Pottinger said.

Government officials and military officers in Taiwan and Australia also said relations were strengthened.

Mr. Pottinger said key policy priorities in the Indo-Pacific were borrowed from Japan, including the idea of building a four-nation format promoted by then-Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The U.S.-Japanese relationship remains a key element of the security strategy in the Pacific, but the United States is providing the majority of the island’s defense.

“We want to see Japan step up and spend more and more on their defense in order to forestall the sort of catastrophe that the [People’s Liberation Army] air force manual describes,” Mr. Pottinger said.

Mr. Pottinger’s former boss at the White House, Robert O’Brien, also defended the decades-old policy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan. Asked directly whether the United States would defend Taiwan from a Chinese military attack, Mr. O’Brien, who was national security adviser to Mr. Trump, said China would be making a grave miscalculation if it tried to use military force to reunite Taiwan with the mainland.

“We’ve been ambiguous for a reason and how we would respond to a Chinese invasion of Taiwan,” Mr. O’Brien said. “But as the PLA navy has gotten bigger and improved, don’t underestimate the United States, don’t miscalculate. We still have some pretty impressive tools in our tool kit when it comes to defending ourselves on the high seas, below the high seas, [and] in the air.”

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration worked hard to press Tokyo to develop its defenses and worked with Taiwan’s government to better defend against growing Chinese threats.

“We made some progress [with Taiwan],” Mr. Pompeo said. “We didn’t get all the way home for sure. There’s an awful lot of space left there.”

During the Trump administration, the State Department approved tens of billions of dollars worth of new weapons systems, including F-16 jets.

On the Quad, Mr. Pompeo said Chinese President Xi Jinping “gave us enormous energy” in establishing a strong U.S. alliance with Japan, India and Australia.

“When ultimately the Chinese and the Indians have conflict in the Himalayas, the tone from the Indians just radically changed,” said Mr. Pompeo, appearing at the same conference.

Other nations are expected to join the U.S.-led Asia-Pacific grouping, he said.

A clear conscience helped Cardinal George Pell endure solitary confinement before exoneration

A clear conscience helped Cardinal Pell endure solitary confinement before exoneration

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Australian Cardinal George Pell is interviewed by The Associated Press in his home at the Vatican, Thursday, May 20, 2021. Pell, who was convicted and then acquitted of sex abuse charges in his native Australia, is spending his newfound freedom … more >

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By Mark A. Kellner

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Cardinal George Pell has weathered travails that would try the faith of Job.

Wrongly convicted of sexually abusing two teenage boys in the 1990s, the former chief financial officer of the Vatican was sentenced to prison in Australia, where he was held in solitary confinement for 404 days before being exonerated in April 2020.

And like Job, Cardinal Pell — who turns 80 on Tuesday — has kept the faith.

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“I’m a Christian. I believe in God. I actually believe [God is] the Creator. God is also a judge. And I always regarded that as the most important test. I had to take on these issues; My conscience was clear,” the cardinal told The Washington Times in a video-conference interview. “And I never lost the support of my family and my friends. So these things were a greater support to me, even though there was no underestimating the humiliation and the fall from grace that accompany somebody who’s put into solitary confinement in a prison.”

Throughout his ministry, Cardinal Pell has been known for his adherence to church doctrine, and his trials have not vitiated his views. He said pro-abortion politicians who are members of the Roman Catholic Church shouldn’t go forward to receive Holy Communion at Mass.

“I would say to these people, ‘If you’re regularly supporting pro-abortion legislation and you don’t see anything wrong with that, I really don’t think you should present yourself for Communion,” he told The Times.

His comments place him squarely on the conservative side of a thorny issue that has divided American bishops. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reportedly will consider measures to deny the Eucharist to pro-choice politicians during its June 16 annual meeting, even though the Vatican has warned against such action.

A restriction on Communion for pro-abortion politicians would affect mostly Democrats such as President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, among others. There are 158 Catholics in Congress, most of them Democrats who favor abortion rights, and six Catholic Supreme Court justices, most of them anti-abortion Republicans, according to The Associated Press.

