Amid an escalating war of words with the US, China says it has “already prepared” to defend its national interests in the face of US attacks on bilateral trade ties.
Chinese vice Premier Liu told US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a telephone call on Saturday that President Donald Trump’s order to target Chinese goods tariffs on up to $60 billion violates international trade rules, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
“China has already prepared, and has the strength, to defend its national interests,” Liu said, adding that China hopes “both sides will remain rational and work together.”
The call between the two top economic officials was the highest-level contact between Beijing and Washington since Trump unveiled the new pack of anti-China sanctions.
China responded to Trump’s tariffs with declaring on Friday plans to raise tariffs on a $3 billion list of US goods. Beijing also warned Washington that it is not “afraid of a trade war.”
Washington is concerned at what it claims to the misappropriation of intellectual property following an eight-month investigation under Section 301 of the 1974 US.
The Chinese official further told the US side that Washington has violated trade rules with that inquiry.
In a highly controversial plan earlier this month, Trump announced hefty tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum of a lot of countries, many of them key US allies.
He signed paperwork enacting tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum during a ceremony at the White House. The plan took effect on Friday.
The move sent shivers through financial markets, caused legal disputes and raised fears that the confrontation could provoke a damaging trade war.
World Trade Organization Director-General Roberto Azevedo also warned that new trade barriers would “jeopardize the global economy.”
Trump, however, defended his decision while speaking to reporters on Friday, saying his efforts were beginning to bear fruit.
The administration said it will temporarily exempt Europe as well as countries including Brazil, Argentina, South Korea and Australia from the steep new steel and aluminum tariffs.
The United States on Friday charged and sanctioned nine Iranians and an Iranian company for attempting to hack into hundreds of universities worldwide, dozens of firms and parts of the US government, including its main energy regulator, on behalf of Tehran’s government.
The cyber-attacks, beginning in at least 2013, pilfered more than 31 terabytes of academic data and intellectual property from 144 US universities and 176 universities in 21 other countries, the US Department of Justice said, describing the campaign as one of the largest state-sponsored hacks ever prosecuted.
The US Treasury Department said it was placing sanctions on the nine people and the Mabna Institute, a company US prosecutors characterized as designed to help Iranian research organizations steal information.
US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the nine Iranians were considered fugitives who may face extradition in more than 100 countries if they travel outside Iran.
Authorities “will aggressively investigate and prosecute hostile actors who attempt to profit from America’s ideas by infiltrating our computer systems and stealing intellectual property,” Rosenstein told a news conference.
The case “will disrupt the defendants’ hacking operations and deter similar crimes,” he added.
The hackers were not accused of being directly employed by Iran’s government. They were instead charged with criminal conduct waged primarily through the Mabna Institute on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the elite military force assigned to defend Iran’s Shi’ite theocracy from internal and external threats.
In Tehran, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi denounced the move as “provocative, illegitimate, and without any justifiable reason and another sign of the hostility of the (US) ruling circles toward the Iranian nation”, state news agency IRNA said.
The targeting of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, was a matter of special concern, US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said, because it oversees the interstate regulation of energy and holds details of some of the country’s “most sensitive infrastructure.”
Hackers targeted email accounts of more than 100,000 professors worldwide, half in the United States, and compromised about 8,000, prosecutors said. Hackers also targeted the US Labor Department, the United Nations and the computer systems of the US states Hawaii and Indiana, prosecutors said.
Friday’s actions are part of an effort by senior cyber security officials at the White House and across the US government to blame foreign countries for malicious hacks.
They were announced a day after U.S. President Donald Trump named John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who is deeply skeptical of the 2015 international nuclear accord with Iran, as his new national security adviser.
Trump himself has repeatedly cast doubt on the nuclear deal, in which the U.S. and other world powers eased sanctions in exchange for Tehran putting limits on its nuclear program.
The Department of Justice on Friday privately warned major internet infrastructure companies to expect attacks from Iran, an executive at one company who received the alert said.
The officials said the most likely retaliation would be denial of service attacks on websites, which are not destructive but disrupt commerce and communication.
Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre said on Twitter the Mabna Institute was “almost certainly responsible for cyber attacks targeting universities around the world.”
The sanctions and charges were the fourth time in the past few months the Trump administration has blamed a foreign government for major cyber attacks, a practice that was rare under the Obama administration.
Last week, the administration accused the Russian government of cyber attacks stretching back at least two years that targeted the US power grid.
