Archive for November, 2015

In Paris For Climate Summit, Many World Leaders Tie Global Warming To Islamic Terrorism

November 30, 2015



For world leaders attending a long-planned climate summit in Paris just weeks after 130 people were killed by Islamic State militants in the French capital, addressing the coincidental convergence of global warming and terrorism was unavoidable.

In a series of some 150 opening speeches at the heavily guarded facility on the outskirts of Paris, most heads of state and prime ministers offered condolences to their French hosts, pivoting quickly, sometimes awkwardly, to the climate talks.

Many said the decision to press on with the summit in Paris so soon after the attacks was itself a rebuke to extremists trying to sow fear and disrupt normal life. French President Francois Hollande said the two issues were inseparable, “two big global challenges” to be addressed for the next generation.

A few, including U.S. President Barack Obama, went further, linking the threat of heatwaves, floods and drought to the potential for climate refugees and political instability.

He warned of a possible future with “political disruptions that trigger new conflicts, leaving more floods of desperate peoples seeking the sanctuary of nations not their own.”

Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium, a nation on high alert after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris involved at least two suicide bombers from Brussels, also cited climate change as “the cause of tension, inequalities, crises and conflicts.”

But it was Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu who made by far the most direct link, voicing an idea that has become a newly contentious aspect of the climate issue: “the effects of climate change … we strongly believe is also the cause of radicalism and terrorism.”

“The plight of refugees we see today … and increasing terrorism and radicalism, represents a small measure of what the world, mankind, will face if we do not tackle climate change.”

A connection between a warming planet and migrant-related instability has in recent years been cautiously cited in several places as an additional rationale for cutting back on carbon emissions, and has drawn more attention in recent weeks after comments by both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

“By fuelling extreme weather events, undermining our military readiness, exacerbating conflicts around the world – climate change is a threat to the security of the United States and, indeed, to the security and stability of countries everywhere,” Kerry said in a speech in Virginia on Nov. 10.

Last week, Britain’s Prince Charles said that one of the “major reasons for this horror in Syria” was climate change. He made no mention of those ideas in Paris on Monday, beyond worrying that the world’s focus was being diverted by other crises “that can be seen as greater and more immediate threats.”

The comments have provoked a sharp rebuke from many critics, particularly Republicans in the United States, who see it as a purely political effort to use fears over public safety to drive an unrelated climate agenda.

Some studies have made the connection. In 2013, a panel of U.N. scientists said climate change could “indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”

A paper in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in March said there was evidence that man-made climate change had contributed to a 2007-10 drought in Syria that was a contributing factor to the civil war.

Back in Paris, a few speakers made little effort at a graceful segue.

After saying that both Israel and France were the victims of terrorism, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on: “If President (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas is committed to peace he must stop inciting his people against Israel.”

Shifting tack, he continued: “Today we must focus on the security, not just of the nations of the world, but of the world itself.”

(Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Leff and Lisa Shumaker)



Harnessing the ocean: China’s military looks to wave farms to power radar on remote islands as South China Sea disputes simmer

November 30, 2015

China has been testing one of the largest power-generating machines of its kind in the world with maximum capacity in excess of 200 kilowatts.

Stephen Chen
South China Morning Post

Construction work is shown at Mabini (Johnson) Reef in the disputed Spratley Islands in the South China Sea in this February 2015 file photo. China is engaged in a series of territorial disputes with its neighbours in these waters, and is now turning to the ocean to help meet its energy needs. Photo: EPA

China plans to build electricity-generating wave farms near remote islands in the South China Sea, where it is engaged in territorial disputes with several of its neighbours, to mitigate the threat of a power blackout hitting its military radars there, according to researchers involved in the project.

These giant floating power stations are expected to significantly strengthen the nation’s foothold in the disputed waters.

A full-scale unit, about half the size of a soccer field, was deployed for a test run in waters off the Wanshan archipelago near the city of Zhuhai in Guangdong province earlier this month, said the researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Guangzhou Institute of Energy Conversion.