Some church leaders, such as Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of Washington, are calling for opening a dialogue with pro-choice politicians of the faith, while others call for a harder line.

“The basic teachings are very clear,” Cardinal Pell said. “Communion is not like offering people a cookie and a cup of coffee, right? It is faith, that when a person goes to receive Communion, it’s … that they believe they’re receiving the body and blood of Christ, not just something metaphorical. And they also believe that in a rudimentary sense, they’re worthy [to partake of the sacrament].”

He said, “The Church never asks people when they’re presenting [themselves] for Communion what the state of their soul is, whether they have just repentant, been to conversion, whether they’re worthy, [but] you presume that the question is different when somebody has taken a public stance.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the group “would respectfully decline comment” on Cardinal Pell’s statement.

During his confinement, Cardinal Pell had none of the trappings of his former life in the Vatican. Instead, he was in an 8-foot-by-11½-foot cell for 23 hours each day, allowed only one hour of exercise.

“I was quite confident that I was going to be released eventually, even if it was after three or four years,” he said. “But I didn’t know when, and I never turned my mind much to what I might do when I was freed, because that would depend on the which terms I was freed, whether I was freed as a man who was innocent or guilty.”

He acknowledged that he “played something like the role of scapegoat” with the 2019 conviction seen as a way of making sure “somebody takes a knock for the church” over a series of sexual abuse scandals. He said Australia’s highly secular culture also might have contributed to public attitudes.

“We Catholics, similar to the United States, are a minority, about a quarter were less than a quarter of the population at the moment,” Cardinal Pell said of the church in his native land. “As in the United States, there is a traditional anti-Catholicism [and some] want to poison public opinion against the church, particularly, was the pedophilia scandal, which was run, then rerun. And there was a royal commission in Australia for four or five years, which, in most cases, resurrected cases which had been dealt with before, [but] not always.”

His memories were some of the things he relied on in prison. Cut off from other inmates, with no opportunity to minister to those in need, he had to develop a new daily routine.

“I think I certainly maintain my sanity and my equanimity. I had a daily routine,” Cardinal Pell recalled. “I got up, dressed, [and] ate breakfast. I watched a morning sunrise [television] program and enjoy it. Got my prayers said the official prayers of the church did my meditation. I had two periods of exercise a day and the main meal around 11 or 11:15.”

He said his evening meal would arrive “at 3:30 in the afternoon, so the staff could knock off work and go home.”

Evenings centered on watching the evening news and some television — “I had was very little television during my life, I watched more television than the rest of my life put together,” he explained — and then “I would write [in] my diary every night.”

Those diaries formed the basis for his first two “Prison Journal” books, released in the U.S. by Ignatius Press, with the third and final volume due in October.

Cardinal Pell said encouraging messages from Pope Francis, as well as Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, and the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, helped sustain him. He also received, and answered, 4,000 letters from others around the world. Most writers, but not all, were Catholics and offered support.

The cardinal said he gained “one very basic lesson” from his case.

“I’m happy to say as you know, the Christian package works,” he said. “I believe in God, I believe in Jesus as the Son of God, in the usefulness and beauty of His teaching. The teaching about redemptive sacrifice that when things go very badly, wrong, tragedies and a family sickness, injustice like this, that we can offer up our suffering, join it with Christ, and somehow believe in the great scheme of things good can come from [it]. That’s a great consolation.”

U.K. starts the process of joining TPP to open up Asian market in post-Brexit era

U.K. starts the process of joining TPP to open up Asian market in post-Brexit era

U.S. pulled out of TPP in 2017, so 11 nations forged new pact

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The U.K. started the process of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership Wednesday as it looks to tap into a fast-growing Asian market and strike new trade deals in the post-Brexit era.

The 11-nation trading bloc covers a market of about 500 million people. 

The U.K. may not be able to join until next year, but it began the accession process to look for ways to eliminate tariffs on goods such as food, beverages and automobiles.

