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Turkish jets pound Kurdish militia in new Syria offensive

Turkey opened a new front in Syria's nearly seven-year-old war on Saturday, launching airstrikes against a US-backed Kurdish militia in Afrin Province that raise the prospect of a further strain on relations between Ankara and Washington. The operation, dubbed "Operation Olive Branch" by Ankara, pits Turkey against Kurdish fighters allied to the United States at a time when ties between Turkey and Washington – NATO allies and members of the coalition against ISIL – appear dangerously close to a breaking point. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had repeatedly vowed that Turkey would root out the "nests of terror" in Syria of the People's Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Turkey deems a terror organization. YPG: Ten killed in Turkish attack The strikes on the YPG hit some 108 targets, the Turkish military said. A total of 72 aircraft took part in the initial onslaught, it added, saying all returned safely to base. ISIL targets were also destroyed, it said. On land, the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army rebels were also helping the operation in Afrin, a senior Turkish official said. "The weakening of the region with artillery fire is under way. The first stage was carried out by aerial forces of the military and nearly all of the targets were destroyed," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said. From Sunday, land forces would also carry out "necessary activities," depending on developments, he said. The YPG said the strikes killed ten people, mostly civilians. "Seven civilians were killed, including a child, as well as two female fighters and one male fighter," YPG spokesman Birusk Hasakeh said, adding that the child was an eight-year-old boy. "We will defeat this aggression, like we have defeated other such assaults," the group said in a statement. The YPG's political branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), said earlier on Saturday that 25 civilians had been wounded in the Turkish bombing. Ankara also said there were casualties but all of them were Kurdish militants. Syria denies being informed Differences over Syria policy have complicated Turkey's already difficult relationship with NATO ally the United States, which has backed the YPG, seeing it as an effective partner in the fight against ISIL. On Saturday, US reaction to the strikes was cautious. The Pentagon said the United States urged those involved to focus instead on the fight against ISIL. A Pentagon official said: "We encourage all parties to avoid escalation and to focus on the most important task of defeating ISIS (ISIL)." A US State Department official said US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had spoken to the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers, but gave no details on the calls. Timur Akhmetov, Ankara-based researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council, told AFP that Russia appeared to have given the "green light" to the operation but made clear it should not lead to destabilization elsewhere. "I don't think Russia will agree to let Turkey occupy the whole Afrin region and insists on keeping the Syrian government in charge," he added. The YPG's growing strength across large parts of northern Syria has alarmed Ankara, which fears the creation of an independent Kurdish state on its southern border. Syrian Kurdish leaders say they seek autonomy as part of Syria, not secession. In comments to media, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his government was informing the Syrian government "in writing" about the Afrin assault, but Damascus denied it. "Syria completely denies claims by the Turkish regime that it was informed of this military operation," a foreign ministry source told state news agency SANA. The assault, the source said, "is the latest move in Turkey's attacks on Syria's sovereignty," adding that "Syria strongly condemns the brutal Turkish aggression on Afrin, which is an inseparable part of Syrian territory." (AFP, Reuters)

Obama aide hits out at 'cruel' Trump policies

America's former ambassador to the United Nations has told Sky News that she is "heartbroken" over the "coldness and the cruelty" of Donald Trump's foreign policy decisions. Samantha Power was appointed by Barack Obama and has been an outspoken critic of his successor. She features in a new documentary called The Final Year, a story about the last, frenetic legacy-building efforts of Mr Obama's foreign policy team. It has been released to coincide with the first anniversary of President Trump's inauguration and Ms Power is giving interviews to help promote the film. Speaking about President Trump's mission to dismantle much of her team's signature achievements, including the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord, policies to welcome refugees and more, Ms Power said: "For me it feels less like 'oh all that labour spent and now it's all being taken away' and now just 'oh my gosh our country!' "The coldness and the cruelty of these choices and the families who are going to be affected, I mean, like every citizen I'm just completely heartbroken." She is still unsure at the price America might pay for President Trump's approach to international affairs. She said: "I think that provided we can avoid a big war for instance in North Korea or Iran... I still think three years from now the world will be hungry for US leadership... but the big war scenarios, if it looks like it's us (that caused it), I think that's a bit of a game-changer. Does she really believe there is a genuine risk of war between the US and another nuclear power? "I mean I think it's fair to say that there's a higher risk of war and even of nuclear war, you could say, since the Cuban missile crisis. "The miscalculation and the escalatory cycle that can ensue, I mean that risk is definitely real. "I don't think threatening a man who is as isolated as Kim Jong Un is, who has the tools of destruction at his disposal as he does, without it being part of a more comprehensive strategy, I don't think that's a winning foreign policy." But Ms Power's time in office, by her own admission, was far from perfect. She pushed for both UN-sanctioned and unilateral intervention in Syria - and didn't get it. It is something she still feels partly responsible for. "You don't get 100% of what you want in these jobs, but I never felt 'woe is me', I felt' woe are the Syrians', and I wish I'd argued it better, I wish I had been more persuasive... I wish I were more confident that what I had proposed was the right thing. "But in the end, I can't tell you with any confidence that had we done this five-point plan that we would have had a different outcome in Syria. It really is the most complicated conflict I've ever looked at." For now Ms Power must watch from the sidelines as President Trump makes good on the promises he made to those who voted for him, many of whom welcomed a chance to be less involved in and responsible for the affairs of other nations. Referring to Mr Obama, she said he says history "zigs and zags". "As we each month go through more Trump travesties, own goals and manmade, presidentially-made crises, I find myself shouting at the screen, 'can we get some zagging?! Enough of the zigging ok!' "But I think that the profundity of the film and the thing that pulls people out of the despair of election night and the sense that a lot of people have that dark forces are overriding the forces of light either over here or in Russia or Eastern Europe or wherever, the thing that redeems that... is the sense that individuals are making history, and even now as we live through the Trump years, which are very difficult for a lot of people, around the country and around the world, history is getting made by more than Donald Trump. "History is getting made by the 25,000 women who are running for office in this country, who never thought about running for office before, and by our courts who are rejecting Donald Trump's effort to expel transgender people from our military. (SKY NEWS)

