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Analysis: In North America First push, Biden, Trudeau, Lopez Obrador aim at China

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November 19, 2021

By Trevor Hunnicutt, Steve Scherer and Dave Graham

WASHINGTON/OTTAWA/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – When U.S. President Joe Biden gathered the leaders of his closest neighbors at the White House on Thursday, far-off rival China was top of mind.

Trying to unify a collection of democracies to challenge China’s growing economic and military clout, Biden has revived the so-called Three Amigos working group ditched by his predecessor Donald Trump.

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While he did not say the word “China” in front of reporters, aides said the emphasis of his private meetings was on policies designed to counter a country that by some estimates could overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy within a decade.

On Thursday, Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador agreed to donate millions in vaccines to third countries, work together to fix their dependency on broken supply chains, and to prohibit imports of goods made with forced labor, which the United States says China uses in its northwestern Xinjiang region. Beijing denies it.

The three leaders also suggested it was time to reverse the trend of decades of global trade and claw back manufacturing from China.

“It’s a paradox that there’s so much money in North America and the Pacific ports are saturated with goods from Asia,” Lopez Obrador said. “Why can’t we produce in North America what we consume?”

Economic integration between the three countries, which make up 28% of global gross domestic product, is the best way to stave off competition from China and an “unacceptable imbalance” that “would keep alive the temptation of trying to resolve this disparity by use of force,” Lopez Obrador said.

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Under Biden, Washington is the leading supplier of vaccines to the world as it works to jumpstart infrastructure development abroad and secure the raw minerals and supplies it needs to be a leader in electric vehicles.

In each case, China has a rival program, including its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

The new effort under Biden, a Democrat, marks another sharp departure from Republican Trump’s “America First” policies that rubbed some traditional allies of Washington the wrong way.

NAFTA

The economies of Canada, Mexico and the United States have been tightly bound since the 1994 implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was later replaced by a similar deal negotiated under Trump.

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One rationale for the original deal was that North American trade on fair and open terms would make all three richer, more integrated and prepare them to better compete worldwide, including with an ascendant China.

In the years that followed, China was the clear winner. Beijing expanded its market access with its 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization and the United States became dependent on Chinese exports, while manufacturing jobs migrated to China and other low-cost areas including Mexico.

Many lawmakers from both parties now regard that level of dependence on China as a mistake. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the United States has faced shortages of goods ranging from masks to meat and computer chips, some of which are dependent on manufacturing or raw materials from East Asia.

Shortages this year have contributed to inflation and Americans’ deteriorating view of Biden’s handling of the economy.

In viewing China as a rival, Biden has natural allies in Canada and Mexico.

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Since the end of a three-year standoff over the arrest https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-welcomes-huawei-executive-home-silent-freed-canadians-2021-09-25 of a Huawei Technologies Co executive in September, diplomatic exchanges between Canada and China have been tense.

Canada is promoting its wealth of critical minerals including rare earths used in electric vehicle batteries as a way to wean the West’s dependence on China.

“Many of those critical minerals have been cornered by … certain parts of the world that are somewhat less reliable these days,” Trudeau said on Wednesday in Washington.

On Thursday, Trudeau and Biden “underscored their commitment to supply chain security,” according to a statement after their meeting.

Lopez Obrador agreed, saying Mexican consumers are also waiting for cars or household appliances because of the semiconductor shortage.

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The comments marked a welcome return to putting North America first, said Ildefonso Guajardo, a former Mexican economy minister who oversaw trade negotiations with the Trump administration.

“The new reality of the supply chains and logistical disruptions caused by COVID to international trade obviously means we have to give more priority to North America,” he said.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington, Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Heather Timmons and Daniel Wallis)

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China top representative in Macau to advise govt on national security-state media

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December 3, 2021

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s top representative in the semiautonomous gambling hub of Macau will begin advising the former Portuguese colony’s government on national security matters, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.

The move highlights increased scrutiny from Beijing over Macau affairs after the central government declared outflows of Chinese gambling-related funds into Macau and other gaming hubs a national security risk.

