By Van Khuong – Translated by Anh Quan
|New US President Joseph R. Biden was sworn in with his wife Jill Biden by his side, photo: AFP|
Last Wednesday many Americans breathed a sigh of relief as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th US President without any further incident from those who believe the election was “stolen” from former President Donald Trump.
Instead of attending the ceremony as is tradition, Trump and his family took one last trip on Air Force One to Florida, where he will be based until the former reality TV star decides whether to run for president again in 2024 – or perhaps even endorse a family member for the post.
Alongside Biden, Kamala Harris was sworn in as vice-president, becoming the first woman in American history – as well as the first woman of African-American and South Asian descent – to take on the role.
“Few people in our nation’s history have been more challenged or found a time more difficult than the time we’re in now,” Biden said in his inauguration speech.
He vowed to dedicate his “whole soul” to rebuilding a country battered by disease, economic turmoil, racial inequality, and political division.
The 78-year-old certainly has his work cut out for him, but he rushed into action to put his stamp on the presidency by signing a raft of executive orders within hours of entering the White House.
Biden signed a letter retracting Trump’s decision to leave the World Health Organization, which would have been effective in July. There was widespread criticism and an almost complete lack of international support last year for Trump’s move in the midst of a pandemic.
In the most noteworthy but also most unsurprising move, the US is to be reinstated to the Paris climate agreement. The accord, which looks to curb the heating of the planet, will be much boosted by the return of second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. Biden has previously warned that climate change poses the “greatest threat to the country”, which was battered by record wildfires and hurricanes in 2020.
“It’s a huge day to welcome in a new president who manifestly is committed to strong, meaningful action,” said Todd Stern, who was the lead US negotiator in Paris. “Rejoining the Paris agreement is just the first step, but it’s a big first step.”
Biden’s top climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, said the new president will look to reverse “more than 100” climate-related policies enacted by his predecessor.
With Biden pushing climate to the top of his agenda alongside battling the coronavirus pandemic, other strategies and policies are set to take a back seat. Of most concern to many onlookers is how the States will build or rebuild its relationship with countries big and small – something Biden did touch on in his inauguration speech in Washington.
“To those outside our borders, I say this – we will engage with our allies again,” said Biden. “We will lead, not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”
Chuck Hagel, who was a US defence secretary during the Obama administration, said it is unprecedented times for US foreign policy. “We’ve never been in this situation before, domestically and internationally,” he said. “What Biden has to do goes well beyond the first hundred days. He is going to have to move immediately to rebuilding and restoring our alliances, reassuring them that America is back in the game to lead.”
Biden will inherit a long list of early national security challenges involving Russia, for example. Less than two weeks after Biden’s inauguration, the New START treaty with Russia – the last remaining check on the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals – is set to expire, but both sides have displayed willingness to extend it.
In the Middle East, Biden has vowed to return to diplomacy with Iran, after Trump followed through on promises to undo the Obama-era nuclear pact with Tehran.
But with Iran taking steps to revive its nuclear weapons programme, analysts say picking up where Barack Obama left off is not possible. The Trump administration has, as recently as a fortnight ago, placed further sanctions on the country.
“We are going to see Biden try and leverage some of the more extreme positions that Trump staked out on China, Iran, and Cuba to extract additional concessions and to be able to plausibly claim that any nuclear deal isn’t Obama’s deal and this isn’t Obama’s foreign policy,” said Brett Bruen, a former global engagement director during the Obama administration.
Over in Europe, the new president may have an easier time in strengthening relations with Europe after four years of Trump indifference. “I think he doesn’t have to do much. Biden just has to show up,” said Marina Kaljurand, a former Estonian Foreign Minister who now works in the European Parliament.
Biden will still have to grapple with ongoing disputes, such as in defence spending, but with Trump having shunned much of Europe, many countries on the continent have tasted more life with less overbearing US involvement, and could continue to chart a course to lessen their reliance on American diplomatic and military might, as well as economic influence.
Kurt Campbell, a former Assistant Secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, has been appointed to the Biden administration as Indo-Pacific coordinator. According to Japan Times, the 63-year-old has called for confidence-building steps to stabilise US-China ties, including easing visa restrictions and restoring closed consulates.
