Putin hosts Xi in the Kremlin with imperial palace pageantry
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping toast during their dinner at The Palace of the Facets is a building in the Moscow Kremlin, Russia, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. (Pavel Byrkin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
By Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia and China showcased their “no-limits friendship” on Tuesday during a pomp-laden Kremlin ceremony intended to further cement ties amid the fighting in Ukraine.
After hosting Chinese leader Xi Jinping over a seven-course private dinner for 4 1/2 hours the previous night, Russian President Vladimir Putin greeted him in the old imperial palace for talks involving top officials from both countries.
Xi walked slowly up the opulent red-carpeted staircase of the Grand Kremlin Palace as guards in 19th century-style parade uniforms snapped to attention.
Putin was waiting to greet the Chinese leader in St. George’s hall where walls are covered by white-marble plaques with gold engravings of the names of military units and soldiers awarded the order of St. George, a top military award established by Catherine the Great.
In a tightly choreographed ceremony filled with imperial grandeur, the two leaders entered the huge chandeliered room from opposite sides and shook hands in the middle to the sound of the Russian and Chinese national anthems.
They walked past a lineup of Russian and Chinese officials to sit down for talks. Putin and Xi both wore black suits and dark red ties.
The pageantry reflected the importance of Xi’s three-day visit to Russia that gave a strong political boost to Putin just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader on charges of alleged involvement in abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine.
Moscow, which doesn’t recognize the court’s jurisdiction, dismissed the move as “legally null and void,” but the arrest warrant further ramped up the pressure on the Russian leader as the fighting in Ukraine has dragged into a second year.
After the talks, Putin and Xi issued joint declarations pledging to further bolster their “strategic cooperation,” develop cooperation in energy, high-tech industries and other spheres and expand the use of their currencies in mutual trade to reduce dependence on the West.
They said they would develop military cooperation and conduct more joint sea and air patrols, but there was no mention of any prospective Chinese weapons supplies to Russia that the U.S. and other Western allies feared.
Putin and Xi made long statements after the talks to a selected audience of officials and reporters from their pools. They didn’t take questions.
Putin hailed China’s proposals for a political settlement and a cease-fire in Ukraine, saying that it could serve as a basis for a peaceful settlement “once the West and Kyiv are ready for it.” The U.S. has criticized Beijing’s plan as a move intended to allow Russia to shore up its gains.
Putin and Xi wrapped up the day with a state dinner in the 15th-century Palace of Facets that served as a banquet hall for the czars. They again exchanged pledges of expanding the countries’ “comprehensive partnership” at a table next to a frescoed wall before the audience of top officials.
Putin cited a long quote from China’s classical Book of Changes about friendship capable of overcoming any obstacles that the interpreter failed to fully grasp. He raised a glass with a toast wishing good health to Xi and prosperity for the two countries and their peoples, ending it with ‘Ganbei,’ the Chinese equivalent of ‘cheers.’ Xi responded in kind.
After hosting Xi in the Kremlin for six hours, Putin accompanied him down the grand staircase.
“We are now witnessing the changes that haven’t been seen for more than a century, and we are pushing them together,” Xi told Putin through an interpreter as they stood in the Kremlin’s doorway. “Take care, dear friend!”
They shook hands, and Putin stood on the pavement for a moment, waving his hand as Xi’s limo drove away.
Before the Kremlin talks, Xi met with Russian Prime Minister Milkhail Mishustin. Unlike them, Russian and Chinese officials who attended the talks wore medical masks — a reminder of the COVID-19 pandemic that halted mutual visits.
Xi briefly referred to it, telling Mishustin he was happy to be back in Moscow after a long break because of the pandemic. He said that he invited Putin over Monday’s dinner to visit China later this year to attend a top-level meeting of China’s Belt and Road regional initiative.
Kremlin foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov said Putin could make the trip but didn’t give the date.
