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Canada disputes Chinese news report that famous sailor was turned back from Northwest Passage – CBC.ca

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Canadian officials are disputing reports in Chinese media that a sailor from that country attempting to circumnavigate the Arctic was turned back in the Northwest Passage.

On Monday, the state-owned China Global Television Network (CGTN) reported that Zhai Mo and his two-man crew travelling aboard a 25-metre solar-powered yacht had entered the Northwest Passage and were sailing across Baffin Bay.

CGTN reported Thursday that Zhai had been “illegally stopped” in the Lancaster Sound, an area not far from Greenland’s maritime border with Canada. The report said he would return to China via the Panama Canal.

Transport Canada told CBC News in an email on Friday that it was aware of Zhai’s vessel, but said “at this point, it has not entered Canada’s Arctic Waters.” Those waters have been off limits to foreign pleasure craft since March 2020 due to an interim order from the Canadian government intended to limit the risk of introducing COVID-19 in remote Arctic communities.

Transport Canada said it was in touch with Zhai via email to inform him of the rule.

“Transport Canada has since seen public reports that Captain Zhai Mo no longer plans to pass through Canadian Arctic waters and the department continues to monitor the situation,” the department said in a second statement to CBC News on Friday evening.

Canada considers the Northwest Passage — a route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that weaves between the islands of Canada’s Arctic archipelago — part of its internal waters and subject to its laws, but the U.S. and some European countries dispute that claim.

China has not made its position on Canada’s control over the Northwest Passage clear. But a post to Zhai’s blog on the Chinese social media site Wiebo Thursday said “the international community generally believes that the Northwest Passage is a sea route used for international navigation” — meaning a right of free passage would apply under international conventions.

Zhai’s trip through the area was expected to last less than a week. But some experts say it nonetheless posed a challenge to Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.

“[If] any … sailor that is eager to go through the Canadian Arctic can just do so without seeking permission … that in itself is a challenge to Canadian sovereignty,” said Andreas Østhagen, an Arctic expert with the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, a research foundation in Norway.

“It’s a challenge to the Canadian ability to be present in its own Arctic territories.”

New Zealander tried crossing Northwest Passage in 2020

Peter Smith of New Zealand seen aboard the Kiwi Roa. Reached by email in August 2020, Smith said completing a transit of the Northwest Passage is ‘unfinished business’ after he failed a similar attempt in 2018. (PeterSmith.net.nz)

Zhai would be the second sailor to attempt to circumvent the ban. In the summer of 2020, a sailor from New Zealand named Peter Smith tried to cross the Northwest Passage on a solo journey in a custom yacht, but was spotted by Nunavut land guardians and reported to Canadian authorities.

Transport Canada told CBC News it fined Smith for violating the ban, though it did not specify the amount.

Experts like University of Calgary political scientist Rob Huebert say controlling traffic in the Northwest Passage is key to Canada’s claim that they are internal waters — a claim disputed by the United States and other maritime powers that want commercial vessels to have a right of free passage on the route.

“Canada claims that the Northwest Passage are internal waters, and we do so so we can exert control over vessels that are not in our interest,” Huebert said.

In the case of vessels violating the ban, he argues, there are “clear security issues, and we should do everything we can to stop [them].”

Who is Zhai Mo?

Zhai is a professional painter, known in China for his impressionist art. Inspired by Paul Gauguin’s paintings of Tahitian women, he took up sailing so he could travel to the tropical island in the South Pacific.

In 2009, he became the first Chinese person to complete a solo, sail-powered circumnavigation of the world. Zhai claimed his non-stop, sail-powered circumnavigation of the Arctic would also be a first.

A photo of Zhai Mo working on a boat, posted on his personal blog in 2015. (blog.sina.com.cn/zhaimo)

In interviews, Zhai has frequently framed his long voyages as a quasi-spiritual pursuit of artistic inspiration. He told the United Nations his Arctic journey was to “raise awareness about the links between climate change and land degradation.”

But Zhai has also at times used his journeys to advance China’s global ambitions.

In 2013, escorted by the Chinese coast guard, he sailed to contested waters in the East China Sea and planted 100 Chinese flags offshore of the disputed Senkaku/Daiyou Islands.

“Even though we were just a few people on a sailboat, we voiced our opinions to the people of Japan and other countries,” China’s Global Times quoted Zhai as saying. “We got there and we claimed our sovereignty.”

In 2015, he undertook a journey along the so-called Maritime Silk Road to advertise China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a policy designed to spread the country’s international influence through billions of dollars in global infrastructure investments.

Zhai’s journey through the Arctic, which kicked off in Shanghai on June 30, has likewise received extensive coverage in Chinese state-owned media, and particularly on CGTN, which has embedded cameras on board his ship and refers to Zhai as “our sailor.”

Sovereignty concerns

Zhai’s journey comes as China increases its efforts to project greater influence on a melting Arctic.

In 2018, with the publication of its Arctic strategy, China declared itself a “near-Arctic” state. Internally, it describes the Arctic as a region “ripe for rivalry and extraction,” according to an analysis by the Brookings Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think-tank.

