Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Vietnam Angry With China In South China Sea — China Blames U.S. Military

July 31, 2015

By Jennifer Peters

China has found itself involved in another dustup in the South China Sea, as their current amphibious assault rehearsals and live-fire maritime exercises in the region have drawn Vietnam’s ire.

Vietnamese authorities, believing that China’s presence in those waters violates their sovereignty, issued a statement demanding that the exercise be halted. On Tuesday, after Vietnam had already lodged their complaint, China’s navy — the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) — took things a step further, beginning live-fire drills that involved at least 100 naval vessels and dozens of aircraft, and during which thousands of shells and dozens of missiles and torpedoes were fired.

Part of the problem, as far as Vietnam is concerned, is that they hold claim to the nearby Paracel Islands, and the surrounding waters. But their complaint doesn’t hinge solely on contested waters, per se — though most of China’s claimed islands and waters in the South China Sea are contested by one country or another. Rather, Vietnam is peeved because, on July 20, only two days before their exercise was to begin, China issued a statement declaring that no other vessels would be allowed in the area for the duration of their maneuvers.

Sending out warnings about impending military drills and shooing away civilian vessels is standard practice (and very good manners) in most situations. But when that no-go zone is extended into international waters or what you consider to be your territory, it’s considered very rude indeed.

“The basic problem is China attempting to establish some level of ownership, and therefore control, over what the rest of the world sees as an international waterway,” Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, told VICE News. “China has the same right as everyone else to hold naval exercises in international waters, but not to unilaterally declare parts of international waters closed to other countries’ shipping while China is exercising. That is a precedent other countries cannot allow unless they are willing to accept Chinese ownership of the South China Sea.”

Not only is China blocking what most believe to be international waterways, but at least a portion of the area makes up what Vietnam believes to be its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a sea zone over which Vietnam has special economic rights regarding exploration and use of marine resources. And this isn’t the first time China has impinged on Vietnam’s EEZ.

In May 2014, China parked a state-owned oil rig in Vietnam’s claimed EEZ, resulting in riots across Vietnam as citizens responded to the perceived incursion by protesting Chinese-owned companies. At least 21 people died in the protests, and the US State Department condemned China’s actions, calling them “provocative” in a statement.

China, however, insisted that they were operating in strictly Chinese waters, and that Vietnam violated China’s sovereignty by sending a flotilla to disrupt China’s actions. Though China pulled their rig out of the region only two months later, they gave no explanation for the removal, and in June of this year, they moved the rig closer to Vietnam’s coast, though not quite so close as it was last year.

“[The Chinese] just reject flatly that the Vietnamese have any claims on these waters, and their position is, ‘These people don’t have any right to be upset with us over what we do in our water,'” Kelley Currie, a senior fellow with the Project 2049 Institute, told VICE News. “So I think that when it comes to trying to ‘diffuse tensions,’ most of the effort tends to be on the Vietnamese side. The Chinese aren’t going to bend or yield on these territorial claims in the South China Sea.”

While tensions have grown between China and their neighbors in South East Asia, almost everyone involved has attempted to cozy up to the US. Chinese president Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit the US in September, both Japan and the Philippines have treaty alliances with the US, and over the past several years, the relationship between the US and Vietnam has gone from fairly chilly to at least room temperature. The two countries started warming up to each other in the ’90s, when diplomatic relations were initially restored, and they’vecontinued to grow closer as relations with China have grown more tense.

Part of the appeal of a US-Vietnam friendship, at least for the Vietnamese, is the balance the relationship provides when set against the worsening relationship the state has with China. Also, experts believe that US intervention is necessary to lessen tensions in the South China Sea, as most of the smaller South East Asian nations don’t have enough power to so much as give China pause.

“The United States has long said it remains neutral in the dispute and has essentially taken a pretty passive stance as to what’s going on in the South China Sea,” Michael Mazza, a research fellow with American Enterprise Institute, told VICE News. “I think the United States needs to, in conjunction with its allies and partners in the region, actually come down on at least what it believes are high seas versus territorial waters. And perhaps make some judgment on what are plausible claims and what are not. That can give the United States a baseline from which to act in the region to push back against particularly egregious Chinese behavior, or egregious behavior from others, in order to deter more aggressive activities.”

Unlike most of its neighbors, though, Vietnam can stand up to China on its own, though it hasn’t had a great deal of luck in affecting change in the larger country’s behavior. Vietnam has a very capable military relative to the rest of South East Asia, and they’ve been working to grow their capabilities, stocking up on submarines, anti-submarine aircraft, and anti-ship cruise missiles. Though their military does not yet reach a level where they can hold off China should a fight ensue, their growing capabilities do allow them to at least show China that, should they end up in a scuffle, China won’t escape unscathed.

“The reason that you have things like Kilo subs from the Russians, or BrahMos missiles, or sub-launched ground-attack missiles is all of these things send a message to Beijing that, ‘We can’t win a fight, but we can give you a bloody nose,'” Gregory Poling, a fellow with the Sumitro Chair for Southeast Asia Studies and Pacific Partners Initiative from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VICE News. “That changes the cost-benefit analysis for China. Clearly, it makes others like the Philippines seem the low-hanging fruit, so it puts a ceiling on the degree of provocations you’ll see, I think, toward Vietnam. China doesn’t want to provoke actual retaliation or aggression from Vietnam.”

