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China Follows Biden Remarks by Announcing Taiwan Military Drills

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Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers assembling during military training at Pamir Mountains in Kashgar, northwestern China's Xinjiang region.

China followed President Joe Biden’s vow to defend Taiwan militarily by announcing it held military exercises close to the democratically ruled island, underscoring its anger over the US stance.

The air and sea “combat readiness patrol” was “a solemn warning about the recent collusion between the US and Taiwan,” Colonel Shi Yi said in a statement on Wednesday from the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army. The command, which is headquartered in the eastern city of Nanjing, didn’t say when exactly the exercises were conducted.

“On the Taiwan issue, the US side says one thing and does another, giving repeated encouragement to ‘Taiwan independence’ forces. This is hypocritical and futile, and will only lead the situation to a dangerous situation, and it will also face serious consequences,” Shi added.

The comments show how much Biden angered Beijing by answering “yes” when asked Monday in Tokyo if the US would act “militarily” to defend the island in the event of a Chinese attack. White House officials later said he was only promising US aid to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of hostilities.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin also lashed out at the US at a regular press briefing Wednesday in Beijing, saying “it will incur irreparable consequences and unbearable cost” for supporting Taiwan.

China has a pattern of using the PLA to respond to what it sees as US provocations regarding Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of its territory that must be brought under control by force if necessary. After a group of senior senators including Republican Lindsey Graham visited last month, China held air and naval training near the island.

The government of President Tsai Ing-wen asserts Taiwan is already a de facto independent nation deserving wider international recognition. The Biden administration has stepped up its backing since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, partly to deter any attack across the Taiwan Strait.

China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, last week warned the US about its increased support for the government in Taipei, saying: “If the US side insists on playing the Taiwan card and goes further and further down the wrong road, it will certainly lead to a dangerous situation.”

Bloomberg

International

Aftershock in Afghanistan as quake toll rises to 1,150 dead

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Afghanistan Earthquake

Tents, food and medical supplies rolled into the mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan where thousands were left homeless or injured by this week’s powerful earthquake, which state media said killed 1,150 people. A new aftershock Friday took five more lives and deepened the misery

Among the dead from Wednesday’s magnitude 6 quake are 121 children, but that figure is expected to climb, said Mohamed Ayoya, UNICEF’s representative in Afghanistan. He said close to 70 children were injured.

Overstretched aid agencies said the disaster underscored the need for the international community to rethink its financial cutoff of Afghanistan since Taliban insurgents seized the country 10 months ago. That policy, halting billions in development aid and freezing vital reserves, has helped push the economy into collapse and plunge Afghanistan deeper into humanitarian crises and near-famine.

The quake struck a remote, deeply impoverished region of small towns and villages tucked among rough mountains near the Pakistani border, collapsing stone and mud-brick homes and in some cases killing entire families. Nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Paktika and Khost provinces, state media reported.

The effort to help the victims has been slowed both by geography and by Afghanistan’s decimated infrastructure.

Rutted roads through the mountains, already slow to drive on, were made worse by quake damage and rain. The International Red Cross has five hospitals in the region, but damage to the roads made it difficult for those in the worse-hit areas to reach them, said Lucien Christen, a Red Cross spokesman in Afghanistan.

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Some of the injured had to be taken to a hospital in Ghazni, more than80 miles away that the Red Cross has kept running by paying salaries to staff over the past months, he said. Many health facilities around the country have shut down, unable to pay personnel or obtain supplies.

“It shows if you don’t have [a] functional health system, people cannot access basic services they need, especially in these sorts of times,” Christen said.

On Friday, Pakistan’s Meteorological Department reported a new, 4.2 magnitude quake. Afghanistan’s state-run Bakhtar News Agency said five people were killed and 11 injured in Gayan, a district of Paktika province that is one of the areas worst hit in Wednesday’s quake.

Bakhtar’s Taliban director Abdul Wahid Rayan said Friday the death toll from Wednesday had risen to 1,150 people, with at least 1,600 people injured. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has put the death toll at 770 people. It’s not clear how death toll counts are being reached, given the access difficulties. Either toll would make the quake Afghanistan’s deadliest in two decades.

At Urgun, the main city in Paktika province, U.N. World Health Organization medical supplies were unloaded at the main hospital. In quake-hit villages, UNICEF delivered blankets, basic supplies and tarps for the homeless to use as tents. Aid groups said they feared cholera could break out after damage to water and hygiene systems.