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Joining the bloc “will help shift our economic center of gravity away from Europe towards faster-growing parts of the world, and deepen our access to massive consumer markets in the Asia-Pacific,” U.K. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said. “We would get all the benefits of joining a high-standards free trade area, but without having to cede control of our borders, money or laws.”

The U.S. was poised to join the TPP, but former President Trump pulled out of the partnership on his first day in office in 2017, saying it disadvantaged American workers and he wanted to strike bilateral trade deals.

The remaining countries reorganized as the “Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Its current members are Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

All of those countries border the Pacific Ocean or the South China Sea, so allowing the U.K. into the club would signal a global expansion.

“Article 30.4 of the agreement makes clear that the CPTPP is open to accession by any state ‘as the parties may agree.’ It is not necessary for a state to be in the Pacific region to participate,” according to the Institute for Government, a British think tank.

Plague of ravenous, destructive mice tormenting Australians

Plague of ravenous, destructive mice tormenting Australians

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Mice scurry around stored grain on a farm near Tottenham, Australia, on May 19, 2021. Vast tracts of land in Australia’s New South Wales state are being threatened by a mouse plague that the state government describes as "absolutely unprecedented." … more >

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By Rob McGuirk

Associated Press

Thursday, May 27, 2021

BOGAN GATE, Australia (AP) — At night, the floors of sheds vanish beneath carpets of scampering mice. Ceilings come alive with the sounds of scratching. One family blamed mice chewing electrical wires for their house burning down.

Vast tracts of land in Australia‘s New South Wales state are being threatened by a mouse plague that the state government describes as “absolutely unprecedented.” Just how many millions of rodents have infested the agricultural plains across the state is guesswork.

“We’re at a critical point now where if we don’t significantly reduce the number of mice that are in plague proportions by spring, we are facing an absolute economic and social crisis in rural and regional New South Wales,” Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said this month.

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Bruce Barnes said he is taking a gamble by planting crops on his family farm near the central New South Wales town of Bogan Gate.

“We just sow and hope,” he said.

The risk is that the mice will maintain their numbers through the Southern Hemisphere winter and devour the wheat, barley and canola before it can be harvested.

NSW Farmers, the state’s top agricultural association, predicts the plague will wipe more than 1 billion Australian dollars ($775 million) from the value of the winter crop.

The state government has ordered 5,000 liters (1,320 gallons) of the banned poison Bromadiolone from India. The federal government regulator has yet to approve emergency applications to use the poison on the perimeters of crops. Critics fear the poison will kill not only mice but also animals that feed on them. including wedge-tail eagles and family pets.

“We’re having to go down this path because we need something that is super strength, the equivalent of napalm to just blast these mice into oblivion,” Marshall said.

The plague is a cruel blow to farmers in Australia’s most populous state who have been battered by fires, floods and pandemic disruptions in recent years, only to face the new scourge of the introduced house mouse, or Mus musculus.

The same government-commissioned advisers who have helped farmers cope with the drought, fire and floods are returning to help people deal with the stresses of mice.

The worst comes after dark, when millions of mice that had been hiding and dormant during the day become active.

By day, the crisis is less apparent. Patches of road are dotted with squashed mice from the previous night, but birds soon take the carcasses away. Haystacks are disintegrating due to ravenous rodents that have burrowed deep inside. Upending a sheet of scrap metal lying in a paddock will send a dozen mice scurrying. The sidewalks are strewn with dead mice that have eaten poisonous bait.

But a constant, both day and night, is the stench of mice urine and decaying flesh. The smell is people’s greatest gripe.

“You deal with it all day. You’re out baiting, trying your best to manage the situation, then come home and just the stench of dead mice,” said Jason Conn, a fifth-generation farmer near Wellington in central New South Wales.

“They’re in the roof cavity of your house. If your house is not well sealed, they’re in bed with you. People are getting bitten in bed,” Conn said. “It doesn’t relent, that’s for sure.”

Colin Tink estimated he drowned 7,500 mice in a single night last week in a trap he set with a cattle feeding bowl full of water at his farm outside Dubbo.

“I thought I might get a couple of hundred. I didn’t think I’d get 7,500,” Tink said.