While it’s impossible to predict what either country’s next move will be, experts expect tensions to remain high for the foreseeable future, with China unlikely to moderate its behavior short of a US intervention.

Without any immediate setback or economic cost to China, Mazza said, they’ll continue to do as they please. And while it’s unlikely that they’ll do anything to provoke a real military response, there are other concerns.

“I don’t think we’re in danger of a calculated move on China’s part, which they know will bring about some sort of conflict. What I worry about is a misperception on China’s part,” Mazza told VICE News. “I worry about the cumulative effects of these sort of ‘salami slices’ reaching a point where the other countries say enough is enough, and China is surprised by the strength of the reaction. And I’m also worried about the potential for an accident at sea or in the air, which is heightened in a situation like this, and I would be worried about something like that escalating.”

Follow Jennifer Peters on Twitter: @EditrixJen


Chinese dredgers pump sediment onto Mischief Reef, March 2015. Photo credit Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

China Blames U.S. Military Actions for Tensions in the South China Sea

HONG KONG — A top Chinese official said Thursday that American military drills and surveillance flights in the South China Sea were threatening regional stability, a harsh assessment that seemed likely to heighten tensions between the two countries before several crucial meetings.

The official, Col. Yang Yujun, a spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, said it was the United States, not China, that was to blame for rising tensions in the resource-rich South China Sea, where China and several other countries are engaged in territorial disputes.

“The Chinese side expresses its deep concern about the United States pushing the militarization,” Colonel Yang said at a news conference in Beijing. “The behavior by the United States can only lead one to suspect whether the American side is driven by a desire to see the world in turmoil.”

China has been feverishly piling sand onto reefs in the South China Sea for the past year, creating seven new islets in the region. It is straining geopolitical tensions that were already taut.

It is likely to be high on the agenda when President Xi Jinping visits the United States to meet with President Obama in September, and when Secretary of State John Kerry goes to Malaysia next week for a meeting of Asian nations.

Read the rest:



WikiLeaks publishes “Target Tokyo”– 35 Top Secret NSA targets in Japan

July 31, 2015

Press Release

Today, Friday 31 July 2015, 9am CEST, WikiLeaks publishes “Target Tokyo”, 35 Top Secret NSA targets in Japan including the Japanese cabinet and Japanese companies such as Mitsubishi, together with intercepts relating to US-Japan relations, trade negotiations and sensitive climate change strategy.

The list indicates that NSA spying on Japanese conglomerates, government officials, ministries and senior advisers extends back at least as far as the first administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which lasted from September 2006 until September 2007. The telephone interception target list includes the switchboard for the Japanese Cabinet Office; the executive secretary to the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga; a line described as “Government VIP Line”; numerous officials within the Japanese Central Bank, including Governor Haruhiko Kuroda; the home phone number of at least one Central Bank official; numerous numbers within the Japanese Finance Ministry; the Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Yoichi Miyazawa; the Natural Gas Division of Mitsubishi; and the Petroleum Division of Mitsui.

Today’s publication also contains NSA reports from intercepts of senior Japanese government officials. Four of the reports are classified TOP SECRET. One of the reports is marked “REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL”, meaning it has been formally authorised to be released to the United States’ “Five Eyes” intelligence partners: Australia, Canada, Great Britain and New Zealand.

The reports demonstrate the depth of US surveillance of the Japanese government, indicating that intelligence was gathered and processed from numerous Japanese government ministries and offices. The documents demonstrate intimate knowledge of internal Japanese deliberations on such issues as: agricultural imports and trade disputes; negotiating positions in the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization; Japanese technical development plans, climate change policy, nuclear and energy policy and carbon emissions schemes; correspondence with international bodies such as the International Energy Agency (IEA); strategy planning and draft talking points memoranda concerning the management of diplomatic relations with the United States and the European Union; and the content of a confidential Prime Ministerial briefing that took place at Shinzo Abe’s official residence.

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief, said: “In these documents we see the Japanese government worrying in private about how much or how little to tell the United States, in order to prevent undermining of its climate change proposal or its diplomatic relationship. And yet we now know that the United States heard everything and read everything, and was passing around the deliberations of Japanese leadership to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. The lesson for Japan is this: do not expect a global surveillance superpower to act with honour or respect. There is only one rule: there are no rules.”

WikiLeaks Investigations Editor Sarah Harrison said: “Today’s publication shows us that the US government targeted sensitive Japanese industry and climate change policy. Would the effectiveness of Japan’s industry and climate change proposals be different today if its communications had been protected?”

Japan has been a close historical ally of the United States since the end of World War II. During a recent Presidential visit to Japan, US President Barack Obama described the East Asian country as “one of America’s closest allies in the world”. Today’s publication adds to previous WikiLeaks publications showing systematic mass spying conducted by US intelligence against the US-allied governments of Brazil “Bugging Brazil”, France “Espionnage Élysée” and Germany “The Euro Intercepts”; “All the Chancellor’s Men”.

Read the full list of NSA high priority targets for Japan published today here.

