Proposed US budget seeks to allocate $2 billion for Indo-Pacific strategy

New York: US President Donald Trump is proposing to cut foreign aid by 21 per cent while allocating more than $2 billion to support the Indo-Pacific strategy in the $4.4 trillion budget for the next fiscal year.

The allocations in the budget unveiled on Monday seek to counter “the Chinese Malign influence and champions security, democracy, and economic growth for a free and open Indo-Pacific”, the State Department said.

The $1.5 billion in foreign assistance and $596 million in diplomatic engagement for Indo-Pacific strategy is “to enable countries to assess the full costs of Chinese loans; facilitate US private sector investment; expand security cooperation in the region; promote a US model of democratic, transparent, responsive and business-friendly governance; and engage foreign audiences to strengthen alliances”, the Department said.

The US has expressed concern over China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative that is pulling developing countries into deep debt from which they find difficult to recover and could potentially cede control of vast tracts of their economies to Beijing.

The budget proposal has incentives for allies and partners like India to buy more weapon systems from the US and build their militaries around American systems.

The budget will have to be approved by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, which has a different set of priorities and will hedge its bets with the November 3 presidential election.

The budget for this year was passed only last December.

The budget proposal includes $5.6 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grant assistance, along with a provision to offer FMF loans to NATO and major non-NATO allies, to make Amerian defence equipment “a more competitive and more affordable option”, according to the State Department.

“This expanded toolkit increases opportunities for allies and partners to build their militaries around US innovation and quality,” it said.

The proposed budget seeks to allocate $753.6 million to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, reinforce counterterrorism efforts, and support demining and other weapons destruction.

The State Department said that “this includes programming aimed at preventing Iran and other states and terrorist actors from acquiring weapons of mass destruction”.

The budget proposal calls for allocating $763.8 million in foreign aid and $24 million in dedicated funding to counter what it calls “Russian malign influence and disinformation” in Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia.

Domestically, NASA will be one of the biggest winners in the proposed budget with its allocation increased by about 13 per cent to $25.2 billion with nearly half of it going to ambitious Trump plans to send manned missions again to the moon and eventually to Mars.

The budget proposal offers cuts to social services, education, health and environment, which will be resisted by the Democrats.

China coronavirus death toll increases to 1,367

Beijing: Chinese authorities on Thursday said the overall toll due to the deadly coronavirus outbreak in the country has reached 1,367, with 52,526 confirmed cases, after Hubei province, the epicenter of the epidemic, registered the largest one-day increase in infections and deaths.

The deaths and cases due to the COVID-19, the official name of the disease as designated by the WHO, were reported by the end of Wednesday in 31 provincial-level regions and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps in China, Xinhua news agency quoted Mi Feng, a spokesperson with the National Health Commission, as saying.

On Wednesday, Hubei province reported a total of 242 deaths, the largest single day increase, according to Mi.

The spokesman further said that a total of 5,911 infected patients were discharged from hospital after recovery by the end of Wednesday.

According to the Hubei provincial health commission, previous highest daily spike in the province was 103 on Monday, Efe news said in a report.

The commission also said that it has begun counting the number of “clinically diagnosed” people in the province, which allows them to receive the same treatment as those who have tested positive for the illness.

Until now the patients were confirmed by means of tests, performed with equipment that was scarce in the province.

It said doctors would now be more able to confirm cases.

Although provincial authorities have not provided additional details about the new criteria for accounting for patients, the new measures will allow “patients to receive timely treatment,” the commission said in a statement.

Last week, Hubei health authorities had indicated they would begin to recognize the results of CT scans to confirm infections, which would allow hospitals to isolate patients more quickly.

As of Thursday, the number of reported cases outside of China were Japan (247), Singapore (50), Hong Kong (50), Thailand (33), South Korea (28), Taiwan (18), Malaysia (18), Germany (16), Australia (15), Vietnam (15), the US (14), France (11), Macau (10), the UK (nine), the UAE (eight), Canada (seven), India (three), the Philippines (three), Italy (three), Russia (two), Spain (two), Cambodia (one), Finland (one), Nepal (one), Sri Lanka (one), Sweden (one) and Belgium (one), the South China Morning Post said in a report citing various health agencies.

To date, all but two deaths – in the Philippines and Hong Kong – have occurred in mainland China and China also accounts for about 99 per cent of those infected.

Meanwhile, the WHO on Tuesday officially named the disease COVID-19, while the virus which causes it has been called SARS-CoV-2 (changed from its provisional name 2019-nCoV) by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.

The organization said “CO” stands for “corona,” “VI” for “virus, “D” for “disease” and “-19” for “2019” – as the outbreak was first detected December 31.

Image courtesy of IANS

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