China to gather friends for biggest summit of year on New Silk Road

China's President Xi Jinping during the official welcoming ceremony in front of the Presidential Palace, in Helsinki, Finland April 5, 2017. Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen/via REUTERS

By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) – China will gather its friends and allies together for its biggest diplomatic event of the year in May, a summit on its New Silk Road plan, with most Asian leaders due to attend but only one from a G7 nation, the Italian prime minister.

President Xi Jinping has championed what China formally calls the “One Belt, One Road” or OBOR, initiative to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa and Europe, a landmark program to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids.

China has dedicated $40 billion to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the establishment of the $50 billion China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced on Tuesday a list of those attending the conference, including some of China’s most reliable allies – Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo are coming too, all generally good partners of China.

“One Belt, One Road is to date the most important public good China has given to the world, first proposed by China but for all countries to enjoy,” Wang said.

“The culture and historical genes of One Belt, One Road come from the old Silk Road, so it takes Eurasia as its main region,” he said, adding that representatives of 110 countries would attend.

While China says the New Silk Road is not political, it has run into opposition from India due to a section of it in Pakistan, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, where some projects run through the disputed Kashmir region.

Wang dismissed those concerns, saying the Pakistan project had no direct connection to the dispute and India was welcome to participate in the New Silk Road.

“Indian friends have said to us that One Belt, One Road is a very good suggestion,” he said.

Nevertheless, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not on the list of leaders attending.

Wang also made no mention of any attendance of officials from Japan, South Korea or North Korea, all countries with which China has strained ties. Nor was there mention of Australia, a strong U.S. ally that has close trade links with China.

The list included only one leader from the Group of Seven (G7) industrialised nations, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Diplomatic sources in Beijing said China had hoped for at least some senior Western leaders to attend, including British Prime Minister Theresa May, to burnish the plan’s credentials and make it less China-centric.

British finance minister Philip Hammond will come as May’s representative, while Germany and France are having elections at the time and will send high-level representatives, Wang said.

Wang confirmed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as among 28 leaders coming, along with the Spanish, Greek, Hungarian, Serb and Polish prime ministers and Swiss and Czech presidents.

“This is a positive, cooperative agreement, and we don’t want to politicize it,” Wang told reporters when asked if China was upset at the absence of most major Western leaders.

“This is an economic cooperation forum, an international cooperation platform that everyone is paying attention to, supports and hopes to participate in,” he said.


China is sensitive to any suggestion that what it sees as its benign intentions do not have a receptive global audience, especially in Western capitals.

China was privately upset in 2015 after most Western leaders rebuffed invitations to attend a big military parade marking 70 years since the end of World War Two. Western leaders were unhappy that the guest list that included Putin and wary of the message China would send with the show of strength.

While China has portrayed the New Silk Road as a genuine effort to share the bounty of China’s economic development and to fund infrastructure gaps, many Western countries are concerned about a lack of detail and transparency in the project and are suspicious about China’s broader political intents.

Diplomatic sources said the presence of Putin and other leaders from countries with dubious human rights records, like the Philippines and Central Asian states, had contributed to a reluctance among Western leaders to attend.

Still, at a time of uncertainty about the U.S. place in the world following President Donald Trump’s pledges to put America first, China sees an opportunity to become more of a global leader and has found a receptive audience for its New Silk Road.

Leaders from countries that would appear to have little, if any, connection so far to the plan are coming to the summit, including Chile and Argentina.

“Everyone wants to be China’s friend now with Trump in office,” said a senior Asian diplomat in Beijing.

A senior Indonesian government official said China was aiming for a “spectacular” summit.

“The Chinese are gunning for … global leadership so I think this OBOR summit is going to be huge,” the official said.

(Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Jakarta; Editing by Robert Birsel)

U.S. allies show support for strikes on Syria

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea, part of a cruise missile strike against Syria. Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy

(Reuters) – U.S. allies expressed support on Friday for Washington’s missile strikes on Syria, calling them a proportionate response to Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons.

The strikes were denounced as illegal by Syria and its allies Russia and Iran. Iraq criticized “hasty interventions” in an apparent comment on the U.S. action.

But a wide range of U.S. allies from Asia, Europe and the Middle East expressed support, if sometimes cautiously, in similar terms.

“The U.K. government fully supports the U.S. action, which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime and is intended to deter further attacks,” a British government spokesman said.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters: “Many innocent people became victims from the chemical attacks.

“Japan supports the U.S. government’s determination to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons,” he said.

Turkey viewed the strikes positively and the international community should sustain its stance against the “barbarity” of the Syrian government, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said.

In an interview with Turkish broadcaster Fox TV, Kurtulmus said Assad’s government must be punished in the international arena and the peace process in Syria needed to be accelerated.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Russia and Iran needed to understand that supporting Assad made no sense and that the escalation of the U.S. military role in Syria was a “warning” to “a criminal regime”.