WikiLeaks’ journalism is entirely supported by the general public. If you would like to support more work like this, please visit


Target Tokyo: WikiLeaks reveals NSA spied on Japanese PM Shinzō Abe and companies like Mitsubishi


July 31, 2015

Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe (left) was among 35 Top Secret NSA targets, WikiLeaks has revealed(Reuters)

The US National Security Agency (NSA) undertook systematic mass surveillance of Japanese politicians, ministries and corporations over a number of years, according to recently published documents. The revelations come from whistleblowing organisation WikiLeaks, which released a list of 35 top secret targets in Japan on Friday morning (31 July).

The most high-profile target listed in the “Target Tokyo” documents is the current Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzō Abe, while corporations named include car-manufacturing giant Mitsubishi. The documents also reveal that the US bugged Japan’s confidential G8 proposals on climate change, as well as spying on Japan’s secret World Trade Organisation (WTO) plan.

The period of spying on Abe dates from the Prime Minister’s first term in office, lasting from September 2006 until September 2007. Abe has since returned to office and the latest leaks will come as a major embarrassment for the US and in particular President Barack Obama who just months ago described Japan as “one of America’s closest allies in the world” during a meeting with Abe in Washington. They also follow similar leaks revealing intimate surveillance on other allies that include Brazil, France and Germany.

‘There are no rules’

WikiLeaks has not revealed the source of the documents, though they are likely to be from the cache of as-yet unpublished files released to journalists by former NSA contract worker Edward Snowden.

Julian Assange, co-founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said the revelations should not come as a surprise, given the track record of the US as a global surveillance superpower.

“In these documents we see the Japanese government worrying in private how much or how little to tell the United States, in order to prevent undermining of its climate change proposal or its diplomatic relationship,” Assange said in a statement.

“And yet we now know that the United States heard everything and read everything, and was passing around the deliberations of Japanese leadership to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. The lesson for Japan is this: do not expect a global surveillance superpower to act with honour and respect. There is only one rule: there are no rules.”

WikiLeaks investigations editor Sarah Harrison speculated that climate change policy enacted by Japan, as well as the country’s industry, may well have been different had the NSA not spied on negotiations.

“Today’s publication shows us that the US government targeted sensitive Japanese industry and climate change policy,” Harrison said. “Would the effectiveness of Japan’s industry and climate change proposals be different today if its communications had been protected?”

Israel’s Choice is of Mr. Obama’s Making: Conventional War Now, or Nuclear War Later

July 29, 2015

President Obama and John Kerry say There was no ‘better deal’ with Iran to be had. Now this calamitous one offers Tehran two paths to the bomb.

The Wall Street Journal

Almost everyone who opposes the deal President Obama has struck with Iran hotly contests his relentless insistence that the only alternative to it is war. No, they claim, there is another alternative, and that is “a better deal.”

To which Mr. Obama responds that Iran would never agree to the terms his critics imagine could be imposed. These terms would include the toughening rather than the lifting of sanctions; “anytime, anywhere” nuclear-plant inspections instead of the easily evaded ones to which he has agreed; the elimination rather than the freezing of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure; and the corresponding elimination of the “sunset” clause that leaves Iran free after 10 years to build as many nuclear weapons as it wishes.

Since I too consider Mr. Obama’s deal a calamity, I would be happy to add my voice to the critical chorus. Indeed, I agree wholeheartedly with the critics that, far from “cutting off any pathway Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon,” as he claims, the deal actually offers Tehran not one but two paths to acquiring the bomb. Iran can either cheat or simply wait for the sunset clause to kick in, while proceeding more or less legally to prepare for that glorious day.

A picture released by the official website of the Centre for Preserving and Publishing the Works of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, shows him attending a meeting in Tehran on April 9, 2015. © |

Unfortunately, however, I am unable to escape the conclusion that Mr. Obama is right when he dismisses as a nonstarter the kind of “better deal” his critics propose. Nor, given that the six other parties to the negotiations are eager to do business with Iran, could these stringent conditions be imposed if the U.S. were to walk away without a deal. The upshot is that if the objective remains preventing Iran from getting the bomb, the only way to do so is to bomb Iran.

And there’s the rub. Once upon a time the U.S. and just about every other country on earth believed that achieving this objective was absolutely necessary to the safety of the world, and that it could be done through negotiations. Yet as the years wore on, it became increasingly clear to everyone not blinded by wishful delusions that diplomacy would never work.

Simultaneously it also became clear that the U.S. and the six other parties to the negotiations, despite their protestations that force remained “on the table,” would never resort to it (and that Mr. Obama was hellbent on stopping Israel from taking military action on its own). Hence they all set about persuading themselves that their fears of a nuclear Iran had been excessive, and that we could live with a nuclear Iran as we had lived with Russia and China during the Cold War.

Out the window went the previously compelling case against that possibility made by authoritative scholars like Bernard Lewis, and with it went the assumption that the purpose of the negotiations was to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

For our negotiating partners, the new goal was to open the way to lucrative business contracts, but for Mr. Obama it was to remove the biggest obstacle to his long-standing dream of a U.S. détente with Iran. To realize this dream, he was ready to concede just about anything the Iranians wanted—without, of course, admitting that this was tantamount to acquiescence in an Iran armed with nuclear weapons and the rockets to deliver them.

