With IS in tatters, Syria Kurds fear US to abandon them — “Erdogan has made it crystal clear that as soon as the Americans are no longer in the way, he intends to crush the Syrian Kurds.”

December 14, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Delil Souleiman | Rojda Felat, a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander, waves her group’s flag at the iconic Al-Naim square in Raqa on October 17, 2017

 QAMISHLI (SYRIA) (AFP) – Syria’s Kurds fear the steadfast ally they found in the US to successfully take on Islamic State group jihadists may now leave them to face threats from Turkey and Damascus alone.

Across Syria’s north, Kurdish authorities have spent more than four years steadily building public institutions including elected councils, security forces, even schools.

They felt they had found an international sponsor in the United States, which relied primarily on the fighters of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to roll back IS in northern and eastern Syria.

But with IS holding just five percent of Syria, Kurds worry the US could withdraw support, costing them the key political and territorial gains they scored in the chaos of war.

“We are afraid of America, which has been using us as a card to play for a long time,” said Rafea Ismail, a 37-year-old who sells women’s accessories on the hood of his car in the city of Qamishli.

“When they’re done using us, they’ll forget us,” he said.

Qamishli is the main hub of the autonomous administration the Kurdish authorities have run since regime forces withdrew from swathes of northeast Syria in 2012.

“All countries should support us because we fight terrorism. We liberated Raqa, and America should not abandon us and ally with Turkey,” said Nawal Farzand, a 45-year-old Kurdish language teacher.

In March 2016, Kurdish parties announced they would seek to establish a federal system there after ousting IS from much of the area with the help of the US-led coalition.

Their biggest win was Raqa, once IS’s de facto Syrian capital but captured in October by the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Weeks later, the US announced it was pulling 500 Marines from its nearly 2,000-strong force in Syria and “amending” its support to the YPG.

But the jihadists are “not finished yet,” said Nassrin Abdallah, a commander in the militia’s female branch, the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ).

Sleeper cells still stage attacks and IS fighters are active in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, she said.

“It is important for the coalition forces to stay to guarantee security and stability, since the threat from Daesh still exists,” Abdallah added, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

“Turkey is also a threat to the Kurdish people.”

– ‘Gravest’ danger is Turkey –

The Kurds’ rising profile had enraged Damascus, which insists it wants to recapture every inch of territory lost since Syria’s uprising erupted in 2011.

But it especially alarmed Turkey, which feared the semi-independent administration in northern Syria would inspire similar ambitions among its own Kurdish community.

Ankara considers the YPG as “terrorist” because of its ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

English teacher Nada Abbas says she, too, fears the US “will abandon the Kurds after the end of the battle against Daesh.”

“This would be a gift to Turkey, which doesn’t accept Kurds becoming stronger,” says the 30-year-old.

“It would attack us like it did in the past. The Turkish threat will not end,” Abbas adds.

Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Centre for a New American Security think tank, says Turkey poses “the gravest threat to the Kurds in Syria” — even more than Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or IS.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip “Erdogan has made it crystal clear that as soon as the Americans are no longer in the way, he intends to crush the Syrian Kurds, all of whom he views as PKK,” Heras tells AFP.

– ‘Russia is the insurance policy’ –

Fears of an American withdrawal may be drawing Syrian Kurds into Russia’s orbit.

The YPG recently announced that its anti-IS operations in east Syria had received air support from Moscow.

Russian forces have also trained Kurdish fighters further west in Afrin — where there is no IS presence — and manage a buffer zone between Kurds and Turkish-backed rebels.

And Moscow has been particularly outspoken in support of Syria’s Kurds having a seat at the negotiating table at talks in Geneva.

“The relationship between the YPG and the Russian military is becoming a special one. The Syrian Kurdish region of Afrin is solely dependent on the Russian military, not the Americans, for protection from Turkish attack and occupation,” says Heras.

Syria’s Kurds may seek to protect themselves from Turkey by leveraging relationships with both Russia and the US.

“Two large foreign power patrons is better than one for the Syrian Kurds, especially because both of those patrons have an interest in holding Turkey in check,” Heras adds.

“Russia is also the insurance policy for the Syrian Kurds if the United States was to ever abandon them to the mercy of Turkey.”

