Prayer and Meditation for Friday, November 28, 2014 — “Know that the Kingdom of God is near”

November 27, 2014

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 507

Reading 1 rv 20:1-4, 11-21:2


I, John, saw an angel come down from heaven,
holding in his hand the key to the abyss and a heavy chain.
He seized the dragon, the ancient serpent,
which is the Devil or Satan,
and tied it up for a thousand years and threw it into the abyss,
which he locked over it and sealed,
so that it could no longer lead the nations astray
until the thousand years are completed.
After this, it is to be released for a short time.Then I saw thrones;
those who sat on them were entrusted with judgment.
I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded
for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God,
and who had not worshiped the beast or its image
nor had accepted its mark on their foreheads or hands.
They came to life and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it.
The earth and the sky fled from his presence
and there was no place for them.
I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne,
and scrolls were opened.
Then another scroll was opened, the book of life.
The dead were judged according to their deeds,
by what was written in the scrolls.
The sea gave up its dead;
then Death and Hades gave up their dead.
All the dead were judged according to their deeds.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire.
(This pool of fire is the second death.)
Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life
was thrown into the pool of fire.Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The former heaven and the former earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

Responsorial Psalm ps 84:3, 4, 5-6a and 8a


R. (Rev. 21:3b) Here God lives among his people.
My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh
cry out for the living God.
R. Here God lives among his people.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest
in which she puts her young–
Your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my king and my God!
R. Here God lives among his people.
Blessed they who dwell in your house!
continually they praise you.
Blessed the men whose strength you are!
They go from strength to strength.
R. Here God lives among his people.

Gospel lk 21:29-33


Jesus told his disciples a parable.
“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.
When their buds burst open,
you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near;
in the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that the Kingdom of God is near.
Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.”
Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
Opening prayer


increase our eagerness to do your will
and help us to know the saving power of your love.
You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.




The Gospel today presents the final recommendations of the Apocalyptic Discourse. Jesus insists on two points: (a) on the attention which should be given to the signs of the times (Lk 21, 29-31) and (b) on hope founded on the firmness of the word of God which drives away fear to despair (Lk 21, 32-33).


• Luke 21, 29-31: Look at the fig tree and indeed every tree. Jesus orders to look at nature: “Look at the fig tree and indeed every tree; as soon as you see them bud, you can see for yourselves that summer is now near. So with you when you see these things happening know that the kingdom of God is near”. Jesus asks to contemplate the phenomena of nature to learn how to read and interpret the things which are happening in the world. The buds or sprouts on the fig tree are an evident sign that summer is near. In the same way when the seven signs appear they are a proof that “the Kingdom of God is close at hand!”


To make this discernment is not easy. A person who is alone does not become aware of this. By reflecting together in community, the light appears. And the light is this: to experience in everything that happens the call not to close ourselves in the present, but rather to keep the horizon open and to perceive in everything that happens an arrow directed toward the future. But nobody knows the exact hour of the coming of the Kingdom, nobody. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says: “But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father!” (Mk 13, 32).


• Luke 21, 32-33: “In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away all will have taken place. Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” This word of Jesus recalls the prophecy of Isaiah which says: “All humanity is grass and all its beauty like the wild flowers. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of Yahweh blows on them. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God remains for ever”. (Is 40, 7-8). The word of Jesus is the source of our hope. What he says will arrive!


• The coming of the Messiah and the end of the world. Today, many people live worried concerning the end of the world. Some, basing themselves on a mistaken and fundamentalist reading of the Apocalypse of John, even arrive at calculating the exact date of the end of the world. In the past, beginning at “one thousand years” quoted in the Apocalypse (Rv 20, 7), it was usually repeated: “The year one thousand has gone by but the year two-thousand will not pass!” And because of this, as the year two thousand approached, many were worried.


There were some people who anguished because of the coming of the end of the world, committed suicide! But the year 2000 arrived and nothing happened. The end of the world did not arrive! In the Christian communities of the first centuries, they faced the same problems. They lived in the expectation of the imminent coming of Jesus. Jesus was coming to carry out the Final Judgment so as to finish with the unjust history of the world here on earth and to inaugurate the new phase of history, the definitive phase of the New Heavens and of the New Earth.


They thought that this would take place between one or two generations. Many people would still be alive when Jesus would appear glorious in Heaven (1Th 4, 16-17; Mk 9, 1). There were some persons who no longer worked, because they thought that the end would arrive within a few days or weeks (2Th 2, 1-3; 3, 11). This is what they thought. But even today, the coming of Jesus has not arrived as yet! How can this delay be interpreted? On the streets of the cities people see writings on the walls which say Jesus will return! Is he coming or not? And how will his coming be? Many times, the affirmation “Jesus will return” is used to frighten persons and to oblige them to go to a determinate church.


In the New Testament the return of Jesus is always a reason for joy and peace! For those who are exploited and oppressed, the coming of Jesus is Good News! When will this coming take place? Among the Jews, there were various opinions. The Sadducees and the Herodians said: “The Messianic times will come!” They thought that their well being during the government of Herod was the expression of the Kingdom of God. And for this reason, they did not accept any changes and they fought against the preaching of Jesus who invited people to change and to convert themselves.


The Pharisees said: “The coming of the Kingdom will depend on our effort in observing the law!” The Essens said: The promised Kingdom will arrive only when we will have purified the country from all its impurity”. Among the Christians there was the same variety of opinions. Some of the community of Thessalonica the Greeks, basing themselves on Paul’s preaching, said: “Jesus will return!” (1 Th 4, 13-18; 2 Th 2, 2). Paul responds that it was not that simple as they imagined. And to those who did not work he said: “Anyone who does not work has no right to eat!” (2 Th 3, 10).


