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NEW DELHI: The second meeting of the Quad (Australia-India-Japan-US) foreign ministers in Tokyo saw them reaffirming their “collective vision” of maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific in the face of growing Chinese assertiveness. Significantly, as foreign minister S Jaishankar said, Quad underscored respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty.

The Australian government said Quad emphasised it was vital for states to ease tensions and not exacerbate long-standing disputes during a pandemic. The Quad also discussed developments in South China Sea and, according to Australia, also said states cannot assert maritime claims inconsistent with international law, particularly UNCLOS.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo called for collaboration against Chinese Communist Party’s “exploitation, corruption, and coercion” as witnessed, among other places, in “the Himalayas”. Jaishankar was more discreet in his remarks as he stated that the objective was to advance the security and the economic interests of all countries having legitimate and vital interests in the region.

While citing examples of Chinese adventurism, Pompeo also brought up the situation in the South China Sea, East China Sea, the Mekong and the Taiwan Straits, apart from mentioning the Himalayas as he alluded to the India-China LAC standoff. Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi confirmed in a statement later that the ministers exchanged views on the situation in South China Sea where China is accused of using military power to intimidate other claimants of disputed waters.

“We remain committed to upholding the rules-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international seas, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes,” said Jaishankar in his opening remarks.

According to the Indian readout, Jaishankar, Pompeo, Motegi and their Australian counterpart Marise Payne exchanged views about regional issues of mutual interest, and issues related to connectivity; humanitarian assistance and disaster relief; maritime safety and security; health security, and counter terrorism. Jaishankar said it was a matter of satisfaction that the Indo-Pacific concept had gained “increasingly wider acceptance”.

The ministers reiterated their firm support to ASEAN centrality and, while appreciating the value of these minister-level consultations, agreed to hold them regularly. The third meeting is likely to be held next year. China had only last week slammed the announcement about the second Quad ministerial saying “no one should seek an exclusive clique”. According to Japan, the 4 countries also agreed to expand cooperation to other countries.

The US also sought to corner China over Covid-19 with Pompeo saying that the crisis was made infinitely worse by the Chinese Communist Party’s coverup. “The regime’s authoritarian nature led its leaders to lock up and silence the very brave Chinese citizens who were raising the alarm,” he said.

The Indian government said in a statement that the foreign ministers called for a coordinated response to the challenges including financial problems emanating from the pandemic, the need to share best practices to combat Covid-19, increasing the resilience of supply chains and and enhancing access to affordable vaccines, medicines and medical equipment.

“You are all aware that India assumes membership of the UN Security Council next year. We look forward to seeking collective solutions to global challenges,including global recovery from the pandemic and reform of multilateral institutions,” said Jaishankar.

The US also called for promoting transparency and countering disinformation in the fight against Covid-19.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a profound transformation globally. The events of this year have clearly demonstrated how imperative it is for likeminded countries to coordinate responses to the various challenges that the pandemic has brought to the fore,” said Jaishankar.

The Times of India is an Indian English-language daily newspaper owned by The Times Group. It is the third-largest newspaper in India by circulation and largest selling English-language daily in the world. according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.

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INDIA

Opposition, internet activists slam Kerala ordinance

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THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Kerala government’s decision to introduce a new section (118A) in the Kerala Police Act to check increasing abuse in social media and cybercrime is “anti-democratic and fascist” as it will enable police to register cases against anyone, including the mainstream media, opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said on Thursday.

“If the government goes ahead with the ordinance, it will be fought legally as well as politically,” he said.

Allaying fears, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said, “The amendment is not intended to curb creative freedom or to intervene in the right to free speech. It is a known fact that there are attempts to defame persons widely and there are demands for an effective legal remedy.”

Internet rights activists said the amendment was more draconian than 66A of the IT Act that was struck down by the Supreme Court.

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INDIA

UP cop suspended for sporting beard

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MEERUT: A beard grown and kept “despite warnings” has led to the suspension of subinspector Intesar Ali in UP’s Baghpat. While SP Abhishek Singh said Ali did not have authorisation, as rules require, Ali insisted he had sought permission to keep his beard but hadn’t heard back from his seniors.

“I had applied for permission to my circle officer in November 2019. It was forwarded to senior officials,” Ali, posted at Ramala police station, told TOI on Thursday. “This is a matter of faith and a just demand. I will request my superiors to consider my request again.”

The 46-year-old has been serving with the police for the past 25 years and was posted at Ramala this March.

A statement from the local police said Ali had been “warned on several occasions and was served a notice over the dress code.” The Baghpat SP said, “UP police uniform rules are clear… He had been warned several times. A notice was served, but his indiscipline continued. A beard is allowed on a permanent basis only for followers of Sikhism. The armed forces also allow that because the beard is an integral part of their faith. It is not the case with Islam.”

Police uniform rules in India do not allow beard, though moustache is allowed.

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INDIA

Covid: India’s active cases below 7 lakh after 21-day decline

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NEW DELHI: India’s active Covid cases went below the 7-lakh mark on Thursday as the downtrend continued for the 21st day running, with the number of discharged patients outstripping fresh cases in most states.

Active cases on Thursday were 6,99,527, a fall of more than 21,000 from the previous day. The slide in active cases has been continuous since October

2. With 54,723 testing positive for the virus, fresh infections remained below the 60,000-mark for the fifth consecutive day on Thursday. There were 675 fresh casualties on Thursday, after staying above the 700-mark for two days, taking the cumulative toll to 1,17,275.

Tamil Nadu crossed the 7-lakh mark with 3,077 fresh cases, becoming the fourth state after Maharashtra, Andhra and Karnataka to record more than seven lakh infections.

With 7,539 cases, Maharashtra reported less than 10,000 infections for the fifth day in a row. Daily deaths in the state saw a marginal increase from Wednesday but, at 198, continued to remain under 200. The state’s toll is now 42,831.

However, the situation continues to be of concern in Bengal with a steady rise in daily infections leading to active cases crossing the 36,000-mark on Thursday at 36,064. Bengal reported 4,157 new cases, its highest daily spike. Since October 8, Bengal has been reporting highest spike in cases daily.

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