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Secret group of US military trainers has been in Taiwan for at least a year

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Secret group of US military trainers has been in Taiwan for at least a year

The US has been secretly maintaining a small contingent of military trainers in Taiwan for at least a year, according to a new report, the latest sign of the rising stakes in US-China rivalry.

About two dozen US special forces soldiers and an unspecified number of marines are now training Taiwanese forces, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. The trainers were first sent to Taiwan by the Trump administration but their presence had not been reported until now.

The report came as President Tsai Ing-wen said on Friday that Taiwan will “do whatever it takes to defend its freedom and democratic way of life”.

“Taiwan does not seek military confrontation,” she told a security forum in Taipei. “It hopes for a peaceful, stable, predictable and mutually beneficial coexistence with its neighbours. But Taiwan will also do whatever it takes to defend its freedom and democratic way of life.”

US troops have not been permanently based on the island since 1979, when Washington established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.

A Pentagon spokesman, John Supple, would not comment directly on the report, but noted that “our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat” from China.

“It is an important step but it’s intended primarily not to be provocative but actually improve the defence capability of Taiwan’s forces,” said Jacob Stokes, a fellow of the Indo-Pacific security programme of the Center for a New American Security.

“There’s always this balance between symbolism and substance, and I think by doing it quietly it’s meant to be more substance.”

The presence of US Marines Raiders in Taiwan has been previously reported, and was later confirmed by the Taiwan Navy Command as a “routine Taiwan-US military exchange and cooperation training”, according to US defence media and local outlets. US officials said the November 2020 reports were “inaccurate” but did not elaborate.

China’s foreign ministry issued a statement urging the US to stop military aid to Taiwan.

“China will take all necessary steps to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement said.

Hawkish state media outlet, the Global Times said on Friday that China’s state council “strongly opposed any form of military collusion between Taiwan and the United States”.

“We urge the US to abide Three Communiqués on the Taiwan issue and stop any provocations. The DPP authorities work with external forces to seek “independence” and reject reunification. This has led the people of Taiwan to disaster, and their attempts are bound to fail.”

The report of a US military presence in Taiwan comes after a series of escalatory signals in the Indo-Pacific. China flew nearly 150 military planes, including bombers and fighter jets, into Taiwan’s air defence zone, over the first four days of October.

Speaking to the BBC a day after meeting top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi, US national security advisor Jake Sullivan said that the US was deeply concerned about rising tensions in the region.

“We are going to stand up and speak out, both privately and publicly when we see the kinds of activities that are fundamentally destabilising,” Sullivan told the BBC.

Asked if the US was prepared to take military action to defend Taiwan, Sullivan said: “Let me just say this, we are going to take action now to try to prevent that day from ever coming to pass.”

Sullivan also said it would be an “enormous mistake” to draw conclusions about the US commitment to its allies based on its recent withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the CIA confirmed it would be creating a new “mission centre” to prioritise intelligence gathering on China.

Announcing the reorganisation, the agency’s director, William Burns, called the Chinese government “the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century”.

“Throughout our history, CIA has stepped up to meet whatever challenges come our way,” Burns said. “And now facing our toughest geopolitical test in a new era of great power rivalry, CIA will be at the forefront of this effort.”

Separate mission centres created by the Trump administration on Iran and North Korea are to be dissolved into broader regional sections.

The state department has taken similar steps, establishing an enlarged specialised office, known informally as the China House, as part of the Biden administration’s broader pivot to Asia.

According to the Wall Street Journal report, the trainers in Taiwan rotate in and out, so it does not represent a permanent presence. There have been reports of US military advisers there over the years but Julian Ku, a law professor at Hofstra University, said the significant factor in Thursday’s report is the apparent confirmation by US officials.

“It’s an open secret they’ve been doing training exercises here and there, but this is a big deal to publicly acknowledge them,” Ku said.

“I don’t know what the benefit of that is. The Chinese government knows what’s going on. We’re not telling them – we’re just telling the Chinese public, which will then create pressure on the government to do something.”

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

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UN chief warns of ‘catastrophe’ from global food shortage

The head of the United Nations warned Friday that the world faces “catastrophe” because of the growing shortage of food around the globe.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the war in Ukraine has added to the disruptions caused by climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and inequality to produce an “unprecedented global hunger crisis” already affecting hundreds of millions of people.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022,” he said in a video message to officials from dozens of rich and developing countries gathered in Berlin. “And 2023 could be even worse.”

Guterres noted that harvests across Asia, Africa and the Americas will take a hit as farmers around the world struggle to cope with rising fertilizer and energy prices.

“This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage,” he said. “No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe.”

Guterres said U.N. negotiators were working on a deal that would enable Ukraine to export food, including via the Black Sea, and let Russia bring food and fertilizer to world markets without restrictions.

He also called for debt relief for poor countries to help keep their economies afloat and for the private sector to help stabilize global food markets.

The Berlin meeting’s host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, said Moscow’s claim that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were to blame for food shortages was “completely untenable.”

Russia exported as much wheat in May and June this year as in the same months of 2021, Baerbock said.

She echoed Guterres’ comments that several factors underlie the growing hunger crisis around the world.

