Beijing, Sep 3 (AP/UNB) — Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday promoted Beijing's initiative to build ports and other infrastructure to African leaders as a tool for "common prosperity" in a world facing challenges from trade protectionism.
Speaking to businesspeople ahead of a conference with dozens of African leaders, Xi said the "Belt and Road" initiative will expand markets. He tried to mollify concern Beijing wants to build strategic influence, promising Chinese investment comes with "no political strings attached."
"Unilateralism and protectionism are on the rise. Economic growth lacks robust drive," said Xi in a speech. "China-Africa cooperation under the BRI is a way to common prosperity that brings benefits to both our peoples."
African and other Asian leaders have welcomed "Belt and Road" but some projects have prompted complaints about debt and other problems. The initiative involves hundreds of projects, most of them built by Chinese contractors and financed by loans from Chinese state-owned banks, across an arc of 65 countries from the South Pacific through Asia to Africa and the Middle East.
The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation brings together leaders from China and more than 50 African countries. Dozens of African leaders met with Xi ahead of the conference.
Xi made no mention of the political and debt concerns that overshadow some "Belt and Road" projects. But Chinese officials previously have rejected accusations that projects leave host countries too deeply indebted to Chinese lenders.
"China's investment in Africa comes with no political strings attached," said Xi. "China does not interfere in Africa's internal affairs and does not impose its own will on Africa."
Yangon, Sep 3 (AP/UNB) —Britain's ambassador says the verdict against two Reuters journalists has undermined media freedom in Myanmar.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted Monday of violating a colonial-era secrecy law and sentenced to seven years in prison. They were arrested while reporting on Myanmar's brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.
British Ambassador Dan Chugg, who was in court for Monday's verdict, said the case has "struck a hammer-blow to the rule of law in Myanmar."
He said diplomats who attended the trial believe the judges ignored evidence and Myanmar's laws. The journalists testified they did not solicit or knowingly possess any secret documents, and a police officer who testified his commander had ordered documents be planted on the journalists was subsequently jailed for a year.
Chugg called for the journalists' release.
The U.S. says the conviction of two Reuters reporters in Myanmar is "deeply troubling for all who support press freedom and the transition toward democracy."
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty Monday of violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act while reporting on government abuses against the country's Rohingya Muslims.
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Yangon said "the clear flaws in this case raise serious concerns about rule of law and judicial independence in Myanmar, and the reporters' conviction is a major setback to the Government of Myanmar's stated goal of expanding democratic freedoms."
It called for their immediate release.
A court in Myanmar has sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison for illegal possession of official documents, a ruling that comes as international criticism mounts over the military's alleged human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had pleaded not guilty to violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. They contended they were framed by police.
Monday's verdict was postponed from a week ago.
The two journalists had been reporting last year on Myanmar's brutal crackdown against the Rohingya in the country's western state of Rakhine.
Investigators working for the U.N.'s top human rights body said last week that genocide charges should be brought against senior Myanmar military officers over the crackdown.
Jakarta, Sep 2 (AP/UNB) — Indonesia's hosting of the Asian Games and a record haul of gold medals has swelled national pride, providing a boost to the re-election campaign of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.
The 2-week-long games ended Saturday with Indonesia fourth on the medal table behind China, Japan and South Korea. A good chunk of its 30 gold medals were in obscure sports held only at the Asian Games, and none was from swimming or athletics.
But for Indonesia, which has won only seven Olympic gold medals — all in badminton — it was a landmark haul that outdid its modest ambition of sneaking into the top 10.
A well-received opening ceremony, an absence of major organizational problems, and Jokowi's surprise announcement Saturday that Indonesia would bid for the 2032 Olympics have fueled feel-good nationalism that analysts say is likely to give Jokowi a lift in the polls heading to an April election.
That would widen his already substantial lead over former general and ultranationalist politician Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi's challenger for a second time.
The games will "certainly have a positive impact on Jokowi's electability," said Syamsuddin Haris, a political analyst from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences. "The spectacular opening ceremony became a successful campaign for the incumbent, especially to attract swing voters and millennials whose numbers are very significant."
Jokowi was compared to Barack Obama when first elected in 2014, and he and his advisers have cultivated a "cool cred" around his presidency.
That was evident two weeks ago in his cameo at the opening ceremony before a crowd of 40,000 and a national television audience.
