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China, Germany, EU Leaders Meet ‘tone-setter’ For Ties

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Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province on Tuesday. XINHUA/Xie Huanchi

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s scheduled video conference with the top leaders of Germany and the EU, after bilateral ties were warmed up by senior Chinese diplomats’ visits to Europe weeks ago, is likely to be the “tone-setter” for a deeper and more comprehensive relations, observers said, noting such cooperation safeguards multilateralism, as the world tries to recover from COVID-19, and global politics is disrupted by rising US hegemony.

Observers said the previous two high-profile Chinese diplomatic visits to Europe laid the foundation for post-pandemic China-EU relations. The video meeting between higher-level officials will address the areas for deeper cooperation as well as areas with gaps to be bridged between China and the EU, whose ties have been hailed as the ideal model amid a complicated global sphere, but also challenged by fundamental disagreements.

Xi will attend a China-Germany-European Union (EU) leaders’ meeting via video link on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying announced Wednesday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen will attend the meeting, Hua said.

This year is a special year for China and the EU, as it marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Germany had planned an important meeting for leaders of China and the bloc, but the original plan was disrupted by the COVID-19, Cui Hongjian, director of EU Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times.

He noted that Germany’s push to resume high-level talks shows the desire of Germany, and the EU to talk to China, and the importance they attach to Beijing.

The two are likely to reach a consensus on the trade of agricultural products and intellectual property, experts said, noting that negotiations on the EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement will also likely be discussed during the meeting.

Observers noted that Germany, which serves as the rotating president of the EU Council, standing out in China-EU negotiation, is a procedure move; but under the circumstance that the status of the rotating presidency has declined in recent years, Berlin’s involvement in talks between Beijing and Brussels carries special meaning.

Germany’s half-year rotating presidency began on July 1 when the EU faced two major problems: its future in the post-pandemic era, and its role in COVID-19 and rising unilateralism, said Shi Mingde, a former Chinese ambassador to Germany.

He further explained that Germany has three major tasks: fight the virus, push forward integration within the bloc, and form a united policy toward China. “So, Germany’s stance is of great significance in deciding the future of the bloc’s relations with China,” Shi said.

Relations between China, Germany and the EU have already been warmed up by Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s week-long visit to five European countries, followed by Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, who visited Spain and Greece last week.

Now that ties between Beijing and Washington are suffering from what Shi described as a “most severe situation” since diplomatic relations were established, he said the EU is in the US’ sights to contain China.

“This power struggle has put the bloc in an awkward position, but I believe the EU will try not to provoke either side,” Shi said.

China’s EU watchers noted that the bloc’s decision not to choose between the world’s two biggest economies is not only for diplomatic reasons, which the EU has long honored, but also for pragmatic reasons.

The economic foundation between Washington and Brussels has been shaken ever since US President Donald Trump put forward his “America First” policy. The US withdrawal from international organizations has also gone against multilateralism, which the EU cherishes.

Washington’s moves have also hurt the EU economically, which impaired the block’s willingness to cooperate with the US, said Sun Keqin, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, citing the Nord Stream gas pipeline as an example.

He said that the EU is closely watching the US presidential election. “The bloc is likely to lean more to China if Trump is reelected, as they believe they will be squeezed out of US protectionism.”

In contrast, China and the EU support multilateralism, Shi said. For example, he said trade between Beijing and Berlin has increased significantly and been balanced, which is ideal to win-win cooperation.

During the pandemic, the global auto industry has taken a heavy blow. However, German car giants increased their sales in China, with Mercedes-Benz seeing a 21.6 percent increase in the second quarter compared with the same period last year, even as its sales in Europe dropped by 31.5 percent during the first half of the year.

In May, a chartered flight with German businessmen became the first to China since the outbreak, which served as an example of the profound ties and dependence on each other.

Before Wang’s trip to Germany, the last stop of his week-long European visit, Merkel said that she wanted to continue the conversation with China and set an example for multilateralism.

Merkel said China and Germany have many ways to work closer together, and she hopes the two sides will make further progress on the EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement.

Apart from economic cooperation, China’s cooperation with the EU was also strengthened by the fight against the virus, observers said. Xi announced at a ceremony on Tuesday that China has sent 34 medical teams to 32 countries, and provided assistance to 150 countries to fight coronavirus, many of which went to EU countries, such as Italy and Spain.

