Posts Tagged ‘U. S.’

South China Sea: Albert del Rosario, Justice Antonio Carpio do not ‘fully comprehend the nature of arbitration,’ Philippine Government says

July 12, 2018

Does Philippine sovereignty matter? Is it meaningless?

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque says former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and other individuals do not ‘fully comprehend the nature of arbitration’

FRIENDSHIP FORWARD. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photo following a bilateral meeting at the Boao State Guesthouse on April 10, 2018. Malacañang file photo

FRIENDSHIP FORWARD. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photo following a bilateral meeting at the Boao State Guesthouse on April 10, 2018. Malacañang file photo

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines under the Duterte administration continues to defend its rights over the West Philippine Sea even as he said there is no need to enforce the landmark ruling won by the country against China.

“I’m not sure what they mean by enforcing an arbitral decision because an arbitral decision is binding on parties thereto,” said Roque on Thursday, July 12, the 2nd anniversary of the historic Hague ruling.

DIPLOMATIC PROTEST. Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario urge the Duterte administration to file a diplomatic protest against China's bombers in the South China Sea. File photos by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario

Asked by Rappler if he means there is no need for enforcement, Roque said in a message: “Who will enforce? It’s self-executory as it’s binding on parties thereto.”

“We continue to assert our sovereignty and sovereign rights, but we have decided to move on on issues that are non-controversial,” he said in a press conference.

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He questioned the call of former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario for the Duterte administration to enforce the ruling.

“I don’t know what makes him an authority to give that view…. It clearly underscores the fact that some individuals, including the former secretary of foreign affairs, [do] not fully comprehend the nature of arbitration,” said Roque. (READ: How to enforce Hague ruling? PH lead counsel explains)

It was under Del Rosario’s watch as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) chief when the Philippines took China to court.

Image result for philippines, fishermen, photos

Roque, asked why he thinks Del Rosario does not understand the nature of arbitration, said: “Because he’s calling for enforcement when clearly arbitration is binding…. Whether or not China will acknowledge it, China is bound by it because that is the nature of arbitration.”

However, China’s refusal to acknowledge the ruling, coupled with the Philippines’ decision to shelve it for later, has made the ruling ineffective in changing the situation on the ground.

Despite the ruling, China continues its military buildup in the West Philippine Sea and harassment of Filipino fishermen in areas declared by the decision as common fishing grounds. –



Japan bothered by ramifications of U.S. halt to Korean war games

July 1, 2018

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spent the last leg of his weeklong trip to Asia reassuring Japan that Washington remains committed to its defense amid the evolving regional security situation following the historic U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore on June 12.

But Japan may not be able to take the reassurances at face value, with defense sources and experts pointing to uncertainties hanging over the latest U.S. move to halt military exercises with South Korea in the hope of facilitating talks on North Korea’s denuclearization.

By Miya Tanaka


Following talks with his Japanese counterpart, Itsunori Onodera, in Tokyo on Friday, Mattis emphasized at a news conference that the decision to cancel the U.S.-South Korea drills is meant to increase the prospects “for a peaceful solution” on the Korean Peninsula.

“At the same time,” he said, “we maintain a strong collaborative defensive stance to ensure our diplomats continue to negotiate from a position of unquestioned strength.”

Image result for Foal Eagle, photos

U.S.-South Korea exercises

However, the Pentagon chief offered few clues on how deterrence capabilities and readiness to deal with contingencies on the peninsula can be maintained without the exercises, which Japan describes as one of the “important pillars” of deterrence in the region.

“What if the suspension of major U.S.-South Korea exercises is not just this once but prolonged? It could undermine the readiness of the U.S. and South Korean forces, affecting them slowly like a body blow,” a senior Self-Defense Forces official said.

President Donald Trump shocked U.S. allies when he abruptly announced after his June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that the United States would be “stopping the war games” with South Korea as long as dialogue continues with Pyongyang, slamming them as “tremendously expensive” and “provocative.”

The U.S. Defense Department followed up with announcements calling off Ulchi Freedom Guardian, a largely computer-simulated command post exercise held every summer, and two more planned in the next three months.

Additional decisions will depend on North Korea “continuing to have productive negotiations in good faith,” the Pentagon said in a statement on June 22, leaving open what to do with other major joint drills conducted every spring — the computer-simulated command post Key Resolve and the Foal Eagle field exercises.

Chung Hun Sup, a professor at Nihon University who has conducted research on U.S. troops in South Korea, said the impact of canceling the exercises should not be underestimated.

“Freedom Guardian, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are the most representative major exercises involving the United States and South Korea. Suspending any of these will create a huge dent in their joint military operational abilities,” he said.

He also said holding drills, even smaller ones, are important as the commanders of U.S. forces in South Korea change periodically and quickly need to get used to the feeling they are in the “battlefield.”

