By Michael Martina and Greg Torode BEIJING (Reuters) - Days after China passed a new law that for the first time permits its military to venture overseas on counter-terror operations, its marines began exercises in the western deserts of Xinjiang, more than 2,000 kilometers from the nearest ocean. The continuing drills are an indication, analysts say, that the marines, who have traditionally trained for amphibious assault missions, are being honed into an elite force capable of deploying on land far from mainland China. China's limited means to respond to threats abroad were highlighted by two incidents in November: when Islamic State executed a Chinese hostage, and the killing of three executives by Islamist militants who attacked a hotel in Mali. China's new counter-terrorism law, passed in late December, is aimed at protecting its expanding global commercial and diplomatic interests. But China's military commanders are also trying to create a military in the likeness of the world's most dominant power projection force, analysts say. "They study what the Americans have done very carefully and it's the mirror image effect," said Leszek Buszynski, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre. The cold weather training will improve the marines' ability to conduct "long-distance mobilization in unfamiliar regions", the deputy chief of staff of the Navy's South Sea fleet Li Xiaoyan said in a Ministry of Defense statement earlier this month. During the drills, the marines will travel 5,900 kilometers via air, truck and rail beginning in the southern province of Guangdong, the longest range maneuvers ever conducted by the force, state media said. EXPEDITIONARY FORCE The exercises are the latest in recent years that show the efforts China is making to boost its expeditionary force capabilities. In 2014, the marines conducted their first training in the grasslands of the northern landlocked Inner Mongolia region. At the time, the exercise was seen as unusual for the south China-based force more proficient in beach landings. Since those drills, the roughly 15,000-strong marine corps, which operates under the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's South Sea fleet, appears to be settling into a new niche. "They never really had a major strategic role, as force projection wasn't something the PLA was willing, or able, to think about even ten years ago," said Gary Li, an independent security analyst in Beijing. With amphibious divisions in the PLA Army also capable of extending China's reach into the South China Sea and Taiwan, Li said the marines are a good fit for a budding Chinese expeditionary force. "The main advantage of playing around with the marines is that they have a higher concentration of specialists, act well as light infantry, have good esprit de corps, and are nimble enough to be deployed over long distances if needed," he said. RISING GLOBAL PROFILE Along with President Xi Jinping's vows to build a more modern military, the global profile of China's armed forces is on the rise. Already, the South Sea fleet, which is based on the mainland coast near the island of Hainan, has been used on operations far from the South China Sea. The fleet's vessels have ventured to the Middle East and Mediterranean after deployments on international anti-piracy patrols around the Horn of Africa. Chinese officials announced in November they were in talks with Djibouti to build permanent "support facilities" to further boost Chinese naval operations, in what would be China's first such off-shore military base. The African port, sitting on the edge of the Red and Arabian seas, is home to several foreign military bases, including U.S., French and Japanese naval facilities. China is also expanding its peacekeeping role, with Xi pledging in September to contribute 8,000 troops for a U.N. stand-by force that could provide logistical and operational experience the PLA would need to operate farther abroad. While China has been getting more involved diplomatically in trouble spots like the Middle East, it is adamant that it does not interfere in the affairs of other countries, and is the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council which has not taken military action in Syria. The Defense Ministry said in a fax that the drills were part of "annual planned" exercises. For now, China's marines are advancing only through the snow fields of Xinjiang, as depicted in state media photographs, still wearing their speckled blue fatigues designed for operations at sea. But that could shift in time. "China's global security posture is becoming more active," said Zhang Baohui, a mainland security expert at Hong Kong's Lingnan University. "And this seems to fit that policy." (Reporting by Michael Martina and Greg Torode. Additional reporting by Matt Siegel in SYDNEY. Editing by Bill Tarrant)
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As tensions between Beijing and Canberra continue to simmer, Chinese investment in Australia has slumped to its lowest level in six years.The annual tracking study from the Australian National University recorded A$1 billion Australian dollars of Chinese investment in 2020, consisting of real estate, mining and manufacturing deals.That's a 61% fall, larger than the 42% decrease in foreign direct investment globally measured by the United Nations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That's according to Shiro Armstrong, the director of the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research.Australia announced a shakeup of its foreign investment laws in 2020 to give the government the power to veto, or force the sale of a business if it creates a national security risk.Chinese company Mengniu abandoned a deal to buy the Australia dairy firm Lion Dairy and Drinks from Japanese company Kirin in August, after the Australian government indicated it would block the sale.The Chinese embassy said in November that 10 Chinese investments had been blocked in Australia on national security grounds, among a list of 14 grievances Beijing had about Australian government policy.China has since imposed dumping tariffs on Australian wine and barley, and restricted the unloading of Australian coal at Chinese ports.Chinese investment in Australia peaked at A$16.5 billion Australian dollars in 2016.
- Associated Press
Israel on Sunday announced plans to vaccinate tens of thousands of Palestinians who work inside Israel and its West Bank settlements, at a time of vast disparities in access to vaccines between the Israeli and Palestinian populations. Israel has launched one of the world’s most successful vaccination programs, inoculating over half of its population in just two months.
