Posts Tagged ‘China’

U.S. and Russia battle for the Asia Pacific

November 30, 2015


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

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

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

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

Enemies Become Allies

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

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

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

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

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

The Master of Non-Alignment

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

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

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

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

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

Use Barbarians To Fight Barbarians

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

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

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

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

China accused of ‘tricking’ dissidents into deportation

November 30, 2015

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

Anneliese Mcauliffe | 29 Nov 2015 12:38 GMT

Al Jazeera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alternative torch

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

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

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

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

RELATED: UN condemns Thai deportation of Chinese refugees

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

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

Phone calls

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

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

But then the phone calls started.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Amnesty’s East Asia head discusses China rights record

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philippines official confident in South China Sea arbitration case

November 30, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; editing by Andrew Roche)


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


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

November 30, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

China and The South China Sea: Philippines Completes Its Case Before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague

November 30, 2015
In a speech before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said whatever is decided by the tribunal would have an impact on the fate of the Philippines, the region and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). AP file photo/Frank Franklin

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines has concluded its legal arguments against China before an international arbitral court, saying it is entrusting its fate to a court that it believes will uphold the rule of law and not the “quaint aspiration of a time now past.”

In a speech before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said whatever is decided by the tribunal would have an impact on the fate of the Philippines, the region and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“We confidently entrust our fate, the fate of the region and, indeed, the fate of the Convention to you,” he said, as he expressed confidence the court’s “capable hands” would steer the issue to “a truly just solution.”

The Philippine team in The Hague, led by Del Rosario and Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, wrapped up its oral arguments on the case it filed before the tribunal seeking to reaffirm the Philippines’ entitlements in the West Philippine Sea and questioning China’s massive claim over almost the entire South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea.

China cites “historical facts” and its nine-dash line for justifying its claim, which is also being contested by other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially Vietnam.

He said the tribunal must decide on the issue on the basis of UNCLOS alone, as doing otherwise “would leave the Philippines, and its ASEAN neighbors, in worse straits than when we embarked on this arbitral voyage.”

“That said, your mandate to achieve justice is not carried out in a vacuum. Judges and arbitrators are not expected to be oblivious to the realities on the ground,” Del Rosario told the tribunal.

‘Berlin Wall of the Sea’

Del Rosario also said a decision favorable to China “would convert the nine-dash line, or its equivalent in the form of exaggerated maritime zones for tiny, uninhabitable features, into a Berlin Wall of the Sea.”
He said it would be tantamount to building a “giant fence, owned by, and excluding everyone but, China itself.”

He stressed the objectives of UNCLOS are “far from irrelevant” as they include “the maintenance and strengthening of international peace and security.”

“Nothing would contribute more to these objectives than the tribunal’s finding that China’s rights and obligations are neither more nor less than those established by UNCLOS,” he said.

Allowing China a “potential entitlement” to 200 nautical miles on the basis of a “speck of broken coral and sand” in the middle of the South China Sea and West Philippine Sea would hand Beijing a “golden key,” Del Rosario said, quoting one of the Philippines’ legal representatives.


Climate summit: Just another COP-out?

November 30, 2015

United Nations Climate Summit

Latest update : 2015-11-30

Protesters throw up a globe-shaped balloon during a rally held the day before the start of the COP21 summit, in Rome, Italy. Photo: Reuters

The two-week mega-summit on climate change kicking off in Paris is being billed as The Mother of all COPs: a last, best chance to save the planet from catastrophic warming. But is it a turning point – or a prelude to disappointment?

Remember “Hopenhagen” ?

The marketing team behind that upbeat slogan for the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks had the noblest of intentions: to shift the public debate on global warming from one of “coping”, to “hoping” that tangible action could be taken to keep carbon emissions at bay.

The rest, of course, is made-for-the-cynics history: the “COP15” Copenhagen talks collapsed in disarray – and the Danish capital instead became a byword for climate-summit calamity.

The organizers of the COP21 are hoping to avert another big letdown by making it clear at the outset that a planet-salvaging breakthrough will not emerge at the end of the talks on December 11.

Instead, the talk is of a new beginning – starting points – for “ratcheting up” CO2 caps in the years and decades to come.

Still falling short

Rather than imposing carbon cuts by diktat, the new approach relies on voluntary “green” benchmarks from 179 participating countries representing 94% of the world’s total greenhouse emissions.

The fact that the world’s biggest polluters – the US and China – have stepped up with back-to-back commitments to rein in fossil fuels, the pledges still fall far short of what environmental activists say is needed to make a real difference. Recent new data, for instance, showed that China was burning up to 17% more coal a year than the government in Beijing had previously disclosed.