With the frontline against IS winding down, US-led coalition forces are much more visible in urban settings, after several years of being seen almost exclusively in frontline positions.

“We want the best. It won’t be possible to go back to how we were,” says 50-year-old Jassem Hussein in the mostly Kurdish-held city of Hasakeh.

“This is why Kurdish unity is the most important thing.”

by Delil Souleiman
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Erdogan and Abbas bark about Jerusalem, but their threats have no bite

December 14, 2017

Times of Israel

In Istanbul, Islamic leaders denounce Israel, vow drastic steps to enable Palestinian statehood, and declare an end to US peace-brokering. But they know there’s no alternative

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, flanked by Jordan's King Abdullah II, left and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, poses for photographs with other leaders during a photo-op prior to the opening session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul, December 13, 2017. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, flanked by Jordan’s King Abdullah II, left and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, poses for photographs with other leaders during a photo-op prior to the opening session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Istanbul, December 13, 2017. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)

At the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s “Extraordinary Islamic Summit” Wednesday in Istanbul, many leaders from Arab and Muslim-majority countries spoke out harshly about the US administration’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

But, despite their bluster, the forecast calls for mostly calm conditions. Many of the threats they issued are rendered meaningless by the rules of the UN or the dynamics of Middle East diplomacy; others have no teeth to begin with.

The summit’s host, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once again called Israel a “terror state,” denounced the US and issued a long list of pro-Palestinian statements. But he did not act on last week’s threat to sever ties with the Jewish state.

Another keynote speaker was Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who threatened to abrogate all peace agreements since Oslo and yet again declared that he no longer considers the US an honest broker in the peace process.

His announcement that he would seek full membership for the “State of Palestine” at the United Nations made headlines worldwide. That plan is not new. He already went to the Security Council in 2011 — and failed.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at a press conference following a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on last week’s US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, on December 13, 2017, in Istanbul. (AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL)

Abbas has intermittently revived the idea since then, most recently duringhis speech at the General Assembly in September. “We look to the Security Council to approve our application for full membership of the State of Palestine to the United Nations. All those who support the two-state solution should recognize the other state, the State of Palestine,” he declared.

Given the American move last week, Abbas saw fit to respond Wednesday with ferocious rhetoric, including announcing the return to seeking full UN membership for Palestine.

Other speakers in Istanbul echoed his sentiment.

 suggested that the matter of  could be raised at the forum of General Assembly and Security Council.
~ Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif

But anyone with the even the most rudimentary understanding of how the UN works knows it is an empty threat.

Before Palestine can become a full member of the club, it has to be nominated by the UN Security Council. Any Palestinian bid to join is sure to run headfirst into an American veto there. Barack Obama’s administration vetoed the Palestinians’ attempt in February 2011, and there can be no doubt that Donald Trump and Nikki Haley would do the same. (At the time, the 14 other Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution, which was co-sponsored by over 120 of the UN’s 192 members states.)

The Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Wednesday night that the Palestinians intend to try to bar the US from voting on a resolution that would both condemn President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and simultaneously admit them as full members of the UN. They will reportedly argue that a country should be prevented from voting on a resolution that deals with its own behavior.

The last time this particular argument was successfully invoked at the Security Council was in 1960, when Argentina did not participate in a vote condemning Israel for abducting Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires, according to the paper.

But that was 57 years ago, and Argentina was a non-permanent member of the Security Council at the time. There is no credible scenario in which the US could be prevented from blocking a resolution accepting Palestine as a full UN member state.

The General Assembly can pass very comforting resolutions, which the Palestinians can word in any way they want. But that won’t change their status

The Americans, by contrast, cannot veto resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly, where the Palestinians are guaranteed a majority. “But I don’t think the General Assembly can give them any more than they already have,” said Yigal Palmor, a former spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

“The General Assembly can pass very comforting resolutions, which the Palestinians can word in any way they want. But that won’t change their status,” he said, referring to the fact that the body already bestowed “nonmember state status” upon Palestine in 2012.

Arguing that Washington is no longer “qualified” to mediate in the peace process, Abbas also demanded “to transfer the entire file of the conflict to the United Nations and to establish a new mechanism to adopt a new course to ensure the implementation of the resolutions of international legitimacy and achieving a comprehensive and just peace.”

