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Spread of polio still an international public health concern – WHO

The twenty-third meeting of the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations (2005..

The twenty-third meeting of the Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations (2005) (IHR) regarding the international spread of poliovirus was convened by the Director General on 11 December 2019 at WHO headquarters with members, advisers and invited Member States attending via teleconference, supported by the WHO secretariat.

The Emergency Committee reviewed the data on wild poliovirus (WPV1) and circulating vaccine derived polioviruses (cVDPV). The Secretariat presented a report of progress for affected IHR States Parties subject to Temporary Recommendations. The following IHR States Parties provided an update on the current situation and the implementation of the WHO Temporary Recommendations since the Committee last met on 16 September 2019: Afghanistan, Angola, Benin, Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Cote dIvoire, Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Togo and Zambia.

Wild poliovirus

The Committee remains gravely concerned by the significant increase in WPV1 cases globally to 113 as at 11 December 2019, compared to 28 for the same period in 2018, with no significant success yet in reversing this trend.

In Pakistan transmission continues to be widespread, as indicated by both AFP (acute flaccid paralysis) surveillance and environmental sampling. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province continues to be of particular concern. The issues noted previously by the committee, including refusal by individuals and communities to accept vaccination, and problems with politicization of the national polio program are still being addressed. Added pressure is now on the program due to confirmation of detection of cVDPV2 in several provinces (see below).

In Afghanistan, the security situation remains very challenging. Inaccessible and missed children particularly in the Southern Region represent a large cohort of susceptible children in this part of Afghanistan. The risk of a major upsurge of cases is growing, with other parts of the country that have been free of WPV1 for some time now at risk of outbreaks. This would again increase the risk of international spread. Major efforts must be made to improve access if eradication efforts are going to progress.

The committee noted that based on sequencing of viruses, there were recent instances of international spread of viruses from Pakistan to Afghanistan and also from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The recent increased frequency of WPV1 international spread between the two countries suggests that rising transmission in Pakistan and Afghanistan correlates with increasing risk of WPV1 exportation beyond the single epidemiological block formed by the two countries.

The Committee noted the continued cooperation and coordination between Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly in reaching high risk mobile populations that frequently cross the international border and welcomed the all-age vaccination now being taken at key border points between the two countries.

In Nigeria, there has been no WPV1 detected for three years, and it is possible that the African Region may be certified WPV free in 2020. The Committee again commended the strong efforts to reach inaccessible and trapped children in Borno, Nigeria, even in the face of increased insecurity. The certification of WPV3 eradication was also welcomed by the committee and underlines that polioviruses can be eradicated.

Vaccine derived poliovirus

The multiple cVDPV outbreaks in four WHO regions (African, Eastern Mediterranean, South-east Asian and Western Pacific Regions) are very concerning, with seven new countries reporting outbreaks since the last meeting (Chad, Cote dIvoire, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Togo and Zambia). Since the last meeting, cVDPV2 has spread through West Africa and the Lake Chad area, reaching Cote dIvoire, Togo and Chad, and cVDPV1 has spread from the Philippines to Malaysia.

The rapid emergence of multiple cVDPV2 strains in several countries is unprecedented and very concerning, and not yet fully understood.

The committee noted that the GPEI was developing a strategy to address cVDPV2 outbreaks but was extremely concerned that the monovalent OPV2 stockpile was becoming depleted. The committee strongly supports the development and proposed Emergency Use Listing of the novel OPV2 vaccine which should become available mid-2020, and which it is hoped will result in no or very little seeding of further outbreaks.