In main villages of Gayan District, residents crowded around trucks delivering aid, an Associated Press team saw Friday. People who had spent the past two nights sleeping outdoors in the rain erected tents in the yards of their wrecked houses. For more than 24 hours after the quake, many had been on their own, digging through the rubble by hand in search of survivors.

Still, help was slow to filter across the area. In one tiny hamlet seen by the AP, all 20 houses were flattened, and residents were still taking refuge in nearby forests.

Trucks of food and other necessities arrived from Pakistan, and planes full of humanitarian aid landed from Iran, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. But it was not clear how long it would take to reach devastated villages. Other countries sending aid have taken pains to make clear it would not go through the Taliban — reflecting the widespread reluctance to deal with Afghanistan’s new rulers.

Aid groups said that while they are rushing to help the quake victims, keeping Afghanistan just above catastrophe through humanitarian programs is not sustainable. Some urged the world to end or find ways around the financial cutoff that has wrecked the economy.

“We are basically letting 25 million Afghan people to starve, to die, not to be able to earn their own living if we keep on with this financial blockade,” said Rossella Miccio, president of the aid organization Emergency, which operates a network of health-care facilities and surgical centers across Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s economy had been reliant on international donor support even before the Taliban takeover last August as the U.S. and its NATO allies were withdrawing their forces, ending a 20-year war.

World governments halted billions in development aid and froze billions more in Afghanistan’s currency reserves, refusing to recognize the Taliban government and demanding they allow a more inclusive rule and respect human rights. The former insurgents have resisted the pressure, imposing restrictions on the freedoms of women and girls, recalling their first time in power in the late 1990s.

The cutoff yanked the supports out from under the economy. Now nearly half the population of 38 million cannot meet their basic food needs because of poverty. Most civil servants, including doctors, nurses and teachers, have not been paid for months, and salaries remain sporadic.

Many aid groups have left the country. U.N. agencies and other remaining organizations have kept Afghanistan away from the brink of starvation with a humanitarian program that has fed millions and kept the medical system alive.

But with international donors lagging, U.N. agencies face a $3 billion funding shortfall this year.

International sanctions on Afghan banks make it difficult to send funds into the country. Some aid groups have to carry in large bags of cash to pay local staff in an expensive process that incurs fees along the way for transport and security.

The International Rescue Agency’s vice president for Asia, Adnan Junaid, said the international community must set a roadmap to resume development and release Afghanistan’s frozen reserves.

“Only a bold strategy that addresses the causes of this crisis will put an end to the spiral of misery being faced by its population,” Junaid said.

LA TIMES

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Ukraine forces ordered to withdraw from key battleground city

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Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in Sievierodonetsk

Ukrainian forces have been ordered to withdraw from the key battleground city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of fierce street fighting, in order to limit more casualties and regroup, but the move will be seen by Russia as a significant victory.

Ukraine officials said there was very little left to defend in the bombed-out eastern city, where hundreds of civilians remain trapped in a chemical plant.

The order to withdraw on Friday came four months to the day since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent tens of thousands of troops over the border, unleashing a conflict that has killed thousands, uprooted millions and reduced whole cities to rubble.

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said troops inSievierodonetsk had already received the order to move to newpositions.

“Remaining in positions smashed to pieces over many monthsjust for the sake of staying there does not make sense,” Gaidaisaid on Ukrainian television.

The withdrawal from Sievierodonetsk would mark the biggest reversal for Ukraine since the loss of the southern port of Mariupol in May.

The latest Russian advances appeared to bring the Kremlincloser to taking full control of Luhansk, one of Moscow’s statedwar objectives, and set the stage for Sievierodonetsk’s twincity of Lysychansk to become the next main focus of fighting.

Vitaly Kiselev, an official in the Interior Ministry of theseparatist Luhansk People’s Republic – recognised only by Russia- told Russia’s TASS news agency that it would take another week and a half to secure full control of Lysychansk.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, but abandoned an earlyadvance on the capital Kyiv in the face of fierce resistancebolstered by Western arms.

Since then Moscow and its proxies have focused on the southand Donbas, an eastern territory made up of Luhansk and itsneighbour Donetsk, deploying overwhelming artillery in some ofthe heaviest ground fighting in Europe since World War Two.

Ukraine on Friday again pressed for more arms, with its topgeneral, Valeriy Zaluzhniy, telling his U.S. counterpart in aphone call that Kyiv needed “fire parity” with Moscow tostabilise the situation in Luhansk.

