UN Aid Chief Raises Women’s Rights Concerns with Taliban in Afghan Capital

Martin Griffiths, the under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, briefs reporters on the famine and humanitarian situation in Mogadishu, Somalia, September 5, 2022. (Reuters)
Martin Griffiths, the under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, briefs reporters on the famine and humanitarian situation in Mogadishu, Somalia, September 5, 2022. (Reuters)
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UN Aid Chief Raises Women’s Rights Concerns with Taliban in Afghan Capital

Martin Griffiths, the under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, briefs reporters on the famine and humanitarian situation in Mogadishu, Somalia, September 5, 2022. (Reuters)
Martin Griffiths, the under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, briefs reporters on the famine and humanitarian situation in Mogadishu, Somalia, September 5, 2022. (Reuters)

The United Nations' aid chief visited Kabul on Monday and raised concerns over women's education and work with the Taliban administration's acting minister of foreign affairs, an Afghan ministry statement said.

The Taliban-run administration last month ordered NGOs not to allow most female employees to work, prompting many aid agencies to partially suspend operations in the midst of a humanitarian crisis unfolding during a bitterly cold winter.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths raised the issue of women's education and work and how this affected the UN's operations, according to a ministry of foreign affairs statement.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the meeting.

It follows a visit to Afghanistan last week by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, who expressed alarm to Taliban officials in Kabul and the southern city of Kandahar over the administration's orders restricting women from work and education.

Acting Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Amir Khan Muttaqi said he asked Griffiths to share with the international community the Taliban administration's "achievements and opportunities" like a general amnesty for former opponents, "instead of complaints and shortcomings."

The foreign ministry statement said Griffiths had acknowledged security had improved in the country, which had seen decades of fighting before the Taliban took over as foreign troops withdrew in 2021.

No foreign government has formally recognized the Taliban administration since it seized power, with some diplomats saying it must change course on women's rights. Many countries have expressed major concerns over most girls and women over the age of 12 being stopped from attending school or university.

Enforcement of sanctions and a cut in development aid have contributed to the country falling into an economic crisis which has left more than half the population dependent on humanitarian aid, aimed at meeting urgent needs.



3rd Man Detained in Bribery Case Surrounding Russian Deputy Defense Minister

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov inspects the construction of apartment blocks in Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image from video released October 15, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov inspects the construction of apartment blocks in Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image from video released October 15, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
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3rd Man Detained in Bribery Case Surrounding Russian Deputy Defense Minister

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov inspects the construction of apartment blocks in Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image from video released October 15, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Timur Ivanov inspects the construction of apartment blocks in Mariupol, Russian-controlled Ukraine, in this still image from video released October 15, 2022. Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS

A third man has been detained in a bribery investigation centering on Deputy Russian Defense Minister Timur Ivanov, the Moscow court service said on Thursday.
It said Alexander Fomin, the co-founder of a construction company called Olimpsitistroy, was suspected of paying bribes to Ivanov, who was detained on Tuesday, and Sergei Borodin, a close associate of Ivanov who is also in custody.
The scandal is the biggest in years to hit the defense ministry, and is seen as a severe blow to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The court service said Fomin was suspected of "providing services" to Ivanov, Borodin and others in the form of goods, work and services relating to property renovation.
"Also, Fomin and other persons, acting as an organized group, contributed to Ivanov's receipt of a particularly large bribe in the form of the illegal provision of property-related services to him," it said.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday dismissed media speculation about the reasons behind the arrest of Ivanov on bribery charges, and urged reporters to focus on official information.
Asked about a report that Ivanov was suspected of treason, Peskov said: "There are many different interpretations around all this now."
"You need to focus on official information," Peskov said. "It is necessary to focus on the information of the investigative authorities and, ultimately, on the court's decision."

Ivanov was detained on Tuesday at work by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
Moscow's Basmanny District Court ordered Ivanov be kept in custody until June 23. Ivanov, 48, dressed in his uniform, was shown standing in a glass cage in court, frowning slightly, footage released by the court service showed.


