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China and Russia have often described their relationship as “special” and “unprecedented” and have recently promised to maintain what they call a “comprehensive strategic partnership”.
In fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the “specialness” of this relationship has been clear for all to see. In February, Moscow sent medical supplies to Wuhan, then the epicentre of the outbreak, and when the virus peaked in Russia, China repaid the favour by delivering to its neighbour millions of masks and other protective equipment.

What’s more, the leaders of the two countries seem close, having met more than 30 times since 2013. Last month, in what appeared to be a veiled dig at the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for China and Russia to jointly “oppose hegemony and unilateralism”, while Russian President Vladimir Putin said the two countries’ ties had reached an “unprecedented” level.

Even so, in recent months, however hard the two countries have tried to paper over them, cracks have been appearing. Among the divisions: historical differences over Vladivostok; sales of Russian arms to India;
and delays in the delivery of Russian missiles to Beijing.

But perhaps the most explosive issue of all is the suggestion in recent weeks that Washington wants to embrace its old Cold War adversary as a way of countering growing Chinese might. Unthinkable as that might once have seemed, asked about the possibility last month, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
replied: “I do think there’s that opportunity.”


Divisions over Vladivostok spilled into the public domain last month, when the Russian embassy caused an online backlash in China
by posting a video about the commemoration service for the city’s 160th anniversary.
Chinese feelings over Vladivostok, which once belonged to China, remain high. The modern-day territory of Primorsky Krai, of which Vladivostok is the administrative capital, was part of the Qing dynasty’s Manchurian territory before it was annexed by the Tsarist empire in 1860 after China’s defeat at the hands of Britain
and France
during the second opium war.

Many Chinese criticised the embassy’s blog as a painful reminder of their country’s historical humiliations at the hands of foreign powers.

Hu Xijin, the editor of the nationalistic Chinese tabloid Global Times, even went as far as refusing to refer to the city as “tongzhi dongfang” or “Ruler of the East” as its name means in Russian, calling it by its old Chinese name of Haishenwei instead.

ome of the more strident posters suggested China should respond to the embassy’s blog by rethinking its stance on Crimea.

Russia seized Crimea by force from Ukraine in 2014 and annexed it the following year after a referendum, a move which drew international condemnation. China has so far chosen to remain neutral.

The outcry over the embassy’s blog was one of the first real signs that the territorial dispute was not dead and an indication that “Sinocentrism is becoming a problem in this relationship”, according to Asan Forum editor Gilbert Rozman.

“A supremely confident China in 2020 is witnessing an upsurge in impatient calls to settle scores steeped in grievances nurtured by its leaders. Deference towards Russia observed since 1992 may not be an immutable principle”, Rozman wrote in an article titled Multipolarity vs Sinocentrism: Chinese and Russian Worldviews and Relations.
Elaborating on his article, Rozman said China’s confidence came from the sense that it was rising fast while the reverse was true for the US, a sense that was reinforced by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Yet, such confidence was building for many years and 2020 only accelerated it,” Rozman said.

As for deference towards Russia, Rozman said this was a strategic decision made by Beijing to win Russia to China’s side against the US.


Moscow also found itself in hot water with the Chinese public when it increased its arms sales to New Delhi soon after a deadly stand-off
between Chinese and Indian troops along their disputed Himalayan border.

The month after the June 15 clash, in which at least 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese were killed in hand-to-hand fighting, New Delhi rushed through a deal to buy new Russian warplanes and upgrade its existing fleet.

As one Chinese internet user put it: “While fighting your opponent, how would you feel if your friend handed over a knife to your opponent?”

However, Dmitry Stefanovich, a research fellow with the Centre for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, pointed out that Russia had been supplying arms to India since long before the clash in the Himalayas.

Most of India’s strategic weapons, from its aircraft carrier to its nuclear attack submarine, are imported from Russia.

“The Russian defence industry, obviously, would like to remain in the Indian market, which is getting more and more competitive, with France and the US being the most obvious challengers,” Stefanovich said.

Indeed, said Delhi University’s Institute of Chinese Studies visiting fellow and assistant professor Rityusha Tiwary, Russian arms sales to India had in fact fallen since the peak in 2005 when sales reached US$3.2 billion. Still, analysts acknowledged that defence matters had created fault lines in the Russia-China relationship.

Alexey Muraviev, an associate professor of National Security and Strategic Studies at Australia’s Curtin University, said Russia was uneasy about Chinese cooperation with Ukraine in both military and business matters.

“The Chinese are also engaged in reverse engineering Russia’s military technology and then trying to sell indigenous platforms based on Russian designs, thereby competing against Russia on the global arms sales market,” Muraviev added.

Tiwary said Russia saw selling arms to India as a way of balancing out China’s growing power.


Another fault line appears to have opened up over a deal for Russia to supply the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system to China.

The S-400 is considered the most advanced of its kind in Russia, capable of destroying targets at distances of up to 400km and heights of 30km.

Last month, the Chinese websites NetEase and Sohu reported the deliveries had been “delayed” due to the coronavirus, but Moscow said later the deliveries had been “suspended”.

