Archive for December, 2013

China to strengthen cooperation with Vietnam: Chinese FM

December 31, 2013

BEIJING, Dec. 30 (Xinhua) — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Monday that China is willing to strengthen cooperation with Vietnam.

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi

The development of China-Vietnam relations maintains momentum and China attaches    great importance to its ties with Vietnam, Wang told Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh in a telephone conversation.

Wang said that leaders of the two countries have reached consensus on comprehensively carrying forward the strategic partnership between the two countries with pledges to promote maritime, land and financial cooperation.

He said China is willing to work with Vietnam to implement the leaders’ consensus and enhance high-level exchanges.

China is also willing to work with Vietnam to prepare for the seventh meeting of the China-Vietnam steering committee on cooperation, to make the first round of talks of the working group for joint maritime development successful, and to push for the early start of joint investigation in sea waters out of the mouth of Beibu Bay in a bid to make substantial progress in joint maritime development.

Minh said that he agreed with Wang. Vietnam is willing to work with China to further promote bilateral relations in the coming year, he said.

The two officials also exchanged views on regional issues including Japan.

Vietnam China protest

Protesters hold a Chinese flag with a pirate sign in a protest against China in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2011.  The sea disputes between China and Vietnam are not entirely resolved.  Pic: AP.

2014: Sure To Be More Difficulties In East China Sea, South China Sea

December 31, 2013

By Andrew Hammond
The Guardian

Shinzo Abe’s war shrine visit further strained ties with the US, South Korea and China. It will be a rocky 2014 in the Asia Pacific

South China Sea

Chinese surveillance ships off Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Photograph: Philippine navy/AFP/Getty Images

In a key announcement on Friday, Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima agreed to the relocation of the US military base at Futenma to nearby Henoko. The move, which comes after many years of negotiations between Washington, Tokyo, and the Okinawa authorities, has been hailed as a “critical milestone” by US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

The development is valuable to the Obama administration as it provides a key missing piece in its pivot to Asia Pacific: a replacement base for Futenma which is scheduled to close within a decade. Japan and other allies are crucial to the success of this US strategy, both by enhancing the country’s military presence in Asia Pacific, and by increasing burden sharing of the costs of a US-led security order in the region.

Simultaneously, Friday’s decision represents a political win for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as it underpins the country’s US alliance at a moment of major tension in Asia. Abe met personally with Nakaima only last Wednesday to discuss the base decision, which will draw considerable opposition from people in Okinawa for whom continued US military presence is already controversial.

The timing of Nakaima’s announcement seems to have been choreographed with Abe, especially coming just 24 hours after the prime minister’s controversial visit to the Yasukuni shrine. The shrine, where 14 high ranking military leaders convicted as war criminals are honoured along with around 2.5 million other Japanese men, women and children who died in wars, is perceived by many domestic and foreign critics as symbolic of the Japan’s wartime excesses.

Abe’s visit, the first by any sitting Japanese prime minister for seven years, predictably drew foreign criticism, though Abe depicted it as an anti-war gesture intended not to hurt feelings in neighbouring countries. It particularly infuriated Beijing and Seoul, which have repeatedly asserted that Tokyo has done too little to atone for its wartime abuses.

The Obama administration also expressed “disappointment” after previous proclamations from US officials that visits to Yasukuni by senior Japanese politicians should be avoided. Despite this relatively mild criticism, there is no disguising Washington’s frustration at the prime minister’s trip, especially in the context of pre-existing, major regional stress.

Knowing this would be the case, it appears likely that Abe calculated that the base decision would at least partially blunt Washington’s reprimand and give him the political space to make the visit. For the prime minister, this was an important trip on the one year anniversary of his election, which will have pleased many Japanese nationalists, a vital political constituency for him.

This underlines the importance to Abe’s conservative agenda of emphasizing Japanese pride in its past, of which his shrine visit is a part. And, relatedly, he also wishes to overturn the remaining legal and political underpinning of the country’s post-war pacifist security identity, so that it can become more actively engaged internationally.

In the broader context of current tensions in Asia, it is also possible that Abe anticipated there was little to lose, diplomatically, by making the visit now, especially with Beijing having recently made provocations towards Tokyo. From this calculus, the marginal diplomatic costs of the shrine trip are low with bilateral relations with China (and, to a lesser extent, South Korea) already in a deep freeze.

Nonetheless, there is real danger that the episode will make the regional atmosphere even more unpredictable. Already, Seoul has cancelled a series of proposed bilateral defence and military exchange programmes with Tokyo, while Beijing has strongly condemned the trip and is under pressure to retaliate.

Diplomatic temperature is so high at the moment is, in large part, due to the succession of incidents in recent weeks, including Abe’s visit to Yasukuni; China’s unilateral declaration of an air “self-defence identification zone”, and a counter-move from South Korea; China’s refusal to participate in a UN arbitration process over a territorial conflict with the Philippines; and the near-miss of a Chinese naval vessel and a US warship in the South China Sea.

These developments come in a context of significant change in the region, including a once-in-a-generation transition of leadership in Beijing; Abe’s election; and the US Asia pivot. In this fluid environment, the geopolitical landscape is shifting as all countries manoeuvre for advantage.

A clear danger, at this heated moment, is therefore serious misjudgement by one or more parties. And this point was emphasised by Hagel on 19 Decemember following the China-US near-collision at sea: the most serious bilateral encounter in the South China Sea for several years.

The US defence secretary accused Beijing of acting in a “very incendiary [way] that could be a trigger or a spark that could set off some eventual miscalculation”. While China claims that its vessel was conducting “normal patrols” and adhered to proper and “strict protocol”, Hagel asserts it cut in front of the US ship.

