In recent days, Taiwanese agricultural authorities have contacted grouper farmers to discuss ways that the government can help, including by providing low-interest loans and feed subsidies and expanding access to domestic consumers and overseas markets. Another idea being floated is to include the fish in individually packaged meal boxes sold at train stations and on trains by Taiwan’s railway administration. Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency said on Tuesday that the agency would spend more than $13 million to support the grouper industry.

Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture has said it would consider filing a complaint about the grouper ban to the World Trade Organization. Lin Kuo-ping, the deputy director general of the official Fisheries Agency, said the government had reached out to their Chinese counterparts to discuss the inspection process but had not heard back. China’s General Administration of Customs did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Some grouper farmers said that if the ban was not lifted, they would have to settle for selling the fish on the domestic market at a huge loss. Until then, the fish will remain in the ponds. Mr. Lin, the grouper farmer, said he worried the groupers could die as a result of overcrowding.

He is now pinning his hopes on another kind of fish that he has been farming, the four-finger threadfin fish, which is also popular on the mainland. But he acknowledged that even this backup strategy was vulnerable to geopolitical shifts. Last year, Taiwan’s exports of the fish were worth nearly $40 million — and more than 70 percent went to China.

“Our biggest customer,” he said, “is still China.”

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China’s holdings of U.S. Treasuries skid to 12-year low; Japan also cuts holdings

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U.S. and Chinese flags are seen in front of a U.S. dollar banknote featuring American founding father Benjamin Franklin and a China’s yuan banknote featuring late Chinese chairman Mao Zedong in this illustration picture taken May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/Illustration/File Photo

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NEW YORK, June 15 (Reuters) – China’s holdings of U.S Treasuries tumbled in April to their lowest since May 2010, data showed on Wednesday, with Chinese investors likely cutting losses as Treasury prices fell after Federal Reserve officials signaled sizable rate hikes to temper soaring inflation.

Chinese holdings dropped to $1.003 trillion in April, down $36.2 billion from $1.039 trillion the previous month, according to U.S. Treasury Department figures. China’s stock of Treasuries in May 2010 was $843.7 billion, data showed.

The reduction in Treasury holdings may also have been aimed at diversifying China’s foreign exchange holdings, analysts said.

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The Chinese sales contributed to a drop in overall foreign holdings of Treasuries in April that helped propel yields higher. U.S. benchmark 10-year Treasury yields started April with a yield of 2.3895% , and surged roughly 55 basis points to 2.9375% by the end of the month.

Japan’s holdings of U.S. Treasuries fell further in April to their lowest since January 2020, amid a persistent decline in the yen versus the dollar, which may have prompted Japanese investors to sell U.S. assets to benefit from the exchange rate.

Japanese holdings fell to $1.218 trillion in April, from $1.232 trillion in March. Japan remained the largest non-U.S. holder of Treasuries.

Overall, foreign holdings of Treasuries slid to 7.455 trillion, the lowest since April 2021, from $7.613 trillion in March.

On a transaction basis, U.S. Treasuries saw net foreign outflows of $1.152 billion in April, from net new foreign inflows of $48.795 billion in March. This was the first outflow since October 2021.

The Federal Reserve, at its policy meeting in March, raised benchmark interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point.

It lifted rates by 50 bps in May, but at the June policy meeting on Wednesday lifted rates by a hefty 75 bps to stem a disruptive surge in inflation. The Fed also projected a slowing economy and rising unemployment in the months to come. read more

In other asset classes, foreigners sold U.S. equities in April amounting to $7.1 billion, from net outflows of $94.338 billion in March, the largest since at least January 1978, when the Treasury Department started keeping track of this data. Foreign investors have sold stocks for four consecutive months.

U.S. corporate bonds, on the other hand, posted inflows in April of $22.587 billion, from March’s $33.38 billion, the largest since March 2021. Foreigners were net buyers of U.S. corporate bonds for four straight months.

U.S. residents, meanwhile, decreased their holdings of long-term foreign securities, with net sales of $36.7 billion, data showed.

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Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by Paul Simao and Richard Pullin

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Central banks opt for shock and awe to tame inflation

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The exterior of the Marriner S. Eccles Federal Reserve Board Building is seen in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 14, 2022. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

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LONDON, June 17 (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve this week delivered its biggest interest rate rise in over a quarter of a century and even the Swiss National Bank took markets by surprise with an aggressive rate hike.

