New DHS terror alert blames Russia, China, Iran for COVID-19 conspiracies, stoking anti-Asian fears

New DHS terror alert blames Russia, China, Iran for COVID conspiracies, stoking anti-Asian fears

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the Russian Geographical Society via video link in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Friday, May 14, 2021

Homeland Security issued a new terrorism alert Friday saying online forums are increasingly being exploited by America’s adversaries, and specifically connected Russia, China and Iran to fomenting violence against Asians amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) bulletin listed a host of threats taking to online, from White supremacists to jihadists like al Qaeda.

The NTAS also said countries with interests opposed to the U.S. are using the online environment for their purposes.

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“Nation-state adversaries have increased efforts to sow discord,” the bulletin warned. “For example, Russian, Chinese and Iranian government-linked media outlets have repeatedly amplified conspiracy theories concerning the origins of COVID-19 and effectiveness of vaccines; in some cases, amplifying calls for violence targeting persons of Asian descent.”

Reports of anti-Asian crimes have risen along with the coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in China.

Homeland Security’s new warning comes amid a series of high-profile cybersecurity breaches and ransomware attacks, but its focus is on the nature of social media communications as an amplifier of fringe activities, or a recruiting tool.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the terrorism landscape is increasingly complex, with the rise of domestic extremists adding to threats from abroad.

“With the issuance of today’s NTAS Bulletin, we are advising the public to be vigilant about ongoing threats to the United States, including those posed by domestic terrorism, grievance-based violence, and those inspired or influenced by foreign terrorists and other malign foreign influences,” he said.

The NTAS warnings were accompanied by mundane recommendations such as reporting suspicious activity or getting help for people suffering from mental health issues.

The bulletin also suggested Americans improve their “digital literacy” to spot “false and harmful narratives.”

Scientists: We need a better probe into the coronavirus’ origins

Scientists: We need a better probe into the coronavirus’ origins

Cites WHO chief, who said joint study with China on Wuhan-lab theory fell short

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Residents visit the Yangtze River in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province Monday, March 29, 2021. (Chinatopix Via AP) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Friday, May 14, 2021

The world of science has learned plenty about how the coronavirus behaves and spreads, but “more investigation is still needed to determine the origin of the pandemic,” a group of 18 scientists from top universities and medical centers said Friday.

Their letter in the journal “Science” says it is important to understand whether the pathogen first detected in Wuhan, China, escaped from a lab or slipped into humans from the animal world, given the scale of destruction and implications for future outbreaks.

“Theories of accidental release from a lab and zoonotic spillover both remain viable. Knowing how COVID-19 emerged is critical for informing global strategies to mitigate the risk of future outbreaks,” they wrote.

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The origins of the coronavirus that wreaked havoc across the globe remain an enduring mystery as countries try to vaccinate their way out of the mess.

Scientists initially pointed to wild-animal markets in Wuhan, saying the pathogen may have leaped from bats to human through an intermediary animal. But theories that it escaped from a sophisticated lab in the central Chinese city gained traction. 

Officials from the Trump administration, in particular, pointed to the lab theory as viable after the communist government in Beijing downplayed and covered up the extent of the crisis in the early days of the outbreak.

Scientists who penned the Science letter said a joint study between China and the World Health Organization was lacking.

“Although there were no findings in clear support of either a natural spillover or a lab accident, the team assessed a zoonotic spillover from an intermediate host as ‘likely to very likely,’ and a laboratory incident as ‘extremely unlikely,’” they wrote. “Furthermore, the two theories were not given balanced consideration.”

The scientists said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus highlighted the disparity and offered to provide new resources to evaluate the lab possibility.

“As scientists with relevant expertise, we agree with the WHO director-general, the United States and 13 other countries and the European Union that greater clarity about the origins of this pandemic is necessary and feasible to achieve,” they wrote. “We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data.”

The scientists, who come from distinguished institutions like Harvard, Yale and Stanford, stressed that at a time of unfortunate anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, “it was Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus — often at great personal cost.”

“We should show the same determination in promoting a dispassionate science-based discourse on this difficult but important issue,” they wrote.

DarkSide seeks Robin Hood-like image with ransomware attacks

DarkSide seeks Robin Hood-like image with ransomware attacks

Emsisoft estimates cyberattacks cost between $5 billion and $20 billion

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An employee of Global Cyber Security Company Group-IB develops a computer code in an office in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin) ** FILE ** more >

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By Ryan Lovelace

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The first time many Americans heard of DarkSide — a media-savvy outfit of cyber villains who are attempting to cultivate a Robin Hood-like heroic outlaw image — was when it hacked Colonial Pipeline, which led to the disrupted gasoline supply on the East Coast.

It is unlikely to be Americans’ last encounter with this gang that President Biden said is based in Russia but is not doing dirty work for the Kremlin.

DarkSide is among scores of cybercriminal organizations that span the globe and have goofy names that belie their nefarious and dangerous trade. These denizens of the dark web include state-backed threats such as Cozy Bear in Russia and Hafnium in China, as well as others like Babuk that allegedly hit the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.

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Part of what makes DarkSide stand out is its effort to craft a public image as a vigilante that robs the powerful to benefit the powerless.

“No matter how bad you think our work is, we are pleased to know that we helped change someone’s life,” the group wrote on the dark web as observed by the antivirus software company Emsisoft.

DarkSide published a list of entities it says its operators will not attack, including places such as schools and hospitals, and it has previously announced donations in bitcoin to charities, namely Children International and the Water Project, according to Emsisoft.

Such actions do not make its crimes any less painful for victims, but DarkSide’s tactics include a public relations component designed to recast its cartoonish name as a force for good.

DarkSide uses a ransomware-as-a-service model to extort money from victims. Its malicious software infects a system and then holds data hostage. The group then receives a cut of the ransom payment made by the victims to regain access to their data.

DarkSide raked in upwards of $30 million since it started operating last year, according to a Forbes estimate. The group’s partners get 25% of ransoms under $500,000 and collect 10% of ransoms exceeding $5 million, according to FireEye, the cybersecurity company that has assisted Colonial Pipeline per reports.

On Thursday, there were unconfirmed reports that Colonial Pipeline paid a ransom totaling $5 million. Both a business advisory firm for the company and Mr. Biden declined to comment on the purported payment.

Emsisoft’s Brett Callow said if the pipeline did pay up, that spells bad news for stopping the proliferation of ransomware attacks.

“If organizations didn’t pay, the attacks would stop. It’s as simple as that,” Mr. Callow said in an email. “And ransomware is indeed a massive problem. While high-profile attacks on government and large enterprises get the headlines, it’s small businesses that suffer most. There were more than 23,000 ransomware incidents in the U.S. last year, 7,000 of which involved home users and 16,000 private-sector companies and public organizations.”

Emsisoft estimates those cyber incidents cost between $5 billion and $20 billion when factoring in the cost of business interruptions.

DarkSide is far from the only ransomware family upending Americans’ daily lives.

The Babuk cyberattack on the D.C. police escalated on Thursday with the cyberattackers claiming to post 250 gigabytes of internal files they stole from the police department including data on criminal gangs and human resource files.

“This is kind of part of the formalization of cybercrime,” said Hank Schless, senior manager at information technology security company Lookout. “It’s no longer just a guy sitting in his basement saying, ‘I’m going to hack the D.C. police.’ It’s groups carrying out specific attacks with … repeatable blueprints.”

Mr. Schless said he thought there might prove to be an overlap between the cyberattackers using DarkSide and the ones using Babuk.

Major threats that could cripple a nation in the short term and give long-term advantages to America’s competitors reside outside the U.S. borders, particularly in Russia and China.

The U.S. government identified Cozy Bear, also known as the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service and Advanced Persistent Threat 29, as responsible for the hack of SolarWinds computer network management software. Mr. Biden imposed sanctions on Russia in response to the hack, which compromised nine federal agencies, but the full extent of the damage is yet to be determined.

Cozy Bear’s hack gave it the ability to “spy on or potentially disrupt more than 16,000 computer systems worldwide,” according to a White House fact sheet.

FireEye has assessed the Russian hackers to be one of the “most capable and evolved” threat groups. Its methods have included using cloud storage services and social media sites, including Twitter, to relay commands and extract data, per FireEye.

Russia is not alone in large-scale cyber espionage fixated on the U.S. Hafnium is an emergent threat identified by Microsoft as state-sponsored cyberattackers based in China that successfully hacked Microsoft Exchange servers.

The hack, disclosed in March, gave the hackers access to email accounts and the ability to install malware to ensure long-term access to their targets’ digital environments, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft said Hafnium sought to exfiltrate information from infectious disease researchers, law firms, higher educational institutions, defense contractors, think tanks and non-governmental organizations through the hack, which relied on leased virtual private servers inside the U.S.

Some villains breaching America’s defenses are operating at the direction of foreign adversaries. Others are given safe harbor by foreign foes.

To maintain their criminal enterprise, cyberattackers may choose to make compromises to survive. For example, DarkSide does not encrypt data in its attacks if it detects systems using certain languages, such as Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian, among several others, according to Mr. Callow.

Deterring nation-states is difficult and the attribution needed to effectively shame cyberattackers is often messy. The federal government is intent on fighting back, however, and Mr. Biden issued a cybersecurity executive order Wednesday seeking to bolster defenses of U.S. digital networks and cloud storage.

The Justice Department recently created a ransomware task force to review the issue with input from its criminal division, national security division and U.S. Attorney offices.

In January, the Justice Department disrupted NetWalker ransomware, which the department said found victims in hospitals, schools and companies. NetWalker also operates on a ransomware-as-a-service model with developers and affiliates.

Delivering a blow to cybercrime, the Justice Department recently indicted Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins, a Canadian national who allegedly netted more than $27.6 million through NetWalker ransomware schemes.

The department also announced seizing more than $450,000 in cryptocurrency from ransomware payments as part of its actions against NetWalker.

Future moves against cyberattackers likely will require international cooperation. The Justice Department, for example, partnered with Bulgaria in the NetWalker investigation.

Mr. Biden on Thursday said his administration is working on international standards to get countries to crack down on cybercriminals within their borders.

• Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

Antony Blinken asserts China commiting genocide of Uyghurs, other minorities

‘Crimes against humanity’: State Department highlights China genocide

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The State Department says China is abusing an estimated 200 million religious believers, many held at internment facilities in its Xinjiang region. (Associated Press) more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The State Department on Wednesday declared that the Chinese government continues to engage in genocide and crimes against humanity through the repression of predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities in western China.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the assertion while introducing the department’s annual assessment of global religious freedom.

China broadly criminalizes religious expression and continues to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minority groups,” he said.

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The annual report outlined widespread abuses by the Chinese government against the estimated 200 million religious believers, including Christians, Muslims and Buddhists.

Despite Mr. Blinken’s statement, the annual report said the department is reviewing the genocide designation announced earlier this year by his predecessor, Mike Pompeo. That indicates the Biden administration is still weighing whether to back away from the label, which has drawn intense criticism from the Chinese government. Beijing denies its actions amount to genocide.

The State Department has said crimes carried out in China’s western Xinjiang province include mass imprisonment, forced sterilizations, torture, forced labor and draconian restrictions on religious freedom and freedom of movement.