With numerous potential flashpoints in 2014, key external parties, including the European Union, are understandably urging calm and restraint on all sides. Unless this caution is heeded, there is a growing possibility of an incident triggering an explosive further escalation of tension.

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China and Japan Remain Strong Trade Partners

CNBC

Despite escalating military tensions over territorial claims in the South China Sea, China and Japan are witnessing booming bilateral trade, conducting negotiations of a free-trade agreement, maintaining an intense dialogue between their business communities and offering Japanese hospitality to a soaring number of Chinese visitors.

After a 10.8 percent decline last year, Japanese exports to China recovered briskly in the first half of this year, recording an annual decline of only 0.6 percent. In the following five months (i.e., between July and November), the growth of Japanese sales to their big neighbor accelerated to an average annual rate of 18 percent.

In the first eleven months of this year, Japanese exports to China – presumably Japan’s dangerous rival – stood at the same level as those to the U.S. – Japan’s key ally and protector in case of war.  However, there was one big difference: Over that period, Japan ran a large trade deficit with China (accounting for half of Japan’s total trade gap) and an even larger trade surplus with the U.S.

Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

  A good deal for China, no doubt. But a U.S. trade deficit with Japan of nearly $62 billion (10 percent of America’s total trade shortfall) is certainly no gift to the slowly recovering American economy.

Japan is also doing well on service trades with China.  According to Japan’s tourist authorities, only in September of this year the number of visitors from China exceeded 156,000, and a month later the Tokyo’s Sunshine City Prince Hotel reported a sevenfold increase in Chinese guests.

And then – as if nothing untoward was happening in the South China Sea and in the Sea of Japan – negotiating teams from China, Japan and South Korea were meeting in Tokyo in late November to discuss a trilateral free-trade agreement covering a market of more than 1.5 billion people, with an estimated $690 billion in the annual trade volume.

(Read more: Asian nations weigh in after US, China ships almost collide)

At about the same time, a delegation of more than 170 Japanese businessmen went to China to improve the two countries’ economic ties and to celebrate the resumption of strong trade relations.  A similar Chinese delegation visited Japan in late September.

China’s response to the shrine visit

It is against that background that the Japanese prime minister decided to pay respects to his country’s war veterans at the Yasukuni shrine honoring 14 Class A WWII convicted war criminals – a gesture he knew would be very offensive to China, South Korea and other countries which suffered under the Japanese occupation.

While showing mixed feelings about the wisdom of upsetting China at a time of apparently heightened tensions over the territorial disputes, some Japanese political analysts don’t see much that China can do about it.  Some are even saying that China will not curtail trade ties with Japan.

I believe China will respond, but it will do so in its own time and in a way that will address Japan’s broader political and security agenda.

And here is the agenda.  Using an alleged threat of China’s growing economic, political and military dominance, Japan has set out to (a) boost its economic growth by printing money, (b) step up its military buildup, (c) change its U.S.-imposed pacifist Constitution, (d) counter China’s rising influence in East Asia and (e) become an aspiring regional security pillar.

A good bet is that Beijing is unimpressed by all that.  China knows that its fast growing economy, its huge financial resources, incredibly rapid technological development and a steadfast alliance with Russia will make it an increasingly important player in shaping the changing world order.

(Read more: Place your bets: China or Japan?)

China also knows that Japan’s political agenda may not sit well with Washington.  First, because the U.S. does not seem eager for a military confrontation in the Pacific with a nuclear armed adversary — which also owns nearly a quarter of America’s debt held by foreigners  — in response to needlessly provocative actions of its friends and allies.  Second, because Washington may see that Japan’s offensive behavior toward South Korea is undermining its Asian strategy.  Indeed, Japan and South Korea are supposed to work together to offset China’s growing regional influence.

All that is certainly not lost on China.  And some of the Japanese commentaries about Tokyo’s motivation for its current and future plans may be music to China’s ears.

Here is a sample.

A number of Japanese political analysts write that the country’s present political class insists on visiting the Yasukuni shrine because they believe that Japan’s war time leaders classified as criminals were victims of “victor’s justice.”  According to these analysts, Japan’s government also regards the country’s present Constitution as a humiliation by an erstwhile occupying power.

All that has to change, they say.  Japan should be free to worship its war veterans, and it should have its own Constitution.  They, therefore, conclude that Japan has decided to take matters in its own hands because America’s weak economy, and its fixation with intractable Middle East problems, make its commitment to Asia’s security increasingly doubtful.

Play Video
How China-Japan tensions are different under Abe
Tobias Harris, Analyst at Teneo Intelligence, says Japanese policymakers are moving away from hedging against China’s rise to seeking to counter it.

  Reading that analysis, one has the impression that an unusual joint visit to Tokyo last October by U.S. secretaries of state and defense did not do much to convince Japan that America has the will and the means to remain the key Asia-Pacific military power.

Some investment strategy thoughts

I believe that investors should take this latest Japanese bravado with a handful of salt.

China – destination for about one-fifth of Japanese exports – could do a great damage to Japan’s economy if it decided to use trade as a political weapon.

Exports play a key role in driving Japanese investments because the domestic market is too small and too weak to warrant strong and sustained expansions of production capacities.  Despite soaring profits, a record-low cost of capital and cheap equity finance, Japanese business investments (13 percent of GDP) were falling at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in the first nine months of this year.  It is easy to imagine what would happen to investments if exports to China were to go into a free fall as they did last year.

