Archive for April, 2016

Obama, Putin and Xi Jinping: Hope is not a complete foreign policy

April 30, 2016

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This is just wild speculation from Peace and Freedom and probably wrong…. But it could be that the very carefully crafted “cessation of hostilities” in Syria, created mostly by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, was nothing but more of Vladimir Putin’s artful chicanery.

Assad never agreed to lay down his weapons and the Syrian rebels, supposedly supported (albeit very timidly) by  the U.S., always smelled a rat.

Rebel chief negotiator Riad Hijab saw right through Putin’a ruse — even as the U.S. Secretary of State probably hoped and prayed that everything would work out for an American happy ending and a peace conference in Geneva.

Somebody needs to explain to Obama and Kerry that hope is not a complete foreign policy.

What dreamers.

But a nightmare to many in the world.

Ever since President Obama set down his now famous chemical weapons “Red Line” for Assad — and then never backed it up, Putin has known that this President of the United States doesn’t have the huevos to fight and win. 

Or even stick to his plan to do the right thing.

So Putin is now calling the tune in Syria and much of the rest of the Middle East.

President Obama and Secretary Kerry have emboldened America’s enemies — all over the world.

And they worked very diligently to do it, too — mostly in the laborious “Iran Nuclear Deal.”

The once numero uno “state sponsor of terrorism” remains the toughest terrorism force, with its Revolutionary Guard, ballistic missiles, and who knows what all. But now, as the Obama administration winds down, Iran is again suddenly a super-rich “state sponsor of terrorism” — thanks to President Obama and Secretary Kerry.

Putin still holds Crimea and a big hunk of Ukraine.He din’t own them when President Obama started his first term.

There was no “Islamic State” when President Obama moved into the White House. And when the intelligence community delivered the bad news, President Obama declared them the “JV” team and not an “existential threat.”

He looked away.

But they are an existential threat to world order and stability and to the millions of people they have killed.

In Syria, once the “Red Line” became a joke, Putin charged in to save Assad — even though the removal of Assad had been a key Obama and American goal.

America forgot her principles and the world noticed. From that point onward, the trickle of refugees leaving the Middle East turned into a tidal wave.

Even though Obama’s “looking away” in Syria caused this human nightmare, Merkel, Hollande, David Cameron and others tried to take in the refugees, save lives and do the right thing.

But this human torrent became a de-stabilizing factor in the European Union — and thousands upon thousands died at sea.

It’s great that President Obama went to Europe recently to thank Merkel and the others — but for more than a century Europe had always expected much more from America than just nice words and a hug.

America used to be the number one protector of democracy and human rights. But President Obama doesn’t believe in “American Exceptionalism” and his lack of understanding has gotten us to where we are now: a world completely in disorder.

Over in Israel they are worried.

The Saudis are worried too and much the poorer due to low fuel prices.

Yemen is a wreck.

Libya is a Hillary Clinton catastrophe —  a real lesson in an eager plan followed up by no plan at all. And when the world ended for four Americans in Benghazi — she not only looked away, she went to sleep and lied, blaming a video.

And then she forgot all about it. Never taking responsibility for the dead Americans that worked for her.

Related:

Afghanistan is again a heated trouble spot.

And Iraq is about to split open at the seems.

Muqtada al-Sadr unleashed his dogs today so they could storm into the Green Zone less than 48 hours after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was there. That means to me that al-Sadr can pretty much take Baghdad any time he wants…

Kerry and Obama might be remembered by future generations as the guys that “lost” the Middle East.

Plus Putin is having the time of his life buzzing U.S. warships and reconnaissance aircraft. Poland is scared, Israel needs to re-arm and most of NATO is wondering when and where the next Russian move will come.

In Asia, Xi Jinping has cracked down on virtually every freedom loving person and organization in China and Hong Kong. He’s breathing new life into his military partnership with Putin in Russia and he is building airstrips and military facilities on several South China sand piles his guys made by grinding up nature’s wonderful coral reefs — in a vast ocean area China hasn’t paid any attention to in centuries.

Mr. Xi’s state controlled media is starting to signal that China is no longer a follower in Asia. China is now the leader.

“You can stick Barack and Hillary’s Pivot To Asia up your a**,” a Chinese foreign policy expert told me recently.

Not good.

Xi knows he can brush aside anything Vietnam or the Philippines can throw at him and if he makes any kind of military move while President Obama is still on the front 9, China can work over anyone in the way pretty hard for at least two hours before admitting it was all a terrible mistake.

Xi Jinping and Sun Tzu have handily defeated Barack Obama for eight years. Ask Hong Kong and Vietnam.

The good news is China is keeping North Korea from doing anything really bad. After five nuclear tests.

My money is on China right now. If they give up one airstrip in the South China Sea I’ll eat my hat.

They’ve been telling us for years that the South China Sea is sovereign territory — and has been for centuries. The Chinese have always known this — it is you Americans and Filipinos that need legal papers to back up your claim.

And since they “own” the South China Sea, they can beat up Vietnamese and Filipino fishermen who “trespass.”

China will not be “contained” — and they’ve stated that about a thousand times over the last five years and all the while building up the sand dunes and pouring concrete.

China’s only headache is this: to make a bold move while the Obama Administration is still in place, and maybe make an even bigger mess of the U.S. election — or just hold fire until the day after inauguration day next January as the new president and his or her team is trying to find out where the bathrooms are — if we can decide by then who goes in what bathroom and how we plan to determine who is female, or male or transgender or whatever else there is.

