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US-China officials meet on economy, aim to ease tension

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US-China officials meet on economy, aim to ease tension

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met Wednesday with her Chinese counterpart and pledged an effort to manage differences and “prevent competition from becoming anything ever near conflict” as the two nations try to thaw relations.

Yellen’s first face-to-face meeting with Vice Premier Liu He was the highest-ranking contact between the two countries since their presidents agreed last November to look for areas of potential cooperation.

Liu, for his part, said he was ready to work together to seek common ground between China and the U.S.

“No matter how circumstances change, we should always maintain dialogue and exchanges,” he said.

The meeting comes as the U.S. and Chinese economies grapple with differing, but intertwined challenges on trade, technology and more.

Yellen, in opening remarks in front of reporters, told Liu: “While we have areas of disagreement, and we will convey them directly, we should not allow misunderstandings, particularly those stemming from a lack of communication, to unnecessarily worsen our bilateral economic and financial relationship.”

She said the two countries “have a responsibility to manage our differences and prevent competition from becoming anything even near conflict.”
Both economies have their challenges.

The Chinese economy is reopening after a COVID-19 resurgence killed tens of thousands of people and shuttered countless businesses. The U.S. is slowly recovering from 40-year-high inflation and is on track to hit its statutory debt ceiling, setting up an expected political showdown between congressional Democrats and Republicans. The debt issue is of keen interest to Asia, as China is the second-largest holder of U.S. debt.

There is also the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which hinders global economic growth — and has prompted the U.S. and its allies to agree on an oil price cap on Russia in retaliation, putting China in a difficult spot as a friend and economic ally of Russia.

And high interest rates globally have increased pressure on debt-burdened nations that owe great sums to China.

“A wrong policy move or a reversal in the positive data and we could see the global economy head into a recession in 2023,” said Josh Lipsky, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center. “Both countries have a shared interest in avoiding that scenario.”

The World Bank reported last week that the global economy will come “ perilously close ” to a recession this year, led by weaker growth in all the world’s top economies — including the U.S. and China. Low-income countries are expected to suffer from any economic downturns of superpowers, the report said.



“High on the list is debt restructuring,” Lipsky said of Wednesday’s talks. Several low-income countries are at risk of debt default in 2023 and many of them owe large sums to China.

“Leaders have been trying for two years to get some agreement and avoid a wave of defaults but there’s been little success and one reason is China’s hesitancy. I expect Yellen to press Liu He on this in the meeting,” Lipsky said.

Liu laid out an optimistic vision for the world’s second-largest economy in an address Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“If we work hard enough, we are confident that in 2023, China’s growth will most likely return to its normal trend. The Chinese economy will see a significant improvement,” he said.

After her stop in Switzerland, Yellen will travel to Zambia, Senegal and South Africa this week in what will be the first in a string of visits by Biden administration officials to sub-Saharan Africa during the year.

Zambia is renegotiating its nearly $6 billion debt with China, its biggest creditor. During a closed-door meeting at the Africa Leaders Summit in Washington in December, Yellen and Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema discussed “the need to address debt sustainability and the imperative to conclude a debt treatment for Zambia,” according to Yellen.

The Zurich talks are a follow-up to the November meeting between President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.
The two world leaders agreed to empower key senior officials to work on areas of potential cooperation, including tackling climate change and maintaining global financial, health and food stability. Beijing had cut off such contacts with the U.S. in protest of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan in August.

“We’re going to compete vigorously. But I’m not looking for conflict,” Biden said at the time.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be traveling to China in early February.

Among economic sticking points, the Biden administration blocked the sale of advanced computer chips to China and is considering a ban on investment in some Chinese tech companies, possibly undermining a key economic goal that Xi set for his country. Statements by the Democratic president that the U.S. would defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion also have increased tensions.

And while the U.S. Congress is divided on many issues, members of the House agreed last week to further scrutinize Chinese investments.

New House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California has identified the Communist Party of China as one of two “long-term challenges” for the House, along with the national debt.
“There is bipartisan consensus that the era of trusting Communist China is over,” McCarthy said from the House floor last week when the House voted 365 to 65 — with 146 Democrats joining Republicans — to establish the House Select Committee on China.

Last year, the U.S. Commerce Department added dozens of Chinese high-tech companies, including makers of aviation equipment, chemicals and computer chips, to an export controls blacklist, citing concerns over national security, U.S. interests and human rights. That move prompted the Chinese to file a lawsuit with the World Trade Organization.

Yellen has been critical of China’s trade practices and its relationship with Russia, as the two countries have deepened their economic ties since the start of the war in Ukraine.
On a July call with Liu, Yellen talked “frankly” about the impact of the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the global economy and “unfair, non-market” economic practices, according to a U.S. recap of the call.

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Argentina faces rising dengue epidemic risk as mosquitoes hatch early

Argentina faces rising dengue epidemic risk as mosquitoes hatch early

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Argentina faces rising dengue epidemic risk as mosquitoes hatch early

Mosquitoes are hatching earlier in Argentina and reaching cooler regions than before, as rising temperatures drive the country’s worst outbreak of dengue fever and raise the risk of more regular epidemics of the insect-borne virus, scientists said.

So far in the 2023-24 season, the South American nation has recorded 232,996 cases of the disease sometime known as “break-bone fever” for the severe muscle and joint pain it can cause, along with high fever, headache, vomiting, and skin rash.

