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International Relations

Duterte Orders Cabinet Not to Visit U.S. After Official’s Visa Is Denied

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MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has ordered all members of his cabinet not to travel to the United States after Washington blacklisted his former national police chief over the government’s drug war, which has left thousands dead, a top aide said Thursday.

The order comes as Mr. Duterte has ratcheted up his threats against the United States, the Philippines’ longtime military ally, including with warnings of reduced cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries.

“Last night, the president issued a directive for cabinet members not to travel to the U.S.,” Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano told an annual breakfast forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines. “We will abide with the instruction of the president.”

A cabinet meeting has been scheduled for next week to discuss the order, Mr. Ano said.

He said that Mr. Duterte issued the directive after his former national police chief, Senator Ronald dela Rosa, recently learned from the United States State Department that his visa has been revoked.

Mr. dela Rosa said he was not told the reason for the denial, although he suspected that it was because of his part in carrying out the drug war under Mr. Duterte’s direction.

That campaign has resulted in the deaths of nearly 6,000 suspected addicts and drug dealers, and, rights groups say, some innocent civilians.

Mr. dela Rosa subsequently retired, but was among several Duterte allies who won a seat in the Philippine Senate last year.

But Mr. Duterte last year moved to undo a treaty that recognized that court’s jurisdiction, and insisted that he would not be tried by a foreign court. On Thursday, his spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said the president’s order was very clear — for his cabinet to boycott America.

The United States Embassy in Manila has yet to respond to the order.

But Washington has for decades been one of the Philippines’ most reliable partners. The two are bound by a 1951 mutual defense treaty that calls on each to come to the other’s defense in the face of foreign aggression.

And Manila has in recent years received the American military’s help in fighting militants linked to Islamic State. United States troops in 2017 flew drones and helped the Philippine government defeat militants who had taken over the city of Marawi on Mindanao Island in the southern Philippines.

But Mr. Duterte has recently warned the United States that he would abrogate a defense agreement, the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows for large-scale American military exercises in the Philippines, unless Washington “corrected” its visa denial of Mr. dela Rosa.

“As he said before, the decision of the president to terminate the V.F.A. is a studied decision,” Mr. Panelo said, referring to the agreement.

Renato De Castro, who teaches international relations at the De La Salle University in Manila, said that Mr. Duterte’s threat to reduce bilateral ties with the United States signaled that the country was drifting toward its traditional nemesis, China.

“This is a signal to say that we are basically favoring China,” Mr. De Castro said. “It is the beginning of the unraveling of the Philippine-U.S. security alliance. He is articulating the Chinese position that the U.S. is the troublemaker in the region.”

Since assuming office in 2016, Mr. Duterte has gradually tried to reduce tensions with Beijing. He has not enforced an international ruling that found in favor of Manila in its territorial dispute against Beijing’s vast claims to the disputed South China Sea.

And critics say he has been bending over backward to accommodate the Chinese to gain certain business and investment favors.

When a Filipino boat was rammed last year by a much bigger Chinese vessel in the South China Sea, sending 22 Filipino fishermen overboard, Mr. Duterte made a show of getting angry at first, promising to confront China’s leader, Xi Jinping. But he later conceded that there was nothing he could do about it.

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International Relations

Government hires PR firm to ‘clean Uganda’s image’

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By U R N

The Government has hired an international public relations firm, Mercury International UK Limited, a subsidiary of Mercury Public Affairs, to improve its image on the international scene.

Documents seen by this reporter show that when Uganda hired Mercury International UK Limited, it subcontracted its mother firm Mercury Public Affairs to do the job. This signals that the focus of lobbying will be in the US.
Mercury Public Affairs submitted its agreement with the subsidiary to the US Justice Department on April 26, 2021.    
In the USA, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires lobbyists of foreign governments “who are engaged in political activities or other activities specified under the statute to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities.”  

READ: US imposes visa restrictions on Ugandan officials

It’s the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section (CES) unit of the National Security Division (NSD) in the Department of Justice that oversee lobbyists of foreign governments.   
“Registrant is providing strategic consulting, government relations, lobbying, and media relations consulting and management services,” the contract says.

