Archive for June, 2012

Alcohol Related Brain Injury Warning: Half Your Future Generation At Risk

June 29, 2012

International experts are warning that one in five New Zealanders faces alcohol-related brain damage from our heavy drinking culture.

It is estimated 800,000 New Zealanders binge drink regularly placing them at high risk of alcohol related brain damage.

Chief executive of Australian based organisation, Alcohol Related Brain Injury Australian Services ( ARBIAS ), Sonia Burton says it is critical that New Zealanders wake up to the issue.

“It’s almost like boxing, you know, it’s like taking a blow to the brain every time you binge drink,” she says.

For young people the statistics are even worse – with 50% of those under 25 binge drinking regularly.

“That’s half your future generation that is placing themselves at risk of alcohol related brain damage,” she says.

“We are growing a real problem for ourselves,” she says.



ANATOMY OF A SPLIT: Tom Cruise And Katie Holmes’ Road To Divorce

June 29, 2012

On Friday, Katie Holmes (sort of) surprised the world by filing for divorce from Tom Cruise, her husband of five years and father to her six-year-old daughter, Suri.

Cruise was also apparently “blindsided” by the news, and has released a statement through his rep that he is “deeply saddened” by Holmes’ actions.

But where did the couple, who often engaged in public PDA, go wrong?

Was it the Scientology? Careers? Their contract was up?

Let’s take a look back at TomKat’s six years together.

tom cruise katie holmes mission impossible

Read more:


LOS ANGELES (AP) — It always seemed more than a little weird, didn’t it? The whirlwind romance of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmeswith its very public, very emphatic proclamations of love. It all occurred too quickly and too loudly to seem real.

Now, after nearly six years of marriage, Holmes is divorcing Cruise. She filed the papers on Thursday, said Cruise’s lawyer Bert Fields. The two share a daughter, 6-year-old Suri, who’s been featured in celebrity media nearly as frequently as her parents.

FILE - Actor Tom Cruise and his wife Katie Holmes pose during a photo-call for the world premiere of their new film "Knight and Day" at the Lope de Vega theatre in Seville, Spain on Wednesday June 16, 2010. Cruise and Homes are calling it quits after five years of marriage. Holmes' attorney Jonathan Wolfe said Friday June 29, 2012 that the couple is divorcing, but called it a private matter for the family. (AP Photo/Toni Rodriguez)

But it’s telling that even in addressing their split in the typically vague fashion of famous people, Cruise still refers to Holmes by the name he called her: Kate, as if to distance her from the adorable Katie audiences came to know and love from the teen soap “Dawson’s Creek.”

“Kate has filed for divorce and Tom is deeply saddened and is concentrating on his three children,” Cruise’s representative, Amanda Lundberg, told The Associated Press. “Please allow them their privacy to work this out.”

Holmes’ attorney, Jonathan Wolfe, made a similar plea Friday: “This is a personal and private matter for Katie and her family. Katie’s primary concern remains, as it always has been, her daughter’s best interest.”;_ylt=A2KLOzE3QO5Pbn8AIYHQtDMD

Virginia woman sues over alleged sexual abuse during exorcism

June 29, 2012

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Virginia woman who claims a priest sexually abused her while performing an exorcism is suing a Catholic diocese and an anti-abortion group for $5.3 million in damages.

The woman claims the Rev. Thomas Euteneuer abused her between April 2008 and September 2010, according to the suit filed in Virginia’s Arlington County Circuit Court.

The suit names as defendants the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and its bishop, Paul Loverde, as well as the anti-abortion group Human Life International and HLI Endowment Inc.

Euteneuer had been transferred from the Diocese of Palm Beach, Florida, to serve as president of Human Life International and HLI Endowment in 2000. He resigned in August 2010.

The woman, identified in the suit as Jane Doe, said she signed an “agreement for spiritual help” with Euteneuer in February 2008 because “she believed she was in desperate need of the rite of exorcism,” the suit said.

Euteneuer repeatedly hugged, kissed and groped the woman, and said he was “blowing the Holy Spirit into her,” according to the suit, which was filed on June 19.

Euteneuer told the woman to undress on about six occasions, touched and kissed her body, and put his finger in her vagina, court documents said.

The suit alleges that Loverde and the Diocese of Arlington knew Euteneuer would perform an exorcism on the woman.