While the SDF and the U.S. military plan to continue joint exercises to beef up the bilateral alliance, it is unclear whether Japan, South Korea and the U.S. will actively hold trilateral exercises.

The three have conducted joint missile-tracking exercise in waters near Japan over the past few years amid North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests.

But a Maritime Self-Defense Force member said he cannot imagine Seoul agreeing to hold such training amid the mood of reconciliation with the North.

Some Japanese defense officials are afraid that the halt of exercises, if continued for years, could raise questions over the raison d’etre of the U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North as the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The officials say a withdrawal of U.S. troops would be the “worst-case scenario” because a weakening of U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea would leave China free to increase its regional clout.

Tetsuo Kotani, an associate professor at Meikai University who specializes in security issues, said reviewing the role of the U.S. forces in South Korea or scaling back their presence have probably become “inevitable,” not just because Trump has repeatedly expressed his hope to eventually pull out the troops.

Following North Korea’s sudden diplomatic outreach earlier this year, the leaders of the two Koreas met in April for the first time in over a decade and agreed to strive to declare a formal end to the Korean War later this year.

If inter-Korean relations continue to improve and the armistice is replaced with a peace treaty, the presence of the U.S. military will certainly be called into question, the associate professor said.

Kotani also said it is difficult to judge what impact a lasting detente on the Korean Peninsula and the removal of the U.S. military presence from South Korea would have on the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan.

“Discussions could go either way — that there is no need to maintain U.S. forces in Japan amid such detente, or that there is rather a need to reinforce the military to counter China. We have to keep in mind both possibilities,” he said.



The bloodiest election campaign in Mexico’s history

June 30, 2018

The election campaign that comes to an end when voters go to the polls on Sunday has been the most violent ever to take place in Mexico, with at least 48 candidates murdered and many others attacked since September 2017.

Being an election candidate in Mexico is “practically tantamount to a death penalty”, Mario Alberto Chavez, a mayoral candidate in the southwest of the country, told AFP.

© Reuters | The funeral of Erika Cazares, local councillor and candidate for local deputy, who was killed on July 2.

On June 25, a new victim was added to the already long list of murdered candidates for the general election. Emigdio Lopez Avendano, a candidate to become a local deputy in the southern province of Oaxaca, was ambushed while driving along a country road and killed along with his four passengers.

While the death toll of 48 comes from Mexican security group the Etellekt Institute, the country’s interior ministry puts the figure at 34.

>> Read more: Will the next Mexican leader be a good ‘hombre’ for Trump?

Candidates step down because of violence

It took until June 18 for the ministry to put forward plans to protect presidential candidates – and, so far, only Jose Antonio Meade, the ruling PRI party’s candidate and the protégé of current President Enrique Pena Nieto, has benefitted from this measure.

According to a statement from the National Security Commission, only 214 candidates for public office benefit from protection measures from local or regional authorities, while 12 have their security ensured by the federal police.

However, in the southwestern state of Guerrero alone, nearly 200 people decided to give up their candidacies because of the violence. Others in Mexico have come to the same decision because of pressure from organised crime groups. The extent of the violence and intimidation is such that in some municipalities in Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacan and Puebla – all states in the south of the country – have decided to dissuade their candidates from running.

Mayoral candidates among most targeted

Twenty-three of the forty-eight candidates murdered since September were mayoral candidates. In the most recent case, town hall candidate Fernando Angeles was shot dead on June 21, in the municipality of Ocampo in Michoacan. State authorities then arrested all of the district’s police officers before carrying out their own investigaton.

According to a study by Laura Calderon, a Mexico specialist at the University of San Diego, “mayors are 25 times more likely to be murdered than an average citizen”. The survey also noted that at least 150 mayors and mayoral candidates were killed between 2002 and 2017.

Candidates running against incumbents have been the biggest targets by far during this year’s election campaign, particularly those standing for the PRI or Morena – the party of the current favourite, the populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – in states where a different party is in power.

This article was adapted from the version in French.



Mexico Goes to the Polls Sunday: Does This Mean Trouble for Donald Trump’s America?

June 30, 2018

Mexico goes to the polls Sunday in elections that will mark a new stage for the country’s relations with the United States. Will the future president be able to stand up to US President Donald Trump’s outbursts?
Mexico and the US have had a troubled relationship since the birth of both nations. Every Mexican is painfully aware of a rueful, but accurate quote by one of their country’s most wily rulers. “Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States,” quipped Porfirio Diaz, Mexico’s leader from 1876 to 1911, summarising the sentiment of a population forced to cope with a powerful, expansionist northern neighbour.

The two countries have gone to war, grabbed and ceded territory, grumbled over the impact of drug policies – or sometimes, the lack thereof – but rarely has the rhetoric plunged to the undiplomatic depths as during the Trump presidency.

