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International FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 2014

Xi heads to Europe as Ukrainian crisis rages BEIJING: China’s Xi Jinping embarks on his first European tour as president tomorrow, with the continent gripped by a diplomatic frenzy over Beijing ally Moscow’s absorption of Crimea from Ukraine. The four-country trip comes shortly after China lodged a rare abstention on a Western-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning the weekend’s Crimea referendum, rather than vetoing it along with Russia. While analysts say Xi is unlikely to speak out on Ukraine, they believe that China cannot remain a diplomatic bystander forever. Xi has visited Russia, Africa, the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and Central Asia since becoming president a year ago. He will first head to the Netherlands, followed by France, Germany and Belgium, along with the EU headquarters. President Vladimir Putin’s move in Crimea has seen harsh criticism and sanctions by members of the Group of Seven (G7) countries. Xi will hold summits with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, and will also meet Obama on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on Monday and Tuesday. The three Western leaders are members of the G7, intensely involved in dealing with the response to the Crimea crisis, and are likely to discuss it in The Hague. But overseas trips by Chinese presidents and premiers are usually bland and highly scripted affairs, with an emphasis on the positive aspects of Beijing’s relations with the countries visited. Beijing generally tries to avoid taking positions on situations that do not directly affect it, said Thomas Koenig, London-based Asia & China program coordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “I don’t think China’s going to make any big statements or anything” on Ukraine, he said. “But in general I think the sense among the Europeans as well is that China sooner or later will not be able to just be the non-interfering power” it has been, he added. Chinese vice foreign minister Li Baodong acknowledged the situation in Ukraine could come up in the meeting with Obama, but signaled Beijing’s likely position by reiterating its regular call for “calm and restraint”. “The visit will send out a strong signal to the entire European continent and the whole world that China values the role of Europe and we support European integration and we’re committed to deepening China-EU relations,” he said. National interests Xi will have to walk a tricky line in balancing his bilateral visits to Germany and France, and talks with the leaders of the broader EU. The 28-member EU is China’s biggest trading partner but ties have been strained at times, most recently last year by mutual dumping accusations over Chinese solar panels and European wine, in which interests of individual EU countries sometimes differed. “The eternal problem with the European Union, of course, is that there’s always going to be the supranational entity that is obviously advocating that we should all be doing everything together and that we’re working as a supranational entity rather than just being concerned with our national interests,” Koenig said. “But then, of course, national interests always win.” Xi’s visit to EU headquarters in Brussels on March 31 will be the first by a Chinese president, according to the EU, whereas in the past Chinese premiers have participated in Brussels summitry. The visit to France, meanwhile, is partially to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment in 1964 of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Paris. Xi is scheduled to make a major speech in Paris highlighting historical bonds such as the experiences of Communist Party luminaries Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, who both studied in France. There was speculation earlier this year that China might seek to have Xi visit the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin to highlight how Germany has confronted its Nazi past as a way to embarrass Japan, which Beijing regularly calls on to express contrition for its invasion of China and atrocities committed during World War II. But Chinese vice commerce minister Wang Chao denied that. “The issue... did not come up during our preparations for this visit,” he said. — AFP

Libya vows to fight ‘scourge’ of terror Near-daily attacks continue unchecked TRIPOLI: The Libyan government yesterday vowed to fight terrorism, in its first acknowledgement that “terrorist groups” were behind dozens of attacks against security services and Westerners. Three years after a revolution toppled long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi and left the country awash with guns, near-daily attacks continue unchecked across Libya. “The nation finds itself in a confrontation with terrorist groups, and it falls upon the government to mobilize its military and security forces to fight this scourge,” the government said in a statement on its website. “There will be no place for terrorism in Libya... and Libyans must be prepared for such a battle in terms of caution, awareness and sacrifice,” said the statement. Eastern Libya has become a bastion of Islamist extremists, with authorities avoiding a full-blown confrontation with heavily armed former rebels pending the formation of a regular army and police force. The government indicated it would turn to “the national military force as it is of now” in its fight against terrorism, alluding to pro-government militias that battled Gaddafi’s regime in the 2011 uprising. The statement was published after a cabinet meeting held in the southern town of Ghat, two days after a car bomb at a military academy in the restive eastern city of Benghazi left at least seven soldiers dead. It also comes after parliament on Tuesday ousted prime minister Ali Zeidan over his failure to bring law and order to the country. The government said “the cities of Benghazi, Derna and Sirte and others are facing a terrorist war carried out by Libyan and foreign ele-