The U.S. government estimates that Chinese authorities since April 2017 have detained more than 1 million Uyghurs, along with ethnic Kazakhs, Hui and members of other Muslim groups, and some Christians, in internment camps and converted detention facilities.

The repression has been carried out by Chinese authorities under the guise of a national counterterrorism law and a regional counterextremism policy, according to Wednesday’s report.

Mr. Blinken also announced that the State Department is sanctioning a Chinese Communist Party official in the Chengdu area of Sichuan Province for committing “gross violations of human rights” against the anti-communist Buddhist religious group Falun Gong.

Daniel Nadel, the State Department official in charge of religious freedom, said during a briefing for reporters that China’s genocide continues.

Mr. Nadel said evidence of abuses includes testimony from survivors of repression as well as Chinese government documents. “At the end of the day, it is absolutely clear what horrors are taking place in Xinjiang,” he said. “We will continue to speak out.”

Mr. Nadel said the Chinese government has shifted from its previous position of “outright denial” about the genocide to attempting to justify the activities as an internal security issue. “Of course, the world isn’t buying it,” he said.

Chinese propaganda has gone into overdrive in recent months with stories in state media attempting to show Uyghurs as happy and content.

Asked whether the U.S. will boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics over the genocide issue next year, Mr. Nadel said the department is reviewing options and messaging related to the games and is consulting Congress and allies.

Mr. Pompeo, meanwhile, argued while serving as secretary of state under President Trump that Beijing’s atrocities in Xinjiang are “an extreme affront to the Uyghurs, the people of China and civilized people everywhere.”

“If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world in the not-so-distant future,” Mr. Pompeo said.

In Hong Kong, where China imposed a draconian national security law last year, religious freedom is threatened but so far has not been undermined by mainland authorities, according to Wednesday’s report.

The report warned that the future of religious freedom in the former British colony is endangered by Xia Baolong, the new Beijing-appointed chief of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office who led a 2014 campaign of repression against churches in China’s Zhejiang province.

The Chinese Communist Party constitution nominally permits freedom of religion but limits practicing faith to unspecified “normal” activities. Additionally, all party members and People’s Liberation Army troops must be atheists and are prohibited from engaging in religious practices.

Austin queried on Marine writer

Two Republican House members on Wednesday wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asking how a Marine Corps civilian adviser was allowed to pen an article for the Global Times, Beijing’s most ardent anti-U.S. propaganda outlet, arguing that the U.S. military would be defeated in a conflict with China over Taiwan.

The Washington Times reported Saturday that Franz Gayl, a retired Marine major who is now a civilian science adviser, wrote the opinion article without authorization from the Pentagon or Marine Corps.

Mr. Gayl’s article referred to U.S. regional partner Taiwan in terms used by Chinese propaganda, such as “separatist,” and then outlined why he believed the United States would lose in a war with China over Taiwan, the self-governing island that is partially protected against mainland aggression under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.

Spokespeople from the Pentagon and the Marine Corps said Mr. Gayl did not have authorization to write the April 27 Global Times piece, which appeared derived from an article published by the Marine Corps Gazette in January.

“The fact that an administration official would so openly, brazenly and repeatedly promote [Chinese Communist Party] propaganda without repercussion is outrageous,” wrote Rep. Thomas P. Tiffany, Wisconsin Republican, and Rep. Scott Perry, Pennsylvania Republican. “The fact that he remains employed is frankly, mind-boggling.”

The letter asked Mr. Austin whether Pentagon officials are permitted to communicate openly with CCP functionaries and whether Pentagon officials have questioned Mr. Gayl about his article and whether he holds a security clearance.

Mr. Tiffany and Mr. Perry asserted that since the United States has never recognized Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, “Mr. Gayl has effectively advocated for the national interests of a hostile foreign power — one that has been labeled as a perpetrator of genocide by human rights groups and the U.S. Department of State.”

The lawmakers called on Mr. Austin to explain whether any disciplinary action has been taken against Mr. Gayl.

Air Force chief: U.S. could lose next war

Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., chief of staff, warned Congress recently that a rapid modernization program for his service is urgently needed in preparing to fight any future conflict with China or Russia.

“I have personally seen the reemergence of great power competition and how the character of war has changed,” Gen. Brown told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. “The strategic environment has rapidly evolved, and we haven’t changed fast enough to keep pace.”

China, particularly, “has recognized modern warfare as a contest among citizens, not individual units or platforms,” thus making it the most significant threat, he said, adding that competition with China and Russia will be carried out across the many domains, including air, land, sea, space and cyberspace.

To address the challenges, the Air Force needs to upgrade faster than it has in the past, said Gen. Brown, who told lawmakers that new advanced weapons and capabilities are urgently needed and must be rapidly fielded to deter and win future wars — with the Air Force of the future becoming so agile, resilient and connected that it can conduct “near instantaneous” strikes, at any place and any time.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, or ISR, need modernization so air and space forces can “sense, make sense and act,” the general said, adding that past and current ISR platforms have suffered from a lack of modernization.

In a prepared statement, he said China and Russia continue “aggressive efforts to negate our long-standing war fighting advantages while challenging America’s interests and geopolitical position.”

Both have studied America’s war fighting methods during 20 years of the U.S. war on terrorism. “They studied, resourced and introduced systems specifically designed to defeat Air Force capabilities that have strengthened the joint force for a generation,” Gen. Brown said.

“That is why the Air Force must accelerate change now, so we can protect the American way of life in 2030 and for decades to come,” he said. “Simply put, if we do not change, we risk losing. We risk losing in great power competition, we risk losing in a high-end fight, and we risk losing quality airmen and families.”

Coupled with an advanced battle management system, Air Force next-generation capabilities should entail what Gen. Brown described as increased survivability, lethality and persistence of forces, using a mix of manned aircraft, drones and optionally manned aircraft armed with advanced long-range missiles and other strike weapons.

The new advanced battle management system is a key element of the Air Force’s modernization and will create a “military internet of things” to decentralize command and control nodes and allow decision-making and communications even when fractured by an enemy attack.

The new attack strategy also will use artificial intelligence and machine learning. The Air Force also will be the first service to deploy a hypersonic missile capable of striking targets anyplace around the globe within minutes and against heavily defended targets.

• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

State Department details China genocide against Uyghurs

China’s genocide against Muslim Uyghurs detailed in new State Dept. report

Abuses against Christian, Buddhist minorities also documented

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Uyghurs and other students listen to an instructor during a class at the Xinjiang Islamic Institute, as seen during a government organized visit for foreign journalists, in Urumqi in western China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region on April 22, 2021. (AP … more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The State Department is declaring that Chinese government continues to engage in genocide and crimes against humanity through the repression of predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities in western China.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the assertion in introducing the department’s annual assessment of global religious freedom on Wednesday.

China broadly criminalizes religious expression and continues to commit crimes against humanity and genocide against Muslim Uyghurs and other religious and ethnic minority groups,” Mr. Blinken said.

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The annual report outlines widespread abuses by the Chinese government against the estimated 200 million religious believers, including Christian, Muslims and Buddhists.

Despite Wednesday’s assertion by Mr. Blinken, the annual report said the department is reviewing the genocide designation that was announced earlier this year by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The review is an indication that the Biden administration is still weighing whether to back away from the label that has drawn intense criticism from the Chinese government, which denies that its actions amount to genocide.

While the review issue remains unresolved, the State Department has said crimes carried out by the Chinese government in China‘s western Xinjiang province include mass imprisonment, forced sterilizations, torture, forced labor and draconian restrictions on religious freedom and freedom of movement.

Since April 2017, the U.S. government estimates Chinese authorities have detained more than 1 million Uyghurs, along with ethnic Kazakhs, Hui, and members of other Muslim groups, and some Christians, in internment camps and converted detention facilities.

The repression has been carried out by Chinese authorities under the guise of national counterterrorism law and a regional counter-extremism policy, according to Wednesday’s report.

Mr. Blinken also announced Wednesday that the State Department is sanctioning a Chinese Communist Party official in the Chengdu area of Sichuan Province for committing “gross violations of human rights” against the anti-communist  Buddhist religious group Falun Gong.

Daniel Nadel, the State Department official in charge of religious freedom, also said during a briefing for reporters that China‘s genocide continues against Uyghurs, asserting that the human rights situation in Xinjiang “remains dire.”

Mr. Nadel said evidence of abuses includes testimony from survivors of repression, as well as Chinese documents outlining how the government planned to build concentration camps for Uyghurs and how they intend to “manage these populations.”

“At the end of the day it is absolutely clear what horrors are taking place in Xinjiang,” he said. “And we will continue to speak out.”

Chinese authorities initially created a network of camps in Xinjiang that were used to detain and “re-educate” Uyghurs.

“What the [Chinese] government is doing now is it has turned Xinjiang into an open-air camp,” said Mr. Nadel. “They’ve essentially turned the entire region into an open-air prison.”

People under suspicion by the Chinese authorities are tracked electronically or have “minders” assigned to monitor their activities. Uyghurs, specifically, are required to sign in before going to a market.

Mr. Nadel said the Chinese government has shifted from its previous position of “outright denial” about the genocide to attempting to justify the activities as an internal security issue.

“Of course, the world isn’t buying it,” he said, noting Beijing has realized the genocide cannot be denied or papered over.

Chinese propaganda has gone into overdrive in recent months with stories in state media attempting to show Uyghurs as happy and content.

Asked if the United States would boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics over the genocide issue next year, Mr. Nadel said the department is reviewing policy options and messaging related to the games, as well as consulting Congress and allies.

Currently, the U.S. government’s reaction to Xinjiang repression has been to sanction Chinese officials. “When we find the perpetrators we’ll continue to hold them accountable under U.S. law,” said Mr. Nadel.

Mr. Pompeo, meanwhile, argued while serving as secretary of state under former President Trump, that Beijing’s atrocities in Xinjiang are “an extreme affront to the Uyghurs, the people of China, and civilized people everywhere.”

“If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world, in the not-so-distant future,” Mr. Pompeo said at the time.

In Hong Kong, where China last year imposed a draconian national security law, religious freedom is threatened but so far has not been undermined by mainland authorities, according to Wednesday’s report.

The report warned that the future of religious freedom in the former British colony is endangered by the new Beijing-appointed chief of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, Xia Baolong, who led a 2014 campaign of repression against churches in China’s Zhejiang Province.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party constitution nominally permits freedom of religion but limits practicing faith to unspecified “normal” activities. Additionally, all party members and People’s Liberation Army troops must be atheists and are prohibited from engaging in religious practices.

China’s population growth slowest in decades; aging workforce complicates Xi’s economic dream

China’s population growth slowest in decades; aging workforce complicates Xi’s economic dream

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Residents smoke along the popular Wangfujing shopping district in Beijing Tuesday, May 11, 2021. The number of working-age people in China fell over the past decade as its aging population barely grew, a census showed Tuesday, adding to economic challenges … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

China’s population is barely growing, census data released Tuesday show, complicating the Asian power’s ambitions and plans for economic growth.

The national population stood at 1.41 billion, or 72 million more than in 2010.