THIS is not a big problem for China.

They’ll grab more property then.

Either way: America doesn’t look very tough or smart to them any more.

Can you blame them?

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
April 30, 2016

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In Syria: “We think that unless the international community does something about it now, the whole prospect for the political solution will be in danger.”

AFP

© AFP/File | People walk amid the rubble of destroyed buildings following a reported air strike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of al-Kalasa in Aleppo, Syria on April 28, 2016

ISTANBUL (AFP) – The prospects of finding a political solution to the Syria conflict are in danger unless the international community acts fast to pressure the regime, the head of the main Syrian opposition group said Saturday, after new air strikes on rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

The assault on Syria’s divided second city by the armed forces of President Bashar al-Assad has put in jeopardy a fragile truce that had given new hope to UN-backed peace talks in Geneva.

“The regime is not really interested in a political solution and they are not really interested in hearing the cessation of the hostilities initiative,” the head of the Syrian National Coalition Anas al-Abdeh told AFP in Istanbul.

“We think that unless the international community does something about that, the whole prospect for the political solution will be in danger,” he added after a general assembly meeting of the main opposition umbrella grouping in the Turkish city.

Terrified residents fled a new wave of air strikes on rebel-held areas of Aleppo Saturday, as key regime backer Russia rejected calls to rein in its ally.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Moscow would not ask Damascus to halt air raids on Aleppo.

“It’s clear that Russia is still supporting the regime, and it’s supporting the regime policy of aggression against the Syrian people,” said Abdeh.

Russia in March had begun withdrawing its main contingent of troops from Syria but the announcement was greeted with suspicion by some observers.

“Russia isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, which is to put enough pressure on the regime to show the restraint and to stop targeting civilians,” he said.

Abdeh said it was up to Washington — which has engaged in intense diplomacy with Moscow to find a solution in Syria — to salvage the Geneva peace process after the latest fighting.

“I think the Americans know really well they have to do something special in order to revive the political process in Syria and to get the political negotiation back on track.

“I hope the Americans are doing that, otherwise all the good efforts of the past four months would go in vain.”

A new round of UN-backed peace talks is set to start on May 10 in Geneva.

Related:

 (From China State Media, April 30, 2016)

A wise old diplomat told us once, “You can tell if the American foreign policy is working by who in the world is smiling.”
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China’s role in solving the South China Sea issue — “China now takes the leading position.”

April 30, 2016

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Photo taken on April 5, 2016 shows the lighthouse on Zhubi Reef of Nansha Islands in the South China Sea. Credit Xinhua

By Zheng Yongnian
China.org.cn, April 30, 2016

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U.S.-Philippine joint military drills, Japan’s involvement, Australian and other countries’ expressed concerns undoubtedly target China. It is not difficult to see that the role of the United States is of great importance. Although the Chinese government has time and again stated that the South China Sea issue involves China’s sovereign affairs, as well as a bilateral dispute between China and its neighbors, the United States adopts an interventionist policy.The South China Sea issue has become increasingly complicated and serious, typified by U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter postponing his scheduled visit to China because of the issue. A statement on maritime security was issued after the Hiroshima G7 foreign ministers’ meeting. Although not explicitly mentioning China, the statement clearly criticized its conduct in the South China Sea.

Some observers detect a more united and consistent policy among countries in the region toward China. A new alliance, led by the United States targeting China, is emerging, above all seeking to force China to make concessions.

From a Chinese perspective, there’s little space to retreat. As a rising power, it has no reason to give up its identified sovereignty. In the South China Sea, just as Vietnam and the Philippines have nationalist sentiments, so does China.

So, is the pessimism of certain observers justified? Will the issue lead to open conflict?

This is a complicated issue and needs a detailed analysis. The South China Sea issue is actually comprised of three levels, namely, the relationship between China and the United States, the relationship between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the relationship between China and other national claimants.

In regard to China-U.S. relations, there are several factors behind the latter’s policy. First, the main concern of the United States is “freedom of navigation” which means it can freely go anywhere it wants. Second, the United States is wrong in its strategic judgment that China’s land reclamation and island building is “territorial expansion.” Third, the United States worries China’s “militarization” will hinder regional peace.

Interpretative contradictions in international law

Japan has its own wishful thinking regarding the issue. It wants to use the U.S.-Japanese alliance to intervene in Southeast Asian affairs.

The ASEAN countries can be divided into two parts, namely claimant and non-claimant countries, of which the latter have no conflict with China on sovereignty, but they are still concerned about navigational freedom, regional stability, and organizational solidarity. A regular phenomenon in international politics is that big countries are not willing to resort to international law to protect themselves but small countries are.

There is a huge conflict between International Maritime Law and the historical rights of China in the South China Sea. The “nine-dash line” is the historical product that China inherited, while International Maritime Law is a very contemporary entity. In China’s view, such a contemporary law cannot solve complicated historical problems like the South China Sea issue.

China now stresses its sovereignty over the islands, but the safety of maritime navigation is the concern of all countries. China has no reason to damage navigational safety in the region. Any problem occurring in the South China Sea will impact negatively on China’s national economy, because more than 80 percent of its import and export trade passes through these waters.