To repeat, then, what cannot be stressed too often: If the purpose were still to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, no deal that Iran would conceivably agree to sign could do the trick, leaving war as the only alternative. To that extent, Mr. Obama is also right. But there is an additional wrinkle. For in allowing Iran to get the bomb, he is not averting war. What he is doing is setting the stage for a nuclear war between Iran and Israel.

The reason stems from the fact that, with hardly an exception, all of Israel believes that the Iranians are deadly serious when they proclaim that they are bound and determined to wipe the Jewish state off the map. It follows that once Iran acquires the means to make good on this genocidal commitment, each side will be faced with only two choices: either to rely on the fear of a retaliatory strike to deter the other from striking first, or to launch a pre-emptive strike of its own.

Yet when even a famous Iranian “moderate” like the former President Hashemi Rafsanjani has said—as he did in 2001, contemplating a nuclear exchange—that “the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality,” how can deterrence work?

The brutal truth is that the actual alternatives before us are not Mr. Obama’s deal or war. They are conventional war now or nuclear war later. John Kerry recently declared that Israel would be making a “huge mistake” to take military action against Iran. But Mr. Kerry, as usual, is spectacularly wrong. Israel would not be making a mistake at all, let alone a huge one. On the contrary, it would actually be sparing itself—and the rest of the world—a nuclear conflagration in the not too distant future.

Mr. Podhoretz was the editor of Commentary magazine from 1960 to 1995. His books include “Why Are Jews Liberals?” (Doubleday, 2009).






Vietnam’s leader preparing to visit Japan amid territorial disputes with China

July 29, 2015


The governments of Japan and Vietnam are making arrangements for Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, to make his first visit to Japan, sources familiar with the matter from both countries said.

Sources connected with Vietnam’s Communist Party indicated on Tuesday that the visit could take place as early as September. Trong outranks President Truong Tan Sang and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in the country’s leadership hierarchy.

Trong visited the United States earlier this month, becoming the party’s first chief to do so since the end of the Vietnam War. He met with US President Barack Obama, and they shared concern about Chinese activities to press sovereignty claims in the South China Sea, viewed by both countries as not in compliance with international law.

The visit to Japan appears aimed at checking China, with which Vietnam has a tense territorial dispute in the resource-rich South China Sea.

The last leader of the Communist Party of Vietnam to visit Japan was Nong Duc Manh in April 2009. When Prime Minister Dung visited Japan earlier this month, he expressed Trong’s desire to visit Japan.

Japan is Vietnam’s largest donor country, and its fourth largest trade partner after China, the US and South Korea. Relations between Japan and Vietnam are extremely close in the political and economic spheres.

When Sang visited Japan last year, he agreed to elevate bilateral ties to an “Extensive Strategic Partnership.”

Nguyen Phu Trong of Vietnam in the Oval Office with President Obama

Against the backdrop of China’s increasingly assertive maritime claims, Vietnam is also boosting cooperation in maritime security. The Japanese and Vietnamese governments last year agreed on Japan providing Vietnam with six vessels that can be used as patrol ships in a move to assist Hanoi’s efforts to strengthen its law enforcement capability in the South China Sea.

Recently, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships and an MSDF P-3C surveillance aircraft have visited Vietnam.

Prior to visiting Washington, Trong visited China in April, during which he showed concern for his country’s close ties its larger neighbor amid the tense standoff in the South China Sea.


This photograph taken on May 2, 2014 and released on May 7, 2014 by the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry shows a China Coast Guard ship (L) using a water cannon on a Vietnamese ship in disputed waters in the South China Sea. (AFP)


A Chinese coast guard ship (back) sails next to a Vietnamese coast guard vessel (front) near China's oil drilling rig in Vietnam's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, May 14, 2014.
A Chinese coast guard ship (back) sails next to a Vietnamese coast guard vessel (front) near China’s oil drilling rig in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, May 14, 2014.

The Philippines tries to resupply a Philippine Marine platoon posted at Ayungin Shoal onboard BRP Sierra Madre on March 29, 2014. The larger ship in this image is a Chinese ship trying to interfere with the smaller Filipino re-supply boat.

Malaysia looks over a Chinese Coast Guard intruder earlier this year

Experts say this photo shows how China has turned a nearly worthless spit of sand, Fiery Cross reef, into a huge chinese military complex with an airport and seaport

Many of China’s South China Sea neighborhood complain about illegal Chinese fishing

Chinese fishermen stand on top of giant clam shells on board a Chinese fishing vessel at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in this April 10 photo released by the Philippine Navy. AP

One of Vietnam’s Kilo-Class Submarines
Chinese warships have routinely been spotted near China’s island building projects this year.

China says it owns all the South China Sea north of the “nine dash line” shown above

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.

The chart below shows the area declared by China on 1 January 2014 as “an area under China’s jurisdiction.” China says “foreign fishing vessels” can only enter and work in this area with prior approval from China. Vietnam, the Philippines and others have said they will not comply with China’s law. Experts say, this could be the geographic area that China could declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ).