It leaves the Bank of Japan the only major developed world central bank still clinging to the inflation-is-transitory mantra.

Here’s a look at where policymakers stand in the race to contain red-hot inflation.

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Reuters Graphics Reuters Graphics

1) UNITED STATES

The Federal Reserve vaulted to the top-hawk spot on June 15, raising the target federal funds rate by three quarters of a percentage point to a 1.5%-1.75% range.

It acted days after data showed 8.6% annual U.S. inflation, triggering a market frenzy over potentially even more aggressive responses in the coming months.

The Fed is also reducing its $9 trillion stash of assets accumulated during the pandemic.

Central bank balance sheets are starting to shrink — slowly

2) NEW ZEALAND

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand raised its official cash rate by 50 basis points (bps) to 2% on May 25, a level not seen since 2016. That was its fifth straight rate hike. read more

It projected rates to double to 4% over the coming year and stay there until 2024. New Zealand inflation reached a three-decade high of 6.9% in the year to Q1, versus a 1-3% target.

New Zealand among the most aggressive central banks

3) CANADA

The Bank of Canada delivered a second consecutive 50 bps rate increase to 1.5% on June 1, and said it would “act more forcefully” if needed. read more

With April inflation at 6.8%, Governor Tiff Macklem has not ruled out a 75 bps or larger increase and says rates could go above the 2%-3% neutral range for a period.

Deputy BoC governor Paul Beaudry has warned of “galloping” inflation and markets price an unprecedented third consecutive 50 bps increase in July.

Major central banks are hiking rates

4) BRITAIN

The Bank of England (BoE) raised interest rates by 25 bps on Thursday and pledged to act “forcefully” to stamp out dangers posed by a UK inflation rate heading above 11%. read more

The British benchmark interest rate is now at its highest since January 2009. The BoE has now raised borrowing costs five times since December.

Sterling

5) NORWAY

Norway’s Norges Bank was the first big developed economy to kick off a rate-hiking cycle last year and has raised rates three times since September. It is expected to increase its 0.75% rate again on June 23 and plans seven more moves by end-2023.

6) AUSTRALIA

With the economy recovering smartly and inflation at a 20-year high of 5.1%, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) raised rates by a surprise 50 bps on June 6. It was the RBA’s second straight move after insisting for months policy tightening was way off. read more

Money markets price in another 50 bps rise in July.

7) SWEDEN

Another late-comer to the inflation battle, Sweden’s Riksbank raised rates to 0.25% in April in a quarter-point move. With inflation at 6.4%, versus its 2% target, the Riksbank may now opt for bigger moves.

Having said as recently as February that rates would not rise until 2024, the Riksbank expects to hike two or three more times this year.

8) EURO ZONE

Now firmly in the hawkish camp, and facing record-high inflation, the European Central Bank (ECB) said on June 9 it would end bond-buying on July 1, hike rates by 25 bps that month for the first time since 2011 and again in September.

But without details on a tool to prevent borrowing costs for Southern European nations diverging too much above those of Germany, markets will test the ECB’s resolve.

The bank now plans to accelerate work on a potential new tool to contain so-called bond market fragmentation, and skew proceeds from maturing pandemic-era bond holdings into stressed markets. read more

Euro zone inflation is at record highs

9) SWITZERLAND

On June 16, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) unexpectedly raised its -0.75% interest rate, the world’s lowest, by 50 bps, sending the franc soaring read more .

Recent franc weakness has contributed to driving Swiss inflation towards 14-year highs and SNB governor Thomas Jordan said he no longer sees the franc as highly valued. That has opened the door to bets on more rate hikes; a 100 bps move is now priced for September.

10) JAPAN

That leaves the Bank of Japan (BoJ) as the holdout dove.

On Friday, it maintained ultra-low interest rates and vowed to defend its cap on bond yields with unlimited bond-buying. It holds 10-year yields in a 0%-0.25% range.

BoJ boss Haruhiko Kuroda stressed commitment to maintaining stimulus, warning of risks to the economy from tighter policy read more .

In a nod to yen weakness, Kuroda called its rapid decline to 24-year lows “undesirable” as it heightened uncertainty.

The BoJ may come under political pressure, however, given inflation may exceed the 2% target for the second straight month and elections loom in July. Hedge funds, meanwhile, are betting it can’t keep up huge bond-buying for ever.