Conclusion

The Committee unanimously agreed that the risk of international spread of poliovirus remains a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and recommended the extension of Temporary Recommendations for a further three months. The committee recognizes the concerns regarding the lengthy duration of the polio PHEIC, but concludes that the current situation is extraordinary, with clear ongoing risk of international spread and ongoing need for coordinated international response. The Committee considered the following factors in reaching this conclusion:

  • Rising risk of WPV1 international spread: The progress made in recent years appears to have reversed, with the committees assessment that the risk of international spread is at the highest point since 2014 when the PHEIC was declared. This risk assessment is based on the following:
  • the WPV1 exportation in 2019 from Pakistan to Iran and to Afghanistan, and more recently spread from Afghanistan to Pakistan;
  • ongoing rise in the number of WPV1 cases and positive environmental samples in Pakistan, and to a lesser extent Afghanistan;
  • the quickly increasing cohort of unvaccinated children in Afghanistan, with the risk of a major outbreak imminent if nothing is done to access these children;
  • the urgent need to overhaul the leadership and strategy of the program in Pakistan, which although already commenced, is likely take some time to lead to more effective control of transmission and ultimately eradication;
  • increasing community and individual resistance to the polio program.
  • Rising risk of cVDPV international spread: The clearly documented spread in recent months of cVDPV2 from Nigeria to Chad, Cote dIvoire and Togo, and between Philippines and Malaysia demonstrate the unusual nature of the current situation, as international spread of cVDPV in the past has been very infrequent. The emergence of cVDPV2 in Zambia, which had not used mOPV2, raises further concern. The risk of new outbreaks in new countries is considered extremely high, even probable. The outbreak of cVDPV1 in Malaysia in a cross-border population shared between Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia and which is often unreached by government immunization programs is an example of how border populations are at special risk.
  • Falling PV2 immunity: Global population mucosal immunity to type 2 polioviruses (PV2) continues to fall, as the cohort of children born after OPV2 withdrawal grows, exacerbated by poor coverage with IPV particularly in some of the cVDPV infected countries.
  • Multiple outbreaks: The evolving and unusual epidemiology resulting in rapid emergence and evolution of cVDPV2 strains is extraordinary and not yet fully understood and represents an additional risk that is yet to be quantified.
  • Weak routine immunization: Many countries have weak immunization systems that can be further impacted by various humanitarian emergencies, and the number of countries in which immunization systems have been weakened or disrupted by conflict and complex emergencies poses a growing risk, leaving populations in these fragile states vulnerable to outbreaks of polio.
  • Surveillance gaps: The appearance of highly diverged VDPVs in the Philippines, Somalia and Indonesia are examples of inadequate polio surveillance, heightening concerns that transmission could be missed in various countries. Furthermore, the missed transmission in China for a year illustrates that even countries with generally good surveillance can miss VDPV transmission.
  • Lack of access: Inaccessibility continues to be a major risk, particularly in several countries currently infected with WPV or cVDPV, i.e. Afghanistan, Nigeria, Niger, Somalia, Myanmar and Indonesia, which all have sizable populations that have been unreached with polio vaccine for prolonged periods.
  • Population movement: The risk is amplified by population movement, whether for family, social, economic or cultural reasons, or in the context of populations displaced by insecurity and returning refugees. There is a need for international coordination to address these risks. A regional approach and strong cross­border cooperation is required to respond to these risks, as much international spread of polio occurs over land borders.

Risk categories

The Committee provided the Director-General with the following advice aimed at reducing the risk of international spread of WPV1 and cVDPVs, based on the risk stratification as follows:

  • States infected with WPV1, cVDPV1 or cVDPV3, with potential risk of international spread.
  • States infected with cVDPV2, with potential risk of international spread.
  • States no longer infected by WPV1 or cVDPV, but which remain vulnerable to re-infection by WPV or cVDPV.

