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US relieved as China appears to heed warnings on Russia

Two months after warning that Beijing appeared poised to help Russia in its fight against Ukraine, senior US officials say they have not detected overt Chinese military and economic support, a welcome development in the tense US-China relationship.

US officials told Reuters in recent days they remain wary about China’s long-standing support for Russia in general, but that the military and economic support that they worried about has not come to pass, at least for now. The relief comes at a pivotal time.

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President Joe Biden is preparing for a trip to Asia later this month dominated by how to deal with the rise of China and his administration is soon to release his first national security strategy about the emergence of China as a great power.

“We have not seen the PRC provide direct military support to Russia’s war on Ukraine or engage in systematic efforts to help Russia evade our sanctions,” a Biden administration official told Reuters, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

“We continue to monitor for the PRC and any other country that might provide support to Russia or otherwise evade US and partner sanctions.”

As well as steering clear of directly backing Russia’s war effort, China has avoided entering new contracts between its state oil refiners and Russia, despite steep discounts.

In March its state-run Sinopec Group suspended talks about a major petrochemical investment and a gas marketing venture in Russia.

Last month, the US envoy to the United Nations hailed China’s abstentions on UN votes to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “win,” underscoring how Beijing’s enforced balancing act between Russia and the West may be the best outcome for Washington.

Still, China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine and has criticized the sweeping Western sanctions on Moscow.

Trade volume between Russia and China also jumped in the first quarter, and the two declared a “no limits” partnership in February.

On Monday, Beijing’s Washington embassy issued a 30-page newsletter accusing the United States of spreading “falsehoods” to discredit China over Ukraine, including through a March press leak saying Russia had sought Chinese military help. The embassy noted that US officials had since said they had seen no evidence of China providing such support.

Biden himself has not spoken of China helping Russia since telling reporters in Brussels March 24 that in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he “made sure he understood the consequences.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week China is dealing with the “significant reputational risk” of being Russia’s ally and that “for now we’re not seeing significant support from China for Russia’s military actions.”

Biden is to visit Tokyo and Seoul in what will be his first trip to Asia as president – one that won’t include a stop in China. He’ll meet with Indian and Australian leaders too, during a ‘Quad’ meeting in Tokyo.

China has made Russia a key part of its foreign policy strategy to counter the West. Biden aides were worried Xi was planning to provide direct support to Russian President Vladimir Putin as his campaign in Ukraine faced fierce setbacks, one US official said.

They were heartened this has not happened so far, but Washington and its allies are continuing to closely monitor the level of assistance, the official said.

Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said stark warnings by the US and European Union have paid off so far.

“There has been consistent messaging that if China does so it will face severe consequences. It appears that so far, the Chinese have not. It is feasible that the Chinese planned to provide military assistance and changed their minds,” she said.

However US officials remain concerned about China’s refusal to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine and what they say is its continued parroting of Russian disinformation.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on April 21 that Beijing had “repeatedly drawn false equivalencies between Russia’s war of aggression and Ukraine’s self-defensive actions.”

She added: “Let’s be clear, China’s already doing things that do not help this situation.”

Read more: Biden warns China of consequences if it helps Russia in Ukraine

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IAEA loses transmission from Ukraine’s Russian-held nuclear plant surveillance system

The UN atomic watchdog said on Wednesday it had again lost its connection to its surveillance systems keeping track of nuclear material at the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, Europe’s largest, which the watchdog wants to inspect.
“The fact that our remote safeguards data transmission is down again –- for the second time in the past month –- only adds to the urgency to dispatch this mission (to Zaporizhzhia),” the
International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

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The connection was lost on Saturday “due to a disruption of the facility’s communication systems,” it added.

Read more: UN watchdog ‘concerned’ about Ukraine nuclear plant access

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Anti-coup protesters in Sudan shot dead: Report

Four protesters were killed in Sudan on Thursday, medics said, as large crowds took to the streets despite heavy security and a communications blackout to rally against the military leadership that seized power eight months ago.

In central Khartoum, security forces fired tear gas and water cannon as they tried to prevent swelling crowds from marching towards the presidential palace, witnesses said.

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They estimated the crowds in Khartoum and its twin cities of Omdurman and Bahri to be in the tens of thousands. In Omdurman witnesses reported tear gas and gunfire as security forces prevented protesters from crossing into Khartoum.

The protests mark the third anniversary of huge demonstrations during the uprising that overthrew long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir and led to a power-sharing arrangement between civilian groups and the military.

Last October, the military led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan toppled the transitional government, triggering rallies that have called on the army to quit politics.

Some protesters carried banners calling for justice for those killed in previous demonstrations. Others chanted, “Burhan, Burhan, back to the barracks and hand over your companies,” a reference to the Sudanese military’s economic holdings.

Earlier, protesters barricaded some of the capital’s main thoroughfares with stones and burning tires.

It was the first time in months of protests against the October coup that internet and phone services had been cut. After the military takeover, extended internet blackouts were imposed in an apparent effort to hamper the protest movement.

Staff at Sudan’s two private sector telecoms companies, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities had ordered them to shut down the internet once again on Thursday.

Bridges shut

Phone calls within Sudan were also cut and security forces closed bridges over the Nile linking Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri – another step typically taken on big protest days to limit the movement of marchers.

In recent days there have been daily neighborhood protests in the build-up to Thursday’s rallies.

On Wednesday, medics aligned with the protest movement said security forces shot dead a child during protests in Bahri. Thursday’s four deaths, all in Omdurman, brought the number of protesters killed since the coup to 107.

There was no immediate comment from Sudanese authorities.

The United Nations envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes, called this week on authorities to abide by a pledge to protect the right of peaceful assembly. “Violence against protesters will not be tolerated,” he said.

Military leaders said they dissolved the government in October because of political paralysis. As a result, however, international financial support agreed with the transitional government was frozen and an economic crisis has deepened.

Burhan said on Wednesday the armed forces were looking forward to the day when an elected government could take over, but this could only be done through consensus or elections, not protests.

Mediation efforts led by the United Nations and the African

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Protesters in Sudan rally against military on uprising anniversary

Internet services cut in Sudan’s Khartoum ahead of pro-democracy protests

Sudan army shells disputed border with Ethiopia

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UN: Almost 16 million people in Ukraine need humanitarian aid

As Russia presses on with its invasion of Ukraine, some 16 million people inside the country need humanitarian aid, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine said Thursday.

“Almost 16 million people in Ukraine today need humanitarian assistance: water food, health services,” Osnat Lubrani told a press briefing.

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Six million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes for other parts of the country since the war started, though around 5 million have since returned, she said.

But “many know that they might be forced to flee again,” she added.

Over 5.3 million more Ukrainians have fled abroad, Lubrani said.

She said the UN tally of casualties since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 was likely much higher.

“The number we have of almost 5,000 civilians killed and more than 5,000 injured is just a fraction of the frightening reality,” she said.

She also said it was “extremely difficult if not… impossible” for humanitarian groups to access areas that are no longer under Kyiv’s control.

Lubrani called on Russia and Ukraine “to do more to protect the people of this country and to make our work possible.”

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World War III ‘already started on Feb. 24:’ Ukraine Defense Minister Reznikov

Russia says it has more than 6,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war

Kyiv says 144 Ukrainian soldiers released in biggest prisoner swap

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