Using cutting-edge mechanical designs, the generator will efficiently transform the constant movement of the sea water into electricity and stay in operation on windless days and also in the face of a super-typhoon, they said.

China’s breakneck rush to build civilian and military facilities in these seas has stretched its power supply chain in recent years. One of the biggest headaches has proven to be keeping the country’s larger-than-ever radar network in constant operation.

“Military radars are power-hungry beasts that must be fed all the time,” said one researcher, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

China’s largest floating power generator, which converts sea waves to electricity that can be used on remote islands, was deployed for a test run in early November in the South China Sea. Photo: Guangzhou Institute of Energy Conversion, Chinese Academy of Sciences

“Sending fossil fuels to remote islands is costly and time-consuming. The shipping can also be affected easily by bad weather or unfriendly neighbours,” the researcher added.

More power is needed for the radar to cast its net wider. When operating at full power to get a bead on a distant fighter jet or unknown object, an early warning system may require thousands of kilowatts of energy – tantamount to the total demand of 1,000 average households in the United States.

Conventional renewable energy sources are not suitable for small islands, the researchers said.

Most lack sufficient land area for the installation of solar power panels, which at any rate are usually quickly compromised by faecal matter from birds, the team said.

Moreover, wind turbines cannot generate a stable enough energy supply, and their performance is also severely affected by the weather.

The unit that was tested is among the largest power-generating machines of its kind in the world, capable of churning out in excess of 200 kilowatts.

Similar power buoys deployed in the US and Australia have shown peak power outputs of around 150kw. The largest single wave energy convertor to date was a prototype deployed at a wave farm in Portugal, which recorded 750kw.

The PLA Navy has been carrying out realistic confrontation exercise in the South China Sea this year, according to China’s state media. Photo: SCMP Pictures

But the new Chinese generator can survive even the most extreme weather conditions, the researchers said.

In the event of a typhoon, it would automatically partially submerge, leaving only a small area on the surface to avoid damage caused by strong winds.

The unit is not anchored to the ocean bed, which allows it to move freely amid strong waves.

The design, which resembles half a submarine, has performed well. A smaller 10-kw prototype even survived Typhoon Haiyan in the South China Sea two years ago. The typhoon claimed over 6,000 lives in the Philippines.

The machine continued generating power during the typhoon even after most of it was submerged, the researchers said.

The wave farms that are planned have a flexible capacity with room to grow as more converters can be added later to meet demand.

The electricity will be channelled to nearby islands using underwater cables.

The enormous power requirements of military radar facilities means they cannot operate on a full-time basis with a large and stable energy supply, so using sea waves to provide power is a logical solution, said Li Ming. The professor of radar technology works at the National Lab of Radar Signal Processing in Xidian University, Xi’an in northwestern Shaanxi province.

But Li doubted whether a wave farm would fully satisfy demand.

“A warning radar consumes far more than 200kw of power,” he said.

Another problem is the cost of such an operation. A wave farm needs many power-generating units to form a grid for maximum output.

But those who field-tested the single unit recently said it cost nearly 20 million yuan (US$3.13 million) to design and build.

Afghanistan: U.S. Embassy warns of imminent attack in Kabul

November 30, 2015


U.S. Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens to exercise extreme caution

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned on Monday of an imminent attack in the Afghan capital, saying it had received credible reports of a threat within the next two days, although it had no other details.

State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told reporters the threat was not made specifically against the U.S. Embassy, U.S citizens or any American interests in Kabul.

“U.S. Embassy Kabul has received credible reports of an imminent attack in Kabul city, Kabul province, Afghanistan within the next 48 hours,” the embassy said in a post on its website.

“During this period of heightened threat, the U.S. Embassy strongly urges U.S. citizens to exercise extreme caution if moving around the city. There were no further details regarding the targets, timing, or method of the planned attack,” it said.