It is unclear what exactly he was referring to, but once again: the UN has very little power to actually do anything without US consent. It can pass sharply worded resolutions in the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and elsewhere, but any concrete action with the potential to effect any concrete change would have to go through the Security Council, where the Trump administration is sure to veto anything it deems counterproductive.

In its “Final Communiqué,” the OIC summit declared the US administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital constituted a “clear desertion … of its role as peace broker.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers the opening speech during an Extraordinary Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on last week’s US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in Istanbul on December 13, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / EMRAH YORULMAZ)

Citing the need to “internationalize peace,” the statement called on the international community to “promote a multilateral political process, to resume an internationally sponsored, credible process to achieve lasting peace based on the two-state solution.”

This demand, too, appears toothless. Yes, the Palestinians have decided to boycott US Vice President Mike Pence’s (now delayed) visit to the region. It’s a strong protest, but the powers that be in Washington won’t be too offended. They understand that after last week’s blow, the Palestinians cannot just sit still and say nothing.

Trump and his peace team are well aware that, for the time being, the Palestinians — and indeed the wider Islamic world — need to express outrage and indignation. But the Americans also believe that the Palestinians will eventually have to calm down and engage with the US — simply because there is no other game in town.

“The president remains as committed to peace as ever,” a senior White House official said Wednesday, responding to Abbas’s fiery speech earlier in the day. Washington “anticipated reactions like this,” the official added, insisting that the US will “continue to work on our plan for peace that we hope will offer the best outcome for both peoples and look forward to unveiling it when it is ready and the time is right.”

As long as the wound over Jerusalem is still fresh, no Islamic leader would admit the obvious: A peace process not led by the US is nothing but a pipe dream.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) holds a joint press conference with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini in Brussels, Belgium, October 11, 2017.(Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Even the European Union, which forcefully rejected the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, made plain this week that Washington will remain at the center of any conceivable peace process.

“I can say very clearly that there is no initiative, no peace initiative, no attempt to restart peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians that can happen without an engagement from the United States,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini declared on Monday, immediately after meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brussels.

While she stressed that Washington cannot act alone, she added that Europe does “not want to see a discredited US administration when it comes to negotiations in the Middle East.”

France and Belgium reportedly plan to get the EU to issue a joint condemnation of Trump’s Jerusalem recognition, which would also express the hope that the city would become the joint capital of Israel and Palestine in the future. Given that such a resolution would require unanimous support from the union’s 28 member states — and Hungary already blocked such a move last week — chances of even this kind of statement passing are slim.

More important still is the fact that Israel will simply not agree to any peace process that is not under American tutelage.

The Palestinians can kick and shout and appeal to the Arab League and the United Nations, but if they want anything more than empty statements of support and comfort, they will have to engage constructively with the US administration.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/erdogan-and-abbas-bark-about-jerusalem-but-their-threats-have-no-bite/

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Iranian Missile Factories: Israel says it can strike them at any time

December 14, 2017

Haaretz

By Noa Landau and Hagar Shezaf Dec 14, 2017 9:59 AM

Israeli Intel Minister to Saudi Media: Israel Can Strike Iranian Missile Plants in Lebanon, ‘As Is Happening in Syria’

Yisrael Katz invites Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to visit Israel ■ Describing Saudi Arabia as leader of Arab world, Katz proposes that kingdom would be sponsor of Israeli-Palestinian peace process

A satellite photo shows the extent of damage caused by the alleged Israeli strike on an Iranian military base in Syria

A satellite photo shows the extent of damage caused by the alleged Israeli strike on an Iranian military base in Syria, Credit ImageSat International (ISI)

Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz told Saudi Arabian media that Israel will act to prevent an Iranian military presence in Lebanon on Wednesday, and invited Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to visit Israel.

Katz confirmed to Haaretz that he extended the invitation in an interview to the Saudi online newspaper Elaph, however, the online publication chose to edit the invitation out.

Saudi Arabia does not have official diplomatic ties with Israel.