Security forces battling a decades-long insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir are alarmed by the recent arrival in the disputed region of small, magnetic bombs that have wreaked havoc in Afghanistan. "Sticky bombs", which can be attached to vehicles and detonated remotely, have been seized during raids in recent months in the federally administered region of Jammu and Kashmir, three senior security officials told Reuters. "These are small IEDs and quite powerful," said Kashmir Valley police chief Vijay Kumar, referring to improvised explosive devices.
- Associated Press
Saudi Arabia said Saturday it intercepted a missile attack over its capital and bomb-laden drones targeting a southern province, the latest in a series of airborne assaults it has blamed on Yemen’s rebel Houthis. The Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen’s yearslong war announced the Iran-allied Houthis had launched a ballistic missile toward Riyadh and three booby-trapped drones toward the province of Jizan, with a fourth toward another southwestern city and other drones being monitored.
- USA TODAY
'We're done with that lifestyle': Jessica Watkins, Ohio woman charged in Capitol riot, renounces Oath Keepers
Jessica Watkins, 38, says she has disbanded her local armed group and is canceling her Oath Keeper membership after her arrest.
It's been 40 years since Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announced their engagement with a televised interview.
- Associated Press
An Israeli-owned cargo ship that suffered a mysterious explosion in the Gulf of Oman came to Dubai's port for repairs Sunday, days after the blast that revived security concerns in Mideast waterways amid heightened tensions with Iran. Associated Press journalists saw the hulking Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray sitting at dry dock facilities at Dubai's Port Rashid. Although the crew was unharmed in the blast, the vessel sustained two holes on its port side and two on its starboard side just above the waterline, according to American defense officials.
Energy companies raked in $50 billion last week after millions lost power during the freezing storms in Texas, report says
That sales figure is as much as the last three years combined, The Washington Post reported, but it's still unclear who will ultimately foot the bill.
A former Air Force contractor pleaded guilty to illegally taking 2,500 pages of classified documents home despite going through safeguard training
Fairborn police found the classified documents during a search for a "marijuana growing facility," local news reported.
- Associated Press
Traveling across roads covered with ice and snow, vaccination teams have been going to Turkey's isolated mountain villages as the government seeks to inoculate 60% of the country's people against coronavirus over the next three months. After much effort, medical workers arrived Friday to vaccinate older villagers in Gumuslu, a small settlement of 350 in the central province of Sivas that lies 140 miles (230 kilometers) from the provincial capital. “It’s a difficult challenge to come here,” said Dr Rustem Hasbek, head of Sivas Health Services.
Minneapolis approved funding to hire social media influencers to spread information about ex cop Derek Chauvin's trial
Minneapolis is hiring social media influencers to spread information about the trial of the cop, Derek Chauvin, who knelt on George Floyd's neck.
- Business Insider
Opinion: The costs of a foreign policy that emphasizes US global preeminence are now inescapable clear, and US leaders need to change course.
- The Daily Beast
Sarah Meyssonnier/ReutersFederal authorities rolled into Shelby County, Tennessee, this week as the mismanagement disasters plaguing the local coronavirus vaccine rollout reached a boiling point.The county health department allowed more than 2,000 doses to spoil, two children were vaccinated against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, and a volunteer allegedly made off with doses from one site. The Tennessee Health Department, the FBI, and the CDC are now investigating. The head of the Shelby health department, Alisa Haushalter, resigned Friday. Now residents are left questioning whether the doses they received were expired doses.“You begin to feel like you were safe to go out and do things, but now you don’t know if you’re covered or not. You don’t know if the shot you got is effective or not,” said Gayle Jones, 80, who was born and raised in Cordova, Tennessee. She received her second shot of the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday. “We’ve missed a whole year by staying at home. We finally felt like we could get out and maybe be OK.”Hundreds of people are echoing her statements on Facebook in comments on bulletins from the county health department.Ingrid Chilton, 68, vented her frustration below one post, “Let’s talk about the thousands of Memphians who don’t know whether they have been properly vaccinated since the thawing of the vaccines was not done in accordance with CDC guidelines!”Chilton and her 75-year-old husband flew from their home in Tiburon, California, to visit their son in downtown Memphis for two weeks in late February 2020. They have stayed for a year, living in the same two weeks’ worth of clothing. Saturday would be the day they reached full immunity, two weeks from their second Pfizer shots. She and her husband had begun discussing when they would return to Tiburon.“Today was the day I was supposed to be celebrating, like ‘We’re free!’ and instead we get this. I feel like we’re in limbo again,” she told The Daily Beast.The state began investigating the county health department last week after an announcement that the county had permitted 1,300 doses to expire in February. State investigators found that in actuality, 2,400 doses had gone bad this month and were trashed, with 840 wasted in one day, Feb. 15. Though the vaccines require ultra-cold storage to remain viable, some syringes felt warm to the investigator’s touch, the Tennessean reported.Adding to residents’ fears, some doses have gone missing. State Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said in a press conference Friday that 12 syringes had expired during a Feb. 23 vaccination event, but no one had returned them to the distributing pharmacy. The doses remain unaccounted for.