Japan keeps yield curve control, but pressure for change is building
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Reporting by Sujata Rao, Dhara Ranasinghe and Yoruk Bahceli Additional reporting by Tommy Wilkes and Saikat Chatterjee
Editing by Mark Potter

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Japan’s Economy Shrank 1 Percent as Consumers Fled Covid

TOKYO — Last December, after two years of stop-and-go growth, Japan’s economic engine seemed like it might finally be revving up. Covid cases were practically nonexistent. Consumers were back on the town, shopping, eating out, traveling. The year 2021 ended on a high note, with the country’s economy expanding on an annual basis for the first time in three years.

But the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, geopolitical turmoil and supply chain snarls have once again set back Japan’s fragile economic recovery. In the first three months of the year, the country’s economy, the world’s third largest after the United States and China, shrank at an annualized rate of 1 percent, government data showed on Wednesday.

A combination of factors contributed to the decline in growth. In January, Japan had put into place new emergency measures as coronavirus case numbers, driven up by Omicron, moved toward the highest levels of the pandemic. In February, Russia invaded Ukraine, spiking energy prices. And that was before China, Japan’s largest export market and a key supplier of parts and labor to its manufacturers, imposed new lockdowns in Shanghai, throwing supply chains into chaos.

The contraction has not been as “extreme” as previous economic setbacks thanks to high levels of vaccine uptake and less wide-ranging emergency measures than during previous waves of the coronavirus, according to Shinichiro Kobayashi, principal economist at the Mitsubishi UFJ Research Institute.

traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:

Consumer spending “will recover from the downward pressure, but because there are these negative factors, the question is how broad will that recovery be?” said Yoshiki Shinke, a senior economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has tried to offset the effects of price increases with large government subsidies for fuel and cash handouts for families with children. But Japanese consumers, wary of the pandemic’s economic effects, have largely been putting rounds of stimulus money into savings.

Japan’s growth is facing diverse challenges, but ultimately its recovery will depend on Covid, analysts said, a common refrain over the last two years.

While Japan has high vaccination rates and has performed better than most other wealthy countries at keeping the pandemic in check, the virus’s protean nature has made it difficult to predict its path. And that has made experts hesitant to commit to any forecasts about its future impact on global economies.

“The big risk is that corona starts to spread again,” said Naoyuki Shiraishi, an economist at the Japan Research Institute. “If a new variant appears, there will be new restrictions on activity, and that will suppress consumption.”

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UK to provide 1.3 billion pounds of further military support to Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attend a news briefing, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine April 9, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT/File Photo

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LONDON, May 7 (Reuters) – Britain said it would provide a further 1.3 billion pounds ($1.60 billion) in military support and aid to Ukraine, making the pledge ahead of a planned video call on Sunday by Group of Seven leaders with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Prime Minister Johnson has been one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine’s efforts to resist Russian forces since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24. Johnson’s government has sent anti-tank missiles, air defence systems and other weapons to Ukraine.

The new pledge almost doubles Britain’s previous spending commitments on Ukraine and the government said this is the highest rate of spending on a conflict since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, although it did not give details of this calculation.

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“Putin’s brutal attack is not only causing untold devastation in Ukraine – it is also threatening peace and security across Europe,” Johnson said in a statement. Last week he became the first Western leader to address Ukraine’s parliament since the start of the invasion.

The leaders of the G7 countries – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – will hold their virtual meeting with Zelenskiy on Sunday, the day before Russia marks its Victory Day holiday, which marks the end of World War Two in Europe. read more

Britain said the extra spending on Ukraine will come from a reserve used by the government for emergencies.

The government also said Johnson will host a meeting of leading defence companies later this month to discuss increasing production in response to increased demand created by the war in Ukraine.

While Britain has provided significant military aid, it has so far accepted relatively few of the more than 5 million Ukrainians who have fled their country. The British government said on Saturday that so far it had issued more than 86,000 visas to Ukrainians, of whom about 27,000 had reached Britain.

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Reporting by Andrew MacAskill
Editing by Frances Kerry

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North Korea fires likely submarine-launched ballistic missile, South Korea says

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets troops who have taken part in the military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army, in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) April 29, 2022. KCNA via REUTERS

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  • Submarine launch an escalation before key diplomatic events
  • N.Korea may conduct nuclear test as soon as this month-officials
  • S.Korea to seek deterrence against North’s nuclear threat-aide

SEOUL/TOKYO, May 7 (Reuters) – North Korea fired a ballistic missile from a submarine on Saturday, South Korea said, an escalation just before the inauguration of a South Korean president who has vowed to take a hard line against the North and the visit of the U.S. president.