Describing Saudi Arabia as the leader of the Arab world, Katz proposed that the kingdom would be a sponsor of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Katz added that Israel would be happy to participate in such negotiations.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a graduation ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 25, 2017.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a graduation ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 25, 2017.Faisal Al Nasser/REUTERS

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Katz said Israel is aware that Iran has been building weapons plants in Lebanon. “We have information that Iran is building advanced missile plants in Lebanon, and I want to emphasize that we have drawn a new red line, and we will not allow them to do this at any cost.”

leader to south of Lebanon as an Iranian attempt to send a message to Israel, Katz said Iran doesn’t need to send a message, adding that Israel knows exactly what the Iranians are doing in the region. When his interviewer asked whether Israel could bomb the missile plants in Lebanon, Katz replied: “Yes. We will also act militarily and prevent them, as is happening in Syria.”

“The more accurate that Hezbollah’s missiles get, the stronger and wider Israel’s strike will be. This time, all of Lebanon will be a target.”

Referring to the Second Lebanon War that Israel fought against Hezbollah in 2006, Katz added: “What happened in 2006 will be a picnic compared to what we can do. I remember a Saudi minister saying they will send Hezbollah back to their caves in south Lebanon. I am telling you that we will return Lebanon to the Stone Age.”

“At the same time, we don’t want war, and we have no interest in destroying Lebanon, but we will not accept a Lebanese assault on us. For example, I recently suggested to Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that we act militarily and economically to implement [United Nations Security Council Resolution] 1701 that was adopted unanimously after the Second Lebanon War in 2006 and that we apply sanctions on Hezbollah and Iran and that, under the leadership of the United States and with the consent of China and Russia, we intervene militarily if there is a need.”

Katz continued: “The prime minister spoke about this with French President [Emmanuel] Macron and with the European Union. This is a decision that was taken unambiguously, and instead of adopting new resolutions, we will invoke this to deprive Hezbollah of its weapons. The Arab League considers Hezbollah as a terrorist organization as does Saudi Arabia [as does] Egypt and Jordan. The entire world. And in my view, this is a particularly excellent opportunity following [Lebanese Prime Minister] Saad Hariri’s decision and his resignation from Saudi Arabia,” a decision that Hariri has since retracted. “In practice, he pulled the rug out from under Hezbollah and Iran,” Katz said.

Also on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman commented on U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying that the Palestinians have a right to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Salman made his comments as Arab and Muslim leaders gathered in Istanbul to discuss Trump’s decision.

King Salman appointed his son, 32-year-old Mohammad bin Salman, also known by his initials MBS, as Saudi Arabia’s heir to the throne in June. Many expect that in the not-too-distant future, King Salman, who is elderly and ill, will step down and hand the scepter to bin Salman.

The prince’s firm anti-Iranian position makes him an important partner to the U.S. and Israel. Several Arab websites have reported in the past few years that bin Salman has met with several top Israelis.

According to these reports, one such meeting took place in Eilat in 2015; another on the margins of the Arab summit in Jordan this March, and there are regular meetings between Saudi and Israeli officers in the joint war room where Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United States coordinate.

Last month, Elaph published an unprecedented interview with the Israeli military chief, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, marking the first time any senior Israel Defense Forces officer, let alone the chief of staff, was interviewed by a media organization in Saudi Arabia.

In the interview, Eisenkot called Iran the “real and largest threat to the region.” He said Israel and Saudi Arabia are in complete agreement about Iran’s intentions and noted that the two countries have never fought each other.

Noa Landau
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.828759

Iran: Trump’s Jerusalem Move Will Hasten the Destruction of Israel

December 14, 2017
The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
IRAN’S SUPREME LEADER Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The West needs to be careful not to let Iran gain from

IRAN’S SUPREME LEADER Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The West needs to be careful not to let Iran gain from the crisis with Qatar. (photo credit: REUTERS)

BEIRUT – Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will hasten the country’s destruction, Iran’s defense minister said on Monday, while a top Revolutionary Guards commander phoned two Palestinian armed groups and pledged support for them.

Leaders of Iran, where opposition to Israel and support for the Palestinian cause has been central to foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution, have denounced last week’s announcement by the US president, including a plan to move the US embassy to the city.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

“(Trump’s) step will hasten the destruction of the Zionist regime and will double the unity of Muslims,” Iran’s defense minister, Brigadier General Amir Hatami, said on Monday, according to state media.