Clearly, the support of external demand will remain crucially important to Japanese economy and equity markets.  Japan’s falling wages and rising inflation are seriously eroding real disposable household incomes.  With a puny savings rate of less than 1 percent, that does not bode well for domestic demand most people mistakenly see as the main driver of future economic growth.

Investors should look for a Japan striving to live in peace and harmony with its neighbors.  I personally don’t yen for a Japan currently rewriting its history books in a way that will offend its neighbors.  And neither do I think that it is a good idea for Japan to pick a fight it can’t win with the Celestial.

Michael Ivanovitch is president of MSI Global, a New York-based economic research company. He also served as a senior economist at the OECD in Paris, international economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and taught economics at Columbia.

Follow the author on Twitter  @msiglobal9

http://www.cnbc.com/id/101300548

Eccentric Chinese recycling magnate said he is preparing to open negotiations to buy the New York Times

December 31, 2013

By Megha Rajagopalan

BEIJING          Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:12pm EST

A woman exits the New York Times Building in New York August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

A woman exits the New York Times Building in New York August 14, 2013.  Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

BEIJING (Reuters) – An eccentric Chinese recycling magnate said on Tuesday he was preparing to open negotiations to buy the New York Times Co.

Chen Guangbiao, a well-known philanthropist, is something of a celebrity in China. During a particularly murky bout of pollution in January, the ebullient and tireless self-promoter handed out free cans of “fresh air.

But Chen says he is perfectly serious in his bid to buy the Times, something that he said he had been contemplating for more than two years. He said he expected to discuss the matter on January 5, when he is due to meet a “leading shareholder” in New York.

“There’s nothing that can’t be bought for the right price,” Chen said.

Chen Guangbiao

As one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world, the Times is an occasional target among the wealthy — some with unsteady aims.

Donald Trump, the real estate magnate who sells Trump-branded bottled spring water, was trying to figure out a way to buy the Times earlier this year, according to a report in New York magazine, which said that details of Trump’s plans were “scant.”

It is unlikely that the Times, which has long been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family, would sell to Chen.

A spokeswoman for the Times said the company did not comment on rumors.

The company’s chairman, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., said recently that the Times was not for sale.

Chen believes the Times is worth $1 billion, but said he would be willing to negotiate. The Times current market value is $2.4 billion.

“If we act in sincerity and good faith, I believe the Times chairman will change his way of thinking,” he said.

Chen said if he was unable to buy the New York Times, he would settle for becoming a controlling stakeholder, and failing that, would simply buy a stake.

The New York Times Co, which once was a sprawling media outfit with TV stations, U.S. regional newspapers and ownership stakes in sports ventures like the Boston Red Sox baseball team and the Liverpool football club, is now down to its namesake newspaper.

Shares of the New York Times were down 1 percent at $15.93 at midday on Tuesday, after earlier hitting a 5-1/2-year high of $16.14.

IDEALS

The Ochs-Sulzberger family has owned the Times for more than 100 years and controls the company through a trust of Class B shares with special voting rights.

“It’s not true that everything is for sale,” said Ken Doctor, an analyst with Outsell Research. “That is the reason why the New York Times has a two-class share system.”

Hurun’s Rich List of China’s super-wealthy put Chen’s wealth at about $740 million in 2012. Chen said he would not hesitate to sell off most of his assets if it enabled him to buy the Times.

But Chen said that because his funds were limited, he had persuaded an unnamed Hong Kong tycoon to put in $600 million while he would pay the rest.

Chen said his aim was not to push any political agenda, but rather his personal ideals of “peace on earth, protecting the environment and philanthropy.”

He attracted attention in August 2012 when he bought a half-page advertisement in the Times stating that an island chain at the center of a dispute with Japan had belonged to China since antiquity.

“After that, I realized that the Times’ influence all over the world is incredibly vast,” he said. “Every government and embassy, all around the world, pays attention to The New York Times.”

The Times earned the ire of the Chinese government in 2012 with a report about the wealth of former Premier Wen Jiabao. The Times website has been blocked there since then.

Chen said it was natural for the government to block the site because the report on Wen “contained biased and negative things that were not verified.”

“If I acquire the Times, the paper will only report the truth and must verify all information,” Chen said, adding that he would like every Chinese household to subscribe to the paper.

If his offer failed, Chen said he would extend offers to CNN, the Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal.

“As long as they have some influence, I’m still willing to consider buying lesser media outlets,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Jennifer Saba in New York; Editing by Robert Birsel and Leslie Adler)

Obama Administration boasts 2.1 million Obamacare enrollees after December ‘surge’ — but only half of them have apparently paid premiums

December 31, 2013

In a blog post on one of the year’s quietest news days, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services claimed 2.1 million sign-ups for Obamacare

  • But an executive at a health insurance billing company says only half of enrollees have paid premiums in 17 states where his company has clients
  • That would leave more than 1 million Americans possibly thinking they’re insured on Jan. 1 – but having no medical coverage at all
  • Many of them are expected to bring website printouts to doctor’s offices instead of insurance cards, but it’s unclear how physicians will react

By David Martosko, U.S. Political Editor

More trouble ahead? HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will likely face new questions after Jan. 1 about how many -- or how few -- Obamacare enrollees have made payments and are actually coveredMore trouble ahead? HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will likely face new questions after Jan. 1 about how many — or how few — Obamacare enrollees have made payments and are actually covered

The Department of Health and Human Services is in mid-victory-lap over its enrollment of an estimated 2.1 million Americans into Obamacare insurance plans, a figure claimed in a blog post Tuesday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. But as many as half of those customers have yet to make a payment, a new report suggests.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Mark Waterstraat, the chief strategy officer at a firm that processes billings for insurers. He said that only about 50 per cent of enrollees in 17 states have paid their bills for the first month’s premium.