Washington imposed new sanctions on 19 Russians and five groups, including Moscow’s intelligence services, for meddling in the 2016 US election and other cyber attacks.
Friday’s indictment in US District Court in New York said the Iranian hackers did extensive background research of university professors before sending them “spearphishing” emails tailored to academic interests and scholarly publications.
The emails purported to be from professors at another university and indicated the sender had read an article written by them, prosecutors said.
The emails would then direct recipients to click on links to related articles directing them to a malicious internet domain that appeared similar to the victims’ actual university portal, where they would be prompted to enter their login credentials.
Once accounts were compromised, the hackers would steal reams of academic data and intellectual property related to science and technology, engineering, social sciences and medicine, the indictment said.
Stolen data was obtained to benefit Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and sold in Iran through the websites Megapaper and Gigapaper to universities there, prosecutors said.
Hackers targeted and compromised employee email accounts at 36 US-based companies and 11 companies in countries including Britain, Germany and Italy, prosecutors said.
Victim companies in the United states included two media and entertainment companies, one law firm, 11 technology firms, and two bank and investment firms, among others.
Unlike the precise targeting of academics, companies were subjected to a broad technique known as “password spraying” that uncovers lists of company email accounts online and then tries to hack into them with common default passwords.
North Korea has agreed to hold high-level talks with South Korea on March 29 at the border truce village of Panmunjom to prepare for a summit of their leaders planned for April, the South said on Saturday.
A team of three officials will be led by Ri Son Gwon, the chairman of North Korea’s committee for the peaceful reunification of the country, the North told its neighbor early on Saturday, the South’s Unification Ministry said.
“This morning, North Korea sent a message through a communication channel in Panmunjom agreeing to our suggestion made on the 22nd to hold high-level inter-Korea talks,” the ministry said in a statement.
The stakes are higher for a potential summit between US President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart that may take place by the end of May, however.
Trump this week named John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the United Nations famed for his hawkish views on Pyongyang, to replace White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 13, saying the two had disagreed over Iran and other foreign policy matters.
The Korean talks set for March 29 will precede musical performances in Pyongyang in early April by a group of South Korean singers making a reciprocal visit after the North sent performers to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Artists of both nations will collaborate for a show on April 3, the South’s Yonhap news agency said, citing an aide of President Moon Jae-in.
Moon plans to hold a summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un by the end of April.
Thousands of civilians have fled the besieged Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, in what is believed to be the largest exodus in one day in the country's seven-year war, as new round of peace talks open in Astana.
Faced with the prospect of more government bombardments, thousands of civilians abandoned the town of Hamouriyah, which has been at the center of fighting between rebels and military forces.
Between 12,000 and 13,000 people have reportedly fled the area east of Damascus overnight and into Friday, according to news reports.
Grabbing what they could carry and loading it into their vehicles, desperate civilians streamed out of their homes, fleeing to areas controlled by the government.
Images posted online showed elderly women in wheelchairs and children carried by their parents as they walked amid the ruins.
Once controlled by rebels, Hamouriyah is now being surrounded by government forces.
"There is no water, no medicine that could be provided to our children, not even food," an evacuee said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said as many as 20,000 people have abandoned their homes, with many still waiting to be transported to safe zones.
Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher, reporting from Gaziantep in Turkey, said the exodus was expected after the Syrian forces cut off supplies.
After nearly four weeks of relentless bombardment, which has left more than 1,250 civilians including children dead, government forces are inching closer to capturing the rest of the enclave, forcing civilians to flee. Regime forces have already split the enclave, under siege since 2013, into three sections.
Rebels, however, claimed that they have retaken Hamouriyah, one of the districts in Eastern Ghouta.
Meanwhile, some 25 trucks of food aid were allowed into Eastern Ghouta's Douma district, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
It is unclear how long the food supply would last in an area believed to be populated with as many as 125,000.
The aid does not include medical supplies.
The entire Eastern Ghouta is home to 400,000 people, and it has been under a government siege since mid-2013.
The area is one of the last major remaining strongholds under the armed opposition, who are aiming to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The enclave is the current major battleground in Syria's war, which entered its eighth year on Thursday.
According to UNHCR figures, there have been nearly 500,000 people killed and over 11 million displaced in the war.
Meanwhile, dozens of Syrian civilians, including children, have been killed, as Turkish troops and its allied armed groups bombarded the city of Afrin in Syria's Kurdish region.