Asked about the suit, the Diocese of Arlington said Euteneuer had never been its employee. He worked for Human Life International, an independent company, subject to his bishop in Palm Beach, it said.

“Rev. Euteneuer was not authorized to perform an exorcism on the plaintiff,” it said in a statement, adding that the diocese had its own exorcist.

The woman’s attorney, Demetrios Pikrallidas, said Euteneuer was not named as a defendant because he had reached a private settlement with her.

Dianne Laubert, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Palm Beach, said Euteneuer had been recalled when the allegations surfaced. His “priestly faculties” were withdrawn and he can no longer celebrate Mass or administer sacraments, she said.

The woman is seeking $5 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages.

Euteneuer’s behavior “was never within the scope of his employment with” Human Life International, the anti-abortion group said in a statement. “We intend to vigorously defend HLI from the false accusations made against it.”

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

Historic Virginia Home, Still In Use, Observed War of 1812, Civil War, Home to At Least One President! (Maybe)

June 29, 2012

It seems as if every 50 yards or so in Northern Virginia one finds an historic marker.

Today, in Nielsen’s Frozen Custard Shop, in Vienna, Virginia, we came upon the photo of the Maffitt House or “Salona Mansion” below.

So I got into the Honda and found this property.

So who cares?

Well, here’s the historic marker.

Salona Marker Photo, Click for full size

Salona was built on part of the 1719 Thomas Lee 2,862 acre grant known as Langley. During the War of 1812, the estate’s owner, the Rev. William Maffitt, reputedly gave refuge to President James Madison as the British burned Washington. Civil War Camp Griffin occupied Salona, then owned by Jacob Smoot, through the winter of 1861/62, the house serving as headquarters for Union General William “Baldy” Smith. A working farm until the Smoot family began selling acreage in 1947, Salona was purchased in stages by Clive and Susan Duval beginning in 1953. The Duval family later arranged for the preservation of the house and property.

38° 56.424′ N, 77° 10.573′ W. Marker is in McLean, Virginia, in Fairfax County. Marker is on Dolley Madison Blvd. (Virginia Route 123), on the right when traveling north.  Marker is at or near this postal address: 1235 Dolley Madison Blvd., Mc Lean VA 22101, United States of America.


Above: William Farrar “Baldy” Smith


Above: General William Farrar Smith and staff

Reverend William Maffitt apparently hid President James Madison from the British after Washington D.C. (and the White House) were burned the night of August 24, 1814.

Burning of the White House, 1814 (Credit: White House Association)

Reverend Maffitt’s son was Dr. William Maffitt, born in Chantilly on November 14, 1811. So he must have been a child just 3 years old when President Madison visited. Dr. Maffitt graduated from then Columbia University (now George Washington University) Medical School with a degree and a Medical Doctor in 1831. He served in the United States Army as a surgeon until he resigned in 1844. The Civil War would start in 1861 — with Doctor Maffitt observing from here at Salona!

In 1847 Dr. Maffitt and his bride had a son: William Carter Maffitt born August 22 of that year. He is buried in Saint Louis.

Less than a year after the start of the Civil War: Union troops occupied Salona but it was too useful to destroy. It became an army depot; hence the photo in Nielsen’s Frozen Custard !

Nielsen’s Frozen Custard

144 Church St. NW, Vienna, Virginia

Some of the Maffitt’s including William C. Maffitt are buried in Saint Louis.

Rev. William Maffitt is buried at  Lewinsville Presbyterian Cemetery

Rev William Maffitt

Rev William Maffitt

Oh and by the way: according to Wikipedia, Dolly Madison did not save the portrait of George Washington before the fire of 1814.

James Madison’s personal servant, the slave Paul Jennings, was an eyewitness at the age of 15. After purchasing his freedom later from the widow Dolley Madison, he published his memoir in 1865, considered the first from the White House:

It has often been stated in print, that when Mrs. Madison escaped from the White House, she cut out from the frame the large portrait of Washington (now in one of the parlors there), and carried it off. She had no time for doing it. It would have required a ladder to get it down. All she carried off was the silver in her reticule, as the British were thought to be but a few squares off, and were expected any moment.

