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Trump, China’s Xi dine ahead of talks on security, trade

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Palm Beach, United States – President Donald Trump predicted a “very great” relationship with China’s Xi Jinping as the pair met for the first time at his Florida resort of Mar-a-Lago Thursday, when cordiality replaced tough anti-China rhetoric.

Trump, in his signature red tie, warmly welcomed his Chinese counterpart Xi, decked out in contrasting blue, to what the US leader likes to call the “Winter White House” for a superpower summit in the sun.

Inside the luxurious resort Trump waxed lyrical that it was a “great honour” to host the Chinese leader, breaking the ice with a joke about his own dealmaking prowess.

“We had a long discussion already. So far, I have gotten nothing. Absolutely nothing,” he said to laughs from the delegation.

“But I can see that, I think long-term, we are going to have a very, very great relationship and I look very much forward to it.” This is the first time the two leaders meet, after a US election that featured frequent barbs at China’s “rape” of the US economy.

During that campaign Trump had ridiculed his predecessor’s decision to offer Xi a coveted state dinner, saying that – if elected – he would serve the 63-year-old a Big Mac.

But inside Mar-a-Lago’s ornate dining room – with gold-trimmed chairs, fine cut glass and polished silverware – it was Dover sole with champagne sauce and New York strip steak with whipped potatoes rather than McDonald’s on the menu.

The open agenda and the personal setting for the 24-hour summit are designed to allow the leaders to freewheel and build a rapport, in what is the world’s most important relationship.

Amid concerns about security and public perceptions, Xi and his wife are not staying at Mar-a-Lago, but at a resort and spa a short drive down the palm-fringed coast that is, for now, watched by snipers, tactical units and a coastguard cutter.

The two leaders were joined Thursday evening by US first lady and former model Melania Trump and Peng Liyuan – a celebrated folk singer who Trump hailed as a “great, great celebrity.” Talks will continue up to a working lunch on Friday, and are likely to turn to more serious issues.

The summit has been somewhat overshadowed by renewed missile tests in North Korea and possible US military action in response to an apparent chemical attack in Syria.

The UN Security Council – where both China and the United States hold a veto – is holding crisis talks to discuss a response to Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime.

– Peace offerings –

Xi had arrived to the meeting with a gift basket of “tweetable deliverables,” sources say, peace offerings on Trump’s signature issues – trade and jobs – that he hopes will smooth over a relationship that began on shaky ground following disagreements over Taiwan.

Top of the list, according to a source briefed on Xi’s plans, will be a package of Chinese investments aimed at creating more than 700,000 American jobs – the number pledged to Trump by China’s regional rival Japan, during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s February Mar-a-Lago visit.

There may also be offers to further open China’s auto and agricultural markets, insiders say, and even some concessions on Chinese banks’ transactions with North Korea, a vital financial lifeline for the country.

In return, Xi hopes to get assurances from Trump on punitive tariffs and that an American arms sale to Taiwan will be delayed, at least until after a major Communist Party meeting later this year.

Trump’s position on democratically-ruled Taiwan, which China considers a breakaway province, has been a major irritant since the billionaire politician accepted a protocol-breaking phone call from the Taiwanese president after his election victory.

– All politics is local –

The summit stakes, both domestic and international, are high.

Disagreements over approaches to North Korea or bilateral trade could, if mishandled, destabilize North East Asia or tank the global economy.

On the domestic political front, Xi is heading into a critical year. Ahead of a party congress that could cement his grip on power for years to come, he needs to show that he can deal with the US leader as an equal.

He “cannot afford to lose face while China aspires to be the new centre of gravity for the world order,” China political analyst Willy Lam told AFP.

Meanwhile, Trump – who is reeling from legislative defeats, low approval ratings and unrelenting scandals – desperately needs a win.

On the US side, however, North Korea will likely top the agenda following Wednesday’s provocative missile launch.

The Trump White House worries Pyongyang is just months away from marrying nuclear and long-range missile technology and putting the west coast of the United States within striking distance.

While Beijing has condemned the missile tests, it has hesitated to take dramatic action against Pyongyang, fearing that the country’s collapse would generate a flood of refugees across its borders and leave the US military on its doorstep.

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Nine drug addicts killed in Afghanistan shooting

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Kabul, Nine drug addicts were shot to death in an overnight shooting in a non-residential area in western side of Kabul, Afghanistan, the capital police said on Sunday.

“The shooting occurred at side of Qurugh Mountain in Police District 6 roughly at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday. Personnel of Kabul Criminal Investigation Police Department shifted the bodies to Forensic Science Service Department near Kabul University shortly after the shooting was reported,” Ferdaus Faramarz from Kabul police told Xinhua.

One arrest was made after the shooting and the motive behind the incident remained unclear. Further investigation is on, police added.

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31 civilians killed in Yemen airstrike: UN

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An airstrike in the Yemeni northeastern province of al-Jawf has killed at least 31 civilians and injured 12 others, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen said in a statement on Sunday.

“We share our deep condolences with the families of those killed and we pray for the speedy recovery of everyone who has been injured in these terrible strikes,” Lise Grande said in the statement obtained by Xinhua.

“Under international humanitarian law parties which resort to force are obligated to protect civilians. Five years into this conflict and belligerents are still failing to uphold this responsibility,” she added.

The victims were killed in the airstrike on Saturday that targeted a gathering of people at the site where a Tornado warplane of the Saudi-led coalition crashed in al-Masloub district in the southwest of al-Jawf, according to a local tribal source.

The victims were members of three relative families, the source said on condition of anonymity. The strike came hours after the Houthi rebels claimed to have shot down the Tornado warplane.

Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition confirmed that a Tornado warplane crashed in al-Jawf during an operation to support Yemen’s government forces. The coalition held Houthis responsible for the lives and safety of the plane’s crew, according to a statement carried by the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.

The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting the Iran-allied Houthi rebels since its intervention in the Yemeni conflict in March 2015 to support the internationally-recognized government of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

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Japan confirms 70 new coronavirus cases from cruise ship

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Toky, Another 70 people aboard the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan’s Yokohama have been tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), bringing the total to 355 cases, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato confirmed on Sunday.

The health ministry said that the 70 new cases came out of 289 people tested, bringing the total number of those who have undergone tests to 1,219, Japan Times reported.

The cruise ship arrived in Japan earlier this month with more than 3,700 passengers and crew members from more than 50 countries and regions.

With global attention increasingly focused on the situation, the US Embassy sent a letter on Saturday to Americans aboard saying that a chartered aircraft, set to arrive in Japan on Sunday, would repatriate those who wished to leave the ship.

The US aircraft is set to depart from Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Monday, according to Japanese official japan will also cooperate with other countries that make similar arrangements to evacuate their citizens on the ship, Japanese government officials said.

More than a week has passed since the cruise ship was put under a two-week quarantine at Yokohama port after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong was found to be infected with COVID-19, the pneumonia-causing coronavirus.

Japan’s health ministry had initially planned to keep all of the passengers and crew confined on the vessel until Wednesday, when the quarantine is scheduled to end.

But the ministry decided last Thursday to let passengers 80 and older, as well as their traveling companions, leave before the end of the quarantine after they were screened for infection.

Those with pre-existing conditions or who were staying in cabins without windows were prioritized for disembarkation.

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