On Sunday, Mexicans will cast their ballots in presidential, parliamentary and local elections at a time of great uncertainty in US-Mexican relations. “We don’t know what to expect,” said former US ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, in an interview with the New Yorker. The career diplomat and expert on Latin America, admitted that she was unable to forecast the likely direction of bilateral relations if the forerunner in the Mexican presidential race, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, wins.

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Lopez Obrador

Trump’s election in November 2016 changed the direction of US-Mexican relations, which were previously warming with the 1994 signing of NAFTA (North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement). Mexicans and Americans had grown used to their respective presidents enveloping each other in warm embraces shortly after they were voted into power and pledging cooperation on a range of issues, including security along the more than 3,000-kilometre US-Mexico border.

That changed under Trump, with the US president reaffirming his campaign promise to build a border wall – and make Mexico pay for it – while castigating his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Peña Nieto, about the “bunch of bad hombres down there”.

If the blunt-speaking Obrador – popularly known as “AMLO” — wins Sunday’s vote, the prospect of a showdown on the border wall and NAFTA between the headstrong presidents of Mexico and the USA has worried many analysts. FRANCE 24 spoke to Isabelle Vagnoux, professor at Aix-Marseille University and author of several books on the region.

FRANCE 24: Did Trump’s election change the diplomatic order in US-Mexican relations?

Isabelle Vagnoux: From the beginning of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump made harsh and racist remarks about Mexico. It was unheard of for a presidential candidate. This was thought to just be campaign rhetoric, intended to rally people who no longer want to see Mexican immigrants in the United States. But, after more than a year in office, one cannot say that his relationship with Mexico has improved in any way.

In his dealings with Trump, Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, was conciliatory. He invited Trump to Mexico during his election campaign. Yet Donald Trump gave an incendiary speech in Arizona the very next day against Mexican migrants. The Mexican president did everything to build a positive relationship, but it did not work.

Enrique Peña Nieto also relied on the personal relationship of his Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. But, the president of the United States has never softened his rhetoric.

F24: Have US-Mexican relations been an issue on the 2018 campaign trail?

IV: Any aspiring presidential candidate in Mexico is necessarily hostile to Trump. Donald Trump was not a subject for the campaign because there is a rejection of the US president across Mexico. There are no real differences between the candidates on this.

Jose Antonio Meade, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) candidate, is the only one who is a special case. He is the PRI’s successor to Enrique Peña Nieto. So in a sense, he pays for Nieto’s failure in handling the bilateral relationship. He cannot get away from this position without being seen as opposing the current president.

F24: What is Obrador’s position on this?

IV: In recent years, a feeling of repulsion towards the USA has begun to emerge. Mexicans are less sold on the American dream. The number of Mexicans emigrating to the US is falling. AMLO exploits the beginnings of this repulsion. He offers to refocus on Mexico. One of the ways to prevent Mexicans from going to the United States and being treated as they are being treated right now is to no longer emigrate. The solution he proposes is therefore to improve the national situation.

What is interesting is that in the end, AMLO is a bit like Donald Trump, especially in economic terms. The two could get along… or not.

F24: Will reviving NAFTA be a priority for the next Mexican president?

IV: Everything will depend on who is elected. If it’s AMLO, we don’t know what to expect, as the former US ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, recently said. He could renegotiate or he could take an extremely tough position. AMLO has always said that he’s not afraid of withdrawing from NAFTA. We don’t know if he’ll go that far.

It must be remembered, however, that each of the three parties to the agreement [Mexico, USA and Canada] has suffered to some degree. In Mexico, if the middle class has generally benefited from openness, we can’t say the same for the small peasants. They have suffered from the competition of these American products, which arrive free of US or Canadian customs duties. The popular opinion in Mexico is that we have lost more than gained because of NAFTA. That’s the view of AMLO’s supporters.

F24: Does Mexico have a role to play in regulating the influx of Central American migrants to the US?

IV: Mexico is already playing a role. Following US demands, they have significantly increased security and controls at their southern border with Guatemala. The US can promise aid but managing this issue depends on the goodwill of the Mexican state.

Mexico has few ways to retaliate against the US and Trump. Security cooperation is one of them. They could very well decide that Central American migrants are not their problem and redeploy their security resources somewhere else.

This article is an adapt of the original, which appeared in French.


China’s economic growth slows to multi-decade lows across industrial, infrastructure and retail — Trade war ploy?

June 14, 2018


China’s economy appears to have hit a significant speed hump, with a number of key indicators across the industrial, construction and retail sectors slowing to either multi-year, multi-decade or record lows.