The annual growth rate of 0.53% is slightly lower than the 2000-2010 rate and the slowest since the late 1960s, according to CNN.

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About 12 million babies were born in China last year, continuing a several-year decline.

“Aging has become a basic national condition of China for a period of time to come,” Ning Jizhe, the head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, said at a press conference.

The slowdown has been blamed on the cost of raising children and family-planning policies that until recently limited couples to one child.

It is also a headache for Communist leader Xi Jinping, whose push for economic prosperity and global will be hindered as young people age out of the workforce and heap pressure on pension and health care programs.

COVID-19 crisis worsens in Nepal; hospitals reject new patients

COVID-19 crisis worsens in Nepal; hospitals reject new patients

China state media: Plans for a barrier on Mount Everest to keep climbers on Nepal side

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In this Nov. 12, 2015, file photo, Mount Everest is seen from the way to Kalapatthar in Nepal. China will draw a “separation line” atop Mount Everest to prevent the coronavirus from being spread by climbers ascending Nepal’s side of … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Monday, May 10, 2021

The COVID-19 crisis in India is overshadowing a mounting disaster in neighboring Nepal, where a similar surge caused multiple hospitals in the capital of Kathmandu to reject new patients.

Om Hospital and Research Center said Sunday it is running out of oxygen.

“Though we are ready to treat the patients, we are unable to take new admissions as the amount of oxygen supplied by the government on a quota-basis won’t be sufficient for new patients,” the hospital said Sunday. “We’ll resume our services as usual once the regular supply of oxygen is ensured.”

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The Asian country of about 28 million on Sunday recorded nearly 9,000 cases in a 24-hour period. It has recorded 3,720 deaths.

Things have gotten so bad that Chinese state media said a team will erect a “line of separation” between their side of Mount Everest and the Nepalese side.

It was unclear what a barrier would look like, though it reflected the extent of the crisis in Nepal and measures China’s communist government will take to thwart the virus.

The Nepal Mountaineering Association asked climbers on Mount Everest to return empty oxygen containers instead of discarding them on the mountain so hospitals can refill them as part of the COVID-19 fight.

China says most rocket debris burned up during reentry

China says most rocket debris burned up during reentry

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In this April 29, 2021, file photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a Long March 5B rocket carrying a module for a Chinese space station lifts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China’s Hainan … more >

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Associated Press

Sunday, May 9, 2021

BEIJING (AP) — China‘s space agency said a core segment of its biggest rocket reentered Earth’s atmosphere above the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and that most of it burned up early Sunday. 

Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who tracked the tumbling rocket part, said on Twitter, “An ocean reentry was always statistically the most likely. It appears China won its gamble. But it was still reckless.”

People in Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia reported sightings of the Chinese rocket debris on social media, with scores of users posting footage of the debris piercing the early dawn skies over the Middle East.

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Usually, discarded rocket stages reenter the atmosphere soon after liftoff, normally over water, and don’t go into orbit. 

China‘s official Xinhua News Agency later clarified that reentry occurred Sunday at 10:24 a.m. Beijing time. “The vast majority of items were burned beyond recognition during the reentry process,” the report said. 

Despite that, NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson issued a statement saying: “It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”

The roughly 30-meter (100-foot) long rocket stage is among the biggest space debris to fall to Earth. China‘s space program, with its close military links, hasn’t said why it put the main component of the rocket into space rather than allowing it to fall back to earth soon after discharging its payload, as is usual in such operations. 

The Long March 5B rocket carried the main module of China‘s first permanent space station — Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony — into orbit on April 29. China plans 10 more launches to carry additional parts of the space station into orbit.

An 18-ton rocket that fell last May was the heaviest debris to fall uncontrolled since the former Soviet space station Salyut 7 in 1991.

China‘s first-ever space station, Tiangong-1, crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 2016 after Beijing confirmed it had lost control. In 2019, the space agency controlled the demolition of its second station, Tiangong-2, in the atmosphere. Both had been briefly occupied by Chinese astronauts as precursors to China‘s permanent station, now under construction. 

In March, debris from a Falcon 9 rocket launched by U.S. aeronautics company SpaceX fell to Earth in Washington and on the Oregon coast.

China was heavily criticized after sending a missile to destroy a defunct weather satellite in January 2007, creating a large field of hazardous debris imperiling satellites and other spacecraft.

___

This story corrects the time the rocket fell on Sunday at 10:24 a.m. Beijing time, not 7:24 p.m. Saturday.

___

Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai contributed to this report.

EU, India try again to clinch trade deal, sidelining China

EU, India try again to clinch trade deal, sidelining China

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a media conference at an EU summit in Porto, Portugal, Saturday, May 8, 2021. On Saturday, EU leaders held an online summit with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, covering trade, climate … more >

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By BARRY HATTON

Associated Press

Saturday, May 8, 2021

PORTO, Portugal (AP) – The European Union and India agreed Saturday to restart negotiations on a bilateral free trade deal, eight years after their first attempt failed and as both sides seek alternatives to China.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke via videoconference to EU leaders attending a summit in Portugal. The two sides announced what they called “a pivotal moment” in their relations by agreeing to resume talks they gave up on in 2013 and to collaborate on a wide range of other issues.

Speaking at a press conference after the closed-door talks, senior EU officials were thrilled by the prospect of closer ties with India.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called it “outstanding” and “a landmark moment.” European Council President Charles Michel said Saturday’s agreement marked “a new, important chapter” in bilateral relations.

Modi was scheduled to be at the online press conference after the meeting but didn’t appear.

Plans for a face-to-face EUIndia summit in Porto, in northern Portugal, fell through after Modi canceled his trip due to the devastating pandemic surge in his country. His remote appearance was the first time an Indian leader participated in a meeting with all of the EU’s leaders.

Von der Leyen said 17 EU countries have provided more than 100 million euros ($122 million) worth of pandemic aid to India, including oxygen generators, medicines and ventilators, and were ready to send more.

While trade talks proceed, parallel negotiations will be held on investment protection and geographic indicators – a key interest for the EU, which places importance on protecting its distinctive products – in order to speed up the process, von der Leyen said.

The two sides said in a six-page joint statement that they also agreed to cooperate more in areas such as supercomputing for pandemic and climate change modelling, artificial intelligence and digital and transport connectivity.

Warm relations with India have an added attraction for the EU, which is eager to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

The EU’s ties with China have soured over Beijing’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority, leading to the suspension of the bloc’s ratification of a bilateral investment agreement.

India, meanwhile, fell out with China in a border dispute last year.

Clinching a free trade deal won’t be an easy task for EU and Indian negotiators. Six years of talks produced no agreement the last time they tried, with issues such as vehicle parts and duties on wine and spirits thwarting an agreement.

Biden admin plans to amnesty researchers compromised by China, warn GOP senators

Biden offering free pass to crook researchers in bed with China, warn GOP senators

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President Joe Biden waves as he boards Air Force One upon departure, Thursday, May 6, 2021, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Biden is en route to Louisiana. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) more >

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By Ryan Lovelace

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 6, 2021

A group of Republican senators is warning that the Biden administration is preparing to amnesty researchers and scientists compromised by China and other foreign governments.

The proposed amnesty program would let academics and scientists who knowingly defrauded U.S. taxpayers disclose their crimes without worrying about prosecution, according to the office of Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican.

Eight Republican senators, including Mr. Portman, wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday that they learned the Justice Department was readying the amnesty program for those compromised by foreign powers in the “next few weeks.”

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“We applaud federal prosecutors for bringing more than a dozen criminal cases against researchers and professors who allegedly stole intellectual property or failed to disclose partnerships with foreign governments, including with the People’s Republic of China (PRC),” the senators wrote. “We are concerned about the effect that this amnesty program will have on those ongoing criminal cases and the signal that it sends to future researchers contemplating breaking U.S. law to steal research or hide affiliations with foreign governments or militaries.”

Last month, the National Institutes of Health told Congress that more than 500 federally funded scientists are under investigation for being compromised by China and other foreign adversaries. On Thursday, the senators said that the Justice Department had not contacted the inspector general community — including at the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation — about its alleged amnesty program.

The Justice Department also did not consult with Congress about the alleged amnesty program, said the eight Republican senators, including Mr. Portman, and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Susan Collins of Maine, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Todd Young of Indiana and Charles E. Grassley of Iowa.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Tom Carper, John Cornyn: U.S. must reengage with Asian trade partners

Sens. Tom Carper, John Cornyn: U.S. must reengage with Asian trade partners

Say withdrawal from TPP was 'misguided and short-sighted,' emboldened China

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In this April 28, 2021, file photo, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai testifies during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool via AP, File) more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Biden administration must reengage in the Asia-Pacific region by striking multilateral trade deals, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said Thursday, arguing U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January 2017 was “misguided” and emboldened China.

Sen. Tom Carper, Delaware Democrat, and Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, made the plea in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

“Our current trade policy in the Asia-Pacific region is in need of a strategic direction that includes robust engagement with our allies in the region, similar to what was envisioned by the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership. We believe that withdrawing from this trade agreement was a missed opportunity to strengthen U.S. leadership in the global economy and reinforce our commitment to a rules-based system for international trade,” they wrote.

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The U.S. signed the TPP in 2016 under President Obama. However, President Trump withdrew from the deal upon taking office, saying it was too complex and he wanted to strike bilateral deals that give leverage to U.S. workers.

From the left, Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and progressive champion, applauded the withdrawal, saying the deal was part of a “race to the bottom” that hurt American workers’ wages.

The remaining nations formed a new pact without the U.S., but a bipartisan group wants President Biden to reengage.

Mr. Carper, Mr. Cornyn and Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Florida Democrat, and Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican, said withdrawing from TPP diminished American influence at a critical time.

“We have consistently expressed the view that withdrawal from the TPP was misguided and short-sighted. Unfortunately, it has only served to weaken the United States, empower China, put American workers and businesses at a competitive disadvantage and cede leadership in arguably the most strategically vital and economically dynamic region of the world,” they told Ms. Tai.

The lawmakers said the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal signed with bipartisan support under Mr. Trump served as a model for new ways to “write the rules of international trade” with multiple allies.

“As you know, the United States and China are competing across virtually every functional and geographic domain,” they told Ms. Tai. “With that said, the Asia-Pacific region is also home to some of America’s closest allies and partners, many of which are some of the fastest-growing markets in the world. There is no doubt that any successful effort to strengthen our domestic economy, and ensure that American companies can compete on a level playing field with their Chinese counterparts, will require the United States to exercise leadership in the Asia-Pacific region and fortify our relationships in the region.”

Pfizer and BioNTech to donate vaccines for Olympic athletes

Pfizer and BioNTech to donate vaccines for Olympic athletes

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FILE – In this Feb. 24, 2020, photo, the Olympics rings are reflected on the window of a hotel restaurant as a server with a mask sets up a table, in the Odaiba section of Tokyo. The vaccine rollout in … more >

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Associated Press

Thursday, May 6, 2021

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) – Vaccine developers Pfizer and BioNTech will donate doses to inoculate athletes and officials preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC said Thursday.

Delivery of doses is set to begin this month to give Olympic delegations time to be fully vaccinated with a second shot before arriving in Tokyo for the games, which open on July 23.