Probably, it was a question of persons who at meal time they would go to beg for food to the neighbour’s hose. Other Christians thought that Jesus would return only after the Gospel had been announced to the whole world (Ac 1, 6-11). And they thought that, the greater their effort would be to evangelize, the more rapidly would the end of the world arrive. Others, tired of waiting, said: “He will never come back!” (2 P 3, 4). Others basing themselves on the word of Jesus justly said: “He is already among us!” (Mt 25, 40).


The same thing happens today. There are people who say: “The way things are in the Church and in society, it is alright”. They want no changes. Others are waiting for the immediate coming of Jesus. Others think that Jesus will return only through our work and announcement. For us, Jesus is already among us (Mt 28, 20).He is already at our side in the struggle for justice, for peace and for life. But the fullness has not as yet been attained. For this reason, we wait with perseverance the liberation of humanity and of nature (Rm 8, 22-25).


Personal questions


• Jesus asks to look at the fig tree to contemplate the phenomena of nature. In my life have I already learnt something contemplating nature?

• Jesus says: “The sky and earth will pass, but my words will not pass”. How do I embody in my life these words of Jesus?


Concluding prayer


Lord, how blessed are those who live in your house;
they shall praise you continually.
Blessed those who find their strength in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. (Ps 84,4-5)




Commentary on Luke 21:29-33 From Living Space

Jesus continues his admonitions about readiness for the future. The key is to watch out for the telling signs.

Just as with the fig tree or any tree, the emerging buds of green indicate that summer is on the way. When the things Jesus has been mentioning are seen to happen, terrible as some of them seem to be, they are in fact the sign of summer. “The Kingdom of God is near.” On other occasions, Jesus had said that the Kingdom was already present but the Kingdom can be seen in different ways. The Kingdom is present wherever the values of the Gospel are being lived but it will not be fully realised until the very end when all are gathered in Him.

“This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” When Jesus says that “this present generation” will not have passed away until all this takes place, it is not to say that Jesus’ final coming will happen in the lifetime of his hearers, as some imagined but rather that, with his own suffering and death, the new and eternal dispensation which he inaugurates with the Kingdom will be under way. Ironically, the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophecy is inaugurated by the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Temple. It inaugurates a new presence of God in the world, a presence in “spirit and in truth”.

However, Jesus’ words could also mean that the Jewish people as a race (here referred to as “this generation”) will continue to exist till the end of time, to the final coming of Jesus.

Lastly, the world in which we live will one day disappear, but the words of Jesus, words of Truth and Life will be forever valid, because they represent a vision of life and those timeless values which we understand as emanating from God and to which every single human being is innately called.

As we come to the end of the Church year it is a time for us to make our decision whether we want to belong to the kingdom that Jesus is inaugurating and not only to belong but also to make its spread our life’s work. Then, no matter when he comes to call us, we are ready.




Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

Overshadowed By China: Vietnam, the US, and Japan in the South China Sea

November 27, 2014


Prospects for regional security hinges heavily on how these actors relate to the South China Sea issue.

By Alexander L. Vuving

Between May and July 2014, China unilaterally deployed a giant drilling rig in waters claimed by Vietnam as its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The move led to a fierce confrontation between Chinese and Vietnamese government vessels and saw relations between the two countries deteriorate to their lowest point since 1988. The standoff also served as a litmus test to identify who will side with whom in this conflict. While most of the world remained neutral, several states came out in support of Vietnam in one form or another. Among these supporters, the United States and Japan stood out as the most powerful and staunchest.

The fault line between Vietnam, the U.S., and Japan on one side and China on the other can be seen as one between status quo and revisionist powers. The former share the same objective of maintaining the balance of power that has kept the region in peace for the last two decades. China, with its long period of rapid economic growth in the last three decades, appears to be determined to use its newfound power to assert its sovereignty claims, which in end effect would amount to its dominance of the region. The prospects for regional security hinges heavily on how these actors relate to the South China Sea (SCS) issue.

The Stakes

The prevailing narrative portrays the SCS issue as a territorial dispute driven by conflict over natural resources between the littoral states. This provides a very truncated picture that fails to illuminate the identity and motives of the stakeholders. Besides its economic value, the SCS also has an enormous strategic value for several countries and an increasing symbolic value for some of the disputants.

China claims a vast area of the SCS that lies within a unilaterally drawn U-shape line as its own territories and waters, while Vietnam claims sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands and the EEZ and continental shelf surrounding its mainland’s coasts. The SCS is believed to be rich in fish stocks, energy reserves, and mineral ores. Some estimates put the oil and gas reserves in the SCS at about 80 percent of Saudi Arabia’s. With roughly ten percent of the world’s catch, the region also has one of the largest fishing stocks in the world.

The SCS constitutes one of the inner seas that lie within what China’s strategic planners and analysts term the “first island chain.” Offering easy access to the industrial centers of the country, these maritime zones are critical to the defense of the Chinese homeland against invaders coming from the seas. The SCS is even more important to the defense of Vietnam. If it is sometimes likened to China’s backyard, it is literally the front door to Vietnam.

The SCS has strategic value not only for the littoral states but also for other regional and major powers from outside. The shortest shipping routes between the Indian and the Pacific Ocean, the sea lines of communication that pass through the SCS carry nearly one-third of world trade and a half of the global oil and gas shipping. Not only the economies of Southeast Asia but also those of Northeast Asia are heavily dependent on these trading routes. About 80 percent of the oil and gas imports of China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are shipped through the SCS.

While all players in the SCS issue share a large stake in its waterways, powers with hegemonic ambitions such as the United States and China have an additional interest based on the strategic value of those sea lines. Given its location as a chokepoint on the Asian lifeline and one of the global arteries, control of access to the SCS is a sine qua non for naval supremacy in the Western Pacific, which in turn is a critical pillar of regional primacy in East Asia.

