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Ties with US, N. Korea make Singapore an optimum summit site

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Singapore is also welcome ground for the United States. It is a large trading partner, the second-largest Asian investor, and a longtime supporter of its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

The country is also the regional headquarters of large U.S. companies including Google, Facebook and Airbnb. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1966.

It is a regional hub whose free enterprise philosophy welcomes trading partners from everywhere, regardless of politics.

“Singapore is an ideal site for the summit because Singapore historically has been an honest broker between East and West. Singapore has been a great friend to the U.S. but also Singapore has carefully worked to be a friend to all, which has earned it trust in capitals around the world,” former U.S. Ambassador to Singapore David Adelman said.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the country is pleased to host the summit. “We hope this meeting will advance prospects for peace in the Korean Peninsula,” it said in a statement.

Singapore has experience hosting such meetings. In 2015 it was the site of another unprecedented summit between two leaders burdened with a legacy of bad blood and mutual distrust, Chinese President Xi Jinping and rival Taiwan’s then-President Ma Ying-jeou, the first such meeting since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

The city-state has hosted a number of high-level regional meetings, including Association of Southeast Asian Nations summits in 2007 and 2018. Since 2002, an annual security conference has been held there, featuring defense chiefs and officials from countries including the U.S., China and South Korea.

Roadblocks are set up around the summit venues, where armed Nepalese Gurkhas stand guard. Police check every vehicle that enters the area.

In 2015, Gurkha officers fired at a car that breached four roadblocks and crashed into a concrete barrier. The driver was killed and two passengers arrested in what turned out to be a drug-related misadventure rather than an attack.

Valued foreign guests won’t be troubled by protesters, either. Demonstrations in Singapore can only be held in a designated area, the 2.4-acre Hong Lim Park.

Amnesty International says amendments to the country’s Public Order Act have given authorities more power to restrict public assembly, and participants in peaceful protests have been arrested.

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NATO chief sees Biden’s inauguration as a ‘new chapter’ for alliance

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U.S. President Joe Biden is a “strong supporter” of NATO, and the alliance can be further strengthened with him in office, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said this week.

“President Biden and the inauguration of him as the new president represents a new chapter for our alliance because Joe Biden is such a strong supporter of NATO. He knows NATO very well,” the NATO chief told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Thursday.

This will be an opportunity to further strengthen NATO, he added, noting that Biden wants to rebuild alliances.

U.S. commitment to NATO reached a low point under former President Donald Trump. He repeatedly attacked allies for paying less than their fair share toward the group.

Stoltenberg said he looks forward to working with the new administration to address issues around the world.

“We are faced with so many challenges at the same time: the rise of China, the … shift in the global balance of power, a more assertive Russia using force against neighbors in Ukraine and elsewhere, and then, of course, the constant threat of terrorist attacks,” he said.

“None of us can tackle this alone, we have to stand together,” he said. “I don’t believe in America alone, I don’t believe in Europe alone, I believe in Europe and North America together in NATO.”

U.S. troops and NATO presence in Afghanistan, Iraq

What matters for me is that we make decisions together, that we are coordinating everything we do in Afghanistan.

NATO also has personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Stoltenberg said NATO is in close consultation with the new U.S. administration. “We will face a difficult dilemma,” he said.

Leaving would risk losing the gains made in Afghanistan in fighting international terrorism and making social progress, but staying means continued involvement in a “difficult military conflict.”

“What matters for me is that we make decisions together, that we are coordinating everything we do in Afghanistan,” he said.

NATO plans to expand its presence in Iraq, Stoltenberg added.

“I strongly believe that the best way we can help to prevent ISIS terrorists from returning is by training the Iraqi forces, help them to fight the terrorists themselves,” he said.

— CNBC’s Matt Clinch contributed to this report.

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Eurozone Flash PMIs January 2020: Business activity shrinks again

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A man over 75 years receives a coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine shot in Strasbourg, France.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

LONDON — Business activity in the euro zone fell to a two-month low in January, preliminary data showed on Friday, on the back of stricter coronavirus-related lockdowns.

The region is grappling with growing Covid-19 infection rates and tighter restrictions as new strains of the virus spread, causing further economic pain.

Markit’s flash composite PMI for the euro zone, which looks at activity across both manufacturing and services, dropped to 47.5 January, versus 49.1 in December. A reading below 50 represents a contraction in activity.

Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, said a double-dip recession for the euro zone was looking “increasingly inevitable.”

“Tighter COVID19 restrictions took a further toll on businesses in January,” he said in a statement.

“Output fell at an increased rate, led by worsening conditions in the service sector and a weakening of manufacturing growth to the lowest seen so far in the sector’s seven-month recovery.”

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde acknowledged on Thursday that the pandemic still posed “serious risks” to the euro zone economy.

In addition to the new Covid variants, there are also concerns over a slow vaccination roll-out across the European Union.

“In this environment ample monetary stimulus remains essential,” Lagarde said. The ECB decided at a meeting on Thursday to keep interest rates and its wider stimulus programs unchanged for now, having boosted its support in December.

The ECB expects the euro zone’s GDP (gross domestic product) to expand by 3.9% in 2021, and 2.1% in 2022. This is after a contraction of 7.3% last year. However, these forecasts are dependent on the evolution of the pandemic.

France hires more

Earlier, France’s business activity data also came in at a two-month low, reflecting the imposition of stricter curfews across the country. The country’s composite PMI for January was 47, making a contraction.

However, French businesses hired more employees in January — the first increase in job figures in almost a year.

“The fact that firms have returned to recruitment activity points to some confidence in an economic recovery in the second half of this year,” Eliot Kerr, economist at IHS Markit said, in a statement.

In Germany, business activity managed to grow slightly in January, with the flash composite output index coming in at 50.8. However, the reading represented a seven-month low for Europe’s economic engine.

Phil Smith, associate director at IHS Markit, highlighted a slower momentum in manufacturing activity in the country, and a continued hit to the services sector during January.

“All in all, the German economy has made a slow start to the year, and the extension of the current containment measures until at least mid-February means this looks like being the picture for several more weeks to come,” he said.

The German government decided some days ago to extend the national lockdown until Feb. 14.

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Biden relief plan faces Republican, moderate opposition

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