Key points:

  • Urban infrastructure investment growth at the slowest growth since data started being collected in 1996
  • Industrial production and retail sales growth at 22 and 15-year lows respectively.
  • Tougher lending standards could slow growth more heading into the second half of 2018

Fixed asset investment — a proxy for infrastructure spending — fell to 6.1 per cent growth in the first five months of the year, down from 7 per cent in April and below market forecasts.

It is the slowest pace of expansion since the National Bureau of Statistics started the series in 1996.

Industrial production slowed to a 22-year low, growing by 6.8 per cent over the year to May.

Retail sales also disappointed, tumbling from almost 10 per cent growth in April to 8.5 per cent in May, its slowest pace in around 15 years.

Rates kept on hold as economy cools

The slower than expected growth is reflected in the surprise decision from China’s central bank not raise its key interest rates in the wake of the US Federal Reserve’s move overnight.

Traditionally the People’s Bank of China has moved its rates roughly in line with the US to keep pressure of the yuan and head-off capital outflows.

However, after a brighter than expected start to the year, China’s second quarter appears to be losing momentum.

Economists at global investment bank Rabobank said investment growth, “was all shockingly weak by Chinese standards.”

“Get ready for headlines talking about Chinese deleveraging hitting the economy — except it isn’t even deleveraging yet!” the Rabobank team was quoted by Reuters.

“China is walking more of a tightrope than markets believe — and the data underline that issue clearly.”

Likely to slow further

Capital Economics’ Chang Liu the figures point to a softening of domestic demand in coming months.

“The boost to industrial output growth from the removal of the government’s pollution controls at the end of March has now faded,” Mr Liu said.

“With headwinds from slower credit growth increasing, economic growth looks set to continue to weaken in the second half of 2018.”

Property investment growth slowed to 9.8 per cent in May from 10.2 per cent in April.

Both government and private sector construction spending noticeably slowed in May.

However, real estate activity avoided the slow down.

“Floor space started rose the most in two years even as sales growth is being held back by slower mortgage lending and tighter property controls,” Mr Liu said.

Topics: business-economics-and-financeeconomic-trendschina



* Jan-May fixed-asset investment +6.1 pct y/y (poll +7.0 pct)

* May industrial output +6.8 pct y/y (poll +6.9 pct)

* May retail sales +8.5 pct y/y (poll +9.6 pct)

* Jan-May private sector FAI +8.1 pct (Adds details)

By Kevin Yao and Fang Cheng

BEIJING, June 14 (Reuters) – China reported weaker-than-expected activity data for May, adding to views the economy is finally starting to slow under the weight of a prolonged crackdown on riskier lending that is pushing up borrowing costs for companies and consumers.

Industrial output, investment and retail sales all grew less than expected, data showed on Thursday, offsetting upbeat trade data and suggesting further weakness ahead if Beijing perseveres with its crackdown on factory pollution and questionable local government spending.

Adding to the uncertainty over economic conditions, China’s central bank left its short-term money market rates unchanged earlier in the day, surprising financial markets and analysts who had expected it to follow a policy rate rise by the U.S. Federal Reserve overnight.

China’s fixed-asset investment growth cooled to 6.1 percent in the January-May period from a year earlier, the slowest pace since February 1996.

Retail sales in May expanded at the slowest pace since June 2003, according to Reuters calculations.

May industrial output rose 6.8 percent from a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said, missing analysts’ estimates for a rise of 6.9 percent and compared with a rise of 7 percent in April.

April data had also been mixed, suggesting a softening in demand.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected investment growth to remain steady at 7.0 percent in the first five months of the year, the same pace seen in January-April.

Private sector fixed-asset investment rose 8.1 percent in January-May, compared with an increase of 8.4 percent in the first four months, according to official data.

Private investment accounts for about 60 percent of overall investment in China.

Growth in infrastructure spending, a powerful economic driver last year, slowed to 9.4 percent in the first five months, compared with a rise of 12.4 percent in January-April.

Analysts forecasting an economic cooldown are largely basing their assumptions on slowing local government spending and real estate investment in response to regulators’ campaign to reduce financial risks and curb a rapid build-up in debt.

But a construction boom which began in 2016 may still be going strong. Data from the China Construction Machinery Association showed the sales of excavators doubled in May from a year earlier.

Retail sales rose 8.5 percent in May from a year earlier, missing with expectations of an increase of 9.6 percent, compared with a rise of 9.4 percent in April.

The growth was the slowest since June 2003.

China’s economy will likely expand by around 6.7 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, the State Information Center (SIC), an official think tank, said recently.

That would mark only a fractional easing from 6.8 percent growth reported by Beijing in each of the three preceding quarters.

In the same article, the think tank said it expects China’s industrial output to grow about 6.6 percent in April-June from a year earlier, with fixed-asset investment growth of around 7.2 percent and retail sales seen rising about 10 percent.