South Korean military said North Korea fired what is believed to be a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) into the sea off its east coast around 0507 GMT on Saturday from near Sinpo, where North Korea keeps submarines as well as equipment for test-firing SLBMs.

Japan also said the projectile was a short-range ballistic missile. Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said North Korea’s recent development in nuclear missile-related technology and repeated launches of ballistic missiles threatened the region and the international community.

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“This is absolutely unacceptable,” he told reporters, adding that Japan will continue to “strengthen defence capabilities drastically” to protect its citizens from such security threats, in close cooperation with the United States, South Korea and other allies.

The launch comes three days before Tuesday’s inauguration of Yoon Suk-yeol as South Korea’s president, and ahead of his May 21 summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service chief Park Jie-won said North Korea may conduct a nuclear test between the inauguration and the Biden visit, Yonhap news agency reported.

Kishi said it is possible for North Korea to complete nuclear test preparations as early as this month, and take further provocative acts.

This was also in line with a U.S. assessment that Pyongyang was preparing its Punggye-ri nuclear test site and could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month. read more

“This is aiming at the (South’s) new administration beginning next week, and applying preemptive pressure to take control of the situation before the U.S.-South Korea summit,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

“It also creates tension to strengthen the regime’s internal coherence in the face of circumstances such as prevention of COVID-19 spreading.”

The United States condemned the launch as a threat to North Korea’s neighbors and the world. A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said Washington’s commitment to defending South Korea and Japan “remains ironclad.”

YOON TO SEEK DETERRENCE

Intelligence chief Park told Yonhap that Tunnel No. 3 at the Punggye-ri site is designed to test smaller nuclear devices, without elaborating.

Analysts and South Korean and U.S. officials have said the North appears to be restoring Tunnel No. 3 at the east coast site, which was used for underground nuclear blasts before it was closed in 2018 amid denuclearisation talks with Washington and Seoul. read more

Japan and South Korea estimated Saturday’s missile had flown as high as 50-60 km (30-40 miles) and as far as 600 km (370 miles).

The Yoon administration will muster its capabilities as soon as possible for fundamental measures against North Korean provocations and practical deterrence against nuclear missile threats, Yoon’s nominee for national security adviser, Kim Sung-han, said in a statement.

On Wednesday, North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast, South Korea and Japan said, after Pyongyang vowed to develop its nuclear forces “at the fastest possible speed”. read more

“Instead of accepting invitations to dialogue, the Kim regime appears to be preparing a tactical nuclear warhead test. The timing will depend most on when the underground tunnels and modified device technology are ready,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“A seventh nuclear test would be the first since September 2017 and raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula, increasing dangers of miscalculation and miscommunication between the Kim regime and the incoming Yoon administration.”

Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to speed up development of his country’s nuclear arsenal. He presided over a huge military parade that displayed intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as what appeared to be SLBMs being carried on trucks and launch vehicles. read more

In October, North Korea test-fired a new, smaller ballistic missile from a submarine, a move that analysts said could be aimed at more quickly fielding an operational missile submarine. read more

Yoon, in an interview with Voice of America released on Saturday, said that a meeting with Kim Jong Un is not off the table but would need to have concrete results.

“There’s no reason to avoid meeting” Kim, Yoon said. “However, if we are not be able to show any results, or results are just for show and does not have actual outcomes in denuclearisation… it’s not going to help the relationship between the two Koreas progress.”

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Reporting by Joyce Lee in Seoul and Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by William Mallard and Daniel Wallis

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Live Updates: Taking on Russia With West’s Arms, Ukraine Goes on Offense

KRAKOW, Poland — Ukrainian troops, emboldened by sophisticated weapons and long-range artillery supplied by the West, went on the offensive Friday against Russian forces in the northeast, seeking to drive them back from two key cities as the war plunged more deeply into a grinding, town-for-town battle.

After weeks of intense fighting along a 300-mile-long front, neither side has been able to achieve a major breakthrough, with one army taking a few villages one day, only to lose just as many in the following days. In its latest effort to reclaim territory, the Ukrainian military said that “fierce battles” were being waged as it fought to retake Russia-controlled areas around Kharkiv in the northeast and Izium in the east.

