Sunday, April 21, 2024

Why Bangladesh’s China-Funded Pekua Submarine Base Will Prove To Be A Migraine For India


Damien Symon, who goes by the ID ‘detrestfa’ on the social media platform X, last month released a satellite image of a dry dock developed at the China-built base in Bangladesh

by Ranjit Kumar

With Sri Lanka denying Chinese spy ships permission to dock at its naval port, India might have got a temporary reprieve. But another of India’s land and maritime neighbours, Bangladesh, is going to be a bigger concern for New Delhi. The latest satellite imagery – showing a dry dock on a submarine base being built by China at Pekua in Cox’s Bazar – has drawn the attention of the strategic community, not only in India but all over the Indo-Pacific. Even so, a poll bound India seems to have no time to browse over this issue with long-term security implications.

China, in the near future, is likely to find a second home for its submarines in the Bay of Bengal, facing some of India’s strategically important naval bases, including a nuclear submarine base.

“This enhanced defence cooperation endeavour by China helps Beijing solidify its presence and influence in the region,” Symon wrote in his post

That China has emerged as a major defence supplier to Bangladesh, its second biggest defence export destination after Pakistan, is well known, and the Indian strategic community is helplessly watching the evolution.

Recent developments at the Pekua submarine base, which was inaugurated by Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina in December 2023, should draw the attention of strategic planners, who must find a way to deny China the use of this facility, or counter the enhanced presence of Chinese military and its assets on Bangladesh’s naval bases.

The weapons and submarines supplied to Bangladesh do not pose any direct security challenge to India as such, but it should concern New Delhi since it will tighten the dragon’s grip over the country and consequently impact its Indo-Pacific strategy.

China has strengthened its hold over Bangladesh through the 2002 Defence Cooperation Agreement, which covers military training and defence supplies. This cooperation has significantly been expanded in the naval domain.

In fact, the deepening naval cooperation between Bangladesh and China is likely to emerge as not a headache, but a migraine for Indian strategic planners.

With Sri Lanka, India could exercise its economic and strategic leverage, but Bangladesh would prove to be a hard nut to crack.

Surprisingly, this has happened during the tenure of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is known to be very close to India and who has overseen promising strides in Indo-Bangladesh diplomatic and economic relations.

This, even as her focus on improving ties with India has attracted domestic criticism – her re-election for the fourth consecutive term this January sparked an ‘India-out’ campaign by Hasina’s critics who suspect India of electoral interference.

The campaign has not got much traction in Bangladesh politics, but shows the presence of an anti-India sentiment among some sections in the country.

The way Sheikh Hasina is pushing close defence relations with China is giving the dragon excuses to make deep inroads in the strategic domain of Bangladesh.

The issue of the long-term unhindered presence of Chinese submarines and their operators at the newly built submarine base at Pekua might cloud India-Bangladesh relations. China, meanwhile, would be only too happy to drive a wedge in India-Bangladesh relations, capitalising on segments that are anti-India diehards.

An Eager Defence Partner

Bangladesh harbours the ambition of becoming a regional maritime power, and the fast developing Bay of Bengal economy has found an eager defence partner in China.

After supplying two old refurbished submarines to Bangladesh at a concessional friendly price, China came forward to build the grand submarine base, which was inaugurated last year in March by PM Sheikh Hasina in the presence of a large number of Chinese officials.

The naval base, spread over 1.75 square km and named BNS Sheikh Hasina, would not simply be a submarine docking port, but also a maintenance and overhaul facility, as revealed by the new satellite imagery, which raises questions about the real intent of China.

China has funded and developed the $1.21 billion Pekua submarine base, and Bangladesh is destined to be dependent on China for its maintenance for years to come. It will be difficult for Bangladesh to wriggle itself out of the dragon’s jaws, and the Indian Navy will have to live with the fait accompli – submarines operated by the PLA Navy finding an opportunity to be dangerously in the vicinity of India’s Andaman and Nicobar command.

Bangladesh is likely to ignore any Indian objections to permitting the visits of Chinese submarines. Since the base and dry dock have been built and are being maintained by China, the Chinese navy would naturally claim logistical and strategic access to the base. The submarine base can easily be used as another espionage outpost by the Chinese navy. This will make Bay of Bengal unsafe for India as the Chinese navy can easily monitor the movement of Indian submarines and warships in the region and Indian naval ships stationed at Indian bases. The Chinese navy can use this facility under the garb of anti-piracy operations.

Bangladesh will thus be embroiled in the Great Game of the Indo-Pacific, where the Bangladesh navy will find itself playing the role of a reserve player from the Chinese side.

An Unwelcome Development

In November 2016, Bangladesh took the delivery of two Chinese-made retrofitted Ming-class Type O35B diesel electric submarines. The 2.5-decade-old submarines were acquired at a discounted price of $203 million.