Criteria to assess States as no longer infected by WPV1 or cVDPV:

  • Poliovirus Case: 12 months after the onset date of the most recent case PLUS one month to account for case detection, investigation, laboratory testing and reporting period OR when all reported AFP cases with onset within 12 months of last case have been tested for polio and excluded for WPV1 or cVDPV, and environmental or other samples collected within 12 months of the last case have also tested negative, whichever is the longer.
  • Environmental or other isolation of WPV1 or cVDPV (no poliovirus case): 12 months after collection of the most recent positive environmental or other sample (such as from a healthy child) PLUS one month to account for the laboratory testing and reporting period.
  • These criteria may be varied for the endemic countries, where more rigorous assessment is needed in reference to surveillance gaps (e.g. Borno State, Nigeria)

Once a country meets these criteria as no longer infected, the country will be considered vulnerable for a further 12 months. After this period, the country will no longer be subject to Temporary Recommendations, unless the Committee has concerns based on the final report.

TEMPORARY RECOMMENDATIONS

States infected with WPV1, cVDPV1 or cVDPV3 with potential risk of international spread

WPV1

Afghanistan (most recent detection 10 November 2019)

Pakistan (most recent detection 12 November 2019)

Nigeria (most recent detection 27 September 2016)

cVDPV1

Indonesia (most recent detection 13 February 2019)

Malaysia (most recent detection 26 October 2019)

Myanmar (most recent detection 9 August 2019)

Philippines (most recent detection 28 October 2019)

These countries should:

  • Officially declare, if not already done, at the level of head of state or government, that the interruption of poliovirus transmission is a national public health emergency and implement all required measures to support polio eradication; where such declaration has already been made, this emergency status should be maintained as long as the response is required.
  • Ensure that all residents and long­term visitors (i.e. > four weeks) of all ages, receive a dose of bivalent oral poliovirus vaccine (bOPV) or inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) between four weeks and 12 months prior to international travel.
  • Ensure that those undertaking urgent travel (i.e. within four weeks), who have not received a dose of bOPV or IPV in the previous four weeks to 12 months, receive a dose of polio vaccine at least by the time of departure as this will still provide benefit, particularly for frequent travelers.
  • Ensure that such travelers are provided with an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis in the form specified in Annex 6 of the IHR to record their polio vaccination and serve as proof of vaccination.
  • Restrict at the point of departure the international travel of any resident lacking documentation of appropriate polio vaccination. These recommendations apply to international travelers from all points of departure, irrespective of the means of conveyance (e.g. road, air, sea).
  • Further intensify cross­border efforts by significantly improving coordination at the national, regional and local levels to substantially increase vaccination coverage of travelers crossing the border and of high risk cross­border populations. Improved coordination of cross­border efforts should include closer supervision and monitoring of the quality of vaccination at border transit points, as well as tracking of the proportion of travelers that are identified as unvaccinated after they have crossed the border.
  • Further intensify efforts to increase routine immunization coverage, including sharing coverage data, as high routine immunization coverage is an essential element of the polio eradication strategy, particularly as the world moves closer to eradication.
  • Maintain these measures until the following criteria have been met: (i) at least six months have passed without new infections and (ii) there is documentation of full application of high quality eradication activities in all infected and high risk areas; in the absence of such documentation these measures should be maintained until the state meets the above assessment criteria for being no longer infected.
  • Provide to the Director-General a regular report on the implementation of the Temporary Recommendations on international travel.

States infected with cVDPV2s, with potential or demonstrated risk of international spread

Angola (most recent detection 21 October 2019)

Benin (most recent detection 15 October 2019)

Cameroon (most recent detection 20 April 2019)

CAR (most recent detection 6 October 2019)

Chad (most recent detection 9 September 2019)

Cote dIvoire (most recent detection 26 September 2019)

China (most recent detection 25 April 2019)

DR Congo (most recent detection 26 October 2019)

Ethiopia (most recent detection 9 September 2019)

Ghana (most recent detection 8 November 2019)

Mozambique (most recent detection 17 December 2018)

Niger (most recent detection 3 April 2019)

Nigeria (most recent detection 9 October 2019)

Philippines (most recent detection 25 October 2019)

Somalia (most recent detection 10 November 2019)

Togo (most recent detection 16 October 2019)

Zambia (most recent detection 25 September 2019)

