After U.S. exit, Asian nations try to save TPP trade deal

admin   •   January 24, 2017   •   5485

FILE PHOTO – U.S. President Barack Obama holds meeting with Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) leaders at the APEC Summit in Lima, Peru November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File photo

Australia and New Zealand said on Tuesday they hope to salvage the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by encouraging China and other Asian countries to join the trade pact after U.S. President Donald Trump kept a promise to abandon the accord.

The TPP, which the United States had signed but not ratified, was a pillar of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s policy to pivot to Asia.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has touted it as an engine of economic reform, as well as a counter-weight to a rising China, which is not a TPP member.

Fulfilling a campaign pledge, Trump signed an executive order in the Oval Office on Monday pulling the United States out of the 2015 TPP agreement and distancing the United States from its Asian allies.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he had held discussions with Abe, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong overnight about the possibility of proceeding without the United States.

“Losing the United States from the TPP is a big loss, there is no question about that,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday. “But we are not about to walk away … certainly there is potential for China to join the TPP.”

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying did not say directly whether China would be interested in joining the TPP but that at a time of economic uncertainly the Asia-Pacific should make its own contributions to growth with openness.

“We think that in the present situation, no matter what happens, all should keep going down the path of open, inclusive, continuous development, seeking cooperation and win-win,” Hua told a daily news briefing.

Obama had framed the TPP without China in an effort to write Asia’s trade rules before Beijing could, establishing U.S. economic leadership in the region as part of his “pivot to Asia”.

China has proposed a counter pact, the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) and has championed the Southeast Asian-backed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Hua said efforts on FTAAP should be stepped up, adding China hoped talks on RCEP could be concluded at an early date.

MEETINGS PLANNED

New Zealand’s English said the United States was ceding influence to China and the region’s focus could switch to alternative trade deals.

“We’ve got this RCEP agreement with Southeast Asia, which up until now has been on a bit of a slow burn, but we might find the political will for that to pick up if TPP isn’t going to proceed,” English said.

Malaysia’s trade minister said negotiators from the remaining TPP countries would be in “constant communication” to decide the best way forward.

“Notwithstanding the current position of the new U.S. administration on (TPP), we will continue to engage with our American colleagues to strengthen our bilateral trade and economic relations, given the U.S.’s importance as our third-largest trading partner and a major source of investment,” Mustapa Mohamed said in a statement.

The TTP, which has been five years in the making, requires ratification by at least six countries accounting for 85 percent of the combined gross domestic product of the member nations.

Australia held open the possibility of China, the world’s top exporter, joining a revised deal.

“The original architecture was to enable other countries to join,” Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday.

“Certainly I know that Indonesia has expressed interest and there would be scope for China if we are able to reformulate it.”

Japan has led the push for the partnership, which includes Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam.

“There is no change to our view that free trade is the source of economic growth,” Japanese Economy Minister Nobuteru Ishihara told reporters.

When asked whether Japan would be open to negotiating a bilateral trade pact with the United States, Ishihara said it was uncertain whether U.S. trade officials would start such negotiations.

Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda said separately that Japan was not considering moves with other TPP members based on a lack of U.S. involvement.

“As Prime Minister Abe has made clear, TPP without the United States is meaningless and the balance of interests would crumble,” he told a news conference, adding Japan would keep explaining the benefits of the pact for America.

Abe had made TPP a core of his economic growth policies and along with the Obama administration, viewed it as strategically vital in the face of a rising China

Trump took office on Friday and pledged to end what he called an “American carnage” of rusted factories and crime. He vowed to bring jobs back by renegotiating what he called bad multilateral trade deals in favor of bilateral ones.

New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay said he had talked with a number of TPP-member ministers at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week and he expected they would meet in coming months.

“The agreement still has value as a FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with the other countries involved,” McClay said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Swati Pandey in SYDNEY, Ami Miyazaki and Linda Sieg in TOKYO, Liz Lee in KUALA LUMPUR and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel)

Congressional report cites ‘overwhelming’ evidence against Trump

UNTV News   •   December 4, 2019

US President Donald Trump leaves 10 Downing Street during the NATO Summit in London on Tuesday, 3 Dec. 2019. EFE-EPA/WILL OLIVER

WASHINGTON — The Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives said Tuesday that its impeachment probe of President Donald Trump uncovered “overwhelming” evidence that the occupant of the White House has engaged in misconduct.

“The evidence of the President’s misconduct is overwhelming, and so too is the evidence of his obstruction of Congress,” the Democratic-led panel said in its 300-page report.

The members of the committee, including Trump’s Republican allies, are due to vote Tuesday evening on whether to accept the report and forward it to the House Judiciary Committee as the basis for drafting articles of impeachment against the president.

Trump, according to the document, withheld military aid from Ukraine to pressure that country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, into launching an investigation of 2020 Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

That investigation – which never materialized – would have focused on Hunter Biden’s acceptance of a position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company in 2014, when his father was coordinating US policy toward Kiev as vice president under Barack Obama.

The intelligence committee report describes a “drastic” increase in pressure on Ukraine during the period between the July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and the public revelations about that conversation due to the whistle-blower complaint filed by a US government official.

“In the weeks following the July 25 call, the President’s hand-picked representatives increased the President’s pressure campaign on Ukrainian government officials – in person, over the phone, and by text message – to secure a public announcement of the investigations beneficial to President Trump’s re-election campaign,” according to the document.

“To compel the Ukrainian President to do his political bidding, President Trump conditioned two official acts on the public announcement of the investigations: a coveted White House visit and critical U.S. military assistance Ukraine needed to fight its Russian adversary,” the report says.