In recent years, China has proposed a “dual-track” approach in which claimant countries properly solve the issues through negotiations so that China and ASEAN jointly safeguard the peace and stability of the South China Sea. In other words, the sovereignty issue is resolved through bilateral negotiations, while the safety of maritime navigation should be settled through multinational negotiations. In this regard, China is trying to avoid such a scenario: The ASEAN is inclined to reach consensus on what is bad to China, but diverges on what is good to China.

China plays a key role in solving the deadlock

The relationship between China and other claimant countries is the key. China and these countries are neighbors and it knows well how to get along and how to resolve problem. For example, China made a number of concessions in the settlement of its land border dispute with Vietnam. This case shows that there is no justification for accusing China of being “a big country bullying a small one.”

If the South China Sea issue is deadlocked, this may not be a bad thing, because it is better than a hurried, poorly-thought-out solution. However, each party must ensure that the issue doesn’t escalate into a public conflict or even a war.

China, therefore, must be aware of the following points.

First, it now takes the leading position. Previously, China always had to respond to other countries’ actions; now, the situation is reversed.

Second, China must be patient and behave rationally.

Third, China must have self-confidence. The costs for the United States in the South China Sea are much higher than those of China. As long as China has no ambition to expand, the U.S. cannot hold on too long.

Fourth, China and ASEAN still have a lot of space for diplomatic mediation. Most of the ASEAN countries want to be friendly with China. In fact, economic interdependence between China and ASEAN is quite high.

Fifth, there is still room for the improvement of the relations between China and other claimant countries. Unlike the United States, who cut off relations with Cuba for half a century, China never goes to extremes. For example, over the past years, China has still maintained good economic and trade relations with Vietnam and the Philippines despite the chill in political and diplomatic relations.

Sixth, China may treat the big countries outside the region more openly. For example, it can allow the United States and ASEAN countries to also use its facilities to jointly safeguard maritime security.

Seventh, even after relevant countries actually occupy disputed islands, China can still advocate a return to the negotiation table and a return to the principle of “shelving disputes and joint development” which was advocated by Deng Xiaoping a long time ago.

For China, any major international conflicts in the South China Sea will undoubtedly have a very negative impact on its internal construction and foreign affairs. Stabilizing the regional situation and settling the problems peacefully will make China a model in regard to a peaceful rise. It has a great potential in solving regional issues.

Zheng Yongnian is director of the East Asian Institute at theNational University of Singapore and an expert in China issues.

This article was translated by Li Jingrong based on the original unabridged version published in Chinese.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

http://china.org.cn/opinion/2016-04/30/content_38352246.htm

Related:

The article above has the same basic story as this first one from April 23, 2016:

 (South China Morning Post, April 30, 2016)

 (Bill Hayton says China’s claims to the South China Sea are not legally valid)

 (By Li Thian-hok 李天福)

 (By David Shambaugh, The Wall Street Journal)

Chinese vessel sank fishing boat in Vietnamese waters: authorities

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Malaysia’s Najib fighting for his political life?

April 30, 2016

By Lim Kit Siang

MP SPEAKS Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is fighting for his political life in the Sarawak state election on May 7.

This is why he is campaigning as if the 11th Sarawak state election is the 14th parliamentary general elections, as he himself had declared on nomination day that the Sarawak polls on May 7 will be a ‘precursor’ to GE14 in two years’ time, which will decide his future as the prime minister of Malaysia.

This is also why he has aided and abetted Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem in the abuse of Sarawak immigration autonomy powers, although Najib should know more than anyone else that it is unconstitutional, illegal, and against both the word and spirit of the 1963 Malaysia Agreement to ban Malaysians who are not Sarawakians from entering Sarawak for the sole purpose of carrying out “legitimate political activities”.

Najib is doing a third thing in the ‘fight for his political life’ in the Sarawak state election – bringing the entire cabinet of 37 ministers to campaign in Sarawak under the guise of holding the cabinet meeting in Kuching next Wednesday.

In fighting for his ‘political life’ in the Sarawak state election, Najib has done three things which had never been done by anyone of the previous five Malaysian prime ministers, whether Tunku Abdul Rahman, Razak Hussein (his father), Hussein Onn, Mahathir Mohamad, or Abdullah Ahmad Badawi:

• Personally attending the Sarawak state election nomination day, accompanying Adenan in filing his nomination papers;

• Personally involved in a hectic campaign in the Sarawak state election – as if his whole political future is dependent on the May 7 polling outcome; and

• Bringing his entire cabinet to Kuching during the short 13­-day campaign period, so that the 37 cabinet ministers can fan out to campaign for Sarawak Barisan Nasional in the various parts of the state in the last few days of the campaign period.

I have been wondering why Adenan had gone out on a limb to so callously and recklessly abuse his immigration powers as Sarawak chief minister by banning DAP and PKR leaders from coming to Sarawak to carry out “legitimate political activity” when these are their constitutional rights, especially as there is no need for him to commit such blatant abuse of power as his position as the Sarawak chief minister after May 7 is absolutely secure from the political scenario presented on nomination day.

I had thought that the only reason for Adenan’s abuse of powers is the result of the pleas of SUPP or other Sarawak BN parties and leaders who feared the participation of DAP and PKR leaders in the Sarawak election campaign – but this does not seem to be powerful enough as the reason, even if there are such pleas.

There is something amiss as Adenan’s position as Sarawak chief minister is not in danger in any form.

But now, Najib has provided the missing link as the reason why the chief minister is so blatant in his abuse of Sarawak immigration autonomy powers.