Paramilitary soldiers walk past the Zhengyangmen gate as they patrol at the Tiananmen Square during a heavily polluted day in Beijing, China November 30, 2015.
Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

In the United States, Obama’s efforts to put his climate agenda front and center of his legacy are being undermined by a backlash among climate skeptics who fear the consequences for jobs and economic growth. The Republican-controlled Congress is demanding the right to ratify any agreement that may emerge from Paris – and their chances of doing so are virtually nil.

Despite their ambitious talk on going green, a host of countries – chief among them developing powers such as India, Brazil or China – are leery of sacrificing growth.

Here in Europe, Poland, which relies almost entirely on coal for its energy, has said it will balk at any Paris deal that it deems to be overly restrictive.

Dominant fossil fuels

The biggest fear of the climate activists is that corporate interests, led by the big oil multinationals, are the biggest roadblocks. Even as a growing number of cities and universities divest their holdings in fossil fuel companies, the oil giants are openly admitting that oil and gas and other hydrocarbons will remain the dominant providers of energy for decades to come.

Rich governments, some say, are complicit with – or in the pocket of – the corporate lobby – signing international trade deals that favor shale gas “fracking” and heavily polluting agribusinesses.

For all the talk of renewable energy, greener energies such as wind turbines, solar and geothermal, still account for less than 2% of the total global energy mix.

As The Economist magazine noted, “It is often said that climate change is an urgent problem. If that were true it might be easier to tackle. In fact it is a colossal but slow-moving problem, spanning generations.”

The true climate awakening is yet to come.

China: Vehicles drive along a road with a traffic sign reading “Visibility low, slow down the speed” on Monday, November 30, 2015 the latest in a series of heavily polluted days in Beijing. (Andy Wong , Associated Press)

IMF Lifts Chinese Yuan to Elite Lending-Reserve Currency Status

November 30, 2015

Move underscores China’s growing economic power; also designed to encourage more reforms

A Bank of Communications bank staff member displayed new 100-yuan banknotes in Beijing on Nov. 12. 
A Bank of Communications bank staff member displayed new 100-yuan banknotes in Beijing on Nov. 12. Photo: Li Xin/Zuma Press

WASHINGTON—The International Monetary Fund Monday added the Chinese yuan to the basket of elite currencies comprising its lending reserve, marking a milestone in the country’s ascendancy as a global economic power.

Many China watchers say the IMF’s decision is in large part a political one designed to encourage stronger economic overhauls in the world’s No. 2 economy.

The IMF’s move—which won’t become effective until late next year—could help accelerate a mild pickup in international demand for the yuan. It confers a measure of international legitimacy to China’s currency as the government starts to liberalize its rigidly controlled exchange rate and financial system.

For the Chinese, it is a matter of prestige, a plank in Beijing’s strategy to elevate the country’s economic role in the global economy as it challenges U.S. political and economic dominance around the world. The yuan joins the dollar, euro, pound, and yen in the IMF’s reserve-currency basket.

A host of other factors will determine the yuan’s fate as an actual global reserve currency, which is a reliable and well-used foreign exchange asset that central banks stock to buffer against crises.

At this point, the IMF’s action has more symbolic value than practical importance to financial authorities and the markets. The IMF’s designation is purely for denominating its loans and isn’t an internationally traded asset.

The pace of Beijing’s move to establish a market-determined currency; to deepen its financial system; to strengthen its economic institutions; and to secure healthier long-term growth will be the prime determinants for whether central banks—and investors—trust in the yuan enough to stock up their reserves with China’s currency.

Beijing, in other words, will have to live up to the IMF decision.

Over the past year Beijing has rolled out a series of policies—including freer interest rates and easier foreign investor access—to meet the IMF’s criteria for yuan inclusion in the IMF’s so-called Special Drawing Right lending basket. The IMF uses the SDR to denominate its crisis lending as member countries currently borrow dollars, euros, pounds or yen to keep their economies afloat.

IMF staff say the yuan easily met the first criterion: The currency must be issued by a major exporter. But IMF economists in August questioned whether the currency met the second benchmark to be “freely tradable.”

Beijing authorities subsequently rolled out several more financial-sector overhauls, including a devaluation the authorities said was intended to make the value of the yuan more market determined. Combined with the fund’s vague definition that left wide latitude for interpretation, Beijing’s latest efforts apparently were enough to give the fund an argument for yuan inclusion in its currency basket.

Earlier this month, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde backed inclusion of the yuan, saying a staff report showed the currency now met the fund’s criteria.

