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China snubs senior US official in worsening diplomatic stand-off

Beijing has snubbed the US by refusing to grant Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of state, a meeting with her counterpart during a proposed visit to China that would have been the first top-level engagement since acrimonious talks in Alaska.

The US halted plans for Sherman to travel to Tianjin after China refused to agree to a meeting with Le Yucheng, her counterpart, according to four people familiar with the decision. China offered a meeting with Xie Feng, the number five foreign ministry official who is responsible for US affairs.

The Biden administration had been negotiating what would have been the first high-level engagement since their first meeting in Alaska, which erupted into a public spat between Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, and Yang Jiechi, the top Chinese foreign policy official.

While the state department had not said Sherman would travel to China, she had planned to visit after a trip to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia.

The Chinese snub follows a similar stand-off between the two countries’ militaries. China earlier this year rebuffed several requests for Lloyd Austin, US defence secretary, to meet General Xu Qiliang, China’s most senior military official. But China refused to engage, after previously offering a meeting with the defence minister, who is less senior in its system.

Evan Medeiros, a China expert at Georgetown University, said China was “playing games” since the history of diplomatic meetings made clear Sherman should be meeting with Le, the number two foreign ministry official.

“China’s move is a dangerous one. It increases distrust, tension and the risk of miscalculation during an already fraught period,” Medeiros said.

China had originally suggested that Sherman could also hold a videocall with Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, during her visit to Tianjin.

Last month Kurt Campbell, the top White House Asia official, said the US was frustrated that China refused to arrange meetings with officials who are close to Xi Jinping. He said even Yang and Wang were “nowhere near within a hundred miles” of the Chinese president’s inner circle of trusted advisers.

The stand-off comes four months after the Alaska meeting, which also ended on an acrimonious note. At the end of the two-day meeting, Yang told Blinken in private that he would welcome a follow-on meeting in China, to which the secretary of state said “thank you”. When Yang asked if that meant he would visit, Blinken responded “thank you means thank you” in a clear indication that the US was not prepared to hold another meeting that angered China.

“Perhaps they are trying to punish the US for insufficient respect in Anchorage,” said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund. “Or maybe Beijing is simply testing the Biden administration, and will eventually propose a higher level ministry of foreign affairs official and the visit could be added to Sherman’s itinerary.”

Ryan Hass, a former state department China expert now at Brookings Institution, said it was “common” for the US and China to engage in haggling over protocol at the start of a new administration in Washington.

“Incoming US officials typically want to protect the protocol level at which their office historically has been received by Chinese authorities, and vice versa,” Hass said. “These types of protocol kerfuffles often — but not always — work themselves out by the time of arrival of the senior official.”

A senior state department official said the US would continue to “explore opportunities” to engage Chinese officials. “As in all travel abroad, we make announcements only once — and if — we determine that a visit has the potential to be substantive and constructive for our purposes.” 

The US viewed the Sherman visit as a possible stepping stone to a China visit by Blinken that would set the stage for President Joe Biden to hold his first meeting with Xi at the G20 summit in Italy in October.

The Chinese embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

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This post originally posted here International homepage

Russia may restrict Czech imports, including BEER, amid simmering diplomatic row – media

Author: RT
This post originally appeared on RT Business News

Russia may slap economic sanctions on the Czech Republic, possibly targeting beer imports among other measures, in response to the expulsion of Russian diplomats, the daily newspaper Kommersant reported.

The sanctions would be part of Moscow’s asymmetrical response to Prague’s “unprecedentedly aggressive actions,” one of the newspaper’s sources familiar with the matter said. He was referring to the the recent decision to bar 18 Russian officials from the Czech Republic and threats to expel even more diplomatic staff. 

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While the restrictions may target any area, the report says that imports of Czech beer may be banned. According to Kommersant, Russia imported $ 38 million-worth of Czech beer in 2020 – 10% more than it did in the previous year. 

Some ten brands that sell their product to Russia may suffer from the possible sanctions, the report indicated. However, such a move is more symbolic than economically harmful, as Russia buys abroad a tiny fraction of its overall beer and drinks turnover. According to Vadim Drobiz, the head of the Center for Research on Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets, the share of the Czech beer in total imports of the beverage is about 10% in physical terms, or 40 million liters per year. That’s 0.5% of the annual turnover of eight billion liters. 

Also on rt.com Russia’s Rosatom likely to get barred from $ 7-bn Dukovany nuclear plant tender, Czech minister says, amid ammo depot blast scandal

Trade turnover between Russia and the Czech Republic fell over 40% to $ 5.2 billion as a result of the pandemic last year, according to customs data cited in the report. As of 2018, Russia was the 13th biggest importer from the republic and its seventh largest exporter.  