“Use of chemical weapons is appalling and should be punished because it is a war crime,” Ayrault told Reuters and France Info radio.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued statements saying Assad was solely to blame for the air strikes.

The Dutch government said: “The United States has given a clear signal that the use of poison gas crosses a line.” It also labeled the strikes a “proportionate” response.

“U.S. strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks. EU will work with the US to end brutality in Syria,” the chairman of the council of EU leaders, Donald Tusk, said on Twitter.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the strikes sent “a vitally important message” that the world would not tolerate the use of chemical weapons.

“The retribution has been proportionate and it has been swift,” he told reporters in Sydney. “We support the United States in that swift action.”

Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which back rebels fighting Assad, said they supported the U.S. strikes and held only the Syrian government responsible for the attacks.

Other Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait, also expressed support for the attacks.

Some countries expressed reservations about the U.S. decision to launch strikes without authorization from the U.N. Security Council.

Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria. “At the same time, Indonesia is concerned with unilateral actions by any parties, including the use of Tomahawk missiles, in responding to the chemical weapon attack tragedy in Syria,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir said in a text message.

“Military actions, undertaken without prior authorization of the U.N. Security Council, are not in line with international legal principles in the peaceful settlement of disputes, as stipulated in the U.N. Charter.”

(Additional reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in Jakarta, Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Guy Faulconbridge in London, Andrew Osborn and Jack Stubbs in Moscow, John Irish in Nouakchott, Mauritania, Colin Packham in Sydney, Tulay Karadeniz in Istanbul, Maher Chmaytelli in Erbil, Aziz El Yaakoubi and Sami Aboudi in Dubai and Marcin Goettig in Warsaw; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Sonya Hepinstall and Giles Elgood)

Trump recommits to U.S. allies but says they must pay ‘fair share’

President Trump addresses Joint Session of Congress. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday reaffirmed support for the United States’ longstanding security alliances around the world but insisted that friends and partners from Europe to the Middle East to the Pacific must “pay their fair share of the cost.”

In his first nationally televised speech to Congress since taking office on Jan. 20, Trump sought to reassure allies still uneasy over doubts he raised during the 2016 presidential campaign about his commitment to their defense and to maintaining a U.S. global leadership role.

But he also made clear that he expects those countries to shoulder more of the burden of their own security needs, echoing a campaign message that some allies had taken advantage of Washington’s generosity in providing them a security umbrella.

“Our foreign policy calls for a direct, robust and meaningful engagement with the world,” Trump told a joint session of Congress. “It is American leadership based on vital security interests that we share with our allies across the globe.”

He specifically assured NATO allies of his new administration’s continued commitment to the decades-old alliance. However, he made no mention of one of the main sources of European concern: his friendly overtures during the campaign toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two World Wars that dethroned fascism and a Cold War that defeated communism,” Trump said.

“But our partners must meet their financial obligations,” he said. “And now, based on our very strong and frank discussions, they are beginning to do just that.”

Then, deviating from his prepared remarks, Trump added: “In fact, I can tell you the money is pouring in. Very nice.” But he offered no specifics.

Some critics had accused Trump of failing to recognize the benefit that accrued to the United States of having strong democratic allies helping to stabilize volatile areas like the Middle East, Ukraine and South Asia.

Trump’s remarks followed the deployment earlier this month of senior Cabinet members to Brussels, Bonn and Munich, Germany, aimed at calming European worries.

The Europeans heard from Defense Secretary James Mattis that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization military alliance was not “obsolete” after all, despite Trump’s suggestions to the contrary.

Vice President Mike Pence told them that Russia would be “held accountable” for its actions in Ukraine.

Mattis made his first foreign trip to South Korea and Japan, where he sought to ease concerns about what Trump’s self-styled “America First” strategy means for U.S. foreign policy in Asia.

While seeming to tackle some of the doubts of U.S. allies, Trump still made clear that he wanted them to do more.

“We expect our partners, whether in NATO, in the Middle East, or the Pacific, to take a direct and meaningful role in both strategic and military operations, and pay their fair share of the cost,” he said.

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Netanyahu blasts U.N. ‘hypocrisy’, Australian PM opposes ‘one-sided resolutions’

Israel and Australia leaders are allies

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull offered a staunch defense of Israel on Wednesday, criticizing the United Nations and vowing never to support “one-sided resolutions” calling for an end to Israeli settlement building on occupied land.

Turnbull welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday as the first Israeli prime minister to visit Australia and reiterated Australia’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

However, he also made it clear Australia would not support any resolutions such as the one approved by the United Nations Security Council in December calling for an end to Israeli settlement building on land occupied by Palestinians.

“My government will not support one-sided resolutions criticizing Israel of the kind recently adopted by the U.N Security Council and we deplore the boycott campaigns designed to delegitimise the Jewish state,” Turnbull wrote in an editorial in The Australian newspaper.

The U.N. resolution was approved in the final weeks of Barack Obama’s administration, which broke with a long tradition of shielding Israel diplomatically and chose not to wield its veto power.

