Xi and Pence Stake Out Trade Positions in Dueling Speeches at Pacific Rim Forum

SYDNEY, Australia — President Xi Jinping of China and Vice President Mike Pence pushed back against criticism of each of their countries’ trade practices in speeches on Saturday at an Asia-Pacific trade summit meeting in Papua New Guinea, while seeking to assure allies of their commitment to the region.

Mr. Xi and Mr. Pence spoke ahead of what is likely to be a tense meeting between President Trump and the Chinese leader at the Group of 20 conference in Argentina later this month, where they will attempt to defuse a trade war.

The Trump administration has accused China of unfair trade practices, including restricting market access, pushing American companies to hand over valuable technology and engaging in cyberespionage and intellectual property theft. It has put tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods; China has retaliated with tariffs of its own.

Mr. Pence, echoing warnings from Mr. Trump, said the United States could “more than double” the tariffs it had placed on $250 billion in Chinese goods.

“The United States, though, will not change course until China changes its ways,” Mr. Pence said.

China has offered a list of concessions in recent days, which Mr. Trump has called “not acceptable.”

Mr. Pence and Mr. Xi spoke at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. The 21 Pacific Rim countries and territories participating in the APEC forum account for 60 percent of the global economy.

Mr. Pence, appearing in Mr. Trump’s place, reiterated recent criticism of China’s geopolitical strategies and attacked the country’s “belt and road” initiative, an enormous infrastructure plan financed by China that spans some 70 countries.

He urged Asian nations to avoid investment offers from China and to choose instead a “better option” — working with the United States — which, he said, would not saddle them with debt, a quandary some countries are facing as a result of their partnerships with Beijing.

“Let me say to all the nations across this wider region, and the world: Do not accept foreign debt that could compromise your sovereignty,” Mr. Pence said.

“We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt,” he added. “We don’t coerce or compromise your independence. We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road. When you partner with us, we partner with you, and we all prosper.”

Mr. Xi, perhaps anticipating the criticism, spoke before Mr. Pence and disputed the notion that accepting Chinese investment as part of the initiative called “One Belt, One Road” would compromise a nation’s sovereignty.

The initiative “is not for geopolitical purposes; it will exclude no one; it will not close a door and create a small circle,” Mr. Xi said. “It is not the so-called trap, as some people say. It is the sunshine avenue where China shares opportunities with the world to seek common development.”

Mr. Xi sought to paint China as continually opening its markets to the world.

“China will continue to significantly relax market access, strengthen intellectual property protection and actively expand imports,” he said. Since the beginning of this year, Mr. Xi said, China has “significantly” reduced import tariffs on 1,449 consumer goods, 1,585 industrial products and vehicles and components.

He described the trade dispute as a choice between “win-win progress or a zero sum game.”

“Mankind has once again reached a crossroads,” Mr. Xi said. “Which direction should we choose? Cooperation or confrontation? Openness or closing doors?”

Mr. Pence and Mr. Xi may have been sending mixed messages with their speeches, said Brendan Taylor, an associate professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University.

“The extent to which Mr. Xi tried to reassure the region that he didn’t have any geopolitical ambitions — I don’t think that’s particularly convincing,” Mr. Taylor said.

He described Mr. Pence’s speech as having a “very strong ‘America First’ tone,” adding, “There’s quite a big gap between his rhetoric and what’s actually happening in the region.”

Other nations in the region were hedging their bets, he said. “The moves those countries are making relate to their uncertainties about the U.S. and the Trump strategy or lack thereof,” Mr. Taylor said.

On Friday, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia in the northern Australian port city of Darwin, the first time a Japanese leader has visited the city, which was pummeled by Japanese air raids in World War II.

The two leaders discussed economic cooperation and the possibility of the Japanese military participating in training exercises in Darwin, where about 2,000 American Marines rotate through each year.

In his speech on Saturday, Mr. Pence lauded the economic and military cooperation between the United States and its Asia-Pacific allies, and he warned China that American ships and jets would sail and fly anywhere allowed by international law.