Suddenly, the 11th Sarawak state election is no more about who is going to be Sarawak chief minister or form the Sarawak state government (which in any event, had as good as been decided) but the fate of Najib as the Malaysian prime minister – hounded and haunted by the his twin global financial scandals which have refused to disappear but have becoming bigger and bigger as a result of international developments on the 1MDB scandal.

Adenan is abusing the Sarawak state autonomy powers to protect Najib’s political future.

If Najib, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and the entire cabinet of 37 ministers want to make the 11th Sarawak state general election as a verdict on his premiership, the DAP is prepared to take them on – but let there be a level playing field and he should advise Adenan to stop abusing his powers under Sarawak immigration autonomy by lifting all prohibitions and restrictions on DAP and PKR leaders from campaigning in the Sarawak state election.

Are Najib and Adenan prepared for such a democratic contest for the hearts and minds of the people?

Is Adenan’s Team and Adenan’s Way nothing but Najib’s Team and Najib’s Way?

LIM KIT SIANG is the MP for Gelang Patah and DAP parliamentary leader.

https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/339824

South China Sea Moment of Truth

April 30, 2016

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By Richard Javad Heydarian
The National Interest

A specter is haunting Asia—the specter of full Chinese domination in the South China Sea. Latest reports suggest that China could soon move ahead with building military facilities on the Scarborough Shoal, a contested land feature it has occupied since 2012. This would allow China, according to a Mainland source, to “further perfect” its aerial superiority across the contested waters. By building a sprawling network of dual-purposes facilities, and more recently deploying advanced military assets to its artificially created islands, China is inching closer to establishing a de facto Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the area. Integrating the Scarborough Shoal into its burgeoning defensive perimeter across the South China Sea will not only give it an upper hand in the contested waters, but also allow China to place the Philippines’ capital and industrialized regions within its strategic reach.

This is nothing short of a nightmare for the Philippines, which is already struggling to protect its supply lines in the Spratly chain of islands due to growing Chinese military assertiveness in contested waters. Unlike most of Chinese occupied features, which lie well beyond the immediate shores of other claimant states, the Scarborough Shoal is located just about 120 nautical miles off the coast of the Philippines, well within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)—and also its continental shelf. To put things into perspective, the shoal lies nine hundred kilometers away from the closest Chinese coastline. For Manila, the contested land feature is arguably what James Shoal is to Malaysia and Hainan is to Mainland China.

Manila lost control over the shoal after a tense standoff with Chinese coast guard forces in the middle of 2012. But for more than a century, the Philippines has treated Scarborough Shoal as its northernmost outpost in the South China Sea. In fact, as far back as the Spanish colonial era, the Southeast Asian country has treated the shoal as the natural extension of its national territory. During Cold War years, it was a gunnery range and regular area of naval exercises for American forces, which accessed military bases in the Philippines.

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As a leading Filipino maritime-law expert, Jay Batongbacal, explains, it was only after the departure of American military bases (1991) that China began to “take concrete action to assert its long-dormant paper claim to the shoal, beginning with the issuance of amateur-radio licenses to hobbyists in 1994,” the year China wrested control of the Philippine-claimed Mischief Reef. In short, China’s assertion of its (supposedly) historical claim on the land feature was hinged on coldblooded balance-of-power calculations. Cognizant of the Philippines’ minimal-to-nonexistent deterrence capability and the Obama administration’s equivocations on the extent of its defense obligations to Manila, China felt confident enough to usurp control over the shoal.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has been drenched in the ecstasy of presidential elections, with growing indications that the next government could be on a much more friendly footing with China, which giddily expressed its hope that the “new [Philippine] government can adopt positive and well-thought policies towards China, properly deal with relevant disputes, and improve bilateral relations with concrete actions.”

Yet it’s far from assured that the next Filipino president will continue the incumbent administration’s alignment with America as well as its tough posturing against China. With the Arbitral Tribunal at The Hague expected to issue its final verdict on the Philippines’ case against China in coming months, the predisposition of the incoming Filipino president has gained greater salience. Above all, however, everyone is wondering about the United States’ next move: Will it stand by its ally and try to prevent China’s prospective militarization of the Scarborough Shoal, or, alternatively, will it continue its futile—if not counterproductive—policy of strategic ambiguity on the issue? Time is of essence.

Tightening Noose

China is beginning to feel the heat. Earlier this year, the usually meek Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), after a retreat with U.S. president Barack Obama at Sunnylands, released a joint statement, which can be interpreted as a collective support for the Philippines’ arbitration case and, more explicitly, growing regional worry over China’s revanchist activities in the South China Sea.

Both American and ASEAN leaders expressed their shared “commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal [author’s emphasis] and diplomatic processes, without resorting to threat or use of force, in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law,” specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). They also reiterated the centrality of “non-militarization and self-restraint” in the disputed waters, in accordance to the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea, which (Paragraph V) discourages China and ASEAN claimant states from “inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features.”

Shortly after the Sunnyland Summit, the ASEAN foreign ministers reiterated their earlier joint statement with America, expressing how they have “remained seriously concerned over the recent and ongoing developments [in the South China Sea] and took note of the concern expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations and escalation of activities in the area.” During the recently concluded Group of 7 (G7) summit, the world’s leading Western powers and Japan were even more specific in supporting the Philippines’ arbitration case against China.