But although the new president’s methods may be less antagonistic, he has previously echoed many of his predecessor’s complaints about China’s trade practices, accusing the country of stealing intellectual property, dumping products in foreign markets, and forcing technology transfers from American companies.
In addition, Biden has indicated that he will not immediately abandon the “phase one” bilateral trade agreement reached last year, or remove the 25-per-cent tariffs that now affect about half of China’s exports to the States.
“With such high costs and strict limitations on exports, China cannot possibly fulfil its commitment in the phase one agreement to purchase some $200 billion in additional US goods and services during 2020-2021,” noted Zhang Jun, director of the China Center for Economic Studies in Shanghai. “As long as Biden upholds Trump’s confrontational approach, the phase one accord will be fundamentally unworkable, and further progress towards a mutually beneficial trade relationship will be all but impossible.”
Indeed, the outgoing US administration warned that Biden would be “too soft” on China, akin to how Obama dealt with the issue, but experts pointed out that the US was already adopting a tougher stance on China during Obama’s second term in office.
“Obama was already trying to form an alliance to keep China in check, including through the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that excluded China and that Trump later disavowed,” said Keith B. Richburg, director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at Hong Kong University. “More recently, China has joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and now this time it is the US on the outside looking in. Biden will have to decide whether to negotiate to join either or both of those pacts.”
These agreements made over recent times are putting the US at a growing strategic disadvantage, explained Zhang Jun in Shanghai. “ASEAN countries – which, collectively, form America’s fourth-largest export market – are likely to shift more trade to their RCEP partners,” he noted.
“The deal is also likely to increase the Chinese demand for agricultural and energy exports from the likes of Australia and New Zealand. Furthermore, by indirectly establishing a free trade zone among China, Japan, and South Korea it will consolidate supply chains in East Asia and the West Pacific.”
While weighing up these huge cross-border entanglements, Americans will be forgiven for looking no further than their own borders as they come to terms with the catastrophic handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the eve of the inauguration, Biden memorialised the more than 400,000 Americans who have died from the virus during a vigil in Washington.
The grim milestone was passed earlier that day as the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University show that about 401,128 people have now been killed by the virus in the US amid more than 24 million cases – both numbers being by far the highest in the world.
“To heal, we must remember,” Biden said at the memorial. “It’s hard sometimes to remember, but that’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.”
By Quang Bao
|US President Joe Biden(C) leaves Holy Trinity Catholic Church in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington,DC on January 24, 2021. Joe Biden has begun his presidency with sharp breaks from Donald Trump in both substance and tone, from climate change to immigration to a general openness to working with the rest of the world.(Nicholas Kamm / AFP)|
Biden will also on Monday extend the ban to travelers who have recently been to South Africa amid warnings that new, more transmissible coronavirus variants are already establishing themselves in the United States, the official said, confirming US media reports.
The new president last week tightened mask wearing rules and ordered quarantine for people flying into the United States, as he seeks to tackle the country’s worsening coronavirus crisis.
Biden has said that the Covid-19 death toll would likely rise from 420,000 to half a million next month — and that drastic action was needed.
“We’re in a national emergency. It’s time we treated it like one,” he said on Thursday.
In his last days in office, Donald Trump announced that a Covid-19 ban on travelers arriving from much of Europe and Brazil would be lifted — but the Biden administration immediately said it would reverse the order due to come into effect on January 26.
Trump had announced an initial ban on January 31, 2020 on non-American travelers entering from China to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The ban was extended to European countries on March 14 as the pandemic entered full force.
More than 25 million Covid-19 cases have been recorded in the US since the pandemic began, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally on Sunday.
The milestone was reached only five days after the US, the world’s wealthiest and hardest-hit nation, recorded 400,000 deaths from the disease.
Biden has made fighting the coronavirus a priority and is pushing for Congress to approve a $1.9-trillion relief package that would include billions of dollars to boost vaccination rates.
The president, who was inaugurated on January 20, has said he wants 100 million people vaccinated within his first 100 days in office, and he has called for Americans to wear masks for 100 days.
But every day, even in the cold of the northern winter, he stands by the front door of his house to gaze at the forest with pride and happiness.
The trees were all planted by him and his family over 50 years, and his life has been dedicated to growing and protecting them.