Malala Yousafzai Vows Support for Gaza after Backlash

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai participates in a panel discussion in Johannesburg in December 2023. PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP/File
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai participates in a panel discussion in Johannesburg in December 2023. PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP/File
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Malala Yousafzai Vows Support for Gaza after Backlash

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai participates in a panel discussion in Johannesburg in December 2023. PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP/File
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai participates in a panel discussion in Johannesburg in December 2023. PHILL MAGAKOE / AFP/File

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai on Thursday condemned Israel and reaffirmed her support for Palestinians in Gaza, after a backlash in her native Pakistan over a Broadway musical she co-produced with former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Yousafzai, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, has been condemned by some for partnering with Clinton, an outspoken supporter of Israel's war against Hamas.
The musical, titled "Suffs," depicts the American women's suffrage campaign for the right to vote in the 20th century and has been playing in New York since last week, said AFP.
"I want there to be no confusion about my support for the people of Gaza," Yousafzai wrote on X, the former Twitter. "We do not need to see more dead bodies, bombed schools and starving children to understand that a ceasefire is urgent and necessary."
She added: "I have and will continue to condemn the Israeli government for its violations of international law and war crimes."
Pakistan has seen many fiercely emotional pro-Palestinian protests since the war in Gaza began last October.
Yusafzai's "theatre collaboration with Hillary Clinton -- who stands for America's unequivocal support for genocide of Palestinians -- is a huge blow to her credibility as a human rights activist," popular Pakistani columnist Mehr Tarar wrote on social media platform X on Wednesday.
"I consider it utterly tragic."
Whilst Clinton has backed a military campaign to remove Hamas and rejected demands for a ceasefire, she has also explicitly called for protections for Palestinian civilians.
Yousafzai has publicly condemned the civilian casualties and called for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The New York Times reported the 26-year-old wore a red-and-black pin to the "Suffs" premier last Thursday, signifying her support for a ceasefire.
But author and academic Nida Kirmani said on X that Yousafzai's decision to partner with Clinton was "maddening and heartbreaking at the same time. What an utter disappointment."
The war began with an unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of around 1,170 people, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures. Hamas also abducted 250 people and Israel estimates 129 of them remain in Gaza, including 34 who the military says are dead.
Clinton served as America's top diplomat during former president Barack Obama's administration, which oversaw a campaign of drone strikes targeting Taliban militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan's borderlands.
Yousafzai earned her Nobel Peace Prize after being shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban as she pushed for girls' education as a teenager in 2012.
However, the drone war killed and maimed scores of civilians in Yousafzai's home region, spurring more online criticism of the youngest Nobel Laureate, who earned the prize at 17.
Yousafzai is often viewed with suspicion in Pakistan, where critics accuse her of pushing a Western feminist and liberal political agenda on the conservative country.


Russia Vetoes UN Resolution Calling for Prevention of Dangerous Nuclear Arms Race in Space

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a press conference at the American Diplomacy House in Seoul Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a press conference at the American Diplomacy House in Seoul Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)
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Russia Vetoes UN Resolution Calling for Prevention of Dangerous Nuclear Arms Race in Space

US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a press conference at the American Diplomacy House in Seoul Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a press conference at the American Diplomacy House in Seoul Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP)