The Syrian Observatory, a monitoring group based in the UK, said on Friday that the continued push by Turkish forces into Afrin have forced as many as 30,000 civilians to flee since Wednesday.
Meanwhile, foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, on Friday to continue negotiations on how to end the civil war in the Middle East country.
The agenda at the meeting also included how to maintain security in the established de-escalation zones as well as political and humanitarian issues.
The next round of talks is expected in the middle of May.
Russia is set to expel British diplomats in retaliation for Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to kick out 23 Russians as relations with London crash to a post-Cold War low due to an attack with military-grade nerve agent on English soil.
After the first known offensive use of such a weapon in Europe since World War Two, May blamed Moscow and gave 23 Russians who she said were spies working under diplomatic cover at the London embassy a week to leave.
Russia has denied any involvement, cast Britain as a post-colonial power unsettled by Brexit, and even suggested London had fabricated the attack in an attempt to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.
Asked by a Reuters reporter in the Kazakh capital if Russia planned to expel British diplomats from Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov smiled and said: “We will, of course.”
Britain, the United States, Germany and France jointly called on Russia on Thursday to explain the attack. US President Donald Trump said it looked like the Russians were behind it.
Russia has refused Britain’s demands to explain how Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the Soviet military, was used to strike down Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, in the southern English city of Salisbury.
Skripal, a former colonel in the GRU who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence, and his daughter have been critically ill since March 4, when they were found unconscious on a bench.
A British policeman who was also poisoned when he went to help them is in a serious but stable condition.
President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy who is poised to win a fourth term in an election on Sunday, has so far only said publicly that Britain should get to the bottom of what has happened.
Recently, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, met with members from the China Democratic League, China Zhi Gong Party and the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese as well as non-partisans who gathered in Beijing to attend the First Session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top political advisory body. During the meeting, Xi stressed that China must unremittingly consolidate and improve the multi-party cooperation and political consultation system under the leadership of the CPC and tap into the unique potential of multi-party cooperation to provide practical advice and pool wisdom and strength for advancing socialist democratic politics.
After nearly 69 years of painstaking construction and reforms since its founding in 1949, the People’s Republic of China has developed a political party system unlike any other country around the world—a system featuring multi-party cooperation under the leadership of the CPC, in which the CPC is the ruling party and other political parties participate in the discussion and management of state affairs. This political party system was born in China, so it has distinct Chinese characteristics: With supreme leadership of the CPC as the prerequisite, the new type of party system aims to achieve unity, cooperation and win-win integration. In China, various non-Communist parties are not rivals or opposing parties, but friendly parties that participate in the operation of state affairs. The system has absorbed various innovations of world civilizations and is rich in democratic values.
Moreover, the new type of political party system respects the will of the people and uses a democratic decision-making mechanism. China’s major policies and decisions are not made by any single political party, but are designed through democratic consultation and scientific deliberation between the CPC and all other political parties. They pool their wisdom to draw the blueprint for the future of the Chinese nation and unite to smoothly handle state affairs. China’s new type of political system has avoided shortcomings of one-party rule such as a lack of democratic supervision as well as the political upheaval caused by vicious competitions among multiple parties vying for the chance to rule.
What constitutes this new type of political system?
First, the system combines theory and practice. The theoretical choice of the CPC-led multi-party cooperation and political consultation system is rooted in the history of modern and contemporary China after the Opium War in the 19th century. It is the choice of the Chinese people, of their own will, in the pursuit for salvation of the nation. The system is an outcome of the blending of Marxist party theory and China’s actual conditions. The development of a political consultation system combining the strength of the CPC, non-Communist parties and non-party personages has resulted in a great political invention. The history and achievements of the People’s Republic of China have shown that a new type of political system that integrates theory and practice can authentically, broadly and persistently represent and pursue the fundamental interests of Chinese people of all ethnic groups.
Second, the CPC-led multi-party cooperation and political consultation system integrates democracy and republicanism. All political parties work together for the common goal of building a stronger country and improving the people’s lives. They understand and communicate with each other to effectively avoid vicious competitions between parties.
Third, China has built a more rational and efficient decision-making mechanism: consultative democracy. In a broad sense, democracy could be categorized as either electoral or consultative. Considering its huge population, China needs an efficient and rational decision-making mechanism. Political consultation emphasizes the role of the system and respects procedures while avoiding social fragmentation caused by disagreements between multiple political parties. The political consultation system advocates concepts like “the whole world is one community,” “inclusiveness” and “seeking common ground while shelving differences” and represents an important contribution to human political civilization.