Agree to disagree

The video conference between leaders of China, Germany and the EU was announced shortly after Wang and Yang concluded their European trips. Many foreign media reported that Wang’s trip was marred after European leaders raised Hong Kong and Xinjiang issues, and claimed Wang was pressured by Germany and France for rebuking Czech Senate Speaker Milos Vystrcil’s visit to the island of Taiwan.

“Those examples show the complications and disputes that riddle relations between China and the EU. We have cooperation, but also have competition, and even antagonism on certain issues,” Sun said. He explained that is also why the video conference was arranged, to set the tone for a more comprehensive cooperation.

Observers also called for deep and frequent communication between the two, which helps “our EU partners know where our bottom line lies. Hong Kong and Xinjiang are our internal affairs, and that a state official’s visit to island of Taiwan is intolerable,” Sun said.

But he also noted that room for cooperation is much bigger than confrontation, and spats on issues like Hong Kong won’t stand in the way of deeper collaboration.

Those sensitive issues provide an opportunity to explore whether unity on Chinese affairs is possible. This is how – in the view of Germany – the EU can better negotiate with China, George N. Tzogopoulos, director of EU-China Programs and also a senior research fellow at the Center International de Formation Europeenne, told the Global Times.

China and the EU cannot agree on everything, but they can collaborate. The EU’s public comments cause understandable frustration to China, but – generally speaking – the EU position on China remains mild, he said. (Global Times)

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Trump aims to boost rural turnout in critical Wisconsin

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Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump is aiming to boost enthusiasm among rural Wisconsin voters Thursday, looking to repeat his path to victory four years ago.

The event is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. EST. Watch Trump’s remarks in the player above.

Making his fifth visit to the pivotal battleground state this year, Trump views success in the state’s less-populated counties as critical to another term. He is set to hold a rally Thursday evening in Mosinee, in central Wisconsin, an area of the state that shifted dramatically toward Republicans in 2016, enabling Trump to overcome even greater deficits in urban and suburban parts of the state.

Trump, hinging his campaign on turning out his core supporters, has increasingly used his public appearances to elevate cultural issues important to his generally whiter and older base. Earlier Thursday, in a speech at the National Archives to commemorate Constitution Day, he derided The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which aims to reframe the country’s history by highlighting the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans.

“For many years now, the radicals have mistaken Americans’ silence for weakness. But they are wrong,” Trump said. “There is no more powerful force than a parent’s love for their children — and patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country.”

Trump’s last visit to Wisconsin came on Sept. 1, when he met with law enforcement and toured damage from protests in Kenosha that turned violent after the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man hit seven times in the back during an attempted arrest. Trump has sought to use the unrest after the August shooting of Blake and the May police killing of George Floyd to tout a “law and order” message and to paint an apocalyptic vision of violence if Democrat Joe Biden wins on Nov. 3.

Trump won Marathon County, which includes Mosinee, by more than 12,000 votes in 2016 — over three times more than the margin by which 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney won the area. Trump’s team is wagering the 2020 contest on a similar performance in the county and the dozens of others like it across battleground states.

Trump’s path to 270 Electoral College votes may well hinge on Wisconsin, and his campaign is investing tens of millions of dollars on advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts in the state.

Trump’s event was set to take place at an aircraft hangar at the Mosinee airport, his campaign’s preferred format for mass rallies amid the coronavirus, though Trump has been willing to host large events indoors as well, sometimes in violation of state and federal distancing guidelines. – PBS


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Federal Judge Blocks Postal Service Changes That Slowed Mail

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A U.S. judge on Thursday blocked controversial Postal Service changes that have slowed mail nationwide, calling them “a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service” before the November election.

Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Washington, said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states that sued the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service.

The states challenged the Postal Service’s so-called “leave behind” policy, where trucks have been leaving postal facilities on time regardless of whether there is more mail to load. They also sought to force the Postal Service to treat election mail as first class mail.

The judge noted after a hearing that Trump had repeatedly attacked voting by mail by making unfounded claims that it is rife with fraud. Many more voters are expected to vote by mail this November because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the states have expressed concern that delays might result in voters not receiving ballots or registration forms in time.

“The states have demonstrated the defendants are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service,” Bastian said.