Xi stayed at a brand-new Chinese-owned Soluxe Hotel set in a lavish riverside park in northern Moscow that features trees and plants from all over China. He used a Chinese-made Hongqi limousine for driving around Moscow.
The Plan: Lock You Down for 130 Days
From the Brownstone Institute
What if the coronavirus pandemic was not a once-in-a-century event but the beginning of a new era of regular deadly respiratory viral pandemics? The Biden administration is already planning for this future. Last year, it unveiled a national strategy to develop pharmaceutical firms’ capacity to create vaccines within 130 days of a pandemic emergency declaration.
The Biden plan enshrines former president Donald Trump‘s Operation Warp Speed as the model response for the next century of pandemics. Left unsaid is that, for the new pandemic plan to work as envisioned, it will require us to conduct dangerous gain-of-function research. It will also require cutting corners in the evaluation of the safety and efficacy of novel vaccines. And while the studies are underway, politicians will face tremendous pressure to impose draconian lockdowns to keep the population “safe.”
In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, it took about a year for governments to deploy the jab at scale after scientists sequenced the virus. Scientists identified a vaccine target—fragments of the spike protein that the virus uses to access cells—by early January 2020, even before the WHO declared a worldwide pandemic.
This rapid response was only possible because some scientists already knew much about the novel virus. Despite heavy regulations limiting the work, the US National Institutes of Health had funded collaborations between the EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. They collected bat viruses from the wild, enhanced their function to study their potential, and designed vaccines before the viruses infected humans.
While there is controversy over whether this gain-of-function work is responsible for the COVID pandemic, there is no question this research is potentially dangerous. Even cautious scientists sometimes accidentally leak hazardous, highly infectious viruses into the surrounding community. In December 2021, for instance, the virus that causes COVID-19 accidentally leaked out of a laboratory in Taiwan, where scientists were researching the virus.
A promising vaccine target would be needed immediately after a disease outbreak for the Biden pandemic plan to work. For that to be possible, there will need to be permanent support for research enhancing the capacity of viruses to infect and kill humans. The possibility of a deadly laboratory leak will hang over humanity into perpetuity.
Furthermore, before any mass vaccination campaign, pharmaceutical firms must test the vaccines for safety. High-quality randomized, controlled studies are needed to make sure the vaccine works.
In 1954, Jonas Salk’s group tested the vaccine in a million children before the polio mass vaccination campaign that effectively defanged the threat of polio to American children. Physicians need the results of these studies to provide accurate information to patients.
Operation Warp Speed cut red tape so that vaccine manufacturers could conduct these studies rapidly. The randomized trials cut some corners. For instance, the Pfizer and Moderna trials did not enroll enough people to determine whether the COVID vaccines reduce all-cause mortality.
Nor did they determine whether the vaccines stop disease transmission; a few months after the government deployed the vaccines, researchers found protection against infection was partial and short-lived. Each of these cut corners has since created policy controversies and uncertainty that better trials would have avoided. Because of the pressure to produce a vaccine within 130 days, President Biden’s pandemic plan will likely force randomized trials on future vaccines to cut the same corners.
This policy effectively guarantees that lockdowns will return to the US in the event of a new pandemic. Though the lockdowns did not work to protect populations from getting or spreading COVID—after 2.5 years, nearly everyone in the US has had COVID—public health bureaucracies like the CDC have not repudiated the strategy.
Imagine the early days of the next pandemic, with public health and the media fomenting fear of a new pathogen. The impetus to close schools, businesses, churches, beaches, and parks will be irresistible, though the pitch will be “130 days until the vax” rather than “two weeks to flatten the curve.”
When the vaccine finally arrives, the push to mass vaccinate for herd immunity will be enormous, even without evidence from the rushed trials that the vaccine provides long-lasting protection against disease transmission. This happened in 2021 with the COVID vaccine and would happen again amidst the pandemic panic. The government would push the vaccine even on populations at low risk from the novel pathogen. Mandates and discrimination against the unvaccinated would return, along with a fierce movement to resist them. The public’s remaining trust in public health would shatter.