The army’s chief of staff, General Mohammad Baqeri, said Trump’s “foolish move” could be seen as the beginning of a new intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

Iran has long supported a number of anti-Israeli militant groups, including the military wing of Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which the deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, said was “stronger than the Zionist regime.”

Similarly, Qassem Soleimani, the head of the branch of the Guards that oversees operations outside of Iran’s borders pledged the Islamic Republic’s “complete support for Palestinian Islamic resistance movements” after phone calls with commanders from Islamic Jihad and the Izz al-Deen Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, on Monday according to Sepah News, the news site of the Guards.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday stepped up efforts to rally Middle Eastern countries against US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which EU foreign ministers meanwhile declined to support.

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US presses Thailand to downgrade ties with North Korea

December 14, 2017

AFP

© KCNA VIA KNS/AFP | Thailand says it has drastically slashed trade with North Korea

BANGKOK (AFP) – The US has urged Thailand to downgrade diplomatic and trade ties with North Korea, a senior Thai official said Thursday after meeting with an American envoy, as the Trump administration pushes ahead with a global campaign to further isolate the nuclear-armed pariah state.General Wanlop Rugsanoah, secretary general of Thailand’s National Security Council, told AFP the request was made during his meeting with US special envoy for North Korea Joseph Yun, who arrived in Bangkok Wednesday evening for a two-day trip to the kingdom.

“The US asked Thailand to put more pressure on North Korea, put more trade and diplomatic pressure,” Wanlop said after his sit-down with Yun in Bangkok.

He stressed that Bangkok had already significantly reduced its trade volume with Pyongyang — down to around $1.5 million a year — and would curtail visas to North Korean citizens.

Thailand, one of America’s oldest allies in the region, is one of several Southeast Asian countries to host a North Korean embassy, and once enjoyed valuable economic ties with the reclusive regime.

But the UN and the US have increasingly leaned on regional leaders to do more to squeeze North Korea as international sanctions have not resulted in Pyongyang halting its nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests.

Yun’s visit is part of a December 11-15 trip to Asia — including a stop in Japan — “to discuss ways to strengthen the pressure campaign following the DPRK’s latest ballistic missile test,” the US State Department said, referring to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

The US embassy in Bangkok confirmed Yun’s meeting with the National Security Council chief took place but declined to provide more details on the discussion.

Wanlop insisted there were no meetings planned between American and North Korean officials in Thailand.

In August, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stopped in Bangkok to pressure the government to crack down on North Korean shell companies that use the Thai capital as a trading hub.

Thailand said this week it had drastically slashed trade with North Korea this year, down 94 percent compared with 2016.

Pimchanok Vonkorpon, director of the Thai Commerce Ministry’s Trade Policy and Strategy Office, said “there will be no export or import of goods between Thailand and North Korea” by the end of 2017.

Outside of Southeast Asia, Washington has focused most on Beijing to counter Pyongyang, urging the North’s longtime ally and economic lifeline to rein in leader Kim Jong-Un and his nuclear programme.

China has accepted a series of UN sanctions against Pyongyang but has so far resisted calls to shut a crude oil pipeline considered crucial to North Korea’s economy.

However, some of the sanctions are starting to bite.

The UN Security Council had ordered countries to stop providing guest work permits to North Koreans after Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test in September.

The ban impacts an estimated 100,000 North Koreans who send some $500 million in wages back to the regime.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has swung back-and-forth between contradicting approaches to the crisis on the Korean peninsula, with Tillerson adopting a more diplomatic attitude amid fiery threats from the White House.

On Wednesday, the State Department said the US position on North Korea has not changed despite Tillerson’s comments that he would be willing to talk to the North without preconditions.

Free and Open Indo-Pacific Remains U.S. Goal

December 14, 2017
PTI|
Updated: Dec 13, 2017, 03.39 PM IST
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The Economic Times

WASHINGTON: The US has elevated its engagement with India as part of its effort of a free and open Indo-Pacific, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said amid China’s increasing assertiveness in the region.

The US for long has been favouring a larger role for India in the Indo-Pacific region to pursue common interests in the strategically key area.

“As part of the free and open Indo-Pacific, we have elevated our engagement with India,” Tillerson said.