Russia on Wednesday vetoed a UN resolution sponsored by the United States and Japan calling on all nations to prevent a dangerous nuclear arms race in outer space, calling it “a dirty spectacle” that cherry picks weapons of mass destruction from all other weapons that should also be banned.
The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 13 in favor, Russia opposed and China abstaining, the Associated Press reported.
The resolution would have called on all countries not to develop or deploy nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction in space, as banned under a 1967 international treaty that included the US and Russia, and to agree to the need to verify compliance.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote that Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space.
“Today’s veto begs the question: Why? Why, if you are following the rules, would you not support a resolution that reaffirms them? What could you possibly be hiding,” she asked. “It’s baffling. And it’s a shame.”
Putin was responding to White House confirmation in February that Russia has obtained a “troubling” anti-satellite weapon capability, although such a weapon is not operational yet.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Wednesday echoed Thomas-Greenfield, reiterating that “the United States assesses that Russia is developing a new satellite carrying a nuclear device.” If Putin has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space, Sullivan said, “Russia would not have vetoed this resolution.”
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the resolution as “absolutely absurd and politicized,” and said it didn’t go far enough in banning all types of weapons in space.
Russia and China proposed an amendment to the US-Japan draft that would call on all countries, especially those with major space capabilities, “to prevent for all time the placement of weapons in outer space, and the threat of use of force in outer spaces.”
The vote was 7 countries in favor, 7 against, and one abstention and the amendment was defeated because it failed to get the minimum 9 “yes” votes required for adoption.
The US opposed the amendment, and after the vote Nebenzia addressed the US ambassador saying: “We want a ban on the placement of weapons of any kind in outer space, not just WMDs (weapons of mass destruction). But you don’t want that. And let me ask you that very same question. Why?”
He said much of the US and Japan’s actions become clear “if we recall that the US and their allies announced some time ago plans to place weapons ... in outer space.”
Nebenzia accused the US of blocking a Russian-Chinese proposal since 2008 for a treaty against putting weapons in outer space.
Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia of undermining global treaties to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, irresponsibly invoking “dangerous nuclear rhetoric,” walking away from several of its arms control obligations, and refusing to engage “in substantive discussions around arms control or risk reduction.”
She called Wednesday’s vote “a real missed opportunity to rebuild much-needed trust in existing arms control obligations.”
Thomas-Greenfield’s announcement of the resolution on March 18 followed White House confirmation in February that Russia has obtained a “troubling” anti-satellite weapon capability, although such a weapon is not operational yet.
Putin declared later that Moscow has no intention of deploying nuclear weapons in space, claiming that the country has only developed space capabilities similar to those of the US.
Thomas-Greenfield said before the vote that the world is just beginning to understand “the catastrophic ramifications of a nuclear explosion in space.”
It could destroy “thousands of satellites operated by countries and companies around the world — and wipe out the vital communications, scientific, meteorological, agricultural, commercial, and national security services we all depend on,” she said.
The defeated draft resolution said “the prevention of an arms race in outer space would avert a grave danger for international peace and security.” It would have urged all countries carrying out activities in exploring and using outer space to comply with international law and the UN Charter.
The draft would have affirmed that countries that ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty must comply with their obligations not to put in orbit around the Earth “any objects” with weapons of mass destruction, or install them “on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in outer space.”
The treaty, ratified by some 114 countries, including the US and Russia, prohibits the deployment of “nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction” in orbit or the stationing of “weapons in outer space in any other manner.”
The draft resolution emphasized “the necessity of further measures, including political commitments and legally binding instruments, with appropriate and effective provisions for verification, to prevent an arms race in outer space in all its aspects.”
It reiterated that the UN Conference on Disarmament, based in Geneva, has the primary responsibility to negotiate agreements on preventing an arms race in outer space.
The 65-nation body has achieved few results and has largely devolved into a venue for countries to voice criticism of others’ weapons programs or defend their own. The draft resolution would have urged the conference “to adopt and implement a balanced and comprehensive program of work.”
At the March council meeting where the U.S.-Japan initiative was launched, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “geopolitical tensions and mistrust have escalated the risk of nuclear warfare to its highest point in decades.”
He said the movie “Oppenheimer” about Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the US project during World War II that developed the atomic bomb, “brought the harsh reality of nuclear doomsday to vivid life for millions around the world.”
“Humanity cannot survive a sequel to Oppenheimer,” the UN chief said.


In China, Blinken Urges Fair Treatment of American Companies

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns walk through the Yu Gardens in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns walk through the Yu Gardens in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS
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In China, Blinken Urges Fair Treatment of American Companies