It’s the second major vaccination deal for the International Olympic Committee. An agreement was announced in March between the IOC and Olympic officials in China to buy and distribute Chinese vaccines ahead of the Tokyo Games and next year’s Beijing Winter Games.

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The new Pfizer offer gives the IOC greater coverage worldwide ahead of Tokyo with most countries yet to authorize emergency use of Chinese vaccines.

“We are inviting the athletes and participating delegations of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games to lead by example and accept the vaccine where and when possible,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement.

The Pfizer donation followed talks between the firm’s chairman and CEO, Albert Bourla, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

“Following this conversation, the Japanese government had a meeting with the IOC and now the donation plan has been realized,” Pfizer said in a statement.

The IOC said any vaccination program must be done “in accordance with each country’s vaccination guidelines and consistent with local regulations.”

The IOC-China vaccine deal includes two doses being made available to the general public for each dose received by an Olympic participant in that country.

The Spanish Olympic Committee said Thursday the nearly 600 members of its delegation traveling to Japan will start being vaccinated with Pfizer doses this month. Other countries, including Australia, South Korea and Italy, have also been making arrangements to vaccinate their teams.

___

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

China rejects G-7 criticism on human rights

China rejects G-7 criticism on human rights

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China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin gestures during a daily briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, Friday, July 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein) more >

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Thursday, May 6, 2021

BEIJING (AP) — China’s government on Thursday rejected criticism of its human rights and economic record by foreign ministers of the Group of Seven major economies and accused them of meddling in its affairs.

The Foreign Ministry also rejected an appeal by the G-7 diplomats for Taiwan, the island democracy Beijing claims as part of its territory, to be allowed to participate in the World Health Organization.

The statement Wednesday by G-7 diplomats in London “made groundless accusations” said a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Wang Wenbin. He accused them of “blatantly meddling” in China’s affairs.

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China strongly condemns it,” Wang said at a press briefing.

The officials from the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada said they were “deeply concerned” about Beijing’s treatment of Uyghur and other minorities. But they announced no formal joint action in response to reports of mass detentions, forced labor and forced sterilization.

The Biden administration wants to assemble a coalition to respond to China’s economic and strategic assertiveness. But some European governments are more cautious about dealing with the government of an important export market.

Beijing rejects complaints that it mistreats minorities and says camps in Xinjiang are for job training to promote economic development and combat radicalism among the western region’s predominantly Muslim population.

China also was irked that G-7 governments for the first time unanimously recommended Taiwan be allowed “meaningful participation” in the WHO. Wednesday’s statement cited Taiwan‘s success in controlling the coronavirus.

The communist Beijing government says Taiwan, which split with the mainland in 1949 after a civil war, has no right to conduct foreign relations or participate in global bodies as a sovereign government.

Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, including the activities of the World Health Organization, which is composed of sovereign states, must be handled in accordance with the one-China principle,” Wang said.

G-7 governments should be working on improving access to coronavirus vaccines for developing countries instead of “making accusations and interfering with other countries in a condescending way,” Wang said.

“Attempts to disregard the basic norms of international relations and to create various excuses to interfere in China’s internal affairs, undermine China’s sovereignty and smear China’s image will never succeed,” he said.

More than 200 NGOs call for UN arms embargo on Myanmar

More than 200 NGOs call for UN arms embargo on Myanmar

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – More than 200 global organizations urged the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar, saying the time for statements has passed and immediate action is needed to help protect peaceful protesters against military rule and other opponents of the junta.

A statement by the non-governmental organizations said the military “has demonstrated a callous disregard for human life” since their Feb. 1 coup, killing at least 769 people including 51 children as young as six years old and detaining several thousand activists, journalists, civil servants and politicians. Hundreds of others have disappeared, it said.

“No government should sell a single bullet to the junta under these circumstances,” the NGOs said. “Imposing a global arms embargo on Myanmar is the minimum necessary step the Security Council should take in response to the military’s escalating violence.”

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The organizations urged the United Kingdom, the Security Council nation in charge of drafting resolutions on Myanmar, “to begin negotiations on a resolution authorizing an arms embargo as soon as possible.” This “will demonstrate to the junta that there will be no more business as usual,” they said.

Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. The coup took place following November elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won overwhelmingly and the military contests as fraudulent.

The 15-member Security Council has issued several statements since the coup demanding the restoration of democracy and the release of all detainees including Suu Kyi, strongly condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians and calling on the military “to exercise utmost restraint” and “on all sides to refrain from violence.”

It has also stressed “the need to fully respect human rights and to pursue dialogue and reconciliation,” and backed diplomatic efforts by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and U.N. special envoy Christine Schraner Burgener to find a solution.

“The time for statements has passed,” the NGOs said. “The Security Council should take its consensus on Myanmar to a new level and agree on immediate and substantive action.”

They said a U.N. global arms embargo against Myanmar should bar the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of “all weapons, munitions, and other military-related equipment, including dual-use goods such as vehicles and communications and surveillance equipment.” Training, intelligence and other military assistance should also be banned, they said.

Amnesty International’s Senior U.N. Advocate Lawrence Moss told a virtual news conference launching the statement that many countries supply weapons to Myanmar.

Citing Amnesty’s research and information from other trusted sources, he said Russia has been supplying combat aircraft and attack helicopters to Myanmar while China has been supplying combat aircraft, naval weapons, armored vehicles, surveillance drones and aiding Myanmar’s indigenous naval industry. In addition, he said, Chinese weapons, small arms and armored vehicles have been diverted to ethnic armed groups, especially the Kachin Independence Army.

Moss said Ukraine has also supplied Myanmar’s military with armored vehicles and is involved in the joint production of armored vehicles in Myanmar, Turkey has provided shotguns and shotgun cartridges, India has provided armored vehicles, troop carriers and naval equipment including a submarine with torpedoes, and Serbia has recorded transfers of small quantities of artillery systems and small arms.

Israel had supplied frigates and armored vehicles to Myanmar along with police training but that stopped in 2017 though it may still be providing surveillance equipment, Moss said. South Korea transferred an amphibious assault system in 2019 but announced a halt to further military exports after the coup.

Human Rights Watch’s U.N. Director Louis Charbonneau said: “This is the beginning of what we hope will be an escalation of advocacy to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Security Council, wringing its hands, sticking with inaction and the occasional statement of concern.”

But getting the Security Council to adopt a resolution authorizing an arms embargo faces an uphill struggle, especially with China and Russia’s general opposition to sanctions.

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun, whose country holds the council presidency this month, told a news conference Monday that China is “a friendly neighbor of Myanmar” and is putting more emphasis on diplomatic efforts. It is “not in favor of imposing sanctions” which may hinder diplomacy and lead to suffering of ordinary people, Zhang said.

Amnesty’s Moss countered that an “arms embargo would not hurt the ordinary people of Myanmar in any way, shape or form… and I hope that China will consider that.”

Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, said Myanmar’s “murderous, military-led regime” shouldn’t be allowed to buy bombs or even “camouflage underwear” and “should be treated like the pariahs that they are.”

“I think all of us share concern that the country could become a failed state, armed conflict could intensify, and so an arms embargo now is also a kind of preventive against a refugee crisis that flows across borders in the region, and an armed conflict which serves nobody’s interests,” Adams said.

Myra Dahgaypaw, managing director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma who recalled fleeing from past military airstrikes, said an arms embargo won’t solve all the country’s problems but “it will significantly increase the safety of the people on the ground, including the ethnic and the religious minorities.”

“Today I just want to tell the U.N. Security Council that the people of Burma need your help, and they need it urgently,” she said. “Please don’t let the efforts, the struggle and the resilience of the people on the ground who are trying to survive go in vain.”

Commanders’ info war request met with silence

ODNI quiet on ’36-star’ info war memo

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Adm. Philip S. Davidson, as Indo-Pacific Command chief, organized a letter in early 2020 asking for “ammunition in the ongoing war of narratives.” (Associated Press/File) more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Sixteen months after nine combatant commanders asked the director of national intelligence to help them counter Chinese and Russian disinformation, intelligence agencies have done little to respond.

The request was made in an unprecedented “36-star letter” signed by the commanders of the Indo-Pacific Command, European Command, Strategic Command, Special Operations Command, Africa Command, Space Command, Transportation Command, and Northern and Southern Commands on Jan. 15, 2020.

The six generals and three admirals, all wearing four stars on their shoulders, said China and Russia are using all instruments of power to wage political warfare and manipulate information to violate national sovereignty, coopt world bodies, weaken international institutions and splinter U.S. alliances.

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“Their efforts to reshape the world in their image, proliferate authoritarianism and advance their ambitions are provocative, dangerous and destabilizing,” the commanders said in the letter to then-acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. A copy of the unclassified letter was obtained by Inside the Ring.

The letter urged the DNI to use intelligence to counter enemy coercion and subversion and help the American military “win without fighting” by engaging in similar gray zone warfare against China and Russia.

Specifically, the commanders asked for “ammunition in the ongoing war of narratives” by releasing intelligence that the military can use publicly.

“The main battlespace for this struggle is largely in the public domain,” says the letter, organized by then-Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. Philip S. Davidson. “Therefore we request a significantly upgraded effort to routinely inject intelligence derivatives into that arena.”

Past efforts have fallen short, the commanders said, noting missed opportunities to counter distortions, rebut false narratives and influence events “in time to make a difference.”

The commanders asked for the release of information on Chinese and Russian actions faster and with less red tape.

“We need a deeper magazine of fine-grain, persuasive evidence of red behaviors that can be either exposed surgically with key influencers or launched more broadly in public fora as an effective check on pernicious conduct,” the leaders wrote.

One way would be to take raw intelligence in all intelligence disciplines — human, electronic and others — and declassify material on “troubling Chinese and Russian behavior.”

Current procedures for release intelligence were described as “time-consuming and inadequate.” The generals and admirals want to use the information rapidly so they can effectively tailor messaging “with precision, richness and credibility.”

An ODNI spokeswoman said the agency, along with the undersecretary of defense for intelligence and security, reviewed the memo early last year. Working groups met last year and made recommendations, the spokeswoman said.

However, most of what was disclosed about the response by ODNI did not address the release of intelligence, announcing instead a new training education program and new intelligence requirements on strategic messaging and malign influence.

Procedures for releasing information also were reviewed, and unspecified steps were taken to “maximize the utilization of publicly available information in partnership with the Open Source Enterprise,” the statement said.

In December, ODNI asked intelligence agencies to review procedures and improve support to combatant commands.

“The DNI and undersecretary are reviewing the agencies’ progress and emphasize that countering malign influence remains a top priority,” the statement said. The spokeswoman declined to answer questions about the apparent shortcomings in the ODNI response.

PENTAGON ON HYPERSONIC MISSILES

The Pentagon provided Congress with a look at military efforts to counter the growing threat posed by Chinese and Russian ultra-high-speed hypersonic missiles.

Melissa Dalton, acting assistant defense secretary for strategy plans and capabilities, told a House subcommittee last month that the military had put a priority on several new types of hypersonic missiles. Still, the Pentagon is limiting the development of hypersonics to conventionally armed hypersonics, while Russia and China have armed theirs with both conventional and nuclear warheads.