Trump denies that delaying the nearly $400 million in eventually disbursed aid to Ukraine or his reluctance to invite Zelensky to the White House had anything to do with a desire that Kiev announce an an investigation of the Bidens.

But the report concludes that Trump did seek to extract such a commitment from Zelensky and that in so doing, he “placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States.”

The text goes on to accuse the president of orchestrating an “unprecedented” effort to obstruct the impeachment probe.

Within minutes of the report’s publication, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said that the document “reflects nothing more than their (Democrats) frustrations” and “reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing.” EPA-EFE

Trump confirms US Navy secretary forced out over SEAL case

Robie de Guzman   •   November 25, 2019

A handout file photo made available by the US Navy shows US Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer addressing the crew of USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) via the ship’s 1MC during a visit to the ship at sea near Newport News, Virginia, USA, 27 October 2019 (issued 25 November 2019).

WASHINGTON – The United States president confirmed Sunday that the Pentagon has asked for the resignation of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer over his management of the case of a Navy SEAL who was demoted for misconduct.

In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Defense Secretary Mark Esper had requested Spencer’s resignation after “losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House involving the handling of Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher.”

In July, Gallagher was convicted for illegally posing next to the body of the dead jihadist for photographs during his 2017 deployment in Iraq, and acquitted him of a murder charge for allegedly killing an injured captive.

The case has attracted the attention of US President Donald Trump, who last week expressed his support for Gallagher and on Sunday night confirmed Spencer had been “terminated.”

“Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer’s services have been terminated by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper,” Trump said on Twitter on Sunday night, adding “Eddie will retire peacefully with all of the honors that he has earned, including his Trident Pin.”

The Trident pin is the badge that marks membership to the elite Navy SEALs.

Last week, the New York Times reported that Spencer and Naval Special Warfare Commander Rear Admiral Collin Green had threatened to resign if the Navy complied with Trump’s request to revoke Gallagher’s demotion, although Spencer denied the news.

Trump said Sunday he “was not pleased with the way that Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s trial was handled by the Navy.”

“He was treated very badly but, despite this, was completely exonerated on all major charges. I then restored Eddie’s rank,” Trump added.

In its statement, the Pentagon said that Esper spoke with the “commander in Chief” on Friday about the Gallagher case and found out that Spencer had privately proposed to the White House, contrary to his public position, to restore Gallagher’s rank and allow him to retire with the Trident pin.

The Department of Defense spokesman added that recently during a conversation between the two, Spencer never informed Esper of his private proposal to the White House.

In the statement, Esper said he is “deeply troubled by this conduct shown by a senior DOD official.”

“Unfortunately, as a result I have determined that Secretary Spencer no longer has my confidence to continue in his position,” Esper said.

Following recent events, Esper has also ordered that Gallagher retain his Trident pin.

Trump said that “Admiral and now Ambassador to Norway Ken Braithwaite will be nominated by me to be the new Secretary of the Navy.” EFE-EPA

ssa /tw

US says it’s ready to deter N Korea’s ‘bad behavior’ amid Pyongyang pressure

Robie de Guzman   •   November 20, 2019

Manila – The United States Defense Secretary said Tuesday that Washington was prepared to deter North Korea’s “bad behavior,” after Pyongyang announced it was not interested in holding more “fruitless” summits with his country.

Mark Esper, on his first official visit to the Philippines, made the announcement during a press conference in Manila after North Korea rejected Washington’s request to close the Sunday deal US President Donald Trump offered on Twitter.

Esper said he did not want to make forecasts about the future of the negotiations so far and prefers to move “one step at a time.” However, he warned Pyongyang and said the US is “prepared to deter North Korea’s bad behavior and if that fails we’re prepared to fight tonight.”

Kim Kye-gwan, an important regime figure and ex-North Korean vice-foreign minister, said Monday that there had hardly been improvements in the countries’ bilateral relations after three summits between his leader Kim Jong-un and Trump and urged Washington to end its “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang.

North Korea issued Tuesday a third statement in 24 hours, urging the US to stop what it called a hostile policy and proposed concessions to resume denuclearization talks.

The latest statement, released by state-owned KCNA agency and signed by the country’s chief negotiator in the disarmament negotiations, Kim Myong-gil, said talks were “impossible” if Washington “makes a bold decision to drop the hostile policy” against the regime.

Kim referred to a recent US offer to hold a fresh work meeting in December, which took place through Sweden – a country that has actively mediated between them for years.

The statement said Sweden no longer needed to work for the talks between the US and North Korea, given that the slow progress was “not for lack of communication channel or mediator.”

The recent statements by the regime calling for more concessions come after South Korea and the US announced the cancellation of imminent joint military drills, which the North considers a rehearsal to invade its territory.

The cancellation aims to give impetus to the denuclearization process, which has been blocked since the failed February summit in Hanoi, where Washington considered Pyongyang’s offer to dismantle its nuclear assets insufficient and refused to lift economic sanctions.

Both sides held a working-level meeting in October in Stockholm but it ended with North Korea accusing Washington of offering nothing new and holding onto its “hostile policy.”

Pyongyang has said the White House has until year’s end to consider its proposals and experts believe the regime could conduct new intermediate-range ballistic-missiles weapons tests from January if no progress is made.

After visiting South Korea and Thailand, Esper arrived Monday night in the Philippines and met Filipino counterpart Delfin Lorenzana at Camp Aguinaldo military base, where they discussed the situation in the South China Sea and revision of a Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951.

Esper also visited the Manila American Cemetery, where he paid respects to the US soldiers who died during the World War II in the Philippines.

The US secretary of defense is set to visit Vietnam, where he will conclude his Asia tour. EFE-EPA

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