Cao belongs to the Dao ethnic group, and lives in Tan Dan Commune in Ha Long Town of Quang Ninh Province, home to the world-famous bay.
Trieu Tai Cao at his home in Ha Long in Quang Ninh Province. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Cuong.
The Dao used to be nomadic, felling forests to meet their temporary land needs for cattle and crops before moving on.
It was not until 1968 that they started to settle. By then Cao had started thinking about growing trees. He began to look around for seedlings of valuable timber trees such as ironwood, shorea and apitong.
Between 1970 and 1980 he and his family planted those and other trees on 32 hectares (80 acres).
They faced a lot of challenges in protecting the forest initially because there were no regulations for transferring forest lands to local residents, meaning his family had no authority to manage the forest.
In 1992 the government announced a policy of handing over forests for people to maintain and exploit sustainably.
“I love our family’s forest,” Cao says.
“Thanks to that policy, I could continue growing timber while many people around us opted for growing wattle, also known as acacia.”
Growing acacia takes less time and effort and starts providing an income sooner than timber.
Now the forest has around 600 ironwood trees aged 40-70 years besides hundreds of other timber trees.
Trieu Tien Loc in his family’s forest in Ha Long in Quang Ninh Province. Photo by VnExpress/Minh Cuong.
“I am close to death now and have fulfilled my wish to leave the future generations a forest with such valuable trees.
“Forests are humans’ lungs and should not be treated as public property. So I also wish my children and grandchildren will continue to grow trees and protect this forest.”
Trieu Tien Loc, 35, the youngest of his five sons, says: “Many traders have come to us and asked to buy the ironwood, but my family has been insistently saying no. My father has spent his entire life growing and protecting the forest, and we will continue that.”
“My family’s forest is a watershed forest, and there are large trees that can hold the soil and water, which protects us from landslides.”
Even without chopping down or selling any of the large trees, Cao’s family enjoys an income from the forest by growing other types of plants in it such as bamboo, herbs and medicinal plants.
Pham Van Sau, Party chief of Tan Dan, says Cao’s family is the only one in the commune to successfully grow timber and protect the trees for long.
“Many provincial officials have visited Cao’s forest. Two years ago we sought permission to turn the forest into an eco-tourism area, but have yet to get it.”
Quang Ninh has more than 337,000 hectares of forests, including 122,700 ha of natural forests. Its forest cover of 54.7 percent is among the highest of any province in the country.
Around 700,000 ha of land are still available in the country for growing forests, Vuong Van Quynh, former head of the Institute for Forest Ecology and Environment at the Vietnam National University of Forestry, had told VnExpress last year.
Vietnam has a target of growing around 200,000 ha of forests each year.
At 6 a.m. Friday, the 15th day of the first lunar month, Ly A Ton, 62, woke early to prepare offerings, including fresh flowers, fruit, incense, boiled chicken and fried cakes ( jian dui ) in front of his house on Tran Hung Dao Street in District 5.
Instead of flocking to a Chinese-built pagoda with his offerings and burning incense to the gods as in previous years, Ton stayed home and set up a table to worship the deities for fear of gathering in crowds amid the new Covid-19 outbreak that began in the country in late January.
He then hung red pieces of paper bearing Chinese characters on his walls to pray for peace and good fortune.
“This is the most important ritual during Tet Nguyen Tieu ,” he said, referring to the Lantern Festival, known as the biggest and most important festival of the year for ethnic Chinese, marking the final day of the traditional Lunar New Year ( Tet ) celebration.
It is observed on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the first Full Moon day of the Lunar New Year.
” Tet Nguyen Tieu to us is even more important than Lunar New Year’s Eve and Chinese like us always light incense to deities at pagodas and temples to pray for the removal of bad luck and a year of peace and happiness,” Ton noted.
“But the Covid-19 outbreak forced us to celebrate on a smaller scale this year. I am old and scared of contracting the virus or spreading it to my family members. Therefore, I limit going out and gathering in crowds.”
He also had to cancel a reunion party with his relatives and could not visit his friends during the festival, which is an occasion for reunited families to eat dumplings and floating rice cakes made of glutinous rice flour wrapped around a sweet filling.
Inside the 250-year-old Lady Thien Hau Temple, which is dedicated to worship the Goddess of the Sea, the devout convey their prayers by lighting spiral incense sticks that can burn for weeks. Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh.