In their joint statement, foreign ministers of the leading industrialized countries expressed their vigorous opposition to “intimidating, coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions,” an unmistakable jab against China’s activities in the South China Sea. They also emphasized the centrality of the “peaceful management and settlement of maritime disputes . . . through applicable internationally recognized legal dispute settlement mechanisms, including arbitration,” an unmistakable endorsement of the Philippines’ arbitration case against China, which has boycotted the whole proceeding.

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A besieged China lashed back, urging “the G7 member states to honor their commitment of not taking sides on issues involving territorial disputes.” Worried about isolation in the region, China has also stepped up its efforts to divide-and-conquer ASEAN, urging Brunei, Laos (the current ASEAN chair) and Cambodia to decouple the South China Sea disputes from the regional agenda. China’s continued foray into Malaysian and Indonesian fishing grounds has also provoked a massive diplomatic backlash, with Jakarta threatening to revisit its relations with Beijing in light of what it views as a direct assault on its territorial integrity and sovereign rights within its EEZ. Malaysia may follow suit. China has practically alienated all key ASEAN states, including (ethnic-Chinese-majority) Singapore, which has openly accused Beijing of undermining regional unity on the South China Sea issue.

Though China’s plans for dominating the so-called First Island Chain go back decades—mainly based on the strategic vision of Beijing’s Mahan, Liu Huaqing, who was the commander of the Chinese navy from 1982-88—it is only in recent years that China has developed the requisite capabilities and mustered sufficient political will to push across its adjacent waters. But China is also beginning to realize that it can’t dominate its adjacent waters without losing the good will of its smaller neighbors. Relations with the Philippines have been particularly toxic in recent years. In fact, under the Aquino administration, the Southeast Asian country has been on the forefront of efforts to build international pressure on China.

Great Uncertainty

The leaders in Beijing, however, seem optimistic that the upcoming elections in the Philippines may lead to some favorable recalibrations. And it has a lot of cards to play. For one, the shadow of an impending Chinese military base just 120 nautical miles off the coast of the Philippines is hovering above the Filipino presidential elections. One can’t rule out the possibility that China is trying to coax the Filipino presidential candidates into compromise by raising the prospect of militarizing the Scarborough Shoal.

More specifically, with the arbitration verdict expected soon, Beijing may be trying to intimidate the incoming Filipino administration against fully using the likely favorable outcome for the Philippines. Many legal experts expect the Arbitral Tribunal to nullify China’s claims over low-tide-elevations (LTEs) such as Mischief Reef and Subi Reef, providing a perfect legal pretext for expansive American-led Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) against China. The arbitration panel may even go so far as deciding on the validity of China’s notorious nine-dashed-line claims, which covers much of the South China Sea, as well as the validity and legal basis of its ‘historical rights/waters’ claims.

At the very least, China may be seeking to cajole the next Filipino president into keeping mum on the arbitration outcome, that is to say, to treat it as an advisory opinion and a relic of the past administration’s strategy rather than a binding legal decision under the aegis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Interestingly, both leading presidential (Rodrigo Duterte) and vice-presidential (Ferdinand Marcos Jr.) candidates have signaled their interest in engagement rather than confrontation with China.

On his part, Marcos Jr., the only son of the late dictator, has consistently called for robust engagement and compromise with China. Even before taking the lead in the vice-presidential race, he called on the Philippine government to “make arrangement with China”, which involves negotiations on the Philippines’ fishing rights in contested waters but, crucially, “not the contentious issue of who owns the territories,” essentially, he expressed openness to a compromise over the sovereignty question. Echoing the vice-presidential frontrunner, Duterte has not only expressed his openness to direct talks with China as well as a possible joint development deal, but recently even stated that if China will “build me a train around Mindanao, build me train from Manila to Bicol . . . build me a train [going to] Batangas, for the six years that I’ll be president, I’ll shut up [on the sovereignty disputes].”

Both candidates don’t seem to be gung-ho on the Philippines’ arbitration case against China. So it’s possible that the next Philippine government will not fully leverage the arbitration outcome against China, and in exchange might seek guarantees from the latter on the nonmilitarization of Scarborough Shoal. But given the great anti-China sentiment in the Philippines, coupled with bitter experiences with join-development arrangements with China in the past, the Aquino administration’s successor will have relatively limited room for maneuver, especially if China decides to build military facilities on the Scarborough Shoal and/or escalate its para-military and fishing activities within the Philippines’ EEZ.

At this point, everything boils down to how far the United States is willing to go to aid its beleaguered ally. There is growing pressure on the Obama administration to openly extend the Philippine-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty to Scarborough Shoal in order to deter further Chinese belligerence. After all, America’s current policy of strategic ambiguity doesn’t seem to have worked. As America ramps up its military presence in the Philippines under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, it has no interest in seeing China establishing military bases eerily close to Philippine shores.

More directly, the Philippines also has the option of deploying frigates and coast-guard vessels to block any efforts by China to build military facilities on the contested shoal, with America providing back up support—through reconnaissance missions and aerial patrols, inter alia—by maintaining a robust presence ‘just over the horizon’. The two allies have been already conducting joint patrols in contested waters. America is currently augmenting its military footprint, particular air power, in the Philippines, signaling preparations for potential contingency interventions in coming months. In the Scarborough Shoal, America is expected to come to the Philippines’ rescue if Philippine “armed forces, public vessels or aircraft in the Pacific” come under attack by a third party (China) in an event of armed clashes. The United States, along with allies such as Japan and Australia, are also expected to assume the de facto role of enforcers once the arbitration verdict is out. Whether it wants it or not, the Philippines is now at the center of Asia’s new strategic battlefield.