Jennings said that the people who saved the painting and removed the objects were:

John Susé [Jean-Pierre Sioussat] (a Frenchman, then door-keeper, and still living) and Magraw [McGraw], the President’s gardener, took it down and sent it off on a wagon, with some large silver urns and such other valuables as could be hastily got hold of. When the British did arrive, they ate up the very dinner, and drank the wines, &c., that I had prepared for the President’s party.

How the Global War on Drugs Drives HIV and AIDS

June 29, 2012

The war on drugs is driving much of the global AIDS pandemic, increasing new infections among injection-drug users in the U.S. and elsewhere, according to a new report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

The commission — led by a distinguished panel including the former presidents of Mexico, Poland, Colombia, Brazil and Switzerland, along with Virgin Airlines entrepreneur Richard Branson, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker, and former Secretary of State George Schulz, among others — finds in its report that about one-third of all new infections outside of sub-Sarahan Africa occur in injection-drug users.

From TIME Magazine

Since the 1990s, effective public-health strategies to curb HIV transmission in drug users have led to drops in new infections in most countries. But over the same time period, seven countries have seen a 25% increase in new infections. Not coincidentally, five of these countries — mainly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia — employ aggressive drug war strategies, such as arresting and incarcerating users for drug or needle possession.

These tactics have been shown to be ineffective not only for controlling drug use, but also for reining in the spread of HIV. Why? Because the fear of recrimination prevents drug users from seeking clean needles — a major risk factor for HIV infection. In the U.S. as well, areas with the highest infection rates are those that have the most aggressive drug policies, the report shows. The solution is straightforward, if drastic; it requires a complete overhaul of current drug policy: drug users need treatment, not imprisonment, and drug possession needs to be decriminalized, the authors argue.

(MORE: 10 Reasons to Revisit Marijuana Policy Now)

Look no further than New York City, the epicenter of the American HIV epidemic among drug users in the late 1980s and early ’90s, as testament to the effects of a policy about-face. Twenty-five years ago, city law enforcement was battling outdoor drug markets by arresting users en masse; at the same time, the city reported a 50% HIV infection rate among people who injected drugs.

In the early ’90s, the situation began to change. The city started expanding methadone prescribing to help treat users addicted to drugs. Needle-exchange programs, run illegally mostly by AIDS activists from ACT UP, began to be established. At the start, the activists deliberately provoked arrest — but soon the courts would rule that the public health benefits of the programs outweighed any merits of keeping them illegal. Over time, many of the underground needle-exchange programs grew into legal, government-funded operations.

The rate of HIV infection among IV drug users in New York City has fallen by two-thirds since its peak; while injection-drug use once accounted for half of all new infections in the city, today it is linked to fewer than 5%.


The strategy has worked in other cities as well: a 1997 study f0und that HIV infection rates in U.S. cities without needle-exchange programs increased 6% per year; in contrast, infection rates in cities that had clean-needle programs fell by the same amount. International data presented in the new report tell the same story: when access to needles and methadone treatment is expanded — and when drug users do not have to fear arrest for possession of needles — HIV infection rates fall.

(MORE: Clean Needles Saved My Life. Now Congress Wants to Ban Funding for Needle Exchange)

Research also shows that the reverse is true. A study published in The Lancet in 2010 found that nearly one-fifth of all HIV infections in the Ukraine may be associated with police beatings of IV drug users during arrest. Because possession of needles can be grounds for arrest and attack, fear of police keeps drug users from obtaining clean needles.

The countries hardest hit by drug-war driven HIV include Russia and many other regions of the former Soviet Union. Russia’s situation is especially dire because it bans methadone maintenance treatment for those addicted to opioids like heroin. This, despite the fact that the World Health Organization and other expert bodies that have examined the question scientifically have determinedthat maintenance is more effective than other treatments at reducing drug-related crime, death and the spread of blood-borne disease.

A man prepares heroin he bought on the street to be injected at the Insite safe injection clinic in Vancouver, B.C., in May 2011.

Russia’s opposition is ideological: maintenance is viewed as the simple substitution of one harmful drug for another; the data show, however, that maintenance dramatically improves health. Currently, 37% of all IV-drug users in Russia are HIV-positive. Globally, infection among IV-drug users tends to drive heterosexual and pediatric infections in epidemics outside of Africa.