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Rex Tillerson

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“We’ve long had a trilateral relationship in the Indo- Pacific between Japan, Australia, and the US, and we’re now working towards whether this will become a quad relationship to include India because of the importance of India’s rising economy as well and I think shared national security concerns that we have with India,” he said.

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On America’s relationship with China, he said the administration now have a very active mechanism in which it can put complex issues on the table.

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“And we have differences, such as the South China Sea and China’s building of structures, militarisation of these structures, and how that affects our allies in the region as well in terms of free and open trade,” he said.

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China claims almost all of the South China Sea but Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the waterway.

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The Indo-Pacific includes South Asia and the Indian Ocean.
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“As we’ve said to the Chinese, we hope we can find a way to freeze this particular activity. Whether we can reverse, it remains to seen. But it is not acceptable to us that these islands continue to be developed, and certainly not for military purposes,” Tillerson said.
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“In Southeast Asia, we put forth a policy here not too long ago of a free and open Indo-Pacific, and this was built on the back of some of our views about China’s One Belt, One Road policy. China’s One Belt, One Road, we understand, is a policy they have to continue their economic development, and our policies do not seek to contain China’s economic development,” Tillerson said.
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Tillerson said the US is paying a close attention to Beijing’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative, but sought to clarify that the Trump administration does not intend to contain China’s economic growth.
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“But China’s economic development, in our view, should take place in the system of international rules and norms, and One Belt, One Road seems to want to define its own rules and norms,” he added.
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The Secretary of State borrowed a quote from Defence Secretary Jim Mattis: “China has One Belt, One Road; the United States and the global economy has many belts and many roads, and no one country gets to choose the belt or the road.
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Tillerson said that a free and open Indo-Pacific means all countries have access to continue their economic development and free access for trade through the region.

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

China: Xinjiang Authorities Collecting Residents’ Biometric Data

December 14, 2017

Human Rights Watch has reported on a program which has gathered biometric data—including fingerprints, iris scans, blood-type, and DNA—on millions of residents in six regions in Xinjiang in 2017 under the guise of a free public health program providing physical examinations. HRW earlier this year voiced concern over a lack of privacy protections related to the planned expansion of DNA collection and indexing targeting vulnerable populations in  and other parts of China.  is the frontline of a long-running and highly controversial crackdown on terrorism that has been criticized by human rights advocates for targeting members of the Uyghur ethnic minority, and exacerbating ethnic tensions.

For all “focus personnel” – those authorities consider threatening to regime stability – and their family members, their biometrics must be taken regardless of age. Authorities are gathering the biodata in different ways. DNA and blood types are being collected through a free annual physical exams program called Physicals for All. It is unclear if the participants of the physicals are informed of the authorities’ intention to collect, store, or use sensitive DNA data.

“Xinjiang authorities should rename their physical exams project ‘Privacy Violations for All,’ as informed consent and real choice does not seem to be part of these programs,” said Sophie Richardson, China director. “The mandatory databanking of a whole population’s biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms, and it’s even more disturbing if it is done surreptitiously, under the guise of a free health care program.”

The biometric collection scheme is detailed in an official document called “The [Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous] Region Working Guidelines on the Accurate Registration and Verification of Population” (全区人口精准登记核实工作指南, “The Population Registration Program”), available in full on the government website of Aksu city in Xinjiang (an unofficial translation is available below). […] [Source]

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Coverage of HRW’s report from Echo Huang at Quartz notes the lack of disclosure of the voluntary nature and particulars of the program reported by some Xinjiang residents who took part in it, and notes wider efforts by authorities to collect personal information nationwide:

The Physicals for All program stands out for the way it’s been characterized as a free benefit for a poor region, and important to stable development (link in Chinese). “What’s transmitted to the public via media and social media do not mention DNA collection in Physicals for All,” wrote HRW researcher Maya Wang in an email to Quartz.

[…] Although Physicals for All is touted as a voluntary program (link in Chinese), some residents told HRW that that wasn’t the case. One Uighur said his neighborhood committee demanded participation, warning that any absence would be considered “political disloyalty.” He added he had not received the results of his physical.