US, Vietnam see warmer bilateral relations

July 28, 2015

Vietnam and the United States: As the political reconciliation between the US and Vietnam continues, some experts said their warming ties were given a boost by China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.


U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Vietnamese Defense Minister General Phung Quang Thanh exchange gifts when the two met in Vietnam earlier this year

HANOI: US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Vietnam next week, hot on the heels of a historic visit by the country’s Communist Party chief to the US earlier this month.

As the political reconciliation between the US and Vietnam continues, some experts said their warming ties were given a boost by China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.

For many on both sides of the Pacific, images of the US President talking side-by-side with Vietnam’s Communist Party chief signalled a sea change in bilateral relations.

And for some in the room, it was a moment of disbelief. US Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius said: “When I was in the Oval Office, and the President was there, and the General Secretary was there, I pinched myself.”

The Communist leader’s US trip has been hailed by some analysts as “a success beyond expectations” in Hanoi. They see the US nod to Vietnam’s leadership, spelt out in a Joint Vision Statement during the visit, as a victory for Hanoi.

Dr Hoang Anh Tuan, director at the Institute for Foreign Policy & Strategic Studies, said: “It means that the US respects the political choice of Vietnamese people, recognising the fact that the Communist Party of Vietnam is the ruling party of Vietnam.” Without that, the US ambassador in Hanoi said confidence building between the two countries would not be possible.

“I was asked in southern California ‘what is the programme of the United States for changing the government in Vietnam’, and I answered very directly, that is not the policy of the United States. The policy of the United States is to respect a different political system,” Ted Osius said.

“The only way we can build confidence between our two countries is if we’re very explicit about our respect for a different political system. That was not the answer those people wanted to hear but that’s the policy of the US as stated multiple times by the President of the United States,” he added.

The US and Vietnam’s visible trust-building this year came as Vietnam’s relations with China suffered from a crisis of confidence caused by a long-running territorial spat in the South China Sea.

Nguyen Phu Trong of Vietnam in the Oval Office with President Obama

Before Beijing deployed an oil rig in contested waters off the Paracel Islands last year, some security experts said public opinion in Vietnam was vague about both the US and China.

Maj-Gen Le Van Cuong, former head of the Institute of Strategic Studies, said: “It’s the oil rig incident that helped Vietnamese people define more clearly who they should make friends with, and who they should stand up against. China’s biggest mistake is making 90 million neighbours think twice about them. It’s a failure in terms of diplomacy.”

Managing the South China Sea spat is just one area among many in the US-Vietnam partnership, leaders on both sides have been keen to point out. But there is no denying it has aligned Vietnam’s strategic interests – as well as those of its ASEAN neighbours – closer to the US, said Dr Tuan Anh.

For now, Vietnam’s ramped up diplomacy with the US has not changed lives on the ground. But on the ideological front, it is making waves for expanded cooperation with a former foe.

This photograph taken on May 2, 2014 and released on May 7, 2014 by the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry shows a China Coast Guard ship (L) using a water cannon on a Vietnamese ship in disputed waters in the South China Sea. (AFP)

China’s campaign of intimidation against human-rights lawyers

July 28, 2015


By Maya Wang

When Beijing last rounded up dozens of human-rights lawyers in 2011, it was clearly scared of a “Jasmine Revolution” like the protests then rocking the Middle East. But when Chinese police detained more than a hundred human-rights lawyers across the country over just a few days this month, there was no pretense of anything other than bare-knuckled crushing of the courageous rule of law advocates who have helped build China’s civil society over the past decade.

On July 10, Beijing police first took into custody lawyer Wang Yu, and then the director and staff of Wang’s employer, Fengrui Law Firm. Within the next 24 hours, what originally looked like a targeted attack on one law firm turned out to be a coordinated hunt for human-rights lawyers across nineteen provinces [Chinese]. While most have now been released, seven have been criminally detained, while the fate of at least fifteen remain unclear. The message that defending basic rights can cost you your freedom went out loud and clear across the country.

Lawyer Wang Yu has been detained by Chinese authorities as part of a national crackdown o

Lawyer Wang Yu has been detained by Chinese authorities as part of a national crackdown on human rights lawyers. Her husband has also been detained and her son is under police surveillance. Picture: Mark Schiefelbein / AP Source:AP

China’s state broadcaster Xinhua immediately published an article [Chinese] justifying the police crackdown on “a well-organized criminal gang” that, in the name of “defending rights, justice and charity,” had “seriously disturbed public order.” Lawyers had “hyped up” “public pressure on the government” by mobilizing activists and dissatisfied petitioners in order to “gain fame and money.” Leaving aside how Xinhua could draw such conclusions within hours of the arrests and well ahead of any judicial proceedings, the article neither explained how exactly the lawyers disturbed public order nor offered any other credible evidence of wrongdoing.

Why is this happening now, as President Xi Jinping prepares for state visits to key capitals, including Washington, DC, as leaders routinely proclaim commitment to the “rule of law,” and at a time when Beijing faces no serious threats?

Since 2003, China has seen the rise of a “rights defense”—weiquan—movement, in which all kinds of popular and often spontaneous advocacy by netizens, activists, lawyers, and online commentators responding to injustices could snowball into pressure on the government. While the authorities have grown less tolerant of this movement, there was always an invisible “red line” within which a certain level of dissent was tolerated.