The submarines, not considered very useful, were being used by the Chinese navy for training. However, as part of the Bangladesh deal, China upgraded these submarines and equipped them with modern torpedoes and sonars.

The dry dock is estimated to be 135 metres long and 35 metres wide.

The Pekua submarine base, meanwhile, is designed to accommodate six submarines and a few warships, and the Bangladesh navy has only two submarines.

This means either the Bangladesh navy will expand its submarine fleet and China will be a natural claimant to supply four more submarines. If not, China will be encouraged to utilise the space for docking up to four of its submarines.

China may lease them to Bangladesh and deploy its technicians to maintain the submarine fleet and manage training facilities for Bangladesh submariners.

All this will involve inviting the presence of Chinese technicians and submariners to stay on the Bangladesh submarine base for an indefinite period, an unwelcome development for India.

The author is a senior journalist and strategic affairs analyst

(With Agency Input)


BrahMos Missile System Supplies From India Continue To Reach Philippines Under USD 375 Million Deal


New Delhi: Supplies of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles from India to the Philippines under a USD 375 million deal, continue as part of the contract between the two nations, defence officials said.

The missile system supplies reached at an air base in Manila from India in a chartered Ilyushin-76 transport aircraft on Sunday, they said.

Officials from India and the Philippines are receiving the first batch of equipment supplied to that country as part of the contract, defence officials said.

Notably, India delivered the first lot of the supersonic cruise missiles to the Philippines on April 19, as part of the deal signed in 2022.

The Indian Air Force had sent its American-origin C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft with the missiles to the Philippines to deliver the weapon system to the Philippines' Marine Corps, according to defence sources.

The export of ground systems for the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile system along with the missiles started last month itself, they said.

The Philippines is taking delivery of the missile systems at a time when tensions between them and China have escalated owing to frequent clashes in the South China Sea. The three batteries of the BrahMos missile system would be deployed by the Philippines in their coastal areas to guard against any threat in the region.

The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, a joint venture between the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), is said to be one of the most successful missile programs in the world. Acknowledged as the foremost and swiftest precision-guided weapon on a global scale, BRAHMOS has played a pivotal role in enhancing India's deterrence capabilities.

The Indian Army has integrated multiple BrahMos regiments into its arsenal since 2007.

This report is auto-generated from a syndicated feed


Ukraine War: India's Position Gaining Support


The Ukraine war has entered its third year. Whatever else it may or may not be, it has most definitely been a “war of narratives”. It has also been an “information war”. It is said that words matter, but the world received a crash course in diplomatic lexicon in the aftermath of the “War”.

Some called it a “Special Military Operation”. Others called it quite simply a “War of Putin’s choice”, an “unprovoked military aggression” and still others chose to use the word “conflict” to describe the events that unfolded on 24 February 2022.

In Western media headlines, the Russian military action in Ukraine eclipsed the catastrophe that had engulfed Afghanistan six months earlier. There was outrage, indignation and a strong sense of the “world” being wronged on every cannon of international law.

The reaction was, in a sense, a reminder to the world where power rested and what mattered. There was no space for the countless number of innocent people who were being killed in fratricidal conflicts in different parts of the world.

India woke up, late, but nevertheless fearlessly, to voice the feelings of the “rest of the world” - the Global South. India sought to press the pause button on western hysteria and the self consuming East-West conflict to say that this was not the end of history.

There were other real problems, equally existential and explosive, that were hurting the vast majority of countries. Their voices were being drowned out. The “South” was yet again becoming collateral damage of major power rivalry. India asserted that this was not the era of a weak and helpless post-colonial world.

The fact that developing countries came together to emphasise the destabilising nature of the conflict and the effect on their core development agenda has emerged as fundamental an aspect of today’s geopolitics as the invasion itself.

The nuances in global reactions to the war have been lost in the high decibel official reaction from western capitals and accompanying media coverage. These have been marked by intolerance for dissent, half-truths and vilification. Western media commentary on Ukraine has been as definitive and self-righteous in its analysis as its coverage was of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and links with al Qaeda.

A closer look at global reactions shows that the world beyond the immediate sides has not bought into the “cancel Russia” project, or the line that US/NATO actions had no role to play in what Russia did.

The world is not prepared to get divided once again between the West and the rest or into rival blocs. This is evident in national positions as it is in voting patterns in the United Nations. The Voice of the Global South Summit during India’s G20 Presidency was the high point of the South’s assertion of strategic autonomy.

The most populous democracies1 in the world in addition to India – Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina – have refused to side with NATO. Almost all countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have voiced discomfort, if not opposition, to unilateral sanctions against Russia. Those who have complied, in varying degrees, are close friends of the West or its allies.

Dissonance In The UN

An analysis of the main UN resolutions since February 2022 shows the complexity of world opinion and how countries have steered their way through the diplomatic labyrinth, juggling national positions, their bilateral relationships with the parties to the conflict, their values and interests. Voting patterns indicate that Russia could not be isolated, at least within the UN.