In recent years, China has been stepping up efforts nationwide to collect personal information—including intimate relationships, delivery records, and biometric data—from not only people it considers potential threats, but normal citizens as well. Government databases now include such data on tens of millions of citizens, among them , migrant workers, and college students. [Source]

Coverage from the Financial Times’ Emily Feng notes expert opinion that concern exists in Xinjiang that the data collected may be used to match organs of suspected criminals with potential recipients post-execution, and also that the Xinjiang program may be functioning as a pilot program for eventual nationwide rollout.

Following the criticism from HRW and subsequent English-language press coverage, state-affiliated tabloid Global Times covered official defenses of the program and castigations of the criticism:

In Yining, such information would be collected for a demographic database to help accurately identify people and for information-sharing among government departments.

China’s government has the right to take measures it deems as proper to protect national security, and the collection of such information is not harmful to the residents, nor does it affect people’s rights, Turgunjan Tursun, a professor at Zhejiang Normal University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Such measures, as well as the collecting of fingerprints in other cities in China, help secure public security, and claims of human rights violations are groundless, he added.

The organization has always made false statements on issues involving China and I suggested there’s no need to spend time on such remarks, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a daily briefing on Wednesday.

“Xinjiang has witnessed economic development and social stability, and the people there are living and working in a joyful mood, a scene that some people overseas might be unwilling to see,” Lu said. [Source]

Since 2014, Xinjiang has been the “frontline” of a nationwide crackdown on terrorism in response to rising incidents of violence in the region and elsewhere in China. The crackdown in Xinjiang has seen tightening security measures, the implementation of cutting-edge surveillance technology, and the mandatory installation of spyware on mobile phones; and has also included policies that appear to target  such as selective religious fasting banslocal and region-wide rules against “extremist behavior” including face veils or long beards, and a ban on “extreme” Islamic baby names. CDT Chinese editors recently drew attention to state media’s promotion of a primary school in Aksu, Xinjiang where Uyghur students were dressed in traditional Han dress as they recite Chinese classics“in order to feel the powerful charm and profound nature of traditional Chinese culture.”

After hosting the South-South Human Rights Forum the month,  Xinhua released the full text of the “Beijing Declaration.” The declaration, which was signed by all representatives in attendance, devotes an article to religious minorities:

Article 6

States should, in accordance with their national laws and international obligations, focus on guaranteeing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of specific groups, including ethnic, national, racial, religious and linguistic groups and migrant workers, people with disabilities, indigenous people, refugees and displaced persons. States have an obligation to respect and protect religious minorities, and religious minorities have the same obligation to adapt to their local environment, and this includes the acceptance and observance of the Constitution and laws of their localities, as well as their integration into the local society. Everyone has the right to choose his or her own beliefs, including the choice of believing or not believing a religion, and the choice of believing one religion or another, without being discriminated. [Source]

 

18 attorneys general ask FCC to delay net neutrality vote for fake comments investigation

December 14, 2017

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BY MALLORY SHELBOURNE – 12/13/17 09:37 PM EST
The Hill
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Eighteen attorneys general on Wednesday called on the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to hold off on the upcoming net neutrality vote pending an investigation into fake comments.

In a letter, the attorneys general asked Chairman Ajit Pai and the commissioners to “take immediate action” regarding the fake comments.
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“A careful review of the publicly available information revealed a pattern of fake submissions using the names of real people,” the letter reads. “In fact, there may be over one million fake submissions from across the country. This is akin to identity theft on a massive scale – and theft of someone’s voice in a democracy is particularly concerning.”

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The letter is signed by attorneys general from Virginia, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Washington and Vermont.

“It is essential that the Commission gets a full and accurate picture of how changes to net neutrality will affect the everyday lives of Americans before they can act on such sweeping policy changes,” the attorneys general write.

The letter comes after a separate letter from the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said as many as 2 million comments regarding net neutrality filed to the commission were falsified.

“But, if the well of public comment has been poisoned by falsified submissions, the Commission may be unable to rely on public comments that would help it reach a legitimate conclusion to the Page 2 rulemaking process,” the 18 attorneys write.

http://thehill.com/policy/technology/364833-18-attorneys-general-ask-fcc-to-delay-net-neutrality-vote-for-fake-comments

Chinese dissident’s widow sends desperate letter

December 14, 2017

AFP

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© Shenyang Municipal Information Office/AFP/File | Liu Xia (C) holds a portrait of her late husband, Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, after his death in July 2017

BEIJING (AFP) – Friends of the late Chinese democracy advocate and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo voiced concern about his widow’s health on Thursday after she sent a letter showing signs of deep depression.The poet Liu Xia, 56, has been under police watch without charges since her husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, a recognition that deeply angered the Communist regime.