The Belt and Road

China's new Silk Road extends to Latin America

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for upgrade of cooperation between China and Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries in the construction of the Belt and Road, describing the LAC region as a "natural extension" of the ancient maritime Silk Road. Wang made the remarks in signed articles published in Chinese and LAC newspapers ahead of the Second Ministerial Meeting of the Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which will be held in the Chilean capital Santiago on Monday. Proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes. As ties between China and LAC countries strengthened in recent years, the region has increasingly shown interest in the initiative, which it hopes will bring more investment and technology from the world's second-largest economy. Meanwhile, agricultural products from the LAC region, such as beans, cherries, coffee, wine and beef, are gaining popularity among Chinese consumers. Last year, the Argentinian and Chilean presidents and high-level representatives from other LAC countries attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. "As we jointly advance the Belt and Road Initiative, we hope to synergize our development strategies at a higher level. Let us enhance top-level planning, deepen policy communication, and formulate road maps and action plans for China-LAC cooperation under the Belt and Road," the Chinese foreign minister wrote in an article published in Jamaica Observer on Saturday. 'Natural complementarity' Patricio Giusto, a public policy expert and director of the consulting firm Diagnostico Politico (Political Diagnosis), explained why China-LAC cooperation works during an interview with Xinhua News Agency. "China, which previously imported innovative technology to be able to produce, today produces cutting-edge technology," he said. "And what it is trying to do is [to] offer the world's different regions access to this new technology, precisely to countries that need it." There is a surplus of food in LAC countries, but the region lacks "investment in infrastructure and high technology, which China can supply," he noted, hailing the "natural complementarity" between the two sides. As China tries to bring the Belt and Road Initiative across the Pacific Ocean, Giusto called on LAC countries to seize the opportunity to work more closely with China. "The region cannot continue to waste the opportunity China is offering to expand trade, investment, finance, cultural exchange, and a whole bunch of other areas that could be explored, without any shadow of doubt," the political analyst said. Partnering with China: LAC's 'collective response' The Belt and Road Initiative is off to a "good start" in the LAC region, according to the Chinese foreign minister. "Many countries in the region look forward to stimulating their own development and promoting Sino-LAC relations through cooperation within the framework of the initiative," Wang wrote in an article published by People's Daily on Thursday. Recently, a proposed high-speed railway project in Chile showed how much cooperation in infrastructure between the two sides could offer the region. Construction group China Railways Group Limited (CREC) presented the project, worth 1.5 billion US dollars, to the Chilean government earlier this month, promising to cut travel time between Santiago and the port city of Valparaiso in half to just 45 minutes. "There are a lot of people [who are] very excited about the chance to connect those two cities," said Maria Silva, a tour guide in Valparaiso, one of Latin America's gateways to Asia. "It'll be very good for stimulating the economy." Jorge Heine, former Chilean ambassador to China, believes closer ties with China will benefit Latin America. "I would like to see not just national responses but some sort of collective response from the region saying that it is interested in continuing to partner with China in pushing for Latin American development," he told CGTN. Both China and LAC countries belong to the developing world and both sides share the dream of pursuing national development and people's happiness, said the Chinese foreign minister, who will also pay official visits to Chile and Uruguay. "As good brothers, good partners and good friends, we will work hand in hand to build a China-LAC community with a shared future," Wang added. (CGTN)


Qinghai’s Development Plan of Silk Road Cultural Industrial Belt

Northwest China’s Qinghai Province has recently released a plan to support development of the Silk Road cultural industrial belt from 2018 to 2025. Under the plan, Qinghai aims at building itself into a high added-value area of harmonious co-existence of multiple ethnic cultures on the Silk Road economic belt, a high added-value area of ecological civilization, and a pioneering demonstration zone of green development, a strategic channel for opening-up of the Silk Road economic belt, and an international people-to-people exchange and cooperation centre. The plan highlights the “core city-leading, two zones-coordinating, and five belts-radiating”. Specifically, regarding core city-leading strategy, Qinghai will highlight the position of Xi’ning, the capital city of the province, as its political, economic and cultural centre, and spare no effort in building the city’s brand of mixed cultures so that Xi’ning can guide the whole province’s cultural industrial development as a core. As for two zones-coordinating, the province will actively build the Hehuang Cultural Industry Cluster Zone and the Kunlun Cultural Industry Cultivation & Development Zone and make them an important engine and pillar of the Silk Road Cultural Industrial Belt of the province. The five belts-radiating refers to radiation in all directions with Xi’ning as the center. The province will develop cultural industrial belts under different themes to extend the culture into neighboring provinces and other places on the Silk Road economic belt, so as to co-enhance the transformation, upgrading and leap-forward of the Silk Road Cultural Industrial Belt. (BELT AND ROAD PORTAL)