These countries should:

  • Officially declare, if not already done, at the level of head of state or government, that the interruption of poliovirus transmission is a national public health emergency and implement all required measures to support polio eradication; where such declaration has already been made, this emergency status should be maintained.
  • Noting the existence of a separate mechanism for responding to type 2 poliovirus infections, consider requesting vaccines from the global mOPV2 stockpile based on the recommendations of the Advisory Group on mOPV2.
  • Encourage residents and long­term visitors to receive a dose of IPV four weeks to 12 months prior to international travel; those undertaking urgent travel (i.e. within four weeks) should be encouraged to receive a dose at least by the time of departure.
  • Ensure that travelers who receive such vaccination have access to an appropriate document to record their polio vaccination status.
  • Intensify regional cooperation and cross­border coordination to enhance surveillance for prompt detection of poliovirus, and vaccinate refugees, travelers and cross­border populations, according to the advice of the Advisory Group.
  • Further intensify efforts to increase routine immunization coverage, including sharing coverage data, as high routine immunization coverage is an essential element of the polio eradication strategy, particularly as the world moves closer to eradication.
  • Maintain these measures until the following criteria have been met: (i) at least six months have passed without the detection of circulation of VDPV2 in the country from any source, and (ii) there is documentation of full application of high quality eradication activities in all infected and high risk areas; in the absence of such documentation these measures should be maintained until the state meets the criteria of a state no longer infected.
  • At the end of 12 months without evidence of transmission, provide a report to the Director-General on measures taken to implement the Temporary Recommendations.

States no longer infected by WPV1 or cVDPV, but which remain vulnerable to re-infection by WPV or cVDPV

WPV1

  • none

cVDPV

  • Kenya cVDPV2 (last environmental positive specimen 21 March 2018)
  • PNG cVDPV1 (last environmental positive specimen 6 November 2018)

These countries should:

  • Urgently strengthen routine immunization to boost population immunity.
  • Enhance surveillance quality, including considering introducing supplementary methods such as environmental surveillance, to reduce the risk of undetected WPV1 and cVDPV transmission, particularly among high risk mobile and vulnerable populations.
  • Intensify efforts to ensure vaccination of mobile and cross­border populations, Internally Displaced Persons, refugees and other vulnerable groups.
  • Enhance regional cooperation and cross border coordination to ensure prompt detection of WPV1 and cVDPV, and vaccination of high risk population groups.
  • Maintain these measures with documentation of full application of high quality surveillance and vaccination activities.
  • At the end of 12 months without evidence of reintroduction of WPV1 or new emergence and circulation of cVDPV, provide a report to the Director-General on measures taken to implement the Temporary Recommendations.

Additional considerations

Preparedness – The committee urged all countries, particularly those in Africa, be on high alert for the possibility of cVDPV2 importation and respond to such importations as a national public health emergency. This means countries should ensure polio surveillance can rapidly detect cVDPV2, and plans are in place to respond rapidly with well planned and executed mOPV2 campaigns, and with strict procedures to ensure unused vials are returned and managed so that inappropriate or accidental use is avoided.

International Coordination – Unprecedented levels of international spread of cVDPV require urgent coordinated control measures at regional and sub-regional levels. The committee strongly encourages countries to do more in support of cross border actions, such as sharing of surveillance and other data, synchronizing campaigns and where possible ensure vaccination of international travelers.

Emergency Response – The committee noted the endorsement of SAGE for the accelerated clinical development of novel OPV2 and its assessment under the WHO Emergency Use and Listing (EUL) procedure, which can be used in a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC), and added its support to ensure the supply of monovalent OPV2.

Financing – The number of outbreaks is proving to be costly to manage, and the committee urged affected countries to prioritize polio control as a public health emergency and ensure adequate domestic funding is available for an effective response. The committee urged affected countries to mobilize domestic funding to complement the GPEI resources which are being stretched by the large number of outbreaks being fought globally.