The stepped-up combat came as the White House announced on Friday that President Biden would meet virtually on Sunday with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and the leaders of the G7, which includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Additionally, President Biden is sending a new security package to Ukraine worth $150 million, according to an administration official, who says it will include 25,000 artillery rounds, counter-artillery radars, jamming equipment and other field equipment.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, noted that the leaders would convene as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia prepares to celebrate the annual holiday of Victory Day on Monday with military parades and speeches commemorating the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany.

The holiday has intensified fears in Ukraine and some Western capitals that Mr. Putin could exploit the occasion to expand his Feb. 24 invasion, after his initial drive failed to rout the Ukrainian military and topple the government.

“While he expected to be marching through the streets of Kyiv, that’s actually not what is going to happen,” Ms. Psaki said. She called the G7 meeting “an opportunity to not only show how unified the West is in confronting the aggression and the invasion by President Putin, but also to show that unity requires work.”

Ukraine on Friday urged civilians to brace for heavier assaults ahead of Victory Day in Russia, warning them to avoid large gatherings and putting in place new curfews from Ivano-Frankivsk in the west to Zaporizhzhia in the southeast.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Ukrainian police forces were also placed on heightened alert ahead of the holiday, which will be commemorated in Russia with military parades in Moscow and hundreds of other cities.

Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, warned civilians that they could risk their lives by gathering in crowded places.

“We all remember what happened at the train station in Kramatorsk,” Mr. Denysenko said on Telegram, referring to a devastating missile strike in that eastern city last month, which killed dozens of people as they crowded on railway platforms, trying the flee the invasion.

“Be vigilant,” Mr. Denysenko said. “This is the most important thing.”

The regional governor of Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, Sergei Haidai, warned that Russian forces were preparing for a “major offensive” in the next few days against a pair of eastern cities, Severodonetsk and Popsana. He assailed what he called “continued horror” in the region, where he said that the latest Russian shelling had killed two people and destroyed dozens of houses.

The pace of Russian missile strikes across Ukraine has been intensifying in recent days as Moscow tries to slow the flow of Western arms across the country. But as with so many aspects of the war, uncertainty about Mr. Putin’s intentions runs deep.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

There is rampant speculation that he might use the upcoming holiday to convert what he calls a “special military operation” into an all-out war, which would create a justification for a mass mobilization of Russian troops and set the stage for a more broad-ranging conflict. Kremlin officials have denied any such plans. But they also had denied plans to invade Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have said that a military draft in Russia could provoke a backlash among its citizens, many of whom, polls show, still view the war as a largely distant conflict filtered through the convoluted and sometimes conflicting narratives provided by state-controlled media.

“General mobilization in Russia is beneficial to us,” Oleksei Arestovych, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky’s chief of staff, said during an interview on Ukrainian television this week. “It can lead to a revolution.”

Some Western analysts speculate that Mr. Putin may instead point to the territory that Moscow has already seized in eastern Ukraine to bolster his false claims that Russia is liberating the region from Nazis.

The Pentagon, for its part, has avoided stoking speculation about Mr. Putin’s Victory Day plans.

“What they plan to do or say on Victory Day, that’s really up to them,” John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said on Thursday. “I don’t think we have a perfect sense.”

Fears that Russia could intensify its assault came as the United Nations Security Council adopted a statement on Friday supporting efforts by the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, to broker a diplomatic resolution to the war.

The statement, initiated by Mexico and Norway, was the first action regarding Ukraine that the council had unanimously approved since the invasion began. Russia supported the statement, which did not call the conflict a “war,” a term the Kremlin forbids.

Mr. Zelensky insisted on Friday that peace talks cannot resume until Russian forces pull back to where they were before the invasion. Still, he did not foreclose the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

“Not all the bridges are destroyed,” he said, speaking remotely at a virtual event held by Chatham House, a British research organization.

Alexey Zaitsev, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Friday that talks between Russia and Ukraine were “in a state of stagnation,” Russian state media reported.

Mr. Zaitsev blamed NATO countries for prolonging the war by shipping billions of dollars in arms to Ukraine, even as those countries have urged Mr. Putin to withdraw his troops.

“This leads to an extension of hostilities, more destruction of civilian infrastructure and civilian casualties,” he said.