The very first Resolution condemning the Russian aggression against Ukraine on March 2, 2022, when both tempers and emotions were running high, was adopted by a vote of 141 in favour to 5 against (Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Russian Federation, and Syria). Yet it was the 35 abstentions that attracted global attention.

These were systemically significant countries. They included India, South Africa, Mexico and China, apart from Russia’s neighbours in Central Asia. The number of votes in favour could not go beyond 141 even a year later, when a similar Resolution was introduced in February 2023 to mark the first anniversary of the war.

Voting on the Resolution calling for Russia’s suspension from the Human Rights Council in April 2022 was even more divided. While the Resolution received a two-thirds majority of those present and voting, numbering 93, the fact also was that as many as 58 countries abstained. The abstentions were not the “rogue gallery” of international politics.

They included India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia. 24 countries voted against the move. Thus, if 93 countries had voted to oust Russia from the Human Rights Council, 82 countries did not.

International opinion was further divided on the November 2022 UN General Assembly calling on Russia to pay war reparations. 94 countries supported the Resolution but 73 abstained, including Brazil, India and South Africa, and 14 voted against.

As past record shows, numbers in the General Assembly do not really serve either as a barometer of international support to an issue or isolation or of a country’s international standing. For decades, similar resolutions in which the vast membership have voted overwhelmingly against Israel have neither solved the Arab-Israeli dispute nor led to Israel’s isolation.

To quote a recent example, in December 2023, 151 countries voted against Israel on a Resolution demanding “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza but this and many earlier resolutions have not made any significant impact on how countries have conducted their bilateral relations with Israel. The world has dealt with Israel regardless of the rights and wrongs.

This Is Not An Era of War

No comment sums up the global reaction better than the comment made by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to President Vladimir Putin at the SCO summit in Samarkand in September 2022. The comment was welcomed on both sides of the aisle.

India has abstained on resolutions in the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly against Russia except the one which argued against targeting civilians. In South Asia, countries were evenly divided, with four supporting the Resolution of 23rd February 2023 upholding the principles of the UN charter underlying a just and lasting peace in Ukraine (Afghanistan, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Nepal) and four abstaining (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka).

The Battle Between Democracy And Autocracy

Comments by President Biden within a month of the outbreak of the conflict in March 2022 in Poland framing the Ukraine War as the battle between democracy and autocracy were short lived in their currency. The world refused to see the conflict in binary terms. The characterisation had to be tempered and then withdrawn in the light of global pushback and even opposition from within the US political system.

Mainstream Republican Presidential candidates have questioned the US Administration’s Ukraine strategy. Today, the US Administration is faced with a moral crisis in dealing with Israel's retribution in Gaza after the October 7 terror attacks by Hamas.

Conclusion

The world’s reaction to the Ukraine conflict has been more nuanced and less monochromatic than what has been portrayed by mainstream media. Absolutist interpretations of the principles of international law have coexisted with regional and national reactions that have been specific to circumstances of individual countries.

The West has been able to weaponize normal inter-state activities, but it has not been able to demonise Russia in the eyes of the world. The “global street” has not bought into the “you are with us or against us” framework that it was subjected to during the Cold War. In addition, the Afghanistan crisis, and many others, were pushed out of the headlines and double standards in western media coverage to Israel’s response to the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas are all evident.

The position India took on the Ukraine conflict is today gaining support. The conflict has to wind down with a return to diplomacy and dialogue.

This article has originally published n NatStrat, an independent, not-for-profit centre for research on strategic and security issues. *Pankaj Saran, former deputy national security adviser to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and former Indian high commissioner in Bangladesh


8 IEDs, 2 Wireless Sets Seized From Terrorist Hideout In J&K's Rajouri


Officials said that the recovered material was in a highly rusted condition, indicating that the hideout was in use when terrorists were operating in the district before it was freed of militancy over two decades ago

Rajouri/Jammu: Security forces on Sunday busted a terrorist hideout in a village in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district, leading to the recovery of eight improvised explosive devices (IEDs), two wireless sets, and some ammunition, officials said.

The recovered material was in a highly rusted condition, indicating that the hideout was in use when terrorists were operating in the district before it was freed of militancy over two decades ago, officials said.

They said that police assisted by the Army launched a search operation at Azmatabad village in Thannamandi area, 30 kms from Rajouri town, and unearthed the hideout.

While one of the IEDs weighed 1 kg, the rest seven were half a kg each, the officials said.

Three magazines of AK-47 rifle, 102 rounds of ammunition, one charger, and two wireless sets were the other items seized.

(With Agency Inputs)


Terrorist Aide Arrested In Jammu And Kashmir With Pakistan-Made Pistol, Grenades


A registered Over-Ground Worker (OGW), a school headmaster by profession, was arrested on Sunday from his home in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch district.