While first-quarter growth was better than expected, economists polled by Reuters still expect China’s economy to gradually slow to around 6.5 percent this year, from 6.9 percent in 2017, even if there are no trade shocks.

A third round of talks between China and the United States early this month ended with few signs of progress, as Beijing issued a counter-warning that any trade and business deals reached with Washington would be void if the United States implemented tariffs.

On Friday, Washington is expected to release a list of some $50 billion worth of Chinese goods that will be subject to a 25 percent tariff. (Reporting by Kevin Yao and Cheng Fang; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Kim Coghill)

South China Sea: U.S. Navy freedom of navigation operations demonstrate that China’s claims are not recognized and illegal

June 5, 2018
Satellite image of Woody Island

Beijing has been turning islands into military bases. Reuters photo

A senior U.S. Navy officer has pushed back against suggestions at a regional security summit that freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea have been ineffective, calling them a long-term strategy for demonstrating that China’s claims in the body of water are not internationally recognized.

Speaking in Singapore at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue organized by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, Rear Adm. Donald Gabrielson, commander of Logistics Group Western Pacific, added that the operations, known by the acronym FONOP, are not meant to be a military provocation or intended to shape policy in the short term.

Gabrielson said the operations are instead a statement on the lack of agreement to, and lack of recognition of, an excessive claim ― in this case China’s claim that the South China Sea islands it occupies and has constructed military facilities on are part of its territory. China has also deployed surface-to-air, anti-ship and jamming equipment to its reclaimed islands.

The islands in the Spratly and Paracel groups are also claimed by five other Asian countries, and several have reclaimed and constructed facilities on the islands, although they have been dwarfed by the pace and scale of China’s activities.

An aerial shot of a reef in the disputed Spratly islands, taken April 21 2017 (Getty Images/AFP/T. Aljibe)

Gabrielson, who is due to be the next commander of Carrier Strike Group 11 out of Everett, Washington, added that the FONOPs were not a nation-on-nation interaction but rather a way to support the rights of all nations.

However, China, which claims large tracts of the South China Sea, its islands and features as part of its territory, has been angered by the FONOPs, which it sees as a violation of its territorial waters and sovereignty. It used this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue to express its displeasure at continuing American-led efforts to push back against Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea, despite not having a speaker at the dialogue’s plenary sessions due to it sending a relatively low-level delegation to the summit.

Senior Col. Zhao Xiaozhou, a research fellow at the Institute of War Studies of the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Sciences, said the FONOPs in the South China Sea were a “violation of the law of the People’s Republic of China.”

The officer accused the United States of “militarization in the South China Sea under the veil of the freedom of navigation,” following a speech by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Mattis had noted that the United States does not see the operations as militarization, as its ships were going through what has traditionally been an international water space, citing rulings by international tribunals based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

UNCLOS determined in 2016 that, among other things, China’s claims “exceed the geographic and substantive limits of China’s maritime entitlements.” China had rejected the ruling, with the ruling Communist Party’s newspaper, the People’s Daily, saying the country “will neither acknowledge it nor accept it.”


Chinese regulators investigate foreign chipmakers

June 4, 2018
Government has expressed concern over price rises

No automatic alt text available.

© Bloomberg

Yuan Yang in Beijing and Bryan Harris in Seoul

Chinese regulators have opened investigations into several foreign memory chip makers following a surge in prices that has attracted government concern.
Samsung, the Korean electronics company, said in a statement on Monday that investigators from the State Administration for Market Regulation had visited its Chinese sales offices at the end of last month. The company was “co-operating with Chinese authorities”, it said.Micron, the US memory chip giant, told Reuters on Friday that it had also been visited by SAMR. Micron could not be reached for comment. Fresh investigations were first reported by The Wall Street Journal on Monday.China is seeking to become self-sufficient in memory chips, which are an essential component in everything from smartphones to web servers. But the market in DRAM chips, a major form of memory chip, is highly concentrated in three non-Chinese producers — South Korea’s Samsung and SK Hynix, and the US’s Micron.

State media reported last December that regulators had approached Samsung over rising prices.

China Daily, a state media mouthpiece, at the time quoted Xu Xinyu, an official with the Pricing Supervision Department of the National Development and Reform Commission, saying: “We have noticed the price surge and will pay more attention to future problems that may be caused by ‘price fixing’ in the sector.”

Dan Wang, technology analyst at consultancy Gavekal Dragonomics in Hong Kong, suggested that Beijing may now be negotiating prices with the three companies, adding: “Memory prices have significantly risen in the last two years. China imports more semiconductors than crude oil by value, and the government is not happy about the price increases.”