Besides its economic and strategic value, the SCS also has an enormous symbolic value for China and Vietnam. Conflicts and stakes in this region have made it a strong symbol of identity for both nations. Vietnam, for example, has declared the Paracel and Spratly Islands to be its territories in the new constitution of 2013.

Vietnam’s Strategies

No single strategy can describe how Vietnam is dealing with the SCS issue. Instead, Vietnam pursues a multitude of approaches that employ a wide range of mechanisms stretching from hard to soft power. At least seven distinct strategies can be identified.

At the hard extreme of the spectrum, Vietnam tries to strengthen its presence and forces, both military and non-military, in the SCS. During the “scramble for the Spratlys” in 1988, when Beijing and Hanoi competed for foothold on the Spratly Islands, Vietnam set up permanent military garrisons on 11 land features in the archipelago, increasing its possessions here from 10 to 21 land features. From 1989 to 1991, Vietnam went out to occupy six underwater shoals on its continental shelf southwest of the Spratlys by putting up permanent high-pillar structures and manning them with garrisons. Slowly but surely, Vietnam continues to consolidate and increase its presence in these areas with more troops, facilities, equipment, and civilians. Since 2007, Vietnam started to populate the largest of its possessions in the Spratly Islands with permanent civilian habitants. Taking a leaf out of China’s playbook, Vietnam decided in 2012 to create a fisheries surveillance force as a third force, after the navy and the coast guard, to patrol its maritime waters, and in 2014, after the oil rig crisis, to lightly arm these vessels. To build a minimum deterrent force on the sea, Vietnam continued to modernize its navy and air force. A key element in this deterrent force is a submarine fleet it is building with six Kilo-class vessels.

Vietnam is well aware that it cannot rely on military force alone to deter China. One strategy to compensate for this deficit is to get powerful third parties involved. Vietnam’s application of this strategy is, however, limited to the oil and gas industry in the SCS only. But perhaps Hanoi has no other option but to give concessions in the oil blocks that lie within China’s U-shaped line to large companies from major powers, something it has done so far to ExxonMobil from the United States, ONGC from India, and Gazprom from Russia. The extent to which Vietnam has limited its pursuit of this strategy is remarkable; it has repeatedly pledged that it will not form an alliance with any other country against a third party, a coded statement to reassure China of Vietnam’s non-aligned posture.

Instead of forming alliances with powerful partners, Vietnam places more emphasis on internationalization of the issue to interlock and deter China. During most of the 1990s and 2000s, Vietnam remained largely modest in its attempt to internationalize the SCS issue. But responding to Chinese assertiveness in the region since 2008, Vietnam has become increasingly proactive and determined to bring the issue to the world’s attention and enlist the support of foreign partners. For example, international conferences on the SCS issue have become a thriving industry in Vietnam since 2009. Hanoi has also tried to include the SCS issue as an agenda item in its talks – and as a rhetorical device, in the joint statements – with most other foreign governments. Starting with the ASEAN and ARF meetings, international forums such as EAS, APEC, the UN, and ASEM have become diplomatic battlegrounds for Vietnam over the SCS dispute.

Vietnam’s effort to internationalize and multilateralize the issue does not come at the expense of its bilateral dialogues with China. Not only does Vietnam take advantage of all possible channels to talk with China, it is also proud of being able to maintain those channels. Besides the government-to-government channel, Vietnam also cultivates ties between the two Communist Parties and the two militaries to keep special access to China. The uniqueness of the party-to-party and the military-to-military relations between Vietnam and China lies in the fact that both sides emphasize their ideological bonds and, particularly for the militaries, their common interests in opposing the West. With regard to negotiation to resolve the territorial disputes, Vietnam accepts a bilateral approach to the Paracel Islands while insisting on a multilateral approach to the Spratly Islands, arguing that the multilateral nature of the dispute over the latter requires multilateral negotiation.

Toward the soft end of the spectrum, self-restraint and self-constraint to reassure China is also a key element in Vietnam’s approach to the SCS. Hanoi’s political leaders and military strategists reason that China, mindful of its superior forces, will seize the moment when Hanoi lets itself be provoked to escalate the conflict and overwhelm Vietnam. But for Hanoi, self-restraint and self-constraint are not only a tactic to avoid being provoked; they are a systematic approach based on the belief that it can convince Beijing of Hanoi’s benign intentions. Hanoi has, for instance, tried to erase public memories of Vietnam’s military conflicts with Communist China, both on the land borders and in the SCS during the 1970s and 1980s. To reassure Beijing, Hanoi has also unilaterally set tight limits on its room of action. One example is its “three no’s” policy, under which Vietnam vows not to participate in any military alliance, not to allow any foreign military bases on its soil, and not ally with any other country against a third country.

Softer than self-restraint, deference is also a principal element of Vietnam’s strategy toward China. Many Vietnamese leaders and strategists argue that combining resistance with deference is key to Vietnam’s ability to survive in China’s shadow for thousands of years. Acts of deference signaled Vietnam’s acceptance of its subordinate position to China in a hierarchy of states, and Hanoi continues to show deference to Beijing. Two recent examples include visits to China by Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh in the wake of the oilrig crisis. Minh used a trade fair in Nanning, China to go to China before traveling to the United States in September 2014. In October, Thanh led a delegation of thirteen high-ranking military officers to China, preceding the long-planned visit to Vietnam by the U.S. secretary of defense in November.

While preparing for the contingency of a military showdown with China in the SCS, Vietnam hopes that ideological bonds will prevent the worst and serve to isolate, compartmentalize, and attenuate the conflict. Predicated on solidarity between the two communist regimes, this strategy enjoys powerful support among the military leadership and Communist Party conservatives. The underlying thinking is best articulated by General Le Van Dung, then-head of the Political General Directorate of the Vietnam People’s Army. In an interview in December 2009, Dung said: “As concerns our issue with China in the East Sea, we are trying our best to resolve it, and in the near future we will be discussing, negotiating, and delimit the maritime borders with our friend. So the situation will be gradually stabilized and we keep strengthening our relations with China in order to fight the common enemy.” Although China’s increasing assertiveness in the SCS, most notably its deployment of the HSYS-891 drilling rig in Vietnamese waters during the summer of 2014, has shattered much of Vietnam’s trust in Beijing, the military leadership in Hanoi continues to cling to solidarity as a strategy to deal with Beijing and the SCS issue.

