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Biden, Xi stick to their positions but turn down the heat in three-hour talk

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November 16, 2021

By Andrea Shalal, Michael Martina and Yew Lun Tian

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden pressed his Chinese counterpart on human rights in a video call lasting more than three hours, while Xi Jinping warned that China would respond to provocations on Taiwan, according to official accounts of the exchange.

The closely scrutinized conversation between the leaders of the world’s biggest economies was described by both sides as frank and direct as the two sides tried to lower the temperature and avoid conflict.

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The talks, which began on Monday evening in Washington – Tuesday morning in Beijing – appeared to yield no immediate outcomes, but gave the two leaders opportunity to nudge their relations away from icy confrontation, even as they stuck to entrenched positions.

They discussed North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, global energy markets, trade and competition, climate, military issues, the pandemic and other areas where they frequently disagree.

Xi, who has not left his country since COVID-19 spread worldwide from the central Chinese city of Wuhan nearly two years ago, compared the two countries to “two giant ships sailing in the sea” that needed to be steadied so they didn’t collide, Chinese state media reported.

“I hope that, Mr. President, you can exercise political leadership to return the United States’ China policy to a rational and pragmatic track,” Xi told Biden, according to Xinhua, a reference to tough-on-China policies that Beijing hoped would be rolled back after Biden came to office.

Biden spoke of avoiding conflict as well.

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“It seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that our competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended,” Biden said during a short exchange observed by reporters at the start of the meeting. “Just simple, straightforward competition.”

The leaders had a “healthy debate”, a senior U.S. official said afterwards. Biden stressed the importance of China fulfilling its commitments under a trade pact negotiated with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, the U.S. official said.

China is lagging in a commitment to buy $200 billion more in U.S. goods and services, but Xi told Biden that it was important to avoid politicizing the issue.

The two also discussed taking measures to address global energy supplies, U.S. officials said.

The contentious issue of whether the United States will send White House envoys to the Beijing Winter Olympics in February did not come up, the U.S. official said.

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Chinese state media struck an upbeat tone.

“The summit could be taken as a sign that the two economic and political heavyweights could at least avoid a further deterioration in their ties after four years of damage caused by the reckless Trump administration,” Wen Sheng, a Global Times editor, wrote in a commentary.

RED LINE FOR TAIWAN

Sharp differences over the self-ruled island of Taiwan remain.

While Biden reiterated long-standing U.S. support for the “One China” policy https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/biden-says-he-chinas-xi-have-agreed-abide-by-taiwan-agreement-2021-10-05 under which it officially recognises Beijing rather than Taipei, he also said he “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”, the White House said.

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Xi said those in Taiwan who seek independence, and their supporters in the United States, were “playing with fire”, according to Xinhua.

“China is patient and seeks peaceful reunification with great sincerity and effort, but if Taiwan secessionists provoke, or even cross the red line, we will have to take decisive measures,” he said.

A U.S. official said “there was nothing new established in the form of guard rails or any other understandings” on Taiwan, though Biden raised “very clear concerns.”

China claims the island as its own. Beijing has vowed to bring the island under Chinese control, by force if necessary, and tensions across the Taiwan Strait have escalated in recent months.

Beijing objects to Washington’s efforts to carve out more space for Taiwan in the international system, and recent comments by Biden that the United States would defend Taiwan in certain cases also inflamed tensions.

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Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, responding to Xi’s remarks, denounced China’s “pressure and intimidation”, saying the island’s people would not give in to threats.

Biden raised other issues that Beijing regards as domestic concerns, including its handling of Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, where China’s policies face frequent censure by foreign rights groups.

Biden and Xi have not had a face-to-face meeting since Biden became president and the last time they spoke was by telephone in September. The U.S. president smiled broadly as the Chinese president appeared on a large screen in the White House conference room.

The tone of the meeting lifted investor sentiment, with global stocks hitting new peaks.

“At least they are talking,” economist Wellian Wiranto of OCBC Bank in Singapore wrote during the talks. “That seems to be the main expectation by global markets when it comes to any concrete outcome – or a lack thereof.”

