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19
March

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media as he tours Amkor Technology in Manila on March 19, 2024. (Photo by EVELYN HOCKSTEIN / POOL / AFP)

 

VOInews, Jakarta: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to hold talks with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos on Tuesday, as the countries seek to reinforce security and economic ties in the face of growing Chinese aggression.

 

Blinken's visit to Manila -- his second since Marcos took office in June 2022 -- is part of a brief Asia tour that also included South Korea.

 

Washington is keen to improve relations with its regional allies, such as Manila and Seoul, in a bid to deter China and North Korea as tensions rise in the South China Sea over Taiwan and on the Korean peninsula.

 

Blinken's trip comes ahead of a trilateral meeting in Washington next month between US President Joe Biden, Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

 

Announcing the three-way summit with the Asia Pacific allies, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the leaders would push a "shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific".

 

During his meeting with Marcos and his Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo on Tuesday, Blinken is expected to reaffirm the United States' security commitments to the Philippines.

 

"What we're trying to demonstrate... is that we are committed to the Indo-Pacific, to this region, despite everything else that's going on in the world right now," a senior State Department official told reporters on Monday.

 

"I would expect when we're in Manila, the main concern will obviously be China's continued destabilising actions in the South China Sea that are in contravention of international law."

 

Top US officials have repeatedly said that "an armed attack" against Philippine public vessels, aircraft, armed forces and coastguard would invoke the 1951 US-Philippines mutual defence treaty in which Washington is obliged to defend its ally.

 

Blinken's visit follows a spate of incidents involving Philippine and Chinese vessels in the South China Sea, including collisions, in recent months.

 

Marcos has expressed "great alarm" over the confrontations that have sparked diplomatic sparring between Manila and Beijing.

 

Source: AFP

18
March

Illustration of North Korea ballistic missile launch. (Photo: KCNA)

 

VOInews, Jakarta: North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Monday (18/3/2024), local media reported, citing South Korean military, days after Seoul and Washington wrapped up annual joint training exercises.

18
March

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) and New Zealand's Minister for Trade Todd McClay shake hands prior to a meeting at Parliament in Wellington on March 18, 2024. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins / POOL / AFP)

 

VOInews, Jakarta: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a rare visit to New Zealand on Monday, stressing the need to work with "friends" in the face of the "tumultuous international situation".

The trip marks the start of a diplomatic blitz through New Zealand and Australia, Wang's first visit to either country since 2017.

The whistlestop tour is expected to focus heavily on trade as Beijing looks to lessen the pain from slowing economic growth at home.

Speaking in the capital Wellington before a meeting with his New Zealand counterpart, Wang said the trip was also a chance to shore up diplomatic ties that have come under strain as Beijing adopts an increasingly aggressive stance on issues such as Taiwan and the South China Sea.

"In the face of the current tumultuous international situation, we are willing to strengthen strategic communication with our friends in New Zealand on international and regional issues of common concern," Wang said.

"And we will work together to maintain peace and stability in the region and the world," he added before his closed-door meeting with New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

New Zealand is part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance alongside the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

But Wellington has been criticised for taking a softer line on China -- putting its trading relationship ahead of its allies' security concerns.

China is New Zealand's largest trading partner, and Chinese consumers have long had an appetite for the country's meat, wine, milk and wood.

Wang said he believed that "China-New Zealand relations will continue to be at the forefront of China's relations with developed countries".

"The relationship between us has developed smoothly and well," he said.

Later this week, Wang will meet Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong in Canberra.

China and Australia have recently resolved a series of simmering trade disputes that saw Beijing impose tariffs and trade barriers on key exports in 2020, retaliating after Canberra barred Huawei from 5G contracts and called for a probe into the origins of Covid-19.

But the two nations continue to spar over human rights and Beijing's growing clout in the Pacific region.

Source : AFP

17
March

Fed Chair Jerome Powell says it needs to see more data before deciding if to cut interest rates. (Photo: AFP/Mandel Ngan) - 

 

 

VOInews, Washington, U.S : The US Federal Reserve is widely expected to keep its key lending rate unchanged again on Wednesday (Mar 20), as policymakers continue discussions over when to start rate cuts and launch the next phase in their long-running battle against inflation.

The Fed has raised interest rates to a 23-year high of between 5.25 and 5.50 per cent as it looks to return inflation firmly to its long-term target of 2 per cent.

After making significant progress against rising prices last year, 2024 has been more challenging, with the US seeing a small uptick in the pace of monthly inflation.

At the same time, the unemployment rate has remained low, wage growth has eased, and economic growth for the final quarter of 2023 came in above expectations – all indications that the US economy remains in good health despite higher rates.

After two days of discussions, the Fed will publish an updated summary of economic projections (SEP) alongside its rate decision on Wednesday, which will include policymakers' views of where they expect interest rates to be at the end of this year.