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Richard Javad Heydarian is an Assistant Professor in political science at De La Salle University, and formerly a policy adviser at the Philippine House of Representatives (2009-2015). The Manila Bulletin, a leading national daily, has described him as one of the Philippines’ “foremost foreign policy and economic analysts.” He is the author of Asia’s New Battlefield: The US, China, and the Struggle for Western Pacific (Zed, London), and a regular to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Image: Philippine Marines at an exercise. US military photo, public domain.

http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/asias-new-battlefield-the-philippines%E2%80%99-south-china-sea-15985

Related:

 (SCMP)

China’s missile destroyer CNS Harbin conducts live fire exercises during a joint naval drill with Russia in 2014. Credit Zha Chunming, China Daily

 (Contains links to several related articles)

 (Washington Post)

 (The Wall Street Journal)

UK strikes in Syria, Iraq kill 1,000 IS fighters: Ministry of Defence

April 30, 2016

AFP

© AFP/File | British Royal Air Force aircraft is seen on the tarmac at the British airbase at Akrotiri, Cyprus on December 3, 2015

LONDON (AFP) – British air strikes have killed nearly 1,000 fighters of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq in the past 18 months, according to new Ministry of Defence figures.

Figures released under Freedom of Information laws revealed 974 militants were killed in Royal Air Force (RAF) strikes in Iraq between September 2014, when the British bombing campaign began, and last month.

Another 22 were killed in Syria between January and March this year, following the decision by the British parliament to extend the mission to Syria in December.

“Our records show that there were no civilian casualties for the period in question,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement released late Friday.

The ministry added that the numbers are estimates “based on post-strike analysis”, noting that Britain “is not in a position to visit strike sites and verify the numbers of enemy killed”.

Britain is part of a US-led coalition fighting the IS group, which holds swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria and which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks in November and Brussels attacks in March.

Israeli Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog writes to Jeremy Corbyn about ‘sickening’ anti-Semitism row

April 30, 2016
Mr Corbyn has been invited to lead a delegation to visit The Holocaust memorial in Isarel

By Jon Stone
The Independent

Isaac Herzog, leader of the Israeli Labor Party EPA

The leader of the Israeli Labor Party has written to Jeremy Corbyn to say he is “appalled and outraged” at examples of alleged anti-Semitism in Labour.

Isaac Herzog, whose party is in the same international federation of socialist parties as Labour, invited Mr Corbyn to visit Israel’s holocaust museum to help Labour “better understand the scourge of anti-Semitism”.

Labour has been rocked over the last week by the suspension of MP Naz Shah, and then Ken Livingstone, a Labour national executive committee member and former MP.

Ms Shah was revealed to have endorsed a suggestion about relocating Israel to North America before she had become an MP, and Mr Livingstone himself raised Adolf Hitler while defending her in broadcast interviews.

“I would like to take this opportunity, in the week leading up to Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel, to invite you to bring a delegation from the British Labour Party to Israel’s national Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem”, Mr Herzog wrote.

“By doing this, perhaps we can ensure that the anti-Semitism expressed in recent days is not the example to set to [sic] British young generation, but rather one of tolerance and acceptance of all people, regardless of faith.”

Mr Herzog added: “As someone whose father served in the British army and risked his life fighting against Hitler and the Nazis, the views expressed by Ken Livingstone, the former Mayor of London and member of Labour’s national executive, in which he claimed that Hitler ‘was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews’ were particularly horrific, and unthinkable for a British politician and the 21st century.”

Such a visit would likely be a test for Mr Corbyn, who has long been a vocal critic of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.

The Israeli Labor Party leader said the reports about comments by Ms Shah “sicken[ed] all those of moral conscience to the core”.

Over the last week Mr Herzog himself has been subject to criticism after he was filmed telling activists “we need to stop giving the impression that we are ‘Arab-lovers’”.

He was lambasted for the statement from across the political spectrum, with some MPs branding the comments “racist” and calling for his resignation.

Read More

The letter is not the first time the Israeli Labor Party has intervened in the UK since Mr Corbyn’s election.

In February Mr Herzog distanced himself from Mr Corbyn, describing him as “naïve” and said he did not understand the reality of the Middle East.

In September Michal Biran, an MP from the party, told a fringe event at party conference that Mr Corbyn’s election would be a “disaster” for Israel.

Labour today announced it had launched an independent inquiry into how to tackle antisemitism in the party.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/israeli-labor-party-leader-isaac-herzog-writes-to-jeremy-corbyn-about-sickening-anti-semitism-row-a7007966.html

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Ken Livingstone leaving LBC. Credit Warren Allott. Maybe Ken has just gone round the bend…

Kenya stages largest ivory burn in history in call to end illegal wildlife trade — 30,000 elephants are killed every year

April 30, 2016
‘Anybody who owns ivory, you should be ashamed of yourself’

By  Alex Dymoke
The Independent

A ranger stands in front of burning ivory stacks at the Nairobi National Park on April 30, 2016. AFP/Getty Images

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has begun the largest ivory burn in history, setting alight over a hundred tonnes of poached tusks in a ceremony signalling the east African country’s commitment to ending the illegal wildlife trade.