None of these strategies has been pursued to its fullest capacity, and the intensity and scope with which they have been practiced has varied over time. For most of the period between 1990 and 2008, Vietnam did little to internationalize the issue. The strategies most salient during this period were a gradual and low-key consolidation of presence and forces, self-restraint and self-constraint, and solidarity. The rising tide of tensions since 2009 has changed the intensity and scope of Vietnam’s strategies, with a focus now on strengthening of presence and forces and internationalization. Overall, Vietnam’s approach to the SCS issue combines deterrence with reassurance. While having stabilizing effects, this “hedging” approach has its own problems: Combining deterrence and reassurance undermines the credibility of both. With the increasing tension in the last few years, this hedging approach has proven increasingly ineffective, creating growing frustration with the policy.

The U.S. Commitment

The United States stands out among outside stakeholders to the SCS with its intense interest in the region. Since 2010, American leaders have repeatedly declared that Washington has a “strong national interest” in freedom of navigation and a “strong interest” in the peaceful and lawful settlement of the disputes there. Both the U.S. economy and U.S. global power and regional primacy in the Asia-Pacific depend to various extents on freedom and peace in the waterways running through the SCS.

In fact, the impact of a blockade in the SCS on the U.S. economy would be significant but not extremely high. Less tangible but more important is the role of the SCS for U.S. global power. U.S. naval supremacy in the Western Pacific, of which the SCS is a critical part, is a key to its regional primacy in the Indo-Pacific, which in turn is a major pillar undergirding the U.S.-led liberal world order. Important as it is, this link from the SCS to U.S. interests is not direct and not very visible and tangible. This fact makes it harder to convince the American public of the significance of the SCS to their interests.

American commitment to the SCS is limited by the U.S. need for breathing space after two expensive wars and a severe economic crisis. China has acted to take advantage of this virtual power vacuum, intensifying its revisionist actions in the region. However, as those revisionist actions become more visible to the American public, U.S. commitment to this critical region may once again strengthen.

Japan’s Role

Japan’s interests in the SCS derive primarily from its dependence on the waterways there and its preference for a U.S.-led regional order. If China dominates this chokepoint, it will be able to switch off at will about 60 percent of Japan’s energy supplies, and it will likely replace the United States as the sponsor and leader of a new regional order. A Chinese-led regional order will most likely be far less liberal and favorable to Japan than the current U.S.-led order. Japan thus shares with both the United States and Vietnam a strong interest in maintaining the status quo in the region. What role can Japan play in maintaining stability in the SCS?

First, Japan – and the United States, for that matter – is ill-suited to act as an honest broker to the dispute. The honest broker must be trusted as such by both sides of the dispute, and Japan hardly fits that bill with China, particularly given its own dispute with China in the East China Sea.

Second, Japan is unable to play the role of an external deterrent. Lacking nuclear weapons and perhaps more dependent on China economically than vice versa, Japan is simply unable to deter China in general.

Balancing, therefore, remains the only possible role for Japan to play. Japan is willing to support Vietnam against China, as evidenced by Tokyo’s provision of coast guard ships as gifts to Vietnam during its oilrig crisis with China recently.  But does Japan, even when joining forces with Vietnam, have the capacity to balance China? This is an interesting question that needs more study, but a look at the combined military and economic power of the two suggests that they cannot. China possesses several key advantages over a Japan-Vietnam coalition, most obviously its nuclear weapons and its central role in Asia’s economy.

The most effective role for Japan to play in the SCS is to facilitate a coalition with the United States, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries that share a common interest in maintaining the status quo. Only a U.S.-led coalition can balance Chinese power in the region. Given its high stakes in the SCS – and the perception of those stakes by its elites – Japan is likely to be willing to play this role. But there is an issue with the coalition leader: With its geographic and psychological distance to the SCS, Washington may be the least willing among this coalition’s members. This may be a factor that prevents the coalition from unilaterally escalating the conflict, but it may also be a factor that encourages China to underestimate the resolve of its rivals and become dangerously provocative.

That in turn suggests the potential for a new era of instability and tension in the SCS, with each stakeholder playing their own role.

Alexander L. Vuving is an associate professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Government.

Satellite images show that since reclaiming the Spratly Islands in August, workers have expanded one stretch of sand to make it long enough for aircraft to land and take off 

China’s reclamation project on Fiery Cross Reef: Satellite images show that since reclaiming the Spratly Islands in August, Chinese workers have expanded one stretch of sand to make it long enough for aircraft to land and take off


A photograph taken in February of the Johnson South Reef in the South China Sea, a reef occupied by China but also claimed by the Philippines and Vietnam. According to the Philippine Foreign Affairs Department, this photo appears to show large-scale reclamation being carried out in stages by China. — Photo: Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs



An example of what Vietnam calls  China’s “lawlessness” at sea: A Chinese ship rams and collides with a Vietnamese vessel in contested waters of the South China Sea. Photo: AFP photograb

China considers much of the South China Sea its territory based on its nine-dash line map. The map covers an area that extends hundreds of miles south from Hainan Island and takes in the Paracels, which are claimed by Vietnam, and the Spratly Islands, some of which are claimed by the Philippines. China is creating artificial islands in the Spratly area.

China claims to own all the South China Sea inside the “nine dash line” as seen here.

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law. Experts say, this could be the geographic area that China could declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ).


