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UK set to harden approach towards China in the wake of pandemic

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UK set to harden approach towards China
The UK is giving serious consideration to significantly downgrading relations with China

After several months of intense lobbying it appears that the hardline anti-China faction in the ruling Tory party has finally managed to significantly influence British policy on China.

According to Sky News, the UK is set to “rethink” its policy on China following the “hardening” of attitudes in the government in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Quoting “Whitehall” sources, Sky News reports that the British government believes the coronavirus crisis will have a “lasting impact” on the world order.

It quotes Lord Ricketts, a former national security adviser and former ambassador to France, as claiming: “We are at one of those watershed moments – a bit like after the Second World War”.

“What we risk is a world fractured into spheres of influence again … Clearly a Chinese sphere, an American sphere, a European sphere perhaps – rather weaker”, Lord Ricketts predicted.  

 Sky News then quotes one of its anonymous Whitehall sources as stating: “The thinking is that we are going to have a much more difficult relationship [with China] and we should lessen our dependence”.

A second anonymous Whitehall source tells Sky News that the “keystone” of the new government approach is that the UK is “prepared to take economic pain to reduce dependence on China”.

UK set to harden approach towards China

In a related development seven former British foreign secretaries have written a letter to the serving foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, demanding the UK takes the “lead” in coordinating the “international response” to China’s plan to apply a new national security law to Hong Kong.  

Raab had earlier announced the UK is prepared to grant full British citizenship to British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong.

The flurry of reports about a potential strategic shift in Sino-British relations comes on the heels of intensified activity by the anti-China faction in the ruling Tory party led by the chair of the foreign affairs select committee in the House of Commons, Tom Tugendhat.

In late April the anti-China faction even set up a “research” group to co-ordinate anti-Chinese propaganda activities across the government, media and the universities.  

This intense lobbying is believed to have played a significant role in persuading Prime Minister Boris Johnson to cancel the Chinese technology giant Huawei’s contribution to the development of Britain’s 5G network.

UK set to harden approach towards China

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Politics

French PM Philippe resigns as Macron readies reshuffle

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French PM Philippe resigns
French President Emmanuel Macron and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe attend a meeting with members of the Citizens' Convention on Climate (CCC) to discuss over environment proposals at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on June 29, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has resigned on Friday ahead of a government reshuffle by President Emmanuel Macron designed to bolster his green credentials and win back disillusioned voters ahead of a possible re-election bid.

The Elysee Palace said in a statement that Philippe would handle government affairs until a new cabinet was named.

Questions over Philippe’s job have swirled since mid-June when Macron declared he wanted to “reinvent” his presidency.

In French government reshuffles, the prime minister tenders his or her resignation ahead of cabinet appointments but can still be re-named to the position. It was not immediately clear whether Philippe would be called upon to form the new government.

French PM Philippe resigns

Macron’s move to refashion his centrist government comes after voters punished the former investment banker and his party in nationwide municipal elections.

The elections revealed surging support for the Green party and underlined Macron’s troubles with left-leaning voters. The only bright spot for Macron was Philippe’s own victory in the northern port city of Le Havre.

With only 21 months until the next presidential election, Macron wants to reposition himself, close advisers say.

It would be a political gamble for Macron to replace Philippe, who is more popular with the public than the president, political analysts say. The prime minister has shown steadfast loyalty during waves of unrest and could emerge as a presidential rival in 2022.

But keeping Philippe in office could be problematic too. It could suggest that Macron was too weak to let go of his prime minister and that his young party lacked the depth to allow for a full-blooded cabinet overhaul.

Moreover, Macron poached Philippe from the center-right opposition and holding onto him would complicate winning back leftist voters.

French PM Philippe resigns

(Source: Reuters) 

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India approves purchase of Russian fighter jets despite US sanction threats

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India approves purchase
Russian air force MiG-29 plane

India has approved buying 33 Russian fighter jets, worth more than $2.4 billion, despite US threats to impose sanctions on the country over transactions with Moscow.

