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India and Australia sign deal to use each other's military bases - Al Jazeera English
Deal being seen as part of security cooperation to balance China's growing economic and military weight in the region.
India and Australia have sealed a deal to get access to each other's military bases, the Indian foreign ministry said - a pact that would clear the way for more military exchanges and exercises in the Indo-Pacific. The mutual logistic support agreement was signed during a virtual summit between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Thursday. More: The agreement allows Indian and Australian military ships and aircraft to refuel and access maintenance facilities at each other's bases. India has a similar pact with the United States, which is seen as part of broader security cooperation to balance China's growing economic and military weight in the region. Indian troops are locked in a standoff with Chinese troops on their disputed border, the most serious crisis in years, on top of concerns about a huge trade imbalance in Beijing's favour. Australia's trade frictions with China are also growing, and its push last month for an international review into the origins and spread of the novel coronavirus drew opposition from China. Morrison was due in India in January but was forced to cancel the trip because of the bushfires crisis in Australia. The holding of the summit now, in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, showed the importance the two leaders attached to bilateral ties, officials said. "This is the first time that Prime Minister Modi will be holding a bilateral virtual summit. This signifies the strengthening of ties with Australia and its upward trajectory," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said before the signing of the deal. India is also considering Australia's participation in annual naval exercises it holds with the US and Japan in the Indian and Pacific Oceans in a cementing of security ties between the four countries, military officials said. A similar exercise in 2007 had angered China.
Hong Kong leader accuses US of 'double standards' over protests - Al Jazeera English
Carrie Lam takes aim at US response to racial justice protests and slams its plans to revoke Hong Kong's special status.
Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, has accused the United States of "double standards" in its response to violent protests and new national security laws planned for the territory, and warned that Washington's plan to sanction the city would only damage its own interests. The comments on Tuesday followed days of demonstrations in the US, some of which descended into violence and looting amid widespread anger over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in police custody last week. In many US states, soldiers were on the streets to quell the violence. More: "They are very concerned about their own national security, but on our national security, they look through tinted glasses," Lam said at her weekly news conference. "There are riots in the US - we are seeing how local governments are reacting. When we had similar riots in Hong Kong, we saw what position they adopted then." The semi-autonomous Chinese city was rocked last year by months of mass protests, which riot police stamped out with more than 9,000 arrests. The US was critical of Hong Kong's response, and tensions have ratcheted up in recent weeks after China said it would impose national security laws aimed at tackling secession, subversion, "terrorism" and foreign interference in the territory. The law, which is yet to be drafted, will bypass Hong Kong's legislature and allow Chinese security agencies to operate in the city. Critics have said the law will mean the end of the "one country, two systems" framework which allows Hong Kong considerable autonomy and freedoms unknown in mainland China. US President Donald Trump last week said he would end Hong Kong's special trading status, which was granted under a 1992 law on the condition that the city retains key freedoms and autonomy. Lam said the move would be self-defeating and took aim at the Trump administration for its own response to the racial justice protests sweeping the US. "Foreign governments are criticising over government," she said. "Some have threatened action and I can only say they are adopting double standards." "Now, about the so-called sanctions or removing Hong Kong's special status, these acts will only hurt themselves and do not benefit anyone." Some 1,300 US businesses have a presence in the international financial hub, Lam noted, generating the largest trade surplus for the US compared with any other country or territory. Hong Kong also allows US citizens to enter without a visa, a privilege that Lam said is not reciprocated. She did not elaborate on whether visa-free travel could be rescinded in response to any trade sanctions, but Chinese officials have pledged to implement "countermeasures" to any move by the US. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Washington is considering the option of welcoming people from Hong Kong, after the United Kingdom that it was said it was prepared to offer extended visa rights and a pathway to citizenship for almost three million Hong Kong residents. The territory was a former British colony and was handed over to China in 1997. When asked at the American Enterprise Institute on Friday if Washington would consider allowing Hong Kong people into the US, Pompeo said: "We are considering it. I don't know precisely how it will play out. The British have, as you know, a different relationship. A lot of these folks have British national passports. There's a long history between Hong Kong and the United Kingdom; it's very different. But we're taking a look at it." His remarks were shared by the State Department on Monday. Last year, Trump approved legislation stating that Hong Kong residents may not be denied visas because they have been subjected to politically motivated arrest, detention, or other "adverse" government action. On Friday, Trump also issued a proclamation suspending entry of Chinese nationals identified as potential security risks, something sources said could affect thousands. In a statement on Monday, Pompeo said the move would apply only to graduate students and researchers "targeted, co-opted and exploited" by the Chinese government, representing "only a small subset" of such applicants.
New rules apply as US-Russian space crew blasts off amid pandemic - Al Jazeera English
Team members were quarantined for month before launch, and were unable to meet family and reporters as usual.
A US-Russian space crew blasted off Thursday to the International Space Station (ISS) following a tight quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic. NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Roscosmos' Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner lifted off as scheduled at 08:05am GMT from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. More: Their Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft was set to dock at the station six hours later. Russian space officials have taken extra precautions to protect the crew during training and pre-flight preparations as the coronavirus outbreak has swept the world. Speaking to journalists on Wednesday in a video link from Baikonur, Cassidy said the crew has been in "a very strict quarantine" for the past month and is in good health. "We all feel fantastic," he said. Cassidy pointed out that normally they would be talking to many people at the day-before-launch news conference, but instead were talking to cameras because of the pandemic. "Obviously, we'd love to have our families here with us, but it's what we understand we have to do to be safe," Cassidy said. "The whole world is also impacted by the same crisis." Cassidy's wife, Peggy, had returned to the US from the Russian cosmonaut training centre in Star City outside Moscow a few days before the crew left for Baikonur. Commander Anatoly Ivanishin also noted that extra measures have been taken to keep the crew healthy and safe before launch, adding that none of the crew has had any guests - no family or friends. "We've been completely isolated at this final stage of training," Ivanishin said. Roscosmos director Dmitry Rogozin said earlier this week that nine employees of the state corporation have tested positive for coronavirus. Roscosmos, which controls a sprawling network of production plants and launch facilities, has about 200,000 employees, Rogozin said. As part of additional precautions, Roscosmos has barred reporters from covering the launch contrary to usual practice. Ivanishin and Vagner had trained as back-ups for the other two Russians and were picked for the flight only in February after a member of the original Russian crew suffered an eye injury. As a result, neither have clothes awaiting them at the space station. Ivanishin said they will be taking some clothes with them on the Soyuz, and the next Russian supply ship will deliver more later. The mission is the third space flight for Cassidy and Ivanishin, and the first for Vagner. The ISS is currently operated by Russian Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan, who are due to return to Earth on April 17.