He also said the changes created “a substantial possibility many voters will be disenfranchised.”

Bastian, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, issued a written order later Thursday that closely tracked the relief sought by the states. It ordered the Postal Service to stop implementing the “leave behind” policy, to treat all election mail as first class mail rather than as slower-moving categories, to reinstall any mail processing machines needed to ensure the prompt handling of election mail, and to inform its employees about the requirements of his injunction.

Postal Service spokesman Dave Partenheimer said the organization is reviewing its legal options, but “there should be no doubt that the Postal Service is ready and committed to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives.”

Lee Moak, a member of the USPS Board of Governors, called the notion any changes were politically motivated “completely and utterly without merit.”

Following a national uproar, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to President Donald Trump and the GOP, announced he was suspending some changes — including the removal of iconic blue mailboxes in many cities and the decommissioning of mail processing machines.

But other changes remained in place, and the states — including the battlegrounds of Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada — asked the court to block them. Led by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the states said the Postal Service made the changes without first bringing them to the Postal Regulatory Commission for public comment and an advisory opinion, as required by federal law. They also said the changes interfered with their constitutional authority to administer their elections.

At the hearing, Justice Department attorney Joseph Borson sought to assure the judge that the Postal Service would handle election mail promptly, noting that a surge of ballots in the mail would pale in comparison to increases from, say, holiday cards.

He also said slow-downs caused by the “leave behind” policy had gotten better since it was first implemented, and that the Postal Service in reality had made no changes with regard to how it classifies and processes election mail. DeJoy has repeatedly insisted that processing election mail remains the organization’s top priority.

“There’s been a lot of confusion in the briefing and in the press about what the Postal Service has done,” Borson said. “The states are accusing us of making changes we have not in fact made.”

Voters who are worried about their ballots being counted “can simply promptly drop their ballots in the mail,” he said, and states can help by mailing registration form or absentee ballots early.

Borson also insisted that the states were required to bring their challenge not in court, but before the Postal Regulatory Commission itself — even though by law the commission has 90 days to respond. Bastian rejected that notion, saying there was no time for that with the election just seven weeks away.

The states conceded that mail delays have eased since the service cuts first created a national uproar in July, but they said on-time deliveries remain well below their prior levels, meaning millions of pieces of mail that would otherwise arrive on-time no longer are.

They also noted some of the effects the changes had already wrought: Michigan spent $2 million earlier this year on envelopes that met election mail standards — only to learn that the Postal Service wouldn’t treat them as first class mail. In Madison, Wisconsin, the number of ballots that weren’t counted because they arrived late for the August primary doubled from the August 2018 primary.

Further, they cited research from information technology consultant Mynor Urizar-Hunter, who helped start a website tracking the USPS changes, noting that 78% of the machines slated for removal were in counties won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The states suing are Washington, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia — all led by Democratic attorneys general.

Pennsylvania is leading a separate multistate lawsuit over the changes, and New York and Montana have filed their own challenges.

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How Climate Change Feeds Political Instability

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If you pick up the newspaper these days, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the headlines: historic wildfires, a deadly pandemic and an impending U.S. election unlike any in recent memory. When you take a step back, it seems a bit like the fabric of society is fraying. Climate change isn’t entirely responsible for any of these problems, but there is a growing body of literature suggesting that climate change shapes political and social stability.

Research has shown repeatedly that warmer temperatures and more extreme weather contribute to a slew of adverse outcomes: violent crime, political instability and the collapse of regimes, to name a few. This year is likely to be the first- or second-hottest year on record, and extreme weather and climate-related events have struck from coast to coast in the U.S., not to mention around the world, and so it’s worth asking: what role does climate change play in our current political instability?

It’s a controversial question. For years, many politicians and commentators shuddered when scientists or climate activists discussed climate change in relation to individual storms or wildfires, accusing them of politicizing disaster—and, in those cases, the link to climate change was relatively straightforward. The evidence connecting climate change and political stability has been less obvious, but is becoming increasingly impossible to ignore. Warmer temperatures and extreme weather exacerbate social stress and worsen economic outcomes; these in turn affect political behavior. A landmark 2013 paper in the journal Science found that a change in temperature of one standard deviation was associated with a 2.3% increase in interpersonal conflict rates and a 13.2% increase in the rate of intergroup conflict. By 2050, temperatures are expected to rise by two standard deviations in most places across the globe and by as much as four standard deviations in some places.

