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14
April

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Jakarta. Lunar exploration company ispace will transport a United Arab Emirates rover to the moon in 2022, the company said on Wednesday, as the UAE pushes for rapid expansion in the space exploration business to diversify its economy.

The UAE is using its space programme to develop its scientific and technological capabilities and reduce its reliance on oil.

The Gulf state’s, and the Arab world’s, first interplanetary probe entered Mars’ orbit in February. It is now sending data about the Martian atmosphere and climate.

 

The Rashid lunar rover will be designed entirely by Emiratis. The UAE had originally intended to send it into space by 2024.

Japanese company ispace, founded in 2010, aims to provide commercial transportation to the moon with a wider mission to ultimately incorporate the moon into the earth’s economy.

The 2022 launch will be ispace’s first mission of this kind and will use a Falcon 9 rocket from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, to be launched from Florida.

Dubai’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC) will build the Rashid lunar rover. It will remain on the moon after data collection is completed, said Emirates Lunar Mission manager Hamad al-Marzooqi.

The SpaceX rocket will deliver an ispace lander to the moon’s orbit. The lander will propel itself to the moon’s surface and the UAE rover will then emerge from the lander and drive off to explore, said ispace Founder and CEO Takeshi Hakamada.

The lander will also be carrying a solid-state battery designed by Japanese company NGK Spark Plug to be tested in the lunar environment.

 

The lunar mission is part of the Gulf state’s broader vision for a Mars settlement by 2117.

Under the agreement, ispace said it would also provide the Emirates Lunar Mission with wired communication and power during the cruise phase and wireless communication on the moon.

The UAE launched a National Space Programme in 2017 to develop local expertise. Its population of 9.4 million, most of whom are foreign workers, lacks the scientific and industrial base of the major countries which have space programmes.

Hazza al-Mansouri became the first Emirati in space in 2019 when he flew to the International Space Station. This week the UAE selected the first Arab woman to train as an astronaut. (Reuters)

14
April

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Jakarta. Japan’s western region of Osaka reported a record number of infections of COVID-19 on Tuesday as a mutant strain of the virus fuelled a rebound in cases.

Osaka reported 1,099 daily infections, a record high for the prefecture, which is home to 8.8 million people and is Japan’s second-biggest metropolis.

The virus has hit Osaka hard in recent weeks, prompting authorities to enforce targeted lockdown measures. Similar curbs were adopted in Tokyo on Monday amid a rebound in the capital region.

 

A highly contagious variant discovered in Britain is driving a fourth wave of cases in western Japan, mostly among younger people. Tuesday’s record exceeded the previous peak of 918 infections on Saturday.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who oversees the country’s pandemic response, said the surge in cases of the mutated strain was particularly worrying.

“The situation, with pressure on hospital beds, is severe. I have a strong sense of crisis about it,” he told reporters at a news conference.

 

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura cancelled parts of the Olympic Torch relay on public streets, forcing torchbearers to run in an empty park on Tuesday.

Last week Japan clamped curbs on Osaka, its neighboring prefecture of Hyogo and Miyagi in the northeast. That allowed authorities to order shorter operating hours at bars and restaurants, and to punish those who don’t comply by fining them 200,000 yen ($1,820) and publishing their names. (Reuters)

14
April

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Jakarta. The United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday it fears that the military clampdown on protests in Myanmar since the Feb. 1 coup risks escalating into a civil conflict like that seen in Syria and appealed for a halt to the “slaughter”.

U.N. High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in a statement 3,080 had been detained and there are reports that 23 people have been sentenced to death following secret trials.

“I fear the situation in Myanmar is heading towards a full-blown conflict. States must not allow the deadly mistakes of the past in Syria and elsewhere to be repeated,” Bachelet said. (Reuters)

13
April

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Jakarta. President Joe Biden has decided to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021, 20 years to the day after al Qaeda’s attacks triggered America’s longest war, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are expected to brief the decision to NATO allies in Brussels on Wednesday. Biden may also publicly announce his decision, several sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“After a rigorous policy review, President Biden has decided to draw down the remaining troops in Afghanistan and finally end the U.S. war there after 20 years,” a senior administration official told reporters.