Last week Macau authorities arrested Alvin Chau https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/gambling-group-suncitys-shares-set-rise-61-after-arrested-chairman-resigns-2021-12-02, the founder of Macau’s biggest junket operator, which brings in high rollers to play at casinos, along with 10 others, for allegedly using Macau as a base for an illegal “live web betting platform.”

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A warrant for Chau’s arrest has also been issued by the mainland Chinese city of Wenzhou, accusing him of forming an extensive junket agent network that helps citizens engage in gambling activities and of setting up a company that helps gamblers make cross-border fund transfers.

The move was seen as a warning that Macau and mainland Chinese authorities were adopting a zero-tolerance approach to the promotion of gambling in mainland China where it is illegal.

Xinhua said Macau asked Beijing to appoint a national security affairs adviser in the city and that Beijing tasked the head of its Liaison Office Fu Ziying to “supervise, guide, coordinate, and support” the government on the matter.

Beijing will also appoint three national security technical advisers from within the Liaison Office, which is Beijing’s main representative institution in Macau.

(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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S.Korea makes vaccine pass mandatory for many more venues as Omicron fears rise

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December 3, 2021

By Sangmi Cha

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea announced on Friday that people visiting restaurants and cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

The government also re-imposed limits on private gatherings, which had been recently relaxed, as the country posted record numbers of new cases this week.

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Desperate to fend off the Omicron variant, authorities halted quarantine exemptions on Thursday for fully vaccinated inbound travellers and made a 10-day quarantine mandatory.

From next Monday, people visiting 14 designated public spaces, including hospitality and entertainment venues, will have to show their vaccines passes, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a coronavirus response meeting, setting out the plan to reduce the risk of community spread. The public will have a grace period of a week to get used to the new rules.

While people have been required to show their vaccine pass at high-risk venues such as gyms, saunas and bars, it is the first time that the requirement has been extended to restaurants and cafes.

From February, anyone aged 12 years or older will have to show a vaccination pass. The government decided to lower the exemption age, currently set at 17 years, to encourage teenagers to get vaccinated as the under-18 age group accounts for 20% of all infections, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told a briefing.

The limit on private gatherings was cut to six people in the greater Seoul area, and eight outside, from the current limit of 10 in Seoul and 12 outside, Kwon said.

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South Korea has so far confirmed a total of five Omicron cases after a fully vaccinated couple tested positive for the variant after arriving last week from Nigeria. The patients are either asymptomatic or have mild symptoms such as headache, low-grade fever, dizziness and sore throat, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

KDCA reported 4,944 COVID-19 cases for Thursday, a slight decline from record high 5,266 cases on Wednesday. It has reported a total of 462,555, with 3,739 deaths overall.

South Korea has fully vaccinated 91.6% of its adult population aged 18 and over, yet the booster dose uptake remains at 8.1%.

(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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U.S. House to consider bill to clamp down on products from China’s Xinjiang

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December 3, 2021

By Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. House of Representatives is set to consider a bill as soon as next week that would ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labor, Representative Jim McGovern, the bill’s sponsor, told reporters on Thursday.

“Next week is an important week for human rights,” McGovern said. “… We think it’s important to move some China legislation, hopefully much of it focused on human rights. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act we want to see that get over the finish line in some form.”

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President Joe Biden is hosting a summit of democracies next week, seen as an effort to push back against China’s growing influence.

Republicans and Democrats have been arguing over the Uyghur legislation for months. Most recently, Republican Senator Marco Rubio has been demanding that the measure be included as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, delaying the Senate’s consideration of the massive annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon.

Rubio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether House passage of McGovern’s bill would change his stance on the defense bill.

If the Uyghur measure becomes law, it would create a “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has set up a vast network of detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, were made with forced labor.

China denies abuses in Xinjiang, which supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels, but the U.S. government and many rights groups say Beijing is carrying out genocide there.

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Republicans have accused Biden’s Democrats of slow-walking the legislation because it would complicate the president’s renewable energy agenda. Democrats deny that.

“I just want to see a strong, a much stronger, approach when it comes to forced labor in Xinjiang,” Democratic Representative Dan Kildee told Reuters in a telephone interview, arguing that domestic production of solar panels could be ramped up.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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