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns walk through the Yu Gardens in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns walk through the Yu Gardens in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday called on China to provide a level playing field for American businesses as he began a visit aimed at resolving a raft of contentious issues that could jeopardize the newly repaired relationship.
Blinken's trip is the latest high-level contact between the two nations that, along with working groups on issues from global trade to military communication, have tempered the public acrimony that drove relations to historic lows early last year, Reuters said.
But Washington and Beijing have been increasingly at odds over how American companies operate in China, Chinese exports and manufacturing capacity, and strains are also growing over Beijing's backing of Russia in its war in Ukraine.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that at a meeting with China's top official in Shanghai, Chen Jining, Blinken raised concerns about China's "trade policies and non-market economic practices."
Blinken also "stressed that the United States seeks a healthy economic competition with the PRC and a level playing field for US workers and firms operating in China."
The PRC, or People's Republic of China, is the country's official name.
China has dismissed as groundless criticism that its manufacturing capacity is excessive, adding that its industries, ranging from electric vehicles to solar panels, are competitive and innovative.
Chen said through translators that the recent call between the leaders of both countries had helped the "stable and healthy development of our two countries' relationship", adding: "Whether we choose cooperation or confrontation affects the well-being of both peoples, both countries, and the future of humanity."
While in Shanghai, Blinken also spoke with American and Chinese students at New York University's local campus, where he said intercultural interactions were "the best way to make sure that we start by hopefully understanding one another".
SUPPORT FOR RUSSIA
Blinken will head to Beijing on Friday for talks with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and possibly President Xi Jinping. Those meetings could be fraught.
Just as Blinken landed in Shanghai, President Joe Biden signed a rare bipartisan bill that included $8 billion to counter China's military might, as well as billions in defense aid for Taiwan and $61 billion in aid to Ukraine.
Biden also signed a separate bill tied to the aid legislation that bans TikTok in the US if its owner, the Chinese tech firm ByteDance, fails to divest the popular short video app over the next nine months to a year.
Blinken will press China to stop its firms from retooling and resupplying Russia's defense industrial base. Moscow invaded Ukraine days after agreeing a "no limits" partnership with Beijing, and while China has steered clear of providing arms, US officials warn Chinese companies are sending dual-use technology that helps Russia's war effort.
Without providing details, a senior State Department official told reporters that Washington was prepared to "take steps" against Chinese firms it believes are damaging US and European security.
State-run China Daily said in an editorial that there was "a huge question mark over what the discussions between Blinken and his hosts can yield" and that both sides "have been largely talking past each other."
"On the conflict in Ukraine, the world can see it clearly that the Ukraine issue is not an issue between China and the US, and the US side should not turn it into one," it said.
Other state media also highlighted the tensions over the differences. "Plenty of animosity remains, primarily fuelled by Washington's adherence to a zero-sum mindset and framing China as a threat," a commentary in state-run Xinhua news agency said.


Iran Sentences Rapper Toomaj Salehi to Death over 2022-23 Unrest, Lawyer Tells Paper

Toomaj Salehi. (YouTube)
Toomaj Salehi. (YouTube)
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Iran Sentences Rapper Toomaj Salehi to Death over 2022-23 Unrest, Lawyer Tells Paper

Toomaj Salehi. (YouTube)
Toomaj Salehi. (YouTube)

An Iranian revolutionary court has sentenced well-known Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi to death for charges linked to Iran's 2022-23 unrest, his lawyer told Iranian newspaper Sharq on Wednesday.

Salehi in his songs supported months of protests in Iran in 2022 sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman arrested for allegedly wearing an "improper" hijab.

Salehi was initially arrested in October 2022 after making public statements in support of the nationwide protests.

He was sentenced in 2023 to six years and three months in prison, but avoided a death sentence due to a Supreme Court ruling.

"Branch One of the Revolutionary Court of (the central city of) Isfahan in an unprecedented move, did not enforce the Supreme Court's ruling .... and sentenced Salehi to the harshest punishment," his lawyer Amir Raisian told Sharq.

Iranian judiciary has not confirmed the sentence yet. Salehi has 20 days to appeal the ruling.

"We will definitely appeal this verdict," his lawyer said.


Biden Signs Ukraine Aid, TikTok Ban Bills after Republican Battle

US President Joe Biden speaks after signing the foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 24, 2024. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks after signing the foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 24, 2024. (AFP)
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Biden Signs Ukraine Aid, TikTok Ban Bills after Republican Battle

US President Joe Biden speaks after signing the foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 24, 2024. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden speaks after signing the foreign aid bill at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 24, 2024. (AFP)

President Joe Biden signed a hard-fought bill into law on Wednesday that provides billions of dollars of new US aid to Ukraine for its war with Russia, notching a rare bipartisan victory for the president as he seeks reelection and ending months of wrangling with Republicans in Congress.

