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Keith Krach, the Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, arrived in Taiwan late Thursday local time, and will represent the US at the memorial service for former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui on Saturday.

Krach’s visit comes just over a month after US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar visited Taiwan in mid-August, ostensibly to discuss coronavirus prevention measures but also in a highly symbolic show of support by the Trump administration for Taipei. Azar was the highest-level US official to visit the island in decades.
The US has maintained close ties with Taiwan since the island split from mainland China in 1949 after the end of a bloody civil war. But since Washington and Beijing established formal diplomatic ties in 1979, the US had largely refrained from sending high-level officials to Taipei so as to not antagonize the Chinese government, which continues to view the self-governing democracy of around 24 million people as an inseparable part of its territory.
China’s leader, President Xi Jinping, has been clear in his ambitions to “reunify” the island with the mainland, and has refused to rule out the use of force, even though the ruling Chinese Communist Party has never exerted direct control over Taiwan.
Krach’s intention to pay tribute to former Taiwan President Lee, who died on July 30 at age of 97, is highly likely to anger Beijing, experts said.

Yinan He, an associate professor at the Department of International Relations at Lehigh University, said that Lee had been the first Taiwan leader to float the idea of the island being a separate distinct entity from mainland China.

“That makes him No. 1 or No. 2 most-hated person on Beijing’s list for Taiwan. So by paying tribute to this person the Trump administration is really poking Beijing in the eye,” she said.

The US State Department announced Thursday that Krach was on his way to Taiwan for the memorial service, but didn’t give any further information on his schedule or his plans while in Taipei. “As Taiwan’s first democratically elected president, Lee ushered in a new era of democracy, economic prosperity, openness, and rule of law,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on her official Twitter account.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin said Thursday that the US and Taiwan must “immediately stop” official exchanges. “China firmly opposes any form of official exchanges between the United States and Taiwan. This position is consistent and clear,” added Wang.

An editorial in China’s state-run tabloid Global Times, titled “Krach’s visit to bring misfortune to Taiwan,” showed a cartoon of Uncle Sam, wearing a blindfold, leading Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen into a hole. “An increasing number of people are worried that the Taiwan Straits will be the most likely powder keg in the China-US competition,” the editorial said.

Military tensions rise

Krach’s visit comes as Beijing has been ramping up military pressure on Taiwan, holding drills in waters close to the island and flying fighter jets into airspace claimed by Taipei.

On Friday, China’s Ministry of Defense announced new military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, which spokesman Ren Guoqiang called “a legitimate and necessary action” in response to warming US-Taiwan relations.

“Whether [the purpose of the liaison] is to use Taiwan to control China, or for Taiwan to rise based on foreign power, it is doomed to be a dead end. Those who play with fire will burn themselves,” Ren said at a press conference.

It is just the latest in a series of Chinese military exercises which have been held around Taiwan in the past few weeks. On Wednesday, less than 24 hours before Krach left for Taiwan, two Y-8 Anti-Submarine Aircraft flew two sorties into Taiwan’s Southwest Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), according to the island’s Defense Ministry.

Taiwan’s military ordered the two planes to leave the island’s airspace before dispatching aircraft to monitor them.

Taiwan risks being caught up in the power struggle between the United States and China
One week earlier, on September 10, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry publicly admonished Beijing for entering its ADIZ multiple times during drills by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) within 90 nautical miles (166 kilometers) of Taiwan.

“These military actions have seriously roiled Taiwan and threaten peace and stability in the region,” Vice Defense Minister Chang Che-ping said at a news conference. Taiwan’s news agency CNA said that about 30 planes had taken part in the drills, crossing into Taiwan’s ADIZ at least 21 times.

Taiwan began the second part of its own annual Han Kuang military drills on Monday, after they were delayed for five months due to the coronavirus pandemic. CNA said that the computer-aided military drills will simulate a “similar” situation to the recent Chinese military aircraft incursions into the island’s ADIZ.
When asked about the PLA’s extensive drills on Wednesday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang said that the drills were aimed at deterring interference by “external forces” and Taiwan separatists.

Ma said that China was prepared to meet any interference in Taiwan’s affairs or attempts at independence with “firm will, full confidence and sufficient capabilities.”

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US citizen abducted in Niger, State Department says

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“We are aware of a US citizen abducted in Niger. We are providing their family all possible consular assistance,” a State Department spokesman said in a comment to CNN.

A US official tells CNN the individual was working in Niger as a missionary. CNN has not been able to confirm the citizen’s identity.

The governor of the local region where the abduction took place was quoted in various local media and by French media reporting from Niger as saying that six men on motorbikes armed with AK47s came to the man’s property in the village of Massalata, close to the border with Nigeria.

The governor, Abdourahamane Moussa, told these media outlets that after demanding money, the men took the American citizen with them in the direction of the Nigerian border.