"The pace of disinflation, the slowdown in employment growth, [is] not happening as fast as we thought it did a few months ago," Wells Fargo senior economist Michael Pugliese told AFP. "And so they're gonna fine-tune their policy outlook accordingly."

In recent weeks, officials at the US central bank - led by Fed chair Jerome Powell - have urged caution about cutting interest rates too quickly, and have instead said they will follow a "data-dependent" path.

"The economic outlook is uncertain, and ongoing progress toward our 2 per cent inflation objective is not assured," Powell told lawmakers in Washington earlier this month.

He later confirmed that he still expects cuts to begin this year.

Futures traders currently assign a probability of around 55 per cent that the Fed will start cutting interest rates by Jun 12, according to data from CME Group.

This marks a significant shift from the run-up to the Fed's last rate decision in January, when traders were still widely anticipating the first would come in May//CNA-VOI

17
March

Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan meeting his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi in Amman on Mar 16, 2024. (Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs) - 

 

 

VOInews, Singapore : Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan met his Jordanian counterpart in Amman on Saturday (Mar 16) amid Singapore’s ongoing humanitarian aid mission to Gaza.

The minister, who is visiting Amman from Saturday to Sunday, called on Jordan's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ayman Safadi.

Dr Balakrishnan said they had spoken two weeks ago about the dire situation in Gaza and how Singapore and Jordan can work together to provide aid.

"I thanked him for Jordan’s swift facilitation of our ongoing humanitarian aid to Gaza," the minister wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement that both ministers noted that the strong bilateral relationship has allowed both sides to work closely together to organise the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s (RSAF) ongoing humanitarian aid mission for Gaza.

"They agreed on the pressing need for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and that more channels should be explored to deliver aid to Gaza," said the ministry.

Singapore is delivering its third tranche of humanitarian assistance for Gaza via Jordan.

 

An A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and a C-130 transport aircraft took off from Singapore on Friday for the mission.

 

At the invitation of the Jordanian government, the C-130 is staying on to conduct humanitarian airdrop operations out of Jordan with support from the Jordanian Armed Forces, MFA said on Friday.

 

The Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) Changi Regional Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Coordination Centre (RHCC) led efforts to coordinate and consolidate contributions of humanitarian aid supplies from agencies including the SAF, Ministry of Health (MOH) and non-governmental organisation Relief Singapore.

Both ministers also welcomed the successful outcomes of Jordan’s Crown Prince Al Hussein’s official visit to Singapore in January 2024.

“They looked forward to stronger and deeper cooperation including in the fields of capacity building, technical and vocational education and training, and strengthening business-to-business links,” said MFA.

Crown Prince Al Hussein was in Singapore from Jan 10 to Jan 12 and met several Singapore leaders, including President Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Six memorandums of understanding were signed on the sidelines of that visit//CNA-VOI

 

 

17
March

Overview of the USS Gravely destroyer in the south Red Sea, Tuesday, Feb 13, 2024. (File photo: AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) - 

 

 

VOInews, Red sea : The US military said it destroyed a drone fired by the Yemeni Houthis on Saturday (Mar 16), with another presumed to have crashed into the Red Sea.

There were no reports of damage or injuries from ships in the vicinity, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

CETNCOM also said it destroyed five unmanned surface vessels and one UAV in self-defence, in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

"It was determined these weapons presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and US Navy ships in the region," the statement read.

Months of Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have disrupted global shipping, forcing firms to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around Southern Africa, and stoked fears that the Israel-Hamas war could spread to destabilise the wider Middle East.

The US and Britain have carried out strikes against Houthi targets in response to the attacks on shipping//CNA-VOI

17
March

A boy holds waits for a meal provided by a charity, with food in besieged Gaza increasingly hard to find.(Photo: AFP/SAID KHATIB) - 

 

 

VOInews, Doha-Qatar : The main UN aid agency operating in Gaza said on Saturday (Mar 16) that acute malnutrition was accelerating in the north of the Palestinian enclave as Israel prepared to send a delegation to Qatar for new ceasefire talks on a hostage deal with Hamas. 

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said one in three children under the age of two in northern Gaza is now acutely malnourished, putting more pressure on Israel over the looming famine. 

On Friday, Israel said it would send a delegation to Qatar for more talks with mediators after its enemy Hamas presented a new proposal for a ceasefire with an exchange of hostages and prisoners. 

The delegation will be led by the head of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, a source familiar with the talks said, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking to convene the security cabinet to discuss the proposal before the talks start.

Efforts failed repeatedly to secure a temporary ceasefire before Islam's holy month of Ramadan started a week ago, with Israel saying it plans to launch a new offensive in Rafah, the last relatively safe city in tiny, crowded Gaza after five months of war.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, starting a two-day visit to the region, voiced concern about an assault on Rafah, saying there was a danger it would result "in many terrible civilian casualties".

On Friday, Netanyahu's office said he had approved an attack plan on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million residents are sheltering, and that the civilian population would be evacuated.