The Trump administration’s ban on Chinese telecoms company ZTE buying supplies from the US, including semiconductors, has made the health of China’s domestic chip industry an important consideration in trade tensions. At the same time, regulatory approval for US chip giant Qualcomm’s proposed merger with NXP is said to be nearing the finish line but no official deadline has been announced by Beijing.

Regulators did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 (Wall Street Journal)

Basis for FBI Probe On Trump? Slim to None (That we know of)

June 1, 2018

His story about the Papadopoulos meeting calls the FBI’s into question.

The Curious Case of Mr. Downer

High Commissioner of Australia to the United Kingdom Alexander Downer arrives at Downing Street in central London on March 22, 2017.
High Commissioner of Australia to the United Kingdom Alexander Downer arrives at Downing Street in central London on March 22, 2017.PHOTO: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES


To hear the Federal Bureau of Investigation tell it, its decision to launch a counterintelligence probe into a major-party presidential campaign comes down to a foreign tip about a 28-year-old fourth-tier Trump adviser, George Papadopoulos.

The FBI’s media scribes have dutifully reported the bare facts of that “intel.” We are told the infamous tip came from Alexander Downer, at the time the Australian ambassador to the U.K. Mr. Downer invited Mr. Papadopoulos for a drink in early May 2016, where the aide told the ambassador the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Word of this encounter at some point reached the FBI, inspiring it to launch its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign on July 31.

Notably (nay, suspiciously) absent or muddled are the details of how and when that information made its way to the FBI, and what exactly was transmitted. A December 2017 New York Times story vaguely explains that the Australians passed the info to “American counterparts” about “two months later,” and that once it “reached the FBI,” the bureau acted. Even the Times admits it’s “not clear” why it took the Aussies so long to flip such a supposedly smoking tip. The story meanwhile slyly leads readers to believe that Mr. Papadopoulos told Mr. Downer that Moscow had “thousands of emails,” but read it closely and the Times in fact never specifies what the Trump aide said, beyond “dirt.”

When Mr. Downer ended his service in the U.K. this April, he sat for an interview with the Australian, a national newspaper, and “spoke for the first time” about the Papadopoulos event. Mr. Downer said he officially reported the Papadopoulos meeting back to Australia “the following day or a day or two after,” as it “seemed quite interesting.” The story nonchalantly notes that “after a period of time, Australia’s ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, passed the information on to Washington.”

My reporting indicates otherwise. A diplomatic source tells me Mr. Hockey neither transmitted any information to the FBI nor was approached by the U.S. about the tip. Rather, it was Mr. Downer who at some point decided to convey his information—to the U.S. Embassy in London.

That matters because it is not how things are normally done. The U.S. is part of Five Eyes, an intelligence network that includes the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Five Eyes agreement provides that any intelligence goes through the intelligence system of the country that gathered it. This helps guarantee information is securely handled, subjected to quality control, and not made prey to political manipulation. Mr. Downer’s job was to report his meeting back to Canberra, and leave it to Australian intelligence. We also know that it wasn’t Australian intelligence that alerted the FBI. The document that launched the FBI probe contains no foreign intelligence whatsoever. So if Australian intelligence did receive the Downer info, it didn’t feel compelled to act on it.

But the Obama State Department did—and its involvement is news. The Downer details landed with the embassy’s then-chargé d’affaires, Elizabeth Dibble, who previously served as a principal deputy assistant secretary in Mrs. Clinton’s State Department.

When did all this happen, and what came next? Did the info go straight to U.S. intelligence? Or did it instead filter to the wider State Department team, who we already know were helping foment Russia-Trump conspiracy theories? Jonathan Winer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state, has publicly admitted to communicating in the summer of 2016 with his friend Christopher Steele, author of the infamous dossier.

I was unable to reach Mr. Downer for comment and do not know why he chose to go to the embassy. A conservative politician, he was Australia’s longest-serving foreign minister (1996-2007). Sources speculate that he might have felt his many contacts justified reaching out himself.

Meanwhile, something doesn’t gel between Mr. Downer’s account of the conversation and the FBI’s. In his Australian interview, Mr. Downer said Mr. Papadopolous didn’t give specifics. “He didn’t say dirt, he said material that could be damaging to her,” said Mr. Downer. “He didn’t say what it was.” Also: “Nothing he said in that conversation indicated Trump himself had been conspiring with the Russians to collect information on Hillary Clinton.”

For months we’ve been told the FBI acted because it was alarmed that Mr. Papadopoulos knew about those hacked Democratic emails in May, before they became public in June. But according to the tipster himself, Mr. Papadopoulos said nothing about emails. The FBI instead received a report that a far-removed campaign adviser, over drinks, said the Russians had something that might be “damaging” to Hillary. Did this vague statement justify a counterintelligence probe into a presidential campaign, featuring a spy and secret surveillance warrants?