That statistic, if it were to hold true across the nation, indicates that more than 1 million Americans counted in the Obama administration’s total aren’t actually covered by medical insurance.

Waterstraat’s statistics cover more than 100 health insurance companies, which typically don’t issue insurance cards or consider a new customer ‘enrolled’ until they receive payments. But the Obama administration has included in its public numbers everyone who has selected a plan – regardless of whether they have paid for it.

Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, wrote Tuesday on the agency’s blog that ‘[t]he most recent data indicates that more than 2.1 million people nationwide have enrolled in a private health insurance plan through a new Health Insurance Marketplace since October 1.’

That number would include enrollments from the District of Columbia and from 14 states that don’t participate in the chronically troubled healthcare.gov website portal.

But Waterstraat’s statement suggests that half of them either incorrectly believe they are insured, haven’t received a bill, or are still deciding whether to pay.

Surge: As healthcare.gov's tech glitches were ironed out in December, more than 1 million new enrollees entered the system -- but how many of them have paid their bills?Surge: As healthcare.gov’s tech glitches were ironed out in December, more than 1 million new enrollees entered the system — but how many of them have paid their bills?

Think you're covered? Better have one of these: More than 1 million Americans may expect insurance coverage on Jan. 1 but haven't paid their premiumsThink you’re covered? Better have one of these: More than 1 million Americans may expect insurance coverage on Jan. 1 but haven’t paid their premiums

‘We haven’t written a check yet, because  no one has asked me for one,’ Kelly Turner, a Fairfax, Virginia  homemaker, told MailOnline. ‘This could be a disaster if I get hit by a  bus tomorrow, God forbid.’

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius blogged earlier on Tuesday that enrollees are largely on their own if they’re not sure whether their sign-ups are complete.

 

‘If consumers have questions about their new private insurance coverage,  they can contact their insurance company directly,’ wrote Sebelius.

Few appear to have taken that advice. The Wall Street Journal reported that one health plan based in Temple, Texas only received first month’s  premiums from 35 of its new customers.

Some insurers expect customers to try to create their own proof of insurance.

‘We anticipate that people will be using screen printouts’ from  insurance exchange websites, the Journal heard from Donna Zimmerman,  vice president of government and community relations at HealthPartners, a Minnesota insurer.

 

Michelle Snyder of CMS
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner

Bad air out, good air in: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services chief operating officer Michelle Snyder (L) has stepped down as the Obamacare website saga nears its end; and CMS administrator Marilyn Tavenner (R) now claims 2.1 million people have enrolled overall

 

Big picture: President Obama's public opinion ratings are still suffering from his false promises that Americans could keep their health care plans; many of the new enrollees are those who lost coverage anywayBig picture: President Obama’s public opinion ratings are still suffering from his false promises that Americans could keep their health care plans; many of the new enrollees are those who lost coverage anyway

 

 

Sebelius counseled Americans Tuesday on her blog to ‘get your insurance card or a temporary card with your new plan’s information.’

‘If you don’t have your card yet, ask your insurance company to give you another way to confirm your coverage.’

But for those Americans who haven’t paid, that proof will be impossible to get.

‘It’s bad enough that the coverage is nearly twice as expensive as what my family had least year,’ said Turner, the perplexed Virginian. ‘But what good is the plan if I can’t prove I’ve signed up?’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2531864/Admin
istration-boasts-2-1-million-Obamacare-enrollees-December-surge-H
ALF-paid-premiums.html#ixzz2p5FTbukE

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China’s Dangerous Territorial Disputes: China seems unaware (or uncaring) of the risks of escalation while state media vigorously endorse each act of military adventurism

December 31, 2013
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By Edward N. Luttwak

December 29, 2013
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On Dec. 5, a Chinese naval vessel deliberately attempted to block a U.S. Navy cruiser in international waters. And in a startling revelation, U.S. Defense Secretary  Chuck Hagel has confirmed to the press that at one point only 100 yards separated the two vessels. That raises an important question: Why did the Chinese commanders think it a good idea to provoke a near-collision with a U.S. warship?
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A growing record of encounters suggests that Chinese naval officers have career incentives to act provocatively, even at the risk of deadly incidents. So do their counterparts in the army. Forces under the Lanzhou Military Region, in China’s west, thought it smart to seize Indian-controlled terrain in Ladakh this April. They retreated only when the Indians threatened to cancel an upcoming state visit. Similarly, the China Coast Guard has been intrusively patrolling the waters around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, even entering Japanese territorial waters in recent days.
It was different during the Cold War. In spite of countless encounters between American and Soviet aircraft and warships, as well as the famous set-to between the U.S. and Soviet armies at “Checkpoint Charlie” in the heart of Berlin, there were very few dangerous incidents. Soviet officers knew that “adventurism” was a career-ending offense.Yet in the Chinese case, Communist Party leaders apparently encourage it. The state media vigorously endorse each act of military adventurism.Why should this be? After all, the risks of escalation are enormous.

                         cat

The USS Cowpens leads Japanese vessels in a training exercise, Dec. 2010.     Associated Press

With all due respect for the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, which the USS Cowpens was monitoring from a safe distance from the Dec. 5 incident occurred, today’s Chinese navy is nothing more than a set of easy targets for America’s aircraft carriers and attack submarines. The USS Cowpens itself is a near 10,000-ton missile cruiser.

Likewise, Japan’s navy could sweep the seas around the Senkakus of any intruding Chinese coast guard or naval vessels, including the entire Liaoning flotilla. So why is Beijing risking humiliating defeat?

