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Yearender: Lebanese struggle with year of political, financial crises toward signs of hope

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by Tian Ye, Liu Zongya

BEIRUT, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) — Bidding farewell to the year 2022, the Lebanese are still battling to contain the repercussions of a lingering financial crisis and a political impasse of the failure to elect a new president after Michel Aoun left the presidential palace in October.

The financial crisis in Lebanon that began in 2019 was characterized in 2022 by the continued sharp depreciation of the Lebanese currency against the U.S. dollar, which has further shrunk the Lebanese people’s wealth. To prevent capital flight, Lebanese banks placed a cap on the amount of money depositors can withdraw.

However, signs of hope are seen as the Lebanese usher in a new year.

A maritime boundary agreement Lebanon signed with its arch-rival and neighbor Israel has raised the hope for lucrative gas explorations in the Eastern Mediterranean, which analysts believe could mitigate Lebanon’s financial woes and contribute to the improvement of the ties between the two countries that have no diplomatic relations.

Moreover, a hard-earned economic growth of 2 percent after a protracted and deep recession has added to the possibility of positive development for the country with a population of about 6.8 million.

POLITICAL DEADLOCK

Lebanon’s parliament has failed for several times over the past two months to elect a new president for a lack of consensus among political parties on a new successor to former President Aoun, who left office in October after finishing his six-year term.

Before the end of Aoun’s tenure, the Lebanese government had been in caretaker’s status following Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati’s failure to form a new government. Lebanon now has an unprecedented dual executive-level power vacuum in the absence of a president and a fully-empowered government.

Political gridlock has slowed down the efforts to implement structural reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for the IMF bailout loan of 3 billion U.S. dollars which could lead the country onto the path to recovery.

At the opening ceremony of the Arab Economic Forum held in Lebanon’s capital Beirut on Dec. 22, Mikati stressed that sweeping reforms remain vital to reach a deal with the IMF and unlock billions of dollars in aid to rescue Lebanon’s stricken economy.

The country is now “at a crossroads — it will either mark the start of the long-awaited economic revival or a gloomy decline,” he said.

The key to Lebanon’s salvation is achieving real political reform, the basis of which is to build a state of justice and citizenship away from the calculations of sects, factions, and their quotas, said Waref Kumayha, president of the Silk Road Institute for Studies and Research, a Beirut-based private organization.

LINGERING FINANCIAL CRISIS

Because of a severe shortage of the U.S. dollar in the ongoing financial crisis, the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 percent of its value since 2019.

On Dec. 26, the exchange rate of the Lebanese currency sank to the record low of 48,000 pounds against one U.S. dollar on the parallel market, down from 40,000 pounds on Oct. 14.

Meanwhile, inflation in Lebanon registered a year-on-year increase of 189.4 percent in the first 11 months of 2022, according to data released by the country’s Central Administration of Statistics (CAS). Hyperinflation continued for the 29th consecutive month, rising annually to about 142.4 percent in November from the same month a year earlier, the CAS Consumer Price Index showed.

To prevent the capital flight to overseas, Lebanese banks imposed restrictions on the withdrawal of deposits in both local and foreign currencies.

In September, desperate depositors broke into and raided several banks to demand the return of their money. Out of growing security concerns, some banks had to suspend their services, local media reported.

Worse still, the Lebanese government’s ability to manage the first cholera outbreak since 1993 and accommodate an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees has also been put to the test by the country’s poor economic conditions.

Since the first cholera case was detected in Lebanon on Oct. 6, 5,767 suspected and confirmed cases, with 23 associated deaths, have so far been reported. In November, Health Minister Firas Abiad called on donor countries and international institutions to support the Lebanese hospitals in the fight against the cholera epidemic.

Hosting a large number of refugees has so far cost almost 33 billion U.S. dollars, “which constitutes a huge burden on the Lebanese economy,” Lebanese Minister of the Displaced Issam Charafeddine told Radio Liban Libre in August.

Kumayha believed that the solution to Lebanon’s financial crisis lies in restructuring the public debt and banking sector, as well as rebuilding the economy by shifting from the rentier-based to the production-based economy.

SIGNS OF HOPE

Despite the political deadlock and decline in living standard in a year marred by the cholera outbreak and financial crisis, there have been some positive developments that provided the Lebanese with hope for a better future.

In April, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait announced the return of their ambassadors to Lebanon, in a positive sign of a thaw in their tense relations. The move came after Mikati pledged to take the necessary and required measures to enhance cooperation with Saudi Arabia and other member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

In October, Lebanon signed a landmark deal with Israel after lengthy negotiations, setting the maritime boundary with the neighbor for the first time and giving the green light to lucrative gas explorations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Under the deal, the unexplored Qana natural gas field will be under Lebanon’s control, while Israel would receive 17 percent of the profits. This has raised hope for alleviating Lebanon’s financial crisis.

Lebanon’s top negotiator and deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab told reporters in October that the deal marks “a new era.” In a televised speech, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah announced the end of “all exceptional and special measures as well as mobilization” against Israel.

On Dec. 22, Mikati revealed at the opening ceremony of the Arab Economic Forum that Lebanon’s economy recorded a growth of 2 percent this year after a long and deep recession.

He credited the modest growth to higher revenues from tourism and a rise in remittances from Lebanese living abroad, among other factors.