In a letter written in the form of a poem to the 2009 Nobel Literature Prize Laureate Herta Mueller, Liu said she was “going mad”.

“Too solitary / I have not the right to speech / To speak loudly / I live like a plant / I lie like a corpse,” the poem read.

Exiled Chinese dissident and author Liao Yiwu posted a photo of the letter on his Facebook account on December 9.

The Chinese handwriting appeared to match previously published letters from Liu, who has been under de facto house arrest in her Beijing home for the past seven years.

“I shared her words in the hope of urging Western governments to talk with the Chinese government on this issue and let her go as soon as possible,” Liao told AFP by phone from Berlin.

Liao said the widow had sent the poem “recently”, but declined to say how she was able to get it out.

“She is taking a lot of medicine to control her depression. If she doesn’t take medicine, her heart will jump like crazy. She fainted once,” he added.

Another friend, who declined to give his name because he lives in Beijing, said he has not been able to reach Liu since August.

“She must be under tight police control,” he said.

The United States and European Union have called on President Xi Jinping’s government to free the widow and let her go abroad.

“Foreign governments should press for Liu Xia’s release publicly and at the highest level to let the Chinese government know that she is not forgotten,” Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang told AFP.

Her husband was a veteran of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and was detained in 2008 after co-writing Charter 08, a petition calling for democratic reforms.

Following Liu Xiaobo’s terminal cancer diagnosis, the democracy advocate requested to receive treatment abroad — a wish that friends believe was in reality for his wife’s sake.

But the authorities refused to let him go and he died in July this year.

White House Corrects Tillerson on Whether U.S. Will Talk to North Korea — The White House distanced itself from Tillerson’s overture

December 14, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson are once again at odds over how to deal with nuclear-armed North Korea after Mr. Tillerson declared on Tuesday that the United States was ready to open talks with the North “without precondition.”

The secretary’s comments were remarkably conciliatory for an administration that has repeatedly threatened North Korea with military action, and ruled out any negotiations, if it did not curb its missile and nuclear programs. But a few hours later, the White House distanced itself from his overture.

In an unusual statement released to reporters on Tuesday evening, the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said Mr. Trump’s position on North Korea had not changed — namely, that talks were pointless if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, continued to menace his neighbors.

“North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world,” she said. “North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”

It was only the latest example of a public rift between the president and his chief diplomat over North Korea.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday the U.S. wants to have a dialogue with North Korea “anytime,” backing away from Washington’s previous demand that Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons before they come to the table. Photo: AP

In October, Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to open diplomatic lines to Pyongyang. But this time, the comments follow reports that the White House is laying the groundwork for the secretary’s departure from the State Department and his replacement by Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director.

White House officials were alarmed by Mr. Tillerson’s conciliatory tone, according to several people, because they feared that it would sow confusion among allies after Mr. Trump rallied them behind a policy of “maximum pressure.”

There were no signs that Mr. Tillerson intended to signal a change in policy. He was speaking to the Atlantic Council in what was billed as a wrap-up of foreign-policy challenges in the administration’s first year.

Asked about the prospects for diplomacy with the North, he said, “We’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk, and we’re ready to have the first meeting without precondition.”

“Let’s just meet and let’s — we can talk about the weather if you want,” he continued. “We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table, if that’s what you’re excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face?”

To some extent, Mr. Tillerson was merely playing the role he has played throughout the administration’s confrontation with North Korea — the diplomat offering a softer line while Mr. Trump and other White House officials warn about the consequences if North Korea does not back off.

But Mr. Tillerson indicated an urgency about getting to the table with North Korea, which officials said runs counter to the White House’s view that negotiations are unlikely to happen anytime soon, given Mr. Kim’s repeated tests of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.

Read the rest:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/13/world/asia/north-korea-trump-tillerson.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fworld&action=click&contentCollection=world&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=8&pgtype=sectionfront

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