The inescapable conclusion is that since 2008 China’s leaders have abandoned the “peaceful rise” policy that Deng Xiaoping launched in 1978 and senior strategist  Zheng Bijian   spelled out in 2003. To rise economically, China needed a receptive world environment in which its exports, imports and incoming investments would be unimpeded. Deng’s policy—threaten nobody, advance no claims and don’t attack Taiwan—was brilliantly successful, as the U.S. actively favored China’s economic growth and other countries followed suit, to the great benefit of the Chinese people, and us all.

Everything changed after 2008. Interpreting the global financial crisis as a harbinger of collapsing American power, Beijing abruptly revived its long-dormant claim to most of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, rebuffed friendly overtures from Japanese politicians and instead demanded the Senkakus, and declared ownership of vast portions of the South China Sea hundreds of miles from any Chinese coast but well within the exclusive economic zones of the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

China’s demands are now asserted even on its passports, which are decorated with a map that on close inspection includes South Korean waters. The seven countries under pressure have naturally reacted by coalescing against China, at least diplomatically, and in some cases substantively—as in the informal India-Japan-Vietnam arrangement that is endowing the hard-pressed Vietnamese navy with modern submarines. China’s bombastic proclamation last month of an Air Defense Identification Zone that overlaps with both Japan’s and Korea’s, may even improve the fraught relationship between those two countries.

Chinese leaders now complain of being confronted by emerging coalitions from South Korea to India, and they blame the U.S. for it all. But in spite of Washington’s famous “pivot,” it wasn’t the cunning malevolence of the U.S. State Department that turned China’s neighbors against it.

Rather, it was the Chinese government itself—country by country, demand by demand. The latest demand, after the Air Defense Identification Zone affair, is that Japan should not increase its military spending—i.e. that it should refrain from reacting to daily Chinese threats.

China Coast Guard

Some observers see a clever long-term scheme of systematic intimidation at work. Others insist that it cannot be clever to quarrel with seven neighbors all at once. Nor does it make sense for a rising China to alarm everybody prematurely, causing them to unite diplomatically and even perhaps commercially against Chinese interests.

China’s Communist Party leaders have been competent in managing a vast and dynamic economy, and their repression is also very skillful in minimizing visible brutality (except against minorities). For these reasons, there is an assumption by many outsiders that the leadership is equally proficient in foreign policy.

Unfortunately, the actual evidence so far is that we are witnessing a prolonged outbreak of feckless nationalism and militarism that evokes the sinister precedent of pre-1914 Germany. This was a country that had the world’s best universities, the most advanced industries and the strongest banks. It lacked only the strategic wisdom of persisting in its own “peaceful rise.”

Mr. Luttwak is author most recently of “The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy” (Harvard, 2012).

Related:

This chart shows the Air Defense Identification Zone or ADIZ declared by China on Saturday, November 23, 2013.

Map of South China Sea

China has claimed much of the South China Sea for itself —  claims that have upset many in the region, especially Vietnam and the Philippines. A huge wealth of untapped oil is believed to be below the sea here.

Seems Like Much of American News Media Turning Toward the Ridiculous, Meaninless, Even Bizarre forms of Mental Masturbation — Then Again…. The Elephant in the Room is the Constitution and the Truth

December 31, 2013

By Dana Milbank
The Washington Post

I’m just back from a week out of the country, and it appears I missed some major happenings.

Political news sites report a significant development in the Pajama Boy controversy (involving a promotion for Obamacare) and the “Duck Dynasty” flap. There’s apparently a new scandal, as well, over the Obama family’s failure to attend church on Christmas. Then there’s the brouhaha about a church in California putting a likeness of Trayvon Martin in its Christmas manger.

Pajama Boy

From the Drudge Report, meanwhile, I learned the naked truth about two other incidents: a Louisville man who ran through a bingo hall with his pants down yelling “Bingo!” and police in Portland, Ore., who used a sandwich to convince an unclothed man not to jump off of a building.

According to ABC News, the man reportedly requested a cheeseburger but eventually settled for turkey and bacon.

That the headlines are about pajamas and bingo is both good and bad. Good, because it means we have no crisis during this holiday season; Congress is in recess, the president is on the beach, and there is no imminent standoff in Washington. Bad, because we’re letting ourselves be distracted again.

In the weeks before the 9/11 attacks in 2001, President George W. Bush was on his ranch in Texas, the big news was about shark attacks, and nobody connected the terrorists’ dots. This time, there’s more than just the theoretical possibility of a crisis to worry about.

On Saturday, 1.3 million unemployed Americans were kicked off unemployment benefits. And if our vacationing lawmakers don’t do something about it when they return, millions more will follow. The matter is getting less attention than Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” but it’s a real crisis for those affected and a disgrace for the rest of us.

As The Post’s Brad Plumer expertly outlined on Friday, there are 4 million people who have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, translating to the highest long-term unemployment rate since World War II. These people — young, old and from all kinds of demographics — have a 12 percent chance of finding a job in any given month, and, contrary to the theories of Rand Paul Republicans, there’s little evidence that they’re more likely to find work after losing benefits. Cutting off their benefits only causes more suffering for them and more damage to the economy.

Also last weekend, the Obama administration reported that 1.1 million people had signed up online for coverage under the new health-care law. That’s a dramatic acceleration in enrollment, but it also leaves uninsured millions of people who are eligible for coverage. Some of them are working poor in states where Republican governors have refused to implement the law’s Medicaid expansion, and many more are being discouraged from enrolling by Republicans’ incessant opposition. This month’s CBS News-New York Times poll found that a majority of uninsured Americans disapprove of the new law, even though nearly six in 10 of the uninsured think insurance would improve their health.

