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China’s Xi vows ‘reunification’ with Taiwan, but holds off threatening force

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Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed on Saturday to achieve “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan, and did not directly mention the use of force after a week of tensions with the Chinese-claimed island that sparked international concern.

Taiwan responded to Xi by calling on Beijing to abandon its coercion, reiterating that only Taiwan’s people could decide their future.

Democratically ruled Taiwan has come under increased military and political pressure from Beijing to accept its sovereignty, but Taipei has pledged to defend its freedom.

Speaking at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Xi said the Chinese people have a “glorious tradition” of opposing separatism.

“Taiwan independence separatism is the biggest obstacle to achieving the reunification of the motherland, and the most serious hidden danger to national rejuvenation,” he said on the anniversary of the revolution that overthrew the last imperial dynasty in 1911.

Peaceful “reunification” best meets the overall interests of the Taiwanese people, but China will protect its sovereignty and unity, he added.

“No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Xi said. “The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled.”

He struck a slightly softer tone than in July, his last major speech mentioning Taiwan, in which he vowed to “smash” any attempts at formal independence. In 2019, he directly threatened to use force to bring the island under Beijing’s control.

‘PROVOCATIVE STEPS’

Still, the speech was poorly received in Taiwan.

The presidential office said they were a sovereign independent country, not part of the People’s Republic of China, and had clearly rejected China’s offer of “one country, two systems” to rule the island.

“The nation’s future rests in the hands of Taiwan’s people,” the office said.

In a separate statement, Taiwan’s China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council called on Beijing to “abandon its provocative steps of intrusion, harassment and destruction” and return to talks.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson reiterated Washington’s “rock-solid” commitment to Taiwan and said the United States will “continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues, consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people on Taiwan.”

“We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan,” the spokesperson said.

China’s air force mounted four straight days of incursions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone from Oct. 1, involving close to 150 aircraft, though those missions have since ended. Xi made no mention of those flights.

Taiwan officially calls itself the Republic of China, the name of the country established in 1912 after the fall of the Qing dynasty.

That government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war with the Communists, who set up today’s People’s Republic.

Taiwan marks Oct. 10, the date when the anti-imperial revolution began in China, as its national day, and President Tsai Ing-wen will give a keynote address in Taipei on Sunday.

Tsai, speaking at a pre-national day reception at an air base in northern Taiwan’s Hsinchu on Saturday night, thanked the armed forces for protecting Taiwan, though did not mention the tensions with China.

“We will continue to work hard to hold fast the front lines of democracy and freedom,” she said.

China commemorates the revolution by harking back to republican leader Sun Yat-sen’s calls for patriotism, national rejuvenation and good governance.

Xi used the speech to underscore the need for “a strong force to lead the country, and this strong force is the Chinese Communist Party”.

“Without the Chinese Communist Party, there would not be a New China, and therefore no rejuvenation of the Chinese people,” he said.

Xi has tightened party control in all aspects of life and is almost certain to break protocol and stay on as Communist Party boss for a third term late next year, when a congress will elect a new leadership for the following five years.

(Reporting by Carlos Garcia and Yew Lun Tian; Writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Ann Wang in Hsinchu, Taiwan and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Editing by William Mallard and Alistair Bell)

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Overcoming scandal and PTSD, Japan’s Princess Mako finally marries college sweetheart

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Japan‘s Princess Mako, the emperor’s niece, has married her commoner college sweetheart on Tuesday and left the royal family after a years-long engagement beset by scrutiny that has left the princess with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mako and fiance Kei Komuro, both 30, announced their engagement four years ago, a move initially cheered by the country. But things soon turned sour as tabloids reported on a money scandal involving Komuro’s mother, prompting the press to turn on him. The marriage was postponed, and he left Japan for law studies in New York in 2018 only to return in September.

Their marriage consisted of an official from the Imperial Household Agency (IHA), which runs the family’s lives, submitting paperwork to a local office in the morning, foregoing the numerous rituals and ceremonies usual to royal weddings, including a reception.

Mako also refused to receive a one-off payment of about $1.3 million typically made to royal women who marry commoners and become ordinary citizens, in line with Japanese law.

Television footage showed Mako, wearing a pastel dress and pearls, saying goodbye to her parents and 26-year-old sister, Kako, at the entrance to their home. Though all wore masks in line with Japan’s coronavirus protocol, her mother could be seen blinking rapidly, as if to fight off tears.

Though Mako bowed formally to her parents, her sister grabbed her shoulders and the two shared a long embrace.