Over-Ground Worker arrested in Poonch district. Security forces recover foreign arms from his possession. Suspected plan to disrupt upcoming polls

A registered Over-Ground Worker (OGW), a school headmaster by profession, was arrested on Sunday from his home in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch district. Security forces recovered a Pakistan-made pistol and two Chinese grenades from his possession.

The arrested person, identified as Qamaruddin, was nabbed during a joint operation carried out by the Jammu and Kashmir Police and the Army from his home in Hari Budha area.

According to the security forces, the arms and ammunition were suspected to be used to disturb the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in Poonch.

The Poonch police said the forces were still continuing a search in the area.

Meanwhile, a video shared on social media by the ANI news agency showed security personnel entering the house and searching the premises.

The Lok Sabha elections in Jammu and Kashmir will take place in five phases on April 19 and 26; and May 7, 13 and 20.

This report is auto-generated from a syndicated feed


Rice War: India's Strategic Offensive To Counter Pakistan's EC Plans


A comprehensive report to refute Pakistan’s GI tag claims on Basmati rice at the European Commission is being finalized through consultations with key stakeholders, say officials. In the fiscal year 2024, up to January 2024, India's basmati exports to the EU continued to grow, with 130,122 MT exported, valued at $168 million

New Delhi: India is gearing up to challenge Pakistan's attempts to broaden the geographical indication (GI) tag for its Basmati rice. The extension of the GI tag for the premium variety of rice, from 14 to 48 districts in Pakistan, could have significant implications on India's export prospects to the European Union (EU).

According to people in the know, the Union commerce ministry is actively strategizing to counter Islamabad's bid at the European Commission (EC).

“A comprehensive report to completely refute Pakistan’s claim is being finalized through consultations with key stakeholders, including the Basmati Export Development Foundation, which is affiliated with the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), alongside the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), and association of rice exporters," one of the people said.

The development comes amid New Delhi's efforts to resolve all outstanding issues with the European Union (EU) for a bilateral free-trade agreement, with the eighth round of negotiations expected in May or early-June.

GI registration is key to access the European markets, offering benefits such as tariff relief within the 27-member bloc.

India submitted its GI registration application on 20 July 2018, predating Pakistan's application on 24 August 2023. According to the standard intellectual property rights (IPR) registration process, stakeholders can oppose a registration within three months.

However, while the EC is yet to reach a final decision on India's application, it was quick to publish Pakistan's application for potential opposition on 23 February 2024. The commission is now considering registration based on all the available information from both countries.

Basmati rice is grown in 81 districts in India spanning Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttarakhand, and western Uttar Pradesh. Thirty-four varieties of Basmati rice are officially recognized under the Seeds Act of 1966.

“In a meeting, which was convened by commerce secretary Sunil Barthwal in the first week of April, all stakeholders were directed to defend the case against Pakistan in a manner that sets a precedent for similar situations," the person added.

India will submit its response, opposing Pakistan’s claims, to the EC in the fourth week of May, a second person said.

Queries emailed to a commerce ministry spokesperson, IARI director, APEDA chairman, Pakistan embassy, and Pakistan Rice Exporters Association remained unanswered till press time.

India's basmati exports to the EU have consistently risen over the past three years. According to data from the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics (DGCIS), in FY23, India exported 152,857 metric tonnes (MT) of Basmati valued at $167 million, up significantly from 88,452 MT worth about $93.4 million.

Between 1 April 2023 and 31 January 2024, India exported 130,122 MT ($168 million) of Basmati to the EU, indicating robust demand for Indian basmati in the EU market. It also reflects the superior quality and popularity of this aromatic rice variety among member countries.

In FY22-23, India's basmati trade soared to $4,787.50 million, with volumes of 4,558,972.23 MT, cementing India's position as the world's top exporter of Basmati rice. Major export markets included Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

"The case presented by Pakistan lacks a solid foundation, and is unlikely to be upheld in the EC. Pakistan had initially identified 14 districts as Basmati rice-producing districts, but suddenly increased this number to 48 without providing any scientific base," said Vijay Setia, director, Chaman Lal Setia Exports, and the former president of All India Rice Exporters Association.

“Pakistan will face significant criticism over the issue in the EU, which may lead to embarrassment for their actions, Setia added.

According to an EC official, both India and Pakistan are seeking European GI protection for Basmati rice. “The EC will do its utmost to find a "balanced solution", which could represent a win for all parties, in full compliance with existing rules," he said in an email reply.

“If either any party opposes, the EU will ensure it is examined in line with standing procedures, and ensure the rights of all parties," the EC official said.

However, Hamid Malik, a Lahore-based rice commodity specialist and founding partner, Agri Policy Research Institute, Islamabad, said: “Pakistan has always supported India at global forums in the fight against GI protection for Basmati, paving the way for the recognition of PUSA 1 as Basmati, that accounted for 60% of India's total Basmati exports during 2008."