Communication – Vaccine hesitancy is a significant factor in the spread of these outbreaks particularly certain countries including Pakistan and Angola. The committee urged countries to invest time and resources into pro-actively circumventing and countering myths and misinformation regarding vaccination is general, and rumors that arise during the course of campaigns in particular. Campaign communications need to address issues around avoiding spreading excreted Sabin-like viruses through good hygiene.

Based on the current situation regarding WPV1 and cVDPV, and the reports provided by affected countries, the Director-General accepted the Committees assessment and on 19 December 2019 determined that the situation relating to poliovirus continues to constitute a PHEIC, with respect to WPV1 and cVDPV. The Director-General endorsed the Committees recommendations for countries meeting the definition for States infected with WPV1, cVDPV1 or cVDPV3 with potential risk for international spread, States infected with cVDPV2 with potential risk for international spread and for States no longer infected by WPV1 or cVDPV, but which remain vulnerable to re-infection by WPV or cVDPV and extended the Temporary Recommendations under the IHR to reduce the risk of the international spread of poliovirus, effective 19 December 2019.

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Australia election: Why is Australia’s parliament so white?

Australia is one of the most multicultural nations in the world, but it’s a different story in the country’s politics, where 96% of federal lawmakers are white.

With this year’s election, political parties did have a window to slightly improve this. But they chose not to in most cases, critics say.

Tu Le grew up the child of Vietnamese refugees in Fowler, a south-west Sydney electorate far from the city’s beaches, and one of the poorest urban areas in the country.

The 30-year-old works as a community lawyer for refugees and migrants newly arrived to the area.

Last year, she was pre-selected by the Labor Party to run in the nation’s most multicultural seat. But then party bosses side-lined her for a white woman.

It would take Kristina Kenneally four hours on public transport – ferry, train, bus, and another bus – to get to Fowler from her home in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, where she lived on an island.

Furious locals questioned what ties she had to the area, but as one of Labor’s most prominent politicians, she was granted the traditionally Labor-voting seat.

Ms Le only learned she’d been replaced on the night newspapers went to print with the story.

“I was conveniently left off the invitation to the party meeting the next day,” she told the BBC.

Despite backlash – including a Facebook group where locals campaigned to stop Ms Kenneally’s appointment – Labor pushed through the deal.

“If this scenario had played out in Britain or the United States, it would not be acceptable,” says Dr Tim Soutphomassane, director of the Sydney Policy Lab and Australia’s former Race Discrimination Commissioner.

“But in Australia, there is a sense that you can still maintain the status quo with very limited social and political consequences.”

An insiders’ game

At least one in five Australians have a non-European background and speak a language at home other than English, according to the last census in 2016.

Some 49% of the population was born or has a parent who was born overseas. In the past 20 years, migrants from Australia’s Asian neighbours have eclipsed those from the UK.

But the parliament looks almost as white as it did in the days of the “White Australia” policy – when from 1901 to the 1970s, the nation banned non-white immigrants.

“We simply do not see our multicultural character represented in anything remotely close to proportionate form in our political institutions,” says Dr Soutphomassane.

Compared to other Western multicultural democracies, Australia also lags far behind.

The numbers below include Indigenous Australians, who did not gain suffrage until the 1960s, and only saw their first lower house MP elected in 2010. Non-white candidates often acknowledge that any progress was first made by Aboriginal Australians.

Two decades ago, Australia and the UK had comparably low representation. But UK political parties – responding to campaigns from diverse members – pledged to act on the problem.

“The British Conservative Party is currently light years ahead of either of the major Australian political parties when it comes to race and representation,” says Dr Soutphomassane.

So why hasn’t Australia changed?

Observers say Australia’s political system is more closed-door than other democracies. Nearly all candidates chosen by the major parties tend to be members who’ve risen through the ranks. Often they’ve worked as staffers to existing MPs.