Unlikely. Which leads us back to what did inspire the FBI to act, and when? The Papadopoulos pretext is getting thinner.

As Trump Starts Talking Heathcare Again, Is There Solace from The UK’s National Health Service (NHS)?

May 31, 2018

Deficit for NHS trusts in England double the amount planned

HospitalImage copyright PA

NHS trusts in England have reported a combined financial deficit that was nearly twice the amount planned.

There was a deficit of £960m in the last financial year compared with the £496m they had planned for, the regulator NHS Improvement said.

Acute hospitals were largely responsible, mainly because of increased patient demand, it said.

All other providers, including ambulance and mental health trusts, had collectively underspent, it added.

The latest reported deficit is reached after taking account of extra financial support provided by the government.

Therefore, the Nuffield Trust think tank argued that the true underlying figure was much worse, as the finances had to be patched up with one-off savings and emergency extra cash.

Senior policy analyst Sally Gainsbury said: “Given the huge pressures on NHS providers, it is not at all surprising that the reported deficit for 2017-18 is £960m.

“As we have previously warned, there is a widening gap between what we are asking the NHS to do and what we are funding it to do.”

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers which represents various services, said a 5% annual increase in NHS funding is needed to match European levels of care.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “Everywhere you look you get a sense of the NHS under real pressure.”

He said his proposed funding increase equates to an extra 9p on income tax or 7% on VAT, adding: “We need to be realistic about what the nation can afford.”

‘Substantial money’

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Theresa May and Philip Hammond cannot allow this financial knife-edge to continue.

“Whether the chancellor announces the extra funding in time for the NHS anniversary this summer or waits until the autumn Budget, it must be both substantial and genuinely new money.”

The report also highlighted that more than 2,600 patients were waiting longer than 12 months for non-urgent treatment in March – a 75% increase over the year before.

And half of the nation’s 10 “best performing” accident and emergency departments were unable to meet waiting time standards in January, February and March, according to the latest quarterly performance figures.

‘Incredible resilience’

NHS Improvement said acute hospitals had faced a surge in demand within A&E, particularly over the winter months. Some also spent more to cover vacancies and sickness absence.

It pointed out that 156 of the 234 trusts finished the year either reaching or exceeding their financial targets.

Chief executive Ian Dalton added: “Despite epic challenges, NHS staff up and down the country displayed incredible resilience and saw more patients than ever before within four hours.

“More than two-thirds of providers ended the year on budget or better than planned. Given rising demand and record vacancies, this is an important achievement.”

Ministers have promised a new long-term financial plan for the NHS, which is expected within weeks.

In March, Prime Minister Theresa May said she wanted to get away from annual “cash top-ups” and would come up with a blueprint later this year to allow the NHS “to plan for the future”.



NHS report reveals sharp rise in waiting times for care

Quarterly performance figures from the NHS provider sector show more than 2,600 people have waited over a year for treatment.

Newcastle, UK - February 10, 2016: The NHS (National Health Service) logo on an entrance sign for the Royal Victoria Infirmary, a teaching hospital which includes an accident and emergency department...Part of an NHS hospital entrance sign in Newcastle, England.
Image:The NHS Mandate states that 95% of patients attending A&E should be seen within four hours

There has been a sharp rise in the number of patients who have waited more than a year for NHS care in England, according to a new report.

The latest quarterly performance figures of the NHS provider sector show more than 2,600 people have waited over a year for treatment.

The figures from NHS Improvement also reveal half of the nation’s “best performing” A&E departments are unable to meet waiting time standards.

The NHS Mandate states that 95% of patients attending A&E should be seen within four hours.

But only five A&E departments managed to meet the 95% target during January, February and March, and half of the 10 “best performing” units didn’t even meet the four hour target.

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More than five million people attended A&E during January, February and March – which led to more than 1.1 million hospital admissions.

Meanwhile, the NHS provider sector ended the financial year with a deficit of £960m – £464m more than the target set for the year.

The report also highlights that NHS providers in England did not meet targets for diagnostic tests, referral to treatment times and some cancer care targets.

The document, which covers the “most challenging winter periods that the NHS has had”, shows that at the end of March 2018, 2,647 patients were waiting over a year for treatment compared to 1,513 the previous year.

Stock photo ID:492901619
Upload date:May 22, 2014
Image:NHS providers in England did not meet targets for diagnostic tests

It also is a “large increase” from the 2,179 waiting in February 2018, the report says.

The report also highlights that the NHS provider sector ended the year with a “challenging level of vacancies” of more than 92,000 posts.

But NHS Improvement argued that the figures show NHS staff displayed “incredible resilience” in meeting demand during a “challenging year for the NHS”.

It said that the NHS as a whole has “broadly achieved financial balance for the year” after NHS England provisionally reported that it had managed a £955m underspend for the commissioning of healthcare services in 2017/18.