“Pakistan will defend its case, including the 48 Basmati-growing districts, citing a verdict of the Delhi High Court pronounced on 25 April 2019 regarding the restriction of Basmati cultivation in the Indo-Gangetic Plains," Malik said.

(With Agency Inputs)


'No State Has Power To Abolish CAA, No Power In World Can Stop It': Rajnath Singh In Bengal


Malda: Hitting out at West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for "spreading lies" regarding the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said that the legislation will ensure the safety of the persecuted minorities.

The Defence Minister held three election campaign meetings in West Bengal, including two meetings near the Bangladesh border.

The first meeting was held in Murshidabad for Gouri Shankar Ghosh, the second meeting was held in Malda Uttar constituency for Khagen Murmu and the third meeting was held in Darjeeling for party candidate Raju Bista.

"Mamata Banerjee is spreading lies regarding CAA among the people of Bengal, especially the Muslim community," Mr Singh said at a public meeting in Malda, West Bengal.

"CAA will ensure safety to persecuted religious minorities of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan as they are our people," he added.

He also attacked CM Mamata for her remark of abolishing the CAA and said that "no power in the world" can stop this legislation.

"Mamata Didi said that she would abolish CAA. I want to ask her why she is lying to the people of West Bengal. Politics can also be done by speaking truth to the people. No state has the power to abolish CAA and no power in the world can stop CAA," the former Uttar Pradesh CM said.

Recently, CM Mamata had urged the migrant workers in the state not to return before casting vote in the Lok Sabha elections, alleging that if they don't vote, the BJP government will take away their citizenships.

Attacking TMC and Congress party over 'corruption', he said that no corruption charge has been levelled against the BJP-ruled Centre in the last 10 years.

"The leaders of TMC and Congress are deeply involved in corruption and due to this, they were put behind bars. BJP is in power for the last ten years, and not a single person can point out corruption during the tenure...The way TMC is ruling the state, there is no difference between Trinamool Congress and Congress," Mr Singh said.

The Defence Minister strongly condemned the Sandeshkhali incident -- where several women have alleged molestation and land grabbing by TMC leaders -- and said that no one will dare to repeat such an incident if BJP comes to power.

"West Bengal is known for academicians but under the current regime, criminals are prevailing here. There is an atmosphere of anarchy in the entire West Bengal. The world was ashamed over the atrocities against women in Sandeshkhali and it has dented the image of India internationally. The entire humanity is ashamed of the Sandeshkhali incident," Mr Singh said.

"I assure you if the BJP government is formed here, we will see who dares to repeat the incident like Sandeshkhali," he added.

He also hailed the Women's Reservation Bill passed by the Parliament and said that one-third reservation for women will be granted from the next election onwards.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC) has held a stronghold in West Bengal. The party won 34 out of 42 seats in 2014. But in 2019, BJP showed a strong improvement winning 18 seats, while TMC's tally came down to 22.

Voting in West Bengal is taking place across all seven phases. Polling were held in three constituencies on April 19. The counting of votes will take place on June 4.

This report is auto-generated from a syndicated feed


Leaked Documents Reportedly Expose China's Extensive Cyber-Espionage Operations


Beijing: Leaked documents from i-Soon, a Chinese cybersecurity company linked to the country's cybersecurity apparatus, have reportedly provided fresh evidence of China's extensive cyber espionage operations.

These documents shed light on China's utilisation of hackers to target Hong Kong's pro-democracy activists and the Uyghur community.

Additionally, they reveal the Tibetan exile administration in Dharamshala, India, as another target of Chinese hackers.

The leaked documents underscore China's strategy of targeting vulnerable individuals and groups across international borders.


Notably, i-Soon allegedly attempted to breach the Dalai Lama's office in India. The Chinese Army and Police are reportedly among i-Soon's major clients, suggesting state involvement in these activities.

This revelation adds to longstanding concerns about China's history of conducting espionage abroad. A diplomatic crisis between China and the United States last year, triggered by a Chinese balloon entering American airspace, underscored the need for nations, including India, to bolster their counterintelligence capabilities.

Furthermore, US and British officials have accused Beijing of targeting various sectors, including lawmakers, academics, journalists, and defence contractors, through cyber espionage.

Sanctions and charges have been imposed in response.

Despite China's denial of these allegations, analysts note a rise in cyberattacks linked to Chinese agencies, indicating efforts to assess foreign governments' reactions.

As these leaks come to light, they raise significant concerns about the extent of China's cyber activities and their potential impact on international security and diplomatic relations.

This report is auto-generated from a syndicated feed


'South Pacific Shouldn't Become Arena For Great Power Competition': China Attacks AUKUS


Port Moresby: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi targeted Western powers in the AUKUS trilateral security partnership and accused them of provoking division and raising nuclear proliferation risks in the South Pacific, Nikkei Asia reported on Sunday.