"It gives vital support to America 's partners so they can defend themselves from threats to their sovereignty," Biden said, adding that the flow of weapons to Ukraine would start in the next few hours.

The bill includes $61 billion in aid to Ukraine and $26 billion for Israel, as well as $1 billion in humanitarian assistance to Gaza and $8 billion to counter China's military might.

Biden, a Democrat who is expected to face Republican former President Donald Trump in the November election, has pressed lawmakers for six months to approve more funding for Ukraine, which has been fighting a full-scale Russian invasion for more than two years. Trump objected to the Ukraine aid, and some Republicans in Congress refused to back it, questioning whether Ukraine could ever prevail.

"They’re a fighting force with the will and the skill to win," Biden said of Ukraine’s military, as he blamed "MAGA Republicans" loyal to Trump for blocking aid, referring to Trump's Make America Great Again slogan.

Biden also signed a separate bill tied to the aid legislation that bans TikTok in the United States if its owner, the Chinese tech firm ByteDance, fails to divest the popular short video app over the next nine months to a year.

The social media platform is particularly popular with left-leaning young Americans, a group crucial to Biden's victory in November.

Congress's stalemate on the Ukraine aid bill ended when the Republican-controlled House of Representatives abruptly changed course and approved four bills that included funding for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other US partners in the Indo-Pacific on Saturday.

Biden and House Speaker Mike Johnson held intense talks about Ukraine in February and the president has both pleaded with Republicans to back the package and scolded them for not doing so. Johnson, who faces calls by some right-leaning Republicans to oust him for his turnaround on aid, met with Trump in Florida earlier this month; the former president said Johnson was "doing a really good job."

The US Senate followed the House on Tuesday evening, passing a sweeping bill that provides $61 billion in aid to the country, which has suffered setbacks in the war that supporters blame on the delay in getting the additional US funding.

"Congress has passed my legislation to strengthen our national security and send a message to the world about the power of American leadership: We stand resolutely for democracy and freedom, and against tyranny and oppression," Biden said in a statement after the Senate vote on Tuesday.

He said he would sign the bill on Wednesday.

Heather Conley, an expert on European affairs, said the victory for US allies and for Biden was tempered by effects that the delay has had for Kiev on the battlefield.

"This is a strong message of American leadership at a time of enormous instability, but the delay created cracks in that credibility," said Conley, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. "As we start rolling into the election, that credibility will continue to be under close scrutiny."

Biden has argued that he helped restore US credibility on the world stage after Trump's tumultuous four-year tenure, in part by strengthening the NATO alliance and providing a united front against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump has argued for an "America First" policy and has threatened to let NATO allies fend for themselves if they do not increase their defense spending.

Biden's administration is already preparing a $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine, the first to be sourced from the bill, two US officials told Reuters.

Republicans who backed the aid package said it was not a vote for Biden but a reflection of their party’s values.

“Peace through strength. That's our tradition," Senator Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska, said in a Senate speech. "To my Republican colleagues and friends in the Senate, our tradition is much more serious. It's prouder. And I will tell you this: It's much more supported by the American people. Peace through strength, not American retreat."


Blinken Begins Key China Visit as Tensions Rise Over New US Foreign Aid Bill 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)
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Blinken Begins Key China Visit as Tensions Rise Over New US Foreign Aid Bill 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves upon his arrival in Shanghai, China, April 24, 2024. (Reuters)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has begun a critical trip to China armed with a strengthened diplomatic hand following Senate approval of a foreign aid package that will provide billions of dollars in assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan as well as force TikTok’s China-based parent company to sell the social media platform - all areas of contention between Washington and Beijing.

Blinken arrived in Shanghai on Wednesday just hours after the Senate vote on the long-stalled legislation and shortly before President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law to demonstrate US resolve in defending its allies and partners. Passage of the bill will add further complications to an already complex relationship that has been strained by disagreements over numerous global and regional disputes.