Japanese journalist goes on trial for defaming South Korean president

November 27, 2014


Tatsuya Kato, center, former Seoul bureau chief of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun, arrives at the Seoul Central District Court in Seoul on Thursday.AP photo

The Associated Press

SEOUL —A Japanese reporter on Thursday pleaded not guilty to charges of defaming South Korea’s president by reporting rumors that she was absent for seven hours during a ferry disaster in April because she was with a man.

The indictment of Tatsuya Kato of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun newspaper has raised questions about South Korea’s press freedoms. Critics accuse South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s conservative government of clamping down on journalists in an attempt to control her image. It also comes at a low point for Japanese-Korean relations due to a territorial dispute over a small island and conflicts over wartime history.

Kato was indicted over his Aug 3 article about Park’s whereabouts on the day the Sewol ferry sank and killed more than 300 passengers, mostly teenagers on a school trip. The article repeated rumors in South Korean media and the financial industry about a relationship between Park and a former aide who was said to be married at the time.

Park and her government have been criticized for the botched rescue operation on the ferry, and South Korean media had questioned whether she was unaccounted for on the day of the disaster.

Park’s office has denied that she was with the former aide.

The lawyers representing Kato, who has been banned from leaving the country but is not under arrest, said in court that the article was in the public interest, according to court spokesman Kim Dae-hyun.

“The article (I wrote) was to let the Japanese people know about South Koreans’ view on President Park,” Japan’s Kyodo News agency quoted Kato as saying.

The case has opened a debate on freedom of expression in South Korea, where the charge of defaming the president has been rarely used. If convicted, Kato could face a maximum prison sentence of seven years or a fine of 50 million won ($45,500).

Japan’s Foreign Ministry last month summoned a South Korean diplomat in Tokyo to protest the indictment. The Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club in October issued an open letter to prosecutor general Kim Jin-tae, expressing concern that Kato’s indictment could have an “adverse impact” for the country’s media. Moon Jae-in, an opposition lawmaker and Park’s main rival in the 2012 presidential elections, told reporters on Tuesday that the prosecution’s decision to indict Kato was an “embarrassment.”

Until the late 1980s, South Korea was ruled by a succession of military dictators, including Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, who suppressed journalists and dissenters.

Kato’s next court date was set for Dec 15.

Google should be broken up, say European MPs

November 27, 2014

From the BBC

Google’s business is under close scrutiny at the European Commission

The European Parliament has voted in favour of breaking Google up, as a solution to complaints that it favours is own services in search results.

Politicians have no power to enforce a break-up, but the landmark vote sends a clear message to European regulators to get tough on the net giant.

US politicians and trade bodies have voiced their dismay at the vote.

The ultimate decision will rest with EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

She has inherited the anti-competitive case lodged by Google’s rivals in 2010.

Google has around 90% market share for search in Europe and rivals asked the commission to investigate four areas:

  • The manner in which Google displays its own vertical search services compared with other, competing products
  • How Google copies content from other websites – such as restaurant reviews – to include within its own services
  • The exclusivity Google has to sell advertising around the search terms people use
  • Restrictions on advertisers from moving their online ad campaigns to rival search engines

Predecessor Joaquin Almunia tried and failed to settle the case. A series of concessions made by Google were rejected, leading Mr Almunia to suggest that the only option was a fine. This could be up to $5bn.

The Commission has never before ordered the break-up of any company, and many believe it is unlikely to do so now.

But politicians are desperate to find a solution to the long-running anti-competitive dispute with Google.

The motion brought by Andreas Schwab, a German Christian Democrat, and Spanish liberal Ramon Tremosa stated that the best way to resolve the row with the net giant was to separate search engines from other commercial services thereby ensuring a level playing field for rivals in Europe.

UK media websites hacked by Syrian Electronic Army

November 27, 2014

LONDON (Reuters) – The websites of several British media organizations were hacked on Thursday in a suspected coordinated attack by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), an amorphous hacker collective that supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Among those hit were the London newspapers Daily Telegraph, Independent and Evening Standard, which reported that other news organizations had also been targeted.

The SEA posted on its Twitter feed: “Happy thanks giving, hope you didn’t miss us! The press: Please don’t pretend #ISIS are civilians. #SEA”

“A part of our website run by a third-party was compromised earlier today,” the Telegraph said on its official Twitter feed. “We’ve removed the component. No Telegraph user data was affected.”

Users attempting to access certain parts of the papers’ websites found a message that read “You’ve been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA)” and were then redirected to the group’s logo, an image of an eagle bearing the Syrian flag and a message in Arabic.

The websites of companies such as the New York Times, the BBC and Microsoft have been targeted by the SEA in the past, as have Twitter accounts of other media organizations.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Russia, China ‘Spheres of Influence’ and the ‘Sinatra Doctrine’

November 27, 2014

By Gideon Rachman
Financial Times

Beijing and Moscow are pushing for a reordering of world affairs based on ‘spheres of influence’

Ingram Pinn illustration

For centuries European navies roamed the world’s seas – to explore, to trade, to establish empires and to wage war. So it will be quite a moment when the Chinese navy appears in the Mediterranean next spring, on joint exercises with the Russians. This plan to hold naval exercises was announced in Beijing last week, after a Russian-Chinese meeting devoted to military co-operation between the two countries.

The Chinese will doubtless enjoy the symbolism of floating their boats in the traditional heartland of European civilisation. But, beyond symbolism, Russia and China are also making an important statement about world affairs. Both nations object to western military operations close to their borders. China complains about US naval patrols just off its coast; Russia rails against the expansion of Nato. By staging joint exercises in the Mediterranean, the Chinese and Russians would send a deliberate message: if Nato can patrol near their frontiers, they too can patrol in Nato’s heartland.