Biden’s decision would miss a May 1 deadline for withdrawal agreed with Taliban insurgents by his predecessor Donald Trump’s administration.

In a statement last month, the Taliban threatened to resume hostilities against foreign troops in Afghanistan if they did not meet the May 1 deadline.

But Biden would still be setting a near-term date for withdrawal, potentially allaying Taliban concerns that the United States could drag out the process.

The senior Biden administration official stressed that the pullout would not be subject to further conditions.

“The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe in staying in Afghanistan forever,” the official said.

 

The May 1 deadline had already started to appear less and less likely in recent weeks, given the lack of preparations on the ground to ensure it could be done in a safe and responsible way. U.S. officials have also blamed the Taliban for failing to live up to commitments to reduce violence and some have warned about persistent Taliban links to al Qaeda.

It was those ties that triggered U.S. military intervention in 2001 following al Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks, when al Qaeda hijackers slammed airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, killing almost 3,000 people.

Still, the Biden administration said al Qaeda does not pose a threat to the U.S. homeland now.

There are only about 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan currently, down from a peak of more than 100,000 in 2011. About 2,400 U.S. service members have been killed in the course of the Afghan conflict and many thousands more wounded.

It remains unclear how Biden’s move would impact upcoming talks in Istanbul from April 24 to May 4 meant to jump-start an Afghan peace process and sketch out a possible political settlement concerning the Central Asian nation. The planned 10-day summit will include the United Nations and Qatar.

U.S. troops have long provided the United States with leverage in peace efforts.

But the senior Biden administration official said the United States would no longer stick to that strategy.

 

“There is no military solution to the problems plaguing Afghanistan, and we will focus our efforts on supporting the ongoing peace process,” the official said.

The presence of American forces eased concerns in Afghanistan that the United States might turn its back on the government in Kabul.

“We will have to survive the impact of it and it should not be considered as Taliban’s victory or takeover,” said a senior Afghan government source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Till then, we hope there is a clarity,” the source added.

Then-President George W. Bush sent American forces into Afghanistan to topple its Taliban leaders just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. U.S. forces tracked down and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011 during the presidency of Bush’s successor Barack Obama.

With a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 ordered by Bush, the American military began a period lasting years of fighting two large wars simultaneously, stretching its capabilities. U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011 under Obama, though some were later deployed under President Donald Trump in response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants. (Reuters)

13
April

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Jakarta. The Kremlin said U.S. President Joe Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Tuesday that he wanted to normalise bilateral ties and to cooperate on arms control, Iran’s nuclear programme, Afghanistan and climate change.

It also confirmed that Biden had proposed a high level meeting with Putin, but gave no indication of how the Russian leader had responded to that suggestion.

The Kremlin said in the same readout that the call had taken place at Washington’s initiative and that Putin had explained his views on eastern Ukraine where a simmering conflict has escalated.

The White House gave its own readout of the call earlier on Tuesday. (Reuters)

13
April

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Jakarta. Cancelling or postponing the Tokyo Olympics Games probably will not hurt Japan’s economy much, but may require the government to offer targeted support for hard-hit small firms, a senior official of the International Monetary Fund said.

While the government plans to proceed as scheduled, a renewed spike in coronavirus infections and slow vaccine rollouts have added to worries about the fate of the Olympics, set to start in July after being delayed from last year.

“A change to the plans for the Olympics would have a limited impact on overall near-term growth prospects, given that Japan is a large and diversified economy,” said Odd Per Brekk, deputy director of the IMF’s Asia and Pacific department.

Most of the infrastructure needed for the Games is already in place, and the hit to growth from an evaporation of inbound tourism would be small, he added.

“That said ... we should be mindful that cancelling the Olympic Games would have disproportionate impact on the service sector in Tokyo, especially among small- and mid-sized firms,” he told Reuters in a written interview on Tuesday.

The government may need to offer support to such firms, as survey-based analysis suggests that cancelling the Olympics could lower their sales growth by more than 5%, he added.

 

Japan’s economy has emerged from last year’s slump caused by the pandemic, though analysts expect any recovery to be modest as a renewed spike in infections weighs on consumption.