These real outrages make the Christmas-week controversies seem like tinsel.

“Can you guess what key thing Obama did not do on Christmas Day?” asked Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze, full of outrage that the president didn’t go to a public worship service. Breitbart.com found it “ironic” that Obama had “recently asked all Christians to remember the religious aspects of Christmas.”

What did they expect from a Muslim born in Kenya?

While that was going on, David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times was deflating an earlier scandal hawked by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of a House committee that had been examining the killing of Americans in Benghazi last year. Issa had charged that the attackers were affiliated with al-Qaeda, and he disparaged the administration’s claim that the attack had been stirred up by an anti-Islam video; Kirkpatrick, after an extensive investigation in Benghazi, found no international terrorist involvement but did find that the video played a role.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Issa offered the more qualified claim that while there was no al-Qaeda “central command and control,” some of the attackers were “self-effacing or self-claimed as al-Qaeda-linked.”

Those self-effacing terrorists are so beguiling.

No doubt Issa will continue to pursue the Benghazi “scandal.” Others will look deeper into Pajama Boy, or Obama’s religion. If they’d devote a similar intensity toward the jobless and the uninsured, they might actually do some good.

Twitter: @Milbank

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A&E suspended Phil Robertson shortly after the interview hit the GQ website.

“Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson came under fire for unfiltered opinions about sin, sex, gays and blacks in a magazine interview. But maybe The Washington Post missed his point entirely: he was trying to paraphrase the Bible and  teachings about “natural law.” Just because liberals don’t care much for either is an important thing to know….

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_law

Photo: U.S. envoy J. Christopher Stevens was killed at Benghazi on September 11, 2012. (Photo by:  Ben Curtis/Associated Press)

Dana Milbank may not care if the White House and the rest of the U.S. federal government tells the truth to the electorate — but many Americans do believe the truth is the key to trust in a democratic government. What really happened in Benghazi and why four U.S. public servants died needlessly is still clouded in lies.

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From left: Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods and Sean Smith died in the September 11, 2012 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Libya

In the September 11, 2012 terror attack on the U.S. in Benghazi, Libya, Ambassador Chris Stevens (right, above) was killed, along with State Department staffer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods.

Above: Just a few days after the Tuesday, September 11, 2012 attack at Benghazi, on Sunday, September 16, 2012, Susan Rice went on all five major Sunday TV News talk shows and used talking points that minimized the known terrorist threat and involvement in the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. About half the people in the United States thought she was lying — and that is important to know.

December enrollment is over 7 times that of October and November, which were plagued by technical problems causing delays for users, like the one seen in this file photo.
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Many conservatives believe the real problem with President Obama’s signature healthcare law is that it was “sold” to the American people on a pack of lies. Most of us couldn’t keep our old health insurance plans, we couldn’t keep our doctors, prices have gone up and the federal government delivered a website that was almost useless on roll out after spending around $600 million in taxpayers money. And that’s not to mention the fact that the administration has
dodged its constitutional obligation to allow for adequate congressional oversight by not answering or slowly responding to every request from congress. The big question is: have enough “young healthies” signed up to make the ACA fiscally “doable” and viable?  Almost nobody believes that the answer to that is “yes.”
If Mr. Milbank was a serious journalist he wouldn’t be so quick to snicker at a constant flow of government lies and a very unhappy electorate — as reflected in the President’s miserable poll numbers.

Washington Post: Terrorist Activity Could Spoil the Sochi Olympics

December 31, 2013

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Doku Umarov calls for Islamists to disrupt Sochi Winter Olympics

Russia’s top Islamist leader Doku Umarov. He has called on his Islamist followers to disrupt the Sochi Olympics.  Photo: kavkacenter.com/AFP

The Washington Post

MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin’s daring bid to host the Winter Olympics in the politically dicey Caucasus Mountains was his way of showing to the world that he had created a stylish, fun-loving country, a Russia that had defeated violent separatism once and for all.

It was a gutsy gamble — and the remaining separatists vowed to do whatever they could to disrupt the pageant.

The potential costs of failure were driven home Monday when an apparent suicide bomber shredded a crowded trolley bus in the city of Volgograd. That came on the heels of a bomb attack on the city’s railroad station the day before. The two explosions killed 31 people and injured dozens more.

Security in Sochi, the site of the Olympics, is watertight, so Islamist extremists have vowed to bring violence to the Russian heartland. Volgograd, a city storied in Russian history, offers itself as a tempting target.

Putin demanded a tightening of security Monday amid fears that foreign guests in particular could be frightened away from the Sochi Games. The two bomb blasts effectively blunt his recent charm offensive, seemingly aimed at the West with the Olympics in mind, that saw the release of the oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, two members of the punk group Pussy Riot and the crew of a Greenpeace ship.

Although no groups have claimed responsibility for the Volgograd attacks, officials believe they were linked to an extremist group in Dagestan.

Russia has been engaged in a struggle with extremists ever since it defeated a separatist movement in Chechnya in the 1990s. After the war, a growing number of separatists turned radical, evolving into Islamist extremists who have launched sporadic terrorist attacks. They have also carried out a low-grade battle with authorities, now centered in the southern region of Dagestan, inflicting casualties among Russian interior forces that are more numerous than the U.S. military suffers in Afghanistan.

Putin has staked his prestige on hosting a successful Olympics in Sochi, and demonstrating in the process the safety of the resort at the western end of the Caucasus range.

The security agencies have been clamping down hard in Sochi, watching and calling in for questioning those who express unwelcome opinions, including environmental and human rights activists. Russia is spending $2 billion on security there.

