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In shadow of Ukraine war, US and China set to clash during Shangri-La Dialogue

The United States and China are expected to use Asia’s top security meeting this week to trade blows over everything from Taiwan’s sovereignty to the war in Ukraine, although both sides have indicated a willingness to discuss managing differences.
The Shangri-La Dialogue, which attracts top-level military officials, diplomats, and weapons makers from around the globe, will take place June 10-12 in Singapore, the first time the event has been held since 2019 after it was postponed twice because of COVID-19.

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On the sidelines of the summit, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe are expected to hold their first face-to-face meeting since President Joe Biden took office.

“We expect, from our perspective, the substance of that meeting to be focused on managing competition in regional and global issues,” a senior US official said.
Chinese media have also said Beijing will use the meeting to discuss cooperation with the United States.
Austin and Wei are likely to then use speeches over the weekend to re-affirm their commitment to the Asia-Pacific region, while delivering some pointed remarks in the direction of the other.
Relations between China and the United States have been tense in recent months, with the world’s two largest economies clashing over everything from Chinese belligerence towards Taiwan, its military activity in the South China Sea and Beijing’s attempts to expand influence in the Pacific region.
Although the summit is focused on Asian security issues, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will remain central to discussions.

The conflict, which has killed tens of thousands of people, uprooted millions and reduced cities to rubble, entered its 100th day last week.
Ukraine will send a delegation to the meeting but the Russians will not be attending, according to a source familiar with the list of attendees.
“American participants will use the occasion to criticize China’s strategic partnership with Russia,” said Li Mingjiang, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
“We’ll see some inferences of the China-Russia partnership as a coalition of autocracies … China will defend their relationship with Russia, their position and policy in response to Ukraine.”

‘Come out swinging’

With US military and political capital soaked up by the war in Ukraine, Austin will be under pressure to convince China’s rivals in Asia that they can rely on Washington.
“They say that China is this huge threat and they’re even saying it’s an acute threat. Yet it seems a major part of the attention and resources are basically going to Europe,” said Elbridge Colby, a former senior Pentagon official. “It’s not about words, it’s about walking the walk.”
Bilateral talks between the United States and China, and much of the conference, will likely focus on Taiwan.
China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, has increased military activity near the island over the past two years, responding to what it calls “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.
“The US is going to come out swinging on Taiwan specifically but also China’s growing assertiveness throughout the Indo-Pacific,” said Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, a think tank.
This month, Biden said the United States would get involved militarily should China attack Taiwan, although the administration has since clarified that US policy on the issue has not changed and Washington does not support Taiwan’s independence.
Washington has had a long-standing policy of strategic ambiguity on whether it would defend Taiwan militarily.
The Pacific islands have also emerged as a key front in Washington’s strategic competition with China.
Biden’s special envoy is due to visit the Marshall Islands next week amid growing US worries about China’s efforts to expand its influence in the region. Last week, a virtual meeting of 10 Pacific foreign ministers hosted by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Fiji agreed to defer consideration of a Chinese proposal for a sweeping trade and security pact.
Also looming over the Shangri-La Dialogue is the increasing military threat posed by North Korea, which has carried out at least 18 rounds of weapons tests this year, underscoring its evolving nuclear and missile arsenals.
Officials from South Korea, the United States and Japan said on Wednesday that North Korea’s recent missile tests were “serious, unlawful” provocations.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will open the conference on Friday with a keynote speech in which he is expected to call for peaceful resolutions to disputes in the Asia-Pacific region.

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US: Bodies of two of three missing kids found in Minnesota lake

The bodies of two young children have been recovered from a Minnesota lake, and searchers are still looking for a third they fear may have been intentionally drowned.

Meanwhile, the father of the children died at a different location hours earlier, and their mother is missing. Names have not been released.

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The chain of events began Friday morning when the father was found dead at a mobile home park in the town of Maplewood, near Minneapolis. Police determined that the woman had left with the children, and a search began.

Maplewood Police Lt. Joe Steiner said the woman’s car was found near Vadnais Lake around 4 p.m. Friday. The shoes of the children were found on the shore.

A search of the lake found one child’s body Friday evening. A second body was found overnight. Searchers from several organizations were busy Saturday looking for the third, as well as the mother.

Authorities believe all three children were under the age of 5.

“There’s nothing more tragic than the loss of young children,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said at a news conference on Friday. He called the deaths a “likely triple homicide.”

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

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Foreign firefighters arrive in Greece for summer wildfire season

Several dozen Romanian and Bulgarian firefighters took up their posts in Greece on Saturday, the first members of a European force being deployed to the country to provide backup in case of major wildfires during the summer.

More than 200 firefighters and equipment from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Romania, Norway and Finland will be on standby during the hottest months of July and August in Greece, where a spate of wildfires caused devastation last summer.

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A group of 28 Romanian firefighters with eight vehicles, and 16 firefighters from Bulgaria with four vehicles, were the first to arrive for the two-month mission, financed and coordinated under the European Union’s civil protection mechanism.

“We thank you very much for coming to help us during a difficult summer for our country, and for proving that European solidarity is not just theoretical, it’s real,” Greek Civil Protection Minister Christos Stylianides said on Saturday as he welcomed the members of the Romanian mission in Athens.

“When things get tough, you will be side by side with our Greek firefighters so we can save lives and property.”

The Bulgarian firefighters have been stationed in Larissa, in central Greece.

Last summer’s wildfires ravaged about 300,000 acres (121,000 hectares) of forest and bushland in different parts of Greece as the country experienced its worst heatwave in 30 years.

Following sharp criticism of its response to the fires, the Greek government set up a new civil protection ministry and promised to boost firefighting capacities.

In Greece’s worst wildfire disaster, 102 people were killed when a blaze tore through the seaside town of Mati and nearby areas close to Athens during the summer of 2018.

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One killed, six injured in shootout between migrant groups in Serbia

One migrant was killed and at least six others, including a teenage girl, were injured Saturday in a shootout between migrant groups in Serbia near the Hungarian border, the state-run RTS television reported.

The 16-year-old girl sustained life threatening injuries in the incident that occurred in a forest in the outskirts of Subotica, some 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Belgrade, where the injured were hospitalized, RTS reported.

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Police, who made no immediate comment, blocked access to the forest where the incident took place, only around a kilometer from the Hungarian border.

Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin rushed to the scene.

The injured, aged between 20 and 30, have no documents, Subotica mayor Stevan Bakic told local media.

It is not known what triggered the incident, he added.

Local media reported that the shootout occurred between Afghan and Pakistani migrants most likely over human trafficking from the area to European Union member Hungary.

Serbia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by migrants heading towards Western Europe as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

Although the route is nowhere as busy as it was during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, tens of thousands of illegal migrants still cross the region annually.

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