Ms Le said she’d have no way into the political class if she hadn’t been sponsored by Fowler’s retiring MP – a white, older male.

Labor has taken small structural steps recently – passing commitments in a state caucus last year, and selecting two Chinese-Australian candidates for winnable seats in Sydney.

But it was “one step forward and two steps back”, says party member and activist Osmond Chiu, when just weeks after the backlash to Ms Le’s case, Labor “parachuted in” another white candidate to a multicultural heartland.

Andrew Charlton, a former adviser to ex-PM Kevin Rudd, lived in a harbour mansion in Sydney’s east where he ran a consultancy.

His selection scuppered the anticipated races of at least three diverse candidates from the area which has large Indian and Chinese diasporas.

Party seniors argued that Ms Kenneally and Mr Charlton – as popular and respected party figures – would be able to promote their electorates’ concerns better than newcomers.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese also hailed Ms Kenneally as a “great Australian success story” as a migrant from the US herself.

But Mr Chiu says: “A lot of the frustration that people expressed wasn’t about these specific individuals.

“It was about the fact that these were two of the most multicultural seats in Australia and these opportunities – which come by so rarely – to select culturally diverse candidates were squandered.”

He adds this has long-term effects because the average MP stays in office for about 10 years.

The frustration on this issue has centred on Labor – because the centre-left party calls itself the “party of multiculturalism”.

But the Liberal-National government doesn’t even have diversity as a platform issue.

One of its MPs up for re-election recently appeared to confuse her Labor rival for Tu Le, sparking accusations that she’d mixed up the two Asian-Australian women – something she later denied. But as one opponent said: “How is this still happening in 2022?”

Some experts like Dr Soutphommasane have concluded that Australia’s complacency on areas like representation stems from how the nation embraced multiculturalism as official policy after its White Australia days.

The government of the 1970s, somewhat embarrassed by the past policy, passed racial discrimination laws and “a seat at the table” was granted to migrants and Indigenous Australians.

But critics say this has led to an Australia where multiculturalism is celebrated but racial inequality is not interrogated.

“Multiculturalism is almost apolitical in how it’s viewed in Australia,” Dr Soutphommasane says, in contrast to the “fight” for rights that other Western countries have seen from minority groups.

What is the impact?

A lack of representation in parliament can also lead to failures in policy.

During Sydney’s Covid outbreak in August 2021, Fowler and Parramatta electorates – where most of the city’s multicultural communities reside – were subject to harsher lockdowns as a result of a higher number of cases.

How will things change?

Liberal MP Dave Sharma, the only lawmaker of Indian heritage, has said all parties – including his own – should better recruit people with different backgrounds. He called it a “pretty laissez-faire attitude” currently.

Mr Albanese has urged Ms Le to “hang in there”, insisting she has a future.

But more people like Ms Le are choosing to speak out.

“I think I surprised a lot of people by not staying quiet,” she told the BBC.

“People acted like it was the end of my political career that I didn’t toe the party line. But… none of that means anything to me if it means I’m sacrificing my own values.”

She and other second-generation Australians – raised in a country which prides itself on “a fair go” – are agitating for the rights and access their migrant parents may not have felt entitled to.

“Many of those from diverse backgrounds were saying they felt like they didn’t have a voice – and that my case was a clear demonstration of their suppression, and their wider participation in our political system.”

She and others have noted the “growing distrust” in the major parties. Polls are predicting record voter support for independent candidates.

“This issue…. matters for everyone in Australian society that cares about democracy,” says Mr Soutphommasane.

“If democratic institutions are not representative, their legitimacy will suffer.

Read from: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-61432762

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US military leader warns Chinese security deal with Solomon Islands sounds ‘too good to be true’

A senior US military general has warned during a visit to Australia that China’s offer to deepen security ties with Solomon Islands will come with strings attached, suggesting the Pacific island country may come to regret the planned deal.

“My parents told me if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” the commandant of the United States Marine Corps, general David Berger, said on Wednesday.