Ms. Dalton testified April 21 that hypersonic strike systems are central to modernizing the American military.

“For the United States, China and Russia are making concerted efforts to invest heavily in capabilities that are increasingly eroding traditional U.S. war-fighting and military technological advantages, driving the strategic and operational value of U.S. hypersonic capability,” she stated in prepared remarks.

In addition to hypersonic missiles, Moscow and Beijing are fielding or working on large numbers of anti-ship ballistic missiles, advanced cruise missiles, high-end integrated air and missile defense systems, anti-satellite weapons and new ballistic missiles.

“Hypersonic strike systems, including those that are nuclear-armed, are top national priority efforts for both states,” she said. “They are aggressively developing and fielding such systems, seeking to utilize the speed, altitude, and maneuverability of hypersonic weapons to further enhance the sophistication and density of their anti-access and area denial networks. Collectively employed, these systems create a highly contested future operating environment.”

Beijing and Moscow plan to use the arms to deny American forces the freedom to maneuver and to threaten U.S. forces, ports and airfields. Building non-nuclear hypersonic missiles is one key way to mitigate the threat, she stated.

“Hypersonic weapon systems offer clear and distinct operational advantages,” Ms. Dalton said. “They travel at speeds near and above Mach 5 (five times faster than the speed of sound), enabling long-range flight at the upper reaches of the atmosphere.”

The combination of speed, maneuverability and altitude “provides us with a rapid, highly survivable, long-range fires capability,” she noted. The missiles can strike high-value, time-sensitive targets and hit distant and heavily defended targets when other forces are unavailable or unable to get close.

“Simply put, hypersonic weapons allow us the ability to destroy critical enemy infrastructure and anti-access systems anywhere in the world within hours, enhancing the U.S. capability to create strategic effects, without crossing the nuclear threshold,” Ms. Dalton said.

The Army, Navy and Air Force are all building hypersonic weapons. The Army’s version is called Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon, and the Navy is building what it calls the Conventional Prompt Strike. The Air Force system is the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon. All three missiles are on track for deployment by the early to mid-2020s.

The Air Force also is working on a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile.

“When fielded and operational, these programs will provide the department the ability to deliver hypersonic weapon systems by air, ground, or sea platforms, thus both modernizing and enhancing the credibility of the joint force’s long-range strike portfolio,” Ms. Dalton said.

Ms. Dalton said policymakers are working to minimize the risk that the strikes may be mistaken as a nuclear attack. That will involve declaring who has the weapons release authority and the posture of the missiles.

SOCOM ON WMD THREATS

The deputy commander of the Special Operations Command outlined for Congress the growing threats posed by the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs of adversaries, including China and Russia.

Vice Adm. Timothy Szymanski told a House Armed Services subcommittee on Tuesday that nuclear, chemical and biological threats have continued to evolve over the past year despite the pandemic.

Special Operations Command is responsible for conducting covert operations that would seize, attack or destroy weapons of mass destruction programs.

“We monitor and analyze the progression of existing and over-the-horizon WMD programs closely, with essential support from the Defense Intelligence Agency,” Adm. Szymanski said, noting that news headlines are a good indicator of the complexity and nature of current threats.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected nearly every enemy WMD program, although quantifying the impact is difficult, he said.

“The pandemic caused extensive delays in the shipping industry, which likely degraded global procurement activities,” Adm. Szymanski said.

One particular concern is China‘s integration of nuclear and conventional weapons. The Chinese practice of placing nuclear-capable weapons, such as missiles, within conventional forces “remains a concern,” the admiral said.

Beijing also is testing and deploying several hypersonic glide vehicles, Adm. Szymanski said, vehicles that can carry nuclear or conventional munitions and “are designed for high-speed maneuvers at altitudes where they pose challenges to U.S. missile defenses.”

On the biological weapons front, “China also sustained possible dual-use biological research, some of which raises concerns regarding its compliance with Article I of the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention,” he said.

Article 1 prohibits development or production of germ weapons or agents.

• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

Pentagon keeps wary eye on failing Chinese rocket

Pentagon keeps wary eye on failing Chinese rocket

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In this April 29, 2021, file photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a Long March 5B rocket carrying a module for a Chinese space station lifts off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China’s Hainan … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

The Pentagon said Tuesday it is tracking an out-of-control Chinese rocket that is expected to reenter Earth’s atmosphere this weekend.

The Chinese Long March 5B rocket was used last week to launch a section of Beijing’s planned space station. Most smaller space debris burns up as it enters Earth’s atmosphere, but this rocket — weighing in at about 21 tons — has prompted concerns that parts could cause damage if they fall over inhabited areas. Foreign trackers say there is not enough information coming out of China to be able to determine when and where the rocket will fall.

“Its exact entry point into the Earth’s atmosphere cannot be pinpointed until within hours of its reentry, which is expected around May 8,” said Pentagon spokesman Mike Howard. “All debris can be potential threats to spaceflight safety and the space domain.”

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The 18th Space Control Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California tracks more than 27,000 man-made objects in space, most of which are in low-Earth orbit, Pentagon officials said.

Information publicly released about space debris can be found at www.space-track.org, according to the Department of Defense.

EU plans tightening foreign investment, with eye on China

EU plans tightening foreign investment, with eye on China

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By RAF CASERT

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

BRUSSELS (AP) – The European Union is planning to tighten rules on foreign investment in its 27 members and boost production autonomy for sensitive strategic goods, two measures bound to hit China – amid already precarious relations between the two massive trading powers.

The moves comes at a time when the ratification of a business investment deal with Beijing hangs in the balance because of a rapidly deteriorating political climate over accusations that China abuses an ethnic minority.

Brussels has long been unhappy about Chinese subsidy-driven imports driving European producers out of business, and on Wednesday promised rules to make sure that EU industries would no longer be undercut by foreign investors that have faced slacker rules up to now.

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Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said that with the proposal, the EU is “closing a gap in our rule book to make sure that all companies compete on an equal footing.”

Battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU economy has taken an unprecedented hit. The virus also laid bare dependencies on strategic products in sensitive sectors, from energy to heath, in which the EU wants to become far more autonomous. That also would come at a cost to Beijing.

EU officials drew up a list of 137 products of high dependency in such sectors as raw materials, active pharmaceutical ingredients and products essential to move the bloc closer to its climate change goals.

“About half of imports of these dependent products originate in China,” said EU Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. He called on industry to push through a “diversification of suppliers.”

The planned EU measures on clamping down on trade distortions through foreign subsidies would also affect China. Under the current system in the 27-nation bloc, a massive market of 450 million consumers, subsidies granted by non-EU governments like China do not face the same vetting as those from EU nations.

“Companies have been free to use foreign subsidies to buy up businesses here in Europe. Some have been able to undercut their competitors in public tenders not because they are more efficient, but because they get financial support from foreign countries. And that’s not fair,” said EU Vice President Margrethe Vestager. “It has to stop.”

The moves comes as relations are at a low ebb. In March, the EU imposed asset freezes and travel bans on a group of Chinese officials in Xinjiang, where Beijing has been accused of rights abuses. China retaliated by slapping sanctions on 10 Europeans, including lawmakers and academics, and four institutions. Beijing said they had damaged China’s interests and “maliciously spread lies and disinformation.”

Amid such an atmosphere, the fate of the investment deal tentatively agreed in December remains unclear. The long-awaited business investment agreement followed seven years of intense discussions.

The EU hopes the agreement, known as CAI, will help correct an imbalance in market access and create new investment opportunities for European companies in China, by ensuring they can compete on an equal footing when operating in the country.

Dombrovskis said, however, that the tentative agreement, which still needs ratification by the European Parliament among others, is still is far from a done deal, especially because of the sanctions.

“The next steps concerning the ratification of a Comprehensive Agreement of Investment will depend on how the situation evolves,” he said.

G-7 calls out China over rights at virus-shadowed meeting

G-7 calls out China over rights at virus-shadowed meeting

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, attends a press conference with India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar following a bilateral meeting in London on Monday, May 3, 2021. (Ben Stansall/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

LONDON (AP) – Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy industrialized nations on Wednesday accused China of human rights abuses and economic mischief, but offered little concrete action to deal with an increasingly forceful Beijing.

The top G-7 diplomats meeting in London said they were “deeply concerned” by China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslim population and other minorities, which includes mass internment in “re-education” camps, forced labor and forced sterilization.

But the U.K., the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan committed only to tackling forced labor “through our own available domestic means,” which could range from public awareness campaigns to laws for businesses, rather than through collective action.

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While the Biden administration in the U.S. is keen for a strong stand against China’s rising economic and political assertiveness, some European G-7 members are more cautious, and the G-7 joint statement stressed the need for a working relationship with Beijing.

The G-7 ministers criticized China for “arbitrary, coercive economic policies and practices” and urged it to stick to international trade rules and “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

At their first face-to-face meeting for two years, the top diplomats sought unity to deal with increasing challenges from China and Russia, smoldering conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Ethiopia and the heavy toll the pandemic is taking on the world’s poorest countries.

The G-7 ministers called for “co-ordinated action and global solidarity” to help the world recover from the pandemic, and backed “affordable and equitable global access” to coronavirus vaccines and treatments. But wealthy countries have been reluctant so far to give up precious vaccine stocks until they have inoculated their own populations.

The group also condemned Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea and its “malign activities aimed at undermining other countries’ democratic systems.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was flying to Kviv after the G-7 meeting to demonstrate strong U.S. backing for the country’s response to Russian aggression.

The U.K. pushed to hold the meeting in person to give the rich countries’ club a jolt of energy after a period marked by the health crisis of the pandemic and rising nationalism around the world. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is also seeking to project a dynamic “Global Britain” image in the wake of the country’s departure from the European Union.

Delegates at Lancaster House, a grand London mansion, observed social distancing, sat behind transparent screens in meetings and were tested daily for the virus. Even so, India’s foreign minister was forced to go into self-isolation after members of his country’s delegation tested positive for COVID-19.

Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar tweeted that he was attending “in the virtual mode” as a ”measure of abundant caution” after being told he might have been exposed to the virus.

Organizers insisted there was little risk to the rest of the delegates.

India is not a G-7 member but was invited along with fellow democracies South Korea, Australia and South Africa as a guest.

India is experiencing a vast outbreak of COVID-19, with 382,315 new confirmed cases and 3,780 reported deaths in the last 24 hours, in what is widely believed to be an undercount.

The guest nations’ delegations didn’t attend the conference on Tuesday, though Jaishankar has held meetings in London with officials including British Home Secretary Priti Patel and the American secretary of state.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said that “we have no reason to believe any of our delegation is at risk.”

The U.K. is due to host the group’s leaders at a summit in Cornwall, southwest England, in June.

Johnson, who attended the gathering briefly on Wednesday defended the decision to hold the foreign ministers’ meeting in person despite the virus.

“I think it’s very important to try to continue as much business as you can as a government,” the prime minister said.