Still, the fact that Blinken is making the trip — shortly after a conversation between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a similar visit to China by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and a call between the US and Chinese defense chiefs — is a sign the two sides are at least willing to discuss their differences.

Of primary interest to China, the bill sets aside $8 billion to counter Chinese threats in Taiwan and the broader Indo-Pacific and gives China’s ByteDance nine months to sell TikTok with a possible three-month extension if a sale is in progress. China has railed against US assistance to Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province, and immediately condemned the move as a dangerous provocation. It also strongly opposes efforts to force TikTok’s sale.

The bill also allots $26 billion in wartime assistance to Israel and humanitarian relief to Palestinians in Gaza, and $61 billion for Ukraine to defend itself from Russia’s invasion. The Biden administration has been disappointed in China’s response to the war in Gaza and has complained loudly that Chinese support for Russia’s military-industrial sector has allowed Moscow to subvert Western sanctions and ramp up attacks on Ukraine.

Even before Blinken landed in Shanghai — where he will have meetings on Thursday before traveling to Beijing — China’s Taiwan Affairs Office slammed the assistance to Taipei, saying it “seriously violates” US commitments to China, “sends a wrong signal to the Taiwan independence separatist forces” and pushes the self-governing island republic into a “dangerous situation.”

China and the United States are the major players in the Indo-Pacific and Washington has become increasingly alarmed by Beijing’s growing aggressiveness in recent years toward Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries with which it has significant territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

The US has strongly condemned Chinese military exercises threatening Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province and has vowed to reunify with the mainland by force if necessary. Successive US administrations have steadily boosted military support and sales for Taiwan, much to Chinese anger.

A senior State Department official said last week that Blinken would “underscore, both in private and public, America’s abiding interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. We think that is vitally important for the region and the world.”

In the South China Sea, the US and others have become increasingly concerned by provocative Chinese actions in and around disputed areas.

In particular, the US has voiced objections to what it says are Chinese attempts to thwart legitimate maritime activities by others in the sea, notably the Philippines and Vietnam. That was a major topic of concern this month when Biden held a three-way summit with the prime minister of Japan and the president of the Philippines.

On Ukraine, which US officials say will be a primary topic of conversation during Blinken’s visit, the Biden administration said that Chinese support has allowed Russia to largely reconstitute its defense industrial base, affecting not only the war in Ukraine but posing a threat to broader European security.

“If China purports on the one hand to want good relations with Europe and other countries, it can’t on the other hand be fueling what is the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War,” Blinken said last week.

China says it has the right to trade with Russia and accuses the US of fanning the flames by arming and funding Ukraine. “It is extremely hypocritical and irresponsible for the US to introduce a large-scale aid bill for Ukraine while making groundless accusations against normal economic and trade exchanges between China and Russia,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Tuesday.

On the Middle East, US officials, from Biden on down, have repeatedly appealed to China to use any leverage it may have with Iran to prevent Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza from spiraling into a wider regional conflict.

While China appears to have been generally receptive to such calls — particularly because it depends heavily on oil imports from Iran and other Mideast nations — tensions have steadily increased since the beginning of the Gaza war in October and more recent direct strikes and counterstrikes between Israel and Iran.

Blinken has pushed for China to take a more active stance in pressing Iran not to escalate tensions in the Middle East. He has spoken to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, several times urging China to tell Iran to restrain the proxy groups it has supported in the region, including Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.

The senior State Department official said Blinken would reiterate the US interest in China using “whatever channels or influence it has to try to convey the need for restraint to all parties, including Iran.”


China Blasts US Military Aid to Taiwan, Saying the Island Is Entering a ‘Dangerous Situation’ 

A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
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China Blasts US Military Aid to Taiwan, Saying the Island Is Entering a ‘Dangerous Situation’ 

A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)
A view of the US Capitol Building in the late afternoon in Washington, DC, USA, 23 April 2024. (EPA)

China on Wednesday blasted the latest package of US military assistance to Taiwan on Wednesday, saying that such funding was pushing the self-governing island republic into a “dangerous situation.”