Behind this muscle-flexing, however, the Russians and Chinese are pushing for a broader reordering of world affairs, based around the idea of “spheres of influence”. Both China and Russia believe that they should have veto rights about what goes on in their immediate neighbourhoods. Russia argues that it is unacceptable that Ukraine – a country ruled from Moscow for centuries – should now join the western alliance. The Putin government’s aspiration for a “Eurasian Union” also seems intended to re-establish a Russian zone of influence over much of the former Soviet Union – which could then counterbalance the EU.

Until recently, China relied primarily on its economic might to spread its influence throughout Asia. But Beijing has now also become more directly assertive on security matters. It is pursuing its territorial disputes with neighbours such as Vietnam and Japan with increased energy. Last year Beijing also declared an “air defence identification zone” in the East China Sea – insisting that foreign aircraft declare themselves to the Chinese authorities.

There are some in the west who suggest that – on grounds of pragmatism and in the interests of peace – Russia and China should be tacitly granted these “spheres of influence”. In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Henry Kissinger made it clear that he regarded it as reasonable to tell Ukraine that it is not free to decide its own future.

The Obama administration, however, has explicitly set itself against this idea. Tony Blinken, US deputy national security adviser, has said of Russia’s aspirations: “We continue to reject the notion of a sphere of influence. We continue to stand by the right of sovereign democracies to choose their own alliances.”

As Mr Blinken’s statement makes clear, the Americans believe that the argument about spheres of influence is about the defence of a fundamental principle. If undemocratic countries, such as Russia and China, are conceded a sphere of influence in their neighbourhoods, they are implicitly granted a veto over the policies pursued by nominally independent nations. Russia can forbid Ukraine from joining Nato or the EU. China can force Vietnam, the Philippines – or even Japan – to pay tribute.

As far as the Russians and Chinese are concerned, however, this is an argument that is fundamentally about power – and all US talk about “principle” is simply hypocrisy. After all, ever since the Monroe Doctrine was announced in 1823, America has proclaimed its intention to keep outsiders away from its own hemisphere. In recent decades, it has intervened militarily in Grenada, Panama and Haiti. Even more recently – as the Russians never tire of pointing out – the US has led military interventions far from home, in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria.

Indeed, as Moscow sees it, America’s global military reach is so pervasive that Washington has got used to treating the whole world as its “sphere of influence”. There are US troops in Japan and South Korea, US naval and air force bases in Bahrain and Qatar, and Nato bases all over Europe – to name just a few of America’s most high-profile global commitments.

The American response is to point out that the US global military presence is built around alliances between willing partners. Indeed, in an effort to underline the idea that America now genuinely repudiates the idea of spheres of influence, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, even declared last year that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is dead”. Henceforth, it seems, America will endorse what a Soviet spokesman once called “the Sinatra doctrine” – the idea that all nations can do it their way.

It will not be hard for the governments in Moscow and Beijing to point to continuing inconsistencies in America’s rejection of spheres of influence. But the US argument still rests on a basic truth. There is a vast difference between a sphere of influence based on willing consent and one that is constructed around intimidation and force.

It seems to be almost a rule that the closer a country is to any putative Russian or Chinese sphere of influence, the more eager it is to cement an alliance with the US. From Poland to Japan – and points in-between – America’s allies need little persuasion to shelter under the US security umbrella.

The arrival of the Chinese navy in the Mediterranean next year may only add to the persuasive pull of Nato.

Explaining Vladimir Putin’s Popularity Cult

November 27, 2014

Russia’s Vladimir Putin: Slated abroad, Russia’s leader is sky-high in domestic approval ratings. Tom Parfitt in Moscow asks why

Approval rating for Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at 85 per cent Photo: AFP/Getty Images

A punishing war abroad that sends men home to their families in coffins. Enduring corruption. A currency crisis and a stuttering economy. Pariah status at global summits.

Surely enough to erode any president’s popularity?

Not Vladimir Putin‘s. New poll results published on Wednesday show the approval rating for Russia’s leader at 85 per cent, just down on last month’s 88 per cent, which equalled the record high of 2008.

So just why is Mr Putin so highly-regarded at home, a full 14 years after he first took control of the Kremlin?

Here are seven reasons.

War, what is it good for?

Survey results published by the Levada Centre, one of the few polling agencies in Moscow with a degree of separation from Russia’s authorities, indicate that Mr Putin’s popularity spikes at moments when he takes decisive, forceful action.

Before last month, his approval rating hit its highest point at 88 per cent in September 2008, shortly after Russia effected a swift victory in its five-day war with Georgia. Mr Putin was not president then – his protégé Dmitry Medvedev had taken over for a seat-warming four-year stint – but he was universally seen as the power behind the throne.


A previous high for Mr Putin was in January 2000, his first month as acting president, when 84 per cent of respondents approved of his leadership as he sent Russian troops back in to separatist Chechnya.

By the end of last year, after a steady decline since the Georgia war, the figure had fallen to an all-time low of 61 per cent. But that began to rise through the patriotic surge of the Sochi Olympics in February, hitting the 80s again in the spring as Russia annexed Crimea and rising yet further as Mr Putin threw his weight behind pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk’s “people’s republics” over the summer and autumn.

“Crimea is Ours”

Crimea deserves special notice. In Russia’s popular imagination, this is a place of national pride and glory. Tsarist troops battled British, French and Turkish forces here in the 19th century and Soviet soldiers held off the Germans for 250 days during the Siege of Sevastopol in 1941 and 1942.

Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet general secretary, removed Crimea from Russia and added it to Ukraine in 1954, in what was then a territorial rearrangement inside the USSR.


Russian nationalists have yearned for Crimea’s return ever since. In March their moment came. Mr Putin sent soldiers to the peninsula after pro-western demonstrators toppled Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-leaning president of Ukraine. A dubious referendum followed in which Crimea’s population voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia. Mr Putin approved the transfer, to international opprobrium.