Pentagon officials: Wuhan Institute of Virology did not get NGO funds

‘Best of our knowledge’: Pentagon officials deny Wuhan Institute of Virology given defense funds

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A security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan in China’s Hubei province on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The WHO team is investigating the … more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Pentagon officials offered a qualified denial Tuesday when questioned on whether any of the nearly $40 million in defense money given to a non-government organization may have been used for research at the Chinese military-linked Wuhan Institute of Virology, a suspected potential origin point for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rys Williams, acting director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and Brandi Vann, acting assistant defense secretary for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, told a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing that all the funds they reviewed from DTRA and other government sources did not go to the Chinese institute following reviews of grants to EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based NGO that worked closely with the WIV.

“We have done a thorough look at all of our programmatic activities to ensure that at least the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s funding to this NGO was not provided, to the best of our knowledge, into the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Mr. Williams told the House panel that focuses on special operations.

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Mr. Williams said DTRA reviews all activities related to NGOs “to make sure that the risk for government funding is minimalized and in keeping with the traditions and the boundaries of the federal acquisition process but equally in policy as well.”

Ms. Vann, the acting assistant defense secretary, added that other defense agencies involved in nuclear, chemical and biological (NCB) programs reviewed funding of EcoHealth Alliance research and found no links to the Chinese lab.

“We also across the NCB did a thorough review to identify any potential access or investment into the Wuhan laboratory, and we have not identified any,” she said in response to questioning from Mississippi Rep. Trent Kelly, the ranking Republican member of the subcommittee. “It is something that we continue to watch to ensure that our investments are not going to places where they should not be,” she noted.

Mr. Kelly asked the two defense officials “what kind of risk assessment or risk analysis we’ve conducted and how the Wuhan Institute of Virology became the partner of choice for U.S. government agencies, given its ties to the PLA,” he said, using the acronym for People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese military.

A State Department fact sheet made public in January for the first time disclosed that the WIV was engaged in covert biological weapons research with the PLA. Chinese officials at the WIV have denied the institute works with the PLA.

According to the fact sheet, the WIV is engaged in “secret military activity.”

“Secrecy and non-disclosure are standard practice for Beijing,” the fact sheet said. “For many years the United States has publicly raised concerns about China’s past biological weapons work, which Beijing has neither documented nor demonstrably eliminated, despite its clear obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.”

The collaboration at the institute includes both publication and secret military projects including classified research and laboratory animal experiments. The work between WIV and PLA has been underway since 2017.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told Congress last month that U.S. intelligence agencies believe the pandemic began either through a leak from a Chinese laboratory or from an animal host. Many scientists and mainstream news outlets for months dismissed all suggestions the virus could have come from a lab as a conspiracy theory.

A list of grants and contracts for EcoHealth Alliance posted on the website of Independent Science News shows DTRA and the Pentagon provided the group with $38.9 million since 2014. DTRA’s funding included $6.49 million between 2017 and 2020 for what the agency called “understanding the risk of bat-borne zoonotic disease emergence in Western Asia.”

According to DTRA, the grant was used for research aimed at “combating or countering weapons of mass destruction” and was to be carried out between 2017 and 2022. It is not clear if the work is ongoing.

 The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) provided EcoHealth Alliance with $3.7 million in funding from 2014 to 2019, and the National Institutes of Health gave the group $2.5 million between 2009 and 2012. The NIAID funds went to a program called “understanding the risk of bat coronavirus emergence.”

A spokesman for EcoHealth Alliance did not return an email and phone call seeking comment.

EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak has worked closely with WIV virologist Shi Zhengli, known as the “Bat Woman of Wuhan” for her work on bat viruses and has been a vocal critic of the Wuhan lab transmission theory. He was also part of the World Health Organization team that investigated the virus origin earlier this year that called the lab theory “extremely unlikely” and not worth pursuing. Critics say the WHO report was influenced by the Chinese government that sought to play down the lab leak theory.

China, according to the Trump and Biden administrations, has engaged in disinformation in a bid to deflect criticism from its handling of the outbreak’s earliest days. The Chinese government refused to provide virus samples to international virus hunters and initially hid the infectiousness of the virus from the world.

More than 3 million people have died since the pandemic broke out in Wuhan in December 2019.

G7 foreign ministers meet face-to-face after pandemic pause

G7 foreign ministers meet face-to-face after pandemic pause

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Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, right, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attend a joint press conference at Downing Street in London, Monday, May 3, 2021, during the G7 foreign ministers meeting. (Ben Stansall/Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By JILL LAWLESS

Associated Press

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

LONDON (AP) – Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy industrialized nations gathered Tuesday in London for their first face-to-face meeting in more than two years, with the issue of whether to challenge or coax a surging China high on the agenda.

Host nation Britain is keen to show that the rich countries’ club still has clout in a fast-changing world, and has warned that the increasingly aggressive stances of Russia, China and Iran pose a challenge to democratic societies and the international rule of law.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the meeting “demonstrates diplomacy is back.”

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored the United States’ re-embrace of its international allies since President Joe Biden replaced his “America-first” predecessor, Donald Trump.

Blinken said engaging with China “from a position of strength … means actually working with allies and partners, not disparaging them.”

“It means leaning in and engaging in the vast array of multilateral and international organizations because that’s where so many of the rules are made. That’s where the norms are shaped,” he said. “And if we’re not leaning in, we know that Beijing is likely to be trying to do so in our place.”

At the two-day meeting, top diplomats from the U.K., the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan also were to discuss the military coup in Myanmar, the humanitarian crisis in Syria, the Tigray crisis in Ethiopia and the precarious situation in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops and their NATO allies are winding down a two-decade deployment.

The U.K. Foreign Office said the group would also discuss “Russia’s ongoing malign activity,” including Moscow’s earlier troop buildup on the border with Ukraine and the imprisonment of opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

While the G-7 members likely can agree in broad terms to condemn Navalny’s imprisonment or Beijing’s repression of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, there are differences over how to relate to countries such as China and Russia that will have to be smoothed out in any final communique on Wednesday.

Asked what message the group would send to authoritarian regimes, Raab said the G-7 believed “in keeping trade open. We believe in standing up for open societies, for human rights and democracy. We believe in safeguarding and promoting public good.”

The G-7 ministers will also try to agree on a way to make coronavirus vaccines available around the globe in the long term. But for now, wealthy countries are reluctant to give up precious stocks until they have inoculated their own people.

The ministers wore face masks and greeted one another with arm and elbow bumps as they arrived at Lancaster House, a grand former stately home in central London. Plastic screens between participants and on-site coronavirus tests were among measures intended to make the venue COVID-secure.

The British government, which holds the G-7 presidency this year, invited the foreign ministers of Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa to join parts of the meeting, including Tuesday evening’s formal dinner. The guest list was intended to underline the G-7’s support for democracies, as well as the U.K. government’s attempts to build stronger ties with Asia in the wake of the country’s departure from the European Union.

Britain’s Conservative-led government hopes the resumption of in-person G-7 meetings – after more than a year of disruption by the coronavirus pandemic – will give the group a jolt of energy and bolster attempts to forge a post-Brexit “Global Britain” role for the U.K.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to host the other G-7 leaders at a summit in Cornwall, England, in June.

Opposition politicians and international aid organizations say the goal of Britain playing a bigger role in world affairs is undermined by the government’s decision to slash its foreign aid budget from 0.7% of gross domestic product to 0.5% because of the economic hit from the pandemic.

Raab said the aid cuts were a “difficult decision” but insisted Britain would become “an even greater force for good in the world.”

China: US should push North Korea diplomacy, not pressure

China: US should push North Korea diplomacy, not pressure

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South Korean army soldiers patrol along the barbed-wire fence in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, May 2, 2021. North Korea on Sunday warned the United States will face "a very grave situation" because President Joe … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – China’s U.N. ambassador expressed hope Monday that President Joe Biden’s policy toward North Korea will give more importance to diplomacy and dialogue instead of “extreme pressure” to try to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program and denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Zhang Jun said China also hopes the review of U.S. policy will give equal emphasis to both the nuclear issue and the peace and security issue.

“Without tackling the security and the peace issue properly, definitely we do not have the right environment for our efforts for the denuclearization,” he said.

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The White House said last Friday that Biden plans to veer from the approaches of his two most recent predecessors as he tries to stop North Korea’s nuclear program, rejecting both Donald Trump’s deeply personal effort to win over leader Kim Jong Un and Barack Obama’s more hands-off approach. Press secretary Jen Psaki announced administration officials had completed the review of U.S. policy toward North Korea but did not detail its findings.

The Biden administration appeared to signal it is trying to set the stage for incremental progress, in which denuclearization steps by the North would be met with corresponding actions, including sanctions relief, from the United States.

There was no mention of U.S. security guarantees for North Korea or a formal end to the Korean War, both of which had been demanded by the North and considered by the Trump team as part of a larger package.

China assumed the presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month and ambassador Zhang told a news conference that Beijing will look “very carefully” at the U.S. policy review in hopes it will give more emphasis to dialogue.

China and Russia circulated a draft resolution a year ago on lifting some sanctions against North Korea, and Zhang said it’s still on the table. He stressed that while China is implementing sanctions against the North, it also believes the Security Council should consider adjusting and lifting sanctions “which are really hindering the humanitarian access … and making people suffer.”

“At a certain stage, timely adjustment (of sanctions) will really produce good results with the creation of more favorable environment for the tackling of this issue,” the ambassador said.

North Korea said Sunday that Biden was mistaken in calling the country a security threat in a speech to Congress last week and warned of an unspecified response.

As for the current situation, China’s Zhang said: “We do hear harsh words and we do see some tensions at certain level, but in general it remains stable.”

Referring to North Korea and the United States, he said both sides “should really think seriously about what they should do next … and in particular avoiding taking any actions which may make the situation even worse.”

“All efforts should go along the direction of resuming dialogue, making more efforts, walking towards each other instead of walking against each other,” Zhang said. “Otherwise, I do not see any possibility of finding a lasting, sustaining solution simply by exercising pressure,” whether “it’s extreme pressure or light pressure.”

China’s UN envoy: Myanmar violence could lead to civil war

China’s UN envoy: Myanmar violence could lead to civil war

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – China’s U.N. ambassador on Monday urged stronger diplomatic efforts to resolve the confrontation in Myanmar since the Feb. 1 military coup, warning that further violence could lead to a chaotic situation “and even a civil war.”

Zhang Jun also warned that “any wrong handling” might lead to further tension in Myanmar.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday strongly backed calls by Southeast Asian nations for an immediate cessation of violence and talks as a first step toward a solution following the military coup in Myanmar that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy.

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Xi claims ultimate authority, adopts Mao's title 'helmsman'

The council again demanded the restoration of democracy and the release of all detainees including Suu Kyi and condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Zhang, who described Myanmar as “a friendly neighbor,” strongly backed diplomatic efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations known as ASEAN and by U.N. special envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener, and expressed hope they would produce results. He said “China is not in favor of imposing sanctions.”

“We should really be creating a more favorable environment for bringing the country back to normal and finding a political solution through dialogues among the relevant political parties within the constitutional and legal framework,” he said.

Myanmar for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions. As the generals loosened their grip, culminating in Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in 2015 elections, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country. The coup took place following November elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won overwhelmingly and the military contends was marred by fraud.