AUKUS is a trilateral security partnership designed to create a stronger, more resilient trilateral submarine industrial base, supporting submarine production and maintenance in all three countries.

This comes as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi lauded diplomatic achievements with Papua New Guinea on his visit to the country on Saturday, part of Beijing's initiative to strengthen ties with the Pacific Island nations.

The Chinese foreign minister's visit comes just days before Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is due to arrive in Papua New Guinea, once again highlighting a tussle for influence between China and US allies.

Nikkei Asia reported, referencing announcements made by AUKUS nations that they are considering cooperating with Japan on sharing advanced technology earlier this month, Wang said, "Recent attempts to draw more countries to join in such an initiative of stoking bloc confrontation is completely inconsistent with the urgent needs of island countries."

He slammed US and Australia's relationship with Pacific island nations, saying, "The South Pacific region should not become an arena for great power competition. No country should regard island countries as its 'backyard' and should not engage in zero-sum games or exclusionary arrangements," alluding to historical views that Australia considered the South Pacific to be its backyard.

Beijing and Port Moresby will also start free trade agreement negotiations as soon as possible and build police cooperation, according to a press release published by the Foreign Ministry after Wang's meeting with Tkatchenko, Nikkei Asia reported.

In recent years, Beijing's attempts to push for police and security agreements with Papua New Guinea had been unsuccessful, Nikkei Asia reported.

During a tour of Pacific island countries in June 2022, Wang proposed a wide-ranging regional security deal that would increase China's involvement in police training, cybersecurity and sensitive marine mapping while gaining greater access to natural resources. The deal ultimately collapsed, with Papua New Guinea among those that rejected the proposal.

"There has been resentment over the Pacific agreement on security matters," Papua New Guinea's foreign affairs secretary Elias Wohengu told the Post Courier newspaper at the time. Wohengu indicated that Papua New Guinea was unlikely to sign a security deal, saying, "On the security status of Papua New Guinea, we will deal with it ourselves."

Washington and Canberra has criticised China, which has made in the Solomon Islands.

"The increased policing presence in the Solomon Islands is concerning," John Aquilino, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told reporters in Sydney earlier this month. "That's the foot in the door."

But while the big players jostle for influence, Papua New Guinea has stayed "pragmatic in its approach to global powers," said Australian National University PhD candidate Michael Kabuni.

This has meant positioning Australia and the US as security partners while maintaining ties with China as an important economic partner, it reported.

This report is auto-generated from a syndicated feed


Blinken Set To Visit China Next Week; Analysts Say No Major Advances Expected From Trip


Washington: At a time when China's friendliness towards Russia is seen as a growing threat among many nations, the upcoming visit of the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Beijing next week, is not seen as something that would do much to agendas the two countries have on their plates, according to analysts. The meeting, expected by US as 'breakthrough' on various prospects, according to the analysts, would not have any major advances emerge from it, reported Voice of America.

Blinken's second visit to China coincides with the US warning China not to support Russia in its conflict with Ukraine, given that Chinese companies are directly supplying vital parts to Russia's defence industry.

The State Department lists counternarcotics, enhancing military-to-military communication, holding discussions on the hazards and safety of artificial intelligence, and looking at methods to improve people-to-people ties as additional urgent issues on the agenda.

According to Voice of America, a senior State Department official said in a briefing Friday that the US is "realistic and clear eyed about the prospects of breakthroughs" on any of the issues on the agenda.

However, some analysts said they do not anticipate any major advances to emerge from the talks.

This week, China was asked to cease transferring dual-use materials and weapons components that Russia is utilising to boost its military manufacturing by the foreign ministers of the G7, the world's seven most developed nations, in a joint statement.

Significant amounts of microelectronics, unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missile technology, and nitrocellulose--which Russia uses to create weapon propellants--are among the goods, Voice of America reported citing US sources.

Meanwhile, on Friday, Blinken had told reporters at a press conference in Capri, Italy, and said, "China can't have it both"ways"--helping Russia and keeping good relations with Europe."

During a virtual briefing on Friday, a senior State Department official informed VOA that the US is "prepared to take steps" when needed against Chinese companies that "seriously undermine security in both Ukraine and Europe."

Analysts, as per Voice of America, speculate that the US may impose sanctions on Chinese institutions that assist in the transfer of these items.

Washington has imposed sanctions on Chinese nationals and businesses in the past that give Russia tangible support, and it is seeking the help of its European allies to implement similar restrictions now.

However, China, as usual, has disregarded what its representatives called an attempt by Washington to "smear" or "attack the normal relations between China and Russia."

China asserts that, in compliance with legal regulations, it controls the shipment of materials with dual uses to Russia. Mao Ning, a spokesman for China's Foreign Affairs Ministry, stated during a recent briefing that the United States "should not harm the legitimate rights and interests of China and Chinese companies.