But things changed when President Xi came to power two years ago. Under his leadership, authorities started to target some of the most innovative activists working within this red line. China imprisoned legal scholar Xu Zhiyong, whose long list of achievements included founding the Open Constitution Initiative and the New Citizens Movement. Authorities detained lawyer Pu Zhiqiang, whose social media savviness helped to abolish arbitrary detention camps. The government harassed the anti-discrimination civic group Yirenping, which pioneered public interests lawsuits. Officials arrested activist Wu Gan, whose unabashed mockery of the authorities drew him numerous fans. Most recently, Beijing targeted the Fengrui Law Firm, which has provided employment and key cases for outspoken lawyers.

Meanwhile, authorities have also taken aim at the Internet and the press, emphasizing the importance of “correct” ideology and supremacy of the Communist Party among university lecturers, Party members, and journalists. And they have introduced a raft of national security laws that cast dissent as threats to the state, which have met little vocal domestic opposition as there are few left to criticize them.

Compare how, in 2009, Wu Gan drew online attention to the case ofDeng Yujiao, a hotel worker who killed a government official in self-defense against attempted rape. The efforts of Wu and others—including Pu Zhiqiang, whose lawyers in the firm provided legal aid–challenged the police’s original claims of manslaughter and led to her release. Fast forward six years later, and Wu’s efforts to question an incident of a police shooting in Heilongjiang Province have instead led not only to his own arrest, but also to the detention of other lawyers.

The government’s current campaign is not about a single law firm or a handful of lawyers. It is about the discrediting of the very modus operandi of the rights defense movement. Collectively these trailblazing individuals and organizations have done the coal-face work, at great personal risk, to try making human rights a reality for ordinary people in China. With this massive lawyers sweep, we can bid farewell to one of the only vehicles to provide real relief to victims of human rights violations in China.

When Xi visits the US in September, he should not leave without an unequivocal public message from Obama urging an end to the crackdown. The fate of this movement intertwines with that of China’s, and consequently, with that of US-China relations.

If Washington and other capitals fail to impose at least a reputational price on Beijing, it will certainly be seen in China as a green light to further tighten the stranglehold on civil society.

Follow Maya on Twitter at @wang_maya. We welcome your comments



 (By David Shambaugh, The Wall Street Journal)

US accused of taking Malaysia off trafficking blacklist for political reasons

July 27, 2015


Critics say the move to upgrade Malaysia is linked to a US-backed trade pact among Pacific Rim countries

The Associated Press

The United States on Monday took Malaysia and Cuba off its blacklist of countries failing to combat modern-day slavery, leaving Washington open to criticism that politics was swaying the often-contentious rankings in its annual human trafficking report.

Thailand, downgraded with Malaysia last year because of pervasive labour abuses in its lucrative fishing industry, remained on the blacklist. That will add to the growing strains in its once-strong relations with Washington. Critics contend that Malaysia’s upgrade is related to its participation in a US-backed trade agreement among Pacific Rim countries. Thailand is not part of the proposed agreement.

US Secretary of State John Kerry formally launched the annual US assessment of how 188 governments around the world have performed in fighting the flesh trade and other forms of exploitative labour.

Malaysia’s upgrade is likely to raise the most hackles in Congress and among human rights activists. Earlier this month, 19 US senators wrote to Kerry urging that Malaysia stay on the blacklist. One hundred and sixty House members also registered concern, arguing an upgrade would appear driven by “external considerations.”

Malaysia is one of 12 nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the key economic plank of Obama’s Asia policy. The nations’ trade ministers are meeting in Hawaii this week, hoping to close on the agreement after years of negotiations. Malaysia’s ranking is contentious as an anti-trafficking amendment to legislation crucial for the deal’s eventual ratification by Congress limits the president’s ability to secure free-trade agreements with countries assigned to tier 3.

US Secretary of State presents America’s annual human trafficking report. Photo: EPA

“By upgrading Malaysia, the US is selling out victims of human trafficking,” said Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking. “It also undermines the integrity of the report and jeopardises the credibility that has been built up over many years.”

Undersecretary of State Sarah Sewall denied political considerations had come into play in the rankings.

Sewall cited the strengthening of Malaysia’s anti-trafficking law and the increase in the number of trafficking investigations and prosecutions in the period covered by the report – which ended March 31. But she said the number of convictions remained low – decreasing from 2013.

Like Thailand, Malaysia has faced intense international criticism over trafficking of stateless Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh aboard overcrowded boats. Dozens of graves as well as pens likely used as cages for migrants have been found on both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border.

Sewall said the discovery of the graves happened almost two months beyond the reporting period. She said Malaysia still had “much room for improvement.”

Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou Regrets Political Progress in Mainland China is Unstable — Stresses, Freedom, Democracy, Human Right and Rule of Law

July 27, 2015

 Ma Ying-jeou. AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying

The president of Taiwan has said that political progress in mainland China is unstable. Speaking in a rare interview with the BBC, Ma Ying-jeou said he was disappointed that despite improvements in the economic relationship during his two terms as president, there had been no meeting between himself and President Xi Jinping of China.