A slickly choreographed video showed Jokowi stuck in traffic — a humorous nod to one of Jakarta's major challenges in hosting the games. He donned a black helmet and raced through the city's backstreets on a motorbike to reach the stadium on time.
Then the motorbike shown in the video sped into the stadium and its helmeted driver disappeared into a tunnel moments before the real Jokowi appeared in the VIP area to thunderous applause.
It resembled part of the opening of the 2012 London Olympics, where Queen Elizabeth II and James Bond appeared to skydive into the stadium.
In another moment that riveted Indonesians, Jokowi was shown enthusiastically grooving to music blasting across the stadium, a stark contrast to the morbid formality of most Southeast Asian leaders.
Haris said the games also positively highlighted ethnic and religious differences in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation with more than 260 million people, making it harder to exploit those divisions during the election campaign, he said.
"The Indonesian people saw how the athletes are fighting for victory, for gold medals, and the winners are not only Muslim, but also of Chinese descent, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist," Haris said. "This will certainly dampen the sectarian and ethnic issues used in the 2014 presidential elections."
Despite Jokowi's prominence, Subianto wasn't totally deprived of oxygen.
As chairman of the Pencak Silat association— a local martial art included in these games — he was shown on national television presenting some of the 14 gold medals that Indonesia won in the discipline, and in a group hug with Jokowi and one of the winners.
But he was also mocked online with a mercilessly effective meme that juxtaposed a recent image of a shirtless and flabby Subianto against the washboard abs of an Indonesian heartthrob who jubilantly tore off his shirt after winning gold in the men's badminton singles.
Young Indonesians make up 35-40 percent of voters and will play a "decisive" role in the 2019 presidential race, said Hugo Brennan, Asia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a business and political risk consultancy.
"Jokowi's motorcycle stunt during the opening ceremony was widely shared on social media and will have burnished his 'cool credentials' among this important constituency," he said.
The PR win comes less than a month after Jokowi unexpectedly chose a conservative cleric, Ma'ruf Amin, as his running mate, dismaying moderate and liberal supporters but likely neutralizing damaging criticism that he isn't sufficiently Islamic.
Most of his five-year term has been spent balancing the demands of his moderate base, powerful Islamic conservatives, a complicated parliamentary coalition and the military, which has never completely accepted its diminished role following the end of the Suharto dictatorship two decades ago.
Improving Indonesia's creaking infrastructure has been Jokowi's signature policy — the Asian Games indirectly highlighted some of the progress — and he enters the campaign the clear but not unbeatable front-runner.
If it's any consolation for Prabowo, who was narrowly defeated by Jokowi in 2014, the games afterglow will fade and is unlikely to be a decisive factor when the world's third largest democracy votes in April, analysts said.
"I think Jokowi's and Indonesia's performance in the Asian Games will give the president a bit of a bump in the polls but I'm not sure it significantly changes his odds of re-election," said Eurasia Group analyst Peter Mumford.
"Any benefit from the Asian Games may have dissipated by then. But certainly doesn't do him any harm," he said.
Jokowi, however, appears intent on extending its shelf life, announcing alongside the president of the International Olympic Committee on Saturday that because of the success of the Asian Games, Indonesia will bid for the 2032 Olympics.
Kabul, Sep 2 (AP/UNB) — An Afghan official says a foreign pilot and two Afghan soldiers were killed when a helicopter contracted by NATO crashed inside an army base.
Maj. Hanif Rezaie, an army spokesman, says three others, including another foreign pilot, were wounded when the MI-14 helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff from the base near the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Rezaie says the crash was caused by a technical problem and the helicopter caught fire after it hit the ground. He says there was no enemy fire.
Seven other security forces on board the helicopter were rescued.
Rezaie was unable to confirm the nationality of the two foreign pilots.
Kabul, Sep 2 (AP/UNB) — U.S. Army Gen. Austin Miller has assumed command of the 41-nation NATO mission in Afghanistan following a handover ceremony.
Miller took over Sunday from Gen. John Nicholson, who held the post for more than two years, at a ceremony attended by senior Afghan officials and foreign ambassadors.
The handover comes at a time when Afghan forces are struggling to contain a resurgent Taliban and an increasingly powerful Islamic State affiliate. The Taliban control several districts across Afghanistan, and both groups have launched a relentless wave of attacks in recent months.
The NATO mission began with the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban after the Sept. 11 attacks. The U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014 but still routinely come to the aid of Afghan forces.