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Biden and China’s Xi will hold virtual meeting on Monday

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November 13, 2021

By Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden will hold a virtual meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Monday, the White House said, talks Washington hopes will create some stability amid increased tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

It is expected to be the leaders’ most extensive meeting under the Biden administration and will follow on from a telephone call between the two on Sept. 9.

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Washington and Beijing have been sparring on issues from the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic to China’s expanding nuclear arsenal https://www.reuters.com/world/pentagon-sharply-raises-its-estimate-chinese-nuclear-warheads-2021-11-03. U.S. officials believe direct engagement with Xi is the best way to prevent ties spiraling toward conflict.

“The two leaders will discuss ways to responsibly manage the competition … as well as ways to work together where our interests align,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “President Biden will make clear U.S. intentions and priorities and be clear and candid about our concerns.”

Beijing is also keen to avoid confrontation as Xi faces a crucial year ahead with China’s hosting of the Winter Olympic Games and a key Communist Party Congress where he looks to secure an unprecedented third term.

China’s foreign ministry said on Saturday the leaders would exchange views on bilateral relations and issues of common interests in the summit, which will take place on Tuesday morning in Asia.

A senior U.S. official said Biden would make clear he welcomes stiff competition with China, but doesn’t want conflict, and played down the likelihood of a long list of outcomes often tied to top-level meetings.

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“This is not about seeking specific deliverables or outcomes,” the official said, adding in reference to the People’s Republic of China: “As we compete with the PRC, President Biden expects President Xi and the PRC to play by the rules of road—and he will make that point throughout the meeting.”

The meeting will come after Biden signs a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal in a big ceremony on Monday to celebrate domestic renewal plans he believes will position the United States to out-compete China.

U.S. officials have played down the possibility of progress on trade, where China is lagging in a commitment to buy $200 billion more in U.S. goods and services.

China has nevertheless continued to push for relief from hundreds of billions of dollars of tariffs imposed under former President Donald Trump, arguing this could help both sides by easing inflation and boosting employment.

COMPETING VISIONS

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Biden and Xi outlined competing visions at meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum this week https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/biden-xi-address-asia-pacific-leaders-trade-covid-recovery-2021-11-12, with Biden stressing the U.S. commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” which Washington says faces increasing Chinese “coercion,” while Xi warned against a return to Cold War tensions.

Addressing APEC leaders on Friday, Xi spoke of the need to “stick to dialogue rather than confrontation, inclusiveness rather than exclusion, and integration rather than decoupling,” an apparent reference to U.S. moves to make key supply chains independent of China.

Climate is a priority for Biden, and China and the United States, the world’s two biggest carbon emitters, unveiled a deal https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/china-us-make-joint-statement-cop26-climate-summit-2021-11-10 at global talks in Glasgow this week to ramp up cooperation, including by cutting methane emissions, phasing out coal consumption and protecting forests.

However, the superpowers have clashed increasingly over self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own and that Washington is required to provide with the means to defend itself.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken angered China this week when he said Washington and its allies would take unspecified “action” if China were to use force to alter the Taiwan status quo, further muddying the long-held U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” as to whether the United States would respond militarily.

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Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told Blinken in a call on Saturday that the United States should not send the wrong signals to Taiwan pro-independence forces, according a statement on the Chinese foreign ministry website.

“If the United States really wants to maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait, it should clearly and resolutely oppose any Taiwan pro-independence behavior,” Wang said.

Wang and Blinken also exchanged views on areas including energy efficiency, climate change and the Iran nuclear issue and agreed to maintain dialogue on global challenges, China said.

Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia under the Obama administration, said both Biden and Xi were worried by the risk of a military incident escalating.

“Biden knows that the tools for prevention and crisis management are rusty, so we should expect him to push to put in place safeguards or ‘guardrails’ to reduce risk,” he said.

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Russel said the Sept. 9 Biden-Xi call began with Xi listing complaints, but ended with a constructive agreement for officials to continue discussions.