“But it was Russia’s war of attack against Ukraine that turned a wave into a tsunami,” Baerbock said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken insisted that Russia has no excuse for holding back vital goods from world markets.

“The sanctions that we’ve imposed on Russia collectively and with many other countries exempt food, exempt food products, exempt fertilizers, exempt insurers, exempt shippers,” he said.

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

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Bandits release Zamfara wedding guests after payment of ransom

Local and federal highways in the North-west have become vulnerable as bandits continue to ambush and abduct travellers.

The gunmen who abducted 29 people returning to Zamfara State from Sokoto State where they had gone to attend the wedding of colleagues have released them after the payment of an unspecified ransom.

The victims, who were mostly dealers of mobile phones and phone accessories at Bebeji Communication Market (Bebeji Plaza) in Gusau, the capital of Zamfara State were abducted in Sokoto 13 days ago.

Secretary of the GSM Dealers Association in the state, Ashiru Zurmi, confirmed the release of the victims but didn’t give details.

One of the victims reportedly died in captivity.

Though the amount paid as ransom to secure the release of the hostages has not been revealed, Abdullahi Lawal, whose brother was among those abducted, said their relatives were asked to make donations. He said his family raised N33,000 while the phone sellers’ association “provided the remaining money.”

“Every family was told to gather N400,000 while the members of the plaza and their colleagues in the state provided the remaining money. Some family members were able to raise the money in full, but we couldn’t. I took the money to the plaza and I was told that they were still negotiating with the bandits” he said.

He said he didn’t know how much was given to the bandits “but I’m happy that my brother is okay,” he said.

From N5m to N700,000

A phone accessories seller, Sharhabilu Muhammad, told PREMIUM TIMES over the phone that the officials of the phone dealers association negotiated with the bandits to reduce the ransom they originally demanded to release the captives.

“You know that the initial money they said was N5m for each of the captives but our officials kept negotiating with them (bandits) until they reduced the money to N700k,” he said.

When asked about the person who reportedly died in captivity, Mr Muhammed said his identity has not been revealed.

“We don’t know because even the bandits didn’t tell but we’ll surely find out when they (captives) arrive at Gusau tonight,” he added.

The police command spokesman, Mohammed Shehu, didn’t respond to calls and SMS sent to him on the development.

Backstory

PREMIUM TIMES reported that the wedding guests were abducted when bandits opened fire on the two buses they were travelling in a few kilometres after Bimasa in the Dogon Awo junction, Sokoto State.

They were returning from Tambuwal town in Sokoto State where they had attended the wedding of a colleague, Jamil Umar.

The captives were travelling on a Toyota Coaster bus belonging to the Universal Basic Education Commission UBEC and another bus owned by Gusau Local Government.

The bandits had demanded a ransom of N145 million to release the 29 hostages.

Bandits have been terrorising North-west states and a part of North-central Nigeria, killing and displacing hundreds of people and rustling domestic animals.

Travelling on federal and local highways is becoming dangerous as bandits block roads, abduct and kill motorists.

Major federal highways including Abuja-Kaduna, Gusau-Sokoto-Birnin Kebbi, and Birnin Gwari-Kaduna have become travellers’ nightmares with attacks and abduction or killing of travellers becoming a daily occurrence.

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

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Reps demand review of public officers’ salaries, allowances

A motion seeking the intervention of the House of Representatives in the conflict between the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, and Justices of the Supreme Court, over issues bordering on welfare and working conditions suffered a setback on Thursday.

While the House called for a general review of salaries and allowances of all political office holders and public servants, the members were divided over which committees should handle the task.

The Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Onofiok Luke, had moved a motion to seek the intervention of the chamber in the crisis rocking the apex court and better welfare package for judicial officers across the courts.

Luke, who moved the motion titled, ‘Need to Address the Deteriorating Working Conditions of Judicial Officers,’ prayed the House to urge the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to upwardly review the remuneration of judicial officers in line with present economic realities.

The lawmaker prayed the House to urge the Federal Government to increase the budgetary allocation of the judiciary for the upcoming fiscal year and provide special intervention funds for the development of the arm

He further prayed the House to mandate the Committee on Judiciary to ensure compliance and report back within six weeks for further legislative action.

While the lawmakers were making amendments to the prayers, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase, called for an upward review of the welfare package of all public office holders.

Wase, who stated that he appreciated the memo from the Justices to the CJN, noted that only the RMAFC had the responsibility to review remuneration of government officials.

The Deputy Speaker made reference to a part of the motion that read, ‘The remuneration of judicial officers was last reviewed in 2008 by the RMAFC when the official exchange rate was N117.74 to $1, whereas the naira has considerably depreciated.’

Wase partly said, “I think this particular element does not affect just judicial officers, maybe because they cried out now. I don’t think it is right that we have to wait every time until people write letters of complaints and there is protest before we begin to do the right thing.”

Rephrasing Wase’s proposed amendment, Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, said: “The DSP’s amendment is that we should not isolate the Judiciary and all those enumerated constitutional bodies and public office holders. They should be reviewed; a comprehensive review based on all the things that Hon Luke said – the exchange rates and this and that.”

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