The 105 tonne haul – eight times more than has ever been destroyed at once – went up in flames in Nairobi national park in front of a crowd of thousands including presidents Ali Bongo of Gabon and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, United Nations officials, conservationists, business figures and politicians from around the world.

Speaking at the burn ceremony, Mr Kenyatta said: “A time has come when we must take a stand and the stand is clear … Kenya is making a statement that, for us, ivory is worthless unless it is on our elephants.”

Kenya’s Wildlife Service said the stacks of tusks and rhino horn represent more than 8,000 elephants and some 343 rhinos.

The African elephant, the world’s largest land mammal, faces extinction because of mass poaching fuelled by demand for illicit ivory, mainly in Asian markets. Around 30,000 elephants are killed every year across the continent, a rate of slaughter that could bring about extinction within two decades.

Using the hashtag #worthmorealive, the Kenyan authorities aim to highlight the long term economic value of elephants left alive. President Kenyatta tweeted: “Our message is clear. Ivory is worthless unless it is on an elephant.” Kenya-born Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar-winning star of Twelve Years a Slave, also took to twitter to hail a “historical moment” for her country.

Before the burn, Kitili Mbathi, head of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, said: “The reason we’re doing this is to send a message that there is [no] intrinsic value in ivory, there is only value in elephants. Anybody who owns ivory, you should be ashamed of yourself. Do not buy ivory.”

President Bongo of Gabon, who also spoke at the ceremony, offered a warning to those making money killing elephants and rhinos: “To all the poachers, to all the buyers, to all the traders, your days are numbered.”

The burn follows the Giants Club summit, a historic gathering of African heads of state, business-leaders and conservationists dedicated to saving Africa’s elephants. Giants Club members Botswana, Gabon, Uganda and Kenya – who together hold over half Africa’s elephants – used to the summit to announce frontline protection measures to preserve remaining elephant populations.

Speaking at the summit, Kenyatta described poaching as a “direct threat” to Africa’s economic progress, and pledged to seek a “total ban on the trade in elephant ivory” at the 17th meeting of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) in South Africa later this year.

CITES banned commercial trade in African elephant ivory in 1989, but has since permitted one off sales, a move which many blame for the recent escalation in poaching.

Dr Max Graham, chief executive of Space for Giants, parent charity of the Giants Club, said: “Improved ranger forces, fences to reduce human-elephant conflict and enhanced legal frameworks for convicting poachers and traffickers will help conserve a significant number of elephants and buy us time to end the demand.”

To burn such a large quantity ivory poses logistical problems, not least because of the high temperatures required. Divided between 11 pyres, the 105 tonne load will take days to reduce to ash.

Ivory burns have gained in popularity, partly because of their symbolic power, but also because stockpiles are expensive to guard and maintain. Ivory worth millions requires 24 hour security and high-tech compounds.

The first ivory burn took place in 1989 when Kenya’s then President Daniel Arap Moi incinerated 12 tonnes of ivory in Nairobi National Park, telling the press “I appeal to people all over the world to stop buying ivory.’’

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/kenya-largest-ivory-burn-in-history-elephants-illegal-wildlife-trade-poaching-a7008171.html

Obamacare Moves to Cover More Criminals — Significant premium hikes expected — premium increases that range from 9.4 percent to 37.1 percent

April 30, 2016

Officials stressed the impact Medicaid could have on people with mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Building collapse kills at least two in India’s Mumbai

April 30, 2016

AFP

© AFP/File | Mumbai has been hit by several deadly building collapses in recent years, often caused by shoddy construction, poor quality materials or ageing buildings

MUMBAI (AFP) – A three-storey building collapsed in India’s Mumbai on Saturday, killing at least two people and injuring five, local authorities told AFP.

Rescue work was ongoing at the site in the financial capital as local police said they feared five or six people still lay trapped under the rubble.

“We received five patients from the site of the collapsed building,” said a duty officer at JJ Hospital in Mumbai, one of two hospitals where the injured were taken.

“Two of them were brought in dead and the other three are critical with severe head and fracture injuries.”

Local media reports said the building housed a beer bar and a factory.

A senior police official in the city gave a lower death toll, saying one person had been killed and at least five injured, but said rescue work was still ongoing.

“We are trying to ascertain if five or six people are actually trapped under the rubble,” Dhananjay Kulkarni, a spokesman for Mumbai Police told AFP, adding that the cause of the collapse was not known.

Mumbai has been hit by several deadly building collapses in recent years, often caused by shoddy construction, poor quality materials or ageing buildings.

But in one of India’s most crowded and expensive cities, people still use old, dilapidated buildings because of a shortage of space.

Protesters Storm Iraqi Parliament

April 30, 2016

Supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr attack a senior lawmaker

Followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr entered the parliament building in Baghdad after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government on Saturday.
Followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr entered the parliament building in Baghdad after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government on Saturday. PHOTO: REUTERS
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Updated April 30, 2016 1:17 p.m. ET

Dozens of supporters of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr breached the walls of Iraq’s heavily guarded International Zone on Saturday, burst into the country’s parliament chambers and attacked a senior lawmaker.

The protesters were objecting to a decision by Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Jubouri to suspend parliament before it could finish voting in a new slate of technocratic ministers.

Despite previously breaching the walls of the International Zone, this marks the first time Mr. Sadr’s followers have forcibly breached parliament since they began protesting earlier this month.