Chinese military forces have confronted American and other foreign navies and aircraft that have entered waters in the South China Sea that China claims as its own.

“The United States of America will continue to uphold the freedom of the seas and the skies, which are so essential to our prosperity,” Mr. Pence said.

He said the United States would support efforts “to adopt a meaningful and binding code of conduct that respects the rights of all nations, including the freedom of navigation, in the South China Sea.”

He also announced that the United States would participate in an Australian-Papua New Guinea initiative to develop a naval base on Manus Island in the Bismarck Sea, in northern Papua New Guinea.

Australia and Papua New Guinea announced last month that they would upgrade a base in Lombrum, a port on Manus Island that has a strategically vital position overlooking key trade routes.

Luz Ding contributed reporting from Beijing.

Source: Read Full Article

Australia’s Prime Minister ‘Surprised’ by State’s Secret Deal With China

SYDNEY, Australia — Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia was blindsided by reports that a state government had quietly sidestepped federal regulators and signed a deal with China to participate in that country’s contentious Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

Mr. Morrison said this week that the agreement, signed last month between the governments of China and the state of Victoria, undermined the federal government’s ability to conduct foreign policy at a time when intelligence officials are concerned that China is trying to exert undue influence in Australia.

Mr. Morrison told reporters he was “surprised” that the Victorian government would involve itself in a “matter of international relations” without discussing it first.

“They know full well our policy on those issues and I thought that was not a very cooperative or helpful way to do things on such issues,” Mr. Morrison said.

Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said the deal would bring his state’s businesses “one step closer to unlocking the trade and investment opportunities of China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative.”

Critics, however, have characterized Mr. Andrews as naïve for failing to understand how China has used the initiative to deepen its global influence by promising to help construct grand infrastructure projects.

Others have said Mr. Andrews cut a deal with China for politically opportunistic reasons: His state government goes to the polls in less than two weeks.

Whatever his motivations, the deal sets a precedent for China to sidestep national leaders in Canberra and court states individually.

“I think this is a big part of Beijing’s agenda, to say to other states and territories that being the last to sign up will be bad,” said Michael Shoebridge, director of the defense and strategy program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank. “That would be consistent with Beijing’s approach with other negotiations internationally.”

It remains unclear exactly what the deal in Victoria will cover, but the Belt and Road projects in other countries have tended to be large in scale.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has pledged trillions of dollars over the past five years toward the construction of roads, power plants and ports throughout Asia, Africa and Europe. The Belt and Road initiative, a key foreign policy of Mr. Xi’s government, uses big infrastructure projects as way to win friends and spread influence.

But the money often comes with strings attached.

Chinese government-controlled lenders offer sizable amounts of money through loans or financial guarantees to build airports, seaports, highways, rail lines and power plants.

That money often comes with the requirement that Chinese companies be heavily involved in planning and construction, and Chinese employees are often brought in for the work, minimizing the immediate economic benefits to the country hosting the project.

Pakistan has accepted billions of dollars in loans from China in recent years for infrastructure projects, the terms of which remain largely undisclosed. China has pledged a total of more than $60 billion to Pakistan in the form of loans and investments for roads, ports, power plants and industrial parks.

But now Pakistan is seeking an emergency bailout loan of $8 billion from the International Monetary Fund, along with new loans from Saudi Arabia and China.

Sri Lanka, in debt over a port that was never viable, renegotiated the terms of its contract with China to repay billions for the investment and ended up signing the port over to Beijing under a 99-year lease. The deal last December crystallized international criticism depicting the Belt and Road Initiative as a debt trap for vulnerable countries.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia recently canceled two major Chinese-linked projects, greenlighted by his since-ousted predecessor, that were worth more than $22 billion.

Australia has long had to balance its economic relationship with China against its strategic security alliance with the United States. Ever since John Howard was prime minister more than a decade ago, Canberra has tried to keep both powers happy.

“Howard famously argued that Australia didn’t have to choose between its economic relations with China and the alliance with the United States,” said Michael Clarke, an associate professor at the National Security College at Australian National University.