The U.S. isn’t immune to the problem either: a longstanding federal ban on funding for needle exchange, which was briefly lifted in 2011, was reinstated this year. The effects of Congress’s AIDS policies have been felt most profoundly at its doorstep in Washington, D.C., which has the highest rate of HIV infection in the country. Because of D.C.’s unique status, Congress can also prevent the city from using its own funds for needle exchange, which it was barred from doing until 2008. (That year, D.C.’s local ban was lifted, though the federal ban remains.) The result: at roughly 3%, our nation’s capital has a higher HIV infection rate than Ethiopia or Sierra Leone.

(MORE: Addiction Treatment in America: Not Based in Science, Not Truly ‘Medical’)

In America, the war on drugs disproportionately harms black communities. African American men are at least twice as likely to be arrested or imprisoned for drug crimes as white men. Further, jails and prisons house people at high risk of HIV infection together — about 25% of people with HIV pass through correctional facilities annually — while limiting or denying access to condoms, let alone clean needles. Even a short jail term doubles the risk of syringe sharing and increases the risk of HIV-medication failure by a factor of seven, according to a Baltimore study cited in the Global Commission’s report. It’s not surprising, then, that while African Americans make up 12% of the U.S. population, they account for 50% of new HIV infections.

The commission’s AIDS report concludes: “Any sober assessment of the impacts of the war on drugs would conclude that many national and international organizations tasked with reducing the drug problem have actually contributed to a worsening of community health and safety. This must change.”

The authors call for complete decriminalization of drug possession by users who are harming no one but themselves, as well as greater access to maintenance treatment, needle exchange and other services. Politically, however, we might be more likely to see Republicans increase taxes for the rich and Democrats eliminate Social Security and Medicare.

But it doesn’t have to be that difficult; the data here clearly point to specific solutions. Researchers know what works to fight HIV, and they also know that it is far cheaper to prevent infection than it is to treat it. More than ever before, the evidence also reveals how best to combat addiction — arresting users for needle or drug possession does not help.


Don’t mess with Meth: Even if you don’t go to jail and trial your life will become a prison on meth…..

Threatened By Some Lunatic Hoodlum The Same Day We Celebrate “Rescue From The Lion’s Mouth”

June 29, 2012

Today, June 29, 2012, is the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

Ironically, a man threatened me with bodily harm or the fact that he might accuse me of assault and “drag me before a magistrate.” This happened while I was reading, aloud, in my car, the catholic Mass readings for Today, the Feast of St. Peter and Paul.

I turned the other cheek.  A lot of the apostles and saints ended up dead this way but the faith continued.

You can’t make this stuff up.

My assignment today, among other things, was to read in public at Church some of Paul’s story, as recounted in  the Second Letter to Timothy:

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.
From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me,
which the Lord, the just judge,
will award to me on that day, and not only to me,
but to all who have longed for his appearance.

The Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles might hear it.
And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat
and will bring me safe to his heavenly Kingdom.
To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.

And I guess my assignment also included turning the other cheek. It doesn’t come naturally to me but I did it.

Above: The statue at the Vatican in Rome depicting Peter holding the keys….

We all have a choice in life: to walk with God or not. It is as simple as that.  And, to my surprise, I’ve found, Jesus wasn’t lying. When I walk with Him I am O.K. In fact, more than O.K.

I wonder now why anyone puts off this decision or gamely marches down the wrong road even for a moment?

Army officials say shooter killed superior officer

June 29, 2012

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Military officials at Fort Bragg have confirmed that a soldier shot and killed his superior officer before shooting and wounding himself. A third soldier was also wounded.

Fort Bragg officials have not released the identities of the soldiers involved or motives for the Thursday shooting at the North Carolina military installation. The incident remains under investigation.

Fort Bragg Public Affairs Officer Col. Kevin Arata said the soldiers are from the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.

The shooter is in custody. Officials say they are still in the process of notifying next of kin.

Fort Bragg is home to the 82nd Airborne Division, the 18th Airborne Corps and Special Operations Forces.

In November 2009, US Army Major Nidal Hasan opened fire on his fellow soldiers at a base in Fort Hood, Texas, killing 13

US Army soldiers stand attend the memorial service in honor of the 13 victims of the shooting rampage by US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, on November 10, 2009 in Fort Hood, Texas. (AFP Photo/Joe Raedle)


A U.S. Army battalion commander was killed by a fellow soldier on Thursday in a shooting incident at Fort Bragg, N.C. The alleged gunman then shot himself and is in custody; a third soldier was slightly injured in the shooting.

