Senior Chinese General Zhang Xudong who stepped down as head of Western Theatre Command (bordered with India) in June died aged 58. Citing military sources, Minnie Chan, wrote in South China Morning Post (SCMP) that Zhang, who was replaced as head of the country’s biggest military theatre, had been suffering from cancer and gastrointestinal problems. He was responsible for security along China’s border with India. He was replaced as head of the Western Theatre Command after just six months as part of a series of leadership changes.
His replacement, Xu Qiling, stepped down after just two months and is also said to be in poor health amid a spate of illnesses among commanders and troops posted in the region, reported SCMP.
Zhang had been suffering from cancer and problems with his gastrointestinal tract before his death on October 1, according to two military sources.
Zhang was promoted to full general in late December last year, replacing Zhao Zongqi as head of the country’s largest theatre command, an area that includes Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as China’s border with India in the Himalayas, said Minnie.
In June he stepped down without giving any reason and was replaced by General Xu Qiling, previously head of the Eastern Theatre Command.
“Zhang and Xu were rising stars in the military as President Xi Jinping seemed to think highly of them,” said a military source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation. Zhang was given a role on the CMC’s Strategic Planning Committee, but it is not known what Xu’s current role is, reported SCMP.
However, one military source said there were broader concerns for the health and well-being of commanders and troops in the Western Theatre Command, adding that Xu was also suffering from health problems. “[Xu] also has some problems linked to his gastrointestinal tract,” the source said. “That’s why he left his post just two months after the appointment to the Western Theatre Command.”
Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing, said many senior officers and commanders on the front line were suffering from gastrointestinal disease and other health problems, wrote Minnie.
“Working conditions in the low-oxygen, low-temperature, high-altitude Western Theatre Command are tough, with coronary heart disease becoming a common problem among officers and soldiers,” Zhou said. The Western Theatre Command was established as part of a major military overhaul five years ago, which divided the country into five theatre commands as part of the drive to modernise the military and make it combat-ready, reported SCMP.
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Twitter bans account linked to Iran leader over video threatening Donald Trump
Twitter suspended an account related to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on which a video calling for revenge for Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani assassination against former United States president Donald Trump was posted.
Talking to the media, spokesperson of the social media company said, “The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,”. In the recent past also many accounts of the Iranian government and its leaders were suspended by Twitter over posts which called for the killing of the United States president and the top officials.
The account which had been suspended is @KhameneiSite, and an animated video titled “Revenge is Definite”, showing an unmanned aircraft targeting Trump was posted. The title “Revenge is Definite” was also posted on Khamenei’s official website.
Twitter had stated that its policies around abusive behavior is clear and it had taken action as per its policies. On January 3, which marks the second anniversary of the assassination, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi also threatened the United States with revenge.
As head of the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRG), General Soleimani was the main strategist who handled the country’s proxies around the Middle Eastern countries and aimed to increase the influence of Tehran across the region. He was killed in a United States drone attack near the Baghdad International airport in January 2020. Iranian government and its leadership had repeatedly promised to avenge his death and teach the US harsh lessons.
Iran and the United States shares a bitter relationship and have had no formal diplomatic relation since April 7, 1980. Contacts are carried out through informal channels and the Iranian interests Section of the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, D.C. and the US Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.
NORTH KOREA REACTS STRONGLY TO SANCTIONS BY U.S.
North Korea had reacted sharply at the United States sanctions which is in response to its recent hypersonic missile tests this week and vowed a “stronger and certain reaction” to the Western world’s attempt to halt its weapons programs.
In a statement, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said, “The pursuit of the advanced hypersonic missiles system, which is designed to evade existing defenses, is North Korea’s legitimate right. Washington’s move to slap sanctions on North Koreans who advanced its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs was a dangerous escalation.” It added, “The United States is intentionally escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s just activity to the UN Security Council. If the U.S. adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take a stronger and certain reaction to it,”. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
The recent events have up the ante in the Korean peninsula while the United States is pushing North Korea to return to nuclear disarmament talks while the ruling regime in Pyongyang had stepped up its production of fissile material for nuclear bombs and tested new systems to deliver atomic warheads.
Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang increased as North Korea tested two missiles within a week which are designed to deploy a hypersonic glide vehicle that can maneuver at high speeds during an unpowered flight to strike a target and Pyongyang claimed that they hit a target 1,000 kilometers away during the tests.
After the tests, Washington designated five North Koreans living overseas — one in Russia, and four in China — for aiding the country’s weapons programs and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “These designations convey our serious and ongoing concern about the DPRK’s continued proliferation activities and those who support it. We remain committed to seeking dialogue and diplomacy with the DPRK and call on the DPRK to engage in negotiations.”