As the Vedomosti newspaper put it in a recent editorial: “The authorities want to clear the area around Sochi from any disgruntled elements that could compromise a positive image of the country as the host of the Olympic Games. Nobody seems to care that the current unwillingness to maintain a dialogue with society may adversely affect the course of events after the Olympics.”

IOC President Thomas Bach is fully confident Russian authorities will deliver a “safe and secure” Olympics in Sochi despite the two deadly suicide bombings in southern Russia that heightened concerns about the terrorist threat to the games, AP reported.

The heavy protection for Sochi appears to have drawn resources away from security operations in other parts of the huge country. On Monday, Putin met with the head of the Federal Security Service and directed him to prepare plans for heightened security nationwide.

The National Anti-Terrorist Committee announced Monday that more than 4,000 security personnel will be involved in a huge sweep in Volgograd. Volunteers were also being organized to patrol the sprawling city along the Volga River, where Soviet and Nazi forces met in an epic World War II battle in 1942 and 1943, when the city was known as Stalingrad.

On Friday, three people were killed in an explosion in Pyati-gorsk, in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains, located south of Volgograd and east of Sochi. A bomb had been hidden in a car parked on a busy road near the offices of the traffic police.

The chance that terrorist activity will spoil the Olympics has been a prime worry for security officials — especially given the publicity generated by last April’s Boston Marathon bombings, carried out by two young men who were believed to be sympathetic to the Chechen separatist movement.

Doku Umarov, a Chechen rebel leader who authorities think is operating out of Dagestan and leading a movement to establish an Islamic emirate in southern Russia, in July called for resuming a campaign of terrorist attacks against civilian targets in Russia. He denounced the Sochi Games as a defilement of the sacred ground of the area’s original inhabitants, the Circassians.

Umarov has taken responsibility for several terrorist attacks, including a bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport in January 2011 that killed 37 people.

The United States has offered a reward of up to $5 million for information about Umarov, U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul said on Twitter on Monday.

Sunday’s bombing took place, according to officials, when a railroad inspector at a station entrance tried to stop a man who looked suspicious. The man detonated his explosives, killing 18, including the inspector.

The bomber was tentatively identified as a paramedic who had converted to radical Islam named Pavel Pechyonkin, a native of the Mari El region of Russia, farther north along the Volga.

The attack on the trolley bus Monday also appears to have been the work of a suicide bomber, officials said. The roof was blown off it, and windows in a building nearby were shattered. Investigators calculated that the bomber, a male, was carrying 4 kg of explosives. Fourteen people are confirmed dead.

Related:

Nations Voice Support, Solidarity With Russia and Victims After Suicide Bombings Rock Volgograd — All Vow To Create a Safe Sochi Olympics

December 31, 2013
31 December 2013 | Issue 5286
By Anna Dolgov
A picture shared by one Twitter user as a sign of French solidarity with the victims of the Volgograd attacks.

A picture shared by one Twitter user as a sign of French solidarity with the victims of the Volgograd attacks.  oksana@antipn / Twitter

Several world leaders have offered their support and condolences over the deadly bombings in Volgograd while the Russian Foreign Ministry called for joint efforts to fight terror attacks that follow “the same template” around the world.

In a statement on Monday, the Foreign Ministry said that Russia “will not retreat and will continue a harsh and consistent fight against the insidious enemy that knows no borders and that can only be stopped by joint efforts.”

The two bombings at a train station and a trolleybus in Volgograd that left more than 30 people dead “are organized according to the same template” as other terror attacks around the world, the ministry said.

The White House condemned the attacks and offered “full support to the Russian government in security preparations for the Sochi Olympic Games,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said. The Games are to begin in less than six weeks at the Black Sea resort 700 kilometers from Volgograd.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “shocked and saddened” by the attacks.

“I’ve written to President Putin to say the UK will help Russia in whatever way we can,” Cameron said in a Twitter message.

The Volgograd attacks bear out a threat that Chechnya’s terrorist leader Doku Umarov made in July, when he called on his supporters to apply a “maximum effort” to disrupt the Sochi Games “by any methods that the almighty Allah allows us.”

Umarov, who also claimed responsibility for the 2011 bombing at Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport, lifted the moratorium on civilian targets in Russia that he had declared amid the 2011 anti-government protests in Moscow.

In an online appeal for terror, he urged his followers to undermine “those satanic dances on the bones of our ancestors”, referring to Muslims who lived along the Black Sea coast.

The U.S. State Department — which considers Umarov’s Caucasus Emirate a terrorist group and has a $5 million reward for information on him — acknowledged the scope of his threats. Spokeswoman Marie Harf on Monday urged Americans who plan to attend the Sochi Games to “remain alert regarding their personal security at all times.”

U.S. and Russian officials have been cooperating on preparations for the Games for months. Counterterrorism cooperation between the U.S. and Russia has increased after last April’s Boston Marathon bombing, which was supposedly carried out by two ethnic Chechens.

Pentagon spokesman Steven Warren said joint exercises, such as the Operation Vigilant Eagle counterterrorism exercise which began in 2009, has also improved relations between the two countries’ security forces. Bilateral military cooperation “is as good as it’s ever been,” Warren said on Monday.

The UN Security Council said it was “outraged” by the “abhorrent and abominable attacks.”

The 15-member council “urged all states, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Security Council resolutions, to cooperate actively with all relevant authorities in this regard,” it said in a statement.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to express his condolences to the families of the victims and “stressed the importance of strong international cooperation to fight terrorism,” Ban’s office said in a statement.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach condemned the bombings as “a despicable attack” and said he had written to Putin to express “our confidence in the Russian authorities to deliver safe and secure Games in Sochi.”