“Clearly, both of those assumptions no longer hold with President Trump’s ‘America First’ approach and China’s assertiveness under President Xi Jinping,” Mr. Clarke said.

The federal government, Mr. Clarke said, needs to clarify its position on whether Australian states are allowed to receive funding for Belt and Road projects.

Canberra may object to Victoria’s decision to sign on to the initiative, but the federal government has also signed a memorandum of understanding with China, which it, too, has kept largely under wraps.

In September, Steven Ciobo, then the trade minister, signed an agreement that would allow Australia and China to cooperate on infrastructure projects in third countries under the Belt and Road Initiative. The federal government has yet to make the details of that agreement public.

The Victorian government initially refused to divulge the contents of the deal it had signed with Beijing. On Monday, however, it published a four-page document online.

“It says something about the culture of government and its distrust toward public transparency that both the federal and state governments chose not to disclose their MOUs,” said Euan Graham, a senior fellow at the Lowy Institute, a think tank. “And there is a broader point here about how the government conducts its business.”

The reaction from other politicians — the opposition leader Bill Shorten has said he supports Victoria’s deal — and their attempts to use the news for partisan politicking have created even more fissures for China to exploit, Mr. Graham said.

“What the government needs to focus on is what’s good policy,” he said. “Good policy toward China means a joined-up approach, and anything that allows those divides to be exposed is going to result in bad policy outcomes that China can at the very least rhetorically cash in on.”

Jamie Tarabay covers Australia for The New York Times. @jamietarabay

Vicky Xiuzhong Xu covers the intersection of Australian and Chinese politics from Sydney, Australia. Born and raised in China, she was a producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation before joining The Times. @xu_xiuzhong

Source: Read Full Article

Police treating fatal Melbourne knife attack as a 'terrorist incident'

A knife-wielding man has stabbed two people, one fatally, in Melbourne in an attack believed to be linked to terrorism, police said.

The attack during the afternoon rush hour brought the centre of Australia’s second largest city to a standstill.

Police said the man got out of a vehicle, which then caught fire, and attacked three bystanders with a knife before being shot by police.

The suspect died later in hospital. One of the victims also died and the two others were admitted to hospital.

Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton said the suspect, originally from Somalia, was known to police and the incident is being treated as terrorism.

Superintendent David Clayton said police responded to reports of a burning vehicle.

Officers were confronted near the burning car by a man “brandishing a knife and threatening them” while passers-by called out that people had been stabbed, he said.

Mr Clayton said investigators did not believe there were any other assailants. The man was shot in the chest by police.

He said a bomb squad was making the scene safe.

Victoria Police tweeted a request for witnesses to speak to police and share any images that might help the investigation.

Officers said the car contained several barbecue gas cylinders.

Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews said the attack was “an evil and terrifying thing that has happened in our city and state today”.

Source: Read Full Article

How Australia’s extreme heat might be here to stay

A section of highway connecting Sydney and Melbourne started to melt. Bats fell dead from the trees, struck down by the heat.

On the northern Great Barrier Reef, 99% of baby green sea turtles, a species whose sex is determined by temperature, were found to be female.

In outer suburban Sydney, the heat hit 47.3C (117F) before a cool change knocked it down – to the relative cool of just 43.6C in a neighbouring suburb the following day.

Scenes from a sci-fi novel depicting a scorched future? No, just the first days of 2018 in Australia, where summer is in fierce form.

With parts of the US suffering through a particularly grim winter, extremes in both hemispheres have triggered discussions about the links between current events and the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Climate change ‘no brainer’

The climate system is incredibly complex and no weather event can be directly attributed to rising emissions, but everything that is experienced today happens in a world that is about one degree warmer than the long-term mean.

Prof Andy Pitman, the director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales, says given the average temperature has risen it is a “no brainer” that the likelihood of the sort of heat that hit Sydney last week has also increased.

“It was a meteorological anomaly, but the probability works a bit like if you stand at sea level and throw a ball in the air, and then gradually make your way up a mountain and throw the ball in the air again,” he says.