The pandemic has further delayed achievement of the Bank of Japan’s 2% inflation target, forcing it to conduct in March a review of its tools to make them more sustainable.

Brekk welcomed the BOJ’s policy review as including “steps in the right direction” to tackle the cost of prolonged easing.

But inflation will stay below 2% in the medium term, due to the hit from the pandemic and Japan’s low potential growth that diminishes the impact of monetary easing, Brekk said.

“Looking ahead, a broader assessment may be needed of how overall economic policies, including monetary, fiscal, structural, and deregulation policies, could be brought to bear in realizing sustainable growth and achieving the 2% inflation target,” he said.

 

As part of its March review, the BOJ created a scheme to compensate banks for the hit from negative interest rates.

The key aim was to convince markets that, with such tools to deal with the side-effects, the BOJ can take rates deeper into minus territory to combat economic shocks.

Brekk, however, said the chance of the BOJ deepening negative rates was low.

“While the scheme signals that the BOJ would be ready and able to go deeper with negative rates, and as such represents helpful forward guidance, we do not see a rate cut in the near future, unless there are intensified deflation pressures.” (Reuters)

13
April

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Jakarta. Australia said on Tuesday a second person had been diagnosed with a blood clot after receiving the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine but there had been no rise in inoculation cancellations as authorities try to steady a bungled immunisation campaign.

This week Australia abandoned a goal of vaccinating all of its nearly 26 million population by year-end, after Europe’s drug regulator reported rare cases of blood clots among some adult recipients of AstraZeneca doses, suggesting a link.

This prompted Australian officials to recommend that those younger than 50 receive the Pfizer Inc’s vaccine in preference to AstraZeneca’s shot, throwing the vaccination programme into disarray.

“We had anticipated potentially a significant drop (in vaccination numbers, but that is) not what we have seen at this stage,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

Authorities meanwhile said they have no plans to add Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine to its immunisation drive, as Australia wanted to move away from procuring vaccines that were under review of potential links to blood clots.

 

The COVID-19 vaccines of Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use an adenovirus, a harmless class of common-cold viruses, to introduce coronavirus proteins into cells in the body and trigger an immune response.

Both products are under review by Europe’s drug regulator after it found possible links with blood clots, although it has said the advantages still outweighed the risks.

“The government does not intend to purchase any further adenovirus vaccines at this time,” a health ministry spokeswoman told Reuters.

Australia’s immunisation drive was heavily reliant on the AstraZeneca vaccine, with plans to manufacture 50 million doses in the country. The policy change prompted authorities last week to double an earlier Pfizer order to 40 million shots.

 

Australia has reported zero or low single-digit cases for most days this year helping authorities to ease restrictions and putting the economy into a faster recovery trajectory.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the setbacks in the vaccine rollout should not “derail momentum in our economic recovery”.

“With the successful suppression of the virus and substantial reopening of the economy both household and business confidence are now higher than before the pandemic,” Frydenberg said in an emailed statement.

Australia began vaccinations much later than some other countries due to low COVID-19 case numbers, recording just over 29,400 infections since the pandemic began.

It reported its first COVID-related death of the year on Tuesday after an 80-year old man died after contracting the virus overseas, taking the total tally to 910 deaths. (Reuters)

13
April

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Jakarta. China told the United States on Tuesday to stop playing with fire over Taiwan and lodged a complaint after Washington issued guidelines that will enable U.S. officials to meet more freely with officials from the island that China claims as its own.

The U.S. State Department’s Friday decision to deepen relations with self-ruled Taiwan came amid stepped-up Chinese military activity around the island, including almost daily air force incursions into Taiwan’s air defence zone.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters they had lodged “stern representations” with the United States.

China urges the United States “not to play with fire on the Taiwan issue, immediately stop any form of U.S.-Taiwan official contacts, cautiously and appropriately handle the matter, and not send wrong signals to Taiwan independence forces so as not to subversively influence and damage Sino-U.S. relations and peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait”, he said.

Washington has watched with alarm the uptick in tensions, and on Sunday U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was concerned about China’s aggressive actions against Taiwan.