Inside Russia, the decision was extremely popular. A poll by Levada last month suggested 86 per cent of the population was in favour of the takeover. The Kremlin portrays it as a response to years of US unilateralism, foreign snubs, hypocrisy and interference in Russia’s sphere; more simply, a giant yah-boo-sucks to the West. Now “Krym nash” (Crimea is Ours) is a popular slogan, and Mr Putin’s talk of a greater “Novorossiya” that stretches deep into Ukraine has puffed chests across Russia and pumped his status.

Fortress Putin

That the Kremlin portrays Russia as a fortress besieged by pernicious foreigners has long been an axiom. Western sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis provide ammo for this posture.

Mr Putin’s genius is to increasingly identify the state with himself.

Last month, his deputy chief of staff told a group of political analysts that “there is no Russia today if there is no Putin” and “any attack on Putin is an attack on Russia.”


The president was coy about that idea, but earlier this week he told an interviewer: “I’ve already said that I feel like I’m part of Russia. It’s not just love that I feel for it. Anyone can say he loves his Motherland. We all love it but I really feel being part of our people and I can’t imagine even for a second living outside Russia.”

Those words echoed a comment the leader made in April, when he said that death “may be beautiful if it serves the people: death for one’s friends, one’s people or for the homeland, to use a modern word”.

Mr Putin’s heroic “l’etat, c’est moi” pose clearly goes down well.

When he was roundly snubbed at the G20 summit in Brisbane even some of his critics felt it was an insult to Russia itself.

No alternative

Painting yourself as a paternalistic keeper of the nation’s future is a little easier, of course, when you have scrubbed out every potential rival.

Asked why they support Mr Putin, many Russians answer, “Who else?”

Ever since he came to power in 2000, Mr Putin’s lieutenants have worked diligently to sideline, prosecute, discredit, co-opt or otherwise neutralise political opponents.

In 2011 and 2012, mass street protests shot Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner, onto the Moscow stage as a credible rival.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets WWII veterans and Russian servicemen during his visit to Sevastopol (EPA)

He was soon faced with a flurry of dubious criminal cases against him and has struggled to maintain momentum beyond a hardcore of younger, liberal supporters in the capital and other big cities despite a strong showing in mayoral elections.

Mr Navalny stood apart from seasoned but marginal opposition figures because of his nationalist streak. That appeal was blunted when Mr Putin seized Crimea and marched into eastern Ukraine this year. Mr Navalny admits that although he would not have launched the takeover, he would not give Crimea back to Ukraine if he came to power.

Other more radical opponents of Mr Putin’s rule like the veteran Eduard Limonov are now vocal supporters of the war in Donetsk and Luhansk, organising volunteer militia to go and fight there.

Press unfreedom

One of Mr Putin’s greatest tools is his ability to manipulate public sentiment through a stranglehold on Russia’s most influential media.

A Levada survey in May found that 94 per cent of those polled depended on domestic television networks – which are state-dominated – to follow news from Crimea and Ukraine.

The Kremlin may have a point that Western reporting has its own slant, but Russian state media is a tide of Putin-worship, nationalist diatribe and outright falsehoods.

Alternative voices are increasingly scarce. Last month, Mr Putin signed off on new legislation that will limit foreign ownership in Russian media assets to 20 per cent. The law will likely see two of the country’s biggest independent outlets, Vedomosti and Forbes Russia, ushered toward Kremlin-friendly control.

Surveying the pollsters

The polls say Putin is adored, but can they be trusted?

The Levada Centre has struggled to maintain its independence and last year prosecutors threatened it with inclusion on a government list of “foreign agents” – NGOs that receive foreign funding and are therefore seen as potential fifth columnists for western states.

Political surveys conducted by telephone in a country where people fear retribution for criticising the authorities may not be the best test of sentiment. Saying you love the leader is the safest thing, just in case someone is listening in or noting down your name.

Interestingly, the state-linked WCIOM polling agency puts Mr Putin’s popularity lower than Levada. It found his personal approval rating down from 85.9 per cent in May to 62.5 per cent in October.

Vladimir Putin, left, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attend the Victory Day parade in Moscow (AP)

The economy, stupid

Like him or not, Mr Putin has presided over a rise in prosperity since he came to power in 2000. Poverty levels dropped, the middle class expanded, spending power increased. Russians are seen more and more often on holiday resorts all over the world.

But, according to the World Bank, Russia is entering a period of “near stagnation”. This year, the rouble lost more than a quarter of its value; western sanctions are preventing Russian banks from accessing financial markets abroad; business and consumer confidence is low.

The price of oil which so longed buoyed Russia’s economy (it is the third biggest producer in the world) has slumped, falling from $115 in June to about $80 now.

On Monday, Anton Siluanov, Russia’s finance minister, said sanctions and lower oil prices would cost Russia around $130-140bn a year – equivalent to around 7 per cent of its economy. Under Mr Putin’s leadership, Russia has done little to diversify the economy and reduce reliance on hydrocarbon revenues.

Patriotic pride in the Ukraine adventure will likely outweigh discontent over rising costs for food and utilities – for a while.

If wages and pensions are hit and jobs are lost? Then Mr Putin’s Teflon may begin to flake.


EU Parliament votes to break up Google

November 27, 2014



The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly for the break-up of Google Thursday in a largely symbolic vote that still cast another blow in the four-year standoff between Brussels and the US Internet giant.

In a direct challenge to Google, MEPs assembled in Strasbourg approved a resolution calling on the EU to consider ordering search engines to separate their commercial services from their businesses.


Google Told it Must Respect “Right to be Forgotten”

From the BBC

Google is under fresh pressure to expand the “right to be forgotten” to its international .com search tool.

A panel of EU data protection watchdogs said the move was necessary to prevent the law from being circumvented.