(Reporting by Washington newsroom; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney)

U.S. Embassy, Kabul, Afghanistan

U.S. and Russia battle for the Asia Pacific

November 30, 2015


A long term strategic game is being played out between the United States and Russia in the Asia Pacific, with China at the nexus. (Photo by Alexei Druzhinin) 

There may be intimations of a limited rapprochement between Russia and the U.S. in the wake of the recent Paris bombings. However, a longer-term game is still being played out between the two powers in the Asia-Pacific region. China is the nexus of their competing strategies in this realm, as well as those of other states.

Currently the most powerful of these states, Japan, finds itself in a position of balancing competing priorities in order to sustain its regional standing.

Japan has also recently been improving ties with several states in its region in order to counterbalance the rise of its rival, China. These include the Philippines, Australia, Vietnam, and India. Unlike itself and the former two, the latter two are not U.S. treaty allies. Consequently, they have much more room to maneuver and pursue more pragmatic, multi-vector foreign policy strategies with respect to the U.S., Russia, and China.

Enemies Become Allies

Forty years ago at the close of the Vietnam War (brokered with China’s assistance), it would have been near impossible for the U.S. to imagine that it would one day approach its former enemy for assistance against this very same broker, yet also a larger potential enemy unto itself.

Yet that is precisely the situation the U.S. finds itself in now due to several factors, the most prevalent of which are: 1) China’s phenomenal rise and potential peer competitor status to the U.S. and 2) historical Sino-Vietnamese animosity which today manifests itself most prominently in the South China Sea disputes over the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

The U.S. is not the only power vying for Vietnamese attention, however. Russia is also developing economic and security ties with Vietnam to counter the rise of its quasi-ally, China.

What makes Vietnam so attractive to both powers is its long coastline which abuts the South China Sea. Most importantly, it also has the longest coastline of any of the non-China claimants in the South China Sea disputes.

Lastly, its Cam Ranh Bay naval facility, formerly utilized by both the U.S. and the Former Soviet Union in quick succession during the Cold War, allows power projection into and signals intelligence gathering from this disputed area, specifically China’s nine-dash line.

The Master of Non-Alignment

Historically unwilling to be a pawn in anyone’s geopolitical game, India also has a prominent security role to play itself in the Asia-Pacific region. With respect to Vietnam above, it is improving security and economic ties with the Southeast Asian nation, along with Russia and the U.S. In addition to the reasons stated above, Vietnam also has the potential to serve as India’s power projection proxy in a “Malacca Dilemma” situation.

More importantly, India itself is being wooed by both Russia and the U.S. in their efforts to manage China’s rise. A founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement, India was viewed with suspicion by the U.S. during the Cold War, despite its democratic credentials. This allowed for closer relations between it and the Former Soviet Union.

Much as in Northeast Asia, Russia now finds itself in a position to potentially influence the foreign policy tilt of others due to its natural resources and proximity to rapidly-growing, energy-hungry states. It also does this through security ties with the Indian defense establishment.

Consequently, as a powerful, but distant state, the U.S. has its work cut out for it getting India to bandwagon with it against China (or even Russia). Currently, the U.S. plays on past Sino-Indian difficulties such as the Sino-Indian border skirmish of 1962, as well as the present situation, where India fears Chinese encirclement via a “String of Pearls” strategy under the pretext of fighting pirates on the high seas.

Unlike Russia, a supplier of natural resources to China, India nonetheless serves an important role as a potential blocker of resources from Africa and the Middle East, through the Indian Ocean, and finally onward to China.

Use Barbarians To Fight Barbarians

Seeing their most powerful neighbors working to block its rise, most states would probably get very anxious, very quickly. Among several factors, there are two which apply in the case of China which explain why it’s an exception to this rule.

