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Trump approves plan to withdraw 9,500 U.S. forces from Germany

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U.S. Army paratroopers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade prepare to board an aircraft prior to an airborne operation in Aviano Air Base, Italy, June 24, 2020.

Spc. Ryan Lucas | U.S. Army photo

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has selected an option for withdrawing U.S. military personnel from Germany and redeploying those forces elsewhere, the Pentagon said in a statement Tuesday night.

“The Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff briefed the President yesterday on plans to redeploy 9,500 troops from Germany. The proposal that was approved not only meets the President’s directive, it will also enhance Russian deterrence, strengthen NATO, reassure Allies, improve U.S. strategic flexibility and U.S. European Command’s operational flexibility, and take care of our service members and their families,” Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Tuesday.

“Pentagon leaders look forward to briefing this plan to the congressional defense committees in the coming weeks, followed by consultations with NATO allies on the way forward,” Hoffman added.

The movement of 9,500 U.S. service members from Germany resurfaces claims made by the Trump administration that the NATO ally has been “delinquent in their payments” to NATO.

Trump has frequently dressed down NATO counterparts and threatened to reduce U.S. military support if allies do not increase spending. Last year while in London, Trump singled out German Chancellor Angela Merkel for not meeting the 2% of GDP spending goal set in 2014.

“So we’re paying 4 to 4.3% when Germany’s paying 1 to 1.2%, at max 1.2%, of a much smaller GDP. That’s not fair,” Trump said in December. According to the NATO figures, the U.S. spends less than Trump noted, 3.42% of GDP on defense, while Germany now spends 1.38%, which is an increase of about 11% from 2018.

Read more: Here’s what each NATO country contributes financially to the world’s strongest military alliance

Last week, senior administration officials discussed Poland’s President Andrzej Duda’s visit to the White House, the first by a foreign leader since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The White House officials would not offer details of the partial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Germany and would not discuss the possibility that service members could potentially be relocated to Poland.

Instead, the officials touted Warsaw’s financial commitments to NATO as well as the approximately $16 billion in foreign military sales, which includes the U.S.′ most expensive weapons system, the F-35 Lightning II fighter. 

The administration officials also volleyed questions on the matter to White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal

“The Cold War practice of garrisoning large numbers of troops with their families on massive bases in places like Germany is now, in part, obsolete. Modern warfare is increasingly expeditionary and requires platforms with extended range, flexibility and endurance. While air bases and logistics hubs remain important, the Cold War-style garrisoning of troops makes less military and fiscal sense than it did in the 1970s,” O’Brien wrote in an op-ed published on June 21.

He added that the 25,000 U.S. troops slated to remain in Germany still represents a “strong” commitment to Germany by the United States.

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Modi’s Weibo account removed at request of Indian embassy in China

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) talks to Chinese President Xi Jingping during the BRICS meeting in Goa, India, on October 16, 2016.

Prakash Singh | AFP | Getty Images

China’s Twitter like service, Weibo, has removed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s account at the request of the Indian embassy in Beijing. 

The unusual move comes amid rising tensions between India and China over their disputed border high in the Western Himalayas and a clash earlier this month that left 20 Indian soldiers dead

India retaliated by banning 59 Chinese apps, including high-profile ones such as TikTok and WeChat. New Delhi is also reportedly weighing whether to let Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei participate in the rollout of the country’s next-generation 5G mobile networks. 

Weibo announced late on Wednesday that it had received a request from the Indian embassy in China to close Modi’s account.

“Weibo received an application from the Indian embassy in China, which said: ‘(I) hope to have the official Weibo account of Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed from the platform,'” it said.

The Chinese microblogging platform complied with the request and announced that: “Weibo has closed what was certified as the account of the Prime Minister of India.”

The Indian embassy in Beijing was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Modi has been on Weibo since 2015 but posted quite infrequently. 

His first ever post was written in Chinese and translated as: “Hello China! Looking forward to interacting with Chinese friends through Weibo.” 

Because social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are effectively blocked in China, Weibo is a major way to communicate with a Chinese audience. 

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UK extends visa rights to Hong Kongers, offers path to citizenship

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In this photo taken in Hong Kong on June 3, 2020, Reese Tan, a 25-year old tutor, poses with his British National (Overseas), or BN(O), in his favorite part of the city and the place he would miss the most if he leaves, the bustling shopping and eating district of Mongkok.

Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

The U.K. is offering around 3 million Hong Kong residents a path to British citizenship after a new national security law was imposed in the city, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Wednesday.

That announcement came after Beijing passed and implemented a new national security law in Hong Kong. Raab called the move “grave and deeply disturbing.”

“The enactment and imposition of this national security law constitute a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament on Wednesday.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher guarantees Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework. The city was a British colony for over 150 years before being transferred back to China in 1997.

The new national security law is spurring concerns about excessive oversight from Beijing and eroding rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

About 3 million Hong Kongers are eligible for British National (Overseas) passports. There were 357,156 BN(O) passport holders as of April 17.

The new measures extend the visa rights of BN(O) passport holders, allowing them to stay in the U.K. for five years with the ability to work or study. That’s far greater than the six months previously allowed.

After five years, the passport holders will be able to apply for settled status and citizenship, according to information on the U.K. government website.

“This is a special, bespoke, set of arrangements developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong,” said Raab in Parliament.

“We want a positive relationship with China. But, we will not look the other way on Hong Kong, and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people,” he added.

The U.S. and Taiwan are also looking into helping those who want to leave Hong Kong.

In the U.S., a bipartisan bill known as the “Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act” would grant Hong Kongers priority refugee status. Introduced in both chambers of Congress this week, the bill would enable those who fear political persecution from China to more quickly leave the city.

Taiwan on Wednesday set up an office to help resettle fleeing Hong Kongers.

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Pakistan central bank governor on economic challenges during coronavirus pandemic

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The coronavirus pandemic is a public health crisis and until it’s addressed, there will most likely be economic hardships ahead, Pakistan’s central bank governor told CNBC. 

Pakistan has reported more than 213,000 cases of infection and nearly 4,400 people have died.

“We are very concerned. First and foremost, this is a public health crisis — we have to remind ourselves of that,” Reza Baqir said on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Wednesday.

“And, only on a secondary basis, then it becomes an economic crisis. Until the public health crisis is addressed, we should continue to expect challenges on the economic front,” he added. 

For countries like Pakistan, the trade-off between lives and livelihood is a very real trade-off.

Reza Baqir

Pakistan’s central bank governor

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government lifted a two-month-long lockdown in early May, a few weeks before an important festival. 

As millions were struggling with starvation during that time of drastically reduced economic activity, the country’s Covid-19 cases surged once the lockdown was eased, Reuters reported

Lockdowns are a ‘luxury’

At the moment, the government is targeting coronavirus hotspots in the country and locking those areas down. 

Baqir explained that prolonged national lockdowns are a “luxury of the rich.” 

“For countries like Pakistan, the trade-off between lives and livelihood is a very real trade-off,” he said. The country has many day laborers who earn daily wages and lockdown would abruptly cut off their source of income. Without having a savings pool to dip into, many of those people would be looking at starvation, according to Baqir. 

Policemen put barbed wire as an market area is sealed by the authorities in Rawalpindi on July 1, 2020, as COVID-19 coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Farooq Naeem | AFP | Getty Images

Pakistan has limited fiscal policy options to help the economy weather the coronavirus crisis. Considering the country’s relatively large public debt, excessive government spending to boost the economy will be difficult.

On the monetary policy side, Baqir said the central bank injected so far about $7 billion, or 2.5% of GDP, in terms of liquidity support to households and businesses.

The central bank last week slashed its monetary policy rate by 100 basis points to 7% — State Bank of Pakistan has cut interest rates by 625 basis points since March when the coronavirus infection began spreading through the country. Baqir told CNBC the move was in tandem with the fall in inflation, from above 14% in January to around 8% currently. 

“There is no doubt that we face grave challenges,” Baqir said.

He outlined the three considerations in Pakistan’s response to the crisis. 

First, he highlighted that before the virus struck, the country’s economic fundamentals was improving – such as bringing down its current account deficit, which was a core part of its economic problems. Second, its fiscal and monetary policies are “prudent,” and finally, Pakistan is working with international financial organizations like the IMF and World Bank to keep its economy afloat. 

“I think the smart lockdown strategy of locking down hot spots in cities so far is working reasonably well, and we are confident that with the combination of measures – for us on the economic side, we should come out of this crisis largely unscathed,” Baqir said. 

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