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International

US Speaker Pelosi arrives in Taiwan, raising China tensions

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By Huizhong Wu And Eileen Ng in Taipei

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan on Tuesday night, becoming the highest-ranking American official to visit the self-ruled island that is claimed by China in 25 years.

Pelosi’s visit has triggered increased tensions between China and the United States. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, to be annexed by force if necessary, and views visits by foreign government officials as recognition of the island’s sovereignty.

China had warned of “resolute and strong measures” if Pelosi went ahead with the trip. The Biden administration did not explicitly urge her to call it off, while seeking to assure Beijing it would not signal any change in U.S. policy on Taiwan.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was believed headed for Taiwan on Tuesday on a visit that could significantly escalate tensions with Beijing, which claims the self-ruled island as its own territory.

Pelosi is on an Asian tour this week that is being closely watched to see if she will defy China’s warnings against visiting the island republic, a close U.S. ally.

China has vowed to retaliate if Pelosi becomes the highest U.S. elected official to visit Taiwan in more than 25 years, but has given no details. Speculation has centered on threatening military exercises and possible incursions by Chinese planes and ships into areas under Taiwanese control.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Washington’s betrayal “on the Taiwan issue is bankrupting its national credibility.”

“Some American politicians are playing with fire on the issue of Taiwan,” Wang said in a statement. “This will definitely not have a good outcome … the exposure of America’s bullying face again shows it as the world’s biggest saboteur of peace.”

A plane carrying Pelosi and her delegation left Malaysia on Tuesday after a brief stop that included a working lunch with Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob. Local media in Taiwan reported that Pelosi would arrive on Tuesday night. The United Daily News, Liberty Times and China Times — Taiwan’s three largest national newspapers — cited unidentified sources as saying she would spend the night in Taiwan.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment. Premier Su Tseng-chang didn’t explicitly confirm Pelosi’s visit, but said Tuesday that “any foreign guests and friendly lawmakers” are “very much welcome.”

Barricades were erected outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Taipei where Pelosi was expected to stay amid heightened security. Two buildings in the capital lit up LED displays with words of welcome, including the iconic Taipei 101 building, which said “Welcome to Taiwan, Speaker Pelosi.”

China, which regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be annexed by force if necessary, has repeatedly warned of retaliation if Pelosi visits, saying its military will “never sit idly by.”

“The U.S. and Taiwan have colluded to make provocations first, and China has only been compelled to act out of self-defense,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters Tuesday in Beijing.

Hua said China has been in constant communication with the U.S. and made clear “how dangerous it would be if the visit actually happens.” Any countermeasures China take will be “justified and necessary” in the face of Washington’s “unscrupulous behavior,” she said.

Shortly before Pelosi was due to arrive, Chinese state media said Chinese SU-35 fighter jets were “crossing” the Taiwan Strait, the body of water that separates mainland China and Taiwan. It wasn’t immediately clear where they were headed or what they planned to do.

Unspecified hackers launched a cyberattack on the Taiwanese Presidential Office’s website, making it temporarily unavailable Tuesday evening. The Presidential Office said the website was restored shortly after the attack, which overwhelmed it with traffic.

“China thinks by launching a multi-domain pressure campaign against Taiwan, the people of Taiwan will be be intimidated. But they are wrong,” Wang Ting-yu, a legislator with the Democratic Progressive Party, said on Twitter in response to the attack.

China’s military threats have driven concerns of a new crisis in the 100-mile (140-kilometer) -wide Taiwan Strait that could roil global markets and supply chains.

The White House on Monday decried Beijing’s rhetoric, saying the U.S. has no interest in deepening tensions with China and “will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling.”

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby underscored that the decision whether to visit Taiwan was ultimately Pelosi’s. He noted that members of Congress have routinely visited the island over the years.

Kirby said administration officials are concerned that Beijing could use the visit as an excuse to take provocative retaliatory steps, including military action such as firing missiles in the Taiwan Strait or around Taiwan, or flying sorties into the island’s airspace and carrying out large-scale naval exercises in the strait.

“Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a potential visit consistent with long-standing U.S. policy into some sort of crisis or use it as a pretext to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby said.

U.S. officials have said the U.S. military would increase its movement of forces and assets in the Indo-Pacific region if Pelosi visits Taiwan. U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its strike group were in the Philippine Sea on Monday, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations.

The Reagan, the cruiser USS Antietam and the destroyer USS Higgins left Singapore after a port visit and moved north to their homeport in Japan. The carrier has an array of aircraft, including F/A-18 fighter jets and helicopters, on board as well as sophisticated radar systems and other weapons.

Taiwan and China split in 1949 after the Communists won a civil war on the mainland. The U.S. maintains informal relations and defense ties with Taiwan even as it recognizes Beijing as the government of China.

Beijing sees official American contact with Taiwan as encouragement to make the island’s decades-old de facto independence permanent, a step U.S. leaders say they don’t support. Pelosi, head of one of three branches of the U.S. government, would be the highest-ranking elected American official to visit Taiwan since then-Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1997.

