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White House repeats no Taiwan policy change; experts see Biden gaffe

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October 22, 2021

By Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Friday reiterated that Joe Biden was not signaling a change in U.S. policy toward Taiwan when he said the United States would come to the island’s aid if it was attacked by China, and analysts dismissed the president’s remark as a gaffe.

While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

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Biden called that into question when he was asked at a CNN town hall in Baltimore on Thursday night whether the United States would come to Taiwan’s defense if it was attacked by China and he replied: “Yes, we have a commitment to do that.”

Shortly after he spoke, a White House spokesperson said there was no change in policy and analysts said it appeared the president misspoke.

Asked at a Friday news briefing whether it was Biden’s intention to move away from strategic ambiguity to make an unambiguous statement about how the United States would respond to a Chinese attack on Taiwan, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “Our policy has not changed. He was not intending to convey a change in policy, nor has he made a decision to change our policy.”

Psaki added that, as stated in Brussels earlier on Friday by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, “nobody wants to see cross-strait issues come to blows, certainly not President Biden, and there’s no reason that it should.”

Psaki said the U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan was guided by the long-established Taiwan Relations Act, under which Washington would “continue assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability.”

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Another principle of the act was that Washington “would regard any efforts to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific and of grave concern to the United States,” she added.

Bonnie Glaser, a Taiwan expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, called Biden’s remark a “gaffe” and said it was “patently not true” that Washington has a commitment to defend Taiwan.

“Some are suggesting a deliberate effort to send unclear signals, but in my view, that makes no sense. A confused U.S. policy weakens deterrence,” she said, noting that Biden’s Asia policy czar, Kurt Campbell, had rejected “strategic clarity” over Taiwan.

Another Taiwan expert, Douglas Paal, a former U.S. representative in Taipei, said Biden was focused at the town hall on selling his domestic economic agenda.

“Despite his reputation on foreign affairs, he can be occasionally sloppy when distracted,” Paal said. “The White House was right to issue a speedy ‘no-change-in-policy’ correction, because that is where policy is.”

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Biden’s remark comes at an awkward time, while White House officials are gearing up for a virtual meeting between him and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, which, sources say, they hope will show the world Washington can responsibly manage tense relations between the rival superpowers.

China, which claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own, expressed its displeasure, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying Beijing has no room for concessions on its core interests.

China urges the United States “not to send the wrong signals to the forces of Taiwan independence, to avoid seriously harming Sino-U.S. ties and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

Taiwan’s presidential office said its position remained the same, which is that it will neither give in to pressure nor “rashly advance” when it gets support.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Tim Ahmann and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

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Russian court remands mine director, inspectors in custody after deadly accident

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Siberia on Saturday remanded five people in custody for two months to face charges related to a mining accident that killed more than 50 people this week.

Three managers of the Listvyazhnaya mine, including its director, were ordered to remain in custody until late January for flouting industrial safety standards, a spokesperson for the regional prosecutor’s office said.

The court also ordered two safety inspectors, who had issued a certificate for the mine this month but had not actually checked the facility, to remain in custody until late January.

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The accident, which regional authorities say was likely caused by a methane explosion, claimed the lives of 51 people, including five rescuers who were sent to bring out dozens of men stuck deep underground.

The health ministry said on Saturday that 60 people were being treated in hospital for injuries sustained at the mine, TASS news agency reported.

The accident at the mine, located some 3,500 km (2,200 miles) east of Moscow in the Kemerovo region, was Russia’s worst since 2010 when explosions killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same region.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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Russia spy chief says Ukraine invasion plan ‘malicious’ U.S. propaganda

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November 27, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine and suggestions to the contrary are malicious U.S. propaganda, Moscow’s foreign intelligence chief said on Saturday.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near the border with Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch an attack.

Russia has repeatedly said it is free to move its troops on its own territory and that such movements should not be a cause for concern.

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“I need to reassure everyone. Nothing like this is going to happen,” Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, said in an interview broadcast on state television, referring to comments on Russia’s alleged invasion plans.

“Everything that is happening around this topic right now is of course malicious propaganda by the U.S. State Department.”

Naryshkin spoke a day after the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said all options were on the table in how to respond to Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine’s border and that NATO would decide on the next move after consultations next week.

While U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, Moscow has accused Washington, Kyiv and NATO of provocative and irresponsible behaviour near its borders.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Spanish police march in Madrid to protest against ‘Gag Law’ reform

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November 27, 2021

By Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo

MADRID (Reuters) – Thousands of Spanish police officers marched through Madrid on Saturday to protest against a proposed reform of a security law which they say will hamper their ability to do their work.

Politicians from Spain’s three main conservative parties joined police officers in the protest against proposed changes to the 2015 Citizens Security Law, which critics say violates the right to protest and limits free expression.

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Dubbed the “Gag Law” by those who oppose it, the legislation allows authorities to fine media organisations for distributing unauthorised images of police, strictly limits demonstrations and imposes heavy fines for offenders.

Spain’s leftist government has proposed reforms including no longer classifying the taking of photographs or making of recordings of police at demonstrations as a serious offence.

Under the changes, police will also have to use less harmful materials at protests after a number of people were seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by officers.

The time that suspects who are arrested at protests can be held in custody will be cut from six hours to two and fines will be proportional to how much offenders earn.

“They should either leave the current law as it is or make it better for the police and for the citizens,” Civil Guard officer Vanessa Gonzalez told Reuters.

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Ivan Espinosa de los Monteros, of the far-right Vox party, said: “There is strong opposition against (the reform) of this law. It is against our police and we will not let it happen.”

However, Isa Serra, spokeswoman for the far-left Unidas Podemos party, said at a rally in Cantabria in northern Spain that the law had done a “lot of damage to Spanish democracy”.

Organisers said 150,000 people took part in the Madrid demonstration but the government put the figure at 20,000.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley, Miguel Gutierrez and Marco Trujillo; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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