“It’s mainly an issue relating to the difference on the election,” Zhang said. “The political parties should be able to find a solution on that. So that’s why China prefers … more diplomatic efforts.”

“That’s why China is working very closely with the relevant parties urging them really to refrain from going extreme, avoiding violence, avoiding casualties, and try to find a solution with dialogue. That’s why the council is also now giving full support to the diplomatic efforts of ASEAN,” he said.

Zhang was asked whether China was concerned that Myanmar could descend into civil war, given that its military is fighting the Kachin and Karen ethnic minorities, which maintain their own armed forces, while also confronting pro-democracy protesters – amid reports that civilians, mainly students, are now receiving training in the use of weapons in ethnic areas.

“We do have similar concerns,” Zhang said. “We do believe that with diplomatic efforts we can avoid the further escalation of the tension.”

“With further escalation of the tension, there will be more confrontation, and with more confrontation there will be more violence, and with more violence there will be more casualties, and then we may go further down the wrong direction,” he warned. “It may also mean a chaotic situation in Myanmar and even a civil war.”

Zhang said China is also very concerned about the humanitarian impact of the crisis, citing U.N. envoy Schraner Burgener who pointed to more poor people losing jobs, civil servants refusing to work to protest the junta, and a brewing crisis of families in and around the main city Yangon “pushed to the edge” for food, going into debt and trying to survive.

In her briefing to the council Friday, obtained by The Associated Press, she also cited a World Food Program report that the combination of existing poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic and the political crisis have led to a sharp rise in “hunger and desperation,” and that within six months up to 3.4 million more people will suffer from hunger, particularly those in urban areas.

In again urging a diplomatic solution, Zhang warned that with further deterioration “definitely a humanitarian disaster or crisis will be inevitable so we do need to try our best to avoid that.”

U.S. ‘far left’ susceptible to Chinese government’s COVID-19 disinformation: Report

U.S. ‘far left’ susceptible to Chinese government’s COVID disinformation: Report

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Visitors wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk by a statue featuring Winter Olympics figure skating on display at the Shougang Park in Beijing, Sunday, May 2, 2021. Chinese tourists are expected to make a … more >

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By Guy Taylor

The Washington Times

Monday, May 3, 2021

Americans on the far left, including “Trump administration critics” and “capitalism skeptics,” are most likely to have soaked up Chinese government disinformation about the origins of the coronavirus, according to a new report by a prominent U.S. think tank.

The report by the RAND Corporation builds on claims by U.S. intelligence and State Department officials that China and Russia seized on the COVID-19 pandemic to engage in subversive, state-run media and other operations aimed at discrediting the U.S. and promoting their respective global agendas.

“Both countries attempted to tarnish the reputation of the United States by emphasizing challenges with its pandemic response and characterizing U.S. systems as inadequate,” according to the report circulated to journalists on Monday.

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“Both countries disseminated messages through a wide variety of channels and platforms, including social media” and both “falsely accused the United States of developing and intentionally spreading the virus,” the report said, adding that Moscow and Beijing “appeared to differ in their principal goals.”

“Russia aimed to destabilize the United States,” while “China aimed to protect and enhance its international reputation,” the report said.

Circulation of the roughly 70-page RAND document comes a year after U.S. officials first highlighted Chinese and Russian disinformation efforts around COVID-19 — operations officials have described as also being backed by Iranian government efforts to project bogus claims aimed at smearing America’s image on the world stage.

In an exclusive March 2020 interview with The Washington Times, the head of a key State Department counterdisinformation office outlined how Beijing, Moscow and Tehran were using a vast web of social media accounts, fake news outlets and state-controlled global satellite media to promote lies by academics and, at times, government officials to blame Washington for the pandemic.

Lea Gabrielle, who was then serving as special envoy heading the department’s Global Engagement Center, told The Times that U.S. officials were particularly concerned about Chinese government efforts to push disinformation about the pandemic in a bid to make China appear as a superior global power to the United States.

Beijing, Ms. Gabrielle said at the time, was “engaged in an all-out aggressive campaign to try to reshape the global narrative around the coronavirus, essentially to the degree of trying to provide an alternate reality.”

Other news outlets picked up on the developments, with The New York Time reporting weeks later that Beijing was being “more overtly aggressive” than Moscow in its disinformation campaign.

The RAND report circulated Monday homed in on efforts that were made by Chinese officials early in the pandemic to amplify Russian disinformation about COVID-19s origins.

“Chinese Foreign Ministry official Zhao Lijian retweeted an article from a Kremlin-linked source, Global Research, stating that the virus originated in the United States and was brought to China by the U.S. military,” the report noted. “Chinese media also suggested that the United States was covering up the true start date of the virus spread in the United States to obfuscate the truth about the virus’s origins.”

Consensus among scientists is that the virus began in China and that the Chinese government has for more than year been blocking U.S. and other international efforts to investigate its origins. While Beijing disputes such claims, an investigation last year by The Associated Press found the Chinese government was strictly controlling all research into the virus’ origins.

The RAND report, meanwhile, analyzed nuanced differences in Russian and Chinese disinformation campaigns, as well as audience susceptibility to both.

“China-linked messaging was more uniform across different outlets; this suggests that operators did not attempt to target specific polarized audiences or to purposefully appeal to a wide variety of audiences in the United States,” the report said. “However, during the time frame that we analyzed (January 2020 to July 2020), messages critical of the U.S. response to the pandemic might have resonated with critics of the Trump administration, those on the left of the U.S. political spectrum, and those concerned with the federal pandemic response.”

“It is also possible that some of the messages about the origins of the virus could be attractive to conspiracy theory enthusiasts with different political views and affiliations,” the report added. “Overall, China-linked messaging could be of interest to U.S. audiences on the farther left of the political spectrum — Trump administration critics, conspiracy enthusiasts, and capitalism skeptics among them.”

Russia turns to China to make Sputnik shots to meet demand

Russia turns to China to make Sputnik shots to meet demand

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In this Dec. 10, 2020, file photo, a Russian medical worker prepares a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Moscow. Russia is turning to multiple Chinese firms to manufacture the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in an effort to … more >

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By Huizhong Wu and Daria Litvinova

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Russia is turning to multiple Chinese firms to manufacture the Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in an effort to speed up production as demand soars for its shot.

Russia has announced three deals totaling 260 million doses with Chinese vaccine companies in recent weeks. It’s a decision that could mean quicker access to a shot for countries in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa that have ordered Russia‘s vaccine, as the U.S. and the European Union focus mainly on domestic vaccination needs.

Earlier criticism about Russia‘s vaccine have been largely quieted by data published in the British medical journal The Lancet that said large-scale testing showed it to be safe, with an efficacy rate of 91%.

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Yet, experts have questioned whether Russia can fulfill its pledge to countries across the world. While pledging hundreds of millions of doses, it has only delivered a fraction.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said demand for Sputnik V significantly exceeds Russia’s domestic production capacity.

To boost production, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which bankrolled Sputnik V, has signed agreements with multiple drug makers in other countries, such as India, South Korea, Brazil, Serbia, Turkey, Italy and others. There are few indications, however, that manufacturers abroad, except for those in Belarus and Kazakhstan, have made any large amounts of the vaccine so far.

Airfinity, a London-based science analytics company, estimates Russia agreed to supply some 630 million doses of Sputnik V to over 100 countries, with only 11.5 million doses exported so far.

RDIF declined to disclose how many doses are going to other countries. Through April 27, less than 27 million two-dose sets of Sputnik V have been reportedly produced in Russia.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which has been in charge of international cooperation for Sputnik V, said in April it would produce 100 million doses in collaboration with Hualan Biological Bacterin Inc., in addition to an earlier deal announced in March for 60 million doses with Shenzhen Yuanxin Gene tech Co.

The two deals are in addition to a deal announced last November with Tibet Rhodiola Pharmaceutical Holding Co, which had paid $9 million to manufacture and sell the Sputnik V vaccine in China. RDIF said in April the terms of the deal were for 100 million doses with a subsidiary company belonging to Tibet Rhodiola.

Russia is “very ambitious and unlikely to meet their full targets,” said Rasmus Bech Hansen, founder and CEO of Airfinity. Working with China to produce Sputnik V could be a win-win situation for both Russia and China, he added.

In recent years, Chinese vaccine companies have turned from largely making products for use domestically to supplying the global market, with individual firms gaining WHO preapproval for specific vaccines – seen as a seal of quality. With the pandemic, Chinese vaccine companies have exported hundreds of millions of doses abroad.

Chinese vaccine makers have been quick to expand capacity and say they can meet China’s domestic need by the end of the year.

“This is an acknowledgment of the Chinese vaccine manufacturers who can produce at volume,” said Helen Chen, head of pharmaceuticals LEK Consulting, strategy consultancy firm in Shanghai, in an email.

However, none of the three Chinese companies have yet to start manufacturing Sputnik V.

Tibet Rhodiola started constructing a factory in Shanghai at the end of last year and expects production to start in September, the company said at an annual meeting for investors last month. Tibet Rhodiola’s chairman Chen Dalin also said that after the successful technology transfer, they will start with an order of 80 million doses to sell back to Russia. An employee at the company declined to transfer a phone call request to the company’s media department for comment.

The timeline for the newest deals are also unclear. Hualan Bio was among the 10 largest vaccines manufacturers in China in 2019. Phone calls to Hualan Bio went unanswered.

A spokeswoman for Shenzhen Yuanxing declined to say when the company will start production but said their order would not be for sale within China. RDIF had said the production will start this month.

In spite of the delays, Russia’s vaccine diplomacy has made gains.

From the outset, Russia, the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine, aimed to distribute it globally. Within weeks of giving Sputnik V regulatory approval, RDIF started actively marketing it abroad, announcing multiple deals to supply the shot to other countries. It is so far winning the “public relations” battle, analysts said in a new report examining Russia and China’s vaccine diplomacy from the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Russia has been able to build stronger diplomatic ties and in areas where it hasn’t been able to,” before, said Imogen Page-Jarrett, an analyst at EIU. “They have this window of opportunity while the US, E.U. and India are focusing on domestic and the rest of the world is crying out for a vaccine supply.”

U.S. base in Afghanistan hit by rocket fire as troops begin withdrawal

U.S. base in Afghanistan hit by rocket fire as troops begin withdrawal

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By Ben Wolfgang

The Washington Times

Sunday, May 2, 2021

A key airbase in Kandahar, Afghanistan, was hit by rockets Saturday, prompting American forces to fire back with a “precision strike” that could be a preview of further violence over the next several months as the Taliban vows to resume attacks on U.S. troops.

The rocket fire that hit Kandahar base came just hours after the original May 1 deadline for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan passed. 

President Biden has ordered the roughly 3,500 American forces out of Afghanistan by September, but he disregarded the May 1 date laid out in a deal struck last year between former President Trump and the Taliban.

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The Pentagon did not explicitly say that the Taliban was responsible for the rocket fire that struck Kandahar, but the insurgent group has repeatedly warned that U.S. bases and personnel will be targeted after May 1.

”Kandahar Airfield received ineffective indirect fire this afternoon; no injury to personnel or damage to equipment,” Col. Sonny Leggett, spokesperson for U.S. Forces Afghanistan, said in a Twitter post Saturday. 