The flight tracking site Flightradar24 said Pelosi’s aircraft, a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-40C, was the most tracked in the world on Tuesday evening with 300,000 viewers. The plane took a roundabout route, flying east over Indonesia rather than directly over the South China Sea.

Pelosi has used her position in the U.S. Congress as an emissary for the U.S. on the global stage. She has long challenged China on human rights, including in 2009 when she hand-delivered a letter to then-President Hu Jintao calling for the release of political prisoners. She had sought to visit Taiwan’s island democracy earlier this year before testing positive for COVID-19.

Pelosi kicked off her Asian tour in Singapore on Monday as her possible visit to Taiwan sparked jitters in the region.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong “highlighted the importance of stable U.S.-China relations for regional peace and security” during talks with Pelosi, the city-state’s Foreign Ministry said. This was echoed by Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in Tokyo, who said stable ties between the two rival powers “are extremely important for the international community as well.”

The Philippines urged the U.S. and China to be “responsible actors” in the region. “It is important for the U.S. and China to ensure continuing communication to avoid any miscalculation and further escalation of tensions,” said Foreign Affairs spokesperson Teresita Daza.

China has been steadily ratcheting up diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan. China cut off all contact with Taiwan’s government in 2016 after President Tsai Ing-wen refused to endorse its claim that the island and mainland together make up a single Chinese nation, with the Communist regime in Beijing being the sole legitimate government.

Pelosi is to travel to Japan and South Korea later this week.

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Ng reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Associated Press journalists Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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Hurricane Ian nears Florida landfall with 155 mph winds

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By Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., (AP) — Hurricane Ian’s most damaging winds began hitting Florida’s southwest coast Wednesday, lashing the state with heavy rain and pushing a devastating storm surge after strengthening to the threshold of the most dangerous Category 5 status.

Fueled by warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Ian grew to a catastrophic Category 4 hurricane overnight with top winds of 155 mph (250 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm trudged on a track to make landfall north of the heavily populated Fort Myers area, which forecasters said could be inundated by a storm surge of up to 18 feet (5.5 meters).

“This is going to be a nasty nasty day, two days,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said early Wednesday, stressing that people in Ian’s path along the coast should rush to the safest possible shelter and stay there.

Ian’s center was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Naples at 10 a.m. Wednesday, as it churned toward toward the coast at 9 mph (15 kph). Ian’s plodding pace meant the storm was expected to spend a day or more crawling across the Florida peninsula, dumping flooding rains of 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 centimeters) across a broad area including Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville in the state’s northeast corner.

Catastrophic storm surges could push 12 to (3.6 meters) of water or more across more than 250 miles (400 kilometers) of coastline, from Bonita Beach to Englewood, the hurricane center warned.

“It’s going to get a lot worse very quickly. So please hunker down,” DeSantis said.

Off the coast on Sanibel Island near Fort Myers, swirling water covered residential streets and was halfway up mailbox posts by mid-morning. Seawater rushed out of Tampa Bay, leaving parts of the muddy bottom exposed, and waves crashed over the end of a wooden pier at Naples

More than 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders, but by law no one could be forced to flee. The governor said the state has 30,000 linemen, urban search and rescue teams, and 7,000 National Guard troops from Florida and elsewhere ready to help once the weather clears.

Florida residents rushed ahead of the impact to board up their homes, stash precious belongings on upper floors and join long lines of cars leaving the shore.

Some chose to stay and ride out the storm. Jared Lewis, a Tampa delivery driver, said his home has withstood hurricanes in the past, though not as powerful as Ian.

“It is kind of scary, makes you a bit anxious,” Lewis said. “After the last year of not having any, now you go to a Category 4 or 5. We are more used to the 2s and 3s.”

Forecasters predicted Ian would make landfall more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Tampa and St. Petersberg, likely sparing the densely populated Tampa Bay area from its first direct hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

Officials warned Tampa residents that they still faced threats from powerful winds and up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain.

“Please, please, please be aware that we are not out of danger yet,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a video on Twitter. “Flooding is still going to occur.”

During the night, Ian went through a natural cycle when it lost its old eye and formed a new one. The timing was bad for the Florida coast, because the storm got stronger and larger — 120 mph (193 kph) to 155 mph (250 kph) — with landfall just a few hours away.

The size of the storm also grew, with tropical storm force winds extending 175 miles (280 kilometers) from the hurricane’s center.

“With the higher intensity you’re going to see more extensive wind damage,” University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy said. “The larger wind field means that more people will experience those storm-force winds.”

The most damaging winds could hit a coastline where the population has jumped sevenfold since 1970, according to the U.S. Census. Authorities worried that many residents would ignore orders to evacuate.

Vinod Nair wasn’t taking any chances. He drove inland from the Tampa area Tuesday with his wife, son, dog and two kittens to a hotel in Orlando, where only tropical storm force winds were expected.

“You can’t do anything about natural disasters,” Nair said. “We live in a high-risk zone, so we thought it best to evacuate.”

Ash Dugney warily watched ocean water being sucked out below a Tampa Bay pier Wednesday morning. He said he didn’t trust Tampa’s storm drainage system to keep his corner tuxedo rental business safe from flooding that he said happened in his neighborhood even during mild storms.