Google currently de-lists results that appear in the European versions of its search engines, but not the international one.

The panel said it would advise member states’ data protection agencies of its view in new guidelines.

At present, visitors are diverted to localised editions of the US company’s search tool – such as and – when they initially try to visit the site.

However, a link is provided at the bottom right-hand corner of the screen offering an option to switch to the international .com version. This link does not appear if the users attempted to go to a regional version in the first place.

Even so, it means it is possible for people in Europe to easily opt out of the censored lists.

An option to switch to is available to those who do not want to use its regional search tools

The data watchdogs said this “cannot be considered a sufficient means to guarantee the rights” of citizens living in the union’s 28 member countries.

A spokesman for Google said: “We haven’t yet seen the Article 29 Working Party’s guidelines, but we will study them carefully when they’re published.”

Balancing act

The right to be forgotten was established in May by a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union.

It said a Spaniard had the right to stop an article referring to his financial troubles appearing in Google’s results, bearing in mind the event had happened 16 years before and he had put his troubles behind him. The decision did not affect the article actual presence on the net.

The court added that judgements about other complaints would need to balance “sensitivity for the data subject’s private life [against] the interest of the public in having that information”.

The European Commission later clarified that search engines would have to delete information if they had received a request from the person affected by the result and had judged that it met the court’s criteria for deletion. In cases where search engines decide not to remove the links, the person involved can take the matter to their local data watchdog or the courts.

Will Hong Kong’s Democracy Protesters Just Fade Away?

November 27, 2014


Protesters cry as the police officers try to stop them blocking the road in Mong Kok district of Hong Kong Wednesday Nov. 26, 2014. Police arrested key student leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests on Wednesday as they cleared barricades in one volatile district, throwing into doubt the future of a 2-month-old movement seeking free elections in the former British colony. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

By Kelvin Chan

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police arrested 11 more people in a second night of scuffles with demonstrators angry at having their 2-month-old pro-democracy protest camp in a volatile neighborhood shut down, officials said Thursday.

Police also said they arrested seven of their own officers for assault in connection with the Oct. 15 beating of a handcuffed protester during a violent nighttime clash.

None of the seven officers were identified. There was public anger when they were caught on camera apparently kicking and punching the protester in a dark corner of an underpass where hundreds of police were battling activists.

In a statement, police denied accusations that their failure to immediately arrest them meant they were delaying the case. Police said they were continuing to investigate and collect evidence.

The latest arrests of the activists followed an aggressive operation by authorities to clear out the protest camp on the busy streets of the crowded Mong Kok district, one of three protest zones around the city. Police already hold 148 people who have been detained since Tuesday, including high-profile student leaders Joshua Wong and Lester Shum.

Wong, 18, heads the Scholarism group, while Shum, 21, is second-in-command of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. The groups have played important roles in organizing the protest movement seeking free elections in the former British colony.

Joshua Wong

The protesters are demanding that Hong Kong’s government scrap a plan by China’s Communist leaders to use a panel of Beijing-friendly elites to screen candidates for the territory’s top leader in inaugural 2017 elections.

The clearance of the Mong Kok camp deals a blow to the movement, which has had little to show after two months of occupying Hong Kong streets although the arrests of the popular student leaders could also erode public support for authorities.



Hong Kong Democracy Activist Joshua Wong pelted with eggs outside court after being banned from Mong Kok

November 27, 2014

Chris Lau and Lai Ying-kit
South China Morning Post

Student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung was pelted with eggs outside court after he was banned from entering parts of Mong Kok as a condition of his bail. Wong had earlier been charged with obstructing a bailiff who was clearing barricades erected by pro-democracy protesters.

Wong was barred from setting foot in the area bound by Fai Yuen Street to the east, Dundas Street to the south, Shanghai Street to the west and Mong Kok Road to the north – a condition sought by the prosecution.

Before the egg attack outside Kowloon City Court on Thursday afternoon, Wong said he was disappointed by the behaviour of police, who he accused of “attempting to injure him in the groin” while he was being dragged away on Tuesday.

“A team of 12 helmeted police officers rushed towards me and pushed me to the ground,” he said. “I was injured in the neck.”

Wong also said he was taunted and swore at by officers while in custody and was told at 3am on Thursday that he would go to court seven hours later.

Joshua Wong, Hong Kong Democracy activist, is arrested at Mong Kok, November 26, 2014

The court heard that the Mong Kok no-go area for Wong is larger than the area covered by an injunction granted by the High Court.

But Principal Magistrate Peter Law allowed Wong, who was not asked to enter a plea, to travel through the area “on transport or in transit” after he was informed by the Scholarism convenor’s counsel, Michael Vidler, that his client needed to go to university via Mong Kok.

Vidler also said Wong would like the court to make an exception for him to go to a blood donation centre in the area. Law turned down the request.

Clad in a dark green jacket, the student activist kept his hands in the pockets as he listened to the hearing being translated to him.

Vidler said the prosecution’s request to adjourn the case until January 14 was a delaying tactic. The size of the no-go zone was also disputed by Vidler.

Joshua Wong is flanked by police officers as he arrives in court this morning. Photo: SCMP

The evidence against Wong was “thin”, said Vidler, who questioned if the prosecution had brought Wong to court in order to keep him from taking part in Hong Kong’s ongoing pro-democracy street protests.

“My client did not obstruct the plaintiff and bailiffs undertaking their duties, nor did he obstruct the police undertaking their duties,” he said.

Prosecutor Angus Lee Ka-hung said more time was needed for enquiries and legal advice, adding that the prosecution treated each defendant equally.

“The prosecution has no intent to delay the trial proceedings,” Lee said.

About 31 defendants, including lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and student leader Lester Shum, will face various charges today arising from the police clearing of the Mong Kok protest site on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The charges include obstructing officers on duty, possession of weapons and assaulting police officers.




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