“There does appear to be a lack of accountability and in some sense leadership, which has undoubtedly potentially harmed some folks and withheld vaccine from people who needed it,” Piercey said.Jones had hoped to feel safe attending the births of two great-grandchildren due soon. She thinks she will still go, albeit now with feelings of uncertainty and risk. Her daughter, her son, and two of her grandchildren have all had COVID-19. A granddaughter and a granddaughter-in-law are both pregnant and work in health care.“We’ll have to take it as it is. I don’t know if they’ll be able to prove if the vaccine we got was real and effective or not,” she said.Chilton will postpone her travel until the investigation into the vaccination effort concludes.“I don’t know if we’ll ever know accurately whether we’re protected or not,” she said.Memphis’ city health department has taken over vaccination efforts for the entire county.In addition to its procedural woes, the vaccination effort has suffered an alleged robbery. The state notified the FBI Thursday that a volunteer allegedly stole vaccine doses on Feb. 3, according to Piercey. The state health commissioner said the city had not been forthcoming with information on the disappearance of the doses, leading to a delay of nearly a month in reporting it. Shelby County Chief Administrative Officer Dwan Gilliom said Piercey was incorrect and that law enforcement had been made aware but that no arrests had been made.Two children were vaccinated in Shelby County on Feb. 3 as well, according to Piercey. Neither the Moderna nor Pfizer vaccine is approved for anyone under the age of 16, as the medicine has only been tested on adults.The mess has further eroded Jones’ already cratering trust in the local government, which has struggled with picking up garbage and supplying water to residents in recent weeks.“They just need to get their act together in the Memphis government. They’re totally unreliable,” said Jones. “We just had the water boil for 8 days because all the mains broke. It just has you thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, can’t you do anything?’”Chilton feels similarly.“I don’t think my feelings toward the county and state health department would be fit to print, frankly,” she said.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been transferred to a penal colony outside Moscow to serve his prison sentence, a public commission said on Sunday, weeks after he returned to Russia after being poisoned. Navalny's whereabouts had been unknown since Thursday when his allies learned that he was transferred out of one of Moscow's most infamous jails to an undisclosed location. He has been transferred to a penal colony in the Vladimir region, the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission that defends the rights of prisoners and has access to people in custody, said on its website.
- LA Times
The United States elevated the Taliban's status by negotiating a 2020 deal without Kabul's participation.
- The Telegraph
Perched on the mountain range that divides the sprawling city of Caracas from the Caribbean Sea, Venezuela’s Hotel Humboldt can be seen from nearly all corners of the capital. The 65-year-old, 14-floor structure can only be reached by cable car from the city below. It currently boasts 69 rooms, six dining areas, a casino, a night club, and a swimming pool and spa. “It will be the first seven star hotel in Venezuela,” President Nicolas Maduro once proudly proclaimed as the 1956 symbol of oil wealth was being lavishly renovated. Now, the hotel is open again as a symbol of an impending economic recovery and tourism boom in a country that has suffered the worst economic crisis in modern Latin American history. But the so-called Socialist president’s touting of the luxurious, $300 per night hotel in a country where most live in poverty represents something else to others - an abandonment of a political project promising a socialist utopia in favor of an 'anything goes', capitalist kleptocracy.
- Associated Press
Mike Weir went on a back-nine birdie binge to take control of the Cologuard Classic. Phil Mickelson waded into the mud for the second straight day and will have to dig out of a deep hole if he’s going to make history. Weir shot a 5-under 67 to build a two-shot lead in the Cologuard Classic on Saturday, leaving Mickelson with a lot of ground to make up to win his third straight PGA Tour Champions start.
- The Independent
‘I'm not going to worry about people that their only worry in life is to be re-elected,’ says Enrique Tarrio
Saudi Arabia's sovereignty is a red line, Saudi columnists said on Sunday, ramping up rhetoric in defense of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after a U.S. intelligence report implicated him in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Prince Mohammed, de facto ruler of the U.S.-allied Gulf powerhouse, has denied any involvement in the 2018 murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
President Joe Biden’s administration is in “no rush” to lift U.S. sanctions on Venezuela but would consider easing them if President Nicolas Maduro takes confidence-building steps showing he is ready to negotiate seriously with the opposition, a White House official told Reuters. Signaling that the new U.S. president may be unlikely to loosen the screws on Venezuela anytime soon, the official emphasized that existing sanctions have enough special provisions to allow for humanitarian aid shipments to help Venezuelans cope with economic hardships and the COVID-19 pandemic. This suggests that for now Biden is prepared to stick with the specific sanctions, including crippling oil-sector penalties, imposed by former President Donald Trump on the OPEC nation, despite the failure to force Maduro from power.