“The term of this Agreement shall begin on April 22, 2021, and will continue in effect until May 21, 2021. The term of this agreement shall automatically continue every month thereafter unless terminated in accordance herewith,” it further reads.   
The UK firm will be paying the US firm on monthly basis for services rendered, the agreement says. It doesn’t reveal the amount that Uganda will be paying.
The government through Mercury International Relations UK Ltd is listed as the foreign principal. The listed address of the foreign principal is 25497 Kampala Road, Kampala Uganda. This address belongs to State House.  

READPressure mounts on US to act on Uganda’s abuses

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The move was made a week after US Secretary of State, Mr Antony John Blinken slapped visa restrictions against unnamed Uganda officials over human rights violations orchestrated during and after the 2021 elections.
“The government of Uganda must significantly improve its record and hold accountable those responsible for the flawed election conduct, violence and intimidation,” Mr Blinken said. He further warned; “the US government will continue to evaluate additional actions against individuals complicit in undermining democracy and human rights in Uganda as well as their immediate family members.” 
Though the government has been bullish in public, hastily hiring an international PR firm is indicative that privately, it’s upping its tactics of restoring its reputation that has been in free-fall during election season. 

After the visa restrictions were announced, Foreign Affairs State Minister Okello Oryem said “we will not lose sleep, be shaken or demoralised.” 
And when asked about hiring the PR firm for lobbying, Mr Oryem argued that it’s not strange.

READ: There have been no abductions by Ugandan security – Kutesa tells UN

“My brother, all countries across the world hire private companies and institutions to do work for them including what you’re saying (lobbying). There is nothing unusual,” he said.
Uganda’s government faced a barrage of criticisms from international human rights organizations and donor governments over the electoral process and abductions of opposition supporters. But also, Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, who was the leading opposition presidential candidate got favourable coverage in the foreign press. 

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International Relations

Biden should abolish corporate tax for small business, and make Big Tech pay what they owe instead

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On April 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin held videoconference with leaders of several French companies-members of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI France-Russia) to discuss some aspects of Russian-French trade, economic and investment cooperation, including the implementation of large joint projects as well as the prospects for collaborative work.

Putin noted that the Economic Council of the Franco-Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is still operational in spite of difficulties, and the late April meeting was the fourth time since 2016. From the historical records, France has been and remains a key economic partner for Russia, holding a high but not sufficiently high, 6th place among EU countries in the amount of accumulated investment in the Russian economy and 5th place in the volume of trade.

Despite a certain decline in mutual trade in 2020 (it went down by 14 percent compared to 2019) the ultimate figure is quite acceptable at $13 billion. French investment in Russia is hovering around $17 billion, while Russian investment in France is $3 billion.

Over 500 companies with French capital are operating in various sectors of the Russian economy. French business features especially prominently in the Russian fuel and energy complex, automobile manufacturing and, of course, the food industry. “It could have been more if the French regulatory and state authorities treated Russian businesses as Russia is treating French businesses. We appreciate that in a difficult economic environment, French companies operating in Russia have not reduced their activity,” Putin pointed out.

The Russian Government established the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, which includes six French companies. Further, there is an opportunity to discuss specific issues related to the economic and investment climate in Russia, and that opportunity is traditionally provided at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which will be held on June 2-5.

French companies are involved in the implementation of globally famous landmark projects, such as the construction of the Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG 2 facilities and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. This, Putin regrettably said “We are aware of and regret the amount of political speculation concerning the latter. I would like to point out once again that it is a purely economic project, it has nothing to do with present-day political considerations.”

Russia intends to increase assistance to the development of science and technology. Funds will be directed primarily to innovation sectors such as pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, nuclear and renewable energy, and the utilisation of carbon emissions.

“We are interested in involving foreign companies that would like to invest in Russia and in projects we consider high priority. In order to do this, we will continue to use preferential investment regimes and execute special investment contracts, as you know. A lot of French companies successfully use these tools on the Russian market. For example, more than one third of 45 special investment contracts have been signed with European, including French, partners,” he explained during the meeting.

He also mentioned continuous efforts to attract foreign companies to localise their production to state purchases and to implementing the National Development Projects, as well as existing opportunities for French businesses in special economic zones. Today there are 38 such zones created throughout the Russian Federation.

Russia pays particular attention to attracting high-quality foreign specialists. Their employment is being fast-tracked, and their families can now obtain indefinite residence permits. There is a plan to launch a special programme of ‘golden visas’ whereby to issue a residence permit in exchange for investment in the real economy, a practice is used in many other countries.