Mr. Zelensky said that Russian propagandists had spent years fueling “hatred” that had driven Russian soldiers to “hunt” civilians, destroy cities and commit the kind of atrocities seen in the besieged southern port of Mariupol. Much of the city, once home to more than 400,000 people, has been leveled, and it has become a potent symbol of the devastation wrought by Russia in Ukraine.

Mr. Zelensky said Russia’s determination to destroy the last Ukrainian fighters holed up with desperate civilians in bunkers beneath the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol only underscored the “cruelty” that has defined the invasion.

“This is terrorism and hatred,” he said.

On Friday, about 50 women, children and elderly people who had been trapped beneath the Azovstal plant in Mariupol were evacuated in a humanitarian convoy, according to a high-ranking Ukrainian official and Russian state media. The official, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereschuk, said the evacuation had been “extremely slow” because Russian troops violated a cease-fire.

Nearly 500 people have managed to leave the Azovstal plant, Mariupol and surrounding areas in recent days with help from United Nations and the Red Cross, according to Mr. Guterres.

As the fighting drags on, concerns are growing that the war could exacerbate a global hunger crisis.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

The United Nations said on Friday that there was mounting evidence that Russian troops had looted tons of Ukrainian grain and destroyed grain storage facilities, adding to a disruption in exports that has already caused a surge in global prices, with devastating consequences for poor countries.

At the same time, the organization’s anti-hunger agency, the World Food Program, called for the reopening of ports in the Odesa area of southern Ukraine so that food produced in the war-torn country can flow freely to the rest of the world. Ukraine, a leading grain grower, had some 14 million tons in storage available for export, but Russia’s blockade of the country’s Black Sea ports has prevented distribution.

“Right now, Ukraine’s grain silos are full,” said David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, while “44 million people around the world are marching towards starvation.”

Marc Santora and Cora Engelbrecht reported from Krakow, and Michael Levenson from New York. Reporting was contributed by Dan Bilefsky from Montreal, Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva, Rick Gladstone from Eastham, Mass., Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington, and Farnaz Fassihi from New York.

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Live Updates: Biden Seeks $33 Billion More in Aid for Ukraine

WASHINGTON — President Biden signaled a vast increase in America’s commitment to defeating Russia in Ukraine on Thursday as he asked Congress to authorize $33 billion for more artillery, antitank weapons and other hardware as well as economic and humanitarian aid.

The request represented an extraordinary escalation in American investment in the war, more than tripling the total emergency expenditures and putting the United States on track to spend as much this year helping the Ukrainians as it did on average each year fighting its own war in Afghanistan, or more.

“The cost of this fight is not cheap,” Mr. Biden said at the White House. “But caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen. We either back the Ukrainian people as they defend their country or we stand by as the Russians continue their atrocities and aggression in Ukraine.”

Mr. Biden also sent Congress a plan to increase the government’s power to seize luxury yachts, aircraft, bank accounts and other assets of Russian oligarchs tied to President Vladimir V. Putin and use the proceeds to help the Ukrainians. Just hours later, Congress passed legislation allowing Mr. Biden to use a World War II-era law to supply weapons to Ukraine on loan quickly.

The latest American pledge came as Moscow raised the prospect of a widening conflict with the West. Russian officials accused the United States and Poland of working together on a covert plan to establish control over western Ukraine and asserted that the West was encouraging Ukraine to launch strikes inside Russia, where gas depots and a missile factory have burned or been attacked in recent days.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

A Russian missile strike setting off a fiery explosion in central Kyiv shattered weeks of calm in the capital and served as a vivid reminder that the violence in Ukraine has not shifted exclusively to the eastern and southern portions of the country, where Russia is now focusing its efforts to seize and control territory. Russian forces are making “slow and uneven” progress in that part of Ukraine but are struggling to overcome the same supply line problems that hampered their initial offensive, the Pentagon said.

The strike came on the same day that President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was meeting with António Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, just a few miles away in Kyiv, a visit that was no secret in Moscow. Mr. Guterres arrived in Ukraine, after sitting down with Mr. Putin in Moscow, in hopes of securing evacuation routes for besieged Ukrainian civilians and support for the prosecution of war crimes.

In the hours before the latest strike, Mr. Guterres toured the stunning wreckage in Borodianka, Bucha and Irpin, three suburbs of Kyiv that have borne the heavy cost of the fighting. Standing in front of a row of scorched buildings where dozens of people were killed, he called Russia’s invasion “an absurdity” and said, “There is no way a war can be acceptable in the 21st century.”