“U.S. forces conducted a precision strike this evening, destroying additional rockets aimed at the airfield.”

The U.S. has deployed additional military personnel and equipment to the region to protect the troops leaving Afghanistan. In addition to the nearly 3,500 American forces exiting, another 10,000 NATO troops also will leave the country after nearly two decades of war.

Mr. Biden and military leaders have vowed to retaliate if the Taliban targets U.S. forces as they withdraw.

”A return to violence would be one senseless and tragic. But make no mistake, we have the military means to respond forcefully to any type of attacks against the coalition and the military means to support the Afgan security forces,” said Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. “That would be a mistake to move in that direction.”

Meanwhile, the Taliban over the weekend claimed to have overrun an Afghan military base in Ghazni province in the southeastern part of the country. Afghan officials told Voice of America that the insurgent group had taken control of the base. 

A Taliban spokesperson said at least 17 Afghan soldiers had been killed and another 25 taken prisoner, but those figures were not immediately confirmed by the Afghan government. Critics of the Afghan withdrawal fear such incidents will become commonplace as the U.S. and NATO leave the country. 

They warn that the Taliban could quickly overpower Afghan security forces and could potentially overrun the nation’s capital, Kabul.

Against the recommendations of some top military commanders, Mr. Biden has stuck by his decision to withdraw.

”Today we have service members serving in the same warzone as their parents once did. We have service members in Afghanistan who were not yet born on 9/11,” the president told a joint session of Congress last week. “War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking of nation-building.”

Diplomats from 5 nations resuming Iran nuclear talks

Progress noted at diplomats’ talks on Iran nuclear deal

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By Philipp Jenne and Kirsten Grieshaber

Associated Press

Saturday, May 1, 2021

VIENNA (AP) — High-ranking diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia and Britain made progress at talks Saturday focused on bringing the United States back into their landmark nuclear deal with Iran, but said they need more work and time to bring about a future agreement.

After the meeting, Russia’s top representative, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted that members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, “noted today the indisputable progress made at the Vienna talks on restoration of the nuclear deal.”

“The Joint Commission will reconvene at the end of the next week,” Ulyanov wrote. “In the meantime, experts will continue to draft elements of future agreement.”

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“It’s too early to be excited, but we have reasons for cautious and growing optimism,” he added. “There is no deadline, but participants aim at successful completion of the talks in approximately 3 weeks.”

The three Western European countries involved in the talks struck a more restrained note.

“We have much work and little time left. Against that background, we would have hoped for more progress this week,” the senior diplomats said talking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be publicly named.

“We have yet to come to an understanding on the most critical points. Success is by no means guaranteed, but not impossible.”

Abbas Araghchi, Iran‘s deputy foreign minister, participated in the Vienna talks. 

“I can say that now our discussions have reached a maturity, both in the disputed topics and in the sections that we are agreed on,” he told Iranian state TV. “Although we cannot yet fully predict when and how we will be able to reach an agreement, it is moving forward, although slowly.” 

The U.S. did not have a representative at the table when the diplomats met in Vienna because former President Trump unilaterally pulled the country out of the deal in 2018. Trump also restored and augmented sanctions to try to force Iran into renegotiating the pact with more concessions. 

U.S. President Biden wants to rejoin the deal, however, and a U.S. delegation in Vienna was taking part in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from the other world powers acting as go-betweens.

The Biden administration is considering a rollback of some of the most stringent Trump-era sanctions in a bid to get Iran to come back into compliance with the nuclear agreement, according to current and former U.S. officials and others familiar with the matter.

Ulyanov said JCPOA members met on the side with officials from the U.S. delegation but the Iranian delegation was not ready to meet with U.S. diplomats.

The nuclear deal promised Iran economic incentives in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. The reimposition of U.S. sanctions has left the Islamic Republic’s economy reeling.

Tehran has responded by steadily increasing its violations of the deal, such as increasing the purity of uranium it enriches and its stockpiles, in a thus-far unsuccessful effort to pressure the other countries to provide relief from the sanctions. 

The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something it insists it doesn’t want to do. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the nuclear deal was signed.

The Vienna talks began in early April and have included several rounds of high-level discussions. Expert groups also have been working on how to resolve the issues around the American sanctions and Iranian compliance, as well as the “possible sequencing” of the U.S. return. 

Outside the talks in Vienna, other challenges remain. 

An attack suspected to have been carried out by Israel recently struck Iran‘s Natanz nuclear site, causing an unknown amount of damage. Tehran retaliated by beginning to enrich a small amount of uranium up to 60% purity, its highest level ever.

___

Grieshaber reported from Berlin, Amir Vahdat contributed from Tehran, Iran.

U.S. approves $2.4 billion sale of maritime patrol jets to India

U.S. approves $2.4 billion sale of maritime patrol jets to India

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A U.S. Navy’s P-8 Poseidon is parked on the tarmac at Ngurah Rai International Airport as seen from the window of Indonesian Navy’s maritime patrol aircraft of 800 Air Squadron of the 2nd Air Wing of Naval Aviation Center (PUSPENERBAL), … more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Friday, April 30, 2021

The Biden administration announced it will sell six P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and related gear to India worth $2.42 billion. The jet sale was announced by the State Department and the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation agency notified Congress of the sale Friday.

The arms transfer is part of American efforts to coax the traditionally non-aligned Indian government into greater regional efforts to counter China’s growing military expansionism. India has joined the “Quad” of regional powers that includes the United States, Japan and Australia that is emerging as a quasi-anti-Beijing alliance.

The P-8 is a militarized Boeing 737 considered an advanced anti-submarine and anti-surface ship weapon. Its armament includes torpedoes and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The jets also can operate as maritime surveillance aircraft and provide targeting and tracking information.

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The sale is the third purchase of P-8s by Delhi. The Indians paid $2.1 billion in 2009 for eight P-8s and purchased four additional jets in 2016.

In 2013, India purchased AGM-84L Harpoon missiles and Mk 54 torpedoes for its P-8s.

The patrol aircraft sale also included tactical radio systems, missile warning sensors, GPS inertial navigation and engine spares, and aircraft counter-missile systems.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to strengthen the U.S.-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defensive partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region,” the State Department said in announcing the sale.

India has grown increasingly wary of Chinese military expansionism in the Indian Ocean, including Chinese submarine patrols and naval port visits to Pakistan.

Tensions between India and China soared in June 2020 when Indian and Chinese troops battled each other along the disputed border in the Galwan Valley. A total of 20 Indian soldiers were killed. China reported 43 casualties.

WHO approves Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

WHO approves Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

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Nurse Natasha Garcia administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Magaly Esparza in a mobile clinic set up in the parking lot of a shopping center in Orange, Calif., Thursday, April 29, 2021. The mobile unit, launched in … more >

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By Shen Wu Tan

The Washington Times

Friday, April 30, 2021

The World Health Organization on Friday said it authorized Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use.

The vaccine is the fifth to receive emergency approval from the global health agency, which gives countries the go-ahead to import and administer the two-dose shots. WHO’s group of immunization experts recommend the vaccine for all people ages 18 and older.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for Moderna’s vaccine back in December. The European Medicines Agency approved the coronavirus vaccine a month later.

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Moderna’s mRNA-based vaccine is about 94% effective, based on a median follow-up of two months, WHO found.

WHO has also granted emergency use approval for COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca-SK Bio, Serum Institute of India, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen subsidiary.

US to restrict travel from India over COVID starting Tuesday

US to restrict travel from India over COVID starting Tuesday

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White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By ZEKE MILLER and DARLENE SUPERVILLE and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Friday, April 30, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. will restrict travel from India starting May 4, the White House said Friday, citing a devastating rise in COVID-19 cases in the country and the emergence of potentially dangerous variants of the coronavirus.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden’s administration made the determination on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The policy will be implemented in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in the India,” she said.

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With 386,452 new cases, India now has reported more than 18.7 million since the pandemic began, second only to the United States. The Health Ministry on Friday also reported 3,498 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 208,330. Experts believe both figures are an undercount, but it’s unclear by how much.

The U.S. action comes days after Biden spoke with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the growing health crisis and pledged to immediately send assistance. The U.S. has already moved to send therapeutics, rapid virus tests and oxygen to India, along with some materials needed for that country to boost its domestic production of COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, a CDC team of public health experts was expected to soon be on the ground in India to help health officials there move to slow the spread of the virus.

The White House waited on the CDC recommendation before moving to restrict travel, noting that the U.S. already requires negative tests and quarantines for all international travelers. Other restrictions are in place on travel from China, Iran, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil and South Africa, which are or have been hotspots for the coronavirus.

There was no immediate comment on the new limits from the State Department, which on Thursday reissued a warning to Americans against traveling to India and said those already in the country should consider leaving by commercial means. That warning was accompanied by a notice that the department was telling the families of all U.S. government employees at its embassy in New Delhi and four consulates in India that they could leave the country at government expense.

U.S. diplomatic facilities in India have not been immune from the pandemic and a handful of local staff have perished from the virus. Several dozen other local and U.S. staffers have been sickened by COVID-19, according to the officials who were not authorized to discuss personal matters publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The State Department has declined to comment on the number of staff affected, citing security and privacy concerns.

But even as the U.S. boosts pandemic assistance to India and allows some of its diplomatic families to come home, other aspects of the relationship continue unhampered.

Just minutes after the White House released the new travel restrictions, the State Department said it had approved more than $2.4 billion in arms sales to the country, which the U.S. believes will be a critical counterbalance to China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The sale includes six Boeing P-8I patrol aircraft and related technology to be used for surveillance. The department said the deal “will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to strengthen the U.S.-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of a major defensive partner, which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific and South Asia region.”

– Superville reported from Philadelphia.

U.S. military planes with COVID-19 aid reach India: White House

U.S. military planes with COVID-19 aid reach India: White House

Tens of thousands of masks, tests aboard, plus oxygen supplies

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In this photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, pallets of oxygen tanks sit in the 60th Aerial Port Squadron warehouse on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, at Travis Air Force Base, Calif. The United States is donating medical supplies to … more >

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By Tom Howell Jr.

The Washington Times

Friday, April 30, 2021

A pair of military planes loaded with COVID-19 aid left the U.S. late Thursday for India as the Asian country battles an unprecedented viral surge that is depleting oxygen supplies and bringing the health system to the brink of collapse.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a military assistance flight left Travis Air Force Base in California at 8 p.m. Thursday with 200 small oxygen cylinders, over 220 large oxygen cylinders, regulators and pulse oximeters, 184,000 rapid diagnostic tests and 84,000 N95 masks.

A second flight left at midnight with 17 large oxygen cylinders.

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“Both planes landed in India today. More will come,” Ms. Psaki told reporters en route to Philadelphia.

Ms. Psaki said Secretary of State Tony Blinken called his counterpart in India to discuss the aid and detail the “outpouring of support” from companies and private citizens in the U.S.

“We will continue to communicate with India about their needs,” she said.

India is setting daily global records with over 350,000 cases per day. There are widespread reports of people dying at home because families cannot find hospital space or oxygen to keep patients alive.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces rising anger, as critics say he failed to use a period of calm earlier in the global pandemic to prepare for a surge.