The goal of the recent wave of high-level diplomacy aimed at stabilising China-US ties is Blinken's visit to China.

It comes after US President Joe Biden's discussions with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Woodside, California, in November; Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's recent visit to Guangzhou; and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan's meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Munich in February.

Blinken's trip to China is slated for a few weeks before Taiwan's incoming president, Lai Ching-te, takes office on May 20.

This report is auto-generated from a syndicated feed


Gunmen Kill 2 More Customs Officials In Another Dera Ismail Khan Attack


KPK: Unknown gunmen killed two customs officers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Dera Ismail Khan in an attack that followed the April 18 strike in which five officials of the Customs Intelligence and two civilians, including a five-year-old girl, were killed in an ambush by unidentified gunmen, police said on Sunday, Geo News reported.

According to law enforcement officials, four others sustained injuries in the gun attack and have been shifted to the district headquarters hospital (DHQ).

According to Geo News, the police officials' statement disclosed that the unidentified armed assailants escaped the site of the incident after opening fire.

On April 18, a firing incident in the KP district claimed the lives of seven individuals, five of whom were customs officials, and a five-year-old girl.

Law enforcement authorities reported that unidentified assailants targeted the customs officials on Saggu Road in Daraban Tehsil of the district, as per Geo News.

The armed attackers, concealing themselves in bushes, attacked the customs vehicle and swiftly fled the scene on motorcycles without encountering resistance.

Due to the attack, the driver of the customs vehicle lost control and collided with another vehicle, resulting in the death of the citizen.

According to the statistics issued by the Department of Interior and Tribal Affairs KP, the areas most affected by terrorism include Peshawar, Khyber, Bajaur, and Tank, while Dera Ismail Khan North Waziristan and South Waziristan are included in the terror-affected areas.

The initial attack took place on April 18, in which five Customs Intelligence officials and two civilians, including a five-year-old girl, were tragically killed in an ambush by unidentified gunmen in Dera Ismail Khan city in Pakistan, The Express Tribune reported.

According to the police, the incident occurred on Thursday as the Customs Intelligence team conducted routine checks at Saggu in Dera Ismail Khan district, where they encountered heavy gunfire from attackers hiding in the nearby bushes.

"As a result of the ambush, the casualties occurred, comprising five Customs Intelligence officials and two innocent civilians," they added

A rescue 1122 team shifted the bodies to the district headquarters hospital (DHQ). The martyrs were identified as Shahab Ali Khan, Attar Alam, Akbar Zaman, Inayatullah, Muhammad Aslam of the Customs Intelligence, and civilians Safatullah and five-year-old Laiba Bibi, as per The Express Tribune.

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Israeli Minister Gantz Condemns U.S. Sanctions On IDF Soldiers, Calls It 'Dangerous Precedent'


Tel Aviv: Israeli war Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz joined a growing chorus of criticism by fellow politicians over US President Joe Biden's administration decision to impose sanctions on a unit of Israel Defence Forces, calling it a 'dangerous precedent'. He said it 'conveys the wrong message'.

In a post on X, Benny Gantz wrote, "I have great appreciation for our American friends, but the decision to impose sanctions on an IDF unit and its soldiers sets a dangerous precedent and conveys the wrong message to our shared enemies during wartime."

Calling the infantry unit "an inseparable part of the Israel Defence Forces," Gantz added by saying that it's "subject to military law and is responsible for operating in full compliance with international law."

"The State of Israel has a strong, independent judicial system that evaluates meticulously any claim of a violation or deviation from IDF orders and code of conduct, and will continue to do so," Gantz added.

Gantz's comments came after reports of the US President sanctioning an IDF unit started to surface.

Citing reports, Fox News stated the Biden administration could announce sanctions against an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) battalion for alleged human rights violations in the West Bank before the October 7 assault on Israel by Hamas terrorists.

Axios, a Virginia-based American website reported that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken could announce sanctions against IDF battalion "Netzah Yehuda" within days.

This would, notably be the first time the US would be imposing sanctions on military units of Israel.

Meanwhile, Gantz, also said that Israel's judicial system meticulously evaluates any claims of violation or deviation from IDF orders and code of conduct, according to Times of Israel. He also affirmed that he is committed to taking action to overturn this decision.

"I intend on acting to have this decision changed," Gantz's wrote further on X.

The tensions continue to simmer in the Middle East following Iran's recent strikes on Israel, which were later followed by alleged Israeli airstrikes in Tehran. This also comes at a time when the Israel-Hamas war is in its seventh month and there is no update on the ceasefire in the foresight.

The conflict in Gaza escalated after the October 7 attack by Hamas, where about 2,500 terrorists breached the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip, leading to casualties and the seizure of hostages.

Despite the passage of time, over 100 hostages continue to remain in Hamas' captivity, their fate hanging in the balance amidst ongoing efforts to secure their release.