In his nightly address, Mr. Zelensky condemned the strike, saying it revealed Russia’s “true attitude to global institutions” and was an effort to “humiliate the U.N.” He vowed a “strong response” to that and other Russian attacks. “We still have to drive the occupiers out,” he said.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Just as the United States was ramping up its flow of arms to the battlefield, the German Parliament voted overwhelmingly to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine, a largely symbolic move to show unity after the government announced the plan earlier this week.

A day after Russia cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said his country must be prepared for the possibility that Germany could be next. “We have to be ready for it,” Mr. Scholz told reporters in Tokyo, where he paid Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan a visit to shore up ties between the two countries.

Russian strikes and Ukrainian counterattacks continued to batter eastern and southern battlegrounds in Ukraine, but Russian troops are advancing cautiously in this latest phase, able to sustain only several kilometers of progress each day, according to a Pentagon official speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss operational details.

Despite having much shorter supply lines now than they did during the war’s first several weeks in Ukraine’s north, the Russians have not overcome their logistics problem, the Pentagon official said, citing slow shipments of food, fuel, weapons and ammunition.

Moscow now has 92 battalion groups fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine — up from 85 a week ago, but still well below the 125 it had in the first phase of the war, the official said. Each battalion group has about 700 to 1,000 troops.

Russia has amassed artillery to support its troops near the city of Izium, according to the latest assessment by the Institute for the Study of War, a research group. Russian forces have used the city as a strategic staging point for their assault in the east and probably seek to outflank Ukrainian defensive positions, the analysts said.

Since Wednesday, Russian troops have captured several villages west of the city, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, with the likely aim of bypassing Ukrainian forces on two parallel roads running south, toward the cities of Barvinkove and Sloviansk.

A senior American diplomat accused Russia of engaging in systematic campaigns to topple local governments in occupied Ukraine and to detain and torture local officials, journalists and activists in so-called “filtration camps,” where some of them have reportedly disappeared.

The diplomat, Michael R. Carpenter, the American ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the United States has information that Russia is dissolving democratically elected local governments and has forced large numbers of civilians in occupied areas into camps for questioning.

The Ukrainian military said it was moving more troops to the border with Transnistria, a small breakaway region in Moldova, on Ukraine’s southwest flank, hundreds of miles from the fighting on the eastern front.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Ukraine ordered the reinforcements after it accused Russia this week of orchestrating a series of explosions in Transnistria, potentially as a pretext to attack Ukraine from the south and move on Odesa, Ukraine’s major Black Sea port. Russia has thousands of troops in Transnistria, which is controlled by Kremlin-backed separatists.

Russia sought to turn the tables by accusing Ukraine and its allies of being the ones to widen the war, citing the supposed secret Polish-American plan to control western Ukraine and the recent attacks on targets inside Russia. Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, urged Kyiv and Western capitals to take seriously Russia’s statements “that further calls on Ukraine to strike Russian facilities would definitely lead to a tough response from Russia.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Mr. Zelensky, said Ukraine had a right to strike Russian military facilities and “will defend itself in any way.” Britain’s defense minister, Ben Wallace, also said Ukraine would be justified in using Western arms to attack military targets inside Russia, as he warned that the war could turn into a “slow-moving, frozen occupation, like a sort of cancerous growth in Ukraine.”

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Biden rejected Russian suggestions that the United States was waging a proxy war against Moscow. “It shows the desperation that Russia is feeling about their abject failure in being able to do what they set out to do in the first instance,” Mr. Biden said.

He likewise condemned Russian officials’ raising the specter of nuclear war. “No one should be making idle comments about the use of nuclear weapons or the possibility that they could use that,” Mr. Biden said. “It’s irresponsible.”

The massive aid package Mr. Biden unveiled on Thursday would eclipse all the spending by the United States so far on the war. There is widespread bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for more aid, but it remained uncertain whether the issue could get tied up in negotiations over ancillary issues like pandemic relief or immigration.

The request, more than twice the size of the $13.6 billion package lawmakers approved and Mr. Biden signed last month, was intended to last through the end of September, underscoring the expectations of a prolonged conflict.

It includes more than $20 billion for security and military assistance, including $11.4 billion to fund equipment and replenish stocks already provided to Ukraine, $2.6 billion to support the deployment of American troops and equipment to the region to safeguard NATO allies and $1.9 billion for cybersecurity and intelligence support.