Barnes said mouse carcasses and excrement in roofs were polluting farmers’ water tanks.

“People are getting sick from the water,” he said.

The mice are already in Barnes’ hay bales. He’s battling them with zinc phosphide baits, the only legal chemical control for mice used in broad-scale agriculture in Australia. He’s hoping that winter frosts will help contain the numbers.

Farmers like Barnes endured four lean years of drought before 2020 brought a good season as well as the worst flooding that some parts of New South Wales have seen in at least 50 years. But the pandemic brought a labor drought. Fruit was left to rot on trees because foreign backpackers who provide the seasonal workforce were absent.

Plagues seemingly appear from nowhere and often vanish just as fast.

Disease and a shortage of food are thought to trigger a dramatic population crash as mice feed on themselves, devouring the sick, weak and their own offspring.

Government researcher Steve Henry, whose agency is developing strategies to reduce the impact of mice on agriculture, said it is too early to predict what damage will occur by spring.

He travels across the state holding community meetings, sometimes twice a day, to discuss the mice problem.

“People are fatigued from dealing with the mice,” Henry said.

EU: Time to open up to COVID-19 vaccinated tourists

EU: Time to open up to COVID-19 vaccinated tourists

Oktoberfest canceled again, despite move to open up

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In this March 30, 2021, file photo, German federal police officers check passengers arriving from Palma de Mallorca for a negative coronavirus test as they arrive at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. The European Commission proposed Thursday, April 29, 2021, … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 3, 2021

The European Commission proposed Monday to open member countries to vaccinated tourists from the U.S. and other places by early summer while including an “emergency brake” in case the COVID-19 picture suddenly worsens from aggressive variants.

Many European nations rely on tourists from the U.S. and other places to support their economies, and the 27-nation coalition had been working on ways to improve movement within the bloc. Monday’s announcement was a way to demonstrate the EU’s splendor will be open to countries elsewhere as vaccines reach arms.

“This reflects the latest scientific advice showing that vaccination considerably helps to break the transmission chain,” the commission said.

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A person would be considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the last recommended dose of a vaccine that’s received market-authorization in the EU. Children of vaccinated persons would be admitted with a negative test.

The plan, which will be debated this week, also envisions making it easier for unvaccinated persons to visit by raising the threshold for what’s considered unacceptable transmission in their home countries. For instance, Chinese tourists might not be immunized with an EU-approved vaccine, but they could still enter if their country keeps a lid on transmission.

Individual EU members can still require a negative test from travelers, though Monday’s proposals were designed to reinstitute nonessential trips instead of banning tourists and other travelers outright.

“Time to revive Flag of European Union tourism industry & for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors & those from countries with a good health situation.”

Like other places, the EU issued lockdowns, canceled big events and limited travel throughout the yearlong pandemic.

Even as the commission looked at ways to open up on Monday, the state of Bavaria said it had to cancel Oktobertfest, known locally as “Wiesn,” for a second year instead of welcoming revelers from Sept. 18 to Oct. 3 as planned.

“The risk is simply too great that people could be infected with the coronavirus here,” Munich’s Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter said. “I know how hard this is not only for the visitors, but also how much it affects all those who work at the Wiesn and now have to do without income once again — from the waiters and waitresses to the stall operators, showmen and innkeepers. But the Wiesn can only exist completely or not at all.”

The festival involves crowds of beer drinkers gathered around tables in a party atmosphere. Yet more broadly, the EU signaled Monday it wants to get tourists back onto its street and picturesque beaches.

Parts of Southern Europe are particularly dependent on travelers to keep their struggling economies afloat.

Europe is working on a vaccine passport, or Digital Green Certificate, to facilitate the proposal.

“Until the Digital Green Certificate is operational, Member States should be able to accept certificates from non-EU countries based on national law, taking into account the ability to verify the authenticity, validity and integrity of the certificate and whether it contains all relevant data,” the commission said.

The commission said it is worried about dangerous mutation in the virus, so they proposed a fallback plan to tighten things again as necessary.