The CPC-led multi-party cooperation and political consultation system is a unique innovation forged in China. It is rooted in the soil of China. Benefiting from achievements in the progress of human politics, it breaks the set pattern of party alterations and widens mankind’s vision. It also showcases China’s latest achievements in party politics and erects a monument in the development of world politics. China’s new type of political party system provides a “Chinese solution” for mankind to create a democratic, harmonious and beautiful political and social life.
The author is a research fellow at the Party Building Base of Beijing Municipal Party Committee School and the Coordination and Innovation Center for the Research of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in Beijing Colleges and Universities.
(This content is provided by Beijing-based China Pictorial.)
March 3, 2018: The First Session of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) opens at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China. The CPC-led multi-party cooperation and political consultation system is a basic Chinese political system and a new type of party system sprouting from the nation’s soil. by Duan Wei
The UN secretary-general urged Security Council members to "end the suffering" of residents in besieged Eastern Ghouta, as the US threatened to "act if we must" as a ceasefire continues to be ignored by Syrian and Russian forces.
Antonio Guterres' remarks on Monday came as government forces continued for a third week to launch air strikes and advance a ground offensive into the Damascus suburb that has been under rebel control since mid-2013.
Several attempts to halt the deadly operation have proved futile, with a war monitor reporting more than 1,022 civilians have been killed in Russian-backed Syrian government attacks over the last three weeks.
"I am deeply disappointed by all those ... who allowed this to happen," Guterres said in his address at the UN headquarters in New York.
"There should be only one agenda for all of us: to end the suffering of the Syrian people and find a political solution to the conflict.
"Particularly in Eastern Ghouta, the air strikes, shelling, ground offensive intensified after the adoption of the resolution," he said, referencing UNSC resolution 2401, which passed on February 24.
Resolution 2401 called for an immediate ceasefire, the evacuation of civilians, and the delivery of aid supplies.
Guterres also expressed his disappointment at the prevention of desperately needed food and medical assistance from being delivered to some of the 400,000 residents trapped inside the enclave.
United States ambassador to the UN Nikki Hailey denounced the failure to implement the resolution, and said her country was drafting a new one with "no room for evasion". Haley warned the US "remains prepared to act if we must".
"It is not the path we prefer, but it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take again," Haley told the 15-member Security Council. "When the international community consistently fails to act, there are times when states are compelled to take their own action."
Russian UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzya told the council on Monday the Syrian government has "every right to try and remove the threat to the safety of its citizens".
He described the Damascus suburb as a "hotbed" of "terrorism".
The destruction from the military onslaught has exacerbated an already dire humanitarian crisis, with more than 1,000 people in urgent need of medical evacuation.
Last week - amid reports of negotiations taking place between rebel groups and the Syrian government - a number of fighters and their families were evacuated from the enclave, state media reported.
President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to continue the offensive until all "terrorists" are removed from the district.
The Syrian government has divided Eastern Ghouta into three sections: Douma and its surroundings; Harasta in the west; and the rest of the towns further south.
Government forces have surrounded Douma, one of the enclave's main towns.
US President Donald Trump has sacked Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, citing differences, and replaced him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
"Mike Pompeo, director of the CIA, will become our new secretary of state. He will do a fantastic job," Trump tweeted on Tuesday. "Thank to Rex Tillerson for his service!" the president added.
According to the Washington Post, Trump asked Tillerson to leave the post last Friday.
Tillerson cut short his trip to Africa on Monday and returned to Washington, DC prompting questions about his future at the State Department.
In a statement on Tuesday, Trump said that "a great deal has been accomplished over the last 14 months" with Tillerson as the US' top diplomat.
Trump also said on Twitter that Deputy CIA Director Gina Hapsel will replace Pompeo as the head of the agency. He added that she is "the first woman so chosen".
The move by Trump is the biggest shakeup of his cabinet since taking office.
Reports surfaced last October that Trump was looking to replace the embattled Tillerson with the CIA director.
Tillerson, a former top executive for the energy giant Exxon, took office on February 1, 2017.
The US president and now-outgoing secretary of state have not seen eye-to-eye on a number of issues including the Iran nuclear deal and the Gulf crisis.