Similar to how the Former Soviet Union and now Russia tries to foster division amongst its Western counterparts, China has a deep history of playing different outsiders off against one another. Playing the long game, it realizes that there still remain a host of problems preventing an effective alliance between the U.S. and India, Russia and India, and definitely between Russia and the U.S.

Chief among these and related to the first is the realization that Vietnam, and India in particular, are never going to be fully in anyone’s camp. They are both pursuing multi-vector foreign policy strategies which enable them to accrue the maximum possible benefits from all parties. These strategies, in turn, have both economic and strategic components.

The subsequent lack of ideology among the strategies enables the parties to pursue pragmatism to its fullest and also demands pragmatism from any of Vietnam’s and India’s successful suitors.

Turkey shot down Russian warplane to protect IS oil trade, Putin says

November 30, 2015


Russian President Vladimir Putin, pictured on November 30, 2015, said, “We have every reason to think that the decision to shoot down our plane was dictated by the desire to protect the oil supply lines to Turkish territory”

LE BOURGET (FRANCE) (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday accused Ankara of shooting down a Russian warplane to protect supplies of oil from the Islamic State group to Turkey.

“We have every reason to think that the decision to shoot down our plane was dictated by the desire to protect the oil supply lines to Turkish territory,” Putin said during a news conference on the fringes of UN climate talks near Paris.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama as they meet during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, November 30, 2015. REUTERS/Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin



A Russian jet fighter is shot down over the Turkish-Syrian border on Tuesday.
A Russian jet fighter is shot down over the Turkish-Syrian border on Tuesday, November 24, 2015. Photo: haberturk tv channel/European Pressphoto Agency

China accused of ‘tricking’ dissidents into deportation

November 30, 2015

Wife of UN-recognised refugee deported from Thailand accuses Beijing of tricking him into signing deportation papers.

Anneliese Mcauliffe | 29 Nov 2015 12:38 GMT

Al Jazeera

Jiang Yefei fled China in 2008 after repeated run ins with Chinese authorities over human rights [Courtesy Jiang Yefei’s family]

Bangkok, Thailand – The wife of one of two Chinese dissidents forcibly deported from Thailand to China has accused Chinese officials of posing as humanitarian workers to trick the men into signing their own deportation papers.

On November 12, without informing their families, Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping were taken from a Thai detention centre in the capital Bangkok and sent back to China. There has been no information about either man since then.

Both were recognised as refugees by the UN and had been granted asylum by the Canadian government.

They were arrested in Thailand in late October and placed in the Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok. It was here that Chu Ling, the wife of Jiang Yefei, says Chinese officials visited the two men.

“They said they were from the United Nations,” Chu told Al Jazeera. “They said they were here to help them and that they must sign some papers to allow them to travel to Canada. But the document was in Thai. They signed it even though they couldn’t understand the words. Later, we found out that they had signed papers agreeing to be deported back to China.”

Chu said officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) discussed this incident with her. However, in an email to Al Jazeera, the UNHCR said it was “not aware of any such impersonation at detention centres run by the [Thailand] government”.

Jiang Yefei was trembling and calling for help when he was taken from the jail cell in Bangkok in early November to be forcibly deported back to China, his wife said..

Dong Guangping, his friend in the pro-democracy movement of Chinese dissidents in Thailand, was deported alongside him.

“I heard from a contact person who was in the prison, my husband was shaking. He was very, very scared,” Chu said. “He was screaming, ‘Please call everyone and tell them I am being taken away and please ask them to stop me at the airport.'”

Days after their deportation, the Thai government said the men had been deported to face charges of human trafficking in China. The families of the men deny they were involved in these activities.

Both Jiang and Dong had long campaigned against human rights abuses carried out by the Chinese government. Both had been imprisoned in China and both had chosen, at separate times, to flee China to what they considered the relative safety of Thailand.

Refugee groups and human rights defenders expressed alarm at the deportations of men recognised as refugees and granted resettlement in Canada.