Rather than pursue this foolish policy, the Biden administration should adopt the traditional strategy for managing new respiratory-virus pandemics. This strategy involves quickly identifying high-risk groups and adopting creative strategies to protect them while not throwing the rest of society into panic.
The development of vaccines and treatments should be encouraged, but without imposing an artificial timeline that guarantees corners will be cut in evaluation. And most of all, lockdowns—a disaster for children, the poor, and the working class—should be excised from the public health toolkit forever.
A version of this piece appeared in Newsweek
Mexico president’s ruling party ousts once-dominant party in most populous state
MEXICO CITY (AP) — The ruling party of Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the governorship of the country’s most populous state, dealing a life-threatening blow to the old ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party — or PRI — which had governed the State of Mexico without interruption for nearly a century.
With over 99% of precincts counted in a preliminary report, electoral authorities said Monday that Morena’s Delfina Gómez won 52.7% of votes in the State of Mexico — which surrounds Mexico City on three sides — to 44.3% for the PRI’s Alejandra del Moral.
Del Moral later gave a concession speech acknowledging her defeat.
The result was a new low for the PRI, which held Mexico’s presidency uninterrupted for 71 years until losing power in 2000 elections; the party had governed the State of Mexico and its 17 million inhabitants for 94 years until its loss Sunday.
The PRI managed to hold on to the governorship of the sparsely populated northern border state of Coahuila, and governs the neighboring state of Durango in coalition with other opposition parties. But the PRI is now a shadow of the old days when it ruled Mexico with a combination of hand-out programs and corruption.
Propelled by López Obrador’s personal popularity — and more generous payments to the elderly and students — Morena now governs 22 of Mexico’s 32 states. The conservative National Action party governs five states, the Morena-allied Green party governs one and the small Citizens Movement holds two states.
López Obrador said he was pleased with the results, but struck a magnanimous tone Monday, saying his administration would deal fairly with governors from all parties.
“We have to serve all citizens, whatever party they belong to, that is our responsibility,” the president said.
Gómez celebrated her victory as the first woman to serve as governor in the State of Mexico.
“This is a victory for working families, this is a victory for us women, who have fought for years for the recognition of our rights,” Gómez said in a victory speech late Sunday. The state has been plagued by a bloody series of killings of women in recent years, and widespread poverty among female-headed households.
The State of Mexico covers everything from Mexico City suburbs, industrial sprawl and rural communities plagued by violence, and displays stunning extremes of inequality, violence and corruption.
The contest was closely watched, too, because of its potential implications for next year’s presidential elections. Even without having selected its nominee yet, Morena is considered the frontrunner in that national election and will be even more so with control of the State of Mexico.
Political scientist Georgina de la Fuente of the Tecnologico de Monterrey university noted that Sunday’s results highlight several things: the PRI has been defeated, though perhaps not as soundly as expected; Morena is not invincible; and parties are going to have to reconfigure their agreements. She added that the smooth elections also confirmed the effectiveness of Mexico’s electoral system, whose authorities had come under heavy fire from López Obrador.
The loss of the State of Mexico could spell the end of the PRI’s political relevance on a national stage.
Turnout was only about half of eligible voters in the State of Mexico.
“It doesn’t seem like the elections have excited” people, said Miguel Agustín López Moreno, a political scientist and social worker in Ecatepec, one of the state’s largest municipalities. He was uncertain the situation for residents would change significantly, attributing the Morena party’s success in large part to the amount of resources it invested in the state.
Adair Ortiz Herrera, a 21-year-old information systems student from Coyotepec, a rural area in the northern part of the state, said before the results were known Sunday that he was sure “a new direction” was coming. “My vote is to end the current government’s hegemony,” he said.
Romero reported from Naucalpan, Mexico. Emilio Lugo in Huehuetoca, Mexico, contributed to this report.
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