Chinese President Xi Jinping warned against “expanding” military ties on Wednesday in a speech ahead of a virtual summit with top leaders from Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa.
Beijing is hosting the meeting of the influential club of BRICS emerging economies, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the global population and nearly a quarter of the world’s gross domestic product.
Three of its members — China, India and South Africa — have abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Xi told the BRICS business forum that the “Ukraine crisis is… a wake-up call” and warned against “expanding military alliances and seeking one’s own security at the expense of other countries’ security”.
China and India have strong military links with Russia and buy large amounts of its oil and gas.
In a call last week, Xi assured his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that China would support Moscow’s core interests in “sovereignty and security” — leading the United States to warn Beijing that it risked ending up “on the wrong side of history”.
South Africa, one of the few African countries wielding diplomatic influence outside the continent, has also not condemned the Russian military action.
Xi took a swipe at US and European Union sanctions on Russia in the speech on Wednesday, saying “sanctions are a boomerang and a double-edged sword”.
Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) nations will meet next week in Germany to discuss how to proceed with sanctions against Russia.
– ‘World divided’ –
The BRICS summit takes place as Russian troops continue to pummel eastern Ukraine after invading the country four months ago.
China and India have both ramped up crude oil imports from Russia, helping to offset losses from Western nations scaling back Russian energy purchases.
India bought six times more Russian oil from March to May compared with the same period last year, while imports by China during that period tripled, data from research firm Rystad Energy shows.
Once bitter Cold War rivals, Beijing and Moscow have stepped up cooperation in recent years.
President Putin was in Beijing for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in February, just days before the invasion of Ukraine started.
Beijing and Moscow also flew bomber aircraft over the Sea of Japan and East China Sea while US President Joe Biden was in Tokyo in late May — signalling strong military links between the two countries.
“The world has been divided into east and west after the Ukraine war,” Manoj Joshi, a New Delhi-based author and geopolitical commentator, told AFP.
He added that BRICS gives a platform for Putin to stand with leaders from emerging economies.
“It sends a message to the US and the EU that they have not succeeded in isolating him and Russia,” he said.
Analysts say that Beijing will use the summit to promote its governance and development model at a time of global instability.
China said at a BRICS foreign ministers meeting in May that it wants other emerging economies to join the grouping, though it is unclear whether new members have been invited.
“Beijing would like to shape the BRICS agenda in line with… China-centric initiatives,” said Madhu Bhalla, professor and editor of the India Quarterly journal.
“Entry of other members… who follow the Chinese line will help steer the group’s agenda closer to the Chinese agenda,” she said.
Google agrees to pay for Wikipedia content
Google has agreed to pay Wikipedia for content displayed by its search engine, mirroring deals the US tech giant has struck with news outlets in Europe.
The Wikimedia Foundation, the charity that oversees the online encyclopedia, said Google was the first paying customer for its commercial venture Wikimedia Enterprise, which it launched last year.
The Internet Archive, a non-profit that runs a site called the Wayback Machine that saves snapshots of websites and is used to fix Wikipedia links, will be offered the commercial services for free.
“We’re thrilled to be working with them both as our longtime partners,” said Wikimedia’s Lane Becker in a statement on Tuesday.
Wikipedia, one of the world’s most visited websites, is free to use, updated by volunteers and relies on donations to keep afloat.
The new commercial arm will not change that arrangement for individual users, the foundation said.
Google uses material from the site for its “knowledge panel” — a sidebar that accompanies the main search results.
The source of the information is not always shown, a practice that had sparked complaints from Wikimedia.
Google has previously given money to Wikipedia through donations and grants.
“We have long supported the Wikimedia Foundation in pursuit of our shared goals of expanding knowledge and information access for people everywhere,” said Google’s Tim Palmer.
The foundation’s statement did not reveal the value of the Google contract.
French regulators and Google on Tuesday ended a years-long dispute by agreeing a framework for the US firm to pay news outlets for content.
Google said it had already made deals with hundreds of news outlets across Europe, Agence France-Presse among them.
Passenger jet catches fire while landing at Miami airport
Investigators were headed to Miami Wednesday after a passenger jet’s landing gear collapsed and it caught fire as it touched down at the US city’s international airport, forcing 140 people to flee the burning and mangled aircraft.
Three people were hospitalized after the crash of Red Air Flight 203 late Tuesday, according to Miami-Dade fire officials, but no deaths or serious injuries have been reported among those on board.
Dramatic video footage showed people being evacuated from the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 aircraft, lying askew on the runway with its nose crumpled as thick black smoke billows from its body.
Red Air, a Dominican budget carrier which only launched in November last year, said the plane was arriving from Santo Domingo when it met with “technical difficulties.”
“Red Air #203 from Santo Domingo had its landing gear in the nose of the plane collapse, which seems to have caused a fire,” said a statement on the Miami International Airport’s Twitter account.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the US government agency in charge of probing civil aviation accidents, tweeted that its team would arrive in Miami on Wednesday.
Red Air said there were 130 passengers and 10 crew on board.
Biden seeks three-month federal gas tax holiday as prices skyrocket
US President Joe Biden will ask Congress Wednesday to suspend the federal gas tax for three months as skyrocketing prices cause widespread anger among Americans just months before crucial mid-term elections.
The White House wants to discontinue the 18 cents per gallon tax until September and will call on state governments to do the same to “provide direct relief to American consumers who have been hit with Putin’s price hike,” a senior administration official said.
The official noted that gas prices — now averaging near $5 per gallon (3.78 liters) — had gone up almost $2 since Russian President Vladimir Putin began building up forces on the Ukrainian border earlier this year.
“The president recognizes the significant challenge that high gas prices pose to working families,” the official said, while conceding the tax suspension alone would not offset household costs that are rising at the fastest rate in a generation.
Biden, whose popularity has plummeted alongside soaring inflation, has made tackling surging prices his top domestic priority while finding few ready tools at his disposal to directly impact them.
Facing growing public anger over the rising cost of gas, several states including New York and Connecticut have already suspended fuel taxes, while others have delayed planned tax increases.
But according to analysts, some 46 states have yet to act, including California, where gasoline is the most taxed and the most expensive, at well over $6 a gallon.
Federal tax revenues on gas and diesel help pay for the Highway Trust Fund, which maintains roads and supports public transport, but Biden will call on Congress to ensure the estimated $10 billion gap in funding is made up from other sources.
– A dollar less per gallon –
Biden will also urge retailers at gas stations to apply any tax cuts immediately, as well as push refiners to expand their crude-processing capacity in the hope the combined measures could cut the price of gasoline by as much as a dollar per gallon.
Biden has previously taken a number of steps to alleviate the pain at the pump since Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine sent fuel prices soaring not just in the United States, but globally.
Those measures include releasing a million barrels of oil per day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, negotiating the release of an additional 60 million barrels from international partners and expanding access to biofuels.
The White House recently called out major oil groups including ExxonMobil and Chevron, denouncing their profit margins as “well above normal” and calling it their patriotic duty to up output.
“Exxon has made more money than God this quarter,” Biden quipped.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is due to meet with refiners Thursday to urge them to contribute to these measures, including increasing their production output.
Annual inflation in the United States peaked at 8.6 percent in May, a 40-year high. It is 34.6 percent for energy alone.
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