“By sending those two refugees back to face likely torture and abuse in China, the Thai military government showed it is completely shameless and doesn’t care one bit about the human rights of refugees,” Brad Adams from Human Rights Watch told Al Jazeera.

“Not surprisingly, the more than 10,000 urban refugees from all around the world who are hiding in Bangkok are more fearful than ever, and desperately hoping that the governments they are fleeing from will not be next in line to ask for the Thai junta’s help,” Adams added.

Alternative torch

Jiang fled China in 2008 after attempting to bring an alternative human rights “torch” to China ahead of the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing.

“Jiang wanted to join the alternative torch relay that was touring the world. He wanted to bring that torch to China,” explained Chu. “A parcel arrived from overseas. It had the human rights torch inside. But it had been intercepted by state security services and Jiang was arrested.”

Chu said Jiang was tortured while in prison. When he was released, he lost his job. When he learned  he was going to be re-arrested, he decided to flee to Thailand.

Dong fled China in 2014 after he was held for eight months in secret detention. He and 10 others had been caught attending an event to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising. Dong had previously served a three-year jail term for subversion.

RELATED: UN condemns Thai deportation of Chinese refugees

Both men continued their political activities in Thailand, believing they were safe from the long arm of the Chinese state security apparatus. Jiang became active in the Federation for a Democratic China, a group of Chinese dissidents in exile.

But when Jiang created a series of cartoons mocking the Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, the Chinese authorities tried to silence him.

Phone calls

In China, state security officers visited his brother and issued an ominous warning. “They said, he must lower his political activities or else they would have him deported back to China,” Chu recalled.

Jiang told them not to worry because his refugee status would protect him.

But then the phone calls started.

Chu said strangers started to call their home. “I was aware of some phone calls from people we don’t know. They would ask ‘where are you?’ They knew that Jiang was doing the cartoons and the person on the phone warned him to stop making the cartoons.”

In late October, Jiang was arrested at his home by Thai police officers, two of whom spoke perfect Chinese.

He was charged with entering the country illegally. Dong was visiting his friend but, as he had no valid passport, he was also arrested. Chu witnessed the arrest.

“Dong was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He didn’t have a passport, so they arrested him too,” said Chu.

After their arrests, pro-democracy advocates, recognising the seriousness of the case, lobbied for a country to quickly accept the men as refugees. Within 10 days the men and their families were accepted for resettlement in Canada.

“It was so quick this time,” journalist and pro-democracy campaigner Sheng Xue told Al Jazeera.

“I thought they would be safe. I never thought that they would dare to send them back to China once they had been accepted as refugees and given resettlement in Canada.”

 Amnesty’s East Asia head discusses China rights record

Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 UN refugee convention, but the government has always observed it in practice. Bangkok is home to a large population of refugees, including many Chinese dissidents.

“Jiang’s safety depended on the international community, but the Chinese government is very strong. They did not have enough power to stop Thailand sending Jiang back to China,” said Chu from her new home in Canada.

Three other Chinese nationals were also forcibly returned to China along with Dong and Jiang. Their identities have not yet been confirmed.

In July, Thailand was criticised after 109 ethnic Uighur Muslims were deported to China.

“These men, this is not a single case. There are many other cases,” Sheng Xue told Al Jazeera in her capacity as president of the Federation for Democratic China.

“The Chinese regime is getting stronger. They don’t need to listen to the international community anymore. Everything has changed in this relationship. Western countries are now too reliant on China and too compliant with the human rights abuses perpetuated by the Chinese regime,” Sheng said.

Philippines official confident in South China Sea arbitration case

November 30, 2015


The Philippines on Monday wrapped up a week of arguments before judges in its case against China over the hotly disputed South China Sea, at a hearing boycotted by Beijing.

The Philippines has asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to affirm its right to areas within 200 nautical miles of its coastline, under the terms of a U.N. convention.

China rejects the court’s jurisdiction. It claims an area inside what it calls the “nine-dash line” which stretches south and east of mainland China and covers hundreds of disputed islands and reefs also claimed by the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia.