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(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina in Washington, and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Ryan Woo, Tony Munroe, Ben Blanchard and Trevor Hunnicutt; Writing by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons and Michael Perry)

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Germany’s Free Democrats back coalition agreement

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December 5, 2021

BERLIN (Reuters) – Members of Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) voted on Sunday by a large majority to back a coalition agreement with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, paving the way for the three-way alliance to form a new government next week.

The coalition, the first at federal level between the environmentalist Greens, the FDP and Olaf Scholz’s centre-left SPD, will end 16 years of conservative governments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The SPD approved the agreement on Saturday and the Greens are due to announce the outcome of a member survey on the deal on Monday. The three parties hope the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, will vote Scholz in as chancellor on Wednesday.

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The “traffic light” alliance, named after the parties’respective colours, will usher in a new era of relations with Europe, and plans to speed up digitalisation of the continent’sbiggest economy and put a focus on fighting climate change.

(Reporting by Alexander Ratz; Writing by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Gambian President Barrow on course for resounding election win

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December 5, 2021

By Bate Felix

BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambia’s incumbent president, Adama Barrow, was on course for a resounding election win on Sunday, partial results indicated, that could help to draw a line under recent political turmoil.

Saturday’s vote was the first in 27 years without disgraced former president Yahya Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea after refusing to accept defeat to Barrow in 2016.

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Jammeh, whose 22-year rule over the tiny nation of 2.5 million people was characterised by killings and torture of political opponents, had tried to persuade supporters to vote for an opposition coalition in telephoned speeches that were relayed to campaign rallies.

But his lingering influence was not enough to dent Barrow’s showing. The president, who only needs to win more votes than the second-placed candidate, won 36 of the first 41 constituencies announced, taking 315,547 votes.

His nearest rival, political veteran Ousainou Darboe, had 133,177 votes, with four other candidates far behind.

Only 12 constituencies remained to be announced.

The election was seen as a test of Gambia’s democratic progress and its ability to leave the Jammeh era behind.

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Barrow’s first term was marked by the coronavirus pandemic, which damaged an economy that relies heavily on tourism, as well as exports of peanuts and fish.

(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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S.Africans protest against Shell oil exploration in pristine coastal area

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December 5, 2021

By Siyabonga Sishi

PORT EDWARD, South Africa (Reuters) – South Africans took to their beaches on Sunday to protest against plans by Royal Dutch Shell to do seimsic oil exploration they say will threaten marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, seals and penguins on a pristine coastal stretch.

A South African court on Friday struck down https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/shell-wins-court-case-start-seismic-surveys-offshore-south-africa-2021-12-03 an application brought by environmentalists to stop the oil major exploring in the eastern seaboard’s Wild Coast, rejecting as unproven their argument that it would cause “irreparable harm” to the marine environment, especially migrating hump-back whales.

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The Wild Coast is home of some of the country’s most undisturbed wildlife refuges, and it’s stunning coastal wildernesses are also a major tourist draw.

At least 1,000 demonstrators gathered on a beach near Port Edward, a Reuters TV correspondent saw.

“It’s just absolutely horrendous that they are even considering this. Look around you?” said demonstrator Kas Wilson, indicating an unspoilt stretch of beach. “It’s unacceptable and … we will stop it.”

Shell officials were not immediately available for comment, but the company said on Friday that its planned exploration has regulatory approval, and it will significantly contribute to South Africa’s energy security if resources are found.

But local people fear the seismic blasting conducted over 6,000 square kilometres will kill or scare away the fish they depend on to live.

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“I don’t want them to operate here because if they do we won’t be able to catch fish,” said 62-year-old free dive fisherwoman Toloza Mzobe, after pulling a wild lobster from the ground. “What are we going to eat?”

Environmentalists are urging Shell and other oil companies to stop prospecting for oil, arguing that the world has no chance of reaching net zero carbon by 2050 if existing oil deposits are burned, let alone if new ones are found.

Earlier this year, a Dutch court ordered Shell to reduce its planet warming carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 from 2019 levels, a decision it plans to appeal.

South Africa’s environment ministry referred Reuters to a statement late last month that “the Minister responsible for environmental affairs is … not mandated to consider the application or to make a decision on the authorisation of the seismic survey.”

(Writing by Tim Cocks;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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