“This suggests that the personal relationship Biden built with Xi a decade ago is still strong, and that each conversation can add some stability to the mix.”

(Reporting by Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom, Trevor Hunnicutt and Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Heather Timmons and William Mallard)

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Pope says willing to go to Moscow to meet Orthodox Patriarch

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December 6, 2021

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday he was willing to go to Moscow for to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill “brother to brother” in what would be the first trip by a pope to Russia.

The pair’s meeting in Cuba in 2016 was the first by a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the great schism that split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches in 1054.

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Both sides have declared a willingness to work towards unity but they are still far apart theologically and over what role the pope would play in an eventually reunited Church.

“We are brothers and we talk straight to each other. We do not dance the minuet,” Francis told reporters aboard his plane returning from a trip to Cyprus and Greece.

“We have to move forward, walking and working towards unity.”

He said he was willing to go Moscow and that a top Russian Orthodox official was expected in Rome next week to decide the time and location of the meeting.

Francis said working out the protocols would be less important than meeting “brother to brother” with Kirill.

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The Pope normally travels to countries with a joint invitation from its religious authorities as well as one from the government, meaning that Francis would most likely need an invitation from President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest in Christian Orthodoxy, with about 100 million members, is closely aligned with the Kremlin.

Francis said the meeting with Kirill was “on the not too distant horizon”.

He said Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, who is responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations, would be coming to the Vatican to meet him to discuss where and when the next meeting can take place.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

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Yemen Houthis bury their dead as Marib fighting rages

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December 6, 2021

By Adel Al-Khader

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis held military funerals on Monday for 25 fighters killed in battles with a Saudi-led coalition, as fighting shows no sign of abating despite intense international diplomacy to end the seven-year-old conflict.

The funerals took place as fighting has raged in the gas-rich Marib region, while warplanes from the coalition have intensified their bombing of Sanaa, Marib and other areas.

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The Houthis have also stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia using armed drones and missiles.

An honour guard carried the coffins – draped with flags, flowers and photographs of the dead – with military music through the capital Sanaa. Relatives gathered to mourn their loved ones.

“We are in these days inspired by these martyrs’ pride and dignity and say to them: ‘congratulations! You have preceded us to a paradise as wide as the heavens and earth’,” said Ali Muhyaddin, a relative of one of the dead.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

U.N.-led efforts to agree a ceasefire have stalled in the conflict, which is seen largely as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign invasion.

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Houthi media showed fighters exchanging heavy artillery fire with coalition forces in Marib on Sunday as warplanes flew overhead. All the 25 fighters buried in Sanaa were killed in Marib, Houthi officials said.

The Houthis have launched a year-long offensive to take Marib, which hosts Yemen’s biggest gas fields. The city is the last stronghold of the internationally recognised government.

Marib is home to 3 million people, including nearly 1 million who fled other parts of Yemen after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene.

The number of displaced people in camps in the province has risen nearly 10-fold since September, with more than 45,000 people fleeing their homes as Houthi forces press the offensive, the U.N. migration agency IOM said last month.

(Writing by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Putin and Modi discuss trade, humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

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December 6, 2021

By Alasdair Pal and Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in New Delhi on Monday, with trade and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan both on the agenda.

Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban earlier this year has led to a humanitarian crisis in the country, which New Delhi and Moscow have both previously said risks destabilising the region.

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“The fight against terrorism is also a fight against drug trafficking and organised crime,” Putin said in introductory remarks broadcast by Indian media. “In that regard, we are concerned about developments of the situation in Afghanistan.”

The visit by Putin and several top Russian officials comes amid increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States, also a key Indian ally.

Earlier on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a deal to supply India with S-400 air defence missile systems was being implemented despite what he said were U.S. efforts to undermine the accord.

India and Russia are expected to cement several trade and defence pacts at the summit.

“The relation between India and Russia is truly a unique and reliable model,” Modi said.

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(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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