The line was first defined in public by Beijing in 1947. China has never formally sought a legal right to the territory.

It has been transforming low-lying reefs in the South China Sea into islands and building airfields and other military facilities on them.

“We have been able to present all of our arguments … to support the main thrust of our case that the nine-dash line has no basis in international law,” said the Philippines’ deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte.

“We have a good case and we are hoping that after this round we will be able to secure a decision from the tribunal in about six months’ time,” she told Reuters.

China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea has raised tensions with its neighbors and with the United States, which is a dominant security partner and objects to Beijing’s claims.

“It’s not about the territory itself, but really for standing up for what is right in the proper forum,” Valte added. The Philippines cannot go up against a giant military power like China, but “it is important for us to have something legal in terms of a resolution”.

The arbitration court’s rulings are supposed to be binding on its member countries, which include China. But the tribunal has no powers of enforcement and its verdicts have sometimes been ignored.

The court has yet to set a date for a ruling.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; editing by Andrew Roche)


China dredger Tian Jing Hao, “The Reef Eater”: The Philippines has said China’s huge dredgers are demolishing square miles of coral reefs in the South China Sea for island building. The Philippines, Vietnam and others contest China’s claims of ownership of the several South China Sea reefs, islets and shoals. China doesn’t care one bit that environmentalists object to their coal reef destruction. The end justifies the means.


Syria’s Assad says terrorists among Syrian refugees

November 30, 2015


There are terrorists among the Syrian refugees making their way to Europe, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Czech Television in an interview, excerpts of which were broadcast on Monday.

Asked whether Europeans should fear refugees from Syria, Assad said: “It’s a mixture. The majority, they are good Syrians, they are patriots… But of course you have infiltration of terrorists among them, that is true.”

Czech Television said it had interviewed Assad in Damascus and would air the piece in full on Tuesday.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have reached Europe this year, often without documents, sparking fears in many countries that Islamic militants may be among them.

Islamic State’s attack on Paris on Nov. 13 has heightened calls in the EU for more controls on people arriving.

Two of the Paris attackers had their fingerprints taken while traveling through Greece in October, a Paris prosecutor said. One was identified as Ahmad al-Mohammad from a Syrian passport found near his body, although it was not clear whether the passport was genuine or stolen.

Turkey has promised to help stem the flow of migrants to Europe in return for cash, visas and renewed talks on joining the EU, in a deal struck on Sunday.

(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Editing by Hugh Lawson)


Top U.S. and Russian Military Officers Discuss Fight Against Islamic State in Syria

November 30, 2015

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The head of the Russian army’s general staff and the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff on Monday discussed by phone questions relating to the fight against Islamic State in Syria, Interfax news agency reported, citing the Russian Defence Ministry.

The ministry added that the call between Generals Valery Gerasimov and Joseph Dunford took place at the initiative of the United States.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Richard Bazlmforth)


Japan, China, South Korea vow to work more closely to fight infectious diseases

November 30, 2015


Japan, China and South Korea have agreed to work more closely in the fight against infectious diseases, drawing a lesson from the recent spread of Ebola and Middle East respiratory syndrome.

The three confirmed their stance in a joint statement adopted at a ministerial meeting in Kyoto on Sunday that brought together health minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki, Chinese health minister Li Bin and South Korean health minister Chung Chin-youb.

They agreed to strengthen information-sharing on infectious diseases and cooperation in dealing with an increase in superbugs resistant to antibiotics and other drugs.

“The issue of drug resistance significantly affects not only humans but also the raising of livestock,” Shiozaki told a news conference after the meeting, adding that the three countries agreed on the need to tackle the issue across governments.

In April 2016, Japan will host a ministerial meeting on the issue among Asia-Pacific countries, he said.

The three-way meeting of health ministers was the eighth of its kind. The next is scheduled for next year in South Korea.