In the afternoon, Mako and her new husband will hold a news conference, which will also depart from custom. While royals typically answer pre-submitted questions at such events, the couple will make a brief statement and hand out written replies to the questions instead.

“Some of the questions took mistaken information as fact and upset the princess,” said officials at the IHA, according to NHK public television.

Komuro, dressed in a crisp dark suit and tie, bowed briefly to camera crews gathered outside his home as he left in the morning but said nothing. His casual demeanour on returning to Japan, including long hair tied back in a ponytail, had sent tabloids into a frenzy.

MONEY SCANDAL

Just months after the two announced their engagement at a news conference where their smiles won the hearts of the nation, tabloids reported a financial dispute between Komuro’s mother and her former fiance, with the man claiming mother and son had not repaid a debt of about $35,000.

The scandal spread to mainstream media after the IHA failed to provide a clear explanation. In 2021, Komuro issued a 24-page statement on the matter and also said he would pay a settlement.

Public opinion polls show the Japanese are divided about the marriage, and there has been at least one protest.

Analysts say the problem is that the imperial family is so idealised that not the slightest hint of trouble with things such as money or politics should touch them.

The fact that Mako’s father and younger brother, Hisahito, are both in the line of succession after Emperor Naruhito, whose daughter is ineligible to inherit, makes the scandal particularly damaging, said Hideya Kawanishi, an associate professor of history at Nagoya University.

“Though it’s true they’ll both be private citizens, Mako’s younger brother will one day become emperor, so some people thought anybody with the problems he (Komuro) had shouldn’t be marrying her,” Kawanishi added.

The two will live in New York, though Mako will remain on her own in Tokyo for some time after the wedding to prepare for the move, including applying for the first passport of her life.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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EU countries splinter ahead of crisis talks on energy price spike

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Divisions have deepened among European Union countries ahead of an emergency meeting of ministers on Tuesday on their response to a spike in energy prices, with some countries seeking a regulatory overhaul and others firmly opposed.

European gas prices have hit record highs in autumn and remained at lofty levels, prompting most EU countries to respond with emergency measures like price caps and subsidies to help trim consumer energy bills.

Countries are struggling to agree, however, on a longer term plan to cushion against fossil-fuel price swings, which Spain, France, the Czech Republic and Greece say warrant a bigger shake-up of the way EU energy markets work.

Ministers from those countries will make the case on Tuesday for proposals that include decoupling European electricity and gas prices, joint gas buying among countries to create emergency reserves, and, in the case of a few countries including Poland, delaying planned policies to address climate change.

In an indication of differences likely to emerge at the meeting, nine countries including Germany – Europe’s biggest economy and market for electricity – on Monday said they would not support EU electricity market reforms.

“This will not be a remedy to mitigate the current rising energy prices linked to fossil fuels markets,” the countries said in a joint statement.

The European Commission has asked regulators to analyse the design of Europe’s electricity market, but said there was no evidence that a different market structure would have fared better during the recent price jump.

“Any interventions on the market and the decoupling of [gas and power] pricing are off the table,” one EU diplomat said, adding there was “no appetite” among most countries for those measures.

Other proposals – such as countries forming joint gas reserves – would also not offer a quick fix and could take months to negotiate. A European Commission proposal to upgrade EU gas market regulation to make it greener, due in December, is seen as the earliest that such proposals would arrive.

With less than a week until the international COP26 climate change summit, the energy price spike has also stoked tensions between countries over the EU’s green policies, setting up a clash as they prepare to negotiate new proposals including higher tax rates for polluting fuels.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has dismissed such plans as “utopian fantasy”, a stance at odds with other EU countries who say the price jump should trigger a faster switch to low-emission, locally produced renewable energy, to help reduce exposure to imported fossil fuel prices.

 

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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Bad weather off Canadian coast preventing efforts to board container ship after fire

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Bad weather off Canada‘s Pacific Coast on Monday prevented a salvage crew from boarding a cargo ship where several containers of chemicals burned over the weekend, the coast guard said.

Sixteen crew members were evacuated from the MV Zim Kingston on Saturday. Five remained onboard to fight the fire, which was largely under control by late Sunday.

The company has appointed a salvage crew “but due to the current weather, (they) have been unable to board the container ship”, the coast guard said on Twitter.

“The containers continue to smolder and boundary cooling – spraying water on the hull and on containers near the fire – continues,” it added.

The ship is anchored several kilometers (miles) off the southern coast of Vancouver Island, in the province of British Columbia. There is no impact to human health, the coast guard said.

Danaos Shipping Co, the company that manages the ship, said on Sunday that no injuries had been reported on board.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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