State television showed protesters scaling the concrete walls of the International Zone as security forces fired warning shots but did little else to intervene. One satellite channel showed several protesters surrounding parliament member Amr Toma and beating him with sticks and their fists.

Baghdad was on lockdown Saturday afternoon. A spokesman for Baghdad Operations Command announced the closure of all road entrances to the Iraqi capital, opening checkpoints only to drivers exiting the city.

Several dozen protesters remained inside the parliament building by the evening.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement that security forces were in control of the situation at the parliament building and called on protesters to not “trespass… on government establishments which are the property of all people.”

The breach came hours after Islamic State claimed responsibility for a massive truck bombing at a busy market southeast of Baghdad that killed at least 21 people and injured dozens more.

The two episodes highlight the country’s fraying stability as it struggles to defeat the extremist group, which controls a swath of Iraqi territory including its second-largest city, Mosul, amid economic woes brought on by low oil prices.

Meanwhile, the government has grown increasingly unstable. Mr. Abadi’s attempts to appoint a cabinet to fulfill pledges to introduce political reforms and combat corruption have drawn resistance and prompted calls for his resignation.

The political strife has prompted concern from the U.S., which sees the stability of the government in Baghdad as critical to the fight against Islamic State. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Baghdad on Thursday, just weeks after a similar visit from Secretary of State John Kerry.

Protesters outside the parliament building on Saturday.
Protesters outside the parliament building on Saturday. PHOTO: REUTERS
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Mr. Sadr’s supporters have repeatedly filled downtown Baghdad’s streets over the past month to push for long-delayed political reforms aimed at reducing corruption and a new cabinet of ministers who aren’t beholden to sectarian political parties.

Mr. Sadr has long drawn his appeal from the country’s vast ranks of mostly poor Shiite Muslims. Saturday’s escalation showed that those supporters were willing to up the ante in their fight against Iraq’s political establishment.

Hundreds of the protesters were seen gathered around the entrance to parliament, where they yelled antigovernment slogans and chanted “we are the soldiers of Sadr.”

Some tried to dismantle the massive concrete barricades that encircle the assembly building.

“We kept on warning politicians to stop corruption but no one listened,” said one protester, who gave his name as Abo Zaid. “We’re going to do the sit-in inside parliament until the government meets our demands. There will be no retreat at all.”

It was unclear whether it was Mr. Sadr, once one of the strongest opponents of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, who initially ordered his followers to invade the International Zone and parliament.

His office appeared to bless the move in a midday statement, urging followers to occupy the building until a new slate of technocratic ministers could be elected.

But it cautioned them not to trespass on public property or to attack embassy facilities, civilians or lawmakers.

“Burn the flag of the invaders but do not attack embassies,” the statement read.

The International Zone, also known as the Green Zone, is home to the most important Iraqi government ministries, offices of international organizations, aid agencies and embassies, including that of the U.S.

A U.S. official said reports that embassy personnel were being evacuated were incorrect, and that the embassy was monitoring the situation in the Green Zone.

“Under the Vienna Convention, all diplomatic missions are protected by the host country’s security forces,” the official said. “We have full confidence that the Iraqi Security Forces will meet its obligation.”

Write to Matt Bradley at matt.bradley@wsj.com

http://www.wsj.com/articles/protesters-storm-iraqi-parliament-1462019469

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Baghdad state of emergency as protesters storm parliament

Bloomberg News
May 1, 2016 – 3:07AM

Protesters raise the Iraqi flag outside parliament in Baghdad's Green Zone.Protesters raise the Iraqi flag outside parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone. Photo: Khalid Mohammed

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Iraq declared a state of emergency in Baghdad after supporters of the Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed the national legislature, the Interior Ministry said.

Mobile-phone video broadcast on Iraqi news channel al-Sharqiya showed hundreds of al-Sadr’s supporters in the Council of Representatives building in the Green Zone on Saturday. Al-Sadr earlier accused lawmakers of sectarianism in their selection of ministers and ordered his bloc to withdraw from the council session where members were preparing to finish voting on a new Cabinet.

The highly fortified Green Zone also includes most of the country’s ministries and foreign embassies.

Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storm parliament in Baghdad's Green Zone.Supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr storm parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone. Photo: Khalid Mohammed

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Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has pledged to give minority Sunnis and Kurds a bigger role in the Shiite-dominated government, has faced resistance to an effort to replace politicians in key roles with technocrats.

 

He’s also under fire for his handling of a financial crisis and charges of government corruption. The council canceled its session earlier this month after a failed vote on whether to retain its embattled speaker.

US officials. including President Barack Obama, have expressed concern that Iraq’s leaders remain mired in sectarian divisions that may undermine the fight against Islamic State.

Security forces try to stop supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr from storming parliament in Baghdad's Green Zone.Security forces try to stop supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr from storming parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone. Photo: Khalid Mohammed

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Protesters reached the Cabinet headquarters in the Green Zone, storming the general secretariat of the Cabinet building, al-Sumaria reported, citing security officials. Security has been boosted around the central bank, the Interior Ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq said it is “gravely concerned” by Saturday’s developments and urged political leaders to work together to restore security in the country.

Bloomberg News

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Followers of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr stormed Baghdad’s Green Zone Saturday, gleefully slipping past barricades and barbed wire, after lawmakers failed to convene for a vote on overhauling the government.CreditKhalid Al-Mousily/Reuters

Iraq Protesters Storm Parliament, Demanding End to Corruption