In a written response to Reuters on Blinken’s remarks, China’s Foreign Ministry said the government had the absolute determination to protect the country’s sovereignty.

 

“Don’t stand on the opposite side of 1.4 billion Chinese people,” it added.

Taiwan’s Defence Ministry on Tuesday reported a further intrusion by Chinese jets into its air defence identification zone (ADIZ) - four J-16 fighters and an anti-submarine warfare aircraft.

On Monday, Taiwan said 25 Chinese air force aircraft including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers entered its ADIZ, the largest reported incursion to date.

Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial and diplomatic issue, and a regular source of Sino-U.S. friction. China has never renounced the use of force to bring the democratically ruled island under its control.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced days before the end of former President Donald Trump’s presidency in January that he was lifting restrictions on contacts between U.S. officials and their Taiwanese counterparts.

 

While Washington officially recognises Beijing rather than

Taipei, like most countries, the United States is Taiwan’s most important international supporter and arms seller.

The United States is required by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

China believes the United States is colluding with Taiwan to challenge Beijing and giving support to those who want the island to declare formal independence.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen says the island is an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name, and that she will defend its freedom and security. (Reuters)

13
April

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Jakarta. Japan on Tuesday proposed holding a naval drill with Germany when a German frigate visits Asia later this year, the Japanese government said, as Tokyo aims to bolster security ties with other democracies in the face of China’s maritime expansion.

The proposal was made during the first security dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers of Japan and Germany, and the two sides agreed to look into the matter further, a Japanese government statement said.

 

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi held the talks with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer via video conferencing.

Last month, German government officials said a German frigate would set sail for Asia in August and, on its return journey would become the first German warship to cross the South China Sea since 2002.

 

During the security dialogue, the Japanese and German ministers exchanged views on the East and South China Sea situation, and agreed on the importance of rules-based international order, the government statement said.

China claims almost all the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, where it has established military outposts on artificial islands. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to parts of the sea.

In the East China Sea, Beijing claims a group of uninhabited Japanese-administered islets, and the dispute has long troubled bilateral relations. (Reuters)

13
April

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Jakarta. Novavax Inc has pushed back the timeline for hitting its production target of 150 million COVID-19 vaccine doses per month until the third quarter due to supply shortages including bags used to grow cells, a company spokeswoman told Reuters.

Novavax executives had previously said full-scale vaccine production could be achieved by mid-year. The company told Reuters in January it expected to reach full production capacity by May or June.

“We said during our earnings call that we expect all capacity being online by around mid-year. We’re continuing to refine that timing as we get closer, which now leads us to think we’re online/at full capacity by Q3,” Novavax communications director Amy Speak said by email on Monday.

“There are some supply shortages that come and go that have contributed to the revision in timing,” she added. “These have included things like the bioreactor bags and filters.”

 

Novavax could receive UK regulatory authorization for its vaccine as early as this month after releasing impressive UK trial data. It anticipates clearance in the United States could come as early as May after soon-to-be released data from its U.S. vaccine trial are reviewed by regulators.

The Maryland-based company is one of several COVID-19 vaccine makers that have had to push back production timelines due to industrywide shortages of raw materials and difficulties getting plants up and running.

Reuters reported last month that Novavax had delayed a planned deal to ship at least 100 million doses of its two-shot vaccine to the European Union, in part because of supply challenges.

 

In a Saturday interview with the Guardian, Novavax Chief Executive Stan Erck said the company has faced difficulties sourcing key production materials including single-use bags used to grow vaccine cells.

“Single-use bags are facing critical shortages and delays,” said Mark Womack, chief business officer of AGC Biologics, a contract manufacturer that is producing materials used in Novavax’s vaccine.

The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine is based on a SARS-CoV-2 protein-subunit antigen and a proprietary adjuvant.

Data released in March from the UK trial showed the vaccine to be highly effective against the original strain of the novel coronavirus, with 90% overall efficacy against disease, as well as 86% efficacy against the more contagious variant B.1.1.7 first discovered in Britain and now rampant in Europe and the United States. The data also suggests the shot provides some protection against a highly concerning variant that emerged in South Africa, which some drugmakers have said may require a booster shot to address. (Reuters)

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