North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),is a country in East Asia, a totalitarian dictatorship, constituting the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. It borders China and Russia to the north and South Korea to the south at the Korean Demilitarized Zone. North Korea, like its southern counterpart, claims to be the legitimate government of the entire peninsula and adjacent islands. It holds elections, though they have been described by independent observers as sham elections as the country revolves around the personality of the Kim dynasty and their loyal elite club.
US HOUSE COMMITTEE SEEKS COOPERATION FROM TOP HOUSE REPUBLICAN
The U.S. House panel investigating the January 6 Capitol riot on Wednesday asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for a voluntary interview and records in his possession that is related to the attack.
The panel in a letter to the California Republican requested information about his communications with then-President Donald Trump “before, during and after” 6 January 2021, when a mob of Trump’s supporters besieged the Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results.
It also wanted to learn about how McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, interacted with Trump, White House staff and others in the week after the riot, “particularly regarding President Trump’s state of mind at that time,” according to the letter the panel sent to McCarthy.
“We also must learn about how the President’s plans for January 6th came together, and all the other ways he attempted to alter the results of the election. For example, in advance of January 6th, you reportedly explained to Mark Meadows and the former President that objections to the certification of the electoral votes on January 6 ‘was doomed to fail,’” said Bennie Thompson, Democrat from Mississippi who chairs the January 6 panel.
Thompson said the committee wanted to meet with McCarthy as soon as Feb. 3. McCarthy is the third GOP member of the House with whom the committee has sought cooperation on a voluntary basis after two similar requests were turned down by representatives Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Considered one of Trump’s most loyal allies in Congress, McCarthy said during a floor speech in the House chamber seven days after the riot that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack.
But his public statements regarding the events on January 6 “changed markedly” after he met with Trump at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on 28 January 2021, the committee alleged in the letter, asking McCarthy if he had been pressured by Trump or his representatives on what he should say about his conversations with Trump on January 6.
Pakistan’s passport ranks fourth worst for international travel
The Pakistani passport has been ranked as the fourth worst passport for international travel for the third consecutive year, local media reported citing the report by the Henley Passport Index 2022 on Thursday.
According to the report, Pakistani passport holders have visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 31 destinations around the world. The Henley Passport Index, which is a ranking of all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa, placed Pakistan on the 108th position. Henley & Partners firm’s “Henley Passport Index” has been regularly monitoring the world’s most travel-friendly passports since 2006, The News International reported.
“The increasing travel barriers that have been introduced over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in the widest global mobility gap in the index’s 16-year history,” said the report.
The index doesn’t take temporary restrictions into account, so leaving actual current travel access aside, holders of the passports at the top of its ranking — Japan and Singapore — are able, in theory, to travel visa-free to 192 destinations, The News International reported.
That’s 166 more destinations than Afghan nationals, who sit at the bottom of the index of 199 passports, and can access just 26 countries without requiring a visa in advance.
Further down the top 10, the rankings remain virtually unchanged as we enter the first quarter of 2022. South Korea is tied with Germany in second place (with a score of 190) and Finland, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain are all together in third place (with a score of 189), the Pakistani publication reported.
It further reported that the EU countries dominate the top of the list as usual, with France, Netherlands and Sweden climbing one spot to join Austria and Denmark in fourth place (with a score of 188). Ireland and Portugal are in fifth place (with a score of 187). The United States and the United Kingdom, which held the top spot together back in 2014, have regained a little ground.
Europe’s policy allows it to be ‘influential player’ in relation to Russia, China
Europe’s overall policy allows it to be an “influential player,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Thursday ahead of the informal EU meeting in France.
“Strengthening Europe’s role in the world requires more than managing current crises, it also requires long-term strategies and planning. It is for this reason that we are working within the EU on the so-called ‘strategic compass’, which we will discuss in detail with defense ministers today,” the minister said in a statement. This strategic compass aims to show the EU and its member states a clear direction for future security policy. In relation to autocratic states, such as Russia and China, in particular, it is important: if Europe follows a common course and acts as a whole, it is a heavyweight, and if it acts without unity, then it fights in its own weight category,” she added.
Baerbock also said that it is planned to sum up the interim results of this week’s negotiations with Russia during the informal summit of EU foreign ministers.
US PROPOSING NEW UN SANCTIONS AGAINST NORTH KOREA
WASHINGTON: The US proposes to the United Nations to impose new sanctions on North Korea for six missile launches conducted by Pyongyang since September 21, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.
“On top of today’s designations by @StateDept and @USTreasury, the US is proposing @UN sanctions following North Korea’s six ballistic missile launches since September 2021, each of which was in violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” the diplomat wrote on her Twitter page on late Wednesday. Later, a US diplomat told RIA Novosti that the US wanted five persons to be included in the list of UN sanctions.
“The US nominated five individuals for UN sanctions who were designated by Treasury earlier today. We continue to coordinate with partners to prepare the additional three individuals and entities designated by State for UN nomination,” the diplomat said.
Since the beginning of 2022, North Korea has already conducted two missile tests on January 5 and January 11.
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