An Army statement said the shooting victim belonged to the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade. A battalion is a subordinate command within a brigade and is commanded by a lieutenant colonel. The battalion involved in today’s shooting has not been identified.

A Defense official told ABC News that the shooting occurred this afternoon as the battalion was gathered for a safety briefing in advance of the upcoming July 4 weekend.

The safety briefings are usually held by commanders to reinforce good patterns of behavior during holiday periods.

The official says that at some point during the safety briefing anenlisted soldier broke out of formation and pulled a handgun to shoot the battalion commander. Another soldier was slightly injured during the shooting. The gunman then shot himself. He was taken into custody and is listed as being in serious condition.

This official says it is unclear if the handgun the enlisted soldier used in the shooting was a personal weapon or military issue. Army bases usually keep firearms under lock and key at armories unless units are scheduled to use weapons at firing ranges.

The official said the incident occurred two blocks from the Corps’ headquarters. An Army statement said, “Fort Bragg law enforcement and emergency responders secured the scene within minutes at the corner of Letterman and Armistead Streets.”

At a press briefing late this evening Col. Kevin Arata, a spokesman for the XVIII Airborne Corps based at Fort Bragg, said, “This is a tragedy for our community. We don’t yet know the reasons for the shooting, but are working with the unit and the affected families to help them through this difficult period.” He added, “”Our prayers are with those who have been affected by this terrible incident.”

Special Agents from the Army Criminal Investigation Command are investigating the shooting.

In Vietnam: Rice loses its aura of security amid calls for diversification

June 29, 2012

For thousands of years, food security in Viet Nam has been associated with rice production. Rice farmers have helped lift the country out of poverty and propelled it to one of the world’s largest rice exporters.

Now, with higher income growth, urbanisation, reduced rice consumption both at the domestic and global level, experts are suggesting the country adopt broader-based growth.

This could mean putting more focus on nutrition, developing livelihoods, social protection and food diversification.

Dang Kim Son, head of the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSAD), said yesterday at a workshop organised by the institute and the World Bank that discussion on food security was particularly important at this time.

“While more focus is being put on short-term problems, such as inflation, we need to figure out how Viet Nam’s rice and paddy production can be developed amid global recession and efforts to restructure the economy,” Son said.

Peter Timmer, Cabot Professor of Development Studies, Harvard University and one of the world’s leading experts on food security and sustainability in Asia, said the shift from rice had been happening quickly in Asia.

He said rice had become the food of the poor. Studies in many countries had shown that rice consumption declined when income increased. Consumers switched to higher value fish, meat, prepared foods or ate out of home.

According to statistics from the Food Agriculture Organisation, in Asia, rice contributed 34.7 per cent of an individual’s daily intake of calories in 1990, but this dropped to 29.3 per cent in 2007.

Rice was no longer the macro-economic driver of the economy, Timmer said. The rice output was also falling rapidly in many regions.

In particular, rice as percentage of Gross Domestic Product in South-East Asia fell from 14.5 per cent in the early 1960s to 3.8 per cent at the end of 2000, according to calculations by Timmer using data from the World Bank and FAO.

Therefore, rice-exports countries, which include Viet Nam, must learn how to cope with lower rice consumption and focus on raising the quality of rice, taking advantage of different marketing channels.

Steve Jaffee, co-ordinator of the World Bank Agriculture Department in Viet Nam, noted that over the past 25 years, Vietnamese farmers had over-achieved the task of feeding the nation. Now the situation was that the more rice they grew, the less profit they made.

A survey of 117 farmers in the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta conducted by Can Tho University in 2009, found that few could earn a livelihood primarily from growing rice.

The Government also projected that per capita rice consumption would fall from the current 135kg to 100kg by 2030, Jaffee said, but experts forecast that under the worst scenario – that rice consumption fell to 100kg and paddy land reduced at 3 million hectares – Viet Nam would still have a surplus of 2.9 million tonnes available for export.

Son said that the mindset of policy makers must change from protecting paddy land to protecting agricultural land – and more attention paid to jobs and income generation.

