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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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US Covid-19 catastrophe is Biden’s problem now

Biden has vowed to “manage the hell out of this operation”. There’s a ton of managing to be done, starting with the simple act of masking up, which has gone from public health tool to culture war in the Trump era.

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Joe Biden

New York, Jan 19 : At noon on January 20, 2021, almost a full year after the first coronavirus case was reported in the US, Covid-19 will no longer be Donald Trump’s problem to solve. It will be incoming US president Joe Biden’s.

The pandemic’s winter surge is raging, pushing the total death toll towards 400,000 (398,000 lives have already been lost to the virus), deaths are rising in nearly two-thirds of the country’s 50 states even as a strong variant is taking hold. According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, the new variant is about 50 per cent more contagious than the one that has ravaged the country so far.

California, where it all started, became the first state Monday to cross a grim milestone than 3 million coronavirus infections. The state took 292 days to get to 1 million infections on November 11 and just 44 days to sprint to 2 million. California alone accounts for more than 33,600 Covid-19 deaths.

The first wave never really ebbed, the baseline never came down to levels seen in Europe or Asia, US was struggling to hold down new infections even before the variants appeared, millions of Americans are out of work, the US has topped 24 million infections and counting.

“Almost a year later, we’re still far from back to normal. The honest truth is this: Things will get worse before they get better,” Biden said last week, in a nod to the massive challenge facing his “crisis tested” Covid-19 task force.

Biden has a stated goal of vaccinating 100 million people in the first 100 days. What we know so far is all the goals that haven’t been reached. The US had a goal of reaching 20 million vaccinations by end December 2020, and less than 11 million have got shots in arms by Inauguration Day out of about 31.2 million doses of vaccine which have been distributed.

Biden wants to use the Defence Production Act to boost vaccine supplies and set up 100 vaccination centers around the country by the end of his first month in office. He plans to pour $50 billion to expand testing which is seen as a key to reopening K-8 classrooms. About $130 billion is the outlay to help schools reopen safely. A much touted predictive model used by the Trump White House projects a cumulative death toll of more than 550,000 deaths within 100 days from January 20.

Biden has vowed to “manage the hell out of this operation”. There’s a ton of managing to be done, starting with the simple act of masking up, which has gone from public health tool to culture war in the Trump era.

After 24 million infections and 398,000 deaths in America’s deadliest year, Biden is pleading with Americans: “For God’s sake, wear a mask for yourself, for your loved ones, for your country.”

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French government urges Russia to immediately release Navalny

He also informed Putin that France’s own analysis had confirmed Germany’s conclusion that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok “in contravention of international norms on using chemical weapons”.

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emmanuel macron

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to urgently shed light on the “attempted murder” of opposition figure Alexei Navalny after French tests confirmed the use of the Novichok nerve agent, the Elysée said.

Macron told Putin in telephone talks that it is “imperative that all light be shed, without delay, on the circumstances of this attempted murder and who is responsible”, the French presidency said in a statement.

Read: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny detained after landing in Moscow

He also informed Putin that France’s own analysis had confirmed Germany’s conclusion that Navalny was poisoned by Novichok “in contravention of international norms on using chemical weapons”.

Putin, for his part, told Macron that it was “inappropriate” to make groundless accusations against Russia over the suspected poisoning of Navalny, the Kremlin said.

The Russian leader said his country wanted Germany to hand over medical test results taken from Navalny, according to a Kremlin readout of the call.

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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny detained after landing in Moscow

Russian prison service said he was detained for multiple violations of parole and terms of a suspended prison sentence.

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Alexei Navalny

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport after returning from Germany on Sunday, the prison service said.

The prison service said he was detained for multiple violations of parole and terms of a suspended prison sentence and would be held in custody until a court makes a decision in his case.

Mr. Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent and determined foe, had spent the previous five months in Germany recovering from a nerve agent attack that he blamed on the Kremlin.

Mr. Navalny decided to leave Berlin of his own free will and wasn’t under any apparent pressure to leave from Germany.

The prison service made the announcement after the flight carrying Mr. Navalny landed in the Russian capital, though at a different airport than had been scheduled. It was a possible attempt to outwit journalists and supporters who wanted to witness Mr. Navalny’s return.

The prison service last week issued a warrant for his arrest, saying he had violated the terms of suspended sentence he received on a 2014 conviction for embezzlement. The prison service has asked a Moscow court to turn Mr. Navalny’s 3 1/2-year suspended sentence into a real one.

After boarding the Moscow flight in Berlin on Sunday, Mr. Navalny said of the prospect of arrest: “It’s impossible; I’m an innocent man.”

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied a role in the opposition leader’s poisoning.

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