Ton is one of thousands of ethnic Chinese in Saigon who have been forced to scrap their plans during their biggest traditional spring festival, normally accompanied with dragon dances, street parades, music performances and large crowds.
The city suspended all non-essential services, shutting down bars, karaoke parlors, cinemas and discotheques, and banned religious events since Feb. 9 after recording a series of community transmissions linked to a cluster at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport.
Though city authorities allowed the organization of religious events from March 1, gatherings of more than 50 people at a time remain prohibited.
This was the second consecutive year the festival has been suspended due to the pandemic. The Chinatown area on Friday saw no dragon dances and street parades to avoid large crowds.
Without dragon dances, the festival was no longer as busy nor as meaningful as before, A Tieu, a 55-year-old merchant at Soai Kinh Lam Market, said while preparing to up his shutters for a new business day.
Dragon dance is performed by famous troupes in the Chinatown during Tet Nguyen Tieu , 2018. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen.
The Chinese community strongly believes these dances would dispel evil and bring luck and success. For this, every family invites a lion dance troupe to visit their homes and business establishments on the first days of the New Year, giving them an envelope of lucky money.
Ly Sy Cuong, a caretaker at Nghia An Assembly Hall where Quan Cong (Guan Yu), an ancient Chinese general, is worshiped for his loyalty, sincerity and integrity, said the number of pilgrims on Friday fell sharply as dragon dances and hat tuong , Vietnamese-Chinese opera, were canceled.
Ethnic Chinese have a long tradition to queue up and crawl under the Chinese general horse called Red Hare once or thrice hoping for a smooth start to the new year.
Vietnam has recorded 837 Covid-19 community transmissions in 13 localities, including Hanoi and HCMC, since Jan. 28 after a 55-day clean streak. Many major spring festivals have been suspended due to travel restrictions, lockdowns and quarantine requirements.
Ethnic Chinese, locally referred to as Hoa people, arrived in the south of Vietnam over 300 years ago, with many cultural traditions and long-standing customs kept alive until now.
For Ton, his best wish during Tet Nguyen Tieu is that all people would be safe amid the pandemic and Chinese Vietnamese businesses would fare better this year.
Head coach Park Hang Seo of Vietnam’s national football squad wants to have more time training his players before the World Cup second qualifying round, but his request will be difficult to meet.
V-League is schedule to resume in March.
In order to best serve the Vietnamese team to play the World Cup 2022 qualifier, the Vietnam Football Federation has set two options for the return of V-League 2021 after a break due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Option 1: V-League will resume on March 13 and close on September 19.
Phase 1 of V-League 2021 is scheduled to temporarily cease on May 22 for players of the national squad to group up to prepare for the World Cup 2022 qualifiers. Thus, coach Park Hang Seo will have one week to train his team before going to the United Arab Emirates or Thailand (the Asian Football Confederation – AFC will decide on March 15).
Chairman of Vietnam Professional Football (VPF) Tran Anh Tu said that the two plans are being carefully considered to create the best conditions for the national team.
“VPF and VFF have agreed that this year V-League schedule must create the best conditions for football clubs to compete at continental tournaments, especially for the Vietnam national and U23 Vietnam teams. However, it is difficult to shorten the time V-League because it is too stressful for players,” Tu said.
The new wave of Covid-19 has strongly affected Vietnam’s football. The time for both V-League tournament and the national team’s gathering has reduced.
V-League participants will have only 3-4 days off between games, instead of one week as the first 2 rounds. Before the national team is summoned, 10 rounds of V-League will be held to enable coach Park Hang Seo to recruit the best players.
Coach Park Hang Seo has proposed summoning the national team for two times, totaling arund three weeks, instead of only one as schedule. But because of the current situation, the Korean coach’s proposal may not be accepted.
According to the schedule, Vietnam will face Indonesia on June 7, Malaysia on June 11 and the United Arab Emirates on June 15.
After leaving quarantine center and testing negative for Covid-19, Coach Park Hang Seo is under self-quarantine at home. According to VFF, the coach will officially return to work on March 3.
Regarding Park’s employment contract, VFF said that both sides are very satisfied with each other’s conditions. Two months before the contract ends (February 1, 2022), they will have to discuss a new one, if from now until that day both parties have no problems with each other.