ments with hostile intentions.” Libyan authorities did not mention any particular group, but these cities are strongholds of extremists such as the jihadist group Ansar Al-Sharia, placed on the United States’ terror list in January. While experts regularly accuse extremist groups of carrying out attacks, authorities have not directly implicated the heavily armed outfits out of fear of retaliation. Ansar Al-Sharia is suspected of waging attacks against judges and security forces, but also of being behind attacks on Western interests such as an assault on the US mission in 2012 that killed the ambassador and three other Americans. There have also been a string of attacks and kidnappings targeting foreigners in the North African nation. A French engineer was shot dead in Benghazi on March 2 and a British man and a New Zealand woman were also found shot dead on a beach southwest of the capital in January. In December, an American teacher was killed in Benghazi, and two French guards were wounded in a car bombing outside France’s embassy in Tripoli last April 23. The government statement called on “the international community and in particular the United Nations to provide the necessary support to eradicate terrorism in Libyan cities”. Three years after the uprising, the government has come under increasing criticism from Libyans who accuse them of corruption and failing to provide security. Criminals roam the streets, and rival tribes shoot it out to settle long-standing disputes, while many ex-rebels have formed powerful militias rather than integrating into the regular armed forces and police. — AFP

CRIMEA: People enjoying a walk in Yalta, Crimea. The new authorities of the Peninsula announced the nationalization of Ukrainian resorts and hotels in Crimea. — AFP

Putin’s Crimea takeover sends shivers across ex-Soviet Union MOSCOW: It is December 2019 and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin is flying to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his bold moves in standing up to the US and establishing a new world order. “Even in its sleep the world does not forget that Russia can turn the entire planet into radioactive ash, not only the United States,” reads a new satirical short story by Belarusian writer Sergei Ostrovtsov. The piece, titled “A Nobel for Putin”, was published online as waves of concern spread across countries of the former USSR over Moscow’s seizure of Ukraine’s peninsula of Crimea. Putin’s pledge to protect compatriots beyond his country’s borders and his readiness to revisit history has re-opened old wounds in the Baltic nations and even troubled the Kremlin’s traditional allies. Many of the post-Soviet countries have sizeable Russianspeaking populations and are struggling with festering territorial disputes and separatist claims of their own. “All the former Soviet countries have artificial borders,” said Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Political Expert Group. “A precedent for redrawing borders has been created.” Following an uprising that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych last month, Putin sent troops to Russian-speaking Crimea, citing concern for compatriots. On Tuesday, he signed a treaty making the peninsula part of Russian territory, saying Nikita Khrushchev’s decision to give it to Ukraine

when it was part of the Soviet Union in 1954 was a mistake. Allies tense up The significance of Russia’s absorption of Crimea has not been lost on the fellow Slavic nation of Belarus whose cities of Gomel, Mogilyov and Vitebsk were once part of the republic of Soviet Russia under the USSR. Since the start of the crisis, the country’s authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko has been maneuvering to hedge his bets and remain on good terms with Moscow, agreeing to station additional Russian fighter jets in his country. But just like Ukraine, Belarus in 1994 signed the so-called Budapest memorandum, renouncing its military nuclear capability in exchange for security guarantees from Russia, the United States and Britain. “Where can we, poor Belarussians, hide from such a ‘friend?’,” said former Belarusian lawmaker and political analyst Andrei Klimov, referring to Russia. The attitude of even close allies within the former USSR has been of extreme caution. The energy-rich Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan acknowledged the results of the referendum in Crimea, where a majority of the population voted to split from Ukraine and join Russia, but President Nursultan Nazarbayev has not so far made any public comments on Moscow’s takeover of the peninsula. —AFP

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