Obama, Putin hold ‘fruitful’ talks on Syria

Hangzhou, Monday US President Barack Obama said a meeting today with his Russian counterpart included “productive” discussions on a ceasefire in Syria, after earlier efforts to reach a deal faltered.

“We have had some productive conversations about what a real cessation of hostilities would look like,” Obama said after meeting Vladimir Putin on the margins of a G20 summit in China.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping offered Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe an olive branch at their first meeting in over a year today, Beijing’s official news agency Xinhua reported.

The Asian giants have been at loggerheads over territorial disputes and historical animosity, but Xi said they should “put aside disruptions” in their relationship and return to normal development, Xinhua said. For his part, Abe said that Tokyo wanted to “manage difficult issues” and promote win-win cooperation.

The relationship between the two powers — the world’s second- and third-largest economies — is crucial to regional stability but they have a longstanding dispute over islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan, which knows them as Senkaku, and claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.

The comments after a G20 summit in Hangzhou were in marked contrast to the last time the two met on Chinese soil, on the sidelines of an APEC summit in 2014, when they could barely conceal their mutual distaste.

Ties later thawed, but tensions have been rising again in recent months as Japan weighs in on another Chinese territorial dispute in the South China Sea, where Beijing has built artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities. Abe has vocally criticised China for rejecting a July ruling by an international tribunal that said extensive claims to the strategically vital waters had no legal basis.

On the sidelines of the meeting, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte threw insults at Obama as he vowed not to be lectured by the US leader on human rights when they meet in Laos.

The acid-tongued Duterte bristled at warnings he would face questioning by the US president over a war against drugs in the Philippines that has claimed more than 2,400 lives in just over two months. “You must be respectful. Do not just throw away questions and statements,” Duterte told a news conference shortly before flying to Laos to attend a summit.

“We will be wallowing in the mud like pigs if you do that to me.” Duterte was due to hold a bilateral meeting with Obama tomorrow afternoon on the sidelines of a gathering of global leaders hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Vientiane, the Lao capital.

But shortly after Duterte spoke, Obama appeared to cast doubt on whether such a meeting could take place. Calling Duterte “a colourful guy”, the US president said was asking his staff to find out whether a meeting would be useful.

“I always want to make sure if I’m having a meeting that it’s actually productive and we’re getting something done,” he told reporters. Duterte, 71, was elected in May after a promise to wage an unprecedented war on illegal drugs that would see tens of thousands of suspects killed. — AFP

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