The midnight sun shines across sea ice along the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago in this file photo from July 2017. Canada considers the waters of the Arctic archipelago — an area about twice the size of Texas — part of its internal waters. The claim is contested by the United States, not least because this would give Ottawa the right to stop ships from freely traveling through the Northwest Passage. (David Goldman/The Associated Press)

Its proposed Polar Silk Road is to encourage greater commercial travel through the Arctic, and the China Ocean Shipping Company, which is sponsoring Zhai’s voyage, has already undertaken numerous test sailings of Russia’s Northern Sea Route, a passage that runs along the northern coast of Eurasia.

Polar experts like Østhagen doubt Zhai’s journey was a deliberate attempt to test Canadian claims to Arctic sovereignty. But it may serve other purposes for China’s Arctic ambitions.

“It is a national attempt by China to write itself into the Arctic’s history,” wrote Elizabeth Buchanan, an expert in polar geopolitics at Australia’s Deakin University.

A celebrated Chinese icon circumnavigating the Arctic would be a powerful symbol, Buchanan says, which could boost support for further actions in the region.

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Canada no longer advising against non-essential travel, first time since March 2020 – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The Canadian government has quietly lifted its advisory against non-essential international travel, marking the first time since March 2020 that the notice has been lifted.  

A travel notice on the Government of Canada website had been advising travellers against all non-essential international travel, but is now replaced with a notice urging all travellers to be fully vaccinated before a trip.

“Be aware that although you are better protected against serious illness if you are vaccinated, you may still be at risk of infection from the virus that causes COVID-19,” the updated advisory states.

“If you’re unvaccinated, you remain at increased risk of being infected with and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19 when travelling internationally. You should continue avoiding non-essential travel to all destinations.”

The updated notice also urges travellers to keep up-to-date on the COVID-19 situation in their destination, to follow the local public health measures and follow the traditional measures, such as wearing a mask, hand washing and physical distancing.

“The Government of Canada will continue to assess available data and indicators—including the vaccination rate of Canadians, the border test positivity rate, and the epidemiological situation globally and in Canada―and adjust advice as needed,” a spokesperson for Health Canada said in an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca.

While the government is no longer advising against international travel, it is still urging against international cruises.

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Biden says United States would come to Taiwan’s defense

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The United States would come to Taiwan‘s defense and has a commitment to defend the island China claims as its own, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday, though the White House said later there was no change in policy towards the island.

“Yes, we have a commitment to do that,” Biden said at a CNN town hall when asked if the United States would come to the defense of Taiwan, which has complained of mounting military and political pressure from Beijing to accept Chinese sovereignty.

While Washington is required by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, it has long followed a policy of “strategic ambiguity” on whether it would intervene militarily to protect Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

In August, a Biden administration https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-position-taiwan-unchanged-despite-biden-comment-official-2021-08-19 official said U.S. policy on Taiwan had not changed after the president appeared to suggest the United States would defend the island if it were attacked.

A White House spokesperson said Biden at his town hall was not announcing any change in U.S. policy and “there is no change in our policy”.

“The U.S. defense relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act. We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defense, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo,” the spokesperson said.

Biden said people should not worry about Washington’s military strength because “China, Russia and the rest of the world knows we’re the most powerful military in the history of the world,”

“What you do have to worry about is whether or not they’re going to engage in activities that would put them in a position where they may make a serious mistake,” Biden said.

“I don’t want a cold war with China. I just want China to understand that we’re not going to step back, that we’re not going to change any of our views.”

Military tensions between Taiwan and China are at their worst in more than 40 years, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said this month, adding that China will be capable of mounting a “full-scale” invasion by 2025.

Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy.

China says Taiwan is the most sensitive and important issue in its ties with the United States and has denounced what it calls “collusion” between Washington and Taipei.

Speaking to reporters earlier on Thursday, China’s United Nations Ambassador Zhang Jun said they are pursuing “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan and responding to “separatist attempts” by its ruling Democratic Progressive Party.

“We are not the troublemaker. On the contrary, some countries – the U.S. in particular – is taking dangerous actions, leading the situation in Taiwan Strait into a dangerous direction,” he said.

“I think at this moment what we should call is that the United States to stop such practice. Dragging Taiwan into a war definitely is in nobody’s interest. I don’t see that the United States will gain anything from that.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Stephen Coates)

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Alec Baldwin fires gun on movie set, killing cinematographer, authorities say

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Actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on a movie set in New Mexico on Thursday, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza, authorities said.

The incident occurred on the set of independent feature film “Rust,” the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office said in a statement.

“The sheriff’s office confirms that two individuals were shot on the set of Rust. Halyna Hutchins, 42, director of photography, and Joel Souza, 48, director, were shot when a prop  firearms was discharged by Alec Baldwin, 68, producer and actor,” the police said in a statement.

A Variety report https://bit.ly/3nnyldg said the shooting occurred at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a production location south of Santa Fe in New Mexico.

No charges have yet been filed in regard to the incident, said the police, adding they are investigating the shooting.

Baldwin’s representatives did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

 

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by Karishma Singh)

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