That’s well above the previous all-time high of 130,000, recorded last season, and five times the figure at the same point a year ago, the latest official data showed. Cases usually spike in late summer around March-April, but began far earlier this season.

“The increase in the number of mosquitoes at the end of spring is getting earlier and earlier,” said Sylvia Fischer, a doctor in biological sciences and researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET).

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Scientists are seeing the disease more than before in cooler regions further to Argentina’s south, Fischer added.

“These are all places where a few years ago it could not be found,” she said, adding that it reflected a wider regional trend where the season for mosquitoes was being extended by warmer weather in part linked to climate change.

“If I had to extrapolate, I would say that we have the possibility of having dengue epidemics perhaps every year.”

In Argentina, the outbreak this year has strained hospitals and left shelves empty of insect repellent, with sellers hiking prices when they do have supply. The government has moved to ease imports of mosquito spray to meet demand.

“I have a lot of patients hospitalized for dengue,” said Leda Guzzi, an infectious disease doctor, who added that while most cases were not severe, the huge number of cases could lead to a more deadly outbreak next year as people get re-infected.

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“The disease has spread tremendously and we really think next year is going to be very difficult because there are going to be many second episodes of dengue.”

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Taiwan’s dogs search for quake victims: A success story

Taiwan’s dogs search for quake victims: A success story

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Taiwan's dogs search for quake victims: A success story

 A former drug-sniffing dog who lost his job for being too friendly has emerged as the unlikely MVP of the Taiwan rescue teams searching for survivors of the island’s strongest earthquake in 25 years.

At least 13 people were killed and more than 1,140 injured by the magnitude-7.4 quake that struck the island on Wednesday, with strict building codes and widespread disaster readiness credited with averting an even bigger catastrophe.

But landslides around epicentre Hualien still blocked tunnels and roads, making the mountainous terrain around the county difficult for rescuers to access survivors and victims.

Footage released by the county fire department on Saturday showed Roger, an eight-year-old labrador, mounting a boulder that had fallen across a hiking trail near Hualien’s Taroko National Park.

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“Have you found something? Let’s go over there,” said a rescuer to Roger, who did not budge.

“Roger must have found some clues, and his confused look made the handler feel something was up, and then they found the victim,” said Mayor Chen Chi-mai in a Facebook post titled “The Paw Paw Team’s feat”.

Handler Lee Hsin-hung said Roger located a victim “just five minutes after setting off”, and praised the dog’s confidence in an unfamiliar terrain.

Originally trained as a drug-sniffing dog as a pup, Roger was given his walking papers from that role because he was too friendly, which led to his switch to search-and-rescue missions.

“He’s very agile,” Lee told reporters. “Like this time when he went to Shakadang Trail, it’s not a rescue site we can simulate (in training) but he’s not scared.”

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The soon-to-retire dog has won hearts in Taiwan for his boisterous nature, lunging at reporters’ microphones during interviews and also destroying a chew toy given to him after his mission.

Another search dog, three-year-old Wilson, a Jack Russell terrier, is getting accolades as well after footage emerged in Taiwanese media of his persistent scramble through immovable boulders.

The quake’s aftermath was Wilson’s first mission, and he located two victims — a performance that handler Tseng Ching-lin said he was “surprised” about.

“He’s very smart, but he likes to play and he runs to other places,” Tseng said, as Wilson started to bite the microphone.

At least six people remain unaccounted for, while the number of people who can’t be accessed has steadily shrunk as authorities managed to fix roads and clear tunnels over the weekend. 

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Footage shows a lively Gaza turned to wasteland since war began

Footage shows a lively Gaza turned to wasteland since war began

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Footage shows a lively Gaza turned to wasteland since war began

Drone footage of Gaza over the six months of warfare between Israel and Hamas shows how the once vibrant Palestinian enclave has been transformed into a vast wasteland of rubble and twisted steel by Israeli bombardment.

During normal days, Palestinians used to be able to stand on their buildings’ balconies and take in a view of the Mediterranean Sea.

Those structures have vanished, footage from Reuters and other sources shows, crushed into piles of cement and debris.

Residents have been forced to wander Gaza seeking shelter from an Israeli offensive designed to destroy its arch enemy Hamas.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the campaign will not stop until Hamas is eliminated, so the bombardment and destruction are expected to continue.

Footage showed how Palestinians lived in calmer days in the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

Palestinians drove their cars along a calm street with tall trees separating traffic as far as the eye could see. Footage taken later shows a nearby street with one demolished building after another. One person could be seen walking in the smashed cement of a ghost town.

The conflict began when Hamas, which runs Gaza, burst into Israel on Oct. 7, killed 1,200 people and dragged more than 200 hostages back to Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel responded with a relentless bombardment of the enclave that has killed more than 33,000 people, according to Gaza health authorities.

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As Palestinians endure the bombing and try to cope with a humanitarian crisis, they think back to some of the places in the Reuters drone footage, like a peaceful alleyway where a teenager speeds along on his bicycle.

The footage also showed a white mosque with a green courtyard overlooking the sea. Fast forward six months and footage will show many destroyed mosques in Gaza.

In another part of Gaza, cars work their way through a roundabout in pre-war footage. Barely traces of it can be seen now. 

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