“The emergence of coronavirus variants of concern calls for continued vigilance,” it said. “Therefore as counter-balance, the commission proposes a new ‘emergency brake’ mechanism, to be coordinated at EU level and which would limit the risk of such variants entering the EU.”

The threat of variants from elsewhere is the main threat to countries seeing progress due to vaccination. That’s why the U.S. and other places banned travel from India as it sees an unprecedented surge that may be fueled by variants.

Australia recently took things to an extreme, saying as of Monday even its citizens could not enter from India. The decision outraged Indian-Australians and others who said it was without precedent.

Biden pledges to aid India amid COVID-19 surge, share 60 million vaccine doses worldwide

Biden pledges to aid India amid COVID surge, share 60 million vaccine doses worldwide

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In this March 11, 2021, file photo President Joe Biden holds up a card with his daily schedule and the daily deaths from COVID-19 as he speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during a prime-time address from the East Room of … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Updated: 4:36 p.m. on
Monday, April 26, 2021

President Biden on Monday pledged to share up to 60 million unused doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine globally and called Prime Minister Narendra Modi to offer “steadfast support” as India battles a coronavirus surge that is spiraling into a major catastrophe.

Mr. Biden used the Modi call to detail material support the U.S. is sending, including much-needed oxygen supplies, therapeutic drugs and raw materials that will support vaccine production at the Serum Institute of India.

“Prime Minister Modi expressed appreciation for the strong cooperation between both countries. The two leaders resolved that the United States and India will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the effort to protect our citizens and the health of our communities,” the White House said in a description of the call.

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Senior administration officials characterized the aid package as a way to repay India after it offered assistance during America’s struggles with the virus last year.

India has a relatively young population and avoided the worst of the COVID-19 crisis earlier in the pandemic. Now, rampant transmission is setting global records for cases — 350,000 per day — and forcing cremation centers to run around the clock. Shortfalls in oxygen supplies and accidental leaks caused some patients to suffocate, adding to families’ desperation.

Experts say the picture on the ground is worse than what’s been reported.

“Many more cases and deaths aren’t being tracked or reported. The health system has collapsed in many parts of India, without access to oxygen, critical medicines, or hospital beds,” said Krishna Udayakumar, the founding director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

“After the first wave, instead of using time for preparation, there was complacency or a sense of victory, with policy decisions like allowing large events including election rallies that became super-spreader events,” he said. “The central government has failed in its mandate to protect public safety and health. The rise of variants may also be playing a role in the rapid rise of cases, though we don’t know for sure, as well as the potential of waning natural immunity from prior infections.”

The India package amounts to the Biden administration’s biggest foray to date into COVID-19 diplomacy as health experts and advocates pressure the U.S. to use its relative wealth and influence to lift other nations.

The White House loaned 4 million unused doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada and Mexico but plans to share up to 60 million more with other countries, as doses become available.

The U.S. enjoys a surfeit of other vaccines compared to other countries, and the AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet approved for use in the U.S.

“We do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against COVID over the next few months,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

She said the Food and Drug Administration will have to review doses for safety before they are exported. Senior administration officials estimated that 10 million doses could be available in the coming weeks and 50 million additional doses would come through the pipeline by the end of June.

The drugmaker said it cannot comment on the specifics of the arrangement “but as a reminder, the doses are part of AstraZeneca’s supply commitments to the U.S. government. Decisions to send U.S. supply to other countries are made by the U.S. government.”

Dr. Udayakumar called the AstraZeneca announcement “a welcome development.”

“The U.S. has been late in its global engagement, and still without a well-articulated comprehensive strategy, but I’m pleased that we are starting to see more action and commitment,” he said.

Foreign press accounts pointedly accused the Biden administration of being slow on the draw as India’s crisis worsened, only to be “jolted” into action over the weekend.

“At the time of writing, Washington was still getting its act together in terms of supplies and logistics,” the Times of India said in a Monday piece.

Communist China also had a field day, with the Global Times saying images of the Indian crisis alarmed Chinese citizens but “more shocking news to them is the U.S.’s indifference and selfishness when asked to help Indian people who are suffering.”