“When it comes to food security, jobs and income are critically important because people can’t buy food if they don’t have the money,” he said. “So our approach has to be much different from the past”. — VNS

Ukraine in AIDS Crisis As Elton John, Queen Arrive for AIDS Awareness Concert

June 29, 2012

As Elton John and Queen prepare to sing in the Ukrainian capital in a charity concert to raise AIDS awareness, advocacy groups are accusing the government of embezzling millions of dollars in corrupt drug tenders and thus depriving patients of vital treatment.

Above: Elton John

Ukraine has one of Europe’s biggest AIDS epidemics with about 1 per cent of the adult population infected with HIV, the virus the causes AIDS, according to the World Health Organization. Ukraine is a leading recipient of aid from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which covers about 10 per cent of the country’s needs, the rest coming from state coffers.

Of the estimated 450,000 Ukrainians who are HIV-positive, 70,000 require urgent treatment today. But only 28,000 are receiving it, leaving over 40,000 of patients without anti-retroviral therapy, which could greatly prolong their lives, according to WHO.

Above: Queen

In a country where the state has declared its commitment to procuring HIV medication and providing treatment, those patients are left to the mercy of the disease.

“It’s alarming. These figures definitely show that the country, the government and international organizations should pay much more attention,” said Dr. Igor Pokanevych, head of the WHO Country Office in Ukraine. “More resources should be allocated to fight against AIDS in this country.”

But advocacy groups charge that the government in fact has the necessary funds to treat all of itsAIDS patients. They accuse Health Ministry officials of embezzling money that should be used to treat patients by buying AIDS drugs at hugely inflated prices and then pocketing kickbacks.

Pokanevych said that a complicated system of tenders for drug procurement allows the government to purchase drugs up to 5 times the market price. Had the drugs been purchased at a fair price, the government would have had the money to treat all those 40,000 patients who are left untreated today, Pokanevych said.

Read the rest from AP:

China vows to oppose “military provocation” from Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines

June 29, 2012

Anyone who has half a brain can see that China is big and getting bigger and bold and getting bolder. When the Chinese talk about “military provocation” and we know they are talking about some of the military weaklings of the world, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines, the term “give me a break” comes to mind. This dispute is about oil and other minerals” which China is busy securing for itself all over the globe….  This is NOT about sovereignty and territorial integrity: it is about money and China getting whatever China wants.

Below from AFP

China said Thursday it would resolutely oppose any military provocation in its territorial waters, remarks which appeared to be directed at the United States, Vietnam and the Philippines.

China’s military has established routine naval patrols in the South China Sea, “indisputable territory” of the nation and a matter of “national sovereignty,” defence ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said.

“We will resolutely oppose any military provocations,” Geng said in statements posted on his ministry’s website.

“The determination and will of China’s military to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering.”
China views the South China Sea as part of its "indisputable territory"

Above: Chinese warship

Geng’s remarks came as the United States launched the largest-ever “Rim of the Pacific” naval exercises in Hawaii, involving 22 nations, including the US, India, Russia, Australia and the Philippines.

China was not invited to participate or observe the exercises.

Tensions in the South China Sea have intensified recently with Vietnam and the Philippines both accusing China of increasingly flexing its military muscle in the region, despite a pledge from all claimants to avoid actions that could further stoke tensions.

Both the Philippines and Vietnam have also sought to shore up relations with the United States to counter China’s increasingly vocal assertions over the region that also includes key international shipping routes.

Geng downplayed the US-sponsored multi-national military exercises, but voiced concerns over Washington’s recent announcement to deploy more of its naval forces to the Pacific Ocean.

“Frankly speaking, we do not believe that this (the multilateral exercises) is such a big matter and it is not worth being upset about,” Geng, who was speaking at a press briefing that was only open to Chinese journalists, said.

But “deploying more military forces in the Asia-Pacific goes against the world’s pursuit of peace, development and cooperation, as well as trust among nations in the region,” he said.

The Philippines said Thursday it was committed to “defuse the tension” with China over a disputed shoal, despite the continued presence of Chinese ships in the area.

“While we continue to assert our sovereignty over (the shoal) and sovereign rights over the waters surrounding it, we are committed to defusing the tension in the area through diplomatic discussions and consultations,” Department of Foreign Affairs Raul Hernandez said in a statement.

“We urge everyone to refrain from making statements that would tend to re-escalate the situation in the area,” the statement added.

China says it has sovereign rights to the whole South China Sea, believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits. The sea is also claimed in whole or part by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.