Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Taiwan President Says Island ‘Will Not Bow’ to China’s Pressure 

Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te smiles during his inaugural press conference inside the presidential office building in Taipei, Taiwan, 19 June 2024. (EPA)
Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te smiles during his inaugural press conference inside the presidential office building in Taipei, Taiwan, 19 June 2024. (EPA)
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Taiwan President Says Island ‘Will Not Bow’ to China’s Pressure 

Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te smiles during his inaugural press conference inside the presidential office building in Taipei, Taiwan, 19 June 2024. (EPA)
Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te smiles during his inaugural press conference inside the presidential office building in Taipei, Taiwan, 19 June 2024. (EPA)

Taiwanese President Lai Ching-te said Wednesday that China was attempting to force the self-ruled island into submission but that it would not bow to pressure.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory and has said it will never renounce the use of force to bring it under Beijing's control.

In recent years, Beijing has upped military and political pressure on the Taipei government, with the latest show of force coming three days after Lai's inauguration, when China conducted war games around the island.

Speaking at a Wednesday press conference marking his first month in office, Lai said: "The annexation of Taiwan is a national policy of the People's Republic of China".

"In addition to military force, they have increasingly employed non-traditional methods of coercion to try to force Taiwan into submission," he said.

"However, Taiwan will not bow to the pressure. The people of Taiwan will resolutely defend national sovereignty and uphold the democratic and free constitutional way of life."

China had said the war games -- launched days after Lai's May 20 inauguration -- were "punishment" for his inaugural speech, which Beijing dubbed a "confession of Taiwan independence".

Encircling Taiwan with warships, fighter jets and coastguard vessels, China said the three-day drills -- dubbed Joint Sword-2024A -- were a test of its ability to seize control of the island.

After the exercises, Beijing vowed military pressure would continue "as long as 'Taiwan independence' provocations continue".

- US weapons sale -

Taiwan -- separated from China by a narrow 180-kilometer (110-mile) strait -- has its own government, military and currency.

As China has increased pressures around the island, Taiwan has sought to strengthen economic ties with friendly countries while ramping up military purchases from the United States, a key partner.

The United States switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979 but it has remained Taiwan's biggest arms supplier, sparking repeated condemnations from China.

On Tuesday, the US Pentagon in Washington announced the approval of two arms sales to Taiwan: $300 million in unmanned aerial vehicles, and $60.2 million for equipment including more than 700 Switchblades -- a miniature, precision-guided missile.

Taiwan's defense ministry on Wednesday thanked Washington for the approval of the deals, which are expected to take effect in a month's time.

"In the face of the Chinese Communist Party's frequent military operations around Taiwan, the US side in this case agreed to sell arms items that... can respond quickly to enemy threats," the ministry said in a statement.

Earlier this month, Washington also approved the sale of equipment and parts for F-16 fighter jets worth approximately $300 million.

Lai on Wednesday thanked the United States for its support, reiterating the need to develop "resilience" in Taiwan's defense strategy.

"The people of Taiwan love peace and are kind to others, but peace must be backed by strength. Achieving peace through preparedness is the way to avoid conflict," he said.

The new president is regarded as a "dangerous separatist" by China and has hewed closely to the rhetoric of his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen, saying that there is no need for Taiwan to formally declare independence as it is "already independent".

Lai and Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party has long asserted Taiwanese sovereignty, and China has not conducted top-level communications with Taipei since 2016.

During his inaugural speech in May, Lai signaled an openness to resuming dialogue with Beijing, calling for both sides to develop exchanges.

China, however, has appeared to rebuff those overtures.

It continues to maintain a near-daily presence of naval vessels and warplanes around the island, so-called grey zone tactics that fall short of an outright act of war but serve to exhaust Taiwan's military.

In recent months, Chinese coast guard ships have also been spotted around Taiwan's outlying islands, at times briefly entering its restricted waters.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Bangladesh Factories, Banks Reopen as Curfew Is Eased After Protests Taper Off 

Commuters are seen moving along a road in Dhaka on July 24, 2024, after authorities eased a curfew imposed to contain deadly clashes sparked by student protests over civil service employment quotas. (AFP)
Commuters are seen moving along a road in Dhaka on July 24, 2024, after authorities eased a curfew imposed to contain deadly clashes sparked by student protests over civil service employment quotas. (AFP)
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Bangladesh Factories, Banks Reopen as Curfew Is Eased After Protests Taper Off 

Commuters are seen moving along a road in Dhaka on July 24, 2024, after authorities eased a curfew imposed to contain deadly clashes sparked by student protests over civil service employment quotas. (AFP)
Commuters are seen moving along a road in Dhaka on July 24, 2024, after authorities eased a curfew imposed to contain deadly clashes sparked by student protests over civil service employment quotas. (AFP)

Rush-hour traffic returned to the streets of the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka on Wednesday, as a curfew was eased after four days of nationwide shutdown that followed deadly protests led by university students against quotas in government jobs.

Offices reopened and broadband internet was largely restored, although social media continued to be suspended, days after the clashes between protesters and security forces killed almost 150 people.

The country has been relatively calm since Sunday, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of an appeal from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government and directed that 93% of jobs should be open to candidates on merit.

Bangladesh's mainstay garment and textiles industries, which supply to major Western brands, also began reopening some factories after a pause in production during the curfew.

"All our factories are open today. Everything is going smoothly," said S.M. Mannan, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

The stock exchange opened too, as well as banks, after remaining shut the past two days.

Residents of Dhaka were out on the streets, some making their way to offices as public buses also began running in some places.

"It was a hassle to reach the office on time," said Shamima Akhter, who works at a private firm in the capital. "Some roads are still blocked for security reasons. Don't know when everything will get normal."

Local news websites, which had stopped updating since Friday, were back online too.

Bangladesh authorities had shut mobile internet and deployed the army on the streets during the curfew that was imposed from midnight on Saturday.

The government said curfew restrictions would be relaxed for seven hours on Wednesday and Thursday, and offices would also be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

STUDENT DEMANDS

Analysts say the student action has given fresh impetus to Hasina's critics, months after she won a fourth-straight term in power in January in a national election boycotted by the main opposition party.

"The informal federation of government critics appears deeper and wider than before the election, which presents a serious challenge to the ruling party," said Geoffrey Macdonald at the United States Institute of Peace.

Hasina, 76, is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, who led the country's movement for independence from Pakistan.

The earlier 56% job quotas included a 30% reservation for families of veterans of the 1971 independence war, which critics said favored supporters of Hasina's Awami League.

Hasina's government had scrapped the quotas in 2018, but a high court ruling reinstated them last month.

Students were furious because quotas left fewer than half of state jobs open on merit amid an unemployment crisis, particularly in the private sector, making government sector jobs with their regular wage hikes and perks especially prized.

Hasina has blamed her political opponents for the violence and her government said on Tuesday that it would heed the Supreme Court ruling.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has denied any involvement in the violence and accused Hasina of authoritarianism and a crackdown on her critics, charges denied by her government.

Protesting students have given the government a fresh 48-hour ultimatum to fulfil four other conditions of an eight-point list of demands, and said they would announce their next steps on Thursday.

"We want the government to meet our four-point demand, including restoration of internet, withdrawal of police from campuses, and opening universities (which have been closed for a week)," protest coordinator Nahid Islam said.