It gave no time frame and there was no immediate evidence of extra preparations on the ground.

The Hamas offer, reviewed by Reuters, foresees dozens of Israeli hostages freed in return for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, during a weeks-long ceasefire that would let more aid into Gaza.

Hamas also called for talks in a later stage on ending the war, but Israel has said it is only willing to negotiate a temporary truce.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told Arabic broadcaster Al Jazeera the group's proposal is so realistic that "no one can object to it" and claimed that mediators had reacted positively.

He said it consists of two stages, with a complete "cessation of aggression" at the start of the second one - something Israel has rejected, vowing to resume its goal of destroying Hamas once any temporary truce expires.

Families of Israeli hostages and their supporters again gathered in Tel Aviv, urging a deal for their release.

At the same time, anti-government protesters, estimated by Israeli media at a few thousand, called for new elections and blocked streets in Tel Aviv//CNA-VOI

13
March

FILE PHOTO: A flare burns excess natural gas in the Permian Basin in Loving County, Texas, U.S. November 23, 2019. Picture taken November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Angus Mordant/File Photo - 

 

 

Voinews, London : Oil rose on Wednesday, supported by signs of strong global demand including from top consumer the United States while hopes that the Federal Reserve might start cutting rates soon also buoyed sentiment despite somewhat sticky U.S. inflation.

In an indication of healthy demand, U.S. crude oil and fuel inventories fell last week, according to market sources citing American Petroleum Institute figures ahead of Wednesday's official U.S. inventory report.

Brent futures for May rose 83 cents, or 1 per cent, to $82.75 a barrel by 0922 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for April gained 59 cents, or 0.8 per cent, to $78.15.

"With envisaged global stock draws in the second quarter and possibly beyond, heightened geopolitical tension with palpable impact on supply and the approaching rate cuts that will make borrowing and even oil trading cheaper, it is almost beyond comprehension as to why the market is reluctant to break higher," said Tamas Varga of oil broker PVM.

Oil had fallen on Tuesday after a higher than expected forecast for U.S. crude oil production and bearish economic data, but persistent geopolitical tensions limited declines.

In an earlier sign of strong demand, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries on Tuesday stuck to its forecast for oil demand growth of 2.25 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2024, higher than many other forecasts.

The International Energy Agency, which expects demand growth to be much lower, updates its forecasts on Thursday.

Oil and the wider financial markets also found support from sentiment that slightly hotter than expected U.S. inflation will not derail interest rate cuts by the middle of the year. Lower rates support oil demand.

"The risk environment has largely stayed unfazed, riding on the firm belief that current market pricing for a rate cut only in June will do the job," said IG market strategist Yeap Jun Rong.

The unexpected slide in U.S. crude inventories and strong growth forecasts by OPEC also supported prices, said Yeap.

In a note to clients, Capital Economics analysts said they still forecast the Fed to start easing policy "around June"//CNA-VOI

 

13
March

© UNICEF/Eyad El Baba
 
Aid convoys enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing border - 

\VOInews, Jakarta : Six aid trucks crossed from Israel directly into the northern Gaza Strip, Palestine on Tuesday (12/3) as part of a pilot project for ensuring the delivery of supplies into the area, the Israeli army announced.

According to the army, as reported by AFP, six World Food Programme - WFP aid trucks "entered the northern Gaza Strip via the '96th' gate on the security fence" on Tuesday.

They claimed that this was done as part of a pilot to prevent the Hamas group from taking over the aid, noting the trucks had been inspected at Kerem Shalom beforehand.

Israel has maintained strict control over aid entering the Gaza Strip since the outbreak of its war with Hamas, inspecting shipments at Nitzana and Kerem Shalom before permitting them to enter through the territory's south.

The cumbersome screenings are a major reason current shortages are so glaring, aid workers say, and the shipments sometimes struggle to reach northern Gaza//AFP-VOI

 

 

13
March

space rocket explode in Japan (Photo : TN) - 

 

 

VOInews, Tokyo : A rocket made by a Japanese company exploded seconds after launch on Wednesday (13/3), in a spectacular failure for the start-up's bid to put a satellite into orbit.

As reported by AFP, Tokyo-based Space One's 18-meter Kairos rocket blasted off in the coastal Wakayama region of western Japan, carrying a small government test satellite.

Five seconds later, live footage showed the solid-fuel rocket erupting in fire, sending white smoke billowing around the remote mountainous area as orange flames raged on the ground.

The fiery failure marks a blow to Japan's efforts to enter the potentially lucrative satellite-launch market.

Space One is hoping to become the nation's first private firm to put a satellite into orbit, and the plan had been for Kairos to do so around 51 minutes after take-off.

Parts shortages and other problems had reportedly led Space One to postpone the launch of Kairos five times before Wednesday's attempt, most recently on Saturday (9/3)//AFP-VOI

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