The request also includes $8.5 billion in economic assistance for the government in Kyiv to provide basic economic support, including food and health care services, as the Ukrainian economy reels from the toll of the war. An additional $3 billion would be provided for humanitarian assistance and food security funding, including medical supplies and support for Ukrainian refugees and to help stem the impact of the disrupted food supply chain.

When combined with the previous emergency measure, the United States would be authorizing $46.6 billion for the Ukraine war, which represents more than two-thirds of Russia’s entire annual defense budget of $65.9 billion. Mr. Biden said he expected European allies to contribute more as well.

By comparison, the Pentagon last year estimated that the total war-fighting costs in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 at $816 billion, or about $40.8 billion a year. (That did not count non-Defense Department expenditures, and private studies have put the total cost higher.)

Without waiting for the latest aid plan, Congress moved on Thursday to make it easier for Mr. Biden to funnel more arms to Ukraine right away. The House voted 417 to 10 to invoke the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 to authorize Mr. Biden to speed military supplies to Ukraine. The Senate passed the legislation unanimously earlier this month, meaning it now moves to Mr. Biden’s desk for his signature.

The original act, proposed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, authorized the president to lease or lend military equipment to any foreign government “whose defense the president deems vital to the defense of the United States” and was used originally to aid Britain and later the Soviet Union in their battle against Nazi Germany.

“Passage of that act enabled Great Britain and Winston Churchill to keep fighting and to survive the fascist Nazi bombardment until the United States could enter the war,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland. “President Zelensky has said that Ukraine needs weapons to sustain themselves, and President Biden has answered that call.”

The legislation targeting oligarchs would streamline ongoing efforts to find and confiscate bank accounts, property and other assets from the Russian moguls.

Among other things, it would create a new criminal offense for possessing proceeds from corrupt dealings with the Russian government. It would also add the crime of evading sanctions to the definition of “racketeering activity” in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

Reporting was contributed by Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland; Jeffrey Gettleman and Maria Varenikova from Kyiv, Ukraine; Emily Cochrane, Catie Edmondson, Eric Schmitt and Michael D. Shear from Washington; Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia; Shashank Bengali and Matthew Mpoke Bigg from London; and Farnaz Fassihi from New York.

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UK’s Truss tells China its rise depends on playing by the rules, article with image

LONDON, April 28 (Reuters) – British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned China that failure to play by global rules would cut short its rise as a superpower, and said the West should ensure that Taiwan can defend itself.

Renewing her call to boost NATO, Truss said moves to isolate Russia from the world economy in response to its invasion of Ukraine proved that market access to democratic countries was no longer a given.

“Countries must play by the rules. And that includes China,” Truss said in a speech at Mansion House in London.

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Britain, the world’s sixth-largest economy, is dwarfed economically and militarily by China, but believes that via soft power and strategic alliances it can help persuade Beijing to play by the rules of a new, more dynamic international system.

China’s economic and military rise over the past 40 years is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union which ended the Cold War.

But Truss said its further rise was not inevitable.

“They will not continue to rise if they do not play by the rules. China needs trade with the G7. We (the Group of Seven) represent around half of the global economy. And we have choices,” she said.

“We have shown with Russia the kind of choices that we’re prepared to make when international rules are violated.”

Earlier this month, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said China should persuade Russia to help end the war in Ukraine, or face a loss of standing in the world. read more

Beijing has said it firmly opposes linking the Ukraine war to its relations with Moscow and that it will defend the rights of Chinese individuals and companies.

Truss said NATO needed to have a global outlook that extended to democracies outside its membership, citing Taiwan as an example.

“We need to pre-empt threats in the Indo-Pacific, working with allies like Japan and Australia to ensure that the Pacific is protected,” she said.

“We must ensure that democracies like Taiwan are able to defend themselves.”

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it warmly welcomed the comment, and would continue deepening its cooperation with Britain and other like-minded partners to jointly ensure peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Britain and Taiwan have close though unofficial ties.

China views Taiwan as its own territory, to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if necessary, saying it is one of the most sensitive and important issues in its relations with the West. Taiwan rejects China’s sovereignty claims.

In 2015, Britain’s then-finance minister, George Osborne, predicted a “golden” era in Chinese-British relations. But ties have since frayed over issues including Beijing’s security crackdown on former British colony Hong Kong and security concerns around Chinese investment in Britain.

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Reporting by Andy Bruce; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Kenneth Maxwell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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