“The chances of the ball going higher increases dramatically. That’s what we’re doing with temperature.”

While it is record-breaking that tends to make news, scientists say it is the unbroken run of hot days in the high 30s and 40s that causes the significant problems for human health, and other life.

Health officials in Victoria highlighted the threat of heatwaves when they found about 374 more people died during an extreme three-day period in January 2009 than would have been expected had it been cooler.

There has, however, been relatively little investment in research into the health impact of escalating maximum temperatures.

A paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change last year said while a government report called for greater focus on the area 25 years ago, less than 0.1% of health funding since has been dedicated to the impact of climate change.

Prof Pitman says Australia is yet to properly consider the health risks of a warming planet.

“It’s not being able to cool down at night, and in the days that follow, that causes problems,” he says.

“I was camping in the Blue Mountains [west of Sydney] on Saturday night. It was about 30 degrees at midnight, and I could feel my heart racing. Now, that extra stress on my cardiovascular system didn’t kill me, but it might have if I was 20 years older.”

Police are warning motorists to expect delays and to avoid the right-hand lane of the Hume Freeway (heading toward the city) near Broadford as there is a 10km stretch of road that is melting. pic.twitter.com/icI1hecmvn

End of Twitter post by @VictoriaPolice

Last year was Australia’s third-warmest year since records began, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Globally, it was the second or third warmest, and comfortably the hottest year in which there was not an El Niño weather system helping push up temperatures further.

Put another way: it is now hotter without an El Niño than it was with an El Niño just a few years ago.

Far-reaching impact

In eastern Australia – where the bulk of the population lives – temperatures were particularly inflated during summer months, when an increase is most likely to lead to uncomfortable or dangerous heat.

Several locations had runs of record hot days and nights. More than 40% of the most populous state, New South Wales, recorded at least 50 days hotter than 35C. The town of Moree had 54 consecutive days of extreme heat.

“Across Australia, the last five years were all in the top seven years on record. That’s quite a striking signal,” the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s Dr Blair Trewin says.

The extra energy warming up the climate system is also being felt in several ways. The bushfires season starts earlier than it used to, and Australia has already experienced wild blazes this season.

Along with the increased background heat, this is in part due to a clear drying pattern in some areas.

Rainfall is down for both the south-east and south-west of the country in the cooler months months between April and October.

“That also has quite significant impacts for agriculture because historically that’s when they get most of their inflows,” Dr Trewin says.

The impact of warming on the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, the only living structure visible from space, has been well documented. Estimates suggest about half its shallow-water coral was killed during bleaching events over the past two years linked to increased water temperatures.

Further south, the sea along Tasmania’s east coast has warmed dramatically, pushing tropical species to unlikely high latitudes and coinciding with the disappearance of giant kelp forests.

Some weather patterns have not changed. There is no evidence of variations in cyclone behaviour or the frequency or intensity of large hail and lightning, for instance.

All this comes against a backdrop of political fighting over how to tackle climate change.

It is less than a year since senior government members brandished a piece of coal in parliament to taunt the Labor opposition, whom ministers accused of wanting to see an end to the fossil fuel industry.

The Malcolm Turnbull-led government remains committed to a 2030 target pledged at the Paris climate talks: a 26-to-28% cut below 2005 emissions.

It says it can cut emissions while shielding the public and business from unnecessary price rises. It also points out that Australia is directly responsible for little more than 1% of global emissions (though it is responsible for about 30% of the global coal trade).

But national greenhouse accounts released in the week before Christmas showed Australia’s industrial emissions have been on an upward curve since 2014, when the government repealed carbon pricing laws, which required big business to pay for its pollution.

Emissions had fallen in the two years the laws were in place. The latest projections in the accounts suggest Australia will overshoot its 2030 target unless new policies are introduced to arrest the growth.

“There really isn’t an argument that climate change isn’t true in parliament anymore,” Prof Pitman says. “You’d find a couple of members of parliament that say that, but you’d also find a couple who didn’t believe in evolution and didn’t believe in inoculating children against disease.