Ian Dalton, chief executive of NHS Improvement, said: “Hundreds of thousands more patients have been to A&Es this year but the NHS did not buckle under the pressure.

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“Despite epic challenges, NHS staff up and down the country displayed incredible resilience and saw more patients than ever before within four hours,” he said.

“More than two thirds of providers ended the year on budget or better than planned. Given rising demand and record vacancies, this is an important achievement.”

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, warned that Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond “cannot allow this financial knife-edge to continue”, adding that the health service needs “genuinely new money”.

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A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “The Prime Minister and Jeremy Hunt have committed to a long-term plan with a sustainable multi-year settlement for the NHS to help it manage growing patient demand, which will be agreed with NHS leaders, clinicians, and health experts.

“It is testament to the hard work and dedication of staff that despite ever rising demand and significant winter pressures, 277,150 more patients were seen within four hours in A&E in 17-18 compared 16-17, and the majority of trusts’ finances are in good order.”

Hillary Clinton says China’s foreign power grab ‘a new global battle’

May 9, 2018

Former US presidential candidate says experts are ‘sounding the alarm’ in Australia and New Zealand

China’s attempt to gain political power and influence in foreign countries is “a new global battle”, Hillary Clinton has warned.

Speaking to an audience in New Zealand on Monday night, the former US secretary of state and presidential candidate said Chinese interference in domestic policy was apparent in Australia and New Zealand as well as the US.

“In Australia and here in New Zealand experts are sounding the alarm about Chinese efforts to gain political power and influence policy decisions,” Clinton said.


“[Academic] Anne-Marie Brady of the University of Canterbury has rightly called this a new global battle, and it’s just getting started. We need to take it seriously.”

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, told reporters Clinton’s statements about China were not new.

“There are a number of world powers that have an interest in our region and, of course, New Zealand needs to maintain our role in building our relationships because there is that greater presence here,” she said.

Clinton’s comments follow testimony from the Australian academic Clive Hamilton to the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China that Beijing was waging a “campaign of psychological warfare” against Australia, as America’s most significant ally in the region, undermining democracy and cowing free speech.

Hamilton said Australia was being subjected to Chinese Communist party-sponsored operations of “subversion, cyber intrusions and harassment on the high seas”.

“Beijing knows that it cannot bully the United States – in the current environment the consequences would be unpredictable and probably counterproductive – so it is instead pressuring its allies,” Hamilton said.

China has consistently denied any interference in the domestic affairs of foreign countries. In response to the Australian government announcing a tightening of espionage laws last year, China said it respected the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

“China always follows the principle of mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs when it comes to developing friendly cooperation with other countries, and this principle holds true for developing bilateral ties with Australia,” the foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

New Zealand’s foreign minister, Winston Peters, was due to outline the government’s budget plans for foreign affairs on Tuesday, with some tipping greater spending on the Pacific following his announcement of an increased focus on the region earlier this year.

On Tuesday Australia’s Lowy Institute released its Power Index, confirming China’s rising power and influence across the Asia-Pacific.

America remains the Asia-Pacific’s dominant power, but money, influence and might were shifting from west to east, the index found.

And Donald’s Trump’s political power is a liability for the world’s superpower. The US ranks 13th on Lowy’s list of political leadership, equal with Cambodia’s authoritarian and controversial prime minister Hun Sen. China heads that category: President Xi Jinping has recently been been successful in removing term limits for his position, paving the way for him to be president for life.

The Asia-Pacific would emerge as the globe’s dominant region in coming years, the Lowy report said. Within a decade, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in Asia, just over 10% will live in the West.

“Much of the world’s future economic growth will come from Asia – but so will the world’s future challenges,” the report argued. “Asia is already the location of America’s only true peer competitor, China, as well as the world’s most dangerous country, North Korea.”

Lowy’s new analytical tool – the product of two years’ work – measures power across 25 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, stretching west as far as Pakistan, north to Russia, and across the Pacific to the United States. Power is assessed across 114 indicators: including military, economic, and natural resources; diplomatic and cultural influence; trading relationships; capacity to deter real or potential threats; and defence networks.

The index produced using the tool found that the US remained the pre-eminent regional power. But China was rising rapidly and closing in on American dominance. China ranked higher for diplomatic influence and economic relationships in the region, but the US was dominant in defence networks, military capability and cultural influence.

The US and China are currently locked in tense trade talks that – despite the positive spin being promoted by both countries – appear locked in several fundamental impasses, especially over tariffs, strategic industry subsidies, and technology exports.

The index ranked Japan and India as major powers in the region, but found they were moving in opposite directions: India’s young, growing workforce contrasted with Japan’s wealthy but ageing population.

Russia, Australia, South Korea and Singapore were the leading “middle powers”.