Ted Truman, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and former top U.S. Treasury official, said those efforts were progress, but they failed to establish a sufficient track record.

That’s why many economists and China watchers say the IMF’s decision was largely a political one, an effort to encourage Beijing to take greater responsibility for its expanding role in the global economy.

While U.S. officials still privately question the yuan’s ripeness for reserve-currency status, they also see it as aiding efforts by reformers within the People’s Bank of China to liberalize the country’s economy.

Some fund-watchers also say support in the international community for the move is partly political consolation for failure of the IMF to overhaul the lending institution’s governance structure to give China and other emerging-market nations more of a vote in line with their evolving economic heft in the world.

The decision by U.S. lawmakers to repeatedly reject ratification of a governance deal is a sore point for China and other developing powers. They say disenfranchisement at the shareholder-run IMF is prompting them to create their own international economic institutions. Awarding Beijing currency-reserve status is designed in part to encourage China’s government to greater international political and economic responsibility.

Failure to win IMF reserve-currency status would have also been an embarrassment for China’s leadership as it takes over the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 largest economies next year. Some economists say that if the country failed to secure the IMF label, it could have made it even more difficult for those in China seeking to open up the economy.

Even with the IMF decision, there is uncertainty about whether Beijing will backtrack on its promises to liberalize its economy. As China’s economic slowdown deepens, authorities recently decided to slow down the pace of opening up financial markets, fearing such actions could exacerbate capital outflows.

Still, Standard Charted estimates the yuan’s new status could lead to a 1% annual shift in reserves into yuan-denominated assets over the next five years, totaling about $1 trillion. That would represent roughly 9% of currency central bank reserves, just a fraction of the dollar’s 65% share.

Write to Ian Talley at

Beijing issues highest smog alert of the year as capital chokes on ‘very unhealthy’ air

November 30, 2015

From The South China Morning Post

China: Pedestrians walk pass by Beijing’s Tianamen Square as smog persisted in northern China for a second day. Photo by Simon Song

Beijing issued its highest air pollution alert of the year on Sunday as smog persisted in northern China for a second day.

Local authorities issued the orange alert – the second highest in the four-tier system – meaning industrial plants were required to cut or shut down production, construction sites should stop transporting materials and waste, and heavy-duty trucks were banned from the roads.

The PM2.5 reading hit the “very unhealthy” level of 274 micrograms per cubic metre in most parts of the capital yesterday, the municipal weather centre said. The reading at the US embassy in Beijing reached 250mcg at 10am.

The World Health Organisation recommends exposure to PM2.5 particulates should not exceed 25mcg a day.

The municipal weather centre said humidity and a lack of wind meant the smog would linger for another two days before a cold front arrived on Wednesday.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection said heavy smog, including high levels of PM2.5 fine particulates, developed last Friday and that the smog was brought on by a combination of heavy pollution and adverse weather.

READ MORE: Hazardous smog levels engulf Beijing and northern China: children and elderly warned to stay indoors

Earlier this month, air quality reached extremely hazardous levels in Shenyang, Liaoning province, after winter central heating was turned on. Local authorities said the peak density of PM2.5 on November 8 was more than 1,200mcg per cubic metre.

Mainland citizens have grown increasingly concerned about air quality after the nation embarked on a path of robust economic growth that led to heavy emissions of pollutants.

But China achieved the pollution reduction targets for major pollutants outlined in its 2010 to 2015 five-year plan, Xinhua quoted Environment Minister Chen Jining as saying.

According to Chen, by last year, discharge of sulphur dioxide and chemical oxygen demand, a measure of organic pollutants in water, had dropped 12.9 and 10.1 per cent respectively from 2010 levels.

READ MORE: Smog in northeast China at nearly 50 times World Health Organisation safe limits

Emissions of ammonia nitrogen and nitrogen oxide had also declined 9.8 and 8.6 per cent respectively.

In the 2010 to 2015 five-year plan, China vowed to cut sulphur dioxide and chemical oxygen demand emissions by 8 per cent, and ammonia nitrogen and nitrogen oxide emissions by 10 per cent from 2010 levels.

The mainland also phased out some 250,000 tonnes of ozone-depleting substances in the same period – more than half the total amount phased out by all developing countries – Chen said.

But the minister warned that some 20 million tonnes of major pollutants were still being discharged on the mainland every year. That the figure had to come down another 30 to 50 per cent, he said.

Over the next five years, China would remain committed to further reducing emissions of various pollutants, Chen added.

