Top Asian News 11:19 a.m. GMT
China plays down Blinken’s canceled visit over balloon
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China played down the cancellation of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken after a large Chinese balloon suspected of conducting surveillance on U.S. military sites roiled diplomatic relations, saying that neither side had formally announced any such plan. “In actuality, the U.S. and China have never announced any visit, the U.S. making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday morning. Blinken was due to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at reducing U.S.-China tensions, the first such high-profile trip after the countries’ leaders met last November in Indonesia.
China balloon: Many questions about suspected spy in the sky
WASHINGTON (AP) — What in the world is that thing? A massive white orb sweeping across U.S. airspace has triggered a diplomatic maelstrom and is blowing up on social media. China insists it’s just an errant civilian airship used mainly for meteorological research that went off course due to winds. With only limited “self-steering” capabilities. However, the U.S. says it’s a Chinese spy balloon without a doubt. And its presence prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel a weekend trip to China that was aimed at dialing down tensions that were already high between the countries. The Pentagon says the balloon, which is carrying sensors and surveillance equipment, is maneuverable and has shown it can change course.
Chinese balloon high over US stirs unease down below
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Chinese balloon drifting high above the U.S. and first revealed over Montana has created a buzz down below among residents who initially wondered what it was — and now wonder what its arrival means amid a chorus of alarm raised by elected officials. The balloon roiled diplomatic tensions as it continued to move over the central U.S. on Friday at 60,000 feet (18,300 meters). Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly canceled an upcoming trip to China. Curiosity about the bobbling sky orb that’s the size of three school buses swept the nation and the internet, with search terms like “where is the spy balloon now?” and “spy balloon tracker” surging on Google.
ASEAN vows to conclude pact with China on disputed territory
JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Southeast Asian foreign ministers vowed to finalize negotiations with China over a proposed pact aimed at preventing conflicts in the disputed South China Sea in their annual retreat on Saturday in Indonesia’s capital. In the final session of their two-day meeting, the ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations also agreed to unite in their approach to implement a five-step agreement made in 2021 between ASEAN leaders and Myanmar’s military leader, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, that seeks to end that country’s worsening crisis. China and the ASEAN member states, which include four rival claimants to territories in the South China Sea, have been holding sporadic talks for years on a “code of conduct,” a set of regional norms and rules aimed at preventing a clash the disputed waters.
Japanese prime minister’s aide leaving over LGBTQ remarks
TOKYO (AP) — A senior aide to Japan’s prime minister is being dismissed after making discriminatory remarks about LGBTQ people. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Saturday that Masayoshi Arai, a secretary at his office, was being dismissed after Arai recently told Japanese media he did not like seeing LGBTQ people. Arai had retracted his comments and apologized on Friday. Kishida said the remarks run counter to the administration’s position on promoting diversity. “Taking strong action is inevitable,” Kishida said without providing further details, meaning Arai may leave voluntarily. Arai’s remarks prompted an outburst of protest and were the latest in a string of gaffes by Japanese officials that have landed them in trouble.
Sri Lanka marks independence anniversary amid economic woes
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka marked its 75th independence anniversary on Saturday as a bankrupt nation, with many citizens angry, anxious and in no mood to celebrate. Many Buddhists and Christian clergy had announced a boycott of the celebration in the capital, while activists and others expressed anger at what they see as a waste of money in a time of severe economic crisis. Despite the criticism, armed troops paraded along the main esplanade in Colombo, showcasing military equipment as navy ships sailed in the sea and helicopters and aircraft flew over the city. Catholic priest Rev. Cyril Gamini called this year’s ceremony commemorating independence from British rule a “crime and waste” at a time when the country is experiencing such economic hardship.
Indian police nab over 2,000 men for illegal child marriages
GUWAHATI, India (AP) — Indian police have arrested more than 2,000 men in a crackdown on illegal child marriages involving girls under the age of 18 in a northeastern state, officials said Saturday. Those arrested this week included more than 50 Hindu priests and Muslim clerics for allegedly performing marriages for underage girls in Assam, state police chief Gyanendra Pratap Singh said. “We have so far arrested 2,169 men based on 4,074 registered police cases involving a total of about 8,000 men,” said Singh. Many cases of child marriage in Assam, a state of 35 million people, go unreported. Only 155 cases of child marriages in the state were registered in 2021, and 138 in 2020, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
Ex-UK leader Truss to urge tougher China stance in Tokyo
LONDON (AP) — Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss will join the former leaders of Australia and Belgium at a conference in Tokyo later this month to call for a tougher international approach to China. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, an international group of lawmakers concerned about how democratic countries approach Beijing, said Friday that Truss will speak alongside former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the Feb. 17 event in the Japanese Diet. Former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who is also a European Parliament lawmaker, will attend as well. Conference organizers hope the event would help spur more coordinated diplomacy on threats raised by China ahead of the next Group of Seven richest democratic countries’ summit, scheduled in May in Hiroshima.
How the US is boosting military alliances to counter China
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. is expanding it military presence in Asia, in a string of moves aimed at countering Beijing and reassuring Indo-Pacific allies that America will stand with them against threats from China and North Korea. The U.S. actions stretch from Japan to the Solomon Islands. And they involve more and increasingly advanced military exercises in the region and additional troop rotations in key areas facing the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea. In some cases, they also could provide logistical support in the event of any conflict with China, specifically in defense of the self-governing island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.
S. Korean court sentences ex-minister to 2 years in prison
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean court on Friday sentenced a former justice minister, Cho Kuk, to two years in prison, after he was found guilty of creating fake credentials to help his children get into prestigious schools, a scandal that rocked the country’s previous government and sparked huge protests. Cho was also found guilty of abusing his powers while serving as a senior aide to former President Moon Jae-in, by blocking an investigation into a former Financial Services Commission official seen as close to Moon who was eventually arrested for taking bribes from businesspeople. But the Seoul Central District Court decided not to place Cho under immediate arrest, saying he wasn’t a threat to flee and that his wife was already serving a prison term over the charges related to their children.
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