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‘ORDERLY RETREATS’

South of Sievierodonetsk, Ukrainian soldiers also withdrew from the towns of Hirske and Zolote in the face of overwhelming Russian forces, said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Arestovych said the orderly retreat from the towns was a good thing in that it broke with a Soviet and post-Soviet military tradition to never retreat, whatever the circumstances.

He said Ukraine’s military had learnt the hard lesson of trying to defend positions at all cost during battles with pro-Russian forces in 2014.

“Now, for the first time, we have a precedent where our boys retreated in an orderly fashion,” he said in an online video post.

Russian troops had entered Hirske and fully occupied the surrounding district on Friday, municipal head Oleksiy Babchenko said.

“There is a red flag flying over the municipaladministration (in Hirske),” a spokesperson for the regionaladministration told Reuters by telephone.

Ukraine’s foreign minister played down the significance ofthe possible loss of more territory in the Donbas.

“Putin wanted to occupy the Donbas by May 9. We are (there) on June 24 and still fighting. Retreating from a few battlesdoes not mean losing the war at all,” Dmytro Kuleba said in aninterview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said its troopshad some success in the southern Kherson region, forcing theRussians back from defensive positions near the village ofOlhine, the latest of several Ukrainian counter-assaults.

Ukrainian media showed footage of a school smouldering andgutted by Russian shelling in Avdiivka — a town in Donetskregion just inside Ukrainian-held territory. Reports said theschool had been used as a first aid centre and the attackdestroyed medicine and other supplies.

Reuters could not confirm the details of the fighting.

Russia says it sent troops into Ukraine to degrade itssouthern neighbour’s military capabilities and root out peopleit called dangerous nationalists.

Ukraine, which says Russia has launched an imperial-styleland grab, this week won new support from the West.

The war has had a massive impact on the global economy andEuropean security arrangements, driving up gas, oil and foodprices, pushing the EU to reduce its heavy reliance on Russianenergy and prompting Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership.

The West has imposed an unprecedented package of sanctions on Russia, its top companies and its business and political elite in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The measures have triggered an exodus of foreign firms, raised the prospect of Russia defaulting on its sovereign debt, and look set to trigger a deep economic contraction.

In a major sign of support, European Union leaders this week approved Ukraine’s formal candidature to join the bloc – a decision that Russia said on Friday amounted to the EU’s “enslaving” neighbouring countries.

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Why Africa should stand by Ukraine against Russia – Foreign Minister

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Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs said Thursday that there are at least three reasons for African countries to stand by Ukraine.

Speaking at a special press briefing organised by Africa Regional Media Hub, Mr Kuleba made reference to Africa’s colonial history by saying Africa should “understand very well how it feels to be attacked by a power that cannot abandon the idea of its supremacy over our nation and its colonial, imperialistic ambitions…”

Another reason, according to Mr Kuleba, is that if Russia succeeds in Ukraine, it will be a clear message to the entire international community and to all countries who want to attack their neighbours that there is no world order that can protect them.

“That the mighty can do whatever it wants to impose its will on the other’s part,” Mr Kuleba said.

The third argument, according to him, is the ongoing food security challenge. According to him, the longer the war lasts, the more difficult it would be to get agricultural produce to Africa.

He accused Russia of intentionally blocking its (Ukraine) seaports to foster a new wave of colonisation aimed at reconfiguring the global food system and making it more Russia-dependent than ever.

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According to the World Economic Forum, 14 African countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for more than half of their wheat imports, while almost half the continent depends on imports for more than a third of their wheat.

Apart from the looming supply constraints, this crisis has already pushed food grain prices up by more than 25 per cent.

Mr Kuleba added that Russia’s attack on Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure to inflict maximum damage on its food-producing capacity is deliberately inflicting damage on African states that rely on Ukrainian agricultural exports.

“I urge the world and all African states to work together and pressure Russia to allow a safe sea route for our food exports, ” he said, adding that African states have a crucial role in this.

African capitals matter and they do influence Russia’s position, the ogival said.

By preventing Ukraine from exporting its agricultural produce, Russia is trying to squeeze Ukraine out of its traditional markets in African countries, he added.

Thousands of people have been killed and millions of others displaced since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

The invasion has been condemned by many countries as a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and the international order.

Russia called the invasion a ‘special military operation’ to rid Ukraine of neo-Nazis and protect Russia from NATO’s expansion to its borders.

Most of the countries that have condemned the invasion and declared support for Ukraine are Western countries and U.S. allies. Most African countries have been largely neutral on the matter preferring to call for peace rather than condemn Russia’s actions.

PREMIUM TIMES

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