Tensions between the two countries escalated last week when Prague claimed that Russian intelligence officers were involved in a local munitions depot blast in 2014 and ordered 18 Russian diplomats out of the country. Russia denied the allegations, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs accusing Prague of following Washington’s bidding. In response, Moscow decided to expel 20 staff members of the Czech embassy in Moscow. Now the Czech authorities even want to send home staff working at the Russian embassy in Prague.

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Czech govt bars Russia’s Rosatom from nuclear power plant contract tender amid diplomatic row

Russia’s nuclear energy corporation Rosatom won’t be invited for a security assessment as a bidder vying to renovate the Dukovany nuclear power plant, the Czech industry minister said, amid the diplomatic spat initiated by Prague.

The Czech government has approved a resolution effectively excluding the Russian company from the $ 7-billion project, the nation’s industry and trade minister Karel Havlicek confirmed on Monday.

The construction project’s investor, the majority state-controlled Czech utility company CEZ, will now only send a security assessment questionnaire to the remaining three contenders by April 30. The companies vetted by Prague include France’s EDF, South Korean Hydro & Nuclear Power as well as the American-Canadian firm Westinghouse.
Also on rt.com Russia’s Rosatom likely to get barred from $ 7-bn Dukovany nuclear plant tender, Czech minister says, amid ammo depot blast scandal
“We make it clear that this is an assessment of three eligible suppliers of nuclear technology,” Havlicek told the Czech media, adding that suppliers of critical technologies and materials can only be “an entity from a European Union or a NATO country,” meaning that Rosatom could not enter the project in collaboration with another company or as a subcontractor.

The decision was taken amid an ongoing diplomatic row between Prague and Moscow that followed the Czech government’s decision to expel 18 Russian diplomats on Saturday. Prague claims Russian intelligence officers were involved in an incident at a munitions depot in the village of Vrbetice, some 330 kilometers southeast of Prague, back in 2014.

The depot was rocked by a series of explosions that killed two employees of a private company renting the facility from the military. The Czech authorities said that the embassy staff might also have had a role in the incident, while Moscow denounced all the accusations as absurd. Russia also expelled 20 Czech diplomats in a reciprocal measure.
Also on rt.com Czech PM says Russia did NOT attack country, alleged blowing up of munition depot was ‘not act of state terrorism’
“I can’t imagine being contacted by Rosatom as part of a security assessment after the last incidents,” Havlicek said earlier on Monday. He added that “none of… the candidates” would pass the assessment with “a supplier from Rosatom.”

Previously, Prague already barred China’s General Nuclear from participating in pre-tender activities. Russia, however, was called a “key energy partner” by Havlicek only in March. Some media reports suggested that NATO and EU security services, as well as Washington, repeatedly called on the Czech government to drop Russia’s bid, citing security issues.

Launched in 1985, the Dukovany nuclear power plant covers around a fifth of the electricity consumption in the Czech Republic. Under the refurbishment project, estimated to cost more than seven billion dollars, the plant will receive a new 1,200 megawatt-strong power unit.

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This article originally appeared on RT Business News

'Empty pomp and circumstance': Eye-rolls after US Senator Romney calls for 'economic and diplomatic boycott' of Beijing Olympics

Utah Senator Mitt Romney was met with raised eyebrows after voicing a proposal to ‘economically and politically’ boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which would supposedly ‘demonstrate US repudiation of China’s abuses.’

The Republican didn’t suggest that US athletes skip the event, but instead advocated imposing an economic and political boycott to address what he said were China’s human rights violations.

READ MORE: Striking the wrong chord: CAS bans use of ‘Katyusha’ song instead of Russian national anthem at Olympic Games

It would be unfair to ask a few hundred young American athletes to shoulder the burden of our disapproval,” Romney wrote in his column in the New York Times.

China deserves our condemnation. The Chinese Communist Party has reneged on its agreement to allow Hong Kong self rule; it has brutally suppressed peaceful demonstrators and incarcerated respected journalists.

“It is exacting genocide against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities” the senator added, asking US spectators and politicians to snub the winter sports spectacle and deny the Communist Party an opportunity to “raise money from hotels, meals and tickets.”

Romney also called on US Olympic broadcaster NBC to “refrain from showing any jingoistic elements of the opening and closing ceremonies and instead broadcast documented reports of China’s abuses.”
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His proposal triggered mixed reactions on social media, with some users lambasting the senator for his idea, calling it “empty pomp” and recommending that Romney “boycott his iPhone” instead. 

Boycotting China’s participation in the Olympics feels like empty pomp and circumstance. If you really mean business, boycott your iPhone, and most things you own,” a person wrote.

Others said that before paying attention to human rights violations in other countries, the US would do well to look closer to home.

Hey @MittRomney, before focusing on China, let’s look at the abuses in the US. Clean that up, and then we can go global, ok?” another user added.

Or just leave politics out of the Olympics. This is a failed strategy, move on!” one more comment read.

You should probably be talking with your corporate handlers, and get them to stop using Chinese labor to make their goods” another person tweeted.


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