“Mainland China is only 100 nautical miles away from the Republic of China (Taiwan). Therefore it’s a big risk and a big opportunity for us. Any leader here has to learn how to minimise the risks and maximise the opportunity. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past seven years,” he said.

The Chinese government claims the island of Taiwan as part of its sovereign territory and threatens to counter any move to outright independence by military force.

The first time I visited Taiwan in the early 1990s, there were no direct flights from Beijing. Along with everyone else, I had to make a long-distance dog-leg via Hong Kong.

In those days, Beijing was still a low-rise city of coal dust, brick alleys and bicycles. Taipei felt glossy and high-rise by comparison. How things have changed. There are now more than a hundred flights every day across the Taiwan Strait, Beijing is a city of glass and concrete canyons, and China bestrides the global economy.

Psychological distance

Nowhere has experienced the drama of China’s rise more viscerally than Taiwan. Two-fifths of the island’s exports go to the mainland and there were nearly four million tourist visits by mainlanders in the opposite direction last year.

Carrie Gracie and President Ma

President Ma said the human rights situation in mainland China was “unstable”

But President Ma told me the politics of the communist state are still a serious stumbling block to good relations.

“In the past several years I’ve been constantly reminding the mainland Chinese authorities that the important thing is to close the psychological distance between people across the strait. Taiwan believes in the core values of freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law.

“But now we also see that the authorities have arrested some human rights advocates including some lawyers. So that’s why people will worry that the human rights situation in China is deteriorating.

“The situation in mainland China is sometimes better, and sometimes worse. It’s not very stable.”

Strategic shift

On the day I visited President Ma, I was not his only visitor.

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez visits TaiwanPresident Ma also received the Honduran President, Juan Orlando Hernandez, on the day the BBC visited

The president of Honduras was due for a state reception straight after our interview, and the blue and white flag of Honduras was flying outside the presidential office, an imposing red-brick palace built during Japanese imperial rule.

Of course, the Japanese colonialists are long gone but so too are all the embassies which clustered here in the 1950s and 60s after the KMT fled the communist advance on the mainland and set up a last toehold for their Republic of China on Taiwan.

For two decades, this was celebrated by a succession of American presidents as the rightful government of the whole of China and a bulwark against a global socialist threat.

But most countries transferred recognition to Beijing in the years after President Nixon signalled an American strategic shift with the famous meeting with Chairman Mao.

Chairman Mao and President Nixon in 1972

Chairman Mao and President Nixon met in Beijing in 1972

And now China firmly freezes Taiwan out of international organisations. The only state visitors walking President Ma’s red carpet are from tiny countries like Burkino Faso, Haiti and Honduras.

And he told me he was disappointed that after two terms of working hard to improve relations with the mainland, Beijing is still resisting a face-to-face meeting.

“A meeting of leaders should be a natural development. In the past two years we were hoping to use last November’s Apec summit as an opportunity. However, it was not successful which was of course a very great pity.

“Of course we are not clear about the decision-making process, but I believe it was Mr Xi who made the final decision.”

Patience and caution

The language pitfalls surrounding cross-strait relations are as delicate as doctrinal questions in the medieval church and make me nervous about writing on the topic.

But the fundamental point is that since 1949, the People’s Republic of China has insisted that it is the rightful government of a China which includes the island of Taiwan. Now it has a growing arsenal of economic and diplomatic tools with which to punish governments tempted to forget that.

Since taking office two and a half years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping has toughened Chinese policy on many fronts, from national security to internet freedoms and Hong Kong. The issue of Taiwan, he has said, “cannot be postponed indefinitely”.

China President Xi JinpingPresident Ma is disappointed not to have met President Xi (pictured) face-to-face

President Ma told me that after a rift of more than 60 years, both sides must show patience and caution.

“Since 2005 the military balance across the strait has been tilting in favour of mainland China. Every year it spends double-digit or nearly 20% of its budget on military defences. It would be difficult for us to engage in an arms race with mainland China.

“So our defence principle is as follows: we want to create a scenario in which neither side would change the status quo through unilateral or non-peaceful means for fear of the price it would have to pay.”

China-Taiwan relations
  • China formally regards Taiwan as a part of its territory, despite the island governing itself for six decades
  • China insists that nations cannot have official relations with both China and Taiwan, with the result that Taiwan has formal diplomatic ties with only two dozen countries – Pacific, Latin American and African states in the main
  • Long-standing tension with the mainland eased when the China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May 2008
  • In July 2009 the leaders of China and Taiwan exchanged direct messages for the first time in more than 60 years, albeit in their respective party functions, and not as national leaders
  • In June 2010, the two countries signed an historic trade pact
  • But in March 2014, hundreds of young activists, dubbed the Sunflower Movement, occupied Taiwan’s parliament building in an unprecedented protest against a trade pact aimed at forging closer ties with Beijing
  • The government’s pro-China policy led to a crushing defeat for the ruling Kuomintang party in local elections in November 2014, forcing Mr Ma to step down as chairman

Profile: Taiwan

Peace strategy

But last week, video images emerged of a recent Chinese military exercise in which People’s Liberation Army troops practised an urban assault on a building which looked like a mock-up of the presidential office in Taipei. President Ma told me he personally shared the displeasure of his government over the military exercise.