“The issue now is that the scale of concern – and the action under way or committed to both in Australia and internationally – doesn’t match the scale of the problem.”

Source: Read Full Article

Family found dead in outback Australia

Three people have died and a boy is missing after their vehicle broke down in outback Australia, police say.

The bodies of two adults, both 19, and their three-year-old son were found near a remote road about 1,000km (620 miles) south of Darwin on Wednesday.

The deaths are not being treated as suspicious. Authorities are investigating whether heat may have contributed to the tragedy.

A search is under way for a 12-year-old boy, said Northern Territory Police.

The group was last seen leaving Willowra, a small community, on Friday. The three bodies were found about 4.5km from the vehicle.

“One of the avenues we are looking at is that they have walked off from a vehicle in extreme weather and may have got caught out,” Supt Shaun Gill told the ABC.

“Initially we thought it was the result of a car crash, however we are confident it’s not.”

Police said the alarm had been raised by a man who entered a health clinic in Willowra on Wednesday.

“He will be a critical part of the investigation. He is quite distraught about what he has found,” said Supt Jody Nobbs.

Supt Nobbs said he could not give additional details, or confirm whether the missing boy was related to the family.

Temperatures in the region exceeded 40C in recent days, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

The tragedy follows the suspected heat-related deaths of two people in separate incidents in northern Australia within the last two weeks, the ABC reported.

Source: Read Full Article

How close are Australia and Indonesia?

In the wake of Indonesia’s abrupt suspension of military ties with Australia, the relationship between the two countries is once again under strain.

Over the years, the execution of Australian drug traffickers, territorial breaches of Indonesian waters by the Australian Navy, spying revelations and the cruel treatment by Indonesia of live cattle imported from Australia have hit the headlines in both countries.

But a closer look at the links between Indonesia and Australia tells a more complicated story – one involving billions of dollars worth of two-way trade and tourism, co-operation on counter-terrorism and people smuggling, and strong educational and cultural links.

For all the political bluster emanating from Canberra and Jakarta, the two countries need each other. With a population of 260 million (to Australia’s 24.3 million), Indonesia is Australia’s nearest major neighbour, and its status as the world’s largest Muslim population is an important consideration for Australia’s counter-terrorism strategies.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) describes the relationship with Indonesia as “one of Australia’s most important”.

Territory

The relationship reached a low point around East Timor independence, so it is no surprise West Papua seems to be at the centre of friction this week.

Some within Indonesia have clearly been stung by the Australian army “teaching materials”, which reportedly said West Papua was part of Melanesia and should have independence.

When asked about West Papua on Thursday, Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne was quick to say her nation recognised “Indonesia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

The matter of territory also caused hostility in 2014, when Indonesia demanded Australia cease naval incursions into its waters. Australia admitted it had entered Indonesian waters “on several occasions” while combating people smugglers. It sent a formal apology to Jakarta.

Counter-terrorism

The nations’ militaries began working together more closely in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people including 88 Australians, and the 2004 bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta. Defence exchanges, which stopped during the East Timor conflict, commenced again.

In December 2015, Indonesian police arrested nine people over an alleged terror threat after a tip-off that reportedly came from Australian Federal Police. The countries signed an anti-terror memorandum of understanding the same month.

In August last year, one expert rated the nations’ sharing of intelligence on counter-terrorism funding as among the best in the world.

Travel

The Indonesian island of Bali is a major tourist destination for Australians, with as many as one million visiting the island every year, according to the Bali Tourism Board.

It is not a two-way trade but Indonesia’s growing middle class of about 50 million people represents a major opportunity for Australian tourism.

Australia’s very high visa charges for Indonesians – about A$135 ($99, £80) for an individual compared to free entry for Australians – doesn’t help.

Trade

Although Australia’s brief suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011 garnered much attention, Indonesia remains Australia’s 12th-largest trade partner.

Australia’s two-way trade with Indonesia was worth A$11.2bn in 2015-16, according to DFAT.

