Top Asian News 4:43 a.m. GMT
BEIJING (AP) — The attendance of both the former bishop of Hong Kong and an adviser to Taiwan’s leader at this week’s funeral for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI highlights the Vatican’s uneasy relationship with communist-ruled China. The Chinese government, which does not have formal diplomatic ties with the Vatican, has not commented on Benedict’s death and did not appear to be sending anyone to Thursday’s service. Pope Francis, who succeeded Benedict in 2013, has tried to mend fences with Beijing, moving beyond the harder line approach of his predecessor to sign an agreement in 2018 on the appointment of bishops in China.
BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s ruling military leader pardoned over 7,000 prisoners, including some political detainees, and detailed plans for an election later this year during a ceremony Wednesday marking the 75th anniversary of independence from Britain. Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing urged other nations and international organizations, as well as his country’s own people, to support “the genuine, discipline-flourishing multiparty democratic system,” a concept the ruling military has defined as its goal since it ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021. The army’s takeover reversed nearly a decade of progress toward democracy after 50 years of military rule.
GENEVA (AP) — The head of the World Health Organization said Wednesday the agency is “concerned about the risk to life in China” amid the coronavirus’ explosive spread across the country and the lack of outbreak data from the Chinese government. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency recently met with Chinese officials to underline the importance of sharing more details about COVID-19 issues including hospitalization rates and genetic sequences, even as the pandemic continues to recede globally since it began in late 2019. “Data remains essential for WHO to carry out regular, rapid and robust risk assessments of the global situation,” Tedros said at a press briefing.
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Wednesday “strongly encouraged” its member states to impose pre-departure COVID-19 testing of passengers from China, in a move that is likely to upset Beijing and has already been criticized by the global airline industry. Following a week of talks between EU health experts, the bloc stopped short of agreeing that all 27 member states impose such a travel restriction that members like Italy, France and Spain had already implemented at a national level. Instead, it only urged nations to do so. China has already vehemently rejected such actions, warning of “countermeasures” if such policies were to be imposed across the bloc.
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia announced Thursday it will boost its defense capabilities by spending more than 1 billion Australian dollars ($700 million) on new advanced missile and rocket systems, including U.S.-made HIMARS which have been successfully used by Ukraine’s military. In Ukraine, the mobile, truck-mounted HIMARS have proved crucial in enabling Ukrainian forces to hit key targets, including a recent strike on a single building that killed at least 89 Russian soldiers. The Australian government said the HIMARS it was buying included launchers, missiles and training rockets and would be in use by 2026. It said the system had a current range of 300 kilometers (186 miles), which was expected to increase with technological advances.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is plowing ahead with plans to re-open the U.S. embassy in the Solomon Islands in a bid to counter China’s increasing assertiveness in the Pacific. The State Department has informed Congress that it will establish soon an interim embassy in the Solomons’ capital of Honiara on the site of a former U.S. consular property. It said the modest embassy will at first be staffed by two American diplomats and five local employees at a cost of $1.8 million per year. A more permanent facility with larger staffing is eventually envisioned, it said. The department notified lawmakers nearly a year ago that China’s growing influence in the region made re-opening the U.S.
BEIJING (AP) — Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has cited stable ties with China during a visit to Beijing in which he has sought to downplay territorial disputes in the South China Sea. After being hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, both nations are seeking to recharge investments in bridges and other projects, along with tourism and agriculture. Disputes linger however over islands and waters in the strategic South China Sea, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety. In a video address released by his office Wednesday, Marcos said the sides discussed “what we can do to move forward, to avoid possible mistakes, misunderstandings that could trigger a bigger problem than what we already have.” Marcos said he made the case for Filipino fishermen who have been denied access to their traditional areas of operation by China’s navy and coast guard.
TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday pledged to deepen his country’s alliance with the United States under Japan’s new defense policy that breaks from its exclusively self-defense-only stance in the face of growing regional tensions. Kishida, speaking in a news conference after visiting Ise Shrine in central Japan, said he will visit Washington for talks with President Joe Biden to underscore the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance and highlight closer cooperation between the countries under Japan’s new security and defense strategies adopted last month. The U.S. visit is part of Kishida’s upcoming trip to most of the Group of Seven countries beginning Monday.
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines’ interior secretary announced Wednesday he has asked all police generals and full colonels to submit their courtesy resignation to clean the ranks of ties to illegal drugs. Around 300 officers are covered by the directive, which was recommended by the national police chief, who will also submit his courtesy resignation, Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. said in a news conference. “It appears that there is a big problem in our police force. It appears there are generals and colonels involved in drugs,” he said. “We need to clean our ranks. We need the trust of the people.” More than a dozen police officers were arrested or relieved from their posts and put under investigation last year for their involvement or suspected involvement in the drug trade.
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani authorities on Wednesday ordered shopping malls and markets to close by 8:30 p.m. as part of a new energy conservation plan aimed at easing the country’s economic crisis. The move comes amid talks with the International Monetary Fund to soften some conditions on Pakistan’s $6 billion bailout, which the government thinks will cause a further increase in inflation. Pakistan Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif and Minister for Power Ghultam Dastghir said on Tuesday that the government decided to shut establishments early as part of the new energy conservation plan approved by the Cabinet. Authorities also ordered wedding halls and restaurants to shut at 10 p.m.