"We disagreed on things," Trump told reporters outside the White House on Tuesday, adding that the pair "were not really thinking the same".
Tillerson has criticized Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt - which cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, 2017 - from the onset.
He urged the Gulf states to ease the blockade, which contradicted what appeared to be Trump's initial support for the move.
A senior Russian military official says NATO has a new priority of creating a “military Schengen” to enable the rapid deployment of military forces and hardware near Russian borders.
“The new priority of the military-political leadership of NATO is the improvement of the logistics and transport infrastructure within Europe, and the creation of the so-called ‘military Schengen’ area,” Russia’s Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin said in an interview with the daily Krasnaya Zvezda on Monday.
“The essence of the ‘military Schengen’ is to move troops to Russian borders within the shortest period of time possible,” Fomin said, adding that that was the conclusion of the Russian military leadership.
He said stocks of weapons, ammunition, and foods were being prepared for the rapid deployment of an additional NATO contingent of troops to various parts of Europe.
Currently, the US-led military alliance has coordination centers in Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, and Slovakia.
The American commander-in-chief of NATO forces in Europe claimed last week that Moscow was engaged in an attempt to “change the world order.”
“Russia is working hard to change the world order, divide NATO, and undermine US leadership in order to defend its regime. Russia aspired to maintain dominance over its neighbors, and to achieve greater control around the world,” said US Army General Curtis Scaparrotti while testifying at a hearing before the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee on March 8.
He accused Russia of having “the willingness and capability” to interfere in countries that neighbor it.
Relations between the West and Russia nosedived to their lowest since the days of the Cold War after armed conflict began in Ukraine in 2014. Western countries have been brandishing the so-called “Russia threat” ever since to justify the deployment of forces on NATO’s so-called eastern flank, i.e. near Russia’s western borders.
Russia has viewed such military activity with concern, saying that Western countries seek to encircle it.
Myanmar is building military bases over flattened Rohingya villages, an international rights group said.
Security forces have bulldozed houses and started constructing at least three new security facilities in Myanmar's western Rakhine state, said Amnesty International's Remaking Rakhine State report, which was published on Monday.
The report, which said construction of the three army outposts began in January, is based on satellite imagery and witness statements from Rohingya refugees.
"What we are seeing in Rakhine state is a land grab by the military on a dramatic scale. New bases are being erected to house the very same security forces that have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya," Tirana Hassan, Amnesty's crisis response director, said.
"The new construction is entrenching the already dehumanizing discrimination they have faced in Myanmar."
Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since last August as a result of a government crackdown launched in the wake of deadly attacks on military posts by members of the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA).
Eyewitnesses told Amnesty that Rohingya in Buthidaung township had been forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for the development. Al Jazeera was not able to independently verify those claims.
Myint Khine, a government administrator in Rakhine, told Al Jazeera the developments were not a "military land grab".
"We have been using bulldozers for building roads and construction ... not for military [purposes]," Khine said.
Hundreds of Rohingya villages have been torched and at least 55 settlements completely bulldozed, since the ongoing crisis began, according to Human Rights Watch.
The majority of those displaced have sought refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.
According to the UN, the exodus marks the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.
Ro Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya activist, told Al Jazeera that Myanmar will "never allow" the Muslim minority to return to Rakhine state.
"It is clear that as a part of genocide they have destructed the Rohingya homes and confiscated everything," Lwin said. "They will never allow the Rohingya to return to their original villages."
The Rohingya, one of the most persecuted communities in the world, are not recognized as citizens of Myanmar and have for decades faced widespread discrimination from authorities.
Prior to the current exodus, tens of thousands of Rohingya have already been living as refugees in several neighboring countries.
Myanmar and Bangladesh announced a repatriation deal in January, but rights groups and Rohingya have raised concerns about the agreement, saying it does not guarantee full citizenship or safety for those who return.
Laura Haigh, Amnesty's Myanmar researcher, told Al Jazeera the demolition of their villages has created an "atmosphere of panic" among the Rohingya.
"What we need to see is the Myanmar government saying this is Rohingya land and saving it for them," Haigh said.
"[Instead] there's a growing sense this [militarization] is going to be a threat to safety and security, and there's worry about violence happening again."
Although the Amnesty report refers to the construction of three security bases, in the Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, there is growing evidence more facilities are being developed, Haigh added.
"Every time we go back to look at specific locations, we are seeing changes on a day-to-day basis. It's not just about the scale of change, it's also about the pace," she said.