Taking his turn, Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Gennady Timchenko, noted that the pandemic has changed the world, people and business, and that French companies in Russia are responsible employers and socially responsible members of Russian society.

Despite the crisis and the geopolitical situation, a number of French companies have launched production in 2020–2021. Companies such as Saint-Gobain and Danone have renewed their investments. French companies have increased their export of products manufactured in Russia; they are investing in priority sectors of the Russian economy. For example, this year the French company Lidea is launching a plant called Tanais to produce seeds. Russia is dependent on the import of 30 to 60 percent of these seeds, according to various estimates.

Despite the current geopolitical conditions and information field, there are important signals for French business and the Russian side to strengthen economic cooperation, attract investment, and create partnerships on a new mutually beneficial basis.

Co-Chair of the CCI France-Russian Economic Council, Patrick Pouyanne, noted that the meeting has become an excellent tradition, the presence of 17 CEOs and deputy CEOs of French companies shows the importance of these joint meetings, and further reflect the deep interest of French business in Russia.

In addition, Patrick Pouyanne further offered some insights into Russia-French cooperation. By 2020, twenty members of the Economic Council invested a total of 1.65 trillion rubles, supporting 170,000 jobs. These companies have operated in Russia for decades and continue investing in the Russian economy despite the sanctions and the epidemic. These companies help France maintain its status as the second largest investor in Russia. In 2020, France invested over $1 billion in Russia despite the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Concluding his remarks, Patrick Pouyanne stressed that the economic operators believe everyone will benefit if Russia, France and all of Europe are not divided or isolated. This is the challenge today. Indeed, diplomacy has to continue playing an important role in settling differences, and businesses are convinced that meetings like this create bridges between Russia and France to strengthen investment and economic cooperation.

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International Relations

Chinese rocket debris set for re-entry by early Sunday: US R&D center

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) — Remnants of China’s largest rocket launched last week are expected to plunge back through the atmosphere late Saturday or early Sunday, a U.S. federally funded space-focused research and development center said.

China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that most debris from the rocket will be burned up on re-entry and is highly unlikely to cause any harm, after the U.S. military said that what it called an uncontrolled re-entry was being tracked by U.S. Space Command.

In a tweet sent on Friday evening in the United States, the Aerospace Corporation said that the latest prediction for the re-entry of the Long March 5B rocket body by its Center for Orbital Reentry and Debris Studies (CORDS) was for eight hours on either side of 0419 GMT on Sunday.

CORDS’ latest “informed prediction” of the rocket body’s re-entry location was given near the North Island of New Zealand, but it noted that re-entry was possible anywhere along paths covering large swathes of the globe.

The Long March 5B — comprising one core stage and four boosters — lifted off from China’s Hainan island on April 29 with the unmanned Tianhe module, which contains what will become living quarters on a permanent Chinese space station.

The Long March 5 family of rockets have been integral to China’s near-term space ambitions — from the delivery of modules and crew of its planned space station to launches of exploratory probes to the moon and even Mars.

The Long March launched last week was the second deployment of the 5B variant since its maiden flight in May last year.

Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell previously told Reuters there is a chance that pieces of the rocket could come down over land, perhaps in a populated area, as in May 2020, when pieces from the first Long March 5B rained down on the Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings, though no injuries were reported.

Debris from Chinese rocket launches is not uncommon within China. In late April, authorities in the city of Shiyan, Hubei province, issued a notice to people in the surrounding county to prepare for evacuation as parts were expected to land in the area.

“The Long March 5B re-entry is unusual because during launch, the first stage of the rocket reached orbital velocity instead of falling downrange as is common practice,” the Aerospace Corporation said in a blog post.

“The empty rocket body is now in an elliptical orbit around Earth where it is being dragged toward an uncontrolled reentry.”

The empty core stage has been losing altitude since last week, but the speed of its orbital decay remains uncertain due to unpredictable atmospheric variables.

It is one of the largest space debris to re-enter Earth, at 18 tonnes.

The core stage of the first Long March 5B that returned to Earth last year weighed nearly 20 tonnes, surpassed only by debris from the Columbia space shuttle in 2003, the Soviet Union’s Salyut 7 space station in 1991, and NASA’s Skylab in 1979.

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