US ‘Steadily Retreating’ In South China Sea Dispute

November 30, 2015

By Dean Cheng

hose of us who cover the US military in detail, those in the military and those who spend lots of time around the military tend to be at least mildly obsessed with Star Trek and Star Wars. As his opening make clear, Dean Cheng is truly one of the tribe. But his topic, freedom of the seas and how the US, China and other countries cope with the difficult calculus of Taiwan, China, the South China Sea and the larger questions of international law and trade — let alone what is right — is deadly serious. Read on. The Editor.

When the Jedi Council assembled in Star Wars Episode I “The Phantom Menace,” they discussed a prophecy that they would soon be joined by one who would “bring balance to the Force.” Little did they expect that the One would achieve this balance by collapsing the old order.

Reality now seems to be mirroring fiction, as the Administration steadily obscures what it means by the “rebalance” to Asia in the six weeks leading to the next episode of the “Star Wars” franchise. American B-52s and the USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier battlegroup both operated in the South China Sea recently, providing ample opportunity to conduct operations within 12 nautical miles of China’s artificial islands, and clearly sending the message to Beijing and the world of the seriousness with which the United States takes freedom of the seas.

960117-N-7729M-002 (December 20, 1995).... The U.S. Navy's aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) conducts a weapons on-load with the ammunition ship USS Santa Barbara (AE 28) in the waters off the Virginia-Carolina coast, following her post deployment yard period, at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, in Portsmouth, Virginia. Official U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd. Class Michael Tuemler

USS Roosevelt

After a stymied ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting Plus, where China battled hard to stop the group from taking any stance on the South China Sea, Southeast Asia is clearly becoming the focal point of growing tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. As China continues to challenge the United States on the competing principles of sovereignty and freedom of the seas, the reefs, spits, rocks, and islands in the Spratlys have become the center of the battle

For the Chinese, the point is simple. As a Chinese admiral observed recently in London, “The South China Sea, as the name indicates, is a sea area that belongs to China. And the sea from the Han dynasty a long time ago where the Chinese people have been working and producing from the sea.” The issue is one of sovereignty, not only over the land and submerged features, but the waters, the “blue soil” that is encompassed within the “nine-dash line,” now more prominently noted in recent Chinese maps.

For the United States, the point is almost equally straightforward. Washington takes no position on the disputes over sovereignty in the South China Sea, but it is firmly committed to the principle of freedom of the seas. All states may use the high seas as they see fit, as they are free for use by all. Conversely, no state may arbitrarily seek to lay claim to swathes of the ocean—and reefs do not exert any justification for territorial claims, even if one builds an artificial island atop it.

Ostensibly as a show of commitment to the principle of freedom of the seas, the USSTheodore Roosevelt operated in the South China Sea, providing a perfect venue for Secretary of Defense Carter to make a speech on this issue. This comes a fortnight after the Administration finally authorized a US ship to transit waters near China’s artificial islands, five months after it stated that American ships would sail where they wished, and three years after the last freedom of navigation operation (FONOP).

Unfortunately, if several recent reports are to be believed, these American ship transits are demonstrating not strength, but weakness.

As it turns out, the USS Lassen reportedly did not engage in a FONOPS to demonstrate that the islands China has built exert no right to territorial waters reaching out 12 nautical miles. Instead, the U.S. ship reportedly conducted “innocent passage,” turning off its radars and grounding its helicopters as it transited within 12 nautical miles of the islands. Undertaking “innocent passage” is done only in another nation’s territorial waters.

In short, the United States, by its actions, may have actually recognized China’s claims. If the reports are correct, the United States treated the artificial island atop Subi Reef as though it were a naturally occurring feature, and therefore entitled to a 12 nautical mile band of territorial water. This is precisely the opposite of what had been announced.

Further obscuring the message, Administration sources are now claiming that it was both a FONOP and “innocent passage,” because the American ship was transiting waters near other islands occupied by various other claimants as well as going near Subi Reef. It would appear that the Administration was more intent on placating domestic concerns (e.g., the Senate Armed Services Committee) than in sending a clear signal.

Now, according to reports, the USS Theodore Roosevelt did not even sail within 200 nautical miles of the Chinese islands, instead avoiding the waters around them entirely. Similarly, the American B-52s underscoring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea took care to never approach more than 15 nautical miles from the artificial Chinese islands.