According to Russia’s TASS news agency, China received its first batch of S-400s in 2018 but further deliveries were suspended when Moscow accused Valery Mitko, president of the St Petersburg Arctic Social Sciences Academy, of spying for Beijing.

The move incensed many Chinese, not least because Russia’s defence minister Sergey Shoygu had agreed with his Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh to fast-track the production and delivery of five S-400 systems purchased by India in 2018. (The first of these are expected to be delivered in October).

Many Chinese said this proved Russia was putting the interests of India before those of China, which had placed its orders in 2014.

“Is this not a clear-cut case that the Russians are unreliable? China has to wake up!” wrote one Chinese internet user.

Describing the S-400 suspension as an “intriguing development”, Derek Grossman, senior defence analyst at the Rand Corporation, a Washington think tank, said the suspension ran counter to the narrative that Sino-Russian security relations had strengthened in recent years.

He also questioned Chinese media claims that the problem was due to the coronavirus, noting that it came less than two weeks after the deadly clash in the Himalayas on June 15.

“This strongly suggests that Moscow’s decision was in response to the [Himalayan] incident,” Grossman said.

He noted that throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union had been a close friend of India, and the relationship remained warm today.

“I suspect that the S-400 decision largely was the result of Russia deciding to punish China for its actions against India, and to demonstrate to New Delhi that Moscow can still be trusted to support its interests,” Grossman said.


Still, perhaps most divisive of all the issues facing the relationship is the recent claim in Indian media that New Delhi wants Moscow to join the US-led Indo-Pacific initiative, a strategic grouping widely seen as being an attempt to counter China.

The matter was reportedly discussed during a phone call between Russian deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov and the Indian ambassador to Russia, D. Bala Venkatesh Varma.

India reportedly told Russia that just as it supports Moscow’s Greater Eurasia project – in which Russia’s foreign policy is intended to pivot to the East and greater engagement with Asia – so too should Russia support the Indo-Pacific grouping, and not see the idea merely as a strategy by Washington to divide the region.

Some Chinese commentators said the idea – a “betrayal of China”, according to some – was as explosive as asking Russia to join Nato (the Western military alliance originally set up primarily to counter Russian aggression).

But while some analysts questioned whether the US would agree to Russian membership, others thought that given the right incentives Moscow could be convinced.

Tiwary said the idea was in line with the strong India-Russia partnership of recent decades, and would further cement the relationship.

“For Russia, the initiative offers a chance to counter US leadership in any emergent power structure in the region, by being a part of it,” Tiwary added.

However, Stefanovich said Russia was unlikely to sign up, given the group’s reputation of being anti-China. “Russia believes in inclusive regional organisations and cooperation regimes,” said Stefanovich.

Victor Gao, Soochow University chair professor and the vice-president of the Centre for China and Globalisation, a think tank in Beijing, agreed.

It was “inconceivable” that Russia would “relegate itself into being a vassal of the US”, Gao said. ■ SCMP


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William Barr Briefed Trump On Probe Over Discarded Pennsylvania Ballots: Report



Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens to a question as he appears at the "Retired American Warriors" conference during a campaign stop in Herndon, Virginia, U.S., October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Attorney General William Barr personally briefed President Donald Trump on a probe into what the Justice Department is calling “reports of potential issues with a small number of mail-in ballots” in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, a DOJ official told ABC News on Friday.

That information comes a day after the Justice Department took the unusual step of revealing details about an ongoing investigation, which White House critics decried as an attempt to bolster Trump’s repeated and largely baseless claims that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud.

The DOJ did so after Trump began discussing it during an interview with Fox News Radio.

“They were Trump ballots … and they were thrown in a garbage can. This is what’s going to happen,” Trump said in the interview. “This is what’s going to happen, and we’re investigating that.”

Later that day, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania shared more details, saying there were nine discarded ballots for Trump. The office later corrected the statement to say only seven of the votes were for the president, raising questions among election experts about the details of the situation and the way they were announced.

“At this point, we can confirm that a small number of military ballots were discarded,” a statement from the office said. “Investigators have recovered nine ballots at this time. Some of those ballots can be attributed to specific voters and some cannot. Of the nine ballots that were discarded and then recovered, 7 were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump. Two of the discarded ballots had been resealed inside their appropriate envelopes by Luzerne elections staff prior to recovery by the FBI and the contents of those 2 ballots are unknown.”

The Justice Department also sent a letter to Luzerne County Bureau of Elections director Shelby Watchilla saying the staff appeared to be at fault.

“The preliminary findings of this inquiry are troubling and the Luzerne County Bureau of Elections must comply with all applicable state and federal election laws and guidance to ensure that all votes—regardless of party—are counted to ensure an accurate election count,” the letter read.

Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri released a statement later Friday saying a “temporary seasonal independent contractor” who started Sept. 14 was the employee who threw out the ballots. The person was fired thereafter.

After discovering what happened, the FBI and other authorities sorted through all the trash from the days that employee was in service in order to retrieve the ballots. Both county- and state-level authorities are providing “supplemental extensive training” to everyone working in the Luzerne elections department, Pedri said. Huffington

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Trump aims to boost rural turnout in critical Wisconsin



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



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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