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Biden to tell Xi that China must play by the rules – senior U.S. official

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November 15, 2021

By Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom and Alexandra Alper

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will tell Chinese leader Xi Jinping at a virtual meeting on Monday meant to reduce the chances of a superpower conflict that China must “play by the rules of the road” like a responsible nation, a senior U.S. administration official said.

The video dialogue, initiated by Biden and expected by the United States to run for several hours on Monday evening, Washington time, will be about setting terms for future U.S.-China competition, the official told reporters.

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Both sides hope the most extensive talks between the leaders since Biden became president in January will make the relationship less acrimonious.

The United States and China, the world’s biggest economies, disagree on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing’s expanding nuclear arsenal and its stepped-up pressure on Taiwan, among other issues.

“This is an opportunity for President Biden to tell President Xi directly that he expects him to play by the rules of the road, which is what other responsible nations do,” the U.S. official told reporters, citing a litany of U.S. concerns, including China’s economic “coercion” of U.S. allies and alleged human rights abuses.

Biden is focused on writing those rules “in a way that is favorable to our interests and our values and those of our allies and partners”, the official said, adding that talks with China must be “substantive and not symbolic”.

“This is not a meeting where we expect deliverables to be coming out,” the official added.

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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. Not on Biden’s agenda are U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods that Beijing and business groups hope to be scaled back.

The official declined to answer questions on whether the United States will send officials to the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. Activists and U.S. lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to boycott the Olympics.

‘DEEP SUSPICION’

Xi, looking ahead to the Games and a Communist Party Congress next year where he is expected to secure an unprecedented third term, is also keen to avoid heightened tensions with the United States, while pushing back over the Taiwan issue.

“The Taiwan question is the ultimate red line of China,” the Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, wrote in a Monday editorial.

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Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing on Monday: “It is hoped that the United States and China will meet each other halfway, strengthen dialogue and cooperation, effectively manage differences, properly handle sensitive issues, and explore ways of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.”

Xi and Biden last week outlined competing visions, 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.

“Both sides hold the other with deep suspicion and are taking substantive steps to compete against the other in economics, security and politics,” said Scott Kennedy, a China expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Democrats in Congress want Biden to make nuclear risk reduction measures with China a top priority, after the Pentagon reported that Beijing was significantly expanding its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Beijing argues its arsenal is dwarfed by those of the United States and Russia, and says it is ready for dialogue if Washington reduces its nuclear stockpile to China’s level.

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Taiwan is likely to play heavily in the talks, with Beijing and Washington increasingly clashing over the self-ruled island, which China claims as its own.

The Biden administration has been trying to carve out more space for Taiwan in the international system. Beijing has vowed to bring the island back under mainland control, by force if necessary.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that 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.

In a call with Blinken on Saturday, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi warned Washington against sending the wrong signals Biden and China’s Xi will hold virtual meeting to Taiwan pro-independence forces.

Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, who served as ambassador to Japan under former President Donald Trump, said Biden needed to show a firm hand with Xi.

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“This is President Biden’s opportunity to show steel, show strength on America’s side, to make it clear that we are going to stand by our allies and that we will not endorse or condone the malign behavior that China has engaged in,” he said.

(Reporting by Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom, Andrea Shalal and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Heather Timmons, Michael Perry and Mark Heinrich)

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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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