“I don’t care about the wind and the rain and the stuff like that, I just care about the flooding,” Dugney said, adding that he moved essentials out of the shop and moved other items up to above waist-high level.

Flash floods were possible across all of Florida. Hazards include the polluted leftovers of Florida’s phosphate fertilizer mining industry, more than 1 billion tons of slightly radioactive wastecontained in enormous ponds that could overflow in heavy rains.

Forecasters placed roughly 120 miles (193 kilometers) of central Florida’s east coast under a hurricane warning Wednesday, signaling that Ian may remain a hurricane longer than previously expected as it moves inland.

Isolated tornadoes were spinning off the storm well ahead of landfall. One tornado damaged small planes and a hangar at the North Perry Airport, west of Hollywood along the Atlantic coast.

More than 190,000 homes and businesses were without electricity, and Florida Power and Light warned those in Ian’s path to brace for days without power.

Parts of Georgia and South Carolina also could see flooding rains and some coastal surge into Saturday. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp preemptively declared an emergency, ordering 500 National Guard troops onto standby.

Before turning toward Florida, Ian battered Cuba and brought down the country’s electrical grid, blacking out the entire island. It also caused destruction in Cuba’s world-famous tobacco belt. No deaths were reported.

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Associated Press contributors include Christina Mesquita in Havana, Cuba; Cody Jackson and Adriana Gomez Licon in Tampa, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida; Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Seth Borenstein in Washington; Bobby Caina Calvan in New York and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama.

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UN food chief warns Horn of Africa famine imminent, if global crises left unchecked

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By Dylan Robertson in Ottawa

The head of the World Food Program is urging countries to follow Canada in trying to avert a looming famine in East Africa, which he warns could get even worse due to sanctions against Russia.

David Beasley, the American who leads the United Nations agency, said the number of people in acute need of food has multiplied by four since 2017.

“The world is in a very fragile state. We can’t, in my opinion, take much more,” he said in an interview.

“If we have a massive earthquake, or a volcano, or something in the next six months? Holy mackerel, all the fire trucks are out.”

His gravest concern is for the Horn of Africa, a region that spans all of Somalia and large swaths of Ethiopia and Kenya. The past five consecutive growing seasons have all had a drought, and armed conflict has emboldened some militias to withhold access to food.

On a visit to the region last month, Beasley was taken aback to learn that food aid is now reaching farmers and ranchers, he said. Before, they occasionally got equipment to help with farming, but they hardly ever needed actual food.

“The amount of dead animals that I saw was extraordinary,” he said. “The Horn of Africa is a picture-perfect scenario of a catastrophe.”

Beasley started his job in March 2017, overseeing an organization that provides everything from school meals to farming machines to the world’s poorest.

At that time, 80 million people were in acute food insecurity, meaning they are either malnourished or cutting back on essentials to feed themselves.

That number rose to 135 million by the time the COVID-19 pandemic started in early 2020, due to wars and climate change.

At the start of this year, 276 million people were in need, in part due to supply-chain shocks and a drought in Afghanistan, where the Taliban takeover has plunged the country into an economic crisis.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the number of people in acute need has risen to an unprecedented 345 million.

The invasion has drastically reduced grain exports from Europe’s breadbasket and caused a jump in oil prices, which Beasley said is costing his organization an extra $75 million U.S. each month.

“Right now in our operations, we’re having to take food from hungry children to give to starving children, because of a lack of funding,” he said during a Tuesday visit to Ottawa.

Food prices dropped this year when grain gradually started to leave Ukraine’s main port, Odessa, but they remain the highest in a decade.

Western sanctions on Russia include some exemptions for certain types of food and fertilizer, but Beasley said global powers need to further compromise. If regions that are not facing climate woes don’t receive enough fertilizer, they won’t be able to ramp up their production, he said, and millions will die.

“Regardless of whether you love or hate Russia, you’ve got to get these fertilizers out,” he said.

“We very well could go from a food-pricing problem right now to a food availability problem in 2023, and that’s my grave concern.”

Beasley said Canadian governments under Liberal and Conservative leaders have been “a great voice for food security globally,” as have the U.S., Germany and France.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cited global food security as a priority going into the United Nations General Assembly last week, but the New York meetings were dominated by news of Russia ramping up its war in Ukraine.

Canada has long been among the top five donors to the World Food Program, with Ottawa pledging US$360 million this year and earmarking funding for future years so officials can plan ahead.

“It’s huge; it’s a godsend. But other countries, like the Gulf states, have got to step up,” he said.

“I’m jumping up and down, trying to get the world leaders to recognize (that) everyone’s got to engage.”

Beasley, the former Republican governor of South Carolina, said people should see development aid as a hedge against more expensive crises.

He said challenges such as COVID-19 and inflation have the developed world questioning the virtue of helping foreigners, but he argued that not intervening will drive conflict and mass migration that will only end up being more expensive for the west.

“I’ve seen it first hand; it will cost a thousand times more if we don’t go down and help people where they are.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.

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