It is the final step in a pivot of American statements and actions that have charted a steadily retreating course. It has proceeded like this:

  • from Secretary of Defense Carter’s declaration at Shangri-La this May that “the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as U.S. forces do all over the world;”
  • to the revelation to the Senate Armed Services Committee this summer that the United States, in fact, has not sailed or operated near China’s artificial islands for three years;
  • to the apparent concession on international law, five months later, by the Lassen’s “innocent passage” transit, effectively acceding to the Chinese version on the key principle of freedom of the seas;
  • to the apparent decision to have the USS Theodore Roosevelt and American B-52s avoid those waters and airspace altogether, a message that is being sent less than a month after the Lassen

Like it or not, the message that the White House is now repeatedly sending is that the United States, in fact, accepts that the Chinese artificial islands should be treated as national territory, like a natural feature. In short, the United States is acceding to China’s efforts to close off portions of the open ocean. Teddy Roosevelt’s catch-phrase, of course, was “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” To deliver this craven message via the routing of a ship named for him adds a grotesquely ironic twist to the decision.

No doubt the Obama Administration will claim that it is trying to send a different message. This would be less difficult than the White House’s feckless efforts would make it appear—American aircraft and ships should conduct normal activities within 12 nautical miles of a manmade feature built atop a reef. This could include aircraft fly-overs, helicopter operations, anti-submarine warfare operations, the operation of fire control radars, and loitering in those waters. But, as Yoda observed, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”


The Chinese warship that pointed guns at a Vietnamese supply vessel near the Spratly Islands on November 13, according to a photo provided by the Southern Vietnam Maritime Safety Corporation. It appears to be a Type 072A amphibious landing ship



US has not lost Thailand to China — But “No one feels like smiling anymore in Thailand”

November 30, 2015

Bangkok (AFP) – The United States has not lost Thailand to China, Washington’s envoy to Bangkok said Monday, despite acrimony between the two allies and a palpable shift by the kingdom’s junta towards its giant northern neighbour.

“I don’t spend a lot of time, I don’t spend any time, saying to Washington here’s how we get Thailand back. We haven’t lost Thailand,” ambassador Glyn T. Davies told reporters in Bangkok.

“I think it’s a good thing for Thailand to have a good relationship with China,” he added.

Thailand has been one of Washington’s staunchest military allies in Southeast Asia and could have expected to see that relationship blossom under US President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia.

But the May 2014 coup, the second in the last decade, and the junta’s subsequent rights crackdown has strained those ties.

Thailand’s latest crop of military leaders have been embraced by Beijing, a warmth that has been reciprocated.

The junta has also begun forcibly deporting critics of Beijing back to China, some of whom had recognised refugee status, sparking condemnation from the United Nations and other western allies of the kingdom.

Davies has only been in the job nine weeks but has already ruffled feathers in a nation where ultra-royalist generals currently hold political sway.

On Friday an arch-royalist Thai monk led a protest outside the US embassy — despite a current junta ban on political protests — sparked by recent criticism Davies had made of the kingdom’s controversial and draconian lese majeste law.

Thailand’s revered but ailing King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 87, is protected by one of the world’s strictest royal defamation laws, prosecutions under which have surged since the military seized power.

On Wednesday Davies hit out at “the lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences handed down by Thai military courts against civilians” for breaching lese majeste.

The comments were no major policy shift from Washington, but public criticism of the law is rare.

On Friday junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha hinted that trade ties between the two nations could be affected if Davies repeated such remarks.

Asked for a response to Prayut’s threat, Davies on Monday replied: “We hope the trade issue is looked at on its merits exclusive of politics and geopolitics.”

“If political leaders want to equate the two that’s up to them, up to him,” he added.

Davies said he also hoped to take part in “Bike for Dad”, an mass cycle ride next month organised by the Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn to mark his father’s 88th birthday.

King Bhumibol has been largely confined to hospital in recent years.

Davies insisted the United States has a “special attachment” to Thailand’s king.

“We love King Rama 9,” he said, using his official title.

“So out of respect for the king, since we’re all pulling for him, I think I will ride in Bike for Dad,” he said.



Thai Economy and Spirits Are In A Rut

BANGKOK — Do not be fooled by the throngs of Chinese tourists clogging the entrance to the gilded Grand Palace, the roads buzzing with traffic or the plastic smiles of hostesses greeting the business lunch crowd at luxury hotels.

Thailand is in a rut.

The economy is moribund and Thai households are among the most indebted in Asia.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the epoxy of a fractured nation who commands divine-like reverence and turns 88 next month, is ailing and has not been seen in public since September.

A military government that seized power last year is showing no haste in handing back power to politicians who have spent the past decade in often violent conflict.

Robberies and other property crimes have risen more than 60 percent this year.

“No one feels like smiling anymore,” said Sompetch Pimsri, a merchant at a fruit and vegetable market behind the Temple of Dawn, a tourist landmark along the Chao Phraya River. “Life is so stressful. I don’t know how to explain it, but it feels like nothing is working in Thailand anymore.”

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