New Delhi approved on Thursday the purchase of 21 MiG-29 planes and a dozen Su-30 jets which will cost a total of $2.43 billion, according to the defense ministry.

The purchase, along with the upgrade of 59 other MiG-29s, was an attempt to address the “long felt need of the Air Force to increase its fighter squadrons,” it added.

Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh paid a visit to Moscow last month, calling on his hosts to speed up deliveries, officials have said.

The deal came as the Indian air force is about to retire its old fighter jets — most of them of Russian origin.

Russia has long been India’s biggest weapons supplier, but in recent years, the US has been trying to get in their way by imposing sanctions on the purchase of Russian armaments.

India approves purchase

Yet, New Delhi and Moscow signed a deal back in 2018, for the supply of Russian S-400 missile system, worth $5.4 billion.

The government of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on President Donald Trump’s administration for exemptions from sanctions, mandated under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

CAATSA, signed into law in July 2017, mandates Washington to impose secondary sanctions on any nation entering into high-value deals to procure military hardware from Russia.

The Trump administration, however, remained non-committal on CAATSA, saying that the deal itself had no provision for exemptions for India or any other particular country entering into a defense deal with Russia.

His administration has even warned its allies and partners to forgo transactions with Russia that risk triggering sanctions, according to a State Department spokesperson who was speaking to the Indian daily the Hindu last year.

Meanwhile, Washington is seeking to expand ties with New Delhi, but India’s relations with Russia have always been an issue for the US.

US officials have previously met with Indian officials in New Delhi to discuss a military-communications agreement that would boost the interoperability of US and Indian armed forces.

But India refused to sign the logistics agreement, known as Comcasa, with the US in 2016.

At the same time, India signed a deal with Russia to lease a Russian-made nuclear submarine, to purchase four Russian frigates, the advanced S-400 air-defense missile system, and to set up a joint venture with a Russian firm to produce military helicopters.

India has also bought $15 billion worth of US arms since 2008.

India approves purchase

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Pelosi: US should put sanctions on Russian intelligence, defense sectors

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, July 2, 2020, in Washington. (AP photo)

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for sanctions on Russia’s intelligence and defense sectors after a briefing on reported Russian payments to Taliban militants to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan.

Her remarks came after the Department of Defense (DOD) Monday reiterated that there was no strong proof that Russia had incentivized Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon said DOD could not validate reports that Russians offered Taliban militants bounty for killing foreign troops in the war-torn country.

“The Department of Defense continues to evaluate intelligence that Russian GRU operatives were engaged in malign activity against United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan.  To date, DOD has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations found in open-source reports,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement.

According to the New York Times on Friday, US President Donald Trump had also claimed that he was not briefed on any reports that Russians offered Taliban militants bounty.

However, Pelosi on Thursday accused the White House of “putting on a con” in saying Trump was not briefed on the intelligence because it was not fully verified.

She also criticized him for his failing to read a written briefing on the issue and to seek to improve ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin despite US intelligence suggesting Russia was allegedly working to kill US and allied soldiers.

“We had a strong bipartisan bill that was to be sent to the president but the White House said they wanted us to take out the sanctions on Russia that pertained to the intelligence and the defense sectors, the very sector that is accused of possible threats on our men and women in uniform,” Pelosi told reporters after a briefing of the “Gang of Eight” congressional and intelligence committee leaders.

“We must restore those sanctions and we must act upon them,” she added, but did not provide any details about what legislation she was referring to.

Meanwhile, a senior Trump administration official said the White House did not want to immediately respond to the intelligence reports because “the intelligence remains uncorroborated and unverified and there are dissenting viewpoints within the community.”

According to four US and European government sources, who are familiar with intelligence reporting, the US had acquired fresh reporting in recent weeks which back up the allegations that Russia had encouraged Taliban-affiliated militants to kill US and allied soldiers in Afghanistan.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry had dismissed the allegations, with its embassy in the US saying the claims had led to threats against diplomats. The embassy also accused the Times of promoting fake news.

The Taliban likewise denied having had any deal with Russian intelligence.

US should put sanctions on Russian

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