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Japan – China eyes security dialogue this month amid balloon spat

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Tokyo and Beijing plan to hold a security dialogue, possibly later this month, sources from the two governments have said, amid diplomatic tensions over suspected Chinese spy balloons flown over Japan in the past few years.

The dialogue in Japan would take place after the Japanese Defense Ministry said earlier in the week that at least three unidentified flying objects spotted over the country’s territorial airspace from 2019 to 2021 are “strongly suspected” to have been Chinese unmanned spy balloons.

It would involve the countries’ senior foreign affairs and defense officials, including Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Shigeo Yamada, the sources said Friday. The previous meeting took place in Beijing in February 2019.

China has criticized Japan for “making up stories to smear and attack” Beijing without clear evidence, urging Tokyo to refrain from following the United States in “hyping up” the balloon incident.

The announcement by Japan on Tuesday came as the ministry reanalyzed past cases of unidentified flying objects after the United States downed a Chinese balloon on Feb. 4 off the coast of South Carolina, renewing tensions between Washington and Beijing.

In an effort to dispel concerns over how Japan should respond in the event a Chinese spy balloon is sighted, the government has decided to ease the requirements for the Self-Defense Forces to use weapons against unmanned flying objects that violate its airspace.

Potential topics in the dialogue include Japan’s long-term policy guidelines in its new National Security Strategy, which was updated in December, and the situation over Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island that China views as part of its territory, the sources said.

The two East Asian powers have also been at loggerheads over issues such as Beijing’s claim to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, with Chinese coast guard vessels repeatedly entering Japanese waters around the Tokyo-controlled uninhabited islets. Beijing calls the islands Diaoyu.

In a meeting in November in Bangkok, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to boost communication through the security dialogue and resume a hotline between defense officials at an early date, according to the Japanese government.

(japantimes.co.jp)

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Flights at Dubai airport diverted amid flash floods

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Heavy rain has battered some Gulf states, causing flash flooding across the region and leading to flights to the world’s busiest international airport being diverted.

Dubai Airport said operations were “temporarily diverted” – though they have since restarted.

Authorities in Oman said at least 18 people had been killed by floods.

Several states recorded nearly a year’s worth of rain in a day.

Unverified video from Dubai International Airport appeared to show jets leaving waves in their wake as they made their way down flooded runways.

In a statement, the airport said inbound flights due to arrive on Tuesday evening had been diverted “due to the continued exceptional weather event currently being experienced in the UAE”.

Departures would continue to operate, it added. Flights later restarted after an interruption of about two hours.

On Tuesday morning, the UAE’s National Centre of Meteorology issued a weather warning for large swathes of the country, including Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

The Gulf region is usually known for hot and dry weather, though heavy rains causing flooding have also occurred with greater regularity in recent years.

(BBC News)

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Sydney church stabbing treated as ‘terrorist act’

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Australian police have declared Monday’s stabbing at a church in Sydney a “terrorist act”.

A 15-year-old boy was arrested after a bishop and several churchgoers were stabbed during the sermon.

The incident happened in the evening at the Christ The Good Shepherd Church in the suburb of Wakeley.

At least four people were stabbed but police say none of their injuries were life-threatening. The incident triggered unrest.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the church, clashing with police – two of whom were injured.

Twenty police vehicles were damaged – with 10 left unusable.

Chief commissioner Karen Webb said those involved in the riots would be hunted by police, describing the actions as “unacceptable”.

New South Wales Premier Chris Minns said: “I convened a meeting of faith leaders representing major religious organisations across Western Sydney.

“And their message to their communities was universal and identical, and that is that they deplore violence in all forms that they have faith in the New South Wales police to undertake their investigation.

“They call for peace amongst all communities in Sydney, and most importantly, that people remain calm during this obviously distressing period.”

Paramedics had to retreat for cover in the church and were “holed up” there for more than three hours.’

(BBC News)

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Vietnamese billionaire sentenced to death for $44bn fraud

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It was the most spectacular trial ever held in Vietnam, befitting one of the greatest bank frauds the world has ever seen.

Behind the stately yellow portico of the colonial-era courthouse in Ho Chi Minh City, a 67-year-old Vietnamese property developer was sentenced to death on Thursday for looting one of the country’s largest banks over a period of 11 years.

It’s a rare verdict – she is one of very few women in Vietnam to be sentenced to death for a white collar crime.

The decision is a reflection of the dizzying scale of the fraud. Truong My Lan was convicted of taking out $44bn (£35bn) in loans from the Saigon Commercial Bank. The verdict requires her to return $27bn, a sum prosecutors said may never be recovered. Some believe the death penalty is the court’s way of trying to encourage her to return some of the missing billions.

The habitually secretive communist authorities were uncharacteristically forthright about this case, going into minute detail for the media. They said 2,700 people were summoned to testify, while 10 state prosecutors and around 200 lawyers were involved.

The evidence was in 104 boxes weighing a total of six tonnes. Eighty-five others were tried with Truong My Lan, who denied the charges and can appeal.

All of the defendants were found guilty. Four received life in jail. The rest were given prison terms ranging from 20 years to three years suspended. Truong My Lan’s husband and niece received jail terms of nine and 17 years respectively.

“There has never been a show trial like this, I think, in the communist era,” says David Brown, a retired US state department official with long experience in Vietnam. “There has certainly been nothing on this scale.”

The trial was the most dramatic chapter so far in the “Blazing Furnaces” anti-corruption campaign led by the Communist Party Secretary-General, Nguyen Phu Trong.

A conservative ideologue steeped in Marxist theory, Nguyen Phu Trong believes that popular anger over untamed corruption poses an existential threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. He began the campaign in earnest in 2016 after out-manoeuvring the then pro-business prime minister to retain the top job in the party.

(BBC News)

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