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WHA’s Rejection of the Proposal on Taiwan

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Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson’s Remarks on the 77th WHA’s Rejection of the Proposal on Taiwan

On May 27, the General Committee and the Plenary Session of the 77th World Health Assembly (WHA) respectively decided to reject the so-called proposal of “inviting Taiwan to participate in the WHA as an observer” submitted by certain countries. This has been the eighth year in a row that the WHA has rejected the so-called proposal concerning Taiwan. China’s position on Taiwan-related issues at the WHA is widely understood and supported by the international community. Over 100 countries explicitly expressed support for China’s position by writing to the WHO Director-General and through other means. This fully demonstrates that the one-China principle is where global opinion trends and the arc of history bends, and must not be challenged.

The Chinese central government attaches great importance to the health and well-being of our compatriots in Taiwan. Taiwan’s medical and health experts can participate in WHO technical meetings under the prerequisite that the one-China principle is upheld. Over the past year alone, medical and technical experts from China’s Taiwan region took part in WHO technical activities 21 times, which involved 24 participants, and all the applications were approved by the central government. There is an International Health Regulations Contact Point in the Taiwan region for it to promptly access and report to the WHO concerning information related to health emergencies. The Taiwan region has sufficient and unimpeded channels to participate in the technical communication and cooperation in the WHO. There is no such thing as a “gap” in global anti-epidemic efforts. Compared with a handful of countries’ political manipulation that trumpets Taiwan’s participation in the WHA, the central government’s proper arrangement and concrete actions demonstrate real meaning and sincerity for the livelihood and well-being of our compatriots in Taiwan.

Once again we would like to make it clear to the DPP authorities: the abiding commitment of the international community to the one-China principle is unshakable and the trend that China will be reunified is not to be reversed. “Taiwan independence” runs contrary to the interests of our compatriots in Taiwan, and any attempt to seek “Taiwan independence” by relying on external forces leads nowhere. Meanwhile, we urge certain countries to stop distorting and challenging UNGA Resolution 2758, stop fudging and hollowing out the one-China principle, stop politicizing health issues, and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs by exploiting the Taiwan question. Using Taiwan to contain China will only end in failure.

Source(s): Chinese Foreign Ministry

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Iran says approach to sanctions removal talks remains unchanged

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Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said on Monday that his country’s approach towards the indirect talks on lifting sanctions and facilitating the return of all parties to the 2015 nuclear deal remained unchanged.

He made the remarks at a weekly press conference in the Iranian capital Tehran, responding to inquiries about potential changes to Iran’s negotiating team after Ali Bagheri Kani, the country’s chief nuclear negotiator, was appointed as caretaker foreign minister after the death of Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and questions about the prospect of postponing relevant negotiations until after Iran’s presidential election on June 28.

He dismissed Western media reports alleging “secret” indirect talks between the United States and Iranian officials, including Bagheri Kani, in Oman earlier in the month, saying they lack credibility and were inaccurate.

He said that the exchange of indirect messages between Iran and the American side on sanctions removal had been ongoing without interruption. However, such interactions had focused solely on areas concerning the lifting of the embargoes and nuclear issues and had never gone beyond that framework.

Iran signed the nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with world powers in July 2015, agreeing to put some curbs on its nuclear program in return for the removal of the sanctions on the country.

The United States, however, pulled out of the deal in May 2018 and reimposed unilateral sanctions on Tehran, prompting the latter to drop some of its nuclear commitments under the deal.

The talks on the revival of the JCPOA began in April 2021 in Vienna, Austria. Despite several rounds of talks, no significant breakthrough has been achieved since the end of the last round in August 2022.

Amir-Abdollahian lost his life in a helicopter crash in northwestern Iran on May 19. He was accompanying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on a trip to Tabriz, the capital of East Azarbaijan province.

The crash also resulted in the deaths of Raisi and the other members of his accompanying team, who were all on board the same helicopter.

Source(s): CGTN

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China, Japan agree to a new round of high-level economic dialogue

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China and Japan on Sunday agreed to enhance dialogue and communication at various levels and convene a new round of bilateral high-level economic dialogue at an appropriate time as Chinese Premier Li Qiang met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on the sidelines of the ninth Trilateral Summit Meeting among China, Japan and South Korea in Seoul.

Li said the Chinese and Japanese economies are now closely intertwined and there is huge potential for cooperation in scientific and technological innovation, digital economy, green development and exploring the third markets.

China and Japan should help each other succeed, jointly maintain stable and unimpeded industrial and supply chains, and safeguard the global free trade system, Li said.

He added that China is willing to continue to carry out friendly exchanges with Japan in various fields, through various channels and at various levels, further facilitate people-to-people exchanges and actively carry out youth exchanges, so as to consolidate public support for China-Japan friendly cooperation.

On the release of the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated wastewater, Li said it bears on the health of humanity, the global marine environment and international public interests, and China is highly concerned about it. It’s hoped that Japan can further demonstrate sincerity and constructive attitude to address legitimate global concerns and earnestly fulfill its responsibilities and obligations, Li said.

He also talked about the Taiwan question, saying the Taiwan question is at the core of China’s interests and it’s a red line. It is hoped that Japan will honor its promise and create a positive atmosphere for the continuous development of bilateral relations, said Li.

He called on Japan to implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, properly manage differences, continuously deepen cooperation and build a constructive and stable China-Japan relationship.

For his part, Kishida said Japan is willing to promote the sound and long-term development of bilateral relations and Japan adheres to its position on the Taiwan question as stated in the Japan-China Joint Statement signed in 1972.

Japan also stands ready to work with China to implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries, maintain high-level exchanges, strengthen cooperation in such fields as green economy, medical care, third-party markets, facilitate personnel exchanges, deepen regional cooperation, and jointly tackle climate change and other global issues, Kishida said.

The two sides also exchanged views on international and regional issues of common concern.

Source(s): CGTN

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