“Of course we have to be well-prepared for any potential conflicts across the Strait. But the top military strategy is to use a peace strategy not to use force.”

Protesters chant slogans during an anti-China demonstration at the Parliament in Taipei on 19 March 2014Students occupied Taiwan’s parliament last year, calling for more scrutiny over all future dealings with China, including any trade agreements

I asked whether he would like a clear commitment from President Obama or his successor to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.

“The point is not just to rely on the United States to help us in any kind of conflict but to reduce the risk of conflict. The top military strategy is to use a peace strategy not to use military force.”

President Ma and I talked for an hour about everything from last year’s student occupation of parliament to next year’s election for his successor. I hope the day will come when I can spend an hour with President Xi in Beijing.

When all is said and done, geography is both a blessing and a curse for this island and its 23 million citizens. Despite all the tourists and the exports criss-crossing the Taiwan Strait, China’s rise creates many uncertainties. This island is a potent symbol of sovereignty for Beijing and the Taiwan Strait remains a dangerous flashpoint for the region and the world.


Taiwan’s Claim on the South China Sea

Re “The South China Sea, in Court” (editorial, July 17):

As a claimant of the South China Sea, the Republic of China (Taiwan) respects all efforts to peacefully resolve disputes in accordance with the principles of relevant international laws, including the United Nations Charter and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

This position was reiterated in President Ma Ying-jeou’s South China Sea Peace Initiative, proposed on May 26.

In the same spirit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cited the law of the sea convention in its July 7, eight-point statement when emphasizing the legal status of Taiping Island (Itu Aba) as a naturally formed island, among all other claims.

Read the rest:

U.S. would show flexibility in nuclear talks with North Korea: envoy

July 27, 2015

The recent nuclear deal with Iran showed that the United States can be flexible with a willing counterpart, including North Korea if it decides it wants talks on its nuclear program, a U.S. envoy said on Monday.

North Korea has said it was not interested in an Iran-like dialogue with the United States to give up its nuclear capabilities, which it said were an “essential deterrence” against hostile U.S. policy.

Despite that, Sydney Seiler, U.S. special envoy for now-defunct six-party talks on ending the North’s nuclear program, said the United states left the door open to talks with the North when it is willing to end its diplomatic isolation.

“The Iran deal demonstrates the value and possibilities that negotiation bring,” Seiler told reporters in the South Korean capital, Seoul.

“It demonstrates again our willingness, when we have a willing counterpart, and it demonstrates our flexibility when the DPRK makes a decision that it wants to take a different path,” he said, referring to North Korea by the initials of its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Seiler is on a trip to the region that will include stops in China and Japan, is the latest in a series of visits by U.S. nuclear envoys aimed at trying to jump start the North Korean talks which broke down in 2008.

North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests, the last in February 2013, and now calls itself a nuclear weapons state.

The United States and five world powers struck a historic deal with Iran this month that will limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities in exchange for lifting U.S., EU and UN sanctions that have crippled its economy.

North Korea is also heavily sanctioned by the United States, European Union and theUnited Nations for procuring equipment related to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

News reports said the North has recently upgraded a missile platform and may be readying to launch a long-range missile around the time of a national anniversary in October.

(Reporting by James Pearson; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Mike Huckabee accuses Barack Obama of marching Israelis ‘to door of the oven’

July 27, 2015

U.S. Candidate for Republican nomination for president uses strong language to denounce the deal reached by the United States and other world powers on Iran’s nuclear program

February 10, 2012, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks during an address to the 39th Conservative Political Action Committee in Washington, DC.

White House contender Mike Huckabee is warning that President Barack Obama is marching the Israelis to the “door of the oven” by signing off on the nuclear deal struck between Iran and six world powers Photo: AFP/Getty

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has denounced the deal reached by the United States and other world powers on Iran’s nuclear program by saying President Barack Obama is marching Israelis “to the door of the oven,” a reference to the Holocaust.

The head of the Democratic National Committee on Sunday demanded an apology by Mr Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor whose comments came in an interview with a conservative website on Saturday.

“This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history,” Mr Huckabee told Breitbart News on Saturday. “It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

Mr Huckabee’s reference was to the Nazi death camps where millions of Jews and others were killed during the Second World War.

“This is the most idiotic thing, this Iran deal. It should be rejected by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and by the American people. I read the whole deal. We gave away the whole store. It’s got to be stopped,” Mr Huckabee added.

US Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said Mr Huckabee’s rhetoric “has no place in American politics.”

“Cavalier analogies to the Holocaust are unacceptable. Mike Huckabee must apologise to the Jewish community and to the American people for this grossly irresponsible statement,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

Many US Republicans have come out strongly against the July 14 accordaimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program in return for easing economic sanctions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has cultivated a close relationship with US Republicans, has called the deal a threat to the survival of Israel. Netanyahu has urged US politicians to reject a deal he said would only feed an “Iranian terror machine” and would give Tehran “a sure path to nuclear weapons.”

Mr Huckabee is seeking his party’s nomination for president in the November 2016 US election. A CNN/ORC poll released on Sunday showed him in 7th place with the support of 5 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters.

There are 16 declared Republican candidates so far.


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