The US Senate late Tuesday passed $95 billion in war aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after months of delays and contentious debate over how involved the United States should be in foreign wars. China claims the entire island of Taiwan as its own territory and has threatened to take it by force if necessary.

The mainland's Taiwan Affairs Office said the aid “seriously violates” US commitments to China and “sends a wrong signal to the Taiwan independence separatist forces.”

Office spokesperson Zhu Fenglian added that Taiwan’s ruling pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, which won a third four-year presidential term in January, is willing to “become a pawn for external forces to use Taiwan to contain China, bringing Taiwan into a dangerous situation.”

On Tuesday, Taiwan’s President-elect Lai Ching-te told a visiting US Congressional delegation that the aid package would “strengthen the deterrence against authoritarianism in the West Pacific ally chain” and “help ensure peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and also boost confidence in the region.”

The package has had broad congressional support since Biden first requested the money last summer. But congressional leaders had to navigate strong opposition from a growing number of conservatives who question US involvement in foreign wars and argue that Congress should be focused instead on the surge of migration at the US-Mexico border.

The package covers a wide range of parts and services aimed at maintaining and upgrading Taiwan’s military hardware. Separately, Taiwan has signed billions in contracts with the US for latest-generation F-16V fighter jets, M1 Abrams main battle tanks and the HIMARS rocket system, which the US has also supplied to Ukraine.

Taiwan has also been expanding its own defense industry, building submarines and trainer jets. Next month, it plans to commission its third and fourth domestically designed and built stealth corvettes to counter the Chinese navy as part of a strategy of asymmetrical warfare, in which a smaller force counters its larger opponent by using cutting edge or nonconventional tactics and weaponry.

China launches daily incursions into waters and airspace around Taiwan by navy ships and warplanes. It has also sought to pick away Taiwan’s few remaining formal diplomatic partners.

However, only two People's Liberation Army Air Force planes and seven navy vessels were found operating in areas around Taiwan between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, possibly as a result of heavy rainstorms and low visibility overnight along the island's west coast facing China.

At times of heightened tensions, China has launched dozens of such missions over a 24-hour period, many of them crossing the center line in the Taiwan Strait dividing the sides or entering Taiwan's air defense identification zone.


Iran, Pakistan Urge Security Council to Take Action Against Israel

HANDOUT - 22 April 2024, Pakistan, Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) receives Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of their talks. Photo: -/Iranian Presidency/dpa
HANDOUT - 22 April 2024, Pakistan, Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) receives Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of their talks. Photo: -/Iranian Presidency/dpa
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Iran, Pakistan Urge Security Council to Take Action Against Israel

HANDOUT - 22 April 2024, Pakistan, Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) receives Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of their talks. Photo: -/Iranian Presidency/dpa
HANDOUT - 22 April 2024, Pakistan, Islamabad: Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (R) receives Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of their talks. Photo: -/Iranian Presidency/dpa

Iran and Pakistan called on the United Nations Security Council in a joint statement issued on Wednesday to take action against Israel, saying it had "illegally" targeted neighboring countries and foreign diplomatic facilities.
The joint statement, released by Pakistan's foreign ministry, followed a three-day visit to the country by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Explosions were heard last Friday over the Iranian city of Isfahan in what sources said was an Israeli attack. However, Tehran played down the incident and said it had no plans for retaliation.
"Recognizing that the irresponsible act of the Israeli regime forces was a major escalation in an already volatile region, both sides called on the UN Security Council to prevent the Israeli regime from its adventurism in the region and its illegal acts attacking its neighbors...," Iran and Pakistan said in their joint statement, according to Reuters.
Iran and Pakistan are seeking to mend ties after unprecedented tit-for-tat military strikes this year.
Raisi, who wrapped up his visit and flew on to Sri Lanka on Wednesday, vowed to boost trade between Iran and Pakistan to $10 billion a year.
During his visit to Pakistan, Raisi was quoted by Iran's official IRNA news agency as saying any further Israeli attack on Iranian territory could radically change the dynamics and result in there being nothing left of the "Zionist regime".
On April 13, Tehran launched a barrage of missiles and drones at Israel in what it said was retaliation for Israel's suspected deadly strike on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus on April 1, but almost all were shot down.
Pakistan has previously called for de-escalation by "all parties".
Iran and Pakistan vowed during Raisi's visit to boost trade and energy cooperation, including on a major gas pipeline deal that has faced delays due to geopolitical issues and international sanctions.