Berger was cautious when asked about longstanding US concerns relating to a Chinese company’s lease over the port of Darwin, stressing it was a sovereign decision for Australia as part of its yet-to-be-completed national security review.

Ahead of a trip to Darwin, the site of increasing rotations of US Marines, Berger said: “If it’s not of concern to Australia, then it’s not of concern to me.”

Berger’s visit comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by the US and Australia attempting to head off a proposed security agreement between China and Solomon Islands, which could allow regular visits by the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

A leaked draft from last month raised the possibility China could “make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in Solomon Islands”, while Chinese forces could also be used “to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in Solomon Islands”.

The prime minister of Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, has sought to allay concerns, saying his country has no intention of allowing a Chinese naval base. But Sogavare has also said it is “very insulting to be branded as unfit to manage our sovereign affairs”.

Speaking in Canberra on Wednesday, Berger said the US needed to show humility in its outreach to Pacific nations, but also needed to be open about the potential long-term consequences.

Berger reflected on the fight for control of Guadalcanal in Solomon Islands during the second world war, when the US and allies sought to prevent Japanese forces from gaining a foothold in the strategically important location.

“A lot of things change in warfare. Not geography. Where … Solomon Islands are matters. It did then and it does now,” Berger said at the Australian Strategic Policy

Institute.

He said the proposed agreement was “just another example” of China seeking to broaden and expand its influence. He raised concerns about “the way that [it] happens and the consequences for the nations” involved.

Sogavare has argued Solomon Islands pursues a “friends to all and enemies to none” foreign policy, but Berger implied countries making agreements with Beijing might regret it down the track.

“We should illuminate, we should draw out into the open what this means long term,” Berger said.

“This is, in other words, an extension of ‘hey we’re here with a cheque, we’re here with money, we’d like to improve your port or your airfield or your bus station’. And that just sounds so great, until a year later or six months later.”

The US plans to reopen its embassy in Solomon Islands, a move the nominee for US ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, has said “can’t come soon enough”.

Berger acknowledged there were limits to US insights in Pacific island countries, so the US needed to rely on allies such as Australia.

“We’re not going to have always the best view, the clearest picture,” he said.

“We have to understand the neighbourhood and we’re never going to understand it as well as Australia.”

Earlier, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, denied that the US had conveyed any concerns that Australia had dropped the ball in the region.

Morrison said the Australian government was continuing to raise concerns with Solomon Islands without acting in a “heavy-handed” way.

Australia’s minister for the Pacific, Zed Seselja, met with Sogavare in Honiara on Wednesday and “asked Solomon Islands respectfully to consider not signing the agreement” with China.

Seselja suggested Solomon Islands “consult the Pacific family in the spirit of regional openness and transparency”. Australia would work with Solomon Islands “swiftly, transparently and with full respect for its sovereignty”.

“We welcome recent statements from prime minister Sogavare that Australia remains Solomon Islands’ security partner of choice, and his commitment that Solomon Islands will never be used for military bases or other military institutions of foreign powers,” Seselja said.

Sogavare has previously said Solomon Islands welcomed “any country that is willing to support us in our security space”.

But Matthew Wale, the leader of the opposition, has argued the deal “would make the Solomons a geopolitical playing field” and “further threaten the nation’s fragile unity”.

 

Read from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/13/us-military-leader-warns-chinese-security-deal-with-solomon-islands-sounds-too-good-to-be-true

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House votes to hold Trump duo Navarro and Scavino in contempt of Congress

The House voted on Wednesday to hold two of Donald Trump’s top advisers – Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino – in criminal contempt of Congress for their months-long refusal to comply with subpoenas issued by the House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack.

The approval of the contempt resolution, by a vote of 220 to 203, sets the two Trump aides on the path toward criminal prosecution by the justice department as the panel escalates its inquiry into whether Trump oversaw a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.

