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EU seeks bigger role in Asia’s ‘theatre of tensions’, agrees with Japan on Russia cooperation

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© Reuters. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel pose for a photo with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida prior to their talks at the prime minister’s official residence, in Tokyo, Japan May 12, 2022. Yos

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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) -European Union leaders said on Thursday that the EU wants to become a bigger actor in Asia, which they termed a “theatre of tensions”, as they warned of an increasingly assertive China.

After talks in Tokyo, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a joint news conference they would keep up talks on ways to maximise their partnership to tackle Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, in areas such as energy.

But Michel and von der Leyen also said they were aware that regional tensions existed in Asia as well, and said the EU wanted to take on a bigger role.

“The Indo-Pacific is a thriving region. It is also a theatre of tensions,” von der Leyen said. “Take the situation in the East and South China Sea and the constant threat of the DPRK (North Korea).”

“The European Union wants to take a more active role in the Indo-Pacific. We want to take more responsibility in a region that is so vital to our prosperity.”

Both welcomed Japan’s participation in measures against Russia, including sanctions.

“We welcome the increasingly strong stance Japan is taking against Russia,” von der Leyen said at the start of their talks.

Tokyo has joined the European Union and Group of Seven nations in imposing trade sanctions on Russia, which calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation”, that have cramped Moscow’s ability to export its oil and gas.

But Japan is heavily reliant on energy imports, including purchases from Russia. Last week Kishida said Japan would “in principle” ban Russian oil but it has been more reluctant to disengage from some projects.

The three officials were meeting in the Japanese capital for an annual conference that was held online last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Von der Leyen will leave Japan on Thursday afternoon, while Michel will travel to the nuclear memorial city of Hiroshima and leave at the weekend.

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More work to resume in Shanghai’s zero-COVID areas from June

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© Reuters. Women carry boxes of food on a street during lockdown, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Shanghai, China, May 18, 2022. REUTERS/Aly Song

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SHANGHAI (Reuters) -The COVID-19-hit financial hub of Shanghai will start to allow more businesses in zero-COVID areas to resume normal operations from the beginning of June, a deputy mayor said on Thursday as the city looks forward to the end of lockdown.

Shanghai, fighting China’s biggest ever coronavirus outbreak, has been steadily allowing more businesses to reopen and letting larger numbers of residents leave their homes for the first time in nearly seven weeks.

The city was “striving to achieve a full resumption of work and production as soon as possible”, deputy mayor Zhang Wei told a media briefing.

“The rhythm of work resumption” would be based on the epidemic prevention situation, he said, adding that for the rest of May, many workers would remain in “closed loops”, which often involves staff living at their work places.

Shanghai’s stable energy, water and information infrastructure throughout the outbreak “guarantees that the city’s pulse has the strength to beat after the slowdown, and also supports the continuous recovery of the city’s economy”, he said.

After nearly two months of disruptions, cargo deliveries were gradually returning to normal, Zhang said, with daily container throughput at Shanghai’s ports now at about 90% of levels a year ago.

Pudong Airport cargo throughput had reached 70% of last year’s levels, while freight vehicles entering and leaving the city was back to two thirds.

Yu Fulin, an official with Shanghai’s transportation commission, told the briefing the city would start to restore main cross-district public transport on May 22. The priority would be reopening routes connecting the city’s airports, railway stations and hospitals, he said.

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U.S. Senate confirms Biden nominee to be Ukraine ambassador

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Bridget Brink, nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testifies at her Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., May 10, 2022. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate unanimously approved veteran diplomat Bridget Brink on Wednesday to be ambassador to Ukraine, filling a critical post that has been vacant for three years as Washington works to increase support for the government in Kyiv.

Brink was approved by unanimous voice vote.

Both President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats and Republicans had urged Brink’s quick confirmation. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Brink unanimously earlier on Wednesday, after holding her confirmation hearing just two weeks after Biden announced the nomination on April 25.

The quick action underscored the desire from both parties to send an ambassador to support Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as he faces Russia’s invasion. Brink’s Senate confirmation came on the same day that the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv reopened after a three-month closure due to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion.

The Senate also is expected later this week to approve nearly $40 billion in military and humanitarian support for Kyiv, funding that has already passed the House of Representatives.

A Michigan native who speaks Russian, Brink is currently U.S. ambassador to Slovakia. A diplomat for 25 years, she has worked in Uzbekistan and Georgia as well as in several senior positions across the State Department and White House National Security Council.

Brink was also confirmed by unanimous voice vote in 2019, when former Republican President Donald Trump nominated her for the position in Bratislava.

There has not been a U.S. ambassador in Kyiv since May 2019, when Trump abruptly recalled then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Yovanovitch later testified as Trump faced impeachment on charges of withholding military aid to put pressure on Zelenskiy to investigate Biden, then seen as Trump’s most likely opponent in the 2020 election.

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N.Korea boosts production of drugs, medical supplies to battle COVID

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© Reuters. Members of the North Korean army supply medicines to residents at a pharmacy, amid growing fears over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo on May 18, 2022. Kyodo/via REUTERS

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By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea is ramping up production of drugs and medical supplies including sterilisers and thermometers as it battles an unprecedented coronavirus outbreak, state media KCNA said on Thursday.

The isolated country, which has imposed a nationwide lockdown, is also increasing production of traditional Korean medicines used to reduce fever and pain, KCNA said, calling them “effective in prevention and cure of the malicious disease.”

A sweeping COVID wave, which North Korea first confirmed last week, has fanned concerns over a lack of medical resources and vaccines, with the U.N. human rights agency warning of “devastating” consequences for its 25 million people.

At least 262,270 more people reported fever symptoms, and one additional person died as of Wednesday evening, KCNA said, citing data from the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters. It did not specify how many people had tested positive for the virus.

North Korea has so far reported 1,978,230 people with fever symptoms and 63 deaths, and imposed strict anti-virus measures.

Factories are churning out more injections, medicines, thermometers and other medical supplies in the capital Pyongyang and nearby regions “in a lightning way,” while more isolation wards were installed and disinfection work intensified around the country, KCNA said.

“Thousands of tons of salt were urgently transported to Pyongyang City to produce antiseptic solution,” KCNA said.

The reports came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un criticised ineffective distribution of drugs and slammed officials for their “immature” responses to the epidemic.

Without a national vaccination campaign and COVID treatment, state media have encouraged patients to use painkillers and antibiotics as well as unverified home remedies, such as gargling salt water, or drinking lonicera japonica tea or willow leaf tea.

South Korea and the United States have respectively offered to help North Korea fight the outbreak, including sending aid, but have not received a response, Seoul’s deputy national security advisor said on Wednesday.

However, three aircraft from North Korea’s Air Koryo arrived in China and returned to Pyongyang on Monday carrying medical supplies, a diplomatic source said on condition of anonymity.

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