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Voting Begins For Maldives Parliamentary Election


Male: Maldivians started voting in parliamentary elections Sunday, marking a crucial ballot for President Mohamed Muizzu, whose policies are closely monitored by India and China, both vying for influence in the Island nation, The Washington Post reported.

Both countries are looking forward to it because the strategic location of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean makes it a sought-after prize for New Delhi and Beijing.

In a post on X, the Election Commission of Maldives shared the video of the Coordination Centre for the 2024 Parliamentary Elections. Pictures from the election site were also shared showing people waiting in a queue for their turn to vote.

According to The Washington Post, Muizzu's election as president last year sharpened the rivalry between India and China, as the new leader adopted a pro-China stance and worked to remove Indian troops stationed on one of the country's islets.

Securing a parliamentary majority will be a difficult challenge for Muizzu due to rifts among his allies and the entry of additional parties into the race, according to the US-based news outlet.

A total of 368 candidates from six political parties and independent groups are vying for 93 seats in Parliament. This marks an increase of six seats from the previous Parliament, adjusted to accommodate population growth, per The Washington Post.

About 284,000 people are eligible to vote and tentative results are expected to be announced late Sunday.

During his presidential campaign, Muizzu adopted the slogan "India out," accusing his predecessor of compromising national sovereignty by granting India to much influence.

Approximately 75 Indian military personnel were stationed in the Maldives, primarily engaged in operating two aircraft donated by India and aiding in sea rescue operations.

Muizzu has taken steps to have civilians take over those activities.

Tensions escalated when Indian social media activists launched a boycott of Maldives tourism in response to derogatory remarks made by three Maldivian deputy ministers about PM Modi.

These comments were prompted by Modi's suggestion to promote tourism in Lakshadweep, India's own island chain similar to the Maldives

According to recent Maldives government statistics, the number of Indian tourists has fallen, dropping that country from being the top source of foreign visitors to No. 6.

Muizzu visited China earlier this year and negotiated an increase in the number of tourists and inbound flights from China.

In 2013, the Maldives joined China's "Belt and Road" initiative, which was meant to build ports and highways to expand trade and China's influence across Asia, Africa and Europe.

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Russia Warns Pakistan It Might Ban Rice Imports Over Safety Concerns


Islamabad: Russia has warned Pakistan it might ban rice imports if their phytosanitary concerns are not addressed in future consignments, Dawn reported on Sunday.

The Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (FSVPS) of the Russian Federation issued a notification regarding violations of international and Russian phytosanitary requirements over a shipment of rice imported from Pakistan.

The notification, numbered FS-SA-3/6592 and dated April 2, 2024, highlights the presence of a quarantine organism, "Megaselia scalaris (Loew)," in the rice consignment, Dawn reported.

The FSVPS has asked the plenipotentiary and trade representative at the Pakistani embassy in Russia for an immediate investigation into the matter.

A copy of the notice issued by the Russian authorities shows that the FSVPS has asked the relevant official in the Pakistani embassy to prevent such violations in the future and emphasised the importance of adhering to phytosanitary standards to ensure the safety of agricultural products traded between countries, Dawn reported.

Meanwhile, the trade wing of Pakistani embassy in Moscow has forwarded the English translation of the Russian authority's letter to the Department of Plant Protection (DPP) in the Ministry of Food Security and other relevant government offices.

The letter by the embassy to the DPP states, "In view of the above, it is requested that an investigation may be conducted immediately and the results of the investigation may please be shared with FSVPS in order to avoid any possible ban on rice exports in the future."

Meanwhile, the FSVPS has also sent an official communication to the director of DPP, seeking a higher degree of cooperation in the field of plant quarantine, Dawn reported.

Russia had previously imposed a ban on similar grounds in 2019, which remained in place for around two years. It was lifted after a series of negotiations between officials of both sides. Earlier, in December 2006, Russia also stopped the import of rice from Pakistan for not meeting food safety standards.

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Pakistan Deports Over 800 Afghan Refugees: Report


Kabul: Over 800 Afghan refugees were deported from Pakistan via the Torkham and Spin Boldak crossings, Khaama Press reported on Sunday.

As per a Khaama Press report, a total of 837 Afghan refugees were forced to return to Afghanistan over the past 48 hours, confirmed by officials on Saturday.

Of these, 90 families, or 468 people, returned over the Torkham crossing, according to the Taliban-led Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation.

In a similar manner, 369 people, or 67 families, crossed the Spin Boldak crossing to return, Khaama Press reported.

The situation for Afghan refugees in the nation is still terrible, nevertheless, in spite of these efforts.

Numerous people continue to struggle with issues including lack of a roof over their head, restricted access to necessary services like healthcare and education, and susceptibility to prejudice and exploitation.

Additionally, the recent launch of the Pakistani government's second phase of deporting illegal refugees has added to the plight of Afghan refugees, exacerbating their already precarious situation and heightening concerns about their well-being and safety.

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