The aid package comes as Mr. Biden tries to foster relations with an Indo-Pacific “Quad,” which also includes Japan and Australia, to check China’s ambitions in the region.

Mr. Biden hosted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House this month and offered support for his efforts to host the Summer Games in Tokyo. Australia, meanwhile, has been praised for handling COVID-19 on its own through strict travel measures and quick isolation of known infections.

Senior administration officials specifically mentioned Quad partners during a press call on the global effort to help India.

The European Union is also offering oxygen supplies and Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Russia pledged assistance.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin joined the chorus of U.S. officials expressing alarm at the situation over the weekend.

“I directed the [Defense Department]to use every resource at our disposal, within our authority, to support U.S. interagency efforts to provide India’s frontline healthcare workers with the materials they need,” he tweeted late Sunday.

The private sector is also offering help.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said he was “devastated to see the worsening Covid crisis in India” in a tweet that pledged $18 million in aid from the company.

COVID-19 crisis in India: Joe Biden pledges ‘steadfast support’ in call with PM Narendra Modi

COVID-19 crisis in India: Biden pledges ‘steadfast support’ in call with PM Modi

U.S., Europe scrambling to help with oxygen supplies, vaccine material

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People queue up for COVID-19 vaccine in Mumbai, India, Monday, April 26, 2021. New infections are rising faster in India than any other place in the world, stunning authorities and capsizing its fragile health system. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, April 26, 2021

President Biden on Monday pledged “America’s steadfast support for the people of India” in a call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his country battles a coronavirus surge that is spiraling into a major health catastrophe.

Mr. Biden detailed material support the U.S. is sending to India, including oxygen supplies, raw materials for vaccines and therapeutics.  

“Prime Minister Modi expressed appreciation for the strong cooperation between both countries. The two leaders resolved that the United States and India will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the effort to protect our citizens and the health of our communities,” the White House said in a description of the call.

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India has a relatively young population and avoided the worst of the COVID-19 crisis earlier in the pandemic. Now, variant-fueled transmission is setting global records for cases — 350,000 per day — and forcing cremation centers to run around the clock. Shortfalls in oxygen supplies and accidental leaks caused some patients to suffocate, adding to families’ desperation.

The U.S. aid is part of a global scramble to help India. The European Union is offering oxygen supplies and Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Russia are offering assistance.

The India package, which includes raw materials for vaccine production, amounts to the Biden administration’s biggest foray to date into virus aid and diplomacy. 

Mr. Biden loaned 4 million unused doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada and Mexico but plans to share up to 60 million more, as they become available, amid calls to assist the global community. 

The U.S. enjoys a surfeit of other vaccines compared to other countries, and the AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet approved for use in the U.S.

“We do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against COVID over the next few months,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

She said the Food and Drug Administration will have to review doses for safety before they are exported.

Foreign press accounts said the U.S. administration was slow on the draw as India’s crisis worsened, only to be “jolted” into action over the weekend.

“At the time of writing, Washington was still getting its act together in terms of supplies and logistics,” the Times of India said in a Monday piece.

Communist China also had a field day, with the Global Times saying images of the Indian crisis alarmed Chinese citizens but “more shocking news to them is the U.S.’s indifference and selfishness when asked to help Indian people who are suffering.”

The aid package comes as Mr. Biden tries to foster relations with an Indo-Pacific “Quad,” which also includes Japan and Australia, to check China’s ambitions in the region.

Mr. Biden hosted Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House this month and expressed support for his efforts to host the Summer Games in Tokyo. Australia, meanwhile, has been praised for handling COVID-19 on its own through strict travel measures and quick isolation of known infections.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin joined the chorus of U.S. officials expressing alarm at the situation in India.

“I directed the [Defense Department] to use every resource at our disposal, within our authority, to support U.S. interagency efforts to provide India’s frontline healthcare workers with the materials they need,” he tweeted late Sunday.

The private sector is also offering help.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said he was “devastated to see the worsening Covid crisis in India” in a tweet that pledged $18 million in aid from the company.