Australia’s major export was wheat, while its biggest import was crude petroleum.

Trade in services is growing – more than A$4bn in 2015-16 – with Australia exporting education and importing travel services.

Political visits

Relations became strained in April 2015 when Indonesian President Joko Widodo ignored pleas from Australia to grant clemency to convicted drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who were then executed.

But a successful visit by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to Jakarta later that year was viewed as thawing of tensions.

Former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited Australia four times during his presidency, more than any of his predecessors.

In 2010, he was accorded the honour of addressing a joint sitting of Parliament – the first by any visiting Indonesian.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott attended the inauguration of Mr Widodo in October 2014.

Source: Read Full Article

Airline Seeks to Thank Australian Veterans for Their Service. Vets Say No Thanks.

SYDNEY, Australia — Australian military veterans recoiled at a government-backed policy that would allow them to board some commercial airlines ahead of other passengers, calling the move a political stunt that smacked of tokenism.

The government announced over the weekend that Virgin Australia would offer priority boarding to veterans and also make in-flight announcements to acknowledge their service, part of a broader push to give veterans, who use a new national ID card, discounts at supermarkets and department stores.

Critics, including many veterans, said the policy was at odds with Australia’s egalitarian national ethos. The notion of a veteran singling himself or herself out for special treatment, some critics said, was distinctly un-Australian. Others described it as something even worse: an Americanism.

“It’s a very American thing to do, we’re not quite as loud or noisy as that,” said Mike Carlton, the author of several books about Australia’s military history. “Australians are a little more subtle.”

“It’s just not in our nature to do stuff like that, almost any veteran I can think of would be hideously embarrassed by being singled out like that,” Mr. Carlton added. “I’ve interviewed a lot of them for my books: World War II vets, vets from the Burma-Siam railway. They would hate the notoriety of being singled out like that.”

On Twitter, some veterans saw the move as a way to score votes for the Liberal government led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Some critics said the policy could have a detrimental effect on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Some people suffering psychological illnesses don’t like attention drawn to them,” Neil James, the executive director of the Australian Defense Association told ABC Radio.

At least three American carriers offer some priorities or upgrades to United States military personnel, particularly those actively serving and traveling in uniform.

American Airlines automatically offers upgrades to troops traveling in uniform, United Airlines offers service members discounted tickets, and JetBlue offers discounts and priority boarding.

Members of veterans organizations can sometimes receive discounts when booking tickets, but veterans in the United States do not typically receive priority boarding.

Virgin said it was joining a campaign spearheaded by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. newspapers, and backed by the government, to honor the country’s servicemen and women in the lead up to the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the conclusion of World War I.

The announcement also comes as the federal government approved a 500 million Australian dollar, or about $360 million, upgrade of the national War Memorial, a sizable investment at a time when other national institutions are facing budget cuts.

The memorial’s director, Brendan Nelson, who has also served as defense minister, said troops who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq should have a greater dedicated space to highlight their experiences of war.

On Monday, Qantas, the national carrier, said it would not provide veterans with priority seats.

“We’re conscious that we carry a lot of exceptional people every day, including veterans, police, paramedics, nurses, firefighters and others and so we find it difficult to single out a particular group as part of the boarding process,” Qantas said in a statement.

Hours later, Virgin Australia seemed to suggest it was reversing its decision.

In three tweets, the carrier said it was “very mindful” of the response to its announcement, and said it was a gesture “genuinely done to pay respects to those who have served our country.”

The airline said it might have been hasty in announcing the proposal, adding that it would consult veterans, including those who work for Virgin, to “determine the best way forward.”

“If this process determines that public acknowledgment of their service through optional priority boarding or any announcement is not appropriate, then we will certainly be respectful of that,” the airline said on Twitter.

Jamie Tarabay covers Australia for The New York Times. @jamietarabay

Want more Australia coverage and discussion? Sign up for the weekly Australia Letter, start your day with your local Morning Briefing and join us in our Facebook group.

Source: Read Full Article