US Senate Passes TikTok Divestment-or-Ban Bill, Biden Set to Make It Law 

 This photo illustration taken on September 14, 2020 shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (top) and a US flag (bottom) shown on the screens of two laptops in Beijing. (AFP)
This photo illustration taken on September 14, 2020 shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (top) and a US flag (bottom) shown on the screens of two laptops in Beijing. (AFP)
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US Senate Passes TikTok Divestment-or-Ban Bill, Biden Set to Make It Law 

 This photo illustration taken on September 14, 2020 shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (top) and a US flag (bottom) shown on the screens of two laptops in Beijing. (AFP)
This photo illustration taken on September 14, 2020 shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (top) and a US flag (bottom) shown on the screens of two laptops in Beijing. (AFP)

The US Senate voted by a wide margin late Tuesday in favor of legislation that would ban TikTok in the United States if its owner, the Chinese tech firm ByteDance, fails to divest the popular short video app over the next nine months to a year.

Driven by widespread worries among US lawmakers that China could access Americans' data or surveil them with the app, the bill was passed by the US House of Representatives on Saturday and US President Joe Biden has said he will sign it into law on Wednesday.

"For years we've allowed the Chinese Communist party to control one of the most popular apps in America that was dangerously shortsighted," said Senator Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee. "A new law is going to require its Chinese owner to sell the app. This is a good move for America."

The four-year battle over TikTok, which is used by 170 million people in the United States, is just one front in a war over the internet and technology between Washington and Beijing. Last week, Apple said Beijing had ordered it to remove Meta Platforms' WhatsApp and Threads from its App Store in China over Chinese national security concerns.

TikTok is set to challenge the bill on First Amendment grounds and TikTok users are also expected to again take legal action. A US judge in Montana in November blocked a state ban on TikTok, citing free speech grounds.

The American Civil Liberties Union said banning or requiring divestiture of TikTok would "set an alarming global precedent for excessive government control over social media platforms. ...If the United States now bans a foreign-owned platform, that will invite copycat measures by other countries."

TikTok, which says it has not shared and would not share US user data with the Chinese government, did not immediately comment but has told employees it would quickly go to court to try to block the legislation.

"This is the beginning, not the end of this long process," TikTok told staff on Saturday in an email seen by Reuters.

The Senate voted 79 to 18 in favor of the bill, which was attached to a measure to provide $95 billion in mostly military aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. The TikTok divestment directive won fast-track approval after being introduced just weeks ago.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump was blocked by the courts in his bid to block TikTok and Chinese-owned WeChat, a unit of Tencent, in the United States.

However, the new legislation is likely to give the Biden administration a stronger legal footing to ban TikTok if ByteDance fails to divest the app, experts say.

If ByteDance failed to divest TikTok, app stores operated by Apple, Alphabet's Google and others could not legally offer TikTok or provide web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications or TikTok's website.

The bill would also give the White House new tools to ban or force the sale of other foreign-owned apps it deems to be security threats.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said he was concerned the bill "provides broad authority that could be abused by a future administration to violate Americans’ First Amendment rights."

Once the bill is signed into law, ByteDance will have 270 days to divest TikTok's US operations with a possible three-month extension if there are signs a deal is progressing.

Democratic Senator Ed Markey said it would be hard, if not impossible, for ByteDance to divest by early 2025, adding that a sale would be one of the most complicated and expensive transactions in history, requiring months if not years of due diligence.

"We should be very clear about the likely outcome of this law. It's really just a TikTok ban," he said. "Censorship is not who we are as a people. We should not downplay or deny this trade-off."

The bill could also be an issue in the November presidential campaign, with Republican presidential candidate Trump urging young voters to consider a possible TikTok ban.