Congressman Jamie Raskin, a member of the select committee who introduced the contempt resolution to the House floor, said the select committee needed the House to advance the measure in order to reaffirm the consequences for defying the January 6 investigation.

Citing a ruling by a federal judge last week that Trump “likely” committed felonies to return himself to the Oval Office for a second term, Raskin said on the House floor that the panel wanted Navarro and Scavino’s cooperation because they engaged in trying to overthrow an election.

But having refused to comply with their subpoenas in any form, Raskin said that “these two witnesses have acted in contempt of Congress and the American people; we must hold them in contempt of Congress and the American people”.

The contempt citations approved by the House now head to the justice department and the US attorney for the District of Columbia, Matthew Graves, who is required by law to weigh a prosecution and present the matter before a federal grand jury.

Should the justice department secure a conviction against the Trump aides, the consequences could mean up to a year in federal prison, $100,000 in fines, or both – though it would not force their compliance, and pursuing the misdemeanor charge could take months.

The subpoena defiance by Navarro and Scavino meant the select committee was ultimately unable to extract information directly from them about Trump’s unlawful scheme to have then-vice president Mike Pence stop Joe Biden’s election win certification on 6 January.

But the panel has quietly amassed deep knowledge about their roles in the effort to return Trump to office in recent weeks, and senior staff decided that they could move ahead in the inquiry without hearing from the two aides, say sources close to the inquiry.

The determination by the select committee that Navarro and Scavino’s cooperation was no longer essential came when it found it could fill in the gaps from others, the sources said, and led to the decision to break off negotiations for their cooperation.

The final decision to withdraw from talks reflected the panel’s belief that it was not worth the time – the probe is on a time crunch to complete its work before the November midterms – to pursue their testimony for potentially only marginal gain, the sources said.

House investigators had sought cooperation from Navarro, a former Trump senior advisor for trade policy who became enmeshed in the effort to reverse Trump’s election defeat, for around a month until it became apparent they were making no headway.

The select committee issued a subpoena to Navarro since he helped devise – by his own admission on MSNBC and elsewhere – the scheme to have Pence stop Biden’s certification from taking place as part of one Trump “war room” based at the Willard hotel in Washington.

Navarro also worked with the Trump campaign’s legal team to pressure legislators in battleground states win by Biden to decertify the results and instead send Trump slates of electors for certification by Congress at the joint session in January 6.

But when that plan started to go awry, Navarro encouraged then-Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to call political operative Roger Stone to discuss January 6, the panel said in its contempt of Congress report published last week.

The former Trump aide, however, told the select committee – without providing any evidence – that the former president had asserted executive privilege over the contents of his subpoena and would therefore not provide documents or testimony.

With Scavino, the select committee first issued Trump’s former deputy White House chief of staff for communications in September last year, since he had attended several meetings with Trump where election fraud matters were discussed, the panel said.

But after the panel granted to Scavino six extensions that pushed his subpoena deadlines from October 2021 to February 2022, the former Trump aide also told House investigators that he too would not comply with the order because Trump invoked executive privilege.

The select committee rejected those arguments of executive privilege, saying neither Navarro nor Scavino had grounds for entirely defying the subpoenas because either Trump did not formally invoke the protections, or because Biden ultimately waived them.

At the business meeting last week where the select committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full House find Navarro and Scavino in contempt of Congress, Raskin delivered an emotional rebuke of the supposed executive privilege arguments.

“This is America, and there’s no executive privilege here for presidents, much less trained advisors, to plan coups and organize insurrections against the people’s government in the people’s constitution and then to cover up the evidence of their crimes.

“These two men,” Raskin said of Navarro and Scavino, “are in contempt of Congress and we must say, both for their brazen disregard for their duties and for our laws and our institutions.”

Attending an event featuring Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday night, Navarro made a point of appearing aloof to his impending referral to the justice department. “Oh that vote,” Navarro said dismissively, the Washington Post reported.

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