“Australia has been courageously willing to puncture U.N. hypocrisy more than once,” Netanyahu said.

“The U.N. is capable of many absurdities and I think it’s important that you have straightforward and clear-eyed countries like Australia that often bring it back to earth,” he said after meeting Turnbull.

Israel has long pursued a policy of constructing Jewish settlements on territory it captured in a 1967 war with its Arab neighbors including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Most countries view such activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal and an obstacle to peace but Israel disagrees, citing a biblical connection to the land.

Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations has said the United States still supports a two-state solution to the conflict, although new U.S. President Donald Trump has also said he is open to new ways to achieve peace.

The two-state solution has long been the bedrock of the international community’s policy for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians but Trump’s apparent loosening of that main tenet, at a joint news conference with Netanyahu last week, stunned the international community.

“We support an outcome which has two states where Israelis, the Israeli people, the Palestinian people live side-by-side as a result of direct negotiations between them,” Turnbull told reporters in Sydney.

Netanyahu said any solution would need Palestine to recognize Israel, which would also have security control of the territories.

While in Australia, Netanyahu is scheduled to sign agreements fostering closer economic and defense cooperation.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Paul Tait)

Tillerson stresses cooperation in calls with Australia, Japan, South Korea

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

By David Brunnstrom and Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has underscored Washington’s intent to strengthen ties with Australia, Japan and South Korea, the State Department said on Tuesday, a move aimed at reassuring allies unnerved by the campaign rhetoric of new President Donald Trump.

In separate calls with counterparts from the three long-time allies, they agreed to work closely to tackle threats from North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and increased tensions in the East and South China seas, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said,

“Secretary Tillerson reiterated the Administration’s intent to strengthen our military alliances, our economic partnerships, and our diplomatic cooperation,” he said in a statement.

Tillerson expressed interest in early meetings with his counterparts “and expressed his deep respect for their nations’ contributions to regional security, global prosperity, democratic institutions, and the rule of law,” it said.

The calls come at a time of raised concerns in the Asia-Pacific about Trump’s attitude to the region.

During his election campaign, Trump appeared to question U.S. alliances with Tokyo and Seoul and complained that they were not sharing enough of the cost of the U.S. security umbrella. Trump has also criticized Japan’s trade policies as damaging to U.S. jobs.

More recently ties with Australia were strained after details of an acrimonious phone call between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull emerged and the former described a deal between the two nations on refugee resettlement as “dumb.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is due to visit Washington for a two-day summit with Trump from Friday that is expected to focus on security ties in the face of a rising China and trade.

Earlier on Tuesday, Japan’s Kyodo news agency quoted Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida as saying that Tillerson had confirmed that a long-standing commitment by Washington to defend Japanese territory applies to the Senkakus, a group of small islands that China claims and calls the Diaoyus.

The State Department declined to comment on the Kyodo report but U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reaffirmed America’s commitment to its mutual defense treaty with Japan on Friday when he met Abe in Tokyo and in a call with Abe in late January. Trump said the U.S. security commitment was “ironclad.

Turnbull’s leadership was questioned after he was berated by Trump and an opinion poll published on Monday showed support for his coalition had slipped to its lowest level since he took power 17 months ago and that his Liberal-National coalition would easily fall if an election were held now.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton and David Brunnstrom; editing by Diane Craft, Bernard Orr)

U.S. and allies conduct 36 strikes against Islamic State

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and its allies conducted 36 strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on Thursday, the coalition leading the operations said.

In a statement released on Friday, the Combined Joint Task Force said six strikes in Syria, five of them near Mar’a, hit five tactical units and destroyed four vehicles, two fighting positions and a bulldozer.

In Iraq, 30 strikes near six cities, 21 of them near Mosul, hit several tactical units, 18 modular oil refineries, two crude oil stills and destroyed 51 boats among other targets, the statement said.

(Reporting by Washington Newsroom)

Hispanic Evangelicals Align With Israel

A group of Hispanic evangelicals have announced an alignment with the nation of Israel intended to “advance and deepen” the connection between Hispanic Christians and Israelis.

The partnership between the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem will revolve around the Feast of Tabernacles.

“Our objective is to exponentially increase Hispanic participation and attendance at the annual Feast of Tabernacles, held each fall in Jerusalem under the sponsorship of the Christian Embassy,” said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the NHCLC to the Christian Post. “We will encourage all followers of Christ in the Latino world to come to Jerusalem at this divinely appointed time, to see the biblical sites, stand in solidarity with Israel, and take part in this dynamic worship experience with believers from all over the world.”

The ICEJ’s Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles is the biggest annual tourism event in Israel.

“We are excited about partnering with Dr. Samuel Rodriguez in this new initiative to bring more Hispanic pilgrims to the Feast each year,” noted Dr. Jürgen Bühler, ICEJ executive director. “Their presence in Jerusalem will have a great impact on the Israeli people, and it will only enhance the incredible fellowship we enjoy with Christians from across the globe at this unique biblical festival.”