The State Department spokesman said that “when a US citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts, and we share information with families however we can.

“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We stand ready to provide appropriate assistance to US citizens in need and to their families. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment at this time.”

The US embassy in Niamey, Niger, did not respond to requests for comment.

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Pelosi: Covid relief deal could still happen before Election Day

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On Friday, Pelosi told CNN she sent Mnuchin a list of concerns “that we still had about ‘what is the answer?'”

“My understanding is he will be reviewing that over the weekend, and we will have some answers on Monday,” she said Sunday.

Pelosi said she’ll not hold out to see whether Democrats win the White House and the Senate and keep the House after in the Nov. 3 elections to pursue a bill more to Democrats’ liking. Instead, she said she’ll continue working to get a relief bill passed “as soon as possible.”

The speaker went on to say that a relief bill could be passed as soon as this week in the House, but that it’s up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whether it would go to the Senate floor.

McConnell has largely steered clear of stimulus talks recently and many GOP senators are opposed to the $2 trillion deal being discussed by Pelosi and Mnuchin. On Tuesday, McConnell softened his stance a bit, saying he would allow the Senate to vote on a Pelosi-Mnuchin agreement — assuming that first Trump agrees to sign it.

Earlier Sunday on CNN, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said, “We’ve identified those Senate Republicans most likely to vote” for the relief deal to pass. But he said Republicans will not blindly pass the bill without first reading its terms fully.

“We are not Nancy Pelosi. We are not going to vote or opine on a bill and pass it before we have read it,” he said.

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one man’s reflections on what has gone wrong with ‘the family’

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Jeremy Corbyn is elected as the new leader of Labour Party, September 2015: Forde barely hides his contempt for the MPs ‘who put a Marxist on the ballot paper’. | PA Images


4 min read

At times searing in his criticism of those he holds responsible for trashing the prospects of the Labour party, Gisela Stuart finds Matt Forde’s new book both entertaining and insightful

Matt Forde’s “Politically Homeless” is like an episode from the Archers’ in the early months of the lockdown. One man’s reflections on what has gone wrong with “the family”. To be fair to Forde, unlike the Archers, he does make you laugh.

We often think of political parties as families, and there is a reason for that. We like some members more than others, every so often we have a big row, but eventually we find a way of rubbing along. And we have secrets; things which we either all know to be true, but we would rather not talk about or which we hope will go away if we ignore them long enough.  Even when things get really bad, we rarely pack our bags and, move in with the family on the other side of the road.  

Matt Forde is as entertaining as he is insightful and like many of us, he wants to get back to the days when Labour was in government, invested in Sure Start centres, schools and hospitals, introduced a national minimum wage and ended boom and bust.

Every MP or party activist who has ever screamed and shouted at Regional Office for not doing this, that or the other, would benefit from Forde’s take on what it is like to be a regional organiser. The joys and tribulations of by-elections, ministerial visits, and photo calls. Needs must, and if that means dressing up as a chicken and stalking Charles Kennedy, then so be it. He is generous in naming some MPs he’s worked with who genuinely cared about their constituents and even occasionally said “Thank you”. He thought the late Tessa Jowell “made you behave better by her just being there” and he is right.

Every MP or party activist who has ever screamed and shouted at Regional Office for not doing this, that or the other, would benefit from Forde’s take on what it is like to be a regional organiser

But he is searing in his criticism of the string of events which started with Ed Miliband trashing the achievements of the Blair/Brown governments and culminated with the party electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader. He barely hides his contempt for the MPs who put a Marxist on the ballot paper. He wonders if those who did so to “broaden the debate” were gutted because they couldn’t find a fascist.

Anyone who is still in doubt about the mountain Labour has to climb only needs to read his chapter on Stoke on Trent. A collection of six towns, represented by three Labour MPs, where the local council was so divided that a grand coalition of Britain’s three biggest political parties could only muster a majority of one against a collection of BNP and independent councillors who were either hard-left ex-Labour or had never been part of any political party.

Corbyn’s Labour Party hoped that by ignoring the stain of antisemitism, which became attached to the party as a whole, it would just somehow go away, which of course it didn’t. But there is an even bigger secret much of today’s Labour Party tries to not talk about. It is the simple fact that the whole point of a political party is to win elections. If you are not in power then you can’t make the changes necessary to help the people you claim to care about.

Jacqui Smith, when she was chief whip, used to remind MPs that the “worst day in government was better than the best day in opposition”. Entertaining as opposition might be, it can’t be your purpose.

It’s unlikely that we’ll be able to have a good heart-to-heart with our friends about the state of the party, drown our sorrows with a glass of wine and have a good laugh, but we can give each other Forde’s book as a Christmas present.

Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston is a Non-Affiliated peer and was Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston 1997-2017

Politically Homeless by Matt Forde is published by Quercus

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