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Read more: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/w
orld-leaders-rally-behind-russia-after-volgograd-attacks/49
2348.html#ixzz2p4SQAFXz
The Moscow Times

US Olympic CEO: Russian bombings ‘a preview of what could happen’ in Sochi

December 31, 2013

Scott Stump         TODAY contributor
NBC News

With just over a month to go before the Winter Olympics get underway in Russia, a top U.S. Olympic official addressed the pair of deadly attacks during a 24-hour period this week in the Russian city of Volgograd.

“We’re concerned,’’ Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, told Matt Lauer Tuesday on TODAY. “I think this is the first time that we’ve had an incident so close to the Games both in terms of geography and in terms of time. The reality is that there are different challenges at every Games. In this case we got a preview of what could happen, but we’re very hopeful that the Russians’ commitment to security, which is frankly one of the highest levels of commitment we’ve ever seen from a government and an organizing committee, will serve us well.”

He added: “The truth is that our interests are probably more aligned with Russia’s on this issue than any other, and so we have a fairly high degree of confidence that they are super focused on the issue right now.”

On Sunday a bomber set off a blast in Volgograd’s railway station, resulting in 18 deaths to date, and a trolley bus bombing on Monday killed 15 others. The attacks in the southern Russian city have raised fears heading into the Olympics, which will be held in proximity to Chechnya, a sworn enemy of Russia where insurgents regularly generate violence.

Members of the emergency services work at the site of a bomb blast on a trolleybus in Volgograd December 30, 2013. At least 10 people were killed when...

STRINGER / Reuters
Members of the emergency services work at the site of a bomb blast on a trolley bus in Volgograd on Dec. 30.

Chechen warlord Doku Umarov has vowed to disrupt the Sochi Games and has claimed responsibility for similar terrorist attacks in the name of Islam. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Volgograd, according to regional governor Sergei Bazhenov.

“There’s no question that it’s heightened everyone’s awareness,’’ Blackmun said of the attacks. “We take security very seriously. Each Games presents a different kind of challenge for us. The events of the last 48 hours have definitely gotten our attention.”

Seth Wescott, a two-time gold medalist in the snowboard cross event, recently said that he may skip the Opening Ceremony if he qualifies for the team because of safety concerns. Sochi faces a challenge of trying to hold an athletic competition and maintaining security while not making it seem like an armed camp.

“Balance is exactly the right word,’’ Blackmun said. “It’s funny; a few weeks ago we were talking about the fact that it was going to be difficult to get in and out of the park, and I suspect that people will be a lot more tolerant of that today than they would have been two or three weeks ago.”

Should an incident occur in Sochi, Blackmun said the U.S. delegation will be prepared.

“We have contingency plans at every Games,’’ he told Lauer. “We have plans for injuries and plans for incidents, so yes, we always have contingency plans in place, and obviously we hope that they never come into being.”

Related:

Chinese Maternity Hospital Obstetrician Pleads Guilty To Stealing Babies for Sale to Human Traffickers

December 31, 2013

China: Zhang Shuxia pleads guilty to stealing seven babies from patients and selling   them to traffickers, though locals say only a fraction of her crimes have   been investigated

Zhang Shuxia pleads guilty to stealing seven babies from patients and selling them to traffickers, though locals say only a fraction of her crimes have been investigated

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Zhang Shuxia, an obstetrician involved in baby trafficking, stands trial in Weinan Intermediate People’s Court in Weinan, Shaanxi province Photo: REUTERS/China Daily
Malcolm Moore

By , Beijing

A Chinese obstetrician faces the death penalty after admitting that she stole seven babies from her patients

In a case that has gripped China, a 56-year-old doctor at a rural maternity hospital confessed to delivering babies, telling their parents that they were severely disabled or terminally ill, and then selling them to traffickers.

She chose only families whom she knew well, and whom she knew would trust her without question.

Zhang Shuxia, whose crimes came to light in August, stood trial on Monday in Weinan, Shaanxi province, and faces a possible death penalty.

The president of her hospital, in Fuping county, was dismissed along with two other senior managers and three county officials.

Six of the seven infants who were listed in court have been rescued but one baby died after being trafficked for 1,000 yuan (£100) in April 2013.

However, villagers in Fuping said that the authorities had only charged Dr Zhang with a fraction of her real crimes, and that older cases had not been investigated. They allege that Dr Zhang trafficked many more infants over the course of at least seven years.

“The abduction of my granddaughter was not among the charges,” said one villager. “After the media storm, the police and local government lost interest in finding the other children. The local government is trying to play down and cover up the full story.”

“After the first round of media reports, one child was secretly returned to the village by a trafficker, because he was afraid of an investigation. But I have no confidence in finding my granddaughter. The police clearly do not want to do anything about it,” he added.

Meanwhile, Yang Huamai, the grandmother of a pair of twin girls who were abducted, said she was still waiting for a full explanation from Dr Zhang.

“I hope she gets a fair trial, and all our family wants is an answer as to why she did it,” she said.

“The twins are fine now. Their parents have stopped working to look after them, so life is a little hard because we have no income. Also their grandfather was very emotional and angry and was not able to sleep for a long time.”

Child trafficking is a huge business in China, partly because the restrictions of the one child policy have denied many couples the chance to naturally produce the society’s most prized goal: a male heir.

The charges against Dr Zhang said she had sold seven babies from November 2011 to July 2013 to middlemen who passed them onto couples in central and eastern China.

Additional reporting by Adam Wu