Those percentages may seem small, but in many cases they can be enough to lead to serious problems. “A lot of the way in which climate change is really bad is like death by 1,000 cuts,” says Solomon Hsiang, author of the 2013 study and director of the Global Policy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. “Some of the biggest problems are situations in which we don’t realize we’re being affected by the climate, because then we don’t do anything to protect ourselves.”

The past: a history of climate change-induced political upheavals

Climate has shaped human life from the very first civilizations. A range of studies have shown how weather and climatic conditions have led to the collapse of societies, from the decline of the Tang dynasty in China in the 10th century to the decline of the Mayan civilization around 900 A.D. to the reshaping of settlement in Africa before the common era.

A prime example is the city of Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia from the 9th to 15th centuries. In its 600-year existence, the Khmer civilization built a complex system of waterways to meet Angkor’s needs as well as to protect the city from flooding. But, as a 2010 study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences laid out, the region was hit with a decades-long drought in the 15th century that came as global temperatures transitioned from a warm period to a cool period. At the same time, the empire faced other pressures—namely, conflict with a neighboring kingdom and economic pressure from a change in trade patterns. The combined effect was the collapse of Angkor.

It’s easy to think about ancient civilizations and chalk up their failures to naiveté. They didn’t surf the internet or zip around the world on airplanes; surely, 21st century civilizations can better adapt to climactic changes. The thing is, while we may be far more technologically advanced today, ancient civilizations didn’t spew hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The result of those emissions—created over a tiny fraction of human history—is a sharp temperature rise poised to blow the climatic changes faced by ancient civilizations out of the water. “We’re so tempted to look at the historical record and say, ‘those guys didn’t know what they were doing, but we are super sharp now,’” says Hsiang. “I’m pretty sure those guys thought the exact same thing.”

The present: a tumultuous time, politically and climatically

Today, the U.S. faces a wide range of challenges, most of which, at their core, have nothing to do with climate change: centuries of systemic racism, an ailing health care system and rampant economic inequality, to name a few. Globally, there’s a wide range of similarly vexing problems. There’s a case to be made for how climate change exacerbates these problems: urban heat islands make people of color more vulnerable to heat waves, flooding spreads water-borne diseases that stress health care systems and extreme weather hits the poorest hardest.

More subtly, extreme temperatures and weather shape human behavior, which in turn affects social and political stability. “We are creatures that live in an environment, our environment is our climate,” says Alexander Cohen, an assistant professor of political science at Clarkson University who studies climate and political behavior. “To analyze political behavior, or really any social behavior, without looking at this huge variable is to not tell the whole story.”

In these tumultuous times—both politically and climatically—there are several key factors of human behavior to consider. Research has shown that warm temperatures increase the odds of violent interpersonal interactions: cities see spikes in violent crime and police are more likely to use force in extreme heat. Studies have also found that people dealing with extreme heat are more likely to distrust outsiders. And research has shown that challenging weather shapes political decisions. “When people are uncomfortable, weather explains some of that,” says Cohen. “It can explain how they respond to public opinion surveys, we know that it affects how they vote, or if they vote at all.”

The research on these linkages is fairly nascent, and it’s hard to lay out precisely the subtle role climate is playing in our current turmoil. But, in recent weeks, hundreds of thousands have been displaced in California and Oregon, more than 10 million acres of farmland have been damaged by a storm in Iowa, and a pair of hurricanes have flooded parts of Louisiana and Texas. Temperatures across the country are on track to make this one of the hottest years on record. It’s hard to imagine this upheaval isn’t subtly feeding into the zeitgeist.

The future: what could come next if climate change is left unchecked

Climate change’s role in shaping politics and geopolitics today may be subtle, but in the future, its influence is certain to be more pronounced—and concerning. If climate change is left unchecked, bigger storms, unsurvivable heat and disappearing coastlines will leave billions displaced or struggling to survive. This would in turn create unprecedented strain on political and social institutions, not mention the global economy.

No one really knows exactly how the fallout will occur. But there’s a strong scientific basis to assume that without urgent action to stem emissions we’ll be in for many more years and decades of disturbing newspaper headlines—and they won’t be just about storms and heat waves.

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